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While You Were Sleeping: November 2008 

click to enlarge The Times Square Debt Clock charts our current debt
  • The Times Square Debt Clock charts our current debt

In 1989, Seymour Durst established the National Debt Clock in New York’s Time Square to track the rising indebtedness of the US government. When Durst put up the sign, the national debt was $2.7 trillion. In October, the clock had to be retrofit with another numerical space as the government debt topped $10 trillion.
Source: Associated Press

The Pew Research Center’s annual global attitude survey (released in September) found that racism is on the rise, especially in continental Europe. In Spain, 46 percent of the population reported viewing Jews unfavorably, while 52 percent reported having negative opinions of Muslims. Italy may be facing what some newspapers have called a “racism emergency.” Violent crime and discrimination against African immigrants has escalated to such a degree that members of the Italian Parliament and high-ranking Vatican officials alike are speaking out about intolerance, prejudice, xenophobia, and racism.
Source: New York Times

A recently released UN study has found that more women have entered politics in the past decade than ever before. Of the 22 countries where women constitute more than 30 percent of the national assembly, 18 have some form of quota. In Rwanda—which recently became the first country in the world to have a parliament in which women outnumber men—the need to end genocide is reported to have incited women to take political action in the country’s reconstruction. According to Unifem (the United Nations Development Fund for Women), if the rate of change holds constant, by 2045 women will reach parity of elective office in the developing world.
Source: New York Times

In Rensselaer County, “Barack Osama” was presented as the Democratic presidential candidate on 300 absentee ballots (proofed and printed in-house to save taxpayer dollars). The Rensselaer County Board of Elections promptly issued new ballots, and voters were reminded that any corrections to a ballot nullify the vote.
Source: Albany Times Union

Ten million homeowners currently have negative equity, meaning they owe more on their mortgages than the value of their homes. In August, more than half of the Californians who sold their homes suffered losses through “short sales”—so called because the sale price leaves the former homeowner “short” of the amount owed in the mortgage. By next June, 25 percent of all homes with mortgages will have negative equity, forcing many homeowners to sell for less than the value of the mortgage on their property and pay the difference out of pocket to avoid foreclosure.
Source: New York Times

Recent developments in the Million Women Study (Cancer Research UK) indicate that that the more children a woman has, the more time she spends breastfeeding, which apparently lowers her risk of later contracting breast cancer. Even comparatively short-term exposure to the hormonal changes accompanying childbirth can provide life-long protection from the disease. An effort to identify precisely which hormone is responsible is currently underway; the research and development of compounds capable of mimicking the effects of late pregnancy are in the pipeline.
Source: The Guardian

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina spilled about nine million gallons of oil. This year, Hurricane Ike spilled another five million. Air contaminants were the second-most common release as refineries and chemical plants shut down, burning off hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic compounds and toxic chemicals, sometimes directly into the atmosphere. The Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, and Texas state agencies have responded to more than 3,000 pollution reports associated with the storm.
Souce: Associated Press

About 40 percent of the deaths in India every year are linked to tobacco use. Last month, the Health Ministry in India established a countrywide ban on smoking in public. Those who break the rules will be fined $5 or more (per capita income is less than $1,000 a year). This new rule will affect 250 million people, mostly men, who use tobacco in the country. At the end of this month, packs of cigarettes in India will bear the skull and crossbones symbol.
Source: Wall Street Journal

The acceptable level of arsenic contamination in drinking water is five times higher in Bangladesh than the global standard. Arsenic has also been found in soil and staple crops, such as rice. The World Health Organization has described the contamination problem as “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” affecting 30 million people in 61 districts. Once the toxin enters the body (through the skin or gastrointestinal tract) it is redistributed to the liver, kidney, lung, spleen, and intestines. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, nerve damage, and renal failure.
Source: ProMED-mail

The tumbling stock market has wiped out $2 trillion in Americans’ retirement savings in the past 15 months. Pensions and 401(k) plans have decreased about 20 percent overall, with long-tenured employees aged 36 to 45 suffering the steepest declines. Analysts and economists predict that the number of full-time workers aged 65 and over who are delaying retirement will soar by more than 80 percent to make up 6.1 percent of the labor force.
Source: Washington Post

Days after federal officials agreed to an $85 billion bailout of American International Group (AIG), the firm spent roughly $443,000 on a corporate retreat at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, California. Just after the invoice went live online, the Fed forked over another $38 billion, and AIG executives went on an $86,000 partridge hunt at a British country manor. Attorney General Cuomo recently forced the company to freeze $19 million in remaining payments to its former CEO.
Source: New York Times,

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