Floating rocks in South Pacific cover area larger than Belgium

Pumice, the lightweight stone used to smooth skin, is usually found in beauty salons, but on Thursday sailors from New Zealand’s Royal Navy found nearly 10,000 square miles of the lava rock bobbing on the surface of the South Pacific Ocean…

Described by one sailor who witnessed it as “the weirdest thing I’ve seen in 18 years at sea,” the sea of white rock was initially spotted by air and then relayed to a ship for further investigation, according to a statement released by the New Zealand Royal Navy.

“The lookout reported a shadow on the ocean ahead of us, so I ordered the ship’s spotlight to be trained on the area … as far ahead as I could observe was a raft of pumice moving up and down with the swell,” Lt. Tim Oscar said…

“As we moved through the raft of pumice we used the spotlights to try and find the edge — but it extended as far as we could see,” Oscar said after the encounter…

“The rock looked to be sitting two feet above the surface of the waves, and lit up a brilliant white color in the spotlight. It looked exactly like the edge of an ice shelf,” Oscar said, according to the statement…

Volcanologist Helen Bostock told New Zealand Royal Navy officials the rock came from an underwater volcanic eruption, and now scientists will work to determine which volcano was responsible.

They could have scooped up enough to sell for landscaping back home – to pay for their travels.

The other side of our valley has working pumice mines that go back to the time of the Spanish colonial invaders – in the 17th Century. Trucks loaded with pumice for landscapes and gardens as far away as Florida leave the mines every day.

Sleazy medical bill collector to pay $2.5 million settlement in Minnesota – what are other states doing about these thugs?

Accretive Health, one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debt, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Minnesota state attorney general’s office to settle accusations that it violated a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care, even if patients cannot afford to pay…

As part of Monday’s settlement, Accretive Health is also barred from contracting with hospitals within the state for at least two years, effectively ending its business at three Minnesota hospitals. For four years after that, the company will have to obtain permission from the attorney general before resuming business in the state.

In April, Lori Swanson, the Minnesota attorney general, disclosed hundreds of Accretive’s internal documents that outlined aggressive collection tactics, including embedding debt collectors in emergency rooms and pressuring patients to pay before receiving treatment…

In an interview Monday, Ms. Swanson said “a hospital emergency room should be a sanctuary for the sick and wounded, not a hunting ground for collectors.” The settlement will end a civil suit against Accretive, which Ms. Swanson filed in January after a laptop with patient information was stolen, saying that the company had violated state and federal debt collection laws and patient privacy protections…

The revelations in Minnesota have reverberated across the country because they raise concerns that such aggressive tactics have become widespread at hospitals. Accretive Health contracts with some of the largest hospital systems in the country to help them recoup money on unpaid bills that have piled up during the financial crisis and the economic downturn…

Hospitals have long hired outside collection agencies to pursue patients after they have received care. But mounting financial pressures have resulted in hospitals letting collection firms in the front door, turning over the management of their staffing, like patient registration and scheduling, along with their collection activities, according to Ms. Swanson…

Corrupt administrators of hospital systems have been turning over private records to Accretive to aid them in harassing patients. They are at least as slimy as the rest of the hustlers leading the parade of greedy healthcare providers.

RTFA for anecdotal tales of people lying bleeding in a hospital’s emergency room – instead of a caring nurse or doctor standing by their side, they found themselves questioned by an extortion specialist trying to pry their last dollar from their wallet or purse before allowng medical care. The ultimate Republican healthcare portable death panel.

These gangsters operate in nationwide hospital chains, attacking patients in almost every state. Where is the protection guaranteed by federal law? Why aren’t the state’s attorney generals protecting civil rights?

Ryan ready to double Romney’s tax cuts for the wealthy

In picking Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has doubled down on his own campaign promise to give big tax breaks to the wealthy, uniting himself with a candidate who goes even further to do so: While Romney would bring taxes for top incomes down to 28 percent, Ryan has proposed bringing the top rate down even lower, to 25 percent. Meanwhile, Ryan’s plan would actually increase the effective tax rate on the very poorest Americans by getting rid of tax breaks that benefit low earners…

That’s because the Ryan budget would get rid of tax breaks that benefit low-income Americans, including expansions of “the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and American Opportunity Tax Credit that were enacted in 2009,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As a result, effective tax rates on those with incomes than $30,000 would actually go up, while going down for the wealthy…

Ryan says that he would also eliminate tax breaks for the wealthy, among others, to order to help pay for these rate cuts, which total almost $10 trillion, according to the CBPP. But he’s declined to specify which tax breaks for the rich he’d actually get rid of. Instead, “Ryan has said the House’s tax-writing Ways and Means Committee will sort that out later”…

What’s more, Ryan actually wants to expand one of the biggest tax breaks that benefit the wealthy: He wants to eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest. So it remains unclear how Ryan would ensure that $10 trillion in rate cuts wouldn’t explode the deficit.

In fact, Romney’s tax plan suffers from exactly the same policy gap: He has also refused to specify which tax breaks he’d get rid of to pay for big rate cuts that would disproportionately benefit the wealthy. When the Tax Policy Center tried to fill in the gaps, they found that Romney’s plan still gave big tax breaks to the wealthy while raising taxes on lower- and middle-income families. Both Romney and Ryan would also cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, also offset by getting rid of corporate tax breaks that neither will specify.

We’re supposed to take Romney and Ryan at their word – that they’re going to wave a magic wand and the House Ways and Means Committee and the rest of the do-nothing crowd in Congress will reverse course and return to equitable tax structures. Someone mail me a penny postcard when that happens.

No – this is just more of the usual pie-in-the-sky we’re promised when we die and go to Republican heaven. Except all the seats are already taken by folks from Wall Street, Big Oil and Ryan’s buddies at the insurance companies.

Deputy sheriff takes firing over a Facebook “like” to court

A Virginia sheriff’s deputy has been fired for liking his boss’s political opponent — on Facebook.

Now Daniel Ray Carter Jr. is fighting back in court, arguing that a “like” should be protected by his First Amendment right to free speech. It’s a case that could settle a significant question at a time when hundreds of millions of people express themselves on Facebook, sometimes merging their personal, professional and political lives in the process.

According to court documents, the case began when Sheriff B.J. Roberts of Hampton, Virginia, fired Carter and five other employees for supporting his rival in a 2009 election.

Carter’s offense? Clicking the omnipresent Facebook thumbs-up to follow the page “Jim Adams For Hampton Sheriff.” Roberts, of course, won re-election, leading to the firings…

“Liking a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” Judge Judge Raymond A. Jackson wrote in his May ruling, because it doesn’t “involve actual statements.”

Carter is appealing that ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals…Carter’s advocates argue the judge’s definition of free speech doesn’t match existing law.

“The judge is wrong in the sense that the Facebook button actually says the word ‘like,’ so there are actually words being used,” said Aden Fine, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a brief supporting Carter’s appeal. “And there’s a thumbs-up symbol, which most people understand means they, literally, like something.”

Facebook itself also has weighed in with a brief to the court, saying that a “like” for a political candidate is “the 21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign.”

Blogging daily at a few sites, I admit to sometimes being frustrated by a slow news day. However, there are a couple of qualities of life among our species I can always count on to show up somewhere, somehow. One is the dumb crook of the day, another is the picture of the day – we are a delightfully creative species and that has been enhanced by the Web and digital imaging.

This post fits into the category of pea-brained, egregious bureaucrat who thinks the world revolves around him and his pitiful little career.

I hope Daniel Ray Carter Jr wins his appeal. I hope he then sues his former boss for everything but his house, his wife and his dog.

Philippines close to passing Birth-Control Bill — after 14 years battling the Catholic church

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Philippine lawmakers today voted to speed up legislation that will give poor families access to free contraceptives, marking a victory for President Benigno Aquino over the country’s influential Catholic Church.

The 284-member House of Representatives agreed a day ahead of schedule to end a debate on the bill that has languished in congress for 14 years, allowing amendments to be considered next week. Aquino earlier met some of the chamber’s legislators over lunch, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales told reporters in Manila.

“Even though it’s as slow as a tortoise, the bill is moving forward,” said Gonzales. “It has never gone this far.”

The legislation, which consolidates six previous versions, seeks to provide universal access to birth control in an effort to rein in population growth that is twice the Asian average. Aquino, who has said he’s ready to be excommunicated over the bill, is confident Congress will pass the measure…

Today’s vote was a precursor of what the eventual vote should be,” said Carlos Celdran, a birth-control proponent who was jailed for a day after protesting at a 2010 meeting of bishops in Manila’s cathedral. “The previous administrations never really supported it. Now that it’s a priority, I’m pretty confident it will be passed”.

One can only hope. Right? And turn out support from the public to counter the backwardness of a religion that says a whole nation should obey their 14th Century rulebook.