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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Daily Drift


Well, how do you do?!

Some of our readers today have been in:
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Cairo, Egypt
Dubrovnik. Croatia
Makati, Philippines
Harare, Zimbabwe
Port-Of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Lodz, Poland
Valdivia, Chile
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Zamboanga, Philippines
Ankara, Turkey
Bila Tserkva, Ukraine
Santiago, Chile
Istanbul, Turkey
Algiers, Algeria
Kaunas, Lithuania
Bordeaux, France
Tyn Nad Vltavou, Czech Republic
Pretoria, South Africa
Tallinn, Estonia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Manila, Philippines
Jakarta, Indonesia
Warsaw, Poland
Puchong, Malaysia
Novi Sad, Serbia
Islamabad, pakistan
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Hanoi, Vietnam
Abu Dahbi, United Arab, Emirates
Riga, Latvia
Cape Town, South Africa
Lima, Peru
Bandung, Indonesia
Belgrade, Serbia
Sampaloc, Philippines

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Today in History

364   On the death of Jovian, a conference at Nicaea chooses Valentinan, an army officer who was born in the central European region of Pannania, to succeed him in Asia Minor.  
1154   William the Bad succeeds his father, Roger the II, in Sicily.  
1790   As a result of the Revolution, France is divided into 83 departments.  
1815   Napoleon and 1,200 of his men leave Elba to start the 100-day re-conquest of France.  
1848   Karl Marx and Frederick Engels publish The Communist Manifesto in London.  
1871   France and Prussia sign a preliminary peace treaty at Versailles.  
1901   Boxer Rebellion leaders Chi-Hsin and Hsu-Cheng-Yu are publicly executed in Peking.  
1914   Russian aviator Igor Sikorsky carries 17 passengers in a twin engine plane in St. Petersburg.  
1916   General Henri Philippe Petain takes command of the French forces at Verdun.  
1917   President Wilson publicly asks congress for the power to arm merchant ships.  
1924   U.S. steel industry finds claims an eight-hour day increases efficiency and employee relations.  
1933   Ground is broken for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  
1936   Japanese military troops march into Tokyo to conduct a coup and assassinate political leaders.  
1941   British take the Somali capital in East Africa.  
1943   U.S. Flying Fortresses and Liberators pound German docks and U-boat lairs at Wilhelmshaven.  
1945   Syria declares war on Germany and Japan.  
1951   The 22nd Amendment is added to the Constitution limiting the Presidency to two terms.  
1964   Lyndon B. Johnson signs a tax bill with $11.5 billion in cuts.  
1965   Norman Butler is arrested for the murder of Malcom X.  
1968   Thirty-two African nations agree to boycott the Olympics because of the presence of South Africa.  
1970   Five Marines are arrested on charges of murdering 11 South Vietnamese women and children.  
1972   Soviets recover Luna 20 with a cargo of moon rocks.  
1973   A publisher and 10 reporters are subpoenaed to testify on Watergate.  
1990   Daniel Ortega, communist president of Nicaragua, suffers a shocking election defeat at the hands of Violeta Chamorro.  
1993   A bomb rocks the World Trade Center in New York City. Five people are killed and hundreds suffer from smoke inhalation.

Non Sequitur


Are Wal-Mart’s Financials A Light Bulb Moment?

There was a little glimmer of light in the Southern skies last week. It wasn’t exactly a light bulb flashing on over Wal-Mart Corporate Headquarters, but it did look as though someone was fumbling with the switch.
The company released its financial results for FY 2013 on Thursday and as usual, the results were boffo. Sales were up $10 billion, international sales rose 7.4 percent and the company gained market share in food, consumables, entertainment, toys, and health and wellness. Of course the company did its version of sharing the wealth, raising its dividend by 18 percent or $0.29 per share.
Those were the sounds of a cash register ringing, the door of a luxury automobile slamming, or the roar of a corporate jet taking off from Bentonville, Arkansas. The glimmer of light was in the footnotes. Same store sales grew only 1 percent in the fourth quarter where analysts were expecting the same 1.5 percent they had seen in a year earlier. Wal-Mart attributed this to a fall off in sales after Black Friday because, it said of an unusually long interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Another slowdown in sales hit in late January and continued into this month.
The company’s explanation for the recent flat sales was the January 1 payroll tax “increase” and higher gas prices. The former, of course wasn’t an increase at all but Wal-Mart, without a hint of irony, complained that the expiration of the tax holiday took $15 a week out of the pockets of families earning $30,000 a year.
While Wal-Mart was outwardly analytic about these by numbers, inwardly it was freaked. In emails leaked to Bloomberg News, Jerry Murray, Wal-Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics, called February the worst start to a month he had seen in his seven years with the company. An email from another company executive said in part, “Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”
OK, they still don’t get it, but maybe they are finally paying attention because a lot of us have wondered just what the Waltons see as their end game. Did they even have one? And not just them; the same could be asked about the Brothers Koch, the men and women who run the banks, and the energy, insurance, and agribusiness conglomerates.
Granted it has all gone swimmingly so far; they have broken the unions, depressed wages, shipped jobs overseas, evaded, whether legally or not, their share of taxes; fought to destroy the safety net, and bought off a goodly portion of the nation’s politicians. They have also managed to capture an unseemly percentage of the national wealth all while convincing millions of Americans that they deserve special treatment as “The Job Creators.”
However they seem to have ignored the back half of the theory of supply and demand. They’ve produced goods at a reasonable price, made them accessible to millions of potential buyers, and inform those buyers of their availability, but they have overlooked the part about nurturing a sustainable market for those goods.
As more and more money finds its way into fewer and fewer hands the One Percent are either oblivious or unconcerned about the dwindling middle class or that the rising numbers below the poverty line are hard pressed to purchase anything more than the necessities to feed, clothe, and house their families.
Maybe not even that. The Center for Housing Policy estimates that the number of working households spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing rose from a national average of 21.8 percent in 2008 to 23.6 percent in 2010. These figures were based on the 2010 census and don’t include effects of the tightening rental market since them. There isn’t a single state in the union where a minimum wage earner can afford a two bedroom market rate apartment while working fewer than 63 hours a week.
The Harvard Joint Center on Housing Policy says these “severely cost-burdened” families spend only about three-fifths as much on food, half as much on clothing, and two-fifths as much on healthcare as do families living in more affordable housing.
Now the temporary respite on payroll taxes has ended and family budgets are being hammered by nearly daily increases in gas prices, soon to be reflected in the cost electricity, heat, and everything that must be transported by trucks. Still the Masters of the Universe who control corporate America fight to cut the safety net and kill the minimum wage bill, still clueless to the fatal flaw in their business plans.
Maybe they should pay less attention to their own bottom line and more attention to Wal-Mart’s. With its core constituency of middle and lower income families it could be an early warning system for the ultimate result of income inequality. When that light bulb really flashes on, maybe as early as the first quarter 2013 report, Wal-Mart and everyone else will be able to see where the money has really gone – into the pockets of people who do not need to spend it.

Did you know ...

You could be arrested for your politics in America

That Comcast pulled all gun ads from cable network

A top papal candidate blame gays for child abuse sex scandal

Defeat of repugican Efforts to Steal Elections Hinges on SCOTUS Voting Right Act Case

repugicans know that most of America rejects their increasingly extreme ideology and they can’t win a fair election.  That is at the core of their war on the voting rights in the form of gerrymandering, voter ID laws, restricting voting days and hours. The available data shows that these methods not only establish a system in which some votes carry more weight than others establish, but also seeks to disenfranchise particular groups of people: minorities, women and the working poor.
The Voting Rights Act is the repugican cabal’s worst enemy because it contains mechanisms to prevent policies that will disenfranchise voters based on race.  Under Article 5 of the VRA, the worst offenders of racist voting policies must seek preclearance of proposed voting policies changes with the Department of Justice.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will listen to arguments in Shelby County Alabama vs. Holder.  In its brief,  Shelby County claims that racial segregation and discrimination no longer exist so we really don’t need Article 5.
William Consovoy, the lawyer representing Shelby County, is a  former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and specializes in cases that make voting harder for minorities.  As MSNBC reports:
William Consovoy also last year argued on behalf of repugican officials in Florida and Ohio, who in both cases were seeking to significantly reduce the days allotted for early voting, which blacks take advantage of more than whites.
Given that Thomas believes  Article 5 is unconstitutional, it’s likely he will support his former law clerk in this case – regardless of the facts. The 2011 Federal Court Ruling in this case upheld  the constitutionality of Article 5.
“The legislative record is by no means unambiguous. But Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered and acted pursuant to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which entrust Congress with ensuring that the right to vote—surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution—is not abridged on account of race.”
One need only look at the 2012 to see that policies seeking to deny racial minorities their right to vote persist and in earnest.  The former chairman of Florida’s repugican cabal admitted suppressing Democrats and especially the Black vote and Hispanic vote was the purpose  behind their vote suppression program. Rachel Maddow pointed to the fact that Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager law disenfranchised 50% of Michigan’s Black voters in local elections.   repugicans in Ohio resented the notion of needing to accommodate urban read Black Voters and said so. 
The NAACP offers more data, facts and court rulings to prove how extensive racism continues to play a role in states that are the worst offenders.  When one looks at the compelling evidence in Alabama’s record, it seems that this case should be a slam dunk in favor of upholding Article 5. From page 15 of the NAACP’s brief.
Purposeful discrimination by Alabama lawmakers persists to the present day.  In United States v. McGregor, 824 F. Supp. 2d 1339, 1347 (M.D. Ala. 2011), the court found “compelling evidence that political exclusion through racism remains a real and enduring problem in [Alabama],” “entrenched in the high echelons of state government.”  The court rejected testimony by several white Alabama state legislators as lacking credibility, finding they were motivated by “pure racial bias” as they sought to “reduc[e] African-American voter turnout.”  Id. at 1345.
Several white legislators and their interlocutors were caught on tape comparing Black voters to “illiterate[s]” and “Aborigines.”  Id.
As for the plaintiff in this case, it’s funny what happens to their claim with a look at the recent history in Shelby County.  Pages 19-20 of the NAACP brief reveal Shelby County, continues to, shall we say, have issues with oversight because it gets in the way of things like a city’s effort to eliminate representation by Black members on City Councils.
More recently, in 2008, Section 5 prevented Calera from circumventing Dillard.  The City submitted a redistricting plan that eliminated the sole majority-Black district, and it also conceded that it had already adopted 177 annexations without seeking preclearance.  PA147a.  DOJ interposed an objection, but the City disregarded it and held an election based on the unprecleared changes.  The election resulted in the defeat of the sole Black member of the City Council.  PA148a.  DOJ then brought a Section 5 enforcement action, which resulted in a consent decree that finally remedied Calera’s circumvention of the Dillard decree.  Id.  Defendant-Intervenors are five Black ministers from Shelby County and an elected official who represents the district eliminated and ultimately restored by virtue of Section 5. Another Shelby County jurisdiction, the City of Alabaster, also engaged in repeat violations, drawing an objection for its discriminatory annexations in 2000, after Section 5 blocked similar efforts in the 1970s.  July 13, 2006 Hearing, at 386 n.98; see also October 25, 2005 (History) Hearing, at 435-37.
In five of the 8 wholly covered Article 5 states, objections under section 5 and litigation under Section two blocked over 100 racist voting laws in each state.
It doesn’t end there because there is evidence of similar types of laws being blocked in states that are partially covered under Article 5. According to the NAACP’s brief, Article 5 blocked 75 such laws in North Carolina between 1982 and 2006. If, as Shelby County claims, racial discrimination is in the past, why did Hispanics in Arizona face intimidation and mass challenges in 2006?
Consovoy says in his brief that it’s impossible to prove a negative.  It’s especially impossible when the facts over so overwhelming and compelling.
Consovoy continues to justify vote suppression as a disinfectant of the statistically non-existent voter fraud boogeyman.  Moreover, the vote suppression program won’t address the rare incidents of voter fraud, since the fraudsters in question tend to be repugicans.
Never mind the evidence of voter registration fraud attempted by the repugican cabal’s chief registration fraudster in the 2012 election and previously.
Consovoy also complains that Article 5 is just too expensive.  But, the NAACP proves in its brief that eliminating Article 5 would make defending against racist voting policies more expensive.  In some ways, this goes to the heart of why the repugican cabal wants Article 5 eliminated.
While litigation under article 2 is still possible it is both costly and time consuming. In other words eliminating Article 5 would serve as a financial deterrent to seeking legal remedy, even if it was possible to get such remedy before an election.
repugican desperate efforts to steal the vote come with the realization that America is getting browner and more Democratic. That is evident in efforts to suppress and rig the vote as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County Alabama v. Holder.  Just this past weekend, repugicans in Michigan decided to  go ahead with plans to rig the electoral college.
According to a poll by Gallup, released today, Democrats enjoy support by a ratio of 2 to 1 among Hispanic voters in all age groups. I’m not a political strategist, but somehow I doubt vigorously attacking the voting rights of racial minorities is the way to win them over.

The truth be told

Supreme Court throws out challenge to surveillance law

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan walks back into the Supreme Court building with Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts after her investiture ceremony in Washington October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing 
U.S.-based journalists, lawyers and human rights groups cannot challenge a federal law that allows surveillance of some international communications, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a case touching on government efforts to fight terrorism. Split 5-4 on ideological lines, with conservatives backing the government and the liberal wing in the minority, the country's highest court said none of the three categories, including human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have legal standing to sue because they could not show they had suffered any injury.
The law in question was the 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that authorized mass surveillance by the U.S. government, without identifying specific targets, for the purpose of monitoring foreigners outside the country and gathering intelligence.
President George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretaps after the September 11, 2001, attacks to find people with ties to the al Qaeda network and other groups. He ended that program in 2007, but Congress the next year reinstated parts of it.
The Obama administration argued that the challengers did not have standing, a position the court's majority endorsed.
Since the September 11 attacks, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to intervene in White House affairs governing national security and intelligence-gathering procedures, and the government has said it needs to be flexible in surveillance.
But the challengers said the amendment unreasonably added to their burdens by forcing them to stop communicating by phone and email with sources and clients, including in such places as Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and instead meet in person.
They also said it could subject millions of people to monitoring without a warrant, violating the protection against illegal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In Tuesday's ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the majority that the challengers' argument was based on a "highly speculative fear" that the government would target their communications and not choose other means to carry out surveillance if it was required.
The law states that U.S.-based people should not be targeted and the various individuals and groups that filed suit had not shown any evidence that they had been, Alito said.
Likewise, the law's opponents had no evidence that the non-U.S. people they are communicating with have been targeted either, he added.
"We decline to abandon our usual reluctance to endorse standing theories that rest on speculation about the decisions of independent actors," Alito wrote.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion in which he took issue with Alito's conclusion that the likelihood of harm was purely speculative.
"Indeed, it is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen," Breyer wrote.
In the past, the court has embraced that wider view of what constitutes standing, he added.
Breyer said there is a "very high likelihood" that the government would cite the law when intercepting communications of the type at issue in the case.
Adopted in 1978, FISA required the government to submit a surveillance application to a special court for each person outside the country it was targeting.
The case is Clapper et al v. Amnesty International et al, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-1025.

NJ man accused of illegally selling deer to restaurants, used girlfriend's head as gunrest during hunts

Mark Jarema of South Jersey was charged by Pennsylvania authorities with forcing his girlfriend to help him in an illegal deer hunt, and sometimes "using her head as a gun rest to steady his weapon." He sounds like a real winner. The state's Department of Environmental Protection is having a hard time finding evidence to substantiate additional charges that restaurants purchased the meat from him, and served it to customers: "By the time we were informed of the potential sale," said a rep, "months had passed and it would have been impossible to link the sale to the restaurant."

Iran censors cover Michelle Obama's cleavage

Left, the first lady at the Academy Awards ceremony; right, as she appeared in a still shot on Iranian TV. Not the best idea, perhaps, when you're trying to bring attention to Argo's historical inaccuracies!

Random Celebrity Photo


Grace Kelly and Clark Gable arrive at the 26th annual Academy Awards at the RKO Pantages Theatre in 1954. See more photos here.
(Ed Clark—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

One Times Square Under Construction

The building that would house the New York Times and give Times Square its name was under construction when this photograph was taken in 1903. Before the Times building went up, the area was known as Longacre Square. You can enlarge this photo at Shorpy and see the amazing details from 110 years ago. More

Meet Pavlov's Dogs

What kind of dogs did Ivan Pavlov use in his classical conditioning experiments? The dogs that learned to salivate to the sound of a bell weren't all purebreds -it turns out that Pavlov wasn't all that picky about his subjects. Smithsonian has a pictures of 35 of the dogs Pavlov used to develop his theories about conditioned reflexes in 1901. More

The Most Worthless Coin In The World

This month the Canadian mint stopped distributing the penny, or one-cent piece, as it costs more to make than it is worth. It's far from being the lowest-value coin around, however. Some central banks are clinging on to coins that are truly 'small change.' There are many precedents for scrapping small coins. The US abolished the half-cent in 1857 and the UK's halfpenny was withdrawn in 1984. New Zealand and Australia abandoned the one-cent and two-cent coin in the 1990s.

But there are coins, still legal tender, that have even lower value. Take the Burmese Pya - a US cent is worth 850 of these. The lowest-value coin of all is the Tiyin from Uzbekistan. About 2,000 equate to one US cent.


Hobbiton On The Mediterranean
One glance at the Italian village of Alberobello and you know that you have stumbled across something unique. Neat rows of whitewashed dwellings like something out of a fairy-tale. It's almost as if the Hobbits of Middle-earth had set up a Mediterranean colony.

These strange but charming dwellings are known as trulli. They are built without using mortar, part of a drywall culture of construction which predates written history in this part of Italy. Many of the trulli are around six hundred years old - the large slabs of limestone from which they are built were gathered from fields in the area.

Ten Lost Cities And Mythical Civilizations Of The Ancient World

Over the course of many centuries, countless things are lost. Books, ideas, buried kings - even entire cities. Whole capitals have vanished without a trace, leaving only rumors and contradictory accounts in books. Some of these places may have existed, others definitely did, and others still are legends we somehow dragged out the sand and into fact.

Is It Possible to Be Too Beautiful?

PsycheIt's a terrible curse. But we all have our crosses to bear, so I've learned to accept mine. Science journalism tells us the ugly truth about beauty: there's such a thing as too much. James Hamblin writes in The Atlantic:
Yet life for the beautiful is not as perfect as it seems. In one study of job applicants, beautiful women who included a photo with their résumé were 41 percent less likely to land an interview than “plain” women who did the same [6]. When accused of homicide, beautiful women are more likely to be presumed guilty [7]. And attractive people are also more likely to be associated with a number of negative traits, such as conformity and self-promotion [3].

Random Photo

Mystery of strange creature washed up on Welsh beach

This mysterious creature has been washed up on Tenby’s South Beach.

The photographs were taken by Peter Bailey from Tenby, Pembrokeshire, who was walking his dog along the beach on Friday evening.

He said: "I was taking my dog for her evening walk across the beach when she started acting out of character by howling and running round in circles.

 "I ran up to her to see if she was okay and then I came across this hideous looking carcass. I could see it had little hair left on it's decomposing body. Immediately I thought it was a horse but it had claws like a bear and the body of a pig. Surprisingly it didn't smell."

Animal Pictures

Elk (Cervus canadensis) by FrancoisBoucher on Flickr.