Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Rapidly Progressing Cancer Within America

February 23, 2013

DISARMING AMERICA'S HEROES: Veterans receiving letters prohibiting the purchase, possession, receipt, or transport of a firearm or ammunition...

Written By Constitutional Attorney Michael Connelly, J.D.

How would you feel if you received a letter from the U.S. Government informing you that because of a physical or mental condition that the government says you have it is proposing to rule that you are incompetent to handle your own financial affairs? Suppose that letter also stated that the government is going to appoint a stranger to handle your affairs for you at your expense? That would certainly be scary enough but it gets worse.

What if that letter also stated: “A determination of incompetency will prohibit you from purchasing, possessing, receiving, or transporting a firearm or ammunition. If you knowingly violate any of these prohibitions, you may be fined, imprisoned, or both pursuant to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Pub.L.No. 103-159, as implemented at 18, United States Code 924(a)(2).”?

That makes is sound like something right from a documentary on a tyrannical dictatorship somewhere in the world. Yet, as I write this I have a copy of such a letter right in front of me. It is being sent by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of America’s heroes. In my capacity as Executive Director of the United States Justice Foundation (USJF) I have been contacted by some of these veterans and the stories I am getting are appalling.

The letter provides no specifics on the reasons for the proposed finding of incompetency; just that is based on a determination by someone in the VA. In every state in the United States no one can be declared incompetent to administer their own affairs without due process of law and that usually requires a judicial hearing with evidence being offered to prove to a judge that the person is indeed incompetent. This is a requirement of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that states that no person shall “… be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law…”.

Obviously, the Department of Veterans Affairs can’t be bothered by such impediments as the Constitution, particularly since they are clearly pushing to fulfill one of Obama’s main goals, the disarming of the American people. Janet Napolitano has already warned law enforcement that some of the most dangerous among us are America’s heroes, our veterans, and now according to this letter from the VA they can be prohibited from buying or even possessing a firearm because of a physical or mental disability.

Think about it, the men and women who have laid their lives on the line to defend us and our Constitution are now having their own Constitutional rights denied. There are no clear criteria for the VA to declare a veteran incompetent. It can be the loss of a limb in combat, a head injury, a diagnosis of PTSD, or even a soldier just telling someone at the VA that he or she is depressed over the loss of a buddy in combat. In none of these situations has the person been found to be a danger to themselves or others. If that was the case than all of the Americans who have suffered from PTSD following the loss of a loved one or from being in a car accident would also have to be disqualified from owning firearms. It would also mean that everyone who has ever been depressed for any reason should be disarmed. In fact, many of the veterans being deprived of their rights have no idea why it is happening.

The answer seems to be it is simply because they are veterans. At the USJF we intend to find the truth by filing a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Veterans Affairs to force them to disclose the criteria they are using to place veterans on the background check list that keeps them from exercising their Second Amendment rights. Then we will take whatever legal steps are necessary to protect our American warriors.

The reality is that Obama will not get all of the gun control measures he wants through Congress, and they wouldn’t be enough for him anyway. He wants a totally disarmed America so there will be no resistance to his plans to rob us of our nation. That means we have to ask who will be next. If you are receiving a Social Security check will you get one of these letters? Will the government declare that you are incompetent because of your age and therefore banned from firearm ownership. It certainly fits in with the philosophy and plans of the Obama administration. It is also certain that our military veterans don’t deserve this and neither do any other Americans.

-- Michael Connelly, J.D.
Executive Director, United States Justice Foundation​

Jesse Jackson's Shopping Spree, No Heroes in Sight | Heroes and Villains

February 23, 2013

Abby Martin calls out Rep Jesse Jackson Jr. as the day's villain for his lavish expenditures including a fedora that once belonged to pop star Michael Jackson all with taxpayer dollars.

Source: breakingtheset

Obama supporters say the darndest things

February 23, 2013

source: AdamKokesh

Pope to quit Twitter after stepping down

February 23, 2013

My Opinion: Twitter is probably one of the primary reasons for his "stepping down"... I'm just sayin'

Pope Benedict XVI clicks on a tablet to send
his first twitter message during his weekly general
audience on December 12, 2012 at the Paul VI hall at
the Vatican. The account, which has more than two
million followers in nine languages, will close
next week when Benedict XVI leaves office.
AFP - The pope's official Twitter account, which has more than two million followers in nine languages, will close next week when Benedict XVI leaves office, Vatican Radio said Friday.

After a high-profile launch on December 12 under the name @pontifex, the pontiff's online musings quickly attracted over 1.5 million followers in English. Around a million other users of the site subscribe to his feeds in Italian, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Polish, Arab and even Latin and a Chinese account had been planned.

"It seemed unimaginable one could continue to use a communication tool that is so popular and powerful during the Sede Vacante (Vacant Seat) period," Vatican Radio said.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics is expected to post his final tweet on February 27, when he will bid a farewell to ordinary Catholics at a general audience in St Peter's Square.

The account will then be closed on February 28 when Benedict formally steps down as pope, according to Vatican Radio.

No clear favourite has emerged yet to succeed Benedict but several cardinals tipped as possible candidates, including American Timothy Dolan, Odilo Scherer from Brazil and Gianfranco Ravasi and Angelo Scola from Italy, are active Twitter users within the Church.

Benedict's bold move to become the first pope to join the Twittersphere sparked heated debate at the Vatican and within the Church. Supporters said it was a useful way to reach a younger generation, but some observers were dismayed to see that his pious posts invited a stream of mockery.

Fox News co-host Bob Beckel apologizes for rape remark

February 23, 2013

Bob Beckel apologized for his comments on the prevalence of rape on college campuses

Bob Beckel, liberal co-host of Fox News' "The Five," came under fire Tuesday for suggesting that rape rarely happened on college campuses.

During a discussion over whether concealed weapons could help prevent sexual assault on campuses, Beckel asked, "When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?"

"What are you talking about? It's rampant," co-host Eric Bolling said.

"What are you going to take a gun out and shoot your date?" Beckel responded.

Beckel apologized on "The Five" Wednesday.

"It's a horrible, horrendous issue. Simply put, rape is rape. Whether it's date rape or it's somebody coming in off the campus trying to rape somebody else. I very strongly feel that way," Beckel said.

"So, I just want to straighten the record out on that. I simply was trying to make -- there was not a distinction to make here. It simply was that date rape is rape, and that is, by any other definition, rape is rape."

A 2010 Justice Department study said that approximately 25 percent of college women would be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduated.


Former Lib Dem exec in harassment scandal

February 23, 2013

LONDON (UPI) -- Liberal Democrat officials were told in 2010 of sexual harassment allegations against the party's former chief executive, a U.K. newspaper reported Friday.

Christopher Rennard, who now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Rennard, denies the charges, The Daily Telegraph reported. The newspaper said it has learned Jonny Oates, chief of staff to the current leader, Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg, did not take any action when he was alerted to the alleged harassment.

This week women who say Rennard harassed them went public on Channel 4.

Party officials now say they are investigating the charges against Rennard and examining their procedures for dealing with such cases.

Rennard, 52, worked for the party for many years as an organizer and then as chief executive. He resigned in 2009.

The circle of hell: Inside Tahrir's mob sexual assault epidemic

February 23, 2013

After almost two years, gang sexual assaults on female protesters in Tahrir Square are starting to gain public attention

"Egyptian women will live with dignity" - women at recent protest against sexual assaults in Cairo (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
Outside the safe house, the mob was pounding on the door. Ten girls were inside, cowering in fear. One had passed out and lay motionless on the floor.

The girls had been rescued from Tahrir Square after a mob of men attacked them. One was stripped; all had been sexually assaulted.

The safe house they were huddling in was a sanctuary; a place activists thought was safe. But the mob had followed them.

Activist Hussein El-Shafie and his friends were doing their best to keep the door closed, but no matter how much they pushed against the weight of the men outside, it was still half open.

El-Shafie, his weight pressed against the door, looked at a teenager standing outside with the mob and tried to raise his voice above the banging.

"Why are you so many? What do you want?" El-Shafie yelled at the boy.

"The women inside," the teenager answered. "We want them."

These were not the first women the mob had attacked on that day. It was 25 January, 2013, the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. Thousands of Egyptians had congregated in Tahrir Square. The chants for freedom, dignity and justice roared through the square as 19 women were sexually assaulted by groups of men. Seven were hurt so badly they needed immediate medical attention.

El-Shafie was in the square as a volunteer for the Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH), which works to end group sexual assaults against women in Tahrir Square and the surrounding areas.

The operation, which was formed in November 2012, reported that attacks on that day were organised and “included the use of life-threatening violence in some cases… blades and other weapons were used against women.”

The women were often raped by fingers, both vaginally and anally. They were either partially or completely stripped. The pushing and shoving that took place during the rapes often left them bruised. The knives used to rip their clothes off left gaping wounds on their bodies. Bite marks have also been found on some women, while semen has been found on others. One woman was raped with a knife.

Volunteers who work with OpAntiSH say that they typically have just two minutes to get to a woman being mobbed and save her. Any more than that could be too late.

Once a woman is saved, she has to be rushed to the hospital. Public hospitals often won’t take them in, so members of OpAntiSH have to gather money from one another to pay for a private hospital. The victims then have to be given anti-HIV medication, emergency birth control, and precautions have to be taken in case they have contracted Hepatitis C or an STD during the assault.

“All this trauma will probably have a horrible psychological impact that will stay with the girl for the rest of her life,” El-Shafie said. “Many women are also terrified that they may have lost their virginity.”
The circle of hell

During the attacks, the women often find themselves trapped inside what some have called “the circle of hell,” a mob of 200 or 300 men who fought with one another to pull, shove, beat and strip them.

Over the past two years, activists and human rights groups have been able to work out the pattern by which these attacks take place.

According to El-Shafie, a group of men usually form two lines and begin snaking through the square, while chanting and singing. Once they find a victim - usually one or two women standing alone - the groups forms a u-shape and then a complete circle around them, trapping them inside.

Hatem Tallima, activist and member of the Revolutionary Socialists, said the group then forms three concentric rings around the victim.

“The men in the circle immediately surrounding the woman begin to strip the girl. The second circle includes men who claim that they are helping the girl. The third circle try to distract the people in the square from what is happening,” Tallima said.

Masa Amir, researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies NGO, says that there is a clear division of labour between the attackers.

“One takes her shoes off, another pulls her trousers off, then someone else takes her phone and watch,” she said.

Then it gets messy. The mob gets bigger and bigger.

“Many of the men are assaulting the women, and many others are trying to save her. The woman is confused and doesn’t know who to trust,” says Engy Ghozlan, founder of Harassmap, a volunteer initiative that works to end sexual harassment.

One woman, who was not identified, reported her attack to OpAntiSH, describing the dazed state she was in as she was being assaulted.

“All I remember is hands all over my body, grabbing under the layers of pullovers I was wearing, touching my breasts, opening my bra. More hands on my back and legs, my trousers being pulled down,” the woman said. “My empty hand tried to pull my trousers back up when I felt fingers inside my butt and shortly after in my vagina…. then more penetration with fingers from the front and the back.”

These attacks were not new and have been going on since the uprising two years ago.

A protester, who asked to be identified as “Mary,” went through a similar assault on the first anniversary of the revolution, while celebrating with her friends in the square.

“Suddenly my friend told me that she felt that we are in danger, and started pulling me so that we can get away,” Mary remembered. “But in seconds we were surrounded and they were touching every part of my body.”

Her ordeal lasted for two hours until the owner of a petrol station used a fire extinguisher to scare them off.

On 2 June, 2012, Rosa Navarro, a Mexican American studying in Egypt, also found herself trapped in the middle of a mob.

She was walking in Tahrir with several Egyptian activists near Hardees, a fast food chain in the square, which is usually dense with protesters. Suddenly the group were separated by a mob.

“Everything happened so fast. I was grabbed first by about ten men. They pulled me away from my friends and tried to strip me,” Navarro said. “I lost track of my friends. All I could see was a human sea of people.”

The mob tried to strip Navarro and managed to tear her shirt off. But she was able to keep most of her clothes on.

“The mob was crazy. It was like they were high on drugs,” said Navarro. “They were behaving like wild dogs trying to get a piece of me.”
A history of violence

For decades, Egypt has experienced high levels of public sexual harassment. In most cases the harasser is an individual who whistles, catcalls or even grabs a woman while she is in public.

However, there were cases of mob sexual assaults before the revolution. In 2006, women out in public during a religious holiday were assaulted by groups of men in downtown Cairo. Mob sexual assaults were also common in stadiums after football matches.

During the 18 days of the revolution, many reported that Tahrir Square was surprisingly free of any forms of harassment.

However, on 11 February 2011, the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down, South African reporter Lara Logan was viciously attacked in Tahrir Square. Logan was covering the celebrations in the square for '60 Minutes' TV programme when a flock of men pulled her away from her team, then stripped her. "They raped me with their hands," Logan later said.

Logan’s story sent shockwaves through Egypt. But many questioned her account, sceptical that the apparently-utopian square which had been free of sexual violence during the revolution could be the site of such an attack.

In the months following the uprising, the attacks on women continued. Although some were reported and received media attention, many women refused to come forward, and many commentators were reluctant to discuss the issue in detail, afraid of tainting the image of the square.

However, finally after two years, victims are speaking up and others are listening; several have even given TV interviews about their experiences.
Who are the attackers?

Now that the problem is out in the open, many Egyptians are wondering about the identity of the attackers. In most cases, the attackers fade back into the ground. To date, no arrests have been made.

However, the fact that most of the women attacked reported the same pattern has led many to believe that the assaults are not only organised, but may be a political weapon used to crack down on women.

“The context of Tahrir is political and the attacks that happen there are probably organised,” argues Ghozlan.

“The question is, why is it only taking place in Tahrir Square?” Tallima asked. “Why not in front of the presidential palace [where many demonstrations have taken place] or during other large marches? Tahrir is targeted. It is the symbol of the revolution and they want to break it.”

Tallima argues that counter-revolutionaries have been trying for months to damage the image of the square. He said that during the notorious 'Battle of the Camel' in February 2011, the regime used Egyptians from the poor suburb of Nazlet El-Saman to wield an attack on the square to empty it of protesters.

“This was the regime using a certain class to end the revolution, but it didn’t work,” Tallima said.

“So they started other below the belt targets and began waging a psychological war against the square and telling people that it was filled with drugs and sex. But this also failed. So they decided to use gang sexual assaults to deal a final blow to the square and scare the women into not going.”

Not only would women, a vital part of the revolution, be scared, but many men would also feel repulsed by Tahrir’s new foul nature.

The viciousness of the attacks has also been alarming to many.

“One girl was raped with a knife. The horrifying nature of this attack and others do not give any sexual gratification unless you are a sadist,” El-Shafie said. “And they cannot all be sadists. The aim is to give women the worst experience possible so that they will never go back again.”

If the new gang attacks on women are a political weapon, it would not be the first time it is used in Egypt.

Politician Gamila Ismail was assaulted in 2001 when she was running for parliament against a member of Mubarak’s now dissolved National Democratic Party.

“I was attacked by 17 ex-convict women in front of the polling station,” recalls Ismail.

“The judges, supervising the elections, saw the attack. I even saw state security officers directing the attack.”

In 2005, several female reporters and journalists were beaten and stripped during an anti-regime protest in front of the Journalists Syndicate.

“The government took no action against this attack. It was clear that the state was sanctioning terrorism and intimidation of women,” said Said Sadek, political sociologist at the American University in Cairo (AUC).

The state, says Sadek, has been using sexual humiliation to crackdown on opponents for years. Neither men nor women are spared. He cites the case of Emad El-Kebeer, a microbus driver who was sodomized by two police officers in 2007. To humiliate him, they recorded the act.

“It was videotaped and spread in his area on purpose to humiliate him,” Sadek said. “This is called the shame culture.”

The government’s lack of response in the recent Tahrir gang assaults also raises question marks, says Sadek.

“Their silence is damning," Sadek said. “It makes them guilty and an accomplice. These rapists are either being paid or are working for someone.”

Prominent TV anchor Shahira Amin says that several journalists have been threatened that they will be attacked and scandalised by security forces during the past two years.

"These incidents have been happening since Mubarak stepped down. I personally believe that the counter-revolutionaries are doing this and trying to make it look like the Brotherhood is paying thugs to attack protesters. It is an attempt to vilify them," Amin said. "But they have been happening since the early days of the revolution before the Brotherhood came to power."

No concrete evidence has yet been found to prove that the attackers are hired to target women in Tahrir.

However, Amir, the researcher, says that the fact the attacks are so well thought out does not mean they are political.

“This could simply be the beginning of organised crime in Egypt,” she said.

In the meantime, women going to Tahrir Square are urged to be aware that they also may find themselves trapped in the circle of hell.

“I don’t think their tactic will scare women, but definitely any woman who goes to Tahrir must know the consequences,” says Ghozlan. “You may get shot, you may get tear gassed and you may also get raped and sexually assaulted.”

Source: AhramOnline

Betsi Cadwaladr NHS change: Opponents' Llandudno march

February 23, 2013

The Llandudno Hospital Action Group says the march will reflect concerns for hospital care across north Wales
Campaigners opposing a raft of changes to hospital care in north Wales are taking to the streets of Llandudno.

It follows a decision by the area community health council (CHC) not to refer Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board plans to the Welsh government.

Serious neonatal baby care will move to England, and a number of community hospitals will close.

The health board says it has made hard decisions but has a responsibility to provide safe and sustainable care.

One member of the CHC has announced he is resigning in protest at the moves.

Gwynedd councillor Huw Edwards said he had lost faith in the Betsi Cadwaladr CHC, which acts as a patient watchdog.

"I believe that the health council has behaved contrary to public opinion and also to their own plans," he said.

"There are no details at all about provision in the community that the board refers to and that is totally unfair to the areas that will lose their local hospitals.

"The decision to move the specialist neonatal unit from Glan Clwyd is equally despicable."

Cuts and closures

Under proposals agreed by the health board, the most serious cases of intensive baby care will move from Glan Clwyd hospital at Bodelwyddan in Denbighshire to Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, Merseyside.

Community hospitals in Flint, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Llangollen and Prestatyn would close, with minor injury units also shutting at Llangollen, Chirk, Flint, Ruthin and Colwyn Bay.

On Thursday, the CHC said it would not be referring the majority of the proposals to the Health Minister Lesley Griffith.

However, campaigners have vowed to fight on against the planned changes.

"Emotions are running very high. People are very angry and they are also frightened. Frightened that our health service here in north Wales just can't cope and yet we are being asked to accept even more cuts," explained Carol Marubbi, who is helping organize the march in Llandudno on Saturday.

As vice-chair of the Llandudno Hospital Action Group, she remains increasingly concerned about the future of the town's hospital even though it has been left relatively unscathed in the reorganization plans.

Breast care

But changes to the way junior doctors are now trained across Britain mean the Llandudno unit has been hit in other ways.

The hospital can no longer provide night cover for breast surgery patients, which means that any patient needing treatment that may require an overnight stay must be admitted to another hospital, such as Glan Clwyd.

Earlier in the week Conwy council voiced its opposition to the current hospital plans by passing a motion of no confidence in the health board.

Linda Groom, chair of the Llandudno action group, added: "I think the health board has underestimated how much anger there is out there and we're hoping a mass protest will bring this home to them."

A spokesperson for the health board said that it recognised that there are strong views over the reorganization plans.

"These have been very hard decisions for the board to make, but we have a responsibility to provide safe and sustainable healthcare services for the people we serve and this is why change is needed," said the spokesperson.

More on This Story

Watchdog resignation over NHS change

Baby care changes get green light

Health revamp 'legal challenge' plan

Hundreds at hospital closure protest

Health boards consult on shake-up


Son-in-law of the King of Spain appears in court in 6-million-euro embezzlement case

February 23, 2013

Barcenas leaves the anti-corruption prosecutor's office in Madrid

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The Spanish king's son-in-law appeared before a judge on the island of Mallorca on Saturday to respond to charges of tax fraud in a six-million-euro embezzlement case that has eroded public support for the once-popular royal family.

The scandal and other corruption cases in which politicians are accused of taking millions of euros in bribes have enraged Spaniards at a time when unemployment has soared to 26 percent in a deep recession.

Inaki Urdangarin, a former Olympics handball player who is married to the king's daughter, the Infanta Cristina, is accused of using his powerful connections to win public contracts to put on events on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca and elsewhere in Spain.

 His Noos Foundation is suspected of overcharging for organizing conferences about the business of sports and hiding the proceeds abroad.

 Dozens of police officials guarded the courthouse in Palma as Urdangarin got out of a car and walked down a 30-meter access ramp into the building for the closed-door hearing where he will be questioned by Examining Magistrate Jose Castro.

Near the courthouse, a few hundred protesters chanted and held up signs reading "down with the monarchy" and "they call this a democracy but it isn't".

More than a hundred journalists were also on hand.

 In Spain's legal system, lengthy pretrial investigations are carried out by an examining magistrate, or judge. Urdangarin, 45, is charged with fraud, forgery, embezzlement and corruption. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence and fines.

Urdangarin was first charged and called in for questioning in 2011, but a trial could still be months or years away as the judge continues his probe and adds or dismisses charges.

Judge Castro was expected to question Urdangarin for most of the day on Saturday and perhaps into the early hours of Sunday.

Urdangarin is fighting an order that he and a former business partner in the Noos Foundation post bail of 8.2 million euros. His assets could be seized if he does not meet bail.

The judge will also question on Saturday Carlos Garcia Revenga, former treasurer for the Noos Foundation and also private secretary to Urdangarin's wife, Cristina, 47.

Judge Castro is trying to find out how much the Infanta Cristina knew about the business of the foundation. A criminal indictment of the king's daughter would be an unprecedented accusation against a royal in Spain.

Cristina is the only one of five directors of the Noos Foundation that has not been charged with a crime.


The royal family has taken efforts to distance itself from Urdangarin, whose official title is Duke of Palma. Photos of him have been wiped off the royal website. He has also been banned from royal family events for over a year.

In Spain's severe economic downturn, more companies announce lay-offs each week. Tens of thousands of homeowners have defaulted on their mortgages and been evicted from their homes. The government has cut public salaries and spending on health and education.

 Public angst over the economy has been aggravated by a number of high-profile corruption cases from the 1990s and early 2000s, when a tax bonanza from a property boom fueled massive public spending on events and infrastructure that now look like folly.

In another case that has rocked Spain, prosecutors are looking into millions of euros in Swiss bank accounts controlled by a former politician from the ruling People's Party, Luis Barcenas, who is charged with bribery, money laundering and tax evasion.

In Palma, where a number of corruption cases have surfaced, Urdangarin has become a despised figure.

The local government held a news event earlier this month and in front of television crews ceremoniously removed a street sign "Boulevard of the Duke and Duchess of Palma" and renamed the street.

"It's a disgrace for our islands that have been so supportive of the royal family," said Esperanza Ruiz, a resident of Palma, as she shopped in a supermarket near the courthouse.

King Juan Carlos, who took the throne in 1975, was the most popular public figure in Spain in the late 1970s because of his role in supporting the transition to democracy after the long Francisco Franco dictatorship.

But for the first time, politicians have openly called for him to abdicate and hand the throne to his son, Prince Felipe, as his prestige has eroded due to the Urdangarin case, as well as his own missteps. Metroscopia polling firm figures show his approval rating has fallen to 58 percent from much higher levels.

Last year, when Spain seemed on the brink of bankruptcy and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was imposing unpopular budget cuts, the king fell and broke his hip during an elephant hunting safari with wealthy friends in Botswana.

The king, 75, made an unprecedented public apology for the trip, which had been secret until his accident. (Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Nick Macfie)

First Published: 2013-02-23 11:50:15
Updated: 2013-02-23 12:05:27

A Lefty's Perspective of The American Dream. Complete with Victimization, Hatred and Prefabricated Excuses for the Entitlement Generation

February 23, 2013

President Obama recently proposed to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour. Raising the minimum wage has always been a hot topic. The sad fact is that even if the U.S. raised the federal minimum wage, the U.S. would still have a lower minimum wage than many countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Ireland. In addition, many U.S. workers currently make less than the minimum wage.

Written by: Rogette Harris
Wage disparity increases when race and gender are thrown in the mix. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the median income for African-Americans was $32,229 per year while the median income for whites was $55,412 per year. The unemployment rate for African-Americans, which is at 13.2 percent, is double that of whites.

Currently, the U.S. has less equality of opportunity than most other advanced industrial countries. Social mobility isn’t impossible in the U.S. but it is becoming increasing difficult. The Brookings Institution found that only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move into a different economic class, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top income earners.

Education plays a major part in the likelihood a child can move up in society. Children who are born to wealthier families or to families where both parents are educated have better access to opportunities than a child born to poor and/or poorly educated parents.

There are many factors for this. The first, and most obvious, reason is discrimination. Latinos and African-Americans continue to get paid less than whites. And women still get paid less than men, even though women recently surpassed men in the number of college and advanced degrees earned. Both gender and racial disparities in the workplace are less than in the past. However there is still a glass ceiling. Women and racial minorities are underrepresented in top corporate positions and constitute a very small portion of CEOs and elected officials.

Other than discrimination, equal access to quality education also prevents equal access to opportunity. As schools became integrated in the 1960’s, economic segregation increased and hasn’t stopped since. The poor continue to get poorer, finding it hard to meet basic needs. The middle class has stagnated, continuing to live paycheck by paycheck. And the rich continue to prosper and get richer.

Schools in poorer areas are often underfunded and do not attract the best teachers. Often, sports are put ahead of academics and children who want to learn are often held back from doing so. Children in more able families can be sent to private schools to escape the poverty cycle. There is a widening gap in educational performance. But early access to nutrition, healthcare, and early exposure to reading are also factors that can enhance learning and foster academic growth.

Young people from families of modest means face a no-win situation. In today’s global economy, a college education is essential. On the other hand, having a college or advanced degree is no guarantee to social mobility and better access to opportunities.

Many young people who go to college and graduate are still sentenced to a lifetime of living check to check due to high student loan bills and lack of access to higher paying jobs to pay them back. Young people who come from more affluent families have more connections and social capital to get access those opportunities, even if those individuals in the middle and bottom brackets are better qualified and more educated. Nepotism is alive and well. No matter what anyone says, everyone needs a hand up. Young people from more wealthy families get help through family connections than do those from lower economic brackets.

Equal access to quality education and opportunities should be for everyone – not just a select few. A child should not be punished due to the circumstances of his or her birth. If the U.S. education system continues as is, the lack of social mobility in this country will not improve but get worse. Many states continue to gut funds for state colleges/universities as well as secondary schools. Pre-school and/or kindergarten classes are often cut in school districts with budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, young adults start their adult lives with giant student loan debts that are almost impossible to pay off. All this at a time when obtaining a college education is more important than ever for getting a good job.

The income inequality and lack of access to opportunity not only plague us ethically but weakens our economy. We have an economic as well as moral obligation in ensuring that the American dream is fact rather than fiction.

Source: Rogette Harris is a PennLive/Patriot-News community columnist

The day the music died at Harley

February 23, 2013

This memo was sent to York Harley-Davidson employees recently,
explaining that radios and other music would no longer be allowed
in the manufacturing plant.
Journalists live for these kinds of things, leaked memos. They could be about specious justifications for using torture or drone strikes in the war of terrorism, a major corporation's skill at evading taxes, a piece of a massive conspiracy to establish FEMA camps in Michigan for political dissidents - any variety of madness or weirdness that comes to dominate the news.

Me? I get memos about music.

The memo arrived via email - nobody meets in parking garages or bars anymore - on Valentine's Day, the day after it was issued. It was sent to all of Harley-Davidson's manufacturing employees, from someone named John Dansby II, the vice president of manufacturing.

The subject was listed as "Radios."

It began, "As you are aware, it is imperative that we improve our safety and first-time quality performance."

Yes, a worthy goal because it's all fun and games until someone loses a finger or puts the gas tank on a Fatboy backwards.

"Too many distractions and potential hazards still exist in the workplace that impact our performance every day. We all share responsibility for identifying and eliminating things that do not support continuous improvement."

"We all share responsibility," of course, is the harbinger of something bad. As has been pointed out to me in the past, on a number of occasions, by "we" they often mean "you."

"After much consideration, direct observation and discussions with various stakeholders," Dansby continues, "I have concluded that radios and music are one such distraction to our work."

That darned rock'n'roll - it's the devil's music, I tell you.

"Therefore," he wrote, "we will be removing all radios and piped-in music through the Andon system effective February 18, 2013."

Reading that, I got the image of Peter Sellers confiscating radios and Gen. Ripper pontificating about the purity and essence of our precious bodily fluids.

The memo says something about this measure allowing "us to be more conscious of our surroundings as we strive to maximize effectiveness of our operating system and our efforts to deliver quality motorcycles."

And by "us," of course, he means "you."

"We are one team and together we can achieve industry-leading performance as we safely create value for our customers and shareholders," the memo says.

Remember, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "m" and an "e." Just pointing it out. That's always bothered me.

"Thank you for your continued support and cooperation," the memo concludes.

Yeah, a problem with that. "Support" isn't exactly the right word here. "Acquiescence," maybe.

The person who sent me the memo - a veteran with more than a quarter century at the plant - wrote, "This is how Harley is treating its employees. They are creating a non-harmonious work environment."

Morale, he wrote, "is in the toilet." And, as a number of his co-workers have been saying, it's been circling the bowl for a while.

"Nothing has gotten better," he wrote. "I think they like disgruntled employees. I am not the only one that feels this place is just a means to a paycheck."

That's a shocking thing for a Harley employee to be saying. For years, Harley enjoyed an amazing level of loyalty from its workers. And the workers got something in return, a decent living. They had pride in their jobs. I remember an old plant manager asking, once, "How many people where you work have 'York Daily Record' tattoos?"

In a very short time, it seems like Harley has been able to wreck that. This is how bad it is: The worker cited "Footloose" in his description of the move. When someone starts citing terrible Kevin Bacon movies, you know something is very wrong.

Working at Harley is tough. It's hard work, and the people who work there are skilled at it. There's more to it than jacking a nut onto a bolt. (Yes, I know, there are people who, for various reasons, don't like Harley workers and believe, as one person once said, "a monkey could do their job." If that were true, Harley would replace it's people with monkeys in a heartbeat. Note to self: Check monkey-labor laws.)

If music makes their work go a little better, as many workers believe, what's the harm?

And there is another issue. If Harley is so concerned about "safety" and "quality," why does the company rely on so many temporary "casual" workers? Wouldn't full-time workers be more capable of maintaining quality and consistency? Is there any evidence that safety and quality have declined while the use of "casual" workers has increased?

And wouldn't trying to raise morale, rather than demoralize workers, make workers pay more attention to detail? Does listening to some Skynyrd or Stones or even Johnny Cash while they're working pose that great a risk?

Harley spokeswoman Maripat Blankenheim said restricting music was "in the best interest of safety, productivity and quality.

"We're running a business and we make decisions in the best interest of the business. It was not punitive."

Told that the change wasn't very popular with some of Harley's workers, she said, "We knew it wouldn't be."

So there you have it.

It's just another leg in the race to compete with the rest of the world - by that, I mean China - in a race to the bottom. It may not seem like much, a paper cut, if anything. But enough of those cuts and you bleed to death.

Friday, February 22, 2013

UPDATE: The War on Senior Independence

February 22, 2013

FBI raids headquarters of The Scooter Store as part of $100 million Medicare fraud investigation

The Scooter Store, the nation's largest supplier of mobility vehicles is suspected of de-frauding the U.S. Government of over $100 million in bogus Medicare and Medicaid claims.

On Wednesday, over 100 federal and state law enforcement officers raided the New Braunfels, Texas headquarters of the company as authorities after allegations the firm pressured doctors into prescribing their scooters for patients who do not need them.

This follows a damning exposé by CBS This Morning in January which alleged that the company over-billed Medicare by over $100 million between 2009-2012.

Dozens of law enforcement officers have raided the Texas headquarters a power wheelchair and scooter company as part of an investigation into alleged fraud.
The CBS investigation found that The Scooter Store would harass physicians with constant phone calls and surgery visits in order to wear them down to prescribe the vehicles.

They discovered the firm has a specialized department which devotes its energies to getting the vehicles for patients who had already been ruled ineligible by Medicare.

Timothy Menke with the Office of the Inspector General says the investigation involves his agency, plus the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Texas attorney general’s Medicaid fraud unit. An FBI spokesman declined comment.

The 1,200 employees of the company were escorted out of the building on Wednesday and were kept outside while investigators combed the building.

Authorities on Wednesday carried out a search warrant at the New Braunfels offices of The Scooter Store. Company officials didn't immediately return messages for comment Thursday.
In an email to employees sent Thursday morning, CEO Martin Marty Landon called Wednesday a 'confusing and troubling day for many of us.'

'I know this is a difficult time but our best remedy, I believe, is to continue to cooperate fully in this investigation and to serve our customers with a high level of quality, integrity and service,' Landon wrote to employees.

Employees were instructed to tell customers that the company is in full compliance with all federal rules and regulations.

The Scooter Store earlier this month cut 150 jobs and blamed pending government changes in claims processing and reimbursement. The company in September laid off about 220 workers, citing a drop in Medicare reimbursements.
Last year, it was discovered that The Scooter Store received anywhere from $46.8 million to $87.7 million in Medicare over-payments from 2009 to 2011.

The company determined the over-payments were only $19.5 million. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) agreed to accept that amount in repayment. The Scooter Store was given five years to pay it back.

In December, two U.S. senators in a letter to CMS asked why the agency accepted an amount 'significantly less' than it was overpaid.

The Scooter Store earlier this month cut 150 jobs and blamed pending government changes in claims processing and reimbursement. The company in September laid off about 220 workers, citing a drop in Medicare reimbursements.

Read more: FBI Declares War on The Scooter Store

source: Daily Mail UK

Let Sequestration Happen

February 22, 2013
By Tom Blumer

A first step in sobering up Washington.

President Barack Obama clearly doesn’t like how the threat of sequestration, an idea he owns but now dishonestly wants to disown, is working out.

In a Tuesday speech, Obama went into campaign mode overdrive, claiming that — as summarized in a brilliant Tuesday evening Wall Street Journal editorial with the even better title “President Armageddon” — “if Republicans don’t raise taxes in return for more spending, the world will end.”

Despite a fiscal cliff deal which included $15 billion in spending “cuts” (actually “reductions in projected spending”) and over $600 billion in tax increases, the president is still demanding more from “the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.” Despite the fact that his administration’s has spent 26 percent more during its first four years than the George W. Bush administration spent during its final four, Obama and Democratic leaders continue to insist that the federal government doesn’t have a spending problem. Despite running up $5.9 trillion in additional debt, much of it driven by congressional and executive actions during Obama’s first two years which have unfortunately never been reversed, Obama contemptuously refers to the “so-called debt ceiling.”

As to the inane argument that a roughly 1.2 percent reduction in projected spending ($44 billion, not $85 billion, compared to annual spending of about $3.6 trillion) will all by itself, in Obama’s words, “hurt our economy … add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls … (and) the unemployment rate might tick up again,” all of this is already happening. House Speaker John Boehner’s current and hopefully future firm position on sequestration has nothing to do with it.

The economy is already in a “hurt” condition. January’s initial reading on the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during last year’s fourth quarter was that it contracted by an annualized 0.1 percent. Though it appears that this number may go positive in subsequent revisions, the fact remains that the economy is closer to going back into recession than it has been at any other time since the last one officially ended three and one-half years ago.

Last week, Bloomberg News exposed internal emails revealing how Walmart executives are nearly panic-stricken about early sales during its February reporting period, describing the results thus far as “a total disaster.” I have separately confirmed that top management’s serious concerns have been shared with frontline store managers.

The internal company correspondence largely blamed the slump on the end of the two percentage point Social Security payroll tax cut which had been in place for two years. Obama agreed to allow this effective tax increase on 77 percent of Americans to happen during December’s fiscal cliff negotiations, representing a complete about-face from his and his administration’s warnings about the horrors which would ensue if reinstatement were to occur just ten months earlier.

Worriers at Walmart and other retailers (“Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”) have another serious concern: gas prices, which as of when this column was submitted had risen for 32 straight days. According to USA Today, “Experts say prices should continue rising at least 5 cents a week until early April.” If so, they will break through the psychologically impactful $4 per gallon barrier. Additionally, note that the true national average gas price is probably six cents or so higher than the figure on which the establishment press usually relies. The average disposable income reduction caused by the payroll tax hike and the projected gas price increase on a family earning $50,000 per year is at least $150 per month.

Obama knows, or should know, that “hundreds of thousands of Americans” are constantly added to the unemployment rolls every week, even during good times. Of course, hundreds of thousand are also hired. The important current point is that for at least the past two years until very recently, weekly job losses as measured in filings for initial unemployment claims (before the Department of Labor’s exercise in distortion known as “seasonal adjustment”) had usually been declining in year-over-year comparisons by between 6 percent and 15 percent. During the past five reported weeks in 2013 combined, they’ve been virtually the same as they were a year ago.

The unemployment rate doesn’t need any help in “ticking up.” It rose to 7.9 percent in January. It has never been below 7.8 percent since Obama took office in January 2009. It will be no surprise to anyone if it “ticks up” again, without or without sequestration.

Sorry, Mr. President. The economic decay which you claim is a possible future event has been underway for several months — and if it gets worse, it will have almost nothing to do with sequestration, and almost everything to do with your economic and fiscal policies during the past four years. You’re the nation’s chief executive. If you want to find $44 billion to avoid your self-created catastrophe, do something about the at least $125 billion in improper payments the Government Accountability Office says your executive branch makes every single year.

At this point, allowing sequestration to happen is a precondition for beginning the sobering-up process the political class in Washington must undergo if this country is to financially survive.

So let it happen.


A final salute from 300 strangers: Royal Marine, 70, with no family gets a grand send-off after vicar rallies mourners on Facebook

February 22, 2013
By Inderdeep Bains

A final salute from 300 strangers: Royal Marine, 70, with no family gets a grand send-off after vicar rallies mourners on Facebook

James McConnell, of Southsea, Hampshire, died last month at age of 70

Care home staff thought they would be only people at Portsmouth funeral

But vicar put appeal on Facebook and more than 200 strangers attended

Little is known of Marine but he arrived at care home with Falklands photos

They’d never met him and they knew precious little about him.

But hundreds turned out yesterday to mark the passing of a former Royal Marine who died with no known family . . . or friends.

Some travelled hundreds of miles to the funeral of James McConnell in Portsmouth after a local vicar used Facebook to appeal for mourners.

Hero: Former Royal Marine James 'Jimmy' McConnell, of Southsea, Hampshire, died last month aged 70
In remembrance: A motorcycle procession took place at the funeral of former Royal Marine James McConnell
Mark of respect: A small procession through the cemetery for Mr McConnell, who died of a chest infection, was led by Royal British Legion standard bearers
Reverend Bob Mason had felt troubled that just a handful of people would be at the ceremony – all of them care home staff who looked after Mr McConnell before his death aged 69 last month.

He posted a message on Facebook and contacted the Royal Marines Association asking for help to give the former bus driver – known as Jimmy – a ‘better send-off’. After a rallying cry went around the Armed Forces and social networking sites his wish for the former serviceman was granted.

Yesterday, in the biting cold, a procession through the cemetery was led by Royal British Legion standard bearers followed by a group of flag-bearing motorcycles from the legion’s riders’ branch.

Two buglers from the Royal Marines band played the Last Post as Mr McConnell’s coffin was lowered into the ground.And mourners surrounded the grave with poppy wreaths – one with the poignant, handwritten message: ‘Stand at ease, your work is done.’

Mr Mason, who conducted the service at Milton Cemetery, told the estimated 300 who attended: ‘The great majority of you who have come here today did not know James McConnell but wanted him to have a dignified farewell.

‘I thank you for that kindness and generosity of spirit.’ After the ceremony he said: ‘It was a very cold morning, and people were shivering, but it is testament to the sacrifice people were prepared to make in order to attend.’

Huge crowd: Staff at the ex-Marine's care home had feared they would be the only people at his funeral
Coffin carried: The Reverend Bob Mason is seen (left) at the funeral of former Royal Marine James McConnell
Salute: Two members of the Royal
Marines Band Service play the Last
Post at the funeral of James McConnell

Richie Puttock, from the Royal Marines Association, travelled 140 miles from his home in Cardiff to bid farewell to the man he had never met. He said: ‘I had to ensure he got the send-off he deserved. It was an absolutely fantastic service. I think his story pricked the conscience of those who heard it, because nobody wants to think they will have a funeral with nobody there. Wherever he is now, I’m sure he would have been pleased.’

Danny Marshall, a former Royal Marine, said he attended because the corps was like an extended family. He said: ‘It was mentioned wrongly that he did not have family; the corps family is bigger and better than most people would know about. We are all family and always will be.’

Others saluted in respect of
the former Marine

Mr McConnell, who died from a chest infection, spent his final days at the Bluebell Care Home in Southsea. Little is known about his life or about his career in the Armed Forces.

He was referred to the care home by social services and arrived with his green beret, medals, and photographs of the Falklands. Mr McConnell had been forced to leave his flat, where he had lived alone, two months before his death after suffering a stroke which affected his ability to speak.

Finish: The service concluded with two buglers from the Royal Marines Band Service playing the Last Post
Tribute: Mourners at the funeral included tearful veterans, members of the military, and the local community, who surrounded the grave with military standards, and poppy wreaths
Solemn: A funeral director lays flowers at the service for former Royal Marine James McConnell in Portsmouth
Dizzy Page, the activities co-ordinator at the care home, described him as ‘a proud man’ who ‘always had a sparkle in his eyes’.

Ian Smith, one of the directors of the care home, said: ‘It was amazing to see close to 300 people turn up to the funeral. It makes you proud to be British.

‘People in the Armed Forces go through big events during their lifetimes and deserve a good send-off. It was a privilege to have him at our home.’

Source: Daily Mail UK

President Obama holds off-record meeting with top White House reporters

February 22, 2013

Photo: Google
President Barack Obama held an off-the-record meeting with top White House reporters on Thursday afternoon, POLITICO has learned.

(PHOTOS: Obama, the puppet master)

The meeting, with reporters from major print and television outlets, comes days after the White House Correspondents Association complained publicly about their lack of access to the president during a golf outing in Palm Beach, Fla., and one day after Obama met with local television reporters.

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the meeting.

(VIDEO: Carney answers press corps concerns about access)

"Potus has meetings all the time. I don't comment on all of them," he told POLITICO in an email.

WHCA president and Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the meeting.

(Also on POLITICO: Obama, the puppet master)

On Sunday, Henry released a statement on behalf of the White House press corps expressing "extreme frustration... about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States" during his vacation in Florida and promised to fight for greater transparency. POLITICO followed that news on Monday night with an extensive report about the president's media relations strategy, noting that Obama's careful "limiting, shaping and manipulating" of the media had left reporters "scrambling for access." The president held one-on-one, on-the-record interviews with reporters from local television affiliates on Wednesday.

(Also on POLITICO: The true meaning of White House access)

In a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Carney said he was "completely sympathetic" to the press corps' concerns about access.

POLITICO was not invited to the meeting, though it has been invited to similar off-the-record meetings in the past.

source: POLITICO
additional editing: mine

Christiane Amanpour: Happy birthday, President Mugabe!

February 22, 2013

I’m trying to imagine Amanpour giving an equally non-judgmental and upbeat birthday tribute to, say, John Boehner. Amanpour tweeted birthday wishes for the 89-year-old Zimbabwe leader along with this online video, which is one dash news report but mostly sounds like a toast at someone’s 33 Years of Brutal Power-Mongering Party.

Amanpour’s intro encompasses the tone pretty well:

Imagine a world leader four years older than the Pope who’s been in power for 33 years and shows no sign of calling it quits,” Amanpour said. “Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is 89 today, and celebrated modestly by his standards — with a cake and a gift of 89 cows, we’re told. But a lavish birthday party is planned for next month, complete with a soccer match and an all-night concert, at an estimated cost of $600,000, which is a hefty price tag for a country whose finance minister said just last month that it had only $217 left in the national bank. A $30 million infusion followed.”

She does not mention that Mugabe has stayed in power for 33 years through campaigns of state-sanctioned violence against political adversaries. He’s also used starvation as a GOTV effort by restricting government food supplies to his supporters during the famine he created by confiscating farms and letting them go to waste. As for Mugabe’s last presidential “election,” he actually trailed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 48-43 percent in initial balloting, but because neither man won a majority vote, they were to go to a run-off. Strangely enough, Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off as violence escalated against his supporters and he was eventually muscled into a power-sharing deal.

Amanpour does mention Zimbabwe is a “blighted landscape for the economy and for human rights,” but doesn’t go into detail about such problems. Instead, she shows a video clip of herself asking Mugabe in 2009, “Why is it so difficult to leave power,” and “Are you going to stand for election again? Can you tell us?”

Mugabe is running, against Tsvangirai again, and it wouldn’t have taken much for Amanpour to track down some of the human rights violations he’s perpetrating to win. A quick Google search brings up an article from this week’s, “The Economist,” which I’m betting Amanpour would swear to reading cover-to-cover weekly.
AFTER more than a year of stalling and name-calling, President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party, locked in an unhappy ruling coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have agreed to hold a referendum on a new constitution on March 16th. Since all Zimbabwe’s main parties have endorsed the document, it is almost certain to be adopted by a big majority. That in turn should pave the way for general and presidential elections within a few months, certainly by the end of the year. If the elections are free and fair, they could finally spell the end of the 89-year-old Mr Mugabe’s 33-year reign.

Really? Few Zimbabweans think Mr Mugabe and his party’s leading lights, especially the military and security men who have come to dominate his party, would ever consider ceding power—whatever a new constitution may say—to Mr Tsvangirai and his friends, whom they still excoriate as traitors. The heads of the armed forces, police and prison service have insisted that they will never serve under a President Tsvangirai.
Even in the past few weeks the brutally ubiquitous Central Intelligence Organisation and police have been arresting, beating up or harassing leaders of civic groups, such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise and the Zimbabwe Peace Project, and ransacking the offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the most assiduous and valiant of the independent monitoring groups.

In a bizarre move, the police also announced a ban on radios that are incompatible with state-owned stations which routinely vilify the MDC. Such stations have become popular in rural areas, where more people are listening to foreign-beamed broadcasts hostile to Mr Mugabe and Zanu-PF. “We have information that some unpatriotic individuals are distributing radios in rural areas,” said the police spokesperson. “We have arrested some people and confiscated such devices.”

These are the people who lecture me about my moral compass when I suggest maybe we should do something to prevent our debt from equaling 100 percent of our GDP. I’m an out-of-touch, heartless monster, Robert Mugabe’s a plucky political leader with real sticktoitiveness, and Lena Dunham’s an everywoman. Tell me more.

Flashback: The Guardian eulogizes Nizar Rayan in 2009.

source: Hot Air