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


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Daily Drift

East Broad Top #12 Millie 2-8-2 Mikado by lionel682 on Flickr.
Americana

Some of our readers today have been in:
Riga, Latvia
Cape Town, South Africa
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
San Jose, Costa Rica
Nicosia, Cyprus
Manila, Philippines
Warsaw, Poland
Kuching, Malaysia
Oxford, England
Kathamndu, Nepal
Amman, Jordan
Jakarta, Indonesia
Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia
Mugla, Turkey
Waterloo, Canada
Sofia, Bulgaria
Bekasi, Indonesia
Kulim, Malaysia
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Istanbul, Turkey
Johannesburg, South Africa
Cairo, Egypt
Puchong, Malaysia
Maribor, Slovenia
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Geneva, Switzerland
Gloucester, England
Kuantan, Malaysia
Tungi, Bangladesh
Taytay, Philippines
Centurion, South Africa
Skopje, Macedonia
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Tbilisi, Georgia
Hanoi, Vietnam
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Sampaloc, Philippines
Karachi, Pakistan
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ankara, Turkey
Bayan Lepas, Malaysia
Liepaja, Latvia
Bordeaux, France
Providencia, Chile
Lahore, Pakistan
Ampang, Malaysia
Tegucigalpa, Hondruras
Duzce, Turkey
Windsor, Canada
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Today is Bubble Bath Day

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Today in History

1681 The Treaty of Radzin ends a five year war between the Turks and the allied countries of Russia and Poland.
1745 England, Austria, Saxony and the Netherlands form an alliance against Russia.
1815 A rag-tag army under Andrew Jackson defeats the British on the fields of Chalmette in the Battle of New Orleans.
1871 Prussian troops begin to bombard Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.
1892 A coal mine explosion kills 100 in McAlister, Oklahoma.
1900 The Boers attack the British in Ladysmith, South Africa, but are turned back.
1908 A subway line opens linking the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
1940 Great Britain begins rationing sugar, meat and butter.
1946 President Harry S. Truman vows to stand by the Yalta accord on self-determination for the Balkans.
1954 President Dwight Eisenhower proposes stripping convicted Communists of their U.S. citizenship.
1963 President John F. Kennedy attends the unveiling of the Mona Lisa.
1979 The United States advises the Shah to leave Iran.

Non Sequitur

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When Is the Next Doomsday (Not) Going to Happen?

If history is any example, the next cosmic doomsday prediction is always right around the corner. Read more
  When Is the Next Doomsday (Not) Going to Happen?

Photograph of a Revolutionary War Soldier


The first photographic portraits were taken in 1839, but it took decades for the custom to become common. This is a portrait of Conrad Heyer, taken around 1852. Heyer may be earliest-born person ever photographed, as he was born in 1749!
He was approximately 103 when photographed, having been born in 1749. He was reportedly the first white child born in Waldoboro, Maine, then a German immigrant community. He served in the Continental Army under George Washington during the Revolutionary War, crossing the Delaware with him and fighting in other major battles. He eventually bought a farm and retired to Waldoboro, where he happily regaled visitors with tales of his Revolutionary War exploits until his dying day.
The article at Doug's Darkworld goes on to describe how different the world was at the beginning of Heyer's life from the modern world in which he had his portrait made. More

A muted union victory in the NHL lockout deal

As the embarrassing three-month NHL lockout prepares to end, opening the door to an abbreviated season, it appears that both sides will be able to walk away relatively happy.As Nicholas Goss of Bleacher Report writes:
The players were expected to lose these negotiations, and they did, but at least the CBA reached on Sunday is much more favorable than the deal that the players’ union signed in 2005.
And as Travis Waldron from Thinkprogress writes:
Players largely acceded to ownership’s demands, but given the absurdity of the NHL’s previous offers, the NHLPA managed to mitigate at least some of the damage.
Goss’ article also includes a great breakdown on the details on the emerging deal to end the NHL lockout. A few big takeaways:

Owners’ Wins in NHL Lockout

Hockey sports nhl lockout 
Share of hockey related revenue: The driving force behind the lockout, the owners wanted players to take an overall pay cut. The players’ share of Hockey Related Revenue will fall from 57 percent to 50. The owners’ original proposal would have pegged the players’ share at 43 percent. While both sides met exactly in the middle, this represents a big win for league owners on their biggest issue.
Length of agreement: The deal will last for ten years, as opposed to the players’ preferred length of seven. That being said, it was considered to be in the interest of all parties to postpone the next potential lockout for as long as possible – the current lockout was the league’s third in twenty years.
Contract term limits: League owners wanted player contracts to be limited to five years. In negotiations, the players were able to bring that number up to seven.

Players’ Wins in NHL Lockout

Revenue sharing: The players’ union wanted $250 million in revenue sharing; owners agreed to $200 million. Owners of large-market teams were reluctant to agree to any revenue sharing at all, as this will redistribute wealth from larger teams to smaller teams and make the league more competitive. Revenue sharing is a policy borrowed from the NBA and NFL, which have used revenue sharing as a way to increase parity around their respective leagues.
Salary variance in multi-year contracts: The deal limits the amount salaries can change from year to year in a single contract. This will prevent general managers from front-loading long-term contracts with very small salaries in the final years.
Pensions: In what is considered a big improvement over the previous collective bargaining agreement and a big win for the union, the deal includes a stronger player pension fund modeled after the one used in Major League Baseball. A crucial component for players, owners will be responsible for making up some of the gap if there is an overall revenue shortfall.

An Interesting Footnote

Draft lottery: Rather than the worst team getting the first pick, there will be an NBA-style draft lottery among all teams that fail to make the playoffs to determine draft order. While this will prevent bad teams from tanking late in the season to ensure themselves a high pick, it could lead to a scenario akin to the NBA Draft in 1993, where the 41-41 Orlando Magic were awarded the first pick in that year’s draft despite having a better record than ten other teams.
There’s enough in this deal for both sides to declare victory in the NHL lockout. While the players are taking a sizeable pay cut, in doing so they were able to make progress in bringing the NHL in line with the other “Big Four” leagues with regards to player benefits and team parity. And, most importantly, there will be hockey in 2013 and for years to come.

The truth be told

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US banks try to clean up remaining mortgage mess

People pass a Bank of America brach, in New York, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Bank of America will pay $10.3 billion to the government mortgage agency Fannie Mae to settle claims resulting from mortgage-backed investments that soured during the housing crash. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)  
U.S. banks have taken another step to clear away the wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis by agreeing to pay $8.5 billion to settle charges that they wrongfully foreclosed on millions of homeowners. The deal announced Monday could compensate hundreds of thousands of Americans whose homes were seized because of abuses such as "robo-signing," when banks automatically signed off on foreclosures without properly reviewing documents. The agreement will also help eliminate huge potential liabilities for the banks.
But consumer advocates complained that regulators settled for too low a price by letting banks avoid full responsibility for foreclosures that victimized families and fueled an exodus from neighborhoods across the country.
The settlement ends an independent review of loan files required under a 2011 action by regulators. Bruce Marks, CEO of the advocacy group Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, noted that ending the review will cut short investigations into the banks' practices.
"The question of who's to blame — the homeowners or the lenders — if you stop this investigation now, that will always be an open-ended question," Marks said.
The banks, which include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, will pay about $3.3 billion to homeowners to end the review of foreclosures.
The rest of the money — $5.2 billion — will be used to reduce mortgage bills and forgive outstanding principal on home sales that generated less than borrowers owed on their mortgages.
A total of 3.8 million people are eligible for payments under the deal announced by the Office of Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve. Those payments could range from a few hundred dollars to up to $125,000.
Homeowners who were wrongly denied a loan modification will be entitled to relatively small payments. By contrast, people whose homes were unfairly seized and sold would be eligible for the biggest payments.
Banks and consumer advocates had complained that the loan-by-loan reviews required under the 2011 order were time-consuming and costly and didn't reach many homeowners. Banks were paying large sums to consultants to review the files. Some questioned the independence of those consultants, who often ruled against homeowners.
The deal "represents a significant change in direction" that ensures "consumers are the ones who will benefit, and that they will benefit more quickly and in a more direct manner," Thomas Curry, the comptroller of the currency, said in a statement.
But Charles Wanless, a homeowner in the Florida Panhandle, is among those who question that promise. Wanless, who is fighting foreclosure proceedings with Bank of America, says he doubts the money will benefit many who lost homes.
"Let's say they already foreclosed on me and I lost my home," said Wanless, who runs a pool cleaning business in Crestview, Fla. "What's $1,000 going to do to help me? If they took my house away wrongfully, is that going to get me my house back? I might be able to find one if I'm one of the lucky ones who gets $125,000."
Diane Thompson, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, complained that the deal won't actually compensate homeowners for the actual harm they suffered.
The deal "caps (banks') liability at a total number that's less than they thought they were going to pay going in," she said.
Thompson supports the decision to make direct payments to victimized homeowners. But she said the deal will work only if it includes strong oversight and transparency provisions.
The companies involved in the settlement announced Monday also include Citigroup, MetLife Bank, PNC Financial Services, Sovereign, SunTrust, U.S. Bank and Aurora. The 2011 action also included GMAC Mortgage, HSBC Finance Corp. and EMC Mortgage Corp.
Regulators announced the deal on the same day that Bank of America agreed to pay $11.6 billion to government-backed mortgage financier Fannie Mae to settle claims related to mortgages that soured during the housing crash.
The agreements come as U.S. banks are showing renewed signs of financial health, extending their recovery from the 2008 crisis that nearly toppled many of them. They are lending more and earning greater profits than at any time since the Great Recession began in December 2007.
Monday's foreclosure settlement doesn't close the book on the housing crisis, which caused more than 4 million foreclosures. It covers only consumers who were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010. Some banks didn't agree to the settlement. And resolving millions of claims involving multiple banks and mortgage companies is complicated and time-consuming.
"It's going to take a few more years to get it sorted out," said Bert Ely, an independent banking consultant.
Michael Allen of Petersburg, Va., hopes to benefit from the settlement. He lost his home last month after 2½ years of trying to modify his mortgage. He had fallen behind on his payments after the plant he was working closed.
"I was working with the banks to re-modify (my loan), and I'd get to the final stages and I'd have to start over again. They didn't give me any reason. I'd call them, they'd transfer me from one person to the next. ... They just kept giving me the runaround."
Citigroup said in a statement that it was "pleased to have the matter resolved" and thinks the agreement "will provide benefits for homeowners." Citi expects to record a charge of $305 million in the fourth quarter of 2012 to cover its cash payment under the settlement. The bank expects that existing reserves will cover its $500 million share of the non-cash foreclosure aid.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said the agreements were "a significant step" in resolving the bank's remaining legacy mortgage issues while streamlining the company and reducing future expenses.
Amy Bonitatibus, spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase, said the bank had "worked very hard" on the foreclosure review and was "pleased to have it now behind us."
U.S. Bancorp, which owns U.S. Bank, said its part of the settlement includes an $80 million payment to homeowners. That payment will reduce its fourth-quarter earnings by 3 cents per share. It has also committed $128 million in mortgage aid.
Leaders of a House oversight panel have asked regulators for a briefing on the proposed settlement. Regulators had refused to brief Congress before announcing the deal publicly.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the settlement "may allow banks to skirt what they owe and sweep past abuses under the rug without determining the full harm borrowers have suffered."
He complained that regulators failed to answer key questions about how the settlement was reached, who will get the money and what will happen to others who were harmed by these banks but were not included in the settlement.
The settlement is separate from a $25 billion settlement among 49 state attorneys general, federal regulators and five banks: Ally, formerly known as GMAC; Bank of America; Citigroup; JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

Triple dip recession in austerity-plagued UK?

Following the report today on the UK service sector, economists are seeing only bad news with the shockingly poor numbers. If the pro-austerity crowd didn’t get it before, they may not get it now that austerity only causes more economic damage in a troubled economy. 

http://americablog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/uk-flag-150x120.jpgJust as the services sector is important in the US, it’s a large chunk (75%) of the UK economy and it’s sinking, again. Imagine the damage that repugican austerity will cause in the US if the crazies in the House get their way.

The Guardian:
It is possible, although not likely, that the report was a blip caused by the wet weather. This was, after all, the fourth fall in the survey in a row and – December 2010 apart – was the weakest since April 2009, when the world economy hit rock bottom after the collapse of Lehman Brothers the previous September.
CIPS/Markit say that the reason the services purchasing managers’ index dipped below the 50 level that separates expansion from contraction was an unwillingness of firms to invest at a time when their customers were not spending.
This is entirely consistent with the UK’s flat-lining performance over the last couple of years: businesses see no point in buying new plant and machinery until there are signs that consumers are willing to spend more. But household budgets are being stretched by the squeeze on wages and the rising costs of essentials such as food and fuel.

Spanish locksmiths won't help banks evict people from their homes

As the subprime bubble continues to burst in Spain, locksmiths find themselves complicit in putting families out on the street. In Pamplona, the local locksmiths have banded together and will not accept work from the banks changing locks or opening doors, even though it's costing them business:
Tired of accompanying court officials to evict unemployed people as banks foreclosed mortgages, De Carlos consulted his fellow Pamplona locksmiths before Christmas. In no time at all, they came to an agreement. They would not do the dirty work of banks whose rash lending pumped up a housing bubble and then, after it popped, helped bring the country to its knees.
"It only took us 15 minutes to reach a decision," says De Carlos amid the racks of keys in the family's shop in the centre of this small northern city best known for its annual bull-runs and the adoration heaped on it by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. "We all had stories of jobs we had been on where families had been left on the street. When you set out all you have is an address and the name of the bank, but I recall an elderly, sick man who was barely given time to put his trousers on."
The logic behind their decision was clear and simple. While Spain's banks mop up billions of euros in public aid, they are also busy reclaiming homes that in some cases they lent silly money for. At the height of Spain's housing madness, banks were, in effect, offering mortgages of more than 100%. They aggressively chased clients – especially among the immigrants who arrived from Latin America in their millions to build new homes – creating an uncontrolled spiral of self-fulfilling, but ultimately doomed, demand. Complex networks of guarantors were pieced together by middlemen among immigrants who often barely understood what they were doing.

Random Photo

How Tide Became Illegal Currency

vTalk about money laundering! Thefts of Tide liquid laundry detergent are becoming more and more common. Whether it's shoplifting, hijacking, or fencing, the profits are there, from the drug addict who needs a quick dollar to the grocer boosting his profit margin. Sergeant Aubrey Thompson of the Prince George’s County Police Department's Organized Retail Crime Unit first encountered Tide thefts in March of 2011 when a Safeway store reported losing thousands of dollars to detergent theft every month.
Later, Thompson reviewed weeks’ worth of the Safeway’s security footage. He found that more than two dozen thieves, working in crews, were regularly raiding the store’s household-products aisle, sometimes returning more than once the same day and avoiding detection by timing their heists to follow clerks’ shift changes. Owners and managers of other area stores, having seen Thompson on the news, reached out to him to report their own vanishing Tide bottles. Since then, the oddly brand-loyal crime wave has gone national, striking bodegas, supermarkets, and big-box discounters from Austin to West St. Paul, Minnesota. In New York, employees at the Penn Station Duane Reade nabbed a man trying to abscond with Tide bottles he’d stuffed into a suitcase. In Orange County, an attempted Tide theft led to a high-speed chase that included the thief crashing his SUV into an ambulance. Last year, for the first time, detergent made the National Retail Federation’s list of most-targeted items. Says Joseph LaRocca, founder of the trade group RetailPartners, who helped compile the report: “Tide was specifically called out.”
New York magazine traces the reasons for the rise in stolen Tide, which is a combination of the detergent's expense, the brand loyalty of its users, the ease of theft, a chain of buyers and sellers looking for a profit, and a manufacturer who appears to almost take pride in the black market status of its product. More

Woman pleads guilty in 'total identity theft' case

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2012, file photo, Houston school teacher Candida Gutierrez talks in Houston about the frustration of having her identity stolen several years ago. Benita Cardona-Gonzalez, a Mexican national living in Topeka, Kan., pleaded guilty Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, to a reduced charge of possessing fraudulent identification documents in a deal with prosecutors that calls for an 18-month prison term. The case put a face on the growing crime of "total identity theft" in the United States. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)  
An illegal immigrant accused of assuming the persona of a Texas teacher pleaded guilty Monday in a case that put a face on the growing crime of "total identity theft" in the United States.
Benita Cardona-Gonzalez, a Mexican national living in Topeka, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of possessing fraudulent identification documents in a deal with prosecutors that calls for an 18-month prison term.
The 32-year-old was accused of completely assuming the persona of Houston elementary school teacher Candida Gutierrez, who first went public in a story by The Associated Press. Gutierrez recounted how the thief not only opened bank and credit accounts, but assumed her entire persona — using it to get a job, a driver's license, a mortgage, food stamps and even medical care for the birth of two children. All the while, the crook claimed the real Gutierrez was the one who had stolen her identity.
As part of the plea deal, Cardona-Gonzalez agreed not to contest deportation after serving her sentence.
Defense lawyer Matthew Works said after Monday's hearing in Wichita that his client was sorry and didn't intend to harm Gutierrez.
"She wanted to give her children a better life. That is what this is all about," Works said.
Gutierrez said in a phone interview Monday that she plans to attend the sentencing, which is scheduled for March 25.
"I want to see her face to face. I want to see it actually happening," Gutierrez said. "After all this time, I am still haunted. I want to be sure she is put away."
Gutierrez said she would have liked to see Cardona-Gonzalez spend a more than 18 months in prison after everything she put her through. Still, she said she was satisfied with the plea deal because she and her husband want to get the case over with and move on with their lives.
She praised the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas and said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson even came to Houston to talk to her about the deal. He returned her original Social Security card and birth certificate, she said.
"They were pretty amazing getting on it once we contacted them," Gutierrez said. "Brent was informative and helpful. He was very efficient."
Gutierrez first learned her identity had been hijacked when she was turned down for a mortgage nearly 12 years ago. Both women claimed they were identity theft victims and sought new Social Security numbers. The Social Security Administration turned down the request from Gutierrez, instead issuing a new number to the woman impersonating her. In another twist, Gutierrez was forced to file her federal income tax forms using a special identification number usually reserved for illegal immigrants.

Just Sayin'

Mosque Arsonist Tells Court: 'I Only Know What I Hear on Faux News'

An Indiana man convicted of setting fire to a mosque in Ohio told a judge on Wednesday that he committed the crimes because Faux News and wingnut hate radio had convinced him that "most Muslims are terrorists."
Randolph Linn, 52, accepted a plea deal in which he pled guilty to all charges in connection to setting a fire in the prayer room at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo on Sept. 30.
Under the deal, Linn is expected to serve 20 years in prison instead of 40.
Linn explained to the court that he had gotten "riled up" after watching Faux News.
 

"Dating Game" killer sentenced for 1970s murders

Convicted California serial killer Rodney Alcala is pictured in Manhattan Supreme Court in New York, January 7, 2013. REUTERS/David Handschuh/Pool  
Convicted California serial killer Rodney Alcala, known as the "Dating Game" killer thanks to his appearance on the television game show more than 30 years ago, was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison on Monday for murdering two New York women in the 1970s. Alcala, 69, already on death row in California for killing four women and a 12-year-old girl in that state, was extradited to New York in June to face charges in the slayings of flight attendant Cornelia Crilley, 23, and Ellen Hover, 23, the daughter of a nightclub owner.
The cold case unit of the Manhattan district attorney's office brought charges against Alcala last year after conducting more than 100 new interviews with witnesses.
A Manhattan judge sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison on Monday.
A professional photographer, Alcala lured his victims by offering to take their pictures, according to authorities.
Crilley was found strangled in her Manhattan apartment in 1971. Hover's body was found in Westchester County, north of New York City in 1977.

Chicago lottery winner's death ruled a homicide

This undated photo provided by the Illinois Lottery shows Urooj Khan, 46, of Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, posing with a winning lottery ticket. The Cook County medical examiner said Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, that Khan was fatally poisoned with cyanide July 20, 2012, a day after he collected nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings. (AP Photo/Illinois Lottery) 
With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man a day after he collected a large pile of lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.
Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative's pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said.
"It's pretty unusual," said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina, commenting on the rarity of cyanide poisonings. "I've had one, maybe two cases out of 4,500 autopsies I've done."
In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city's North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.
He scratched off the ticket, then jumped up and down and repeatedly shouted, "I hit a million," Khan recalled days later during a ceremony in which Illinois Lottery officials presented him with an oversized check. He said he was so overjoyed he ran back into the store and tipped the clerk $100.
"Winning the lottery means everything to me," he said at the June 26 ceremony, also attended by his wife, Shabana Ansari; their daughter, Jasmeen Khan; and several friends. He said he would put some of his winnings into his businesses and donate some to a children's hospital.
Khan opted to take his winnings in a lump sum of just over $600,000. After taxes, the check, issued July 19 from the state Comptroller's Office, was about $425,000, said lottery spokesman Mike Lang.
Khan died a day later.
No signs of trauma were found during an external exam and no autopsy was done because, at the time, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office didn't automatically perform them on those 45 and older unless the death was suspicious, Cina said. The cut-off has since been raised to age 50.
A basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative, and the death was ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries.
But a relative came forward and asked authorities to look into the case further, Cina said. He refused to identify the relative.
"She (the morgue worker) then reopened the case and did more expansive toxicology, including all the major drugs of use, all the common prescription drugs and also included I believe strychnine and cyanide in there just in case something came up," Cina said. "And in fact cyanide came up in this case."
Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Melissa Stratton confirmed the department was now investigating the death and said detectives were working closely with the Medical Examiner's Office.

Eleven Nebraska Wendy’s cut employee hours to avoid Healthcare regulations

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The phrase “heartless bastard” comes to mind. Though it might also be “opportunistic bastard.” A local Wendy’s franchise is reportedly drastically cutting hours for around 100 employees in order to skirt health care reforms new requirements to provide health care for full-time employees. So a number of Wendy’s are simply making full-time employees part-time employees, and voila! No more health care! (Oh yeah, and the blue collar employees lose a good chunk of their income. Oh well.)

From WOWT in Nebraska:
The company has announced that all non-management positions will have their hours reduced to 28 a week. Gary Burdette, Vice President of Operations for the local franchise, says the cuts are coming because the new Affordable Health Care Act requires employers to offer health insurance to employees working 32-38 hours a week. Under the current law they are not considered full time and that as a small business owner, he can’t afford to stay in operation and pay for everyone’s health insurance.
Wendy’s is in good company. There was the local Denny’s franchisee who came up with the bright idea of tacking on a 5% surcharge to every check to supposedly pay for Obamacare. Or the Applebee’s NY franchisee who claimed Obamacare may force him to institute a hiring freeze. Lots of whiners out there, considering that most of Obamacare hasn’t even been implemented yet. One wonders if this isn’t just a convenient excuse to milk the employees for even more savings at the employees’ expense.
I’m also curious if the national Wendy’s corporation has anything to say about how its franchises treat their employees, especially in cases like this?

Judge in San Francisco lets biggest medical pot shop stay open

Customers browse the showcases at the Harborside Health Clinic in Oakland, California June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith 
A federal magistrate judge on Monday ruled that a medical-marijuana dispensary that bills itself as the world's largest can continue to operate, at least for now, in Oakland and San Jose despite a bid by federal prosecutors to shut it down.
The ruling marks the latest move in a tug-of-war between local and federal authorities over medical marijuana dispensaries and over Harborside Health Center, which was featured on the Discovery Channel reality TV show "Weed Wars."
Harborside's landlords are seeking to evict the store under pressure from federal prosecutors as part of the U.S. government's crackdown on what it deems to be illegal pot shops in California and the West.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James ruled that the government, not the landlords, must move to evict Harborside for its alleged violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The landlords "are attempting to use a procedural rule in a civil forfeiture proceeding to bring what amounts to an enforcement action ... against Harborside," the 17-page ruling said. "This is a measure which the Government - the entity charged with enforcing the statute - has elected not to pursue."
The city of Oakland in October sued the federal government in an effort to allow Harborside to continue selling marijuana to its 100,000 patients. Oakland officials warned that a shutdown would lead to a "health crisis."
The city expects to collect $1.4 million in medical-pot sales taxes this year.
"This is a significant victory for the City of Oakland and its 400,000 citizens, for thousands of cannabis patients, and for the Harborside dispensary," Cedric Chao, a lawyer representing the city pro bono.
"With today's ruling, we can develop Oakland's case in a logical way and tee up the federal government's actions for examination by the federal judiciary," he said.
Eighteen states, including California, and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.
But U.S. prosecutors argue that federal law takes precedence over state law and sought to shut down Harborside by trying to seize its landlords' properties.
The judge will continue to hear both the landlords' eviction case against Harborside and Oakland's lawsuit blocking the eviction.

Ancient Remedies Found in Shipwreck

Researchers decipher the ingredients of six grey pills, which were lost beneath the waves along with the rest of the ship. Read more Ancient Remedies Found in Shipwreck

Mock Mars trek finds down-to-Earth sleep woes

FILE This Nov. 4, 2011 file photo released by Moscow's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems Russia, shows researcher Sukhrob Kamolov leaving a set of windowless modules after a grueling 520-day simulation of a flight to Mars. Astronauts have a down-to-Earth problem that could be even worse on a long trip to Mars: They can't get enough sleep. And over time, the lack of slumber can turn intrepid space travelers into drowsy couch potatoes, a new study shows. In a novel experiment, six volunteers were confined in a cramped mock spaceship in Moscow to simulate a 17-month voyage. It made most of the would-be spacemen act like birds and bears heading into winter, gearing for hibernation. (AP Photo/IMBP, Oleg Voloshin, Pool, File)  
Astronauts have a down-to-Earth problem that could be even worse on a long trip to Mars: They can't get enough sleep. And over time, the lack of slumber can turn intrepid space travelers into drowsy couch potatoes, a new study shows. In a novel experiment, six volunteers were confined in a cramped mock spaceship in Moscow to simulate a 17-month voyage. It made most of the would-be spacemen lethargic, much like birds and bears heading into winter, gearing up for hibernation.
The men went into a prolonged funk. Four had considerable trouble sleeping, with one having minor problems and the sixth mostly unaffected. Some had depression issues. Sometimes, a few of the men squirreled themselves away into the most private nooks they could find. They didn't move much. They avoided crucial exercise.
"This looks like something you see in birds in the winter," said lead author David Dinges, a sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
The experiment was run and funded by Russian and European space agencies. A report on the simulation's effect on the men was published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dinges said scientists can't tell if the men's lethargy was just lack of sleep or was also caused by other factors: the close quarters, lack of privacy with so many cameras or being away from their families for so long.
It's a problem that has to be fixed — and can be — before astronauts are sent to Mars, as President Barack Obama proposes for the mid-2030s, Dinges said. The trip to Mars, Earth's closest neighbor, would take about six months each way.
The world record for continuous time in space — 14 months — is held by Dr. Valery Polyakov, who was on the Russian space station Mir in 1994 and 1995. American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are scheduled to spend an entire year in space on the International Space Station, starting in 2015.
When leaving confinement in November 2011, the six volunteers — three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese — called their experience successful: "We can go forward and now plan to go to Mars and move confidently," said volunteer Romain Charles of France.
The data scientists collected wasn't as rosy. Devices on the volunteers' wrists measured their movements and showed that when they were asleep and awake they were moving much less than they should have been, an unexpected and disturbing finding, Dinges said.
One of the six volunteers — who were paid $100,000 to live in the mock spaceship with limited and time-delayed contact with the outside world — slept nearly half an hour less each night than he did when he started the mission, affecting how he went about his day, Dinges said.
The loss of sleep matters because astronauts will have to perform intricate tasks on the way to Mars and while on the red planet. And they have to do vigorous exercises daily to fight the toll that near-zero gravity takes on the bones and other parts of the body. And most of the volunteers weren't doing that.
The Moscow study, based on the ground, couldn't take into account the added difficulty of near-zero gravity.
Former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who holds the American record for longest space mission, said he could relate to the study findings. During his 215 days in orbit on the space station, he sometimes had trouble getting back to sleep because he didn't have a sense of lying down or having his head on a pillow.
The lack of sleep and lots of work caused him to sometimes nod off during the day, and the lack of gravity meant that when he fell asleep accidentally he would float away and awaken elsewhere in the station, he said.
""It happened more than once, but I never thought it was a big deal. I thought it was amusing in a way," Lopez-Alegria said in an interview.
Excerpts from astronaut diaries in a NASA report show prevalent sleep problems, with space station residents talking about nodding off while typing and obsessing over getting too much or too little sleep.
"I just need sleep," one unidentified astronaut wrote.
"The morning started disastrously. I slept through two (wake-up) alarms... My body apparently went on strike for better working conditions," wrote another.
Jerry Linenger, a medical doctor and NASA astronaut who spent more than four months on the Russian space station Mir in 1997, said he watched cosmonauts fall asleep in mid-conversation. And after a couple months, Linenger started having sleep problems despite his best efforts, which included using eye shades and bungee cords to put pressure on his body.
"It's kind of like you're wiped out after New Year's Eve, kind of like a hangover or something," Linenger said. "You are aware you're not performing. So I'd be extra careful if I had to switch some buttons."
Later in 1997, a cosmonaut on Mir who had a sleepless night accidentally disconnected a system that gathered solar power for the aging station, said Charles Czeisler, a sleep professor and space researcher at Harvard Medical School.
Czeisler, who wasn't part of the Dinges study, said the new work was important in demonstrating the challenges of a Mars mission.
Astronauts do use sleeping pills to help them sleep.
And one solution experts like Dinges and Czeisler agree on is lighting. Blue evening light is essential for resetting a body's natural rhythms, Czeisler said, and changing the color and timing of lighting has been shown to help people sleep on Earth.

Another danger for astronauts: Super bacteria

Bacteria living zero-gravity environments become more virulent. People living in zero-gravity environments have less-than-fully-functional immune systems. The result is a danger for space travelers that few of us on Earth ever think about — even though a lot of early astronauts, right up through the Apollo program, suffered severe infections in flight, or shortly after landing. Ed Yong's article for Wired UK from 2011 is a reminder that there's a lot of details that need to be worked out before humanity can become a space-faring species. We've got more worry about up there than just radiation.

Seventeen Billion ...

Earth-sized planets 'number 17bn'Visualisation of different types of planets in Milky Way, by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

An analysis of planet candidates suggests at least one in six stars in the night sky hosts an Earth-sized planet - 17 billion in total.

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The Classics

Ole John Deere by Photographer FX “John David” on Flickr.

Massachusetts man attacked by bobcat in his garage

Roger Mundell Jr., bears cuts on his face at his home in Brookfield, Mass., Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, after being attacked by a bobcat in his garage Sunday. The cat ran out of the garage and bit Mundell's 15-year-old nephew on the arms and back before it was shot dead. (AP Photo/The Telegram & Gazette, Christine Peterson)  
A man in Massachusetts says all he heard was a hiss before a bobcat pounced on him in his own garage, sinking its teeth into his face and its claws in his back.
Roger Mundell Jr. went into the garage in Brookfield on Sunday morning to fetch some tie-down straps for a friend when the animal attacked.
It then ran out of the garage and bit Mundell's 15-year-old nephew on the arms and back.
Mundell and his wife pinned the cat to the ground and shot it dead.
Mundell, his nephew and his wife, are being treated for rabies. His wife wasn't bitten, but got the animal's blood on her.
State Environmental Police took the bobcat to have it tested for rabies, which they think is likely given its unusual behavior.

Jaguar cubs born at Milwaukee zoo bring new genes

This Dec. 16, 2012 photo shows two baby jaguar cubs born at the Milwaukee County Zoo in November. Jaguars are an endangered species. Stacy Johnson, coordinator of the jaguar species survival plan for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, said heir birth was a big deal because their father was born in the wild and brings new genes to zoos. (AP Photo/Milwaukee County Zoo) 
Two jaguar cubs are providing more than just cooing fans for Milwaukee's zoo. The spotted brothers are introducing new genes to the endangered species' captive population because unlike most zoo babies, their father was born in the wild.
The blue-eyed cubs, born Nov. 13, don't officially have names just yet, but keepers at the Milwaukee County Zoo are calling them "Gaps" and "Dots," due to the markings on their heads.
Stacey Johnson, coordinator of the jaguar species survival plan for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, said it is rare for zoos' reproductive programs to have access to animals born in the wild.
"They are bringing in a new inflow of genes that will help sustain the population over next 100 years," Johnson said.
He also noted that the cubs — the first born at the zoo since 1975 — are also beneficial because female jaguars currently outnumber males in zoos in North America.
The cubs, currently about the size of house cats, are still too small to navigate their multi-level exhibit, so they aren't yet on display. But fans can catch glimpses of the curious cubs and their mother on the zoo's live webcam.
Zoo officials plan to put the cubs on display by early February.
Their father, Pat, was captured in Central America after being deemed a problem jaguar for attacking cattle, so he was a bit of a celebrity at the Belize Zoo before coming to Milwaukee in 2008. The estimated 15-year-old animal also has a book named after him, "Pat the Great Cat: A Jaguars Journey," which was written by children in Milwaukee and Belize as part of a literacy program.
The cubs were the first for their mother, Stella.
The cubs will remain at the zoo for about a year before being moved to other zoos whose jaguars need genetic diversity, zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Diliberti said. Jaguars are found in the wild in the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America and South America.
The webcam has received about 16,000 hits since it went live Dec. 18. The average time spent on the webcam is about 25 minutes — compared to 2 minutes on their home page, Diliberti said.
"People are really following their story, which is wonderful," she said.

Rhino Horns Worth $600,000 Seized

A Vietnamese man was arrested with rhino horn worth more than half a million dollars in his luggage at Bangkok's main airport. Read more
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Giant Squid Filmed in Pacific Depths

Scientists and broadcasters said Monday they have captured footage of an elusive giant squid, up to eight meters (26 feet) long that roams the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Read more Giant Squid Filmed in Pacific Depths

'Super Predator' Terrorized Jurassic Europe

The toothy beast was a marine crocodile that looked part shark and part sinister dolphin.  
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Animal Pictures