Violence Against Women Act passes – in spite of Republicans

The House on Thursday gave final approval to a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, sending a bipartisan Senate measure to President Obama after a House plan endorsed by conservatives was defeated…It amounted to a significant victory for the president and Congressional Democrats, who have assailed Republicans for months for stalling the legislation.

The successful measure passed the Senate last month with 78 votes — including those of every woman, all Democrats and just over half of Republicans.

The alternative unveiled by the House last Friday immediately came under sharp criticism from Democrats and women’s and human rights groups for failing to include protections in the Senate bill for gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse. The House bill also eliminated “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from a list of “populations” that face barriers to receiving victim services — and stripped certain provisions regarding American Indian women on reservations.

With House Republicans divided, the leadership agreed that it would allow a vote on the Senate bill if the House version could not attract sufficient votes, and it failed on a vote of 257 to 166. Sixty Republicans joined 197 Democrats in opposition; 164 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted for it.

The newly passed legislation creates and expands federal programs to assist local communities with law enforcement and aiding victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Most notably, the bill goes further by offering protections for gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse, as well as allowing American Indian women who are assaulted on reservations by non-Indians to take their case to tribal courts, which otherwise would not have jurisdiction over assailants who do not live on tribal land…

The legislation’s approval underscored the divide in the Republican party as it struggles to regain its footing with women after its 2012 electoral drubbing among female voters. House Republicans — even split at the leadership level — ultimately bowed to what they saw as the best interests of their party nationally, even if that meant overriding the will of the majority of rank-and-file Republicans.

Last month, more than 1,300 women’s and human rights groups signed a letter supporting the Senate legislation.

“Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the L.G.B.T. community.”

“Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk,” Mr. Obama said…

Various flavors of House Republicans will now spend the next few weeks fabricating the next generation of lies about why they voted against the Senate bill, why they tried to pass a bill riddled with loopholes.

This has been a bill generating automatic bi-partisan support for decades. It has grown in breadth and concern as have the same qualities among American voters. But, now, the nutballs in charge of the Republican Party not only reject growing and learning, they reject bipartisan discussion and negotiation – and most of all – they reject any bill which appears to reflect the leadership of President Obama.

They have the stature that tiny minds deserve. An STD infecting Congress!

A whole new meaning to “smartphone culture” – Har!


A relatively straightforward classroom experiment this may be, but the fascinating (and beautiful) images produced by students at the University of Surrey when they imprinted their smartphone onto a bacterial growth medium will inevitably give owners of similar devices pause for thought.

Though identifying bacteria by appearance can be difficult…the University of Surrey’s Dr. Simon Park, who teaches course BMS1035, Practical and Biomedical Bacteriology, tells Gizmag that most of the bacteria seen, which have been grown in Plate Count Agar…for three days, are harmless and typically found on human skin, such as those in the genus Micrococcus.

The exercise does occasionally show the presence of disease-causing bacterial pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, associated with a number of infectious diseases of varying severity. Dr. Park tells Gizmag that this isn’t surprising considering that 20 percent of people are persistent carriers, and 60 percent intermittent carriers, of this species of bacteria. “The ecological niche on the body for Staphylococcus aureus is the nostrils,” Dr. Park said. “So a furtive pick of the nose, and quick text after, and you end up with this pathogen on your smartphone…”

Asked how his students initially reacted to the cultures, Dr. Park told Gizmag that they were surprised at first, but fine once informed the bacteria are mostly harmless. “It’s a really good example of just how ubiquitous bacteria are in our environment and how easily they can be transferred,” Dr. Park summarized.


Class action lawsuit claims InBev watering down Budweiser beer

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI), the world’s biggest brewer, was sued by consumers in three U.S. states for allegedly overstating the alcohol content in its Budweiser beer.

AB InBev’s St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. routinely adds extra water to its finished products to produce malt beverages with significantly less alcohol content than displayed on its labels, violating state statutes on consumer protection, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Philadelphia. Similar lawsuits were filed in federal courts in New Jersey and San Francisco.

“AB’s customers are overcharged for watered-down beer and AB is unjustly enriched by the additional volume it can sell,” Thomas and Gerald Greenberg said in the Philadelphia complaint…

The claims against Anheuser-Busch are “completely false,” Peter Kraemer, the company’s vice president of brewing and supply, said in an e-mail…“Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws,” Kraemer said….

The complaints accuse the AB InBev unit of also mislabeling the amount of alcohol in Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Michelob, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Black Crown, Bud Light Lime, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, Natural Ice and Michelob Ultra.

Josh Boxer, an attorney for plaintiffs in California, said additional lawsuits will be filed against the company in Ohio and Colorado. The California complaint, filed by Sonoma County residents Nina Giampaoli and John Elbert, seek to represent consumers in the state and consumers nationwide who have purchased AB InBev products in the past five years. All three complaints seek damages exceeding $5 million.

Total damages “could be quite significant based on the volume of products that AB produces a year,” Boxer said…

You betcha!

AB InBev allegedly keeps the alcohol level for each batch of malt beverage at specifications above the desired final product at least initially then adds water and CO2 to the final stage of the brewing process, according to the complaint.

The company began using in-line alcohol measuring instruments known as Anton Paar meters that can measure the alcohol content in malt beverages to within hundredths of one percent, according to the complaint. AB allegedly uses the precision technology to shave the alcohol content instead of providing consumers with a product based on the stated label, the Greenbergs said in the complaint.

Adding water to the brewing process cuts the stated alcohol content by 3 to 8 percent, Boxer said.

Budweiser announced the takeover move by InBev in 2006 – which was completed in 2009. Beaucoup Budweiser fans worried about an even larger corporate entity screwing with their favorite beer. I not only don’t drink anything from either, I don’t think anyone in my family does either. So, we never especially worried about their business ethics except within the context of marketing. Like could they screwup the English Football Association even more than the Brits managed to on their own?

Still, there is nothing more classic about capitalism than some scumbag “watering the beer” to increase profits. Should be an interesting case to follow.

Apple, Morgan Stanley, corporations unite to support gay marriage

Gay-marriage advocates, aiming to show broad support as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue for the first time, have enlisted Apple, Morgan Stanley and dozens of Republicans who once held top government positions…

The justices will hear arguments March 26 on California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that halted gay marriage in the state after it was allowed for five months.

The corporate group, which also includes Facebook and Intel will argue in its brief that gay-marriage bans in 41 states harm workplace morale and undermine recruiting.

“No matter how welcoming the corporate culture, it cannot overcome the societal stigma institutionalized by Proposition 8 and similar laws,” the companies will argue.

Continue reading

An external airbag for your car

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, approximately 250,000 cars are damaged by hail every year in the U.S. alone. The average cost of repair comes in at just over US$3,100, so what’s a person to do to protect their vehicle when rain takes the form of ice sculpted golf balls? The obvious solution – airbag the car.

Shifting the airbag from a car’s interior to its exterior was the idea of the folks at Texas-based Hail Storm Products. The company’s patented Hail Protection System is essentially a puffy car cover/airbag in one that is designed to protect from hail damage…

The cover itself is made up of two layers, the first of which straps to the wheels and under the car, with the second forming the outer protection. The cover inflates via four blowers that are powered by a small compressor that sits idle until the owner engages the defense system using a small remote.

With the ability to inflate in less than five minutes, the manufacturer claims the system can protect vehicles from hail up to the size of a softball. Once the storm has passed, the system then goes on standby and returns to its role as the Clark Kent of car covers.

In addition to hail defense, the cover also offers the usual UV protection, water resistance and breathability when not in armor mode. Installation is also car cover simple, with a few minor steps added for the strapping down and power connections.

Back in the day, I was visiting clients in Denver and looked out the window and saw a black cloud approaching – flat, ferocious and big enough to scare the average dragon. It said only one thing to me. Here comes a monster hail storm.

My client had his own car parked inside the single-car garage at his business and it didn’t look like there were any other choices in the neighborhood. I jumped in my car and headed for the nearest freeway entrance. Got on, got rolling away from the storm as fast as I could – and turned back off at the first exit I came to that obviously connected to an underpass back beneath the freeway.

Dived down the ramp and just got parked under the freeway when the storm hit. Denver suffered tens of millions of dollars of damage that day. Glass-fronted buildings had their whole facade ripped away, smashed and demolished.

My car was just fine.

But, if I lived someplace in West Texas – where there isn’t an abundance of bridges – I would buy one of these critters.

Drone pilots found to get same PTSD as combat pilots do

In the first study of its kind, researchers with the Defense Department have found that pilots of drone aircraft experience mental health problems like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress at the same rate as pilots of manned aircraft who are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The study affirms a growing body of research finding health hazards even for those piloting machines from bases far from actual combat zones…

…Air Force officials and independent experts have suggested several potential causes, among them witnessing combat violence on live video feeds, working in isolation or under inflexible shift hours, juggling the simultaneous demands of home life with combat operations and dealing with intense stress because of crew shortages.

“Remotely piloted aircraft pilots may stare at the same piece of ground for days,” said Jean Lin Otto, an epidemiologist who was a co-author of the study. “They witness the carnage. Manned aircraft pilots don’t do that. They get out of there as soon as possible…”

Since 2008, the number of pilots of remotely piloted aircraft — the Air Force’s preferred term for drones — has grown fourfold, to nearly 1,300. The Air Force is now training more pilots for its drones than for its fighter jets and bombers combined. And by 2015, it expects to have more drone pilots than bomber pilots, although fighter pilots will remain a larger group.

Those figures do not include drones operated by the C.I.A. in counterterrorism operations over Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.

The Pentagon has begun taking steps to keep pace with the rapid expansion of drone operations. It recently created a new medal to honor troops involved in both drone warfare and cyberwarfare. And the Air Force has expanded access to chaplains and therapists for drone operators…

Well, then, we’re all OK, right?

Pic of the Day

Click to enlargeREUTERS/Kerek Wongsa

Buddhist monks pray at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on Makha Bucha Day February 25, 2013. Makha Bucha Day honors Buddha and his teachings, and falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month.

Human composition, pattern recognition.