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While You Were Sleeping: December 2011 



According to Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, a microbiologist known as “Dr. Germ,” the gas pump is the everyday object most likely to transmit germs. Gerba’s conclusion is drawn from a study done by Kimberly-Clark’s Healthy Work Place Project, a subsidiary of the manufacturer of tissues and hand sanitizer. The research results released in late October found that 71 percent of gas pump handles and 68 percent of corner mailbox handles are “highly contaminated” with the kinds of germs most associated with a high risk of illness. The study stated that 41 percent of ATM buttons and 43 percent of escalator rails are similarly teeming with germs.
Source: USA Today

Fewer Mexicans are immigrating illegally across the border into the United States as fewer jobs, harsher border control, and threats against leaving from violent Mexican gangs have made the trek to the US less and less appealing. At its peak in 2000, 1.6 million people were arrested attempting to cross the border illegally over an 11-month period. Over the 11-month period that ended in August 2011, that number dropped to 304,755. Mexico itself is feeling a change, as its interior secretary for migration matters, Rene Zenteno, noted that “our country is not experiencing the population loss due to migration that was seen nearly 50 years ago.”
Source: Los Angeles Times

Under federal law, people with felony convictions forfeit their right to bear arms. Yet every year, thousands of felons across the country have those rights reinstated, often with little or no review. While previously a small number of felons were able to reclaim their gun rights, the process became commonplace in many states in the late 1980s, after Congress started allowing state laws to dictate these reinstatements—part of an overhaul of federal gun laws orchestrated by the National Rifle Association. Margaret C. Love, a pardon lawyer based in Washington, DC, who has researched gun rights restoration laws, estimated that in more than half the states felons have a reasonable chance of getting back their gun rights.

In Washington State, where convicted felon Erik Zettergen shot and killed a man after having his gun rights restored in 2005, since 1995, more than 3,300 felons and people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors have regained their gun rights in the state—430 in 2010 alone. One study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that denying handgun purchases to felons cut their risk of committing new gun or violent crimes by 20 to 30 percent. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that handgun purchasers with at least one prior misdemeanor—not even a felony—were more than seven times as likely as those with no criminal history to be charged with new offenses over a 15-year period. Criminologists studying recidivism have found that felons usually have to stay out of trouble for about a decade before their risk of committing a crime equals that of people with no record.
Source: New York Times

In London on November 5, one of John Lennon’s molars sold for $31,000 at auction. A Canadian dentist, Michael Zuk, submitted the winning bid. The tooth had been in the possession of Lennon’s former housekeeper, Dorothy Jarlett, since the late `60s, when Lennon gave the tooth to Jarlett as a souvenir.
Source: Rolling Stone

On November 10, the Supreme Court decided to hear a challenge to President Obama’s health care law. That night, two justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, were feted at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court. The lawyer who will stand before the court and argue that the law should be thrown out is likely to be Paul Clement, who served as US Solicitor General during the second Bush administration. Clement’s law firm, Bancroft PLLC, was one of almost two dozen firms that helped sponsor the annual dinner of the Federalist Society, a longstanding group dedicated to advocating conservative legal principles.

Scalia and Thomas have been attending Federalist Society events for years. And it’s nothing that runs afoul of ethics rules. In fact, justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct that governs the actions of lower federal judges. If they were, they arguably fell under code’s Canon 4C, which states, “A judge may attend fundraising events of law-related and other organizations although the judge may not be a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program of such an event.”

This stunning breach of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the court abides by the same rules that apply to all other federal judges,” said Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause. “The justices were wining and dining at a black-tie fundraiser with attorneys who have pending cases before the court. Their appearance and assistance in fundraising for this event undercuts any claims of impartiality.”

Conservatives argue that it’s Justice Elena Kagan who has an ethical issue, not Scalia and Thomas. Kagan served as solicitor general in the Obama administration when the first legal challenges to the law were brought at the trial court level. Her critics have pushed for Kagan to recuse herself from hearing the case, saying that she was too invested in defending the law then to be impartial now. Kagan has given no indication she will do so.
Source: Los Angeles Times

The largest banks are larger than they were when President Obama took office and are nearing the level of profits they were making before the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, according to government data.
Wall Street firms—independent companies and the securities-trading arms of banks—are doing even better. They earned more in the first two-and-a-half years of the Obama administration than they did during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. Behind this turnaround, in significant measure, are government policies that helped the financial sector avert collapse and then gave financial firms huge benefits on the path to recovery. For example, the federal government invested hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in banks—low-cost money that the firms used for high-yielding investments on which they made big profits. The largest banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo, earned $34 billion in profit in the first half of the year, nearly matching what they earned in the same period in 2007 and more than in the same period of any other year. The average Wall Street salary last year grew 16.1 percent, to $361,330.
Source: New York Times

A new survey from the Credit Union National Association found that, the day Bank of America announced its new $5 monthly debit card fee on September 29, credit unions have gained at least 650,000 new customers. (Bank of America has since dropped the proposal.) That’s more than the 600,000 customers who joined credit unions during the entirety of 2010. By the association’s tally, deposits into those new savings accounts totaled $4.5 billion, which is more in deposits than credit unions typically get from their entire customer base in a month. In another poll, by Harris Interactive, the disparity between customers’ loyalty to the respective financial institutions was highlighted. Nearly 90 percent of credit union customers said they were extremely or very likely to stick with their current institution, compared to only 40 percent of Bank of America customers. Other big banks didn’t fare much better: Only 46 percent of JP Morgan Chase’s customers and 54 percent of Wells Fargo/Wachovia’s customers indicated a strong intention to stay put.
Sources: Reuters, Slate
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