Thursday, April 24, 2014

Texas is open for bidness

From the pen of Ben Sargent

The man can pivot on a dime

And Rand "Aqua Buddha" Paul has done just that after hearing the latest racist bullshit from deadbeat cowpuncher Cliven Bundy.
Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate, joined a line of Republican and Democratic leaders on Thursday in denouncing Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher at the center of a standoff with the federal government over land use, for suggesting that blacks might have been better off in slavery.

“His remarks on race are offensive, and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” Mr. Paul said in a statement.

The senator’s remarks came after he had offered support for Mr. Bundy’s case as the rancher resisted the federal Bureau of Land Management when it sought to confiscate his cattle because he was not paying fees for their grazing on public land. The government backed off after federal authorities encountered hundreds of Bundy supporters, many carrying guns, who had flocked to his ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., as the dispute intensified.

With his remarks, Mr. Paul joined other Republican leaders — among them, Senator Dean Heller of Nevada — in assailing Mr. Bundy for comments published online by The New York Times on Wednesday evening after they had previously expressed support for the rancher.

Mr. Bundy, in the course of 55 minutes of remarks to supporters last Saturday, talked about seeing blacks gathered outside public housing projects in North Las Vegas.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”

A spokesman for Mr. Heller, who had also expressed support for Mr. Bundy’s supporters, said the senator “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Mr. Bundy has been championed by some Fox News commentators, though there were signs that they were distancing themselves after his remarks were published.
Just don't call it flip-flopping. They should have known what this man had inside him.

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

And no pun was intended despite Louis Allstadt having formerly working for Mobil Oil. That occupation gave him the contacts needed to study fracking after his retirement and what he found is not good.
"Making fracking safe is simply not possible, not with the current technology, or with the inadequate regulations being proposed," Louis Allstadt, former executive vice president of Mobil Oil, said during a news conference in Albany called by the anti-fracking group Elected Officials to Protect New York.

Up until his retirement in 2000, Allstadt spent 31 years at Mobil, running its marketing and refining division in Japan and managing Mobil's worldwide supply, trading and transportation operations. After retiring to Cooperstown, NY, Allstadt said he began studying fracking after friends asked him if he thought it would be safe to have gas wells drilled by nearby Lake Otsego, where Allstadt has a home. Since that time, he's become a vocal opponent of the shale oil and gas drilling technique.

"Now the industry will tell you that fracking has been around a long time. While that is true, the magnitude of the modern technique is very new," Allstadt said, adding that a fracked well can require 50 to 100 times the water and chemicals compared to non-fracked wells.

He also noted that methane, up to 30 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is found to be leaking from fracked wells "at far greater rates than were previously estimated."
Now it is up to us to stop this menace.

No wonder Rick Scott is Governor of Florida

According to McClatchy,
Miami is the capitol of Medicare fraud. This would give him a sizable base that few would contest him for.
If there ever was any question that Miami is the champ when it comes to health care fraud, a peek inside Medicare’s list of banned providers should settle it.

Of all the people and businesses in the federal government’s “exclusions database,” Miami tops the list – and does so by a long shot, according to a McClatchy analysis.

Of the medical providers in the database, 1,491 list Miami addresses. Second place: Los Angeles, with a relatively meager 522 names. They’re followed by Phoenix; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Houston in the top five.

“Despite our measurable successes in combating fraud, South Florida continues to be a hot spot of health care fraud and Miami is considered ‘ground zero,’ ” Brian Martens, a federal health care fraud investigator responsible for combating Medicare crimes in Florida, recently told a Senate panel.

To help root out further fraud and abuse, the federal government maintains a “list of excluded individuals/entities,” aiming to provide information to the health care industry, patients and the public about people or businesses currently excluded from participating in Medicare, Medicaid and all other federal health care programs.

As of April, there were more than 57,000 entries on the list.

And more join each year. In fiscal 2013, a total of 3,214 names were added to the database, according to the annual report from the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. Of those, 1,132 were added because they’d been convicted of crimes related to Medicare or Medicaid, a higher level than at any time in the past 17 years for which records were available.

“A lot of this has to do with greater enforcement, but part also could be an increase in fraud itself,” said Louis Saccoccio, the chief executive officer of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. “In some places, you’ve seen an explosion in health care fraud: in Miami, Houston, Detroit, Southern California. And there is more aggressive law enforcement there. They’re getting convictions, and they’re getting exclusions.”

In Florida, for example, one of the fraud exclusions took place on Feb. 20, 2013, representing one of the final steps in prosecuting a South Florida man who helped run a series of clinics that trafficked in oxycodone and oxymorphone, the powerful pain medications.

Juan De Dios Gomez owned and operated clinics in Hialeah, Miami and Plantation. Federal prosecutors say Gomez and his co-conspirators began their operation as early as November 2007. Physicians who worked at the clinics would prescribe the painkillers for people who didn’t need the drugs but did qualify for Medicare or other health insurance plans.
Having been a pill mill operator himself, Gov Scott probably moves easily within these circles. And like the Hispanic population, this group is also growing rapidly. But will it be enough to re-elect him?

Greetings from your new master.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Family groups are common in the bluegrass world

And the Bankester family from Illinois does the genre proud. This is their first video "Carolina Rain"

White is the key word here

From the pen of Horsey

You remember that old farm image

The one with the fresh young milkmaid sitting on her stool, squeezing Elsie's teats to send a steady stream of fresh milk into the bucket? It hasn't been around for a long time. Nowadays when Elsie is milked she is probably untouched by human hands. And she does when she want to.
Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.

Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.

Scores of the machines have popped up across New York’s dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy — and manure-averse — generation.

“We’re used to computers and stuff, and it’s more in line with that,” said Mike Borden, 29, a seventh-generation dairyman, whose farm upgraded to robots, as others did, when disco-era milking parlors — the big, mechanized turntables that farmers use to milk many cows at once — started showing their age.

“And,” Mr. Borden added, “it’s a lot more fun than doing manual labor.”

The view is improved as well. “Most milking parlors, you see, you really only see the back end of the cow,” Mr. Borden’s father, Tom, said. “I don’t see that as building up much of a relationship.”

The cows seem to like it, too.

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.
The cows are more contented now, just like the new generation of farmers.

The Great Mortgage Fraud Continues

And it is continuing to hurt homeowners despite all the mild settlements and false promises from the banks who have continued their criminal ways.
All of these examples, from actual court cases resolved over the last two months, rendered rare judgments in favor of homeowners over banks and mortgage lenders. But despite the fact that the nation’s courtrooms remain active crime scenes, with backdated, forged and fabricated documents still sloshing around them, state and federal regulators have not filed new charges of misconduct against Bank of New York, Deutsche Bank, U.S. Bank or any other mortgage industry participant, since the round of national settlements over foreclosure fraud effectively closed the issue.

Many focus on how the failure to prosecute financial crimes, by Attorney General Eric Holder and colleagues, create a lack of deterrent for the perpetrators, who will surely sin again. But there’s something else that happens when these crimes go unpunished; the root problem, the legacy of fraud, never gets fixed. In this instance, the underlying ownership on potentially millions of loans has been permanently confused, and the resulting disarray will cause chaos for decades into the future, harming homeowners, investors and the broader economy. Holder’s corrupt bargain, to let Wall Street walk, comes at the cost of permanent damage to the largest market in the world, the U.S. residential housing market.

By now we know the details: During the run-up to the housing bubble, banks bought up millions of mortgages, packaged them into securities and sold them around the world. Amid the frenzy, lenders failed to follow basic property laws, which ensure legitimate transfers of mortgages from one legal owner to another. When mass foreclosures resulted from the bubble’s collapse, banks who could not demonstrate they owned the loans got caught trying to cover up the irregularities with false documents. Federal authorities made the offenders pay fines, much of which banks paid with other people’s money. But the settlements put a Band-Aid over the misconduct. Nobody went in, loan by loan, to try to equitably confirm who owns what.

Now, the lid banks and the government tried to place on the situation has begun to boil over. For example, Bank of America really wants to exit the mortgage servicing business, because it now finds it unprofitable. The bank entered into a deal to sell off all the servicing for loans backed by the Government National Mortgage Association (often known as Ginnie Mae). But Ginnie Mae refused the sale, because the loans Bank of America serviced are missing critical documents, including the recorded mortgages themselves.

If you’re a mortgage servicer, and you don’t possess the recorded mortgage, you probably aren’t able to foreclose on that loan without fabricating the document. And Ginnie Mae made it clear that the problem could go beyond Bank of America. “I don’t mean to sound like we’re picking on BofA,” Ginnie Mae president Ted Tozer told trade publication National Mortgage News. “I can’t say if it’s just BofA or not.” Incredibly, this would represent the first time a government agency has actually examined loan files under its control to search for missing documents, seven years after the collapse of the housing bubble and four years after the recognition of mass document fabrication.

Any effort to fix the system would start by reforming MERS, the electronic database banks use to track mortgage trades (and avoid fees they would incur from county clerks with every transfer). MERS was part of a broad settlement in 2011 with federal regulators, and they promised to improve the quality control over their database to avoid errors and fraudulent assignments. Three years later, the fixes haven’t happened, and four senior officers brought in to comply with the settlement have left. MERS then tried to hire a consultant to manage the settlement terms whom U.S. regulators found unqualified for the job.

The database still tracks roughly half of all U.S. home loans, and banks fear that without changes, they might have to – horrors – actually go back to recording mortgages individually with the county clerks! You know, the property law system that the nation somehow survived under for more than 200 years.
All the forged or missing documents are just symptoms of the fraud but the heart of it is MERS. Without it most of the criminal activity could not have occurred. It still amazes me that county clerks and registrars across the country haven't sued en masse for all the unpaid transfer fees and taxes, though few of the perps could actually pay the full amount they have evaded.

They aren't good enough for the job

But even as the railroad industry acknowledges this failing of the tank cars used to transport Bakken crude oil, they continue to use them because they are all they have until new rules and new cars come along.
None of the tank cars currently in service carrying Bakken crude oil is adequate for carrying that product, a rail industry representative testified Tuesday, but until new federal regulations are completed, the use of inadequate cars will continue.

That includes tank cars built to higher standards adopted by the industry since 2011. Such cars have failed in at least two recent derailments. Yet in the absence of the new rules, crude oil shippers and refiners continue to rely on them to meet the demands of North America’s energy resurgence.

In testimony opening a two-day hearing at the National Transportation Safety Board, rail companies and rail car makers agreed that crude-by-rail shipments would continue to grow.

“We don’t see crude oil transportation slowing down or stopping anytime soon,” testified Robert Fronczak, assistant vice president for environment and hazardous materials at the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.

The NTSB long ago recommended improvements to the industry’s workhorse DOT-111 model tank car, which have proved vulnerable to punctures and ruptures in numerous accidents over the years involving hazardous materials.

Expert witnesses testified that the industry knew it needed better cars before a deadly accident last summer in Quebec.
Leaking tanks and disastrous derailments serve no one and the industry has made efforts at improvement, but the March of Commerce waits for no man or industry and all those old tank cars will just have to soldier on until whenever.

Quote of the Day

“In politics, it’s OK to be a pussy, as long as you’ve got a dick.”
Jon Stewart on sexism in politics and the media.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A nice Irish girl from New York City

Tara O'Grady sings with an elegant retro sound whether singing an oldie or one of her own like "Think of Me"

Today is Earth Day, plant something

Even if it is only an idea,

From the pen of Patrick McDonnell

Understanding what we say

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

This surely does qualify as a stupid idea

The New York Times,
ponderously pontificating in its role as a former great newspaper, has raised the question of whether Hilary Clinton could run with another female candidate in the VP slot.
Few doubt that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination for president would be good for women. But her candidacy would also likely block the paths for other women running for the White House, and, notably, for those who would like to be vice president.

Never has there been so much rising female talent in the Democratic Party, with a record 20 women in the Senate, 16 of them Democrats. They include Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the liberal fund-raising powerhouse and author of a new book, “A Fighting Chance”; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the former prosecutor with made-for-state-fair charms; the issue-grabber Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York; and others, like Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. Any one of them would be potential candidates for the bottom of a 2016 ticket, or possibly even have a shot at the top.

Ms. Warren emphatically discouraged the idea that she was even considering a White House bid. “I’m not running for president,” she told ABC News on Tuesday.

Yet even in an America that has elected a black president, unraveled same-sex marriage bans across several states and cottoned to a woman at the head of General Motors, having two women on a 2016 ticket may be a leap of electoral faith.

“It’s certainly possible to have two women,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. “I am not sure it’s wise. You want a ticket that represents men and women.”
But for over 200 years, women have been represented by pairings of two men and nobody questioned if they were represented, did they? The NYT does briefly allow that there may be merit to the idea but quickly pivots to a litany of conventinal do's & don'ts for political campaigns. Perhaps if someday the NYT looked beyond the facile surface elements, they might actually find something of value.

So now it's maybe 5,000

That is the new number of unwanted soldiers that the Pentagon hopes to leave behind in Afghanistan. At that number the question very easily becomes why leave any?
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan may drop well below 10,000 - the minimum demanded by the U.S. military to train Afghan forces - as the longest war in American history winds down, Obama administration officials briefed on the matter say.

Since Afghanistan's general election on April 5, White House, State Department and Pentagon officials have resumed discussions on how many American troops should remain after the current U.S.-led coalition ends its mission this year.

The decision to consider a small force, possibly less than 5,000 U.S. troops, reflects a belief among White House officials that Afghan security forces have evolved into a robust enough force to contain a still-potent Taliban-led insurgency. The small U.S. force that would remain could focus on counter-terrorism or training operations.

That belief, the officials say, is based partly on Afghanistan's surprisingly smooth election, which has won international praise for its high turnout, estimated at 60 percent of 12 million eligible votes, and the failure of Taliban militants to stage high-profile attacks that day.

The Obama administration has been looking at options for a possible residual U.S. force for months.

"The discussion is very much alive," said one U.S. official who asked not to be identified. "They're looking for additional options under 10,000" troops.
And with less than 10K they will be spread too thin to protect themselves when the Afghan army they "work" with breaks down. And if you keep them together they will merely provide a convenient target that none of the Afghans want in their country. None is still the best number for a residual force.

There may not be a legal imperative

But you have to wonder about the morals of any employee of the federal government who withholds evidence of child abuse discovered during security clearance investigations from the law enforcement agencies. McClatchy has found that this is a routine practice within various national security agencies.
The nation’s spy satellite agency failed to notify authorities when some employees and contractors confessed during lie detector tests to crimes such as child molestation, an intelligence inspector general has concluded.

In other cases, the National Reconnaissance Office delayed reporting criminal admissions obtained during security clearance polygraphs, possibly jeopardizing evidence in investigations or even the safety of children, according to the inspector general report released Tuesday , almost two years after McClatchy’s reporting raised similar concerns.

In one instance, one of the agency’s top lawyers told colleagues not to bother reporting confessions by a government contractor of child molestation, viewing child pornography and sexting with a minor, the inquiry by the inspector general for the intelligence community revealed.

“Doubt we have enough to interest the FBI,” the agency’s then -assistant general counsel told another official in an email, adding, “the alleged victim is fourteen years old and fully capable of calling the police herself.” Neither party in the email was identified by name.

After the other official insisted on reporting it, the confession was eventually investigated and it turned out that the girl was still in contact with the contractor who’d confessed to the crimes. It took almost five weeks for the Department of Justice to be informed.

When confronted with the lapses by the inspector general’s investigators, the National Reconnaissance Office’s then-top lawyers said they “were not legally obligated . . . to report child sexual abuse to DOJ or law enforcement organizations because child abuse is a state crime, not a federal crime,” the report said.

“Therefore they generally chose not to report those crimes unless the admissions also involved federal crimes such as possession of child pornography.”

The conclusions confirm an investigation by McClatchy in July 2012 that found law enforcement officials were not being told of some criminal confessions obtained during the National Reconnaissance Office’s security clearance polygraphs.
It used to be that the presence of grounds for blackmail would prevent you from getting a security clearance. Sadly there is no evidence that the security agencies were using the evidence to enforce compliance with security regulations. They were just ignoring it. National security does not stretch far enough to cover individual citizens.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Scottish singer who named her band Texas

And has a sizable lesbian fan base despite being heterosexual. Sharleen Spiteri sings "Many Rivers To Cross" from the French TV show Taratata.

Passport to FREEEEDUMB!

Tom Tomorrow chronicles the visit to New York City by Deadbeat Rancher Bundy and two of his girlfriends.

Oracles always have two meanings.

From the pen of Nick Anderson

Does Not Apply To Authorized Leakers

Director of National Security and all around national disgrace
James Clapper has issued a new directive designed to keep secret all that the nation's secret agencies do.
Employees of U.S. intelligence agencies have been barred from discussing any intelligence-related matter - even if it isn’t classified - with journalists, under a new directive issued by Director of National Security James Clapper.

Intelligence agency employees who violate the policy could suffer career-ending losses of their security clearances or out-right termination, and those who disclose classified information could face criminal prosecution, according to the directive signed by Clapper on March 20.

Under the order, only the director or deputy head of an intelligence agency, public affairs officials and those authorized by a public affairs official may have contact with journalists on intelligence-related matters.

The order, which was made public on Monday by Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, is sweeping in its definition of intelligence-related matters.

“The directive is limited to contact with the media about intelligence related-information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities and judgments,” says the order, which doesn’t distinguish between classified and unclassified matters.

It also includes a sweeping definition of who is a journalist, which it asserts is “any person . . . engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security.”

The order represents the latest move by the Obama administration to stifle leaks. It bolsters another administration initiative, called the Insider Threat Program, which requires federal employees to report co-workers who show any of a broad variety of “high risk” behaviors that could indicate that they could be sources of unauthorized releases of classified or unclassified material.
Needless to say this will not stop those authorized to leak certified "correct information" to those the government likes. Nor will it prevent spies and other of that trade from plying their trade. If someone is courageous enough, it won't even stop whistleblowers. It's sole purpose is to prevent American citizens from knowing the extent to which their government commits horrid deeds, illegal activities or just plain fails at the cost of Millions of taxpayer dollars. What you don't know won't hurt us seems to be their motto.

NBC wanted to see if David Gregory was nuts.

So the beloved network that replaced the beloved hack Tim Russert with everybody's favorite box of rocks David Gregory, commissioned a psychological study of the Gregory lad to see why his ratings on the beloved Sunday gasbag show Meet The Press are in the crapper.
The Sunday shows — which comprise what Schieffer calls “the smartest morning on TV” — are more than just prestige projects for the networks; the relatively large and affluent audiences they attract make them magnets for corporate image advertisers that pay premium prices for airtime. Russert’s dominating position helped NBC earn a reported $60 million from “Meet the Press” in 2007.

Thus, “MTP’s” meltdown has sounded alarm bells inside NBC News and attracted the attention of its new president, Deborah Turness, who arrived from Britain’s ITV News in August. Gregory’s job does not appear to be in any immediate jeopardy, but there are plenty of signs of concern.

Last year, the network undertook an unusual assessment of the 43-year-old journalist, commissioning a psychological consultant to interview his friends and even his wife. The idea, according to a network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta, was “to get perspective and insight from people who know him best.” But the research project struck some at NBC as odd, given that Gregory has been employed there for nearly 20 years.

Around the same time, the network appointed a new executive producer at “MTP,” Rob Yarin, a veteran media consultant. Yarin, who had worked with Gregory on an MSNBC show, “Race for the White House,” during the 2008 campaign, succeeded Betsy Fischer Martin, who reigned over “MTP” for 11 years. Fischer Martin had helped Russert soar to glory, but had disagreed with Gregory over matters of style and substance (she was promoted to oversee all of NBC’s political coverage).

In interviews, Yarin and Gregory say they are tinkering with the show to keep it abreast of a changing media environment. They’ve made the program’s pacing faster, with shorter interview segments. The range of topics and interview subjects has been opened up, too. Last month, for example, Gregory interviewed NCAA President Mark Emmert about proposals to unionize student-athletes — stealing a little thunder, he notes, from CBS, which was televising the NCAA basketball tournament at the time.

The overall effect is that the program now bears only a vague resemblance to the one over which Russert presided. Whereas Russert would spend multiple segments grilling a single newsmaker, Gregory now barely goes more than six or seven minutes on any interview or topic.

The changes were readily apparent on Sunday’s program, recorded at NBC’s studios in Northwest Washington. After opening with Gregory’s taped interview with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the host moved swiftly to live dual-screen chats with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Then it was on to the journalists’ roundtable discussion, followed by an interview with Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) about health care and the midterm elections.

Then, still more segments: A new recorded feature called “Meeting America” in which reporter Kevin Tibbles looks at something happening outside Washington (in this case, a debate in Kentucky over the building of a Biblical theme park using tax subsidies); more roundtable discussion; and a photos-of-the-week feature called “Images to Remember.” The program closed with a short interview with New York Times reporter Jo Becker about her new book about gay marriage, “Forcing the Spring.”

Gregory says the new look “delivers on the core of what ‘Meet the Press’ is” but “widens the aperture . . . I’m dedicated to building something that says we’re not just thinking about politics. We’re thinking about who the real influencers are in this country.”
And the end result is that MTP is, under David Gregory, as shallow as a puddle of piss. The questions usually follow whatever talking points the management likes this week and whatever journalistic skill Gregory ever had are now dead and buried. And they wonder why the ratings are dropping like bird shit.

Happy Dyngus Day

The party is over so mark your calendar for next year, the Monday after Easter.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Yes, I know it's not Thanksgiving

But, in addition to Easter and 4-20 Day which she will enjoy, today is Alice May Brock's birthday and I almost forgot. So I am posting this as this is how most people know of her, not that she likes it very much. Today she must be , oh, somewhere near 39 or so. So dear friends, light up a joint, pour yourself some Southern Comfort and and wish her a  
Happy Birthday Alice.

It has been going on so long

That even Dr. Seuss drew about it, in 1942.

Happy Easter

As you celebrate this day of Resurerection consider the meaning of it all

Happy 4-20

Burn on, my friends.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I think she found her "Only One"

Because after May Eilan Jewell is taking a long hiatus from the road to attend to the birth of her first child. We wish her all the best and hope some day she will return.

Bill Maher was off this week

So we will post a New Rule for him.

Dead and Buried It's Not.

From the pen of Kevin Siers

Beef is expensive, pork supplies are tight

And Big Chicken wants to eliminate necessary inspections to increase profits, along with the filth that will avoid the inspectors.
As Mother Jones magazine explained last year, “Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack defends the proposal under the guise of modernization (an industry code word for deregulation) and claims the new standard would actually reduce bacterial contamination. However, Food and Water Watch found numerous food safety problems with the USDA’s pilot project owing to company inspectors missing defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass.”

The rule is especially terrible for workers, who already suffer unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries and even lifelong disabilities. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center released a disturbing account of worker injuries and health problems in Alabama poultry slaughterhouses due to what it called “punishing” line speeds. Workers were made to “endure debilitating pain in their hands, gnarled fingers, chemical burns and respiratory problems.” Also, for many immigrant workers, as the law center put it, “Threats of deportation and firing are frequently used to keep them silent,” making the USDA’s attempt to spin the recent NIOSH data particularly disturbing.

Federal agencies appear to be ganging up on the USDA — and rightly so. The Government Accountability Office published a report last year criticizing the USDA’s plan on the basis of inadequate and faulty safety data. Of course, the chicken industry loves the proposal. In fact, the National Chicken Council would prefer not having any limits on line speeds at all...

The meat industry is so powerful because over the decades, production has consolidated into the hands of a few players. As a result, small farmers and ranchers have either been squeezed out or made to operate under challenging conditions; with so little competition, the major players call the shots. That’s why as a presidential candidate (and in his “Blueprint for Change”) Barack Obama touted the importance of meat industry economic reform. Specifically, he promised to “strengthen anti-monopoly laws and strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and fair prices for their goods.” The USDA did try to enforce antitrust law and promulgate new regulations to protect farmers and ranchers from unfair business practices. But after much internal debate at the USDA (and with the White House) that resulted in key agency staffers resigning in disgust, the final rule was all but gutted.

The Obama administration ultimately caved to industry pressure, which took the form, in part, of an information campaign that portrayed the proposal to protect small producers “as the first step toward economic ruin of the meat business,” according to Leonard. This sky-is-falling scaremongering is a typical industry tactic to maintain the status quo.
Big Chicken, instead of feeding us, believes they have a right give us any old crap so long as we pay their price. And if you don't grow your own chickens, you have little choice in the matter.

Atomic tourism

People will trek around the globe to visit sites that have historical or other significance. The latest stops on touring agendas are a number of nuclear test sites in the Nevada desert, the Trinity site topping the list.
Standing a few yards from the spot where the world's first atomic bomb detonated with a blast so powerful that it turned the desert sand to glass and shattered windows more than 100 miles away, tourist Chris Cashel explained what drew him here.

"You don't get to go to very many places that changed the entire world in a single moment," said Cashel as he glanced around the windswept, desolate Trinity Site in the New Mexico desert packed with tourists. "The world was never going to be the same after that."

The military veteran was among thousands of visitors who piled into cars and buses to drive out to the secluded site about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, where Manhattan Project scientists split the atom shortly before dawn on July 16, 1945, ushering in the atomic age. The successful test of the nuclear "gadget" unleashed a blast equivalent to 19 kilotons of high explosive, and led to the devastation of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weeks later.

The sagebrush-ringed spot lies on the White Sands Missile Range and is the most famous of a number of U.S. atomic weapon-related tourist attractions, as the nuclear age approaches its 70th anniversary next year. The popular, informal trail includes tours to the former Cold War bomb proving grounds in Nevada that are routinely booked up months ahead, as well as popular tours of an inter-continental ballistic missile silo hidden deep beneath the Arizona desert.

Legislation, meanwhile, to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park to preserve sites in New Mexico, Tennessee and Washington state related to the project led by physicist Robert Oppenheimer is currently being considered by Congress.

The Trinity Site "open house" earlier this month drew about 4,000 visitors from as far afield as Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, who beat a trail out to the spot where the explosion created heat so intense it felt "like opening an oven door, even at ten miles," according to one eyewitness account.

Visitors milled around ground zero and scoured the ground for fragments of green "Trinitite" — a glass-like substance forged from superheated sand sucked up into the world's first nuclear fireball — and posed for photographs by a stone obelisk marking the blast's hypocenter. "There are all kinds of reasons for coming," said Jim Eckles, a docent at the site explaining its powerful allure. "There are kids here for their science class. There are World War Two vets here because they'll tell you it saved their life. They didn't have to go to the Pacific to fight the Japanese, island to island to island."
Rumor has it that the Trinity site is considered an excellent place for coastal dwellers along the Pacific to get away from Fukushima radiations.

How many tombstones will this safety feature require?

Airplane safety experts have long acknowledged that new safety features and regulations for airplanes never occur without enough deaths to stimulate interest. But what about less spectacular, more prosaic dangers like road hazards? How many need die for safety to step forward?
Hundreds of interstate highway fatalities have been prevented in multiple states by relatively inexpensive safety devices that were not in place at the site of a fiery bus-truck collision last week in California that killed 10 people.

While interstates are statistically the country’s safest roadways, they’re also vulnerable to one of the deadliest kinds of crashes, where one vehicle crosses the median at a high speed and strikes another traveling the opposite direction.

At a time when states are pinching their transportation pennies, the installation of steel cable median barriers has helped states improve highway safety without a lot of investment.

“It’s very effective at capturing the vehicle,” said John Miller, a traffic safety engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation. “We’ve seen a lot of great benefit from it.”

More than 300 fatal cross-median crashes happened on interstate highways in 2012, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Despite improved highway safety in states that have installed barriers along rural interstates in recent years, the federal government doesn’t require them in the medians of divided highways. Missouri and North Carolina, which have installed the barriers on parts or all of their interstate highways, have seen cross-median fatalities cut by as much as 90 percent. Others, such as Kentucky, are in the process of installing more.
The recent tragic truck/bus accident in California was on a strip that didn't have median barriers. According to CALTrans, the location "crash site didn’t meet its requirements for installing median barriers, which include frequency of cross-median crashes, the width of the median and the daily average traffic count." A few more accidents and it should make the grade.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Who says there's nothing good in Detroit?

Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas come from the Motown with a fine rocking sound. This tune is called "Gone In Two Seconds"

Modern western bull

From the pen of John Cole

Still the best way to rip off the poors

Payday lenders reap a usurious reward for their efforts, despite occasional attempts to rein in their slimy practices. And thanks to Republican efforts to push federal judges to the right, the courts aren't much help when people get fleeced.
In 2003, Tonya Burke was living in North Carolina with her two children when she got into financial trouble. She had fallen $500 behind on her rent and utilities, and neither of her boys’ fathers was able to chip in. Then she needed to take time off from work when her younger son, who was only 8 months old, had to have emergency intestinal surgery. After his recovery, she started working for $11 an hour as a secretary, “but my paychecks weren’t enough to cover the back bills and the new ones too,” she says. “I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to ask anyone else for help.” There was a payday lender across the street from her office. “It seemed like a good solution.”

Even though North Carolina made payday lending illegal in 2001, five lenders got around the law by affiliating with out-of-state banks to offer short-term, high-interest loans. So Burke was able to walk into a storefront owned by Nationwide Budget Finance and leave with a cashier’s check for $600. When the loan came due on her next payday, however, she couldn’t pay it and immediately began to fall behind on the fees. So she took out another loan to cover the first one. And then took out another to cover that one — and then another and another. Eventually she wound up with seven loans, each for only hundreds of dollars, but with annual interest rates of 300 to 500 percent. It wasn’t long before the lenders started calling, she says, threatening with jail if she couldn’t make her payments.

Worried for herself and her children, Burke eventually found her way to Carlene McNulty, a consumer rights lawyer at the North Carolina Justice Center. McNulty had heard about many cases of people who found themselves buried under the fees of payday loans. “Our Legislature said: ‘Payday lending is harmful to consumers. Get out of North Carolina!’ ” she told me. “But they were still here, just as if the law had never changed.”

Payday loans are often advertised as a short-term lift that helps keep the lights on or allows you to stay in school. But borrowers often become trapped in a debt spiral. According to a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government’s financial watchdog, about 50 percent of initial payday loans play out into a string of 10 or more. “One could readily conclude that the business model of the payday industry depends on people becoming stuck in these loans for the long term,” the C.F.P.B.’s report said.

McNulty wanted to go to court on behalf of Burke and tens of thousands of other payday victims, but she faced an unusually thorny challenge. The fine print on the loan agreements barred recipients from participating in class-action suits. Of course, many businesses try to protect themselves from these suits, which they argue can amount to extortion for minor sins. And by forcing every dispute into individual arbitration, companies can avoid many lawsuits in areas like misleading credit-card offers or sex discrimination. “It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card for the company,” McNulty says. In part, this is because few poor or middle-class customers take up the offer to arbitrate a dispute. The awards are generally capped, and the amounts are too low to make it worth a lawyer’s time or fee.

But class-action lawsuits can be a powerful tool for reform. And so, suing the payday lenders under the state’s unfair-trade-practice and usury laws, McNulty challenged the class-action bans. She proceeded with five class-action cases, one against each of five major lenders still offering payday loans in North Carolina. The state courts allowed the cases to go forward, ruling that consumers weren’t aware that they were signing away their rights and that there weren’t enough lawyers willing to take individual cases to arbitration. By early 2011, three lenders settled for $37.5 million. The North Carolina attorney general shut down the remaining payday lenders.
So North Carolina succeeded where others have failed or failed to act. But thanks to Supreme Court ruling written by Justice "Fat Tony" Scalia that twists the intent of the law, poor people are more likely to be screwed by arbitration. And so it goes, on and on.

If only he were a Member of Congress

This sort of behavior would be perfectly legal and encouraged by the other lawmakers. Sadly the dumbass was a private citizen and that qualifies as "insider trading".
Speaking of oil slicks …

Federal securities investigators say that the man that BP initially put in charge of cleaning up the oil from its massive 2010 Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico used nonpublic information to safely dump $1 million of his family’s company stock before the share price nosedived.

In a federal court suit filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Keith A. Seilhan, 47, of Tomball, Texas, with insider trading. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Seilhan agreed to settle the charges for the negotiated sum of $223,000, including $105,409 in civil penalties. He is no longer with the company.

“Corporate insiders must not misuse the material nonpublic information they receive while responding to unique or disastrous corporate events, even where they stand to suffer losses as a consequence of those events,” said Daniel Hawke, chief of the Market Abuse Unit in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

An experienced crisis manager, Seilhan was pressed into action soon after the company’s Deep Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, causing the well cap on the ocean floor to fail to seal.

He was tapped to coordinate BP’s oil collection and cleanup in the gulf and along the coast. From BP’s Incident Command Center in Houma, La., Seilhan directed BP’s oil skimming operations and its efforts to contain expansion of the spill.

The SEC’s suit alleges that on April 29, BP was publicly estimating that the oil was gushing from the well at the rate of up to 5,000 barrels per day, as it reported to the SEC.

The actual flow rate was later estimated to be between 52,700 and 62,200 barrels per day, news that helped send the company’s share prices plunging from over $52 to close as low as $26.83, trading records show.

But Seilhan and his family didn’t suffer the consequences.
Two questions left unanswered in this McClatchy article, how much did he profit and how much may be covered by insurance that executives at his level often have?

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