Thursday Reads: Escape From Dannemora

breakout route

Good Morning!!

Those two murderers who escaped from a maximum security prison in Dannemora, NY six days ago are still on the loose. It’s like something out of a prison break movie, except that the escapees are not sympathetic characters. Some background, in case you haven’t been following the story:

AP, via The Wall Street Journal: Convicted Killers Escape From New York Top-Security Prison.

Two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at a maximum-security prison near the Canadian border and escape through a manhole, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

“It was an elaborate plot,” Gov. Cuomo said after joining law enforcement authorities to retrace the prisoners’ escape route from the Clinton Correctional Facility in the town of Dannemora in the Adirondacks….

Mr. Sweat is serving a sentence of life without parole after he was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a Broome County sheriff’s deputy in 2002. Mr. Matt is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the kidnapping and beating death of a man in 1997.

“A search revealed that there was a hole cut out of the back of the cell through which these inmates escaped,” Mr. Annucci said. “They went onto a catwalk which is about six stories high. We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out to this facility through tunnels, cutting away at several spots.”

Authorities said there are many questions, including how the men acquired the tools.

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That question has now been tentatively answered. From The Buffalo News: Woman who worked at prison may have helped two killers escape.

ALBANY – A woman who worked at the state prison in Dannemora may have helped two convicted murderers escape over the weekend, state police said, and some media have reported that the woman also planned to pick up the escapees afterward but got cold feet.

“She befriended the inmates and may have had some sort of role in assisting them,” State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said at a Wednesday afternoon briefing outside the Clinton Correctional Facility.

D’Amico did not identify the woman, but confirmed media reports over the past several days have identified her as Joyce Mitchell.

The woman was supposed to pick up Richard W. Matt and David P. Sweat after they escaped, but changed her mind at the last minute, CNN and other media reported.

Mitchell’s son told NBC News Tuesday that his mother would not have helped the prisoners escape and that she has been in the hospital with chest pains since Saturday.

D’Amico declined to provide any details about possible assistance the woman provided, such as access to power tools and information about escape routes. Various media accounts have described Mitchell as helping to supply tools that the inmates used to break through walls and pipes, citing anonymous sources.

Read more details in this CNN article: Prison worker in spotlight after brazen New York escape.

Joyce MItchell

Joyce MItchell

Here’s another breathless backgrounder with lots of photos and a diagram (see the image at the top of this post) of the escape route: HOW THE PRISON BREAK WENT DOWN: EXCLUSIVE details on the escape route from New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility.

The great escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility was hatched in the prison tailor shop while the killers were sewing Metro-North uniforms, sources told the Daily News on Monday.

Using power tools that authorities suspect were either sweet-talked out of a female civilian worker or delivered by a contractor working at the prison, Richard Matt and David Sweat managed to pull off the first successful escape from the forbidding prison near the Canadian border.

Investigators are now grilling civilian employees and private contractors working at the prison to see whether any of them provided Matt and Sweat with tools, sources said.

One of them is Joyce Mitchell, 51, who works as an industrial training supervisor in the tailoring department.

Cops questioned Mitchell and her husband, who also works in the prison, on Saturday, according to neighbors.

“They were going through her trash,” said one neighbor, who would not give her name.

Investigators are checking whether Mitchell had a personal relationship with one of the men, sources said.

Now Reuters is reporting that Mitchell “thought she had a romantic relationship” with one of the escapees: Female prison worker, in love, agreed to drive getaway car: NBC News.

A female prison worker being questioned by police, who are hunting two escapees from an upstate New York prison, thought she had a romantic relationship with one of them and had planned to drive the getaway car, NBC News reported on Thursday.

In the end, Joyce Mitchell, an industrial training supervisor in the tailor shop of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, got cold feet and checked herself into a hospital for nerves on Saturday, the day the inmates were discovered missing, NBC reported, citing unnamed senior government officials.

The older inmate, convicted killer Richard Matt, 48, who has a history of escape attempts, had wooed Mitchell for months and established a relationship in which she agreed to drive the getaway car, the report said.

“She thought it was love,” one of the officials told NBC News.

Richard Matt

Richard Matt

Why do some women fall in love with criminals? Here’s some background on the two escaped killers from NBC News: Richard Matt and David Sweat, Convicted Murderers Who Escaped Prison, Have Grisly Past.

Matt, 48, was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2008 for killing [a] businessman. He had already escaped from prison once, in 1986, and at his trial a generation later he was considered so dangerous that police snipers were posted on the courthouse roof….

The victim was a food broker named William Rickerson who had hired and then fired Matt.

On Dec. 4, 1997, according to the trial testimony of an accomplice, Matt beat Rickerson with an electric knife sharpener, bound him with duct tape, tossed him in the trunk of a car, and then drove around for 27 hours looking for a place to kill and bury him.

At one stop on the drive, Matt opened the trunk, broke four of Rickerson’s fingers, hit him in the chest with a steering wheel locking device, then shut the trunk and kept driving.

The accomplice testified that Matt had him turn down a cul-de-sac, stop the car and open the trunk again. He said Matt told him: “You know, I’ve had enough of this.”

He said Matt reached in and twisted Rickerson’s head. “I heard a pop,” the accomplice testified, and the businessman “just dropped back in the trunk.” Matt cut off the arms and legs with a hacksaw, authorities said.

David Sweat

David Sweat

There’s more sickening detail at the link. All Sweat did was kill a cop.

Sweat, 34, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole in the shooting death of Kevin Tarsia, a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County, New York, on July 4, 2002.

Investigators said that he and two other men stole a pickup truck in Pennsylvania, broke into a fireworks and gun store and stole a dozen handguns and rifles.

They drove across the state line to New York to move the weapons from a pickup truck to a car. They shot Tarsia when he confronted them there.

Gawker had more on the escape on Sunday: Escaped Prisoners Left Behind a Politely Racist Note for Police.

The two murder convicts who escaped from upstate New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility overnight on Friday left a a very polite and very racist note telling police and everyone, “Have a nice day!”

The escaped inmates—Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34—had tricked guards using dummy bodies built out of sweatshirts while using mysteriously-acquired power tools to drill through walls and pipes, the New York Times reports. Anthony Annuci, the acting state corrections commissioner, told the Associated Press that the men’s absence was discovered during an early morning bed check on Saturday.

“A search revealed that there was a hole cut out of the back of the cell through which these inmates escaped,” Annucci said. “They went on to a catwalk which is about six stories high. We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out to this facility through tunnels, cutting away at several spots.” ….

At one point along their subterranean escape route, the prisoners left a racist note for anyone following them to find.

Racist note left on wall

Racist note left on wall

Animal New York published the note along with list of the various euphemisms media outlets have used to describe it.

This morning The New York Daily News reported that a “Philly cabbie says he may have driven escaped N.Y killers.”

A Philadelphia taxi driver says he might have picked up the convicted murders who made a brazen prison break from a maximum-security New York facility.

Police are questioning the cabbie, who claimed he shuttled two men who matched the escapees’ descriptions to the train station.

The unidentified driver picked up the men — who looked like 48-year-old Richard Matt and 34-year-old David Sweat — in the city’s center and drove them to 30th Street Station, NBC Philadelphia reported. The cabbie worked two more fares and then called police, he told investigators.

The latest news on the search for Sweat and Matt is that authorities suspect they may be headed for Vermont. I just hope they don’t pass by my house on their way!

From The Washington Post:

Authorities searching for two escaped killers who have been on the loose for the better part of a week acknowledged being in the dark about their whereabouts or doings, even as the hunt for the men expanded past state borders into Vermont.

At a news conference outside the maximum-security prison on Wednesday, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said, “I have no information on where they are or what they’re doing, to be honest with you.”

But authorities expanded the search after investigators learned that the inmates had talked before last weekend’s breakout about going to neighboring Vermont.

“We have information that suggests they thought New York was going to be hot. Vermont would be cooler, in terms of law enforcement,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said at the news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gee, no kidding.

The Christian Science Monitor reports: 

Vermont authorities are patrolling Lake Champlain and areas alongside it, Shumlin said. Cuomo urged the people of Vermont to be on the alert and report anything suspicious, warning: “Trust me, these men are nothing to be trifled with.”

As part of the search, state troopers and correction officers in helmets and body armor retraced their steps around the prison, checking garage doors, sheds, windows and other structures for signs of a break-in or other clues.

More than 450 federal and state law enforcement officers were taking part in the search, including customs agents, federal marshals and park rangers.

I wonder who else is helping these guys?

Law enforcement officials again asked the public to report anything out of the ordinary.

“We don’t want them out searching the woods,” Sheriff David Favro said. “But if you’re sitting on your porch, get your binoculars out and see if you see something unusual.”

Lots more human interest stuff at the link. People in Dannemora don’t seem all that concerned.

As of this morning, authorities have shut down a major highway near the prison. From WPTZ.com: Police converge on Cadyville in search for two fugitives. Route 374 closed from Dannemora to West Plattsburgh.

CADYVILLE, N.Y. —A massive search effort for two inmates who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora intensified late Wednesday night and continued into Thursday.

Hundreds of police officers converged on the community of Cadyville, approximately one mile east of the village of Dannemora.

New York State Police closed State Route 374 east of the village of Dannemora to West Plattsburgh as they investigate what they called a “lead involving the escapees from the Clinton Correctional Facility.”

Cops are going over the whole area with a fine-toothed comb.

Hundreds of officers have scoured neighboring woods, looking “behind every tree, under every rock and inside every structure” for Matt and Sweat, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said.

They’ve searched farms, fields and woods in Willsboro after a driver saw two “suspicious” men run off during a late-night driving rainstorm. Then there was a turn toward Vermont because of “information that would suggest (that state) was discussed as a possible location,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. Vermont state police vessels and troopers looked for the fugitives on Lake Champlain, which straddles the two states, as well as in nearby campsites.

That said, authorities don’t have any hard information that Matt and Sweat have left New York. Nor can they discount the possibility they have left the area, perhaps heading to Canada — which is just 20 miles north of the prison — or most anywhere in the United States or beyond. To this point, 50 digital billboards with the fugitives’ photos have gone up in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Let’s hope they catch these killers before anyone gets hurt. If they are headed to Vermont, maybe they will try to sneak into Canada, although that’s a lot more difficult now than it used to be.

To be honest, I haven’t been following this story closely until now because I assumed the Sweat and Matt would be caught fairly quickly; but after six days the story has become a lot more interesting. So I wrote a post about it to give me an excuse to get all the details.

This is an open thread. Feel free to discuss and post links on politics or anything else you want in the comment thread and have a great day. 

 


Tuesday Reads: Jonas Salk, the Polio Vaccine, and Today’s For-Profit, Fear-Based Culture

Puppy in vest

 

Good Morning!!

I thought I’d illustrate today’s post with photos of cute puppies to offset the generally horrible news. The photo above comes from yesterday’s Boston Globe, Puppy in Boston Police Department Bulletproof Vest Melts Internet.

The photo, which was posted to Reddit, is from Massachusetts Vest-A-Dog, a non-profit that helps provide bulletproof vests, essential equipment, training, and purchase of dogs for police and law enforcement K-9 programs throughout the state.

“As K-9s are trained to give up their lives to protect their partners and all of us, we believe it is every bit as important to protect them,” according to www.mavestadog.org which is why they can run freely without pain

The story says the puppy’s name is Tuco, after a character in Breaking Bad.

Did you see today’s Google doodle? It honors what would have been Jonas Salk’s 100th birthday.

In 1954, I was 6 years old and I was among the first wave of kids who got the experimental polio vaccine at my school. We were living in Lawrence, Kansas then, and I attended Cordley Elementary School. I’m not sure if this was when I was in the first or second grade (I started kindergarten at age 4). Another girl in my class had already gotten polio and one of her legs was paralyzed. I don’t know if I was in the experimental or control group, but I do recall getting another shot the following year. Children from 44 states participated in the tests.

puppies1

A look back at Salk’s work highlights the vast differences between American culture in the mid-1950s and today. Salk never patented the vaccine, because he wanted it to be distributed to as many children as possible; so he never made a cent from his discovery. In some ways the 1950s were the bad old days, but most Americans still believed in pulling together for the public good–maybe it was a hangover from WWII.

From The Washington Post, JONAS SALK: Google says ‘thanks’ to the heroic polio-vaccine developer with birthday Doodle, by Michael Cavna.

As so many tens of thousands of children suffered from polio into midcentury, his vaccine began as the stuff of dreams; by the mid-’50s, it was the substance of a profoundly life-altering reality.

Dr. Salk had begun his journey a coast away; he got his medical degree in 1939, at the New York University School of Medicine, and was working at the city’s Mount Sinai Hospital before a research fellowship at the University of Michigan — with his mentor — beckoned. In 1947, he moved to head up the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Virus Research Laboratory, where he did the real groundbreaking work in his march toward a vaccine for paralytic poliomyelitis, or polio.

The goal, of course, was to trigger the body’s own defenses — so it would build immunity against the disease. Salk believed that antibodies could be produced by injecting not a live virus, but rather a deactivated (non-infectious) one.

At this point, enough necessary tumblers clicked into place. For one, the team of Harvard scientist John Enders solved how to grow the pure polio virus in the test tube — a crucial step that enabled Salk’s effective experimentation with a “killed virus.” And then there were the needed funds — Salk got backing from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation).

In 1954, at least 1-million children — the Polio Pioneers — were tested across the nation (this followed testing that ranged from monkeys to Salk’s own family). The vaccine was announced as safe and largely effective on April 12, 1955.

“In the two years before [the] vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000,” according to the Salk Institute. “By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.”

 Now we have panic over Ebola, and instead of focusing on developing a vaccine we have politicians cutting funds for medical research and ginning up public panic for their own selfish purposes, academics and corporations more interested in profits than saving lives, and ignorant people refusing to vaccinate their children.

puppies4

From The Atlantic, The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Forgetting the Polio Epidemic, by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz.

It started out as a head cold. Then, the day before Halloween, 6-year-old Frankie Flood began gasping for breath. His parents rushed him to City Hospital in Syracuse, New York, where a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis every parent feared most in 1953: poliomyelitis. He died on his way to the operating room. “Frankie could not swallow—he was literally drowning in his own secretions,”wrote his twin sister, Janice, decades later. “Dad cradled his only son as best he could while hampered by the fact that the only part of Frankie’s body that remained outside the iron lung was his head and neck.”

At a time when a single case of Ebola or enterovirus can start a national panic, it’s hard to remember the sheer scale of the polio epidemic. In the peak year of 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases throughout America; 3,000 were fatal, and 21,000 left their victims paralyzed. In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York, eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died, and others, including Janice, spent years learning to walk again.

Then, in 1955, American children began lining up for Jonas Salk’s new polio vaccine. By the early 1960s, the recurring epidemics were 97 percent gone.

Salk, who died in 1995, would have turned 100 on October 28. He is still remembered as a saintly figure—not only because he banished a terrifying childhood illness, but because he came from humble beginnings yet gave up the chance to become wealthy. (According to Forbes, Salk could have made as much as $7 billion from the vaccine.) When Edward R. Murrow asked him who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk famously replied, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Can you imagine that happening today? Read much more about Salk at the Atlantic link.

PETS_LONMED_2034_10

Today it’s all about corporations making money from people’s misery. From LA CityWatch, How Sick is This Generation’s Pills for Profit Philosophy? by Bob Gelfand.

Here are two seemingly unrelated stories that nevertheless intersect. The first involves a scientific lecture I heard the other day. Without going into details, the story involves the discovery of a naturally occurring small protein that treats some of the symptoms of diabetes when injected into rodents, and also slows the growth of cancer cells grown in culture. It is a marvelous discovery and is supported by numerous control experiments that are very convincing.

The scientist, in a later conversation, explained that the patent on this discovery had already been submitted, even though the scientific papers  had not all been written and submitted to journals.

In another lecture a few weeks earlier, but at the same institution, we heard from a venture capitalist. He explained that the pharmaceutical companies are only interested in developments that promise to show a billion dollars in sales.

In yet a third talk by an administrator, the resident scientists and physicians were encouraged to work with the institution’s patent office as early as possible on any patentable application.

The subject of this discussion is the monetization of science and its application to pharmaceutical research. It was not always so. In some ways this is a bad thing, and in other ways it is not.

The great counterargument to the direct monetization of scientific discovery is the story of the polio vaccine. Jonas Salk and his financial supporters made no attempt to patent the Salk vaccine. There are competing stories as to the motives and law that led to this decision. One argument is that the research had been paid for by tens of millions of donations through organizations such as the March of Dimes. Another argument is that the lawyers did not believe that a patent application would be upheld. Salk famously stated that the vaccine presumably belonged to the people, perhaps implying that the mass of Americans through their donations had already earned the right to the vaccine.

puppies3

Here’s latest on the Ebola panic front. Kaci Hickox escaped her imprisonment by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie only to end up under the thumb of another stupid Republican governor Maine’s Paul LePage. Fox News reports, New fight over Ebola quarantine looms as nurse returns to Maine.

Kaci Hickox left a Newark hospital on Monday and was expected to arrive in the northern Maine town of Fort Kent early Tuesday. Maine health officials have already announced that Hickox is expected to comply with a 21-day voluntary in-home quarantine put in place by the state’s governor, Paul LePage.

However, one of Hickox’s lawyers, Steve Hyman, said he expected her to remain in seclusion for only the “next day or so” while he works with Maine health officials. He said he believes the state should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that require only monitoring, not quarantine, for health care workers who show no symptoms after treating Ebola patients.

“She’s a very good person who did very good work and deserves to be honored, not detained, for it,” he said.

LePage defended the quarantine in a news release Monday, saying that state officials must be “vigilant in our duty to protect the health and safety of all Mainers.” Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the governor, told the Portland Press Herald that authorities would take “appropriate action” if Hickox does not comply with the quarantine, though she did not specify what that action might be.

The Portland Press Herald isn’t sure whether Hickox’s Maine quarantine is voluntary or required.

Bennett, when asked whether a 21-day quarantine was mandatory or voluntary for Hickox, at first told the Portland Press Herald early Monday afternoon that it was “voluntary.” Later in the afternoon, she wrote in an email that Hickox was expected to follow the quarantine.

“We fully expect individuals to voluntarily comply with an in-home quarantine. If an individual is not compliant, the state is prepared to take appropriate action,” Bennett wrote. She was asked repeatedly by the Press Herald to clarify what “appropriate action” was, but did not respond.

Whether Hickox, who worked in Sierra Leone for Doctors Without Borders, would abide by a quarantine is unknown. Her New York attorney, Steven Hyman, emphasized her civil rights.

“There is no basis (for her) to be kept in quarantine or isolation,” Hyman said. “We are prepared to establish that in a court of law.” [….]

The Maine Attorney General’s Office declined to comment. Dr. Dora Anne Mills, a former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said she does not believe the state could impose a quarantine without a court order.

Meanwhile Chris Christie is still making a fool of himself in public. Politico reports that he’s now claiming he knows better than the CDC.

The Republican governor has faced criticism from the White House and some health experts over his and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policy for a 21-day mandatory quarantine for aid workers returning from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday, Christie said again that mounting evidence shows that the CDC will eventually come around to his policy.

“[T]he CDC has been behind on this. Folks got infected in Texas because they were behind,” Christie said, in reference to the multiple Ebola cases in Dallas. “And we’re not going to have folks being infected in New Jersey and in other states in this country. Governors ultimately have the responsibility to protect the public health and the public safety of the people within their borders when folks come in with this problem.”

He cited the five other states — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New York and Georgia — where quarantines are in place, as well as reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the military impose a 21-day quarantine for troops returning from West Africa. A Defense Department spokesman declined to confirm those reports on Monday.

The governor criticized both the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci in particular, the director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has criticized the quarantine policy. Appearing on the Sunday talk shows, Fauci called mandatory quarantine policies not “based on scientific data.”

“I think Dr. Fauci is responding … in a really hyperbolic way because they’ve been wrong before,” Christie said when asked about Fauci’s criticism.

Temple with stuffed animals

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo looks like a fool too. From The Buffalo News:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Ebola quarantine policy met with withering criticism Monday from AIDS experts who said it could be counterproductive as well as the governor’s Republican campaign opponent, who said it didn’t go far enough.
Three days after Cuomo imposed a 21-day quarantine on health workers returning from Ebola-stricken nations and a day after the governor relaxed that policy to allow people to serve their quarantines at home, more than 100 AIDS activists, researchers and doctors wrote a letter to the governor condemning his actions on Ebola.

The governor’s quarantine policy “is not supported by scientific evidence” and “may have consequences that are the antithesis of effective public health policy,” said the letter, which was signed by AIDS activists such as the head of ACT UP NY as well as more than 35 physicians, including medical school professors at Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Yale.

Most notably, quarantines “will potentially have a profound effect on efforts to recruit U.S.-based health care professionals who are desperately needed to help combat the burgeoning epidemic in West Africa while increasing stigma toward persons who come from those countries,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, criticized the governor for shifting stances on the quarantine.

“What we’re getting is a governor who’s winging it, changing the policy all the time,” Astorino said while campaigning in New Rochelle. “It’s very confusing, and it could lead to health risks for many people.”

Finally, Dallas nurse Amber Vincent has recovered and will be leaving the hospital soon.

When you want your puppy to be this cute, hire a dog groomer. Your dog will look so fabulous you would it more.

I have a few more articles that I’ll post in the comment thread. What stories are you following today? See you down below, and have a terrific Tuesday!

 


Monday Reads: Bachmann’s Federal Subsidies, Nebraska Nuke Plants, and Cuomo vs. Obama on Marriage Equality

Good morning!! This is going to be a quickie morning post, because I kind of wore myself out yesterday obsessing on the Casey Anthony trial and another “tabloid” story I’ve been following about woman–Lauren Spierer, an IU student–who disappeared in Bloomington, Indiana three weeks ago. I grew up in Indiana and my sister lives in Bloomington, so I’ve been reading a lot about the case.

Here’s some background on the Spierer case: Vanished: Following the last-known steps of Lauren Spierer

I promise I’ll get back to obsessing on politics as soon as some real news starts happening again.

The LA Times had a couple of stories about Michele Bachmann and her husband getting federal money for his clinic and his parents’ farm.

Bachmann’s had her share of government aid

Rep. Michele Bachmann has been propelled into the 2012 presidential contest in part by her insistent calls to reduce federal spending, a pitch in tune with the big-government antipathy gripping many conservatives.

But the Minnesota Republican and her family have benefited personally from government aid, an examination of her record and finances shows. A counseling clinic run by her husband has received nearly $30,000 from the state of Minnesota in the last five years, money that in part came from the federal government. A family farm in Wisconsin, in which the congresswoman is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.

And she has sought to keep federal money flowing to her constituents. After publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s stimulus program, Bachmann requested stimulus funds to support projects in her district. Although she has been a fierce critic of earmarks — calling them “part of the root problem with Washington’s spending addiction” — the congresswoman nonetheless argued recently that transportation projects should not be considered congressional pork.

Michele Bachmann denies benefiting from government aid

Rep. Michele Bachmann deflected allegations Sunday that she and her immediate family had benefited from government assistance despite her demands to cut the federal budget, saying hundreds of thousands of dollars for her family farm and a counseling clinic went to employees and her in-laws.

“My husband and I did not get the money,” the Minnesota Republican said on Sunday news shows one day before officially opening her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa — her birthplace.

Except she did get the money, as shown by her disclosure forms. See the previous story. Bachmann claimed that the money for the clinic went for employee training. Wouldn’t training of employees also help the business?

The New York Times has a pretty good article about the two Nebraska nuclear plants that are endangered by flooding from the Missouri River–the Ft. Calhoun and Cooper reactors. If you haven’t read Dakinikat’s post on this scary situation, please do. From the NYT piece:

Like inhabitants of a city preparing for a siege, operators of the nuclear reactor here have spent days working to defend it against the swollen Missouri River at its doorstep. On Sunday, eight days after the river rose high enough to require the operators to declare a low-level emergency, a swarm of plant officials got to show off their preparations to the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The reactor, Cooper Station, is one of two nuclear plants on the Missouri River that are threatened by flooding. The second reactor, Fort Calhoun, 85 miles north, came under increased pressure for a brief period on Sunday. Before dawn, a piece of heavy equipment nicked an eight-foot-high, 2,000-foot-long temporary rubber berm, and it deflated. Water also began to approach electrical equipment, which prompted operators to cut themselves off from the grid and start up diesel generators. (It returned to grid power later Sunday.) Both nuclear plants appeared prepared to weather the flooding, their operators and federal government regulators said.

Fort Calhoun was shut down in April for refueling and stayed closed because of predictions of flooding. Plant officials say the facility is designed to remain secure at a river level of up to 1,014 feet above sea level. The water level stabilized at 1,006.5 feet on Sunday, according to the Omaha Public Power District, the operator of the Fort Calhoun plant.

Unfortunately the Times doesn’t mention that large amounts of nuclear tritium are leaking from these plants into the groundwater or say whether any testing of drinking water is being done. What happens if the Missouri becomes contaminated by nuclear material?

CNN reports that a huge water-filled berm that was being used to protect the Ft. Calhoun plant burst yesterday.

Some sort of machinery came in contact with the berm, puncturing it and causing the berm to deflate, said Mike Jones, a spokesman for the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), which owns the Fort Calhoun plant.

Authorities say this was just a back-up measure and the plant is still safe.

Parts of the grounds are already under water as the swollen Missouri River overflows its banks, including areas around some auxiliary buildings, Jones said.

The 8-foot-tall, water-filled berm, 16 feet wide at its base, surrounded the reactor containment structure and auxiliary buildings, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We built the plant up high enough based on history, based on the flooding in the past. If the flood would rise for some reason above that level we have taken precautions, again, per our procedures to sandbag the important equipment for the reactors,” said Dave Van Der Kamp, with the Nebraska Public Power District.

He said the chances of floodwater getting into the building where the core is kept are almost zero.

I sure hope that’s true.

The NYT has an interesting article on how Andrew Cuomo helped shepherd the gay marriage bill through the New York legislature.

In the 35th-floor conference room of a Manhattan high-rise, two of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most trusted advisers held a secret meeting a few weeks ago with a group of super-rich Republican donors.

Over tuna and turkey sandwiches, the advisers explained that New York’s Democratic governor was determined to legalize same-sex marriage and would deliver every possible Senate vote from his own party.

[….]

…the donors in the room — the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.

Basically, Cuomo acted more presidential than Obama did. I wonder if Cuomo would like to primary Obama? Just kidding….

Here’s an interesting piece at the WaPo: Votes that pushed us into the red. There is a chart that shows how various politicians rationalized supporting big spending projects–although some of them might have actually provided some economic stimulus.

Finally, there’s going to be some kind of cost-cutting change to the electric power grid that will make our electric clocks run fast.

A yearlong experiment with the nation’s electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers — and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.

“A lot of people are going to have things break and they’re not going to know why,” said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current — and the time — as precise as possible.

The effect will be greater in some areas than others.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. runs the nation’s interlocking web of transmission lines and power plants. A June 14 company presentation spelled out the potential effects of the change: East Coast clocks may run as much as 20 minutes fast over a year, but West Coast clocks are only likely to be off by 8 minutes. In Texas, it’s only an expected speedup of 2 minutes.

Some parts of the grid, like in the East, tend to run faster than others. Errors add up. If the grid averages just over 60 cycles a second, clocks that rely on the grid will gain 14 seconds per day, according to the company’s presentation.

That’s it for me. I’ve gotta go see what Judge Belvin Perry has to say this morning. What are you reading and blogging about today?