Extra Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

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Good Afternoon!!

It’s looking like Massachusetts may be on the verge of electing another Republican governor, and suddenly I’m feeling even sicker than I have been with this cold I can’t get rid of.

Breaking news this morning from The Boston Globe, Charlie Baker jumps 9 points in new Globe poll.

Republican Charlie Baker has opened up a 9-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley, 45 percent to 36 percent, according to a new Globe poll that depicts a far more comfortable advantage than either candidate for governor has enjoyed in months.

The poll reflects an October surge in independent voters toward Baker’s column. It was independents who provided Governor Deval Patrick with his margins of victory in 2006 and 2010.

Baker’s standing has improved from last week’s poll, which showed the two candidates dead even. It can be attributed largely to the gains he has made in voters’ perceptions of who would improve the economy and manage state government, areas that already were tilting his way. At the same time, Baker has offset the deficits he faced on issues such as education and health care, where Coakley still holds an edge, but a diminished one.

“There is just positive movement in every single metric we can ask around Baker,” said pollster John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., which conducts the weekly poll for the Globe. “The more voters have gotten to know him, the stronger he performs.”

What is it with this supposedly liberal state? Since I moved here more than 40 years ago, we have had mostly Republican governors. I can’t understand why Massachusetts would elect another one, especially after our experience with Mitt Romney. We’ve also never had a woman elected governor. Republican Jane Swift was governor for two years, but that was because, as lieutenant governor, she took over for Paul Celluci, who resigned to become ambassador to Canada under George W. Bush.

As for getting to know Baker, what does that mean? Do voters really know his history? Or are they responding to political advertising?

Overall, Baker has moved from 38 percent support to 45 percent since late August. Coakley dropped 5 points this week, the poll found, after having held steady throughout much of the fall. Baker’s growth, said Della Volpe, has come almost entirely from voters who have made up their minds since the beginning of September. Eleven percent of voters remain undecided….

The poll depicts an electorate highly susceptible to the recent barrage of political advertising on television. Two weeks ago, Coakley, the state’s attorney general, led Baker by 5 points in the same poll. According to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG, a firm that tracks political television commercials, $2.2 million in ads paid for by gubernatorial candidates and allied groups — more than 1,700 individual spots — aired on broadcast television from Oct. 12 through Oct. 19.

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I didn’t know much about Baker until I read a very disturbing story in the Globe this week, Mental health record may be predictor for Charlie Baker. It turns out Baker was the architect of a damaging mental health privatization policy in Massachusetts that is still reverberates across the state today. (I’ve emphasized some points in the article with bold type.)

It was early 1991, Baker was Massachusetts’ new undersecretary for health, and the 34-year-old Harvard grad was having his first look at the state’s decrepit mental hospitals.

Soon after, a special state commission recommended closing nine of the state’s most antiquated institutions, including Danvers and two other hospitals for mentally ill patients, and moving much of that care to the community. It was Baker’s job to get it done. His strategy involved a first-in-the-nation use of a for-profit company with power to approve or deny treatments for low-income mental health patients.

Baker’s blueprint saved Massachusetts millions of dollars at a time when the state was staring at a nearly $2 billion deficit, but it left thousands of mental health patients often waiting weeks for treatments. The controversial approach became his template for rescuing financially ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care a decade later.

The aftershocks of both initiatives are still being felt as the now 57-year-old Republican runs for governor, and those experiences, say Baker supporters and critics, provide a window into how he might handle similarly fraught and costly issues if elected.

Baker’s claim to fame is that as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he  kept the company from going bankrupt. Democratic ads have publicized the fact that he “raised premiums 150 percent and tripled his own salary to $1.7 million during his decade at Harvard Pilgrim.” One of the ways he saved money for Harvard Pilgrim was by laying of lots of workers and outsourcing their jobs to India. He even won an “Outsourcing Excellence Award” in 2008.

Back to the Globe article on Baker’s mental health record. There were vast financial profits for the state, and some low income mental health patients did benefit short-term. But overall,

…the separate move to privatize mental health care, with a for-profit company controlling treatment and costs, meant 800 state mental health workers were laid off and their work farmed out to private clinics that received less state money. Long waiting lists ensued for community services.

“It was a disaster,” said Dr. Matthew Dumont, former director of the Chelsea Community Counseling Center, where the number of psychiatrists and other caregivers, including Dumont, was cut from 23 to six. Dumont said the clinic was no longer able to provide a critical service he believes was a lifeline for mental health patients — home visits.

Over the next several years, suicide rates among mental health patients who had received state services soared. That prompted a blistering 1997 report from a legislative panel that criticized the Weld administration for lax monitoring of patients and failing to investigate their deaths in a timely way.

Two years later, a Brandeis University study gave the state high marks for innovative community-based mental health programs launched during the 1990s, but found too many patients waiting for services….

“It’s still a revolving door,” said Dumont, the former director of the Chelsea counseling center who lives with the legacy of privatizing mental health services when he evaluates patients for the state’s public defender agency. He said he has to scrounge to find places that will take indigent defendants who have been in and out of mental health facilities.

Read about Baker’s future plans for mental health care in Massachusetts at the link.

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What’s happening in Kentucky?

Is Mitch McConnell getting nervous about holding onto his Senate seat? The Hill reports today that McConnell has just written a personal check to his campaign for $1.8 million dollars to counter the recent DSCC purchase of TV ads in support of challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. From The Hill:

A week ago it appeared the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was giving up on the race when it pulled the plug on television advertising after a $1.4 million buy.

But the Democratic Party committee plunged back into this fight this week by announcing it would spend another $650,000 on television ads to help Alison Lundergan Grimes against McConnell. The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC, followed up with a pledge to spend $850,000 in the state.

McConnell has a stable lead in polls, but doesn’t want to let the new Democratic ads go unmatched. He has long pledged to his Republican colleagues that he would not take any party funds to help win reelection.

Maybe it doesn’t mean anything; we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile a couple more articles on the Kentucky Senate race.

The Courier-Journal, Grimes pledges to fight for Kentuckians’ rights.

On the stump, she’s a Clinton Democrat. In GOP attacks, she’s a cheerleader for Barack Obama. Political allies — and opponents — know her as the daughter of Jerry Lundergan, former head of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

For her part, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes calls herself a “Kentucky filly,” charging toward victory in her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and become the state’s first female U.S. senator.

“This is a strong … independent Kentucky woman,” Grimes tells crowds on the campaign trail, while pledging to defend Medicare and Social Security benefits, fight for a higher minimum wage and support pay equality for women.

“She will fight for the people of Kentucky like we have never been fought for before,” she promises, speaking in the third person.

But 16 months after announcing her candidacy, political observers say Grimes still faces challenges in defining herself to Kentucky voters who overwhelmingly dislike Obama and have largely turned away from Democrats in most federal elections.

Apparently, it’s all about how much Kentuckians feel about Clinton and Obama. I hope Bill has plans to stump for Grimes again close to election day.

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Brian Beutler at The New Republic reports on McConnell’s refusal to respond to questions about privatizing Social Security.

The reporters appear to be referencing this encounter McConnell had at the Louisville Rotary Club with reporter Joe Sonka. At the event, McConnell had expressed remorse that he couldn’t wrangle any Democrats into supporting George W. Bush’s 2005 effort to, as McConnell put it, “fix Social Security.”

Sonka asked him if he’d revisit that effort in 2015, and McConnell said, “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance. We’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later.”

So McConnell dodged a pretty straightforward question about the Republican policy agenda, and, should he become majority leader, his own substantive goals.

A central theme of McConnell’s campaign is that Kentuckians shouldn’t replace a guy who stands to become an agenda setter in Washington with Grimes, who would be a freshman with comparably little power. Vis a vis less politically contentious issues, he’s more than happy to explain how he’d use that power.

One of the goals McConnell has been open about is “going after the EPA,” which he claims is hurting Kentucky’s economy.

So it’s inconsistent of him to hold his cards close to the vest when the issue is privatizing Social Security rather than gunning for the EPA. It would’ve been easy enough for him to say that private accounts are going to stay on the shelf, where they’ve been, for all intents and purposes, since 2005. Or that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle, since President Obama would surely veto such a bill. Instead he said the agenda isn’t up for public discussion until he’s granted the agenda-setting power.

I’m sure McConnell realizes that his constituents wouldn’t be too happy about attacks on Social Security . . .

The Texas Voter ID Law

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From MSNBC, a depressing story about the Texas voter ID law, Texas woman threatened with jail after applying for voter ID.

An Austin, Texas woman told msnbc she was threatened with jail time for having an out-of-state driver’s license when she went to apply for a voter identification card so she could vote under the state’s controversial ID law. She said she was so intimidated she left without getting the ID she needed — and which she’d been trying to get for a year.

Lynne Messinger’s account highlights the obstacles that some Texans face as they try to obtain a voter ID — despite the state’s assurances that getting one doesn’t pose a burden.

Messinger, 62 and a musician, said she brought her birth certificate to aTexas’ Department of Public Safety (DPS) office in south Austin Thursday in an effort to get a voter ID. She needs one because Texas’s strict ID law doesn’t accept out-of-state driver’s licenses.

Messinger said she spoke to a clerk at the desk, and explained that she had a California driver’s license. She has houses in both California and Texas and goes back and forth between the two, but decided several years ago to switch her voting residency to Texas.

The clerk left for a few minutes, then told her to take a seat. At that point, Messinger said, a state trooper summoned her into his back office, saying he needed to speak to her. Once inside his office, Messinger said the trooper insisted on seeing all the documentation she had brought, and demanded to know where she lives and pays taxes. He even told her she could be jailed for driving with a California license.* It is illegal to drive in Texas on another state’s driver’s license 90 days after moving into the state.

“It was like a Nazi interrogation about how I cant be driving with a California ID,” Messinger said. “I was completely intimidated and freaked out.”

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Here’s a very interesting read on Chief Justice Roberts and Voter ID laws from The Atlantic, On Race and Voter ID, John Roberts Wants It Both Ways. The author, Garrett Epps discusses Roberts’ views on race, and concludes that “[t]he idea that government must not discriminate by race seems to be important to the chief.” But . . .

Which brings us to Veasey v. Perry, the voting-rights case in which the Court issued its 5 a.m. order on Saturday. That order allowed Texas’ draconian voter-ID law, known as SB 14, to take effect for the midterm elections next month—the first general election to which it will be applied. It is customary to speak of SB 14 as a “tough” voter-ID law, but it might be better to speak of it as a discriminatory voter-ID law, inspired by the intent to disfranchise black and Latino voters.

That’s not my inference; it was the considered factual finding of federal district Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. (Ramos is an Obama appointee, but one endorsed for the bench by Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn.) Ramos based her conclusion on a nine-day trial in which both the state and the plaintiffs presented evidence about SB 14’s history and effect. That effect is startling—Ramos found that the law might disfranchise as much as 4.5 percent of the state’s eligible voters. But more important is her conclusion about the law’s intent (emphasis added):

The record as a whole (including the relative scarcity of incidences of in-person voter impersonation fraud, the fact that SB 14 addresses no other type of voter fraud, the anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic sentiment permeating the 2011 legislative session, and the legislators’ knowledge that SB 14 would clearly impact minorities disproportionately and likely disenfranchise them) shows that SB 14 was racially motivated.

This is a devastating finding. The judge is not saying that the law has a disproportionate effect on minorities; she is saying that it was specifically written to prevent them from voting. Because it was intentional race discrimination, she found, it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the prohibition of racial restrictions on the vote in the 15th Amendment—and also the prohibition of poll taxes in the 24th Amendment.

Read much more at the link. It’s an important article.

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Washington School Shooting

More details are coming out about the school shooting in Washington state. From The Seattle Times, Teen shooter targets 3 girls, 2 male cousins.

A freshman homecoming prince, reportedly angry about a girl, pulled out a gun and opened fire in a crowded cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School Friday morning, killing one classmate and wounding four others before fatally shooting himself.

At 10:39 a.m., as hundreds of students gathered for lunch on the sprawling campus, Jaylen Fryberg walked up to a cafeteria table, pulled out a gun and shot three teen girls and two teenage male cousins, witnesses and authorities said….

Fryberg and a girl were confirmed dead. The girl’s name was not released.

Two boys and two girls were taken by ambulance to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. As of Friday night, the two girls were alive and in intensive care with gunshot wounds to the head, said Dr. Joanne Roberts, chief medical officer for Providence. It will be several days before a prognosis could be made, she said.

The wounded boys were identified by family members as Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Nate Hatch, 14 — both cousins to Jaylen Fryberg. Both also were shot in the head. They were initially taken to Providence and later transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Andrew was in serious condition and Nate was in critical condition.

“He shot people he cared about,” said friend and football teammate Dylen Boomer.

I guess we’ll learn more as time goes on. These school shootings make no sense to me.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread and enjoy your weekend!


Friday Reads: NOLA Daily No More and Elusive Escaped Penguin is Caught

Good Morning!

JJ here, while Dakinikat is off seeing her oldest daughter get married, I’ve got the honor of taking her place on this morning’s reads!

Over the past few weeks you have seen that I have a fondness for cartoons. Not just the political/editorial ones, but all cartoons. I have hundreds of yellowed and crinkled newsprint cartoons stashed away in drawers, boxes, plastic bags and the few that are very special, I still have taped to my fridge. Some have little messages scribbled on them, maybe an extra doodle drawn to represent something specifically funny, like an inside joke within the family.

I did not limit it to cartoons, there were many times an article would pop out at me, begging for it to be clipped. Of course, I would make my little editorial comments in the borders…And it wasn’t just me who would do this, my mom would do it too. Sometimes I would get a surprise letter in the mail, and in it would be a newspaper clipping of a cartoon or an article that she thought I would laugh like hell at, for example say….about some group of midgets in drag, robbing a Burger King….I am not kidding on that one!

And lets not forget clipping obituaries or recipes…or historic moments. (The attic of our hundred year old house in Newtown, Connecticut had a newspaper from when the Titanic sunk, when FDR was elected for his first term, and when FDR died.)

So when I moved nine years ago from the big city to Banjoville, I expected to have our newspaper, the “legal organ” of Union County published once a week, on Tuesdays. Except for Election Day…that always means a Wednesday delivery.

Since then I have been able to print out a cartoon here or there, but is isn’t the same thing. There is something magical in the feel and look of newsprint, am I right? If you are “lucky” it will smudge your fingers a bit, and as the time goes by, the edges start to curl up…and the dirt and grease marks get darker and darker…the paper gets yellower and yellower. It is a way to mark the passage of time.

The reason I am waxing romantic about newspapers is they are becoming a thing of the past. Like the big dinosaurs, one day they will all become extinct. Yes, in small towns, the weekly is the main form of local news, but in huge cities, residents are finding that they will no longer receive that daily pile of newsprint.

New Orleans is now possibly the only major city in the US without a daily newspaper. The Times/Picayune has stopped its daily print news…opting for the “digital” version. (You can still get a print paper a few days a week, but there is no guarantee it won’t disappear all together.)

Late Night: The Latest Casualty

Another newspaper died today.  Not just any paper; the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which has been publishing since 1837.  Officially, it is merely cutting daily print editions to Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, but what with letting over a third of the staff go,  NOLA.com will be something, but it won’t be a newspaper, despite the absurd claims from its publisher that this was some sort of “adaption to the digital era.”  Really?  In the digital era I know, the only thing lame about papers is that they only come out once a day; will letting them sit in the box for three days make them somehow more appealing, as keepsakes, perhaps?

If the newspaper industry were serious about going digital, rather than just reaping larger profits and putting yet another squeeze on its long-suffering employees, it would not be leaving in place any of the absurdly costly and wasteful process of printing and delivery, which will continue to be massive and now underutilized investments.  No, what the bloated and mismanaged conglomerates that now own our newspapers want is slow death and golden parachutes for all concerned, and the less any actual journalism gets involved, the better.

The parent company of the Times-Picayune is Newhouse, and they have decided to forgo the paper’s paper, and of course, a number of their employees…

As revenue began to dry up from all three of these previously reliable sources, the corporate leadership of virtually every major daily decided to tackle the problem the same, self-defeating way: cutting staff, eliminating departments, and turning once-useful functions over to the sales side; most notably car reviews.  Each false economy eroded the only intrinsic value of the legacy newspaper: its credibility, stability, and connection to the community.  To maximize “shareholder value” in the short term, newspapers casually threw away the very things that readers actually valued.  To no one’s surprise, a decade or two of essentially selling pink slime and calling it hamburger did end up causing plummeting circulation, which is now used to justify yet further cuts in the product quality.  What, pray tell, is worse than pink slime?

Sadly, a lot.  Fox News viewers have once again been found to be less informed than the comatose, and back in the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Times-Picayune heroically countered their malevolent misinformation even when its presses were literally underwater.  When I was in New Orleans a year later,  the local reverence for the paper was still apparent; until dark, papers littered the tables of every corner pub and coffeehouse.  But all the Newhouse executives could see in this improbable renaissance was declining margins, grabby unions, and a daily torrent of comment abuse from the (white) readers outside the city.   So they canned it, but just partly, for show.

Yeah…what about that. I know lots of people who do not have internet, or iPads or SmartPhones…or e-readers. WTF (where the fuck) will they get their news?

I will quote the last paragraph of this excellent post on FDL:

The death of the Times-Picayune is unremarkable, I suppose, given the recent deaths of papers from Seattle, Denver, and elsewhere.  But those papers left at least one daily community voice in their wake.  New Orleans is now the only major American city that I can think of that’s lost its only daily paper.  Journalism is dying in America, by a thousand cuts of Bain-style “creative destruction,” and it’s no great leap to think that on some level it’s being done deliberately.  I think it was Jefferson who said he’d rather have newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers, but it seems our corporate overlords have decided they’d like to try it the other way around.

And sadly, NOLA is not the only city losing a print paper. Alabama Media Group, a new digitally focused company, will launch this fall with expanded online coverage and enhanced three-day-a-week newspapers

Wow, it’s an epidemic!

A new digitally focused media company — the Alabama Media Group, which will include The Birmingham News, the Press-Register of Mobile, The Huntsville Times and al.com — will launch this fall to serve readers and advertisers across the state, according to Cindy Martin, who will become president of the new organization.

The change is designed to reshape how Alabama’s leading media companies deliver award-winning local news, sports and entertainment coverage in an increasingly digital age. The Alabama Media Group will dramatically expand its news-gathering efforts around the clock, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week. The newspapers will be home-delivered and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only.

(You see what is happening, no more newspapers, post office or social security, don’t laugh, it is coming!)

A second company, Advance Central Services Alabama, will handle production, distribution, technology, finance and human resources, and will be led by current Birmingham News President and Publisher Pam Siddall. Both companies are owned by Advance Publications, Inc.

Driving these changes are rapid advances in how readers engage with news content across all platforms, print and digital, said Martin, who is currently the President and CEO of al.com.

Eventually the only form of “news” will be the kind of crap we see on the “cable networks” or online, which will be bought and paid for by corporations…aka people…who will put their own spin on things. No…wait a moment, that is the way it is now!

(emphasis mine BTW)

The change in organizational structures across all departments will lead to a reduction in the overall size of the workforce. Details are still being worked out, Martin said.

There are always painful choices when you begin a process that will lead to people losing their jobs,” Martin said. “But at the same time, we must position ourselves to be sustainable businesses going forward. The new companies we launch in the fall, we believe, not only achieve that, but will serve our growing audiences and advertisers better than ever before.”

Yup, you bet your ass it will…serve up the latest news, in style! (Or cloaked in whatever shade your advertisers prefer.)

Tailor your news to fit your audience, right: Daily Caller Doling Out Guns To Its Readers Now Through Election Day

The Daily Caller, the proudly racist and rabidly right-wing website of adult Pee-Wee Herman doll and epic media failure Tucker Carlson, is no longer going to pretend that it cares about decency and decorum. The website that set of many alarms following the Trayvon Martin murder and the racist responses that its users plastered all over the place, is now offering one handgun per week from now until election day.

Here’s the actual announcement:
The Daily Caller will be giving away one gun per week until Election Day – November 6, 2012. The FMK9C1 is an American-made high capacity 9mm designed by Jim Pontillo and manufactured in California. Each gun is engraved with the Bill of Rights and comes in one of three colors.

To enter this week’s contest, simply sign up below to receive updates from The Daily Caller. Our DC
Morning emails are an informative and amusing way to keep up with the latest news. To enter the giveaway you must complete the form below agreeing to all terms and conditions associated with the contest.

I swear, the country is going to hell in a big ass hand-basket. Actually, that is not true anymore, who the hell carries a hand-basket now a days? The country is going to hell in a touch screen…made in China…and brought to you by the Koch Brothers.

Now, since I wrote so much about the end of an era…let us have the rest of today’s links in a news dump…

Chen Guangchen is talking about his horrific ordeal: Chen Guangcheng Sits Down With Anderson Cooper: ‘My Suffering Was Beyond Imagination’

And, another former house arrest activist is finally giving her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she won, over two decades ago: Suu Kyi to give Nobel speech, 21 years late

On the war on women front: Senate Armed Services Committee Votes to End Military Ban on Insurance Coverage of Abortion Care for Rape and Incest

The amendment was introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). In November 2011, anti-choice senators refused to allow the Shaheen amendment to come to the floor, so the 2012 NDAA was signed into law with the ban in place. Today’s vote affects the FY 2013 NDAA.

There are some 400,000 women in the United States Armed Forces; they and their families receive health care and insurance through the Department of Defense’s Military Health System. The department currently denies coverage for abortion care except when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Unlike other federal bans on abortion coverage, the military ban provides no exception for cases of rape and incest.

Grrrrrgh…

As a result, those seeking safe abortion care after rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for such care at a military facility. But because physicians on military bases are prohibited from providing abortion care, it is not actually available to military women in need even under the narrow conditions technically allowed. As a result, servicewomen are often forced to choose between taking leave and traveling far distances to an American provider, seeking services from a local, unfamiliar health care facility (if abortion is legal and they are not in a combat zone), having an unsafe procedure, or attempting to self-induce an abortion.

The Shaheen Amendment, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, would address one of these issues by bringing the military’s health insurance policy in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program and as a result enable  servicewomen to receive insurance coverage for abortion care.

The amendment is strongly supported by military leaders, physicians, and servicewomen themselves.

“Women who put their lives on the line fighting for our freedom shouldn’t be denied reproductive health care services,” said Gale Pollock, Major General, US Army (Ret.).

Well, lets see what those Conservative Women do to support their fellow women…place your bets!

(And I said the rest of this post was going to be a link dump.)

Waterboarding got another pass this week, state secrets must be protected: A Court Covers Up – NYTimes.com

Secretary of State had some words about Iran: Clinton: Significant Differences Remain Over Iran’s Nuclear Program–  VOA

Some guy is taking the flea circus to another dimension, well it is actually not fleas, but ants. BBC News – Artist Ollie Palmer on staging an ‘ant ballet’

Some other guy in South Dakota is running for office, and his credentials are quite extensive: ‘I’ve Ridden An Ostrich. I’ve Done Lots Of Stuff.’: SD Congressional Candidate’s Amazingly Bizarre Campaign Ad | Mediaite

Jeff Barth’s ad:

…features Barth talking to the camera as he walks down a long path. The first thing you’ll notice is that the way the camera backs away from him makes the whole thing seem like the viewer is desperately trying to get out of a conversation with a crazy person. The second thing you’ll notice is that Barth has done a lot of weird stuff in his life. As he walks, he lists such accomplishments as having “learned chess in Iceland,” being in Germany to watch the Berlin Wall get built, and having daughters with “straight teeth and husbands.”

And lastly, remember that penguin that escaped from its cell? (No this is not a nun story.) BBC News – Tokyo keepers catch fugitive Penguin 337

Still from footage reportedly showing the one-year-old Humboldt penguin in Tokyo Bay. Photo: 7 May 2012
Penguin 337 spent several weeks swimming in rivers in the Tokyo Bay area

A young penguin which escaped from a Tokyo aquarium has been caught after more than two months on the loose in the Japanese capital.

The Humboldt penguin scaled a wall and slipped though a fence at the Tokyo Sea Life Park in March.

It has since been spotted several times swimming in a rivers running into Tokyo Bay, but had eluded keepers.

The one-year-old fugitive was finally recaptured on Thursday evening.

Two keepers went to a river after a sighting of the penguin was reported in the morning. They managed to catch it later that day on the river bank, a spokesman for Tokyo Sea Life Park told the BBC.

At least the little bugger is back safe. I don’t know about you, but I am curious…how the hell does a penguin scale a wall?

Please…can somebody explain that to me?


Sunday Reads: There is no place like home…

Good Sunday Morning!

Ahhhh, you feel that? A quiet moment before the P.I.T.A holiday season kicks into gear. This year stores are opening even before the usual early morning hours that most of us are used to on Black Friday.  At Walmart, the word went out that no one could have Thanksgiving and Black Friday off work…no calling in sick cause you will be automatically terminated. (I asked my husband what about if there really is an emergency…he said they would have to be in the hospital to get out of being fired.)  The stores are looking to capitalize on getting those poor economy dollars first, before the people run out of cash.

Thanksgiving Day is for eating turkey, watching football and, apparently, shopping at lower-end retailers.

While much has been made in the media about retailers opening their doors at midnight to grab their share from shoppers’ wallets, several retailers that cater to people with the tightest budgets will be open all day.

Sears Holdings is keeping its discount K-Mart stores open on Thanksgiving for the 20th year, waiting until Black Friday, the following day that officially kicks off holiday shopping, to welcome people into its namesake chain.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is also open on Thanksgiving, as are most of Gap Inc’s Old Navy locations.

Executives and analysts alike have said the fight for shopper dollars is more intense this year in a tough job market and uncertain economy. The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to up 2.8 percent this season, below last year’s 5.2 percent clip.

Chains that cater to shoppers on the tightest budget stand to lose the most, analysts said.

“They want to make sure they are getting consumer dollars before anyone else,” said Kurt Salmon retail strategist Megan Donadio. “Retailers want to do whatever they can to make sure what consumers do spend is spent with them.”

I worked in retail management for 11 years before I went back to school to become a paralegal, and those holiday shopping days of hell still give me nightmares. At least this year things are going to be easy when it comes to shopping for Christmas gifts for the kids…when you got no money, choosing what to get them is easy…reminds me of the line in the movie Caddyshack…Ted Knight as Judge Smails tells his grandson Spalding… “You’ll get nothing and like it!” (Nah, it isn’t as bad as that.)

The Census Data has shown that the “Near Poor” are growing in record numbers, my response to this “surprising” find is…no shit! Check out the title of the New York Times article: Older, Suburban and Struggling, ‘Near Poor’ Startle the Census

Down but not quite out, these Americans form a diverse group sometimes called “near poor” and sometimes simply overlooked — and a new count suggests they are far more numerous than previously understood.

When the Census Bureau this month released a new measure of poverty, meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.

After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure.

The Census Bureau, which published the poverty data two weeks ago, produced the analysis of those with somewhat higher income at the request of The New York Times. The size of the near-poor population took even the bureau’s number crunchers by surprise.

Surprise? Come on! This should not be a shock! Things are bad and getting worse.

“These numbers are higher than we anticipated,” said Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”

Outside the bureau, skeptics of the new measure warned that the phrase “near poor” — a common term, but not one the government officially uses — may suggest more hardship than most families in this income level experience. A family of four can fall into this range, adjusted for regional living costs, with an income of up to $25,500 in rural North Dakota or $51,000 in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Dakinikat, maybe you can put your expertise to work for us…what do you think of the results:

…most economists called the new measure better than the old, and many said the findings, while disturbing, comported with what was previously known about stagnant wages.

“It’s very consistent with everything we’ve been hearing in the last few years about families’ struggle, earnings not keeping up for the bottom half,” said Sheila Zedlewski, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social research group.

Meanwhile, you got 1%er Mitt Romney declaring he does not support the Stupor Committee’s raising of ANY taxes. Romney: I will not support tax hikes by super committee

Mitt Romney said Saturday he would not support any deal by a congressional debt committee that raised taxes, even as time ran short on a deficit-reduction agreement in Congress.

“I don’t believe that raising revenues is the right answer to balancing our budget,” he said. “I will not support any proposal based upon increasing taxes or revenues. I will, however, support proposals that are focused on reducing spending.”

Romney was asked about a proposal by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey that included $400 billion in additional tax revenue – anathema to many congressional Republicans – as part of deficit reduction.

Romney said he had not seen the plan, but said the “right answer” was to concentrate on spending cuts and entitlement reform.

Asshole…Rich Basturd!

“In my view, what the super committee should do is rein in excessive spending in the current budget and reform Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security to make them permanently sustainable,” he said.

Oh, we are so f’d!

Moving on quickly to another ass…of the PLUB kind. Aborted Fetuses to Star in 2012 Election Ads

David Lewis will not be the next congressman from Ohio’s 8th District. But for Lewis, an unemployed former IT technician who is challenging House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in next year’s Republican primary, winning isn’t the objective.

By running for federal office, Lewis can compel local television stations to run grisly anti-abortion ads that would otherwise never stand a chance of making it on the air. Emphasis on grisly: Lewis’ ads feature what purport to be dismembered fetuses, tied together in neat little bundles, or simply mangled beyond recognition. “The FCC says that 45 days out from a primary and 60 days out from a general election, we can run ads on a television station with FCC licenses—unedited, uncensored, they can’t deny it as long as we buy the spot,” he explains.

Lewis isn’t alone. He is one of a handful of anti-abortion activists who have been recruited by Randall Terry, founder of the anti-abortion group Society for Truth and Justice, to run for office in metropolitan areas across the country. Together, they aim to exploit a Federal Communications Commission loophole and saturate major media markets with graphic anti-abortion images. What the ads lack in production values, they more than make up for in shock value. As he explained in an interview with Catholic Online last November, Terry, who is himself running for president as a Democrat, explained: “By running campaign ads in the top 25 media markets, we can reach one-third of the nation with a message about the truth and horror of abortion.”

These ads are horrible indeed, one television station that refused to run a similar ad in Georgia for someone running for a State house seat called the ad:

“menstrual gore”

These sick people…I just can’t understand their thought process.

At least the Pentagon has been busy making sure the Country is safe…check it out, a Bomb that goes FIVE times the speed of sound. Depending where these bombs are located, it makes any target only an hour away: Pentagon Tests Hypersonic Flying Bomb : Discovery News

Ballistic missiles have been the ultimate in long-range weapons for the last half-century, able to reach almost anyplace on Earth within an hour (sometimes less). On Thursday the U.S. Army tested a bomb that can reach ballistic missile speeds and more importantly, has directional controls.

The Pentagon didn’t give specifics about the weapon’s range or speed. Called the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, or AHW, it was launched from Hawaii and hit a target in Kwajalein Atoll, some 2,500 miles away in about a half hour.

Hypersonic speeds are defined as faster than five times the speed of sound, which is about 768 miles per hour at sea level. If this was truly a hypersonic flight that means the AHW was moving at least 3,800 miles per hour. At that speed it could hit any target on earth in three hours or less. The AHW is part of a program called Prompt Global Strike, and the goal is to build a weapon that can reach its target in an hour or less. The Congressional Research Service reports that some $240 million has been spent on the program so far.

I can’t decide which is more mind-boggling…the faster than five times the speed of sound…or the $240 million spent on the project, “so far.”

Hillary Clinton weighed in on the Penn State child rape scandal: Hillary Clinton: ‘Sick’ about Penn State scandal – MJ Lee – POLITICO.com

“I am just sick at heart about it,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper. “I am also the daughter and the sister of two men who went to Penn State and were on the football team. So we have a long tradition of supporting Penn State academically and athletically.”

The secretary of state also said that some people’s initial reactions when the allegations first surfaced were not “calm or considered,” referring to student supporters of the football team who rioted.

“I can understand, in the passion and emotion of the moments, and before people really had a chance to actually think about what these allegations mean, people perhaps were not as calm or considered in their response,” she said.

She added, “But now it seems across the board everyone is focused on what we should be focused on, which are the children who allegedly have been victimized.”

This next link is just interesting on a “how about that” level: The Volokh Conspiracy » Why Yankee Doodle called it “macaroni” It is a quick post about the British Monarchy in the late 1700’s. I guess the word “Macaroni” was the “Bling” of the 18th century.

From Minx’s Missing Link File: Many of you know my fascination with little people (a.k.a midgets) so when I read this obit for one of the last living Munchkins, I had to write about it. Karl Slover dies at 93; among the last of the Munchkins

A dwarf whose father sold him to circus performers, Karl Slover was performing in a vaudeville troupe called the Singer Midgets when he was cast as a Munchkin in the 1939 classic film ” The Wizard of Oz.”

The 4-foot, 4-inch Slover, one of the last of the actors who portrayed Munchkins, died Tuesday in a central Georgia hospital of cardiopulmonary arrest. He was 93.

Slover was part of the Singer’s Midgets, which is an image I use sometimes on my evening read post:

Of the 124 “Munchkins” only three survive. Slover had a terrible childhood, which consisted of painful treatments for his dwarfism.

As a child, Slover was partially buried in sand, immersed in heated oil until his skin blistered and then attached to a stretching machine at a hospital, all in the attempt to make him become taller. Eventually his 6-foot-6 inch father sold him to a troupe of traveling midgets in Berlin. He was 9.

By the time he was a teenager, he had moved to the United States and appeared with the Singer Midgets, whose 30 performers became the nucleus of the Munchkins.

In “The Wizard of Oz,” Slover is the first of three trumpeters to herald the Munchkin mayor’s entrance. Paid about $50 a week for acting in the movie, Slover told friends that Garland’s dog in the film, Toto, earned more.

But he seems to have had quite the personality and a good outlook on life…John Fricke, author of “100 years of Oz” had this to say about Slover and his role in Munchkinland:

“He has a genuine immortality,” Fricke said.

[…]

“In those uninformed days, his father tried witch doctor treatments to make him grow,” Fricke said. “Knowing Karl and his triumph over his early life, you can’t help but celebrate the man at a time like this.”

Easy like Sunday Morning Link of the Week: Pictures are worth a thousand words…

Rescue me: This stunning blue lobster has been rehomed at London's Natural History Museum after a fisherman spotted it at Billingsgate Market

Rescue me: This stunning blue lobster has been rehomed at London’s Natural History Museum after a fisherman spotted it at Billingsgate Market

Scientists at the museum believe the European lobster, traditionally a much darker shade of blue, hatched out with the unusual colour due to a rare genetic variant.

It has now been given to the London Aquarium and will be on display once it has been through quarantine.

Rex, 45, was buying supplies for his shop, The Chelsea Fishmonger, when he saw the lobster at Billingsgate Market.

He said: ‘It’s the most striking blue lobster I have seen in my 30 years in the business and was too nice to put in a pot and boil.

‘I had a word with the seller and we both agreed on how nice it looked. He sold it to me for 10 pounds, which is the normal price for a lobster that size.

Standing out: The rare blue lobster is vividly different in appearance to his muddy-coloured contemporaries

Standing out: The rare blue lobster is vividly different in appearance to his muddy-coloured contemporaries

Is that amazing or what? Such a beautiful color of vivid blue…

That is it for me this big Sunday. Big for me because I am moving into our new old house today. Tomorrow the high-speed internet gets hooked up and by Tuesday I should be back to normal, well at least almost normal. So as of Wednesday…the Evening News Reads will be back in full force! Every evening Monday through Friday, between 5–7pm EST. It will be so good to be back, I miss hanging out in the comments too!

So, have a marvelous day…and post some links to what you are reading and thinking about today!