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8375NEWS -- 2013.12.14.Saturday

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  • James Martin
    Dec 14, 2013
      1) Body Language Matters For Print/Text Interviews Too | Media Training
      2) ‘New rich’ on the rise in U.S.
      3) US household wealth reaches high of $77 trillion
      4) Far-Right Lobby Group ALEC Brags That All Politicians in Two State Legislatures Are Members
      5) Middle class getting priced out of ski trips
      6) New Report Sheds Light on Damage From BP Oil Spill
      7) Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools are Often Destructive, Fueling a School to Prison Pipeline
      8) Female Libido Drug Remains in Limbo
      9) ‘The Unbelievers’ Chronicles Road Tripping Scientists Promoting Reason
      10) India's Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Gay Sex Law
      Body Language Matters For Print/Text Interviews Too | Media Training
      ‘New rich’ on the rise in U.S.
      December 10, 2013, 05:00 AM By Hope Yen The Associated
      WASHINGTON — Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding extensive influence over America’s economy and politics, according to new survey data.

      These “new rich,” made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, are becoming politically influential, and economists say their capacity to spend is key to the U.S. economic recovery. But their rise is also a sign of the nation’s continuing economic polarization.

      They extend well beyond the wealthiest 1 percent, a traditional group of super-rich millionaires and billionaires with long-held family assets. The new rich have household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives, putting them — if sometimes temporarily — in the top 2 percent of earners.

      The new survey data on the affluent are being published in an upcoming book, and an analysis by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research provided additional information on the views of the group.

      In a country where poverty is at a record high, today’s new rich are notable for their sense of economic fragility. They rely on income from their work to maintain their social position and pay for things such as private tutoring for their children. That makes them much more fiscally conservative than other Americans, polling suggests, and less likely to support public programs, such as food stamps or early public education, to help the disadvantaged.

      Last week, President Barack Obama asserted that growing inequality is “the defining challenge of our time,” signaling that it will be a major theme for Democrats in next year’s elections.

      “In this country, you don’t get anywhere without working hard,” said James Lott, 28, a pharmacist in Renton, Wash., who adds to his six-figure salary by day-trading stocks. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Lott says he was able to get ahead by earning an advanced pharmacy degree. He makes nearly $200,000 a year.

      After growing up on food stamps, Lott now splurges occasionally on nicer restaurants, Hugo Boss shoes and extended vacations to New Orleans, Atlanta and parts of Latin America. He believes government should play a role in helping the disadvantaged. But he says the poor should be encouraged to support themselves, explaining that his single mother rose out of hardship by starting a day-care business in their home.

      The new research suggests that affluent Americans are more numerous than government data depict, encompassing 21 percent of working-age adults for at least a year by the time they turn 60. That proportion has more than doubled since 1979.

      Even outside periods of unusual wealth, members of this group generally hover in the $100,000-plus income range, keeping them in the top 20 percent of earners.

      At the same time, an increasing polarization of low-wage work and high-skill jobs has left middle-income careers depleted.

      “For many in this group, the American dream is not dead. They have reached affluence for parts of their lives and see it as very attainable, even if the dream has become more elusive for everyone else,” says Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who calculated numbers on the affluent for a forthcoming book, “Chasing the American Dream,” to be published by the Oxford University Press.

      As the fastest-growing group based on take-home pay, the new rich tend to enjoy better schools, employment and gated communities, making it easier to pass on their privilege to their children.

      Because their rising status comes at a time when upward mobility in the U.S. ranks lowest among wealthy industrialized counties, the spending attitudes of the new rich have implications for politics and policy. It’s now become even harder for people at the bottom to move up.

      The group is more liberal than lower-income groups on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, according to an analysis of General Social Survey data by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But when it comes to money, their views aren’t so open. They’re wary of any government role in closing the income gap.

      In Gallup polling in October, 60 percent of people making $90,000 or more said average Americans already had “plenty of opportunity” to get ahead. Among those making less than $48,000, the share was 48 percent


      Sometimes referred to by marketers as the “mass affluent,” the new rich make up roughly 25 million U.S. households and account for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. consumer spending.

      While paychecks shrank for most Americans after the 2007-2009 recession, theirs held steady or edged higher. In 2012, the top 20 percent of U.S. households took home a record 51 percent of the nation’s income. The median income of this group is more than $150,000.

      Once concentrated in the old-money enclaves of the Northeast, the new rich are now spread across the U.S., mostly in bigger cities and their suburbs. They include Washington, D.C.; Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. By race, whites are three times more likely to reach affluence than nonwhites.

      Paul F. Nunes, managing director at Accenture’s Institute for High Performance and Research, calls this group “the new power brokers of consumption.” Because they spend just 60 percent of their before-tax income, often setting the rest aside for retirement or investing, he says their capacity to spend more will be important to a U.S. economic recovery.

      In Miami, developers are betting on a growing luxury market, building higher-end malls featuring Cartier, Armani and Louis Vuitton and hoping to expand on South Florida’s Bal Harbour, a favored hideaway of the rich.

      “It’s not that I don’t have money. It’s more like I don’t have time,” said Deborah Sponder, 57, walking her dog Ava recently along Miami’s blossoming Design District. She was headed to one of her two art galleries — this one between the Emilio Pucci and Cartier stores and close to the Louis Vuitton and Hermes storefronts.

      But Sponder says she doesn’t consider her income of $250,000 as upper class, noting that she is paying college tuition for her three children. “Between rent, schooling and everything — it comes in and goes out.”

      The new rich’s influence will only grow as middle-class families below them struggle. The Federal Reserve said Monday that the nation’s wealth rose 2.6 percent from July through September to $77.3 trillion, a record high, boosted in part by a surging stock market. But the gains haven’t been equally distributed; the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. households own about 80 percent of stocks.


      Both Democrats and Republicans are awakening to the political realities presented by this new demographic bubble.

      Traditionally Republican, the group makes up more than 1 in 4 voters and is now more politically divided, better educated and less white and male than in the past, according to Election Day exit polls dating to the 1970s.

      Sixty-nine percent of upper-income voters backed Republican Ronald Reagan and his supply-side economics of tax cuts in 1984. By 2008, Democrat Barack Obama had split their vote evenly, 49-49.

      In 2012, Obama lost the group, with 54 percent backing Republican Mitt Romney.

      “For the Democrats’ part, traditional economic populism is poorly suited for affluent professionals,” says Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University professor who specializes in political polarization.

      The new rich includes Robert Kane, 39, of Colorado Springs, Colo.

      A former stockbroker who once owned three houses and voted steadfastly Republican, Kane says he was humbled after the 2008 financial meltdown, which he says exposed Wall Street’s excesses. Now a senior vice president for a private equity firm specializing in the marijuana business, Kane says he’s concerned about upward mobility for the poor and calls wealthy politicians such as Romney “out of touch.”

      But Kane, now a registered independent, draws the line when it comes to higher taxes. “A dollar is best in your hand rather than the government’s,” he says.


      Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta, News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius, and writers Suzette Laboy in Miami and Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.


      US household wealth reaches high of $77 trillion

      By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER / AP Economics Writer / December 9, 2013

      WASHINGTON (AP) — A surging stock market and a steady recovery in home prices drove Americans’ wealth to a record last summer.

      The nation’s wealth rose 2.6 percent from July through September to $77.3 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Monday. Household wealth has been rising gradually since bottoming at $57.2 trillion in 2008. Early this year, America finally regained all the wealth it had lost to the Great Recession.

      Rising personal wealth has been a pillar of the slow but steady U.S. economic recovery and could continue to boost the economy next year. When Americans feel richer, they typically spend more and fuel economic growth.

      Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks, bank accounts and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

      From July through September, rising stock prices boosted Americans’ net worth by $917 billion. Higher home values added $428 billion more.

      The Fed’s figures don’t go beyond September. But stock prices have continued to rise since last quarter ended, which means household wealth has, too. Since Oct. 1, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has risen nearly 8 percent. Home prices in many areas have continued to rise, though more slowly than they did earlier in the year.

      The Fed’s report also showed that Americans are willing to borrow more. This suggests that many are growing more confident in their jobs and in the broader economy.

      When adjusted for inflation, net worth remains about 1 percent below its pre-recession peak. But the gains in stock and home prices during the current October-December quarter will likely lift inflation-adjusted household wealth to a record.

      Still, the gains haven’t been equally distributed. The wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. households own about 80 percent of stocks. And home ownership has declined since the recession, particularly among lower-income Americans.

      Monday’s report also showed that total mortgage debt rose 0.9 percent from the previous quarter. It was the first such increase since early 2009. The rise reflects rising home sales and fewer mortgage defaults, an encouraging sign.

      Americans are also holding more consumer debt outside of mortgages, in the form of student loans, auto loans and credit cards. Consumer debt rose 6 percent from the previous quarter.

      But with job creation steady and wages rising gradually, Americans appear able to handle the additional borrowing.

      Total after-tax income is rising faster than borrowing. That trend has boosted Americans’ debts, as a percentage of income, to 99 percent. Before the recession, that ratio had peaked at about 125 percent, an unsustainable level in the view of many economists.

      Paul Edelstein, an economist at IHS Global Insight, says that improving household finances could make Americans more willing to spend. But that could hinge on their willingness to borrow. If consumers remain hesitant to take on more debt, their improved finances won’t necessary lead to big gains in spending.


      Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber


      Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

      Far-Right Lobby Group ALEC Brags That All Politicians in Two State Legislatures Are Members

      Politicians of two Midwestern states are in cahoots with one of America's most destructive organizations.
      December 10, 2013
      The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council claims that every member of the state legislature in two states belongs to ALEC.

      Recently leaked documents from the ALEC Board Meeting, Aug. 6, 2013, Chicago, Illinois, list the number and percentage of each state's legislature that have signed onto ALEC. Under "# of Legislators," and "# of ALEC Members," Iowa has 150 in each column, and South Dakota has 105 in each column. The third column, for both states, shows the "% of ALEC Membership in Legislature" as being "100%." At the opposite end, the lowest percentage is 1%, in New York. The second-lowest is New Jersey, 2%. The third and fourth lowest, tied, are just 4%, in both Maine and Vermont. The fifth-lowest is New Hampshire, 6%. That table appears on page 39 of the report.

      Page 20 presents the text of the oath of office that the leading ALEC member in each state must swear to in order to win or retain his position: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first."

      When asked about this, ALEC's senior director of public affairs told Britain's Guardian, "All legislators are beholden to their constituents' interests first — if they are not, they will be held accountable at the ballot box."

      In other words, if ALEC's lead legislator in any state violates his oath to ALEC, he stands to lose the vast campaign contributions from the corporations that fund ALEC. The purpose of those corporate campaign donations is to make sure that state legislators are "held accountable" to ALEC. ALEC survives by persuading conservative voters to vote for the stooges the corporations that fund ALEC want to write the laws for them.

      In some countries, this is called corruption, or even fascism, but in the United States, it's called politics, or even (by the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court) freedom of speech.

      A few members of ALEC are conservative Democrats, whom the large corporations support only because most of the voters in those districts already know that the Republican Party is controlled by large international corporations (which are sometimes called, in the U.S., "Wall Street"). The best-financed Democrats in those less right-wing districts are usually the most conservative Democrats there.

      This is how American politics is controlled from the top. It's also why the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth of all of the world's economically developed nations. When a few aristocrats control the minds of many fools, that's what happens, and it's not democracy but instead the Orwellian opposite, commonly called fascism.

      Pages 15 and 17 of the report contain a "Memorandum" to ALEC from its law firm, explaining how the so-called "Jeffersonian Project, Inc., has been established as an organization exempt from tax," and by means of which sub-organization their mega-corporate sponsors can get tax-deductions for their lobbying expenses, via ALEC. The lawyer says, "The Jeffersonian Project is indirectly controlled by ALEC through a provision in its bylaws requiring that its board of directors be appointed (or removed) by ALEC."

      These people aren't kidding around, and all other U.S. taxpayers have to take up the tax-load the controlling elite slough off in this way. Conservatives say that such "social services" (ALEC is, after all, an "educational organization") should be shed by government and performed instead by the private sector, via charities, which are really just ways for these people to get tax writeoffs for things like lobbying the legislators and propagandizing the public. It's a smart business plan, used by many astroturg groups whose top executives receive considerable remuneration for their services to the aristocracy.


      Middle class getting priced out of ski trips

      By Rob Lovitt, NBC News contributor Monday 09 December 2013CNBC

      Skiers and snowboarders searching for "the steep and deep" this winter may find the concept has taken on a much less appealing connotation: The price of the sport is getting so steep that some believe it may be becoming the exclusive domain of those whose pockets are exceedingly deep.

      "You have the haves and the have mores," said Douglas Quinby, principal analyst at PhoCusWright, which conducts market research on the travel industry. "When you factor in the airfare of the typical ski trip, the accommodations and the length of stay, you're talking about a pretty significant penny."

      Coupled with lift tickets that can top $100 per day and clothing and equipment that can cost thousands, it's not surprising that both the industry and its fans are concerned about the sports' long-term viability for those of more modest means.

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      Skiing, of course, has never been considered an inexpensive activity, but the sport has seen a significant upward shift in visitor demographics in recent years.

      Last year, 54 percent of skier visits, defined as one skier/snowboarder riding for one day, came from households earning more than $100,000, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). That's up from 48 percent five years ago, a 12.5 percent increase.

      In contrast, visits from households earning less than $100,000 during the same period slipped from 52 percent to 46 percent-an 11.5 percent decrease.

      "They're chasing existing customers who have the money to spend rather than going after new customers," said Roger Marolt, a lifelong skier and Aspen resident. "They're creating all these expensive amenities to attract them, which drives the price of skiing up even further."

      (Read more: Unused vacation: Too afraid to stay away? )

      The average weekend lift-ticket price last season was $85.52, which was actually a bargain compared to the $129 you'd have paid if you walked up to a ticket window at Vail or Beaver Creek last Christmas. This year, Deer Valley, Jackson Hole, Park City and Sun Valley have all joined Aspen and Vail in charging $100 or more for a lift ticket during peak periods.

      Such prices clearly play into the perception that skiing is the exclusive domain of the well-heeled, but it's also true that few people pay such stratospheric rates. More than half of so-called ski travelers (as opposed to day-trippers) now buy their tickets at least a week in advance and just under half buy them online, garnering potentially significant discounts by doing so, according to Quinby's research.

      Many get discounts as part of lodging packages that include multi-day lift tickets; others by taking advantage of "dynamic-pricing systems" that peg prices to seasonal demand and how far in advance they buy.

      "Selling lift tickets at the window is like the airline industry selling all its tickets at the counter," said Evan Reece, co-founder and CEO of Liftopia, which sells online advance tickets, rentals and other products to 250 resorts around the world.

      For those willing to commit in advance, the site offers deals such as day tickets at Smugglers' Notch, Vt., in December for as low as $38 (43 percent off) and 5 of 7 day tickets at Sun Valley, Idaho, in January for $261 (45 percent off). There's even a one-day lift ticket and bacon Bloody Mary deal at Arapahoe Basin, Colo., for as low as $58 (24 percent off).

      Other skiers and snowboarders save big bucks by buying season passes, some of which pay for themselves in as few as five or six visits. Traditionally offered by individual resorts and pegged toward locals, newer passes such as Vail Resorts' Epic Pass (unlimited skiing at 12 resorts for $729) and the Mountain Collective pass (12 days at six destinations for $379) extend the concept to those who don't live at the base of the hill.

      (Read more: Bitcoins in a fountain: Travelers make a go )

      "If you look at the season pass deals out there, by some definitions skiing has never been more affordable for our core participants," said Michael Berry, NSAA president.

      And therein lies the proverbial rub. That core audience is getting older and they're not being replaced by enough new participants to grow the sport. Last year, the median age on the slopes was 38, compared to 34 a decade ago, a worrisome shift for the industry.

      The overall result is little or no growth in participation and the potential for future declines as baby boomers "age out" of the sport. Last year, skier visits hit 56.9 million, an increase of 11 percent over 2011 - which was the worst season in 20 years - but still below the sport's 10-year average of 57.4 million.

      The challenges are only expected to grow. As the major resorts spend millions on new lifts and posh lodges, smaller areas - so-called "feeder and breeder" resorts - can't afford to offer competitive amenities. In 1978, there were approximately 700 ski areas in the U.S.; last year, there were only 477.

      The future of the ski industry, Quinby said, looks increasingly like the travel industry at large: a two-tiered market in which wealthier participants are more optimistic, more able to travel and more willing to accept higher costs. The rest, by contrast, are less optimistic and less likely to spend - with one major caveat.

      Regardless of their economic status, skiers and snowboarders are nothing if not passionate about the sport, and most will find a way to satisfy their passion.

      They're people like Elizabeth Rodgers, a lifelong skier who lives in Boise, Idaho. She can hit the local slopes at Bogus Basin, where season passes sold for $229 earlier this year, or drive 2.5 hours to Sun Valley, where day tickets during peak periods are $105.

      For Rodgers, a mother of two who skis about 20 times a year, the economics are simple: "Bogus is much smaller but it's accessible, it's affordable and you can still ski a lot."

      And Sun Valley? "It's just heaven-it's only gotten more beautiful and more fancy-but only the one percent can afford to have a real family vacation there."


      New Report Sheds Light on Damage From BP Oil Spill

      By Al Jazeera America http://america.aljazeera.com/ and The Associated Press

      09 December 2013

      The report, presented by US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, was met with complaints from environmental activists.

      new federal proposal on remedies to damage stemming from the 2010 BP oil spill shed light on the environmental impact of the spill, and caused controversy among environmentalists when it was presented Friday.

      U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell presented the plan of 44 restoration projects at a national park outside New Orleans.

      The report also included briefs of several studies that provided clues as to the extent of the damage caused by the spill. The studies showed myriad environmental issues that could be traced back to the incident, including trouble with growing oysters, concerns about the health of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, waterfowl and coral reefs, according to analysis by the Times-Picayune.

      Money for the projects is coming from a $1 billion fund for early restoration work created in response to the damage caused to 1,110 miles of beaches and marsh along Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig disaster in 2010. BP will also have to pay potentially billions more once a lawsuit is settled in the coming months.

      "The Gulf of Mexico watershed is a large and diverse landscape that is critical to our nation's culture, economy and environment," Jewell said in prepared remarks. "Today's announcement is an important step as we work to not only restore the natural resources that were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but to also build back the resiliency of the region."

      If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.

      Some of the projects, though, are being criticized by environmentalists as inappropriate uses of money that's meant to aid the environment and restore public access lost during the oil spill.

      Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, said the pot of money that includes these grants is supposed to restore environments or lost access to the coast, but shouldn't be used for tourism.

      Her group's biggest criticism is of the $85 million that Alabama wants to spend at its Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. Much of that money would go to build a new hotel that would be leased out to a private operator. Sarthou said the hotel could damage habitat of an endangered beach mouse species.

      "They are essentially building a tourist attraction," Sarthou said of the plan.

      Alabama officials have been considering various hotel plans since before 2004's Hurricane Ivan destroyed a beachfront lodge at the park, in hopes of luring convention business that now gravitates to Florida.

      Sarthou is also critical of some of Mississippi's plans, including a proposal to spend $10.4 million on the Infinity Science Center along Interstate 10 near Pearlington. She says the plan to install Gulf-related exhibits and a trail to the Pearl River isn't appropriate.

      Of the new projects, 16 have been added in Florida since a preliminary announcement last spring, giving Florida more than $105 million from the fund. Based on a list provided by the Interior Department, most of the new Florida projects appear to be piers, boat ramps, boardwalks and other recreational facilities.

      Louisiana, which had the widest expanse of oiled coast, is the only state that does not have tourism or recreation projects in the latest batch of projects. Its $340 million includes $318.4 million to restore four barrier islands and $22 million for fish hatcheries.

      Meetings will be held across the coast to get public comment on the 44 proposals.

      Jewell took an aerial tour of the Gulf on Thursday and visited the Breton and Big Branch national wildlife refuges.

      "When Hurricane Katrina came along, it wiped out about 70 percent of the whole refuge, and yet it's critical habitat" for birds such as brown pelicans, terns and skimmers, Jewell said. "Close to 30 percent of all the brown pelican habitat in the northern Gulf is in this very small island" called North Breton Island, she said.

      About $72 million of the BP money would go for restoration there, she said.

      Some real good comments at the URL.

      Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools are Often Destructive, Fueling a School to Prison Pipeline

      States are realizing that when it comes to student behavior, positive reinforcement may deliver better results than punitive measures.
      December 6, 2013
      In 2011, a 13-year-old student in Albuquerque, New Mexico burped audibly in class (perhaps the school lunch didn’t agree with him). His instructor summoned the school resource officer, one of a new generation of police officers and specially trained go-betweens stationed in school environments, and the student found himself booked into a juvenile detention facility. He had fallen victim to his school’s zero-tolerance policy, a framework used across the nation to crack down fast and hard on unwanted behaviors, but one that has resulted in what critics are calling a school-to-prison pipeline, as students are fast-tracked to juvenile courts for offenses like writing their names on desks.

      It’s a pipeline that consumes some students more than others; students of color and disabled students are being suspended, expelled, and sent into the justice system at much higher rates than their white, nondisabled counterparts. Growing criticism of zero-tolerance policies has highlighted the way they ruin lives, burden the justice system and create more work for everyone, with experts like the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) noting that “research [on such policies] indicates that, as implemented, zero tolerance policies are ineffective in the long run and are related to a number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school drop-out and discriminatory application of school discipline practices.”

      Forcing students out of school and onto the street or into the justice system, it turns out, may not be the best way of dealing with behavioral infractions. In recognition of the mounting evidence against zero-tolerance policies and the increasing outcry to radically rethink disciplinary policies, school districts in several parts of the country are now dropping or radically modifying their zero-tolerance policies, including in locales like Broward County, Florida.

      Florida is a particularly interesting locale for a test case, since the Florida Code specifically carries a segment discouraging widespread use of such tactics. In Section 1006.13(1), the legislature states:

      “It is the intent of the Legislature to promote a safe and supportive learning environment in schools, to protect students and staff from conduct that poses a serious threat to school safety, and to encourage schools to use alternatives to expulsion or referral to law enforcement agencies by addressing disruptive behavior through restitution, civil citation, teen court, neighborhood restorative justice, or similar programs. The Legislature finds that zero-tolerance policies are not intended to be rigorously applied to petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors, including, but not limited to, minor fights or disturbances. The Legislature finds that zero-tolerance policies must apply equally to all students regardless of their economic status, race, or disability.”

      Florida schools, in other words, have been put on notice by the legislature that it wants to see any application of such policies conducted in a fair and reasonable way, and that it would prefer to see schools pursuing alternatives to zero tolerance. Along with schools in New York, Chicago and other locations across the country, Broward County is exploring what that looks like for students, administrators and teachers.

      NASP has identified three areas of focus when it comes to replacing zero tolerance with a more holistic and effective disciplinary approach: violence prevention, early intervention, and social skills training and behavioral support. Intervention not just from instructors but also from social workers, siblings, parents, and other potential authority figures is considered an important element of these alternatives to zero tolerance, creating a supportive but firm environment for students who may experience behavioral problems.

      Students in schools that are rethinking the zero-tolerance approach to discipline are attending counseling, completing community service, and going to behavior intervention programs when they commit behavioral infractions, rather than being sent to court. This keeps them in the educational environment instead of pushing them out of school, and it minimizes contact with the juvenile justice system. If offenses escalate, students face more severe consequences, culminating in the risk of a referral to court if other means are not effective. The focus on rehabilitation and integration into the school community may reduce the risks that a student will drop out or move on to more violent and antisocial behaviors outside of school—as it stands now, such policies clearly increase dropout and arrest rates, and, in cases like Chicago, are contributing to “ school deserts,” where students have nowhere to go thanks to a combination of zero tolerance policies and school closures.


      Female Libido Drug Remains in Limbo

      WASHINGTON December 11, 2013 (AP)
      By MATTHEW PERRONE AP Health Writer

      The multi-decade search for a pill that boosts sexual desire in women has hit another roadblock, raising questions about the future of efforts to develop a female equivalent to Viagra.

      Sprout Pharmaceuticals said Wednesday it has reached an impasse with the Food and Drug Administration over its drug, flibanserin. The daily pill is designed to increase libido in women by acting on brain chemicals linked to mood and appetite.

      The FDA questions whether the drug's benefits outweigh its risks, considering its "modest" effectiveness and side effects including fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

      Sprout, based in Raleigh, N.C., said it is appealing an October letter from the FDA that denied approval and asked for more information. But chances for approval appear slim: Of the 17 appeals FDA considered last year, 14 were denied, according to government figures.

      The agency's latest rejection raises serious questions for more than a half-dozen companies working to develop therapies for women who report stress due to lack of libido. It's a market drugmakers have been trying to tap since the blockbuster success of Viagra, an erectile-dysfunction drug approved in the late 1990s to increase blood flow to the genitals.

      But unlike sexual problems in men, most of women's sexual issues are psychological, not physical. As a result, there are a number of alternate causes doctors must consider before diagnosing female sexual desire disorders, including relationship problems, hormone disorders, depression and mood issues caused by other medications.

      Experts say that developing drugs for female sexual dysfunction is so difficult because of how poorly we understand the root causes.

      "Erectile dysfunction is a really easy thing to measure," says Emory University researcher Kim Wallen. "Motivation is a hard thing to measure and, quite honestly, we don't know enough about what creates sexual motivation to manipulate it."

      And Dr. Virginia Sadock, a psychiatrist, says the idea that a single pill can restore female libido oversimplifies the problem. Even if the FDA eventually approves a drug for female sexual dysfunction, she says it will likely be used with non-drug techniques to reduce stress and improve self-image.

      "A pill just doesn't take care of it," says Sadock, who teaches human sexuality at New York University's School of Medicine. "You may take a statin drug to control your cholesterol, great. But you should also exercise and you should also watch your diet."

      Drugmakers have made several unsuccessful attempts at tweaking their approach to boosting female libido over the years. Initially, Pfizer tested Viagra on women, hoping that the drug's ability to increase blood flow to genitals would increase sex drive in women.

      When that didn't work, drugmakers turned to hormones, including the male hormone testosterone. In 2004, an FDA panel rejected Procter & Gamble's testosterone patch, Intrinsa, due to questions about its long-term safety — despite evidence of effectiveness.

      Sprout's flibanserin is the first drug to approach the problem through brain chemistry. Sprout acquired flibanserin from Boehringer Ingelheim in 2011, after the German drugmaker abandoned development of the pill following an FDA rejection letter.

      Researchers believe the drug works by boosting dopamine — a brain transmitter associated with appetite — while lowering serotonin — another transmitter linked with feelings of satiation. Studies of the drug show that it boosts sexual desire, reduces stress and increases "sexually satisfying events," reported by women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or a lack of sexual appetite that causes stress.

      Amanda Blackie of Nashville, Tenn., said she decided to enroll in a trial of the drug after noticing a lack of sexual interest in her fiancé. After a few weeks on flibanserin, Blackie said she got sexual cravings from simply talking to her partner on the phone — something she'd never experienced before.

      Still, identifying the original source of her low libido is tricky. Like many women, Blackie talks about the demands of working a full-time job and caring for her teenage children.

      "We're so consumed and so bogged down ... that most women are too tired to mess with it," Blackie, 50, says.

      Despite experiences of women like Blackie, the FDA has twice rejected flibanserin since 2010. A key issue for the agency is that women taking the drug reported only 1.7 more satisfying sexual experiences per month than women taking placebo.

      Sprout executives argue that number is statistically significant and warrants approval for their product, considering there are no other drugs approved for the condition.

      "We've now got 24 drugs for men for either testosterone replacement or erectile dysfunction," says Cindy Whitehead, Sprout's chief operating officer. "Yet there are zero drugs for the most common form of sexual dysfunction in women."

      The FDA, which does not comment on drugs under appeal, is expected to make a decision on Sprout's appeal in the first quarter of next year.

      Out There

      Intellectuals on a Mission

      ‘The Unbelievers’ Chronicles Road Tripping Scientists Promoting Reason

      Published: December 9, 2013

      Two years ago, a pair of scientists set off on a barnstorming tour to save the world from religion, promote science and reason, and sell a few books.

      Their adventure is now the subject of “The Unbelievers,” a documentary out just in time for Christmas, opening for a week in Manhattan on Friday.

      If you think a road trip with a pair of intellectuals wielding laptops is likely to lack drama, you haven’t been keeping up with the culture wars. A reviewer in The Los Angeles Times called it “a high-minded love fest between two deeply committed atheistic intellectuals and their rock-star-like fan base.”

      The Bing Crosby and Bob Hope of this road movie — alas, there is no Dorothy Lamour — are Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, recently retired from the post of professor of public understanding of science at Oxford University, and Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist at Arizona State University. They are among the most outspoken of the “new atheists”: scientists and other intellectuals who have tired of having sand kicked in their faces by the priests and mullahs of the world. So the scientists are indeed mobbed like rock stars at glamorous sites like the Sydney Opera House. Inside, they sometimes encounter clueless moderators; outside, demonstrators condemning them to hellfire. At one event, a group of male Muslim protesters are confronted by counterprotesters chanting, “Where are your women?” In between, there are airports and taxi rides and endless cups of coffee.

      "The Unbelievers" official movie trailer.
      They make an engaging, if contrasting, couple. Dr. Dawkins, perhaps the world’s best-known atheist after the success of his books “The Selfish Gene” and “The God Delusion,” cuts a dapper figure, often in a suit and flowery tie, a shock of silver hair falling across his forehead. “Science is wonderful; science is beautiful,” he says in that irresistible English accent. “Religion is not wonderful; it is not beautiful. It gets in the way.”

      Dr. Krauss, the author of “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing,” is more rumpled, peppery and casual; his wardrobe often features red sneakers. He comes across as a tireless fount of ideas and quips, with a puppy-dog enthusiasm for science and the spotlight, dancing on the stage in one affecting moment and eager to provoke. At one point, Dr. Krauss asks his companion which he would prefer: “a chance to explain science or destroy religion?”

      He is blessed with a professional’s sense of comedic timing.

      “I’ve told you that you are far more insignificant than you ever thought,” he tells an audience, after explaining that the universe can spring from nothing, with no recourse to a God or a miracle. “And that’s what I want you to celebrate,” he continues, to laughter. Instead of being depressed or looking to God to give your life meaning, “You create your own meaning and enjoy your moment in the sun,” he says. Gus Holwerda, the movie’s director and co-writer with his brother Luke and Dr. Krauss, said he got the idea after attending a symposium in 2009 on the subject of origins, organized by Dr. Krauss. The university auditorium was packed and sold out for 12 hours of talks by scientists like Dr. Dawkins and Stephen Hawking.

      “I was like a fan boy, ranting and raving,” Mr. Holwerda recalled. “We’ve been in bands. It felt very rock ‘n’ roll in a way.” He pestered Dr. Krauss to make what he called a rock-tour film about science.

      As it happened, Dr. Krauss had just arranged a book tour of Australia with Dr. Dawkins. Dr. Krauss found funding for the film, which made him a producer.

      So off they went for six months, Australia to England and points in between. This is a road warrior movie. True to its intended genre, there are many airports and hotels, lugging of laptops and scenes in quiet backstage rooms that end with the passage into warm thunderous applause by the audience. A few quips and we’re off again on another airplane, helped along by a lively soundtrack, gazing out the window at another set of clouds and landscapes.

      You don’t need to know much about biology or physics to follow what amounts to highlight reels of the speeches the scientists gave, although an explanation by Dr. Dawkins about why there was no “first man” or “first rabbit” could be worth the price of your ticket.

      Evolutionary change is simply too slow and imperceptible for humans to notice, he says, adding, “Nobody ever goes to bed middle-aged and wakes up and says, oh no I’m old.”

      Nor should you expect to hear much about the other side of the culture wars, either from the religious establishment or from scientists and thinkers who argue that the new atheists are too abrasive or naïve about theology and philosophy.

      Dr. Krauss’s last book received a rocky reception from some philosophers, who said it left unanswered where the laws of physics themselves came from.

      George V. Coyne — an astronomer, Jesuit priest and former director of the Vatican Observatory, now a professor of religion at Le Moyne College in Syracuse — wrote in a 2000 book on religion and the evolution of life, for example, that the success of modern science has trapped many of us into thinking of God as explanation, thus the notion of finding the “mind of God” as the ultimate goal.

      But he wrote, “We know from Scripture and from tradition that God revealed himself as one who pours out himself in love and not as one who explains things.” God, he goes on, is primarily love: “Even if we discover the ‘Mind of God,’ we will not have necessarily found God.”

      In the lectures presented here, however, Dr. Krauss and Dr. Dawkins are preaching mostly to the converted — or if you like, the unconverted — people hungry for plain, honest talk about the universe and the plight of humans in it.

      The movie ends at the Reason Rally in Washington, billed as the largest convention of atheists in history. Dr. Dawkins looks out at the crowd standing in a light rain and pronounces it “the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing.”

      Dr. Dawkins, who we have seen earlier speculating on which recent American presidents were secret atheists, declares that too many people have been cowed out of coming out as atheists, secularists or agnostics. “We are far more numerous than anybody realizes,” he said.

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