Friday, December 24, 2010

Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.

Religion in America seems tied up with questions of identity in ways that are not the case in other industrialized countries. When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it's like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots. They'll say yes, even if they cheated on their taxes, bilked Medicare for unnecessary services, and evaded the draft. Asking people how often they attend church elicits answers about their identity—who people think they are or feel they ought to be, rather than what they actually believe and do.

The better studies ascertain whether people attend church, not what they feel in their hearts. It's possible that many Americans are deeply religious but don't attend church (even as they claim they do). But if the data raise serious questions about self-reported church attendance, they ought to raise red flags about all aspects of self-reported religiosity. Besides, self-reported church attendance has been held up as proof that America has somehow resisted the secularizing trends that have swept other industrialized nations. What if those numbers are spectacularly wrong?

To the data: There was an obvious clue (in hindsight) that the survey numbers were hugely inflated. Even as pundits theorized about why Americans were so much more religious than Europeans, quiet voices on the ground asked how, if so many Americans were attending services, the pews of so many churches could be deserted.

"If Americans are going to church at the rate they report, the churches would be full on Sunday mornings and denominations would be growing," wrote C. Kirk Hadaway, now director of research at the Episcopal Church. (Hadaway's research has included evangelical congregations, which reported sharp growth in recent decades.)

Hadaway and his colleagues compared actual attendance counts with church members' reports about their attendance in 18 Catholic dioceses across the country and Protestants in a rural Ohio county.* They found that actual "church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are approximately one half" of what people reported.

A few years later, another study estimated how often Americans attended church by asking them to minutely document how they spent their time on Sundays. Without revealing that they were interested in religious practices, researchers Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson asked questions along these lines: "I would like to ask you about the things you did yesterday from midnight Saturday to midnight last night. Let's start with midnight Saturday. What were you doing? What time did you finish? Where were you? What did you do next?"

This neutral interviewing method produced far fewer professions of church attendance. Compared to the "time-use" technique, Presser and Stinson found that nearly 50 percent more people claimed they attended services when asked the type of question that pollsters ask: "Did you attend religious services in the last week?"

In a more recent study, Hadaway estimated that if the number of Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they attended church in the last week were accurate, about 118 million Americans would be at houses of worship each week. By calculating the number of congregations (including non-Christian congregations) and their average attendance, Hadaway estimated that in reality about 21 percent of Americans attended religious services weekly—exactly half the number who told pollsters they did.

Finally, in a brand new paper, Philip Brenner at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research compared self-reported attendance at religious services with "time-use" interviews in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Austria, Ireland, and Great Britain. Brenner looked at nearly 500 studies over four decades, involving nearly a million respondents.

Brenner found that the United States and Canada were outliers—not in religious attendance, but in overreporting religious attendance. Americans attended services about as often as Italians and Slovenians and slightly more than Brits and Germans. The significant difference between the two North American countries and other industrialized nations was the enormous gap between poll responses and time-use studies in those two countries.

Why do Americans and Canadians feel the need to overreport their religious attendance? You could say that religiosity for Americans is tied to their identity in a way that it is not for the Germans, the French, and the British. But that only restates the mystery. Why is religiosity tied to American identity?

Historians will point to the European roots of North American colonization. Many European settlers came to the New World in search of religious freedom, presumably because they cared more intensely about religion than did the brethren they left behind.

Perhaps. That answer feels unsatisfactory. I don't think religious intensity necessarily explains how religiosity becomes part of one's identity. Canada and the United States are quite different today in terms of their religious intensity and the importance they attach to the role of religion in public life, yet citizens in both countries greatly exaggerate their church attendance.

Whatever the reason for the disparity, here's the bottom line: For many Americans, church attendance is a central part of their lives. For others, it's a waste of time. If you're in either of these groups, more power to you. But in the spirit of Christmas and the truthteller whose message we celebrate, surely believers and atheists can agree on what to tell folks who talk Jesus but walk Santa: Enough with the two-faced posturing.

The Christian War On Christmas?

It may seem like Christmas has always been celebrated in the United States, but that's not the case. In fact, the joyous religious holiday was actually banned in America for several decades – by Christians themselves.

The original war on Christmas was waged during the sixteenth and seventeenth century by Puritans, or Protestant Christians who believed that people needed strict rules to be religious and that any kind of merrymaking was sinful.

"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism," according to "Shocked by the Bible" (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008). "Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681."

All Christmas activities, including dancing, seasonal plays, games, singing carols, cheerful celebration – and especially drinking – were banned by the Puritan-dominated Parliament of England in 1644, with the Puritans of New England following suit. Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and the Plymouth colony made celebrating Christmas a criminal offense, according to "Once Upon a Gospel" (Twenty-Third Publications, 2008).

Christmas trees and decorations were considered to be unholy pagan rituals, and the Puritans also banned traditional Christmas foods such as mince pies and pudding. Puritan laws required that stores and businesses remain open all day on Christmas, and town criers walked through the streets on Christmas Eve calling out "No Christmas, no Christmas!"

In England, the ban on the holiday was lifted in 1660, when Charles II took over the throne. However, the Puritan presence remained in New England and Christmas did not become a legal holiday there until 1856. Even then, some schools continued to hold classes on December 25 until 1870.

Although the change was gradual, people began to once again embrace the holiday until Christmas as we know it today – complete with mistletoe, eggnog and candy canes – was celebrated throughout the American colonies.

France builds warships for Russia

Top officials in Moscow have accepted a French offer to help supply the Russian navy with two new amphibious assault warships, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Friday.

The offer came from a consortium led by two French manufacturers -- DCNS and STX -- working in conjunction with Russian shipyards.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Air Bear (the good kind)

From a friend on the politics board:

He's had the stuffing knocked out of him a few times, but Lt. Col. Chester E. Bear still managed to parachute behind enemy lines during the Korean War and also serve in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. At one point, Chester even visited the South Pole.

That's a pretty illiustrious military career, especially for a teddy bear.

View more photos.

Chester's story began in 1950 when 3-year-old Katy Toole gave him to her Air Force father to take on a humanitarian mission. "I had to fly an iron lung to a little girl and Katy said, 'Give the little girl my teddy bear.' After the girl got better she sent Chester back," retired Lt. Larry Toole said.

The 89-year-old Toole flew B24 bombers in WWII and served in the Air Force Reserves after the war. "One day Katy was playing on the lawn with her teddy bear and a neighbor who was also in the reserves said, 'We need a mascot like that.' He was just kidding," Toole said. "But Katy overheard and said, 'Why don't you make my teddy bear the mascot?' "

Seemed like a great idea at the time, and Chester was promptly enlisted and outfitted. "The officers' wives sewed his tiny uniforms," Toole said.

In 1952, when Toole was called up to serve in Korea, Chester went to war, too. "We had four squadrons, and we passed him around from squadron to squadron," Toole said.

Along the way, Chester even learned how to parachute. "He had a 20-foot-long red ribbon for identification," Toole said. "We threw
him out the rear of the airplane with other jump troops. When they threw him out, he had a cable that automatically opened his chute."

Chester's reputation grew far and wide. "Once in Korea when he jumped, the infantry got him and they wouldn't give him back," Tolle said. Chester was declared missing in action for about three weeks before he was returned.

Chester is named for Maj. Gen. Chester E. McCarty, who is the former commander of the 10th Air Force. "Maj. Gen. McCarty was our commanding officer," Toole said, "and he took the bear with him to many bases. He took a liking to him and babied him. Chester was Air Force property."

With all that traveling about and jumping out of airplanes, Chester got a bit beaten up. "He's been restuffed five or six times," Toole said. One time he was "treated" for a torn ear, but accounts of the time say he did not report to sick bay.

Fast-forward to 1966: Katy had just graduated from Los Gatos High School and was living in Monte Sereno when she went to Portland and was reunited with Chester during a week of festivities hosted by the 313th Troop Carrier Squadron. By then, Chester had so many medals it was hard to keep track of them all. In addition to the standard dog tags that are still around his neck, Chester has earned his pilot's bars and a purple heart with cluster. "He's got medals we don't even know about," Toole said. "He's got medals from Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm."

When Chester returned from the Persian Gulf, he was retired from active duty. "They had him in a glass case on display in Portland," Toole said, "and then he went into storage."

Eventually, Chester was returned to Toole, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law in Campbell. Chester's "mother," Katy, now lives in San Jose and visits her father and bear regularly.

And so it is this Veterans Day that the words of 5-year-old Katy ring as true now as they did in a long ago newspaper interview she gave. "I'm awfully proud of Chester, but in a way I'm a little sorry I let him go to war," Katy said in 1953. "You see, he used to be my playmate, but now he's more like a boyfriend."

Photo caption: L: Katy Toole plays with her teddy bear, which she gave to the Air Force in 1950 for a mascot. (Family photo) R: Veteran Larry Toole shows off Lt. Col. Chester E. Bear. (George Sakkestad/Los Gatos Weekly Times)

Monday, December 20, 2010

About Damn Time

BRUSSELS — The European air safety agency says it will unveil on Monday a new proposal to combat pilot fatigue, known as the "silent killer" of civil aviation.

The new rules, which come into effect in 2012, will limit flight hours for air crews and standardize the current hodgepodge of national regulations across the continent.

The proposal would bar airlines from scheduling pilots to be on duty — both waiting to fly or in the cockpit flying — longer than 14 hours in a day. Nighttime work hours would be reduced to 12.

The European pilots association said that the agency buckled under pressure from the airlines. The association said in a statement the proposal ignores independent research into fatigue affecting aircrew, which recommends a maximum of 12 hours on duty during daytime and 10 hours at night.

Ouf Friends, The Pakistani ISI,8599,2037875,00.html?hpt=T2

In trying to figure out what's happening in Pakistan these days let's not fool ourselves. The ISI is not a rogue agency that does exactly what it wants. It falls squarely under Pakistan's military. The commander and chief controls the budget as well as personnel appointments. At any time, he can remove the ISI's director. And since Pakistan's military is the ultimate executive authority in the country, it would be safe to conclude Pakistan itself permitted the suit against the CIA.

Conceding that I've climbed out on a long speculative limb — but who doesn't when it comes to Pakistan? — we should be wondering just how much purchase we've lost in Pakistan. They want our money, but not our drones. They don't want the United States to fall into the arms of India, but they also do not intend to kowtow to us. They want to be a part of any settlement in Afghanistan, but they won't or can't bring the Taliban under control. But now, with leading elements of the country possibly going after the CIA, whether it's by leaking a name or by fighting it in the courts, we should start wondering whether Pakistan is done with the bargaining on the war on terror.

Read more:,8599,2037875,00.html#ixzz18fEEf2zp

Thursday, December 16, 2010

High School Never Ends

They say you never escape high school. And for better or worse, science is lending some credibility to that old saw. Thanks to sophisticated imaging technology and a raft of longitudinal studies, we’re learning that the teen years are a period of crucial brain development subject to a host of environmental and genetic factors. This emerging research sheds light not only on why teenagers act they way they do, but how the experiences of adolescence—from rejection to binge drinking—can affect who we become as adults, how we handle stress, and the way we bond with others.

One of the most important discoveries in this area of study, says Dr. Frances Jensen, a neuroscientist at Harvard, is that our brains are not finished maturing by adolescence, as was previously thought. Adolescent brains “are only about 80 percent of the way to maturity,” she said at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November. It takes until the mid-20s, and possibly later, for a brain to become fully developed.

An excess of gray matter (the stuff that does the processing) at the beginning of adolescence makes us particularly brilliant at learning—the reason we’re so good at picking up new languages starting in early childhood—but also particularly sensitive to the influences of our environment, both emotional and physical. Our brains’ processing centers haven’t been fully linked yet, particularly the parts responsible for helping to check our impulses and considering the long-term repercussions of our actions. “It’s like a brain that’s all revved up not knowing where it needs to go,” says Jensen.

It’s partially because of this developmental timeline that a teen can be so quick to conjure a stinging remark, or a biting insult, and so uninhibited in firing it off at the nearest unfortunate target—a former friend, perhaps, or a bewildered parent. The impulse to hurl an insult is there, just as it may be for an adult in a stressful situation, but the brain regions that an adult might rely on to stop himself from saying something cruel just haven’t caught up.

Or consider risky sexual behavior. Recent studies suggest that the teen brain is particularly sensitive to activities—like sex—that trigger a response in the neurotransmitter dopamine, the same chemical often associated with both addiction and healthier behaviors having to do with motivation and reward. The brains of a teen couple upstairs at a party, maybe a bit drunk, are firing like crazy in anticipation of sex; unfortunately, they’re lacking full development of the brain regions that in an adult would interject with this urgent message: don’t forget to use a condom.

In a paper published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Jay Giedd, a scientist at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institutes of Mental Health, wrote that, according to brain scans conducted over several years, gray-matter volume peaks around or just before the beginning of puberty, and then continuously declines. In contrast, white matter (the stuff that helps connect areas of the brain) increases right up to, and beyond, the end of puberty.

These adolescent brain developments don’t happen to all parts of the brain at the same time. “The order in which this maturation of connection goes, is from the back of the brain to the front of the brain,” says Jensen.

And one of the last parts to mature is the frontal lobe, a large area responsible for modulating reward, planning, impulsiveness, attention, acceptable social behavior, and other roles that are known as executive functions.

It’s thanks in part to the frontal lobe that we are able to schedule our time with any sort of efficiency, plan in advance to arrange for a designated driver on a night out (or stop drinking before one is over the legal limit), and restrain ourselves from getting into fights any time we get involved in an argument. Unfortunately, it’s just these sorts of behaviors that teenage brains are not fully endowed to deal with—and the consequences are potentially fatal when it comes to high-risk behavior like drinking and driving.

This blast of teen-brain change is compounded by profound social and psychological shifts. Of particular importance is that adolescence is the time when we develop stronger social connections with our peers, and more independence from our parents.

“Before the transition to adolescence, kids’ interactions with one another, and the kinds of friendships that they have, are substantially different,” explains Dr. Mitch Prinstein, professor and director of clinical psychology, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “After adolescence they can really confide in friends, they turn to them as first sources of social support. Kids tell us all the time they are more likely to tell their friends about things going on in their lives, and stressors, than any adult.”

This cuts both ways. Healthy relationships have a positive effect on how an adolescent navigates through a tumultuous period of life. But at the same time, this reliance on friends makes young people susceptible to the influence of peer pressure, even when it is indirect.

“The most potent predictors of why adolescents engage in all kinds of health-risk behaviors—substance use, sexual behavior, even recently, self-cutting—is very much related to how much they perceive that their close friends are doing the same thing, or someone that they consider very cool and popular is doing the same thing,” says Prinstein.

And, the latest research shows that some of these risky behaviors may have surprising lifelong consequences. Toni Pak, assistant professor in the department of cell and molecular physiology, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University, Chicago, recently demonstrated that rats exposed to binge drinking as adolescents developed some troubling issues as adults. When given alcohol, the former teen binge-drinking rats had abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol; and when given repeated doses of alcohol, their brains failed to desensitize to the stress-hormone response as quickly as those of normal rats. When the rats’ brains were analyzed postmortem, Pak found that the former adolescent drinkers had profound changes in the genetic expression of the system that regulates stress-hormone release. “That is the same type of profile that we see in adult patients who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder” and other mood disorders, says Pak. “They are not able to get used to stressors and they have very exaggerated responses to mild stress.”

Meanwhile, a Harvard study found that kids who smoked pot before age 16 had more lifelong cognitive problems than those who started smoking after 16. The tests were done on subjects with an average age of 22, and those who smoked pot earlier had problems remembering details, making decisions, and responding quickly when directions changed.

Other research supports the hypothesis that these kinds of prolonged impacts of environmental exposure—not just to alcohol, but to other types of factors, like bullying or abuse—can persist through adulthood, and possibly be passed down to future generations. Just last year, a study of the brains of suicide victims who had been abused as children showed abnormalities in the genetic expression of the same general stress-regulation system, called the HPA axis, that Pak studied in rats.

Another study found that peer rejection and public speaking create a greater chemical stress response in adolescents compared with children. The authors of the paper on this study noted that an increased stress response might be a biological strategy that allows adolescents to adapt to their environments, but that in high-risk individuals this upward shift in stress response “may tip the balance toward stress-response dysregulation associated with depression and other psychopathology.” As Kevin Beaver, a Florida State University researcher who studies adolescence and crime, says, “Stress can pull the trigger on the genetic gun.”

The good news is that most of us make it out of adolescence just fine. And while a better understanding of the teenage brain may bring into focus dangers we hadn’t known existed, it may also allow us to identify who is at risk.

For instance, Prinstein says that the social and psychological dynamics that make adolescents susceptible to acting on the real or perceived pressure of their peers can also be a system for resisting those same pressures. Sometimes it is the adolescents who have been picked on, but have found compatriots, whose anticonformist attitude protects against both the harassment by, and the social pressure from, higher-status peers. And surprisingly, sometimes the teens most at risk are in the middle and upper range of social status, but not quite at the top.

Beaver, who studies the link between biology and environment and how it affects who becomes a violent offender, says that most adolescents are “dabbling with delinquency,” and within a certain boundary, that’s not only normal (as long as it doesn’t go too far), it may be beneficial.

As long as the teenage inclination to dabbling in delinquency is moderate, the vast majority of people, well over 90 percent, says Beaver, grow out of serious delinquent behavior as they become young adults. Right at about the age when the latest findings in neuroscience and advanced imaging tell us our brains are finally matured.

“I wish I had known that when I was an adolescent,” says Beaver. “I’d have told my parents.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What the Internet Knows About You

Imagine that a company could use the Web to rate your health, your employability—even your dating appeal. Welcome to the credit score of the future.

Imagine you’re an employer, looking to hire me for a job. You subscribe to a Web site that gives you background information, and this is what you find. Jessica Rose Bennett, 29, spends 30 hours a week on social-networking sites—while at work. She is an excessive drinker, a drug user, and sexually promiscuous. She swears a lot, and spends way beyond her means shopping online. Her writing ability? Superior. Cost to hire? Cheap.

In reality, only part of this is true: yes, I like a good bourbon. But drugs? That comes from my reporting projects—and one in particular that took me to a pot farm in California. The promiscuity? My boyfriend of five years (that’s him above) would beg to differ on that, but I did once write a story about polyamory. I do spend hours on social-networking sites, but it’s part of my job. And I’m not nearly as cheap to hire as the Web would have you believe. (Take note, future employers!)

The irony, of course, is that if this were a real job search, none of this would matter—I’d have already lost the job. But this is the kind of information surmisable to anybody with a Web connection and a bit of background data, who wants to take the time to compile it all. For this particular experiment, we asked ReputationDefender, a company that works to keep information like this private, to do a scrub of the Web, with nothing but my (very common) name and e-mail address to go on. Three Silicon Valley engineers, several decades of experience, and access to publicly available databases like Spokeo, Facebook, and LinkedIn (no, they didn’t do any hacking)—and voilĂ . Within 30 minutes, the company had my Social Security number; in two hours, they knew where I lived, my body type, my hometown, and my health status. (Note: this isn’t part of ReputationDefender’s service; they did the search—and accompanying graphic— exclusively for NEWSWEEK, to show how much about a person is out there for the taking.)

It’s scary stuff, but scarier when you realize it’s the kind of information that credit-card companies and data aggregators are already selling, for pennies, to advertisers every day. Or that it’s the kind of data, as The Wall Street Journal revealed last week, that’s being blasted to third parties when you download certain apps on Facebook. (Under close watch by Congress, Facebook has said it’s working to “dramatically limit” its users’ personal exposure.) “Most people are still under the illusion that when they go online, they’re anonymous,” says Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But in reality, “every move they make is being collected into a database.”

This, say tech experts, is the credit score of the future—a kind of aggregated ranking for every aspect of your life. It’s an assessment that goes beyond the limits of targeted advertising—you know, those pesky shoe banners that follow a visit to Zappos, made possible by tracking devices we know as “cookies”—by making use of the data in ways that are more personal and, potentially, damaging. Think HMOs, loan applications, romantic partners. Let’s say you’ve been hitting up a burger joint twice a week, and you happen to joke, in a post on Twitter, how all the meat must be wreaking havoc on your cholesterol. Suddenly your health-insurance premiums go up. Now imagine your job is listed on; your vacation preferences linked to Orbitz. Think how this could affect your social standing, or your ability to negotiate a raise or apply for a loan. Finally, what if you could know, based on Web history and location tracking, that a prospective mate had a communicable disease. Wouldn’t you pay to find out? “Most of us just don’t realize the potential consequences of this,” says Lorrie Cranor, a Web-privacy expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

Think it sounds shady? It’s perfectly legal—and happening already. In 2009, a Quebec woman who was receiving sick leave for depression had her disability benefits revoked after her insurance company discovered photos on Facebook—her profile was public—where she looked like she was having fun. At the time, a spokesperson for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association told reporters that such information is fair game. Credit-card companies use social media to determine what kind of offers might work the best on your social group—or to get insight on whether you’d default on a loan. Ultimately, it’s safe to assume that every Web site you visit—yep, that means NEWSWEEK, too—reserves the right to install tracking technology on your computer, eating up information about your tastes, guilty pleasures, and everything in between. Each company can then decide where that trove of data ultimately ends up—and, for data gold mines like Facebook, there’s very little incentive to keep it to themselves. “It’s not only Global 2000 and Fortune 2000 companies who want this information,” says Michael Fertik, the founder and CEO of ReputationDefender. “Eventually, it’s going to be every person in your life.” The ultimate paradox? It doesn’t matter if the information is wrong—or, in my case, comically incomplete.

Alcoholics Anonymous as a spiritual experience

Only the first of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions alcohol. The other 11 talk about redemption, restoring moral character, and devotion to God (or other higher power).

From that perspective, it makes sense that a new study finds that Alcoholics Anonymous increases spirituality. But it goes further than that: Spirituality may actually play a role in successful recovery from alcoholism, says research in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The way that Alcoholics Anonymous members share their experiences of suffering is akin to what happens in a military unit or a musical group or a family, where the idea of "we’re all in this together" becomes particularly strong, said Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

"Someone will say something profound that everyone can connect with beyond themselves, and it can be very moving," said Humphreys, who was not involved in the study but also researches the effects of Alcoholics Anonymous. "That is a spiritual process."

Alcoholics Anonymous has more than 1.2 million members in the United States, encompassing more than 55,000 groups across the country. Founded in 1935, participation in this group has shown to be effective in short-term and long-term outcomes in numerous scientific studies. Since a large body of research has found that this and similar groups work (Narcotics Anonymous for drug use, and other organizations), more studies are turning to a deeper question: Why do they work?

Meetings of 12-step support groups vary according to how "religious" they seem, Humphreys said. Some of them are full of discussion about God; others don't emphasize it as much, but focus more philosophically on the nature of being and existence.

"Certainly the basic frame is about minimizing selfishness, minimizing grandiosity, giving to others, accepting character flaws, and apologizing when you’re wrong," Humphreys said.

Addiction to any substance, be it alcohol or marijuana or harder drugs, raises common issues prompting spiritual questions, Humphreys said. These experiences include loss of control, terror, doing things you’re ashamed of, and being close to death, he said.

The new study looked at data from 1,726 adults randomly assigned to different psychosocial treatments for alcoholism. Researchers asked the participants questions at the beginning of the study and then every three months.

They found that participants in Alcoholics Anonymous said they increased their spiritual beliefs and practices, especially people who were low on those measures when they first began Alcoholics Anonymous. Moreover, spiritual beliefs and behaviors appear to at least partially be responsible for successful recovery from alcoholic behaviors. Perhaps that also relates to findings from a separate study that religion breeds happiness because of personal connections made in a congregregation.

Still, spirituality and religiosity don't probably operate alone in Alcoholics Anonymous - the coping skills, support, and other encouragement of abstinence from alcohol likely also help participants in recovery, the authors wrote.

Also, the study does have limitations. For instance, most participants were Caucasian men participating in a larger study called Project MATCH. Also, what is meant by "spirituality" varies and means different things to different people.

This wasn't the only news in favor of Alcoholics Anonymous today. A study published in the same journal found that women returning from prison decreased their drinking habits after weekly meetings of the group for six months.

Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous isn't for everyone, and there are plenty of secular programs out there, such as Rational Recovery, that don't overtly make religiosity part of the process.

Here are some guiding questions to help you decide if you need help with a substance problem: Do you need to consume more and more to get the same effect? Do you find yourself repeatedly consuming more than you intended to? Do you find yourself thinking about your next use? Does your habit end up taking more and more of your time? Are you waking up in the morning thinking about it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Observations 13 DEC 2010

Well, it's certainly the 13th as far as the weather, and my health go. 0 degrees F outside, blowing wind, and ice under snow. Scruffy is going outside for about 30 seconds max. #2 is freezing in seconds after it hits the ground.

Every locale has its bragging rights about how wimpy the locals are about cold and snow. My guideline is that if it is cold enough to kill you, and the dog does not want to go out, it is too cold/snowy. Yesterday and today meet those no-go conditions.

Good thing I have lots of toilet paper. And my antenna farm held up well.

This weekend, there was a band opening on 10 meters (28 MHZ). From being without contacts, now the contesters took over, and breaking into a pileup (one station being worked by many) was near-impossible. And if you were not in a contest, they ignored you. I did get an SSB contact on 6 meters (50.110 USB). The other station immediately got my call, acknowledged, and left, leaving me breathless. The 10 meter madness must have driven someone else frustrated with 10 to seek 6, and discovering I was just a plain US 2x3 call in the Midwest left them with no interest in a QSO.

Many hams are like that. If you are not the DX they want, they'll dump you. It's high school. You learn to deal with it. 10 meters was worse. All they want is new record. Contesters are simply loonies, like furries in fandom.

2 meters was more fruitful, locally. Some old timers helped me out with antenna questions. That is what ham radio is supposed to be.

Obama is triangulating. He's no choice. It's going to be a bad two years for divided government. And, perhaps, to 2016 as well. The economy, for most in the world, is no better. All I can do is pray to be lucky. I really can't change more in the outside world. It's just like ACA- you have to heal yourself first. The world is a giant, dysfunctional, alcoholic family. The US, state, and local governments are starting to get into a more severe stage of dysfunction. They have yet not gotten to Step One yet.

Stuck inside today by my guts. Scruffy is wisely napping. It's the radio, internet, and UVerse today.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Observations 30 NOV 2010

Winter really started today, with the wind.

It was a fairly good day, at work, and at home. The E-Machines laptop is turning into a godsend of a portable, experimental platform. The Win 7 64 bit OS seems to be stable, and performing well.

Finally got my RT Systems cloning software to work with the T-90A, V-8000, and IC-208 H. The trick is to NOT select cloning mode on the radios, prior to cloning; the software does this automatically. Quite a refreshing change from the poor Icom proprietary software. The RT Systems software allows sort features, a basic function not provided for by ICOM. The world also ends at COM 4 for the ICON software- but RT has no problems with USB interfacing. The USB interface from RT is superior.

It will take weeks to get all the radios straightened out, after a several year lapse. Some repeaters are gone, some have changed tones, and all the public service freqs need to be checked. My master spreadsheet is groaning.

Scruffy happy. He's taken to wedging himself between the laptop, and the sofa arm. No way is he going to be second banana to a laptop.

I seem more calm, and relaxed, as I get more things accomplished. A sense of perspective, that only a certain number of things can be done in a day is slowly moderating my absolutist expectations/tendencies of getting everything, or nothing done.

I still need to go grocery shopping. The radios sucked up the time slot for shopping. Damn. Scruffy got his fresh dog food, though from Petco. Guess which one of us starves first. :)

Time to clock in for work (bedtime). I napped a bit, earlier, but that's not so good, according to the doctors. Another behavior modification coming up. The loss of chocolate at work is bad enough. Less soda is being consumed as well. SNARL!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Never Fails...

Went to the bathroom after my previous post (lower GI). I hate 2010.

Then, as I was expressing my feelings for driver conflicts and audio levels, UPS shows up. At 1849. Those guys must have had a really bad day, the first Monday after Turkey Day.

Guy was very polite and efficient as I signed for my Icom cloning software and cables. Universal Radio and UPS delivers, again.

Then, it stopped raining. Scruffy got his walk.

Now, off to Petco for doggie food, and Dierbergs or Shop And Spend for groceries.

I Can't Believe I Ate The Whole Thing....

I'll never order four dinners again. Too. Much. Made me sick, what a surprise. I did it to myself again. Scruffy was happy, though.

Lost two hours of my life watching "Starship Troopers". ARRRGH! I think Heinlein's punishment in Hell is to watch the movie continuously. The movie's so-called humor is lame, and the militarism uber alles comes direct from RAH himself.

And, Neil Patrick Harris as a Nazi Psychic Oberst (Colonel). BLEAH! Not even seeing Dina Meyer topless can make up for this movie.

Nasty grey, cold, rainy day today. Perhaps it was just as well I was sick after all. Staying home seems to have saved me from the horrors my friends reported trying to get to Seth's game tonight. Not to mention rush hour.

Struggling with Ham Radio Deluxe. It seems I have a classic driver problem on my hands with the USB interface with the IC 7200. Not enough audio modulation on transmit. HRD recognizes the radio, and receives very well; it simply transmits a near dead carrier. This has occurred on two different computers, with two different sound cards. The USB audio codec installs fine. Well, it was free... :)

I bought study guides for my General class exam, after this experience. Voice contact has no driver issues with my Heil Pro-Set headset.

Enough of the old guys should die off to give us access to all privileges from 20 meters and higher frequencies, in the next decade. A turning generational marker was when the Morse requirement was dropped in 2007. That marked the *very* end of GI influence. When the Silent cohort dies off (over the next decade), expect 17, 15, 12, and 10 meters to be thrown wide open. There are not enough active hams, and the HF sandbox will have to be shared with us 50+ year old "kids". When the early part of the Viet Nam Boom cohort dies off (1946-1955), we might get 40 meters. They were the last of the hardcore Morse guys, and also, the old lids. We need new lids. :)

Losing 220,440 and higher to commercial users will be the starting gun. The government will need the money. One need only to listen to the dead air on most 220/440 repeaters to confirm this. 2 and 6 meters look safe, and we might see an expansion on 6, when the NAB gives up the ghost on VHF DTV nightmares. Additionally, if the broadcasters have to give up spectrum to wireless, expect the smashing of ham ops above 220 to be assured.

Few new, young members of Congress are hams. But, they all want smartphones. Guess which wins.

Barry Goldwater is an SK now. So is old ham radio. The American Legion/VFW bar that was HF will have to deal with the future, and that means letting us appliance operators on. The old boys won't have, or get, a choice.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

4 Turkey Dinners From Ms. Sheri's!

And, I've eaten two of them. Tasty. With a green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes and pies. Had to stop eating. Too tempting. I'm full.

Scruffy got turkey, but does not like the sleeted-over ground outside.

AT@T has a free holiday weekend of their premium tier on,so I'm not bored. Too much content, but not worth what I'm paying. Seeing channel numbers of 1000+ simply freaks me out, and I'm getting sore fingers from channel changing. Only bad thing about U-Verse so far is not being able to permanently delete all the unwanted channels. There is, of course, a favorite channel list, but it's quite tedious to run through.

The new radio and antenna continue to perform well. Getting good signals out of Europe, Western Asia, and South America. This radio has an excellent RX.

Had a few lonely holiday moments yesterday evening. Napped well into the day today, due to the sleet. Scruffy frustrated, but is now *very* well fed. Nice and warm and safe here, plus food. Life is much better as a dog.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Home Sick Today

Woke up with a sore throat, headache, congestion, and GI problems today.

Scruffy is happy. He's got Daddy all day long, today. Daddy's not so happy about the lost time.

I tried getting rid of my land line. AT&T must really want to retain landline customers, because my monthly bill went down $17/month, and they gave me 6 months free premium movie channels on U-Verse.

As a result, I'm watching all those highly regarded cable TV series. The one I'm impressed with is "The Tudors". Mon Dieu, what a ruthless time in history. The actors are superb, and the production values and writing are excellent. And, the producers are virtually guaranteed to keep making money, on future sales, and syndication.

Unfortunately, the regular cost of the premium content would enable me to buy the DVD's instead. I did this with the Hornblower series, and have not regretted it. (A&E has sadly gone downhill since then) All the others eventually show up, in time, at the library. Online is possible, but I'm a cranky old reactionary who wants the physical media. Something about data loss, and limited drive space... :) It does put me behind my peers who keep in step with the latest popular culture. Fortunately, enough material gets leaked for me to cope, and decide what I want to buy. My own version of a-la-carte, cable/sat if you will. As for simply recording, then wiping, time-shifting never really works out well for me. If I don't have the time, I don't have the time to watch it later. Hence, permanent physical media. No one is willing to admit that there are limits on what one can keep up with, culturally.

No wonder advertisers hate my demo. We know what we want.

As we get even deeper into financial crisis, more, and younger demographics will be faced with the same problems. Disposable income is shrinking. You get three markets: Crap, Middlebrow OK, and stuff people will always pay money for.

Roger Ailes may not like this, but PBS and NPR may be the last terrestrial networks standing in time. Consumers of public content may grumble, but they will pay to play. The individual shows on the other networks may find it easier to cut out the middle part of distributing. Only sports and news will keep terrestrial broadcasting alive, and we are already seeing consolidation in the smaller markets, without major local sports.

Time to be sick again. 2010 sucks. It's definitely hurt my health. The loss of my last living parent is a point of no return, psychologically. I'm old, now.

This will not be a well regarded year for anyone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good Weekend, Bad GI Tract. 15 NOV 2010

Many, many things were accomplished this weekend. The new front door and screen door were installed. This greatly enhances the security, energy efficiency, and appearance of the house.

I *found* my DVD's, VHS tapes, and soundtrack CD's, after moving a hundred tubs (averaging 35 lbs each). They were on the west wall of the north wing of the basement, on the bottom, of course. Choirs of angels were heard... :)

Scruffy got a trim. PETCO unfortunately put him at the end of the line, and it was four hours waiting. Not a happy doggie. Had to spend a lot of quality time to calm him. He is much prettier, of course...

The new Icom IC 7200 and G5RV continue to impress. Splendid radio. Excellent for shortwave listening as well. I bought a copy of the WRTV, and have been merrily logging new stations.

Bad news: They got the size of the back bedroom door wrong. This means another burnt vacation day. Worse, the front bedroom/entertainment center door will not accept a modern lock. It will have to go as well. Another day lost. Both doors will be solid oak, with deadbolts for security. Owning an older house has it's issues.

Had to miss my church meeting on Sunday. Wore myself out with the DVD search. That probably triggered the lower GI episode this morning. Snarl!

Ominously, my main PC is getting twitchy. An E-Machine, it has lasted three years. My $223.00 laptop, which I'm writing this on, is looking to be a wiser and wiser purchase everyday. It may well be the primary computer soon. Drive cages for IDE drives are getting rarer, but Micro Center stocks them. I've got two already (for 2 500 GB data drives), and a third, for the main drive in the PC may well be in the offing. This laptop is running exceptionally cool, compared with the new Dell's we have at work, costing five times as much. That 13 port USB hub looks pretty good, now...

I've given up again on the political board. Someone descended into a set of nasty personal attacks this weekend. Surprisingly, they were not on me, as I'm a joke. The midterms demonstrated that we will not be accomplishing any real progress until 2016, and perhaps until 2024 (the next two term presidential cycle). We will be at the mercy of "black swans". The economy will continue it's British-style fall. Quantitative easing is worse than useless, and will only postpone the agony of default. California municipals might be the next default, triggering the state and local debt default. Double-tax free isn't looking so well. State/local pensions may well follow, crushing the equity markets in which they are such large players (CALPERS).

If the Republican House begins a purge of federal employees, watch out. Many will cash out retirement plans, just to stay alive, just as so many private sector employees have been forced to do. Home foreclosures will almost certainly follow. To kill off one of the reliable sources of the Democratic party's base, they may well cripple the US. Note that I have not included the effects of lost services and regulation, or the ripple effect for government-related businesses. This is already happening at the local and state levels. (the speed traps are getting worse, not better...) This will not matter to the Republican base, if the Mad Hatters achieve the wet dream. After all, bad things only happen to other people, right?

Just got word this morning that Northrup Grumman is preparing to exit the shipbuilding business. That's right. They own the two largest military shipyards on the Gulf (which they will consolidate at Pascagoula), and Newport News. No more carriers. Northrup Grumman is expecting major cuts from the new House.

No wonder the Asians and Indians were laughing their asses off. Obama's trip was a long humiliation.

Except China isn't laughing. With so many of their assets in dollars, any reduction in the US economy kills investments, strains the Chinese currency, and kills off US consumer demand. With all the internal troubles in China, this is kind of scary.

Bathroom time. Sorry.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pirates Use Captured Freighter To Attack Warship

Soon, they will be sinking the pirates first, then asking questions later.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

While You Were Napping

35 miles out, in international waters.

The President is in India.

It's one week after the midterms.

Most of our Navy is elsewhere.

You decide.

Just Like Mummy...

BERKELEY – In the United States, the scent of decline is in the air. Imperial overreach, political polarization, and a costly financial crisis are weighing on the economy. Some pundits now worry that America is about to succumb to the “British disease.”

Doomed to slow growth, the US of today, like the exhausted Britain that emerged from World War II, will be forced to curtail its international commitments. This will create space for rising powers like China, but it will also expose the world to a period of heightened geopolitical uncertainty.

In thinking about these prospects, it is important to understand the nature of the British disease. It was not simply that America and Germany grew faster than Britain after 1870. After all, it is entirely natural for late-developing countries to grow rapidly, as is true of China today. The problem was Britain’s failure in the late nineteenth century to take its economy to the next level.

Britain was slow to move from the old industries of the first Industrial Revolution into modern sectors like electrical engineering, which impeded the adoption of mass-production methods. It also failed to adopt precision machinery that depended on electricity, which prevented it from producing machined components for use in assembling typewriters, cash registers, and motor vehicles. The same story can be told about other new industries like synthetic chemicals, dyestuffs, and telephony, in all of which Britain failed to establish a foothold.

The rise of new economic powers with lower costs made employment loss in old industries like textiles, iron and steel, and shipbuilding inevitable. But Britain’s signal failure was in not replacing these old nineteenth-century industries with new twentieth-century successors.

Is America doomed to the same fate? Answering this question requires understanding the reasons behind Britain’s lack of technological progressiveness. One popular explanation is a culture that denigrated industry and entrepreneurship. Over the long course of British modernization, the industrial classes were absorbed into the establishment. From the mid-nineteenth century, the best minds went into politics, not business. Enterprise managers promoted from the shop floor were, it is said, second rate.

Now we supposedly see a similar problem in the US. In the words of David Brooks of The New York Times: “After decades of affluence, the US has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation’s wealth in the first place….America’s brightest minds have been abandoning industry and technical enterprise in favor of more prestigious but less productive fields like law, finance, consulting, and nonprofit activism.”

In fact, this supposed explanation for British decline has not stood the test of time. There is no systematic evidence that British managers were inferior. Indeed, expanding the pool of potential managers beyond the children of a firm’s founders had precisely the opposite effect. It allowed the cream to rise to the top.

In today’s America, too, it is hard to find evidence of this purported problem. Silicon Valley companies do not complain of a dearth of talented managers. There is no shortage of new MBAs establishing start-ups or even going to work for auto companies.

A second popular explanation for British decline focuses on the educational system. Oxford and Cambridge, established long before the industrial era, produced eminent philosophers and historians, but too few scientists and engineers. It is difficult, however, to see how this argument applies to the US, whose universities remain world leaders, attracting graduate students in science and engineering from around the world – many of whom remain in the country.

Still others explain British decline as a function of the financial system. British banks, having grown up in the early nineteenth century, when industry’s capital needs were modest, specialized in financing foreign trade rather than domestic investment, thereby starving industry of the capital needed to grow.

In fact, actual evidence of any such British bias in favor of foreign over domestic investment is weak. And, in any case, that history, too, is irrelevant to the US today, which is on the receiving, not the sending, end of foreign investment.

A final explanation for Britain’s failure to keep up makes economic policy the culprit. Britain failed to put in place an effective competition policy. In response to the collapse of demand in 1929, it erected high tariff walls. Sheltered from foreign competition, industry grew fat and lazy. After WWII, repeated shifts between Labour and Conservative governments led to stop-go policies that heightened uncertainty and created chronic financial problems.

Herein lies the most convincing explanation for British decline. The country failed to develop a coherent policy response to the financial crisis of the 1930’s. Its political parties, rather than working together to address pressing economic problems, remained at each other’s throats. The country turned inward. Its politics grew fractious, its policies erratic, and its finances increasingly unstable.

In short, Britain’s was a political, not an economic, failure. And that history, unfortunately, is all too pertinent to America’s fate.

Barry Eichengreen is Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.

Mad Hatters Get Trashy

A Valley community's decision to change the way trash is picked up provided further proof of how deeply the nation's anti-government, "tea party"-fueled sentiment is running.

A decision by the Fountain Hills Town Council to hire a single trash hauler and begin a curbside recycling program has been met with angry protests from residents who accuse town leaders of overstepping their bounds and taking a leap toward socialism.

Some even likened it to "Obamacare" for garbage, calling it "trashcare."

An Arizona website affiliated with the Alexandria, Va.,-based Campaign for Liberty,, features an intimidating, cigar-chomping man standing in front of the town's famous fountain next to a story about the issue.

And last week, a flier was circulated around Fountain Hills with an ominous icon and the phrase, "The Hills Will Have Eyes," and that claimed the "Fountain Hills Green Police" checked residents' garbage and recyclables, and as a result, "you are wanted for questioning."

On Thursday, a divided council approved a five-year contract with Allied Waste Services to be the single hauler and begin a recycling program. Residents currently can choose among five haulers and the town has no curbside recycling.

That single issue generated a nearly five-hour public hearing and council debate that went past midnight.

Fountain Hills Mayor Jay Schlum believes the angry reaction, which also included e-mails to the mayor and council, was fueled by this year's election.

"I don't think people would have been as on edge had it not been following one of the more volatile elections we've had in our country's history, at least as far as I've been around," he said. "But that doesn't mean what they brought up isn't valid or anything. It just added more heat to those arguments."

Peter Bardow, an opponent, said the issue isn't about politics, but about taking away his and other residents' right to choose their own trash hauler. "I feel like you're forcing homeowners-association regulation and homeowners-association enforcement on me," he said.

Fountain Hills is home to two tea-party groups - Fountain Hills Tea Party and Fountain Hills Tea Party Patriots.

Many opponents were energized by this week's election in which Republicans made significant gains in congressional and state races. They related the local proposal to what they see as increasing government control under President Barack Obama's administration.

The Fountain Hills Tea Party posted this announcement on its website in advance of Thursday's meeting: "7 people will decide who will provide your trash collection services and take away your ability to choose that on your own. If you don't like government telling you what to do, show up at the meeting and voice your opposition. If it's not broken, don't let government try to fix it."

The Fountain Hills Tea Party and Arizona Campaign for Liberty could not be reached for further comment. Schlum believes the continuing weakness in the economy played a role in the opposition.

"There are a lot of things that contribute to where people are coming from," he said. "These days you've got to respect that, and at the same time there's personal responsibility and you want to make sure people aren't being threatening or hostile, or you hope that's not the case."

Councilwoman Ginny Dickey, who also supported the measure, said she felt that her motivations were especially questioned because she is the only Democratic council member and worked for seven years at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

"It seems counterintuitive, but in order for this proposal to pass, I believe I had to downplay the benefits of recycling," she said. "When ideology prevents rational discussion of a really pretty mundane topic, trash, there is no perspective. Everything is suspect, which paralyzes us."

Hal, the Speed Camera

Speed cameras have dubious legality in many places here in the States, but over in Europe they're an ugly fact of life. Now they're getting smarter, and the first is going into deployment in Finland. It's called ASSET, the Advanced Safety and Driver Support for Essential Road Transport, which confusingly abbreviates to ASDSERT and is the product of £7 million in government funding and years of development. Each of the £50,000 (about $80,000) cameras can naturally tell just how fast you're going and, if you're speeding, take a picture of you and your license plate number. That's just the beginning. It can also look up the status of your insurance, tell if you're wearing a seatbelt, and ding you for tailgating, all while sitting alone on the side of the road, relying on a wireless data connection and an internal generator to be totally self-sufficient. Whether or not this is scary depends largely on your propensity for speed, but know that the things will be getting built into police cars soon and will shortly be heading over here to our big, wide American highways

Pennsylvania Paranoia

Innocent Citizens Have Nothing Fear:

Pennsylvania made national news in September for all the wrong reasons.

The Patriot-News reported that Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security had been tracking groups engaged in lawful, peaceful protests, including groups opposed to natural gas drilling, peace activists and gay rights groups. An embarrassed Gov. Ed Rendell, who said that he had been unaware of the program until he read the newspaper, issued an immediate order to halt it.

It turns out the homeland security office or its private consultant were doing more than just monitoring law-abiding citizens.

They were comparing environmental activists to Al-Qaeda.

They were tracking down protesters and grilling their parents.

They were seeking a network of citizen spies to combat the security threats they saw in virtually any legal political activity.

And they were feeding their suspicions not only to law enforcement, but to dozens of private businesses from natural gas drillers to The Hershey Co.

Internal e-mails from the Homeland Security office reveal a determined effort to recruit local people receiving its intelligence bulletins — municipal police chiefs, county sheriffs, local emergency management personnel — into its network of citizen spies.

The goal was to get those locals to start feeding information to the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, a private “intelligence” contractor working with the state’s Homeland Security office.

In an e-mail to ITRR in June, former OHS Director James Powers explains, “Thus far, we’ve pushed information to the customer and haven’t actually requested feedback regarding the sites/cities mentioned” in the bulletins.

“We’re not looking for them to dump everything on us that occurs in their jurisdiction,” he writes, “only that which relates to the critical infrastructure. In turn, we’ll provide it to you for the analysts to review and make further findings.”

However, the definition of “critical infrastructure” employed by Powers and ITRR was clearly very broad. The bulletins were, in fact, loaded with information about legal and peaceful activities by activist groups of all political persuasions.

ITRR’S contract expired in October and, following the revelations in September, Rendell ordered it not to be renewed. The governor declined to fire Powers, but Powers resigned a few weeks later.

State lawmakers held a single hearing on the tracking of these groups. Some want more answers.

And while the state’s contract with ITRR was not renewed, the programs continue.

ITRR continues to monitor law-abiding citizens for its corporate clients.

The Pennsylvania State Police is hiring five new analysts for its Criminal Intelligence Center to take over the role of identifying threats to critical infrastructure.

Using the State Police is “a better avenue,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, whose own rallies were listed in the intelligence bulletins as a “moderate threat.”

“At the same time, as they move these operations in-house, they need to ensure checks and balances are in place,” he said.

‘Shades of Al-Qaeda’

From the very first page of the very first bulletin published by Homeland Security, ITRR focused not on groups with a clear terrorist agenda such as Islamists or Neo-Nazis, but on political activists.

The contractor argued that even though groups are non-violent, they can conduct “demonstrations and campaigns that can close down a facility and embarrass a company.”

Pennsylvania was ITRR’s only government client. The contractor made the lion’s share of its money serving private corporate clients.

Regular readers of the bulletins could easily begin to view activists as a threat. The bulletins freely mixed references to actual terrorist activity abroad with warnings about the non-violent, lawful activities of Pennsylvania citizens.

A July 30 bulletin that discusses “jihadist threats in France” quoting Al-Qaeda, also warns that natural gas drilling events “may draw unruly crowds.”

The bulletin warns of “flashpoints for confrontations over natural gas drilling” and provides a list of meetings “singled out by anti-drilling activists.” The list includes township supervisors meetings, county commissioners meetings and a possible Pennsylvania Forestry Association meeting in Mechanicsburg.

The bulletins also freely label activist groups to make them sound menacing — sometimes inconsistently.

The July 30 bulletin claims that “areas of significant drilling activity in Pennsylvania have also been the scene of eco-terrorist vandalism to drilling equipment.” It warns local law enforcement agencies to “remain aware of the potential for large, sometimes hostile confrontations between landowners, anti-drilling environmentalist militants and gas drilling employees.”

The very first bulletin mentions a planned training for anti-drilling activists in Ithaca, N.Y. by “The Ruckus Group” — actually the Ruckus Society, founded in 1995 by former Greenpeace activists.

That bulletin says “training provided by the Ruckus Group does not include violent tactics.” However, the next bulletin suddenly changes tack, calling the group a “non-profit entity providing training to anarchists in methods of destroying gas pipelines.”

“They’re not focused on illegal activity — they’re focused on people organizing, and clearly everybody’s in bed with the drilling industry,” said Witold Walczak, legal director for ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“It’s one thing for private industry to hire groups like ITRR to gather information, but for the government to get involved — you’ve got a nasty menage-a-trois going on here and the citizen activists are the ones getting fracked.”

How did the leaders at ITRR view legal political activity? In a May 3 e-mail sent to Powers, ITRR co-founder Mike Perelman writes:

“The Internet is an incredible force multiplier — example: I doubt that the Rainforest Action Network or the Ruckus Group number more than 25 people each. But they have incredible reach, sophistication, and influence on local groups.”

Perelman immediately followed with this description: “Shades of Al Qaeda!”

Powers was suspicious that political activism equaled drug dealing.

On Aug. 25, Powers e-mails Perelman saying, “Somewhere out there is a nexus between the drug traffickers and those criminals desiring to harm us — whether at the local level or organized, home-grown, splinter-cell would-be terrorists. Have our analysts uncovered any indication of drugs and all the protest group activities they’ve been reporting?”

Perelman responds, “I don’t think we’ll see much organized drug activity from the anarchist/eco groups. Not because they’re clean, but because they’re paranoid. They know they’re always one step away from ‘police repression.’¤”

He adds that ITRR had not been looking for connections with the drug world, but, “We could try and tease out some information if we started with a couple PA trafficker names to track and cross reference through our database and live communications.”

Coffee and donuts

In August, as the time drew near for ITRR’s contract renewal, Powers shifted the planning for a network of citizen informants into high gear. He sent a long e-mail to his “ITRR Colleagues” entitled “The Missing Piece — Input from the Field.”

Powers tells ITRR, “We are extremely pleased with the product ITRR has developed/delivered thus far — a superb job by all involved — whoever they are!”

He goes on to say, “The piece that we still miss, however — and have no ability or authority to fix — is the input from the ground-level stakeholders here in PA.”

Powers had told all recipients of the bulletins that their input would be “valuable” to ITRR.

“I am not pleased with what I have received from the field,” he writes, “but I know it’s neither a result of your efforts nor caused by personality/Southern drawl. We’ll continue to attempt to cultivate these relationships and trust in order to facilitate the flow of information from these groups to the (Tactical Action Monitoring Center in Jerusalem) via this office. Consider this another task for the person you wish to add to the upcoming contract.”

Despite the initial reluctance of local authorities, Powers would not give up on the idea.

“Hopefully I can use my CIP Advisory Group to provide you some internal, security-related data that may be of interest,” he writes. “I feel there is valuable, untapped information out there that may be of use to your analysts/researchers.”

He got prompt responses from ITRR’s Pennsylvania case worker Erik Miller as well as both founders of ITRR, Mike Perelman and Aaron Richman.

Perelman, who had been discussing the issue with Powers for at least a month, compliments Powers for being “ahead of the curve.”

“I can picture a person in your office arranging county by county (brief) training sessions that would educate people on intelligence, the cycle, their role, etc.,” writes Perelman. “Every time you and I have met people in the field, it has resulted in ground-up information sharing.”

Miller agrees, and adds, “I see the problem from a social-interaction perspective. Perhaps people are reluctant to share sensitive information with an unknown email account. On the other hand, by meeting with people, looking them in the eye, shaking their hand; that I think is the beginning to better information flow.”

Richman writes: “We should be able to outreach to the various sectors, bring them in for coffee and donuts and present them with a presentation that explains their role in the intel cycle. We explain to them what the adversary may be doing to ‘use’ the specific sector. Not just to target the (critical infrastructure), but how the adversary plans, trains, recruits .... We would give them a business card with a number to call, an email to send for anything that is not an emergency and meets the ‘shopping list’ of suspicious indicators and warning signs that we submitted to them.”

Guilt by inclusion

At a state Senate hearing, Powers testified, “We never targeted groups. We never targeted individuals.”

But they did.

One young man is listed by name in a Homeland Security bulletin — part of a two-page analysis of how terrorists make maps of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras.

“Like career criminals, terrorists of all kinds often carry out pre-operational surveillance to determine, among many other things, the location and number of CCTV surveillance cameras in their target location,” the bulletin says.

It reviews the case of a “suspected anarchist terrorist” with such a map killed in Greece, and describes other “anarchist” CCTV mapping activities in the U.S., Canada and Britain. Noting that much of the mapping is done through Freedom of Information requests, the bulletin then highlights a Pennsylvania example:

“Pennsylvania Revolution — a website self-described as ‘inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, personal liberty and the constitution of the commonwealth and of the United States.’”

The bulletin explains that since August 2009, the Pennsylvania Revolution website has been attempting to map all the known CCTV cameras in Pennsylvania and already lists the location of over 400, including Lancaster City and PennDOT traffic cameras.

The bulletin then identifies the owner of the site: Scott Davis.

Davis, a 28-year-old resident of Lower Paxton Twp., is a conservative organizer. He is a tea party activist and former state coordinator for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. He is also a systems engineer in the information technology department of The Patriot-News.

He never guessed that mapping the publicly-available locations of CCTV cameras would brand him a potential terrorist.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a terrorist,” he said. “In my research in the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, I believe the country has turned for the worse — and this is proof.”

Davis fears his association in the bulletin with violent terrorism could be used against him in any number of ways — future job employment, local police scrutiny, in court.

“Until it happens, you don’t know what the outcome would be,” he said.

He said his first concern was his 2-year-old daughter, and noted that corporations — including health care companies — were on the client list for the bulletins.

“What Powers doesn’t get is that simply being named in a bulletin that discusses terrorist activity and that’s put out by an agency with ‘Homeland Security’ in the name, tarnishes the people people being discussed, even if nothing bad is said about them,” said Walczak of the ACLU. “It’s really guilt by inclusion.”

“I consider it defamation of character,” said Davis. “I’ve never broken the law aside from a few speeding tickets.”

Ironically, just a month after the CCTV bulletin is issued, Perelman grouses to Powers that “those damned cameras are everywhere.” He is referring to an assassination carried out by Israeli intelligence agents in Dubai; they were photographed by CCTV cameras just before they electrocuted and suffocated a Hamas leader.

‘A form of harassment’

Although Scott Davis did not experience retribution as a result of being named by Homeland Security, it appears that another young man did.

Alex Lotorto, a 23-year-old living in Pittsburgh sent an email to friends just before 7 p.m. on June 1, asking them to meet him that night on the Carnegie Mellon campus. He hoped to organize a demonstration as President Obama visited the school the next day.

Three hours later, Perelman sent Powers a copy of the message, with Lotorto’s name and cell phone number. Powers immediately forwarded it to a host of law enforcement contacts in Pittsburgh and at the FBI.

On the opposite side of the state, Lotorto’s 57-year-old mother, Alexandria, opened the door of her Pike County home to find two State Police officers demanding to know the whereabouts of her son.

“They said Pittsburgh police commanded them to find out where this Alex Lotorto was right now,” she explained.

“I said, ‘He’s in Pittsburgh .... and he’s probably trying to get President Obama’s attention by holding up a sign. That’s what he does. He’s been doing it for years.”

“My son is a very passionate young man,” said Lotorto. She described Alex as a gifted student and a former choir boy with “a strong sense of fairness.”

Lotorto said the officers were young and “very aggressive” at first.

“They were behaving as if they only had minutes to find him .... like he was on the grassy knoll,” she said.

They told her when someone threatens the President, they have to act quickly. That upset Lotorto, who was recuperating from quadruple by-pass surgery.

She said she told the officers her son was “holding a sign, and that’s every American’s right.”

“Alex is 25 percent Lebanese because of me,” she said. “That doesn’t make him an Arab threat. He doesn’t know anything about the culture and he hates the food .... His father and I are good citizens. Good Christians.”

Lotorto told the officers, “This is a form of harassment.”

But she also invited them into her home, sat them down and talked with them for 20 minutes or so. She said, in the end, they called Pittsburgh in her presence and told officials there to lay off the kid.

Her son sees it a bit differently. He thinks the police were sent to his mother as a way of putting pressure on him. “They know I live (in Pittsburgh) .... Why would they go to Mom’s house?” he asked.

Lotorto acknowledges that he calls himself an anarchist, but adds he has never been in a group that planned any violence.

“I believe in people power more than government or corporations,” he said, “but it has come to the point where anyone who actively takes a position that challenges power .... you’re a terrorist.”

His mother — who says she once protested the war in Vietnam — is proud of him, despite some of the “crazy” things he’s done.

“We try to reason with him,” she said. “When you’re in your 20s, you know it all, and your parents are kind of dumb .... but I wish more of our youth were as passionate as he is. There’d be some changes in how things are.

“I’m disgusted they’re spending money following Alex when there are all these creeps blowing things up,” she said.

Mike German, a former FBI agent who quit to work for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the government is wasting time and money following the activities of Americans who are breaking no laws.

“After 9-11 there was an erosion of the rules and guidelines that were built to protect Americans’ privacies, because there was this mistaken idea that it was the rules that made it hard for the FBI to find the bad guys,” he said. “But what we’re finding is that when you take away the rules, then what happens is that innocent people get spied on.”

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released a report critical of the FBI spying on law-abiding citizens, including in Pittsburgh.

“When you look at all these cases it’s a complete waste of resources,” said German. “These rules weren’t designed just for privacy; they also were for keeping these agencies focused on their mission.

“It was the erosion of these rules that opened the door to this kind of political spying,” he said. “The agents targeted these groups because they didn’t like them.”

‘Absolutely no sense’

Information funneled to ITRR would have done more than alert state law enforcement. ITRR’s primary business was supplying “intelligence” to corporations.

The company refuses to name its clients, saying only that they range from “Fortune 100 companies to small security companies.”

The contractor says its products are used by the power industry, companies with international maritime assets, companies owning parts of America’s critical infrastructure, organizations supporting missionaries in the field, the pharmaceutical industry, and organizations tasked with security for international sports events.

When the scandal first broke, ITRR released selections from its past bulletins that were redacted “to protect client privacy.” Comparing those to the full reports reveals that ITRR considered Monsanto, Koch Industries and Massey Energy among its clients.

Pennsylvania’s Homeland Security Office distributed its bulletins to private businesses as well. Among the more than 2,000 email addresses of potential recipients disclosed during a Senate investigation was a list of 733 contacts considered to be the “Pennsylvania Intelligence Community.”

That category included email addresses for people at The Hershey Co., Gannett Fleming, Bayer, Dennis McGee and Associates, Highmark, Tyco Electronics, Harsco Corp., PSECU, Eastman Chemical, and Rite Aid.

There was a separate category of 42 contacts for the “Marcellus Shale Community.” Most of them are county emergency management contacts, but some at the Marcellus Shale Coalition (a trade group), individual drilling companies and a lobbying firm.

Whether Powers considered the business benefits of ITRR’s “intelligence,” he had become convinced that the information in the bulletins was critical to law enforcement. Powers spent the summer refashioning the bulletins — editing them heavily — to make them more “user friendly” to people “in the field.”

In an interview the day before Rendell read about the program in The Patriot-News and halted it, Powers was clearly proud of that effort.

Comparing himself to the Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the film “The Fugitive,” Powers said, “I don’t care” which side of the issue someone is on — or if they’re innocent. “My concern is public safety.”

There are several emails from local law enforcement officials thanking Powers, telling him they liked to know what was happening in their backyards and appreciated that someone in Harrisburg was paying attention.

Being prepared for protests was a good thing in their minds, and in Powers’ — regardless of whether or not there was an actual terrorist threat.

Powers stuck by that argument after the program was revealed.

“I wrote (the bulletins) and tailored (them) for the guy on the ground who has a three-person police force, and a volunteer fire force and a mayor who serves in two other capacities as well,” Powers testified during the Senate hearing. “It was not about terrorism. It was about all hazard situational awareness. Nobody ever called these groups terrorists or threats.”

“None of that makes any sense to me at all,” Senator Kim Ward, a Republican from Westmoreland County, told Powers. “That we would go monitor private citizens and private groups and they’re not a threat to us .... it’s just for awareness.

“It makes absolutely no sense, and it does make me think, ‘Where are we living?’ "

Consumer Debt Payoff Continues

At this rate, only twenty more years to pay it back down...

NEW YORK ( -- Americans have paid off nearly $1 trillion in debt over the past two years, although the pace of repayment has slowed, according to a regional Federal Reserve report released Monday.

Total consumer debt was $11.6 trillion as of Sept. 30; down 7.4%, or $922 billion, from the peak reached in the third quarter of 2008, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Consumer indebtedness fell another 0.3% in the third quarter, after a 3.3% decline in the prior quarter.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Part Of Why I Ditched My Sprint EVO

Go Segway! Right into Lake Michigan...

Personal scooter ends up in Lake Michigan
October 30, 2010 6:38 PM | No Comments

A Segway rider fell into Lake Michigan near the Field Museum this afternoon, but was able to get out of the water on his own.

Chicago police could not say this evening how he ended up in the water, but said the Segway personal scooter eventually was recovered from the lake.

The Chicago police Marine Unit responded to the incident about 4 p.m., but rescue efforts were unnecessary.

--Staff report

Post From The Laptop!

This laptop is a lovely thing. (Mon Dieu, I said that?). My little network is even better. I am so glad I had the house wired.

I may buy another cheap box to serve as music server, and one more as radio system controller.

Win 7 takes some getting used to. It seems to be stable, so far. Good OJT for when my employer migrates from XP. It does boot fairly fast.

The battery life is fairly limited on this bargain laptop. I'm shocked. Perhaps 2 hrs, max. Far better than fumbling around on my Sprint EVO. And the laptop is CHEAPER than the smartphone, and has greater capabilities. No data plan, beyond the DSL, too.

The 15+" screen is an eyesaver, compared to the smartphone. The only things missing are the phone, GPS, the little sensors, and the cool little apps. I've migrated my Kindle Reader. I miss the Tricorder...

Sitting here on the TV couch, typing, is quite relaxing. I'm feeling much more relaxed, than at my PC, at war with the world.

A backup computer has been needed for some time. I never thought I would *ever* buy a laptop as that backup.

My ITouch still serves well for basic e-mail, and music, and will continue as the mobile data device. I'm glad I separated the phone function out. My Samsung phone runs days without recharging. The EVO and IPad last little longer than the laptop on battery life. If you're going to be using that much processor power, it might as well be for a full function computer, for the battery expenditure.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Observations 31 OCT 2010

Much has occurred, and I am remiss as usual in reporting it.

Broke the logjam in the living room by constructing a shelf. Now, I can hold game sessions in it, but more improvements are needed.

Went through the basement. My many dozens of storage tubs are out of order, so finding my DVD's is a problem. I found plenty of half filled tubs, the ones I need to dispose of. Much is to be EBayed.

My counselor and I have been having some more successful sessions. It seems I have my parents on a pretty high pedestal. I felt I failed them. No allowance was made for my being a gifted kid with lots of issues. My parents were not perfect. I found myself defending them over and again. Also, my need to win is linked to the many failures and frustrations in earlier life. No wonder I need to be right all the time.

No amount of winning can make up for those miserable years prior to my military service. My Adult Child of Alcoholic syndrome insists on absolutist thinking, plus misery over missed expectations, etc. The thought that there has to be a *perfect* chain of decisions for the optimal outcome is a futile one. Of the sunk cost fallacy of making up for the past, it's a loser's game.

My new ICOM IC 7200 has surpassed all expectations. It is a magnificent radio. The G5RV, plus autotuner and computer control make it a splendid radio system.

Speaking of cleaning up, I've been going through the files on my old PC. It's fairly long in the tooth. So, I backed up my data. And, I found a refurb laptop at Micro Center, with Windows 7 and a years warranty left, for $223.00.

Wally bought a laptop as a backup computer- the end is nigh.

It's a large form laptop, with larger keys, and a 15.7" 16:9 screen. Works splendidly. and, my home network is functioning well. The new AT&T router and DSL service is simply wonderful. My wireless coverage area has greatly improved, as well.

I also now have U-Verse. Quality of service is excellent- no pixellation due to demand, easy, simple operation. My package is essentially the "expanded basic" tier, ,and there are only about four channels that I would like to have- but not at the cost of paying $40.00/month to have them. Just in in time for the idiotic midterms.

Of the 127 channels available, I'm using about thirty. That includes local stations and HBO (free for 3 months). And, the channels have morphed. Many of my old, favorite channels are simply bad UHF stations running infomercials. It's not worth the price paid for the dozen or so that I watch regularly. A la carte is long overdue. I think that the Internet/discs will provide the paid content after my year's contract is up. I do not think I'm alone on this. The battles being fought over content (Cablevision vs Fox, et al) are ultimately self defeating. In a stagnant economy, sat/cable content will be one of the discretionary expenses to pare. It will happen slowly.

As will my land line be pared, wired at such great expense earlier this year. (I literally have a Caller ID phone across from the toilet).I should consider VOIP, but my cell phone is already serving admirably. $50+ bucks a month can be freed up for Scruffy treats.

Being Wally, I have a 1500 W UPS dedicated solely to my DSL router. And one for the PC, and one for the radio system, and one for the entertainment center... :)

Work is good, but my GI tract is still suffering from delayed grief and stress. Like my other issues, it takes me a long time to deal with things. It's cost me some time off. I'm now drinking more water, and less soda. My MD (a SLU Professor Of Medicine) has forbidden my continuous chocolate snacking at work. It's maddening, but survivable.

I am going to re-finance the house at 2+ percent less interest. This will make a great difference. If I can't get a pay increase due to the economy, I have to give myself a pay increase by cutting costs.

I exchanged salvo's with some of my old opponents on the debate board late last week. That was a mistake. They have not changed. Nor will they. I'm wasting time, and frustration over there. More content will be posted here, in future. "Casting pearls before swine" is what comes to mind when I chronicle things on the board, and not here. There are good people on the board, a majority in fact. But the fools drown them out. I like my friends, but the idiots in the bar are too loud to be heard over.

I gave out foreign coins for Halloween this year. Response was excellent. There's a new group of Homelanders (less than age 10) coming into the neighborhood, and they adore Scruffy. He's still frightened of large groups, but when picked up by me, and petted/ears scratched one-on-one, he's a happy doggie. The younger kids are intelligent, and well-behaved. Possibly the new Artist Generation?

We're sure to have divided government until 2016, let alone 2012. This midterm simply confirms it. No real progress will be made, until external events, or "Black Swans" force a change. State and local government defaults may well be the next trigger.

The majority of the campaign spending seems to be from the Republicans. The relaxed campaign funding environment will be the subject of many treatises on why the US declined, in about 50 years. the money contaminates all parties, but the Mad Hatters have taken it to a new level of stupid, this year.

The Tea Party supporting the puppy mill owners is just too perfect. You can guess how Scruffy and I are going to vote... :)

I've missed most of the wonderful Indian Summer this year. Being sick, and depression have kept me indoors much of the time I should have been outside. Each year I promise myself to spend more time walking, and outdoors, and each year I don't. Scruffy's walks have been a great involuntary stimulus. Hard to resist a poodle licking your face, wanting out. Aaack! Germs! Mouthwash! Damn, I'm awake now...

Midnight. Time to clock in for tomorrow.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Ind. parents told drop disabled kids at (homeless) shelters

By KEN KUSMER, Associated Press Ken Kusmer, Associated Press – Wed Oct 27, 11:06 pm ET

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's budget crunch has become so severe that some state workers have suggested leaving severely disabled people at homeless shelters if they can't be cared for at home, parents and advocates said.

They said workers at Indiana's Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services have told parents that's one option they have when families can no longer care for children at home and haven't received Medicaid waivers that pay for services that support disabled people living independently.

Marcus Barlow, a spokesman for the Family and Social Services Administration, the umbrella agency that includes the bureau, said suggesting homeless shelters is not the agency's policy and workers who did so would be disciplined.

However, Becky Holladay of Battle Ground, Ind., said that's exactly what happened to her when she called to ask about the waiver she's seeking for her 22-year-old son, Cameron Dunn, who has epilepsy, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Holladay, a school nurse, said she and her husband would go bankrupt trying to pay for services themselves, so Cameron spends most days sitting in his stepfather's truck while he works as a municipal employee.

"It's heart-wrenching as a parent to watch it. We are people and they are people," Holladay said, referring to her son and others with disabilities. "They have lives that are worth something."

There have been no confirmed cases of families dumping severely disabled people at homeless shelters because Indiana wouldn't provide the care needed.

But some families have been on waiting lists for waivers for 10 years. The lists contained more than 20,000 names last month, and one advocacy group predicted they will only grow longer because Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered budget cuts that have eliminated 2,000 waiver slots since July.

Budget cuts also have resulted in the state moving foster children with disabilities to a lower cost program that doesn't provide services for special needs and eliminating a grocery benefit for hundreds of developmentally disabled adults.

Kim Dodson, associate executive director of The Arc of Indiana, said her group has received reports of state workers in several of BDDS's eight regional offices telling families to take disabled adults to homeless shelters. She speculated that the suggestion resulted from frustration among BDDS staff as families become more outspoken about the effects of state cuts.

"It is something we are hearing from all over the state, that families are being told this is an alternative for them," Dodson said. "A homeless shelter would never be able to serve these people."

State lawmakers said they also have received reports from several people who were told they could always abandon their adult children at homeless shelters.

Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, said she found it "deplorable that people are being told to go to a homeless shelter."

Leaders of several agencies serving homeless people across Indiana could not be reached for comment after business hours Wednesday.

Some parents said homeless shelters have also been suggested — or threatened — as an option by private care providers.

Daunna Minnich of Bloomington said Indiana Department of Education funding for residential treatment for her 18-year-old daughter, Sabrina, is due to run out Sunday. She said officials at Damar Services Inc. of Indianapolis told her during a meeting that unless she took Sabrina home with her, the agency would drop the teen off at a homeless shelter.

Sabrina, who's bipolar and has anxiety attacks, has attempted suicide, run away during home visits and threatened her older sister, Minnich said. Bringing Sabrina home isn't a viable option, but the two group home placements BDDS offered weren't appropriate, she said.

"I don't want to see the state of Indiana hasten her demise by putting her in a one-size-fits-all solution that will drive her to desperate acts," Minnich said.

Jim Dalton, Damar's chief operating officer, said he could not comment directly on any specific case but his nonprofit would never leave a client at a homeless shelter — even though it is caring for some for free after they got too old for school-funded services and haven't yet been granted Medicaid waivers.

"We're talking about youth that absolutely require services, and no one is willing to fund them anymore," Dalton said.

Missouri Tea Partiers, Joe The Plumber Join Movement Against 'Radical' Anti-Puppy Mill Legislation

Dog bites man or man bites dog?

A conservative group in Missouri is picking up the backing of the Tea Party and Joe The Plumber in its quest to stop the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal rights groups from passing "radical" anti-puppy mill legislation.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Tea Partiers Storm DC For Second (And Smaller) 9/12 Rally]

The measure, which can be read in full here, is called Proposition B or the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act." It aims to help eliminate the "3000 puppy mills" in Missouri that constitute "30% of all puppy mills in the U.S.," according to Michael Markarian, the Chief Operating Officer of the HSUS.

The HSUS is a national animal rights advocacy group that doesn't financially support local Humane Society shelters.

"This measure would provide common sense standards for the care of dogs," Markarian told TPM, including sufficient food and clean water, vet care, regular exercise, and adequate rest between breeding cycles, among other things. Markarian said the measure only applies to "commercial dog breeding facilities" that have more than 10 breeding females who they use for "producing puppies for the pet trade."

Sounds pretty straightforward, no?

Well, according to the Alliance For Truth, the main force behind the anti-Prop B movement, there is something much more nefarious afoot (er, apaw) in the HSUS measure. The Alliance For Truth claims that the HSUS has a "radical agenda" and is "misleading the public with its intentions on Prop B. The society seeks only to raise the cost of breeding dogs, making it ever-more difficult for middle-class American families to be dog-owners."

Anita Andrews from Alliance For Truth told TPM that it's a "deceptive, lying bill" that is "trying to purposefully get rid of the breeders." The state of Missouri, she said, has been given a bad rap as "the puppy mill capitol" of the U.S. but "in truth we have the best ribbon breeders in the country." And, Andrews said, the state already has anti-cruelty laws on the books.

"They don't like animals," she said of the Humane Society of the United States.

Andrews also explained that Cass Sunstein, "one of the biggest animal rights activists," and President Obama's Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is tied to the HSUS, and is helping them give Obama "a punch list" of the animals rights activists' agenda.

You see, there's a difference between animal rights activists and animal welfare activists. Unlike the HSUS, Sunstein, and other animal rights activists, animal welfare activists like the Alliance For Truth have "no intention of wiping every animal off this earth," Andrews said. Animal welfare activists believe in hunting and that people should take care of animals.

Rights activists, on the other hand, think "humans and animals are on the same level, ownership of an animal is slavery," and that "animals should have attorney representation" (presumably so every dog can have his day in court).

The reference to Sunstein is probably related to a paper he wrote in 2002, called "The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer," in which he explores whether or not animals should have rights. Sunstein also co-wrote a book in 2004 about animal rights, in which he writes: "On this view, representatives of animals should be able to bring private suits to ensure that anti-cruelty and related laws are actually enforced."

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Uni-Tease: Scenes From The Tea Party's Failed Diversity Day]

The Alliance For Truth also has the support of some better-known conservative activists, like Joe 'The Plumber' Wurzelbacher, who wrote on the Alliance For Truth site that the HSUS is "cowardly hiding behind animal cruelty, lying to our citizens and taking our constitutional rights away - one state at a time."

He continues:

This bill forces breeders to limit the number of dogs they can own - regardless of care. Think about this a minute . . . . Should the government have the right to limit the number of houses a realtor can sell? Or the number of cattle a rancher can raise?

The Tea Party has also gotten on board the anti-Prop B bandwagon. A meeting called "Vote NO on Proposition B" on October 12 is advertised on websites for the Missouri Tea Party and the Tea Party Patriots. The event, held at Coach's Pizza World, is being organized by the Mexico Tea Party, which activist Ron Beedle told TPM is a relatively new chapter of the Tea Party. This is their first meeting, he said, and Prop B is about the "government or the big company trying to tell people what to do."

The Missouri chapter of Phyllis Schlafly's conservative Eagle Forum has also gotten behind the movement, calling the measure (.pdf) part of a "hoax."

Markarian said that the Alliance For Truth's claims "are nonsensical arguments. The Humane Society celebrates pets everyday."

"We want people to have pets," he said. "We just want the pets to come from good sources." Accusations like these, he said, are "par for the course when these groups cannot defend the cruelty of puppy mills."