Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Amateur Proctologists

Two white ex-Milwaukee police officers have been given $300 fines for their roles in a sordid string of illegal anal cavity probes inflicted on male suspects, all of whom were black.

Six months after ringleader Michael Vagnini was sentenced to just 26 months in prison for the crimes, Jeffrey Dollhopf and Brian Kozelek were given the small fine and ordered to perform 100 hours and 20 hours respectively of community service.

A fourth officer, Jacob Knight, took a plea deal in which he agreed to resign from the department and was sentenced to 20 days in jail, 60 hours of community service and a $300 fine.

The assaults happened over two years, and the stories are strikingly similar: The men allege that Vagnini stopped them, placed his hand down their pants and probed their anus or shifted their genitals, saying he was looking for drugs.

One victim said that an officer put a gun to his head while Vagnini administered a choke hold, touched his scrotum and put his fingers in his anus. Another man was probed so violently that he bled.

Wisconsin law specifically prohibits police officers from administering cavity searches. Only medical professionals may do so, and only when authorized by a warrant.  Vagnini even conducted the illegal search a 15-year-old boy, touching his anus and genitals during a traffic stop in December of 2011.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Telling It Like It Is

A series of emails between recently deceased hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson and Bill Gates revealed Gates' failed attempt to get Wilson to join the "Giving Pledge" effort championed by the Microsoft billionaire. 

Giving Pledge is a campaign started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to convince billionaires to commit to giving at least half of their fortunes to charity in their wills.  Wilson (who committed suicide last weekend, after giving away his final millions) told Gates that the pledge is essentially “worthless” and that he wanted to “stay far away” from his effort.  

Mr. Gates, I decided more than ten years ago to try to give away 70% of my net worth and have already given away one-half billion dollars. (I’ve never been a Forbes 400) So I really don’t have to take the pledge.

Your “Giving Pledge” has a loophole that renders it practically worthless, namely permitting pledgees to simply name charities in their wills. I have found that most billionaires or near billionaires hate giving large sums of money away while alive and instead set up family-controlled foundations to do it for them after death. And these foundations become, more often than not, bureaucracy-ridden sluggards. These rich are delighted to toss off a few million a year in order to remain socially acceptable. But that’s it.  I’m going to stay far away from your effort. But thanks for thinking of me.

The Microsoft founder was not to be so easily deterred, responding (in part):

What you are doing is fantastic. You are giving a high percentage and doing it in a very efficient way to causes you have thought deeply about. 

One of our goals with the Giving Pledge is to make it more common for people to consider their philanthropic plans at a much younger age. A number of people we have talked to about the pledge have said that they are thinking through their plans now instead of waiting because of the pledge.

But Wilson slam-dunks Gates with this on-the-money rebuttal:

Mr. Gates, thanks much for your email. But as my previous email indicated, I wouldn’t have much fun or add much value to this group. You, being a liberal, think you can change people more than I think.

But let me make one comment. When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them to forget about charities and giving. Concentrate on your family and getting rich—which I found to be very hard work.  I and the world at large are very glad you were more interested in computer software than the underprivileged when you were young.  Don’t forget that those who don’t make money never become philanthropists.  When rich people reach 50 and are beginning to slow down is the time to begin engaging them in philanthropy.

I’d greatly appreciate just leaving it at that.

Monday, December 23, 2013

All That Is Needed To Be Said

“I don’t know how much lower we can go when you see Barbara Walters sitting with those toothless morons. Why should we even know about them? Why should we be intrigued by them? I’m not sure where we are headed.”

 -- Sandra Bernhard on the octogenarian newswoman's inclusion of the cast of "Duck Dynasty" on her "Most Fascinating People of 2013" special.

Friday, December 13, 2013

God Rest Ye Harried Gentlemen

A man who was fed up with his girlfriend's incessant Christmas shopping responded to her request for one more look around a mall shoe store by leaping seven floors to his death.

The 38-year-old, identified as Tao Hsiao, had been shopping with his girlfriend at the Golden Eagle International Shopping Center in Xuzhou, China, when she asked to check out one last shoe store.


Having been inside the mall for five hours, Tao had reached his limit, and reportedly insisted that they leave immediately. "He told her she already had enough shoes, more shoes that she could wear in a lifetime and it was pointless buying any more," according to an eyewitness. "She started shouting at him accusing him of being a skinflint and of spoiling Christmas, it was a really heated argument."

Surveillance footage shows Tao angrily hurling the shopping bags and jumping over the railing onto the cosmetics section below.

A spokesman for the shopping center says no one below was injured in December 7 incident, and that the man died instantly upon impact.  "This is a tragic incident, but this time of year can be very stressful for many people," the spokesman said.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Leader Is Lost


"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

-- Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How Many Rapes Will It Take For Attitudes To Change?

"If you cannot enforce the ban on betting, it is like saying 'if you can't prevent rape, you enjoy it'."

--Ranjit Sinha, the director of India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

When Will It End?

Five youths have been arrested in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam for allegedly gang-raping a 10-year-old girl, police said.

The incident took place on Sunday. Police said the youths took her to an abandoned house and raped her.  They were all neighbors and usually played together.   It is not clear exactly how old youths are but reports suggest they were all under 16.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Obama Now Supressing The Rights Of Innocent Citizens

According to reports, President Obama is now putting pressure on countries from which whistleblower Ed Snowden has requested political asylum.

"The president ordered his vice president to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions," Snowden is quoted as saying.

"This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me."

In the statement, Snowden describes himself as "a stateless person", accusing President Obama of stopping him from exercising the "basic right...to seek asylum".

On Sunday, the 30-year-old fugitive applied for asylum in Russia.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow "never hands over anybody anywhere and has no intention of doing so".

Snowden also publicly thanked President Correa, praising Ecuador for guaranteeing "my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong - I could never have risked travel without that". He further acknowledged President Correa's "great personal admiration of [his] commitment to doing what is right rather than what is rewarding".

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

American Caught In The Crossfire During India's War On Women

Indian police say that a 30-year-old American woman has been gang-raped in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

Police said that the woman had been attacked after she accepted a lift by three men in a truck in Manali, a resort town in the state.  No arrests have been made but police have set up roadblocks and are searching for the suspects.

"Because it happened at night, she couldn't read the truck number. At around 7am, we put up checkpoints everywhere and we've been looking for the suspects," senior local police official Vinod Dhawan told reporters.  "We have found some clues at the crime scene.  A case of rape was filed after the woman had been medically examined in a local hospital.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Dutch Scumbag Still Preying On Women

Infamous Dutch serial killer Joran van der Sloot, serving 28 years in prison for murdering a Peruvian woman, and who is wanted in the U.S. in connection with the disappearance of another woman, is scheming to marry his Peruvian girlfriend in an attempt to avoid extradition to the U.S.

26-year-old van der Sloot is currently serving time in a Peruvian prison for the murder of local college student Stephany Flores.  The Dutchman was long suspected in the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway, but her body was never found and charges were never made.   In 2010, van der Sloot tried to extort $250,000 from Natalee Holloway’s mother in return for details about her daughter’s death.  Van der Sloot took a $25,000 down payment and then ran off to Peru, where he met  Miss Flores in a Lima casino,   He became enraged after she found out about his suspected involvement in the Natalee Holloway case and he murdered her. 

He now faces extortion charges in the U.S.,  and his extradition to the U.S. was approved in principle last year by Peru's Supreme Court-- but only after he serves out his sentence in Lima. He could serve less than ten years in his Peruvian prison for good behavior.

After he lost his extradition appeal at the Peruvian Supreme Court last year, there were rumors that he would marry a Peruvian girl in July-- but those plans fell through.

Recently Van der Sloot has been visited in prison by 22-year-old Leydi Figueroa Uced, who was last reported to be pregnant with his child (although no reports of the baby’s birth have ever been released).   If van der Sloot is able to convince Figueroa Uced to follow through with his current wedding plans, he will be able to  automatically apply for Peruvian citizenship, which will hinder America’s chances of ever extraditing him.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Unapproved Franken-Wheat Found In Oregon

Unapproved genetically engineered wheat has been discovered in an Oregon field, a potential threat to trade with countries that have concerns about genetically modified foods.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has said that the genetically engineered wheat is safe to eat and there is no evidence that modified wheat entered the marketplace. But the department is investigating how it ended up in the field, whether there was any criminal wrongdoing and whether its growth is widespread.

The unidentified farmer discovered the modified wheat when farm workers were trying to kill some wheat plants that popped up between harvests. The farmer used the herbicide glyphosate to kill the plants, but they did not die, prompting the tests at Oregon State to find out if the crops were genetically engineered to resist herbicides.  USDA officials would not identify the farmer or the farm's exact location-- but the field with the genetically modified wheat is in the eastern part of the state.

The tests confirmed that the plants were a strain developed by Monsanto to resist its herbicides and tested between 1998 and 2005. At the time Monsanto had applied to USDA for permission to develop the engineered wheat, but the company later pulled its application.

USDA said that during that seven-year period, it authorized more than 100 field tests with the same glyphosate-resistant wheat variety. Tests were conducted in in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.  During the original testing and application process, the Food and Drug Administration had reviewed the variety found in Oregon and said it was as safe as conventional varieties of wheat.

As of today, however,  no genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming.  While most of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are already genetically modified, the country's wheat crop is not.

The discovery could have far-reaching implications for the U.S. wheat industry if the growth of the engineered product turns out to be far-flung. Many countries around the world will not accept imports of genetically modified foods, and the U.S. exports about half of its wheat crop.

The discovery also could have implications for organic companies, which by law cannot use genetically engineered ingredients in its foods. Organic farmers have frequently expressed concern that genetically modified seed will blow into organic farms and contaminate their products.  Consumers have shown increasing interest in avoiding genetically modified foods. Several states are considering bills that would require them to be labeled so consumers know what they are eating.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bye Bye Batshit Bachmann

Tea Party wing-nut Michelle Bachmann announced today that she will not be running for reelection. In her nine-minute web video announcing the move, she denied that her decision had anything to do with her ongoing ethics inquiry nor the FBI investigation of her presidential campaign.  Maybe it was due to the lawsuit against her for the theft of an email list-- she forgot to mention that.

In any case, it doesn't matter much-- nor does it seem to matter to anyone in her party, as there was no accolades or public comment of any kind from her GOP colleagues.  But that's no surprise, as she was little more than a carnival act, having accomplished next to nothing during her eight-year congressional career. 

While in office, she sponsored 58 bills-- 53 of which were immediately referred to committee (in other words, went nowhere).  Of the remaining five, three were agreed to without a vote: HR 373 (support for designating "National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month") HR 923 (recognizing Minnesota's 150th anniversary) and HR 79 (honoring public child welfare agencies).  Another bill (HR 850, facilitating a proposed project in the lower St Croix river) got out of committee but failed to get any action in the full House.  HR 45 (repeal of "Obamacare") passed the house, but went nowhere further (as it has failed to do another 30 or so times since then).  Impressive!

Bachmann has never wielded a committee gavel (either at the full or subcommittee level) and her amendments have rarely been considered by any committee, even with the House under GOP control.  As lame as she was, she was certainly entertaining--- and for that, we'll miss her!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Another Warning To Those (Still) Using Facebook

Facebook has been caught again in an act that further erodes its credibility-- by censoring the free speech of users who are critical of global corporate giant Monsanto.  Facebook recently suspended of an account that posted a photo of children rallying against Monsanto during a protest against genetically modified food.  The photo posted by Facebook user Andrea Lalama shows her children carrying hand-drawn signs.

After this picture was shared on Facebook, Andrea's account was immediately suspended.

As a result, Andrea Lalama can only re-post other people's content but is disallowed from posting her own content. Another woman, Georgia Gallucci, was also censored by Facebook-- her account was also suspended by Facebook after reposting a friend's photo from the Monsanto March.

Yet another account called "Reversing Autism" was also suspended by Facebook for posting Monsanto march photos, claiming that they were "abusive."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tweet From A Twit

Sarah Palin entertained us yet again with her failure to comprehend current events.  She tweeted the following earlier today: 

It's unclear how the IRS is connected to anything having to do with phones, but it's likely that Palin was confusing that scandal with the controversy over the DOJ's seizure of two months' worth of Associated Press phone records in 2012.   Oops!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Retail Indifference To Bangladeshi Workers

The deadline to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh passed last week, and at least 10 major North American retailers refused to participate.

The agreement, which demands a five-year commitment from participating retailers to conduct independent safety inspections of factories and pay up to $500,000 per year toward safety improvements, has seen greater support internationally than in the U.S.

Major European retailers -- for example, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour -- have joined the agreement. Others who've signed on include companies recently involved with factory disasters in Bangladesh, such as Swedish retailer H&M and Italian fashion house Benetton. A 2010 factory fire at a facility that made cardigans for H&M killed 21 people, and Bennetton had a supplier in the Rana Plaza factory that collapsed last month, killing more than 1,100 people.

PVH, parent to Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, signed the accord, along with Abercrombie & Fitch, which agreed just hours before the deadline. Many U.S. retailers are still absent from the agreement, according to the Worker Rights Consortium, an international labor monitoring group.  Many of these companies claim that they are working on/improving their own safety programs.  But of course, none of those measure are legally binding (like the Fire and Building Safety accord)-- so there's no guarantee that those companies will curtail/cut back/eliminate their safety programs after the headlines fade away.

For those of you who factor moral issues into their retailing decisions, here is a list of the largest U.S. retailers who lack the courage to follow the lead of most international companies in guaranteeing improvements in safety for Bangladeshi workers:

WalMart
Gap
Target
Kohl's
Foot Locker
American Eagle Outfitters
Macy's
Nordstrom's
Sears
JCPenney
North Face


Friday, May 10, 2013

Safety of Women In India Gone To Shit

Most of the cases of rape of women and girls in India's Bihar state occur when they go out to defecate in the open, police and social activists say.  The police reported more than 870 cases of rape in Bihar last year.

Some 85% of the rural households in the state, one of India's poorest, have no access to a toilet.  More than half-a-billion Indians lack access to basic sanitation. Many do not have access to flush toilets or other latrines.

There have been a number of recent cases where women and girls have been raped in Bihar after they stepped out of their homes to defecate:

  •     On  May 5, an 11-year-old girl was raped in Mai village in Jehanabad district when she was going to the field at night;                                                                                                                  
  •     On April 28, a young girl was abducted and raped when she had gone out to defecate in an open field in Kalapur village in Naubatpur, 21 miles from the state capital, Patna;                           
  •     On April 24, another girl was raped in similar circumstances on a farm in Chaunniya village in Sheikhpura district. She told the police that two villagers had followed and raped her. One of them has been arrested.

Senior police official Arvind Pandey said that about 400 women would have "escaped" rape last year if they had toilets in their homes.  The Bihar government says it plans to provide toilets to more than 10 million households in the state by 2022 under a federal scheme.  A law making toilets mandatory has been introduced in several states as part of the "sanitation for all" drive by the Indian government.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Donald Trump's New Career As A Military Expert

This week, the Pentagon released a report on the rampant sexual assaults occurring within the military.  According to the report, the number of rapes reported by members of the military rose from 3,192 to 3,374 in 2012, while the department estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted, based on anonymous surveys.   Most politicians and observers condemned the findings, but rocket-scientist real estate mogul Donald Trump had a different take on the matter:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sick Bastards In India Now Going After 5-Year-Olds

A five-year-old girl has died two weeks after being raped in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.  At least one person has been arrested in connection with the attack.  The young girl was found unconscious at a farm earlier this month, and was initially taken to a local hospital before being airlifted to Nagpur in neighboring Maharashtra state two days later.

Following news of the girl's death, opposition Congress Party activists in Madhya Pradesh held a rally in the state capital Bhopal and burned an effigy of the state's chief minister.

This is the latest in a spate of similar cases.  Earlier this month, the rape and abduction of another five-year-old girl in Delhi sparked protests.  She is said to be recovering slowly after she was kidnapped, raped, tortured and abandoned in a locked room for more than 48 hours, rescued only after neighbors heard her cries. Two men have been held over the incident.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Definition Of A Hero

Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro wasted no time in tweeting his reaction to the news that NBA center Jason Collins announced that he was gay (becoming the first American major-league professional to come out of the closet while still playing).

So Jason Collins is a hero because he's gay? Our standard for heroism has dropped quite a bit since Normandy.
 -- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 29, 2013

Note from the Daily Dude:  Jason Collins is a hero because he open declared his homosexuality while still playing-- risking both his career and livelihood, as well as condemnation from douchebags like Shapiro.

So who exactly does Shapiro consider a hero?  How about radio host Mark Levin:

On the phenomenal @marklevinshow tonight to discuss 'Bullies'! Very excited. Mark's a hero. amazon.com/Bullies-Cultur...
-- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 10, 2013

Or radio personality Adam Carolla:

@adamcarolla is my hero: hotair.com/archives/2011/...
-- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 2, 2011

Or freshman senator Ted Cruz:

With Sen. Ted Cruz, Tea Party hero, in green room at @hannityshow! yfrog.com/mnk7sxuj
-- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 9, 2013

or the guy who ran against Sherrod Brown in Ohio:

Hero Josh Mandel running an extraordinarily tight race in OH with terrible incumbent Sherrod Brown: rasmussenreports.com/public_content...
-- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 15, 2012

Not exactly setting the bar that high, are you Ben?


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Underbelly Of Delhi

A five-year-old girl is battling for her life after being kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a neighbor in the Indian capital, Delhi.  The girl was taken hostage and attacked in a locked room for over 48 hours, police said.  She was rescued by a passer-by who heard her cries. No arrests have been made.  The five-year-old girl has been admitted to a city hospital in a critical condition.

"The girl was traumatized when she was brought to us. There were injuries to her lips, cheeks and chest wall. There were bruises on her neck," registered nurse Bansal, chief of Swami Dayanand hospital, told reporters.  Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said that police had launched a probe into the rape and "attempted murder" of the girl.

In a separate development, police in Delhi say they are also looking for a group of men who allegedly gang-raped a 19-year-old woman.

Reports say the woman, who works as a domestic helper, was offered a lift in a vehicle by the men and then allegedly sedated and raped.  She was found semi-naked by pedestrians on a road early the next morning.  Doctors at the city's Safdarjung Hospital said she that although she was suffering from trauma, there were no signs of external injuries.

Reports said the woman, who is married and comes from from Nepal, was on the way to her brother's house from her employer's residence in the up-market Defence Colony neighborhood when a car carrying the men stopped to ask her for directions and offered to drop her near her home.


Dead And Dead To Rights

Tamerlan Tsarnaev just before his autopsy

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev captured by ATF and FBI agents

Thursday, April 18, 2013

82 Minutes Of Clusterfuck

Buzzfeed helpfully breaks down how the media yesterday insanely tried to outscoop each other on the false story that a suspect had been arrested in the Boston Marathon bombing (CNN's coverage featuring the particularly obnoxious duo of John King and Chris Cuomo):

1:42 pm - AP: Breaks story that an arrest is imminent.
1:43 pm - Reuters: Investigators do not have the name of a suspect
1:46 pm - CNN: An arrest has been made, citing he AP report and a source
1:47 pm - CNN: Lord & Taylor video helps ID a “dark skinned male” as a suspect.
1:51 pm - Reuters: Reports CNN story that a suspect is in custody.
1:51 pm - ABC: An arrest "may be imminent."
1:55 pm - NBC: No arrest has been made; but there are persons of "great interest."
1:59 pm - CBS: Law enforcement is "very encouraged" by latest developments.
2:00 pm - FOX: An arrest has been made.
2:02 pm - AP: A suspect is in police custody.
2:03 pm - CBS: No arrest has been made.
2:05 pm - FOX: An arrest has been made.
2:06 p.m.: Boston Police-A suspect is en route to the Federal Courthouse.
2:08 p.m.: ABC-Authorities are "close to identifying a suspect."
2:09 p.m.: NBC-Repeats that no arrest has been made.
2:13 p.m.: CNN-A suspect has been arrested.
2:18 p.m.: CBS-No arrest has been made; suspect was ID'ed via cell tower logs.
2:24 p.m.: Reuters-No arrests have been made.
2:25 p.m.: Boston Globe-A suspect is being taken to US District Court
2:26 p.m.: Media descends on the Federal Courthouse in Boston.
2:32 p.m.: NBC-Reports that no arrest has been made.
2:33 p.m.: Boston Police Department-There has not been an arrest.
2:36 p.m.: Boston Globe-NO suspect is in custody and NO ONE is under arrest.
2:38 p.m.: CNN-Backtracks, saying that no arrest has been made.
2:42 p.m.: CBS-Suspect is a white male, describes clothing.
2:43 p.m.: FBI spokesman-No arrest has been made.
2:47 p.m.: AP-Backtracks, saying that no suspect is in custody.
2:49 p.m.: FOX-Backpedals, citing "conflicting reports."
2:58 p.m.: FBI written statement-No arrest has been made.
3:00 p.m.: CNN-Issues official correction on its Facebook page.

The Good (NBC, CBS) the Bad (Reuters, ABC ) and the Ugly (CNN, Fox, AP) . . .

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gandalf Not Among Thatcher's Mourners

On his blog, famed actor Sir Ian McKellan has reminded everyone that Maggie Thatcher's final contribution to British politics was her unsuccessful vote to prevent the repeal of the infamous Section 28.

Introduced by Thatcher's government in 1988, Section 28 mandated that local British authorities "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

Britain's first anti-gay law in over 100 years caused panic in the LGBT community at the time.  It resulted in many gay-oriented student support groups at schools and colleges across the U.K. to close or self-censor their activities in fear that they could breach the Act. 

In the months prior to introduction of the measure, Thatcher appeased to her conservative base by openly mocking people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right.  During Thatcher's term, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behavior rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murder, according to leading British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Ian McLellan had this to say about Section 28 and its stain on Thatcher's legacy:

Lest we forget, this nasty, brutish and short measure of the third Thatcher administration, was designed to slander homosexuality, by prohibiting state schools from discussing positively gay people and our “pretended family relations”. Opposition to Section 28 galvanised a new generation of activists who joined with long-time campaigners for equality.  Stonewall UK was founded to repeal Section 28 and pluck older rotten anti-gay legislation from the constitutional tree. This has taken two decades to achieve.

Pathetically, in her dotage, Baroness Thatcher was led by her supporters into the House of Lords to vote against Section 28′s repeal: her final contribution to UK politics. She dies too early to oppose Parliament’s inevitable acceptance of same–gender marriage.

During his 2009 election campaign, current British Prime Minister David Cameron (a longtime supporter of Section 28) finally apologized for the Conservative Party's introducing the law, saying that it was a mistake and had been offensive to gay people.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pro-Austerity Research Cited In Ryan Budget Is Riddled With Errors

"I was VP of my college Economics club!"
Influential research by U.S. economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, touted by conservative policymakers pushing government austerity in the United States and Europe, is riddled with errors, according to a bombshell new academic study.  The new claims seriously erode the intellectual underpinnings of the pro-austerity argument -- and makes the real damage done by austerity in Europe and the U.S. in recent years all the more poignant.

"This is a mistake that has had enormous consequences," wrote Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "If facts mattered in economic policy debates, this should be the cause for a major reassessment of the deficit reduction policies being pursued in the United States and elsewhere."

The new paper, by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, set out to reconstruct the findings of an influential 2010 paper by Reinhart and Rogoff, called "Growth In A Time Of Debt." Reinhart and Rogoff, of the University of Maryland and Harvard, respectively, claimed that economic growth slowed fairly dramatically for countries whose public debt crossed a threshold of 90 percent of gross domestic product.

The problem is that other economists have been unable to recreate Reinhart and Rogoff's findings. Herndon, Ash and Pollin now say they were able to do so -- but only by leaving out big, important pieces of data.  Using the same spreadsheet that Reinhart and Rogoff used for their research, Herndon, Ash and Pollin found that "Growth In A Time Of Debt" was built around a handful of significant errors. Correcting for those errors changed the findings dramatically-- average GDP growth for high-debt countries jumps from negative 0.1 percent to a positive 2.2 percent.

The most important error was a failure to include years of data that showed Australia, Canada and New Zealand enjoying high economic growth and high debt at the same time. Including all years of economic data boosts New Zealand's average economic growth rate under high debt to positive 2.58 percent (from negative 7.6 percent). Given the small amount of data used in Reinhart and Rogoff's original (flawed) study, this correction had a huge impact on the overall findings.

Shockingly, another error seems to be a simple failure to use an Excel spreadsheet correctly, as highlighted by economist Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute's Next New Deal blog. In building a formula to calculate average economic growth rates, Reinhart and Rogoff appeared to leave off several lines of data in their original spreadsheet (oops!).

"We literally just received this draft comment, and will review it in due course," Reinhart and Rogoff lamely responded this week.

Even before the errors cited in the new study came to light, many economists doubted Reinhart and Rogoff's conclusion that high debt causes low growth, given the glaring chicken-and-egg problem at the heart of the research. Did these countries have slow growth because they had high debt, or did they have high debt because they had slow growth?

Beyond that, Baker notes, there were lots of other reasons to question Reinhart and Rogoff, including the fact that their gloomy conclusions about debt relied heavily on slow U.S. economic growth immediately after World War II. At the time, the U.S. was deep in war debt and dismantling its war machine. That relatively brief state of affairs was quickly followed by arguably the greatest economic boom in history.

Despite these questions, Reinhart and Rogoff's findings have been used frequently to justify austerity measures in the U.S. and Europe. Unsurprisingly, the 2012 version of the pro-austerity budget plan of Rep. Paul Ryan cites Reinhart and Rogoff by name.   The GOP's myopic focus on government debt and budget deficits has contributed to severe cutbacks in government spending that have slowed economic growth and helped keep unemployment high.  In Greece, austerity measures forced into place as condition of a bailout, has only resulted in slower growth and higher debt burdens.

Monday, April 15, 2013

IRS Out Of Control

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't believe it needs a search warrant to read your e-mail.

Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers say that Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail-- meaning that they can be perused without obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge.

That places the IRS at odds with a growing sentiment among many judges and legislators who believe that Americans' e-mail messages should be protected from warrantless search and seizure. They say e-mail should be protected by the same Fourth Amendment privacy standards that require search warrants for hard drives in someone's home, or a physical letter in a filing cabinet.

An IRS 2009 Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that "emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual's computer."

The IRS continued to take the same position even after a federal appeals court ruled in the 2010 case U.S. v. Warshak that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mail. A few e-mail providers, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, but not all, have taken the position that Warshak mandates warrants for e-mail.

A March 2011 update to the IRS manual, published four months after the Warshak decision, says that nothing has changed and that "investigators can obtain everything in an account except for unopened e-mail or voice mail stored with a provider for 180 days or less" without a warrant.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Overzealous Police Still A Threat To Average Americans

In an effort to combat petty theft, police in downtown New York City often leave "bait" items unattended  on subway platforms, on park benches, in cars — and wait to see if someone grabs them.  In the Bronx, authorities began using "bait cars" about six years ago to combat a chronic problem with car thefts and break-ins in working-class neighborhoods.  In most of these cases, police plant property — an iPad, a phone — in plain sight as bait for thieves but make sure the car is locked so that a suspect would have to take the extra step of breaking in before being arrested.

However, a recent court ruling throwing out a larceny case against a Bronx woman has cast a harsh light on such "bait" tactics, that critics say too often sweeps up innocent people.

According to court papers, 40-year-old single mother Deirdre Myers and her daughter Kenya (then a 15-year-old high school student) were sitting on the stoop of their apartment building when a highly unusual police sting unfolded.   The summer evening was interrupted by a bit of theater staged by police.  A dark car raced down the block before stopping, with another vehicle carrying plainclothes officers close behind. When the driver got out and ran, the officers gave chase, yelling, "Stop! Police!"

Myers' daughter, seeing that the driver had left the car door open, went over and peered inside to see some personal items that included what looked like a bundle of cash — in reality, a dollar bill wrapped around pieces of newspaper. The girl called her mother over when suddenly another set of police officers suddenly pulled up in a van and forced the teenager and her mother to the ground.

"Get on the floor? For what?" Myers recalled telling the officers.  The officers took them into custody, even though they never touched anything inside the car.   Charges were eventually dropped against the teenager, but her mother spent more than two years fighting charges of petty larceny and possession of stolen property.

After being cleared of the false charges, Myers (who prior to the incident had no criminal record) sued the city, claiming she and her daughter were traumatized by wrongful arrest.  Judge Linda Poust Lopez agreed, finding that there was no proof Deirdre Myers tried to steal anything — and that she was framed by a sting that took the "bait" tactic way too far.

A spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's office conceded that the bait car had been left open/unlocked and said prosecutors would not appeal the judge's ruling. He declined to comment further.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mitch Snitch Glitch

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell  has been hit with an ethics complaint after a leaked tape revealed he was discussing with aides how to take on potential opponent Ashley Judd.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has asked the Senate ethics committee and the FBI to investigate whether McConnell was having a discussion about potential Judd weaknesses -- including her mental health and religion -- on government time.

“Using taxpayer-funded resources to pay staffers to dig up dirt on political opponents isn’t just an ethics violation, it’s a federal crime,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “As Sen. McConnell requested, the FBI is investigating the recording. A thorough and fair investigation necessitates the bureau also inquire into whether Sen. McConnell himself violated the law.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beware Barack's Betrayal

President Barack Obama reneged on his campaign promise to protect Social Security and the middle class this week-- by shockingly unveiling a budget proposal that would change tax brackets and Social Security cost-of-living adjustments from being pegged to the Consumer Price Index to a "chained CPI," which is based on the assumption that inflation rises more slowly than the CPI (anybody who's struggled to make ends meet the last four years knows what crap that is).

Such a switch to "chained CPI" would reduce future benefit increases and push more taxpayers into higher brackets, a phenomenon known as "bracket creep."  For an average worker retiring at the age of 65, this would amount to a cut of $650 a year by age 75. At age 85, this would be a cut of $1,130 a year.




Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group that asks lawmakers to sign a formal "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," said this week that chained CPI violates the pledge.

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, leader of the organization, criticized the policy via Twitter, saying "Chained CPI is a very large tax hike over time."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that chained CPI would reduce Social Security spending by $127 billion and increase tax revenue by $123 billion over 10 years.

When asked Friday if chained CPI represents a tax hike on the middle class, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "I'm not disputing that."

For me, that's the last straw for Obama.  I don't believe anymore that he cares enough about the elderly or the middle class-- and he's given the GOP a perfect talking point against every Democrat that voices even the slightest support for Obama's proposal.  Everyone needs to bombard their congressmen and tell them to protect Social Security and the middle class and abandon any and all support for Obama's attack on Social Security.

Senate phone numbers and addresses can be found here.  House phone numbers and addresses can be found here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Getting Over The Hump

Eat more chickn!
The government of Mali will be sending Francois Hollande  a replacement camel after the first, given to him as a gift, was unexpectedly eaten.

The French president had left the creature with a family in Timbuktu for safekeeping, after it was presented to him by local residents.  But it was promptly slaughtered and used in a stew.

France sent troops to Mali to regain the north from a loose coalition of militant Islamist groups.  During the young camel's handover ceremony, President Hollande had joked about using the camel "it as much a I can as a means of transport" around the Parisian traffic jams.  French officials had originally planned to transport the animal to a zoo in France, but because of the complex logistics it was decided instead to entrust the beast to a local family.

The French defense minister informed the president of the camel's death during a recent cabinet meeting, according to reports.  "As soon as we heard of this, we quickly replaced it with a bigger and better-looking camel," an unnamed Malian official said.  "The new camel will be sent to Paris. We are ashamed of what happened to the camel. It was a present that did not deserve this fate."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

India Police Complicit In War On Women

Two female police constables in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have been suspended for detaining a 10-year-old rape victim.

According to reports, the girl had gone to the police station with her mother to lodge a rape complaint when she was detained.  She was released after several hours when local residents protested against her detention.

The girl was found lying unconscious in a field by her parents who alleged that she was raped by a 24-year-old local man.

Words From The Preacher Man


Monday, April 8, 2013

Thatcher Is Dead

Only a few minutes after the death of Margaret Thatcher today, British MP George Galloway took to Twitter writing "Tramp the dirt down." When one user wrote that the MP was 'unbecoming' in his choice of words, the 59-year-old fired back, "You're obviously a teenage scribbler then? Or one with no memory." In a further message on the social networking site, Galloway said, "Thatcher described Nelson Mandela as a 'terrorist'. I was there. I saw her lips move. May she burn in the hellfires."

Comedian Patrick Kielty tweeted, "Her final wish was to be cremated but we've no coal left."


 

High street wine merchant OddBins in Crouch End, London, landed in hot water after tweeting: "If for any reason anyone feels like celebrating anything we have Tattinger available at £10 less than usual at 329. Just saying..."

General secretary of the Durham Miners' Association David Hopper, who turned 70 today, said the death of Baroness Thatcher was a 'great day' for coal miners. "It looks like one of the best birthdays I have ever had," he added. "There's no sympathy from me for what she did to our community. She destroyed our community, our villages and our people. For the union this could not come soon enough and I'm pleased that I have outlived her. It's a great day for all the miners, I imagine we will have a counter demonstration when they have her funeral."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Good News On The Health Front

In an unexpected victory for women's rights advocates, a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the morning-after birth control pill (known as "Plan B") available to people of any age without a prescription.  The order overturned a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to require a prescription for girls under 17.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended last year that oral contraceptives be sold over the counter in an effort to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the United States. Opponents of prescription requirements say prescriptions can delay access to the drug.

"Today science has finally prevailed over politics," Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "This landmark court decision has struck a huge blow to the deep-seated discrimination that has for too long denied women access to a full range of safe and effective birth control methods."  The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also supported the decision, applauding the stance that "science should guide policy."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fly The Un-Friendly Skies

United Airline's overreaction to a family's concern over some inflight entertainment led to a flight being diverted over "security concerns."

A family of four was traveling from Denver to Baltimore with two young sons, ages 4 and 8. During the flight, the PG-13-rated detective film "Alex Cross" was shown on drop-down monitors across the plane.  The family worried about their young children seeing inappropriate content in the film, which features scenes of torture, dismemberment and extreme violence.

"Alarmed by the opening scenes, we asked two flight attendants if they could turn off the monitor; but both claimed it was not possible," the family said.  After some back and forth between the family and the flight crew, the family reportedly relented to the movie being shown and did their best to engage their children to keep them from watching the movie.

"We asked if the captain had the authority to address this issue, but received no response," the children's father said. "Throughout these interactions the atmosphere was collegial, no voices were raised and no threats, implicit or explicit, of any kind were made. The flight continued without incident, while my wife and I engaged our children to divert their attention from the horrific scenes on the movie screens."

But shortly after that, the captain announced the flight was being diverted to a Chicago airport due to "security concerns."   When the family disembarked, they were questioned by law enforcement officials then booked on a new flight.

The family argues the captain overreacted to the incident.  "We understand that airline captains can and should have complete authority," the family said. "However, when this authority is used for senseless, vindictive acts, it must be addressed."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Saudi Court Unmoved By Pleas For Mercy

Amnesty International has condemned a Saudi court ruling sentencing a man to be paralyzed as retribution for having paralyzed another man as "outrageous." The rights group called the punishment "torture," adding that it "should on no account be carried out."

Ali Al-Khawahir was 14 when he stabbed and paralyzed his best friend 10 years ago.  Al-Khawahir, who has been in prison ever since, has been sentenced to be paralyzed if he cannot come up with one million Saudi Riyals ($266,000) in compensation to be paid to the victim.

"If implemented, the paralysis sentence would contravene the U.N. Convention against Torture to which Saudi Arabia is a state party and the Principles of Medical Ethics adopted by the UN General Assembly," Amnesty International said.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger And Out

Roger Ebert, the nation's most well-known film critic, passed away today at the age of 70.  Ebert, who reviewed movies his entire career at the Chicago Sun Times, was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.  The show he co-hosted with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune ("Sneak Previews") was what first got me hooked on movies, something which I will always be grateful for.

In 1975, Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.  Passion, sarcasm and and spot-on wit were the hallmarks of his criticisms and writing.   In 2005, Rob Schneider insulted L.A. Times movie critic Patrick Goldstein for panning "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo", labeling the critic as unqualified because he had never won the Pulitzer Prize.  Ebert publicly intervened by stating that, as a Pulitzer winner, he was qualified to review the film, and bluntly told Schneider, "Your movie sucks."

At the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, a white audience member at a screening of Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow" asked how Asians could be portrayed in such a negative light and how a film so empty and amoral could be made for the Asian American market.  Ebert jumped up to defend the Taiwanese filmmaker saying,  "What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is that nobody would say such a thing to a bunch of white filmmakers: how could you do this to 'your people'? This film has the right to be about these people, and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to represent 'their people'!"

In his review of Martin Scorsese's "The Passion of Christ", Ebert wrote that the MPAA's R rating of the film was "definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic."

Ebert concluded his review of Rob Reiner's 1994 comedy "North" in classic fashion:  "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Ebert's wit and insight were also evident in numerous interviews and other writings throughout his 46-year career.  On film making:  “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough" . . . On life:  "Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you" . . . On the internet:  "Doing research on the web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly." . . . On human nature:  "A depressing number of people seem to process everything literally. They are to wit as a blind man is to a forest, able to find every tree, but each one coming as a surprise." . . .  On film reviews:  "Movies can be about anything.  So can our reviews."

And finally, on the subject of death, Ebert had this to say in 2010:

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.  I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path.  I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state.  What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter.  You can't say it wasn't interesting.  My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip.  I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

In his last review, Ebert panned the made-for-tweens movie "The Host",  saying that it was was "top-heavy with profound, sonorous conversations, all tending to sound like farewells."   Ebert worked until almost the day of his death, working on reviews, updating his blog and preparing an upcoming book.   His last written words, posted on his blog two days ago, are heartbreaking to read: 

"So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

Thank you for your life, Roger.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Debunking More GOP Bullshit

During the lead-up to the sequestration deadline, the GOP frequently warned the public that raising taxes the wealthy would snuff out the recovery. If the wealthy had to pay more taxes, they would spend less, invest less and give less to charity.   Well there is now evidence that those claims were pure bullshit.  

According to a new poll, a majority of people making $500,000 or more (those paying the higher income tax rate) said that the tax hikes have not impacted their spending, charitable giving or investment strategies.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mixed Messages From Men Who Wear Skin-Tight Pants And Slap Each Other In The Butt

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has a few choice words for professional athletes who are concerned about the possibility of sharing a locker room with a gay teammate:  Grow the fuck up.

Kluwe, who has become an ardent ally for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in recent months, has penned an impassioned editorial for CNN in which he says that "it's not right that we can't just accept someone for who he is."

Kluwe writes:

"It's not right that professional sports, and especially the professional sports media, have created an environment where gay players are willing to hide essential components of themselves as human beings in order to pursue their dreams, in order to not be a distraction. It's not right that our insatiable lust for sports coverage creates an atmosphere where someone would willingly subordinate his life to a backward and bigoted worldview in order to stay employed."

The prospect of openly gay players in professional sports has become a matter of heated debate in recent weeks, after 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver exposed his bigotry in a public rant, saying "I don't do the gay guys, man-- I don't do that. No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do."

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's April 1st-- We Have Our Fool

Donald Trump has unsurprisingly withdrawn his $5 million lawsuit against stand-up comedian Bill Maher.  The combover king,  whose NBC show hit a season low this week, first filed the breach of contract suit back in early February.  At that time, Trump claimed that Maher broke a written promise that he’d give $5 million to the charities of Trump’s choice if he could prove he wasn’t “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.”

Trump says he accepted Maher’s pledge in writing the day following the broadcast, when he provided his birth certificate-- proving  he was not born of an interspecies mating.  

Now that Trump the Chump has realized it was a joke, the joke is on him. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Green Thumbs Seek More Green

Two former CIA employees whose Kansas home was fruitlessly searched for marijuana during a two-state drug sweep claim they were illegally targeted because they had bought indoor growing supplies to raise vegetables.

Adlynn and Robert Harte are suing to get more information about why sheriff's deputies searched their home in the upscale Kansas City suburb of Leawood as part of a two-state sweep that netted marijuana plants, guns, and growing paraphernalia. 

Hartes' attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said she suspects the couple's house was targeted because they had bought hydroponic equipment to grow a small number of tomatoes and squash plants in their basement.

"With little or no other evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors," the couple's lawsuit says.

When law enforcement arrived at the home, the family had just six plants -- three tomato plants, one melon plant and two butternut squash plants -- growing in the basement.  The deputies "made rude comments" and implied their son was using marijuana. A drug-sniffing dog was brought in to help, but deputies ultimately left after providing a receipt stating, "No items taken."

The couple both were required to pass rigorous background checks for their previous jobs working for the CIA as well.  "You can't go into people's homes and conduct searches without probable cause," Pilate told reporters.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bullet Shortages Making The Rounds

Reports are literally rolling in regarding red-state num nuts who are buying up ammunition in the fear that Obama will take away their guns-- which is causing critical shortages of ammo for legitimate law enforcement. 

Things are so bad that even Walmart has been rationing ammo sales since January.  The Jenks Police Department says they can’t get the guns or ammo they need because prices have skyrocketed and supplies have dwindled.  They're running out of bullets in Greer, South CarolinaBozeman, Montana and Shelbyville, Tennessee as well.

Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon says the NRA is to blame.  The NRA is in the business of selling guns, and they’ve got a vested interest in keeping their paranoid membership paranoid.  Paranoia helps keep membership up, and helps fuel gun and ammo sales.  And what’s good for Big Gun is good for the NRA.

The answer, according to many, is to make ammunition prohibitively expensive for anyone to have more ammo than they need for self-defense.  Agreed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fracking Fluid Foes Fucked

A judge in Casper has sided with the state of Wyoming and ruled against environmentalists who sought to obtain lists of the ingredients that go into hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Environmental groups had requested the ingredient lists from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, arguing that the public needs to know what chemicals companies are putting underground.   Specially formulated lubricants are used in fracking, which involves pumping water, fine sand and fracking fluids underground to split open oil- and gas-bearing rocks.

Wyoming became one of the first states to require companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients in hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The goal was to help the regulators track the source of any groundwater contamination that might occur at or near a drilling site.

Environmentalists say public knowledge of the chemicals can help landowners near oil and gas projects know what types of pollution to test for in their groundwater. Such testing targeted at certain chemicals can be done before or while drilling occurs and help to establish that well water is not polluted by those chemicals.
 
The environmentalists' request for the chemical composition of fracking fluids was originally denied on the grounds that the information constituted trade secrets that may be withheld under Wyoming's open records law.  Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking then upheld the denial, ruling that the state official who withheld the information acted reasonably.

"We continue to believe we have strong claims, and we're still concerned the Wyoming oil and gas commission is withholding this information from the public," said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the resource council.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thailand Traps Two Turtle Transgressors


Two smugglers are facing charges in Thailand after authorities caught them attempting to sneak more 54 live Ploughshare tortoises into the country.  The tortoise's wild population is estimated at between 400 and 600, so the contraband represents 10 percent of the tortoise's remaining population.

This Ploughshare tortoise (aka Angonoka or Madagascar tortoise)  is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world.  In the wild the turtle is only found in northwest Madagascar where it is endemic to the dry forests in the Baly Bay area near the coast,   The population estimate for the angonoka tortoise in the wild is estimated at a maximum of 600 individuals, and still decreasing. The tortoise is at an extremely high risk of extinction; it is thought it will become extinct in the wild in the next 10 to 15 years.


“The criminals behind this shipment of Ploughshare Tortoises have effectively stolen over 10% of the estimated population in the wild," said Dr. Chris R. Shepherd, deputy director of wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic, per a statement released by the organization. “We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals."

According to reports, a 38-year-old Thai man and a 25-year-old woman from Madagascar, were arrested at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The woman's name was on the bag's luggage tag, and the man had attempted to collect it from the luggage carousel.

The sole captive breeding facility in Madagascar was robbed of 75 tortoises In 1996-- the thieves were never found.  Ultimately, the breeding facility was a success, achieving 224 captive-bred juveniles out of 17 adults by the end of  2004.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not Just An Idiot In Congress

A Texas Republican congressman got into a late-night altercation with U.S. Park Police officers, pulling rank in an attempt to get out of a parking ticket near the Lincoln Memorial.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on March 13, officers wrote Rep. Louie Gohmert a citation for parking his black Ford SUV in a spot reserved for National Park Service vehicles.  Gohmert took the ticket off his windshield and placed it on a unoccupied park service vehicle along with his business card with a written message: “Oversight of Park Service is my job! Natural Resources Thus the Congressional Plate in window.”

A park service vehicle pulled up as he was leaving the note under the windshield wiper.  That was when a verbal altercation ensued.    He was “rude and irate,” one officer reported. Another said that Gohmert was “ranting.”

“I was issued a ticket and I am a congressman and parked my vehicle in the NPS parking only because I have a Congress placard, see,” Gohmert told one officer. “I am going to a meeting on the Hill and I am the one who oversees the National Park Services Natural Resources.”  Gohmert added that he “did not have time to deal with the issue,” according to the report.

District law says members of Congress may park their cars “in any available curb space in the District of Columbia” when it is being used “on official business” and displaying the congressional registration tag issued by the member’s home state.

Gohmert first gained noteriety years ago when he said that Washington, DC was the only city in the entire country that every member of Congress has a vested interest in seeing that it works properly-- but when residents began calling Gohmert's office complaining about issues like trash and parking, he told them to speak to local government officials instead.

Gohmert was also the guy who infamously claimed to have evidence from an ex-FBI agent about "terror baby" plots.  He publicly claimed that pregnant women from the Middle East were traveling to the U.S. on tourist visas, planning to deliver their children here, given them U.S. citizenship.  According to Gohmert, the child would then be returned to the mother's home country and prepared for a life as a  terrorist.  When asked repeatedly by journalists to provide any sources or evidence of this claim, Gohmert responded "If you don't think this is evidence, you have to believe that the terrorists are more stupid than these enterprising people".

Gohmert was one of a number of Republicans who voted against the Budget Control Act of 2011 on grounds it did not do enough to deal with the government's growing debt--  a mere two months later he voted against a balanced budget Constitutional amendment.

In 2012, Gohmert joined Michelle Bachman in a series of letters to the Inspectors General of DOD, State, Homeland Security and DOJ that claimed that the State Deparment Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin was an example of undue influence by the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. government.  Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and most political observers characterized this allegation as patently false.

Also in 2012, Gohmert announced his support of a trans-Alaskan pipeline, saying that it would be a way for caribou to have more sex. 

Last January, Gohmert nominated Florida Representative Allen West for Speaker of the House, even though West lost his bid for re-election two months prior and was no longer a member of Congress.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shocking Display Of Gun Violence In Mexico

The shocking photo below shows how the bodies of seven men (aged 15-40 years old) who were found dead and seated in plastic chairs in Uruapan, Mexico.  All the victims had suffered fatal gunshot wounds, with threat messages nailed to some of their chests using ice picks. 



The seven bodies had bullet wounds to their heads and bodies and had been placed individually in the sitting position in chairs near a busy roundabout.  A placard on one of the bodies said: ‘Warning! This will happen to thieves, kidnappers, sex offenders and extortionists.’ The local attorney general's office did not provide a motive.

The incident came on the heels of another mass killing in neighboring Guerrero state, where armed men opened fire in a hotel bar in Altamirano City.  In that shootout, four civilians and three off-duty federal agents died.  The off-duty officers had been pursued by gunmen while walking to a local bank, and were killed after seeking refuge in the hotel, according to reports.

Both states on Mexico's western coast have seen a rise of violence in recent years attributed to drug cartels. Around 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in seven years.  President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, has vowed to quell the lawlessness and killing that have stained Mexico's image as a tourist destination and rattled investors.

Monday, March 25, 2013

With Animals Dying At This Rate, What's Next?

If dead pigs weren't enough, dead ducks have now been pulled from a river in southwest China.   

Residents found the dead ducks in the Nanhe river in Pengshan county, Sichuan province, and alerted the environmental department, according to reports.  The news comes as the toll of dead pigs pulled from Shanghai's Huangpu river passed 16,000.

Local residents and livestock were not at risk as the river was not used for drinking water, officials added.  They were unable to determine the cause of death as some of the ducks were already decomposed.  An initial investigation suggested that the duck corpses had originated from upstream and were not dumped by local Pengshan farmers.

The news has prompted concern and criticism from some users on weibo, China's version of Twitter, with many expressing incredulity at the government's assurance that the water is safe.  "Dead pigs, dead ducks... this soup is getting thicker and thicker," wrote one person with the username Baby Lucky.

Workers have been pulling dead pigs from Huangpu river for the past two weeks, sparking concern amongst residents and on China's microblogs. It is still not clear where the dead pigs came from.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Drone Program Being Slowly Dragged Into The Light

In the first judicial blow to secrecy surrounding the Obama Administration’s armed drone program, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has unanimously rejected the CIA’s claim that it could refuse to confirm or deny whether it possesses any records related to drone strikes.

The judges found that public statements about drones from President Barack Obama, former CIA director Leon Panetta and new Central Intelligence Agency Director and former White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan have made it implausible for the CIA to assert that it needed to keep secret the very question of whether it maintains any information on the subject.  “As it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject,” Judge Merrick Garland wrote in the opinion.

The judges did not rule that any specific documents must be made public by the CIA.  However, the CIA will now be obligated to make some further filings with a lower court, describing the relevant records in some fashion and explaining why they are covered by one or more Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer called the decision an important victory, saying in a statement, “We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jaffer said. “The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders.”.

The judges did not rule that any specific documents must be made public by the CIA. However, the CIA will now be obligated to make some further filings with a lower court, describing the relevant records in some fashion and explaining why they are covered by one or more Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Religious Wingnuts Rebuffed In Missouri

A federal judge has struck down a Missouri law exempting religious organizaions from mandatory birth control coverage because it conflicts with an insurance requirement under President Barrack Obama's health care law.  The ruling by U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig cites a provision in the U.S. Constitution declaring that federal laws take precedence over contradictory state laws.

The Missouri law had required insurers to issue policies without contraception coverage if individuals or employers assert that the use of birth control violates their "moral, ethical or religious beliefs." The state's Republican-led Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the law last September.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, praised the ruling for ensuring "that all Missouri women -no matter who their boss is - have access to basic preventive health care without a co-pay, including birth control."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Victory For French Activist Who Presaged 2012 Election

The European Court of Human Rights says France violated freedom of expression by fining a man for insulting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.   Herve Eon, a Socialist activist, had waved a small placard reading "Casse-toi, pauv'con" - which translates as "get lost, you sad prick".

Sarkozy had said "Casse-toi, pauv'con" earlier in 2008 in response to a farmer who had refused to shake his hand at an agricultural show. His use of the crude phrase had provoked a flood of controversy.

For using the same phrase, Eon was found guilty of insulting the president under France's 1881 Freedom of the Press Act.  However, the European Court said the penalty imposed had been "disproportionate" and violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards freedom of expression.

A court press release said such action by the authorities was "likely to have a chilling effect on satirical contributions to discussion of matters of public interest, such discussion being fundamental to a democratic society".

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Veteran's Dying Words To War Criminals Bush & Cheney


Days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 22-year-old Tomas Young joined many other young men and decided to enlist  in the military to avenge the deaths of  nearly 3,000 Americans.  Three years later, Young found himself not in Afghanistan (where George W. Bush had told the nation the terrorist plot had originated) but in Iraq instead.

Only five days into his first tour of duty, Young's convoy was attacked by insurgents. A bullet from an AK-47 severed his spine; another struck his knee. Young would never walk again.  Over the next nine years, Young suffered a number of medical setbacks which have led to the gradual deterioration of his body.  Young's injury led to his becoming one of the most vocal veteran critics of the Iraq War. 

On the 10th anniversary of the war, Young has released his most powerful criticism yet-- in what he says will be the last letter of his life.  Due to his worsening condition, he has checked into a hospice and plans to stop taking all nourishment and life-extending medications in April.  The following is an excerpt from his powerful condemnation of George Bush and Dick Cheney, whose lies led to the deaths of 180,000 people and the loss of over $2 trillion dollars.


I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

 Read Young's entire letter here.

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