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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Daily Drift


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Today in History

1547 Ivan IV crowns himself the new Czar of Russia in Assumption Cathedral in Moscow.
1786 The Council of Virginia guarantees religious freedom.
1847 John C. Fremont, the famed "Pathfinder" of Western exploration, is appointed governor of California.
1865 General William T. Sherman begins a march through the Carolinas.
1900 The U.S. Senate recognizes the Anglo-German Treaty of 1899 by which the UK renounced its rights to the Samoan Islands.
1909 One of Ernest Shackleton's polar exploration teams reaches the Magnetic South Pole.
1914 Maxim Gorky is authorized to return to Russia after an eight year exile for political dissidence.
1920 The League of Nations holds its first meeting in Paris.
1920 Allies lift the blockade on trade with Russia.
1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt asks for an extension of the Social Security Act to include more women and children.
1940 Hitler cancels an attack in the West due to bad weather and the capture of German attack plans in Belgium.
1942 Japan's advance into Burma begins.
1944 Eisenhower assumes supreme command of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.
1945 The U.S. First and Third armies link up at Houffalize, effectively ending the Battle of the Bulge.
1956 The Egyptian government makes Islam the state religion.
1965 Eighteen are arrested in Mississippi for the murder of three civil rights workers.
1975 The Irish Republican Army calls an end to a 25-day cease fire in Belfast.
1979 The Shah leaves Iran.
1991 The Persian Gulf War begins. The massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq — Operation Desert Storm — ended on February 28, 1991, when President George Bush declared a cease-fire, and Iraq pledged to honor future coalition and U.N. peace terms.

Non Sequitur


House repugicans considering forcing US debt default, government shutdown

 Quite an interesting piece in Politico the other day about how GOP House Speaker Boehner may force a government shutdown in order to pander to the crazies who now run the Republican party:
House Speaker John Boehner “may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,” said a top repugican cabal leadership adviser. “We might need to do that for member-management purposes — so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting.”
And it appears that Boehner is no longer in control of his caucus:
Starting Monday, Boehner will huddle with his leadership team to discuss his preliminary thinking on a spending strategy. A source who attended meetings to prepare for those private talks said repugican cabal leaders are authentically at a loss on how to control members who don’t respond to the normal incentives of wanting to help party leaders or of avoiding situations — like default — that could be public relations nightmares.
Uh, we could have told you this was going to happen – we did tell you this was going to happen. The repugicans let their party be taken over by religious crazies a good decade, if not two, ago, and now they let it be taken over by fiscal crazies. And guess what? They’re proposing a lot of crazy.
Crazy in point: Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, our own little Mormon Lindsey Graham, always so feisty and fey.
“For too long, the pitch was, we’ll deal with it next time,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a conservative from Utah. He said repugican lawmakers are prepared to shut things down or even default if Obama doesn’t bend on spending. “No one wants to default, but we are not going to continue to give the president a limitless credit card.”
I’m sorry, but as Paul Krugman noted the other day, the President doesn’t pass budgets or appropriations bills. House repugicans like Jason Chaffetz do. The President only spends the money they give him. He can spend no more. so Chaffetz is actually upset that the President is spending the money that Chaffetz and his fellow House repugicans gave the President.
But don’t expect consistency from this crowd. Crazy doesn’t need logic.
Charles Pierce at Esquire has a great take on this (and some harsh words for the Politico story I linked to above):
In this installment, our intrepid gumshoes manage to pry loose quotes from various vandals and dumbasses in and out of the repugican House caucus, and in and out of government as well, to the effect that they have every intention of blowing up the American economy over the next few weeks if they don’t get absolutely everything they absolutely want. (There are drug gangs in Mexico who are more open to negotiations than these people.) The hero of the tale seems to be the embattled prince of Orange, John Boehner who, the authors tell us, may just have to agree to a government shutdown so that some of the angrier feral children over whom he presides won’t take flamethrowers to the classroom rather than take their afternoon naps….
Here you have “repugican cabal officials” saying flat out that Boehner may have to agree to a government shutdown — which, it should be noted, but wasn’t in Politico, will affect the whole damn country — in order to placate an insane splinter of a faction of his party. Presented with a clear example of how the repugicans have become demented, and a clear example of how that dementia is a danger to the nation, an important story by anyone’s lights, Politico instead presents this information merely as a threat to the speakership of John Boehner, as though that’s all that’s at risk here. (This problem might have been solved if the two newshounds had talked to, you know, Democrats, but this is Politico, and y’all know better than that.)

Hypocrite repugicans Ignored Decades of Debt Until Obama Became President

GOP drop dead
The act of replacing a high-priority action with a task of lower priority, or doing something of no importance at all and thus putting off important tasks to a later time is procrastination. The real issue, and problem with procrastinators, is ignoring the urgency of a high-priority task and in America, repugicans never place a high-priority on spending and the national debt until there is a Democrat in the White House that has been a regular occurrence dating back to the Reagan junta. The priority for the last two Democratic presidents has been cleaning up the fiscal mess left by their repugican predecessors, and invariably, repugicans complicate matters by threatening to shut down the government to confound the Democratic president’s clean-up efforts and punish the people for electing a Democrat in the first place.
If it were not so serious, it would be comical that repugicans have the ability to prioritize reducing spending and the nation’s deficit when a Democrat is in the White House, because during repugican juntas, out-of-control spending and rising debt are the lowest priority possible for allegedly fiscally responsible conservatives. During the shrub's junta, Dick Cheney reminded Americans over the course of eight years that Ronald Reagan said “deficits don’t matter,” and then on January 21, 2009 after the shrub left President Obama a $1.2 trillion deficit for fiscal 2009, deficits instantaneously became repugicans highest priority next to cutting safety net spending and reducing the deficit they ran up for two unfunded wars, unfunded tax cuts for the rich, and an unfunded Medicare prescription plan.
Now, repugicans claim that the nation cannot procrastinate addressing eight years of repugican debt and out-of-control spending any longer, and to force the President to clean up the fiscal mess they left the country faster, are making very serious threats to shut down the government and default on the debt they racked up during the shrub junta. Shutting down the government is a favorite ploy of repugicans during Democratic administrations and it informs more that repugicans are wreaking vengeance on the voters for electing a Democrat than fiscal policy, but that is the price Americans have had to pay for rejecting repugican presidential candidates.
The repugicans are fond of claiming President Obama increased spending to unsustainable levels, but the facts do not bear out their assertion. The President has been so serious about reducing spending, that his record reveals he is a spendthrift compared to any repugican junta since Eisenhower. One House repugican, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said, “I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious. We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.” The end of the road came when Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, and despite setting a record for the lowest spending in decades, repugicans are out to slash Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and any program unrelated to defense and corporate entitlements.
There is a contingent of repugicans who are panting to shut down the government just  ”to get it out of their system, and to do that for member-management purposes — so they can show their constituents they’re fighting” according to a top repugican cabal leadership adviser. One Utah repugican, Jason Chaffetz said repugicans will “shut things down or even default if Obama doesn’t bend on spending. No one wants to default, but we are not going to continue to give the president a limitless credit card” in spite of the President’s stingy fiscal policy. It is odd that repugicans freely gave the shrub a limitless credit card that President Obama is being charged for, and to demonstrate how serious they are, repugicans are wont to totally destroy the economy and shutdown the government unless retirees, Veterans, the poor, disaster victims, schools, soldiers, the disabled, and children absorb repugican cuts.
The other day at his press conference, President Obama called for $1.5 trillion more in deficit reduction to stabilize the nation’s fiscal trajectory, and according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the White House has done about $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction since the beginning of 2011 and recommended that lawmakers pursue about $1.4 trillion more to stabilize the deficit over the next 10 years. President Obama said, “we need about $4 trillion to stabilize our debt and our deficit, which means we need about $1.5 trillion more,” and the $4 trillion figure is precisely what he proposed in 2011 that flummoxed repugicans and led to a credit downgrade, the fiscal cliff, and sequester cuts looming in a couple of months. Still, repugicans are holding firm to their threats to shut down the government and default on the nation’s debt apparently because they “just want to get it out of their system” and show the President they are serious about spending cuts and deficit reduction.
This Republican Party is not serious about anything that does not ravage Medicare, Social Security, and safety nets while protecting bloated defense spending and corporate entitlements. Their highest priority, by their own admission, is crashing the economy and shutting down the government to punish the American people for re-electing President Obama and show their constituents they are fighting the President. The President gave them a sweet deal to avert the fiscal cliff and they balked the same way they shunned John Boehner’s absurd Plan B, and it is becoming apparent there is nothing whatsoever they will accept that does not include either a credit default and government shutdown, or eviscerating safety nets.  They procrastinated addressing Bush’s out-of-control spending and deficit increases until a Democrat entered the White House at which time they suddenly became serious fiscal conservatives.
It seems there is nothing, and no-one, to rein in recalcitrant Republicans single-minded priority of obstructing President Obama from cleaning up their fiscal mess, or their insane and politically suicidal plan to shut down the government and cause a credit default. What is telling, is that they would rather cause a global economic catastrophe and decimate Americans than work with the President, and there is nothing as dangerous as dying tyrants lashing out at their own people, and whether they are angry they lost the election, or confounded at their inability to rule America, it is the American people who will suffer and sadly, that too is one of their highest priorities.

Wingnuts chip away at $50b Sandy aid package

This Jan. 3, 2013 photo shows a beach front home that was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy resting in the sand in Bay Head, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. House conservatives opposed to more deficit spending chip away at a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package by seeking spending cuts in other programs to pay for recovery efforts and stripping money for projects they say are unrelated to the Oct. 29 storm. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) 
House wingnuts opposed to more deficit spending tried Monday to chip away at the $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package by requiring offsetting spending cuts to pay for recovery efforts and by stripping money for projects they say are unrelated to the Oct. 29 storm or not urgently needed.
The push by budget hawks for amendments sets up a fight with Northeast lawmakers in both parties eager to provide recovery aid for one of the worst storms ever to strike the region as the House moves toward expected votes Tuesday on the emergency spending package.
The base $17 billion bill by the House Appropriations Committee is aimed at immediate Sandy recovery needs, including $5.4 billion for New York and New Jersey transit systems and $5.4 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief aid fund.
Northeast lawmakers will have a chance to add to that bill with an amendment by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, r-N.J., for an additional $33.7 billion, including $10.9 billion for public transportation projects.
The Club for Growth, a wingnut coven, on Monday urged lawmakers to oppose both Sandy aid measures.
"Congress shouldn't keep passing massive 'emergency' relief bills that aren't paid for, have little oversight, and are stuffed with pork," the club said in a statement.
Sandy aid supporters, nonetheless, voiced confidence Monday they would prevail. The Senate passed a $60.4 billion Sandy aid package in December with bipartisan support.
"We have more than enough votes, I'm confident of that," said Rep. Peter King, r-N.Y., claiming a base of strong support from Democrats as well as repugicans from the Northeast and other states for both the base $17 billion bill and the amendment for the additional $33.7 billion.
The House Rules Committee Monday night approved 13 amendments for floor consideration, including one requiring spending offsets and four seeking to strike money for some projects not directly related to Sandy or not seen as emergency spending.
"With that many amendments, one could sneak through," King said. "We should be able to defeat the important amendments, though."
As with past natural disasters, the $50.7 billion Sandy aid package does not provide for offsetting spending cuts, meaning the aid comes at the cost of higher deficits. The lone exception is an offset provision in the Frelinghuysen amendment requiring that the $3.4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect against future storms be paid for by spending cuts elsewhere in the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Wingnut Reps. Mick Mulvaney, r-S.C., Tom McClintock, r-Calif., Jeff Duncan, r-S.C., and Cynthia Lummis, r-Wyo., offered an amendment to offset the $17 billion base bill with spending cuts of 1.6 percent for all discretionary appropriations for fiscal year 2013.
"I believe we can provide that relief while finding ways to pay for it, rather than adding to the nation's ballooning deficit," said Mulvaney.
Other amendments set for floor debate would cut $15 million for Regional Ocean Partnership Grants, $13 million for the National Weather Service ground readiness project, $1 million for the Legal Services Corporation and $9.8 million for rebuilding seawalls and buildings on uninhabited islands in the Steward McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut.
House Speaker John Boehner planned votes on both the $17 billion base bill and Frelinghuysen proposal for $33.7 billion more. He's responding both to wingnuts who are opposed to more deficit spending, and to pointed criticism from Govs. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., and Chris Christie, r-N.J., who are fuming because the House hasn't acted sooner.
Boehner decided on New Year's Day to delay a scheduled vote then after nearly two-thirds of House repugicans rebelled over a bill allowing taxes to rise on families making more than $450,000 a year because it included only meager spending cuts. Christie called the speaker's action "disgusting."
The Senate's $60.4 billion bill on Sandy relief expired with the previous Congress on Jan. 3. But about $9.7 billion was money for replenishing the government's flood insurance fund to help pay Sandy victims, and Congress approved that separately earlier this month. Whatever emerges from the House this week is scheduled for debate in the Senate next week after President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
FEMA has spent about $3.1 billion in disaster relief money for shelters, restoring power and other immediate needs after the storm pounded the Atlantic Coast with hurricane-force winds. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit.
Meanwhile, the House Monday night overwhelmingly approved, on a 403-0 vote, a bill to change FEMA regulations that critics blame for slowing down recovery efforts. The bill would let FEMA make limited repairs to victims' homes in place of lease payments or the traditional agency trailers. It also would permit FEMA to make disaster grants based on estimated damage costs instead of waiting for states and communities to seek reimbursement for repairs And it would established an "expedited" federal environmental review process for projects for protecting against future storms.

How about getting a clue?

Did you know ...

About the case against billionaires

How the Clinton surplus became a $6 trillion deficit

That science is partisan

And just when do low-income Americans get their white house meeting?

Goldman Sachs again to change bonuses to avoid taxes

At the start of this year, Goldman Sachs changed their normal bonus payout schedule so that top earners could avoid any tax increases related to the fiscal cliff. This was done even though CEO Lloyd Blankfein publicly stated his willingness to pay more to address what he claimed was a critical issue for the US.How thoughtful of him to run away when his time came to help pay back America for being so generous to Goldman Sachs.
Here we are, a few weeks later, and there’s Goldman Sachs once again gaming the system. But this time it’s in the UK.
These banks are serial abusers, sponging every cent they can squeeze out of governments — but when it’s their time to contribute, it’s a different story.
Disgraceful, but this is what happens when we rescue bankers with few strings attached:
Goldman Sachs logo
Goldman Sachs is considering delaying bonus payments in the U.K. until after April 6, when the top rate of income tax in the country will drop to 45 percent, from 50 percent, a person familiar with the bank’s operations said on Sunday.
The strategy relates to bonuses that were deferred from 2009, 2010 and 2011, the person said. The Financial Times reported the news earlier today.

Wal-Mart plans $50 billion "buy American" push

Tasha heads to checkout at a Walmart Store in Chicago, November 23, 2012. REUTERS/John Gress  
Wal-Mart Stores Inc will buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made goods over the next decade in areas like sporting goods and high-end appliances in what the world's largest retailer called a bid to help boost the U.S. economy.
Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the United States and the world's largest retailer, also said on Tuesday it plans to hire 100,000 newly discharged veterans over the next five years, at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at 7.8 percent.
The moves come as the U.S. economy continues to grow slowly 3-1/2 years after the end of a severe recession. An average of $5 billion a year in spending is a drop in the bucket for the $15 trillion U.S. economy, and the question is how many other retailers could do the same.
Terry Lundgren, chief executive of Macy's Inc and until this month the chairman of the National Retail Federation, told Reuters that Wal-Mart's plans to buy American were good but that cost would still be an issue.
"We would all love to do that, the customer will not pay more," Lundgren told Reuters on the sidelines of an NRF event where Wal-Mart presented its plans.
The moves received a cool reception from critics who claimed Wal-Mart does not pay its workers enough and slammed the retailer for selling too many goods made in lower-cost countries like China. The company is also under pressure over its sourcing practices, particularly after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that made Wal-Mart clothes.
But Walmart's U.S. unit says about two-thirds of the goods it buys for its stores are made, sourced from or grown in the United States, citing data from its suppliers. It has previously run "Made in America" campaigns, and in the early 1990s it was criticized for promoting foreign goods as domestically made.
Last year, 55 percent of Walmart U.S. sales came from groceries like food and drinks as well as other products that are typically sourced locally. Only 7 percent of Walmart U.S. sales were of apparel, jewelry and accessories, which retailers typically get from lower-cost countries.
To the extent Wal-Mart buys more U.S.-made goods the company would have otherwise imported, it would reflect the recent shift in the U.S. commercial relationship with the rest of the world.
Both economic output and net imports declined sharply during the 2007-09 recession. While gross domestic product has rebounded, net imports have not, a sign the United States is meeting more demand for goods and services domestically.
The company said its Walmart U.S. and Sam's Club warehouse chain will increase what they already buy in the United States in categories like sporting goods, basic apparel, storage containers, games and paper products.
Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Bill Simon laid out the spending and hiring plan at the National Retail Federation's annual conference in New York.
Wal-Mart is not a member of the NRF, a major industry trade association that has promoted the importance of retail jobs in the United States. The NRF asserts that 25 percent of American jobs are supported by the retail industry.
Along that line, the company said starting on Memorial Day in May, it plans to hire 100,000 U.S. veterans over five years, a move supported by First Lady Michelle Obama.
"We've developed a national paralysis that's driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something," Simon said in prepared remarks for the NRF. "But if we're waiting on government, we're waiting on a process that can't act with the same speed as business."
Veterans' issues are of personal interest to Simon, who served 25 years in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve. The company said it will offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran in the first year after active duty.
Depending on the time of year, there are anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 job postings at Walmart. The company said it promotes about 170,000 people each year to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay.
About 75 percent of its store management started as hourly associates, and now earn an average of $50,000 to $170,000 a year. The highest earning store manager last year made more than $250,000. Wal-Mart has repeatedly claimed its pay and benefits are in the top half of the retail industry.
Starting wages for Walmart U.S. store employees vary by market. Simon noted that in his first job as a dishwasher in a restaurant, he made $2.10 an hour.
Walmart U.S. also said it would give part-time workers the first shot at full-time positions. It also plans to make scheduling more transparent, giving part-time workers the ability to choose more of their own hours.
Simon had barely finished speaking at the NRF event before critics responded to the new spending and hiring plan.
"Retailers like Walmart could provide the nation with a much needed economic boost by paying higher wages and providing stable scheduling - while still remaining profitable and continuing to offer low prices," Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement. "By part-timing their workforce, they're hurting both workers and our economy by fueling underemployment."
Sales for Walmart U.S. rose 1.5 percent to $264.19 billion in fiscal 2012, which ended in February 2012, and accounted for 59.5 percent of the company's total sales.
One issue Simon did not discuss was the retailer's position on guns, a hot topic since the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school last month. Wal-Mart is the nation's largest gun retailer.
Gun-control advocates rallied on Tuesday outside a store just eight miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six educators were killed on December 14.
The retailer canceled a series of media interviews with Simon after his NRF speech, including one with Reuters. Some media outlets claimed the cancellation was due to his reluctance to discuss the gun issue. A spokesman declined to give a reason.
Walmart shares rose 0.5 percent to $68.64 in mid-day trading, while the S&P retail index rose 0.6 percent.

West African army chiefs to approve Mali troops plan

French soldiers walk past a hangar they are staying at the Malian army air base in Bamako January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney (MALI - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY POLITICS) 
West African defense chiefs will on Tuesday approve plans to speed up the deployment of African troops against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, with some regional soldiers seen arriving next week.
France has already poured hundreds of troops into Mali and carried out days of air strikes in a vast desert area seized last year by an Islamist alliance that combines al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM with Mali's home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine rebel groups.
Western and regional powers are concerned the insurgents will use Mali's north as a launchpad for international attacks.
"On January 15, the committee of Chiefs of Defense Staff will meet in Bamako to approve the contingency plan," the mission head of the ECOWAS grouping of West African states, Aboudou Toure Cheaka, told Reuters.
"I can tell you that in one week, the troops will effectively be on the ground," he said, adding their immediate mission would be to help stop the rebel advance while preparations for a full intervention plan continued.
He did not say how many soldiers would arrive.
The original timetable for the 3,300-strong U.N.-sanctioned African force - backed by western logistics, money and intelligence services - did not initially foresee full deployment before September due to logistical constraints.
Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Guinea have all offered troops. But regional powerhouse Nigeria, which is due to lead the mission, has cautioned that even if some troops arrive in Mali soon, training will take more time.
The plan is being fast-tracked after France rushed to respond to a plea for help by Mali's government after mobile columns of Islamist fighters last week threatened the central garrison towns of Mopti and Sevare, with its key airport.
The French defense ministry said on Monday it aimed to deploy some 2,500 soldiers to Mali to bolster the Malian army and the eventual West African force.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France's goals were to stop the Islamist rebels, to "safeguard the existence of Mali" and pave the way for the African-led military operation.
U.S. officials said Washington was sharing information with French forces in Mali and considering providing logistics, surveillance and airlift capability.
"We have made a commitment that al Qaeda is not going to find anyplace to hide," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters as he began a visit to Europe.
As French aircraft bombarded mobile columns of Islamist fighters, other insurgents launched a counter-attack further to the south, dislodging government forces from the town of Diabaly, 350 km (220 miles) from Bamako.
French intervention has raised the threat for eight French hostages held by al Qaeda allies in the Sahara and for 30,000 French expatriates living in neighboring, mostly Muslim states. Concerned about reprisals at home, France has tightened security at public buildings and on public transport.
The U.N. said an estimated 30,000 people had fled the latest fighting in Mali, joining more than 200,000 already displaced.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday welcomed the French-led military intervention in Mali and voiced the hope that it would halt the Islamist assault.
Amnesty International said at least six civilians were killed in recent fighting in the town of Konna, where French aircraft had earlier bombarded rebel positions, and called on both sides to spare non-combatants.
France, which has repeatedly said it has abandoned its role as the policeman of its former African colonies, is among the toughest proponents of a speedier deployment of the African troops, and convened a U.N. Security Council meeting Monday to discuss the crisis.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after the meeting that the U.S., Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Germany had also offered logistical support for France's Mali operation.
"I felt that all the members of the Security Council were expressing their support (for) and understanding of the French decision," Araud told reporters.
No Europeans or other African Union members will be allowed in the defense chiefs meeting in Bamako on Tuesday, a western diplomat told Reuters, requesting not to be named.
"They don't want any French pressure at the meeting," the diplomat said.

Katie Beers says kidnapping saved her life

Katie Beers, whose kidnapping attracted nationwide headlines in 1992, poses for a photo on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Old Westbury, N.Y. The 30-year-old mother of two has co-written a new book about her ordeal to mark the 20th anniversary of her release. She says she had been the victim of sexual abuse by a family acquaintance before being kept in a dungeon by another family friend for 17 days. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)  
Being chained as a 10-year-old for more than two weeks in a coffin-size box in a suburban New York dungeon was, Katie Beers says 20 years later, "the best thing that happened to me" because it allowed her to escape a life of abuse.
On the 20th anniversary of her ordeal, Beers has co-written a book with a television reporter who covered her kidnapping. "Buried Memories: Katie Beers' Story" (Title Town Publishing) has a happy ending.
Beers is now a 30-year-old married mother of two who earned a degree in business management and works in insurance sales near her home in rural Pennsylvania.
Her kidnapping attracted nationwide attention in early 1993, when revelations surfaced while she was still missing that she had suffered years of neglect from her mother and had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by her godmother's husband since she was a toddler.
Beers was described in Dickensian terms back then — a louse-infested, filthy waif who had no friends and often was forced to lug the family's laundry down the block or fetch cigarettes and junk food for her elders.
After kidnapper John Esposito, a family acquaintance, admitted to detectives on Jan. 13, 1993, that he had kidnapped Beers and showed them the dungeon where she was hidden for 17 days under his Bay Shore, N.Y., home, the little girl was placed in foster care and raised in a comfortable East Hampton home with four siblings.
Her foster parents not only imposed newfound discipline into her life, making her go to school regularly and do small chores around the house, but they also shielded Beers from intense media interest. And reporters largely complied with a parent-like plea from a prosecutor to leave her alone.
"We as a society must protect this child, or our professed love for own children is just a fraud, and our so-called compassion for each other is just a mockery," said James Catterson, at the time the Suffolk County district attorney.
So Beers had barely been seen or heard from since until this week in a media blitz to promote the book. She appeared Monday on the "Dr. Phil" show and is the focus of a People magazine feature this week.
The abduction and subsequent rescue saved her life, Beers said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"The best thing that happened to me," she said. "I would have never gotten out of the abuse situation I was in."
She went on to play volleyball at East Hampton High, participated in drama productions and went to college in Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree and met the man who would become her husband and the father of their two children.
"There's no point really in me right now being sad or wondering what if," she told the AP.
"I try not to be sad about what happened, because ultimately it made me who I am today, and I'm very satisfied and happy with my life," she said.
Beers agreed about four years ago to co-write the book with WCBS-TV reporter Carolyn Gusoff, although she had thought about writing a book for many years.
"I want to be able to help people who might not know where to turn," she explained. "To see that there is a road to recovery."
She has declined to disclose her exact hometown, married surname or college alma mater, citing privacy concerns for her family.
In the book, Beers writes that she had been molested and raped by Sal Inghilleri — her godmother's husband — from the time she was a toddler. Inghilleri, who served 12 years in prison for molesting Beers, died in jail in 2009 following his arrest on a parole violation.
Beers also writes that Esposito raped her in the dungeon, explaining that she repressed her memory of the sexual assault for many years as a defense mechanism.
Esposito, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, was never charged with rape. He is serving 15 years to life and has been denied parole several times; his next parole hearing is later this year. At a 2007 parole hearing, Esposito described himself as asexual and said while he kissed the child, he never engaged in sexual relations.
He told Gusoff in a letter published in the book that he believes he deserves to be released.
"I think Katie knows I will always wish her well," Esposito writes. "I'm sorry for what I've done. I'm sorry I even thought it up. It was a mistake."
During her time in the dungeon, Beers writes, she rarely slept, fearing abuse from Esposito. She said she was afraid Esposito might molest her while she slept, but also was concerned that he would photograph her sleeping and send the image to police. She feared if police thought she was dead, they might end their search for her.
She "celebrated" her 10th birthday while a prisoner of Esposito's and was heard on an audiotape found in the dungeon after her release singing "Happy Birthday" to herself, although she says today she has no recollection of that.
Esposito, she writes, fed her primarily junk food and soda; to this day she is repulsed by chocolate after-dinner mints because they were a staple in captivity. She did have access to a small television, but says she can no longer listen to Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" because it played incessantly on MTV and VH1 while she in the dungeon.
She didn't realize it until many years later, but says now that she frequently watched Gusoff — then a reporter for Long Island's News12 cable station — filing reports on the police search for her while she was missing.
"It was like I had known her for 16 years" when they met in 2008 to begin work on the book, she said.
Gusoff notes that as abhorrent as Beers' sexual abuse and neglect was at the hands of her elders before the kidnapping, it may have steeled her into a survival mode.
Dominick Varrone, the Suffolk County detective who led the investigation, agreed, telling Gusoff in the book that "because of her upbringing, the sexual experiences, the abuse, and street smarts and toughness, she was much more advanced than the normal 9-year-old, and we believe that contributed to her survival."
Marilyn Beers, who is described in the book as a hard-working but largely absentee mother who ceded responsibility for raising Katie and her older brother to Inghilleri's wife and others, did not return a telephone message seeking comment about the book.
"I hope that more does come out of the book," Katie Beers said. "I would love to be able to help other kids or adults or to be an inspirational or motivational speaker, something like that. But if I go back to my life in rural Pennsylvania and go back to my insurance sales job I would love that, too.
"I'm very happy with where I'm at."

Man tied to Mafia says Hoffa buried in Detroit area

This still frame made from video provided by WNBC shows Tony Zerilli, alleged to be the underboss of Detroit's biggest crime family, during an interview with NBC. Zerilli was in prison when Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant in 1975, but tells New York TV station WNBC he was informed about Hoffa's whereabouts after his release. The ailing 85-year-old took a reporter to a field near Rochester, north of Detroit, but no exact location was disclosed. (AP Photo/WNBC) 
A man convicted of crimes as a reputed Mafia captain is claiming missing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa was buried in suburban Detroit.
Tony Zerilli was in prison when Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant in 1975, but tells New York TV station WNBC he was informed about Hoffa's whereabouts after his release. The ailing 85-year-old took a reporter to a field near Rochester, north of Detroit, but no exact location was disclosed. The report was also aired on Detroit's WDIV.
"The master plan was ... they were going to put him in a shallow grave here," Zerilli said (http://bit.ly/W1KgZp ). "Then, they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate. There was a hunting lodge and they were going to bury in a shallow grave, then take him up there for final burial. Then, I understand, that it just fell through."
Zerilli did not say during the aired interview why he chose to make his claims now. WNBC reported he is promoting an upcoming book titled "Hoffa Found," the website for which promises to reveal details about Hoffa's death.
No listed phone number for Zerilli could be found Monday by The Associated Press.
The FBI declined to comment when asked if Zerilli's claims were credible. Former Detroit FBI head Andrew Arena said the remarks deserve serious consideration.
"Anthony Zerilli was reputed to be the underboss of the Detroit organized crime family, so he would have been in the know," Arena said.
Zerilli's criminal record includes a 2002 conviction for conspiracy and extortion. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
Hoffa, Teamsters president from 1957-71, was an acquaintance of mobsters and adversary to federal officials. The day he disappeared, he was supposed to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain.
In September, police took soil from a suburban backyard after a tip Hoffa had been buried there. It was just one of many fruitless searches. Previous tips led police to a horse farm northwest of Detroit in 2006, a Detroit home in 2004 and a backyard pool two hours north of the city in 2003.

Sounds about right ...

If Scientology is a “cult,” then why is Mormonism a “religion”?

They're both cults actually!
The age-old question of just how big a cult Scientology really is reared its ugly head this week when the Atlantic found itself in some hot water for publishing an advertorial (sponsored content) from the Scientologists.  But what’s interesting to me isn’t Scientology per se, it’s Mormonism – and the larger question of how we as a society decide whether one religion is real and the other fake.Sponsored content is always a tricky question – in terms of how well you indicate that the content isn’t real news, but rather is an ad – I sense that the bigger problem people had with the ads was that they were paid for by the Church of Scientology, an organization many consider little more than a bullying cult.
But why do so many of us accept without question that Scientology is a cult, and no one other than Scientologists gets very upset about the appellation, but when discussing another relatively-new, pushy, and reportedly difficult-to-leave religion on the scene, Mormonism, suddenly the PC hairs on our neck stand on end, and we quickly distance ourselves from anyone who might suggest that the Church of Latter Day Saints is also a cult, or at the very least, not Christian?
When is a church a church, and when is a cult a cult?  And why do some of the same people who get so incensed when Mormons are disparaged have no problem when the target of our scorn and derision is Scientology?
Some on the left will say that every religion is a cult, and be done with it.  But whether or not that argument is valid, most Americans would reject it, I think.  While most Americans don’t consider Catholicism a cult (though the phrase “criminal conspiracy” does increasingly come to mind with regard to the Catholic’s ongoing, and not yet fully resolved, pedophilia scandal and cover-up), Southern Baptists consider Catholics akin to Satan worshippers.  So it’s not even completely cut and dry as to what end of the cult-religion spectrum even “traditional” religions fall.
And even amongst traditional religions, each faith considers the other somewhat of a phony.  Catholics consider their faith the one truth faith, as do Orthodox Christians (even if we don’t think Catholics are going to hell, we still think they’re involved in a slightly-off venture).  And no Christian religion thinks the Jews have it right.  And let’s not even get started on Islam.  So, clearly, we don’t have a problem judging the relative merits of religions, but only up to a point.  Folks on the left get upset when Republicans disparage Muslims.  But those some lefties probably have made a crack about Scientologists.  And while religious right Republicans are incessantly incensed about some new outrage against their faith, their strident views on freedom of religion fly out the window when the topic is Scientology, Islam, or for many, Mormonism.
When asked whether Mormons were Christians in 2011, three-fourths of American protestant pastors said “no.”  And the French government, like other European states, considers the Mormons a cult.  Though others, like Billy Graham, have suddenly changed their minds, and what was once the Mormon cult is now the Mormon church.
The religious right even has a history of trashing mainstream American religions that embrace gay rights, like reform Judaism, or the Quakers.  Religious right groups routinely dismiss the pro-gay views of those religions as irrelevant because, they claim, those religions aren’t “major” American religions (they claim, falsely), so their pro-gay vote doesn’t count.
So clearly we don’t have a hard and fast rule against knocking religion in this country.  So where do you draw the line, how do you draw the line, and how did Mormons fall on the barely-acceptable side of the line, while Scientologists are “clearly” a cult?  Do you really think we’d have had any kind of ethical debate over the propriety of knocking a Republican presidential candidate who was a Scientologist?  I doubt it.
Now, far be it for me to be making any attempt to exonerate Scientology.  Hardly.  I find the entire thing rather creepy.  I’m more interested in how Mormons have become increasingly exonerated for their once-”heresy,” and why the contradiction between the treatment of their “religion” and the treatment of Scientology’s?
If anti-Mormonism is truly the “prejudice of our age” (I always get a kick out of it when virulent bigots suddenly discover the evils of prejudice), then why isn’t it just as discriminatory to be anti-Scientology?

Random Celebrity Photo


Diana Dors in 1955.
Diana Dors in 1955.

The Shortest Commercial Flight In The World

Loganair, a Scottish airline company, takes you from Westray to Papa Westray (two Orkney Islands just north of Scotland) on the shortest commercial flight in the world. The journey covers less than three miles in about two minutes.

That 'Aw, Shit!' Momemnt

Oops swing2 
First you say it then you do it ...

Guess what?

The first month of 2013 is already a disaster for many farmers. Last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared 507 counties in 14 states natural disasters due to the ongoing drought. ->

Global Warming News

Soot plays bigger role in warmingwood fire

New research says that black carbon, or soot, is making a much larger contribution to global warming than previously recognized.

War was central to Europe’s first civilization – contrary to popular belief

Research from the University of Sheffield has discovered that the ancient civilization of Crete, known as Minoan, had strong martial  ...
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Do Scientists Fear the Paranormal?

Short Answer: NO
The question has been asked for decades: why haven’t psychic powers been proven yet? Psychics have been studied for decades, both in and out of the laboratory, yet the scientific community (and the public at large) remains unconvinced.
In a recent book, “Science & Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics,” author Chris Carter insists that the reason that psychic powers have not been proven is because scientists are unaware of the research or refuse to take it seriously because “Clearly many scientists find the claims of parapsychology disturbing.”
This is a common charge leveled against skeptics and scientists: that they refuse to acknowledge the existence of paranormal phenomenon (psychic abilities, ghosts, etc.) because it would somehow challenge or “disturb” their worldview.
Skeptics and scientists, they say, are deeply personally and professional invested in defending the scientific status quo and cannot psychologically tolerate the idea that they could be wrong. This results in a closed-minded refusal to accept, or even seriously examine, the evidence.
But is this really true? Do scientists ignore and dismiss claims and evidence that challenge dominant scientific ideas? Let’s examine some recent examples.

Psychic Powers

A study published in 2011 in a scientific journal claimed to have found strong evidence for the existence of psychic powers such as ESP. The paper, written by Cornell professor Daryl J. Bem, was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and quickly made headlines around the world for its implication: that psychic powers had been scientifically proven.
Bem’s claim of evidence for ESP wasn’t ridiculed or ignored; instead it was taken seriously and tested by scientific researchers.
Replication is of course the hallmark of valid scientific research — if the findings are true and accurate, they should be able to be replicated by others. Otherwise the results may simply be due to normal and expected statistical variations and errors. If other experimenters cannot get the same result using the same techniques, it’s usually a sign that the original study was flawed in one or more ways.
A team of researchers collaborated to accurately replicate Bem’s final experiment, and found no evidence for any psychic powers. Their results were published in the journal PLoS ONE. Bem — explicitly contradicting Carter’s suggestion that skeptics set out to discredit his work or refused to look at it — acknowledged that the findings did not support his claims and wrote that the researchers had “made a competent, good-faith effort to replicate the results of one of my experiments on precognition.”
The following year a second group of scientists also tried to replicate Bem’s ESP experiments, and once again found no evidence for psychic power. The article, “Correcting the Past: Failures to Replicate Psi,” was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and is available on the web page of the Social Science Research Network.

Einstein’s Mistake?

In September 2011, news shot around the world that Italian physicists had measured particles traveling faster than light. The neutrino in the experiment only exceeded the speed of light by a little tiny bit — 60 nanoseconds — but if validated would violate the fundamental laws of physics.
Questions swirled: Would the findings hold up under repeated experiments? Could this team have proven Einstein wrong about the speed of light?
What was the reaction from the scientific community to the news of this fundamentals-of-physics-challenging finding? They didn’t ignore the results, hoping the inconvenient truth would go away; they didn’t brand the scientists liars or hoaxers; they didn’t shout, “Burn the witch, this is heresy and cannot be true!”
Instead, they did what all scientists do when confronted with such anomalous evidence: they took a closer look at the experiment to make sure the results were valid, and tried to replicate the research. It later turned out that the anomaly was caused by at least two measurement errors, possibly including a loose cable: the experiment was flawed.
The scientists were not skeptical because accepting that Einstein was wrong about something would lead to a nervous breakdown, or that their whole worldview would crumble beneath them, or that they would have to accept that science doesn’t know everything.
The reason scientists were skeptical is because the new study contradicted all previous experiments. That’s what good science does: When you do a study or experiment — especially one whose results conflict with earlier conclusions, you study it closely and question it before accepting the results.
In science, those who disprove dominant theories are rewarded, not punished. Disproving one of Einstein’s best-known predictions (or proving the existence of psychic powers) would earn the dissenting scientists a place in the history books, if not a Nobel Prize.
The same pattern exists in other areas of the unexplained. For example many scientists have worked on analyzing alleged hair from mysterious animals such as Bigfoot and the Chupacabra. Researchers from Oxford University spent part of last year collecting samples of alleged Bigfoot hair for possible genetic identification; geneticist Bryan Sykes conducted DNA analysis and plans to publish his results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal soon.

Scientific Blinders or Lack of Evidence?

The reason that psychic powers, Bigfoot, ghosts, and other phenomena are not accepted by the scientific community is simply because there is little or no good evidence for them — not because scientists haven’t looked at the evidence.
Better research follows better evidence, and as one prominent scientist and Bigfoot researcher, British primatologist John Napier noted, “There are no shortage of problems to tackle, and it is not surprising that scientists prefer to investigate the probable rather than beat their heads against the wall of the faintly possible.”
The evidence for psychic powers, like the evidence for anything else, stands or falls on its own merits. There’s no reason in the world that scientists would fear the unknown, or be afraid to learn more about the world we live in.

Archaeology News

4,000-year-old shaman’s stones discovered near Boquete, Panama

Archaeologists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama have discovered a cluster of 12 unusual stones in the ...

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Random Picture

The Winners of National Geographic Photo Contest 2012

This photograph of a tigress named Busaba was selected out of more than 22,000 entries from over 150 countries as the Grand Prize Winner and Nature Winner of National Geographic's Photo Contest for 2012. Photographer Ashley Vincent said of her winning shot, taken at Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand: 
"I had taken many portraits of Busaba previously and it was becoming more and more difficult to come up with an image that appeared any different to the others. Which is why I took to observing her more carefully during my visits in the hope of capturing something of a behavioural shot. The opportunity finally presented itself while watching Busaba enjoying her private pool then shaking herself dry."
See the winners in all three categories — nature, places and people — at National Geographic.

The Pacific Barreleye Fish

The Pacific Barreleye fish - Macropinna microstoma - is the only species of fish in the genus Macropinna, belonging to Opisthoproctidae, the barreleye family. It is recognized for a highly unusual transparent, fluid-filled dome on its head, through which the lenses of its eyes can be seen. The eyes have a barrel shape and can be rotated to point either forward or straight up, looking through the fish's transparent dome.

The Magnificent Pangolin: A Scaled, Precise Animal

Pangolins are spectacularly strange, wildly fascinating creatures that combine traits of many diverse animals. Endangered, genetically unique and intrinsically awesome, this animal is truly, well, 'precise'. So, what exactly is so precise about them?

Fabulous Flappy Forearmed Flying Frog Found

A team led by Australian amphibian biologist Jodi Rowley was hiking through the lowland forests of Vietnam in 2009 when they first saw the large frog on a log.
Rowley later discovered that the 3.5-inch-long (9-centimeter-long) creature is a relatively large new type of flying frog, a group known for its ability to "parachute" from tree to tree thanks to special aerodynamic adaptations, such as webbed feet, Rowley said.

Rowley dubbed the new species Helen's flying frog, in honor of her mother, Helen Rowley, "who has steadfastly supported her only child trekking through the forests of Southeast Asia in search of frogs," according to a statement.

The newfound species—there are 80 types of flying frogs—is also "one of the most flying frogs of the flying frogs," Rowley said, "in that it's got huge hands and feet that are webbed all the way to the toepad."

"Females even have flappy skin on their forearms to glide," added Rowley, who has received funding from the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration.
The flying frogs aren't seen much because they tend to stay in the forest canopy, but with Ho Chi Minh City only a few miles away and growing, their habitat may soon be threatened. Read more on the new frog at NatGeo News .

Animal Pictures

Hey, who ate all the apples? by Konabish ~ Greg Bishop on Flickr.