Translation from English

Friday, February 28, 2014

How Student Hoax Ended Up in Respected Journals-- Slate

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 27 2014 2:34 PM

How Gobbledygook Ended Up in Respected Scientific Journals

Nobel winner Peter Higgs says that today, he wouldn't be "productive enough" to land an academic job.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In 2005, a group of MIT graduate students decided to goof off in a very MIT graduate student way: They created a program called SCIgen that randomly generated fake scientific papers. Thanks to SCIgen, for the last several years, computer-written gobbledygook has been routinely published in scientific journals and conference proceedings.

According to Nature News, Cyril Labbé, a French computer scientist, recently informed Springer and the IEEE, two major scientific publishers, that between them, they had published more than 120 algorithmically-generated articles. In 2012, Labbé had told the IEEE of another batch of 85 fake articles. He's been playing with SCIgen for a few years—in 2010 a fake researcher he created, Ike Antkare, briefly became the 21st most highly cited scientist in Google Scholar's database.
On the one hand, it's impressive that computer programs are now good enough to create passable gibberish. (You can entertain yourself by trying to distinguish real science from nonsense on quiz sites like this one.) But the wide acceptance of these papers by respected journals is symptomatic of a deeper dysfunction in scientific publishing, in which quantitative measures of citation have acquired an importance that is distorting the practice of science.

The first scientific journal article, “An Account of the improvement of Optick Glasses," was published on March 6, 1665 in Philosophical Transactions, the journal of the Royal Society of London. The purpose of the journal, according to Henry Oldenburg, the society's first secretary, was, "to spread abroad Encouragements, Inquiries, Directions, and Patterns, that may animate." The editors continued, explaining their purpose: "there is nothing more necessary for promoting the improvement of Philosophical Matters, than the communicating to such, as apply their Studies and Endeavours that way, such things as are discovered or put in practice by others." They hoped communication would help scientists to share "ingenious Endeavours and Undertakings" in pursuit of "the Universal Good of Mankind."

As the spate of nonsense papers shows, scientific publishing has strayed from these lofty goals. How did this happen?

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, two things took place. First, academic publishing became an enormously lucrative business. And second, because administrators erroneously believed it to be a means of objective measurement, the advancement of academic careers became conditional on contributions to the business of academic publishing.
As Peter Higgs said after he won last year's Nobel Prize in physics, "Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough." Jens Skou, a 1997 Nobel Laureate, put it this way in his Nobel biographical statement: today's system puts pressure on scientists for, "too fast publication, and to publish too short papers, and the evaluation process use[s] a lot of manpower. It does not give time to become absorbed in a problem as the previous system [did]."

Today, the most critical measure of an academic article's importance is the “impact factor” of the journal it is published in. The impact factor, which was created by a librarian named Eugene Garfield in the early 1950s, measures how often articles published in a journal are cited. Creating the impact factor helped make Garfield a multimillionaire—not a normal occurrence for librarians.
In 2006, the editors of PloS Medicine, then a new journal, were miffed at the capriciousness with which Thomson Scientific (which had bought Garfield’s company in 1992), calculated  their impact factor. The PloS editors argued for "better ways of assessing papers and journals"—new quantitative methods. The blossoming field of scientometrics (with its own eponymous journal—2012 impact factor: 2.133) aims to come up with more elaborate versions of the impact factor that do a better job of assessing individual articles rather than journals as a whole.

There is an analogy here to the way Google and other search engines index Web pages. So-called search-engine optimization aims to boost the rankings of websites. To fight this, Google (and Microsoft, and others) employ armies of programmers to steadily tweak their algorithms. The arms race between the link spammers and the search-algorithm authors never ends. But no one at Thomson Reuters (or its competitors) can really formulate an idea of scientific merit on par with Google’s idea of search quality.

Link spam is forced upon even reputable authors of scientific papers. Scientists routinely add citations to papers in journals they are submitting to in the hopes of boosting chances of acceptance. They also publish more papers, as Skou said, in the hopes of being more widely cited themselves. This creates a self-defeating cycle, which tweaked algorithms cannot address. The only solution, as Colin Macilwain wrote in Nature last summer, is to “Halt the avalanche of performance metrics.”
There is some momentum behind this idea. In the past year, more than 10,000 researchers have signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which argues for the "need to assess research on its own merits." This comes up most consequentially in academic hiring and tenure decisions. As Sandra Schmid, the chair of the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration, wrote, "our signatures are meaningless unless we change our hiring practices. … Our goal is to identify future colleagues who might otherwise have failed to pass through the singular artificial CV filter of high-impact journals, awards, and pedigree.”

Unless academic departments around the world follow Schmid's example, in another couple of years, no doubt Labbé will find another few hundred fake papers haunting the databases of scientific publication. The gibberish papers (“TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce”) are only the absurdist culmination of an academic evaluation and publication process set up to encourage them.
Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Mental Health Now Denied to Uninsured in Many States- Daily Kos

Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:19 AM PST

Almost 4 million uninsured denied mental health care in states that won't expand Medicaid

In New York City, just try to find a therapist even with Medicare

Map showing number of uninsured people with mental illness or substance abuse issues in states that aren't expanding Medicaid.
More than 3.7 million mentally ill and uninsured people will remain without care in the 25 states which have refused to expand Medicaid. That's according to a new report from the American Mental Health Counselors Association.
The problem is most acute in Florida and Texas, both home to more than half a million uninsured adults with serious mental health and substance use conditions. The 11 southern states that are not moving toward Medicaid expansion are home to 2.7 million people with mental illness. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi each have between 100,000 and 200,000 such uninsured adults. Georgia has 233,000 residents who suffer from mental illness, according to data compiled through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
These 25 states have about 55 percent of all uninsured people with mental illness, the Association reports. Mental health, including substance abuse, treatment is now included as an essential health benefit in all health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. That is, for those who aren't left out.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:19 AM PST.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos and Daily Kos.

From Nova Online- New Quasiparticle ( More on Dropletons)

I find  all this Dropleton news somewhat difficult to understand but I get the feeling it is of some importance and that some people will find it very interesting 
Physics + Math

Physicists Zap a Semiconductor with a Laser, Accidentally Produce a New Quasiparticle

Recently, a team of physicists was bombarding a film of gallium arsenide with a mode-locked titanium-sapphire laser. They focused the beam into an incredibly fine dot, just 100 nm, pulsed the beam for 320 femtosectonds (320 quadrillionths of a second), and waited to see what happened. You know, just another day in the lab.

Well, waiting might be an overstatement. What the team was looking for were quasiparticles known as excitons, which they found in spades. But when they cranked the frequency of the laser pulses up to 100 million per second, they stumbled upon something they never unexpected—an entirely new quasiparticle that flashed into existence for 25 millionths of a second, then vanished. They’re calling it a quantum droplet, or dropleton.

A rendering of dropletons
The dropleton, it turns out, is an especially bizarre species of an already curious phenomenon. It’s close relative, the exciton, is formed when photons strike a semiconductor and knock an electron loose, creating a hole where the electron used to be. (That’s essentially how solar cells work. In fact, gallium arsenide, the material used in this experiment, works as a photovoltaic.)

But rather than the hole created by the loosed electron simply existing as empty space, it exerts a weak force that reaches out to the electron. If the electron stays connected with the hole through that Coulomb force, the pair form a quasiparticle known as an exciton. The team from Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany and the Joint Institute for Lab Astrophysics at the University of Colorado had created plenty of excitons.

Then they started pulsing the laser faster and faster. Above 100 million pulses per second, the electrons and holes started pooling together, forming clumps of four, five, and six electron/holes that behaved unlike anything previously studied. They swam around each other, like H2O molecules in a drop of water, and they formed ripple rings like the disturbed surface of a pond.
Clara Moskowitz, reporting for Scientific American:
The unexpected quasiparticle got its name when the researchers realized, “It has to be a new particle, it has a small size, it has liquid properties,” [Mackillo] Kira, [one of the paper’s authors,] recalls. “Okay, let’s call it a dropleton.”
“This is new physics, not just a small detail of well-established physics,” says Glenn Solomon of the Joint Quantum Institute in Gaithersburg, Md., who was not involved in the research. “Hopefully, it will spark a variety of experiments.”
Those experiments should yield some interesting results, thanks to another unique property of the dropleton—its immense size, at least for a quasiparticle. At 182 nanometers across, it’s large enough to be observed with a microscope. That could open a new window into the world where light and matter meet.

From Better Texting

Apps | better smartphone typing is a tap away

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Touch-screen phones have become very good at some tasks but there is one feature that they still struggle to get right–the keyboard. Here are some apps and some setting tweaks to assist your fingers.
Apps, tweaks, techniques to make smartphone typing easier, faster, more accurate
Touch-screen phones have become so astonishingly good at some tasks they have all but replaced landline phones, pocket cameras and printed maps. But there is one feature that they still struggle to get right — the keyboard.
The flexibility of the full touch screen has won out over tactile, physical buttons, leaving us with a keyboard that is just an image on glass and small keys that sometimes get cranky around big thumbs.

Fleksy App – features video

Still, users don’t have to settle for the default keyboard on their smartphone. The advantage to virtual keyboards is just that — they are virtual — and can be easily swapped or altered for one you like better. Sometimes all it takes is a change in your settings. At most, it requires buying an app.
Here’s a sampling of tips and apps to help improve your typing experience on Apple iOS and Android, the two most popular operating systems for smartphones.
Fewer Taps
Many smartphone users make the mistake of tapping out whole words one letter at a time. A quick way to speed up typing on almost all phones is through predictive text. Once the feature is turned on, the device will predict what word you are typing after filling in only a letter or two. Choosing the full word takes just a single tap.
To turn on predictive text, you’ll have to dig through the menus, under settings. Look for the keyboard options and select “auto correction,” or whatever the similar name is on your phone. Then start typing, and when the complete word appears, usually in a list just above the keyboard, tap it. The best part is, the predictions usually improve over time, as the device learns which words you prefer. So the more you use it, the more time it will save you.
Fast Keyboard - Universal Text Editor
Apps, tweaks, techniques to make smartphone typing easier, faster, more accurate--Fast Keyboard app

Fast Keyboard app
Another option is using a nonstandard keyboard layout, like the one provided by Fast Keyboard, a free app for Apple products. With the app, you won’t need to keep switching the keyboard from letters to numbers — they all appear on the same screen. Symbol keys like hashtags appear on the screen, too, and cut, copy and other functions are also within reach.
The downside of the app (and other auxiliary keyboards for Apple products) is that it doesn’t completely replace the default keyboard. It can be used for certain apps, like e-mail, text messaging and social media. Android replacement keyboards can work with all of its functions and apps.
Fleksy, a free iPhone app meant to help the visually impaired, can help you type without looking at all. Just approximate tapping where you think letters belong on a keyboard. When you have completed a word, flick the screen to the right. Fleksy will read its guess aloud. Flick down for it to guess similar words. The sloppier you are the better it seems to work. But as with other auxiliary iPhone keyboards, it can’t completely replace the standard keyboard.
Handy Code
If you find yourself repeatedly using the same phrases over and over — and who doesn’t? — so-called typing expansion programs are for you. When using these programs, you assign an abbreviation like “omw” to automatically turn into “I’m on my way home, honey, need anything?”
Typing expansion is built into Apple products and the free Android app Google Keyboard. For Apple products, go to Settings, then select General and then Keyboard. Click Add a New Shortcut, then enter the abbreviation and phrase you want it to become. In Google Keyboard, open the app and go to Personal Dictionary. Touch the plus sign and then add your abbreviation and phrase. Press done and the back button. One tip for all the devices: Make sure your shortcuts use unusual letter combinations so you don’t activate phrases at unwanted times.
Gesture keyboards figure out what you mean to type as you to trace your finger loosely over the keys. It is faster than single-letter typing, but before it becomes really accurate, it has to learn your patterns. Sometimes, the process can be exasperating. One keyboard developer said it takes at least 50 messages for these programs to learn your patterns.

Swiftkey app video tutorial

Swiftkey, a $4 app for Android, has an additional way to increase accuracy right off the bat. Give the app access to your Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail accounts and it will observe your vocabulary to better anticipate words you are likely to use. It has recently added a cloud backup service that saves your personal dictionary of often-used phrases in case your device is lost or dies. It also searches the Web for phrases coming into heavy use (like “sarin,” “twerking” or “Middleton”) to better guess what you are typing.
Apps, tweaks, techniques to make smartphone typing easier, faster, more accurate--Swype app

Swype app
Swype, a popular $1 gesture-based keyboard app for Android, can also check your Facebook, Twitter and Gmail accounts to improve accuracy, but it has long had a feature called “living language.” Activate it to anonymously collect new and unfamiliar words from across the Web and add them to the dictionary.
Many phones already have gesture typing if you look in the settings. Usually it is under a heading like “Language and Keyboard” or “Language and Input.”
For Apple products there are Swiftkey and Swype imitators but, like the previously mentioned Fleksy, they can be used only for writing text.
Privacy Settings
There is a potentially alarming side to predictive technology. It is possible for an app to collect data that you would not want it to. Here is a warning that appeared when installing Google Keyboard: “This input method may be able to collect all of the text you type, including personal data like passwords and credit card numbers. It comes from the app Google Keyboard. Use this input method?”
While reputable developers will tell you in their privacy policies that they don’t collect credit cards and passwords, you can take steps on your own.
Touch-screen phones have become astonishingly good at some tasks but there is one feature that they still struggle to get right–the keyboard. Here are some apps and some easy setting adjustments to assist your fingers.
By Roy Furchgott

Obama Approved Houston Light Rail Over Tom Delay- Daily Kos

Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 05:25 PM PST

Obama reversed Tom Delay's ban on Houston Light Rail


In 2003, voters in the Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority's (HCMTA) service area approved a referendum on the expansion of light rail.  Tom Delay intervened, and overrode the voters' choice.  Light rail expansion in Houston was blocked by the George W Bush administration for five years.  Suddenly, in 2009, the ban was lifted by the President's new FTA.  Every year, the FTA has sent the HCMTA at least $150 million for light rail expansion.  On December 20, 2013, the first new line, Northline-Houston Community College, went into service.  This year, two more light rail lines will open.

The suburbanites are complaining because HCMTA is concentrating on the democratic-majority Houston center city.  They want commuter light rail to their outlying areas but keep electing republicans who are adamantly opposed to rail expansion.  Somehow Houston suburbanites have not made the connection between whom they vote for and what kind of transportation they get.
HCMTA recently announced that additional cars have been added to Northline (named after a 1950's shopping mall) because passenger boardings have exceeded forecasts.  HCMTA removes motor vehicle lanes and allocates them to rail.  Unlike other new light rail systems, HCMTA is operating the lines as limited-stop streetcars, which is unique in the modern US.  Northline has cut the travel time in half from the 15 Fulton Bus which it replaced.  I talked to many passengers, and every person I talked to is thrilled about the huge improvement in service.  The new line runs every 12 minutes, seven days a week.  I recently took a Sunday photographic stroll on the line and uploaded the video to You Tube.

None of this much-needed expansion would have been possible without President Obama.  Thanks to federal help, and the backing of Democratic Mayor Annise Parker, these lines are going in fast.  On the Northline, it took less that 3 years from the original groundbreaking to the start of service.  Houston, which was the least-likely city to embark on electric rail transit 15 years ago, has an aggressive rail transit program underway.  Elections do make a difference.

PBS- the World Wide Web Turns 25


The web turns 25

BY Bridget Shirvell  February 27, 2014 at 9:44 AM EST
On this NeXT computer, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee devised the basic principles of the World Wide Web, while working at CERN in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
On this NeXT computer, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee devised the basic principles of the World Wide Web, while working at CERN in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The World Wide Web is growing up. It turns 25 on March 12 — if you use the date Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper proposing the system as the birthday of the Web.

The Web is now woven in our everyday lives. We use it for everything, from looking up directions to chatting with friends and family thousands of miles of away. Can you even remember the last time you went a day without the Web?

Back in 1995, only 14 percent of American adults used the internet. Today it’s 87 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, and among young adults aged 18 to 29 it’s 97 percent.

Pew Research Center’s Internet Project in partnership with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Project is marking the internet’s birthday this year with a series of reports on internet penetration, privacy, cyber security, the “internet of things” and net neutrality.

The first report, released this morning, uses Pew’s extensive research on technology in American life, which dates back to 1990 when Pew first asked a question about computer use in a national survey. The report also includes telephone interviews conducted in January of 2014 to look at internet penetration and how Americans feel about the internet. Those interviews surveyed 1,006 adults living in the continental United States, including 502 with landline phones and 504 cell phones, 288 of which didn’t have a landline phone.

Those telephone interviews show that Americans generally feel the internet has made a positive impact on their lives and personal relationships.

“After they tote up all the positives and negatives of life in the digital age, the vast majority of users believe these technologies have made things better for them and for society,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center Internet Project said. “They see problems, to be sure, but most have now brought technology so deeply into the rhythms of their lives that they say it would be very hard to give up.”
How hard would it be to give up these technologiesHere are some of the key findings of the survey:
The internet is ingrained into American life
  • 71 percent of adults in the U.S. say they use the internet on a typical day.
The internet is good
  • 90 percent of internet users say the internet has been a good thing for them personally, while 6 percent say it has been a bad thing and 3 percent volunteer that it has been some of both.
  • 76 percent of users say the internet has been a good thing for society, while 15 percent say it has been a bad thing and 8 percent say it has been equally good and bad.
Internet Kindness
The internet is essential
  • 53 percent of internet users say the internet would be, at minimum, “very hard” to give up. That’s more than those who say cell phones, televisions and landlines would be “very hard” to give up.
  • 39 percent of internet users feel they absolutely need to have internet access.
  • 30 percent of internet users said it would be hard to give up access because they simply enjoy being online.
The internet has strengthened relationships
  • 67 percent of internet users say their online communication with family and friends has generally strengthened those relationships, while 18 percent say it generally weakens those relationships.
  • 76 percent of internet users said that people they witnessed or encountered online were mostly kind, while 13 percent of people said were mostly unkind.
  • 56 of internet users say they have seen an online group come together to help a person or a community solve a problem, while 25 percent say they left an online group because the interaction became too heated or members were unpleasant to one another.
“Looking back at the origins of the Web, we can see patterns of use and non-use that persist today,”  Susannah Fox, co-author of the Pew Research Center report said. “A person’s level of education is still a primary factor in predicting whether she uses technology or not. And the younger someone is, the more likely it is that she uses technology. One constant is that users, whenever they start, say that digital communications tools strengthen their relationships.”
Do you feel the same way about the internet?

Robert Reich on American Economic Lessons- Salon

Robert Reich: America has forgotten its 3 biggest economic lessons

The former labor secretary reveals how our country has abandoned the winning formula it developed post-World War II

Robert Reich: America has forgotten its 3 biggest economic lessons
Why has America forgotten the three most important economic lessons we learned in the 30 years following World War II?

Before I answer that question, let me remind you what those lessons were:

First, America’s real job creators are consumers, whose rising wages generate jobs and growth. If average people don’t have decent wages there can be no real recovery and no sustained growth.
In those years, business boomed because American workers were getting raises, and had enough purchasing power to buy what expanding businesses had to offer. Strong labor unions ensured American workers got a fair share of the economy’s gains. It was a virtuous cycle.

Second, the rich do better with a smaller share of a rapidly growing economy than they do with a large share of an economy that’s barely growing at all.
Between 1946 and 1974, the economy grew faster than it’s grown since, on average, because the nation was creating the largest middle class in history. The overall size of the economy doubled, as did the earnings of almost everyone. CEOs rarely took home more than 40 times the average worker’s wage, yet were riding high.

Third, higher taxes on the wealthy to finance public investments — better roads, bridges, public transportation, basic research, world-class K-12 education, and affordable higher education – improve the future productivity of America. All of us gain from these investments, including the wealthy.

In those years, the top marginal tax rate on America’s highest earners never fell below 70 percent. Under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower the tax rate was 91 percent. Combined with tax revenues from a growing middle class, these were enough to build the Interstate Highway system, dramatically expand public higher education, and make American public education the envy of the world.

We learned, in other words, that broadly shared prosperity isn’t just compatible with a healthy economy that benefits everyone — it’s essential to it.
But then we forgot these lessons. For the last three decades the American economy has continued to grow but most peoples’ earnings have gone nowhere. Since the start of the recovery in 2009, 95 percent of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent.
What happened?

For starters, too many of us bought the snake oil of “supply-side” economics, which said big corporations and the wealthy are the job creators – and if we cut their taxes the benefits will trickle down to everyone else. Of course, nothing trickled down.

Meanwhile, big corporations were allowed to bust labor unions, whose membership dropped from over a third of all private-sector workers in the 1950s to under 7 percent today

Our roads, bridges, and public-transit systems were allowed to crumble under the weight of deferred maintenance. Our public schools deteriorated. And public higher education became so starved for funds that tuition rose to make up for shortfalls, making college unaffordable to many working families.

And Wall Street was deregulated — creating a casino capitalism that caused a near meltdown of the economy six years ago and continues to burden millions of homeowners. CEOs began taking home 300 times the earnings of the average worker.

Part of the reason for this extraordinary U-turn had to do with politics. As income and wealth concentrated at the top, so did political power. The captains of industry and of Wall Street knew what was happening, and some played leading roles in this transformation.

But why didn’t they remember the lessons learned in the 30 years after World War II – that widely shared prosperity is good for everyone, including them?

Perhaps because they didn’t care to remember. They discovered that wealth is also relative: How rich they feel depends not just on how much money they have, but also how they live in comparison to most other people.

As the gap between America’s wealthy and the middle has widened, those at the top have felt even richer by comparison. Although a rising tide would lift all boats, many of America’s richest prefer a lower tide and bigger yachts.
Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie "Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at
Mike Rowe

TV star’s ugly Wal-Mart defense: Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe goes nuclear

Inspector General Approves Keystone Pipeline...the Daily Kos

Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 01:21 PM PST

Inspector General's report on Keystone XL contractor gives thumbs-up to business as usual

Keystone XL pipeline route
The months-long assessment of a conflict of interest by the contractor who conducted the Keystone XL pipeline environmental review was released by the State Department's Office of the Inspector General Wednesday. Conclusions: Nothing to see here, folks. Tempest in a teapot. Move along. Reaction from environmental advocacy groups and individuals opposed to the pipeline's construction was swift. Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change advocacy group and one of the early foes of Keystone XL who has been arrested several times for his anti-pipeline protests outside the White House, said:
“The real scandal in Washington is how much is legal. This process has stunk, start to finish.”
While it's not a killer blow to pipeline opponents, the report gives more ammunition to the forces eager to see Keystone XL thick with tar-sands petroleum flowing from Alberta to the Gulf Coast: Calgary-based pipeline builder TransCanada, the oil industry in general, Republicans, a significant fraction of congressional Democrats, and many unions, with AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka now firmly in the camp of the supporters. 
Whether driven by profit, by campaign contributions, by climate-change denial or by desire to create more jobs in an economy plagued by a tepid recovery for all but the top tier of Americans, those supporters like to pretend that the fight against Keystone XL is, at best, a not-in-my-backyard battle rather than merely one front in the broad struggle to keep as much fossil fuel in the ground as possible. Even if Secretary of State John Kerry does back bends away from his tough climate change speech in Jakarta and recommends that President Obama approve Keystone XL and the president agrees, that won't be the end of opposition to the pipeline or to extracting dirty petroleum from the tar sands. In that light, the OIG's report makes little difference.

The FSEIS contractor, London-based Environmental Resources Management, was hired by TransCanada, the builder of the Keystone XL, to supply the State Department with the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the pipeline. Environmental advocates objected to the FSEIS as flawed and incomplete just like the two previous versions. But months before the impact statement was published, they had objected to who was writing it on the grounds that ERM—which has strong ties to the oil industry, including membership in the American Petroleum Institute—had not been forthcoming about its relationship with TransCanada.
Please read below the fold for more analysis.
The 35-page OIG report concluded:
[I]n the case of concerns raised about ERM’s alleged lack of objectivity because current ERM staff had previously worked for TransCanada and other oil and pipeline companies, OIG found that the Department’s conflict of interest review was effective and that the review’s conclusions were reasonable. Specifically, OIG’s review found the following: (i) ERM had fully disclosed the prior work histories of its team members as part of its proposal; (ii) L/OES attorneys had reviewed and researched the nature of the prior work and had discussed the prior work with ERM during the pre-selection interview; (iii) L/OES attorneys had determined that the prior TransCanada work occurred before the staff began work at ERM and that none of the prior work had involved Keystone XL; (iv) the Department’s prescribed conflict of interest guidance provides four factual scenarios that may create impairments to objectivity;10 (v) the employees’ prior work histories did not involve any of those four scenarios; (vi) this prior work had not impaired ERM’s objectivity; (vii) the totality of information provided by ERM to the Department was not misleading; and (viii) the Department’s conflict of interest guidance is consistent with pertinent regulations and case law. However, OIG did find that the process for documenting the contractor selection process,
including the conflict of interest review, can be improved.
Included in the report were useful but minor recommendations for making those improvements. In response, Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, which had first spotlighted the conflict-of-interest complaints, said:
"This Inspector General Report raises more questions than it answers. In fact it reveals serious errors in the State Department’s process for vetting conflicts of interest. It’s conclusion that the agency followed its procedures, seems to rest mainly on interviews with State Department lawyers who, the report points out, never documented all of the supposed due diligence they were conducting. There are notable failures in the process, including the fact that ERM only disclosed its relationship with TransCanada after they were awarded the contract; even though conflicts of interest were supposed to be one of the criteria. This is not reassuring, but we’re hopeful that the GAO will get to the bottom of this. Policy Director Jason Kowalski said:
“Far from exonerating the State Department of wrongdoing, the Inspector General report simply concludes that such dirty dealings are business as usual. While allowing a member of the American Petroleum Institute to review a tar sands oil pipeline may technically be legal, it’s by no means responsible."
Tom Steyer, the billionaire founder of NextGen Climate Action who has pledged to spend $100 million on ads going after congressional and gubernatorial candidates governorships who refuse to act on climate change, said:
“It is disappointing that the Inspector General’s office chose to conduct such a narrow review of the FEIS process, especially given the important role that it will play in informing the President’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. This was a missed opportunity to seriously investigate the integrity of the FEIS document and process. The State Department did not actually consider the test established by the President  during his speech at Georgetown last June: that no project that increases the amount of air pollution will be approved. Additionally it ignores statements by the tar sands executives that the Keystone XL pipeline is the key to their ability to develop the tar sands. As I have said before, the FEIS is a flawed document, and it would be a disservice to President Obama and his legacy on climate change to rely on this report.”
Elijah Zarlin, CREDO's senior campaign manager said:
"Secretary of State John Kerry inherited this mess, and now it's time for him to bring it to a close by stating what is obvious—that this pipeline is not in our national interest. If he doesn't, more than 78,000 Americas stand ready to risk arrest to stop the White House and the State Department from putting the oil industry’s interest before our national interest, and recommending approval of Keystone XL.”
Even if Kerry and Obama have already made up their minds on how they will stand on Keystone XL, a publicly announced decision is still months away. The State Department has opened public comments up until March 7, and a 90-day federal interagency review does not end until April 30. The earliest announcement, therefore, would be May 1, but probably at least several weeks later. That depends, however, on when the situation in Nebraska gets resolved. A state district judge ruled recently that transferring authority to approve a new pipeline route from Nebraska's Public Service Commission to the governor was unconstitutional. TransCanada made the change as a result of President Obama's rejection of its first application for a permit to build the pipeline through wetlands in the state. PSC commissioners say they will wait to see what happens to court appeals of the judge's decision. If it's upheld, they will have seven months, possibly extended to 12 to approve or reject the new route.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 01:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

Born Today: Zero Mostel

Zero Mostel biography

Born On This Day

Zero Mostel was born on this day in 1915.

2 photos

Quick Facts

  • NAME: Zero Mostel
  • OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Theater Actor
  • BIRTH DATE: February 28, 1915
  • DEATH DATE: September 08, 1977
  • PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
  • PLACE OF DEATH: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Originally: Samuel Joel Mostel

Best Known For

Stage, television and screen actor Zero Mostel won a Tony Award playing Tevye in Jerome Robbins' Fiddler on the Roof, and starred in Mel Brooks' film The Producers.


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Zero Mostel was born February 28, 1915, in New York City. In 1942, he debuted as a comedian. In 1947, he appeared in his first feature film. He was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. In 1964, he landed the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Mostel continued to perform on stage, screen and TV until his death on September 8, 1977, in Philadelphia.


"The freedom of any society varies proportionately with the volume of its laughter."
– Zero Mostel

Early Years

Zero Mostel was born Samuel Joel Mostel on February 28, 1915, to a family of Jewish orthodox immigrants in New York City's Lower East Side. As a child, he took art classes at the Educational Alliance.

After high school graduation, Mostel attended the City College of New York. He also spent a year at New York University. In 1937, Mostel was hired as an art teacher as part of the Works Project Administration's Federal Art Project. In addition to teaching classes at the local Jewish Y, Mostel gave comical lectures at a number of New York art museums.

Comic and Actor

Mostel's entertaining lectures soon led to invitations to perform at parties and supper clubs. In 1942, he debuted as a standup comedian at Café Society. It was during this time that he was nicknamed Zero, as in a guy starting from nothing. That same year, Mostel debuted on Broadway in Keep 'Em Laughing.

In 1943, Mostel took a break from show business to serve in the Army in World War II. Three years later, he appeared in his first feature film, DuBarry Was a Lady. Mostel went on to perform in a steady stream of plays and movies until 1951, when he was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, Mostel struggled to finding acting work until the early 1960s. Shortly following his comeback, Mostel's leg was seriously injured when he was hit by a bus. After a year spent recovering, Mostel earned his first Tony Award for his performance in the Broadway play Rhinoceros. The next year, Mostel brought home a second Tony for his starring role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 1964, Mostel landed one of the most famous roles of his career, as Tevye in Jerome Robbins' musical Fiddler on the Roof. Mostel's memorable performance earned him yet another Tony. During the late 1960s, Mostel also starred in the Mel Brooks' comedy The Producers and had his own variety TV show called Zero Hour.

During the 1970s, Mostel continued to make stage, TV and film performances. The last time he appeared on TV was in a 1977 episode of The Muppet Show. His last stage performance also took place in 1977, as Shylock in The Merchant. After just one performance of the play, Mostel died suddenly of a heart attack on September 8, 1977, in Philadelphia.

Personal Life

Mostel was a husband and father as well as an actor and artist. He married his first wife, Clara Sverd, in 1939. The couple separated in 1941 and divorced three years later. Mostel's second marriage, to an actress and former Rockette named Kate, yielded two sons, Tobias and Josh Mostel.
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