February 2009 Archives

AEGIS

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Now we're getting somewhere.


Synthetic life form grows in Florida lab

By Irene Klotz

When NASA began thinking about missions to look for life beyond Earth, it realized it had a problem: how to recognize life if it were found.

Scientists came up with a definition for life -- a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution -- but remained understandably fuzzy on the details.

It is still not known how life on Earth took hold, what happened to a bunch of chemicals that made them capable of supporting a metabolism, replicating and evolution. But a new field of science, called synthetic biology, is aiming to find out.

One of the most promising developments lies in a beaker of water inside a Florida laboratory. It's an experiment called AEGIS -- an acronym for Artificially Expanded Genetic Information System. Its creator, Steve Benner, says it is the first synthetic genetic system capable of Darwinian evolution.

AEGIS is not self-sustaining, at least not yet, and with 12 DNA building blocks -- as opposed to the usual four -- there's little chance it will be confused with natural life. Still, Benner is encouraged by the results.

"It's evolving. It's doing what we designed it to do," said Benner, a biochemist with the Gainesville, Fla.-based Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution.

In addition to providing an example of how alien life might be cobbled together, synthetic biology has a broad array of uses on the home front.

"If you understand it, you can create it," Benner told Discovery News.

Walking in your footsteps

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Prints Show a Modern Foot in Prehumans

By John N. Wilbur


Footprints uncovered in Kenya show that as early as 1.5 million years ago an ancestral species, almost certainly Homo erectus, had already evolved the feet and walking gait of modern humans.

footprint.jpgAn international team of scientists, in a report on Friday in the journal Science, said the well-defined prints in an eroding bluff east of Lake Turkana "provided the oldest evidence of an essentially modern humanlike foot anatomy." They said the find also added to evidence that painted a picture of Homo erectus as the prehumans who took long evolutionary strides -- figuratively and, now it seems, also literally.

Where the individuals who made the tracks were going, or why, is beyond knowing by the cleverest scientist. The variability of the separation between some steps, researchers said, suggests that they were picking their way over an uneven surface, muddy enough to leave a mark -- an unintended message from an extinct species for the contemplation of its descendants.

Until now, no footprint trails had ever been associated with early members of our long-legged genus Homo. Preserved ancient footprints of any kind are rare. The only earlier prints of a protohuman species were found in 1978 at Laetoli, in Tanzania. Dated at 3.7 million years ago, they were made by Australopithecus afarensis, the diminutive species to which the famous Lucy skeleton belonged. The prints showed that the species already walked upright, but its short legs and long arms and its feet were in many ways apelike.

A huge victory for medical marijuana users

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Finally, some freaking sanity. This decision has come far sooner than I thought it would.

DEA to halt medical marijuana raids

Supporters of programs to provide legal marijuana to patients with painful medical conditions are celebrating Attorney General Eric Holder's statement this week that the Drug Enforcement Administration would end its raids on state-approved marijuana dispensaries.

Federal raids on medical marijuana distributors continued at least into the second week of Barack Obama's presidency, when federal agents shut down at least two dispensaries in California on Feb. 3.

Holder was asked about those raids Wednesday in Santa Ana, Calif., at a news conference that was called to announce the arrests of 755 people in a nationwide crackdown on the U.S. operations of Mexican drug cartels. He said such operations would no longer be conducted.

Related: Ammiano Introduces California Bill to Decriminalize, Tax, Regulate Marijuana
(Not just medical but ALL marijunana)

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One of the Best Authors Ever Passes

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My personal favorite was "Riverworld". .


Philip José Farmer, Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 91

by Gerald Jonas

jpfarmer.jpgPhilip José Farmer, a science fiction writer who shocked readers in the 1950s by depicting sex with aliens and who went on to challenge conventional pieties of the genre in caustic fables set on bizarre worlds of his own devising, died Wednesday. He was 91 and lived in Peoria, Ill..

His official web site announced his death, saying he "passed away peacefully in his sleep."

Mr. Farmer's distinctive blend of intellectual daring and pulp-fiction prose found a worldwide audience. His more than 75 books have been translated into 22 languages and published in more than 40 countries.

Though he wrote many admired short stories, he was best known for his multi-novel series. These sprawling, episodic works gave him room to explore every nuance of a provocative premise while indulging his taste for lurid, violent action.

In his Riverworld series Mr. Farmer imagined a river millions of miles long on a distant planet where virtually everyone who has died on Earth is physically reborn and given a second chance to make something of life. In his Dayworld series, Earth's overpopulation crisis has been relieved by a technical fix; each person spends one day of the week awake and the other six days in suspended animation. In his World of Tiers series, mad demigods create pocket universes for their own amusement, only to face rebellion from their putative creatures.

In a genre known for prolific writers, Mr. Farmer's output was famously prodigious. At one point in the 1970s he had 11 different series in various stages of completion. Even some of his admirers deplored his tendency to write too much too fast. The literary critic Leslie Fiedler agreed that his work was sometimes "sloppily" written but found that that was a small price to pay for the exhilarating breadth of his imagination.

Mr. Farmer himself made no apologies for his excesses. "Imagination," he said, "is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got."

How the recently released prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, came to be tortured and held without charges at Gitmo for 7 years.

How a Man Was Thrown into Gitmo and Tortured for Clicking on My Article


By Barbara Ehrenreich,

I like to think that some of the things I write cause discomfort in those readers who deserve to feel it. Ideally, they should squirm, they should flinch, they might even experience fleeting gastrointestinal symptoms. But I have always drawn the line at torture. It may be unpleasant to read some of my writings, especially if they have been assigned by a professor, but it should not result in uncontrollable screaming, genital mutilation or significant blood loss.

With such stringent journalistic ethics in place, I was shocked to read in the February 14 Daily Mail Online a brief article headed "Food writer's online guide to building an H-bomb...the 'evidence' that put this man in Guantánamo." The "food writer" was identified as me, and the story began:

A British 'resident' held at Guantanamo Bay was identified as a terrorist after confessing he had visited a 'joke' website on how to build a nuclear weapon, it was revealed last night.

Binyam Mohamed, a former UK asylum seeker, admitted to having read the 'instructions' after allegedly being beaten, hung up by his wrists for a week and having a gun held to his head in a Pakistani jail.

While I am not, and have never been, a "food writer," other details about the "joke" rang true, such as the names of my co-authors, Peter Biskind and physicist Michio Kaku. Rewind to 1979, when Peter and I were working for a now-defunct left-wing magazine named Seven Days. The government had just suppressed the publication of another magazine, The Progressive, for attempting to print an article called "The H-Bomb Secret." I don't remember that article, and the current editor of The Progressive recalls only that it contained a lot of physics and was "Greek to me." Both in solidarity with The Progressive and in defense of free speech, we at Seven Days decided to do a satirical article entitled "How to Make Your Own H-Bomb," offering step-by-step instructions for assembling a bomb using equipment available in one's own home.

The satire was not subtle. After discussing the toxicity of plutonium, we advised that to avoid ingesting it orally, "Never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach." My favorite section dealt with the challenge of enriching uranium hexafluoride:

First transform the gas into a liquid by subjecting it to pressure. You can use a bicycle pump for this. Then make a simple home centrifuge. Fill a standard-size bucket one-quarter full of liquid uranium hexafluoride. Attach a six-foot rope to the bucket handle. Now swing the rope (and attached bucket) around your head as fast as possible. Keep this up for about 45 minutes. Slow down gradually, and very gently put the bucket on the floor. The U-235, which is lighter, will have risen to the top, where it can be skimmed off like cream. Repeat this step until you have the required 10 pounds of uranium. (Safety note: Don't put all your enriched uranium hexafluoride in one bucket. Use at least two or three buckets and keep them in separate corners of the room. This will prevent the premature build-up of a critical mass.)

Our H-bomb cover story created a bit of a stir at the time, then vanished into the attics and garages of former Seven Days staffers, only to resurface, at least in part, on the Internet in the early 2000s. Today, you can find it quoted on the blog spot of a University of Dayton undergraduate, along with the flattering comment: "This forum post is priceless. It is one of the best pieces of scientific satire I have ever seen. I can only hope and pray that terrorist groups attempt to construct an atomic bomb using these instructions -- if they survive the attempt, they'll have at least wasted months of effort."

Enter Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian refugee and legal resident of Britain who had found work as a janitor after drug problems derailed his college career.

Watch me patch the sky

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SEATTLE - A few weeks after launching the first wide-scale layoffs in its history, Microsoft Corp. admits it messed up a key part of the plan.
Link

The company is asking some laid-off employees for a portion of their severance back, saying an administrative glitch caused the software maker to pay them too much.

I guess that would mean the distribution of MS LayOff Pro 2009 Service Pack 1?


The Malling of America

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In 1927, an American journalist wrote: "A change has come over our democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizen's first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that of consumer. "

Re: the video below:

"This series is about how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy." - Adam Curtis


Sunday Cartoon

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Black Heroes of the Civil War

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This is new to me. I had never heard of this interesting connection of Blacks and the civil war.


Slave in Jefferson Davis' home gave Union key secrets


wmjackson.jpgWilliam Jackson was a slave in the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. It turns out he was also a spy for the Union Army, providing key secrets to the North about the Confederacy. He used his position to listen closely to Jefferson Davis' conversations and leaked them to the North.

Jackson was Davis' house servant and personal coachman. He learned high-level details about Confederate battle plans and movements because Davis saw him as a "piece of furniture" -- not a human, according to Ken Dagler, author of "Black Dispatches," which explores espionage by America's slaves.

"Because of his role as a menial servant, he simply was ignored," Dagler said. "So Jefferson Davis would hold conversations with military and Confederate civilian officials in his presence."

In late 1861, Jackson fled across enemy lines and was immediately debriefed by Union soldiers. Dagler said Jackson provided information about supply routes and military strategy.

"In Jackson's case, what he did was ... present some of the current issues that were affecting the Confederacy that you could not read about in the local press that was being passed back and forth across local lines. He actually had some feel for the issues of supply problems," Dagler said.

Jackson and other slaves' heroic efforts have been a forgotten legacy of the war -- lost amid the nation's racially charged past and the heaps of information about the war's historic battles. But historians over the last few decades have been taking an interest in the sacrifice of African-Americans during those war years.

Jackson's espionage is mentioned in a letter from a general to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell refers to "Jeff Davis' coachman" as the source of information about Confederate deployments. Dagler said slaves who served as spies were able to collect incredibly detailed information, in large part because of their tradition of oral history. Because Southern laws prevented blacks from learning how to read and write, he said, the slave spies listened intently to minute details and memorized them.

"What the Union officers found very quickly with those who crossed the line ... was that if you talked to them, they remembered a great more in the way of details and specifics than the average person ... because again they relied totally on their memory as opposed to any written records," he said.

Jackson wasn't the only spy. There were hundreds of them. In some cases, the slaves made it to the North, only to return to the South to risk being hanged. One Union general wrote that he counted on black spies in Tennessee because "no white man had the pluck to do it." No one was better than Robert Smalls, a slave who guided vital supply ships in and out of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. He eventually escaped and provided the Union with "a turning of the forces in Charleston Harbor," according to an annual report of the Navy secretary to President Lincoln.

"A debriefing of him gave ... the Union force there the entire fortification scheme for the interior harbor," Dagler said.

One of the most iconic spies was Harriet Tubman, who ran the Underground Railroad, bringing slaves to the North. In 1863, she was asked by the Union to help with espionage in South Carolina. She picked former slaves from the region for an espionage ring and led many of the spy expeditions herself.

"The height of her intelligence involvement occurred late in 1863 when she actually led a raid into South Carolina," Dagler said. "In addition to the destruction of millions of dollars of property, she brought out over 800 slaves back into freedom in the North."

As the nation marks Black History Month in February, Dagler said that history should include the sacrifices of the African-Americans who risked their lives for their nation. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice.

"They were all over the place, and no one [in the South] considered them to be of any value. Consequently, they heard and saw virtually everything done by their masters, who were the decision-makers," Dagler said.

Whatever happened to William Jackson, the spy in Jefferson Davis's house? Unfortunately, that remains a great unknown.

"He simply disappeared from history, as so many of them have."

First Truthiness, Now Youthiness

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I really hope the Republicans follow up on this insane idea of Michael Steele's to use hip hop to reinvigorate the party because it will make for a lot of late night comedy. Talk about being idea bankrupt.

Michael Steele To Reinvent GOP With Hip-Hop And Youthiness

hiphopsteele.gifWONKETTE SEZ:

GOP Chairman Michael Steele is proving to be pretty goddamn tiresome already and he has been running the party for what, minus five minutes? After explaining to George Stephanopoulos how "jobs" are different from "work," he then gave this big long interview with the Washington Times that was likewise so jam-packed with mockable bullshit that it is hard to see what a person with a satirical blog-writing "job" is supposed to do with it.

The Ultimate Reboot

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One Question for Anti-Abortionists

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hat tip to Ouroboros:


How to Stump Anti-Abortionists With One Question

by Daniel Florien

Did you know you can stump anti-abortionists with one simple question?

Just ask them this:


If abortion was illegal, what should be done with the women who have illegal abortions?

Now watch their faces as the cognitive dissonance sets in. They believe abortion to be murder. Murder deserves severe punishment. Thus, women who have illegal abortions should receive severe punishment -- like life in prison or the death penalty. That's the logical conclusion.

But they can't accept this conclusion. They know it's absurd and unfair -- which means they know abortion is not really murder.

Here's a must-watch video of anti-abortion protesters being asked this question:

It's amazing they've never thought about the question before -- they've been involved in the anti-abortion movement for years. What's the point of spending all that time trying to make abortion illegal if you're not even sure there should be any punishment for breaking the law?


Found Art

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I love this and copped it from The Domesticated Primate


darwin_repub.jpg

Just when

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you think you've heard it all...comes a myth that defies plumbing. What the heck are the roots of this one?

Indian boy marries dog to ward off tiger attacks

BHUBANESWAR, India - An infant boy was married off to his neighbors' dog in eastern India by villagers who said it will stop the groom from being killed by wild animals, officials and witnesses said Wednesday.

Around 150 tribespeople performed the ritual recently in a hamlet in the state of Orissa's Jajpur district after the boy, who is under two years old, grew a tooth on his upper gum.

The Munda tribe see such a growth in young children as a bad omen and believe it makes them prone to attacks by tigers and another animals. The tribal god will bless the child and ward off evil spirits after the marriage.

"We performed the marriage because it will overcome any curse that might fall on the child as well on us," the boy's father, Sanarumala Munda, was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

The groom, Sagula, was carried by his family in procession to the village temple, where a priest solemnized the marriage between Sagula and his bride Jyoti by chanting Sanskrit hymns, a witness said.

The villagers then ate a feast with rich food and alcohol to celebrate.

The dog belongs to the groom's neighbors and was set free to roam around the area after the ceremony. No dowry was exchanged, the witness said, and the boy will still be able to marry a human bride in the future without filing for divorce.

Indian law does not recognize weddings between people and animals, but the ritual survives in rural and tribal areas of the country where millions are illiterate.

Joie de Vie à la fin

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Is it just me or is it chilly in here?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."
Bad News From America's Top Spy

by Chris Hedges

We have a remarkable ability to create our own monsters. A few decades of meddling in the Middle East with our Israeli doppelgänger and we get Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, the Iraqi resistance movement and a resurgent Taliban. Now we trash the world economy and destroy the ecosystem and sit back to watch our handiwork. Hints of our brave new world seeped out Thursday when Washington's new director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the "violent extremism" of the 1920s and 1930s.

It turns out that Wall Street, rather than Islamic jihad, has produced our most dangerous terrorists. You wouldn't know this from the Obama administration, which seems hellbent on draining the blood out of the body politic and transfusing it into the corpse of our financial system. But by the time Barack Obama is done all we will be left with is a corpse--a corpse and no blood. And then what? We will see accelerated plant and retail closures, inflation, an epidemic of bankruptcies, new rounds of foreclosures, bread lines, unemployment surpassing the levels of the Great Depression and, as Blair fears, social upheaval.

The United Nations' International Labor Organization estimates that some 50 million workers will lose their jobs worldwide this year. The collapse has already seen 3.6 million lost jobs in the United States. The International Monetary Fund's prediction for global economic growth in 2009 is 0.5 percent--the worst since World War II. There are 2.3 million properties in the United States that received a default notice or were repossessed last year. And this number is set to rise in 2009, especially as vacant commercial real estate begins to be foreclosed. About 20,000 major global banks collapsed, were sold or were nationalized in 2008. There are an estimated 62,000 U.S. companies expected to shut down this year. Unemployment, when you add people no longer looking for jobs and part-time workers who cannot find full-time employment, is close to 14 percent.

And we have few tools left to dig our way out. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been destroyed by globalization. Consumers, thanks to credit card companies and easy lines of credit, are $14 trillion in debt. The government has pledged trillions toward the crisis, most of it borrowed or printed in the form of new money. It is borrowing trillions more to fund our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And no one states the obvious: We will never be able to pay these loans back. We are supposed to somehow spend our way out of the crisis and maintain our imperial project on credit. Let our kids worry about it. There is no coherent and realistic plan, one built around our severe limitations, to stanch the bleeding or ameliorate the mounting deprivations we will suffer as citizens. Contrast this with the national security state's strategies to crush potential civil unrest and you get a glimpse of the future. It doesn't look good.

More Outrage

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This crap is driving me nuts.

Who Keeps Screwing Us Over?

by Cenk Uygur

I shouldn't be surprised by now. But I still was when I read the article this morning in the Washington Post explaining that the cap on executive pay has been removed from the stimulus bill. I knew what Congress was doing yesterday by bringing the Wall Street executives in and scolding them in public was a dog and pony show. But I had not realized how profoundly full of shit these politicians are.

They make a big display of yelling at the CEOs and then the very next day they quietly remove any cap on their compensation. These people are not on our side. This is why so many Americans are so damn frustrated. Everyone in power appears to be bought and paid for. There is a circle of people in DC and NY that keep passing the money around to one another and then come and collect it from us.

I want to know -- no, I demand to know -- who killed this provision? Who argued for taking this cap on executive pay out of the stimulus bill? Do we have a free and strong press in this country? Or are they in on it, too? If not, then find out who did this to us.

The constant non-sensical argument is that if we cap their pay, they won't want to participate in this system. Ooh, don't scare us now. So, we won't get the most incompetent and corrupt losers in America to participate in their own rescue? I'm shivering thinking about the possibility of losing out on the help of these geniuses.

We're wasting our time here. Just nationalize the damn banks already. Almost all of the top economists are now in agreement that we should take this step. The people who put the money in are the people who own the company -- that's how capitalism works. I'm a die-hard capitalist. I don't want the federal government owning banks for an extended period of time. But what's worse is to continue letting these bankers rob us of our money day in and day out while we sit around like fools.

We buy it, we own it. Kick the clowns out. Run it for a limited amount of time while we stabilize the credit markets. And then sell them off in the free market. Instead of begging the bankers to loosen up credit, we take the banks and do it ourselves.

At the very least, it is unconscionable to get rid of these pay caps. On what grounds do these people think they deserve millions of dollars for bankrupting their companies? How is that capitalism? That's not capitalism, that's cronyism. They pay the politicians, the politicians pay them. They have perverted the whole system.

No way. No way. No way. We have to stop this. If we don't, I guarantee you that we will look back and realize that the bankers actually did the most amount of damage and ripped off the system for millions more after the TARP program started and we let them walk away with all the money after the companies were bankrupt.

As Joseph Stiglitz says, they are bleeding the banks right now. It's a zero sum game, every dollar they take out is a dollar we have to put in. Why are we paying them for their incompetence?

My favorite joke is when people say if we don't continue to pay these clowns millions of dollars they will take their talent elsewhere. I literally laughed out loud after writing that. Please, have at it hoss. Take your talent wherever the fuck you would like.

Is it possible that the Obama administration is behind this move? Absolutely. First, Tim Geithner is a complete Wall Street guy. He believes in protecting the Wall Street bubble. That's why they were ecstatic when he was selected. And Obama himself is a guy who is instinct is almost always to be conciliatory. If Wall Street says this is necessary, he's going to want to reach out and appease them to get things moving. But not this time. This is a conciliatory move we cannot abide.

I voted for Obama, but I did not loan out my intellect to him. I can still make up my own mind on whether he is right or wrong. And if he is participating in this, he is 100% wrong.

One last thing, the banks say that part of the stimulus cap on pay might be retroactive and that's not fair because that's changing the rules (I love how they're complaining about fairness now). They say that the banks might pull out of these deals if we change this rule on them now.

First, great, pull out. Where are you going to get the money elsewhere? Nowhere. It's the world's worst bluff. And even if they do, they run out of money. We are forced to nationalize them and we arrive at a better result anyway. Please make our day and don't take the money.

Second, on the retroactive issue. As one of our listeners pointed out, if a bank makes an error and deposits some money into your account that isn't yours and you spend it, you know what happens to you? You get arrested! We have covered numerous stories like this on the show. The bank accidentally puts in an extra $100,000 in someone's account. They spend it and they go to jail.

Here we have accidentally put too much into the bankers' accounts. I know it's too much because they took $18 billion of it home in bonuses instead of spending it on the problem at hand. If they spend it after we notify them of the error, they get arrested. They have to give the money back. It's what they do to their customers all the time.

Now, that's my solution. But that's not even in the bill. We should get that $18 billion back. But instead all we're asking for is that they not pay their executives more than $400,000 a year for being the worst businessmen in the country. Here's what I know as a fact -- that is not too much to ask for.

And if our politicians claim that is too much to ask for, then they are either the most pathetic weaklings around or they are in on the heist. Either way, if they don't put this back in the bill, they gotta go. Democrat or Republican, I don't care. If they don't understand the urgency of this, then they are not for us.

Every day we wait is another day they "bleed the banks." If there isn't a popular uprising to stop these guys from stealing our money, then we deserve what we get. The old saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted. Are you going to be that fool?

Go Abe Go

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Real Heroes

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Blackwater Rechristened: Xe

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Probably for Xtra Evil

Blackwater Worldwide, perhaps the only private military contractor with household name recognition, is rebranding. Its futuristic new name, Xe (pronounced like the last letter of the alphabet) aims to help the company disassociate from image-tarnishing Iraq War moments like a shooting in 2007 that left at least a dozen civilians dead.

blackwater_xe.jpg

In a memo, Blackwater president Gary Jackson announced that the company intends to shift away from the soldier-for-hire game and into "personnel protective services for high-threat environments when needed by the U.S. government." This announcement comes on the heels of Iraqi leaders' decision last month not to renew Blackwater's license to operate there.

Check out these BS rationales for why gas is going higher while crude drops. Seriously why are we allowing these guys to screw the economy all the time. Oil is central to everything in the economy until we can alternatives happening. We should be doing exactly what Chavez did.

Crude oil is getting cheaper -- so why isn't gas?

Crude oil prices have fallen to new lows for this year. So you'd think gas prices would sink right along with them.

Not so.

On Thursday, for example, crude oil closed just under $34 a barrel, its lowest point for 2009. But the national average price of a gallon of gas rose to $1.95 on the same day, its peak for the year. On Friday gas went a penny higher.

To drivers once again grimacing as they tank up, it sounds like a conspiracy. But it has more to do with an energy market turned upside-down that has left gas cut off from its usual economic moorings.

The price of gas is indeed tied to oil. It's just a matter of which oil.

The benchmark for crude oil prices is West Texas Intermediate, drilled exactly where you would imagine. That's the price, set at the New York Mercantile Exchange, that you see quoted on business channels and in the morning paper.

Right now, in an unusual market trend, West Texas crude is selling for much less than inferior grades of crude from other places around the world. A severe economic downturn has left U.S. storage facilities brimming with it, sending prices for the premium crude to five-year lows.

But it is the overseas crude that goes into most of the gas made in the United States. So prices at the pump will probably keep going up no matter what happens to the benchmark price of crude oil.

"We're going definitely over $2, and I bet we'll hit $2.50 before spring," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "This is going to be an unusual year."


It gets worse, keep going.

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America the Hypocritical

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What is it about the American character that we do one thing and say another?
Take sex. Take drugs. Take gossip. Its all the same duplicity.

Addicted to Fake Outrage

By David Sirota

I'm not sure if it's because we're strung out on "Lost" episodes, or if it's because we're still suffering from a post-9/11 stress disorder that makes us crave "breaking news" alerts, or if it's because the economy has turned us into distraction junkies. But one thing is painfully obvious after Michael Phelps' marijuana "scandal" erupted last week: Our society is addicted to fake outrage--and to break our dependence, we're going to need far more potent medicine than the herb Phelps was smoking.

If you haven't heard (and I'm guessing you have), the Olympic gold medalist was recently photographed taking a toke of weed. The moment the picture hit the Internet, the media blew the story up, pumping out at least 1,200 dispatches about the "controversy," according to my LexisNexis search. Phelps' sponsors subsequently threatened to pull their endorsement deals, and USA Swimming suspended him for "disappointing so many people."

America is a place where you can destroy millions of lives as a Wall Street executive and still get invited for photo ops at the White House; a land where the everyman icon--Joe Sixpack--is named for his love of shotgunning two quarts of beer at holiday gatherings; a "shining city on a hill" where presidential candidates' previous abuse of alcohol and cocaine is portrayed as positive proof of grittiness and character. And yet, somehow, Phelps is the evildoer of the hour because he went to a party and took a hit off someone's bong.

As with most explosions of fake outrage, the Phelps affair asks us to feign anger at something we know is commonplace. A nation of tabloid readers is apoplectic that Brad and Jen divorced, even though one out of every two American marriages ends the same way. A country fetishizing "family values" goes ballistic over the immorality of Paris Hilton's sex tape ... and then keeps spending billions on pornography. And now we're expected to be indignant about a 23-year-old kid smoking weed, even though studies show that roughly half of us have done the same thing; most of us think pot should be legal in some form; and many of us regularly devour far more toxic substances than marijuana (nicotine, alcohol, reality TV, etc.).

So, in the interest of a little taboo candor, I'm just going to throw editorial caution to the wind and write what lots of us thought--but were afraid to say--when we heard about Phelps. Ready? Here goes:

America's drug policy is idiotic.

Doctors can hand out morphine to anyone for anything beyond a headache, but they can't prescribe marijuana to terminal cancer patients. Madison Avenue encourages a population plagued by heart disease to choke down as many artery-clogging Big Macs and Dunkin' Donuts as it can, but it's illegal to consume cannabis, "a weed that has been known to kill approximately no one," as even the archconservative Colorado Springs Gazette admitted in its editorial slamming Phelps. Indeed, it would be perfectly acceptable--even artistically admirable in some quarters--if I told you that I drank myself into a blind stupor while writing this column, but it would be considered "outrageous" if I told you I was instead smoking a joint (FYI--I wasn't doing either).

That said, what's even more inane than our irrational reefer madness is our addiction to the same high that every pothead craves: the high of escapism. Nerves fried from orange terror warnings, Drudge Report sirens and disaster capitalism's roller-coaster economics, our narcotic of choice is fake outrage--and it packs a punch. It gets us to turn on the television, tune in to the latest manufactured drama, and drop out of the real battle for the republic's future.

Kill Buddha and Darwin Too

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Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live

by Carl Safina

"You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching," Robert Darwin told his son, "and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." Yet the feckless boy is everywhere. Charles Darwin gets so much credit, we can't distinguish evolution from him.

darwin10.jpgEquating evolution with Charles Darwin ignores 150 years of discoveries, including most of what scientists understand about evolution. Such as: Gregor Mendel's patterns of heredity (which gave Darwin's idea of natural selection a mechanism -- genetics -- by which it could work); the discovery of DNA (which gave genetics a mechanism and lets us see evolutionary lineages); developmental biology (which gives DNA a mechanism); studies documenting evolution in nature (which converted the hypothetical to observable fact); evolution's role in medicine and disease (bringing immediate relevance to the topic); and more.

By propounding "Darwinism," even scientists and science writers perpetuate an impression that evolution is about one man, one book, one "theory." The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi said, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." The point is that making a master teacher into a sacred fetish misses the essence of his teaching. So let us now kill Darwin.

Heard of this?

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Will Obama Fight with Us to Quash the Campaign to Loot Social Security

By William Greider

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever "grand bargain" they want President Obama to embrace in the name of "fiscal responsibility." The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea--Washington's leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what's happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as "fiscal reform." In fact, it's the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud.

Defending Social Security sounds like yesterday's issue--the fight people won when they defeated George W. Bush's attempt to privatize the system in 2005. But the financial establishment has pushed it back on the table, claiming that the current crisis requires "responsible" leaders to take action. Will Obama take the bait? Surely not. The new president has been clear and consistent about Social Security, as a candidate and since his election. The program's financing is basically sound, he has explained, and can be assured far into the future by making only modest adjustments.

But Obama is also playing footsie with the conservative advocates of "entitlement reform" (their euphemism for cutting benefits). The president wants the corporate establishment's support on many other important matters, and he recently promised to hold a "fiscal responsibility summit" to examine the long-term costs of entitlements. That forum could set the trap for a "bipartisan compromise" that may become difficult for Obama to resist, given the burgeoning deficit. If he resists, he will be denounced as an old-fashioned free-spending liberal. The advocates are urging both parties to hold hands and take the leap together, authorizing big benefits cuts in a circuitous way that allows them to dodge the public's blame. In my new book, Come Home, America, I make the point: "When official America talks of 'bipartisan compromise,' it usually means the people are about to get screwed."

The Social Security fight could become a defining test for "new politics" in the Obama era. Will Americans at large step up and make themselves heard, not to attack Obama but to protect his presidency from the political forces aligned with Wall Street interests? This fight can be won if people everywhere raise a mighty din--hands off our Social Security money!--and do it now, before the deal gains momentum. Popular outrage can overwhelm the insiders and put members of Congress on notice: a vote to gut Social Security will kill your career. By organizing and agitating, people blocked Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security. Imagine if he had succeeded--their retirement money would have disappeared in the collapsing stock market.

To understand the mechanics of this attempted swindle, you have to roll back twenty-five years, to the time the game of bait and switch began, under Ronald Reagan.

Whack Jobs

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Wingnut Pens Obama-Era Equivalent To 'Civil Disobedience'

wingnut.jpgYou know what's a good way to be an asshole? Here's a good way to be an asshole: "Today at tennis, after I made a hard point, my partner offered the Obama fist bump. 'I don't do that,' I said, and I gave her a stern look." How else does this rebel from the popular conservative American Thinker website suggest we be assholes to each other because of Obama?


The site's Joyce Capron details the small ways in which she resists Barack Obama in a remarkable Civics column today. At no point in this column does she come off as self-satisfied, because that would be petty, and that would only distract.


1) I refuse to do the fist bump. We Right Thinkers need our own hand jive, a nonverbal way to say, 'I'm Anti-Obi'. I'm open to suggestions.

The Shocker. Next?

2) I turn His face around. Whenever I'm standing in line in a store, and find coverboy Obambi staring at me, I turn the offensive magazines around to face backwards. During Inaugural week, there was commemorative ideoporn everywhere. Obama market penetration has receded somewhat, but it's still hard to visit a Target or a grocery store without having to look at The One. By hiding His image, I may be slightly interfering with commerce, but if I can prevent one more person from being suckered into socialism, I'll do it.

You're awesome. Next?

3) I send e-mails to mainstream media, urging them to wake up from their Kool-Aid stupor and report what's going on. Sometimes, I link AT essays, the ones where Larrey gets really wound up.

Healthy, and effective. One more.

5) I send my kids out armed with ideas. They and some friends are co-founders of the Conservative Club at their high school, a public school of over three thousand students, most of them future O'voters. The faculty is overwhelmingly liberal, to the extent the Conservative Club had trouble finding a sponsor. A social studies teacher finally agreed to sign on as sponsor, although he said he does not share their views.

"The faculty is overwhelmingly liberal." Jesus, it's just a high school, you hear facts and then spit them back on a test.

So these are some good ways to be an asshole because of Barack Obama.

A thing of beauty

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Watching a blathering right winger get excoriated:


Benjamin Banneker

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Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)


banneker.jpgBenjamin Banneker was a self-educated scientist, astronomer, inventor, writer, and antislavery publicist. He built a striking clock entirely from wood, published a Farmers' Almanac, and actively campaigned against slavery. He was one of the first African Americans to gain distinction in science.

On November 9 1731, Benjamin Banneker was born in Ellicott's Mills, Maryland. He was the descendent of slaves, however, Banneker was born a freeman. At that time the law dictated that if your mother was a slave then you were a slave, and if she was a freewomen then you were a free person. Banneker's grandmother, Molly Walsh was a bi-racial English immigrant and indentured servant who married an African slave named Banna Ka, who had been brought to the Colonies by a slave trader. Molly had served seven years as an indentured servant before she acquired and worked on her own small farm. Molly Walsh purchased her future husband Banna Ka and another African to work on her farm. The name Banna Ka was later changed to Bannaky and then changed to Banneker. Benjamin's mother Mary Banneker was born free. Benjamin's father Rodger was a former slave who had bought his own freedom before marrying Mary.

Benjamin Banneker was educated by Quakers, however, most of his education was self-taught. He quickly revealed to the world his inventive nature and first achieved national acclaim for his scientific work in the 1791 survey of the Federal Territory (now Washington, D.C.). In 1753, he built one of the first watches made in America, a wooden pocket watch. Twenty years later, Banneker began making astronomical calculations that enabled him to successfully forecast a 1789 solar eclipse. His estimate made well in advance of the celestial event, contradicted predictions of better-known mathematicians and astronomers.

Banneker's mechanical and mathematical abilities impressed many, including Thomas Jefferson who encountered Banneker after George Elliot had recommended him for the surveying team that laid out Washington D.C.

Farmers' Almanacs
Banneker is best known for his six annual Farmers' Almanacs published between 1792 and 1797. In his free time, Banneker began compiling the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris. The almanacs included information on medicines and medical treatment, and listed tides, astronomical information, and eclipses, all calculated by Banneker himself.


On August 19 1791, Banneker sent a copy of his first almanac to secretary of state Thomas Jefferson. In an enclosed letter, he questioned the slaveholder's sincerity as a "friend to liberty." He urged Jefferson to help get rid of "absurd and false ideas" that one race is superior to another. He wished Jefferson's sentiments to be the same as his, that "one Universal Father . . . afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties." Jefferson responded with praise for Banneker's accomplishments.

Benjamin Banneker died on October 25, 1806.

Scientists Unite

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Personally, I think the fact that Stanford University sits on a $17 billion (pre-crash) endowment fund while require requiring some of its professors to find outside funding for the salaries up to the tune of 75 % is obnoxious.

Still this a great article for insights on the in and outs of science research.

Letting Scientists Off the Leash

by Stephen Quake

I thought I would start this blog by describing what life is like for a scientist at a modern research university, and the more general consequences for science and creativity.

I spend much of my time teaching, although only a small fraction of that is in the classroom. The majority of my teaching is with the graduate students and postdocs who have joined my group to learn hands-on science -- the model to keep in mind is apprenticeship, like in a medieval guild. We work together to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and I try to help them develop intellectual independence and a sense for how to develop their own creative research program.

This talented group of people are the actual hands in the lab doing experiments (it has unfortunately been a while since I have had the time to do experiments with my own hands; typically these days I am more involved in helping debug problems and analyze data, and writing up the results - and writing grants, of course).

Where does the money come from to pay for our science? Mostly from the federal government -- your tax dollars at work -- and non-profit foundations. Income from grants written by professors is the single largest contribution to the Stanford University budget (the second largest is endowment income, and student tuition is a distant third). Stanford has an enormous endowment ($17 billion before the market crash) but applies it in a heavily leveraged manner -- in other words, they tend to use it to prime the pump and not to support ongoing research programs.

When a university hires a professor, they typically agree to provide a start-up package to support that professor's research over the first few years, after which the professor must seek external funding. This funding is needed to buy research supplies, pay stipends and tuition for graduate students, and even to support the salary of the faculty member. In fact, the university rarely pays the full salary of the professor -- depending on the department, the professor must find between 25 percent and 75 percent of his or her salary from outside grants.

It strikes me as one of the ironies of modern life that professorial faculty, who by and large lean to the left politically, accept such a brutal free-market approach to their livelihood. If they can't raise grants to support their research every year, they won't get paid. So not only do they have to worry about publish or perish, it's also funding or famine, in the very real sense that without a grant there might not be food on the family dinner table!

It's almost like a small business -- each faculty member is essentially running an enterprise for which he or she must find revenue (grants), manage finances, balance the books and pay expenses like salaries, tuition, rent and even taxes to the university for the space used.

Such a system does not come without its own perils. It is not so easy to ask our young scientists to think out of the box when a significant portion of their salary (and mortgage payments) depends on guaranteeing a steady source of funding. Consequently, professors become highly attuned to the institutional priorities of various funding agencies -- often at a cost to their own creativity and desired research directions.

Science at its most interesting is provocative, surprising, counter-intuitive and difficult to plan -- and those are very difficult values to institutionalize in an organization or bureaucracy of any size. I have seen my own grant proposals get chewed up and rejected with comments like "typically bold, but wildly ambitious," and wondered why it is wrong to be ambitious in one's research -- but perhaps that is a conclusion fully consistent with science by committee.


Stop Cheering and Sit Down

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Here's a "doom breathed" un-cheery view of America's future you might not want to know about.


Driving Over the Cliff

By Paul Craig Roberts

Is there intelligent life in Washington, DC? Not a speck of it.

The US economy is imploding, and Obama is being led by his government of neconservatives and Israeli agents into a quagmire in Afghanistan that will bring the US into confrontation with Russia, and possibly China, American's largest creditor.

The January payroll job figures reveal that last month 20,000 Americans lost their jobs every day.

In addition, December's job losses were revised up by 53,000 jobs from 524,000 to 577,000. The revision brings the two-month job loss to 1,175,000. If this keeps up, Obama's promised three million new jobs will be wiped out by job losses.

Statistician John Williams (shadowstats.com) reports that this huge number is an understatement. Williams notes that built-in biases in seasonal adjustment factors caused a 118,000 understatement of January job losses, bringing the actual January job loss to 716,000 jobs.

The payroll survey counts the number of jobs, not the number of employed as some people have more than one job. The Household Survey counts the number of people who have jobs. The Household Survey shows that 832,000 people lost their jobs in January and 806,000 in December, for a two month reduction of Americans with jobs of 1,638,000.

The unemployment rate reported in the US media is a fabrication. Williams reports that in changes since 1980, particularly in the Clinton era, "'discouraged workers' those who had given up looking for a job because there were no jobs to be had--were redefined so as to be counted only if they had been 'discouraged' for less than a year. This time qualification defined away the bulk of the discouraged workers. Adding them back into the total unemployed, actual unemployment, [according to the unemployment rate methodology used in 1980] rose to 18% in January, from 17.5% in December."

In other words, without all the manipulations of the data, the US unemployment rate is already at depression levels.

Oh Snap!

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Krugman lays it on the line about the stimulus bill and the failure of Obama to shut down the centrists who have gutted it. My question to Krugman though is, "Where were you when Obama needed the harsh criticism?"

The Destructive Center

By Paul Krugman


What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?


A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished.

Even if the original Obama plan -- around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts -- had been enacted, it wouldn't have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.

Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.

One of the best features of the original plan was aid to cash-strapped state governments, which would have provided a quick boost to the economy while preserving essential services. But the centrists insisted on a $40 billion cut in that spending.

The original plan also included badly needed spending on school construction; $16 billion of that spending was cut. It included aid to the unemployed, especially help in maintaining health care -- cut. Food stamps -- cut. All in all, more than $80 billion was cut from the plan, with the great bulk of those cuts falling on precisely the measures that would do the most to reduce the depth and pain of this slump.

On the other hand, the centrists were apparently just fine with one of the worst provisions in the Senate bill, a tax credit for home buyers. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research calls this the "flip your house to your brother" provision: it will cost a lot of money while doing nothing to help the economy.

All in all, the centrists' insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will, if reflected in the final bill, lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering.

But how did this happen? I blame President Obama's belief that he can transcend the partisan divide -- a belief that warped his economic strategy.

Now that's a serious brush fire! So intense and fast that people are dying in their cars trying to escape the inferno.

australia_fire.jpg

Wanna Get Really Pissed Off?

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Read this and haul the guillotine out of the garage.

You Try to Live on 500K in This Town

By Allen Salkin

Private school: $32,000 a year per student.

Mortgage: $96,000 a year.

Co-op maintenance fee: $96,000 a year.

Nanny: $45,000 a year.

We are already at $269,000, and we haven't even gotten to taxes yet.

Five hundred thousand dollars -- the amount President Obama wants to set as the top pay for banking executives whose firms accept government bailout money -- seems like a lot, and it is a lot. To many people in many places, it is a princely sum to live on. But in the neighborhoods of New York City and its suburban enclaves where successful bankers live, half a million a year can go very fast.

"As hard as it is to believe, bankers who are living on the Upper East Side making $2 or $3 million a year have set up a life for themselves in which they are also at zero at the end of the year with credit cards and mortgage bills that are inescapable," said Holly Peterson, the author of an Upper East Side novel of manners, "The Manny," and the daughter of Peter G. Peterson, a founder of the equity firm the Blackstone Group. "Five hundred thousand dollars means taking their kids out of private school and selling their home in a fire sale."

Sure, the solution may seem simple: move to Brooklyn or Hoboken, put the children in public schools and buy a MetroCard. But more than a few of the New York-based financial executives who would have their pay limited are men (and they are almost invariably men) whose identities are entwined with living a certain way in a certain neighborhood west of Third Avenue: a life of private schools, summer houses and charity galas that only a seven-figure income can stretch to cover.

Few are playing sad cellos over the fate of such folk, especially since the collapse of the institutions they run has yielded untold financial pain. But in New York, where a new study from the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research group in Manhattan, estimates it takes $123,322 to enjoy the same middle-class life as someone earning $50,000 in Houston, extricating oneself from steep bills can be difficult.

Therefore, even if it is not for sympathy but for sport, consider the numbers.

The cold hard math can be cruel.

Like those taxes. If a person is married with two children, the weekly deductions on a $500,000 salary are: federal taxes, $2,645; Social Security, $596; Medicare, $139; state taxes, $682; and city, $372, bringing the weekly take-home to $5,180, or about $269,000 a year, said Martin Cohen, a Manhattan accountant.

Now move to living expenses.

Barbara Corcoran, a real estate executive, said that most well-to-do families take at least two vacations a year, a winter trip to the sun and a spring trip to the ski slopes.

Total minimum cost: $16,000.

When Princes Get Distracted

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Dowd does a great job here of describing what is going wrong with the Obama team and its apparent lack of vetting skills.


Potomac's Postpartisan Depression

by Maureen Dowd

Once upon a time, America thought Prince Charming would glide in and kiss her, reviving her from a coma induced by a poison apple of greed, deceit, carelessness, recklessness and overreaching.

But then the prince got distracted, seeing Lincoln in the mirror, and instead gave the kiss of life to a bunch of flat-lining Republican tax-cut fetishists.

Somehow the most well-known person on the planet lost control of the economic message to someone named Eric Cantor.

(And Larry Summers ended up making Henry Paulson seem riveting.)

In his first weeks padding around a White House that still has nails on the walls waiting for new pictures, and phone and e-mail kinks, Barack Obama could not locate the bully pulpit and ended up being bullied.

Republicans, pulled out of their existential lethargy and re-energized by the president's charm offensive, immediately mounted an offensive against him. Just as Michael Bloomberg learned the perils of cuddling a groundhog when it bit him, Mr. Obama learned the perils of coddling conservatives.

Pete Sessions, a conservative from Waco, Tex., and the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, warned that they could become an insurgency, having learned more about insurgencies "because of the Taliban." (Yes, that's the same Taliban that was allowed to regenerate by bumbling Republican leaders.)

Obama advisers are right to crow that the president's civility to Republicans will be popular with the public. But the carrot-stick ratio was way out of whack. Mr. Obama should have written up a kosher (as in pork-free) bill that Americans could trust -- and Republicans couldn't as easily mock -- and jammed it through.

It's a huge, scary moment, with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs flying out the window. Vice President Joseph Biden, in another Cassandra moment, told House Democrats that even if the White House does everything right, "there's still a 30 percent chance we'll get it wrong."

The president and his aides seemed a bit snow-blinded by the White House, overwhelmed and slow to understand that they were losing the high ground and the whip hand. They couldn't even get their pick for commerce secretary, the Republican Senator Judd Gregg, to vote for their stimulus bill; he said he would abstain.



Below, Governor Tim Kaine answers questions sent in by Organizing For America members ahead of February 7th house parties.

www.recovery.gov

The Wall Street Whiners (aka The Banksters)

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One good, but nevertheless sad, thing revealed by this implosion of the capitalist balloon, is the degree of Dorian Grey ugliness which pervades the "other worldliness" of the Wall St culture. These people are hideous in their lack of moral connect.

Its like accidentally unearthing a den of economic vampires who come spilling out into the sunlight hissing and screeching about their right to bonuses and outrageous base pay.

So if people finally get to see the the horror story that is capitalism unfettered, that's a good thing. Maybe now they will realize that the so called free market was anything but.

Ponzi, anyone?

Cheney Gets Served

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OMG

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LOL

dollsguy.jpgFEBRUARY 5--A Florida man was arrested yesterday after he was spotted fondling and making out with a pair of blow-up dolls in a supermarket parking lot. Shoppers called cops when they spotted George Bartusek, 51, getting busy in the front seat of his 1998 Lincoln Town Car, which was parked directly in front of a Publix store. Evidence photos (seen below and here) showing Bartusek's inanimate partners were provided to TSG by the Cape Coral Police Department. According to a police report, witnesses told cops that Bartusek was "performing activity to two different blow up dolls in his vehicle that was consistent with masturbation and other simulated sexual activity." He was also spotted "aggressively" kissing the dolls. When confronted by police, Bartusek said that he was headed to Target to "get some clothes for his dolls." Bartusek, charged with breach of peace, was wearing shorts with a three-inch opening "in the crotch area." Of course, he "had no underwear on under the shorts," noted police. Bartusek is pictured at right in a Lee County Sheriff's Office mug shot.

doll1b.jpg

The Obameter

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The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises


PolitiFact has compiled about 500 promises that Barack Obama made during the campaign and is tracking their progress on our Obameter. They rate their status as No Action, In the Works or Stalled. Once they find action is completed, they rate them Promise Kept, Compromise or Promise Broken.


obameter_promiseKept.gif


obameter_inTheWorks.gif


obameter_promiseBroken.gif

How Did We Come to This?

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The Right's Jack Bauer Fantasy:
'Clip the Electrodes to His Balls and Turn on the Juice'


"24" helped brainwash Americans to accept the brutal, illegal actions of the Bush administration.


by Larry Beinhart, AlterNet

Credit where credit is due. The TV show "24" is probably the most significant piece of political drama in the last decade.

On one hand, it is very likely that Barack Obama got elected because America had already had a serious black presidential candidate (one season) and two black presidents (one season each). And he was always the most decent guy in the room. Often, the only decent guy in the room. Just like Obama.

On the other hand, there's torture.

- Terrorists are going to nuke Los Angeles in three hours.

- Agent Jack Bauer has a suspect who knows where the bomb is.

- If Jack Bauer tortures the suspect, he can force him to say where it is, get there in 2 hours and 59 minutes, stop the bomb, and save 10 million people.

- What should, what must, Jack Bauer do?

That's a no-brainer. Clip the electrodes to his balls and turn on the juice.

I don't know how many people have actually watched "24," but there's not a person in America who is not familiar with the "ticking-bomb scenario." It sounds so darn logical that it's hard not to buy into it. A remarkable number of people have.

Dick Cheney and Michael Chertoff (ex-head of Homeland Security) are big fans. They thought that they were directing real-life Jack Bauers.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said a Jack Bauer should not be prosecuted, because "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives."

If he were prosecuted, Alan Dershowitz has already laid out the defense!

As drama, the ticking bomb is thrilling. "24" is the "Perils of Pauline" on crack.

In reality, it is a pernicious and deceitful fantasy.

The reference point is, of course, 9/11. Before that day, we were soft and naïve. If only we had tortured someone, we could have stopped it. And saved American lives! That, of course, is utterly false.

We had quite enough information to have prevented 9/11. It had been gathered through normal and legal police and intelligence methods. It was not used due to bureaucratic infighting, ineptitude, incompetence, excess secrecy, and, most of all, the willful and pointed disregard of that information by Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush.

Now, we're smart and tough. We do torture light and outsource the really evil stuff. Has it worked?

In October 2001, the FBI put out a Most Wanted Terrorists list. It had 22 names on it. As of 2006, 17 of them were still at large. Including Osama bin Laden. Mullah Omar wasn't on the list. But he's the other guy we invaded Afghanistan to get. He's still around and actively leading the Taliban.

Yeah, well, I bet going "to the dark side" stopped a bunch of terrorist attacks.

No.

None that we know of.

Yeah, of course not. When our secret intelligence services secretly foil a secret terrorist plot, it's gotta be secret! National effin' Security! Period. Dot. Exclamation point! End quote!

No.

The Bush administration trumpeted every arrest, capture or kill they ever made:

  • The Lackawanna Seven
  • The Sears Tower Plot
  • The Shoe Bomber
  • Jose Padilla, who was going to use a "dirty bomb."

Each and every one of them sounded like a job for Jack Bauer when they were first announced. Then, somehow, all the "terrorists" they caught turned out to be inept losers. The terror plots turned out to be bull sessions, attempts to buy weapons from FBI agents or visits to Afghanistan long before 9/11.

Bush was even willing to disrupt a two-year, 600-man, British terrorism investigation in order to get a good headline before the 2006 election. The result was that "the mastermind" escaped after he was arrested, and the prosecution of the plotters fell apart due to lack of evidence.

If there had been a real plot and these guys had actually stopped it, they would not have kept it secret, they would have made John McCain campaign commercials out of it.

We have a lot of people in captivity today, in Guantanamo, in Iraqi prisons, in secret CIA prisons around the world and prisons run by other countries. It has been amply demonstrated that many of the people in captivity are not "terrorists."

Here's a real life ticking-bomb scenario: It's 1943. A German soldier has been captured.

Palast Nails It

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Hipster speak:


Obama is a two-faced liar. Aw-RIGHT!

Republicans are right. President Barack Obama treated them like dirt, didn't give a damn what they thought about his stimulus package, loaded it with a bunch of programs that will last for years and will never leave the budget, is giving away money disguised as "tax refunds," and is sneaking in huge changes in policy, from schools to health care, using the pretext of an economic emergency.

Way to go, Mr. O! Mr. Down-and-Dirty Chicago pol. Street-fightin' man. Covering over his break-you-face power play with a "we're all post-partisan friends" BS.

And it's about time.

Frankly, I was worried about this guy. Obama's appointing Clinton-droids to the Cabinet, bloated incompetents like Larry Summers as "Economics Czar," made me fear for my country, that we'd gotten another Democrat who wished he were a Republican.

Then came Obama's money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education - yes!), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.

It's as if Obama dug up Ronald Reagan's carcass and put a stake through The Gipper's anti-government heart. Aw-RIGHT!

About the only concession Obama threw to the right-wing trogs was to remove the subsidy for condoms, leaving hooker-happy GOP Senators, like David Vitter, to pay for their own protection. S'OK with me.

And here's the proof that Bam is The Man: Not one single Republican congressman voted for the bill. And that means that Obama didn't compromise, the way Clinton and Carter would have, to win the love of these condom-less jerks.

And we didn't need'm. Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!

Now I understand Obama's weird moves: dinner with those creepy conservative columnists, earnest meetings at the White House with the Republican leaders, a dramatic begging foray into Senate offices. Just as the Republicans say, it was all a fraud. Obama was pure Chicago, Boss Daley in a slim skin, putting his arms around his enemies, pretending to listen and care and compromise, then slowly, quietly, slipping in the knife. All while the media praises Obama's "post-partisanship." Heh heh heh.

Love it. Now we know why Obama picked that vindictive little viper Rahm Emanuel to run the White House schedule: everyone visiting the Oval Office will be greeted by the Windy City hit man who would hack up your grandma if you mess with the Godfather-in-Chief.

I don't know about you, but THIS is the change I've been waiting for.

Will it last?

We'll see if Obama caves in to more tax cuts to investment bankers. We'll see if he stops the sub-prime scum-bags from foreclosing on frightened families. We'll see if he stands up to the whining, gormless generals who don't know how to get our troops out of Iraq. (In SHIPS, you doofusses!)

Look, don't get your hopes up. But it may turn out the new President's ... a Democrat!

When Religion and Science Collide

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From a local paper's forum:

Originally posted by culheath:

There's nothing wrong with faith-based thinking, or fantasy or imagination. I like the various World Creation Myths, The Wizard of OZ, and Dr Seuss.

In their element they convey aspects of the human experience that can't be reduced to calculation or repeatable certainty. They guide us where science cannot tread.

The problem arises when such things are foisted as worthy of calculation and presented as factual. That is the realm of science. Science makes no attempt to explain the large and mysterious why of things. It explains the what and how. Evolution for example does not attempt to explain why life came to be, it attempts to explain the process or how life came to be.

Dissonance in thinking arises when people try to supplant the role of science with religious beliefs. Sometimes there are parallels, but more often there are not. Critical thinking is a science based activity because it involves a willingness to refute previously accepted premises by constantly testing them against new experiences and evidence.

Religious thought is quite the opposite in that it treasures a constant truth that cannot and should not be assailed by mere physical evidence. After all, sensate reality even with the highest technological extensions of the senses is still in the final analysis, subject to interpretation via our sensate observations.

Both science and religion do however have a common goal and that is to reveal a single immutable truth.

Their techniques unfortunately are at odds. As it is presently, science is content to allow religion its area of expertise, whereas religion is not so accommodating.

Religion tends to stick its nose into the business of science and as a result ends up looking foolish and because of religion's lack of expert knowledge and the language that science has developed for its area of understanding things, it appears stupid.
Such is the case when faith-based ideas like Intelligent Design pretend to be not faith-based and assume to be taught as science. That is religion being stupid.

Find out

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whatstheharm.jpg

And Throw Away the Key

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Ian Manuel was 13 when he shot Deborah Baigrie during a stickup in a parking lot of the Cold Storage Cafe in downtown Tampa nearly 20 years ago. The bullet entered her mouth and ripped out of her cheek. She lost her gums and teeth on the left side of her mouth.

Manuel had committed his first robbery at age 11. At sentencing, the judge told him: "There is no second chance available."

He is 32 now, in solitary confinement in Florida State Prison, by reputation the state's toughest. He has been sanctioned repeatedly for fighting, exposing himself to guards, disobeying and other infractions.

"The last time I shared a cell with someone was in 1998," Manuel wrote in a letter. The DOC would not allow him to be interviewed.

He said he gets out of his cell for three hours of recreation per week, in a small area "that everyone even the officers call 'dog cages.' "

His worst moments came in 1996, when his mother died of AIDS and he was unable to attend the funeral, and last year, when he was resentenced on one of his charges but still kept his same overall release date: Never.

Some say he is a sociopath. Possibly. He's also a human.


GENIE IN A BOTTLE

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Ian Manuel

I'm the Genie in a bottle
The world has forgot.
They put me in this abyss
And closed the top.

I was a little boy
When they did what they did,
But time continued to tick,
I'm no longer a kid.

My mother is dead,
So is my father.
I've been abandoned by family
While trapped in this bottle.

But I hold on to hope
That someone will open the top,
Answer my prayers
And help me out.

Sometimes people pick-up the bottle
Put their eye to the hole,
But instead of compassion
Act indifferent and cold.

I suffer sensory deprivation,
A loss of sense of direction.
There's no mirror in the bottle
For me to see my reflection.

They say being lonely and alone
Are two different definitions,
But it's only me in this bottle,
So I fit both descriptions.

What I need is a friend.
Someone to extend a hand.
It can be as simple
As picking-up a pen.

Someone who cares,
Accepts me for who I am,
My magnetic personality
And my baggage from the past.

Someone who helps heal the sorrow
Will work on building our tomorrows.
Someone who refuses to
Leave me to die in this bottle.



Please write to:
IAN MANUEL #518907
SANTA ROSA C.I.
5850 E. MILTON RD.
MILTON , FL.  32583



OR
SEND ME A MESSAGE!


Click
here!


For
faster response

please include your

return mailing address!


 



Personal
Information


SEX: Male RACE: Black

D.O.B.: 3/29/1977

HEIGHT: 5'9"  WEIGHT: 170 lbs.

EYE COLOR: Brown HAIR COLOR: Black

CONVICTED OF: Attempted Murder, Robbery

LENGTH OF SENTENCE: Life

INCARCERATION DATE: 7/30/1990

CURRENT RELEASE DATE: N/A

Crooks Get Capped

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What a wonderful world. And about frigging time. Thank you Senator McCaskill !!


U.S. Plans to Curb Executive Pay for Bailout Recipients

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is expected to impose a cap of $500,000 for top executives at companies that receive large amounts of bailout money, according to people familiar with the plan.

Executives would also be prohibited from receiving any bonuses above their base pay, except for normal stock dividends.

President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner plan to announce the executive compensation plan on Wednesday morning at the White House.

The new rules would be far tougher than any restrictions imposed during the Bush administration, and they could force executives to accept deep reductions in their current pay. They come amid rising public fury about huge pay packages for executives at financial companies being propped up by federal tax dollars.

Executives at companies that have already received money from the Treasury Department would not have to make any changes. But analysts and administration officials are bracing for a huge wave of new losses, largely because of the deepening recession, and many companies that have already received federal money may well be coming back.

Crucial details remained unclear on Tuesday night, including whether the restrictions would apply to all companies that receive money under the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, or whether they would apply only to the "exceptional" companies that were being rescued from collapse.

Under the Treasury's $700 billion rescue program, most companies that have received money so far have been considered "healthy" rather than on the brink of collapse.

But five of the biggest companies to get help -- Citigroup, Bank of America and the American International Group, General Motors and Chrysler -- were all facing acute problems. And top executives at those companies made far more than $500,000 in recent years.

Kenneth D. Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, took home more than $20 million in 2007. Of that, $5.75 million was in salary and bonuses.

Vikram Pandit, who became chief executive of Citigroup in December of 2007 and previously held other senior positions at the bank, made $3.1 million.

Richard Wagoner, the chief executive of General Motors, made $14.4 million, much of it in stock, options and other non-cash benefits. He earned a $1.6 million salary.

Urgent: Support Clemency for Troy Davis

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troydavis150.jpgTroy Davis faces execution for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail in Georgia, despite a strong claim of innocence. 7 out of 9 witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, no murder weapon was found and no physical evidence links Davis to the crime. The Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles has voted to deny clemency, yet Governor Perdue can still exercise leadership to ensure that his death sentence is commuted. Please urge him to demonstrate respect for fairness and justice by supporting clemency for Troy Davis.

More about Troy Davis

1. WATCH the video demanding justice for Troy Davis
2. SEND this message to ask Georgia's Governor to support clemency for Troy Davis
3. FORWARD the video to a friend


Don't scare the crow

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I could while away the hours,
conferrin' with the flowers
consultin' with the rain.
And my head I'd be scratchin' while
my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain.

I'd unravel every riddle for any individ'le,
In trouble or in pain.
With the thoughts you'll be thinkin'
you could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain.

Oh, I could tell you why
The ocean's near the shore.
I could think of things I never thunk before.
And then I'd sit, and think some more.

Gosh, it would be pleasin'
To reason out the reason
To things I can't explain
And perhaps I'll deserve ya
And be worthy erve ya
If I only had a brain

I would not be just a nothin'
my head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry,
life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain.

Tax Breaks Will Not Stimulate the Economy

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from Democracy Now

the video

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama is meeting with Democratic congressional leaders at the White House today to discuss the nearly $900 billion economic stimulus package that the Senate will debate this week. Senior Republicans warned on Sunday they were unlikely to back the bill without changes to what they see as controversial spending provisions.On Wednesday, the House approved an $819 billion version of the plan, but despite an all-out lobbying push by President Obama, not a single Republican voted for it. Obama said he hopes to get the bill through Congress by mid-February. In his weekly presidential radio address, he urged the Senate to pass the bill.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Americans know that our economic recovery will take years, not months, but they will have little patience if we allow politics to get in the way of action and our economy continues to slide. That's why I am calling on the Senate to pass this plan, so that we can put people back to work and begin the long, hard work of lifting our economy out of this crisis. No one bill, no matter how comprehensive, can cure what ails our economy. So just as we jumpstart job creation, we must also ensure that markets are stable, credit is flowing, and families can stay in their homes.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate is taking up the bill as news continues to emerge painting a grim picture of the state of the economy. Major US companies announced layoffs in the tens of thousands last week, and new figures show the economy is shrinking at its fastest rate in nearly twenty-seven years. Meanwhile, the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits has hit a record high.

David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. He has the cover story in the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine, called "Fiscal Therapy." His most recent book is called Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill). He joins us now from Rochester, New York.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, David Cay Johnston.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's very good to have you with us. Let us start out with your assessment of this nearly $900 billion economic stimulus plan.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, probably not big enough, and the Republicans have some credibility on the Christmas tree claim. Even some of the Democrats have not acknowledged this. They need to focus on those things that will increase demand. We've had twenty-eight years of supply-side economics. The data is eminently clear: it was an experiment, a radical idea, that did not work, in general. A few successes, but overall it was an utter failure that put us in this mess.

And so, the concerns need to be on getting money out there right away; more money for people who are unemployed; extending unemployment benefits longer, if necessary; and then investing money in places where it can be spent quickly that will provide a return. Infrastructure does that, but it takes time. There are lots of scientific research projects that were unfunded, particularly medical projects, for a lack of will by the Bush administration to fund them. We could triple the number of projects that were funded overnight. And there are other areas that could get spending going that will result in people being hired, putting money in their pocket and doing something to build for the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about--well, in Mother Jones, "Fiscal Therapy" is the title--"Getting the economy back on its feet, giving taxpayers a break, saving your retirement fund and your kid's college tuition? Done. And it won't cost you a penny." What is it that you are laying that you feel could save the economy?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, fundamentally, several key pieces. One is, you and I are allowed to save, if we have a 401(k) plan, up to $22,000 a year without paying taxes; if we don't have one, up to six, if you're an older American. But executives, movie stars, athletes are allowed to save unlimited amounts of money. Hedge fund managers, unlimited amounts of money, without paying taxes. We should end those deferrals. It will bring in hundreds of billions of dollars.

Secondly, the Cayman Islands and other little parasitic operations like it are causing enormous damage to the state of our government's finances. In 1990, about ten percent of corporate profits were taken in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Today, it's roughly one-quarter of all corporate profits. The only purpose served by these operations is to reduce the financial viability of the United States of America government. There's no reason for us to continue allowing these rules. And the ways that individuals use the Cayman Islands are the same devices that are used by terrorist organizations and narcotics dealers to hide their money, as well as spouses trying to cheat the other spouse in a divorce.

One of the things I suggest is that we stop the business of college. We have turned college from an investment in the future of the country into an $85 billion business. It is so unbelievably profitable. Commercial banks, over a long period of time, make a 17 percent annual return on equity, but Sallie Mae makes about 50 percent per year. That's unconscionable. It's unnecessary. And we need to get away from that, so that we develop the most valuable resource we have: young minds.

Just let the sunshine in

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Now if we could reduce our percentage down to the European one, we could well afford this first bailout without borrowing a dime.

And the beating goes on

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WTF?

What we need is a squad of exterminators to go around the nation eliminating a few score of these goons to send a public message.


Torture at a Louisiana Prison

By Jordan Flaherty

jailtowers.jpgThe torture of prisoners in US custody is not only found in military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. If President Obama is serious about ending US support for torture, he can start here in Louisiana.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is already notorious for a range of offenses, including keeping former Black Panthers Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, in solitary for over 36 years. Now a death penalty trial in St. Francisville, Louisiana has exposed widespread and systemic abuse at the prison. Even in the context of eight years of the Bush administration, the behavior documented at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola stands out both for its brutality and for the significant evidence that it was condoned and encouraged from the very top of the chain of command.

In a remarkable hearing that explored torture practices at Angola, twenty-five inmates testified last summer to facing overwhelming violence in the aftermath of an escape attempt at the prison nearly a decade ago. These twenty-five inmates - who were not involved in the escape attempt - testified to being kicked, punched, beaten with batons and with fists, stepped on, left naked in a freezing cell, and threatened that they would be killed. They were threatened by guards that they would be sexually assaulted with batons. They were forced to urinate and defecate on themselves. They were bloodied, had teeth knocked out, were beaten until they lost control of bodily functions, and beaten until they signed statements or confessions presented to them by prison officials. One inmate had a broken jaw, and another was placed in solitary confinement for eight years.

While prison officials deny the policy of abuse, the range of prisoners who gave statements, in addition to medical records and other evidence introduced at the trial, present a powerful argument that abuse is a standard policy at the prison. Several of the prisoners received $7,000 when the state agreed to settle, without admitting liability, two civil rights lawsuits filed by 13 inmates. The inmates will have to spend that money behind bars -more than 90% of Angola's prisoners are expected to die behind its walls.

Overcrowding or what?

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Here are the questions: Why are there 2,080 (more than 2400 by some reports) prisoners in a 980 bed privately run facility? Are they sleeping shifts? Together? Why is this level of overcrowding allowed by the state?

Second riot breaks out at Texas prison

jail.jpg(CNN) -- Thousands of inmates rioted at the Reeves County Detention Center in Texas on Saturday, the second disturbance at the prison facility in the last two months.As many as 2,080 inmates from two of the center's three buildings began fighting in the prison yard about 4:30 p.m. ET, said county Sheriff's Office Dispatcher Anna Granado.

Officials do not know what prompted the riots. It was also not immediately clear whether the fighting resulted in injuries.

Authorities from several law enforcement agencies responded to quell the violence, Granado said.

On December 12, inmates took two workers hostage and set fire to the recreation area at the center in Pecos, located about 430 miles west of Dallas.

The inmates, who had made several demands, surrendered later that night.

The prison is a 980-bed, low-security facility, operated by Geo Group Inc. It houses federal prisoners as well as inmates from other states.

In December, rioting inmates at the facility about 430 miles west of Dallas sought better medical treatment. Officials said there were minor injuries.

The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has run the lockup through contracts with Reeves County and the Federal Bureau of Prisons since 2003. The prison holds more than 2,400 inmates.

Pablo E. Paez, a spokesman for GEO, did not immediately respond to phone or e-mail messages Saturday night.

Right Left Center Talk

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I don't particularly think these folks understand the full scope of what is going on, but hey its not bad to make your first coffee of the day to.

New Breed of Hunting Hound

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crocboar.jpg

Wouldn't it be cool to take a few dozen of these guys and let them loose on Wall St?
We'd want to starve them for a bit first though. . . .Oh, I feel better already.

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