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

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Dail Drift

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Today in History

1525   The Catholic princes of Germany form the Dessau League to fight against the Reformation.
1545   King Henry VIII of England watches his flagship, Mary Rose, capsize as it leaves to battle the French.
1788   Prices plunge on the Paris stock market.
1799   The Rosetta Stone, a tablet with hieroglyphic translations into Greek, is found in Egypt.
1848   The first Women's Rights Convention convenes in Seneca Falls, N.Y, organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
1870   France declares war on Prussia.
1942   German U-boats are withdrawn from positions off the U.S. Atlantic coast due to American anti-submarine countermeasures.
1943   More than 150 B-17 and 112 B-24 bombers attack Rome for the first time.
1975   Apollo and Soyuz spacecrafts dock in orbit.

Non Sequitur


The Decline of North Carolina, Continued

by Dorothy J. Samuels
 A "Moral Monday" demonstration in Raleigh, N.C., on July 8, 2013.  
 A “Moral Monday” demonstration in Raleigh, N.C., on July 8, 2013.  

An editorial last week lamented North Carolina’s abandonment of progressive policies in the seven months since Republicans took control of both the executive and legislative branches in the Tar Heel State for the first time since reconstruction.
The piece cited backward slides in areas such as public education, tax fairness, voting, abortion rights and the mean-spirited slashing of federal unemployment benefits for roughly 70,000 residents.
To that depressing list, I would add one more item: the destruction of North Carolina’s public financing system for judicial elections.
Enacted in 2002, the program set a laudable national example by allowing candidates for the bench to reduce their reliance on the special interest campaign money that now dominates state races for important judicial posts across the country — creating conflicts of interest that a new study from the American Constitution Society links to friendly rulings for business interests by both repugican and Democratic judges.
“In 2002, the last year without public financing, 73 percent of campaign funds for judicial candidates came from attorneys and special interest groups,” noted Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice in a recent op-ed piece for the Raleigh News and Observer.  “After public financing was introduced in 2004, that number dropped to 14 percent.  Last year, every single candidate for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opted to receive public financing.”
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United ruling and subsequent campaign-finance decisions diminished the program’s effectiveness. Now, instead of making changes to strengthen it, North Carolina is on the verge of eliminating it. The state legislature is finalizing a budget that eliminates financial support for the program, making it a hollow shell.
There’s also a chance the legislature will compound the damage to the judiciary. A bill expected to be introduced this week would turn the state’s non-partisan judicial elections into partisan elections with heightened involvement of the political parties.  Just what North Carolina needs.

The truth be told

After Claiming Regulation Would Kill It, Bank of America’s Earnings Jump 70%

wall street
In July of 2010, we were being treated to the wails of big banks like Bank of America. Regulation will kill us, they cried, as Congress threatened to impose even the teeniest modicum of regulations upon the errant monsters.
And Congress did.
And Bank of America whined that it couldn’t possibly make any money if it had to treat credit card customers with any fairness at all:
Bank of America Corp. (NYSE:BAC) warned Friday of a multi-billion dollar hit from the latest financial regulation, pressuring shares of the banking giant. Reforms that passed Congress Thursday include potential limits on debit card interchange fees recieved or charged by issuers like Bank of America. The company estimated this could knock as much as $1.8 billion to $2.3 billion off annual revenue generated by its Global Card Services business, starting in the third quarter of 2011.
And now, three years later, said monster is posting 70% earnings boost based on higher earnings from investment banking and cost cutting, proving that regulations don’t kill business. Smart business can manage itself, and regulations keep businesses from being so greedy that they do really stupid things that end up tanking their companies and forcing taxpayers to bail them out.
“Bank of America says its second-quarter profits soared, helped by higher earnings from investment banking and cost-cutting,” Huffington Post reported Wednesday.
The results beat analysts’ expectations. The bank earned $3.6 billion in the quarter after payments to preferred shareholders. That was up 70 percent from $2.1 billion a year ago.
Bank of America, the country’s second-biggest bank by assets, has been slimming down and cutting jobs since CEO Brian Moynihan took over at the beginning of 2010, a departure from the empire-building of his predecessors. The strategy meant to make the bank easier to manage and to escape potential extra scrutiny from regulators.
It’s not just Bank of America, either. The too-big-to-fail banks are generating record profits — a fact which should warrant oversight into their investment operations for excessive risks, but I digress.
Business showed its contempt for any kind of regulation in spite of business making it clear to the rest of us that it can’t operate without rules. In April of this year, business warned (via the Boston Consulting Group, “the world’s leading adviser on business strategy”) the world that they simply couldn’t make profits like this, “Profitability at Wall Street banks has further to fall as more rules designed to prevent another financial meltdown are imposed, according to a study released today by Boston Consulting Group.” Because:
Wall Street firms from Bank of America Corp. to Switzerland’s UBS AG (UBSN) have already seen their profitability reduced by new capital requirements designed to avert future bailouts. Measures that still aren’t in place include a ban on banks trading for their own benefit, and strengthening margin requirements to make derivatives safer.
Lamenting the “15 percent to 20 percent returns achieved before the financial crisis ‘appear to be a thing of the past for most players,’” they warned that all of the increase in profits will come from the cost side, not revenue. But heck, isn’t this the argument conservatives are making on the government? We don’t need revenue, we only need to cut costs. Since Republicans are the party of business, you’d think Wall Street would be pleased as punch to follow suit. Find your profits from cost cutting, not from taking advantage of customers via 20% “revenue”.
At any rate, Bank of America did find increased profit from investment banking (something sane people suggested banks should not be doing post 2008 meltdown), so it wasn’t all cost cutting. But due to the positive impact of cost cutting on BofA’s earnings, this is yet another example of how bloated private companies can be, and it explains yet another reason why privatization so often doesn’t save us money — rather, it costs us money.
The truth is that we don’t have enough regulations in place to prevent the next too big to fail debacle, let alone protect consumers from the relentless greed of the Corporation, for which profit is its sole goal. Corporations do not have souls, and any moral values they might embody come from the people running them, not from the corporation itself. Therefore they need some regulations. But they also function best with smart regulations, because smart regulations force them to be better at their jobs, to not overreach and jeopardize America’s economic health, and to stay within certain boundaries. They encourage them to compete, to be smarter, to cut the bloat, and to operate more efficiently.
Republicans say corporations are people, but if that’s true, they are selfish, ego-driven children, prior to the development of the conscience. Regulations don’t kill business. The smart ones force businesses to grow up and take responsibility for themselves and their impact on the community and environment around them, like a child being forced to realize that there are other people in the world.
Bank of America wailed about not being able to take advantage of credit card customers but today, they’re posting a 70% jump in earnings because they had to make some changes in their business model. Welcome to the real world, Bank of America, where the taxpayers (Mommy and Daddy) aren’t relied upon to bail you out of your every mistake.

Exxon Still Owes Government Nearly $100 Million for Valdez Clean-up Almost 25 Years Later

valdez7 16With the BP Gulf of Mexico ecological catastrophe perhaps 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, it may take decades to proceed with comprehensive restoration efforts in the Gulf, if the Valdez spill is an example.
According to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER):
In 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil on the Alaska coast. The $1 billion 1991 settlement with Exxon (now ExxonMobil) called for an added payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement.  In 2006, the U.S. and Alaska jointly submitted a demand that ExxonMobil pay $92 million to fund recovery for these injuries.
That $92 million government “Reopener” claim has never been collected.
Is government bureaucracy holding up this relatively small change in Exxon's compensation for massive ecological and economic loss in Alaska?  It's not entirely clear.  Much of the disastrous damage will never be resolved, but nearly 25 years later why is almost $100 million dollars in restoration funds uncollected and unused?
It's a good question, considering how the Gulf of Mexico and those who depend upon it economically may not see anything approaching a viable recovery for years.  PEER reflects on the inexplicable hold-up in Alaska:
“Amazingly, it’s been seven years since the governments demanded this final payment but have yet to collect a dime,” commented Rick Steiner, a PEER Board Member and retired University of Alaska marine professor who sought to intervene in the case to break the logjam, a move seconded even by former Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski. The court ultimately ruled that unless one of the parties placed the disputed claim before it, the court could not order payment. “This stalemate may foreshadow the official neglect we can expect after spills that will surely occur from drilling in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.”
The coastal ecosystem injured by the Exxon Valdez spill is still a long way from full recovery.  Lingering oil has been degrading at a far slower rate than anticipated and is still affecting natural resources at toxic levels.  Several marine species, from herring to otters to orcas, have not yet recovered from the spill.
“This litigation is the environmental equivalent of Dickens’ Bleak House but it is the public’s estate that is withering away,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the 2010 Gulf BP blowout, which has yet to reach settlement of what will be multi-billion dollar civil damage payments, is more than 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. “This Reopener that won’t reopen should be an object lesson for how the civil damages recovery plan for the BP Gulf spill should be structured.”
When it comes to oil, the fossil fuel industry and the US government (Republican or Democrat) appear to regard oil spills as the price of doing business.
Out natural heritage and jobs that depend upon fresh water and a clean environment are inconsequential to the thirst for and massive profit of oil.
The only question is which massive spill will be next -- and when will we consider such catastrophes something more than the price we pay for a well-oiled lifestyle?

Did you know ...

That legal abortion is safer than giving birth

About the snags, snares and snafus of covering the U.S. military

That after controversy, McDonalds drops compulsory payroll cards

That scientists discover the molecule that causes itchiness

How are corporations trying to distract us with social issues while they take over the economy?

That wingnuts have a bigger "fear center" in their brains

That backyard chickens dumped at shelters when hipsters can't cope

Finally ...

Thursday, July 18

It's College Students vs. the Corporate Machine - and the Machine's Winning

by Richard Eskow

Students.Once this nation saw higher education as a citadel of learning, growth, and opportunity. Now student debt is being used as a cash cow to subsidize corporate tax breaks, while universities become incubators for corporate employees and cheap laboratories for private-sector patents.
The new student loan deal being cooked up in Washington is part of a larger picture. The forces of technology, globalization and wealth are calling the shots in government nowadays, and they’ve got higher education in their sights. Corporations want colleges and universities to serve them, not students.
In the dystopian future unfolding before our eyes, whole segments of the population are being offered up to the Corporate Machine. And unless we reject the corporate commodification of our common humanity, there’s no end in sight.
We can start by doing something about student loans. But that’s only a start.
Future Fail
They’re designing the workforce of the future and, frankly, traditional education doesn’t figure into it very much.
As Andrew Leonard notes in Salon, the Internet is creating new and unjust markets for piece work. Online workers provide temporary “assistant” tasks for the well-to-do, competing for the jobs based on who’s the most eager to please – and who’s cheapest.
“Fancy Hands, “Mechanical Turk,” “Task Rabbit”: As the website names make clear, we’re not talking about the dignity of labor here.  And it’s a buyer’s market. The consulting group Deloitte waxes rhapsodic in a report for its corporate clients:
“The range of skills available through these platforms is expanding; among the workers offering their services through such marketplaces are … translators, business analysts, and financial modelers.”
Then there’s automation, often described (or mis-described) nowadays as “artificial intelligence” or “AI.” A PBS program quotes Prof. Gary Marcus of New York University as saying, “Once somebody develops a good AI program it doesn’t just replace one worker. It might replace millions of workers.”
As Deloitte’s consultants breathlessly put it: “Talent clouds make it possible to engage individuals anywhere in the world. AI and other technologies make it possible to automate knowledge work … These trends are anticipated to shape the future of knowledge work.”
“Knowledge work” is what we typically acquired a college education to perform. Think it’ll be worth taking on a six-figure student loan debt to become a “Task Rabbit”?
Welcome to Your Pod
Colleges and universities have traditionally taught critical thinking, offered a breadth of social and human knowledge, and sought to provide students with the insight, skills, and courage to become the leaders of the future.
Not anymore. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, corporations want to turn college education into an employee training program.  “To expect business to bring graduates up to speed,” says an executive for Boeing, is “too much to ask.” (“Too much to ask”? Boeing receives billions each year in government contracts and corporate profits are at record highs.)
“Once upon a time, ‘trainee’ used to be a common job title,” says Philip D. Gardner of Michigan State University. “Now companies expect everyone, recent graduates included, to be ready to go on Day One.  The mantle of preparing the work force has been passed to higher ed.”
But students, not corporations, will be expected to pay for these ‘trainee’ programs – along with whatever government subsidies can be extracted from taxpayers.
Two-year colleges were created, in part, to meld workforce needs with educational resources. But the Corporate State sees no need for any other form of education. The university lecture halls of the past are becoming incubator pods for the disposable corporate employees of the future.
Lab Rats
This corporatization of education is reflected in the appointment of Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary and former Governor of Arizona, to head the statewide University of California system. As the Los Angeles Times reports this week, it was “an unusual choice … (for) a position usually held by an academic.” The Times reports that unnamed officials felt Napolitano’s Cabinet background “will help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas.”
Energy and nuclear weapons research helps fund university budgets. It also leads to lucrative government contracts for corporations. Medical research leads to lucrative drug patents for Big Pharma.
That’s how the Corporate Machine works. Colleges and universities are there to generate its “inputs,” intellectual and human, not to advance our collective understanding and knowledge.
Workerless America
It’s all part of a decades-long pattern. Once we had a thriving middle class. Then the ability of working Americans to earn a living wage was systematically destroyed by a series of deliberate policy decisions.
The minimum wage was frozen, driving ever-greater numbers of working people into poverty. The rights of employees to organize and negotiate were eroded, driving down wages even more.  Elected leaders looked the other way as corporations gutted pension plans. NAFTA and other trade deals drove working wages down even further.
As middle-class Americans plunged further behind, their families and their communities fell with them.  That’s when the Corporate Machine learned something very important: It didn’t need them.  Business leaders discovered the Workerless Economy.
There was good money to be made by using cheaper workers overseas and temporary and unskilled employees at home.   The U.S. job market increasingly swung toward unskilled jobs, a trend that’s been accelerated by the current “recovery” – which is really a radical economic shift toward a corporate boom for the few, and away from prosperity for the many.
Money for Nothing
As the collapsing middle class lost much of its buying power, Corporate America discovered another way to make money: Why pay you to buy their goods when they can lend you the money instead?
Americans plunged into ever-increasing cesspools of debt, fueled first by the Clinton stock market bubble and then by the bank-designed (and fraud driven) mortgage bubble. Deregulation meant that anybody with a large enough corporate presence could get in on the bank boom.
Goodbye, General Electric. Hello, “GE Capital”!
But what goes up must come down – and you can be sure the Corporate State didn’t plan to pick up the tab. Once they had been rescued – by the same taxpayers they’d been exploiting – financial executives went back to profiting from the declining wage base of the middle class.
Building and selling things takes a lot of work. You have to hire and pay people, both to produce and ship your goods and so they can buy the goods you produce.  It’s easier to financialize your corporation and capitalize on government’s extraordinary generosity to bankers.
To squeeze out even more profit, they learned how to charge more for holding and managing money. Thomas Philippon of the New York Federal Reserve found that the cost of “intermediation” (banking services) was 2 percent in 1870, rose to 6 percent by Depression-era 1930, and fell below 4 percent in 1950.
These banking charges rose slowly to 5 percent in 1980 – and then shot up to almost 9 percent by 2010. They become banks for the same reason Willie Sutton allegedly robbed them: That’s where the money is.
Cash Cows
If you don’t need an educated workforce or prosperous consumers, you certainly don’t need to worry about making sure that students can afford college.  So it’s no surprise that students would be shafted by the new student loan agreement being cooked up in Washington.
As David Dayen explains, many of the claims being made about this deal are misleading. Rates would rise from the fixed rate of 3.4 percent, which expired at the start of this month, and could soar as high as 8.25 percent for graduate students and 9.25 percent for undergraduates.
The New York Times reports that Republicans are refusing to accept any deal that adds to the deficit. That means no reduction in the huge profits the Federal government is making off these loans – $51 billion this year alone, as Shahien Nasipour reports in the Huffington Post.
In other words, Republicans want to keep bleeding America’s students so they can keep taxes low for America’s billionaires and corporations.
Washington ignored Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to offer students the same low rates American banks get from the Federal Reserve. Our representatives have the power to treat students the same way they treat Wall Street – but they won’t.
Sorry, students: You’ve become cash cows for billionaires and the Corporate State.
The White House, which fought the good fight on student loans early in Obama’s tenure, had already turned its back on debt rates.  As Dayen notes, this apparent compromise is very close to what the Administration proposed in its 2014 budget.
Liberals are going to hate the new student-loan deal,” says Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. Forget liberals: Students are going to hate it, especially because it will doom many of them to a form of debt penury.  (You can demand a better deal from your representatives here.)
Know what students are going to hate even more? Graduating four years from now, after four years of financing a college turned corporate training facility and laboratory, into an economy which still won’t have regained all the jobs destroyed by Wall Street’s 2008 crisis. While Washington works to extract more money from students, it’s doing virtually nothing about unemployment.
Young people will still face the imprisoning burden of student debt, the fragmentation and exploitation of the American workforce, and the conversion of education from an engine of democracy to a consumer-funded service division of corporate America.
The Machine Stops
Undoubtedly many executives and politicians admire the principles of social mobility and educational access. But they’ll continue to act in their own self-interest, and the student loan deal that’s taking shape reflects that.
We have a choice: We can passively accept this commodification of our young people’s humanity and our own. Or we can resist it.
That means refusing to accept rhetoric instead of action – whether it comes from Republicans or the White House, whose use of the Twitter hashtag #dontdoublemyrate was a cynical ploy to score political points against a plan it had already essentially endorsed.
We need to reject the politics of cynicism and demand that politicians refuse any increase in student loan rates. We need to stand firmly behind the proposals and the values represented by the educational positions of politicians like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
And we need to be in the streets demanding change.
Everybody’s Revolution
We need a college education revolution. Student loans are only part of the problem. College education should be affordable – or free – to students at any income level willing to learn. Exploitative educational corporations like the “University of Phoenix” must be investigated. And we need to ensure that institutions of higher learning aren’t turned into instruments of lower servitude.
The fight for higher education is part of a larger fight for the soul of our society. The discarded American middle class can still be rescued.  We need to ensure that the college graduates of today are the productive citizens of tomorrow, able to find meaningful work and participate fully in democratic society. We need to build a future in which they have productive, healthy work lives and secure retirements in their old age.
In other words: The college revolution is everybody’s revolution.
But it’s nearly too late. The operators of the Corporate Machine need to be stopped, because they’re don’t plan to stop with college students. They’re coming for the children.

This repugican Senator Ridiculously Claims Government Overcharged Student Loans to Pay for Obamacare

by Allen Clifton
In an effort to prove that repugicans will blame the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) on virtually everything, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander claimed that the government is overcharging student loans in order to help pay for “Obamacare.”
First, let’s look at his exact words and the numbers he used to make his asinine claim:
“The Democrats, when they passed the health care law, took $50 billion from over-charging students and used it to reduce the debt, pay for Pell grants, and to pay for the health-care bill. And they’re still doing that.”
And the numbers he’s using for his statement:
By eliminating banks from the process of giving out government loans to students, the non-partisan CBO estimates that it would yield a savings of $58 billion, or $5.8 billion per year, between 2010-2019.  So what did we do with that money?  Well:
  • $36 billion on increases in Pell college grants for low-income students.
  • $10.3 billion for deficit reduction.
  • $8.7 billion to support the health care law.
  • $3 billion for historically black colleges and minority-serving institutions.
So what Senator Alexander claims is that because we saved money, yet took the money we saved and put some of it towards the Affordable Care Act, somehow that equates to “overcharging students on their loans.”
Which of course makes absolutely no sense.
I’m willing to bet if we took that $8.7 billion which he claims is “overcharging students on their loans” and handed it over in the way of some big corporate tax break or tax cut for the wealthy, then he wouldn’t object at all.  In fact, he’d probably say it wasn’t enough.
But let’s look at what Senator Alexander essentially admits in his feeble attempt to try and attack the Affordable Care Act.
First, while the shrubwas in the White House (and repugicans mostly controlled Congress) he admits that students were essentially overcharged $46.4 billion dollars ($5.8 billion x 8 years in the White House).  And the “fiscally conservative government repugicans” did nothing about this.
But Obama did, didn’t he?
Second, he admits Obama passed a bill which saved $58 billion dollars and is using $10.3 billion of it on deficit reduction.  Mind you, really it’s insignificant when it comes to the size of our national debt, but surely a man Republicans claim is just out to “spend, spend spend” wouldn’t use some of the savings he supported and signed to pay towards our deficit, would he?
Well he did, as Mr. Alexander openly admits.
Third, he admits that the vast majority of the savings Obama created by eliminating banks from the process of giving government loans to students went back into providing more funding for Pell Grants, which help millions of Americans afford to go to college.
That son of a gun.  How dare Obama help Americans afford to go to college! He’s such an elitist fool!
So, in Senator Alexander’s pathetic attempt to tie in the Affordable Care Act with the cost of student loans, he essentially:
  • Admits the shrub junta overcharged students $46.4 billion during his time in office.
  • Admits President Obama passed a good policy which will save $58 billion.
  • Admits President Obama used some of that savings to pay down our deficit.
  • Admits President Obama invested the majority of it back into our education system through Pell Grants for students.
Oh, and $8.7 of it went into the Affordable Care Act which gives people with pre-existing conditions affordable health care, expands Medicaid to include more low-income Americans, prevents women from being charged more for health care than a man simply because of their gender and has allowed millions of students to remain on their parents health care plan for a few more years.
That tricky thing called reality, it sure knows how to ruin a repugican trying to perpetuate a lie.

The repugicans Are Wearing Driving Millions Into Poverty as a Badge of Honor

The repugicans in Congress should be feeling good about themselves this month as they enjoy the fruits of their labor in cities across the nation, and as is usually the case, anything that gives the repugican cabal reason to celebrate means more indigence for Americans; especially already impoverished Americans. Over the past two years several studies have revealed that America is slipping farther and farther behind the rest of the developed world in every category except military might, and repugicans can take pride that their handiwork guarantees America will continue its downward spiral into a nation of hungry, homeless, and sick Americans. One might be inclined to believe politicians would be repulsed that the richest nation in the history of the world is home to an impoverished underclass due to its failure to take care of its own citizens, but for repugicans,  it is a badge of honor and sign of dedication to their libertarian masters in the corporate and financial world.
The repugicans, discouraged that their policies leading to the economic crash in 2008 did not weaken tens-of-millions of Americans who lost their jobs, homes, and financial security enough, began 2011 with a crusade to finish what they started during the shrub years. Now that their precious sequester cuts are starting to bear fruit, repugicans can revel in the increasing number of children, women, seniors, and working-poor Americans who are losing already pathetic safety-net provisions they depend on for basic survival. In communities across the country, repugicans’ favorite victims are feeling the sequester’s damage, and as a value-added bonus middle class Americans employed by the defense industry joined millions of public sector workers plagued with pay cuts courtesy of the sequester’s mandatory furlough days. It is good times for repugicans who made sure every American except the uber-rich get to share the sacrifice of austerity economics that is only in the first year of a decade-long siege on the people.
Thus far, only 650,000 civilian Department of Defense workers were affected by sequester furlough days, but as they lose a significant percentage of their middle class income, their spending cutbacks will result in downstream job losses in retail, durable good, and service industries in a domino effect the entire economy will feel. The repugicans were well aware the sequester would kill between 750,000 to a million jobs in the first year alone, but as Speaker John Boehner said in 2011 after learning repugiccan cabal cuts would kill over a million jobs, so be it. Apparently a million job losses in the first year of the sequester is part of repugicans’ reward for convincing all Democrats that killing jobs was crucial to solving the fabricated debt and deficit crisis, but their reward does not stop there.
At least 70,000 of repugicans’ sequester victims, children living in poverty, have been evicted from the Head Start program that provides pre-school age low-income children with educational activities, free medical and dental care, and the luxury of healthy meals and snacks. In just one small California city, 1,060 children from 3 to 5 years of age, 200 children from infants to toddlers, and 10 pregnant mothers are adversely affected and 20 employees are losing their jobs. The program’s administrator said, “It’s devastating to our program that serves the neediest of children and their families,” and lamented the difficult task of determining which of the poorest kids and families to withhold food, medical, and dental care from and which employees’ jobs to eliminate. The city’s plight is not unique and the devastation is playing out in every city in the United States, and to make matters worse for cash-strapped communities it economically folly because local economies reap $9 for every $1 in Head Start spending.
The elderly are already feeling the effects of the sequester cuts as they are receiving less food assistance from Meals on Wheels, and local administrators across the country are barely coping with decreased funding. In a medium-size California city, an interfaith (sort of) non-profit is struggling to take up the slack with little success due to the economy’s toll on people who normally donated food and funds, and tight family budgets are preventing many volunteers’ from helping take up the slack to deliver meals.  The interfaith non-profit also suffers because the area’s richest evangelical churches refuse to participate because Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews contribute to the effort, and there is that evangelical bible thing that “if a person does not work, they shall not eat” at work regardless the meals are for disabled, infirm, and home-bound seniors. One local humanitarian noted, in private, that garish multi-million dollar mega-cults receive tax-free city and county services and should help feed the poor, but she was well-aware that criticizing wealthy religious non-profits carries heavy penalties and certain retribution when it was time to renew city permits and licenses.
The repugican cuts also affected hundreds-of-thousands of low-income Americans who lost access to public housing assistance in the most immediate consequences of the sequester. The sequester will cut more than $2 billion this year alone from housing assistance and related programs funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), that means local housing authorities started freezing waiting lists for Section 8 housing assistance,  and as people leave the program the freed-up vouchers will not be turned over to new applicants. HUD projects the cuts will result in 140,000 fewer families getting housing assistance, and even though HUD granted local administrators the flexibility to dip into other funds, “Housing authorities may end up being forced to tell families who
already get assistance that they are “sorry, I know you just got out of your car into an apartment, hope you didn’t sell your car.”

Americans have not yet felt the full effect of the repugican sequester cuts, and although those directly affected are reeling in the knowledge they are paying dearly for a fabricated crisis the repugican cabal foisted on all of Washington, the long-term and downstream effects on jobs and the economy are still awaiting every American. Every dollar of cuts alleged to save America from a phony crisis means several dollars taken out of the economy that translates into more job, home, and retirement saving losses. The repugicans could not be bothered to restructure the sequester cuts to lessen the pain and damage to the poorest Americans, and they have no intention to either. However, they have plans to vote for the 38th time to defund, delay, or repeal the Affordable Care Act next week in yet another attempt to produce more hardship on the American people. For the past two-and-a-half years House repugicans have wreaked havoc on the economy and the American people, and they take no greater joy than laying waste to the most vulnerable Americans regardless they have little left to take.
This group of repugicans have shown a religious inclination to create poverty, kill jobs, and impede economic recovery, and just when it appears they reached a new low, they dig a little deeper and find another demographic to punish. Americans may think they can withstand one year of the sequester cuts, but it is a ten-year plan that will increase next year when a full year’s worth of cuts go into effect. The repugicans passed a farm bill giving $195 billion to agricultural corporations, and yet found SNAP (food stamp) funding extraneous and left it out of the bill. They are gearing up to hold the debt ceiling increase hostage unless the President adopts the Ryan budget privatizing Medicare, slashing Social  Security, and eliminating nearly all domestic programs, and if Americans think the sequester is bad, they have no idea what repugican cabal cruelty entails. The repugicans are unfazed that their handiwork is driving millions of Americans into poverty and burying those already in poverty in hunger, homelessness, and ill-health, and while any American with an ounce of humanity is repulsed at the state of tens-of-millions of their fellow citizens, repugicans are celebrating and plotting the next wave of cuts to create an entire population of impoverished Americans.

Insurers dropping Kansas schools over concealed-carry law for teachers

From The Raw Story

At least three insurance companies have refused to renew their coverage policies for Kansas schools in the wake of a new law allowing teachers to carry firearms on campus, The Des Moines Register reported on Sunday.

"We've been writing school business for almost 40 years," EMC Insurance Companies vice president for business development Mick Lovell told the Register. "One of the underwriting guidelines we follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers. Our guidelines have not recently changed."

Homicide convictions upheld for Wisconsin parents who treated dying daughter with prayer

From NBC News

A deeply religious Wisconsin couple who prayed over their dying daughter rather than seek medical help were properly convicted of homicide, the state Supreme Court decided Wednesday.

Kara Neumann, 11, of Weston, Wis., died March 23, 2008 - Easter Sunday - of complications of untreated juvenile onset diabetes.

According to the case records, Kara had been showing symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration for more than a week, but her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, refused to take her to a pediatrician, and decided to respond to her illness with prayer, not medicine.

A pediatrician testified that Kara's disease was highly treatable and that her chances of survival were high until "well into the day of her death."

This week in the War on Workers: christian voucher school cheated Louisiana out of big money

Them good ol' Christian values at work!

From Daily Kos

Remember the New Living Word School in Louisiana? It's a christian school that was getting a whole bunch of vouchers from the state despite teaching straight from DVD and having no library - but a great basketball team. When we last saw New Living Word, Louisiana was expanding the number of vouchers the school could get. But now, the school has been booted from the voucher program altogether.

Louisiana law requires that a school participating in the scholarship program not charge the state more for tuition than it charges for non-scholarship students.

[Superintendent John] White said the audit revealed that the non-scholarship students at the school were not paying the $6300 tuition per student that the school was charging the state. [...]

According to White, the school now owes the state $378,000 that the audit shows the school overcharged.

Tom the Dancing Bug


Centuries-old trees destroyed as rainforest is chopped down for Pope's visit to Brazil

  • Pope Francis to visit world's largest Roman Catholic country this month
  • Organizers of event in Niteroi claimed they needed to clear rainforest area
  • They want to accommodate the expected crowd of up to 800 pilgrims
by Matt Roper

Authorities in Brazil have denounced church leaders as criminals for chopping down more than 300 centuries-old trees in a national park - so pilgrims can celebrate mass during the Pope’s visit to Rio de Janeiro.
Pope Francis will make his first international trip to the world’s largest Roman Catholic country later this month.
Organizers of an event in the diocese of Sao Sebastiao de Itaipu, in the city of Niteroi, claimed they needed to clear an area of Atlantic rainforest to accommodate the expected crowd of up to 800 pilgrims.
Axed: A total of 334 trees at the edge of the Serra da Tiririca national park (file picture), but also on church-owned land, were felled in Brazil
Axed: A total of 334 trees at the edge of the Serra da Tiririca national park (file picture), but also on church-owned land, were felled in Brazil
Upset: Niteroi's vice-mayor claimed the church did not seek permission to 'deforest' the land on the edge of the national park (file picture)
Upset: Niteroi's vice-mayor claimed the church did not seek permission to 'deforest' the land on the edge of the national park (file picture)
A total of 334 trees at the edge of the Serra da Tiririca national park, but also on church-owned land, were felled.
Niteroi's vice-mayor, Axel Grael, claimed the church did not seek permission to ‘deforest’ the land.
He told Brazil's O Globo newspaper: ‘The incident is lamentable. An event for youth should be educational and demonstrate a commitment to the environment and the future. This removal is a criminal act.’
Andre Ilha, from Rio de Janeiro's state environment institute - which is responsible for the forest - said the destruction would never have been allowed.
Travels: Pope Francis (pictured on July 7 at the Vatican) will make his first international trip to the world¿s largest Roman Catholic country later this month
He said: ‘What was razed was the buffer zone of the Tiririca park. We would never have authorised that. It is a fragment of the endangered Atlantic rainforest. We will charge them with a crime.’
'The incident is lamentable. An event for youth should be educational and demonstrate a commitment to the environment and the future'
Axel Grael, Niteroi's vice-mayor
The diocese has reportedly offered to replant trees in the area following the event.
It is not the first time World Youth Day organizers have been criticized for a disregard for the environment.
Earlier this month a petition was made to Rio de Janeiro's council to remove 11 coconut trees from the side of Leme beach, where the Pope is due to celebrate mass.
Permission was granted, but after an outcry Rio's mayor Eduardo Paes reversed the decision.

Irish politician causes outrage after accusing female colleague of 'talking through her fanny'

Ireland's most famous gay rights campaigner has caused outrage by accusing a female member of parliament of "talking through her fanny". Senator David Norris also referred to having to listen to the "Regina Monologues" in response to a contribution to a debate on the Senate's future Fine Gael member Regina Doherty. Doherty, the Fine Gael Meath East TD and named as Fine Gael's deputy director for the Seanad abolition referendum, said she would make a formal complaint to the leader of the Seanad, Maurice Cummins.

Norris, a gay activist and expert on James Joyce, was objecting to government claims that abolishing the second house would save the taxpayer €20m (£17m) a year. The independent senator and Trinity College Dublin academic described the government's argument as a "malignant and mendacious piece of tripe". He then said that he and other senators had been in the house for more than 20 years and objected that they should have to listen to "The Regina Monologues".

The senator added that Doherty was somebody "who has not been a wet week in this house talking through her fanny. I object in the strongest possible way." Doherty said in her statement: "I have to admit that I was upset by the personal nature of the remarks that Senator Norris made about me in the Seanad earlier today. They were contrived and intentional." Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the Fine Gael Dún Laoghaire TD, called on Norris to withdraw the comments about Doherty.

"Senator Norris's comments do not bear repeating. They were sexist, crude, offensive and deeply inappropriate. He launched a personal, misogynist attack on one of my female colleagues that was completely out of order. He should apologise and withdraw his comments immediately," she said. The outburst is the second incident of alleged sexism in the Irish parliament over the last seven days. Last Thursday an MP from the ruling Fine Gael party apologised for pulling a female colleague on to his lap during the marathon debate on introducing limited abortion into the country.

Udderly despicable

Some farmers in England are suspected of using superglue to seal cows' udders closed:
The results of the dairy cattle competitions have been suspended after vets carrying out ultrasound scans on two cows’ udders found anomalies which must be analysed to verify whether cheating has taken place. 
Size and shape, it seems, are everything when it comes to a prize dairy cow’s udder, and farmers are suspected of either using superglue to block up teats, making the udders fill up, or inflating them with air...

...it is in the lucrative world of breeding that owners stand to make serious gains if they can boast a prize-winning dairy cow.  Farmers can sometimes double the amount they charge for ampoules of semen from the bull which fathered the winning cow. With each bull producing more than a thousand shots of semen at up to £50 each, a farmer could gain as much as £25,000.

The Right Snack May Aid Satiety, Weight Loss

Healthy snacks that promote a feeling of fullness (satiety) may reduce the amount of food intake at subsequent meals and limit overall food consumption, according to a presentation today at the 2013 Institute of Food [...]

French Winemaker Releases Cola-Flavored Wine

If you have a refined and discerning palette, then Châteaux de Bourdeaux, a vintner in France, may have the perfect wine for you. It tastes like cola:
In France, sad to say wine drinking has plummeted in recent years, particularly among the young, who are more attracted to beer and spirits. A BBC story by Hugh Schofield from Paris explains: “Recent figures merely confirm what has been observed for years, that the number of regular drinkers of wine in France is in freefall.” He wrote that in 1980, “more than half of adults were consuming wine on a near-daily basis. Today that figure has fallen to 17%. Meanwhile, the proportion of French people who never drink wine at all has doubled to 38%.”
But will a starter wine flavored with cola and playing to a younger generation’s sweet tooth lead to an interest in learning about — and appreciating — their wine heritage?
Rouge Sucette — “Red Lollipop” — is cheaper than wine. A bottle will cost just under $4 in France and will be sold primarily in hypermarchés (huge supermarkets). How many Red Lollipop drinkers will graduate to something more sophisticated is not yet known.

In India, At Least 21 Children Die After Eating Poisoned School Lunch

by Eyder Peralta A woman cries after her grandson, who consumed a poisoned meal at a school on Tuesday, died at a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Patna.
A woman cries after her grandson, who consumed a poisoned meal at a school on Tuesday, died at a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Patna.

At least 21 children are dead in India after they ate a poisoned school lunch Tuesday at a school in the eastern state of Bihar.
The images are horrific. :
"There were emotional scenes as children, their limbs dangling and heads lolling to one side, were brought to a hospital in the Bihar city of Chhapra.
"Other children, lying listless on stretchers, were placed on intravenous drips amid chaotic scenes at the hospital. Outside, inconsolable relatives wept.
" 'My children had gone to school to study. They came back home crying, and said it hurts,' one distraught father told the NDTV network.
" 'I took them into my arms, but they kept crying, saying their stomach hurt very badly.' "
Perhaps just as heartbreaking: that after noticing that the children were ill, "the school's teachers and administrators fled the school, according to Dr. Shambhu Nath Singh, the deputy superintendent of the government hospital in Bihar's Saran District."
The Times quotes Singh as saying initial tests revealed that the children's bodies contained a toxic organophosphate commonly found in insecticides.
The Times reports that universal free school lunches were implemented in the country by a 2001 Supreme Court order that concluded it would reduce the level of malnutrition in children. The Times adds:
"In Bihar alone, 20 million children participate in the program, which is administered by state officials.
"Many states provide the food by hiring charities, some of which are linked to powerful politicians. The programs have been credited with improving school attendance, sometimes substantially. And with some surveys suggesting that nearly half of Indian children suffer some form of malnutrition, the programs serve a vital health purpose. But complaints about the quality of the food are common."
that following the tragedy, a group of residents rioted. They took to the streets with sticks and smashed the windows of police cars, torched at least one and destroyed a police booth.
The Indian news network reports that the education minister said it is still unclear whether lunches were intentionally poisoned.
that 26 other children were hospitalized, 10 of whom were in serious condition. All the children were between the ages of 8 and 11.

Oldest hiragana writing found on ancient pottery

The oldest and clearest example of hiragana script has been found on ancient clay pottery recovered from the former site of an aristocrat’s residence in Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward, officials from Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute said June 27.
Oldest hiragana writing found on ancient pottery
Ancient clay pottery with hiragana written in "sumi" ink on the back [Credit: Noboru Tomura]
An almost legible “iroha uta” poem is inscribed on the back of the earthenware dish, which dates back to around 1200. Iroha uta, an ancient Japanese poem that uses 47 Japanese characters only once each, is said to have been created between the late 10th century and the 11th century. The poem was used for writing practice of hiragana, Japan’s basic phonetic script.

In those days, paper was extremely expensive, so someone apparently practiced writing on the dish, said researchers.

Researchers noticed the poem while the institute was re-examining artifacts it unearthed in 1983 from the site of Horikawain, a residence that belonged to the aristocratic Fujiwara family. The dish, measuring 9 centimeters in diameter and 1.5 cm deep, was found inside the ruin of a well.

The earthenware consists of eight fragments, with the hiragana inscribed on the back. Of the 47 characters written in “sumi” ink, 43 were legible. Four letters had missing portions.

Of the eight lines, written from right to left, the first line showed the last five characters of Iroha uta. The poem starts from the second line. With the space running out for the last five letters, the writer apparently had returned to the beginning, the researchers said.

Shin Yoshizaki, a senior research official at the institute said, “Judging from the unskilled writing, the script may have been a child’s practice piece.”

Tsutomu Yada, an associate professor of Japanese linguistic history at Osaka University, said it is a significant discovery.

“The script indicates a situation of hiragana learning in the capital during the Heian Period (794-1185) and the Kamakura Period (1192-1333),” he said. “It is quite valuable.”

Artificial and natural knowledge researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have IQ-tested one of the best available artificial intelligence systems to see how intelligent it really is. Turns out–it’s about as smart as [...]


The eastern United States drowned in June while the West parched and burned. Blame the jet stream for this duality of drought and drench.

Newly discovered flux in the Earth may solve missing-mantle mystery

It’s widely thought that the Earth arose from violent origins: Some 4.5 billion years ago, a maelstrom of gas and dust circled in a massive disc around the sun, gathering in rocky clumps to form [...]

Astronomical News

Gas cloud 'stretched like spaghetti'Gas cloud

The giant gas cloud heading for the black hole at the centre of our galaxy has begun its death spiral.

Animal News

In Fiji's largest marine reserve, shark populations are benefiting from no-take protections that keep their food supply steady.

The cells of the honeycomb do not start out as hexagons but as circles.
A huge-horned, big-nosed dinosaur roamed the southern badlands of Utah 76 million years ago.
Great whites devour fatty marine mammals after very long journeys.
A pair of panda cubs popped out at the Atlanta Zoo on Monday, the first giant panda twins born in the United States since 1987.

Animal Pictures