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

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Daily Drift

Brie, France, 1968,
by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Brie, France 1968

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Today in History

537 The Goths lay siege to Rome.
1649 The peace of Rueil is signed between the Frondeurs (rebels) and the French government.
1665 A new legal code is approved for the Dutch and English towns, guaranteeing religious observances unhindered.
1702 The Daily Courant, the first regular English newspaper is published.
1810 The Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is married by proxy to Archduchess Marie Louise.
1811 Ned Ludd leads a group of workers in a wild protest against mechanization.
1824 The U.S. War Department creates the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Seneca Indian Ely Parker becomes the first Indian to lead the Bureau.
1845 Seven hundred Maoris led by their chief, Hone-Heke, burn the small town of Kororareka in protest at the settlement of Maoriland by Europeans, in breach with the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.
1861 A Confederate Convention is held in Montgomery, Ala., where the new constitution is adopted.
1863 Union troops under General Ulysess S. Grant give up their preparations to take Vicksburg after failing to pass Fort Pemberton, north of Vicksburg.
1865 Union General William Sherman and his forces occupy Fayetteville, N.C.
1888 A disastrous blizzard hits the northeastern United States. Some 400 people die, mainly from exposure.
1900 British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury rejects the peace overtures offered from Boer leader Paul Kruger.
1905 The Parisian subway is officially inaugurated.
1907 President Teddy Roosevelt induces California to revoke its anti-Japanese legislation.
1930 President Howard Taft becomes the first U.S. president to be buried in the National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
1935 The German Air Force becomes an official organ of the Reich.
1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes the Lend-Lease Act which authorizes the act of giving war supplies to the Allies.
1942 General Douglas MacArthur leaves Bataan for Australia.
1965 The American navy begins inspecting Vietnamese junks in hopes of ending arms smuggling to the South.
1966 Three men are convicted of the murder of Malcolm X.
1969 Levi-Strauss starts to sell bell-bottomed jeans.
1973 An FBI agent is shot at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
1985 Mikhail Gorbachev is named the new Soviet leader.
1990 Lithuania declares its independence from the Soviet Union.

Non Sequitur


One deadly day: names and lives behind gunshot stats

In this Jan. 25, 2013 photo, mourners carry the coffin of Rene Trejo from the St. Michael Catholic Church in Memphis, Tenn. Trejo, 28, worked hard as a bricklayer in Memphis, and loved soccer so avidly that he played on three different teams. But his sister-in-law says his plan was to move back eventually to his homeland of Mexico where he'd been sending money to help his impoverished mother open a restaurant. He was killed in a nighttime robbery attempt on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. From the biggest cities to the smallest towns, more than 31,000 people die of gunshot wounds in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - an average of nearly 87 people a day. (AP Photo/La Raza, Francisco Correa)
It was just past 1 a.m. when they found Christopher Cotton's body, slumped in the driver's seat at a Buffalo, N.Y., intersection, shot dead by an assailant who left all the car's windows up, the doors locked. Little more than an hour earlier, the pharmaceutical technician had joined family for drinks and YouTube videos, then went to meet his girlfriend. He never made it.
The killing of the 42-year-old father of three was the industrial city's first murder of the year. But for a country that would not wake for hours, the slaying was merely the first of another deadly day, the latest addition to an endless count of Americans who are killed with guns.
The school massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 was a horrific anomaly. Most fatal shootings claim only a single life and draw only the briefest attention.
From the biggest cities to the smallest towns, more than 31,000 people die of gunshot wounds in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's an average of nearly 87 a day. About 30 of those are murdered. More than 50 take their own lives. Still others die in accidental shootings, during police intervention or from other causes.
We chronicled one such ordinary day — Jan. 19. There is no way of knowing exactly how many shooting deaths there were on that Saturday. But just one shooting made national news: A former pastor, his wife and three children were slain at their home near Albuquerque, N.M. The couple's 15-year-old son, Nehemiah Griego, was charged with their murders.
Most, though, will recall the day as the start of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, capped by the presidential inauguration, each prompting reflection on how to quell violence. But in a nation whose citizens own more than 300 million guns, such events do not disrupt the metronomic toll of shootings.
And in that way, Jan. 19 was just another day.
By 2:41 a.m. slumber cloaked most of the homes on tree-lined Deer Trace Drive in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough, Ga. But inside one house, three boys stirred. A pair of brothers — 14 and 15 — were hosting a friend for a sleepover. Earlier in the evening, their mother had given them permission to examine her empty .38-caliber revolver, police said. But sometime over the next few hours, the boys loaded the weapon, then put it aside and apparently forgot.
It's not clear what prompted the younger boy to pick up the gun again. But when he pointed it at his brother and pulled the trigger, the bullet hit the Union High School sophomore in the chest. Emergency workers were unable to save him.
Investigators have determined the shooting was accidental. But the 14-year-old has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and investigators may present his mother's case to a grand jury.
The boy would not be the only victim of an accidental shooting on this day: Within hours, Jeffrey Dennehy, 23, died in Gresham. Ore., when a gun held by a close friend mistakenly discharged.
At 1:04 a.m., Anthony Burns, 31, was shot dead on an east Cleveland street. Four people have been charged with his murder.
The White Castle on St. Louis' north side was bathed in light, even at 3:50 a.m., when Thomas Donovan stepped to the burger joint's counter and drew a pistol. Back in November, with a security camera rolling, a masked man wielding a shotgun held up the same restaurant before fleeing into the darkness. Police say that man was Donovan, 21, who lived nearby. This time, though, two off-duty police officers hired by the manager were waiting.
The officers, who were in uniform, ordered Donovan to drop the gun.
"Why, at that last moment they said 'Freeze!' he carried on, that's what gets me, you know what I mean?" says George Fields, among a group of older men who gather at the restaurant for coffee.
When Donovan refused, one officer, a 21-year veteran, shot him in the abdomen. An ambulance rushed Donovan to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Donovan's pistol turned out to be a BB gun. The officer, who a police spokesman would not identify, was placed on administrative leave for three days, but is back on the job without being charged.
"Everybody's got a gun. Just because he's a dummy doesn't mean you have to kill him," says Fields, who wonders what might have changed both Donovan's decision and the policewoman's. "You can't stop it from happening again, but maybe you could slow it down."
In Hampton, Va., Joseph McQueen, 30, and Clifton Christian, 24, were shot and killed outside a bar about 1:45 a.m.
In Allentown, Pa., Kyle Stroman, 20, was shot dead at an intersection at about 2 a.m.
Around 2:30 a.m., Tracy McFadden, 44, was shot dead on Georgia Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Late in the morning, shots rang out near the small East Texas town of Winnsboro, killing 37-year-old Juvenal Gonzales.
A self-employed painter, Gonzales was separated from the mother of his four children and had come to her home to pick them up for visitation. An argument ensued, and Gonzales was shot by a man at the house, the Franklin County sheriff's office said.
For some people in neighboring Hopkins County, the news was jolting. The man charged with Gonzales' killing — Clint Weldon Wilson, 31 — had killed before; claiming self-defense he eventually went free.
"The victim's family in this new case — I can't possibly imagine how difficult it would be for them to know that someone had done this before," said Martin Braddy, the prosecutor in the earlier case, in which Wilson was charged with murdering Justin Pawlik, 27, during a 2011 struggle. At the scene was a woman who'd broken up with Pawlik and befriended Wilson.
But Texas' stand-your-ground law allows deadly force in some circumstances when a person feels threatened, and a grand jury declined to indict Wilson.
Pawlik's mother, Julie Bailey, said she had feared Wilson would cause more harm.
"Now another guy is dead," she said. "If they don't get rid of that law, they better start getting ready to dig more graves."
In Greensboro, N.C., Matthew Obrian Norris, 28, was shot multiple times after attacking a friend who'd asked him to leave. The 3:28 a.m. shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide.
At the University of Idaho, Jason David Monson, an 18-year-old freshman and talented horseman who won trophies for cowboy mounted shooting, fatally shot himself in his dorm room.
Around 12:20 p.m., gunshots erupted at the Bay Area Rapid Transit station in San Leandro, Calif. Ken Seets was waiting there for a bus, heading home after work.
One bullet struck the 50-year-old Seets in the chest, and he died within minutes in the arms of a bus driver who tried to aid him. Police said it was crossfire between members of rival gangs, and they are seeking an 18-year-old suspect.
Seets, who didn't own a car, delivered dry cleaning supplies for nearly 20 years. "I never saw him mad," said his boss and good friend, Cynthia Perez.
Raised on a farm in Georgia, Seets joined the Army after high school, met his longtime girlfriend, Doleen Stevenson, after she divorced another soldier, and followed her to the Bay Area. She said he was a loving surrogate father to her daughter.
He also forged a close relationship with Tammy Scott and her son, Malcolm, coaching him in sports, urging him to work hard at school.
"When Ken first came to California, he was a stranger," Scott said. "At his memorial service, there was a line out the door... Once he found you, you had a friend to the end."
Around 1:40 p.m., Leslie Stubblefield, 43, was found dead of a gunshot wound in Kansas City, Kan.
In California's Humboldt County, the body of Jacob Allen Green, 24, of Newport, Ore., was found in his vehicle. Police say Green shot himself a day after killing a 16-year-old girl, Kayla Ann Hendrickson, near Tillamook, Ore.
Back for the afternoon at Cleveland's UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, Dr. Anthony DeRoss hurried to prepare for a scheduled appendectomy when the pager on his belt flashed an alert: Level 1 trauma patient en route.
The patient was a 6-year-old cherub with pigtails named Nevaeh Benson. At 1:13 p.m. she'd been at home on East 116th Street when her father sent her to fetch something for an infant sister. Family members heard a thump, and Edmund Benson ran upstairs to find Nevaeh sprawled across the bedroom floor with his handgun. Police said she found it where her father hid it and accidentally shot herself in the face.
By law, Edmund Benson, 23, was not supposed to have a gun. He has a felony record and has been charged with having a weapon under disability and endangering a child.
At the hospital, though, DeRoss' team knew only that they had a gunshot victim in dire condition — and that the death rate from such injuries is much higher than other types of trauma.
"I always think about what we could've done to prevent it...that's where my mind always travels to, how can we keep this from happening again," DeRoss says. "And there's not always an easy answer."
If only doctors could turn back the clock and show parents the risks, he says. If only they could save children like Nevaeh. Days later, her photo smiled alongside a newspaper notice that made no mention of how she died. "Summoned by angels," it said.
In Mulberry, Ill., Charles Chrisman, 40, fatally shot himself in his home and was found about 2:43 p.m.
At about 4:15 p.m., Jermaine Foster, 30, was found shot dead inside a car in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Kristy Aschliman made a point to keep in touch with family, sometimes calling twice a day to talk about music or work. But recently, there was also talk of trouble. Four times in the past few months, Aschliman's apartment in Idaho Falls, Idaho, had been burglarized. The 21-year-old bought a small pink-and-white pistol for protection, but it was stolen, too, according to her grandmother, Estelle Nation.
Just before 1 p.m., Aschliman's car swerved into the snow along semi-rural Lincoln Road, and she ran. A man with a gun gave chase, fired, and four bullets struck Aschliman in the head, police said. She died there.
After setting up roadblocks, Sheriff's officers arrested Adan Arroyo, 22, and charged him with murder. Investigators will not comment on his motive or relationship to Aschliman. Arroyo has a lengthy court record for vandalism, theft and other charges. At the time of her death, Aschliman was facing drug possession charges.
At a memorial service, relatives and friends filed past an open casket; they recalled Aschliman's work with disabled children, and the time she lavished styling her hair and fingernails. But there is little peace for a family that has long celebrated the April birthday Aschliman shared with her father and her closest aunt.
"It's going to be hell," her grandmother said.
In Long Beach, Calif., three men and a woman entered a mobile home at 4:30 p.m. and opened fire, killing Jose Luis Vidal, 24.
In San Francisco's Alamo Square neighborhood, Jamal Gaines, 26, died after being hit by multiple gunshots at 5:30.
Rene Trejo worked hard as a bricklayer in Memphis, and loved soccer so much that he played on three different teams. But his sister-in-law says his plan was to move back to his homeland of Mexico, where he'd been sending money to help his impoverished mother open a restaurant.
The homecoming took place — but not as the family could have imagined. Trejo, 28, was killed in a nighttime robbery attempt on Jan. 19. His remains were sent back to San Luis Potosi for a funeral Mass and burial.
According to police, Trejo was in his car with two friends outside a Z-Market convenience store when three men approached and demanded money. One fired a shot that fatally wounded Trejo; no arrests have been reported.
Trejo, who was unmarried, came to the United States 10 years ago, followed two years later by his younger brother, Oscar, a roofer.
Oscar's wife, Dora, said Rene was in the U.S. illegally, but added: "What he came here to do was to better his family and help out his mother."
In Rosewood, Fla., John Freddrick Alford, 63, died after being hit by buckshot fired by a youth with whom he was hunting wild hogs.
At about 10 p.m., the body of Hurbert Dewayne Jackson, 27, was found on a roadside in Little Rock, Ark., the victim of a shooting.
In Greenville, S.C., Edward Goldsmith, 47, was shot dead in an apartment complex parking lot.
The obituary for Kristi Suckla, as posted by a Dallas-area funeral home, is strikingly brief.
"Kristi was born on December 5, 1968, and passed away on Saturday, January 19, 2013. Kristi was a resident of Grapevine, Texas."
An accompanying video tribute, though wordless, conveyed much more — photographs of Suckla savoring vacations at the beach and in the mountains, grinning with her two children, and posing with her husband, Kelly.
There was no hint of the tragedy that unfolded that Saturday night at the Sweet 16 birthday party for the Sucklas' daughter, Rachel.
Though the couple was estranged, and Kristi was living at her parents' house with her children, Kelly Suckla had been expected to attend the party, according to police.
For reasons not yet publicly disclosed, an argument broke out around 10 p.m. Police say Kelly Suckla fatally shot Kristi with a handgun, then killed himself.
The obituary for Kelly Suckla, 43, described him as a devoted father, but made no mention of Kristi. "Everyone who knew Kelly knew of his love for his family and his friends," it said.
Around 9:45 p.m., in California's Tulare County, Osevio Lopez, 34, was found by highway patrol officers in the driver's seat of a vehicle, fatally wounded by a shot to the head.
In the El Sereno community of Los Angeles, Angel Serna Mancilla, 27 was fatally wounded by gunfire during an argument at a taco truck.
In Picayune, Miss., Nickoles Ray Sullivan, 33, was shot dead outside his home. His live-in girlfriend was charged with murder.
By all accounts, David Braswell shared a fierce relationship with Tamara Smith, his longtime girlfriend and mother of four of his children.
Police in Thomasville, N.C., say Braswell was arrested in 2005 for assaulting Smith. Braswell's mother recalls the time she saw Smith chasing her 280-pound son down the street, swinging at him and swearing.
"They argued for the last 14 years," Nona Lee Braswell says. "It was a rocky relationship, but they loved each other."
That may be so, but when Smith's father, Clifton Gregory Dennis, heard screams inside the house he shared with the couple just after 10:30 p.m., he grabbed a .22-caliber rifle. In the hall, Dennis confronted the 38-year-old Braswell, who police say had his hands around Smith's throat. Dennis fired two shots. The first struck the wall near the ceiling. The second hit Braswell in the chest as the children watched.
Dennis, 56, is barred from owning a gun because of a felony record dating to 1987. When he faced drug charges in 2004, he was also convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon. Braswell's death brought another wrongful gun possession charge and Dennis pleaded guilty March 7 and was sentenced to 15 to 27 months, requiring six months in prison and three years' probation. But investigators determined the killing was justified as self-defense or the defense of others.
That decision angers Braswell's family, but they're trying to focus on caring for his sons and daughters.
"God love little children who have to go through stuff like that," said Braswell's aunt, Zondra Ayers.
Around 11:40 p.m., 20-year-old Ruben Gonzalez Jr. was shot dead in Santa Ana, Calif., in what police said may have been a gang-related incident.
In Fort Washington, Md., 16-year-old Marcus Jones was fatally shot as he left a birthday party that drew members of rival youth gangs, Baby Haiti and Danger Boys. Two teenage suspects were arrested, said Prince George's County police.
The call came in around midnight.

Why Do We Have Daylight Savings Time?

We lost an hour yesterday morning, awaking to an already sunny sky. Some may feel robbed an hour from their day. So why, again, do we do this?
To some degree, we may have Benjamin Franklin to thank.
Franklin, who penned the proverb "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," was among the first to suggest the idea. In a 1784 essay he wrote that adjusting the clocks in the spring could be a good way to save on candles.
The practice of changing the clocks has had a somewhat bumpy history in the United States. It was first established in 1918, but then repealed a year later. During World War II, the country again took up the practice to conserve energy from 1942 to 1945.
In 1966 the United States officially adopted the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which outlined Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday in October.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated a change to the observed dates so now DST begins at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.
Incidentally, states do not have to comply with the act and, in fact, two states, Arizona and Hawaii, do not.
So do we really economize, as Benjamin Franklin said we would, by adjusting our clocks? It appears, in our modern world, not really.
Although a U.S. Department of Transportation study in the 1970s found that daylight saving trimmed electricity usage by about 1 percent, later studies have shown that the savings is offset by air conditioners running in warmer climates.
It may not all be for naught, however. Another study, performed in 2007 by the RAND Corporation found that the increase in daylight in spring led to a roughly 10 percent drop in vehicular crashes.

The truth be told

Businesses in military towns brace for budget hit

In this Monday, March 4, 2013 photo, salesman Donnie Alford talks on the phone in his office at Auto Express in Fayetteville, N.C. The auto and wheels business is located on Yadkin Road, near a main entrance to Fort Bragg military base. More than 8,500 civilian employees on the base will be furloughed one day a week starting in late April, the equivalent of a 20-percent pay cut, possibly affecting small businesses near the base. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)  
Like many who make their living in the commercial strip outside the gates of Fort Bragg, Mike Thomas is confident the $85 billion in automatic military spending cuts will hurt sales at his used car lot and rim shop. The vast majority of his customers work on the base, and smaller paychecks means less money for the four-wheel drive Jeeps, chrome wheels and window-rattling sound systems that are his specialty.
While it remains too soon to measure the exact impact for small businesses that thrive on the civilians employed at the nation's largest military posts, owners already are bracing for the damage. Pentagon officials say the automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1 will result in one-day-a-week furloughs for 800,000 civilian employees across the U.S. starting next month, resulting in a 20 percent cut to their paychecks. Soldiers' salaries are exempt from the cuts.
About 14,500 of those are at Fort Bragg, the sprawling U.S. Army base outside Fayetteville, N.C., where the commanding general on Friday announced additional cuts that include the closure of a dining hall and selected recreation centers that serve soldiers and their families. About 38 percent of all economic activity in the surrounding county is tied directly to military spending, a total impact of about $5.5 billion a year.
Hand-painted signs at Auto Express, the shop about a half-mile from the base's main gates where Thomas is the general manager, offer special discounts and financing for U.S. Defense Department employees.
In addition to the budget cuts — known as sequestration — deadlock in Congress could trigger a full federal shutdown later this month. Thomas expects the cuts will have an impact on his business similar to the military buildup before the 2003 invasion in Iraq, when sales dropped by about half as Bragg's 82nd Airborne deployed overseas.
"Our business is about 90 percent military," he said. "This is a military town. It is going to affect us all. When there's a cut, people are scared to spend. I've yet to speak to anybody who thinks this is a good idea."
In Wichita Falls, Texas, beauty salon owner Angela Ward expects her customers from nearby Sheppard Air Force Base to start cutting back. The facility has about 1,200 civilian workers.
She already offers a 15 percent military discount and offers a $10 men's haircut each Tuesday. But Ward said she can't afford to lower prices further, although she knows folks will go without or cut back on luxury items and services first during tough economic times.
"They will stop coming in as much or won't have as much done at the salon in one visit," said Ward, the owner of Crazy Beautiful Salon. "And moms tell us, 'Take it shorter' for their boys because they can't afford to have it cut as often."
In addition to the employee furloughs, Pentagon officials are also weighing cuts to military contracts, training, construction and maintenance.
Alabama's Fort Rucker is the Army's primary base for training helicopter pilots. With 5,850 military personnel and another 6,328 contractors, the massive base is the economic hub for three cities outside its gates: Enterprise, Daleville and Ozark.
Susy Guzman said she already is seeing the effects of budget uncertainty reflected in fewer diners at Brasas Brazil, her family restaurant in Enterprise. The business is popular with military contractors who work as flight instructors, helicopter mechanics, maintenance workers and administrators.
"You can tell people are being cautious because there is uncertainty, they are wondering if their wallets are going to be affected," Guzman said. "It will be a snowball effect here ... first the smaller businesses, like restaurants, but then it just grows."
Guzman also owns Wings Aviation Products in nearby Daleville, a store that sells flight supplies, sunglasses and clothes to aviators and their families. She fears any cutback in flight training time could result in a downturn in revenue because nearly all the store's sales are linked to Army aviation.
Compounding her family's worries is the fact that Guzman's husband is a contract flight instructor who is facing the loss of nearly one month's salary a year.
"It hits us both ways, both from our businesses and our family income," she said.
There are those looking on the bright side, however. Slimmer government paychecks could send more people looking for quick cash to pawn shops and payday loan businesses.
At the Advance Till Payday cash advance store in Oak Grove, Ky., manger Judy Backlund gets a lot of her business from nearby Fort Campbell. The Army prohibits soldiers from using the short-term, high-interest loans, but she deals with plenty of civilians and contractors who work at the post.
Backlund said she's already getting calls from people who are worried about stretching their salaries if they are furloughed. Cash advance stores have been criticized for their high fees and interest rates, though the industry has said it's a necessary option for people who can't get a personal loan from traditional banks.
"It's not an answer to all your problems, but it's better than nothing," she said. "Most people are living paycheck to paycheck, and not much is going into savings."
One of her employees, 33-year-old Vanessa Nohelty, is the wife of a Fort Campbell soldier. Although military salaries are exempt from the budget cuts, Nohelty said the cuts could threaten many of the family programs and services on which spouses rely.
Nohelty said she is waiting to hear from the leaders at Fort Campbell about the effect on childcare, sports programs and counselors that help soldiers after they return from deployment.
"Are we going to get to keep all those programs?" she questioned. "Are they going to have as many counselors?"
Link Melley is the co-owner of Norfolk, Va.-based Freedom Furniture and Electronics, which operates 15 stores in military markets, including outside Fort Campbell. In business for 30 years, Melley said military customers account for 90 percent of the company's business. Many of his 220 employees are military spouses and veterans.
He said the anticipation of these budget cuts has led to a downturn in sales for more than a year. He worries he may have to reduce his staff.
"Typically when there is a deployment, the stress and anxiety is just at one base," he said. "This has been across the board, every service, every base in the country. ... I have never ever seen the anxiety level this high."
Beyond the immediate cuts, Melley said the uncertainty surrounding the constant political wrangling in Washington makes it hard to plan for the future.
"Frankly, we didn't expect sequestration to take place," Melley said. "The service members and their families have become the pawn, and Congress and the president need to get this figured out."

Politicians look for credit in a rising economy

FILE - In this March 5, 2013, photo, a board on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows the closing number for the Dow Jones industrial average, which beat the previous high it set in October 2007, before the financial crisis and the great recession. When it comes to increased hiring, lower unemployment and a rising stock market, is there credit to pass around? It's a hotly debated point in Washington, where political scorekeeping amounts to who gets blame and who gets praise. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) 
 Increased hiring, lower unemployment, stock market on the rise. Who gets the credit?
It's a hotly debated point in Washington, where political scorekeeping amounts to who gets blame and who gets praise.
Following Friday's strong jobs report — 236,000 new jobs and unemployment dropping to a four-year low of 7.7 percent — partisans hurriedly staked out turf.
"Woot woot!" tweeted former White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee. "With 12 million still unemployed?" countered Senate repugican leader Mitch McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart.
Presidents usually get the rap for economic downturns and reap benefits when things improve. But the main factors affecting the current recovery and the record activity in the stock market may have less to do with high-profile fiscal policy fights in Washington than they do in the decisions of the Federal Reserve Bank, which has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy, kept interests rates at near zero and pushed investors away from low-yield bonds to stocks.
"From a policy standpoint, this is being driven primarily by the Fed," said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo.
Yet to some, Washington deserves little recognition.
"Economies recover," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and now head of the American Action Forum, a conservative public policy institute. He acknowledged the Fed's monetary policies halted the initial free fall by the financial industry, but he said the economy has had to catch up to the Fed's low interest rates.
"It took a long time for the housing market for them to matter and for the auto market for them to matter," Holtz-Eakin said. "So I don't think that's a policy victory."
If Democrats are eager to give President Barack Obama acclaim for spurring the recovery with an infusion of spending in 2009, there are just as many repugicans who will claim his health care law and his regulatory regimes slowed it.
If there is common ground among economists, it is that the next step in fiscal policy should be focused on reining in long-term spending on entitlements programs, particularly Medicare, instead of continuing debates over short-term spending. But such a grand bargain has been elusive, caught in a fight over Obama's desire for more tax revenue and Republican opposition to more tax increases.
Obama and some Republicans are trying to move the process with phone calls and a dinner here and a luncheon there. Next week, the president plans to address Democrats and repugicans in the House and Senate in separate meetings to see, as he put it Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address, "if we can untangle some of the gridlock."
Who gets credit does have political consequences. A strong economy would create more space for Obama to pursue other aspects of his second-term agenda. But it's an important question for the long term, too, because if the recovery is indeed accelerating it could validate the policies that the Obama administration and the Fed put in place.
Hiring has been boosted by high corporate profits and by strength in the housing, auto, manufacturing and construction sectors. Corporate profits are up. Still, it might be too soon to declare victory. While the recovery may be getting traction, the U.S. economy is not yet strong.
Economic growth is forecast to be a modest 2 percent this year. Unemployment, even as it drops, remains high nearly four years after the end of the Great Recession, with roughly 12 million people out of work.
Last year's early months also showed strong job gains only to see them fade by June.
March could prove to be a more telling indicator as the economy responds to a third month of higher Social Security taxes and as across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in March 1 begin to work their way through government programs. Economists say anticipation of the cuts already caused a downturn in the fourth quarter of last year as the defense industry slowed spending. The Congressional Budget Office and some private forecasters say the coming cuts could reduce economic growth by about half a percentage point and cost about 700,000 jobs by the end of 2014.
"My view is that aggressive monetary and fiscal policy response to the recovery has been a net positive," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.
But referring to the automatic cuts, he said, "Fiscal policies have turned from a very powerful tailwind to a pretty significant head wind." And, he added, "the economy is going to be tested again in the next few months."
Obama has been distancing himself from the potential consequences of the automatic cuts, even though he signed the legislation that put them in place. Initially, they were designed to be so onerous that it would force all sides to work out a long-term deficit-reduction and debt-stabilization package. But that agreement never materialized.
If the recovery has been slow, White House officials argue, it is because repugicans have been unwilling to yield to Obama's demands for deficit reduction that combines tax increases and cuts in spending.
Obama himself seemed to touch on that viewpoint in his weekly address.
"At a time when our businesses are gaining a little more traction, the last thing we should do is allow Washington politics to get in the way," he said while heralding good economic news. "You deserve better than the same political gridlock and refusal to compromise that has too often passed for serious debate over the last few years."
Vitner, the Wells Fargo economist, argues that if anyone deserves credit for the recovery, it is the American public and American businesses "for being able to tune out all the noise that's coming from Washington."
"It's remarkable," he said, "that in the face of so much political uncertainty we've been able to see the growth that we have."

US lawmaker uses neat flip phone trick to avoid talking to "pesky reporters"

In an article that reads an awful lot like an Onion parody, Politico reports that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "is well known for pulling a flip phone out of his pocket and pretending to hold a conversation."
“I try to teach my colleagues this excellent technique,” he said as he quickly tried to hop into an elevator. “I say, ‘You want to avoid these pesky reporters, talk on your cellphone.’”When he can’t grab his phone, Schumer will often turn to the closest senator – Democrat or Republican – and start a conversation. It’s considered a violation of protocol to interrupt two members while they’re talking.
“There is a time and place for everything,” said Schumer, who is known to warn freshmen about talking to reporters, sometimes specific ones, in the hallways.
More nifty Senator tricks to avoid the fourth estate: "The silent senators"

Very Punny

In China, public anger over government secrecy on environment

The environment ministry in China recently told attorney Dong Zhengwei he couldn't have access to two-year old data about soil pollution because it was a "state secret." The incident amplified already-growing public outrage over the nation's worsening pollution problems, and "the scarcity of information about the environment available to them."

Harvard secretly searched deans' email accounts

The Boston Globe today broke the news that administrators at Harvard University secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans last fall, in an attempt to determine the source of "a leak to the media about the school’s sprawling cheating case."

US Ninth Circuit says forensic laptop searches at the border without suspicion are unconstitutional

An en banc (all the judges together) decision from the 9th Circuit has affirmed that you have the right to expect that your laptop and other devices will not be forensically examined without suspicion at the US border. It's the first time that a US court has upheld electronic privacy rights at the border, and the court also said that using an encrypted device that can't be casually searched is not grounds for suspicion. The judges also note that the prevalence of cloud computing means that searching at the border gives cops access to servers located all over the world. At TechDirt, Mike Masnick has some great analysis of this welcome turn of events:
The ruling is pretty careful to strike the right balance on the issues. It notes that a cursory review at the border is reasonable:
Officer Alvarado turned on the devices and opened and viewed image files while the Cottermans waited to enter the country. It was, in principle, akin to the search in Seljan, where we concluded that a suspicionless cursory scan of a package in international transit was not unreasonable.
But going deeper raises more questions. Looking stuff over, no problem. Performing a forensic analysis? That goes too far and triggers the 4th Amendment. They note that the location of the search is meaningless to this analysis (the actual search happened 170 miles inside the country after the laptop was sent by border agents to somewhere else for analysis). So it's still a border search, but that border search requires a 4th Amendment analysis, according to the court.
It is the comprehensive and intrusive nature of a forensic examination—not the location of the examination—that is the key factor triggering the requirement of reasonable suspicion here....
Notwithstanding a traveler’s diminished expectation of privacy at the border, the search is still measured against the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement, which considers the nature and scope of the search. Significantly, the Supreme Court has recognized that the “dignity and privacy interests of the person being searched” at the border will on occasion demand “some level of suspicion in the case of highly intrusive searches of the person.” Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152. Likewise, the Court has explained that “some searches of property are so destructive,” “particularly offensive,” or overly intrusive in the manner in which they are carried out as to require particularized suspicion. Id. at 152, 154 n.2, 155–56; Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. at 541. The Court has never defined the precise dimensions of a reasonable border search, instead pointing to the necessity of a case-by-case analysis....
The court is led by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who is a fan of the book Little Brother (which features a scene where DHS officials force a suspect to decrypt his devices, on the grounds that his encryption itself is suspicious), and was kind enough to write a blurb for the new edition of the book. We're not saying that Little Brother inspired Kozinski to issue this decision, but we're delighted to discover that something that's been pushing through fiction since 2008 has made it into law in 2013.

Printer Returned with Photocopied Money Inside

vIf you're going to try to return that printer to the store, you should remove those copies of $100 bills from it. Police in Lake Hallie, Wisconsin, arrested Jarad S. Carr on charges of attempted theft by fraud, forgery, and resisting arrest.
Police were called to Walmart at 3:05 p.m. Thursday because Carr, 37, of West Bend was trying to return a printer without receipts or proof he bought it from the Lake Hallie Walmart.

While inspecting the printer, a single sheet with two counterfeit $100 bills printed on it was found.

Carr insisted on returning the printer even after Walmart staffers refused to take it.
After Carr was arrested, three additional counterfeit bills were found on his person. Police are still looking for a second man involved in the incident. More

Only in America ...


Ten Famously Exonerated Death Row Inmates

Each of the ten men on this list was wrongly convicted, sentenced to death, and exonerated years later. We can't even begin to imagine the kind of psychological damage spending time in prison must cause when you know that you're innocent but practically no one believes you. And all the while, you're waiting to die.

Even once they're freed, the rehabilitation process for such inmates must be emotionally intense. In some sense, these men will never escape the stigma attached to them due to the crimes of which they were wrongfully accused. Yet with the right kind of counseling and guidance, perhaps people subjected to such miscarriages of justice can learn to let go, move on, and enjoy the rest of their lives.

Random Celebrity Photo


Veronica Lake
Veronica Lake

Who is this young dancer?

The guy, that is. Yes, this is astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He was on the dance team at the University of Texas at Austin as a graduate student, and they won a national championship in Latin Ballroom style in 1985. This photo is part of a list called 14 Things We Can All Appreciate About Neil Degrasse Tyson at Buzzfeed.

Is there "no such thing as a stupid question" ?

A quick search confirms that that comment actually was made on television (by CNN anchor Deb Feyerick):
“We want to bring in our science guy, Bill Nye, and talk about something else that’s falling from the sky, and that is an asteroid,” the anchor said. “What’s coming our way? Is this the effect of, perhaps, global warming? Or is this just some meteoric occasion?”

Pondering the sexism inherent in its favored breast size

Solving the big unknown: just what breast size do men prefer. This was something I wouldn't have predicted: "Previous studies of men's breast size preferences have yielded equivocal findings." Thankfully, science is here to bring some clarity to this deep mystery about shallow thoughts.

The Bloodbath of WWII's Battle of Manila

Fought by Japanese, US and Filipino forces, World War Two's month-long Battle of Manila destroyed a city and saw the massacre of thousands of civilians. More

A Rave in a Graveyard

Stonehenge started as huge graveyard
Britain Stonehenge People embrace by the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge, in southern England, as access to the site is given to druids, New Age followers and members of the public on the annual Winter Solstice.
British researchers have proposed a new theory for the origins of Stonehenge: It may have started as a giant burial ground for elite families around 3,000 B.C.
New studies of cremated human remains excavated from the site suggest that about 500 years before the Stonehenge we know today was built, a larger stone circle was erected at the same site as a community graveyard, researchers said Saturday.
"These were men, women, children, so presumably family groups," University College London professor Mike Parker Pearson, who led the team, said. "We'd thought that maybe it was a place where a dynasty of kings was buried, but this seemed to be much more of a community, a different kind of power structure."
Parker Pearson said archeologists studied the cremated bones of 63 individuals, and believed that they were buried around 3,000 B.C. The location of many of the cremated bodies was originally marked by bluestones, he said. That earlier circular enclosure, which measured around 300 feet (91 meters) across, could have been the burial ground for about 200 more people, Parker Pearson said.
The team, which included academics from more than a dozen British universities, also put forth some theories about the purpose of the second Stonehenge - the monument still standing in the countryside in southern England today.
Various theories have been proposed about Stonehenge, including that it was a place for Druid worship, an observatory for astronomical studies, or a place of healing, built by early inhabitants of Britain who roamed around with their herds.
Parker Pearson said the latest study suggested that Stonehenge should be seen less a temple of worship than a kind of building project that served to unite people from across Britain.
Analysis of the remains of a Neolithic settlement near the monument indicated that thousands of people traveled from as far as Scotland to the site, bringing their livestock and families for huge feasts and celebrations during the winter and summer solstices.
The team studied the teeth of pigs and cattle found at the "builders' camp," and deduced that the animals were mostly slaughtered around nine months or 15 months after their spring births. That meant they were likely eaten in feasts during the midwinter and midsummer, Parker Pearson said.
"We don't think (the builders) were living there all the time. We could tell that by when they were killing the pigs - they were there for the solstices," he said.
The researchers believe that the builders converged seasonally to build Stonehenge, but not for very long - likely over a period of a decade or so.
The mass monument building is thought to end around the time when the "Beaker people," so called because of their distinctive pottery, arrived from continental Europe, Parker Pearson said.

Stonehenge Builders Traveled From Far
Thousands of people came from across Britain to help build Stonehenge, experts investigating the origins of the monument have said. They said people travelled from as far afield as the Scottish Highlands. Researchers from University College London said their findings overturned what was thought about the origins of the monument.

Until now it had been thought that Stonehenge was built as an astronomical calendar or observatory. The latest findings, which came after a decade of research, suggested it was the act of building the monument rather than its purpose that was key.

The new theory would overturn the long-held belief that the stone circle was created as an astronomical calendar or observatory.

Random Photo

Length of DNA strands can predict life expectancy

Can the length of strands of DNA in patients with heart disease predict their life expectancy? Researchers from the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, who studied the DNA of ...

No New Life in Antarctic Lake, Russian Admits

The strange life forms identified last week were in fact nothing but contaminants.

'Heard at the edge of Space'

Japan quake 'heard at edge of space'Goce satellite

A deep rumble produced by the great Tohoku earthquake in Japan two years ago was sensed by a satellite circling the Earth, scientists say.

Awesome Pictures


Horizon shot by Shah

Woman saved pigeon with CPR when he stopped breathing

Denis the pigeon owes his life to Gail Daniell. The Fauna Rescue SA volunteer from Adelaide, Australia, helped nurse the frail, ant-covered bird back to health - and she also performed CPR on him. Ms Daniell had been caring for the crested pigeon for about four days when, during an attempt to feed him, he started to choke and stopped breathing.

"Denis just stopped breathing and I didn't even think twice, I just started with the CPR," Ms Daniell said. "I gave him probably three or four little breaths and pumped his little chest a few times and he started to come back to life. He came to me very sick, covered in ants and in a lot of pain. He was with his little brother, but unfortunately he didn't make it past the first day or so." 

Ms Daniell, who has helped care for 50 animals at her home in the last six years, learnt the life-saving skill in a first aid course for humans a decade ago. Fauna Rescue SA chairwoman Liz MacGuinness said it was the first time in her 19 years with the organization she had heard of CPR being administered to a bird.

"I know it can very occasionally happen with puppies, but it's very unusual, not something I've ever heard of with a bird or any other type of animal really," Ms MacGuinness said. "Birds especially are difficult because they're just so tiny and fragile," she said. Ms Daniell hopes Denis will be strong enough to release into a nearby park in coming weeks. "But it is hard to say when he'll want to leave," she said. "He's being a bit of a sook, he doesn't like to be too far away from me."

Giant Salamander Sucks Up a Fish Faster than a Rocket

The giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) doesn't just eat its prey ... it sucks it whole down its mouth in amazing speed:
A new study shows the animal, which can reach 50 kilograms and 1.6 meters, has an outsized talent: It's a supersucker. Researchers found that the mammoth creature, which lives in rivers in China, can vacuum up a whole fish in 0.05 seconds, engulfing the tidbit and more than a liter of water in its gaping maw ... So powerful is its suck that prey enters its mouth at accelerations comparable to those of rocket-powered cars.
Science magazine has the video clip: Here.

Animal Pictures