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 on: Today at 05:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Thousands of Catalans Demand Snap Regional Vote

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 20:32

Thousands of pro-independence Catalans rallied on Sunday, demanding snap elections after the region's leader Artus Mas watered down plans for a referendum on separating from Spain.

"President, call elections; president we want a vote within three months, we want to go into spring 2015 with a new parliament," said Carme Forcadell, who leads the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) that has organised massive pro-independence demonstrations in the northeastern Spanish region.

The Catalan regional government headed by Mas had planned an independence referendum, but that has been put on hold after the federal government filed a challenge at the Constitutional Court.

On Tuesday, Mas watered down plans for the November 9 non-binding ballot, saying that he would organize a symbolic vote on that date under an alternative legal framework to get around the court ruling.

He suggested a vote without a formal electoral roll, thereby falling short of a full referendum.

But Mas' compromise has not gone down well with Catalan's pro-independence camp, with opposition parties on Wednesday demanding a snap regional election if he failed to deliver on the planned referendum.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have increasingly been demanding greater autonomy over recent years. The region accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain's economic output.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 05:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Belgians had 'Reasons' to Collaborate with Nazis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 20:20

Belgians living under Nazi occupation in World War II had "reasons" if they collaborated with the Germans, a nationalist politician in the country's new coalition government said Sunday.

Bart de Wever, head of the New Flemish Alliance, the largest party in the coalition, said "of course people had reasons to join with the collaboration. There were so many of them."

De Wever, quoted by Belga news agency, was commenting on a controversy stirred up by Interior Minister Jan Jambon, likewise from the New Flemish Alliance, who had earlier said that collaborators "had their reasons."

The remarks have reopened old wounds over the war, a divisive chapter in a country already sharply divided between the richer Flemish north and the poorer Francophone south.

They are also embarrassing Prime Minister Charles Michel, who heads the unlikely coalition of his French-speaking liberals and three Flemish groups, including the nationalists. Another New Flemish Alliance figure, Immigration Minister Theo Francken, was pictured at a 90th birthday celebration for a man convicted of collaboration after the war.

De Wever said collaboration with the Nazis could be understandable.

"You need to see that in the context of the time," he was quoted as saying. Former pope Benedict XVI "belonged to the Hitler Youth, (former French president Francois) Mitterrand was a collaborator. The king of Belgium had coffee with Hitler to ask him if he could take power," the nationalist politician said.

Michel said Tuesday he would not break ranks with Jambon after getting his assurance that he condemned World War II collaboration.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 05:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Hungarians March to Celebrate 'Roma Pride'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 20:27

Hundreds of Hungarians took part in a "Roma Pride" march in Budapest Sunday to celebrate the country's largest ethnic minority, a community scarred by widespread prejudice.

Around 500 people walked through the city center chanting "Opre Roma!" (Up Roma!) and holding placards of famous figures of ethnic-Roma background like British actor Charlie Chaplin and Spanish footballer Jesus Navas.

"This day is about everyone, Roma and non-Roma, showing pride in our community, and our positive contributions to Hungary," main organizer Jeno Setet of the "We Belong Here" civil group said.

The Roma, also known as gypsies, make up about seven percent of Hungary's population of 10 million and the minority group is one of the largest in central Europe, according to the Council of Europe.

"It's usually impossible to hear anything positive about us in the media however, or anywhere else," Setet told AFP.

The European Union member state's Roma trail in practically every indicator from living standards to health, as they do throughout eastern and central Europe.

Widespread unemployment and poverty has also fueled mistrust against the Roma, and deputies of the far-right party Jobbik -- the country's second-biggest party -- often make anti-Roma statements.

"A majority of Hungarian society doesn't want anything to do with the Roma," Mihaly Simon of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union rights group told AFP.

Gusztav Loli, 58, said Hungarians either forget or don't know about the sacrifices made by many Roma through history.

"My father was jailed in 1956 after fighting for Hungarian freedom (during the failed anti-Soviet uprising)," Loli said.

Setet said he planned to give the Hungarian government a petition urging it to include lessons about the Roma Holocaust in the school curriculum.

An estimated half a million European Roma perished in Nazi German death camps during World War II.

Other groups taking part in the march included those representing gay rights, the Jewish community and homeless people.

"Many minority groups here struggle against prejudice," Veronika Kozma of migrant and refugee rights group MigSzol told AFP.

"We are here today to show solidarity with the Roma."

Benjamin Abtan, of Paris-based co-organizer the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM), said the march was the last of 13 Roma Pride events to take place around Europe in October.

"Roma Pride is our answer to the rise of nationalism, racism and anti-semitism these days in Europe, and especially in Hungary," Abtan told AFP.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 05:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
10/20/2014 12:10 PM

'Poets and Alchemists': Berlin and Paris undermine Euro Stability


Market uncertainty over the future of the euro has returned, but that hasn't stopped France from flouting European Union deficit rules. Berlin is already busy hashing out a dubious compromise.

Following three hours of questioning at European Parliament, a visibly exhausted Pierre Moscovici switched to German in a final effort to assuage skepticism from certain members of European Parliament. "As commisioner, I will fully respect the pact," he said.

Moscovici was French finance minister from 2012 until this April and will become European commissioner for economic and financial affairs when the new Commission takes office next month. But can he be taken at his word? There is room for doubt.

In response to the unprecedented euro-zone debt crisis, the European Union agreed to strengthen its Stability and Growth Pact in recent years. Member states gave the European Commission in Brussels greater leeway to monitor national budgets and also bestowed it with rights to levy stiffer fines for countries that violate those rules. Smaller member states have already been forced to comply. Still, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has told confidants, the real test will come when a major member state is forced to submit to the EU corset.

That time is now. And the big EU member state in question is France. The development is creating a dilemma for Merkel.

Market Jitters

The issue is far greater than a few tenths of a percentage point in the French budget deficit. At stake are France's national pride and sovereignty -- and the question as to whether the lessons of the crisis can actually be applied in practice. Also at stake is the euro-zone's trustworthiness, and whether member states will once again fritter away global faith in the common currency by not abiding by their own internal rules. "The markets are watching us," says one member of the German government -- and he doesn't sound particularly confident that the world will be impressed.

The markets are indeed jittery. The German economy is growing more sluggishly than expected and is no longer strong enough to buoy the rest of the euro zone. Interest rates for Greek government bonds have suddenly surged, likely because of domestic political instability, rising close to the levels that threatened to push the country into bankruptcy in early 2010. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank has already used up a good deal of the instruments it might have used to combat a new crisis.

Euro fears are returning, certainly not a good time to sow additional seeds of doubt. But if experts in Brussels are right, France is doing exactly that with its 2015 draft budget, submitted last week. It suggests that the French government is on the verge of delivering even less than the already low expectations of the European Commission. One high-ranking EU diplomat scoffed at the 60-page draft budget, saying it gave the impression that it had been written mostly by "poets and alchemists." The document itself speaks of "substantial efforts since 2012" and "unprecedented fiscal consolidation measures."

Paris Wants to Increase Debt

The tone doesn't become more subdued until near the end. Instead of reducing borrowing in 2015 to the 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) permitted under the pact, Paris is now planning deficit spending of 4.3 percent. The country doesn't plan to bring itself back in line with Stability Pact rules until 2017. In addition, the sovereign debt ratio is to rise from 92.2 percent of GDP in 2013 to 97.2 percent next year. The numbers look markedly better in many other euro-zone countries, with deficits largely under control. That includes the majority of the crisis countries, which have subjected themselves to tight austerity and reform programs since 2010 in exchange for bailout loans.

Against that background, the draft budget from Paris struck many officials at the Brussels headquarters of the Commission's Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN) as being particularly brazen. But what can they do? And how can they command respect?

Under the provisions of the tightened rules, the European Commission has until Oct. 29 to either approve or reject the budget. Outgoing European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Jyrki Katainen, a Finnish hardliner on budget policy, appears determined to enforce the Stability Pact rules. Although he is moving to a new post, he will still have similar responsibilities when he takes his position as vice president of the incoming European Commission.

Some smaller euro-zone countries have already felt the brunt of the new pressure coming from Brussels, including Belgium. In December 2011, the European Commission threatened to levy fines against the country if it didn't present a 2012 budget conforming to the Growth and Stability Pact's rules. "They would have had to pay an €800 to €900 million fine," Olli Rehn, the currency commissioner at the time, told EU auditors last week. To avoid the penalty, the Belgian government made cuts to unemployment benefits and raised the age for early retirement.

Are All EU Member States Equal?

But does the euro stability pact truly apply equally to all member states, or are there countries that are more equal than others? That's the "€100,000 question," one German EU diplomat says. Smaller euro-zone nations indicated at the most recent meeting of EU finance ministers that they are unwilling to accept unequal treatment. "In Luxembourg, the principle of adhering to the applicable rules applies to both large and smaller countries. Rules create the stability and security that we need," says Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. However, he adds, the provisions of the stability pact also allow for some flexibility.

During his visit to Berlin at the end of September, however, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls took the preventative measure of forbidding any comparisons with smaller countries. "I will not permit people to discuss France in this context," he said tersely during a reception at the French Embassy. "France is a big country." Regardless whether the EU Commission demands more reforms and tougher savings, he said, "We won't do it." Michel Sapin, his current finance minister, upped the ante last week, saying, "we won't cut more anywhere and we also won't raise taxes." He added that the €21 billion in austerity measures already undertaken by France through the end of 2015 were sufficient.

Still, even this pledge is on shaky ground. Observers at the High Council for Public Finances, a French public finance watchdog founded in 2012, are critical, arguing that some assumptions in the budget either haven't been proven or are "very unlikely." For example, in the midst of a crisis, there is nothing showing that consumption in private households will increase by 0.7 percent as the budget suggests. In addition, the High Council notes, some of the revenues calculated as part of the draft budget are likely to disappear -- such as the €0.5 billion that will go missing as a result of the French government's mid-October decision to drop plans for a levy on heavy trucks.

The European Commission, which has given no indication yet that it has been intimidated by the harsh statements coming from French officials, is likely to have similar reservations. In the coming days, the Commission is expected to call on France to make improvements to the budget. Sources in Brussels say that if Paris doesn't comply, the Commission will reject the French budget on Oct. 29, one of the last days of its current term. "Europe is at a crossroads," says Manfred Weber, the chairman of the conservative European People's Party group in European Parliament, which represents Christian Democrats from across the Continent. "The European Commission's credibility is at stake with its review of the French and also the Italian budgets. France's budget has to be rejected. President Hollande needs to make improvements."

Merkel Likely To Avoid Showdown
Still, it's a showdown that Berlin would like to avoid, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is hoping for the support of incoming EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. He will likely to want to sidestep a spat with France at the beginning of his five-year term. The conservative French daily Le Figaro recently wrote that an outright rejection of the budget would have the impact of an "atomic bomb". The signals coming out so far suggest there will ultimately be a compromise, and likely a dubious one at that.

Speaking in German parliament on Thursday, Merkel played the part of the disciplinarian. "All, and at this point I will reiterate this again, all member states must fully respect the strengthened rules of the Stability and Growth Pact," she said. The chancellor's words reflected the sentiment of the members of parliament responsible for fiscal and EU policy.

"If we make an exception for Paris here, then we are calling into question the entire stability pact," said Gunther Krichbaum, a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and head of the European Affairs Committee in the Bundestag. "France and Germany have done this before," he said, referring to past violations in 2003 and 2004. "We should not allow it to happen again."

Back then, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac unceremoniously moved to soften the Stability Pact's criteria because they either could not or would not adhere to its rules. Even today, the move is considered to have been a serious blunder -- one that is often used against Merkel when she calls on other countries to strictly adhere to the rules.

Firm Words, But Little Action

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has also had firm words for his French colleagues. "The request for an extension can't seriously mean that nothing gets done," he recently told French Finance Minister Sapin during a meeting.

But behind the scenes in Berlin, a much softer tone can be heard. "You just can't do that with France, not with France," one German EU diplomat close to the foreign minister and chancellor said weeks ago. One high-ranking member of Merkel's government says that a formal rejection of France's budget would "massively burden German-French ties." He added: "It would be presented as if we were somehow responsible because of our obsession with austerity."

In closed-door talks, Merkel's European policy advisor, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, has reportedly assured the French that Germany will oppose any efforts to impose a fine against France if the Commission decides to initiate debt proceedings against Paris. In return for its loyalty, Berlin wants Paris to stick to a detailed timetable for implementing reforms.

Some officials in Brussels and Berlin are also pushing to unshelve one of Merkel's pet ideas, so-called "contractual agreements" -- written agreements between the European Commission and a euro-zone country that commit that member state to undertake specific savings measures or clearly delineated structural reforms. Under the original plan, the country could then obtain financial aid from a special fund in return. For France, the reward would be a further suspension of the deficit rules. "We need a calculable and perhaps even an actionable agreement between Brussels and Paris," German government sources say.

Little Progress in Paris

Sending any outward sign of trust to a country that has already been facing proceedings since 2009 for an "excessive deficit" is problematic. The European Commission has already given France two reprieves for getting its public finances in order, but Paris has shown little progress. Neither conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy nor his Socialist successor François Hollande has managed to get the budget under control. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Valls is facing an open rebellion within the left wing of his party and has only a thin majority in parliament. Nor is it certain that French leaders would accept pressure from the German government to enter into a contract with bureaucrats in Brussels they often view disparagingly.

Early this week, French and German economics and finance ministers plan to meet in Berlin. The end of the week will see an EU summit in Brussels.

The talks are continuing, but deadline pressures and worries are growing. The issue, says European People's Party parliamentary group head Weber, is not about who is right. "The financial markets have already fired a warning shot at the euro-zone states. A high level of credibility with debt rules is the prerequisite for preventing a new financial crisis."

Rehn also has no illusions. "Let me be clear: Reforms in France were not enough to justify the extension," the politician, who is now a member of the European Parliament, said last week. He argues that the reverse should be true. "First, reforms need to be delivered. Then we can talk about an extension." He went on to say that he wishes France's Pierre Moscovici "better success than I had" as an EU commissioner.

By Nikolaus Blome, Julia Amalia Heyer, Ralf Neukirch, Christoph Pauly, Gregor Peter Schmitz and Christoph Schult

 on: Today at 05:34 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
10/19/2014 08:08 AM

Deadly Ukraine Crash: German Intelligence Claims Pro-Russian Separatists Downed MH17

Germany's foreign intelligence agency says its review of the crash of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 in Ukrainian has concluded it was brought down by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists near Donetsk.

After completing a detailed analysis, Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has concluded that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 19 in eastern Ukraine while on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

In an Oct. 8 presentation given to members of the parliamentary control committee, the Bundestag body responsible for monitoring the work of German intelligence, BND President Gerhard Schindler provided ample evidence to back up his case, including satellite images and diverse photo evidence. The BND has intelligence indicating that pro-Russian separatists captured a BUK air defense missile system at a Ukrainian military base and fired a missile on July 17 that exploded in direct proximity to the Malaysian aircraft, which had been carrying 298 people.

Unambiguous Findings

Evidence obtained shortly after the accident suggested the aircraft had been shot down by pro-Russian militants. Both the governments of Russia and Ukraine had mutually accused each other of responsibility for the crash. After a Dutch investigative commission reviewed the flight recorder, it avoided placing any blame for the crash. Some 189 residents of the Netherlands perished in the downing of Flight MH17.

BND's Schindler says his agency has come up with unambiguous findings. One is that Ukrainian photos have been manipulated and that there are details indicating this. He also told the panel that Russian claims the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to the passenger jet were false.

"It was pro-Russian separatists," Schindler said of the crash, which involved the deaths of four German citizens. A spokesman for the German Federal Prosecutor's Office told SPIEGEL that an investigation has been opened into unknown perpetrators because of the possibility that the crash had been a war crime.

 on: Today at 05:27 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope Francis Beatifies an Earlier Reformer, Paul VI

OCT. 19, 2014

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday beatified Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978 after shepherding the church through a period of internal reform amid an era of social and political change and growing challenges to the church’s traditional teachings.

The ceremony closed a two-week assembly of bishops, known as a synod, convened by Francis to discuss how the church can best offer guidance to its flock in light of the complexities faced by many families today.

The synod report approved Saturday evening revealed divisions among the bishops over changing church teachings on marriage and families. The tumultuous closed-door discussions suggested that many bishops are challenged by efforts to change traditional church teaching, such as that regarding offering communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, or the issues of cohabitation and same-sex couples.

In his homily Sunday, the pope quoted Pope Paul VI, who concluded the work of the historic Second Vatican Council that introduced significant reforms and changed how the church communicated with other faiths — as well as nonbelievers, the faithful and the modern world.

“By carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society,” the pope said, quoting from a 1965 apostolic letter written by Paul VI.

Change, Pope Francis said, is not to be feared. “God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways,” he said in a message to 70,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the beatification, including about 200 bishops and clerics who participated in the synod and were attending the Mass.

Giovanni Battista Montini, cardinal of Milan, was elected Pope Paul VI in 1963 following another reformist pope, John XXIII, who became a saint this year along with Pope John Paul II.

Paul VI was a pope of many firsts, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told reporters last week. He was the first pope to stop wearing a papal tiara “to show that the authority of the pope is not tied to temporal power,” and when he sold the tiara to raise funds, “he gave these to the poor, a sign of his commitment to social justice.”

Aside from the reforms instituted by the Second Vatican Council, he cleaned house, abolishing the pontifical court and simplifying the Curia, the Vatican’s administrative arm, which Pope Francis is also trying to reform.

Paul VI understood the importance of the arts for the church and inaugurated the Vatican Museum’s collection of modern art.

He promoted Christian unity and ecumenical dialogue. He was the first pope to travel to Israel before the Vatican officially recognized the state, and the first pope to visit six continents during his 15-year papacy.

He is also remembered for his 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), which reaffirmed the church’s opposition to artificial birth control.

The beatification followed the certification in May of a miracle attributed to Paul’s intercession: the healing in 2001 of an unborn child whom doctors expected to be born with a number of birth defects. The boy, now 13, is a healthy American teenager whose identity is being withheld at the request of his parents.

A second miracle would be required for Paul VI to become a saint.

In his papacy, Paul VI tried to find common ground between the church’s progressive and conservative elements, and after the Second Vatican Council he instituted the Synod of Bishops to foster continued dialogue among clerics and the Vatican.

Beyond a personal affinity with Pope Paul VI, the current pope has chosen to bring closer to sainthood a man “who had the ability to open a climate of important discussion” on many issues, said Alberto Melloni, a Vatican expert and church historian. “He is beatifying the idea that Paul VI acted in a holy way when he opened discussion, instead of saying, ‘Stop, this can’t be debated,’ ” he added.

 on: Today at 01:28 AM 
Started by Gonzalo - Last post by DarkPureLight
Arrghh No entiendo esta tendencia en absoluto

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In the USA...United Surveillance America

Indian schools face disrepair, poverty

Federally owned schools for Native Americans on reservations are marked by remoteness, extreme poverty and few construction dollars. An Obama administration plan to fix the problems faces daunting complications..

John Locher / The Associated Press

WINSLOW, Ariz. — Federally owned schools for Native Americans on reservations are marked by remoteness, extreme poverty and a lack of construction dollars. They also are among the nation’s lowest performing.

The Obama administration is pushing ahead with an improvement plan that gives tribes more control. But the effort is complicated by the disrepair of so many buildings, not to mention the federal legacy of forcing American Indian children from their homes to attend boarding schools.

Consider Little Singer Community School, with 81 students on a remote desert outpost. The vision for the school came in the 1970s from a medicine man who wanted area children to attend school locally. Here’s the reality today: a cluster of rundown classroom buildings containing asbestos, radon, mice and mold.

Students often come from families struggling with domestic violence, alcoholism and a lack of running water at home, so nurturing is emphasized. The school provides showers, along with shampoo and washing machines.

Teachers have no housing, so they commute together about 90 minutes each morning on barely passable dirt roads.

The school is on the government’s priority list for replacement. It’s been there since at least 2004. Not even one-quarter of students were deemed proficient in reading and math on a 2012-13 assessment.

“We have little to work with, but we make do with what we have,” says Verna Yazzie, a school-board member.

The 183 schools are spread across 23 states and fall under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education. The schools serve about 48,000 children, or about 7 percent of Native-American students, and are among the country’s lowest performing.

They are in some of the most out-of-the-way places in the country; one is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, reachable by donkey or helicopter. Most are small, with fewer than 150 students.

These are schools, says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department is responsible for them, “that you or I would not feel good sending our kids to, and I don’t feel good sending Indian kids there, either.”

Native Americans perform better in schools that are not overseen by the federal bureau than in schools that are, national and state assessments show. Overall, they trail their peers in an important national assessment and struggle with a graduation rate of 68 percent.

Already, tribes manage about 120 schools, and the plan will turn the rest over as the federal government shifts to more of a support role.

The plan calls for more board-certified teachers, better Internet access and less red tape, making it easier to buy books and hire teachers. The Interior Department wants to help schools accelerate the use of Native American languages and culture.

Lofty ambitions, but the rundown state of many schools can’t be ignored.

More than 60 are listed in poor condition. An estimated $1.3 billion is needed to replace or refurbish these schools. But since the 2009 release of about $280 million in stimulus money, little has gone to major school construction or renovation.

That leaves Jewell, the interior secretary, in a tight spot.

She recently visited Crystal Boarding School on the Navajo reservation in Crystal, N.M., where some classes are held in a building constructed by Depression-era workers.

The school is now primarily a day school, but about 30 children stay in dorms there. A second dorm was condemned.

Jewell thanked the students for “making do with this school the way it is.” Later, she told school leaders she could not promise the money will be there to build a new school.

“For schools throughout Indian country, this is a chronic problem,” she said. “I don’t want to stand here and make promises I can’t keep. What I want to say is, I get it.”

The effort to shift more control to tribes has drawn some praise. “It’s an important step for us to go ahead and take control over what we know we can do best,” says Kimberly Dominguez, Crystal’s vice principal.

Others, though, say the federal government is merely washing its hands of its responsibilities.

Aubrey Francisco, 40, who attended Crystal and sends his 6-year-old son there, questions whether Navajo leaders can continue the school’s legacy. “With the tribe and its limited resources, they need to take that into account,” he said.

Ahniwake Rose, executive director of the National Indian Education Association, said her organization is cautiously optimistic, partly out of appreciation that Obama is seemingly engaged.

At Little Singer, Etta Shirley, the principal, said she also has some optimism. One glimmer of hope: A House spending bill contains nearly $60 million for construction at Little Singer and two other bureau schools.

“We need to get the kids out of the environment,” Shirley said. “That’s what’s really driving this. I lose sleep over it, just thinking about it.”


Supreme Court Allows Texas To Enforce The Most Draconian Voter ID Law in The U.S.A.

By: Adalia Woodbury
Saturday, October, 18th, 2014, 4:03 pm      

By a vote of 6-3 The Supreme Court is allowing Texas’ draconian voter ID law to be enforced for this year’s election.

According to Scotusblog, this is the first time since 1982, the Supreme Court allowed enforcement of a restrictive voting law after a Federal Court ruled the law is unconstitutional.

In a blistering six page dissent Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor said,

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,”

Much of Ginsberg’s critique coincided with the federal court’s reasoning and conclusions that the law was a result of intentional discrimination, it violated the Voting Rights Act and it violates the Twenty-Fourth Amendment because the fees required to get a valid ID constitute a poll tax.

The dissenting Justices estimated that 600,000 Texas voters, or 4.5% of all registered voters, will be disenfranchised and a “sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.”

Aside from the discrimination against racial minorities, this law will disenfranchise married women in Texas. In fact, Sandra Watts, a Texas judge got caught in this net during a local election last year.  The name on her driver’s license was the same for 52 years.  The address on her voter registration card and driver’s license remained the same for twenty years.  But, during that election, voting officials told her that she would have to sign a voter’s affidavit that she was she said she was. You’ll just love the reason.  Per Texas law, the Judge’s maiden name is her middle name.  However, her voter registration shows her actual middle name.

This feature of the law is likely to disenfranchise a lot more women in the same situation and because the costs involved are prohibitive for women earning low incomes. As explained by Judge Ginsburg in her dissent,

     A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.

If anyone still doubts the significance of the Supreme Court ruling that gutted section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this law is a direct consequence of that ruling.  The fact is this law failed pre-clearance when section 5 was still in effect.

Here is where things stand now. This law will be in force for this year’s election.

The fifth circuit will consider the case and issue it’s ruling.  Then, the law will probably be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

It’s a sad day when the Supreme Court allows to stand an unconstitutional law that makes a mockery of the principle of free and fair elections.


Ginsburg issues blistering dissent to ‘racially discriminatory’ TX Voter ID ruling

David Ferguson
18 Oct 2014 at 12:46 ET                  

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a blistering dissent on Saturday morning to a Texas court’s decision to uphold the state’s strict Voter ID law. Ginsburg argued that the law is “racially discriminatory” and was enacted solely to keep traditionally Democratic constituencies away from the polls.

Huffington Post reported that Ginsburg was joined in the dissent by fellow justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent.

Texas Fifth Circuit Court ruled that it is too close to the beginning of early voting to repeal the law, which is among the strictest in the nation. Ginsburg slapped that argument down, writing, “In any event, there is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.”

The state’s Voter ID law, she said, was “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited discriminatory result.”


Is the stock market going crazy? Or is it traders?

18 Oct 2014 at 11:36 ET    

Investors looking for why the stock market is in turmoil might want to go back to 1987, when “Walk Like an Egyptian” topped the charts and Janet Yellen, now the Federal Reserve chairwoman but then an unknown, untenured economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, published a paper on the role of irrational behavior in market movements.

Titled “Rational Models of Irrational Behavior” and co-written with Yellen’s economist-husband George Akerlof, then a colleague at Berkeley, the paper appeared just five months before Black Monday, the largest stock market crash in history, in which the Dow lost nearly a quarter of its value on a single October day.

Yellen’s paper espoused a controversial approach that she appears to have increasingly embraced over the years: that markets are not orderly, rational machines of predictable, efficient behavior based on clear information, but are suffused with panic, greed and other irrational forces that drive human psychology, emotion and behavior.

“Economists have accorded the assumption of rational, self-interested behavior unwarranted ritual purity, while alternative assumptions—that agents follow rules of thumb, that psychological or sociological considerations matter, or that, heaven forbid, they act downright irrationally at times—have been accorded corresponding ritual impurity,” Yellen and Akerlof wrote in the paper. “If agents really behave according to impure assumptions, is it not likely that the best models to fulfill that agenda will mirror that behavior?”

Wall Street investors are blaming the recent global stock-market turmoil on everything from fears of recession in Europe, to a slowdown in economic growth in China, to a collapse in world oil prices, to a potential end to the Fed’s efforts to pump massive amounts of dollars into the U.S. economy—just as the American economy finally appears to be returning to some form of low-growth normality after the 2008 mortgage meltdown and subsequent crippling credit crisis.

Confused by the mixed signals the market is sending, investors are wondering whether the recent sell-off reflects the end of an irrational, speculative bubble in stocks—and whether the Fed will attempt to rein things in before that bubble bursts.

At a Boston Fed conference on Friday morning, Yellen gave few clues to her future actions, making scant comments on monetary policy and focusing instead on whether income inequality was “compatible with the values rooted in our nation’s history.”

But Wall Street might want to consider what appears to be Yellen’s broad view of the validity of behavioral economics and behavioral finance to be found in her 1987 paper on the irrationality of market movements. In a little-noticed shift inside the Federal Reserve, Yellen appears to have increasingly embraced the tenets of her Berkeley thesis.

“Janet Yellen recognizes some behavioral phenomena, as do some of the Fed staff economists,” Hersh Shefrin, a behavioral finance professor at Santa Clara University’s business school,” tells Newsweek. A former senior Fed official who declined to be named tells Newsweek that Michael Lewis’s book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, about the disastrous things that happen when overconfidence (a focal point of some behavioral economic theories) and technology (high-frequency trading) collide, is “widely respected inside the Fed.”

And Yellen’s husband, Akerlof, a 2001 Nobel winner in economics who will join the faculty at Georgetown University next month, has in recent years co-chaired the National Bureau of Economic Research’s behavioral economics group. “That leads me to believe that she absorbed some of the behavioral perspectives through the channel,” says a leading university economist who also declined to be named.

By mid-morning Friday, the Dow had halted its six-day losing streak to regain some of its losses, as some large companies, including General Electric and Morgan Stanley, reported solid earnings and strategists speculated that Yellen’s Fed might continue pumping money into the economy through quantitative easing, rather than tapering it later this month as previously expected.

Remarks on Thursday by the St. Louis Federal Reserve branch president, James Bullard, to Bloomberg that the Fed might prolong pumping money through bond buying continued to excite investors on Friday, particularly as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index is still down more than six percent since its highs last September.

Infused by quantitative and qualitative work in psychology and sociology, behavioral economics stands in stark contrast to the efficient market hypothesis, a bedrock of modern financial theory since its genesis in the 1960s that holds that stock prices and stock markets as a whole rationally incorporate all relevant information an investor needs, making them largely predictable.

Evidence that Yellen still hews to at least some elements of behavioral economics, a form of Keynesian economics, appears in other recent papers and remarks by her.

While her predecessors at the Fed, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan, steered clear of public comments on the work of Hyman Minsky, a behavioral economist whose ideas that markets are inherently unstable and prone to speculation as they expand are experiencing fresh scholarly interest, Yellen has not.

In April 2009, as the stock market and the U.S. economy continued to reel in the wake of the mortgage meltdown a year earlier, and the Fed, led at the time by Bernanke, arranged a massive bailout of Wall Street banks, Yellen, at the time head of the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve, told an academic conference in New York that “with the financial world in turmoil, Minsky’s work has become required reading.” Referring to what is known as  the “Minsky moment,” in which speculative bubbles burst and markets collapse, she added, according to a transcript, that “one of the critical features of Minsky’s world view is that borrowers, lenders, and regulators are lulled into complacency as asset prices rise.”

She posed a hypothetical question. “Should central banks attempt to deflate asset price bubbles before they get big enough to cause big problems? Until recently, most central bankers would have said no,” she said, adding that “I myself have supported this approach in the past. However, now that we face the tangible and tragic consequences of the bursting of the house price bubble, I think it is time to take another look” at that approach.

Not that behavioral economics has all the answers. “I was as surprised at the low historic volatility before the recent turmoil as I am by the sudden spike in risk. Behavioral finance does not yet have a good framework for changing market volatility,” says William Goetzmann, a finance professor and behavioral economist at Yale University’s School of Management.

Still, the craziness is discernible. “Day-to-day fluctuations in the profits of existing investments, which are obviously of an ephemeral and non-significant character, tend to have an altogether excessive, and even an absurd, influence on the market,” Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, tells Newsweek.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University whose research incorporates cognitive neuroscience, adds: “The only sensible thing is to talk about herding behavior and mood effects. When the market drops so much, it’s very easy to be depressed and to act on that in multiple ways.”

Citing the spread of Ebola and “the time of the year when days in the Northern Hemisphere are growing shorter—the documented seasonal affective disorder SAD-effect on equity markets,” Hersh tells Newsweek that “negative mood catalysts such as fear of epidemics and declining hours of sunlight amplify the dynamic. We're seeing a lot of things coming together now.”


Could crowd-sourced policing turn us into vigilantes – or bedroom super sleuths?

The Conversation
18 Oct 2014 at 09:21 ET    

An increasingly popular weekend pastime among fans of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse and others, are murder mystery parties at which participants pit their wits against secret killers. But are these murder mysteries – described by one organiser as “Cluedo for real” – simply just a bit of fun, or do they reveal important insights into the human condition in this information age that might help society fight crime in the future?

This issue was recently touched on in a recent report from the Association of Chief Police Officers that reviewed, among other matters, the role played by the public in policing.

As a criminologist researching crime and policing in the digital era, the success of murder mystery games raises an important question as to whether it may help bridge the gap between society’s increasing fear of rising crime with the reality of decreasing crime rates, which is creating public demands for security that police and government cannot satisfy.

Clearly, one way for police agencies to reassure the public is to engage people more fully in the work that they do. So, does the murder mystery phenomenon reveal the presence of a secret army of “bedroom detectives” – willing volunteers who can help police agencies with their ever increasing task of maintaining order and enforcing the law?

To know the answer to this we have to establish whether there is such an army of volunteers out there and how practical is crowd or people-sourced investigation as a policing policy.

Virtual neighbourhood watch?

Common sense suggests that there is a resource here to be tapped, especially online – a virtual neighbourhood watch, which could extend the current reach of police. As an extension of the old community policing model, people-sourced policing is an attractive idea and the advantages are manifold. They can provide intimate knowledge of localised or specific communities; they can also provide investigating police with a sounding board for ideas and theories. They can alert “the community” about problems.

Even more attractive, is the idea of people-sourcing, or “the human flesh search engine”, a name translated from Chinese, which describes mass online community action against deviance. See, for example, the case of Mary Bale, the British woman who put a live cat in a wheelie bin, or the “Kitten Killer of Hangzhou” who crushed her kittens’ skull with her stilettos. In both cases outraged online communities rallied to help identify the individuals involved and bring them to police attention.

When it comes to feasibility, however, it is not as simple as the practicalities of people-sourced policing, especially legal boundaries, makes it hard to implement.

Participants in search of the intellectual excitement of a murder mystery will probably be disappointed by the painstaking and mundane reality of most investigations. The crimes they may be asked to work will certainly not be as appealing or straightforward as the murder mysteries. Murders are, in fact, comparatively rare in the UK. Plus, meeting the evidence threshold beyond reasonable doubt is particularly hard to achieve and requires training and skills.

Participants may also not wish to accept the responsibility that comes with such a role, especially if they make wrong assumptions. Remember how in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, the digital community embarked on a quest to find the perpetrators and got it wrong, which directed valuable police resources in the wrong direction and made unbearable the life of an innocent person.

Online vigilantes

Even more concerning is when police are seen to fail in a function and public involvement in policing takes a step further as online vigilantes seek to supplant the police role. This is highlighted by the recent cases of Letzgo Hunting, Demon Hunter and others where individuals sought to independently entrap and expose so-called paedophiles.

Not only do such actions interfere with established police operations into which long-term effort and resources have been invested, but they do not always provide the evidence chain that might be regarded as admissible in a court of law. Then there is the fall out when individuals subject to entrapment subsequently kill themselves.

The final concern is where online public involvement in policing mission creeps into a cold-war Stasi-like police spy system where everybody ends up reporting each other’s movements and actions, reaching the point where due process goes out of the window.

However, the general idea of people-sourced policing is attractive; it is also quite feasible if the ground rules are clearly and legally set out. While bedroom detectives of the murder mystery set may be the wrong group to draw upon, the enlisting of a digital community watch may be a distinct possibility if the circumstances are correctly identified and managed.


Who’s Responsible For The Media’s Ebola Malpractice? We Are

By: Becky Sarwate
Saturday, October, 18th, 2014, 3:00 pm   

The Ebola crisis in West Africa is a deadly serious threat. But for many reasonable, concerned Americans it’s become difficult to separate the reality of the devastation occurring on that continent, from the overblown media and political hysteria that’s dominating our national news cycle. Can any person of intelligence stay engaged when, as our own Justin Baragona reported this week, Keith Ablow, a Fox News Contributor Claims Obama Wants Ebola To Spread In US Because He Hates America?

It’s possible to feel empathy for the two Dallas, Texas healthcare workers who’ve been diagnosed with the disease after treating an infected patient, without extrapolating that we’re on the verge of a pandemic. And to take the argument a step further (I’m looking at you Fox News and Republican lawmakers), it’s a cynical act on the verge of criminal to needlessly stoke constituent fears of the unknown for perceived political gain. There’s no medically valid reason to doubt CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedan’s working theory that Nina Pham, the 26-year-old woman who was the first to contract the disease Stateside, did so because of a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) “breach in protocol.”

There’s even less justification for leveraging the situation to foment xenophobia. I offer Washington Post writer Gail Sullivan’s piece, “For the right, Ebola is the latest rallying cry for closing the Mexican border,” by way of example. Sullivan observes “First US-diagnosed patient Thomas Eric Duncan arrived on a plane from Liberia. But that hasn’t stopped people from stoking fear that Ebola will spread to the United States via our border with Mexico, a country that has seen exactly zero cases of Ebola thus far. Few seem as concerned about Ebola entering the United States via Canada, our less politically-fraught border to the north.”

Less malevolent, but still shameful reporting practices have assisted in alienating thinking people. Earlier this week, Jon Stewart did a great send-up of mass media’s Ebola coverage. As the legendary Will & Grace character Karen Walker once observed of an anecdote, “It’s funny because it’s sad.” That is certainly true of the “sanity-resistant” faux analysis surrounding the isolated Texas cases. While there’s nothing humorous about the real suffering of real people, a variety of opportunists with an Ebola agenda make it hard to accommodate genuine concern with sneering disapproval. Rather than fight the good fight, it’s often easier to disengage. After all, there’s a new season of The Walking Dead on AMC.

To these layers of coverage perturbation, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni added another on Tuesday with his piece, “Scarier Than Ebola.” The writer opens with a succinct and withering indictment of our culture: “We Americans do panic really well. We could use a few pointers on prudence.”

Bruni continues, “During the 2013-2014 flu season…only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.

These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?”

It’s a feature of human nature that we are inclined to ruminate on the novel and titillating rather than the routine. It’s an impulse we come by honestly, but also one we should endeavor to check. To continue Bruni’s argument, there are thousands of risks Americans take almost unconsciously every day that pose a greater threat to body and spirit than Ebola, such as getting in a car, drinking milk after the sell-by date or listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show. And by indulging in the worst of our impulses, we not only ignore real risks, we enable truly terrible reporting and disingenuously motivated political speech.

But at the end of the day, Fox News and anti-immigration lawmakers are just giving us what we want. If there were no audience for this type of garbage, it would fade away. Let’s stop indulging it and regain a little perspective. Perhaps that will create space to aid and support eradication of Ebola where it truly exists at epidemic levels – Western Africa.


Obama Steps Up and Shows Republicans How It’s Done While Knocking Down Ebola Hysteria

By: Sarah Jones
Saturday, October, 18th, 2014, 12:58 pm      

President Obama is on this. The Ebola response is not going to be passively, continuously botched like the Katrina response was, even with the massive cuts to disease prevention. Not if President Obama has anything to say about it.

The President has directed a stepped up response to the Ebola crisis.

Watch President Barack Obama brief the American people on the government’s response to Ebola and what they need to know and can do:

Obama explained what he was doing to step up our response to the Ebola virus:

And this week, at my direction, we’re stepping up our efforts. Additional CDC personnel are on the scene in Dallas and Cleveland. We’re working quickly to track and monitor anyone who may have been in close contact with someone showing symptoms. We’re sharing lessons learned so other hospitals don’t repeat the mistakes that happened in Dallas. The CDC’s new Ebola rapid response teams will deploy quickly to help hospitals implement the right protocols. New screening measures are now in place at airports that receive nearly all passengers arriving from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. And we’ll continue to constantly review our measures, and update them as needed, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe.

The President poured water on the “just ban the flights!” hysteria – this is a common initial reaction, but guess what, experts know something. That won’t work and that’s why we’re not doing it. He urged us to be guided by the science and facts (insert maniacal laughter here).

The President educated the public on the facts and checked some of the hyperbole:

This is a serious disease, but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear-because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science.

First, what we’re seeing now is not an “outbreak” or an “epidemic” of Ebola in America. We’re a nation of more than 300 million people. To date, we’ve seen three cases of Ebola diagnosed here…

Second, Ebola is actually a difficult disease to catch. It’s not transmitted through the air like the flu. You cannot get it from just riding on a plane or a bus. The only way that a person can contract the disease is by coming into direct contact with the bodily fluids of somebody who is already showing symptoms. I’ve met and hugged some of the doctors and nurses who’ve treated Ebola patients. I’ve met with an Ebola patient who recovered, right in the Oval Office. And I’m fine.

Third, we know how to fight this disease. We know the protocols. And we know that when they’re followed, they work.

It’s not a big surprise that the President is angry at the failures surrounding the Ebola virus’ entry to the U.S. After being told things were being handled and then realizing that they weren’t being handled up to his standards, Obama appointed Ron Klain as the Ebola Czar, to coordinate the government’s efforts on Ebola. Unlike some people, the President believes in government stepping in when it’s best suited to the problem, and this is one of those times.

We are, however, playing catch up for ten years of being underfunded.

    The funding slide was marked by George W. Bush cutting CDC funding in every one of his budgets. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) has had $600 billion cut for their budget since 2010. The NIH has received less funding under congressional Republicans than they had during the Bush years.

Democrats have demanded an investigation into the funding levels for a reason. As we tried to explain to the simpletons who somehow think Obama is to blame for sequestration even though Republicans championed it for years before they got and gloated about getting it:

    The problem with only looking at overall funding levels is that it misses the point. Over the last few years, the CDC has had billions of dollars taken out of its budget for infectious disease preparedness at the federal, state, and local levels. This means that the CDC started with fewer resources to work with when the Ebola situation started. There is a reason the Congress rushed through an infusion of cash to fight Ebola before they left town. The CDC budget was left short on preparedness.

So the next time a Republican is mocking money being spent on research (see their juvenile mocking of stimulus funds being spent on medical and scientific research), ask yourself why fools are allowed to put us all in jeopardy. (VOTE for science and safety on November 4th.)

In a meeting on Friday coordinating the government response to Ebola with members of his national security and public health teams, the President “underscored that the domestic response to Ebola cases must be seamless at all levels, just as we continue to move forward expeditiously with a whole-of-government approach to counter the outbreak at its source in West Africa,” according to a readout of the meeting issued by the White House press secretary.

More ways Obama is taking charge:

    The President’s advisors updated him on the status of the contact tracing process to identify and, as necessary, monitor all individuals who may have come into contact with the Ebola patients in Dallas following their exposure. The team also discussed plans to augment resources available to state and local authorities in Dallas. Specifically, in order to ensure the Dallas response is nimble and capable of leveraging effective coordination between the federal, state, and local levels—as well as with frontline healthcare workers—the administration, working closely with state and local officials, will support or designate the appointment of senior personnel to serve on the ground in Dallas.

Obama won’t make false promises or pretend he is Superman. He’s just going to be very competent at leading others in doing their jobs. This is an area where Obama has always excelled, whether he is leading a campaign team or leading the country. Obama is a leader.

As hysteria mounts, the nation will always look to its President for guidance and this one is in the house. President Obama is present. Engaged. And in charge.


Lawsuits: AL jailers let prisoners die from easily treatable illnesses to save money

Tom Boggioni
18 Oct 2014 at 17:14 ET    

Three lawsuits recently filed in federal court accuse the state of Alabama of denying prisoners with easily treatable illnesses or injuries proper medical care resulting in the prisoner’s death.

According to, the lawsuits have been filed over the deaths of three inmates, including a 19-year-old who died naked on a cell floor from gangrene.

The three suits allege the jailers in Madison County withhold the basic medical care in order to save money, believing that the insurance carried by the out-sourced medical contractor will cover any lawsuits filed against them.

One of the lawsuits alleges that Deundrez Woods, a 19-year-old from Huntsville, died in jail in August as the result of a gangrenous wound in his foot that was left untreated.

According to court documents, Woods was being held for shoplifting Star Wars DVDs at Wal-Mart in June and then for passing a phony $100 bill in July.

While in jail a wound in Woods’ foot developed gangrene, the infection causing him to begin hallucinating and unable to communicate. Woods was placed in a “medical observation cell” on Aug. 6, 2013, however  jail records show that he had no access to water after Aug. 12, there is no record of him eating after Aug. 14, and no nurses visited him after Aug. 14. Once authorities noticed the smell from Woods’ foot he was hosed down and moved into a different cell.

“Still, no correction officer or ACH nurse did anything to even check Woods, let alone help him,” reads the complaint. The suit states that jail records show no one took his temperature, checked his blood sugar or assessed his condition. “The gangrenous wound on top of his right foot was clearly visible had anyone bothered to look.”

“Woods went from normal, to aggressive and disruptive, to barely responsive, to all but dead as correction and medical staff watched.”

According to the suit Woods was found on the floor of his cell, dead from a blood clot that originated in his gangrenous foot.

Tanyatta Woods, the mother of the teen,  filed the suit stating  that Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning, jail administrator Steve Morrison, Dr. Arthur Williams, the director of medical care at the jail, and Dr. Norman Johnson, who is the CEO of Advanced Correctional Healthcare, are “part of an explicit or implicit agreement or plan to delay or deny necessary medical care to avoid having to pay for medical care.”

The other two  lawsuits refer to Tanisha Jefferson, 30, who died of an intestinal blockage after being denied medical care for 13 days after being jailed for harassment, and 61-year-old Nikki Listau, also in jail for harassment, who died from complications resulting from a broken femur sustained after she fell out of her prison bunk.

Civil rights attorney Hank Sherrod who filed all three lawsuits claims that the Madison County jailers are relying on the insurance coverage maintained by Advanced Correctional Healthcare to shield them from lawsuits, and to save money by not dealing with inmate medical problems..

“ACH’s business model, reflected in the agreement, succeeds by underbidding the competition and implementing severe cost control measures,” Sherrod said. “The necessary result of which is inmate suffering and liability claims (dealt with through liability insurance.)”

Jeff Rich, attorney for Madison County, would not comment on pending litigation, saying the three lawsuits are “being vigorously defended.”


Rick Scott Privatized, Inmates Died

By capper October 18, 2014 6:00 am -

Florida Governor (and naked mole rat lookalike winner) Rick Scott tried to privatize the state's prison system in 2011. Fortunately, he was beat back by the unions and the privatization scheme failed.

Undaunted, Scott did the next worst thing he could - he privatized the prisons' health care system.

He rewarded the five-year, $1.2 billion contract to a company call Corizon, despite the fact that Corizon has been sued 660 times in the last five years for malpractice.

The results of the privatization deal were very predictable and very sad:

    In January 2014, three months after the privatization was fully implemented, the number of inmates who died "shot to a 10-year high," says the Post. In the past 10 years, there were only 10 months in which 30 or more inmates died. So far this year, the death count has "topped 30 a total of four times in just seven months." This is a dramatic increase from 12.5 percent to 57 percent. The investigation also found that the number of referrals for outside hospital care is down by 47 percent compared to 2012.

    How did this happen? In his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, candidate Scott promised to cut prison funding by $1 billion. "Privatization isn't necessary for us to achieve that goal, but nothing is off the table," Scott's spokesperson Brian Burgess said. True enough, the Florida Corrections Department soon sent out a request for proposal for prison health care services. Underbidding the competitors, Corizon argued that it could provide the current quality of care, but for seven percent less.

    As the privatization process moved forward, 1,890 state employees received a dismissal letter reading, in part, "Due to the outsourcing of this function, your position will be deleted." As far as Corizon was concerned, there were some snags along the way. But $415,000 spent on lobbying the state legislature between 2011 and 2013 might have gone some way toward ironing them out.

As if there weren't enough reasons already to vote the naked mole rat out.


Georgia teen forced to ground at gunpoint for seat-belt violation files $12.5 million lawsuit

Tom Boggioni
18 Oct 2014 at 22:31 ET    

The family of high school athlete who was pulled over and forced to the ground at gunpoint over a seat-belt violation has filed a $12.5 million lawsuit against the Waycross, Georgia police department contending the officer involved was only given a slap on the wrist for his actions, according to News4GA.

Saying “I could have been another Trayvon Martin case,” Montre’ Merritt explained to reporters how the traffic stop in front of his home where officer Officer Cory Gay held a gun to his head and ordered him onto the ground still haunts him.

“That night when it happened, I felt like I could have been another Trayvon Martin case,” Merritt said. “And just hearing how Mike Brown went about his case for doing the right thing. He still got shot. I just feel like I don’t want any of my friends or family, I don’t want that to happen to anybody.”

According to the suit, Merritt was pulled over by Gay on Jan. 18, in front of his home and instructed at gunpoint to get out of his car and on the ground where Gay handcuffed him. When Merritt’s mother came outside to see why her son was being arrested, the officer told her it was for a seat belt violation.

The Merritt family subsequently filed a complaint with the Waycross Police Department over Gay’s actions.

Following an investigation by police authorities, Gay was found guilty of using excessive force and was suspended for five days without pay. Gay was also ordered to take Judgmental Use of Force Training.

Unhappy with Gay’s punishment, the family filed the lawsuit against the police department.

In the suit, Merritt attorney Reginald Greene, claims Gay racially profiled Merritt and then used excessive force in a false arrest. The lawsuit also alleges negligent supervision, assault and battery, deprivation of civil rights, and causing emotional distress.

Merritt, who now attends college, calls the humiliating arrest in front of his mother “painful.”

“Coming from me being a huge role model in my community, to see my mom witness that. That was one of the most painful things I could ever imagine for her,” Merritt said. “The pain that I still feel. The tears that I still cry. Everything is just real in reality. I have to wake up with this on my heart and on my mind every day, and it hurts.”


New York City jails are way too violent and expensive: report

18 Oct 2014 at 11:48 ET      

New York City’s Department of Correction sure doesn’t have its jails on lock, according to a new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The number of fight and assault infractions in New York City jails has soared by 65 percent since 2007, though the inmate population has declined by 18 percent in that period, the report states.

And yet, New York City’s jails, which now boast an all-time-high operating budget of $1.1 billion, are increasingly expensive to run. In fiscal year 2014, the cost per inmate was $96,232, a 42 percent increase from fiscal year 2007, when the annual cost was $67,565. That’s “more than twice as high as comparable cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami,” the comptroller’s office says.

In this seven-year period, there has also been a shocking 124 percent increase in attacks on Department of Correction staffers, the data, first reported by The New York Times on Thursday, reveal. In addition, allegations of guards assaulting inmates have surged by 300 percent.

The number of corrections officers has also thinned, by 3 percent from 2007 to 2014, or from 9,203 to 8,922. That’s less than the drop in inmates, meaning the rate of officer to inmate has risen 19 percent during this time, from 0.66 to 0.78 officers per inmate.

The Department of Correction is paying less overtime in fiscal year 2014 compared with fiscal year 2013: $139 million rather than a record $155 million. However, that’s still a hefty increase from the $101 million in overtime disbursed in fiscal year 2007.

The unfavorable financial news comes as the Department of Correction grapples with intensifying criticism of violence on Rikers Island. In July, a New York Times investigation revealed that 129 inmates had been severely injured “in altercations with guards” last year.

In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan released a report detailing “a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers Island that violates the rights of adolescents.” The office said it would sue the Department of Correction if it did not address this violence.

The department has not yet responded to Newsweek’s request for comment.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
‘Dirty icy snowball’ comet nears Mars in first ever run towards center of solar system

Agence France-Presse
18 Oct 2014 at 21:02 ET   

A comet the size of a small mountain is about to skim past Mars, and NASA hopes its spacecraft will be able to photograph the once-in-a-million-years encounter.

The comet, known as Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), is set to hurtle past Mars at a close distance of about 88,000 miles (141,600 kilometers).

The closest pass is expected to happen Sunday at 2:27 pm (1827 GMT).

Astronomers do not expect it will come any where near colliding with Mars, but they do hope it will be close enough to reveal clues about the origins of the solar system.

That is because the comet is believed to have originated billions of years ago in the Oort Cloud, a distant region of space at the outskirts of the solar system.

“Comets such as C/2013 A1 are essentially dirty icy snowballs with rocks and dust embedded in frozen gasses,” said Dan Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University.

“It is on its first run towards the center of our solar system and its material is virtually unchanged by the rays of the sun and can give us an insight to the material composition of our early solar system 4.6 billion years ago.”

- Fast and powdery -

The comet is flying through space at a breakneck speed of 122,400 miles per hour.

Another interesting thing about the comet, about a mile wide in diameter, is that it is only about as solid as a pile of talcum powder.

NASA has manuevered its Mars orbiters to the far side of the planet so they won’t be damaged by the comet’s high-speed debris.

Even as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN have been repositioned to avoid hazardous dust, scientists hope they will be able to capture a trove of data about the flyby for Earthlings to study.

NASA’s two rovers — Curiosity and Opportunity — will turn their cameras skyward and send back pictures of the comet’s pass in the coming days, weeks and months, the US space agency said.

“The orbiters will keep a close eye on the show,” said Rebecca Johnson, editor of StarDate magazine.

“They’ll study the comet itself, which is a small chunk of ice and rock. They’ll also study the cloud of gas and dust around the comet, as well as its long tail,” she said.

“And they’ll measure how the gas and dust interact with the Martian atmosphere.”

The comet has traveled more than one million years to make its first pass by Mars, and will not return for another million years, after it completes its next long loop around the sun.

The comet was discovered by Robert McNaught at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory in January 2013.

Its flyby of Mars is not likely to be visible to sky watchers on Earth.

But the encounter is of great interest to scientists, particularly since there are so many spacecraft on and around Mars to record it.

“As it zips toward the sun, it gives scientists a chance to see a relic from the distant past — a snowball that preserves the same ingredients that gave birth to our own world,” said Johnson.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:07 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Cassini caught in Hyperion’s particle beam

18 Oct 2014 at 10:34 ET 

Static electricity is known to play an important role on Earth's airless, dusty moon, but evidence of static charge building up on other objects in the solar system has been elusive until now. A new analysis of data from NASA's Cassini mission has revealed that, during a 2005 flyby of Saturn's moon Hyperion, the spacecraft was briefly bathed in a beam of electrons coming from the moon's electrostatically charged surface.

The finding represents the first confirmed detection of a charged surface on an object other than our moon, although it is predicted to occur on many different bodies, including asteroids and comets.

The new analysis was led by Tom Nordheim, a doctoral candidate at Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), University College London, and was published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Hyperion is porous and icy, with a bizarre, sponge-like appearance. Its surface is continuously bombarded by ultraviolet light from the sun and exposed to a rain of charged particles -- electrons and ions -- within the invisible bubble generated by Saturn's magnetic field, called the magnetosphere. The researchers think Hyperion's exposure to this hostile space environment is the source of the particle beam that struck Cassini.

Measurements made by several of Cassini's instruments during a close encounter with Hyperion on September 26, 2005, indicate that something unexpected took place in the charged particle environment around the spacecraft. Among those instruments, the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) detected that the spacecraft was magnetically connected to the surface of Hyperion for a brief period, allowing electrons to escape from the moon toward the robotic probe.

Most people are familiar with the electrostatic charge buildup that occurs when a balloon is rubbed against hair or a sweater. Objects in space can also become electrostatically charged by exposure to solar ultraviolet light and incoming charged particles. The Cassini data show that a similar process can take place on Hyperion.

The finding is surprising, as the small but odd-looking moon was thought to be a simple inert object, which would not undergo any strong interactions with the Saturnian magnetosphere. Nevertheless, the team's analysis indicates that Cassini remotely detected a strongly negative voltage on Hyperion. "It was rather like Cassini receiving a 200-volt electric shock from Hyperion, even though they were over 2,000 kilometers [1,200 miles] apart at the time," said Nordheim.

Scientists had previously suggested that surface features observed on the asteroid Eros and several of Saturn's moons are due to the motion of charged dust across their surfaces. On small objects with low gravity, dust grains might even be able to overcome the force of gravity and escape into space.

Although mission controllers have detected no signs that the Hyperion electron beam caused damage to Cassini, strong electric charging effects could prove to be a hazard to future robotic and human explorers at planetary objects without atmospheres, including Earth's moon, where they could create the potential for powerful electrostatic discharges.

"Our observations show that this is also an important effect at outer planet moons and that we need to take this into account when studying how these moons interact with their environment," said Geraint Jones of MSSL, a member of the Cassini CAPS team who helped supervise the study.

Cassini's CAPS instrument was powered off in 2012, when the instrument began to draw excess current. The team is based at Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. Part of the CAPS instrument that made the detection discussed in this research -- the CAPS electron spectrometer -- was built by MSSL.

Nordheim and colleagues also utilized data from three other Cassini instruments in their analysis: the Radio and Plasma Wave Science instrument, the Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument and the magnetometer.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 

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