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The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Daily Drift


Bird Chief, 1870s
Bird Chief, 1870s
Carolina Naturally is read in 191 countries around the world daily.

Spring run off abated ...

Today is The Grass Is Always Browner On The Other Side Of The Fence Day

And Pencil Day
Don't forget to visit our sister blog!

Today in History

1492   King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sign a decree expelling all Jews from Spain.
1840   "Beau" Brummell, the English dandy and former favorite of the prince regent, dies in a French lunatic asylum for paupers.
1858   Hyman L. Lipman of Philadelphia patents the pencil with an eraser attached on one end.
1867   Russian Baron Stoeckl and U.S. Secretary of State Seward completed the draft of a treaty ceding Alaska to the United States. The treaty is signed the following day.
1870   The 15th amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race, passes.
1870   President U.S. Grant signs bill readmitting Texas to the Union, the last Confederate state readmitted.
1885   In Afghanistan, Russian troops inflict a crushing defeat on Afghan forces Ak Teppe despite orders not to fight.
1909   The Queensboro Bridge in New York opens. It is the first double decker bridge and links Manhattan and Queens.
1916   Mexican bandit Pancho Villa kills 172 at the Guerrero garrison in Mexico.
1936   Britain announces a naval construction program of 38 warships. This is the largest construction program in 15 years.
1941   The German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel begins its first offensive against British forces in Libya.
1943   Rodgers and Hammerstein's first collaboration, Oklahoma, opens on Broadway.
1944   The U.S. fleet attacks Palau, near the Philippines.
1945   The Red Army advances into Austria.
1946   The Allies seize 1,000 Nazis attempting to revive the Nazi party in Frankfurt.
1950   President Harry S Truman denounces Senator Joe McCarthy as a saboteur of U.S. foreign policy.
1957   Tunisia and Morocco sign a friendship treaty in Rabat.
1972   Hanoi launches its heaviest attack in four years, crossing the DMZ.
1975   As the North Vietnamese forces move toward Saigon, desperate South Vietnamese soldiers mob rescue jets.
1981   President Ronald Reagan is shot and wounded in Washington, D.C. by John W. Hinkley Jr.
1987   Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers is bought for $39.85 million.

Non Sequitur


Chess is mandatory for students in Armenia

In Armenia, learning to play the grand game of strategy in school is mandatory for children - the only country in the world that makes chess compulsory - and the initiative has paid dividends. Armenia, a Caucasus country with a population of just three million, is a chess powerhouse...

In 2011, Armenia made chess compulsory for second, third and fourth-graders. That's why Susie and her classmates have two hours of chess every week in school...

"Chess is having a good influence on their performance in other subjects too. The kids are learning how to think, it's making them more confident," said teacher Rosanna Putanyan, watching her pupils play from the periphery...

"Chess develops various skills - leadership capacities, decision-making, strategic planning, logical thinking and responsibility," Ashotyan said. "We are building these traits in our youngsters. The future of the world depends on such creative leaders who have the capacity to make the right decisions, as well as the character to take responsibility for wrong decisions."

More than $3m has been spent on the project so far to supply chess equipment and learning aids in all Armenian schools, Ashotyan added. The majority of the budget was allocated to train chess players to become good teachers. In coming years, spending on chess is expected to rise, he said.
Kudos to Armenia.  Further details: Here.

Did you know ...

That a NYC cop says he was told to target Hispanics and Blacks on 'stop and frisk'

That Iraqi birth defects worse than Hiroshima

About inside the heads of the 1%

Five Ugly Extremes of Inequality in America

By Paul Buchheit

 The Contrasts Will Drop Your Chin to the Floor

Any of the ten richest Americans could pay a year's rent for all of America's homeless with their 2012 income.
The first step is to learn the facts, and then to get angry and to ask ourselves, as progressives and caring human beings, what we can do about the relentless transfer of wealth to a small group of well-positioned Americans.
1. $2.13 per hour vs. $3,000,000.00 per hour
Each of the Koch brothers saw his investments grow by  $6 billion in one year, which is three million dollars per hour based on a 40-hour 'work' week. They used some of the money to try to  kill renewable energystandards around the country.
Their income portrays them, in a society measured by economic status, as a million times more valuable than the  restaurant server who cheers up our lunch hours while hoping to make enough in tips to pay the bills.
A comparison of top and bottom salaries within large corporations is much less severe, but a lot more common. For CEOs and minimum-wage workers, the  difference is $5,000.00 per hour vs. $7.25 per hour.
2. A single top income could buy housing for every homeless person in the U.S.
On a winter day in 2012  over 633,000 people were homeless in the United States. Based on an annual single room occupancy  (SRO) cost of $558 per month, any ONE of the  ten richest Americans would have enough with his 2012 income to pay for a room for every homeless person in the U.S.  for the entire year. These ten rich men together made more than our entire  housing budget.
For anyone still believing "they earned it," it should be noted that  most of the Forbes 400 earnings came from  minimally-taxed, non-job-creating capital gains.
3. The poorest 47% of Americans have no wealth
In 1983 the poorest  47% of America had $15,000 per family,  2.5 percent of the nation's wealth.
In 2009 the poorest  47% of America owned  ZERO PERCENT of the nation's wealth (their debt exceeded their assets).
At the other extreme, the  400 wealthiest Americans own as much wealth as 80 million families --  62% of America. The reason, once again, is the stock market. Since 1980 the American GDP has approximately doubled. Inflation-adjusted wages  have gone down. But the stock market has increased by  over ten times, and the richest quintile of Americans  owns 93% of it.
4. The U.S. is nearly the most wealth-unequal country in the entire world
Out of 141 countries, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of  wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
Yet the financial industry keeps creating new wealth for its millionaires. According to the authors of the Global Wealth Report, the world's wealth has doubled in ten years, from $113 trillion to $223 trillion, and is expected to reach $330 trillion by 2017.
5. A can of soup for a black or Hispanic woman, a mansion and yacht for the businessman
That's literally true. For every one dollar of assets owned by a  single black or Hispanic woman, a member of the Forbes 400 has over  forty million dollars.
Minority families once had substantial equity in their homes, but after Wall Street caused the housing crash,  median wealth fell 66% for Hispanic households and 53% for black households. Now the average single black or Hispanic woman has about  $100 in net worth.
What to do?
End the  capital gains giveaway, which benefits the wealthy almost exclusively.
Institute a  Financial Speculation Tax, both to raise needed funds from a currently untaxed subsidy on stock purchases, and to reduce the risk of the irresponsible trading that nearly brought down the economy.
Perhaps above all, we progressives have to choose one strategy and pursue it in a cohesive, unrelenting attack on greed. Only this will heal the ugly gash of inequality that has split our country in two.

Lush Dimbulb's Deranged Mind Turns Twitter Into a Democratic Conspiracy

Lush Dimbulb claimed that 50% of the news on Twitter is being posted by people getting paid by the Democratic Party.
Audio via Media Matters:
Transcript via Lush Dimbulb
LUSH: Markus Prior, Princeton University. Essentially when you read his abstract here, he’s saying that it is easier than ever to become a low-information voter. It’s easier than ever. No question about it. I just checked something. There is a Twitter feed that anybody can subscribe to called Breaking News, and that’s what it is. But who posts it? Who knows? It has about six million followers, which means that everything on that Twitter feed is automatically sent to those people.
They don’t have to go get it. It shows up. They have to go to Twitter to see it. They still have to fire it up and use it, but it’s sent to them. Now, CNN has an audience of maybe 800,000 people, if you get my drift here. Just one Twitter feed has almost six million. Now, who is it that’s putting information on Twitter? Well, half the people on Twitter, at least, folks (don’t doubt me on this) who are posting political news are political hacks paid by Democrats and their front groups.
They know exactly what they’re doing.
The left, the Democrat Party has made themselves present everywhere. I mean, the dominant media culture in entertainment, books, movies, television shows, sports networks, is leftism/liberalism. So even the people who don’t care about politics, who couldn’t care less about it are exposed to it, while thinking that they are avoiding it. Mr. Prior here makes the point that it is often the low-information people who end up being the most partisan, and it’s rooted in what they think they know that isn’t so.
If Democrats are paying people to post the news on Twitter, the Democratic Party has a whole lot of money. This latest conspiracy is all about Lush Dimbulb returning to his tried and true well of wingnut paranoia among his audience. Dimbulb has to keep his listeners scared and paranoid, or they may not keep tuning in. Half of the news on Twitter is all part of a Democratic conspiracy to misinform the American people with things that they like to call facts.
The old wingnut paranoia tank is definitely getting low when Dimbulb has to resort to Twitter to get the dittoheads revved up. The Democrats aren’t paying people to post on Twitter. This is just another baseless and zany Dimbulb statement designed to keep his audience away from things that might actually teach them something.
The only person being paid to fill the air with false information is Lush Dimbulb.

After Steubenville, A Community Under Fire Takes Aim at the Rape Culture

No More Rape Culture
In Torrington, Connecticut, school administrators and residents are planning a community meeting to address cyberbullying after four football players (two of whom were 18-years-old) were charged in the statutory rape case of two 13-year-old girls. The rape and assault allegations resulted in cyberbullying of the victims.
In an online Middletown Press chat on cyberbullying today, reporter Jessica Glenza from the Register Citizen (who deserves big kudos for her coverage of this case) wrote, “The board of education chair has told us that he’s interested in setting up a forum of sorts between the mayor, police chief and local religious leaders to discuss issues of cyber bullying and statutory rape.”
Unlike Steubenville, the adult community in Torrington is not showing support for the football “heroes” by attacking the victims. The community appears to be at least partially working to educate students about rape, statutory rape, cyberbullying, and the important fact that it doesn’t matter if they like the victims or not, or if the victims hung out with the alleged perpetrators or wore the wrong clothes. In other words, they are taking aim at some of the tenets of our rape culture.
It may be that 13-year-old girls engender more sympathy than a 16-year-old, but it also may be that they learned something from Stuebenville — like how not to be a national embarrassment of rape apologists: Don’t tick off Anonymous by lying and covering things up, don’t blame the victims, and if there is a reporter after your town for being rape apologists, you best straighten things out ASAP (Alexandria Goddard, a blogger at Prinniefied, brought national attention to Stuebenville and reporter Jessica Glenza did the same for the Torrington case).
Naturally, the two 13-year-old victims were bullied in this case (that’s part and parcel of the rape culture – intimidate/shame/harass the victim). The Register reported:
Following news of their arrests, a large number of students (30-plus according to The Register Citizen’s analysis of social media accounts) went on Twitter and posted or sent messages blaming the girls for “ruining the lives” of Gonzalez and Toribio. They called the girls “whore” and “snitch,” blamed them for hanging out with 18-year-olds in the first place, and more.
At first, school officials tried to duck under no comment dodges. But Torrington High School Principal Joanne Creedon called out the online bullying in a message to students, “We must stand up for what is right, and speak up against wrong…. (The) principles of safety, respect, and responsibility must guide your use of social media.” Parents were notified that bullying could result in discipline, including suspension. One female Torrington High School student was already suspended for bullying one of the victims.
And Anonymous kept watch, ready to spring into action as they did in Stuebenville. But after determining that Torrington was being handled differently, Anonymous threw their weight behind a fundraising drive for the Susan B. Anthony Project in order to raise awareness of the rape culture in America. The SBA Project is a sexual and domestic violence advocacy center.
Anonymous made their mission clear in a statement, “We want this case to be noticed because frankly we’re disgusted by the rape culture in America. People need to understand that there are new consequences for committing depraved acts of brutality against our sisters and daughters.”
Speaking of rape advocacy, Kenneth Traub, chairman of the board of education at Torrington Public Schools, told ABC that the community discussion will be led by Torrington Public Schools faculty and trained professionals from the Susan B. Anthony Project.
This case echoes some of the familiar patriarchal strains of Steubenville and Penn State (I’d add the Catholic Church, but then the list of institutions blindly defending patriarchy might never end) — in fact, one of the accused football players was charged with felony robbery and assault a year ago, and the coach not only let him play, but he was named MVP. But there are major differences as well, not the least of which is we are not privy to evidence prior to the trial in this case as we were in Steubenville.
The broader issue is how we as a culture deal with rape victims. Torrington is taking good first steps to educate their community about rape and consent, and they have plans to address cyberbullying (but a not so hot record thus far). The ACLU is keeping an eye on the students’ free speech rights, as these are fine lines to walk.
The community meeting will take place sometime in the first weeks of April.
The truth is, the rape and bullying of victims could and does happen everywhere in America. The only way we’re going to change that is by changing the way we discuss it and deal with it.
Torrington is obviously far from perfect, but they are taking courageous, important steps forward out of the rape culture, thanks in part to the fortitude of one female reporter and the watchful eyes of the mostly-male Anonymous.

"Remote administration tools" explained

The woman is visible from thousands of miles away on a hacker's computer. The hacker has infected her machine with a remote administration tool (RAT) that gives him access to the woman's screen, to her webcam, to her files, to her microphone. He watches her and the baby through a small control window open on his Windows PC, then he decides to have a little fun. He enters a series of shock and pornographic websites and watches them appear on the woman's computer.

The woman is startled. "Did it scare you?" she asks someone off camera. A young man steps into the webcam frame. "Yes," he says. Both stare at the computer in horrified fascination. A picture of old naked men appears in their Web browser, then vanishes as a McAfee security product blocks a "dangerous site."...

"Man I feel dirty looking at these pics," wrote one forum poster at Hack Forums, one of the top "aboveground" hacking discussion sites on the Internet (it now has more than 23 million total posts). The poster was referencing a 134+ page thread filled with the images of female "slaves" surreptitiously snapped by hackers using the women's own webcams. "Poor people think they are alone in their private homes, but have no idea they are the laughing stock on HackForums," he continued. "It would be funny if one of these slaves venture into learning how to hack and comes across this thread."

Whether this would in fact be "funny" is unlikely. RAT operators have nearly complete control over the computers they infect; they can (and do) browse people's private pictures in search of erotic images to share with each other online. They even have strategies for watching where women store the photos most likely to be compromising...

Welcome to the weird world of the ratters. They operate quite openly online, sharing the best techniques for picking up new female slaves (and avoiding that most unwanted of creatures, "old perverted men") in public forums. Even when their activities trip a victim's webcam light and the unsettled victim reaches forward to put a piece of tape over the webcam, the basic attitude is humorous—Ha! You got us! On to the next slave!..

Today, a cottage industry exists to build sophisticated RAT tools with names like DarkComet and BlackShades and to install and administer them on dozens or even hundreds of remote computers. When anti-malware vendors began to detect and clean these programs from infected computers, the RAT community built "crypters" to disguise the target code further. Today, serious ratters seek software that is currently "FUD"—fully undetectable...
Additional grim details are available at Ars Technica,

Indiana blast suspect charged in plot to kill witness

FILE - This combination of file photos provided by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department shows, from left, Mark Leonard, his girlfriend Monserrate Shirley, and his brother, Bob Leonard, all of Indianapolis, who were arrested on Dec. 21, 2012 and charged with murder, arson and other counts in a Nov. 10 gas explosion that killed two people. Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announced Thursday, March 28, 2013 that Mark Leonard has been charged with plotting to have a witness in the case killed. The Nov. 10 blast killed a young couple and damaged 33 homes so badly that they had to be demolished. (AP Photo/Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, File)  
An Indianapolis man facing trial in a house explosion that killed two people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes was charged Thursday with plotting to have a witness in the case killed.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announced Mark Leonard had been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder during a news conference in downtown Indianapolis.
Curry said Leonard tried to arrange to have the witness killed for a payment of $15,000. Curry said Leonard also offered a $5,000 bonus if the killing was made to look like a suicide and if the killer could force the witness to first call 911 and recant statements about the explosion.
Leonard, girlfriend Monserrate Shirley and brother Bob Leonard are awaiting trial in the Nov. 10 blast that killed a teacher and her husband, and left 33 homes in the Richmond Hill subdivision so damaged that they had to be demolished.
Investigators say the trio intentionally created a gas explosion in Shirley's home in hopes of collecting insurance money. A microwave set to start on a timer sparked the explosion in Shirley's gas-filled home after a gas fireplace valve and a gas line regulator in the house were removed.
John and Jennifer Longworth died after the explosion ignited another explosion and resulting fire at their house.
All three defendants face murder, arson and conspiracy charges. Shirley also is charged with insurance fraud.
Curry said in February he would see life without parole for Shirley and the Leonards because a jury was unlikely to choose the death penalty.

Man arrested after trying to kill woman with poisoned shoes

Man arrested after trying to kill woman with poisoned shoes

A  Japanese man who allegedly tried to kill a woman he was stalking by putting poison in her shoes was arrested on Thursday.

The woman, a colleague, did not die, but developed gangrene in part of her left foot, they said. It was not known to what extent she was injured or if she had to have any amputations.

Tatsujiro Fukasawa, 40, allegedly put hydrofluoric acid, a highly caustic chemical, in her shoes in December last year. He is believed to have obtained the chemical, which is used in oil refining or to dissolve rock, at his workplace.

Fukusawa has denied the allegation. Hydrofluoric acid can be absorbed through the skin into the blood, and can led to systemic failure, including heart attacks.

TSA screener finds pepper spray on the floor, gasses five other screeners because he thought it was a laser-pointer

A TSA screener at JFK pepper-sprayed five of his colleagues at Terminal 2 on Tuesday, according to the New York Post. The screener, Chris Yves Dabel, found a pepper-spray cannister on the floor and believed it was a laser-pointer, so (for some reason), he aimed it at five other screeners and pressed the trigger. The six were sent to Jamaica Hospital.
The screener sprayed five other TSA agents around him, sending all six to Jamaica Hospital and halting security checks at Kennedy for at least 15 minutes, police said.
No passengers reported injuries. Dabel refused medical attention.
TSA officials scrambled to keep the embarrassing incident under wraps yesterday — until The Post began inquiring about it, a source said.

Scooter ads face scrutiny from government, doctors

This undated screenshot shows a frame grab from a Hoveround commercial. Members of Congress say the ads by The Scooter Store and Hoveround have lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary spending by Medicare, which is only supposed to pay for scooters when seniors are unable to use a cane, walker or regular wheelchair. Government inspectors say up to 80 percent of the scooters and power wheelchairs Medicare buys go to people who don't meet the requirements. And doctors say more than money is at stake: Seniors who use scooters unnecessarily can become sedentary, which can exacerbate obesity and other disorders.(AP Photo/Hoveround)  
TV ads show smiling seniors enjoying an "active" lifestyle on a motorized scooter, taking in the sights at the Grand Canyon, fishing on a pier and high-fiving their grandchildren at a baseball game.
The commercials, which promise freedom and independence to people with limited mobility, have driven the nearly $1 billion U.S. market for power wheelchairs and scooters. But the spots by the industry's two leading companies, The Scooter Store and Hoveround, also have drawn scrutiny from doctors and lawmakers, who say they create the false impression that scooters are a convenient means of transportation rather than a medical necessity.
Members of Congress say the ads lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary spending by Medicare, which is only supposed to pay for scooters when seniors are unable to use a cane, walker or regular wheelchair. Government inspectors say up to 80 percent of the scooters and power wheelchairs Medicare buys go to people who don't meet the requirements. And doctors say more than money is at stake: Seniors who use scooters unnecessarily can become sedentary, which can exacerbate obesity and other disorders.
"Patients have been brainwashed by The Scooter Store," says Dr. Barbara Messinger-Rapport, director of geriatric medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. "What they're implying is that you can use these scooters to leave the house, to socialize, to get to bingo."
The scooter controversy, which has escalated with a government raid on The Scooter's Store's New Braunfels, Texas, headquarters last month, underscores the influence TV ads can have on medical decisions. Like their peers in the drug industry, scooter companies say direct-to-consumer advertising educates patients about their medical options. But critics argue that the scooter spots are little more than sales pitches that cause patients to pressure doctors to prescribe unnecessary equipment.
The Scooter Store and Hoveround, both privately held companies that together make up about 70 percent of the U.S. market for scooters, spent more than $180 million on TV, radio and print advertising in 2011, up 20 percent since 2008, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media. Their ads often include language that the scooters can be paid for by Medicare or other insurance: "Nine out of ten people got them for little or no cost," states one Hoveround ad.
Hoveround did not respond to a half-dozen requests for comment. The Scooter Store, the nation's biggest seller of scooters, said that most people who contact the company after seeing the ads do not ultimately receive a scooter.
"The fact that 87 percent of the persons who seek power mobility products from The Scooter Store under their Medicare benefits are disqualified by the company's screening process is powerful evidence of the company's commitment to ensuring that only legitimate claims are submitted to Medicare," the company said in a statement. The Scooter Store has been operating with a streamlined staff in recent days, following massive layoffs in the wake of the raid by federal agents.
Insurance executives say doctors who don't understand when Medicare is supposed to pay for scooters are partly to blame for unnecessary purchases.
Scooters — which are larger than power wheelchairs and often include a handlebar for steering — are covered by Medicare if they are prescribed by a doctor who has completed an evaluation showing that their patient is unable to function at home without a device.
The doctor fills out a lengthy prescription form and sends it to a scooter supplier that delivers the device to the patient and then submits the paperwork to Medicare for payment. Medicare pays about 80 percent of that cost, which can range from $1,500 to $3,500. The remainder is often picked up by supplemental insurance or the government-funded Medicaid program for low-income and disabled Americans.
The process can help immobile seniors get equipment that improves their lives. Ernest Tornabell of Boynton Beach, Fla., received a scooter from Pride, a smaller manufacturer, through Medicare about six years ago. The 73-year-old suffers from obesity, diabetes and lung disease and says he used to never leave his house. Now, using the scooter he can walk his dog, go to the grocery store and run other errands.
"I couldn't really get out and do anything before. Now I have a lot more mobility," said Tornabell, whose doctor recommended that he get the device.
But Dr. Stephen Peake, medical director for the insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield in Tennessee, says doctors can often be as uninformed about the appropriate role of scooters as patients.
"I talk to a lot of physicians about this subject ... and after our discussions, they don't understand that you can't get a power mobility device so mom can go to the park with the family," Peake said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Aging last year.
One reason for the confusion? Doctors say scooter companies are just as aggressive with health professionals as they are in marketing to their patients.
Dr. Jerome Epplin of Litchfield, Ill., who also testified before the Senate, estimates that only about one out of every 10 patients who ask him for a scooter actually needs one. But he said that sales representatives from some scooter companies put pressure on him by accompanying patients to his office. The effect is coercive, he says.
"It can be intimidating," Epplin says. "I see it as an inappropriate attempt to influence my clinical judgment when I'm evaluating a patient."
Allegations of Medicare fraud within the industry go back nearly a decade.
In 2005 the U.S. Justice Department sued The Scooter Store, alleging that its advertising enticed seniors to obtain power scooters paid for by Medicare, and then sold patients more expensive scooters that they did not want or need. The Scooter Store settled that case in 2007 for $4 million.
As part of the settlement, The Scooter Store was operating under an agreement that made the company subject to periodic government reviews between 2007 and last year. In 2011, the latest review available, government auditors estimated that The Scooter Store received between $47 million and $88 million in improper payments for scooters.
The Scooter Store took no action to repay the money until February 2012, when the Health and Human Services' inspector general threatened to bar the company from doing business with Medicare, which accounts for about 75 percent of its income, according to its congressional testimony.
The company said the government's estimate was flawed and that it was willing to repay $19.5 million in overpayments. The company has paid about $5.7 million, with the rest scheduled for repayment over a 5-year period to be completed in 2017.
Medicare said in a January letter that it accepted the fee based on The Scooter Store's own assessment of what it owed, but that the agreement "does not absolve The Scooter Store from any further liability."
In recent months Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and other members of the Senate Aging Committee have pushed Medicare to recover the millions of dollars spent on unnecessary scooters each year. Those purchases totaled about $500 million in 2011, the latest year available, according to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general.
Medicare, which says that it does not have control over how companies market chairs, launched a pilot program designed to reduce wasteful spending on scooters.
Under the program, government contractors in seven states review patients' medical documentation to make sure they need a wheelchair or scooter before approving payments for a device. The program is being tested in a small number of states — including Florida, California and New York — because the government must pay contractors extra to review additional paperwork.
The program has been criticized by The Scooter Store's executives, who say that contractors are too strict in their reviews, rejecting payments for power chairs that are genuinely needed.
The reduced payments are taking a toll on the company, which was founded in 1991. The Scooter Store has spent nearly $1 million lobbying Congress over the last two years, almost exclusively focused on the Medicare review program. And the company laid off about 370 employees in the past year, blaming the reduced payments it's been getting from Medicare.
Then, last week, The Scooter Store notified most of its remaining 1,800 employees that their jobs were being eliminated. The company said in a statement to the Associated Press that it is operating with a workforce of 300 employees — down from the 2,500 workforce it had at its peak — while trying to restructure its operations.
The mass layoffs followed a raid in February by about 150 agents from the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Texas attorney general's Medicaid fraud unit at the company's headquarters.
Federal authorities have declined to speak about the raid, but scooter industry critics in Congress praised the action.
"This raid is a welcome step toward cracking down on waste and fraud in Medicare," said Blumenthal, the Connecticut senator. "I have urged action to stop abusive overpayments for such devices — costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and preying on seniors with deceptive sales pitches."

Marijuana vending machines

They are real.
Dispense Labs plans to lease the machines to dispensaries so they can offer round-the-clock convenience to a customer base that's far more likely to do its pot shopping at night. The so-called Autospense will be placed behind a vending cage accessible — like the machines themselves — only with a valid registration card. Fingerprint authentication provides additional security, and closed-circuit cameras, locks, and strict record keeping are relied upon to prevent machine tampering.

The Bacon Craze Grows with Condoms, "Mouthwash"

by Elizabeth Smith Bacon Craze Grows with Condoms, "Mouthwash"

The mouthwatering breakfast meat in its natural form.

The bacon craze that has been sweeping the nation for over a year is not slowing down.
Recipes and products surrounding the sizzling meat are all over the Internet and in some of our favorite stores. The latest additions to the trend include bacon condoms, sunscreen, and maybe even bacon mouthwash (if Scope is not pulling an April Fools' Day gag).
The condoms and sunscreen are brought to you by J&D's Foods, the "bacontrepeneurs" that have based their livelihood off of "making everything taste like bacon." Their bounty includes: bacon salt, bacon lip balm, bacon envelopes and even bacon lube.
However, mouthwash maker Scope is "launching" its own bacon-flavored product a little too close to April Fools' Day for comfort. When asked about the product's existence, Proctor & Gamble representatives have given coy responses, according to the Huffington Post.
Whether Scope is joining the trend or not, there is plenty to feast your eyes on in the bacon business.
Check out a list of the greatest non-edible bacon products to hit the market, compiled by online magazine IAMTHETREND.

The World's Strangest Vehicles

Sometimes simply getting from point A to point B is not really the point. Some people want to do it in style, with a certain panache, pride and lots of attitude - while others want to set their vehicles as far apart from the norm as possible. Some of the strange vehicles depicted here were made for show only, but some appear to be roadworthy and maybe even groundbreaking.

Take That, Instagram: The Enduring Allure Of Vintage Snapshots

Collectors Weekly published an article about found photos, whose degraded surfaces and often blurry images exude a level of authenticity that Instagram can only dream of. Staff writer Hunter Oatman-Stanford spoke to several collectors of found photography, including Chris and Grace Hughes, camera collectors and founders of the Toronto photo studio A Nerd's World.

Seven of the World’s Oldest Food Finds

vI have a 50-year-old box of vanilla extract that I keep around for the novelty and the vintage package design. I don't know what the bottle looks like because I've never opened the box. But that vanilla is downright fresh compared to some unearthed foodstuffs studied by archaeologists. Can you imagine a bowl of soup 2,400 years old? 
While excavating to make way for a new airport, Chinese workers struck liquid gold. Well, liquid gold if you happen to be an archeologist. Or really into soup. The soup, sealed so tightly in its bronze cooking pot that it was still in a liquid state, was discovered in a tomb near Xian. It didn’t look too savory, having turned green from 2400 years of bronze oxidation. It also still contained bones, which delighted archeologists, probably because they didn’t actually have to eat it.
That's one. There are six other examples of food surviving a very long time in a recognizable form (even if only after testing) at mental-floss.

The science of screen time vs. face time, and human connectedness

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill psych professor Barbara L. Fredrickson had an interesting recent piece in the New York Times on what she and research colleagues argues is a concerning downside of "the instant electronic access" provided by smartphones and tablets and the like: "one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people." The theory isn't new, but the science she points to seems to be.  

Cancer therapy dog winning own disease fight

A therapy dog used to help patients going through cancer treatment has a poignant twist to his tale after he had seven months of chemotherapy himself. Charlie, a Border collie, makes weekly visits to the North Wales Cancer Centre at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd as part of the Pets As Therapy (PAT) scheme.

His owner Jane Howatson said patients were able to empathize with him when they heard his story. Charlie was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes in August 2012. He is one of 41 PAT dogs and one cat who work across north Wales as therapy for humans visiting hospitals, hospices, homes and schools.

Ms Howatson, from Llansannan, said: "Happily Charlie is in remission at present, he loves coming here to meet the patients and they enjoy seeing him too. He comes here and you can see he is concentrating all the time, working in his own little way when he sees the patients. When patients stroke Charlie and find out what he has been through, you do see a sense of empathy from both.

"We come here every Thursday and it's nice as Charlie gets to see the same people who are going through regular treatment and it's nice for him and them to get familiar with each other. I'm so proud that he is doing this for these patients as they have taken to him so well." Charlie has been adopted as the honorary mascot for the center's staff. Carmel Barnett, acting radiotherapy services manager, said: "He lights up the reception every time he comes in on a Thursday as he's such a friendly happy dog with a wonderful inspirational tale that lifts everyone who meets him."

First Love Child of Human, Neanderthal Found

A neanderthal skeleton unearthed in Italy shows interbreeding with humans, the first such known hybrid.

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In a Chicago suburb, an indoor farm goes 'mega'

Farming in abandoned warehouses has become a hot trend in the Midwest — with varying degrees of success — as more entrepreneurs worldwide experiment with indoor growing systems in attempts to grow more food locally.
Now one facility, FarmedHere LLC in suburban Chicago, is attempting to take indoor warehouse farming to the "mega farm" level, in a region of the country known more for its massive hog, corn and soybean farms than for crops of boutique greens.
Here's a run-down on the trend, this farm — and the challenges it and other indoor farms face.
In Chicago, Milwaukee and other urban areas, entrepreneurs have taken up residence in vacant buildings that have high ceilings and plenty of space. Often, these are called "vertical" farms because, within the buildings, farmers build tall structures with several levels of growing beds, often lined with artificial lights. With so much vacant space available, the cost of the property is often cheap, to buy or rent, though the power needed to run these facilities often is not.
Elsewhere, growers are incorporating greenhouses and natural light into their models — sometimes on rooftops, or in large fields.
Though farmers are experimenting with all kinds of crops, most have had success growing greens — herbs, various types of lettuce and "microgreens," edible plants, such as beets and sunflowers, which are harvested when they are young and used like sprouts in salads and sandwiches.
"Aquaponic" farms, which also raise tilapia and other fish, use water circulated to the plants that is fertilized with the fish excrement. Often, these farms also sell the fish to grocers or restaurants.
"It's different here than I've seen anywhere else, just the size, the sheer scale of it is very unique," says Maximino Gonzalez, the master grower at FarmedHere LLC.
The company, based in Bedford Park, Ill., is finishing the first of four phases, with plans to expand by the end of next year to 150,000 square feet of vertical growing space.
Already, they say they are the largest vertical farm in the country, a claim experts who monitor the field believe to be true. The farm supplies local grocery with fresh basil, arugula and other greens.
Right now, the farm has two large structures with five to six levels of massive growing beds that are lit with fluorescent lighting.
One structure, where basil is grown, is "aquaponic." Water underneath the plants — which rest in cutouts in styrofoam "floats" — circulates through a system from the plants to two large tanks of fish. The other structure, where arugula is grown, is "aeroponic," with water misters underneath that spray the plants' exposed roots.
A third structure is under construction and will be completed soon, owners at FarmedHere say.
Workers plant the seeds and grow seedlings on racks, then transfer into the growing systems.
After about a month, the crops — certified as "organic" by the USDA — are harvested and packaged by about a dozen workers in a cooling room at the facility. Early the morning after the harvests, workers use two vans to deliver those greens — mainly basil and arugula right now — to grocers in Chicago and suburbs, including Whole Foods and Mariano's Fresh Market locations.
CEO Jolanta Hardej calls it "on-demand farming."
"Let's say that the demand is suddenly for various types of arugula or various types of mixed greens, or mini greens," she says. "We could change the whole system ... and pretty much within the next 14 to 28 days, we have a full grown plant, whatever the market requires."
The biggest stumbling block for facilities like these remains power — the amount of electricity to run the lights that help the plants grow. Heating these massive spaces also can be costly.
Experts in the field say this will also be a big challenge for FarmedHere, because of its size.
A few other indoor farms in Wisconsin and Chicago have gone out of business, or are struggling to stay open.
"It's hard to get there for sure," says Sylvia Bernstein, an aquaponics supplier based in Boulder, Colo., who blogs about the trend. "There are a lot of people working on it."
Some growers are experimenting with solar, wind and methane as ways to generate the power. Others are supplementing artificial light with natural greenhouse or window lighting.
Hardej says FarmedHere is looking at methane options. Though she declined to elaborate for competitive reasons, she said the eventual goal is for the facility to be self-sustaining.
Many believe indoor farms that rely on artificial light will become even more viable as energy-efficient LED lighting improves and becomes more affordable.
But Dickson Despommier, a retired Columbia University microbiologist who wrote the book "The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century," says powering farms is still the biggest hurdle for the industry — one that many farmers are often reluctant to talk about publicly.
"A lot of them will tuck their head under their wings and say, 'Wait and see,'" he says, noting that he's anxious to see large indoor farming models in Japan that use both artificial and natural light. He says entrepreneurs in Germany also are experimenting with flickering lights that use less power but still emit enough light to grow plants.
"In another two or three years, this will shake out," Despommier says. "And we'll see which systems work, and which don't."

Highest corn acreage since 1936 expected

This file photo from July 19, 2012, shows a corn field on a foggy morning near Springfield, Neb. The USDA is releasing its first estimate of the 2013 crop size in its spring planting report on Thursday, March 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
The survey said the 2013 corn planting forecast is up slightly from last year's 97.2 million acres.
Corn remains profitable, as prices are holding strong at around $7 per bushel after last year's severe drought left the grain in short supply. In a separate report, the USDA said corn stocks fell 10 percent from a year ago to 5.40 billion bushels.
Record corn acreage is expected in Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, and Oregon. And Iowa, the nation's leading corn producer, will plant an estimated 14.2 million acres in corn, the same as last year.
But the states that suffered significantly during last year's drought — the worst since the 1950s — expect to plant slightly less corn acreage: Illinois' acres are down 5 percent to 12.2 million; Minnesota fell 3 percent to 9 million acres; and Nebraska corn acres are down 1 percent at 9.9 million acres.
The report said farmers plan to plant 77.1 million acres in soybeans, a small decline from 2012's 77.2 million acres but still the fourth highest on record.
Compared with last year, planted soybean acreage intentions are down across all of the Great Plains, with the exception of North Dakota, as drought conditions have persisted. However, increases in planted area across most of the eastern Corn Belt and parts of the Southeast nearly balance out the plains' declines.
If the estimates come to fruition, the planted soybean areas in New York, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania will be the largest on record.
Iowa soybean acres are expected to rise 1 percent to 9.4 million acres, while Illinois is up 4 percent to 9.4 million. Nebraska is expected to see soybeans acres fall about 6 percent to 4.7 million.
Some analysts had anticipated increased planting in both corn and soybeans partly because farmers dedicated fewer acres to the conservation reserve program last year, leaving 2.6 million more acres available for planting.
Darrel Good, an agriculture economics professor at the University of Illinois, said with plenty of land available for planting, the weather now becomes a focal point.
"The attention will focus very quickly on planting weather and thoughts of yield prospects," he said. "The question is what kind of summer we're going to have."

Caltech chemists think they’ve cracked photosynthesis

Chemists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory believe they can now explain one of the remaining mysteries of photosynthesis, the chemical process by which plants convert sunlight into [...]

Earth News

One of the Earth's best-ever baby pictures reveals how crust forms at the biggest volcanic feature on the planet.
A new report finds that even Antarctica is suffering from pollution.
A growing number of scientists are saying that a giant asteroid was only part of the story behind what doomed the dinosaurs.

Astronomical News

The small chance that Comet 2013 A1 may slam into Mars in 2014 could be a scientific smorgasbord -- potentially motivating a manned expedition to the red planet.
Star formation is a complex and beautiful process, but the reasons as to why the biggest stars get so massive has been a mystery to science. 
Actually, it does spin, just at the same rate it orbits Earth.

Smuggler Tries to Steal 14% of an Entire Species

tortoisesThere may be as few as 400 Ploughshare Tortoises in the world. Police in Thailand caught a man trying to sneak out of the country with 54 of them and other rare tortoises in his luggage:
On Friday, authorities arrested a 38-year-old Thai man as he was attempting to collect a bag containing tortoises from Madagascar, from a luggage carousel, at the airport. The bag was registered to a 25-year-old woman who had flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi the same day.
Royal Thai Customs officers and their counterparts in the CITES management authority found 54 Ploughshare Tortoises Astrochelys yniphora and 21 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata, both of which are assessed as being Critically Endangered.
Ploughshare and Radiated Tortoises are endemic to Madagascar, totally protected in the country and are both listed in CITES Appendix I. The wild population of Ploughshare Tortoises, considered among the rarest species in the world, is estimated to be as few as 400 individuals, and is declining fast.

Animal News

Animal and insect behaviors are helping to explain the origin of many popular myths and mysteries.
Sea hares fire an inky mucus-like substance that confuses would-be attackers.

Animal Pictures