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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Daily Drift

So want to be there

Carolina Naturally is read in 191 countries around the world daily.

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Today is National Honesty Day

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Editor's Note: It also happens to be Beltane the Celtic Festival of Fire today.

Today in History

313   Licinius unifies the whole of the eastern Roman Empire under his own rule.
1250   King Louis IX of France is ransomed.
1527   Henry VIII of England and King Francis of France sign treaty of Westminster.
1563   All Jews are expelled from France by order of Charles VI.
1725   Spain withdraws from the Quadruple Alliance.
1789   George Washington is inaugurated as the first U.S. president.
1803   The United States doubles in size through the Louisiana Purchase, which was sold by France for $15 million.
1812   Louisiana is admitted into the Union as a state.
1849   Giuseppe Garabaldi, the Italian patriot and guerrilla leader, repulses a French attack on Rome.
1864   Work begins on the Dams along the Red River, which will allow Union General Nathaniel Banks' troops to sail over the rapids above Alexandria, Louisiana.
1930   The Soviet Union proposes a military alliance with France and Great Britain.
1931   The George Washington Bridge, linking New York City and New Jersey, opens.
1943   The British submarine HMS Seraph drops 'the man who never was,' a dead man the British planted with false invasion plans, into the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain.
1945   Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his bunker. Karl Donitz becomes his successor.
1968   U.S. Marines attack a division of North Vietnamese troops in the village of Dai Do.
1970   U.S. troops invade Cambodia to disrupt North Vietnamese Army base areas.
1972   The North Vietnamese launch an invasion of the South.
1973   Nixon announces the resignation of H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and other top aides.
1975   North Vietnamese troops enter the Independence Palace of South Vietnam in Saigon ending the Vietnam War.
1980   Terrorists seize the Iranian Embassy in London.

Non Sequitur


Betty Freeman's Day in Court

vColonel John Ashley House, Sheffield, Massachusetts.  Eighty years before the Emancipation Proclamation freed American slaves, a Massachusetts woman helped free the slaves of that state … just by going to court.


In 1773 the leading citizens of Sheffield, Massachusetts, met in the home of Colonel John Ashley and drafted the document that some historians have called America's first Declaration of Independence, the Sheffield Declaration. "Mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other," it stated, "and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty, and property."

vIronically, as the men toiled over the document, which protested English tyranny, they were waited on by Betty Freeman (also called Elizabeth, or Bett), Colonel Ashley's slave. He'd bought several slaves when they were only babies, and they'd been held in involuntary servitude ever since.

Freeman overheard the repeated talk of liberty as the men drafted the Sheffield Declaration. She heard more of the same three years later, when Ashley and his associates discussed the Declaration of Independence, which stated, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." She got an earful in 1780, when Ashley and his friends mulled over the new Massachusetts constitution, which proclaimed that "all men are born free and equal, and have the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties."


These were noble words, but none of them were meant to apply to Freeman -not even after her husband, also a slave, gave his life fighting on the American side during the Revolutionary War. Born into slavery, Betty, her sister, and all their descendants would live in slavery forever if Colonel Ashley and others like him had their way.


As deeply as she resented her lack of freedom, Betty got along with Colonel Ashley. Not so with his wife, Hannah, a petty tyrant who cruelly beat her slaves over the tiniest transgression. Once, when she had caught Betty's sister, Lizzie, eating leftover scraps of bread dough, Mrs. Ashley accused her of "stealing" food and swung at her with a hot shovel pulled from the fireplace. Betty blocked the blow intended for her sister and received a gash on her arm that cut all the way to the bone. She carried that scar for the rest of her life.

vIt wasn't long after that incident that Freeman happened to visit the village meeting house while the Declaration of Independence was being read aloud. Maybe it was the fresh wound on her arm, maybe it was hearing the words of equality and freedom spoken one more time …whatever it was, something clicked inside her. The next day, she left the Ashleys and walked over to the offices of Theodore Sedgwick, a lawyer and vocal opponent of slavery. Freeman knew him because he was one of the people who had helped draft the Sheffield Declaration.

"Sir," she asked, "I heard that paper read yesterday, that says all men are born equal, and that every man had a right to freedom. I am not a dumb critter; won't the law give me my freedom?"


Wouldn't it? How could a state that proclaimed "all men are born free and equal" and was part of a country that believed "all men are created equal" reconcile these statements with the institution of slavery? Sedgwick agreed with Freeman: It couldn't. He decided to help her by filing a lawsuit to win her freedom, on the grounds that the language of the new state constitution made slavery illegal.

The laws of Massachusetts at the end of the 18th century were quite peculiar by modern standards: They defined slaves as property, but also recognized that they are human beings, which meant that they had legal standing in state courts and could file lawsuits. In recent years a number of slaves had sued for their freedom and won, but not by challenging the legality of slavery directly. If a slave could prove that their mother had been born free, they could regain their freedom. Likewise, if a slave owner had made a promise to free a slave and then reneged, the slave could sue on the grounds of breach of promise. Freeman's lawsuit was different: It would be the first to challenge the legality of slavery itself.


The new state constitution had been in effect for less than a year when Sedgwick went to court in May 1781 and filed what was called a "writ of replevin." The writ ordered Colonel Ashley to surrender property -Betty and another slave, Brom, who had joined the suit- that wasn't rightfully his. When Ashley refused to obey the writ, a trial was scheduled for the following August.

Colonel Ashley probably didn't realize it at the time, but the odds were against him from the start. Although slavery was still legal in Massachusetts, it had become very unpopular. The case was going to be tried before a jury, at a time when citizens of Massachusetts were still fighting in the Revolutionary War. These people took their freedoms seriously. And sure enough, when the trial was over, the jury decided in favor of Betty and Brom. The court set both of them free and ordered Ashley to pay them 30 shillings in damages, plus court costs.


Brom and Bett v. Ashely was a lower court case and did not set much of a precedent -Brom and Betty were the only slaves freed by the decision. But it did set a precedent of another kind, demonstrating that if slaves went to court to win their freedom, juries were very likely to give it to them. Slavery began to die a death of a thousand cuts in Massachusetts as other slaves filed lawsuits or just walked away from their owners, knowing that the owners couldn't turn to the law for assistance. Owning slaves in the state had suddenly become a very risky business.

Another nail in slavery's coffin came as the result of a second lawsuit, filed in 1781 by a slave named Quock Walker, who sued his owner in civil court for assault and battery after the owner beat him for trying to escape. Walker not only won the case and £50 in damages, but the attorney general prosecuted his owner on criminal charges of assault and battery. The case went all the way to the Supreme Judicial Cvourt, the state's highest court. Once again the jury sided with the slave, by finding his owner guilty and fining him 40 shillings.

Chief Justice William Cushing's instructions to the jury turned out to be even more important than their decision. He stated that "perpetual servitude can no longer be tolerated in our government; and …liberty can only be forfeited by criminal conduct or relinquished by personal consent." Cushing's words weren't legally binding but they may as well have been -they made it clear that the court was against slavery. Without the protection of the law, slavery was doomed in Massachusetts.


Theodore Sedgwick, the lawyer who had helped Betty Freeman, went on to an illustrious career in politics and law. He served in both houses of state government, as well as in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, where he was Speaker of the House from 1799 to 1801. In 1802 he became a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, and served there until his death in 1813.

vWhat happened to Brom is unknown; after the case ended he disappeared into history. We do know what happened to Betty, however. After Colonel Ashley lost the case, he asked Betty to come back and work for wages. Would you have accepted such an offer? Neither did Betty -she went to work for Theodore Sedgwick instead. After many years, she saved enough money to buy her own house and retire. When she died in 1829 at about the age of 85, she was buried in the Sedgwick family plot in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where her grave can still be seen today. One of her great-grandchildren was W.E.B. DuBois, one of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century.


Many years after Betty's death, Theodore Sedgwick's daughter Catherine recounted Betty's explanation of what freedom meant to her: "Any time while I was a slave," she said, "if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told that I must die at the end of the minute, I would have taken it just to stand one minute on god's earth as a free woman."

Austerity is bad for our health

Austerity is having a devastating effect on health in Europe and North America, driving suicide, depression and infectious diseases and reducing access to medicines and care, researchers have said. Detailing a decade of research, Oxford University's David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, from Stanford University, said their findings show austerity is seriously bad for health it is reported by RTE News.
In a book to be published this week, the researchers say that over 10,000 suicides and up to a million cases of depression have been diagnosed during what they call the "Great Recession" and its accompanying austerity across Europe and North America. In Greece, moves like cutting HIV prevention budgets have coincided with rates of the AIDS-causing virus rising by over 200pc since 2011.
This is driven in part by increasing drug abuse in the context of a 50pc youth unemployment rate. Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades following budget cuts to mosquito-spraying programmes.
And more than five million Americans have lost access to healthcare during the latest recession, they argue, while in Britain, some 10,000 families have been pushed into homelessness by the government's austerity budget. "Our politicians need to take into account the serious - and in some cases profound - health consequences of economic choices," said David Stuckler, a senior researcher at Oxford University and co-author of ''The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills''. "The harms we have found include HIV and malaria outbreaks, shortages of essential medicines, lost healthcare access, and an avoidable epidemic of alcohol abuse, depression and suicide," he said in a statement. "Austerity is having a devastating effect."
Previous studies by Stuckler published in journals such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal have linked rising suicide rates in some parts of Europe to biting austerity measures, and found HIV epidemics to be spreading amid cutbacks in services to vulnerable people.
But Stuckler and Basu said negative public health effects are not inevitable, even during the worst economic disasters. Using data from the Great Depression of the 1930s, to post-communist Russia and from some examples of the current economic downturn, they say financial crises can be prevented from becoming epidemics - if governments respond effectively.

Japan Needs More Than a Devalued Yen

Namiki hasn't upgraded his machinery since 1989
by Jason Clenfield 

The last time Masao Namiki bought machinery for his business, Emperor Hirohito had just died and Japanese investors were congratulating themselves on snapping up New York’s Rockefeller Center. That was 1989, a year before Japan’s overheated economy began to unravel. The $1 million that Namiki borrowed to buy computerized lathes and drills for his industrial molds company almost bankrupted him when orders from customers including Canon (CAJ) and Panasonic (6752) evaporated amid a stock market and real estate crash that erased $15 trillion in wealth. The bubble, and the five recessions that followed, help explain why many executives are less confident than investors that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic program, with its mix of monetary and fiscal stimulus, can succeed in pulling Japan out of its decades-long slump. Namiki says there isn’t enough demand to justify expansion—even if a five-month slide has pushed the yen to a four-year low. “The work’s just not there,” the 72-year-old says from his small factory in Tokyo’s Ota industrial district, where he and a handful of employees have crafted thousands of steel molds used to make phones, stereos, and keyboards.
While Japanese multinationals such as Toyota Motor (TM) and Fast Retailing (9983) are benefiting from Abenomics—as the prime minister’s policies are known—the weaker yen does little to help most businesses now that exports contribute only 15 percent of gross domestic product, says Martin Schulz, an economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo. “Look how many employees Toyota has at home, having 60 percent of its production outside Japan. And look at how many people are standing behind convenience store cash registers.”
Boosting investment and hiring at home is key to Abe’s plans for reviving the economy. But companies are gun-shy about borrowing from decades of paying down debt, says Richard Koo, chief economist at Nomura Research Institute in Tokyo. The collapse of Japan’s bubble wiped out the equivalent of three years of GDP, compared with one year in the 1929 U.S. crash, notes Koo. “Many who lived through the Great Depression never borrowed again,” he says.
To revive the economy’s animal spirits, Abe and his handpicked Bank of Japan governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, say they will spark inflation by doubling the money in circulation. Abe wants to make Japan more hospitable to business by cutting corporate taxes, making it easier to fire workers, and reducing electricity prices through competition. In order to get much of that done, his Liberal Democratic Party must first win back control of the upper house in July elections, reprising its December sweep in the lower house. Investors are hopeful: The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index is up 30 percent this year. “The currency has done a lot to improve sentiment,” says Kathy Matsui, chief Japan equity strategist at Goldman Sachs. “But it’s not just that. It’s that we finally got a government that’s pro-growth.”
Some companies are “beginning to see the light,” in the words of Toyota President Akio Toyoda, thanks to the more advantageous exchange rate. The automaker books an extra 35 billion yen ($352 million) in operating profit for every 1 yen the currency falls against the dollar and will probably report its biggest annual profit in five years on May 8. Nevertheless, Toyoda in April announced plans to start building Lexus sedans in Kentucky as part of his quest to “become free of currency risk.”
Shin-Etsu Chemical, the world’s No. 1 maker of plastics used in pipes and silicon wafers for chips, has prospered with a similar strategy: Two-thirds of the $29 billion company’s sales are overseas, where most of its factories are. Shin-Etsu hasn’t had a loss since Chihiro Kanagawa started running it in 1990, while its stock has almost quadrupled.
In an interview at his Tokyo office, the 87-year-old Kanagawa dismissed Abenomics with a wave of his hand. “I couldn’t care less,” he says. “I don’t depend on the government, anywhere.” Then he reeled off a slew of figures to show why he probably won’t build his next plant in Japan. For example, electricity costs 13 yen per kilowatt-hour, vs. 5 yen in the U.S. Shin-Etsu inaugurated a plant in China last month and will open a new one in the U.S. next year. “If you invest enough money and buy the best machinery, anybody can make good products,” Chairman Kanagawa says. “But if you can’t sell at the right price, you’re going to lose money.”
The bottom line: Despite the market’s embrace of Abenomics, the weaker yen will help only a minority of Japanese businesses.

The truth hurts

Why do governments get Internet surveillance so wrong?

The UK Open Rights Group has just published "Why the Snoopers’ Charter is the wrong approach: A call for targeted and accountable investigatory powers," a digital paper on why and how governments go terribly wrong with Internet surveillance proposals, and what a reasonable and accountable form of surveillance would look like. Jim Killock from ORG sez,
After the Snoopers' Charter debacle, the Open Rights Group asks why intrusive new laws are being suggested, if they are needed at all and what the alternatives are. Some of the UK's most prominent surveillance experts examine the history of UK surveillance law and the challenges posed by the explosion of digital datasets. Contributors include journalist Duncan Campbell, legal expert Angela Patrick from Justice, Richard Clayton of Cambridge University Computer Labs and Peter Sommer, Visiting Professor at De Montfort University.

Justices decline to review Alabama immigration law

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review part of an Alabama law that makes it a crime to harbor and transport illegal immigrants.
People walk in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Alabama asked the high court to hear the case after an appeals court blocked enforcement of the provision at the Obama administration's request. The White House said Alabama's law was trumped by federal immigration law.

The truth be told

Did anti-immigrant policies help create a terrorist in Boston?

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder Boston Marathon bombing suspect who died shortly after being captured, was an American immigrant, born in Soviet Russia, pursuing his dream of becoming a professional boxer, and a US citizen.His dreams were shot down just before Tamerlan’s life took a darker course, ending days after he and his brother Dzhokhar allegedly tried to set off four homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon, injuring 264 and killing 3.
This story isn’t about making excuses for terrorists.  It’s about noting a simple, and interesting, fact – that Tamerlan Tsarnaev (allegedly) veered towards terrorism after his American boxing-dream was shattered by the simple fact that he’s an immigrant, and not an US citizen.
Tamerlan’s goal was to make the US Olympic boxing team, which he believed would open the door to his becoming a naturalized US citizen.  It didn’t happen.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bombing Suspect #1
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bombing Suspect #1 
We’ve searched through a large number of stories about this, and they’re all somewhat incomplete, including the NYT’s. What we know is that Tamerlan wanted to become a professional boxer and an American citizen, and in his mind one would help lead to the other.
His plan: To qualify for the US Olympic Team, which he felt would help him become a naturalized citizen (though it’s not entirely clearly how, or why, he thought qualifying for the team would aid his naturalization).
But things never got that far.  While winning two regional boxing championships in New England, Tamerlan’s first try at the national Golden Gloves title (which doesn’t assure qualifying for the Olympics, but certainly helps a lot) failed when he lost in the first round, unfairly many thought.
Tamerlan’s plan was to come back the next year, after winning New England again.  But an angry competitor complained to the boxing authority about his taunting of a competitor, and at the same time the Golden Gloves changed its eligibility rules, banning legal permanent residents from competing – Tamerlan was out, and his boxing dream over.
This happened in 2010.
In 2011, Tamerlan reportedly became a radical.
In 2013, he allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon.
As you can imagine, the far-right Republican base is already up-in-arms over the Times story. How dare the NYT’s report the facts! Especially facts that might, in the eyes of the far right, detract from their preferred “the Koran made him do it” narrative.
Nothing in this new potential narrative detracts from the old. Lots of people lose sports tournaments, and lots don’t make the Olympic team. And most of them don’t turn into terrorists. For whatever reason, Tamerlan appeared to turn more religiously radical, and shortly thereafter, the theory goes, he became a terrorist.
Whether or not anti-immigrant policies helped radicalize Tamerlan, we’ll never know. But it’s certainly fair, and just as necessary, to find out why the Boston Marathon bombing happened, and what would radicalize someone to the point of wanting to kill innocent people.
We do ourselves no favors by refusing to explore every reasonable possibility, even if it means the truth might not end up buttressing our preferred narrative.

The repugicans Have Created a World Where Going to Work Can Get You Killed

Wingnuts spend inordinate amounts of time trying to neuter the government from its role as a regulatory body with the power to rein in corporate depravity. For them, unfettered capitalism is a religion  because the “invisible hand” of the market place is supposed to somehow overcome the malevolent tendencies of the profit-motive and churn out a healthy society.  The rash of employee deaths on the job across a number of industries has received inadequate responses from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for several decades now as conservatives have undermined them. There is one additional guarantee for employers across the country; no matter how egregious their worker safety violations become, they know they will never have to face real criminal consequences.
Outside the Corn Belt, few people realize that corn bins are actually quite dangerous. In 2010, 26 people died by becoming entrapped in corn. They effectively drowned in it as it takes on the qualities of quicksand. There are worker precautions that can limit the risk of this type of accident occurring. However, many businesses have factored in the cost of doing business without safety precautions, and they have decided to risk the lives of their employees. They know that the consequences for allowing one of their workers to die are minimal. Since 1984, fines for grain entrapment deaths have fallen by almost 60%. In fact, according to Jim Morris, a report by the Center for Public Integrity and National Public Radio found, “analysis of OSHA data shows that 179 people died in grain entrapments at commercial facilities — bins, rail cars, etc. — from 1984 through 2012. The fines initially proposed in these cases totaled $9.2 million but were cut to $3.8 million, a reduction of 59 percent.” Penalties like jail time are incredibly limited.
OHSA isn’t doing any better at protecting the oil & gas workforce, steel mill workers, trench diggers, or as we all keenly aware following the West, Texas explosion, chemical plant workers. During a 4-month period in 2010, 58 workers were killed in the oil and gas industry, and one union health and safety inspector notes, “They are basically self-regulated.” It isn’t surprising, because the penalties that OSHA is allowed to assess are among the lowest of any regulatory agency. By law, they haven’t been able to increase penalties with inflation since 1990. They are not even allowed to force an employer to fix a safety hazard after they issue a citation, often settling for a “pledge” from the company to behave. For example, a worker death at Crucible Steel Industries came after OHSA had cited the company for 70 safety violations and issued it $250,000 in fines. These figures stand out, because “serious” violations defined by OSHA as “most likely result in death or serious physical harm” carry a maximum penalty of $7,000 and “willful” violations receive a maximum fine of $36,720.
Of course, the mining industry is notorious for its unsafe conditions with 11 deaths just so far this year, but less well known are the dangers of digging trenches. The deaths of trench diggers are regarded by work safety experts as completely unnecessary. Nonetheless, 200 workers have been killed and scores more injured since 2002 by reckless employers unwilling to invest in the safety precautions. In an older research study published in 1988, researchers found that most workers died in shallow trenches while digging sewer lines. The walls of the trenches had not been shored up or braced. Strikingly, only 12% of such deaths occurred in unionized companies. The average fine per death: $1,991.
Chris Hamby, also of the Center of Public Integrity, explains, “Federal OSHA or the state agencies it oversees have failed to collect any of the original fine in one of every 10 cases since 2001…between the 2006 and 2012 fiscal years, OSHA referred about $131 million in debts to the Treasury Department, but only about $16 million was collected.”
Of course, the tragedy in West, Texas with the explosion of the West Chemical & Fertilizer Company shed light on the lax regulation this industry has enjoyed. Many people were stunned to learn that OSHA had not inspected the company since 1985. The company was last inspected by any regulatory agency whatsoever five years ago. Now, 15 people are dead. Chemical plant safety violations led to the death of an AC & S worker last year, resulting in 12 serious violations for the company. They might pay a fine of $42,700, if the company doesn’t successfully fight the fines in court, shut down and reopen under a new name, simply ignore the fine, or the debt isn’t discharged like it is in one out of every 20 worker death cases.
Despite its lack of substantive regulatory power, repugicans have worked hard for decades to eliminate the ability of OSHA to do its job. There are only 2,200 inspectors for 8 million work sites. Many Democratic lawmakers, listening to health and safety experts, agree that OSHA is “weak and ineffective” and therefore, they have proposed laws strengthening the agency. This is particularly evident when reviewing OSHA procedures for handling worker safety complaints. Once an employee contacts OSHA to report their workplace, the agency does not immediately send inspectors to investigate the problem. Instead, they notify the employer, ask the employer to investigate the reported safety violation, and then the employer has five days to report back to the agency. If the agency is satisfied with the response given by the employer, no inspection is scheduled. Essentially, businesses are free to police themselves. Clearly, that is not working.
Although many environmental crimes are charged as felonies, knowingly violating worker safety laws, leading to the death of an employee, is charged only as a misdemeanor with a maximum of six months in jail. The risk of actually spending any time in jail is minimal. You’re more likely to go to jail for videotaping cruelty to animals on factory farms than for overseeing a worksite responsible for the death of a worker. This state of affairs has been largely wrought by repugicans working as lackeys for businesses who whine about regulations, proving yet again how much value they actually place on life.

The editorial cartoon that upset Governor Perry

As explained by Daily Kos:
Gov. Perry travels the country, Ohman explained, describing Texas as a "state as free from high taxes and burdensome regulation". "One of the burdensome regulations he neglected to mention was the fact that his state hadn't really gotten around to checking out that fertilizer plant," Ohman wrote. Zoning laws are also lax to non-existant.

"So when the plant exploded and killed 14 people, people started asking the inevitable questions about whether this tragedy could have been prevented," Ohman wrote.
I'm defending this one because I think that when you have a politician traveling across the country selling a state with low regulatory capacity, that politician also has to be accountable for what happens when that lack of regulation proves to be fatal. That's exponentially more offensive to me.

My job, as I understand it, is to be provocative. I provoke, you decide. I don't dictate, I put out my opinion along with everyone else. I sign my name. I own it. In my opinion, I could have gone further. Much further.

Man with Tourette's Syndrome not allowed on flight after ticking ‘bomb’

A  Tourette's Syndrome sufferer was refused boarding on to a flight in Washington because he kept repeating the word 'bomb'. Michael Doyle tried to get on the Jet Blue flight at Reagan National Airport to San Juan in Puerto Rico.
Doyle got through the passenger screening without being stopped even though he had begun "ticking" - the involuntary repetition of words or phrases that is a common feature of Tourettes. "With all the stuff in the news about the Boston bombings and stuff... I started ticking 'bomb,'' Doyle said.

"Because when I get nervous and anything on my mind will come out. And things you're not supposed to say." Just before boarding a Jet Blue employee stepped forward and told Doyle who could not get on the plane. "I mean they stood me up in front of everyone and told me I'm like in kindergarten that I'm not allowed to go on the plane," he said.

Doyle's public humiliation happened even though he had contacted Jet Blue and the Transport Security Administration in advance about his condition, aware that it might create problems. Doyle had been traveling to Puerto Rico with his friend Chaz Petteway to take part in a Revolutionary War reenactment. Petteway stayed behind with his friend when he was refused permission to board. "To me it looks like it was kind of discrimination, you know," Petteway said.

Nepalese police investigate high-altitude Everest brawl

Police near Mount Everest are investigating reports of a fight on the upper reaches of the world's highest mountain between two foreign climbers and their Nepalese guides, officials said on Sunday. "We were told our clients and the guides fought on their way to camp three. We don't have all the details yet, but our clients have come down off the peak," said Anish Gupta of Cho-Oyu Trekking, the Kathmandu-based company that organised the expedition.

The fight occurred somewhere between Camp 2 and Camp 3. One of the climbers, a Swiss national, had descended the world's tallest mountain and was headed back to Kathmandu. The other, an Italian national, was at base camp and considering another climbing attempt. The Italian climber has been identified as Simboli Morno and the Swiss man as Wool Stick. They received minor injuries in the attack following a dispute with the Nepali Sherpa guides.

They were taken down to base camp late afternoon on Saturday after the incident, but were warned against giving up the expedition and returning home if the Government of Nepal did not ensure their security. "We have convinced them to this effect for the time being and kept them in the base camp”, said Director of  Cho-Oyu Trekking, Ngima Nuru Sherpa. "If the climbers are thrashed during their journey, it would not give positive message to the country. It would be disrepute to our country's security and managerial system,” summed up Sherpa.

Meanwhile, Chief District Officer of Solukhumbu, and Chief of the Police expressed commitment to arrest the guilty of the incident investigating the case and provide necessary security to the foreigners. CDO Sitaram Karki, said, "It is out of our reach due to the distance. We have received the news that the foreigners were thrashed and that we will deploy our team immediately to investigate the case."

Narco-Torpedoes and Frogmen

Drug smugglers are a creative bunch. They've used anything from carving Jesus statues out of cocaine to using puppies as drug mules and building their own submarines. Now, French and Dutch police have caught a smuggling ring that used a technique "worthy of James Bond":
Three French divers were arrested earlier this month as they prepared to dive under a cargo boat in Rotterdam which had 101kg of pure cocaine stuffed into a missile-shaped container attached to its hull. [...]
Narcotics agents first got wind of the scheme last June when bemused port police fished four divers — complete with underwater propulsion vehicle - out of inky-black waters near Fos-sur-Mer, a major oil port on France’s Mediterranean coast, in the middle of the night.
“Our initial reaction was: are they shooting a scene from an action movie?,” said Philippe Frizon, head of Nice judicial police. The divers were released, but police soon realised these were no ordinary frogmen.
Henry Samuel of The Telegraph has the story: Here.

The plummeting cost of solar energy

The total amount of energy we use every year – from coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, and everything else – is dwarfed by the amount of solar energy hitting the planet each year. How dwarfed? The solar input is 5,000 times greater than the amount we use from all those sources, combined.

In fact, it would take only about 0.3% of the Earth’s land area to meet all of humanity’s energy needs through 2030 via solar power.

Funny Pictures

Printer alert

Kite Aerial Photography

Seeing The World From New Heights
Sometimes, pointing and clicking just isn't enough. Even the most amateur of snappers has experimented with camera angles and height - though most of the time the camera is only as high from the ground as the photographers eye. Not so the Kite Aerial Photography enthusiast: they enable their cameras to reach for the sky with often spectacular results.

This Book Measures Less Than 1 Millimeter Across

book(Photo: Joshua Bright for The New York Times)
This book, according to collector Neale Albert, is the smallest in the world. Alex Vadukul of The New York Times describes it while recalling his visit to Mr. Albert's library:
Inside an ornate wooden box, under a clear protective cover, something minuscule glinted gold. Mr. Albert handed me a magnifying glass. The glint was a book with two covers and about 30 pages between them. It was less than a millimeter across, perhaps the size of a large grain of sand.
“It’s called ‘The Chameleon,’” he said.
“What’s it about?” I asked in awe.
Mr. Albert shrugged, surprised I’d asked. “I don’t know.”
At the link, you can view more photos of Mr. Albert's impressive collection of miniature books, many of which are housed inside the library of a tiny, ornate dollhouse.

Random Photo

Nah, we didn't think so, either

The following happens to describe the beliefs of the Mormons, but is it really more farcical than the belief that there's a magical, invisible kingdom in the sky where where you will reside in peace, harmony and love forever and ever?

NYC exhibition depicts ancient Buddhist caves

A full scale replica cave from the 8th century that contains the Bodhisattva of the Mogao Caves is presented in "Dunhuang: Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road," at the China Institute, in New York, Tuesday, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
The China Institute Gallery has been transformed into an ancient cave, taking visitors back more than a millennium to a dazzling world where Buddhist worshippers adorned the walls with colorful frescoes, silk prayer banners and lavishly painted life-size clay sculptures.
"Dunhuang: Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road" features a replica of an 8th century cave carved into the limestone cliffs at the edge of the Gobi Desert southeast of the oasis town of Dunhuang from 366 to about 1300.
It is one of 735 Mogao Caves constructed during what is known as the high Tang period (705-781), designed for devout Buddhists to gather and worship. Nearly every inch is covered in art, with a canopy ceiling resplendent in floral and diamond shapes. One end is filled with life-sized sculptures of a Buddha flanked by two monk disciples wearing luxuriously patterned robes, two bare-chested figures and two ferocious-looking guardians in military armor.
While there have been exhibitions that have featured individual pieces from the Mogoa Caves, this is the first exhibition in the United States to put all the elements of the cave shrines into context, said Annette Juliano, a professor of Chinese art history at Rutgers University.
It shows the "relationship between the architecture, the pictures, the subject matter and the (ritual) practices . the actual use of the cave, rather than just an abstraction," added Juliano, who visited the caves for the first time in 1980.
Many of the caves are exquisitely preserved but others are fragile due to neglect over the centuries and the conditions of the surrounding desert and sand dunes. To protect them from further erosion, tourist access is limited to several dozen caves a day that are rotated regularly.
The exhibition also features a 6th-century replica of an elaborate square altar called the Central Stupa Pillar that highlights the religious ritual of circumambulation — an act of veneration — in which the faithful walk clockwise around the altar that contains four niches, each holding a Buddha.
"Walking around the stupa pillar helps to empty your mind to allow visualization, to focus on the images of the Buddhas," said Juliano, who contributed an essay to the exhibition catalog.
Exact, hand-painted reproductions of wall motifs and story scenes complete the exhibition space in this gallery. Among the highlights is a Thousand Buddha pattern that covers an entire wall and is symbolic of the deity's omnipresence. Among the narrative paintings is the tale of the Deer King and his journey toward enlightenment.
Authentic silk prayer banners, a handwritten Buddhist scripture in near mint condition, a Yuan dynasty fragment of a mathematical document, small clay figurines, Persian silver coins that bear witness to foreign travelers on the Silk Road, patterned floor tiles and oil lamps used to light the dark caves round out the small two-gallery exhibition.
The Mogao Cave shrines, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, were largely unknown in the West until they were discovered in 1900 by a Hungarian archaeologist, Sir Aurel Stein.
Dunhuang, located at the north and south crossroads of the Silk Road, was a strategic hub of trade and religion. Stein, who made several treks through Central Asia, had heard rumors of a cave room sealed in the 11th century containing tens of thousands of manuscripts, scrolls, silk paintings and textiles dating in Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit and other languages.
A local caretaker had uncovered the treasure trove after discovering a crack in the wall of a corridor leading to a larger cave. It's not clear why the room was sealed, but scholars speculate they were walled up to protect them from the threat of invasion from nomadic people.
Stein was able to persuade the caretaker to sell a portion of the material in exchange for money for the cave's upkeep. In subsequent years, almost 80 percent of the contents were taken out of the country by foreign adventurers. Today, the treasures are found in various museums and libraries around the world.
The exhibition, organized by the Dunhuang Academy, runs through July 21. A second exhibition in the fall will focus on paintings and sculptures by contemporary artists inspired by the caves.

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Heaven’s DoorEidophusikon Photographyhttp://theeidophusikon.tumblr.com/

Francis Crick Wrote This Letter to His 12-Year Old Son about His Discovery of DNA

In 1953, biologists Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA. Crick wrote a letter to his 12-year old son Michael describing the discovery. The son recently auctioned the letter at Christie's in New York City for $6 million. Here's a transcription of the first page:
19 Portugal Place Cambridge
19 March ’53
My Dear Michael,
Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. We have built a model for the structure of de-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully) called D.N.A. for short. You may remember that the genes of the chromosomes — which carry the hereditary factors — are made up of protein and D.N.A.
Our structure is very beautiful. D.N.A. can be thought of roughly as a very long chain with flat bits sticking out. The flat bits are called the “bases”. The formula is rather
You can view the other pages and read the transcriptions, including Crick's handwritten diagrams of DNA, at the link.

The Seven Most Incredible Telescopes In Existence

When China completes its newest telescope project in 2016, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, it will have a dish nearly half the size of a country (OK, only the world’s smallest country, Vatican City, but still).

With this telescope, scientists will be better equipped to study the universe and its mysteries, but other telescopes help research study the cosmos too, regardless of their size. Bigger isn't always better - here are six other telescopes making astronomy better in ingenious ways.

The Lost City Of Heracleion Gives Up Its Secrets

For centuries it was thought to be a legend, a city of extraordinary wealth mentioned in Homer, visited by Helen of Troy and Paris, her lover, but apparently buried under the sea. In fact, Heracleion was true, an ancient Egyptian city near modern day Alexandria.

A decade after divers began uncovering its treasures, archaeologists have produced a picture of what life was like in Heracleion in the era of the pharaohs.

Science News

EU to ban pesticides in bee scarebees

A vote in the EU means the European Commission will ban pesticides linked to bee deaths in scientific studies. 530

Anopheles mosquito Parasite 'resistant to malaria drug'

New strains of the parasite that causes malaria are developing a resistance to the drug most widely used against the disease.

Archaeologists Unearth New Information on Origins of Maya Civilization

The Maya civilization is well-known for its elaborate temples, sophisticated writing system, and mathematical and astronomical developments, yet the civilization’s origins remain something of a mystery. A new University of Arizona study in the journal [...]

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Stroll by Scott McDaniel

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Daily Drift

the wages of…
It's been one of those weeks ..redeux

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Today in History

1289   Qala'un, the Sultan of Egypt, captures Tripoli.
1429   Joan of Arc leads French forces to victory over English at Orleans.
1624   Louis XIII appoints Cardinal Richelieu chief minister of the Royal Council of France.
1661   The Chinese Ming dynasty occupies Taiwan.
1672   King Louis XIV of France invades the Netherlands.
1813   Rubber is patented.
1852   The first edition of Peter Roget's Thesaurus is published.
1856   Yokut Indians repel a second attack by the 'Petticoat Rangers,' a band of civilian Indian fighters at Four Creeks, California.
1858   Austrian troops invade Piedmont.
1859   As the French army races to support them and the Austrian army mobilizes to oppose them, 150,000 Piedmontese troops invade Piedmontese territory.
1861   The Maryland House of Delegates votes against seceding from Union.
1862   Forts Philip and Jackson surrender to Admiral Farragut outside New Orleans.
1913   Gideon Sundback of Hoboken patents all-purpose zipper.
1916   Irish nationalists surrender to the British in Dublin.
1918   America's WWI Ace of Aces, Eddie Rickenbacker, scores his first victory with the help of Captain James Norman Hall.
1924   Open revolt breaks out in Santa Clara, Cuba.
1927   Construction of the Spirit of St. Louis is completed.
1930   The film All Quiet on the Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel Im Western Nichts Neues, premiers.
1945   The German Army in Italy surrenders unconditionally to the Allies.
1945   The Nazi concentration camp of Dachau is liberated by Allied troops.
1946   Former Japanese leaders are indicted in Tokyo as war criminals.
1975   The U.S. embassy in Vietnam is evacuated as North Vietnamese forces fight their way into Saigon.
1983   Harold Washington is sworn in as Chicago's first black mayor.
1992   Four Los Angeles police offices are acquitted of charges stemming from the beating of Rodney King. Rioting ensues.

Non Sequitur


McCrory replaces State Board of Elections as inquiry into contributions begins

Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday evening announced he was replacing all members of the State Board of Elections. The appointments take effect Wednesday – just as an investigation into political contributions made to McCrory and other top repugicans’ officeholders’ campaigns is getting underway.
Three repugicans and two Democrats will replace the current three-Democrat, two-repugican board. The board’s majority represents the governor’s party.
The move puts the progress of the board’s investigation into campaign contributions from an indicted sweepstakes software company owner in question.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, last week asked the board to investigate more than 60 campaign contributions totaling more than $230,000. Some of the contributions went to McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.
A majority of sitting board members said they were interested in investigating, according to an Associated Press story. But on Friday night, Chairman Larry Leake said it would be inappropriate for members on their last day in office to talk about the investigation or give staff any direction. The board has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
“It might be presumptuous for us to attempt to do anything with a new board coming on May 1,” Leake said. “It makes no sense for our board to attempt to direct the conduct of our office when we are in fact exiting out the door.”
Gary Bartlett, the current executive director whose term ends May 15, said he supports Leake’s position. “I think that’s the right call because they are a lame-duck board,” he said.
As for the current inquiry led by staff, Bartlett said he expects the new board to allow it to continue. “I think that everyone would want due diligence done to determine what may or may not be right regarding that situation,” he said.
But Bartlett acknowledged the new board could provide its own direction and even quash the investigation. “Certainly the board controls,” he said.
Bartlett said he didn’t expect to be reappointed by the new board, but Leake said that would be “a great tragedy. ... He’s recognized nationally as a leading authority in the area of elections.”
McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo said the timing of the appointments had nothing to do with the investigation. All five members’ terms expire April 30, and McCrory’s office wants new appointments to be made on time. The governor selects members from a list of five candidates submitted by each party. McCrory selected the top two Democrats, Genardo said.
Leake, who has been on the board for 20 years and chair for 16, said that he and current member Robert Cordle were on the list submitted by the state Democratic chair.
But Leake also dismissed the idea that the timing was motivated by the investigation.
“I don’t believe that to be the case, no,” he said. “I believe that we would all have been replaced regardless.”
Two of the governor’s repugican appointees said they didn’t know how the board would proceed with the sweepstakes inquiry.
“Right now, it’s too early to say,” said Josh Howard, 39, a current member of the Wake County Board of Elections.
The appointees
Howard, an attorney who handles federal and criminal law at a Raleigh firm, enters with extensive experience in the area of ethics and elections. He was a junior counsel in the Independent Counsel’s Office in Washington during the investigations of President Bill Clinton, including the inquiry into his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also served at the Department of Justice and assisted in the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state repugican cabal recommended Howard to fill a vacancy on the Board of Elections in 2011, but Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue refused to seat him and asked for more names.
Despite his GOP roots, Howard emphasized his bipartisan work on the Wake County board. “I would love to see that spirit on the state board,” he said.
Bipartisan spirit took a holiday last November, when the Wake board was deciding which provisional ballots to count in the close race for lieutenant governor. Howard disagreed with his Democratic counterparts several times in a tense meeting.
Another new repugican appointee is Paul Foley, a 35-year-old lawyer from Winston-Salem. He is the general counsel at the state repugican cabal, an unpaid position elected by repugican agitators at the party’s state convention. He served as an at-large alternative delegate to the 2012 repugican national coven.
Foley said his party experience gives him a good handle on election and campaign finance law.
Dispelling concerns about his partisan ties, Foley said, “I think it would hard to be more partisan than the current board.”
The third repugican nominee is Rhonda Amoroso, the New Hanover County repugican cabal chair.
The three repugican appointees donated at least $16,000 to repugican candidates and causes in recent elections, according to state and federal campaign finance records. Howard gave McCrory $2,500 in the 2012 campaign and Foley donated $1,606 to host an event for the Grepugican candidate in October, records show. Amoroso gave McCrory’s campaign $135.
The Democratic board members or their families gave minimal amounts to their party candidates.
One of those Democrats, Maya Kricker, the current chair of the Chatham County Board of Elections, said
a review of the sweepstakes donations is “absolutely” the responsibility of the elections board.
The other Democratic appointee is Joshua Malcolm, the current chair of the Robeson County Board of Elections.
‘Nervous’ about turnover
Charles Winfree, a repugican who has served on the board for 12 years, said he would encourage the new members to pursue the investigation. “Based on what I’ve been told by the staff, it appears to me that there is enough to warrant an investigation,” he said. “Certainly the practice of the contributors needs to be examined.”
Hall said he was “nervous” about the 100 percent turnover on the elections board, but hoped the new members would approach the questions objectively.
“I think there were veterans, both repugicans and Democrats, on the Board of Elections that have been objective in reviewing complaints against both parties and I’ve admired their ability to get the facts even when they don’t agree with my personal opinions,” he said. “I hope the new group will also be very professional and fulfill the responsibilities to be above partisan biases and search for the truth.”
Hall asked the board to investigate three issues related to contributions from Chase Burns, the Oklahoma-based owner of International Internet Technologies, as well as other donations connected to the sweepstakes industry. Burns’ company supplies the software that Internet sweepstakes cafes use to run their games.
Checks for Burns’ contributions were written from a trust account that Florida investigators said received millions in illegal proceeds from Burns’ business customers. Hall wants to know whether Burns used a business account or an account that was part of an illegal business operation to make campaign contributions.
Campaign disclosure reports erroneously list Burns as an attorney with Moore & Van Allen, according to Hall’s complaint. Moore & Van Allen is a legal and lobbying firm that represented Burns’ company and also employed McCrory until days before he took office.
The five-member State Board of Elections, which for years has had three Democrats and two repugicans, has been aggressive in recent years in investigating campaign finance law violations. It investigated former House Speaker Jim Black, and former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, among others. Both were Democrats who ended up sentenced to federal prison. But repugicans were critical of the board for limiting the inquiry into Perdue’s undisclosed campaign flights.

Well, what do you know ...

Did you know ...

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Our Pledge of Allegiance and the Myth of “one nation under god”

by Allen Clifton 
You often hear many of the wingnuts claim that our country was founded on christianity.  They’ll use our Pledge of Allegiance as “proof” that this nation was founded as a christian nation.  Many of them put bumper stickers on their vehicles that say “one nation under god” or emphasize the word “god”  when they recite our nation’s pledge.
It all sounds great, except—our pledge wasn’t written until until 1892.  Yes, you read that correctly, our Pledge of Allegiance was written a full 116 years after the Revolutionary War and Declaration of Independence.
Not just that, the phrase “under god” wasn’t even in the original text of our pledge:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
And it gets better.  The author of our pledge was Francis Bellamy—a christian socialist.  He stood for workers rights and believed in an equal distribution of economic resources.  He believed in the nationalization of certain industries, because he feared their manipulation and corruption in the hands of a private sector which would put profits before people.
So a christian, a minister at that, wrote the pledge—yet didn’t  include the word “god” or “christian” and  he was a socialist.  I’m sure by now most wingnuts reading this will have already decided I’m making all of this up.  But oh, there’s more.
In 1923, more text was added to our pledge:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
So, 31 years after its origination, our pledge still  didn’t contain the phrase “under god.”
In fact, it wasn’t until 1954 that the phrase “under god” was actually added to our pledge, in a response to the threat of communism.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
So it wasn’t until 62 years after its creation did our pledge include the words “under god.”
I can already hear some now, “But—our currency has “in god we trust” written on it!  It’s our nation’s motto!”
That’s true, it does and it is.  But “in god we trust” didn’t appear on any currency until 1864.  In fact the motto “in god we trust” wasn’t even adopted into this country officially until 1956 and didn’t appear on our paper currency until 1957.  It was only on our coins up to that point.
Then let’s not forget that the only  reference to religion in our Bill of Rights is in our First Amendment, which states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The word christianity doesn’t appear even once in our Constitution.
So when these lunatics proudly boast about our nation being a “christian nation” or that we were a nation founded “under god,” remind them of these facts.
Because the more they press the issue, the more they think you’re simply making all of this up, the more they continue to insist this country was founded on christianity and use our currency or pledge as proof…
The more they display their ignorance of our history, of reality and prove that they would rather believe a lie than know the truth.

WWII Vet Who Provided Flag On Iwo Jima Has Died

(Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)A World War II veteran who provided the flag in the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima has died. Alan Wood was 90. Wood’s son, Steven, says his father died April 18 of natural causes at his Sierra Madre home.
Wood was in charge of communications on a landing ship on Iwo Jima’s shores when a Marine asked him for the biggest flag that he could find. Wood handed him a flag he had found in Pearl Harbor.
Five Marines and a Navy Corpsman later raised the flag on Mount Suribachi as Allied forces struggled to capture the Japanese-held island. The stirring moment was captured in an iconic image by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Steven Wood says his father was always humbled by his small role in the historic moment.

Army says no to more tanks, but Congress insists

Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams, which the Army refers to with a moniker that befits their heft: the M1A2SEPv2. The upgraded tanks cost about $7.5 million each, according to the Army, and service officials say they have plenty of them.
 Built to dominate the enemy in combat, the Army’s hulking Abrams tank is proving equally hard to beat in a budget battle.
Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.
But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”
It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. The repugicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.
Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.
“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, said this past week.
Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.
Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.
If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.
“The one area where we are supposed to spend taxpayer money is in defense of the country,” said Jordan, whose district in the northwest part of the state includes the tank plant.
The Abrams dilemma underscores the challenge that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faces as he seeks to purge programs that the military considers unnecessary or too expensive in order to ensure there’s enough money for essential operations, training and equipment.
Hagel, a former repugican senator from Nebraska, faces a daunting task in persuading members of Congress to eliminate or scale back projects favored by constituents.
Federal budgets are always peppered with money for pet projects. What sets the Abrams example apart is the certainty of the Army’s position.
Sean Kennedy, director of research for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste, said Congress should listen when one of the military services says no to more equipment.
“When an institution as risk averse as the Defense Department says they have enough tanks, we can probably believe them,” Kennedy said.
Congressional backers of the Abrams upgrades view the vast network of companies, many of them small businesses, that manufacture the tanks’ materials and parts as a critical asset that has to be preserved. The money, they say, is a modest investment that will keep important tooling and manufacturing skills from being lost if the Abrams line were to be shut down.
The Lima plant is a study in how federal dollars affect local communities, which in turn hold tight to the federal dollars. The facility is owned by the federal government but operated by the land systems division of General Dynamics, a major defense contractor that spent close to $11 million last year on lobbying, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The plant is Lima’s fifth-largest employer with close to 700 employees, down from about 1,100 just a few years ago, according to Mayor David Berger. But the facility is still crucial to the local economy. “All of those jobs and their spending activity in the community and the company’s spending probably have about a $100 million impact annually,” Berger said.
Jordan, a House conservative leader who has pushed for deep reductions in federal spending, supported the automatic cuts known as the sequester that require $42 billion to be shaved from the Pentagon’s budget by the end of September. The military also has to absorb a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years, as required by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011.
Still, said Jordan, it would be a big mistake to stop producing tanks.
“Look, (the plant) is in the 4th Congressional District and my job is to represent the 4th Congressional District, so I understand that,” he said. “But the fact remains, if it was not in the best interests of the national defense for the United States of America, then you would not see me supporting it like we do.”
The tanks that Congress is requiring the Army to buy aren’t brand new. Earlier models are being outfitted with a sophisticated suite of electronics that gives the vehicles better microprocessors, color flat panel displays, a more capable communications system, and other improvements. The upgraded tanks cost about $7.5 million each, according to the Army.
Out of a fleet of nearly 2,400 tanks, roughly two-thirds are the improved versions, which the Army refers to with a moniker that befits their heft: the M1A2SEPv2, and service officials said they have plenty of them. “The Army is on record saying we do not require any additional M1A2s,” Davis Welch, deputy director of the Army budget office, said this month.
The tank fleet, on average, is less than 3 years old. The Abrams is named after Gen. Creighton Abrams, one of the top tank commanders during World War II and a former Army chief of staff.
The Army’s plan was to stop buying tanks until 2017, when production of a newly designed Abrams would begin. Orders for Abrams tanks from U.S. allies help fill the gap created by the loss of tanks for the Army, according to service officials, but congressional proponents of the program feared there would not be enough international business to keep the Abrams line going.
This pause in tank production for the U.S. would allow the Army to spend its money on research and development work for the new and improved model, said Ashley Givens, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Ground Combat Systems office.
The first editions of the Abrams tank were fielded in the early 1980s. Over the decades, the Abrams supply chain has become embedded in communities across the country.
General Dynamics estimated in 2011 that there were more than 560 subcontractors throughout the country involved in the Abrams program and that they employed as many as 18,000 people. More than 40 of the companies are in Pennsylvania, according to Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., also a staunch backer of continued tank production.
A letter signed by 173 Democratic and repugican members of the House last year and sent to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demonstrated the depth of bipartisan support for the Abrams program on Capitol Hill. They chided the Obama administration for neglecting the industrial base and proposing to terminate tank production in the United States for the first time since World War II.
Portman, who served as the shrub’s budget director before being elected to the Senate, said allowing the line to wither and close would create a financial mess.
“People can’t sit around for three years on unemployment insurance and wait for the government to come back,” Portman said. “That supply chain is going to be much more costly and much more inefficient to create if you mothball the plant.”
Pete Keating, a General Dynamics spokesman, said the money from Congress is allowing for a stable base of production for the Army, which receives about four tanks a month. With the line open, Lima also can fill international orders, bringing more work to Lima and preserving American jobs, he said.
Current foreign customers are Saudi Arabia, which is getting about five tanks a month, and Egypt, which is getting four. Each country pays all of their own costs. That’s a “success story during a period of economic pain,” Keating said.
Still, far fewer tanks are coming out of the Lima plant than in years past. The drop-off has affected companies such as Verhoff Machine and Welding in Continental, Ohio, which makes seats and other parts for the Abrams. Ed Verhoff, the company’s president, said his sales have dropped from $20 million to $7 million over the past two years. He’s also had to lay off about 25 skilled employees and he expects to be issuing more pink slips in the future.
“When we start to lose this base of people, what are we going to do? Buy our tanks from China?” Verhoff said.
Steven Grundman, a defense expert at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the difficulty of reviving defense industrial capabilities tends to be overstated.
“From the fairly insular world in which the defense industry operates, these capabilities seem to be unique and in many cases extraordinarily high art,” said Grundman, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial affairs and installations during the Clinton administration. “But in the greater scope of the economy, they tend not to be.”

The truth hurts