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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Brazilian President Lashes Out over U.S. Spying

by Krishnadev Calamur

September 24, 2013 2:38 PM

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil was so angry about reports that the National Security Agency was spying on her and others in her country that she recently called off a high-profile visit to the U.S.

The Brazilian leader was still in a fighting mood Tuesday as she used her speech at the United Nations General Assembly to deliver a broadside against U.S. spying. She also called for civilian oversight of the Web to ensure the protection of data.

"Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront to the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations," she said.

"The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country," she added. "The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained."

As Eyder Peralta over at our Two-Way blog has noted, President Obama spent time during the G-20 summit in Russia earlier this month trying to smooth relations with Brazil. Obama told her at the time that the U.S. relationship with Brazil was "very important."

Revelations about the U.S. spying came in a series of stories published by journalist Glenn Greenwald in Brazil's O Globo newspaper.

The stories detailed NSA spying on Brazilian citizens and companies as well as political leaders, including Rousseff. Brazilians reacted with anger.

As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro said at the time Rousseff postponed her trip:

"Brazil has reacted a lot more strongly to the spying scandal than other countries who've been implicated, like Mexico, Colombia. There's a couple of reason for this. First off, issues of sovereignty. Brazil takes this extremely seriously. Brazil has a massive economy, a growing political clout in the world stage, aspirations, for example, for a seat at the U.N. Security Council.

"And you also have to remember the U.S.'s long history in the region of bloody intervention. And so, any act of perceived American overstepping is taken very seriously. But of course there are always domestic politics at play and Dilma's position has been precarious since protests swept Brazil over the summer. Her approval ratings have nose-dived, and, yes, there is an election coming up."

The allegations about the NSA's spying activities have created ripples far beyond Brazil. Documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicated the agency was also spying on the U.N. as well as U.S. allies in the European Union

Monday, September 23, 2013

8 Things to Know About a Government Shutdown

by Adam Wollner
September 23, 2013 5:38 PM

An empty Senate meeting room, just outside the chamber, is seen Monday in Washington. Only a week remains for Congress to pass a funding bill in order to avoid a government shutdown.

In seven days, the federal government runs out of money.
While the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution Friday that keeps the government funded through Dec. 15, the measure also defunded President Obama's signature health care law — which means it has virtually no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.

If a budget resolution doesn't hit President Obama's desk before Oct. 1, that's a big problem: the government will be forced to close its doors.

With that prospect looming, here are eight things you should know about the possible shutdown:

It won't be the first time

Since a new budgeting process was put into place in 1976, the U.S. government has shut down 17 times. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan each dealt with six shutdowns during their terms in office, lasting anywhere from one day to two and a half weeks.

The last actual shutdown came in 1996 — though the government came close during budget negotiations in 2011.

The last shutdown lasted three weeks

The three-week shutdown that lasted from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996, ranks as the longest in U.S. history. As a result, about 284,000 federal workers were furloughed, and around 475,000 essential employees went without a paycheck, although they were eventually reimbursed.

They weren't the only ones inconvenienced. Some benefits for military veterans were delayed and cleanup at more than 600 toxic waste sites was stopped. The government also shut down for six days in mid-November 1995, initially resulting in the furlough of 800,000 federal employees. The Congressional Research Service reported the shutdowns cost taxpayers a combined $1.4 billion.

Only the "essentials"

Only federal employees deemed "essential" would continue to come to work during a shutdown. Employees who qualify as essential include those involved in national security, protecting life and property and providing benefit payments.

That means members of the military, border control agents, air traffic controllers, the FBI and the TSA are among those who would remain on duty. The president and members of Congress are also exempt from furlough and must decide which of their respective staff members to keep around during a shutdown.

The checks are in the mail

Even in the event of a shutdown, Social Security beneficiaries will still find their checks in their mailboxes and doctors and hospitals will receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. However, if the government does not resolve the budget situation by Nov. 1, those entitlement program payments could be delayed by up to two weeks.

Even in a shutdown, the Postal Service delivers

One reason Americans will get their entitlement checks: a government shutdown would not hit the operations of the U.S. Postal Service. Government agencies that the Treasury Department does not directly fund, like USPS, would be relatively unaffected in the short term by a shutdown. Some postal employees would likely face furlough, but it wouldn't be enough to completely close down the agency.

National parks and museums? Forget it

Have plans to visit a national park or go sightseeing in the nation's capital? You might want to cancel them. During the Clinton-era shutdowns, 368 national parks closed, resulting in the loss of 7 million visitors. In Washington, D.C., the public would be unable to visit the monuments and museums that millions of tourists flock to every year. The Capitol building would remain open, though.

Visa and passport delays

Those hoping to enter or leave the country during a shutdown would likely experience some difficulty. The government was unable to process around 200,000 pending passport applications and a daily average of 30,000 visa and passport applications by foreigners during the 1995-96 shutdowns. This would not only result in a headaches for would-be travelers, but a loss in millions for the airline and tourism industries.

Who would be blamed for a shutdown?

Generally speaking, no one comes out looking good if the government shuts down. A Pew Research poll conducted Sept. 19-22 shows 39 percent of Americans would blame Republicans if a shutdown were to occur, compared to 36 percent who would fault the Obama administration and 17 percent who would hold both sides responsible. According to a Pew poll from a comparable period during the 2011 budget battle, the public spread the blame around nearly identically.

Government shutdown


Friday, September 20, 2013

What tripples my risk of being depressed?

What Triples Your Risk of Being Depressed?

By Jim Clifton and Deepak Chopra

If economics aspires to be a science — “the dismal science” as it was traditionally called — it must recognize that the most relevant economic data are human. The rise and fall of GDP, mean household spending, and consumer confidence are useful statistics, but ultimately the “units” of the American economy are bodies and souls. What’s going on with them?

Even as the stock market soars, the unequal distribution of wealth, which reached an all-time U.S. high in 2012 (with the top 1% grabbing 20% of all incomes), also implies inequality in physical and mental well-being. We are breaking recent records there, too. It is well documented that the greatest burden on the economy is skyrocketing healthcare costs.

At $2.5 trillion annually, America’s healthcare bill is three times the size of the defense budget and nearly twice the size of the whole Russian economy. It is also roughly twice the size of the entire Indian economy, and India has a billion-plus population.

When you compare America’s per person health care spending to comparable societies, things look even worse. The U.S. spends more than $8,000 annually per person on healthcare, where Canada and Germany each spends roughly $4,500 per person, while the United Kingdom spends about $3,500, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Yet even as we lavishly outspend those countries, Americans have shorter life spans and generally worse health outcomes. In other words, citizens in comparable societies live longer but spend half the money we do on healthcare or less.

What’s afflicting our bodies to such an extent that the medical system may not be able to manage a turnaround? One big answer: epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes. Obesity is the primary cause of Type 2 diabetes and a major contributor to chronic disease in general, including hypertension and coronary artery disease. If the United States solved the obesity problem, its economy would arguably roar back, unburdened by unsustainable healthcare costs. The news that our obesity epidemic has stopped rising and in the case of school children may even be declining, is a start, although long overdue.

But the country can’t reliably tackle obesity, which is correlated with low income levels, or turn the economy around, if many of its citizens are depressed. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index just uncovered that being unemployed, dropping out of the workforce, or working part time while wanting full-time work are the strongest predictors of having depression. Unemployed adults and those not working as much as they would like to are about twice as likely to be depressed as Americans who are employed full time.

Clearly our society has a crisis of body and soul – and often both together, since depression significantly raises a person’s risk for disease almost across the board. Economists don’t realistically figure these human factors into their predictions, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Well-being also declines from a host of things specific to America: chronic stress, uncertainty over keeping a job, anxiety over lost pensions, pressure to increase productivity (already the highest in the world but constantly pushed to rise even higher), and the longest work week in the developed world, along with the lowest vacation time.

The cure for the worst things is a full-time job. Gallup workplace data show that the ultimate job is one in which you get to do what you do best every day, your manager encourages your development, and your opinion counts. When and if every American can have this “therapy” of full-time meaningful employment, then depression, stress, and anxiety will subside, and the average person will become much more motivated to tackle chronic health problems like obesity. The human factor can never be over-emphasized if we intend to get the economy roaring again, but more importantly, if we intend to take well-being seriously and not simply raw economic data.

The “Dream Job”| Sages and Scientists: Mallika Chopra – Part 1

Monday, January 28, 2013

As 'Aunt Barbara,' Robert Suchan draws a cult following among visiting hipsters from New York. Last year he made $275,000 in sales – a Tupperware 'milestone.

Tupperware party means big bucks for 'hostess' in drag

Hometown U.S.A.: Paramus, N.J.

As 'Aunt Barbara,' Robert Suchan draws a cult following among visiting hipsters from New York. Last year he made $275,000 in sales – a Tupperware 'milestone.'

January 27, 2013|By Gigi Anders
Robert Suchan, aka “Aunt Barbara,” inspires laughs as well… (Rick Odell )
Growing up in a big, bubbly, close-knit family with six brothers and sisters, Robert Suchan's role models were his beautiful mother Janene ("like Barbara Eden meets Grace Kelly meets Carol Brady and June Cleaver"), whose picture he keeps in his wallet, and his Aunt Barbara ("Eve Arden meets Jo Anne Worley meets Mrs. Roper, with a touch of Bea Arthur").
In time they would provide the ruggedly handsome Irish Catholic Long Island native — he looks like a cross between Alec Baldwin and Vince Vaughn — inspiration and a livelihood.
The awakening came with the Dawn. As in dishwashing liquid. Suchan (SOO-hahn) was pushing 40 and earning peanuts as a social worker.
"My credit cards were maxed out; I was spraying my clothes with Febreze because I'd run out of quarters for the laundromat; I had no soap or shampoo," says Suchan, now 44. "One day I had to shower and shampoo with Dawn."
Around then he remembered his sister Janene (named after their mom), who used to host Tupperware parties. They were tragic.
"Five people would show up," Suchan recalls, "three of whom were us and the Tupperware saleslady. My sister was always in tears. 'Nobody's here!'"
Suchan loved the products and thought the demonstrator could sell more if she jazzed up her sales pitch. He had been a communications major at the State University of New York — graduated with a 3.9 in 1992 — and loved drama, excelling in comedic character roles.
"I could do that, but as a comedy routine, Like Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie."
As "Aunt Barbara," Suchan has in four short years become the highest-selling Tupperware consultant in North America.
Suchan racked up about $275,000 in sales in 2012, a "milestone for Tupperware," said Nora Alonso, a spokeswoman for the Orlando-based company. "Bobby is witty, has a great business mind and is fabulous with people," she said. Alonso also noted that of the 10 top-selling consultants — who are independent contractors — three work in drag.
On a winter night at Abbe Estevez's house, the 6-foot-1 Suchan is holed up in the upstairs bathroom, transforming himself into herself: a massive black beehive wig, a ton of makeup (Aunt Barbara favors MAC products), a faux Pucci dress in a hot pink and black paisley print, two pairs of L'eggs pantyhose to cover leg hair.
(Suchan is a moderately hairy guy who draws the line at shaving anything beyond his face: "I have to maintain some of my manhood; Aunt Barbara has enough of my life.")
When a reporter suggests a photographic before-and-after, Suchan demurs. He's him. Aunt Barbara is her. "You want to believe in Aunt Barbara the way you want to believe in Santa Claus. Some people may think drag queens are mean-spirited and raunchy. But Aunt Barbara is always a lady."
Thanks to her Facebook presence and hilarious YouTube videos — don't miss "Aunt Barbara Italian Style!" — she's amassed a cult following among New York City hipsters who rent Zipcars and drive into deepest Jersey to see her.

link to Citysearch
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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Malala, Shot For Speaking Out Against Pakistan's Taliban, To Stay In U.K.

Malala, Shot For Speaking Out Against Pakistan's Taliban, To Stay In U.K.

1:56 PM

In November, Pakistani students in Karachi participated in a "Malala Day" to show support for the girl who was shot when she spoke out against the Taliban.
Masroor /Xinhua /Landov
Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman because she had been speaking out against that group's efforts to stop Pakistani girls from going to school, will be staying in Great Britain.
Voice of America reports that Wajid Shamsul Hassan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, says Malala's father has been named an education attaché at Pakistan's offices in Birmingham, England.
The BBC is also reporting the news. ITV says the job Malala's father has been given will last at least three years.
Malala was shot last October near her home in Pakistan's Swat Valley and later flown to the U.K. for treatment. This week, it was announced that she's being honored with Ireland's Tipperary International Peace Award for her courage that has "proved to be an inspiration around the globe."
Meanwhile: "Attack On Aid Workers In Pakistan Leaves 7 Dead."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Are women safe in India?

Are women safe in India?

We ask if the country's existing laws and the attitude of law enforcers are serving to compound or prevent sexual abuse.
The gang-rape of a medical student on a moving bus last week in New Delhi has triggered mass protests on the streets of India, with calls for change and justice for a young woman.
She was raped for about an hour and thrown out of the bus. She is recovering in the intensive care unit after undergoing multiple surgeries. Her injuries were so bad that she was only recently able to give a statement to the Indian authorities.
The 23-year-old told police six men took turns sexually assaulting her. The suspects allegedly used a metal rod to assault the victim and her friend.
"The rape laws are crying out for change because according to the present laws, insertion of an object in a woman's body is not considered rape, marital rape is not considered rape, there are no specific provisions relating to custodial rape. So there are huge problems with the way in which sexual harassment is described as something silly as outraging the modesty."
- Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of the All-India Progressive Women's Association
Angry Indians are hitting the streets, defying a ban on mass demonstrations. Police have been using tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

So, just how widespread a problem is sexual abuse against women in India?

There are reports that suggest that in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes.

More than 24,000 rape cases in the country were reported last year alone, of which 570 were reported in the Indian capital, where already this year 635 rape cases have been registered.
The legal news service Trust Law says India is the worst country in the G20 to be a woman. It says women and girls continue to be sold, married off at a young age, exploited and abused as domestic slaves.

The number of crimes recorded against women, including kidnapping, abduction, and human trafficking exceeds 2.5 million.

Many activists say Indians are protesting against what they say is a culture of impunity.
There are 40,000 pending rape cases in the country and survivors have to wait years for their cases to be heard – even then the conviction rate is just 34.6 percent – according to the National Crimes Record Bureau.
"Section 376 [Indian Penal Code] takes care of punishing each and everybody [for sexual abuse] … as far as preventing such incidents are concerned our basic problem [in] policing is they are punitive and not preventive in nature .… Similarly political will is lacking because we keep crying about the judicial process as being very low but the question is, it is the government's duty to provide proper infrastructure."
- Rajeev Aswathi, a Delhi high court lawyer
The Indian Penal Code lists punishments of up to life behind bars, but those convicted are often let off after serving a short sentence.

Undercover reporters in India gathered evidence of how the police in the Delhi region view rape survivors. The investigation published by the Indian weekly Tehelka exposed how the system often blames the survivors.
Senior police officers were caught on hidden camera talking about survivors, saying: "She asked for it”; "It's all about money"; "They have made it a business"; "It's consensual most of the time".
Seventeen officers in over a dozen police stations were caught on spy cameras blaming everything from revealing clothes to having boyfriends or going to pubs as the main reasons for rape.
The investigators came to the conclusion that the officers encountered do not fulfil the basic standard of policing, which requires investigating a case without any cultural, class or gender bias.
In this episode, Inside Story discusses if women are safe in India.
Joining the discussion, with presenter Hazem Sika, are guests: Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of the All-India Progressive Women's Association; Rajeev Aswathi, a New Delhi high court lawyer who has previously represented rape survivors; and Lawrence Saez, a professor of political economy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the author of New Dimensions of Politics in India: The United Progressive Alliance in Power.
"This case has alerted people to the problem primarily because the victim was a middle-class student and the alleged rapists are people who migrated to the city so there's an element of social class struggle. But rape is sadly quite common in the villages, sometimes by the police and by people who are wealthy against people who are very poor, and they escape with impunity."
Lawrence Saez, a professor of political economy

Rape capitals of the world in 2010:
  • South Africa – it has one of the highest rates, with 277,000 reported cases. The same year a survey by the Medical Research Council found that one in four men admitted to raping someone
  • United States – more than 84,000 rape cases were reported. Criminals face life behind bars, and in some states, castration is an option
  • India – reported a little more than 22,000 cases
  • United Kingdom – 16,000 cases were reported. A suspect found guilty, faces a maximum conviction of life in prison
  • Mexico – nearly 15,000 cases were reported. In some parts of the country, penalties may consist of a few hours in jail, or minor fines
  • Germany – counts the highest number of reported rape cases in Europe, just under 8,000
  • Russia – almost 5,000 cases were reported, and the crime holds a punishment of 4 -10 years in jail

Monday, December 24, 2012

#26Acts of kindness: San Antonio third-graders rack up 115 good deeds

A third-grader at Thomas L. Hatchett, Sr. Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas wrote this message about the value of performing acts of kindness for others.
After covering the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., NBC News’ Ann Curry wondered what could be done to ease the national suffering over the loss of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary. Why not, she tweeted, commit to doing one act of kindness for every child killed there? People responded — and wanted to up that to 26 acts of kindness for every child and adult lost at the school. Now people around the country are committing random acts of kindness — connected through the hashtag #26Acts (#20Acts and others are also trending). Get inspired: You can start your own acts of kindness right now.
Like many school teachers across the country, Susan Garcia was nervous. On the Monday after the unthinkable school massacre in Connecticut, how would she handle the inevitable tears and questions from her third-grade students? What could she possibly say?
Then she saw a tweet from NBC News’ Ann Curry. The tweet mentioned the idea of doing 26 acts of kindness in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Garcia thought, “That’s it!”
“I knew this could be a way to spread positivity at our school and honor those victims,” said Garcia, 44, a teacher at Thomas L. Hatchett, Sr. Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas.
She sat down with her 8- and 9-year-old pupils on Monday and floated the idea of doing random acts of kindness throughout the week.
“They ran with it,” Garcia said. “They are SO excited.”
The kids enthusiastically began dreaming up thoughtful deeds they could do for teachers, students, school administrators, custodians, parents, siblings and others. Their ideas included:
  • Give someone a hug.
  • Give someone a smile.
  • Meet someone new at recess and play together.
  • Make Christmas cards for parents, teachers, custodians and others.
  • Pick up some trash.
  • Take someone’s tray for them at lunch.
Inspired by Curry’s original tweet, Garcia did some sleuth work online to find ways to make the random acts of kindness concept resonate with 8- and 9-year-olds. She found ideas on Pinterest and on the blog, which ran a post about orchestrating Random Acts of Classroom Kindness at school and having students log their kind deeds on Random Acts of Classroom Kindness, or “RACK,” sheets.
Third-graders filled out "RACK sheets" like this one and logged their kind deeds throughout the week.
By the end of this week, Garcia’s class collectively completed 115 acts of kindness.
“They want to keep doing this in January after we come back from (winter) break,” Garcia said. “I told them, ‘We don’t have to stop! We can definitely keep doing it if we want!’
“We were all so shocked and devastated by what happened. This has been a way to turn it into a positive.”
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