Category: Culture

IRS seizes accounts on suspicion, no crime required

For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away — until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.

The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.

“How can this happen?” Ms. Hinders said in a recent interview. “Who takes your money before they prove that you’ve done anything wrong with it?”

The federal government does.

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up…

“They’re going after people who are really not criminals,” said David Smith, a former federal prosecutor who is now a forfeiture expert and lawyer in Virginia. “They’re middle-class citizens who have never had any trouble with the law.”

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances…”

The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

RTFA. Contemptible policies made all the worse by their spread throughout our government. The NSA and FBI meet the same lowlife standard. Not that they’re copycats. They’re just behaving like the rest of the phony/law enforcement/foreign legion scumbags in our government. Regal, self-serving hypocrites.

Like so many police agencies in American government, they’re above the law.

Thanks, Mike

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Tim Cook: “I’m Proud to be Gay”


Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself. Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them.

At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.

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School officials sued for banning girl – they were afraid of (you guessed it) Ebola


Connecticut’s Democrat governor proves he can be as dumb as any Tea Party Republican

A Connecticut father sued a school district for barring his daughter from class because of fear she may be infected with Ebola after a trip to a family wedding in Nigeria, in what may be the first such U.S. lawsuit over the virus.

Stephen Opayemi said he and his 7-year-old daughter, who is in the third grade, returned to the U.S. Oct. 13. He was told by Milford School Superintendent Elizabeth Feser that his daughter would be removed by the police if she went to school Oct. 20, according to a complaint filed yesterday in New Haven federal court.

Actually…on Oct. 20, Nigeria was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization after no new cases were reported in 42 days…

Opayemi said his daughter didn’t have a fever or other symptoms of Ebola, and that he offered to have them both tested for it. He accused the school district of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying access to an education. He seeks damages for her emotional trauma and an order allowing her to return to school immediately.

Feser denied the suit’s allegations, blah, blah, blah!

Throughout the GOUSA, the safe qualification for school administration continues to be ignorance.

It helps when you’re backed up by an governor who has “quarantined” more people than any other US official. Even when they’ve tested negative for ebola.

The Great Kansas Tea Party Debacle

Brownback_Cartoon

The Republican party headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, shares space in a strip mall with Best Friends Pet Clinic, a cowboy-boot repair shop and a Chinese restaurant called the Magic Wok. Inside, on a recent Wednesday afternoon, a modest gathering of party faithful mill about, I’M A BROWNBACKER stickers affixed to their blouses and lapels.

It’s a terrible slogan. Four years ago, when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback first took office, you might’ve wondered if these people, on some subliminal level, actually wanted to be humiliated by a filthy-minded liberal activist looking to add a new “santorum” to Urban Dictionary. As a senator and a failed presidential candidate, Brownback was already one of the nation’s most prominent social conservatives, “God’s Senator,” in the words of a 2006 Rolling Stone profile. But Brownback turned out to be even more radical when it came to economic policy. In 2012, he enacted the largest package of tax cuts in Kansas history, essentially transforming his state into a lab experiment for extreme free-market ideology. The results (disastrous) have reduced the governor to making appearances at grim strip malls like this one in a desperate attempt to salvage his re-election bid.

The last time I came to Kansas, in March 2013, Brownback could often be found wandering the halls of the state Capitol, sporting one of his signature sweater vests, smiling and nodding at passing strangers or offering impromptu lectures to schoolchildren paused in front of the oil painting of John Brown, the fearsome Kansas abolitionist, that hangs outside his office. Here in Wichita, though, he looks exhausted. When he takes the stage, he squints out at the audience through puffy eyes. His Texas counterpart, Gov. Rick Perry, stands behind him, having been summoned north to help bail out Brownback’s flailing campaign…

Then the Texan steps to the podium and delivers a version of a speech I saw him give earlier this year in Kentucky, where he had been mobilized on a similar mission for Mitch McConnell. After boasting about all the jobs his policies have drawn to his state, Perry praises Brownback for placing Kansas on a similar “upward trajectory,”…

There are a couple of problems with Perry’s speech. First of all, he happens to be delivering it in Wichita, where, this summer, Boeing, for decades the largest private employer in the state of Kansas, shuttered its entire operation, shifting those jobs to cities like Seattle, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Texas (oops).

The larger problem, of course, is that Perry wouldn’t even have to be here in Kansas if Brownback’s economic plan had not already proved catastrophic…not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win…

That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Read ‘em and weep, folks – except the good folks don’t deserve the tears. They knew what this idiot was going to do. Even though every previous attempt by a supply-side economics reactionary had failed – all the way up to and including Reagan’s guru, David Stockman. Read Mark Binelli’s whole article.

They voted Brownback into office. He did what he promised to do. The state now waits for bankruptcy, fully prepared to deal with nothing but more disaster, education system crushed, employers ready to flee.

Any history-literate cynic knows American aren’t well enough-educated to vote in their own economic interest. Our nation’s history of bigotry and racism aid the whole process. Reactionary demagogues who would only be considered fringe candidates in other Western nations regularly take their seats in Congress. But, still – Kansas voters outdid themselves with God’s favorite candidate.

Thanks, Mike

Where do you get the seeds to start a legal [in your state] pot business?

As more states legalize medical marijuana, there’s one stage in the process nobody wants to talk about: the part where people still have to break the law.

After growers obtain licenses, plan for security and build facilities, they then must obtain their first seeds or cuttings — while regulators turn a blind eye…

The situation is known as the “immaculate conception” or the “first seed” problem. Those involved see it as an absurd consequence of the nation’s patchwork of laws, with 23 states allowing medical marijuana sales, Colorado and Washington state allowing recreational use and a federal prohibition in place.

While marijuana may not be hard to find, getting the first seeds for medical operations often involves either descending into the underground market or crossing state lines — a violation of state and federal laws.

One Colorado grower, Toni Fox, says she ordered her first seeds for a medical crop five years ago from advertisers in High Times magazine. If they showed up at all, they came hidden in packages with T-shirts and coffee mugs…

Most state laws are silent on the issue, forcing officials into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance. In Washington state, growers have a 15-day, no-questions-asked period during which they can bring non-flowering plants into their operation, which must then be bar-coded and registered.

The result of both citizens and government in this land willing to accept fear of science as a standard, irrational and contradictory law as a replacement for responsible government. Between States Rights, bible-thumping political campaigns, legislative bodies composed of cowards and con artists – we’re all screwed.

And, of course, some folks think that’s pre-ordained and OK.

Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t freaking get up!

Help, I've fallen...
Click to activate loop

This is an animation test. Yes, none of these people exist in real life (not even Waldo), so no one was harmed in the test.

Creator Dave Fothergill vfx says, Crowd dynamics test using Miarmy for Maya, shows the new servo force feature which allows struggling animation once the agent has become dynamic.

Which means nothing to me, but digital animators will recognize the terms. If you are interested in the technical aspects, there’s more in the comments at vimeo. To most of us, it’s just a hilariously goofy sequence that you shouldn’t feel bad about laughing at.

MAYA is the one piece of software that could ever tempt me into trying animation.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Infant deaths near oil drilling sites raise questions


Donna Young, midwifeRJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

The smartphone-sized grave marker is nearly hidden in the grass at Rock Point Cemetery. The name printed on plastic-coated paper — Beau Murphy — has been worn away. Only the span of his life remains.

“June 18, 2013 – June 18, 2013″

For some reason, one that is not known and may never be, Beau and a dozen other infants died in this oil-booming basin last year. Was this spike a fluke? Bad luck? Or were these babies victims of air pollution fed by the nearly 12,000 oil and gas wells in one of the most energy-rich areas in the country..?

But just raising that possibility raises the ire of many who live in and around Vernal. Drilling has been an economic driver and part of the fabric of life here since the 1940s. And if all that energy development means the Uintah Basin has a particularly nasty problem with pollution, so be it, many residents say. Don’t blame drilling for baby deaths that obituaries indicate were six times higher than the national average last year…

“Suffice it to say that air pollution from drilling is a part of it,” Dr. Brian Moench said of the Vernal-area deaths.

Moench, a Salt Lake City-based anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, admits that establishing a scientifically solid link between dead babies and drilling pads is complicated…

Moench took it seriously this year when Vernal midwife Donna Young told him that she had researched obituaries and was alarmed by the high numbers of dead babies.

Young and Moench were able to convince the TriCounty Health Department in Vernal to work with the state on a study to determine if Young’s trend figures are correct.

Moench said that people who aren’t looking at the possibility of a connection “have blinders on…”

Part of the reluctance of residents around Vernal to ascribe any ill effects to energy-field pollution could be tied to the average $3,963 average monthly nonfarm wage in Uintah County — the highest in Utah…

The Utah Department of Health is now working on a study. Epidemiologists initially are using birth and death certificates to determine if there truly was a spike in infant deaths, as Young’s numbers show.

Her numbers show an upward four-year trend in infant deaths: One in every 95.5 burials in Uintah County in 2010 was a baby, according to Young. In 2011 it was one in every 53. In 2012, one in every 39.7. And in 2013 the number jumped to one in every 15…

Besides oil-and-gas-stoked pollution, there could be many other causes…Twice as many residents here smoke than in the rest of Utah. More residents, in an area rife with new fast-food chains, are overweight. More residents admit to drinking heavily. There are more teen mothers and more mothers on average who don’t get good prenatal care.

For now, infant deaths have dropped back to average. Residents are reluctant to talk about the infant-death issue. Many are focusing on a future that is filled with expanded fossil-fuel prospects. Nearly 85 percent of Vernal residents indicated in a recent survey that they welcome oil shale development.

Give me a chance for a voice and a vote – I’d vote for a wind farm or a solar farm on the mesa across our valley. We haven’t wind speeds averaging as high as downstate; but, we sure have sunlight.

Anyone want to drill for oil in my neck of the prairie, I’ll be the first to set this old butt down in the middle of the highway to stop them.

Thanks, Mike

The biggest voting fraud is a Republican lie and costs taxpayers million$

voter-fraud1

Voter ID laws are back in the news once again, with two new opinions from the Wisconsin Supreme Court late last week dealing with the state’s ID requirement, which would allow people to vote only if they provide certain forms of government-issued ID. The Court made some minor changes to the law but otherwise upheld it. However, the ID requirement is still on hold pending a federal lawsuit.

Part of this litigation — and any rational debate about the issue generally — hinges on two things: costs and benefits. The costs of these sorts of laws vary, because the laws themselves differ from state to state (some are far more burdensome than others). The ostensible benefits, though, are all the same. And in addressing these purported benefits, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blew it. Twice.

First, the court cited the idea that ID laws could enhance public confidence–that is, in theory, the laws might make us feel better about elections in that they might provide some security theater. It turns out, though, that this effect is hard to spot. People in states with more restrictive ID laws don’t generally feel better about their elections than people in more permissive states. People who think elections are being stolen, and people who think they’re not, each hold on to that opinion no matter what the governing ID rules in their area…

Second, the court said that ID laws can help stop fraud. It then cited an example of recent fraud … that ID laws aren’t designed to stop. Specifically, it mentioned a case in which a supporter of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was charged with 13 counts of election fraud, including “registering to vote in more than one place, voting where he didn’t live, voting more than once in the same election, and providing false information to election officials,” according to an account by Talking Points Memo. Wisconsin’s ID law would not likely have prevented any of the alleged violations…

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up…

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents…just click through to the original article.

What does this cost us?

Here in New Mexico with a small population, our Republican secretary-of-state set forth on her white horse to dispose of the thousands of cases of voter fraud she was confident she’d find. She had the blessings of our Republican governor – the state legislature hadn’t the guts to sort out her waste. So, she spent over $200,000 and came up with less than a dozen folks who registered to vote when they weren’t qualified. Of those, a couple tried to vote and were rebuffed. The rest had already discovered they weren’t qualified and didn’t even try to vote.

Add in the cost of new voter IDs where Republicans and Blue Dog Dems passed laws trying to block minorities and seniors from voting. Add in the cost of defending patently unconstitutional laws state-by-state up to the Supreme Court.

Multiply that by big states with big searches paid for by taxpayer dollars and we confront hundreds of millions of wasted dollars. And as Professor Levitt noted, he found 31 bona fide allegations of voter fraud in the whole of these United States since 2000.

Republicans waste more time and taxpayer money on lies than any other crooks in the country. And they don’t even have to throw in a copper bracelet.

Linguistic Family Tree


Click to enlarge

When linguists talk about the historical relationship between languages, they use a tree metaphor. An ancient source (say, Indo-European) has various branches (e.g., Romance, Germanic), which themselves have branches (West Germanic, North Germanic), which feed into specific languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian).

Lessons on language families are often illustrated with a simple tree diagram that has all the information but lacks imagination. There’s no reason linguistics has to be so visually uninspiring. Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent, a story set in a lushly imagined post-apocalyptic Nordic world, has drawn the antidote to the boring linguistic tree diagram.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Century-old Antarctic expedition notebook recovered from snow and ice

Hidden in ice for more than 100 years, the photography notebook of a British explorer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica has been found.

The book belonged to George Murray Levick, a surgeon, zoologist and photographer on Scott’s 1910-1913 voyage. Levick might be best remembered for his observations of Cape Adare’s Adélie penguins (and his scandalized descriptions of the birds’ “depraved” sex lives). The newly discovered book also shows he kept fastidious notes, scrawled in pencil, about the photographs he took at Cape Adare.

Levick’s “Wellcome Photographic Exposure Record and Dairy 1910” had been left behind at Captain Scott’s last expedition base at Cape Evans. Conservationists discovered the notebook outside the hut during last year’s summer melt…

The book has notes detailing the date, subjects and exposure details from his photographs. In his notes, Levick refers to a self-portrait he took while shaving in a hut at Cape Adare and shots he took of his fellow crewmembers as they set up theodolites (instruments for surveying) and fish traps and sat in kayaks.

One hundred years of damage from ice and water dissolved the notebook’s binding. The pages were separated and digitized before the book was put back together again with new binding and sent back to Antarctica, where the Antarctic Heritage Trust maintains 11,000 artifacts at Cape Evans…

Cripes, I love finds like this.

I did some work for a spell with a small team that searched old abandoned homes. Brought out amazing artifacts and diaries from the 18th and 19th centuries. Often, we’d only find a roof lying on the ground with a collapsed dwelling underneath. Propping up a corner, we’d – very carefully – crawl in and mine what we could.