Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Developing: Early Stages of "Freedom of Expression" War Under Way in Pa?


A legendary western Pa home of Christmas lights displays appears to have changed its format to echo Central Pa man's "controversial" yard exhibit of nude figurines, with his own message to his anti-free speech neighbors. 

(Read that story here: Manheim Twp. man says his yard display featuring nude figures is art; neighbors disagree)

Ross Township Home once known for holiday lights now shows vulgar display  

Merry Christmas? Home once known for holiday lights now shows vulgar display
PITTSBURGH, Pa. —Fairley Road in Ross Township was once a holiday destination for families, but now neighbors warn children to stay away from it.
People would sit in their cars for twenty minutes just to driver around the center house that had thousands of lights and holiday decorations.
In the last decade, Bill Ansell's decorations have gone south.
There are choir figurines that have been decapitated. Plastic tarps and swimming pools are thrown throughout the yard. The only lights shining are bright spot lights, turned on at night and pointed in the direction of neighbor's houses.
The display becomes personal when you view the handwritten signs that are hung on every angle of the house. The signs are vulgar, too vulgar to report verbatim. And the signs list neighbors by name.
Pam Heck is one of those neighbors who sees an offensive sign about her every day.
"To have the signs on the side of his house that are written like that, I can't even tell you the way I feel when anybody visits me. People look, take a double look and laugh, especially people that have never been here before," said Heck.
"You can't bring your grandchildren around or you shouldn’t even have children come up this street," said Tom White, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years.
Why did the display turn from a holiday destination to a head-turner for all the wrong reasons?
We could not reach Bill Ansell directly for his side of the story, but neighbors say the issue has gotten out of hand over the years.
Heck said she first reached out to Ansell about the display when he started turning the lights on at Thanksgiving.
Sources confirm Ansell would put a lighted arrow in his yard to direct traffic, which he wasn't permitted to do since it was a two way road.
Heck said her family couldn't access her driveway and the lights were shining into the kitchen.
Heck believed things spiraled out of control after this.
Ross Township has been involved in the issue since 2005.
Township manager Douglas Sample said, "Since I've come aboard, we have cited the property owners for code violations. The local magistrate withheld our citations, then the Ansells appealed those to the common pleas court. Common pleas agreed with the township, and it was appealed to the state court. The state agreed with the township and Mr Ansell did not appeal or petition the state supreme court so right now the township is looking at its options to address the issues on Fairley Road."
Sample said the Ansells were ordered by the court to clean the debris in the yard. To date, it has not been cleared.
While Bill Ansell has conducted interviews in the past with WTAE about the display, he could not be reached for comment Monday, neither could his brother, who is the owner of the property.
The township met Monday night to discuss its next step.
The display becomes personal when you view the handwritten signs that are hung on every angle of the house. The signs are vulgar, too vulgar to report verbatim. And the signs list neighbors by name.
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Kelly Brennan, WTAE-TV
The display becomes personal when you view the handwritten signs that are hung on every angle of the house. The signs are vulgar, too vulgar to report verbatim. And the signs list neighbors by name.

Obamanomics: Sears closing five Pennsylvania stores, 351 jobs to go away


Black Friday shopping in Sears at the Capital City Mall in 2009. (Dan Gleiter)

Sears is closing five Pennsylvania stores in mid-January, affecting 351 jobs.
In the midstate, the closing of the Sears store at the Lebanon Plaza Shopping Center on Quentin Road will eliminate 51 jobs.

The other stores include Chambersburg, Bloomsburg, Frackville and Pittsburgh Mills, said Sears Holdings spokesman Howard Riefs.

The Pittsburgh store closing will affect 97 jobs; Frackville, 84; Chambersburg, 62; and Bloomsburg, 57.

Eligible employees will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores, Riefs has said.
A liquidation sale will begin Oct. 31, he said.

In August, Sears Holdings announced it is considering closure of additional stores, after having already announced the closure of 130 underperforming stores in fiscal 2014.

Net loss was $573 million in the second quarter of 2014, compared with $194 million in the prior year's second quarter, Sears announced.

The company said it is continuing to evaluate sales of Sears stores and auto centers, including its 51 percent share in Sears Canada, which operates 20 percent of stores.

In April, Sears topped the National Retail Investor's list of 10 national chains likely to close stores this year. In fiscal 2013, it said Sears' same-store sales fell 3.8 percent while revenue declined by $3.7 billion, and there was a $681 million loss on gross margins.

Store closures "are part of a series of actions we're taking to reduce on-going expenses, adjust our asset base, and accelerate the transformation of our business model," Riefs said.

He said Sears hopes to retain a portion of sales associated with the store by focusing investment on what it calls "integrated retail," which includes shopping in stores, online and in the home, and "Shop Your Way," a loyalty program and social shopping community.

Sears was one of the original tenants in the Lebanon Plaza Shopping Center, which was built in 1966 and renovated in 1993.

Welco Realty, leasing agent for the shopping center, shows space will be available in January for 98,186 square feet of space at the shopping center.

In 2011, Sears closed between 100 and 120 stores nationwide, but none in the midstate. There are Sears stores in the Capital City Mall, Colonial Park Mall, York Galleria, North Hanover Mall and Park City.


The Fleecing Of American Taxpayers: Thousands of federal workers on extended paid leave


Tens of thousands of federal workers are being kept on paid leave for at least a month — and often for longer stretches that can reach a year or more — while they wait to be punished for misbehavior or cleared and allowed to return to work, government records show.

During a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 employees were sent home for a month or longer. The tab for these workers exceeded $775 million in salary alone.
The extensive use of administrative leave continues despite government personnel rules that limit paid leave for employees facing discipline to “rare circumstances” in which the employee is considered a threat. The long-standing rules were written in an effort to curb waste and deal quickly with workers accused of misconduct.
And the comptroller general, the top federal official responsible for auditing government finances and practices, has repeatedly ruled that federal workers should not be sidelined for long periods for any reason.
But a report by the Government Accountability Office, first made public by The Washington Post on its Web site Monday, found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 were idled for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years. This is the first time the government has calculated the scope and cost of administrative leave.
Auditors found that supervisors used wide discretion in putting employees on leave, including for alleged violations of government rules and laws, whistleblowing, doubts about trust­worthiness, and disputes with colleagues or bosses. Some employees remain on paid leave while they challenge demotions and other punishments.
While the employees stayed home, they not only collected paychecks but also built their pensions, vacation and sick days and moved up the federal pay scale.
“Six months went by, and we didn’t hear anything,” said Scott Balovich, who was put on administrative leave from his IT systems job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska. “You’re so anxious. You don’t know if you’ve got a job. You’re getting paid, but it’s no vacation.”
Balovich, who makes $108,000 a year, was paid not to work while investigators examined how pornographic images had gotten onto his computer hard drive. He ultimately was cleared of any personal involvement and returned to his job last week. His attorney, Debra D’Agostino, a founder of the Federal Practice Group, said he “got stuck in the inertia of bureaucracy.”
The GAO report almost certainly understates the extent and cost of administrative leave because the figures examined by the auditors were incomplete. The numbers reviewed account for only about three-fifths of the federal workforce since not all government agencies keep track of the practice.
The Office of Personnel Management rule book lists dozens of reasons for allowing paid leave, such as donating an organ, house-hunting before a job transfer and attending the funeral of a relative in the military. Snow days also are permitted.
But these require only a few hours or days — not the months and years that the GAO discovered are common at more than 100 federal agencies.
“It’s not authorized by any law,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), referring to the cases that drag on. “Bureaucrats are abusing it.”
Grassley, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requested the GAO report. Grassley is working with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on legislation that would narrowly define the circumstances in which employees can be kept home. Pay would be limited to a few days, congressional aides said.
OPM regulations, which govern personnel practices across the government, say an employee faced with a proposed disciplinary action “will remain in a duty status” except in “rare circumstances” when he or she poses a threat to himself or others, is at risk of stealing government property or jeopardizes “legitimate government interests.” That rule, which dates to 1980, was adopted on the heels of the last major shake-up of the federal civil service as part of a push to curb waste and fraud and make agencies more accountable to taxpayers.
Even earlier than that, the comptroller general began to make clear that extended paid leave was not appropriate. As long ago as 1958, for instance, the comptroller general said that an employee under investigation for wrongdoing “may be relieved from duty and continued in a pay status for 24 hours or so.” That was the first of a dozen such rulings issued by the comptroller general since then.
At many private companies, paid leave is rarely used, if at all, and lasts a few days at most, personnel experts said. An employee accused of wrongdoing either stays at the office and is reassigned or is suspended without pay.
“The private sector is focused on operating efficiently,” said Kathy Albarado, chief executive of Helios HR, a consulting firm based in Northern Virginia. Many of Helios’s clients are government contractors that cannot bill the government for salaries if employees are on paid leave. “So they’re motivated to ensure they’re resolving any dispute quickly,” Albarado said.
Shortly before Balovich went back to work at NOAA, the agency official in charge of his case apologized in an e-mail for keeping him at home so long. “I agree that the process has been way, way too lengthy,” Jim Balsiger, the regional administrator for NOAA fisheries in Alaska, wrote to him, saying the case had to be processed through various government offices.
Balsiger’s deputy, Doug Mecum, said in an interview: “We weren’t in control of the timeline. People and players above us were in control.”
A NOAA spokesman, citing privacy laws, declined to comment on the specifics of Balovich’s case.
In another case, a former acting inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security was put on paid leave in April while he was investigated for allegedly misusing his office and soft-pedaling reports about misbehavior by Secret Service agents. Before he was sent home, Charles Edwards resigned his post and transferred to a different job in the department.
DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron confirmed that Edwards remains on leave but declined to say how long it will last. Edwards did not respond to a telephone message left at his home seeking comment.
“Unless you think somebody is going to get a gun and shoot people, then send them to work,” said Jeffrey Neal, a longtime federal personnel manager who retired in 2011 as the DHS human capital chief. “If they’re sitting there, you’re going to be reminded, ‘We have to do something about Betty Lou.’ ”
There is no law addressing administrative leave. Brenda Roberts, OPM deputy associate director for pay and leave, said agencies have used their own discretion in putting workers on paid leave.
The OPM has at times given guidance to managers across government on how it should be used, she said, adding that “we’ve always stated it’s for brief periods of time.”
Spokesmen for several agencies, when asked why they sidelined hundreds or thousands of employees for long periods, said they rely on the OPM for guidance.
“Administrative leave . . . is generally limited to special situations involving brief absences,” Defense Department spokesman Nathan Christensen said in a statement. It “may, in limited circumstances, be granted on an extended basis for situations such as security clearance reviews, or other due process situations where such leave is deemed to be in the interest of the Department.”
The GAO found that the Defense Department put about 8,600 employees on leave for one to three months, nearly 900 for three months to a year and 123 for more than a year.
In a move rare for federal agencies, the Justice Department has taken steps to rein in the use of administrative leave, limiting it to 10 workdays unless the assistant attorney general for administration approves a longer period.
“It became very clear to us that managers were putting people on administrative leave because it was the easiest thing to do,” said Robert Diegelman, who wrote the policy in 2002, when he was a high-level official at the Justice Department. “Too often it went on forever.”
That’s how it seemed for Hayley Dikeman, a wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Tulsa who was sent home for six months after she disagreed repeatedly with an environmental decision by the agency and argued with her supervisors. She said she was upset that the agency had allowed a company in Oklahoma to lay a utility line without first studying how it might affect the habitat of an endangered beetle.
The biologist said she questioned the agency’s integrity and accused it of giving industry special treatment. Agency officials said she exhibited “disrespectful” behavior toward her supervisors, she recalled. She was suspended without pay before being put on paid leave. “They just didn’t want to deal with her,” said her attorney, Debra Roth.
Claiming she was a whistleblower, Dikeman took her case to the Office of Special Counsel, which began investigating whether she had suffered from retaliation. She said that a separate internal investigation found in her favor and that she is now back at work.
Jessica Kershaw, spokeswoman for the Interior Department, Fish and Wildlife’s parent agency, said in a statement that it had “completed its review and made recommendations for appropriate disciplinary and corrective actions. Because these recommendations are subject to further review and negotiations of a privileged nature, we are unable to comment further.”
Roth, who is general counsel for the Senior Executives Association, which represents 7,000 government executives, said the OPM is partly responsible for the abuses of administrative leave.
The “OPM has turned a blind eye to this, and it’s shameful,” she said. “There’s no sense of urgency.”


An October Surprise: Obama's "Biden Moment"


Obama Just Said The Last Thing Red State Democrats Want To Hear


AP/Carolyn Kaster Barack Obama. US President Barack Obama offered a new talking point to Senate Republicans on Monday — just two weeks away from Election Day.
Speaking on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show, Obama said the Democratic candidates who had been avoiding him were actually "strong allies who have supported my agenda." Many of these candidates are in conservative-leaning states where Obama's agenda is decisively unpopular.
"And so some of the candidates there — it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turnout," Obama said, according to The Hill. "The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me, they have supported my agenda in Congress, they are on the right side of minimum wage, they are on the right side of fair pay, they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure, they're on the right side of early childhood education."
Neutral political observers said the quote was a gift for Republicans running in tougher-than-expected races in these more conservative states. Senate Republicans need to net six seats to regain the majority in the chamber. To accomplish that, they must pick off Democrats in states like Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, and Arkansas.
"Christmas came early for Republicans in tough races," the research firm Potomac Research Group declared Tuesday morning. "Big mistake. We've seen TV ads all around the country, and the GOP spots are scathing — if you vote for the Democrat, you're voting for Obama. The president apparently doesn't get it; he once again has made the election about him. Not a smart move."


Union Contract: Teachers Can Be Caught in School Drunk Five Times and On Drugs Three Times Before Being Fired


Students are reported to the police on first offense

Forget zero tolerance. Bay City Public School teachers for years could be caught repeatedly under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol without being fired.
Teachers in possession or under the influence of illegal drugs could be caught three times before they lost their job, and they got five strikes if they were drunk on school grounds before being fired. A school district official said the language in the union contract that protects teachers for those instances "was incorporated into the teacher Master Agreement in 1997."
Those protections also were included in the Bay City Education Association teacher’s contract that was agreed to in January in section 16.1300 "Controlled Substances" on page 92. That contract expired June 30 and negotiations on a new contract are ongoing.
Students weren’t given as many chances. The code of conduct for middle school and high school students states that if they are found to be under the influence or in possession of illegal drugs, they get a 5-day suspension or a 3-day suspension with counseling on the first offense.
A teacher caught selling drugs in class would get a 3-day suspension without pay with mandatory counseling, but wouldn’t be fired unless the teacher did it a second time.
"They must have had been high to approve that contract because no sober person would agree to that kind of policy," said Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance. "The role models are held to a lower standard than the students. That just sends a horrible message. If anything is indicative of how far school boards are willing to bend to kiss the rings of union leaders, this is it.
"That is an absolute disgrace," he said.
The provision of the teachers' contract that allowed up to five strikes for being under the influence of alcohol and three strikes for being under the influence of illegal drugs before being fired was ruled as unenforceable by Public Act 103 in July 2011. However, the union contract states that if Public Act 103 is struck down, the policy goes back into effect for teachers.
The union contract states that the provisions remain in "full force and affect" for bargaining unit members not subject to the Teachers Tenure Act, which would include job titles such as librarians, guidance counselors, school psychologists, social workers and school nurses.
Bay City Superintendent Doug Newcombe said only a handful of employees are still covered by the contract language.
"From my point of view, that practice has already ended," Newcombe said. "We are not going to apply that language."
Newcombe said the district has not had a situation involving illegal drugs or alcohol arise with a teacher but that district officials would handle each incident on a case-by-case basis.
However, Newcombe would not say that the union protection for teachers who were under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol would be excluded from the union contract that is being negotiated now.
"I'm not going to speak to ongoing contract negotiations at all," he said. "What we would like to do is be uniform with how we handle things and I’ll leave it at that."
The student code of conduct states that the district shall contact local law enforcement authorities if a student is found to be under the influence or in possession of illegal drugs. The teacher’s contract doesn’t have such a stipulation.
Under terms of the contract, teachers found under the influence of alcohol would get a written reprimand on the first offense. On second offense, teachers would get a 3-day suspension without pay and with mandatory counseling. On the third offense, teachers would get a 5-day suspension without pay and with mandatory counseling. On the fourth offense, the penalty was a 10-day suspension without pay and with mandatory counseling. The fifth offense meant termination. A teacher could be fired if she or he didn’t participate in the counseling.
For illegal drugs, the first offense was a written reprimand and mandatory counseling. The second offense was a three-day suspension without pay. The third offense was termination.


During the 'Lost Decade,' Michigan Shed More Jobs Than U.S. as a Whole


Michigan vs. U.S. employment (click to enlarge).
(In a Sept. 23 interview, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Lisa Brown, said, "I think the Granholm years, you know, weren’t as bad as we think.” This article is part of a Michigan Capitol Confidential series examining how the state’s economy actually fared during Michigan’s "lost decade.")
When the Great Recession hit the U.S. in December of 2007, state economies buckled.
But in the four years preceding it Michigan was the only state to lose jobs overall. The state lost 148,100 jobs from 2003 through 2007 while the U.S. added 7.6 million jobs.
Over the entire decade, from 2000 to 2009, the state lost 805,900 jobs, or 1 in every 6 – a 17.2 percent reduction in employment. The next closest state to bleed that many jobs was Ohio, which lost 9.9 percent of its jobs in those years.
Nationwide, the U.S. began the decade with modest declines in employment, but then job growth picked up strongly through 2007. It fell off a cliff in 2008 and 2009; overall, the U.S. lost 786,000 jobs from 2000 to 2009. While the Great Recession job loss in the United States was bad, Michigan’s decline began much earlier and was catastrophic. The Wolverine State lost more jobs over the decade than the net job loss for the entire nation
Christopher Douglas, an associate professor of economics at University of Michigan-Flint, said Gov. Granholm's policies were highly counter-productive.
But it is just so hard to know exactly how many job losses are attributable to her policies, Douglas said. "I think you can make convincing arguments that the yearly budget crisis and can-kicking contributed to job losses, as businesses hate uncertainty, as well as diverting state resources towards crony capitalist endeavors such as movie studios, green energy, and so forth."
Douglas placed most of the blame for job losses on the rising gas prices that choked demand for SUVs and the major auto companies being caught flat-footed to the changing consumer preferences as legacy costs started to kick in.
"The sheer magnitude of the poor management at these companies is staggering," Douglas said.
The state auto manufacturing sector played a role in Michigan recession, but possibly less than many imagine. The state lost 219,000 jobs in the "transportation equipment manufacturing" category, which represented about two-thirds of Michigan jobs in that sector, but this was just 27 percent of the Michigan's overall job loss during the decade.
The state has emerged from the recession with a more diverse job market. The auto industry accounted for one of every 13.5 jobs in Michigan in 2000, but just one in 24.5 jobs in 2014.


Ebola vaccine abandoned in 2008 after showing promise in trials


Health officials blame budget cuts for lack of pharmaceutical shield against virus

 - The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2014
The pitch was intriguing: U.S. health officials wanted to fast-track trials for an Ebola vaccine and sounded the call for volunteers.
Charles Sullivan called up the hotline on a whim, figuring the National Institutes of Health already had filled its queue and wouldn’t need him. But he was accepted for three rounds of shots of a deactivated virus, a year’s worth of blood analysis and a $900 check for his trouble. The clinical trial went well, and the vaccine seemed promising.
A decade later, the country is still waiting for a vaccine amid a worldwide Ebola outbreak, and Mr. Sullivan is wondering what happened to the research conducted on him and 27 other test subjects in 2003.
“It seems like they’re fast-tracking the same thing they were fast-tracking a decade ago,” said Mr. Sullivan, a 51-year-old resident of Rockville, Maryland.
The latest outbreak has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa, infected Americans on U.S. soil for the first time, and left political leaders and health officials clamoring for a vaccine.
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told The Huffington Post that the country probably would have had a vaccine if not for budget cuts. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told The Huffington Post that the country ... more >
Treatment options for those who are infected are also limited. An experimental drug, ZMapp, was given to Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, American aid workers who contracted Ebola in West Africa. Yet supplies of the drug, derived from tobacco plants, have been exhausted and must be rebuilt.
Federal health officials have blamed poor funding for the lack of a vaccine. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told The Huffington Post that the country probably would have had a vaccine if not for budget cuts, and the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases backed up that claim in a statement to The Washington Times.
“The loss of NIH purchasing power over the last 10 years, especially with sequestration, has slowed down biomedical research in virtually all areas. NIH-funded Ebola research would be further along if that had not happened,” the institute said. “NIH researchers found it difficult (until recently, with [GlaxoSmithKline]) to identify an industrial partner, which is critical for scale-up of vaccine production. Because of the extremely limited market potential prior to the 2014 outbreak, there was little industrial interest in an Ebola vaccine.”
Government records show that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ran Ebola vaccine trials in 2003, 2006 and 2008, but none during President Obama’s two terms — until now.
Mr. Sullivan thought the 2003 trial in which he took part was a success, and he thinks the government, particularly the current administration, missed an opportunity to develop an Ebola vaccine as the war on terrorism waned.
“We fast-tracked then for al Qaeda. Now we’re fast-tracking it because of Thomas Eric Duncan,” Mr. Sullivan said, referring to the Liberian national who carried the disease to the U.S. and died in a Texas hospital Oct. 8. “It’s sad that as a nation we can’t keep our eye on the ball long enough to follow through.”
He said he had to sign legal waivers before joining the study group, which according to NIH documents was two-thirds male and 96 percent white. The researchers, whom he described as dedicated to their task and responsive, told him he would get either the vaccine or a placebo, used as a control.
The shot looked like a large carbon dioxide cartridge but did not hurt at all, he said, and the one side effect he experienced was a drip from the puncture point that looked like pink paint.
By 2006, the NIH revealed that he had been given the vaccine, not the control placebo. A scientific report on the study read: “This Ebola virus DNA vaccine was safe and immunogenic in humans.”
Years later, Mr. Sullivan feels like he is watching reruns.


Bloomberg: Study Finds Liberals and Conservatives Consume News Differently


A study by the Pew Research Center found a distinct partisan divide when it comes to how people get their news.

Liberals live on Mars and conservatives on Venus when comes to getting news about politics and government, and there's little overlap in the sources they turn to and trust, a study released Tuesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center shows.
"In a nation marked by increasing ideological uniformity and partisan animosity, those with the most consistent ideological views on the left and the right have information streams that are very distinct from each other and from those of individuals with more mixed political views," the study says.
Even so, the report also shows that the modern information environment makes it hard to live in an ideological bubble. Most Americans rely on multiple outlets and many conservatives and liberals hear dissenting views in their everyday lives.
"Whether they are looking for it or not, most people today are exposed to political views that differ from their own," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research.
The study found that hard-core conservatives:
  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than other groups in the survey, with 47 percent citing Fox News as their main source for government and political information.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, 88 percent trust Fox News.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions on Facebook that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.
When it comes to those who hold "consistently liberal" views, the study found:
  • Less uniformity in media loyalty. They rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some—like National Public Radio and the New York Times—others use far less.
  • More trust than distrust in 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • More likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network—as well as to end a personal friendship—because of politics.
  • A greater tendency to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.
Conservatives and liberals do share some common ground, however: They're much more likely than others to closely follow government and political news. Nearly four-in-ten conservatives and 30 percent of liberals tend to drive political discussions, meaning they talk about politics often, say others tend to turn to them for information and describe themselves as leaders rather than listeners in these conversations. Among those with mixed ideological views, just 12 percent play a similar role.

The study is based on an online survey conducted March 19 through April 29 with 2,901 members of Pew’s American Trends Panel, a group recruited from a nationally representative telephone survey.

Monday, October 20, 2014

GREAT NEWS!!!: Scientist catches spider the size of a puppy


Harvard zoologist Piotr Naskrecki was taking a nighttime walk in a rainforest in Guyana when he happened upon a rare Goliath birdeater spider.

  • View Caption
Piotr Naskrecki was taking a nighttime walk in a rainforest in Guyana, when he heard rustling as if something were creeping underfoot. When he turned on his flashlight, he expected to see a small mammal, such as a possum or a rat.
"When I turned on the light, I couldn't quite understand what I was seeing," said Naskrecki, an entomologist and photographer at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.
A moment later, he realized he was looking not at a brown, furry mammal, but an enormous, puppy-size spider.
Known as the South American Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), the colossal arachnid is the world's largest spider, according to Guinness World Records. Its leg span can reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), or about the size of "a child's forearm," with a body the size of "a large fist," Naskrecki told Live Science. And the spider can weigh more than 6 oz. (170 grams) — about as much as a young puppy, the scientist wrote on his blog. [See Photos of the Goliath Birdeater Spider]
Some sources say the giant huntsman spider, which has a larger leg span, is bigger than the birdeater. But the huntsman is much more delicate than the hefty birdeater — comparing the two would be "like comparing a giraffe to an elephant," Naskrecki said.
The birdeater's enormous size is evident from the sounds it makes. "Its feet have hardened tips and claws that produce a very distinct, clicking sound, not unlike that of a horse's hooves hitting the ground," he wrote, but "not as loud."

Prickly hairs and 2-inch fangs

When Naskrecki approached the imposing creature in the rainforest, it would rub its hind legs against its abdomen. At first, the scientist thought the behavior was "cute," he said, but then he realized the spider was sending out a cloud of hairs with microscopic barbs on them. When these hairs get in the eyes or other mucous membranes, they are "extremely painful and itchy," and can stay there for days, he said. [Creepy-Crawly Gallery: See Spooky Photos of Spiders]
But its prickly hairs aren't the birdeater's only line of defense; it also sports a pair of 2-inch-long (5 centimeters) fangs. Although the spider's bite is venomous, it's not deadly to humans. But it would still be extremely painful, "like driving a nail through your hand," Naskrecki said.
And the eight-legged beast has a third defense mechanism up its hairy sleeve. The hairs on the front of the spider's body have tiny hooks and barbs that make a hissing sound when they rub against each other, "sort of like pulling Velcro apart," Naskrecki said.
Yet despite all that, the spider doesn't pose a threat to humans. Even if it bites you, "a chicken can probably do more damage," Naskrecki said.

Bird eater or mostly harmless?

Despite its name, the birdeater doesn't usually eat birds, although it is certainly capable of killing small mammals. "They will essentially attack anything that they encounter," Naskrecki said.
The spider hunts in leaf litter on the ground at night, so the chances of it encountering a bird are very small, he said. However, if it found a nest, it could easily kill the parents and the chicks, he said, adding that the spider species has also been known to puncture and drink bird eggs.
The spider will eat frogs and insects, but its main prey is actually earthworms, which come out at night when it's humid. "Earthworms are very nutritious," Naskrecki said.
Birdeaters are not very common spiders. "I've been working in the tropics in South America for many, many years, and in the last 10 to 15 years, I only ran across the spider three times," Naskrecki.
After catching the specimen he found in Guyana, which was female, Naskrecki took her back to his lab to study. She's now deposited in a museum.
Editor's Note: This article was updated at 1:21 a.m. ET Oct. 20, to clarify wording used to describe the spider's size.