Monday, February 18, 2008



Clear Proof - Israel Stealing Palestinian Land


SF Solidarity Rally For "Freightliner Five"
Saturday, Feb 23, 2008 3:00 PM
At: ILWU Local 34
801-2nd St., at Embarcadero next to the ballpark
San Francisco

Five fired union leaders of the UAW Cleveland, North Carolina Freightliner truck
plant are fighting to get their jobs back. This integrated union leadership was standing up for decent health and safety conditions and benefits.
This meeting is also inviting other workers in struggle to participate and speak
about their struggle.

"Freightliner Five" Solidarity Tour

Solidarity Rally For UAW 3520 "Freightliner Five" Fired Workers

In April 2007, UAW 3520 workers at the Cleveland, North Carolina Freightliner truck plant went on strike over health and safety and other conditions and benefits. In retaliation, the Daimler Benz owned company fired 5 strike leaders. They are known as the Freightliner Five and have been fighting for their jobs back for nearly a year. This struggle is not just about the Freightliner workers but union organizing throughout the South.

If Freightliner can get away with this illegal firing, other workers will think twice about joining a union. Allen Bradley and Franklin Torrence, two of the Freightliner fired workers will be speaking about their struggle at this meeting and will also be meeting with other workers in Northern California.

Saturday, Feb 23, 2008 3:00 PM
At: ILWU Local 34
801-2nd St., at Embarcadero next to the ballpark, San Francisco

Initial Speakers For Meeting:
Jack Heyman, Executive Board ILWU Local 10*
Jack Rasmus, President UAW 1982 BA Chapter*
Gloria La Riva, Pres. NC MWU-CWA 39521*
Alan Bradley, Fired UAW Vice Chair Bargaining Committee & Skilled Trades Chair
Franklin Torrence, Fired UAW 3520 Civil Rights Chair and Executive Committee
* for identification only

Please come to this support meeting and learn directly about their struggle
This effort has been recently endorsed by Ken Riley, president of ILA 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina, Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, Labor Video Project, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, Labor Action Coalition, Facts For Working People, Cynthia McKinney, former congress woman, ISO, Joseph Prisco, president of AMFA Local 9*, San Francisco Peace and Freedom Party (* for identification only)

To support these fired workers, you can also send checks payable to:
Justice 4 Five Solidarity Fund, P.O. Box 5144, Statesville, N.C. 28687.

N. California Freightliner Five Support Committee
For information and if you would like your union or organization to endorse call: (415)282-1908
South Carolina AFL-CIO President Urges Labor Movement Support For Freightliner 5 - 01/30/08

By Doug Cunningham

Five UAW Local 3520 bargaining committee members fired by Freightliner in April of 2007, after a one-day strike are getting some support now from the labor movement. The UAW International isn’t supporting the workers' efforts to get their jobs back because the one-day strike was authorized only by the local and not by the International UAW. South Carolina AFL-CIO President, Donna Dewitt supports these five UAW bargaining committee members fired by Freightliner and she says they deserve some solidarity from the entire labor movement.

[Dewitt]: "They weren’t happy with the contract offer, and they were standing up for their rights. And I don’t know exactly what happened with UAW, but all I know is that there are five UAW members and officers of a local that have been out of work now going on ten months. So I would appeal to everyone to reach out to help raise funds for these folks and their efforts to be rehired. They need their jobs back."

The fired UAW Freightliner workers are visiting several cities, including Detroit, Chicago, and San Francisco,to tell their story and get support. To support these workers, you can go to to donate money to the Justice 4 Five Solidarity Fund.
Posted 01/29/2008 -


"What are they recruiting for?
Murder, rape, torture, war!"

2017 Mission St (@ 16th), San Francisco
For more information on how you can become involved contact:
Bonnie Weinstein, (415) 824-8730
Nancy Macias, (415) 255-7296 ext. 229

Send a letter to the Board of Education

Please expand upon or send the letter below to the members of the
San Francisco Board of Education declaring:

We/I demand that the San Francisco school board phase
out JROTC at the end of the current 2007-2008 school
year, as you voted to do in 2006.

The reasons for phasing out JROTC are laid out very
clearly in the 2006 resolution.
(see below)

"The SFUSD has restricted the activities of military
recruiters on our campuses...

"JROTC is a program wholly created and administrated
by the United States Department of Defense, whose
documents and memoranda clearly identify JROTC as an
important recruiting arm; and...

"JROTC manifests the military's discrimination against
LGBT people..."

Given the dangerous role that the U.S. military is
playing in the world today, and given the military's
ongoing discrimination against LGBT people, it would
be legally and morally repugnant for the school
district to continue to facilitate the military's
access to our students.

Send letters to: (please send copies to Bonnie Weinstein at giobon@comcast and Riva Enteen at

Mr. Norman Yee

Hydra Mendoza

Eric Mar, Esq.

Kim-Shree Maufas

Jane Kim

Mark Sanchez

Jill Wynn

Norman Yee

Substitute Motion , As Amended
Adopted by the Board of Education at its Regular Meeting of November 14, 2006.

Subject: Resolution No. 65-23A1


- Mark Sanchez and Dan Kelly

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District has banned educational partnerships with outside organizations that discriminate against any group based upon sexual orientation; and

WHEREAS: Civilian control of the military, and restriction of military involvement in civilian affairs is a fundamental characteristic of a healthy democracy; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District has restricted the activities of military recruiters on our campuses; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District has adopted violence prevention and conflict resolution strategies that promote non-violent behavior; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District requires that teachers of all academic courses be fully credentialed; and

WHEREAS: JROTC is a program wholly created and administrated by the United States Department of Defense, whose documents and memoranda clearly identify JROTC as an important recruiting arm; and

WHEREAS: No other potential employer or recruiter is given such a high profile, nor such extensive contact with students; and

WHEREAS: JROTC instructors are not certificated teachers, and may not even possess a college degree of any kind; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District share of JROTC salaries is provided from central budget, while regular PE teachers are charged against each school’s site-based budget; and

WHEREAS: JROTC manifests the military’s discrimination against LGBT people by offering non-LGBT students preferential enlistment options; and

WHEREAS: JROTC is one of the largest after school activities at some High Schools; and

WHEREAS: The Board of Education has received extensive testimony that JROTC promotes self-esteem, community service, and academic and leadership skills; and

WHEREAS: Many other student extra-curricular activities also develop self-esteem, academic and leadership skills, and a commitment to service; and

WHEREAS: The California Education Code permits, and some SFUSD schools allow, students to receive PE credit for sports participation, independent study, or other classes deemed equivalent.

Therefore Be It Resolved: The Board of Education finds that credentialing requirements for academic instructors and courses are not met by the JROTC, except where specifically allowable as a substitute for Physical Education; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that JROTC programs on campus constitute a form of military recruitment and are in violation of our policy governing fair access for recruiters on campuses; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that the JROTC program violates our anti discrimination policies with regard to LGBT students and adults; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that the funding mechanism of the JROTC creates inequities between High Schools in SFUSD; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that the JROTC is an inappropriate extension of the nation’s military into the civilian sphere; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education hereby begins a two-year phase out of all JROTC programs in the SFUSD resulting in no JROTC classes in the 2008-2009 school year and beyond; and

Be it Further Resolved: No new JROTC units or programs may be initiated at any SFUSD schools, effective immediately; and

Be it Further Resolved: That SFUSD staff shall not direct or require that students enroll in JROTC as an alternative to PE, or for any other reason; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education will grant PE credits for sports participation, independent study, and other courses deemed appropriate, and requests staff to provide guidelines for Board approval by the first meeting in January 2007; and

Be It Further Resolved: That the Board of Education calls for the creation of a special task force to develop alternative, creative, career driven programs with the elements of the existing JROTC program that students have indicated important to them, which then will provide students with a greater sense of purpose and respect for self and humankind; and

Be It Further Resolved: That any new programs being implemented beginning academic year 2007-08 are evaluated before the end of the school year to test student satisfaction.


Please Note:

Taken up by the Curriculum and Program Committee on August 23, 2006. Substitute motion accepted by general consent of the Committee. Substitute Motion forwarded to the Board with a positive recommendation from Committee, and to be taken up for action at the September 12, 2006 Regular Board Meeting by a vote of 2 ayes (Mar and Kelly), and 1 nay (Lipson).

Taken up by the Budget and Business Services Committee on 10/18/06. Substitute motion, as amended, forwarded to the Board with a positive recommendation (2 ayes, l nay (Wynns) ). The Budget and Business Services Committee recommends to the Board that the intention of the original motion to develop an alternative program be addressed.

Substitute motion amended and adopted on 11/14/06.


5th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
End the War NOW!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008, March & Rally
5 p.m. S.F. Civic Center (Polk & Grove Sts.)

Click here to Endorse:

Bring All the Troops Home Now
End Colonial Occupation--Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine
Money for Jobs, Housing, Healthcare & Schools, Not War
Stop the threats against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba . . .
No to racism & immigrant bashing

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
2489 Mission St. Rm. 24
San Francisco: 415-821-6545


March 19, 2008, will mark the 5th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in defiance of the U.S. government’s drive for war. Since March of 2003, many millions more people have turned against the war in Iraq. The will of the people of the United States has been represented in many anti-war demonstrations and actions throughout the last 5 years.

Yet, the warmakers in the White House and Congress—acting in direct contradiction to the interests of the people of the United States and the world—have continued to fund and expand the brutal occupation of the Iraqi people.

Just a week ago, Washington unleashed the largest bombing campaign of the war—terrorizing Iraqi people in a Baghdad suburb. More than a million Iraqis have been killed. The U.S. occupation has created a situation of extreme violence in the country. The Iraqi people are denied access to regular electricity, education, health care and many necessary services. Unemployment is rampant.

Four thousand U.S. soldiers have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, injured or evacuated due to serious illness. The cost of the war is $450,000,000 per day, $5,000 every second. The war has been a success for military-industrial businesses like Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater and McDonnell-Douglas, who are making huge profits from the death and destruction. At the same time, we are told that there is no money for basic human needs housing, food, healthcare, schools and jobs.

March 19, 2008, will see many actions against the war in San Francisco and across the country, including walkouts, teach-ins and civil disobedience on a day of “No Business As Usual.” The ANSWER Coalition along with many other individuals and organizations will join those actions. The ANSWER Coalition is calling for an evening march and rally, starting at the San Francisco Civic Center at 5 p.m.

Help build the March 19th day of action!
There are many ways you can help.

1. Volunteer now to get the word out! Plug into Tues. evening and Sat. afternoon outreach teams to make sure people know about the March 19 march and rally.
This Tues. Jan. 29, 6-9pm meet at 2489 Mission St. at 21st St., (Rm. 28) SF
We will be flyering at BART stations and the Mission campus of City College, postering in different locations in SF, and banner making and alert phone calls in the office. No experience necessary.

Every Saturday, 12noon 3pm from Feb. 2 through March 19
Help with postering and outreach tabling in San Francisco and the East Bay.

SF outreach - meet 2489 Mission St. at 21st. St. (Rm. 24)
East Bay Outreach meet 636 - 9th Street at MLK, Oakland, 510-435-0844

You can also pick up flyers and posters in San Francisco at 2489 Mission St. Rm. 24. Call us at 415-821-6545. In the East Bay, call 510-435-0844

2. Organize on your campus or workplace.
The ANSWER Coalition can send you materials to poster and leaflet at your campus or workplace. Call 415-821-6545 or email to get more information about organizing on your campus or workplace.

3. Schedule a speaker for your class or organization.
Anti-war and anti-racist activists with the ANSWER coalition are available to speak about the war at home and abroad and the organizing for the Mar.19 day of action. We also have videos available on a number of different issues relating to the wars at home and abroad. Contact us to learn more about scheduling a speaker.

4. Donate to build the Mar.19 demonstration. Click here to donate now:



March 19, 2008:

* 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
* beginning of the 6th year of war and occupation,
* beginning of the 6th year of senseless death and massive destruction.

The presidential candidates, the Congress, the White House and the media all seem to be working hard to push Iraq off the agenda until after the elections this fall -- we can't let that happen! They may be willing to let hundreds more U.S. soldiers and thousands more Iraqis die between now and when the next president and Congress are sworn in, but we are not!

United for Peace and Justice is calling for and supporting a set of activities on and around the 5th anniversary that will manifest the intensifying opposition to the war and help strengthen and expand our movement. We urge you to join with us to ensure the success of these actions:

March 13-16, Winter Soldier: UFPJ member group Iraq Veterans Against the War is organizing historic hearings March 13-16 in Washington, DC. Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqis and Afghans, will tell the nation the real story of this war. UFPJ is helping local groups and individuals plan events that directly link to and amplify the Winter Soldier hearings, from which we hope to have a live video feed available so that communities around the country can gather to watch and listen. Visit for more info.

March 19, Mass Nonviolent Direct Action in Washington, DC: UFPJ is organizing for what we hope will be the largest day of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience yet against the war in Iraq. We've marched, we've vigiled, we've lobbied -- it's time to put our bodies on the line in large numbers. We encourage anyone who can to join us in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, March 19th, to be part of the civil disobedience, or to assist in support work. We are working to have delegations from all 50 states take part in this massive day of action. Visit for more info and to register to join us in DC.

March 19, Local Actions Throughout the Country: While we are working hard to have a large turnout in DC on March 19, it is also necessary to be visible and vocal in our local communities on that day. Congress will not be in session and so our representatives and senators will be in their home districts/states. We encourage those who are not able to make it to Washington on March 19 to organize and participate in local actions. These events may vary in location or character, but they will all be tied to the actions in Washington and sending the same message to the policy makers: It is time to end this war and occupation! To find an event in your area (more are being posted daily, so keep checking back!) or to sign up to organize a local activity, visit

For further details and info on how to get involved, please visit

Help us make the 5th anniversary the last anniversary of this war! Making the 5 Years Too Many Actions as visible and powerful as they need to be will take substantial resources. Please make the most generous donation you can today to support this critical mobilization.

Join our efforts to build the strongest actions possible in March -- actions that will not only mark the anniversary but will also help propel our movement into the critically important work that must be done throughout the year and beyond. Together, we will end this war and turn our country toward more peaceful and just priorities!

Yours, for peace and justice,

Leslie Cagan
National Coordinator, UFPJ

Help us continue to do this critical work: Make a donation to UFPJ today.

To subscribe, visit


Call for an Open U.S. National Antiwar Conference
Stop the War in Iraq! Bring the Troops Home Now!
Join us in Cleveland on June 28-29 for the conference.
Crown Plaza Hotel
Sponsored by the National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation
P.O. Box 21008; Cleveland, OH 44121; Voice Mail: 216-736-4704; Email:

List of Endorsers (below call):

Endorse the conference:


2008 has ushered in the fifth year of the war against Iraq and an occupation “without end” of that beleaguered country. Unfortunately, the tremendous opposition in the U.S. to the war and occupation has not yet been fully reflected in united mass action.

The anniversary of the invasion has been marked in the U.S. by Iraq Veterans Against the War's (IVAW's) Winter Soldier hearings March 13-16, in Washington, DC, providing a forum for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to expose the horrors perpetrated by the U.S. wars. A nonviolent civil disobedience action against the war in Iraq was also called for March 19 in Washington and local actions around the country were slated during that month as well.

These actions help to give voice and visibility to the deeply held antiwar sentiment of this country's majority. Yet what is also urgently needed is a massive national mobilization sponsored by a united antiwar movement capable of bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets to demand “Out Now!”

Such a mobilization, in our opinion, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the war -- and held on a day agreeable to the IVAW -- could have greatly enhanced all the other activities which were part of that commemoration in the U.S. Indeed, a call was issued in London by the World Against War Conference on December 1, 2007 where 1,200 delegates from 43 nations, including Iraq, voted unanimously to call on antiwar movements in every country to mobilize mass protests against the war during the week of March 15-22 to demand that foreign troops be withdrawn immediately.

The absence of a massive united mobilization during this period in the United States -- the nation whose weapons of terrifying mass destruction have rained death and devastation on the Iraqi people -- when the whole world will mobilize in the most massive protests possible to mark this fifth year of war, should be a cause of great concern to us all.

For Mass Action to Stop the War: The independent and united mobilization of the antiwar majority in massive peaceful demonstrations in the streets against the war in Iraq is a critical element in forcing the U.S. government to immediately withdraw all U.S. military forces from that country, close all military bases, and recognize the right of the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny.

Mass actions aimed at visibly and powerfully demonstrating the will of the majority to stop the war now would dramatically show the world that despite the staunch opposition to this demand by the U.S. government, the struggle by the American people to end the slaughter goes on. And that struggle will continue until the last of the troops are withdrawn. Such actions also help bring the people of the United States onto the stage of history as active players and as makers of history itself.

Indeed, the history of every successful U.S. social movement, whether it be the elementary fight to organize trade unions to defend workers' interests, or to bring down the Jim Crow system of racial segregation, or to end the war in Vietnam, is in great part the history of independent and united mass actions aimed at engaging the vast majority to collectively fight in its own interests and therefore in the interests of all humanity.

For an Open Democratic Antiwar Conference: The most effective way to initiate and prepare united antiwar mobilizations is through convening democratic and open conferences that function transparently, with all who attend the conferences having the right to vote. It is not reasonable to expect that closed or narrow meetings of a select few, or gatherings representing only one portion of the movement, can substitute for the full participation of the extremely broad array of forces which today stand opposed to the war.

We therefore invite everyone, every organization, every coalition, everywhere in the U.S. - all who oppose the war and the occupation -- to attend an open democratic U.S. national antiwar conference and join with us in advancing and promoting the coming together of an antiwar movement in this country with the power to make a mighty contribution toward ending the war and occupation of Iraq now.

Everyone is welcome. The objective is to place on the agenda of the entire U.S. antiwar movement a proposal for the largest possible united mass mobilization(s) in the future to stop the war and end the occupation.

Join us in Cleveland on June 28-29 for the conference.

List of Endorsers

Join us in Cleveland on June 28-29 for the conference.
Sponsored by the National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation
P.O. Box 21008; Cleveland, OH 44121; Voice Mail: 216-736-4704; Email:



- Spare the life of journalist Parviz Kambakhsh!
- Free him immediately!

We hold the governments of the NATO occupying troops responsible for his life.

Parviz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old Afghani student has just been sentenced to death after three months of detention under terrible conditions in the state security's detention centre in Marzar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Now in his third year of a journalism course at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif, Parviz Kambakhsh also works as a journalist for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw.
The young journalist was thrown into prison after being characterised as an atheist and an opponent of the regime by the NDS, the Karzai regime's security service. He is also accused of having printed atheist articles off the internet and distributed them among his classmates.

Kambakhsh was tortured continuously during his detention, both physically and mentally, and even threatened with death if he did not admit to the charges leveled against him.

He has not had access to a lawyer. He has not been allowed to see members of his family or friends.

The death sentence was delivered in his absence and in secret by Balkh Province Attorney General Hafizullah Khaliqyar and by the court in Marzar-e-Sharif.
In 2001, when the war started with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan under the aegis of NATO, the occupying troops from the United States, France, Italy and Germany talked about re-establishing democracy and democratic rights and freedoms.

The Karzai regime that was put in place by the occupying forces has reintroduced Sharia law as the basic law of the land, with the support of all the states participating in the occupation and the war.
It is precisely in the name of the Sharia law that the young journalist Parviz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death for circulating documents downloaded from the internet.

We, the undersigned journalists and defenders of human rights and fundamental freedoms, call on the Karzai government, NATO and the occupying forces from the United States, France, Italy and Germany, to say:

- Spare the life of journalist Parviz Kambakhsh!
- Free him immediately!
- We hold the governments of the NATO occupying troops responsible for his life.

* * *

Appeal initiated by:

Tristan MALLE General Secretary, on behalf of the General Union of Journalists, Force Ouvrière (France), and Jean Pierre BARROIS Senior Lecturer, University of Paris 12

- Spare the life of journalist Parviz Kambakhsh!
- Free him immediately!

* * * * * * * * * *


[ ] I endorse this appeal to spare the life of Parviz Kambakhsh!


ORG/UNION/TITLE (list if for id. only):




Please fill out and return to
e-mail : with a copy to
Postal Address: Syndicat Général Des journalistes Force Ouvrière, 131 rue Damrémont, 75018 Paris France


For Immediate Release
February 18, 2008
Embassy Suites Hotel Anaheim South, 11767 Harbor Boulevard,
Garden Grove, California, 92840
May 16-18, 2008

The 6th Annual International Al-Awda Convention will mark a devastating event in the long history of the Palestinian people. We call it our Nakba.

Confirmed speakers include Bishop Atallah Hanna, Supreme Justice Dr. Sheikh Taiseer Al Tamimi, Dr. Adel Samara, Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, Dr. Ghada Karmi, Dr. As'ad Abu Khalil, Dr. Saree Makdisi, and Ramzy Baroud. Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Salim El Hos and Palestinian Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar have also been invited.

Host Organizations for the sixth international Al-Awda convention include Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Palestinian American Women Association, Free Palestine Alliance, National Council of Arab-Americans, Middle East Cultural and Information Center - San Diego, The Arab Community Center of the Inland Empire, Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid - Southern California, Palestine Aid Society, Palestinian American Congress, Bethlehem Association, Al-Mubadara - Southern California, Union of Palestinian American Women, Birzeit Society , El-Bireh Society, Arab American Friends of Nazareth, Ramallah Club, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, International Action Center , Students for Justice in Palestine at CSUSB, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCR, Students for International Knowledge at CSUSB, Muslim Students Association at Palomar College, Muslim Students Association at UCSD, and Muslim Students Association at Mira Costa.


In May of 1948, with the support of the governments of the United States, Britain, and other European powers, Zionists declared the establishment of the "State of Israel" on stolen Palestinian Arab land and intensified their full-scale attack on Palestine. They occupied our land and forcibly expelled three quarters of a million of our people. This continues to be our great catastrophe, which we, as Palestinians with our supporters, have been struggling to overcome since.

The sixth international Al-Awda convention is taking place at a turning point in our struggle to return and reclaim our stolen homeland. Today, there are close to 10 million Palestinians of whom 7.5 million are living in forced exile from their homeland. While the Zionist "State of Israel" continues to besiege, sanction, deprive, isolate, discriminate against and murder our people, in addition to continually stealing more of our land, our resistance has grown. Along with our sisters and brothers at home and elsewhere in exile, Al-Awda has remained steadfast in demanding the implementation of the sacred, non-negotiable national, individual and collective right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands.

The sixth international Al-Awda convention will be a historic and unique event. The convention will aim to recapitulate Palestinian history with the help of those who have lived it, and to strengthen our ability to educate the US public about the importance and justness of implementing the unconditional right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands. With symposia and specialty workshops, the focus of the convention will be on education that lead to strategies and mechanisms for expanding the effectiveness of our advocacy for the return.


We invite all Al-Awda members, and groups and individuals who support the implementation of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin, and to reclaim their land, to join us in this landmark Sixth Annual International Convention on the 60th year of Al-Nakba.


The convention will culminate in a major demonstration to mark 60 years of Nakba and to call for The RETURN TO PALESTINE. The demonstration will be held in solidarity and coordination with our sisters and brothers who continue the struggle in our beloved homeland.


Host Organizations
Points of Unity

Organizational endorsements welcome. Please write to us at convention6@

For information on how to become part of the host committee, please write to convention6@
For more information, please go to http://al-awda. org/convention6 and keep revisiting that page as it is being updated regularly.

To submit speaker and panel/workshop proposals, write to
info@al-awda. org or convention6@

Until return,

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352
Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Tel: 760-685-3243
Fax: 360-933-3568
E-mail: info@al-awda. org
WWW: http://al-awda. org

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) is the largest network of grassroots activists and students dedicated to Palestinian human rights. We are a not for profit tax-exempt educational and charitable 501(c)(3) organization as defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States of America. Under IRS guidelines, your donations to PRRC are tax-deductible.


Statement in Defense of Free Speech
Rights on the National Mall
Partnership for Civil Justice

Sign the Statement:

We the undersigned are supporting the emergency mobilization of the people demanding that there be no new restrictions on free speech or protest related activities on the National Mall in Washington D.C. This is the real objective of the Bush Administration’s plans for the National Mall.

Unless we take action, the Bush Administration, as one of its final acts, will leave office having dramatically altered access of the people to public lands that have been the site of the most significant mass assembly protests in U.S. history.

The National Mall has been the historic site for the people of the United States to come together to seek equality, justice, and peace. These activities are the lifeblood of a democracy. The National Mall is not an ornamental lawn. The National Mall performs its most sacrosanct and valued function when it serves as the place of assembly for political protest, dissent and free speech.

We oppose any efforts to further restrict protest on the Mall, to relegate protest to a government-designated protest pit or zone, to stage-manage or channel free speech activity to suit the government, or to stifle or abridge our rights to expression upon the public forum that is the National Mall. We call for a moratorium on further actions by the National Park Service that would in any way channel, restrict or inhibit the people's use of the National Mall in furtherance of our First Amendment rights.

Initial signers:

Howard Zinn, professor, author of People's History of the United States
Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General
Cindy Sheehan
Dennis Banks, Co-Founder, American Indian Movement
Malik Rahim, Co-Founder, Common Ground Collective, New Orleans
John Passacantando, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA
Mahdi Bray, Exec. Director, Muslim American Society, Freedom Foundation
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Elias Rashmawi, National Coordinator, National Council of Arab Americans
Heidi Boghosian, Exec. Director of National Lawyers Guild
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Co-Founder, Partnership for Civil Justice
Carl Messineo, Co-Founder, Partnership for Civil Justice
Jim Lafferty, Exec. Director of the National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles
Tina Richards, CEO, Grassroots America
Brian Becker, National Coordinator, ANSWER Coalition
Michael Berg, father of Nicholas Berg, killed in Iraq
Dr. Harriet Adams, Esq.
Elliot Adams, President, Veterans for Peace
Jennifer Harbury, Human Rights Attorney
Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran, author, Born on the Fourth of July
Juan Jose Gutierrez, Latino Movement USA
Blase and Theresa Bonpane, Office of the Americas
Fernando Suarez Del Solar, Guerrero Azteca, father of Jesus Del Solar, soldier killed in Iraq
Chuck Kaufman, Alliance for Global Justice
Frank Dorrel, Publisher, Addicted to War
William Blum, Author
Ed Asner, Actor
Annalisa Enrile, Mariposa Alliance
Sue Udry, Director, Defending Dissent Foundation

For more info or to volunteer with the ANSWER Coalition, call 415-821-6545.

Help with a mass mailing to help spread the word about the march and rally on March 19 the 5th anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq. The mailing will continue after the ANSWER Meeting.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
2489 Mission St. Rm. 24
San Francisco: 415-821-6545


What's wrong with mine safety czar Richard Stickler?
More than 4,000 mine safety failures in six years.
Send Stickler a note now!

Many of us watched in horror last summer as miners lost their lives in the Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah, and before that, the disasters at Sago, Darby and Aracoma mines.

After multiple debacles, you’d think the government would make mine safety a top priority. Think again. Recent reports uncovered a huge failure at the federal agency in charge of mine safety.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) failed to fine more than 4,000 safety & health violations over the last six years for mines that broke regulations.
This is an affront to workers who put their lives at risk every day. Tell the mine safety agency to get its act together:

Richard Stickler, the man responsible for mine safety in this country, used to be a coal mining executive. The mines he managed had injury rates that were double the national average. Senators didn’t find him to be very qualified for the job, and twice rejected his nomination. President Bush twice bypassed the Senate to appoint Stickler, despite loud protests from anyone familiar with his egregiously anti-safety record.
We put together some ideas for how Mr. Stickler can actually do his job. Can you please send him a note for us?

Here are some ideas for how Mr. Stickler can improve mine safety:
--Enforce new mine safety rules as required by Congress

--Fine companies that break the law – all 4,000 incidents and counting – and prosecute those who don't pay

--Push for more and better safety and health regulations and enforcement

--Give miners a say in workplace safety by making it easier for them to form unions

--Think like a miner, not a mine executive

--Listen to miners, not the companies, when it comes to developing better safety regulations

Those are pretty reasonable demands of a man who has not done his job for almost two years. You can send your letter – and write your own demands – right here:

Thank you for standing up for workers everywhere.
Liz Cattaneo
American Rights at Work

P.S. To learn more about mine safety, visit the website of the United Mine Workers of America, and find more ways to take action.

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about American Rights at Work.





A ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Mumia's case, based on the hearing in Philadelphia on May 17th 2007, is expected momentarily. Freeing Mumia immediately is what is needed, but that is not an option before this court. The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal calls on everyone who supports Mumia‚s case for freedom, to rally the day after a decision comes down. Here are Bay Area day-after details:


14th and Broadway, near the Federal Building
4:30 to 6:30 PM the day after a ruling is announced,
or on Monday if the ruling comes down on a Friday.

Oakland demonstration called by the Partisan Defense Committee and Labor Black Leagues, to be held if the Court upholds the death sentence, or denies Mumia's appeals for a new trial or a new hearing. info at (510) 839-0852 or


Federal Courthouse, 7th & Mission
5 PM the day after a ruling is announced,
or Monday if the decision comes down on a Friday

San Francisco demo called by the Mobilization To Free Mumia,
info at (415) 255-1085 or

Day-after demonstrations are also planned in:

Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver
and other cities internationally.

A National Demonstration is to be held in Philadelphia, 3rd Saturday after the decision

For more information, contact: International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal,;
Partisan Defense Committee,;
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC),;


World-renowned journalist, death-row inmate and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is completely innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Mountains of evidence--unheard or ignored by the courts--shows this. He is a victim, like thousands of others, of the racist, corrupt criminal justice system in the US; only in his case, there is an added measure of political persecution. Jamal is a former member of the Black Panther Party, and is still an outspoken and active critic of the on-going racism and imperialism of the US. They want to silence him more than they want to kill him.

Anyone who has ever been victimized by, protested or been concerned about the racist travesties of justice meted out to blacks in the US, as well as attacks on immigrants, workers and revolutionary critics of the system, needs to take a close look at the frame-up of Mumia. He is innocent, and he needs to be free.




In 1995, mass mobilizations helped save Mumia from death.

In 1999, longshore workers shut West Coast ports to free Mumia, and teachers in Oakland and Rio de Janeiro held teach-ins and stop-works.

Mumia needs powerful support again now. Come out to free Mumia!

- The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610




1) Blast at House in Gaza Kills Militant and 5 Others
February 16, 2008

2) As Nuclear Waste Languishes, Expense to U.S. Rises
February 17, 2008

3) The Army Recruiter Is Not In
By Sewell Chan
February 15, 2008, 6:30 pm

4) Fundamentally
When Will Earnings Recover?
February 17, 2008

5) Taking Play Seriously
February 17, 2008

6) Poverty Is Poison
Op-Ed Columnist
February 18, 2008

7) Poverty mars formation of infant brains
By Clive Cookson in Boston
Published: February 16 2008 01:39 | Last updated: February 16 2008 01:39

8) UAW kicks Cleveland Five out of union
By J.R. Munoz-McNally
Monday, February 18, 2008

9) Accelerating Loss of Ocean Species Threatens Human Well-Being
November 2, 2006

10) A Rip-Off by Health Insurers?
February 18, 2008

11) French Police Round Up Suspects in November Unrest
February 19, 2008

12) Clashes With Israeli Troops Kill 4 Militants in Gaza
February 18, 2008

13) Guantánamo, Evil and Zany in Pop Culture
February 18, 2008

14) Sugar Refinery Had Prior Explosion
February 18, 2008

15) Study Finds Cancer Diagnosis Linked to Insurance
February 18, 2008

16) Largest Recall of Ground Beef Is Ordered
February 18, 2008


1) Blast at House in Gaza Kills Militant and 5 Others
February 16, 2008

JERUSALEM — A senior military commander of the radical Islamic Jihad movement was killed Friday night along with at least five others as a powerful explosion destroyed his house in Gaza, but the Israeli military denied having anything to do with the blast.

The three-story house of Ayman Atallah Fayed was destroyed and six nearby homes damaged in the crowded Bureij refugee camp, Palestinian witnesses said. As many as 40 people were wounded, 9 of them critically, according to a Gazan Health Ministry official, Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, and more casualties were being evacuated. Some reports put the number of dead at eight.

Islamic Jihad’s spokesman, Abu Ahmed, accused Israel of carrying out an airstrike that caused a “Zionist massacre,” but a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces flatly denied that Israel was responsible for the explosion. “There was no attack in the Gaza Strip,” the spokeswoman said. “The I.D.F. did not attack tonight in the Gaza Strip,” she said.

Local Hamas police officers told The Associated Press that the cause of the blast was not clear. Islamic Jihad is among the groups that launch crudely made rockets at Israel from Gaza, and Palestinians speculated that an arms cache might have exploded.

Separately, just before dawn on Friday, masked gunmen attacked the Gaza City premises of the Y.M.C.A. and blew up its 8,000-volume library, according to Eissa Saba, the center’s director. A second bomb was defused. A dozen gunmen overpowered two security guards and brought them to northern Gaza, where they were later released.

It was the latest attack on institutions associated with Christianity, attacks condemned by Hamas, Fatah and local nongovernmental organizations like the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some 3,500 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, live in the Gaza Strip.


2) As Nuclear Waste Languishes, Expense to U.S. Rises
February 17, 2008

WASHINGTON — Forgotten but not gone, the waste from more than 100 nuclear reactors that the federal government was supposed to start accepting for burial 10 years ago is still at the reactor sites, at least 20 years behind schedule. But it is making itself felt in the federal budget.

With court orders and settlements, the federal government has already paid the utilities $342 million, but is virtually certain to pay a total of at least $7 billion in the next few years and probably over $11 billion, government officials said. The industry said the total could reach $35 billion.

The payments come from an obscure and poorly understood government account that requires no new Congressional appropriations, and will balloon in size, experts said.

The payments are due because the reactor owners were all required to sign contracts with the Energy Department in the early 1980s, with the government promising to dispose of the waste for a fee of a 10th of a cent per kilowatt-hour. It was supposed to begin taking away the fuel in the then far-off year of 1998.

Since then, the utilities have filed 60 lawsuits. The main argument — employing legions of lawyers on both sides — is when the government would have picked up the fuel if it had adhered to the original commitment, and thus how much of the storage expense would have fallen on the utilities anyway.

But the damage number is rising. If the repository that the government is trying to develop at Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, could start accepting waste at the date now officially projected, in 2017, the damages would run about $7 billion, according to Edward F. Sproat III, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

But that date is actually “clearly out the window,” Mr. Sproat said in a conference call with reporters, because Congress underfinanced the effort to build the repository, among other problems, he said. Mr. Sproat said the goal of applying by this June for a license to build Yucca could no longer be met.

If the repository opens in 2020, the damages would come to about $11 billion, he said, and for each year beyond that, about $500 million more. The industry says the total could reach $35 billion.

“The rate-payer has paid for it,” said Michael Bauser, the associate general counsel of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group. “The Department of Energy hasn’t done it, and now the taxpayer is paying for it a second time.”

Initially, the Energy Department tried to pay the damages out of the Nuclear Waste Fund, the money collected from the nuclear utilities, plus interest, which comes to about $30 billion. But other utilities sued, saying that if the government did that, there might not be enough money left for the intended purpose, building a repository. So the government now pays the damages out of general revenues.

The damages are large relative to the annual budget of the Energy Department, which is about $25 billion. But the money comes out of the Treasury, not the Energy Department. Under a law passed in the Carter administration, such payments are recognized as obligations of the federal government and no further action by Congress is required to make them.

The money comes out of a federal account called the Judgment Fund, which is used to pay settlements and court-ordered payments. For the last five years, the fund has made payments in the range of $700 million to $1 billion, with the average payment being $80,000 to $150,000. In contrast, payments to utilities have been in the tens of millions.

The government is also running up extra expenses on its own wastes. Some of the waste that is supposed to go to Yucca, left over from nuclear weapons production, is sitting in storage that is expensive to maintain.

Some extra expense was assured, because Yucca has been beset with legal and managerial problems, and it is not clear whether the geology is suitable for the goal, storing the waste for a million years with only very small radiation doses for people beyond the site boundary. The interim solution is storing wastes in steel casks, pumped full of inert gas to prevent corrosion, an arrangement that will keep the wastes isolated for decades at least.

At some point, the escalating costs slow down, because some of the expenses for dry storage are incurred only once, like the engineering work, or installation of a crane to get the cask in and out of the spent fuel pool, officials said. But costs rise again at the point where the reactor that generated the fuel becomes too old to run, and is torn down; at that point, the entire expense of the guard force and the maintenance workers are attributable to the waste.

That has already happened in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan. Jay Silberg, a lawyer who represents some of the utilities, said some companies that had sold reactors were suing the government and maintaining that they could have gotten a higher price if their plants had not come with the waste attached.

Each reactor typically creates about 20 tons of waste a year, which is approximately two new casks, at roughly $1 million each. If a repository or interim site opened, clearing the backlog would take decades, experts say. At present, waste is in temporary storage at 122 sites in 39 states.

The Energy Department has launched an initiative to gather the waste and run it through a factory to recover re-usable components, which would allow centralized storage, but that program’s prospects are highly uncertain.

The government has spent $11 billion on Yucca Mountain, Mr. Sproat said. The project has dragged on so long that some of the research data is stored on obsolete computers that must be replaced, program officials said.


3) The Army Recruiter Is Not In
By Sewell Chan
February 15, 2008, 6:30 pm

About 20 antiwar activists gathered outside an Army recruiting office in East Harlem this afternoon to protest what they described as the military focus on persuading young blacks and Latinos to fight in Iraq. But if their aim was to disrupt recruiting, they did not. The office had already been closed for the day, with a metal gate drawn down over the plate glass windows.

Capt. Charles V. Jaquillard, the Army Recruiting Command’s company commander for New York City, said the East Harlem office was not closed because of the protest. “We were conducting a training,” he said. “We had everybody out at Fort Hamilton today.”

After a 1 p.m. news conference at City Hall, the demonstrators gathered at 3 p.m. outside the new Army Career Center, which opened two years ago, at 126 East 103rd Street. They marched and chanted outside the closed office, as two New York City police officers looked on.

“The question of military recruitment is important because you can’t carry out this war without fresh troops,” said Debra Sweet, the director of an organization called World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime. “These troops are being trained to carry out war crimes. We’re sending a message that military recruiters are not welcome to prey on youth. The war will be stopped by the action of the people. That is the only way it will be stopped.”

Ms. Sweet said that Latinos have been disproportionately represented among service members who have fought and died in Iraq. (The Times reported last year that the Army has focused much of its local recruitment efforts on public events popular among Hispanic New Yorkers.)

Stephanie Rugoff, a volunteer with the antiwar group, said that “military recruiters go to neighborhoods with high unemployment” and make inflated promises of education and work training.

“What are they recruiting for?” the protesters chanted, replying, “Murder, rape, torture, war!”

They held aloft signs with the messages “Say No to the Military Recruitment Center” and “Shut Down The Military Recruiters! No Iraq War! Drive Out Bush Regime!”

One protester, Elaine Bower, whose 26-year-old son recently returned from Iraq, asked, “Instead of putting a recruiting center, why don’t they put a place where kids could work?”

Captain Jaquillard disputed the protesters’ assertions that the Army disproportionately targets minorities. “The Army provides opportunity for everybody,” he said. “We’re looking for qualified applicants. Some may live on the Upper West Side, some may live in the financial district, some may live in Harlem. We put in individuals who have chosen to serve their country, of various backgrounds. There’s something that the Army offers for everybody. I don’t believe we target one demographic over another.”

The Army’s New York City recruiting battalion is based at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

“An Army is a reflection of its people,” said Emily Gockley, the chief of advertising and public affairs for the battalion. “America’s Army is a reflection of who and what Americans are. We have the largest recruitment mission, because we need the most people.” She said that the Army’s demographic makeup largely reflects that of the population.

Ms. Gockley acknowledged that the Army uses marketing and advertising agencies to specifically reach out to potential black and Hispanic recruits. “Just like McDonald’s markets to the African-American community differently than it does to the Hispanic or Caucasian community, we do the same thing. We apply the same marketing strategies, market segmentation. We look at various groups — white, blacks — with the propensity to enlist. It’s very complex. When they put a recruiting station in a particular area, it’s not because it’s a minority area. In fact, we had a grand opening today for a new recruiting station in Massapequa, Long Island.”

Even though there were no military officers to greet them, the protesters today were undeterred. Around 4 p.m. they left the shuttered East Harlem recruiting office and made their way toward a joint armed forces recruiting station at 76 West 125th Street, in Harlem, where they planned another demonstration.

Dmitry Kiper contributed reporting.


4) Fundamentally
When Will Earnings Recover?
February 17, 2008

FOR months, Wall Street economists and market strategists have argued that the economy is either in recession or is dangerously close to slipping into one later this year. Now, another constituency is coming around to this view.

Last week, in releasing results of a survey of institutional, retail, and hedge fund managers, Merrill Lynch reported that a big majority — 65 percent, to be exact — now sees a good chance that the domestic economy will contract sometime in the next 12 months. But one group on Wall Street — the stock analysts — still aren’t convinced. Amid all the talk of an economic slowdown, these analysts are forecasting a stellar year for corporate profit growth.

To be sure, earnings estimates for the fourth quarter of 2007 and the first half of 2008 have come down in recent weeks. The consensus forecast for the fourth quarter now calls for a decline of 21.1 percent, worse than the drop of 9.4 percent predicted at the start of the year for the same period, according to Thomson Financial. Thomson tallies the earnings forecasts of around 7,000 analysts at big brokerage firms, boutique firms and independent shops, and combines them into an aggregate forecast for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. On balance, these analysts are bracing for relatively flat profit performance in the first and second quarters this year.

Still, the same analysts are banking on a huge profit recovery in the second half, to the point that they expect earnings for the full calendar year to jump 15.3 percent. This means that profits for the S.& P. 500 companies are expected to grow faster this year than they did in 2005, when the economy was expanding at an annual clip of more than 3 percent. (At the end of last year, growth slowed to less than 1 percent, annualized.)

So far, most money managers aren’t buying that outlook. In fact, four out of five fund managers surveyed by Merrill Lynch say they think that analysts’ consensus earnings forecasts for the coming year are too high.

Who’s correct?

It’s hard to say. But one thing is clear: Analysts, as a group, go through wild swings between underestimating and overestimating profits.

After being burned by too much earnings optimism during the bear market years of 2000 to 2002, Wall Street analysts became overly conservative in their forecasts from 2003 to 2006. But starting with the second half of 2007, they were tripped up badly by the subprime mortgage crisis, failing to factor in its earnings impact. In the fourth quarter of 2007, for example, more than half the financial companies in the S.& P. 500 reported earnings that fell shy of Wall Street forecasts — meaning that analysts had failed to grasp the impact of the subprime mess.

In a typical quarter, only around 20 percent of all companies usually fall short of estimates, according to Thomson Financial.

Gauging the financial sector isn’t the only problem for Wall Street analysts. Around a month and a half ago, the analysts thought that overall S.& P. 500 earnings would grow nearly 6 percent in the first quarter this year. Today, they think that earnings will fall 0.1 percent in the quarter.

Does this matter? Yes, in at least one respect. Investors are using the analysts’ upbeat estimate for the calendar year to gauge whether stocks are cheap or expensive. Based on 2008 earnings estimates, for example, the S.& P. 500 is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of nearly 14, well below the average P/E of 16 for stocks since 1945.

Christopher N. Orndorff, head of equity strategy for the asset management firm Payden & Rygel, says he thinks it’s more likely that earnings will be flat or fall around 3 percent this year. If earnings contract 3 percent, the P/E ratio of the S.& P., based on current prices, would be closer to 17, or higher than the historical norm.

Many Wall Street strategists and portfolio managers say it is simply wishful thinking to expect double-digit earnings growth when the economy is slowing appreciably.

“The 15 percent growth target is wildly optimistic,” said Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He adds that earnings could even decline if the economy contracts.

That’s because history shows that it takes a while for earnings growth to snap back after a recession. Ned Davis Research, an investment consulting and research firm in Venice, Fla., recently studied the performance of corporate earnings and stock market returns in recessions going back to 1948. It found that even though stock prices tend to recover several months before the end of a recession, “earnings bottoms usually occur after bottoms in the market and the economy,” said Tim Hayes, chief investment strategist at Ned Davis.

In fact, over the last 60 years, corporate earnings have typically started to recover three months after the official end of a recession.

And it often takes much longer than that before profits accelerate sharply. The most recent recession, for example, ended in the fourth quarter of 2001. Yet it wasn’t until the fourth quarter of the next year that S.& P. 500 profits started growing by double digits, according to S.& P.

It took even longer for profits to recover after the recession in the early 1990s. That contraction began in the summer of 1990 and ended in March 1991, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter of 1992 that earnings rebounded by double digits.

Of course, it’s possible that the market analysts are right and the economists, market strategists and money managers are wrong about the economy. James W. Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis, is one of those who is optimistic about earnings. “What if there just isn’t a recession out there?” he asks.

Paul J. Lim is a senior editor at Money magazine. E-mail:


5) Taking Play Seriously
February 17, 2008

On a drizzly Tuesday night in late January, 200 people came out to hear a psychiatrist talk rhapsodically about play — not just the intense, joyous play of children, but play for all people, at all ages, at all times. (All species too; the lecture featured touching photos of a polar bear and a husky engaging playfully at a snowy outpost in northern Canada.) Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play, was speaking at the New York Public Library’s main branch on 42nd Street. He created the institute in 1996, after more than 20 years of psychiatric practice and research persuaded him of the dangerous long-term consequences of play deprivation. In a sold-out talk at the library, he and Krista Tippett, host of the public-radio program ‘‘Speaking of Faith,’’ discussed the biological and spiritual underpinnings of play. Brown called play part of the ‘‘developmental sequencing of becoming a human primate. If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.’’

The message seemed to resonate with audience members, who asked anxious questions about what seemed to be the loss of play in their children’s lives. Their concern came, no doubt, from the recent deluge of eulogies to play. Educators fret that school officials are hacking away at recess to make room for an increasingly crammed curriculum. Psychologists complain that overscheduled kids have no time left for the real business of childhood: idle, creative, unstructured free play. Public health officials link insufficient playtime to a rise in childhood obesity. Parents bemoan the fact that kids don’t play the way they themselves did — or think they did. And everyone seems to worry that without the chance to play stickball or hopscotch out on the street, to play with dolls on the kitchen floor or climb trees in the woods, today’s children are missing out on something essential.

The success of ‘‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’’ — which has been on the best-seller list for the last nine months — and its step-by-step instructions for activities like folding paper airplanes is testament to the generalized longing for play’s good old days. So were the questions after Stuart Brown’s library talk; one woman asked how her children will learn trust, empathy and social skills when their most frequent playing is done online. Brown told her that while video games do have some play value, a true sense of ‘‘interpersonal nuance’’ can be achieved only by a child who is engaging all five senses by playing in the three-dimensional world.

This is part of a larger conversation Americans are having about play. Parents bobble between a nostalgia-infused yearning for their children to play and fear that time spent playing is time lost to more practical pursuits. Alarming headlines about U.S. students falling behind other countries in science and math, combined with the ever-more-intense competition to get kids into college, make parents rush to sign up their children for piano lessons and test-prep courses instead of just leaving them to improvise on their own; playtime versus résumé building.

Discussions about play force us to reckon with our underlying ideas about childhood, sex differences, creativity and success. Do boys play differently than girls? Are children being damaged by staring at computer screens and video games? Are they missing something when fantasy play is populated with characters from Hollywood’s imagination and not their own? Most of these issues are too vast to be addressed by a single field of study (let alone a magazine article). But the growing science of play does have much to add to the conversation. Armed with research grounded in evolutionary biology and experimental neuroscience, some scientists have shown themselves eager — at times perhaps a little too eager — to promote a scientific argument for play. They have spent the past few decades learning how and why play evolved in animals, generating insights that can inform our understanding of its evolution in humans too. They are studying, from an evolutionary perspective, to what extent play is a luxury that can be dispensed with when there are too many other competing claims on the growing brain, and to what extent it is central to how that brain grows in the first place.

Scientists who study play, in animals and humans alike, are developing a consensus view that play is something more than a way for restless kids to work off steam; more than a way for chubby kids to burn off calories; more than a frivolous luxury. Play, in their view, is a central part of neurological growth and development — one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.

Their work still leaves some questions unanswered, including questions about play’s darker, more ambiguous side: is there really an evolutionary or developmental need for dangerous games, say, or for the meanness and hurt feelings that seem to attend so much child’s play? Answering these and other questions could help us understand what might be lost if children play less.

‘‘See how that little boy reaches for a pail?’’ Stuart Brown asked one morning last fall, standing with me on the fringes of a small playground just north of the Central Park Zoo. ‘‘See how he curves his whole body around it?’’ Brown had flown to New York from his home in California to pitch a book about play to publishers. (He sold the idea to an editor at Penguin.) He agreed to meet me at the zoo while he was in town, to help me observe playfulness in the young members of many animal species, including our own.

Social play has its own vocabulary. Dogs have a particular body posture called the ‘‘play bow’’ — forelegs extended, rump in the air — that they use as both invitation and punctuation. A dog will perform a play bow at the beginning of a bout, and he will crouch back into it if he accidentally nips too hard and wants to assure the other dog: ‘‘Don’t worry! Still playing!’’

Other species have play signals, too. Chimps put on a ‘‘play face,’’ an open-mouthed expression that is almost like a face of aggression except that the muscles are relaxed into something like a smile. Baboons bend over and peer between their legs as an invitation to play, beavers roll around, goats gambol in a characteristic ‘‘play gait.’’ In fact, most species have from 10 to 100 distinct play signals that they use to solicit play or to reassure one another during play-fighting that it’s still all just in fun. In humans, the analogue to the chimp’s play face is a child’s smile, an open expression that indicates there is no real anger involved even in gestures that can look like a fight.

The day Brown met me in the park was a cold one, and the kids were bundled up like Michelin Men, adding more than the usual heft and waddle to their frolicking. Even beneath the padding, though, Brown could detect some typical gestures that these 2- and 3-year-olds were using instinctively to let one another know they were playing. ‘‘Play movement is curvilinear,’’ he said. ‘‘If that boy was reaching for something in a nonplay situation, his body would be all straight lines. But using the body language of play, he curves and embraces.’’

In their play — climbing up a slide, running around, passing buckets back and forth — the kids we watched were engaging in a pattern of behavior that many scientists believe is hard-wired. Their mothers and nannies were watching, too, no doubt having dragged the kids out of comfortable Upper East Side apartments because they thought daily play was important somehow, perhaps the first step in the long march toward Yale. To me all that little-kid motion looked just a bit silly — because play is, in many ways, a silly thing. Indeed, an essential component of play is its frivolity; biologists generally use phrases like ‘‘apparently purposeless activity’’ in their definitions of play. The definition proposed by Gordon Burghardt, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Tennessee, refines that phrase a little. In his 2005 book, ‘‘The Genesis of Animal Play,’’ he wrote that play is an activity of ‘‘limited immediate function.’’

Burghardt included several other factors in his definition too. Play is an activity that is different from the nonplay version of that activity (in terms of form, sequence or the stage of life in which it occurs), is something the animal engages in voluntarily and repeatedly and occurs in a setting in which the animal is ‘‘adequately fed, healthy and free from stress.’’ That last part of the definition — that play requires that an animal be stress-free and secure — suggests that play is the biological equivalent of a luxury item, the first thing to go when an animal or child is hungry or sick.

This makes evolutionary scientists prick up their ears. How can a behavior be crucial and expendable at the same time? And play is indeed expendable. Studies of vervet monkeys found that playtime decreased to almost zero during periods of drought in East Africa. Squirrel monkeys won’t play when their favorite food sources are unavailable. In humans under stress, what happens with play is more complicated. Even under devastating circumstances, the drive to play is unquenchable. As George Eisen wrote in ‘‘Children and Play in the Holocaust’’: ‘‘Children’s yearning for play naturally burst forth even amidst the horror. . . . An instinctual, an almost atavistic impulse embedded in the human consciousness.’’

Yet play does diminish when children suffer long-term, chronic deprivation, either one at a time in abusive or neglectful homes, or on a massive scale in times of famine, war or forced relocation. And children can still survive, albeit imperfectly, without it.

For humans and animals alike, truly vigorous, wholehearted, spontaneous play is something of a biological frill. This suggests one possible evolutionary function: that in its playfulness, an animal displays its own abundant health and suitability for breeding. But a skeptic might see it differently: if a behavior is this easy to dispense with when times are hard, it might suggest that the behavior is less essential than some advocates claim.

If play is an extravagance, why has it persisted? It must have some adaptive function, or at least a benefit that outweighs its cost, or it would have been winnowed out by the forces of natural selection. One answer can be found through ethology, the study of animal behavior, which takes as one of its goals the explication of how and why a behavior evolved. Nonhuman animals can be more easily studied than humans can: the conditions under which they are raised can be manipulated, their brains altered and probed. And if there is an evolutionary explanation for a human behavior, it could reveal itself in the study of the analogous behavior in animals. Because of nature’s basic parsimony, many aspects of the brain and behavior have been conserved through evolution, meaning that many of the observations that ethologists make in rats, mice and monkeys could apply to humans too.

When it comes to animal play, scientists basically agree that it’s mostly mammals that do it, and they basically agree that it’s a mystery why they do it, since there are so many good reasons not to. It all seems incredibly wasteful, and nature does not usually tolerate waste.

Play can be costly in terms of energy expenditure. Juveniles spend an estimated 2 to 15 percent of their daily calorie budget on play, using up calories the young animal could more profitably use for growing. Frisky playing can also be dangerous, making animals conspicuous and inattentive, more vulnerable to predators and more likely to hurt themselves as they romp and cavort. Biologists have observed many play-related calamities, like bighorn lambs being injured on cactus plants as they frolicked. One of the starkest measures of the risk of play was made by Robert Harcourt, a zoologist now at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who spent nine months in 1988 observing seal pups off the coast of Peru. Harcourt witnessed 102 seal pups attacked by southern sea lions; 26 of them were killed. ‘‘Of these observed kills,’’ Harcourt reported in the British journal Animal Behaviour, ‘‘22 of the pups were playing in the shallow tidal pools immediately before the attack and appeared to be oblivious to the other animals fleeing nearby.’’ In other words, nearly 85 percent of the pups that were killed had been playing.

So play can be risky. And, under stress, it tends to disappear. What then would justify, in evolutionary terms, the prevalence of play?

One popular view is the play-as-preparation hypothesis. In this perspective, play evolved because it is good preparation for adulthood. It is a chance for young animals to learn and rehearse the skills they will need for the rest of their lives, and to do so in a secure environment, where mistakes will have few consequences. Proponents of this hypothesis say play is a way — and, not incidentally, a pleasurable way — of getting into muscle memory the generalized movements of survival: chasing, running, probing, tussling. Through play, these movements can be learned when the stakes are low and then retrieved in adulthood, when the setting is less safe and the need more urgent.

The play-as-preparation hypothesis seems logical, and each new observation seems to confirm it. Watch wolf pups at play, and it is easy to see how the biting and wrangling could be baby versions of the actions the pups will need later to assert their dominance or to help the pack kill its prey. Watch 2-year-olds playing at a toy workbench with little wooden mallets and blocks, and you can picture them as adults employing those same muscles to wield a full-size hammer.

But one trouble with the hypothesis is that the gestures of play, while similar, are not literally the same as the gestures of real life. In fact, the way an animal plays is often the exact opposite of the way it lives. In play-fighting, if one player starts to edge toward victory, he will suddenly reverse roles and move from the dominant to the submissive posture. Or he will stop fighting as hard, something the ethologists call self-handicapping. This is rarely done in real fighting, when the whole point is winning. The targets of play are different, too. In rats, real fighters try to bite one another on the back and the lower flanks; in play fights, they go for the nape of the neck. The gestures players use to nuzzle the neck are not the same ones they need to rehearse if they are to win a serious fight.

Nor is there much experimental evidence to support a connection between youthful playing and adult expertise. One Scottish study of kittens, for instance, tested the hypothesis that ample object play early in life would lead to better hunting later on. The investigator, a psychologist named T. M. Caro then at the University of St. Andrews, found no difference in hunting skills between one group of 11 cats that had been exposed to toys in their youth and a control group of 8 cats that had not.

Now an alternative view is taking hold, based on a belief that there must be something else going on — play not as a literal rehearsal, but as something less direct and ultimately more important. It focuses on the way that play might contribute to the growth and development of the brain.

John Byers started thinking about the brain and play almost by accident. A zoologist at the University of Idaho, Byers had spent years studying the playful antics of deer, pronghorn antelopes and the wild mountain goats called ibex. He knew that play was risky — he had observed ibex kids falling off steep cliffs as they romped — and at first he thought maybe the animals were taking such risks because the motor training helped them get in physical shape for adulthood. But something about this idea troubled him. Play can be exercise, he reasoned, but it was of too short duration to lead to long-term fitness or build muscle tone.

Byers preferred an alternate theory. In almost every species studied, a graph of playfulness looked like an inverted U, increasing during the juvenile period and then falling off around puberty, after which time most animals don’t play much anymore. One winter afternoon in 1993, Byers was roaming the stacks at the University of Idaho library, flipping through books the way you do when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. One book contained a graph of the growth curve of one important region of the brain, the cerebellum, over the juvenile period in the mouse. The growth curve of the mouse cerebellum was nearly identical to the curve of mouse playfulness.

‘‘It was like a light went on in my head,’’ Byers told me from Washington, D.C., where he is temporarily working at the National Science Foundation. ‘‘I wasn’t thinking specifically about play, but I sort of had a long-term interest in behavioral development.’’ And there it was: a chart that made it look as if rates of play in mice synchronized almost perfectly with growth rates in one critical region of the brain, the area that coordinates movements originating in other parts of the brain.

Intrigued, Byers enlisted the help of a graduate student, Curt Walker, who looked through the scientific literature on cerebellum development in rats and cats. ‘‘Then we compared those rates to what was known about the rates of play in those species,’’ Byers said. ‘‘And rats and cats showed the same relationship as mice: a match between when they were playing and when the cerebellum was growing.’’

The synchrony suggested a few things to Byers: that play might be related to growth of the cerebellum, since they both peak at about the same time; that there is a sensitive period in brain growth, during which time it’s important for an animal to get the brain-growth stimulation of play; and that the cerebellum needs the whole-body movements of play to achieve its ultimate configuration.

This opened up new lines of research, as neuroscientists tried to pinpoint just where in the brain play had its most prominent effects — which gets to the heart of the question of what might be lost when children do not get enough play. Most of this work has been done in rats. Sergio Pellis, a neuroscientist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, is one of these investigators. He studies how brain damage in rats affects play behavior, and whether the relationship works in reverse: that is, not only whether brain-damaged rats play abnormally but also whether play-deprived rats develop abnormalities in their brains. Pellis’s research indicates that the relationship might indeed work in both directions.

In a set of experiments conducted last year, Pellis and his colleagues raised 12 female rats from the time they were weaned until puberty under one of two conditions. In the control group, each rat was caged with three other female juveniles. In the experimental group, each rat was caged with three female adults. Pellis knew from previous studies that the rats caged with adults would not play, since adult rats rarely play with juveniles, even their own offspring. They would get all the other normal social experiences the control rats had — grooming, nuzzling, touching, sniffing — but they would not get play. His hypothesis was that the brains in the experimental rats would reflect their play-deprived youth, especially in the region known as the prefrontal cortex.

At puberty the rats were euthanized so the scientists could look at their brains. What Pellis and his collaborators found was the first direct evidence of a neurological effect of play deprivation. In the experimental group — the rats raised in a play-deprived environment — they found a more immature pattern of neuronal connections in the medial prefrontal cortex. (This is distant from the cerebellum; it is part of the cerebrum, which constitutes the bulk of the mammalian brain.) Rats, like other mammals, are born with an overabundance of cortical brain cells; as the animal matures, feedback from the environment leads to the pruning and selective elimination of these excess cells, branchings and connections. Play is thought to be one of the environmental influences that help in the pruning — and, this research showed, play deprivation interferes with it.

Figuring out what these findings mean in terms of function involves a certain amount of conjecture. Pellis interprets his observation of a more tangled, immature medial prefrontal cortex in play-deprived rats to mean that the rat will be less able to make subtle adjustments to the social world. But maybe the necessary pruning can happen later in life, through other feedback mechanisms having little to do with play. Maybe there were already compensatory changes happening elsewhere in the brains of these young rats where no one had thought to look. Current research in Pellis’s lab, in which the brain is damaged first and the rat’s playing ability is measured afterward, seems to confirm that the medial prefrontal cortex has an important role in play. But the exact nature of its action is still not clear.

Many of the other important studies on play and the brain have come from the lab of Jaak Panksepp, a behavioral neuroscientist who trained most of the neurological investigators in the field during the three decades he was at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (though Pellis, who studied at Australia’s Monash University, was not among them). In the 1980s, Panksepp and a graduate student, Stephen Siviy, located the play drive in the thalamus, a primitive region of the brain that receives sensory information and relays it to the cortex. More recently, Panksepp has been exploring the connections among the play drive and certain human conditions, in particular attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.).

Panksepp has been studying A.D.H.D. in rats since the 1990s. In one experiment, to create a rat model of A.D.H.D., he and his colleagues took 32 newborn rats and destroyed in each the right frontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for paying attention, planning ahead and being sensitive to social cues. (Human studies have shown that in children with A.D.H.D., frontal-lobe development is often delayed.) As a control, they performed sham surgery on 32 other rats, making the incisions but leaving the brain intact to be sure that any observed change would be due to the cortical destruction rather than the surgery itself. When the scientists compared the play behavior of the two groups, they found that the rats with the damaged right frontal cortex had higher levels of overall activity, as well as increased rates of roughand- tumble play, as compared with the controls. The rats with damaged frontal cortices behaved much like children described as hyperactive.

Panksepp and his colleagues then exposed these superplayers to extra opportunities for play. One extra hour a day of play, which generally took the form of play-fighting during a critical early stage, sufficed to reduce hyperactivity. The scientists thought similar play therapy might work for children with A.D.H.D., particularly if it was undertaken in early childhood — between ages 3 and 7 — when the urges are ‘‘especially insistent.’’

Panksepp’s current view of human A.D.H.D., he told me from his office at Washington State University, where he moved two years ago, is that it is in part ‘‘overactivity of play urges in the nervous system.’’ His ideas have made some impression on the human A.D.H.D. community, but not much. Benedetto Vitiello, the head of child and adolescent treatment and research at the National Institute of Mental Health, remembers hearing Panksepp give a talk at the institute around the time his article appeared in 2003. But he said he has not heard of any clinical studies since then that investigate whether extra play in early childhood helps ease the symptoms of A.D.H.D. Besides, Vitiello adds, there are many differences between a rat with a brain injury and a child with an intact but slowly developing brain. So even though he considers Panksepp’s research ‘‘interesting,’’ he says that it has not quite led to a complete animal model of A.D.H.D.

Animal-play experiments have focused largely on the most vivid form of play — social play, in particular the kind of social play known as play-fighting. But it’s clear to anyone who thinks about it that play-fighting is a very narrow definition of play. Wrestling is not the same as chasing. For that matter, playing tag is not the same as playing dress up; playing in a soccer league is not the same as shooting hoops in a neighborhood park; and none of these are the same as playing Scrabble or Uno or video games. For all its variety, however, there is something common to play in all its protean forms: variety itself. The essence of play is that the sequence of actions is fluid and scattered. In the words of Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, play is at its core ‘‘a behavioral kaleidoscope.’’

In fact, it’s this kaleidoscopic quality that led Bekoff and others to think of play as the best way for a young animal to gain a more diverse and responsive behavioral repertory. Thus, the currently fashionable flexibility hypothesis, a revival of an idea Bekoff first proposed in the 1970s. If a single function can be ascribed to every form of play, in every playful species, according to this way of thinking, it is that play contributes to the growth of more supple, more flexible brains.

‘‘I think of play as training for the unexpected,’’ Bekoff says. ‘‘Behavioral flexibility and variability is adaptive; in animals it’s really important to be able to change your behavior in a changing environment.’’ Play, he says, leads to mental suppleness and a broader behavioral vocabulary, which in turn helps the animal achieve success in the ways that matter: group dominance, mate selection, avoiding capture and finding food.

The flexibility hypothesis is something of a bridge between the play-aspreparation hypothesis and more recent findings about play and neurological growth. It works best when explaining play-fighting. With its variable tempo, self-handicapping and role reversals, play-fighting is like the improvisation of a jazz quartet, forcing an animal to respond rapidly to change.

Players riff off one another. One thrusts, the other parries; suddenly the one that was on top is pinned on the bottom and then just as suddenly is on top again. As in jazz, the smoothness of the improvisation matters as much as the gestures themselves. ‘‘Ability to use and switch among alternative sequences,’’ Maxeen Biben, an ethologist formerly at the National Institutes of Health, wrote in an essay in ‘‘Animal Play,’’ ‘‘may be as valuable as getting a lot of practice at the most effective sequences.’’

The physical movements of playfighting provide the environmental input needed to prune the developing cortex, as Sergio Pellis’s research suggested. This pruning is one way an animal achieves the ability to predict and respond to another animal’s shifting movements. Some play scholars say that such skills will come in handy in adulthood, not only in fighting but in other real-life situations as well, like evading capture and finding food. A more skeptical view would be that play-fighting might not really teach much at all about an animal’s subsequent skills — there was that Scottish study about object play in kittens, remember, that showed no connection to hunting ability in adulthood — but it does one thing for sure: it makes the animal that play-fights a better play-fighter. And there might be something to be said for that. The more a young animal plays, the richer the animal’s life, the more fun, the more stimulated, the more social. There might possibly be an immediate benefit just from that simple fact.

Which reveals an important rift in the study of the purpose of play: a debate among play scholars about how to tell the story of play’s possible short-term and long-term benefits. The flexibility hypothesis imposes one such story, but it might not be the best story. Just because it’s possible to see how playing might contribute to a suppler brain and a more varied behavioral repertory, it does not follow that playing is the only way to achieve such flexibility. This relates to the concept of equifinality, an idea from systems theory that says there are usually more ways than one to arrive at a particular end. The fact that play offers one way of getting to an end need not mean it is the only way — nor need it mean that getting to that end is the ultimate purpose of play.

The problem of equifinality troubled Anthony Pellegrini, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, when he tried to interpret his findings about rough-and-tumble play in fifth-grade boys. He and his colleagues studied the recess behavior of 37 boys and scored a play episode as rough-and-tumble when a boy engaged in one from a list of behaviors — ‘‘tease, hit and kick at, chase, poke, pounce, sneak up, carry child, pile on, play-fight, hold and push’’ — while displaying a wide smile or ‘‘play face.’’ Knowing that earlier studies found a connection between roughand- tumble play and a child’s peer affiliation and social problem-solving flexibility, the scientists hypothesized that the most vigorous players would also be the most socially competent. But Pellegrini found no clear benefits in the boys who played the most. Maybe, he wrote in an essay about this research in ‘‘The Future of Play Theory,’’ it’s because other things that happen at recess — ‘‘cooperative social games, comfort contact and conversation’’ — might be just as good as pouncing or chasing at achieving a sense of connection.

‘‘Developmental systems tend to be highly redundant,’’ wrote Patrick Bateson, a noted biologist at Cambridge University, in a book of essays called ‘‘The Nature of Play.’’ This means, Bateson wrote, ‘‘that if an endpoint is not achieved by one route, it is achieved by another. Playing when young is not the only way to acquire knowledge and skills; the animal can delay acquisition until it is an adult.’’

Nonetheless, even Bateson, a prominent play scholar who recognizes the quandary posed by equifinality, suggested that play is the best way to reach certain goals. Through play, an individual avoids what he called the lure of ‘‘false endpoints,’’ a problem-solving style more typical of harried adults than of playful youngsters. False endpoints are avoided through play, Bateson wrote, because players are having so much fun that they keep noodling away at a problem and might well arrive at something better than the first, good-enough solution.

But maybe the flexibility hypothesis is itself a false endpoint. Maybe the idea that play is the best route to a whole host of good results — creativity, social agility, overall mental suppleness — is just the first idea scientists landed on, and they were inclined to accept it because it fit so well with their innate ideas about the nature of childhood. This is the view of a small group of play scholars we’ll call the play skeptics. What worries the play skeptics is that most people in the industrialized West — scientists in the field, play advocates and all the rest of us, parents, teachers, doctors, scholars, all the children and all the aging children — have been ensnared by what skeptics call the ‘‘play ethos.’’ By this they mean the reflexive, unexamined belief that play is an unmitigated good with a crucial, though vaguely defined, evolutionary function.

‘‘Play ethos’’ comes from Peter Smith, a psychology professor at the University of London and a leading authority on play’s effect on children’s emotional development. He uses it as a cautionary term, a reminder that most conclusions about play’s adaptive function have so far been based not on scientific evidence but on wishful thinking.

For Smith to suggest that scientists have fallen under the spell of the play ethos is a kind of apostasy, because some of the earliest bits of evidence used to establish the play ethos in the first place came out of Smith’s own laboratory at the University of London in the late 1970s. But it was in the execution of those experiments, and the follow- up studies that revealed their fatal flaw, that Smith came to understand, more than most, the importance of caution.

In one of his early experiments, Smith and his colleagues put 3- and 4-year-olds in two different play settings. In one group the children were allowed to play, in whatever way they felt like, with several wooden sticks. In the other group they were shown by an adult ‘‘play tutor’’ how to fit two sticks together to make a longer one. Then the children were given two tasks. First they had to retrieve a marble by connecting two sticks. Both groups performed this task, which Smith called ‘‘direct’’ problem solving, about equally well. Then they had to retrieve a marble that had been pushed farther away, so they could reach it only by connecting three sticks, not just two — what Smith called ‘‘innovative’’ problemsolving. The children who had played with the sticks performed this task significantly better than the ones who had been shown how to join together only two sticks.

‘‘At this point I was happy,’’ Smith recalled years later, writing in ‘‘The Future of Play Theory.’’ His findings were taken as evidence that spontaneous free play led to more creative thinking. But then he started to wonder whether he himself had fallen victim to the play ethos.

A single investigator had conducted the entire experiment, serving as both play tutor and evaluator on the problem-solving task. Might the experimenter subconsciously have favored the free-play children, Smith asked himself, maybe by giving subtle nonverbal cues or scoring more leniently? He ran the experiment again, bringing in a second investigator who could test the children without knowing whether they were in the free-play or the tutored group.

This time Smith found no difference in innovative problem solving between the two groups. At first he didn’t believe his new results, thinking that maybe the sample size was too small or that the groups were somehow poorly matched. But further studies bore out this nonfinding, and Smith realized, on reflection, that he and his colleagues had probably been giving inadvertent hints to the free-play group the first time around. He ascribed it to his own subconscious idealization of play.

Idealization is a trap. And it seems most seductive when it comes to play, especially one particular kind: pretend play. This is the kind ethologists tend to ignore, since it is difficult to argue — though a few scientists have tried — that animals are capable of pretending. Yet for humans, pretend play is one of the most crucial forms of play, occupying at its peak at about age 4 some 20 percent of a child’s day. It includes some of the most wondrous moments of childhood: dramatic play, wordplay, ritual play, symbolic play, games, jokes and imaginary friends. And it is the kind of play that positively screams out for hyperbole when outsiders try to describe it. This is where even coolheaded scientists get florid in their prose — and where play advocates like Stuart Brown and play skeptics like Peter Smith engage in their most vivid disagreements about the ultimate purpose of play.

Brown talked about pretend play at the New York Public Library last month, saying that a playful imagination ‘‘can infuse the moment with a sense of magic.’’ But skeptics find such comments annoying. ‘‘Despite the heartwarming rhetoric we dish out in our teacher-training classes, children do not have unlimited imagination,’’ wrote David Lancy, an anthropologist at Utah State University. ‘‘Their make-believe and, by extension, other play forms, is constrained by the roles, scripts and props of the culture they live in.’’ Lancy pointed to field studies of a Mayan community in which children teach their younger siblings how to pretend in the most pedestrian of ways, ‘‘focusing their attention on washing, caring for babies and cooking’’ — no magic there.

The skeptical Smith does see some value to fantasy play: when children dress up, make and use props and devise story lines to playact, he says, they learn to use sophisticated language, negotiate roles and exchange information. But he adds that many of these benefits could be gained just as well through other forms of play, work activities and plain old-fashioned instruction. Smith does not deny that playing is great fun — his own children were playing noisily in the background when I phoned him at his home in London, and he never once asked them to hush — but he wants everyone to keep it all in perspective.

Keeping play in perspective means looking at it not just clearly but fully. Not everything about childhood play is sweetness and light, no matter how much we romanticize it. Play can be dangerous or scary. It can be disturbing, destabilizing, aggressive. It can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings, leaving children out of the charmed circle of the schoolyard. The other side of playing is teasing, bullying, scapegoating, excluding, hurting.

I well remember this darker side of play from my own girlhood. Like many other klutzy kids, I hated recess, since it stripped me of the classroom competence that was such good cover for my shyness. Out in the schoolyard, there was no raising your hand with the right answer. I had to wait to be asked to play jump-rope and had to face embarrassment if I missed a skip or — worse, much worse — if nobody ended up asking me. Even pretend play could take an ugly turn if my playmates made their dolls say nasty things.

Recognizing play’s dark side is not difficult, if we are really willing to search our memories. To play scholars, thinking about play’s negatives can be clarifying and might even generate new ideas, not only about play but also about the double-edged nature of pleasure itself. Why is it that something so joyous, something children yearn for so forcefully, can be so troubling too? If you’re accustomed to looking for evolutionary explanations for perplexing behavior, here is something meaty to chew on: what could be the adaptive advantage of using play to wrestle your demons?

Demons do indeed emerge at playtime, in part because children carve out play spaces that have no room for the civilizing influence of adults. This is what happened in the recess ‘‘fort culture’’ that arose spontaneously in 1990 at the Lexington Montessori School in Massachusetts, when the elementary-age children shunned the organized play their teachers had arranged and instead started building forts on their own in the surrounding woods. An intricate and rule-bound subculture developed, one that is still going on.

Mark Powell, then a graduate student at Lesley University in Cambridge nearby, observed the recess fort culture for several years in the 1990s and described it in 2007 in the journal Children, Youth and Environments. For the first few years, he wrote, petty conflicts, stick stealing and ejections for minor infractions were a constant background hum in a play culture that was otherwise high-spirited and fun. But it finally erupted into a miniwar one autumn, sparked by the hostile actions of a fort of 6- year-olds headed by a tyrannical little boy who called himself the General. Within a month of the General’s appearance, Powell wrote, the fantasy war play ‘‘had become a reality with daily raids and counterattacks, yelling, the occasional physical scrape and lots of hurt feelings.’’ It took the intervention of some other children, teachers and the General’s parents finally to persuade the child to call a truce.

Brian Sutton-Smith, one of the nation’s most eminent play scholars, has seen eruptions like the General’s many times before, but they don’t worry him. In fact, he embraces them. In such an elaborate play culture, he wrote, where so many harsh human truths come to the fore, ‘‘children learn all those necessary arts of trickery, deception, harassment, divination and foul play that their teachers won’t teach them but are most important in successful human relationships in marriage, business and war.’’

Sutton-Smith’s 1997 classic, ‘‘The Ambiguity of Play,’’ reflects in its title his belief that play’s ultimate purpose can be found in its paradoxes. During his years at Columbia’s Teachers College and the University of Pennsylvania, Sutton- Smith, a psychologist and folklorist, took careful note of how play could be destabilizing, destructive or disturbing. He collected renditions of the stories children told in their imaginative or dramatic play, stories of ‘‘being lost, being stolen, being bitten, dying, being stepped on, being angry, calling the police, running away or falling down.’’ Are these really the thoughts percolating inside our children? And is expressing these thoughts through play somehow good for them? Sutton-Smith called this underbelly of imaginative play part of the ‘‘phantasmagoria,’’ where children’s thoughts run wild and all the chaotic bits of the real world get tumbled together and pulled haphazardly apart in new, sometimes even scarier confabulations.

Why would such an enriching activity as play also be a source of so much anarchy and fear? Sutton- Smith found one possible answer by reading Stephen Jay Gould, the author and evolutionary biologist. The most highly adaptive organisms, Gould wrote, are those that embody both the positive and the negative, organisms that ‘‘possess an opposite set of attributes usually devalued in our culture: sloppiness, broad potential, quirkiness, unpredictability and, above all, massive redundancy.’’ Finely tuned specific adaptations can lead to blind alleys and extinction, he wrote; ‘‘the key is flexibility.’’

What Gould called quirkiness, Sutton-Smith called play. ‘‘Animal play has been described by many investigators as fragmentary, disorderly, unpredictable and exaggerated,’’ Sutton-Smith wrote, and ‘‘child play has been said to be improvised, vertiginous and nonsensical.’’ The adaptive advantage to a behavior that is multifaceted, then, is that pursuing it, enjoying it, needing it to get through the day, allows for a wider range in a play-loving person’s behavioral repertory, which is always handy, just in case.

Playing might serve a different evolutionary function too, he suggests: it helps us face our existential dread. The individual most likely to prevail is the one who believes in possibilities — an optimist, a creative thinker, a person who has a sense of power and control. Imaginative play, even when it involves mucking around in the phantasmagoria, creates such a person. ‘‘The adaptive advantage has often gone to those who ventured upon their possibility with cries of exultant commitment,’’ Sutton-Smith wrote. ‘‘What is adaptive about play, therefore, may be not only the skills that are a part of it but also the willful belief in acting out one’s own capacity for the future.’’

It’s a pretty idea, the notion that play gives you hope for a better tomorrow, but science demands something a little less squishy. Science demands that if there are important long-term benefits to play, they must be demonstrated. That is why studies of play-deprived rats are so fascinating; they offer objective evidence that in at least some animals, insufficient play can have serious consequences.

Even when science suggests certain answers, however, it cannot easily make the leap from young rats to young humans, nor tell us much of anything about how those young children should behave. What if all the things we hope children derive from free play — cognitive flexibility, social competence, creative problem-solving, mastery of their own bodies and their own environments — can be learned just as well by teaching these skills directly? What if the only clear advantage to the vanishing 20-minute recess is that it makes kids less restless in class, something that can be just as easily accomplished by a jog around the all-purpose room?

Which brings us back to wondering what would be lost if the Cassandras are right, whether children would suffer if free play really does turn out to be a thing of the past. It seems almost ludicrous to ask such a question. Of course play is good for something; it is the essence of good. Watch children at play, and the benefits are so obvious: just look at those ecstatic faces, just listen to those joyful squeals. Stuart Brown alluded to it in his library talk last month. ‘‘Look at life without play, and it’s not much of a life,’’ he told the audience. ‘‘If you think of all the things we do that are playrelated and erase those, it’s pretty hard to keep going.’’ Without play, he said, ‘‘there’s a sense of dullness, lassitude and pessimism, which doesn’t work well in the world we live in.’’

In the end, it comes down to a matter of trade-offs. There are only six hours in a school day, only another six or so till bedtime, and adults are forever trying to cram those hours with activities that are productive, educational and (almost as an afterthought) fun. Animal findings about how play influences brain growth suggest that playing, though it might look silly and purposeless, warrants a place in every child’s day. Not too overblown a place, not too sanctimonious a place, but a place that embraces all styles of play and that recognizes play as every bit as essential to healthful neurological development as test-taking drills, Spanish lessons or Suzuki violin.


6) Poverty Is Poison
Op-Ed Columnist
February 18, 2008

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.

America’s failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America’s poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That’s not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I’d bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky.

And governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty. In Britain, the Labor government that came into office in 1997 made reducing poverty a priority — and despite some setbacks, its program of income subsidies and other aid has achieved a great deal. Child poverty, in particular, has been cut in half by the measure that corresponds most closely to the U.S. definition.

At the moment it’s hard to imagine anything comparable happening in this country. To their credit — and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it — both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I’m not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let’s hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.


7) Poverty mars formation of infant brains
By Clive Cookson in Boston
Published: February 16 2008 01:39 | Last updated: February 16 2008 01:39

Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain, the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston heard on Friday.

Neuroscientists said many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development. That effect is on top of any damage caused by inadequate nutrition and exposure to environmental toxins.

Studies by several US universities have revealed the pervasive harm done to the brain, particularly between the ages of six months and three years, from low socio-economic status.

Martha Farah, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s centre for cognitive neuroscience, said: “The biggest effects are on language and memory. The finding about memory impairment – the ability to encounter a pattern and remember it – really surprised us.”

Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard University’s centre on the developing child, said policymakers had to take note of the research because “the foundation of all social problems later in life takes place in the early years”.

“The earlier you intervene [to counteract the impact of poverty], the better the outcome in the end, because the brain loses its plasticity [adaptability] as the child becomes older,” he said.

Stress hormone levels tend to be higher in young children from poor families than in children growing up in middle-class and wealthy families, said Prof Shonkoff. Excessive levels of these hormones disrupt the formation of synaptic connections between cells in the developing brain – and even affect its blood supply. “They literally disrupt the brain architecture,” he said.

The findings explain why relatively unfocused programmes to prepare poor children for school, such as Head Start in the US, have produced only modest results, the scientists said.

More focused interventions could give more substantial benefits, said Courtney Stevens of the University of Oregon. She gave the preliminary results of an eight-week programme aimed at poor parents of pre-school children in Oregon.

Parents attended weekly coaching sessions to improve their family communications skills and show them how to control their children’s bad behaviour. At the end of the programme, participating parents reported big reductions in family stress compared with a control group that did not take part. Brain scans of the children suggested neural improvements, too.

“Our findings are important because they suggest that kids who are at high risk for school failure can be helped through these interventions,” said Dr Stevens. “Even with these small numbers of children, the parent training appears very promising.”

Well-tailored programmes can help, Prof Shonkoff agreed. But in the end, the only way to remove the “toxic” impact of poverty on young brains is to abolish poverty itself, he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


8) UAW kicks Cleveland Five out of union
By J.R. Munoz-McNally
Monday, February 18, 2008

In the early days of labor unions, it was not uncommon for the law to step in to help settle disputes. History is filled with stories of everyone from the private Pinkerton officers, to the local police to the National Guard getting involved.

Over the weekend, some area residents joined those dubious ranks when the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office was called to remove a group of five apparent members of a United Auto Workers local who union leaders said were trespassing.

The incident occurred Saturday afternoon during the regular monthly meeting of the UAW Local 3520. The meeting was held at the former Wayside Elementary School building on U.S. High-way 70, just outside of Statesville.

The five who were accused of trespassing are former employees of the Freightliner Plant in nearby Cleveland.
One of the five, Allen Bradley, was actually arrested during the incident.

“He twisted my arm behind my back and I almost dropped my camera,” Bradley said.

“They kept me in the police car for 40 minutes while they tried to figure out what to do.”

Bradley was eventually charged with trespassing and later released on his own promise to appear in court.

The other four left without incident after sheriff’s deputies said they too could face trespassing charges.

But Bradley said it is impossible for them to have been accused of such an offense since they were - and are, to their knowledge - members of the local in good standing. He believes they had as much right to be at the meeting as any of the other members.

“The membership is highest authority in the local,” Bradley said. “We are all members with the same rights so I don’t know how we could have been trespassing any more than anyone else.”
But the names of the five - which have become known in union circles around the country as the Cleveland Five - were apparently erased from the membership prior to Saturday’s meeting.

“But our membership dues were paid, and we were in good standing,” said Robert Whiteside.

Whiteside said he is still the shop chair of the local. He said four of the five fired members have attended every meeting since they lost their jobs in April.

“We’ve never had any problems before,” he said. “But we feel pretty certain that this was all planned ahead of time by the president.”

The four men and one woman - which, in addition to Bradley and Whiteside, includes David Crisco, Franklin Torrence and Glenna Swinford - lost their jobs last year when, as members of the Local 3520 bargaining committee, they called for a strike after contract talks collapsed.

Top UAW officials said the April 2, 2007, strike was not endorsed by the union’s international office and more than a dozen people lost their jobs as a result of it.

All but the five got their jobs back within a month of the one-day walkout.

Whiteside said the strike was the next logical step in the negotiations.

“We didn’t have a contract,” he said. “And our job at that time was to negotiate one.”

As president of the Statesville Branch NAACP, Woody Woodard said workers’ right to unionize has long been tied to civil rights.
He said what has happened at Freightliner is a sign that something went wrong within the local.

“This is not how unions are supposed to operate,” said Woodard, who helped in getting Bradley released without a bond.

But now that the matter has reached the level of their not being welcome at monthly meetings what will the members do?

“We’ve gone too far to turn back now,” Whiteside said.


9) Accelerating Loss of Ocean Species Threatens Human Well-Being
November 2, 2006

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) – In a study published in the November 3 issue of the journal Science, an international group of ecologists and economists shows that the loss of biodiversity is profoundly reducing the ocean's ability to produce seafood, resist diseases, filter pollutants, and rebound from stresses such as over fishing and climate change.

The study was based at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. NCEAS is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study reveals that every species lost causes a faster unraveling of the overall ecosystem. Conversely, every species recovered adds significantly to overall productivity and stability of the ecosystem and its ability to withstand stresses.

"This study is the first to definitively link species losses in marine systems to their economic consequences for society, by choosing to measure the effects of species losses by their impacts on the things humans care most about: seafood production, clean beaches for swimming, coastal protection from storms, tourism revenue and absorption of our waste," said Kimberly A. Selkoe, co-author and postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS. "We found that the more that humans strip marine ecosystems of their species by unchecked exploitation, the fewer benefits we derive from them, and the more society suffers from the economic consequences, such as unstable seafood markets, health problems linked to polluted beaches, and coastal damage from storms."

The four-year analysis is the first to examine all existing data on ocean species and ecosystems, synthesizing historical, experimental, fisheries, and observational data sets to understand the importance of biodiversity at the global scale.

"Our results indicate that the current trend for losing marine species could have drastic consequences for what people can get from the oceans, but we also found that protection of ocean areas can restore these services," said Benjamin S. Halpern, co-author and researcher at NCEAS. "In other words, it is not too late to help make things better."

Lead author Boris Worm of Canada's Dalhousie University said, "Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world's ocean, we saw the same picture emerging. In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems. I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are – beyond anything we suspected."

The results reveal global trends that mirror what scientists have observed at smaller scales, and they prove that progressive biodiversity loss not only impairs the ability of oceans to feed a growing human population, but also sabotages the stability of marine environments and their ability to recover from stresses. Every species matters.

"For generations, people have admired the denizens of the sea for their size, ferocity, strength or beauty. But as this study shows, the animals and plants that inhabit the sea are not merely embellishments to be wondered at," said Callum Roberts, professor at the University of York, England, who was not involved in the study. "They are essential to the health of the oceans and the well-being of human society."

Peter Kareiva, a former Brown University professor and U.S. government fisheries manager who now leads science efforts at The Nature Conservancy, said, "This analysis provides the best documentation I have ever seen regarding biodiversity's value. There is no way the world will protect biodiversity without this type of compelling data demonstrating the economic value of biodiversity."

The good news is that the data show that ocean ecosystems still hold great ability to rebound. However, the current global trend is a serious concern; it projects the collapse of all species of wild seafood that are currently fished by the year 2050 (collapse is defined as 90 percent depletion).

Collapses are also hastened by the decline in overall health of the ecosystem – fish rely on the clean water, prey populations, and diverse habitats that are linked to higher diversity systems. This points to the need for managers to consider all species together rather than continuing with single species management.

"Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean's species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood," said co-author Steve Palumbi of Stanford University.

The impacts of species loss go beyond declines in seafood. Human health risks emerge as depleted coastal ecosystems become vulnerable to invasive species, disease outbreaks and noxious algal blooms.

Many of the economic activities along our coasts rely on diverse systems and the healthy waters they supply. "The ocean is a great recycler," explained Palumbi. "It takes sewage and recycles it into nutrients, it scrubs toxins out of the water, and it produces food and turns carbon dioxide into food and oxygen." But in order to provide these services, the ocean needs all its working parts, the millions of plant and animal species that inhabit the sea.

The strength of the study is the consistent agreement of theory, experiments and observations across widely different scales and ecosystems. The study analyzed 32 controlled experiments, observational studies from 48 marine protected areas, and global catch data from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) database of all fish and invertebrates worldwide from 1950 to 2003. The scientists also looked at a 1000-year time series for 12 coastal regions, drawing on data from archives, fishery records, sediment cores and archeological data.

"We see an accelerating decline in coastal species over the last 1000 years, resulting in the loss of biological filter capacity, nursery habitats, and healthy fisheries," said co-author Heike Lotze of Dalhousie University, who led the historical analysis of Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, the Bay of Fundy, and the North Sea, among others.

The scientists note that a pressing question for management is whether losses can be reversed. If species have not been pushed too far down, recovery can be fast – but there is also a point of no return as seen with species like northern Atlantic cod.

Examination of protected areas worldwide show that restoration of biodiversity increased productivity four-fold in terms of catch per unit effort and made ecosystems 21% less susceptible to environmental and human caused fluctuations on average.

"The data show us it's not too late," said Worm. "We can turn this around. But less than one percent of the global ocean is effectively protected right now. We won't see complete recovery in one year, but in many cases species come back more quickly than people anticipated – in three to five to ten years. And where this has been done we see immediate economic benefits."

The buffering impact of species diversity also generates long term insurance values that must be incorporated into future economic valuation and management decisions. "Although there are short-term economic costs associated with preservation of marine biodiversity, over the long term biodiversity conservation and economic development are complementary goals," said co-author Ed Barbier, an economist from the University of Wyoming.

The authors conclude that restoring marine biodiversity through an ecosystem based management approach – including integrated fisheries management, pollution control, maintenance of essential habitats and creation of marine reserves – is essential to avoid serious threats to global food security, coastal water quality and ecosystem stability.

"This isn't predicted to happen, this is happening now," said co-author Nicola Beaumont an ecological economist with Britain's Plymouth Marine Laboratory. "If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life, indeed it may not be able to sustain our lives at all."


10) A Rip-Off by Health Insurers?
February 18, 2008

Have health insurers been systematically cheating patients and doctors of fair reimbursement for medical services? That is the disturbing possibility raised by an investigation of the industry’s arcane procedures for calculating “reasonable and customary” rates.

The investigation, by the New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, and his staff, suggests that these procedures — used by major insurance companies to determine what they will pay when patients visit a doctor who is not in the company’s network — may be rigged to shortchange the beneficiaries.

When patients visit an out-of-network doctor, insurers typically agree to pay 80 percent of the reasonable and customary rate charged by doctors in the same geographic area. The patient is stuck with the rest, and as any patient knows, that rate always seems to fall short of what their own doctor is charging. If the attorney general’s investigators are right, we can understand why.

The numbers are mainly compiled by an obscure company known as Ingenix, which — as it turns out — is owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurers. Ingenix collects billing information from UnitedHealth and other health care payers to compile a database that is then used by the insurers to determine out-of-network reimbursement rates.

This system is an invitation for abuse. UnitedHealth owns the company whose database will affect its costs and profitability, so both have a strong financial interest in keeping reimbursement rates low. Even Ingenix seems unwilling to stand behind its numbers. In licensing its database to insurers, it stresses that the data is “for informational purposes only” and does not imply anything about “reasonable and customary” charges. Yet that is precisely what the health insurers use the data for, as Ingenix knows, according to investigators.

Mr. Cuomo and the American Medical Association, which has a long-standing suit filed against Ingenix and various UnitedHealth companies, claim that the data is manipulated. They claim that health insurers and Ingenix disproportionately eliminate high charges, thus skewing the numbers for customary charges downward.

Mr. Cuomo also says that Ingenix pools the charges for services performed by low-paid nurses and physician assistants with those performed by high-paid doctors. And he says the company fails to account for the patient’s condition and type of facility where the service was provided — factors that can drive up costs. He also contends that Ingenix uses outdated information, which would guarantee that reimbursement rates will always lag behind medical inflation.

The A.M.A.’s more detailed legal complaint also charges that the database dilutes prices in high-cost locations by combining them with low-cost areas, and includes prices that reflect in-network discounts.

The attorney general’s investigators did their own survey and concluded that $200 is the fair market rate in New York City and Nassau County for a 15-minute consultation with a doctor for an illness of low to moderate severity. Ingenix, the investigators said, calculated the rate as $77, of which United would pay $62, leaving the patient to pay $138. UnitedHealth disputes those numbers, so the attorney general will need to offer a fuller explanation of how they were derived.

Mr. Cuomo has announced his intention to sue UnitedHealth, Ingenix and three other subsidiaries, and has subpoenaed data from 16 other health insurers. Whatever that investigation unearths, it is already clear that the system for calculating “reasonable and customary” charges ought to be reformed by making it truly independent and objective. No consumer can reasonably trust numbers generated by a company whose loyalties and financial interests lie with the health insurers.


11) French Police Round Up Suspects in November Unrest
February 19, 2008

PARIS — The French police on Monday carried out a series of high-profile raids in poor suburbs close to the capital, arresting dozens of people suspected of shooting at the police and setting fires during three days of unrest last November.

About 1,100 police officers surrounded buildings, forced open doors and searched homes in towns including Villiers-le-Bel and Sarcelles.

The sweep came less than a month before municipal elections that could deal a further blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose approval ratings have plunged since his election last year.

Mr. Sarkozy had said during his campaign that he would make changes, including improving law and order in the restive Paris suburbs. Opinion polls indicate that, in addition to the rising cost of living, his autocratic style and his high-profile courtship of Carla Bruni, whom he married this month, contributed to the drop in his popularity.

Government opponents immediately criticized the unusually large police operation on Monday, saying it was an opportunistic effort to increase support for him ahead of the elections.

“When cameras are taken along on massive police operations during an election period, I think it’s a way of influencing opinion, with the goal of spreading fear,” said Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate who lost the May 2007 presidential election to Mr. Sarkozy.

The police took 33 people into custody and were seeking several more on suspicion of arson and attempted murder of police officers during three nights of violence in Villiers-le-Bel last November, a police spokesman said.

The rioting last November began after two youths on a motorbike died in a collision with a police car. More than 130 police officers were injured, 75 of them wounded by shotgun fire or pellet guns.

The use of firearms during the unrest was seen as a dangerous escalation in hard-to-police areas where unemployment is high and residents, many from immigrant backgrounds, live in rundown public housing.

The riots in November echoed a more serious outbreak of unrest across France in 2005, when youths torched thousands of cars during weeks of clashes with police.

This month Mr. Sarkozy issued a broad plan aimed at improving security and opportunity in the suburbs, including providing 4,000 more police officers and offering aid for neighborhoods that have struggled with poverty, violence and social deprivation.

Mr. Sarkozy and members of his government have attributed the violence to criminal elements.

André Santini, a secretary of state in Mr. Sarkozy’s government, told France 2 television on Monday after the launch of the raids. “We’ve got to be firm with those who don’t respect any rules.”


12) Clashes With Israeli Troops Kill 4 Militants in Gaza
February 18, 2008

JERUSALEM — Four Palestinian militants were killed in clashes with the Israeli Army in southern Gaza early Sunday, and an Israeli soldier was seriously wounded in an exchange of fire.

An Israeli Army spokeswoman said the Israeli forces had been “operating against terrorist infrastructures” inside Gaza, near the city of Rafah. About 80 Palestinians from the area were detained and brought back to Israel for questioning.

Palestinian hospital officials said that three of the four gunmen killed belonged to the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza, and that the fourth belonged to the Popular Resistance Committees, a smaller militant group. More than 20 Palestinians, including some civilians, were wounded during the army incursion, the hospital officials said. The incursion ended early Sunday afternoon.

The wounded Israeli soldier belongs to an elite army unit and was evacuated to Israel for treatment, Israeli military officials said, adding that Palestinian militants had fired antitank missiles and small arms at the Israeli troops.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip unilaterally in 2005 but has frequently sent in forces in the past few months to try to reduce the quantity of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel by militants there. Several rockets landed in Israeli territory later on Sunday, mostly in open areas. One crashed into a residential neighborhood in the border town of Sderot but caused no casualties. More than 700 rockets and mortar shells have been launched against Israel since the beginning of the year, according to Israeli military officials.

John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said Sunday that the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza “has absolutely no justification and should be stopped.” But he said the people in Sderot were in a generally better situation than the population of Gaza, whom he described as living in “grim and miserable” conditions, and he questioned whether some of the Israeli measures against Gaza were justified.

Mr. Holmes was speaking to a group of reporters in Jerusalem after visiting Sderot. He toured Gaza on Friday and called for the reopening of border crossings. Israel has imposed restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized control of the area last June. The embargo was tightened last month in response to increased rocket fire against Israel, limiting imports almost entirely to basic supplies brought in by international aid organizations.

Mr. Holmes said he had wanted to meet with Israel’s foreign and defense ministers, but had been told that they were not available.

Arye Mekel, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, reacted coolly to Mr. Holmes’s visit. He said that Mr. Holmes had come to the area of his own initiative and that from Israel’s perspective, Sderot “is not a humanitarian problem but a security problem.” Once the attacks from Gaza stop, Mr. Mekel said, there should be no reason for humanitarian problems there.

Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister, met Sunday with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. Mr. Kouchner met Saturday with the Western-backed Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

A statement from Mr. Peres’s office said that Mr. Kouchner had said at his meeting with Mr. Peres that the European Union and France condemned all violence on the part of Hamas, but that Israel should understand that only an independent Palestinian state would ensure Israel’s security.

But Mr. Kouchner described the Palestinian mood as one of despair, frustration and lack of hope regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state, the statement from the president’s office said. The minister attributed that mood, it said, to a lack of real progress in the peace negotiations or in the development of economic projects on the ground since the American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Md., last November and an international donors’ conference in Paris in December.

But after a meeting with Ms. Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiating team, Mr. Kouchner said he could see progress in negotiations, news reports said.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, on Sunday released a long-expected report on Israel’s use of cluster bombs during the 2006 war against the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. The report stated that Israel had violated international humanitarian law because its use of cluster munitions during the war was “indiscriminate and disproportionate.”

While the use of cluster munitions is not explicitly prohibited in warfare, it is broadly criticized because the munitions spread over a wide area large numbers of “bomblets,” which can explode long after the fighting is over.

Israel’s government-appointed Winograd Commission, which investigated the conduct of the Israeli leadership during the 2006 war, pointed to a lack of clarity regarding the terms of cluster bomb use by the army, particularly against military targets in areas where residents had fled but were likely to return.

The Winograd report called for an internal review of the rules for the use of the munitions. Human Rights Watch is supporting an effort by more than 100 countries to formulate the text of a treaty “to ban the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”


13) Guantánamo, Evil and Zany in Pop Culture
February 18, 2008

This spring, the stoner screwball movie of 2004, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” will get a sequel. This time, because of some unfortunate confusion on an airplane between a “bong” and a “bomb,” our slacker antiheroes are shipped off to the moviemakers’ idea of the worst prison imaginable.

On April 25, on a screen near you: “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay.”

Seriously, dude.

Six years after the detention camp opened on Cuban shores, officials in Washington continue to consider its fate. The charges filed last Monday against six detainees in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks are renewing international focus on the prison and the policy discussion about whether it is part of the solution or part of the problem.

But in popular culture, the debate about Guantánamo is largely over, as suggested by a look at a growing number of novels, nonfiction books, movies, plays and other forms of expression.

“Whether it’s America’s Devil’s Island or not, that’s how people are going to keep thinking about it,” said Dan Fesperman, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who set his 2006 mystery novel “The Prisoner of Guantánamo” at the base.

Harold and Kumar’s escape is only the latest cultural road trip through the detention center on Cuba’s southeast corner. And in most of them, Guantánamo is an eerie outpost, with scorpions, five-foot iguanas and banana rats — rodents the size of small dogs.

The image of a forbidding prison camp is not entirely false. But it is not the picture Bush administration officials would prefer to emphasize. They portray Guantánamo Bay as a clean and modern detention camp, where humane treatment of terror suspects is the rule.

But Guantánamo is no longer just a naval station or even just a detention center. It is an idea in worldwide culture — in more than 20 books and half a dozen movies and plays, with more coming out every month.

It has become shorthand for hopeless imprisonment and sweltering isolation. “The strange new Alcatraz,” one writer calls it, “the gulag of our times.”

The portraits of Guantánamo run the gamut, including sober lawyers’ books and contentious accounts by former inmates, military insiders and other critics, and literary novels, a book of detainees’ poetry and farce.

The routine of an Irish comedian, Abie Philbin Bowman, assumes that if Jesus were to show up before American immigration officials, as a Middle Eastern man with a beard and no real job, he would be hustled off to Guantánamo.

“Putting Jesus in Guantánamo was the ultimate symbol,” said Mr. Philbin Bowman, a graduate student who has taken his Guantánamo act to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and to London, Massachusetts and Lahore, Pakistan.

“The beard and the hair,” Mr. Philbin Bowman continued, “and the orange jumpsuit and the wire mesh, which is optional I suppose; you put those elements together and people see it and they get the idea.”

Whether the approach is comedic or grave, like books that describe documented interrogation techniques including having a detainee perform dog tricks, much of the work is bleak and negative.

In some portrayals, some of the men and women stationed there drink too much. In others, guards are doused in urine and feces thrown by the inmates. These descriptions, too, are not necessarily false.

But it is a matter of emphasis, said Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, who runs the camp for the Pentagon. In an interview, Admiral Buzby said that countering what he called preconceptions about Guantánamo was “probably the biggest challenge that I face.”

The focus on Guantánamo as a creative subject can lead to distortions, Admiral Buzby said. “It’s as if someone turned up the gain on our life to make it sound really bad.”

Some writers say it may be too late for anyone to change perceptions. “That one word — Guantánamo — has come to symbolize so much,” said Michelle Shephard, a reporter for The Toronto Star, whose book “Guantánamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr,” is scheduled to be published next month. Mr. Khadr was first detained when he was 15.

In retrospect, it was probably inevitable that Guantánamo would be an irresistible subject. It is an international cause set on a secretive, fenced military base next to the shimmering Caribbean. Echos of the cold war practically bounce off the arid Cuban hills.

Dorothea Dieckmann, a German writer whose novel “Guantánamo” was released in English last year, said she felt compelled to write about the detention camp as soon as she learned of it.

“You have a bizarre and surrealistic place in the heart of an enemy’s country. You have the Caribbean,” she said. “It is already a novelistic setting. It’s half fantasy. It’s half horror.”

The voices of the detainees seem to have special impact, in part because the men held at Guantánamo are cut off from much of the world, with the Pentagon controlling most of what is known about their time there and their reasons for being held.

H. Bruce Franklin, a cultural historian at Rutgers University at Newark who has written about American prison literature, said writing about confinement often had a “subversive effect.”

The stories of prisoners, Professor Franklin said, can challenge the institutions that hold them by transforming them from abstractions to flesh-and-blood characters.

In her freshman seminar at the University of Denver this fall, Cecily Pirozzoli, an 18-year-old business major, read “Poems From Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak,” a slender volume edited by one of the detainees’ lawyers, Marc Falkoff.

Mr. Falkoff said his goal was partly to humanize the detainees. One poem asks: “What kind of spring is this, where there are no flowers?”

Ms. Pirozzoli said the book gave her insights into Guantánamo that she had not gained from news coverage. “I could feel what these people were feeling,” she said.

Pentagon officials simmer at the portrayals of Guantánamo, calling some of them propaganda. But that message has a difficult time catching up to the works themselves.

Sometimes, the efforts to counter the impact of literary accounts do little more than provoke new disputes over what the elusive truth at Guantánamo may be.

In Germany, the memoir “Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo” has made Murat Kurnaz, a detainee who was released in 2006, something of a celebrity.

“Nothing in the camp is what it seems,” says the English translation of Mr. Kurnaz’s book, due to be published April 1. “Nothing is the way the U.S. Army says it is and as it has been reported, filmed and photographed by journalists.”

The claim undercuts one of the Pentagon’s main assertions about Guantánamo. Officials say it is as open as possible — “transparent,” is a favored description. Hundreds of reporters from around the world have participated in military tours.

Mr. Kurnaz wrote that reporters were shown fake cells and playgrounds littered with soccer balls that guards collected as soon as journalists departed.

When read Mr. Kurnaz’s assertions, a Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon dismissed it as a deception of its own.

“Al Qaeda operatives,” Commander Gordon said, “are trained to make false accusations about the conditions of their detention, in order to garner public sympathy.”

Mr. Kurnaz’s lawyer, Baher Azmy, called that an “Alice in Wonderland” response.

Mr. Azmy provided a recently declassified 2006 memorandum by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “There is no information that Kurnaz received any military training or is associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda,” it said.

In the real world of public policy and news accounts, the truth may be less clear than either side claims.

But when it comes to the cultural image of Guantánamo, that often-inconclusive sparring is frequently treated as yesterday’s news.

The “Harold and Kumar” writer-director team, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, suggested in an interview that their script did not worry too much about Guantánamo’s actual details.

Mr. Schlossberg said their portrayal of Guantánamo involved darkness and dirt. They filmed at an abandoned prison in Shreveport, La., which Mr. Schlossberg described as “really creepy.”

“Our vision for Guantánamo,” he said, “was a place that doesn’t even feel like America.”


14) Sugar Refinery Had Prior Explosion
February 18, 2008

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Dust that collected in a piece of safety equipment caused a small explosion at a sugar refinery weeks before the deadly blast that killed nine workers, a federal investigator said Sunday.

The official, Stephen Selk, investigations manager for the federal Chemical Safety Board, had few details about the previous explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth. He could not say whether the earlier explosion contributed to the deadly blast on Feb. 7.

No one was injured in the earlier explosion. A spokesman for Imperial Sugar, Steve Behm, said it happened about three weeks ago and caused minimal damage that was quickly repaired.

The refinery was equipped with fans and ducts designed to prevent dust explosions by sucking particles out of the plant and transferring them to dust collectors on the roof, Mr. Selk said.

It was inside one of those rooftop dust collectors where the minor explosion occurred weeks before the Feb. 7 blast, which was caused by clouds of tiny sugar dust particles that, when airborne in confined spaces, can ignite like gunpowder.


15) Study Finds Cancer Diagnosis Linked to Insurance
February 18, 2008

ATLANTA — A nationwide study has found that the uninsured and those covered by Medicaid are more likely than those with private insurance to receive a diagnosis of cancer in late stages, often diminishing their chances of survival.

The study by researchers with the American Cancer Society also found that blacks had a higher risk of late diagnosis, even after accounting for their disproportionately high rates of being uninsured and underinsured. The study’s authors speculated that the disparity might be caused by a lack of health literacy and an inadequate supply of providers in minority communities. The study is to be published online Monday in The Lancet Oncology.

Previous studies have shown a correlation between insurance status and the stage of diagnosis for particular cancers. The new research is the first to examine a dozen major cancer types and to do so nationally with the most current data. It mined the National Cancer Data Base, which began collecting information about insurance in the late 1990s, to analyze 3.7 million patients who received diagnoses from 1998 to 2004.

The widest disparities were noted in cancers that could be detected early through standard screening or assessment of symptoms, like breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and melanoma. For each, uninsured patients were two to three times more likely to be diagnosed in Stage III or Stage IV rather than Stage I. Smaller disparities were found for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and cancers of the bladder, kidney, prostate, thyroid, uterus, ovary and pancreas.

When comparing blacks to whites, the disparities in late-stage diagnosis were statistically significant for 10 of the 12 cancers. Hispanics also had a higher risk but less so than blacks.

The study’s authors concluded that “individuals without private insurance are not receiving optimum care in terms of cancer screening or timely diagnosis and follow-up with health care providers.” Advanced-stage diagnosis, they wrote, “leads to increased morbidity, decreased quality of life and survival and, often, increased costs.”

The study cites previous research that shows patients receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer in Stage I have a five-year survival rate of 93 percent, compared with 44 percent at Stage III and 8 percent at Stage IV.

“There’s evidence that not having insurance increases suffering,” said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer.

Not all cancer researchers believe that comprehensive screening and early detection is universally constructive. They argue that with certain cancers, like melanoma and prostate cancer, it can lead to misdiagnosis and overdiagnosis, with doctors identifying and treating tumors that may never cause serious problems. In some of those cases, surgery and drug therapies may actually shorten lives.

“Do these findings mean that patients without insurance are being diagnosed too late, or that insured patients are being excessively diagnosed?” said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at Dartmouth who studies the usefulness of medical procedures. “And if it does mean that too many are being diagnosed late, we don’t know if it’s the problem of not being insured or a problem of cultural norms and patient education.”

Dr. Brawley said that the cancer society, the largest and wealthiest of the disease-centered philanthropies, received no more than 5 percent of its $1 billion in revenues from corporate donations, including some from medical suppliers and drug-makers that stood to profit from expanded screening. He said the group had rejected contributions from companies it considered directly connected to its research, and that he saw no conflict in the study on cancer and insurance.

The cancer society, Dr. Brawley said, has been conservative in its screening recommendations, which vary by cancer type and age. The study’s results, he said, would encourage broader screening for breast, colon and cervical cancers, where early detection has reduced death rates, but not necessarily for other cancers.


16) Largest Recall of Ground Beef Is Ordered
February 18, 2008

A California meat company on Sunday issued the largest beef recall in history, 143 million pounds, some of which was used in school lunch programs, Department of Agriculture officials announced.

The recall by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, based in Chino, Calif., comes after a widening animal-abuse scandal that started after the Humane Society of the United States distributed an undercover video on Jan. 30 that showed workers kicking sick cows and using forklifts to force them to walk.

The video raised questions about the safety of the meat, because cows that cannot walk, called downer cows, pose an added risk of diseases including mad cow disease. The federal government has banned downer cows from the food supply.

Agriculture officials said there was little health risk from the recalled meat because the animals had already passed pre-slaughter inspection and much of the meat had already been eaten. In addition, the officials noted that while mad cow disease was extremely rare, the brains and spinal cords from the animals — the area most likely to harbor the disease — would not have entered the human food chain.

“The great majority has probably been consumed,” said Dr. Richard Raymond, the Agriculture Department’s under secretary for food safety.

The video was embarrassing for the Department of Agriculture, as inspectors are supposed to be monitoring slaughterhouses for abuse. It surfaced after a year of increasing concerns about the safety of the meat supply amid a sharp increase in the number of recalls tied to a particularly deadly form of the E. coli pathogen.

There were 21 recalls of beef related to the potentially deadly strain of E. coli last year, compared with eight in 2006 and five in 2005. No one is quite sure what caused the increase, though theories include the cyclical nature of pathogens and changes in cattle-feeding practices caused by the ethanol boom.

The recall on Sunday was more than four times bigger than the previous record, the 1999 recall of 35 million pounds of ground beef by Thorn Apple Valley, federal officials said.

It was prompted by a Department of Agriculture investigation that found that Westland/Hallmark did not always alert federal veterinarians when its cows became unable to walk after passing inspection, as required.

“Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, F.S.I.S. has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall,” Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in a statement. F.S.I.S. is the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Technically, the Department of Agriculture does not have the authority to recall meat. However, it can withdraw its inspectors from a plant, putting pressure on a company to issue a recall.

The company is recalling all its raw and frozen beef products since Feb. 1, 2006. Of the 143 million pounds that were recalled, 37 million went to make hamburgers, chili and tacos for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs, officials said.

Cows that cannot walk are banned for use in the food supply because they pose an added risk of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal disease that eats away at the brain. There have been three confirmed cases of infected cattle in this country since 2003.

The announcement on Sunday was classified as a Class II recall, indicating that the chances of health hazards were remote. Other large recalls involving E. coli have been Class I recalls, indicating that eating the product may cause serious health problems or even death.

Officials at Westland/Hallmark meat could not be located on Sunday for comment.

Some critics pointed out that the recall exposed gaps in the nation’s system for food safety.

“The recall is obviously the big news,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society. “The longer-term problem is the inadequacies of the inspection system. How can so many downers have been mistreated day after day within a U.S.D.A. oversight system that was present at the plant?

“We need more boots on the ground at the plants,” he said.

The undercover video, shown on television and on YouTube and other Web sites, has caused an uproar since its release.

The Department of Agriculture started an inquiry and suspended the company as a supplier to federal nutrition programs. Steve Mendell, president of Westland/Hallmark, said afterward that he was “shocked and horrified” by the videos and voluntarily suspended operations pending the outcome of the federal inquiry.

On Friday, the San Bernardino district attorney, Michael A. Ramos, filed animal cruelty charges against two employees fired by the meat company. Daniel Agarte Navarro was charged with five felonies and three misdemeanors, and Luis Sanchez with three misdemeanors.

While acknowledging that most of the meat had been eaten, agriculture officials said the recall was necessary to find all the meat that had not been consumed and because the plant was not following the rules.

“The reason for doing this is because the plant was not in compliance with F.S.I.S. regulations, and therefore it is an unfit product,” said Dr. Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator for the F.S.I.S.

Department of Agriculture inspectors conduct pre-slaughter inspections on all cattle on the day of slaughter. If an animal becomes unable to walk, before or at the time it is presented for slaughter, employees of the slaughterhouse are required to summon a Department of Agriculture veterinarian.

The veterinarian then has the discretion to determine whether the animal is fit for slaughter. The Department of Agriculture contends that employees at Westland/Hallmark sometimes failed to notify the veterinarian when animals could not walk after being inspected.

Agriculture officials said in a statement that they thought the case was “an isolated incident of egregious violations to humane handling requirements and the prohibition of non-ambulatory disabled cattle from entering the food supply.”

The Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry and eggs, has 7,800 inspectors who check more than 6,200 plants. In 2007, the agency suspended 66 plants; 12 of which were related to humane handling violations.

Ana Facio Contreras contributed reporting.




Tactic Called Torture
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) — Waterboarding, an interrogation technique that has been used by the United States, qualifies as torture, the United Nations human rights chief said Friday.
February 9, 2008

Halliburton Profit Rises
HOUSTON (AP) — Halliburton, the oil field services company, said Monday that its emphasis on Middle Eastern markets had contributed to a nearly 5 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit.
The company has been adding people and equipment to the Middle East and elsewhere — even moving its top executive overseas — which it says helped Eastern Hemisphere sales grow 27 percent in the fourth quarter versus a year ago.
Halliburton said results were squeezed by higher costs and lower pricing in North America, a trend that also hindered a rival, Schlumberger, and could persist.
Net income in the fourth quarter rose to $690 million, or 75 cents a share, compared with $658 million, or 64 cents a share, in the period a year ago.
January 29, 2008

Colombia: Guerrilla Leader Is Sentenced
Ricardo Palmera, a top leader of the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was sentenced by a federal court in Washington to 60 years in prison for taking part in the kidnapping of three American military contractors in 2003. Mr. Palmera, 57, the most senior Colombian guerrilla leader extradited to the United States, had justified the abductions as a tactic of war by the FARC, Latin America’s largest rebel group. At the courtroom where he was sentenced, Mr. Palmera, known by the nom de guerre Simón Trinidad, accused the United States of improperly intervening in Colombia’s affairs and shouted, “Long live the FARC!”
January 29, 2008
World Briefing | The Americas

Mining Agency Finds Penalties Lapse
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The federal agency that regulates the nation’s mining industry says that it has failed to issue penalties for hundreds of citations issued since 2000 and that the problem could extend back beyond 1995.
Matthew Faraci, a spokesman for the agency, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said Sunday, “We would guess it goes back far beyond 1995, but because of a lack of electronic records before that year, I can’t verify that.”
Preliminary data showed that penalties had not been assessed against companies that received about 4,000 citations issued by the agency from January 2000 to July 2006, The Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston reported.
The agency’s director, Richard E. Stickler, told the newspaper that a review also showed that penalties had never been assessed for a few hundred citations issued in 1996.
The agency recently discovered the problem after it checked into whether a Kentucky coal operator had been assessed a penalty after a an accident in 2005 in which a miner bled to death after not receiving proper first aid.
January 28, 2008

National Briefing | ROCKIES
Montana: Bad News for Gray Wolves
A new federal rule would allow state game agencies to kill endangered gray wolves that prey on wildlife in the Northern Rockies. An estimated 1,545 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are scheduled to come off the endangered species list in coming weeks, but the rule is a separate action that would give the three states more latitude to kill wolves even if their removal from the list was delayed. The rule would empower state wildlife agents to kill packs of wolves if they could prove that the animals were having a “major impact” on big-game herds.
January 25, 2008

Wolfowitz to Lead State Dept. Panel
WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul D. Wolfowitz, former president of the World Bank, will lead a high-level advisory panel on arms control and disarmament, the State Department said Thursday.
Mr. Wolfowitz, who has close ties to the White House, will become chairman of the International Security Advisory Board, which reports to the secretary of state. The panel is charged with giving independent advice on disarmament, nonproliferation and related subjects.
The portfolio includes commentary on several high-profile issues, including pending nuclear deals with India and North Korea and an offer to negotiate with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Mr. Wolfowitz was replaced as World Bank chief last June after a stormy two-year tenure. He is now a defense and foreign policy studies expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington research organization.
January 25, 2008

World Briefing | The Americas
Cuba: No Surprises, No Losers
Officials said that more than 95 percent of registered voters turned out at the polls on Sunday to endorse a slate of parliamentary candidates, including Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. Of the 8.2 million voters, 3.7 percent submitted blank ballots and 1 percent voided their ballots in some way. Election officials called the results a success; critics called it a farce. As in past elections in the one-party state, nobody lost. There were 614 candidates and the same number of seats being chosen in the National Assembly.
January 22, 2008

World Briefing | Asia
India: Bird Flu Spread ‘Alarming’
India’s third outbreak of avian flu among poultry is the worst it has faced, the World Health Organization said. The chief minister of West Bengal State, which is trying to cull 400,000 birds, called the virus’s spread “alarming.” Uncooperative villagers, angry at being offered only 75 cents a chicken by the government, have been selling off their flocks and throwing dead birds into waterways, increasing the risk. New outbreaks were also reported this week in Iran and Ukraine.
January 19, 2008

National Briefing | West
California: Thermostat Plan
After an outcry of objections, the California Energy Commission withdrew its proposal to require new buildings in the state to have radio-controlled thermostats that, in a power emergency, could be used to override customers’ temperature settings. Instead of making the proposal part of new state building requirements, the commissioners will discuss the use of the “programmable communicating thermostats” when considering how to manage electrical loads — with the understanding that customers would have the right to refuse to allow the state to override their wishes.
January 16, 2008

PDC Fact Sheet
Murdered by Mumia: Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching
Mumia is Innocent! Free Him Now!




Russell Means Speaking at the Transform Columbus Day Rally
"If voting could do anything it would be illegal!"


Stop the Termination or the Cherokee Nation


We Didn't Start the Fire

I Can't Take it No More

The Art of Mental Warfare

http://video. videoplay? docid=-905047436 2583451279




Port of Olympia Anti-Militarization Action Nov. 2007


"They have a new gimmick every year. They're going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet so he can walk around Washington with a cigar. Fire on one end and fool on the other end. And because his immediate personal problem will have been solved he will be the one to tell our people: 'Look how much progress we're making. I'm in Washington, D.C., I can have tea in the White House. I'm your spokesman, I'm your leader.' While our people are still living in Harlem in the slums. Still receiving the worst form of education.

"But how many sitting here right now feel that they could [laughs] truly identify with a struggle that was designed to eliminate the basic causes that create the conditions that exist? Not very many. They can jive, but when it comes to identifying yourself with a struggle that is not endorsed by the power structure, that is not acceptable, that the ground rules are not laid down by the society in which you live, in which you are struggling against, you can't identify with that, you step back.

"It's easy to become a satellite today without even realizing it. This country can seduce God. Yes, it has that seductive power of economic dollarism. You can cut out colonialism, imperialism and all other kind of ism, but it's hard for you to cut that dollarism. When they drop those dollars on you, you'll fold though."

—MALCOLM X, 1965


A little gem:
Michael Moore Faces Off With Stephen Colbert [VIDEO]


LAPD vs. Immigrants (Video)


Dr. Julia Hare at the SOBA 2007


"We are far from that stage today in our era of the absolute
lie; the complete and totalitarian lie, spread by the
monopolies of press and radio to imprison social
consciousness." December 1936, "In 'Socialist' Norway,"
by Leon Trotsky: “Leon Trotsky in Norway” was transcribed
for the Internet by Per I. Matheson [References from
original translation removed]


Wealth Inequality Charts


MALCOLM X: Oxford University Debate


"There comes a times when silence is betrayal."
--Martin Luther King


YouTube clip of Che before the UN in 1964


The Wealthiest Americans Ever
NYT Interactive chart
JULY 15, 2007


New Orleans After the Flood -- A Photo Gallery
This email was sent to you as a service, by Roland Sheppard.
Visit my website at:


[For some levity...Hans Groiner plays Monk]


Which country should we invade next?


My Favorite Mutiny, The Coup


Michael Moore- The Awful Truth


Morse v. Frederick Supreme Court arguments


Free Speech 4 Students Rally - Media Montage


'My son lived a worthwhile life'
In April 2003, 21-year old Tom Hurndall was shot in the head
in Gaza by an Israeli soldier as he tried to save the lives of three
small children. Nine months later, he died, having never
recovered consciousness. Emine Saner talks to his mother
Jocelyn about her grief, her fight to make the Israeli army
accountable for his death and the book she has written
in his memory.
Monday March 26, 2007
The Guardian,,2042968,00.html


Introducing...................the Apple iRack


"A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind."
[A T-shirt worn by some teachers at Roosevelt High School
in L.A. as part of their campaign to rid the school of military
recruiters and JROTC--see Article in Full item number 4,]


"200 million children in the world sleep in the streets today.
Not one of them is Cuban."
(A sign in Havana)
View sign at bottom of page at:
[Thanks to Norma Harrison for sending]


FIGHTBACK! A Collection of Socialist Essays
By Sylvia Weinstein


[The Scab
"After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad,
and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with
which he made a scab."
"A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul,
a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.
Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten
principles." "When a scab comes down the street,
men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and
the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out."
"No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there
is a pool of water to drown his carcass in,
or a rope long enough to hang his body with.
Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab.
For betraying his master, he had character enough
to hang himself." A scab has not.
"Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.
Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of
a commision in the british army."
The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife,
his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled
promise from his employer.
Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor
to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country;
a scab is a traitor to his God, his country,
his family and his class."
Author --- Jack London (1876-1916)...Roland Sheppard]


Sand Creek Massacre
(scroll down when you get there])

On November 29, 1864, 700 Colorado troops savagely slaughtered
over 450 Cheyenne children, disabled, elders, and women in the
southeastern Colorado Territory under its protection. This act
became known as the Sand Creek Massacre. This film project
("The Sand Creek Massacre" documentary film project) is an
examination of an open wound in the souls of the Cheyenne
people as told from their perspective. This project chronicles
that horrific 19th century event and its affect on the 21st century
struggle for respectful coexistence between white and native
plains cultures in the United States of America.

Listed below are links on which you can click to get the latest news,
products, and view, free, "THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE" award-
winning documentary short. In order to create more native
awareness, particularly to save the roots of America's history,
please read the following:

Some people in America are trying to save the world. Bless
them. In the meantime, the roots of America are dying.
What happens to a plant when the roots die? The plant dies
according to my biology teacher in high school. American's
roots are its native people. Many of America's native people
are dying from drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, hunger,
and disease, which was introduced to them by the Caucasian
male. Tribal elders are dying. When they die, their oral
histories go with them. Our native's oral histories are the
essence of the roots of America, what took place before
our ancestors came over to America, what is taking place,
and what will be taking place. It is time we replenish
America's roots with native awareness, else America
continues its decaying, and ultimately, its death.

READY FOR PURCHASE! (pass the word about this powerful
educational tool to friends, family, schools, parents, teachers,
and other related people and organizations to contact
me (, 303-903-2103) for information
about how they can purchase the DVD and have me come
to their children's school to show the film and to interact
in a questions and answers discussion about the Sand
Creek Massacre.

Happy Holidays!

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC,+Don

(scroll down when you get there])

SHOP: Articles at">


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