31 March 2011

The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition. - By Deborah Blum - Slate Magazine

It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat.

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was—the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom—the man died. So did another holiday partygoer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season.

Doctors were accustomed to alcohol poisoning by then, the routine of life in the Prohibition era. The bootlegged whiskies and so-called gins often made people sick. The liquor produced in hidden stills frequently came tainted with metals and other impurities. But this outbreak was bizarrely different. The deaths, as investigators would shortly realize, came courtesy of the U.S. government.

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

Although mostly forgotten today, the "chemist's war of Prohibition" remains one of the strangest and most deadly decisions in American law-enforcement history. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was "our national experiment in extermination." Poisonous alcohol still kills—16 people died just this month after drinking lethal booze in Indonesia, where bootleggers make their own brews to avoid steep taxes—but that's due to unscrupulous businessmen rather than government order.

I learned of the federal poisoning program while researching my new book, The Poisoner's Handbook, which is set in jazz-age New York. My first reaction was that I must have gotten it wrong. "I never heard that the government poisoned people during Prohibition, did you?" I kept saying to friends, family members, colleagues.

I did, however, remember the U.S. government's controversial decision in the 1970s to spray Mexican marijuana fields with Paraquat, an herbicide. Its use was primarily intended to destroy crops, but government officials also insisted that awareness of the toxin would deter marijuana smokers. They echoed the official position of the 1920s—if some citizens ended up poisoned, well, they'd brought it upon themselves. Although Paraquat wasn't really all that toxic, the outcry forced the government to drop the plan. Still, the incident created an unsurprising lack of trust in government motives, which reveals itself in the occasional rumors circulating today that federal agencies, such as the CIA, mix poison into the illegal drug supply.

During Prohibition, however, an official sense of higher purpose kept the poisoning program in place. As the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1927: "Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified." Others, however, accused lawmakers opposed to the poisoning plan of being in cahoots with criminals and argued that bootleggers and their law-breaking alcoholic customers deserved no sympathy. "Must Uncle Sam guarantee safety first for souses?" asked Nebraska's Omaha Bee.

The saga began with ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States.* High-minded crusaders and anti-alcohol organizations had helped push the amendment through in 1919, playing on fears of moral decay in a country just emerging from war. The Volstead Act, spelling out the rules for enforcement, passed shortly later, and Prohibition itself went into effect on Jan. 1, 1920.

But people continued to drink—and in large quantities. Alcoholism rates soared during the 1920s; insurance companies charted the increase at more than 300 more percent. Speakeasies promptly opened for business. By the decade's end, some 30,000 existed in New York City alone. Street gangs grew into bootlegging empires built on smuggling, stealing, and manufacturing illegal alcohol. The country's defiant response to the new laws shocked those who sincerely (and naively) believed that the amendment would usher in a new era of upright behavior.

Rigorous enforcement had managed to slow the smuggling of alcohol from Canada and other countries. But crime syndicates responded by stealing massive quantities of industrial alcohol—used in paints and solvents, fuels and medical supplies—and redistilling it to make it potable.

Well, sort of. Industrial alcohol is basically grain alcohol with some unpleasant chemicals mixed in to render it undrinkable. The U.S. government started requiring this "denaturing" process in 1906 for manufacturers who wanted to avoid the taxes levied on potable spirits. The U.S. Treasury Department, charged with overseeing alcohol enforcement, estimated that by the mid-1920s, some 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen annually to supply the country's drinkers. In response, in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge's government decided to turn to chemistry as an enforcement tool. Some 70 denaturing formulas existed by the 1920s. Most simply added poisonous methyl alcohol into the mix. Others used bitter-tasting compounds that were less lethal, designed to make the alcohol taste so awful that it became undrinkable.

To sell the stolen industrial alcohol, the liquor syndicates employed chemists to "renature" the products, returning them to a drinkable state. The bootleggers paid their chemists a lot more than the government did, and they excelled at their job. Stolen and redistilled alcohol became the primary source of liquor in the country. So federal officials ordered manufacturers to make their products far more deadly.

By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.

The results were immediate, starting with that horrific holiday body count in the closing days of 1926. Public health officials responded with shock. "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol," New York City medical examiner Charles Norris said at a hastily organized press conference. "[Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

His department issued warnings to citizens, detailing the dangers in whiskey circulating in the city: "[P]ractically all the liquor that is sold in New York today is toxic," read one 1928 alert. He publicized every death by alcohol poisoning. He assigned his toxicologist, Alexander Gettler, to analyze confiscated whiskey for poisons—that long list of toxic materials I cited came in part from studies done by the New York City medical examiner's office.

Norris also condemned the federal program for its disproportionate effect on the country's poorest residents. Wealthy people, he pointed out, could afford the best whiskey available. Most of those sickened and dying were those "who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low grade stuff."

And the numbers were not trivial. In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700. These numbers were repeated in cities around the country as public-health officials nationwide joined in the angry clamor. Furious anti-Prohibition legislators pushed for a halt in the use of lethal chemistry. "Only one possessing the instincts of a wild beast would desire to kill or make blind the man who takes a drink of liquor, even if he purchased it from one violating the Prohibition statutes," proclaimed Sen. James Reed of Missouri.

Officially, the special denaturing program ended only once the 18th Amendment was repealed in December 1933. But the chemist's war itself faded away before then. Slowly, government officials quit talking about it. And when Prohibition ended and good grain whiskey reappeared, it was almost as if the craziness of Prohibition—and the poisonous measures taken to enforce it—had never quite happened.

Weiner Calls Out GOP for Breaking Their Own Rules...Again

Indiana Charges Suicidal Pregnant Woman With "Feticide" and Homicide | AlterNet

In December of 2010, Bei Bei Shuai, a 34-year-old pregnant woman living in Indiana, attempted to end her own life. She did so in one of the slowest and most painful ways possible: she consumed rat poison. With help from friends who intervened, however, she made it to a hospital and survived. The premature newborn she delivered by undergoing cesarean surgery did not. An Indiana prosecutor’s response has been to charge her with the crimes of murder (defined to include viable fetuses) and feticide (defined to include ending a human pregnancy at any stage). She has been arrested, denied bail, and will, unless bail is granted, be imprisoned for as long as her case proceeds through the court system.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), through Indiana-based counsel Kathrine Jack, is working with Indiana defense attorney Linda Pence to secure Ms. Shuai’s freedom and to defend the basic idea that when the person suffering from mental illness, severe depression, or any other health problem happens to be a pregnant woman, she does not lose her right to be treated like other human beings experiencing the same problems.

Pregnant women are not immune from the mental illness or severe depression that leads some people to attempt to end their lives. Indiana, like virtually every other state in the country, addresses suicide and attempted suicide as a public health issue, not a crime. Prosecutors simply may not decide that a suicide attempt is a public health issue for everyone except pregnant women. Moreover, there is wide consensus that subjecting pregnant women to special criminal penalties does not work. Rather, it undermines legitimate interests in maternal, fetal, and child health by stigmatizing pregnant women and by making them vulnerable to punishment if they seek help of any kind.

If this prosecution is allowed to go forward, the law will not just apply to one desperate pregnant woman who attempted suicide by swallowing rat poison – it will create legal precedent that makes every woman criminally liable for the outcome of her pregnancy. This precedent would mean that women who undergo significant risks to their lives and health by bringing forth life, sometimes undergoing major surgery to do so, may then be arrested as criminals if they are unable to guarantee the birth of a live and healthy baby. In addition, if Ms. Shuai’s prosecution is upheld, it leaves no doubt that women who intentionally end their pregnancies will go to jail as murderers if Roe is ever overturned.

Spending away the future


Cutting the cake


Supreme Court Rules Exonerated Death Row Inmate Cannot Receive Damages

http://www.theroot.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/large-image/john.thompson%20death%20row.jpg Yesterday (was it yesterday or the day before?) I posted that the Supreme Court tossed out a jury verdict won by a New Orleans man who spent 14 years on death row and came within weeks of execution because prosecutors had hidden a blood test and other evidence that would have proved his innocence. He was awarded $14 million in damages (one mill for each year he was falsely imprisoned) and Justice Clarence Thomas spoke for the first time in 5 years to read the court's decision. Naturally that is suspicious. What? It's less heinous because a warped Republican black guy posing as an equal judge on a panel with 7 honky judges read the decision instead of super racist Scalia? Anyway read more about this frustrating, angering decision that will allow states to literally get away with attempted murder (if not actual murder) without any fear of punitive consequences at http://www.theroot.com/buzz/supreme-court-rules-exonerated-death-row-inmate-cannot-sue

More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850

More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850

Florida Governor Wants Poor to Pay $35 for Drug Test Before Receiving Welfare

Florida Governor Wants Poor to Pay $35 for Drug Test Before Receiving Welfare

Oh, to be a wealthy politician in this day and age. Tanyaa Weathersbee of Black America Web is reporting that Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants poor people to pay $35 for a drug test before they can collect welfare. Weatherbee highlights the fact that welfare recipients are not abusing drugs at a disproportionately higher rate than the general population.

In addition to rescinding a rule restoring voting rights of convicted felons who complete their sentences, the governor also wants state employees to submit to drug tests at least four times a year. Again, there is no evidence of rampant drug use among state employees.

What about those who abuse prescription drugs, who are more likely to be white? Law-enforcement officials in Florida approved a database that would help stop doctors from overprescribing addictive drugs. Of course, Scott wants to get rid of that database because it is too much government intrusion into people's lives.

Maybe Scott is on that stuff, because he is clearly biased about his definition of too much government. Should government be rescinding the right of convicted felons to vote after completing their sentences? That sounds like invasion of privacy and too much government to me. We won't mention how the pharmaceutical companies will benefit from the removal of that database. What is the fee to test CEOs of corporations that collect corporate welfare?

We get it: Republicans and Tea Party members want less government when it comes to corporations, taxes and their ability to build and maintain wealth, but more government when it comes to controlling the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. Hypocrisy at its worst.

For the record, Gov. Scott owns an urgent care chain that specializes in drug testing according to the Palm Beach Post http://www.palmbeachpost.com/money/gov-rick-scotts-drug-testing-policy-stirs-suspicion-1350922.html

William Cronon and the American Thought Police - NYTimes.com

Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state’s political turmoil. He started a blog, “Scholar as Citizen,” devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republican governor has turned his back on the state’s long tradition of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”

So what was the G.O.P.’s response? A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon’s university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word “Republican” and the names of a number of Republican politicians.

If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point. The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.

The Cronon affair, then, is one more indicator of just how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become.

The demand for Mr. Cronon’s correspondence has obvious parallels with the ongoing smear campaign against climate science and climate scientists, which has lately relied heavily on supposedly damaging quotations found in e-mail records.

Back in 2009 climate skeptics got hold of more than a thousand e-mails between researchers at the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia. Nothing in the correspondence suggested any kind of scientific impropriety; at most, we learned — I know this will shock you — that scientists are human beings, who occasionally say snide things about people they dislike.

But that didn’t stop the usual suspects from proclaiming that they had uncovered “Climategate,” a scientific scandal that somehow invalidates the vast array of evidence for man-made climate change. And this fake scandal gives an indication of what the Wisconsin G.O.P. presumably hopes to do to Mr. Cronon.

After all, if you go through a large number of messages looking for lines that can be made to sound bad, you’re bound to find a few. In fact, it’s surprising how few such lines the critics managed to find in the “Climategate” trove: much of the smear has focused on just one e-mail, in which a researcher talks about using a “trick” to “hide the decline” in a particular series. In context, it’s clear that he’s talking about making an effective graphical presentation, not about suppressing evidence. But the right wants a scandal, and won’t take no for an answer.

Is there any doubt that Wisconsin Republicans are hoping for a similar “success” against Mr. Cronon?

Now, in this case they’ll probably come up dry. Mr. Cronon writes on his blog that he has been careful never to use his university e-mail for personal business, exhibiting a scrupulousness that’s neither common nor expected in the academic world. (Full disclosure: I have, at times, used my university e-mail to remind my wife to feed the cats, confirm dinner plans with friends, etc.)

Beyond that, Mr. Cronon — the president-elect of the American Historical Association — has a secure reputation as a towering figure in his field. His magnificent “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West” is the best work of economic and business history I’ve ever read — and I read a lot of that kind of thing.

So we don’t need to worry about Mr. Cronon — but we should worry a lot about the wider effect of attacks like the one he’s facing.

Legally, Republicans may be within their rights: Wisconsin’s open records law provides public access to e-mails of government employees, although the law was clearly intended to apply to state officials, not university professors. But there’s a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn’t like.

Someone like Mr. Cronon can stand up to the pressure. But less eminent and established researchers won’t just become reluctant to act as concerned citizens, weighing in on current debates; they’ll be deterred from even doing research on topics that might get them in trouble.

What’s at stake here, in other words, is whether we’re going to have an open national discourse in which scholars feel free to go wherever the evidence takes them, and to contribute to public understanding. Republicans, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, are trying to shut that kind of discourse down. It’s up to the rest of us to see that they don’t succeed.

The Austerity Delusion - NYTimes.com

Portugal’s government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

What do these events have in common? They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.

It’s too bad, then, that these days you’re not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that’s failing so dismally in Europe.

It was not always thus. Two years ago, faced with soaring unemployment and large budget deficits — both the consequences of a severe financial crisis — most advanced-country leaders seemingly understood that the problems had to be tackled in sequence, with an immediate focus on creating jobs combined with a long-run strategy of deficit reduction.

Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we’re constantly told that if we don’t slash spending immediately we’ll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we’re told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.

How’s that story working out so far?

Self-styled deficit hawks have been crying wolf over U.S. interest rates more or less continuously since the financial crisis began to ease, taking every uptick in rates as a sign that markets were turning on America. But the truth is that rates have fluctuated, not with debt fears, but with rising and falling hope for economic recovery. And with full recovery still seeming very distant, rates are lower now than they were two years ago.

But couldn’t America still end up like Greece? Yes, of course. If investors decide that we’re a banana republic whose politicians can’t or won’t come to grips with long-term problems, they will indeed stop buying our debt. But that’s not a prospect that hinges, one way or another, on whether we punish ourselves with short-run spending cuts.

Just ask the Irish, whose government — having taken on an unsustainable debt burden by trying to bail out runaway banks — tried to reassure markets by imposing savage austerity measures on ordinary citizens. The same people urging spending cuts on America cheered. “Ireland offers an admirable lesson in fiscal responsibility,” declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute, who said that the spending cuts had removed fears over Irish solvency and predicted rapid economic recovery.

That was in June 2009. Since then, the interest rate on Irish debt has doubled; Ireland’s unemployment rate now stands at 13.5 percent.

And then there’s the British experience. Like America, Britain is still perceived as solvent by financial markets, giving it room to pursue a strategy of jobs first, deficits later. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.

But she hasn’t: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.

Which brings me back to what passes for budget debate in Washington these days.

A serious fiscal plan for America would address the long-run drivers of spending, above all health care costs, and it would almost certainly include some kind of tax increase. But we’re not serious: any talk of using Medicare funds effectively is met with shrieks of “death panels,” and the official G.O.P. position — barely challenged by Democrats — appears to be that nobody should ever pay higher taxes. Instead, all the talk is about short-run spending cuts.

In short, we have a political climate in which self-styled deficit hawks want to punish the unemployed even as they oppose any action that would address our long-run budget problems. And here’s what we know from experience abroad: The confidence fairy won’t save us from the consequences of our folly.

Republican economics


A word from Indiana state rep. Eric Turner

Just want you to think about this.  In my view a giant loophole could be created where someone who could -- I want to be very careful, I don't want to disparage in any way someone who's gone through the experience of a rape, or an incest -- but someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they've been raped or there's incest.

--Indiana state Rep. Eric Turner (R) who argued on Tuesday that there should be no loopholes in the state's abortions laws for victims of rape or incest.

Rand Paul Mocks Newt Gingrich: 'He Has More Positions Than He Has Wives'

Man Charged With Trying To Sell Military Spy Plane On EBay | TPMMuckraker

A foreign national was indicted yesterday for allegedly illegally importing an unmanned spy plane into the U.S., and then trying to resell it on eBay.

According to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, Henson Chua of the Philippines was indicted and charged by a grand jury in Tampa with violating the Arms Export Control Act and smuggling. Chua is accused of importing an RQ-11B "Raven" Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from the Philippines into the U.S., which is listed on the U.S. Munitions List as a defensive item, "without having first obtained from the U.S. Department of State a license or written authorization." He then "aided and abetted the attempted export" of the same UAV.

U.S. arms code prohibits people from buying and selling defense equipment without permission from the government, primarily to prevent people from selling U.S.-manufactured equipment to foreign governments. But Chua managed to reverse the process.

Maybe he should have used Craigslist instead

Arizona Approves Nation's First Ban On Gender, Race Based Abortions | TPMMuckraker

Arizona Approves Nation's First Ban On Gender, Race Based Abortions | TPMMuckraker

And now a word from Rep. Tom Marino

The bottom line is I wish the president would have told us, talked to Congress about what is the plan. Is there a plan? Is the mission to take Gadhafi out?  Where does it stop?  Do we go into Africa next? I don't want to sound callous or cold, but this could go on indefinitely around the world.

--Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA)

Yes America, you can rest easy knowing that the majority party in the House of Representatives is this stupid.

When we do it, it's okay!


Heading for a double dip - CSMonitor.com

Heading for a double dip - CSMonitor.com

By Robert Reich, Guest blogger / March 31, 2011

Why aren’t Americans being told the truth about the economy? We’re heading in the direction of a double dip – but you’d never know it if you listened to the upbeat messages coming out of Wall Street and Washington.

Consumers are 70 percent of the American economy, and consumer confidence is plummeting. It’s weaker today on average than at the lowest point of the Great Recession.

The Reuters/University of Michigan survey shows a 10 point decline in March – the tenth largest drop on record. Part of that drop is attributable to rising fuel and food prices. A separate Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence, just released, shows consumer confidence at a five-month low — and a large part is due to expectations of fewer jobs and lower wages in the months ahead.

Pessimistic consumers buy less. And fewer sales spells economic trouble ahead.

What about the 192,000 jobs added in February? (We’ll know more Friday about how many jobs were added in March.) It’s peanuts compared to what’s needed. Remember, 125,000 new jobs are necessary just to keep up with a growing number of Americans eligible for employment. And the nation has lost so many jobs over the last three years that even at a rate of 200,000 a month we wouldn’t get back to 6 percent unemployment until 2016.

But isn’t the economy growing again – by an estimated 2.5 to 2.9 percent this year? Yes, but that’s even less than peanuts. The deeper the economic hole, the faster the growth needed to get back on track. By this point in the so-called recovery we’d expect growth of 4 to 6 percent.

Consider that back in 1934, when it was emerging from the deepest hole of the Great Depression, the economy grew 7.7 percent. The next year it grew over 8 percent. In 1936 it grew a whopping 14.1 percent.

Add two other ominous signs: Real hourly wages continue to fall, and housing prices continue to drop. Hourly wages are falling because with unemployment so high, most people have no bargaining power and will take whatever they can get. Housing is dropping because of the ever-larger number of homes people have walked away from because they can’t pay their mortgages. But because homes the biggest asset most Americans own, as home prices drop most Americans feel even poorer.

There’s no possibility government will make up for the coming shortfall in consumer spending. To the contrary, government is worsening the situation. State and local governments are slashing their budgets by roughly $110 billion this year. The federal stimulus is ending, and the federal government will end up cutting some $30 billion from this year’s budget.

In other words: Watch out. We may avoid a double dip but the economy is slowing ominously, and the booster rockets are disappearing.

So why aren’t we getting the truth about the economy? For one thing, Wall Street is buoyant – and most financial news you hear comes from the Street. Wall Street profits soared to $426.5 billion last quarter, according to the Commerce Department. (That gain more than offset a drop in the profits of non-financial domestic companies.) Anyone who believes the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill put a stop to the Street’s creativity hasn’t been watching.

To the extent non-financial companies are doing well, they’re making most of their money abroad. Since 1992, for example, G.E.’s offshore profits have risen $92 billion, from $15 billion (which is one reason it pays no U.S. taxes). In fact, the only group that’s optimistic about the future are CEOs of big American companies. The Business Roundtable’s economic outlook index, which surveys 142 CEOs, is now at its highest point since it began in 2002.

Washington, meanwhile, doesn’t want to sound the economic alarm. The White House and most Democrats want Americans to believe the economy is on an upswing.

Republicans, for their part, worry that if they tell it like it is Americans will want government to do more rather than less. They’d rather not talk about jobs and wages, and put the focus instead on deficit reduction (or spread the lie that by reducing the deficit we’ll get more jobs and higher wages).

I’m sorry to have to deliver the bad news, but it’s better you know.

Request for professors' e-mails on labor strife sparks outrage | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

Request for professors' e-mails on labor strife sparks outrage | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

A Midland-based think tank's demands for Michigan professors' e-mails about Wisconsin's public employee labor strife is causing an uproar among some who suggest the Freedom of Information Act requests aim to intimidate pro-labor dissenters and stifle academic freedom.

The requests were submitted last week by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy to labor studies departments at Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

"Intimidation of college professors by conservatives appears to be the latest tactic in their arsenal to destroy unions," wrote the liberal Blogging for Michigan Web site.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow also expressed outrage. The FOIA request asked -- among other things -- for e-mails containing her name.

Ken Braun, editor of the Mackinac Center's online newsletter Michigan Capitol Confidential, said Wednesday that he's perplexed. The center has targeted ideological opponents since its founding 20 years ago, he said.

"We run a couple of FOIA-based stories almost every week," Braun said.

The group is also seeking public schools teachers' e-mails about a possible strike.

Since they came to power in January, Republicans have been acting like gangsters and tyrants. I shouldn't be surprised by this but I just can't grasp how so many people wrapped in our star spangled banner could forgo the idea of our Republic simply so they can act like monarchs.

The Beatles - Baby's In Black

30 March 2011

What to do when faced with riot police

tumblr_lic9vnLt5L1qgjlaeo1_500.jpg (JPEG Image, 500x333 pixels) http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lic9vnLt5L1qgjlaeo1_500.jpg

Clarence Thomas Gladly Reads Amoral Decision Against Innocent Black Guy Who Spent 14 Years On Death Row

Clarence Thomas Gladly Reads Amoral Decision Against Innocent Black Guy Who Spent 14 Years On Death Row Fringe-right corporate lackey Clarence Thomas has famously kept his mouth shut during most of his 20 years on the Supreme Court, because how could anyone improve upon Antonin Scalia’s insane bullshit? But on Tuesday, Clarence Thomas cheerfully took the opportunity to read the conservative majority’s decision against an innocent black man in New Orleans who had been framed by the district attorney and was very nearly executed. The man, John Thompson, won a $14 million judgment against the crooked New Orleans prosecutors — a million dollars for every year he was wrongfully imprisoned, often in solitary confinement. And now that judgment has been overturned by our sorry excuse for a high court. Clarence Thomas really got a kick out of reading this to the Supreme Court.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday:

The newly revealed blood test spared Thompson’s life, and a judge ordered a new trial on the murder charges that had sent him to Death Row. His new defense lawyers found other evidence that had been hidden, iincluding eye-witnesses reports from the murder scene. Bystanders reported seeing a black man who was six-feet tall with close-cropped hair running away holding a gun. Thompson was 5’8″ tall and had a bushy “Afro” at the time.

With the new eye-witness reports and other evidence that pointed to another man as the killer, Thompson was quickly acquitted of all the charges in the second trial. He won $14 million in damages in a civil suit against the district attorney.

In rejecting the judgment, Justice Thomas described the case as a “single incident” where mistakes were made.

At least four assistant DA’s knew a blood test proving Thompson’s innocence had been hidden away, Thompson’s lawyers eventually discovered. The innocent man’s lawyers also proved to the court that the New Orleans district attorney’s office routinely hid evidence that would help acquit innocent people charged with crimes.

After successfully reading the morally reprehensible decision against an innocent black man wrongly and deliberately imprisoned for 14 years and very nearly executed for nothing other than being poor and black and framed by the notoriously racist and corrupt New Orleans district attorney’s office, Scalia reportedly gave Clarence two cookies. Hooray for Clarence Thomas! [LAT]

Michigan GOP Looking To Revoke All Teachers’ Licenses If They Strike

Michigan GOP Looking To Revoke All Teachers’ Licenses If They Strike Michigan Republicans came in a little late to Wisconsin’s union-arson party, but they’re uncovering innovative new ways to wage war on their state’s working population. Today’s weapon: a plan to revoke the teaching license of the state’s educators if their unions go on strike at any time. Under existing law, teachers aren’t even legally allowed to go on strike, but it’s rarely enforced. Not because there’s anything wrong with a state putting its citizens on trial because they protested something; because it’s costly to hold hearings for each individual teacher. But under the new legislation, Michigan could ban its entire workforce of teachers from the profession if they all decide to strike over Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed cuts. Yeah, that will teach those evil teachers a lesson about trying to hurt the education of our children! Now nobody will be able to teach the kids of Michigan! Oh, wait.

So will the teachers strike?

The Michigan Education Association, representing 155,000 teachers and staff, asked locals this month to vote by April 15 to authorize work actions to protest proposed education cuts and employee concessions. Actions, according to a letter to members, could range from a march in Lansing to a work stoppage.

Doug Pratt, a union spokesman, said the results of the votes being conducted by MEA locals will not be released. On Tuesday, he did say that some locals have already conducted their votes on whether to authorize job actions.

155,000? That’s a whole lot of drifters to hire! Maybe Michigan can widen the net a little bit on the replacement teachers. Sex offenders seem to like kids; Michigan should certify them to be teachers too. And animals! Kids like animals! They’d probably love being taught algebra and getting disciplined by a deer!

In the interest of full disclosure (haha, when has this blog ever done that?), your editor’s parents are both union public school teachers in Michigan. So we can tell you first hand, those people are the most ruthless, greedy, child-hating thugs on the planet. To supplement their princely income, they even engage in criminal activity like buying-books-and-supplies-for-their-classroom schemes and coaching high-school softball. AWFUL THUGS. [Detroit News]

Tax the Super Rich now or face a revolution Paul B. Farrell - MarketWatch

Tax the Super Rich now or face a revolution Paul B. Farrell - MarketWatch Way too long to post, but an excellent read I encourage folks to check out.

Tsunami survivors

621-ba-JAPAN-QUAKE-D_0503229751.jpg (JPEG Image, 621x414 pixels) http://www.seattlepi.com/dayart/20110328/621-ba-JAPAN-QUAKE-D_0503229751.jpg Sorry, this couch is occupied: Seating is limited at the Green Animal Hospital, now converted into a temporary animal shelter center to handle the influx of pets belonging to tsunami victims. (Miyako, Japan.)

Day in Photos | Photos from seattlepi.com

Day in Photos | Photos from seattlepi.com http://www.seattlepi.com/dayart/20110328/621-ba-Hungary_Leopa_0503216390.jpg After getting stabbed with vaccination shot needles and implanted with an ID chip, Csui the black leopard cub is in no mood to be petted, and you can hardly blame him. (Nyiregyhaza Animal Park in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary.)


621-ba-TOPSHOTS-GERM_0503230961.jpg (JPEG Image, 621x461 pixels) http://www.seattlepi.com/dayart/20110329/621-ba-TOPSHOTS-GERM_0503230961.jpg Wild boar piglet in Klaistow, Germany

A new lease on life

621-ba-GERMANY-ANIMA_0503234623.jpg (JPEG Image, 620x621 pixels) - Scaled (90%) Sweet old Girl: A Malayan tiger named Girl is doing fine at Germany's Halle Zoo after getting the world's first tiger hip replacement. She had been suffering from osteoarthritis and lameness. http://www.seattlepi.com/dayart/20110329/621-ba-GERMANY-ANIMA_0503234623.jpg

States broke? Maybe they cut taxes too much | McClatchy

States broke? Maybe they cut taxes too much | McClatchy

WASHINGTON — In his new budget proposal, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for extending a generous 21 percent cut in state income taxes. The measure was originally part of a sweeping 2005 tax overhaul that abolished the state corporate income tax and phased out a business property tax.

The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio's economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state's $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.

"At least half of our current budget problem is a direct result of the tax changes we made in 2005. A lot of people don't want to hear that, but that's the reality. Much of our pain is self-inflicted," said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal government-research group in Cleveland.

Schiller's lament is by no means unique. Across the country, taxpayers jarred by cuts to government jobs and services are reassessing the risks and costs of a variety of tax reductions, exemptions and credits, and the ideology that drives them. States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn't worked.

There's no question that mammoth state budget problems resulted largely from falling tax revenues, rising costs and greater demand for state services during the recession. But questionable tax reductions at the state and local level made the budget gaps larger — and resulting spending cuts deeper — than they otherwise would have been in many states.

A 2008 study by Arizona State University found that that state's structural deficits could be traced to 15 years of tax cuts, mainly income-tax reductions that "were not matched by spending cuts of a commensurate size."

In Texas, which faces a $27 billion budget deficit over the next two years, about one-third of the shortage stems from a 2006 property tax reduction that was linked to an underperforming business tax.

In Louisiana, lawmakers essentially passed the largest tax cut in state history by rolling back an income-tax hike for high earners in 2007 and again in 2008.

Without those tax reductions, Louisiana wouldn't have had a budget deficit in fiscal year 2010, the 2011 deficit would've been 50 percent less and the 2012 deficit of $1.6 billion would be reduced by about one-third, said Edward Ashworth, the director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a watchdog group.

These and similar budget problems nationwide are symptoms of a larger condition, said Timothy J. Bartik, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"If state and local taxes were at the same percentage of state personal income as they were 40 years ago, you wouldn't have all these budgetary problems," Bartik said.

Before California's Proposition 13 triggered a nationwide tax-cut revolt in the late 1970s, state and local taxes accounted for nearly 13 percent of personal income in 1972, Bartik said. By 2007, it was 11 percent.

State corporate income taxes have fallen as well. Once nearly 10 percent of all state tax revenue in the late '70s, they accounted for only 5.4 percent in 2010.

"It's a dying tax, killed off by thousands of credits, deductions, abatements and incentive packages," according to 2010 congressional testimony by Joseph Henchman, the director of state projects at the Tax Foundation, a conservative tax-research center.

Even now, as states struggle to provide basic services and ponder job cuts that threaten their economic recovery, at least seven governors in states with budget deficits have called for or enacted large tax reductions, mainly for businesses.

Five are newly elected Republicans in Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin. The others are Republican Jan Brewer of Arizona and Democrat Beverly Perdue of North Carolina.

Their willingness to forgo needed tax revenue is hard to fathom, as states face a collective $125 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, said Jon Shure, the deputy director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a respected liberal research institute in Washington.

"To be cutting taxes when you're short of revenue is like saying you could run faster if you cut off your foot," Shure said.

"States have suffered an unprecedented collapse in revenue, and they are at the bottom of a deep hole looking up, and these governors are saying, 'You need a ladder to climb out, but I'm going to give you a shovel instead, so you can dig the hole deeper.' "

Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge said the governors were simply trying to improve their states' business climates by lowering the tax burden.

"They're trying to increase their market share and their attractiveness to business," Hodge said. "And also, more importantly, they're trying to prevent the attrition of business and investment to other states" that have lower tax rates.

Republican lawmakers and pro-business groups have long maintained that tax cuts help stimulate economic activity, while keeping businesses and wealthy individuals from leaving the state for lower taxes elsewhere. They also argue that business and personal spending increases after tax reductions, broadening the base to be taxed at the lower rate, which partly offsets the lost tax revenue.

So calls to balance lean state budgets through spending cuts as well as modest, revenue-boosting tax hikes haven't resonated with Republican governors, who see tax relief as the key to reversing job losses in the Great Recession.

"Raising Ohio's taxes even higher won't bring those jobs back. Reducing costs so we can start reducing taxes is the key to our revival," said Rob Nichols, Kasich's press secretary. Extending the state's personal income-tax cut will cost $800 million over two years.

Business tax reductions may be overrated as an economic stimulus because they're so low on the totem pole of expenses. For most businesses, the cost of labor is probably 15 times the cost of all state and local taxes, said Bartik of the Upjohn Institute.

In his own research, Bartik found that a 10 percent across-the-board cut in state and local business taxes might boost employment by 2 percent, but it could take up to 20 years.

"Most studies indicate you might get 30 percent of the effect after five years and maybe 60 percent after 10 years," Bartik said. "It takes a while because investment decisions are quite lagged and take place gradually."

Compounding Ohio's budget woes are 128 state tax exemptions, credits and deductions that drain more than $7 billion a year in would-be revenue. These loopholes make Ohio miss out on one of every four dollars it would otherwise collect in taxes, said Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio.

In Missouri, business and individual tax credits cost the state $521.5 million in fiscal year 2010, compared with $103 million in 1998, according to a state report.

Louisiana's 441 individual and corporate tax breaks cost the state $7.1 billion last year. That nearly matches the $7.7 billion that all state and local taxes brought in.

Some of the breaks provide sales-tax exemptions on groceries, prescription drugs and residential utilities that saved Louisiana taxpayers $717 million last year. But another allows Louisiana companies to keep 1 percent of the state sales taxes they collect — about $34 million statewide — just for filing their tax returns on time.

Hodge, a conservative, said that closing loopholes and exemptions was less harmful to the economy than tax increases were. The Tax Foundation supports scaling back or closing tax loopholes, while lowering tax rates across the board.

"My argument to state lawmakers is that lower rates for everybody are better than tax incentives for some," Hodge said.

That incentive-free philosophy was behind Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's call for a flat 6 percent corporate income tax to replace the current business tax system. But Snyder's flat tax amounts to a $1.5 billion tax cut for businesses, paid for in part by education cuts, personal income tax increases and taxing public and private pensions.

"We think that's the way to rebuild our state, and to get it on a path toward economic prosperity," Snyder's top economic development official, Michael Finney, said during a recent trip to Washington.

History suggests otherwise, however. After the nation recovered from the 1990-91 recession, 43 states made sizable tax cuts from 1994 to 2001 as the economy surged. Twenty-eight states, in fact, reduced their unemployment insurance payroll taxes after 1995.

But states that cut taxes the most ended up with the largest budget shortfalls and higher job losses when the economy slowed again in 2001, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

To be sure, states have made bad budget decisions on the spending side as well, said Robert Ward, deputy director of The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a state-government research center at the State University of New York at Albany.

Part of the problem is that the public wants everything but doesn't want to pay for anything, Ward said.

"People want something for nothing. They want big increases in education and health care spending. They want good roads. They want lots of parks, and they don't want to pay more taxes," Ward said. "But at the federal, state and local levels, we are hit with the reality that there is no free lunch."

Over indulgence

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Sweating re-election

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Millions of Mummy Puppies Revealed at Egyptian Catacombs - Yahoo! News

Millions of Mummy Puppies Revealed at Egyptian Catacombs - Yahoo! News

Rare dinosaur found in Canada's oil sands - Yahoo! News

Rare dinosaur found in Canada's oil sands - Yahoo! News

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian oil sands, a vast expanse of tar and sand being mined for crude oil, yielded treasure of another kind this week when an oil company worker unearthed a 110-million-year-old dinosaur fossil that wasn't supposed to be there.

The fossil is an ankylosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur with powerful limbs, armor plating and a club-like tail. Finding it in this region of northern Alberta was a surprise because millions of years ago the area was covered by water.

"We've never found a dinosaur in this location," Donald Henderson, a curator at Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is devoted to dinosaurs, said on Friday. "Because the area was once a sea, most finds are invertebrates such as clams and ammonites."

The ankylosaur that was found by the oil worker is expected to be about 5 meters (16-1/2 feet) long and 2 meters (6-1/2 feet) wide.

"It is pretty amazing that it survived in such good condition," said Henderson, noting the fossil was three dimensional, not flattened by the heavy rock sediment.

"It is also the earliest complete dinosaur that we have from this province."

Angry wasps learn to airdrop rival ants


What's a wasp to do when ants are ruining its picnic? Pick the little pests up and airdrop them out of the way, according to a new study.

That's the strategy of the common yellow jacket wasp when competing with ants for food, researchers report today (March 29) in the Journal of the Royal Society Biology Letters.

This is the first time wasps have been seen physically relocating ants in an attempt to compete for food, said study author Julien Grangier, a postdoctoral fellow at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. The unexpected flight, which leaves ants confused but usually unharmed, also reveals the invasive wasps' cleverness, Grangier said.

"Our results suggest that these wasps can assess the degree and type of competition they are facing and adapt their behavior accordingly," Grangier told LiveScience.

The South Island of New Zealand is a hot spot for the invasive wasps. In the forests on the island, aphids and other tiny insects feed on beech tree sap. These bugs have little use for the sugars the sap contains, so they excrete those sugars as a sticky liquid called honeydew. Ants and wasps, on the other hand, love honeydew.

Grangier and his colleagues wanted to understand how the invasive wasps compete with native ants for food. So they set up cameras at 48 stations baited with canned tuna (since protein is in shorter supply than sugar in the honeydew-rich forests). All but three of the stations attracted both wasps and ants.

Over the course of the months-long study, ants and wasps crossed paths more than 1,000 times. Most of the time, the two species quickly went their separate ways. But in a quarter to a third of cases, the interactions were far less civil.

"The first surprise was to see that despite being 200 times smaller, the ants are able to hold their own by rushing at the wasps, spraying them with acid and biting them," Grangier said. "But the most amazing was to observe that wasps, apparently frustrated by having to compete with ants, will pick them up in their mandibles, fly off and drop them away from the food."

The researchers saw the involuntary ant flights 62 times at 20 different bait stations. The wasps didn't bother to take the ants far, usually dropping them only a few centimeters from the tuna. But that was enough. About 47 percent of the time, the discombobulated ants never made it back to the tuna. Even when the ants did make it back, the wasps beat them there 75 percent of the time.

"We found that, as the number of ants on the food increases, so does the frequency of ant-dropping and the distance the ants are taken," Grangier said. "Our results thus show very clearly that by dropping ants away, these wasps try to facilitate their access to the food resources and to gain more for themselves, and they do it in a very effective manner."

The wasps could try to kill the ants, but relocating them is probably a safer option, Jeanne said. For one thing, he said, "there's not a lot of meat on an ant," making them useless as wasp prey. And then there's the tendency of the native New Zealand ant (Prolasius advenus) to spray attackers with an acidic chemical cocktail.

"If the wasp was to bite into an ant to crunch it and kill it, it would probably get a mouthful of some of these compounds," Jeanne said. "It wouldn't be a pleasant experience."

Although the wasps are all over the globe, he said, these airborne food competitions seem to be unique to New Zealand. That may be because wasps are so abundant in the beech forests there that food competition has become particularly cutthroat, Jeanne said.

Nightly News stays mum on GE’s $0 tax bill - Yahoo! News

Nightly News stays mum on GE’s $0 tax bill - Yahoo! News

As the New Yorker's former press critic, A.J. Liebling, famously said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Perhaps that quotation is framed somewhere in a boardroom at the General Electric Corp., which owns NBC News.

In spite of robust profits of $14.2 billion worldwide, GE has calculated a corporate tax bill for 2010 that adds up to zero, via a creative series of tax referrals and revenue shifts. (This was, indeed, the second year running that the company—which has an enormous, and famously nimble, 975-employee tax division, led by former Treasury official John Samuels—paid nothing in U.S. taxes; indeed by claiming a series of losses and deductions, GE came up with a negative tax of 10.5 percent in the admittedly dismal business year of 2009, and realized a $1.5 billion "tax benefit.")

The curious thing about this year's tax story is that it turned up in many major news outlets, with one key exception: NBC News. As the Washington Post's Paul Farhi notes, the network's "Nightly News" broadcast, hosted by Brian Williams, has not mentioned anything about its corporate parent's resourceful accounting, even though the story has been in wide circulation in the business and general-interest press for nearly a week. "This was a straightforward news decision, the kind we make daily around here" network spokeswoman Lauren Kapp told the Post.

One press critic who begs to differ: Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who noted that the Nightly News found the time for a dispatch on the inclusion of slang expressions in the Oxford English Dictionary, such as "LOL" and "OMG." Of course, Comedy Central's corporate parent, Viacom, is also no slouch when it comes to tax strategy: Earlier this year it sold its struggling videogame unit Harmonix for $50—so that it could claim a tax credit of $50 million.

So what if Americans are unemployed or forced to use food stamps or losing their homes? American corporations are doing just fine thank you very much. It's a good thing the Supreme Court gave corporations human rights because once all us peasants are dead, they'll be all that's left to keep our country going.

29 March 2011

ThinkProgress » The Perils Of Corporate Media: MSNBC Makes Few Mentions Of Tax Avoidance By Parent Company GE

ThinkProgress » The Perils Of Corporate Media: MSNBC Makes Few Mentions Of Tax Avoidance By Parent Company GE Last week, the New York Times ran an explosive front-page story revealing how General Electric (GE), despite making over $14 billion in profits in 2010, paid absolutely nothing in federal corporate income taxes. It even received a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

ThinkProgress provided substantial coverage of the story, offering further analysis and insight into the firm’s behavior:

Despite Paying No Income Taxes, GE CEO Lauded His Company’s Patriotism In 2009 West Point Speech [3/25/11]

Sen. Johnson’s Reaction To General Electric Paying No Taxes: Cut The Corporate Tax Rate [3/25/11]

After Paying Zero Income Taxes, GE Plans To Ask Its Union Workers To Make Wage And Benefits Concessions [3/28/11]

Reviewing the television coverage of GE’s tax avoidance, ThinkProgress found that the story was covered 23 times by Fox News between March 25 and March 28. Certainly, with an anti-Obama axe to grind, it is not surprising that the network chose to excoriate a company that is considered close to the Obama administration and whose CEO is the head of an outside White House jobs panel.

Yet, as FAIR’s Peter Hart points out, this blockbuster story received scant coverage on another major cable news outlet: MSNBC. A review of MSNBC coverage finds that, over the same three-day period, the General Electric story received relatively little mention. It was only mentioned three times on MSNBC — one of these mentions was by host Rachel Maddow during a conversation with the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and another mention was made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a guest on the network.

To his credit, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell extensively covered GE’s tax dodging. O’Donnell ran a whole segment about the company on his show last Friday night, saying that in a fair world the network’s parent company would pay the most taxes, because it’s the country’s biggest corporation.

O’Donnell went on to actually dissect GE’s tax filing on air, providing a useful service to viewers who may be amazed that the tax code allows a mega corporation like GE to avoid paying federal corporate income taxes.

The wider failure of MSNBC to report about GE’s tax avoidance provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of over-reliance on corporate conglomerates to provide news to the American people. And it also highlights the importance of not-for-profit media and public media — like the public broadcasting conservatives are trying to defund.

Detroiter who stole to feed 5 grandkids is facing prison | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

Detroiter who stole to feed 5 grandkids is facing prison | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

Her mentally ill son was in prison.

Her daughter was battling drug addiction.

And her five grandchildren were in danger of being sent to foster care.

So Mary Alice Austin of Detroit, who said she needed money to raise the grandkids, paid someone to pose as her son so she could continue receiving his disability benefits, court records show.

During the 20 years her son was in prison, Austin, 67, received nearly $120,000 in Social Security benefits, records show. Now, she may be headed to prison after pleading guilty to the fraud. She is to be sentenced Friday.

U.S. census figures show nearly 88,000 grandparents in metro Detroit are living with their grandchildren -- 40% of those are the primary caregiver.

Often, grandparents step in when their own children are lost to drugs, crime or mental illness. Then they may fear losing their grandkids, too, experts said.

Austin's lawyer and grandchildren are pleading for mercy.

"My grandmother has been in my life since I was born. If she hadn't (been), no telling what would of happened to me or my siblings," one grandson wrote to the judge.

Click the link to read more about this difficult issue

27 March 2011

That was then, this is now

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on Rebecca Black

So after coming across Rebecca Black's name several times in the last week and having no clue who she was or why I should come across her name at all, I finally find she's a singer (musician?). 

Next stop Youtube and the video "Friday".  I only lasted 30 seconds before the wax in my ears turned into corn syrup and began trickling down the sides of my neck forcing me to stop the experiment at once lest I begin to attract bees and get stung.

Seriously America?

Back seat drivers

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Getting the job done

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26 March 2011

Somebody has to do it

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It finally happened

So I turned on my PS2 and was playing a hockey game when I noticed my players couldn't turn left, which caused me to have a Derek Zoolander moment and when I finally flipped my wireless controller off then on again causing the players to go left again it was like discovering Magnum.


The Stoner Arms Dealers | Rolling Stone Politics

The Stoner Arms Dealers | Rolling Stone Politics

How 2 American kids became big time weapons traders-- until the Pentagon turned on them

Man accused of hacking wife's e-mail faces new charge: Trying to hack cops' computer | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

Man accused of hacking wife's e-mail faces new charge: Trying to hack cops' computer | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

A Rochester Hills man already facing a felony charge for reading his wife’s e-mail was charged today with attempting to hack into a law enforcement computer system.

In the latest twist to the case – which has made international headlines – Oakland County prosecutors contend Leon Walker, 33, made inquiries last year about how to access the Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System, a restricted computer system of confidential law enforcement information. Hacking into CLEMIS is a five-year felony.

Prosecutors admit Walker didn’t attempt to break into the system, but say he convinced technicians to show him how it works.

The new charge infuriated Walker’s attorney, who called the allegations “a pile of feces” and pledged to seek an investigation from state or federal law enforcement into the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and what he called “a violation of my client’s civil rights.”

“Leon Walker asked questions,” attorney Leon Weiss said. “He asked about the CLEMIS because he was filing a Freedom of Information letter.”

Walker wanted the public records to determine whether anyone else in the county had been charged for reading a spouse’s e-mail, Weiss said. “That was it. There is no crime. I’m outraged as a lawyer and I’m outraged as a citizen,” he said.

Some things are easier than others

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25 March 2011

My Chinese guy

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Karma's a bitch

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Mmmmm poutine!

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Corporate Profits At All-Time High As Recovery Stumbles

Corporate Profits At All-Time High As Recovery Stumbles

NEW YORK -- Despite high unemployment and a largely languishing real estate market, U.S. businesses are more profitable than ever, according to federal figures released on Friday.

U.S. corporate profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010, with financial firms showing some of the biggest gains, data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show. Corporations reported an annualized $1.68 trillion in profit in the fourth quarter. The previous record, without being adjusted for inflation, was $1.65 trillion in the third quarter of 2006.

Many of the nation's preeminent companies have posted massive increases in profits this year. General Electric posted worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, while profits at JPMorgan Chase were up 47 percent to $4.8 billion.

Corporate profits steadily increased last year as companies continued holding onto record amounts of cash and other liquid assets while cutting costs, laying off workers and wringing more productivity -- defined as the amount of output that comes from an hour of work -- from remaining staff, even as the recession eased.

To put that in perspective, said Lynn Reaser, the chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, it's important to note that companies were able to bring production back up to pre-recession levels without hiring any more workers.

"We have now recovered all of the output lost in the recession, but we are still down by 7.5 million workers," she said.

In addition to layoffs, some companies continued to cut wages and benefits last year. Sub-Zero, the freezer and refrigerator manufacturer, told workers last year that factories in Wisconsin would have to be shut down, with 500 employees loosing their jobs, unless staff took a 20 percent pay cut, The New York Times reported.

Workers were expected to put in more hours without overtime pay, while staff facing fewer hours of work due to furloughs were expected to do as much as they would have in a full workday, according to NPR.

Wisconsin Union Law Published Despite Court Order

Wisconsin Union Law Published Despite Court Order

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin officials can't seem to agree on whether the publication of its law stripping public employee collective bargaining rights is about to take effect.

The nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau published the law Friday despite a court order that had blocked the secretary of state from doing so. Publishing a law typically allows puts it in effect.

But the head of the bureau says its action was purely ministerial and wouldn't result in the law taking effect. Steve Miller says the law won't actually take effect until Secretary of State Doug La Follette orders it published in a newspaper.

La Follette, though, says it's not clear what the action means.

Gov. Scott Walker's office says it's been notified that the law had been published and will carry it out as required.

Huge surge in Hispanic population in US | The Raw Story

Huge surge in Hispanic population in US | The Raw Story

Zombie Reagan says: It's because they hump like rabbits, or bonitas, as they call them in Meh-he-co

Miranda is Obama's Latest Victim | Common Dreams

Miranda is Obama's Latest Victim | Common Dreams

One of the central pledges of Barack Obama's campaign was that -- as he put it early in his presidency -- the Bush administration had gone wildly wrong because it "established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions; that failed to use our values as a compass." Instead, he implored, we must fight Terrorism only "with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process, in checks and balances and accountability." Thus, he thunderously vowed, "We must never -- ever -- turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake."

The number of instances in which Obama has violently breached his own alleged principles when it comes to the War on Terror and the rule of law are too numerous to chronicle in one place. Suffice to say, it is no longer provocative or controversial when someone like Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin writes, as he did the other day, that Obama "has more or less systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the George W. Bush Administration." No rational person can argue that or even tries to any longer. It's just a banal expression of indisputable fact.

Today, the Obama DOJ unveiled the latest -- and one of the most significant -- examples of its eagerness to assault the very legal values Obama vowed to protect. The Wall Street Journal reports that "new rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades." The only previous exception to the 45-year-old Miranda requirement that someone in custody be apprised of their rights occurred in 1984, when the Rehnquist-led right-wing faction of the Supreme Court allowed delay "only in cases of an imminent safety threat," but these new rules promulgated by the Obama DOJ "give interrogators more latitude and flexibility to define what counts as an appropriate circumstance to waive Miranda rights."

For that reason, the WSJ is surely correct when it calls these new guidelines "one of the Obama administration's most significant revisions to rules governing the investigation of terror suspects in the U.S." Note that, in 7 years of prosecuting the War on Terror after 9/11, the Bush administration never tried to dilute Miranda guidelines (though doing so for them was irrelevant because they simply imprisoned even American citizens (such as Jose Padilla) without any charges or due process of any kind).

Ironically, it was the administration -- and its followers -- that defended the sanctity of Miranda back in late 2009, when the Cheney/Kristol/Limbaugh/Palin Right attacked Obama for Mirandizing the "underwear bomber" as soon as he was taken into custody. Back then, the White House and its loyalists stridently argued that Miranda does not interfere with effective interrogations and that, in any event, it is a pillar of our justice system that should not be eroded. We'll undoubtedly be hearing from the same precincts now -- from the very same people -- that diluting Miranda is necessary to Keep Us Safe; that it's fully within a President's right to change Miranda guidelines without Congress (just like he can start wars on his own); and that it's merely a tiny little change that pales in comparison to the Important Issues of the Day. For anyone who defends Obama's new decision here, shouldn't you also admit that Rush Limbaugh and Bill Kristol were right in criticizing Obama back then and demanding dilution of Miranda for Terrorism suspects? Read the full article at Salon.com

Let’s Drop Healthcare Access on One Another, Not Bombs | Common Dreams

Let’s Drop Healthcare Access on One Another, Not Bombs | Common Dreams

Winding Down Obama | Common Dreams

Winding Down Obama | Common Dreams

Occupying Iraq, the U.S. spends about $300 million a day. For Afghanistan, it’s $200 million. These numbers are approximations because the Pentagon doesn’t really know how much it has spent on anything, or how many it has killed in its several wars, big and small. It doesn’t really care, I don’t think. Imagine a team of alcoholics parked permanently at the bar, downing pints and shots with an open tab into infinity, or until the Second Coming, at least. In 2001, Donald Rumsfeld admitted that $2.3 trillion were unaccounted for. He blamed it on sloppy bookkeeping. It must be hard to keep track of so many digits.

As firemen and cops are being fired across America, as teachers are being told they must accept austerity measures, the country is broke, after all, as public radio and television, with their supposed liberal bias, lay on the chopping block, as more homeless sprawl and tent cities spring up, as casinos, a sure sign of desperation, mushroom, the United States has entered another costly war without any fanfare or discussion whatsoever. Obama didn’t have to persuade anybody, no sending a Secretary of State to make a fool of herself in front of the United Nations’ General Assembly, no congressional vote, which, last time I checked, was supposed to be a Constitutional requirement, no media blitz. No lies even. He simply ordered more than a hundred Tomahawk missiles, so far, to rain down on Libya, with many more to come. In any case, this it not even a war, but merely a “kinetic military action,” according to an Obama aide. Such straight faced butchery of language, even as one butchers real people, shows that the United States has entered a deep psychotic state. Upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama himself declared, “I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.”

If this is Obama pacified, I hate to see him riled up, but of course he doesn’t get riled up. Suave, articulate and personable, Obama is proving to be just as deadly as Bush, but clearly more cynical. A great, loyal tool of the establishment, Obama has dampened protest from American liberals. Though they know he has betrayed them, they’re reluctant to show appropriate outrage because, not that long ago, they have cheered and wept for him so openly. The day after Obama won, Rebecca Solnit remarked in the Nation,“Citizenship is a passionate joy at times, and this is one of those times. You can feel it. Tuesday the world changed. It was a great day.”

The President of the United States is a traveling salesman for the military industrial complex. In 2010, Obama came to India to visit the Mumbai home of Gandhi, a hero of his, someone he would most like to dine with, very touching, before announcing a mega arms deal of GE fighter jet engines and Boeing military transport planes. Now, as he bombs Libya, Obama tries to sell F-18 fighter planes to Brazil. According to an aide, “President Obama underscored that the F-18 is the best plane on offer” as he made a “strong pitch” to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

The President of the United States is also a spokesman for murderers and crooks. He doesn’t rule, but obeys. His main job is to deceive the masses as he serves his enablers. He can say anything at any time, and means none of it. The President of the United States is the world’s most visible actor, in short. Campaigning in 2007, Obama said, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.” Quite a performance. This year, as Wisconsin teachers fight to retain their right to collectively bargain, Obama has said absolutely nothing. One would have to be a fool to think he would join them.

Offshoring began under Clinton, and has continued unabated. Under the banner of free trade, the only goal of Globalism is to couple capital with the cheapest labor available. Since organized workers are anathema to the bosses, American companies have moved their factories to totalitarian countries where workers have little rights, where they cannot be unionized. The idea is to roll back the clock to the earliest days of industrialism, where workers toiled all day long for next to nothing. In February, a bill was even introduced in Missouri to eliminate child labor laws. It seeks, in part, to get rid of “the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed.” Don’t laugh. This may be a sign of things to come.

As for work that can’t be outsourced, foreign workers are allowed or even invited in. U.S. borders are not porous out of charity or ineptness, but because this benefits American businesses. During the recent housing bubble, builders employed countless Mexican workers, and every stateside restaurant these days seems to be staffed by Mexican busboys, cooks and dishwashers. Chinese engineer students can stay after graduating from American schools, and Indian doctors and nurses are given special visas. There are certain jobs, however, that can’t easily be staffed by aliens, such as teachers, for example. If Albanians could be imported to teach English and American History to American kids, it would have happened already. The latest attack in this relentless war against American workers is the announcement that Mexican truckers will soon be allowed to drive into the U.S. Though ignored by the mainstream media, this calamity won’t just put tens of thousands of American truck drivers out of work, but also many American dock workers. Containers can be shipped to Mexico, then trucked into the U.S. by cheaper Mexican drivers.

Again, American borders are porous by design, just as other countries’ borders are routinely violated by the U.S.A. There is a huge difference, however: when Americans enter another country illegally, it’s never to empty foreigners’ bedpans or to wash their dishes, but usually to kill them.

As Obama fizzles out, as he loses legitimacy, the power brokers will come up with other figureheads and slogans for American liberals and conservatives to become passionate about. These candidates will jabber, jab and insult each other. As in professional wrestling, the battle will appear fierce. Barack, meanwhile, can look forward to a lucrative memoir and six-figure speaking fees. Even that man of malapropisms and snafus, the much despised Bush, is getting $150,000 each time he opens his mouth these days.

Haunted by the Past

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Signs calling Obama a racial epithet found at University of Kentucky | McClatchy

Signs calling Obama a racial epithet found at University of Kentucky | McClatchy

University of Kentucky officials are investigating two incidents in which someone hung signs that called President Barack Obama a racial epithet.

On March 15, a professor noticed one such sign hanging on a door to the UK School of Law on South Limestone. He turned it in to campus police, who are investigating, said spokesman Jay Blanton.

Early Thursday morning, third year law student Ches Clark said he found a sign affixed to a bus shelter on South Lime near Maxwelton Court. The sign said "How Do You Spell Nigger? OBAMA."

The letters looked to be cut out of a menu, glued to another piece of paper and photocopied, Clark said.

UK police could charge whoever posted the signs with third degree criminal mischief, Blanton said. It's not clear whether anyone from UK was involved, but police are investigating because the first sign was on UK property, he said.

Clark took the sign to his law-school class on racism and criminal law and posted a copy of it on his Facebook page.

His law professor, Roberta Harding, said the sign looked juvenile, yet someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it.

The general sentiment in class was that whoever posted the sign should "get over" Obama being president, Harding said.

David Barton: Jesus Opposed The Minimum Wage

So Dave Barton is one of those crafty evangelical Christians who has scoured the Bible to find verses he can twist the meaning of to justify the excesses of rich folk. That he invokes Jesus as being against the minimum wage is vile. Jesus (according to the Bible anyway) hung out with whores, cripples, tax collectors, religious zealots, rich folk, poor folk, men, women, kids, adulterers and throws in a miracle healing every few minutes or so. Give unto the Kaiser the things that are the Kaisers and all that I guess. Mike Huckabee follows and says we should listen to this freak by gunpoint is necessary. Asshole. I used to like Mike Huckabee too. Now he's gone all gay with religion.

Mike Huckabee Wants People To Be Forced to Listen To David Barton At Gun...

24 March 2011

Indiana Prosecutor Encouraged 'False Flag' Assault On Walker To Discredit Wisconsin Unions | TPMDC

Indiana Prosecutor Encouraged 'False Flag' Assault On Walker To Discredit Wisconsin Unions | TPMDC

A deputy prosector in Johnson County, Indiana, has resigned his job after it was revealed that in February, during the large protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union bill, he e-mailed Walker's office and recommended that they conduct a "false flag operation" -- to fake an assault or assassination attempt on Walker in order to discredit the unions and protesters.

As Wisconsin Watch, a project of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reports, Carlos Lam initially denied that he had sent the e-mail, which was part of the tens of thousands of e-mails released in an open-records settlement the Walker administration reached with the local paper the Isthmus and the Associated Press.

When contacted by Wisconsin Watch, Lam had initially denied sending the e-mail, claiming that he had been the victim of identity theft, and said he did not support the criminal activities described in the e-mail: , "I think he's trying to do what he has to do to get his budget balanced. But jeez, that's taking it a little bit to the extreme."

However, Lam admitted late in the afternoon that he did send the e-mail, and resigned his job.

From the report:

After praise for Walker, the email -- sent Feb. 19, during union demonstrations against Walker's budget repair bill -- then took a darker turn. It suggested that the situation in Wisconsin presented "a good opportunity for what's called a 'false flag' operation." "If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions," the email said. "Currently, the media is painting the union protest as a democratic uprising and failing to mention the role of the DNC and umbrella union organizations in the protest. Employing a false flag operation would assist in undercutting any support that the media may be creating in favor of the unions. God bless, Carlos F. Lam."

And also:

Cullen Werwie, Walker's press secretary, said no one at the office had seen the email or contacted Lam. Werwie condemned the email's suggestions Monday in a statement to the Center. "Certainly we do not support the actions suggested in (the) email. Governor Walker has said time and again that the protesters have every right to have their voice heard, and for the most part the protests have been peaceful. We are hopeful that the tradition will continue," Werwie wrote.

This does call to mind Walker's infamous phone call in late February with blogger Ian Murphy, who posed as Republican financier David Koch. During that call, "Koch" asked Walker whether he had thought about "planting some troublemakers" among the protesters. Walker said "we thought about that," but didn't do it.

When asked about this at a press conference, Walker had said, "In my case we ruled it out," and also added: "When he talked about inciting things and 'crushing the bastards,' we get ideas from people all across the state. And we want to have a civil discussion about this and a debate about this, and the fact that we discussed this, and we said it wasn't a good idea."

(Note: As the full transcript of the "Koch" call shows, Walker said that he was worried such a tactic could backfire and increase the pressure for compromise: "My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems.")

Previously in Indiana, Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox lost his job after tweeting that the protesters should be dealt with using "live ammunition," following that up with "against thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor? You're damn right I advocate deadly force."

At the time, the Attorney General's office said in a statement: "We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility."