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Canadian Woman Hit with $950,000 Tab After Giving Birth in U.S. Hospital

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 08:29
At just six months pregnant, she was given the all-clear to vacation in Hawaii.

A woman from Saskatchewan was just six months pregnant when she and her husband decided to take a nice warm vacation in Hawaii well before the baby was due. Just to be sure, Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel got her doctor's okay to travel and bought some travel insurance for the trip.

None of her careful planning helped her when her premature daughter had to be delivered by emergency C-section, requiring a long hospital stay in Hawaii. The total bill: $950,000. Insurance? Denied.

What turned into a costly, Kafkaesque nightmare began when Huculak-Kimmel's water broke two days after she and her husband arrived in Maui. She was airlifted to a hospital in Honolulu, and, after the C-section delivered her baby nine-weeks early, was placed on six weeks of mandatory hospital bedrest. A week into her stay, Blue Cross told her that her coverage was denied due to a pre-existing condition. Her obstetrician in Canada wrote to the insurance company saying the pregnancy had been stable and that there was no medical reason to deny coverage, to no avail.

The pre-existing condition? A bladder infection early in the pregnancy. She had even discussed this fact with a Blue Cross representative before the trip and been okayed for travel. 

"We thought we did everything right," Huculak-Kimmel said in an interview, adding that there was no inkling that the pregnancy was high risk. "Anybody in their right mind doesn't risk their life, their unborn baby's life to go on a vacation."

Costs climbed even more since the baby needed an extensive stay in neo-natal intensive care at a cost of $15,000 per day. Huculak-Kimmel and her husband explored whether they could return home for further (cheaper) medical care, but doctors told them it was unsafe to move the baby. The couple also incurred the cost of a condo and a rental car during their unexpectedly long, mandatory stay in Honolulu.

Apart from the $950,000 bill that the couple says they cannot pay, the story has a happy ending. Baby Reece is 10 months old and healthy, though her parents are facing financial ruin.

h/t: Raw Story

 

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How Long Will You Live? Ask Your Friends

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 06:56
Peer estimates of personality are a surprisingly good predictor of mortality.

When actor James Gandolfini died in the summer of 2013, at age 51, a prominent cardiologist described him as "a heart attack waiting to happen." The award-winningSopranos star was overweight and inactive, and on the evening he died, he had indulged himself in a diet of rum, beer and fatty foods. In short, he didn't take care of himself, and this lack of self-discipline no doubt contributed to his untimely death.

Scientists have long known that personality is a good indicator of future health and mortality. In fact, character traits are better prognosticators than either intelligence or socioeconomic status, not just for heart attacks but in general for poor health and early death. But it's not easy to measure personality in a reliable way, since self-reports are notoriously biased and misleading.

That's why psychological scientist Joshua Jackson, of Washington University in St. Louis, turned to friends instead. He and his colleagues decided that, instead of asking subjects about their own temperaments, they would combine the assessments of several close friends -- to see if these peer estimates of personality were a better predictor of mortality.

They used an existing data base called the Kelly/Connolly Longitudinal Study. Back in the 1930s, 600 individuals in their mid-20s -- 300 engaged couples -- volunteered for a study of personality and newly formed marriages. This study had included personality ratings by five close friends -- most of them members of the wedding party. It also included self-ratings of personality. Last year -- 75 years after the original study began -- the scientists tracked down most of the original volunteers -- or at least their obituaries. So they were able to compare friends' views with the volunteers' views of themselves -- and see which was a better predictor of life and death.

Friends did much better at identifying the personality traits linked to mortality, as described in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. Specifically, young men who were viewed by their groomsmen as conscientious and open to experience -- these men went on to live the longest lives. Conscientiousness and openness are two of the so-called Big Five personality traits. Conscientious people are dutiful and disciplined and organized and dependable, while open people are intellectually curious and inventive. Men with these two traits lived longer -- or alternatively, those lacking these traits died earlier.

For women the picture was different. High levels of agreeableness and emotional stability -- as identified by their bridesmaids and other close friends -- were most protective over the lifespan. Emotional stability is the opposite of neuroticism -- the tendency toward anger and anxiety and depression -- while agreeableness encompasses cooperation and compassion. These findings must be seen in historical context, the scientists caution: The subjects entered adulthood in the 1930s, when these positive traits were indicative of a supportive and easy-going wife, the emotional leader of the family.

The men's self-reports were also pretty good at predicting life and death, though not as good as the friends' assessments. The women's self-reports did not predict mortality. For all the young men and women coming of age 75 years ago, their friends were clearly picking up on something in their personalities that was related to health and well-being -- insights that could prove relevant to public health policy today.

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Can a Hacker Stop Your Car or Your Heart? New Research Says It's Possible

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 06:05
Internet-connected consumer electronics are vulnerable to attack.

An ever-increasing number of our consumer electronics are Internet-connected. We’re living at the dawn of the age of the Internet of Things. Appliances ranging from light switches and door locks to cars and medical devices boast connectivity in addition to basic functionality.

The convenience can’t be beat. But what are the security and privacy implications? Is a patient implanted with a remotely-controllable pacemaker at risk for security compromise? Vice President Dick Cheney’s doctors worried enough about an assassination attempt via implant that they disabled his defibrillator’s wireless capability. Should we expect capital crimes via hacked Internet-enabled devices? Could hackers mount large-scale terrorist attacks? Our research suggests these scenarios are within reason.

Your Car, Out of Your Control

Modern cars are one of the most connected products consumers interact with today. Many of a vehicle’s fundamental building blocks – including the engine and brake control modules – are now electronically controlled. Newer cars also support long-range wireless connections via cellular network and Wi-Fi. But hi-tech definitely doesn’t mean highly secure.

Our group of security researchers at the University of Washington was able to remotely compromise and controla highly-computerized vehicle. They invaded the privacy of vehicle occupants by listening in on their conversations. Even more worrisome, they remotely disabled brake and lighting systems and brought the car to a complete stop on a simulated major highway. By exploiting vulnerabilities in critical modules, including the brake systems and engine control, along with in radio and telematics components, our group completely overrode the driver’s control of the vehicle. The safety implications are obvious.

This attack raises important questions about how much manufacturers and consumers are willing to sacrifice security and privacy for increased functionality and convenience. Car companies are starting to take these threats seriously, appointing cybersecurity executives. But for the most part, automakers appear to be playing catchup, dealing with security as an afterthought of the design process.

Home Insecurity

An increasing number of devices around the home are automated and connected to the Internet. Many rely on a proprietary wireless communications protocol called Z-Wave.

Two UK researchers exploited security loopholes in Z-Wave’s cryptographic libraries - that’s the software toolkit that authenticates any device being connected to the home network, among other functions, while providing communication security over the Internet. The researchers were able to compromise home automation controllers and remotely-controlled appliances including door locks and alarm systems. Z-Wave’s security relied solely on keeping the algorithm a secret from the public, but the researchers were able to reverse engineer the protocol to find weak spots.

Our group was able to compromise Z-Wave controllers via another vulnerability: their web interfaces. Via the web, we could control all home appliances connected to the Z-Wave controller, showing that a hacker could, for instance, turn off the heat in wintertime or watch inhabitants via webcam feeds. We also demonstrated an inherent danger in connecting compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to a Z-Wave dimmer. These bulbs were not designed with remote manipulations over the Internet in mind. We found an attacker could send unique signals to CFLs that would burn them out, emitting sparks that could potentially result in house fires.

Our group also pondered the possibility of a large-scale terrorist attack. The threat model assumes that home automation becomes so ubiquitous that it’s a standard feature installed in homes by developers. An attacker could exploit a vulnerability in the automation controllers to turn on power-hungry devices - like HVAC systems - in an entire neighborhood at the same time. With the A/C roaring in every single house, shared power transformers would be overloaded and whole neighborhoods could be knocked off the power grid.

Harnessing Hackers' Knowledge

One of the best practices of designing elegant security solutions is to enlist the help of the security community to find and report weak spots otherwise undetected by the manufacturer. If the internal cryptographic libraries these devices use to obfuscate and recover data, amongst other tasks, are open-source, they can be vetted by the security community. Once issues are found, updates can be pushed to resolve them. Crypto libraries implemented from scratch may be riddled with bugs that the security community would likely find and fix – hopefully before the bad guys find and exploit. Unfortunately, this sound principle has not been strictly adhered to in the world of the Internet of Things.

Third party vendors designed the web interfaces and home appliances with Z-Wave support that our group exploited. We found that, even if a manufacturer has done a very good job and released a secure product, retailers who repackage it with added functionality - like third party software - could introduce vulnerabilities. The end-user can also compromise security by failing to operate the product properly. That’s why robust multi-layered security solutions are vital – so a breach can be limited to just a single component, rather than a successful hack into one component compromising the whole system.

Level of Risk

There is one Internet of Things security loophole that law enforcement has taken notice of: thieves' use of scanner boxes that mimic the signals sent out by remote key fobs to break into cars. The other attacks I’ve described are feasible, but haven’t made any headlines yet. Risks today remain low for a variety of reasons. Home automation system attacks at this point appear to be very targeted in nature. Perpetrating them on a neighborhood-wide scale could be a very expensive task for the hacker, thereby decreasing the likelihood of it occurring.

There needs to be a concerted effort to improve security of future devices. Researchers, manufacturers and end users need to be aware that privacy, health and safety can be compromised by increased connectivity. Benefits in convenience must be balanced with security and privacy costs as the Internet of Things continues to infiltrate our personal spaces.

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Georgia Man Shoots Latino 22-Year-Old Dead For Pulling Into Wrong Driveway, Gets $500 Fine and Probation

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 05:23
70-year-old Phillip Sailors shot Rodrigo Diaz in the head.

Unequal treatment before the law has become a hot topic in a country reeling from cases like those of Troy Davis and Michael Brown. In Georgia, yet another case has arisen of an innocent young minority man being shot to death with little punishment for his killer.

In January 2013, 22-year-old Georgia Tech student Rodrigo Diaz, alongside his girlfriend and two other friends, pulled into a driveway in Gwinett County, Georgia, hoping to pick up a friend for skating.

It turned out to be the wrong driveway. The homeowner, Phillip Sailors, emerged from the home and fired a warning shot with his .22 pistol. As Diaz began to drive away, Sailors fired again, striking Diaz in the head and killing him.

Despite these circumstances, police arrested Diaz's girlfriend and their two friends and held them overnight. This week, Sailors pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, and will have one year of probation and be charged a $500 fine – apparently the cost of killing an unarmed Latino young adult in Lilburn, Georgia.

For their part, Diaz's family has offered forgiveness to Sailors. “There is no point for him to be in lifetime in prison,” said his brother David (Sailors is seventy years old). “Like my dad said, we don't hold any grudge.” The Diaz family has also reportedly received a settlement from Sailors and his insurance company.

But forgiveness will not bring Diaz back to life, nor will it dissuade Georgians from shooting first, and asking questions later, when they encounter similar events in the future. Rather, it may simply encourage the toxic combination of “Shoot First” laws and distrust of racial minorities.

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WATCH: Colbert Ridicules GOP for Promising to Fight Immigration Reform 'Tooth and Nail'

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 05:03
'Now they're coming for the jobs they already have!'

Now that the Republicans have regained full control of Congress, President Obama is (finally) taking matters into his own hands on immigration reform. Or, as Stephen Colbert put it, he is planning to take the constitution, “roll it up, stuff it with rice and beans, and smother it in picante sauce.”

As would be expected, the GOP is up in arms about Obama’s avowal to use executive orders to protect undocumented migrants from deportation, provide them with work permits, and expand the number of visas for high-tech workers. Instead of offering any alternative solution, Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner have promised to “fight tooth and nail” to defeat Obama’s efforts.

“How dare he take executive action to address immigration by himself,” Colbert said. “He should be working with Congress to do nothing together!”

Watch the rest of the clip below, featuring a cameo from Colbert’s Mexican alter ego, Esteban Colberto.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Colbert Report on Facebook

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PHOTOS: New York Snowstorm Kills Four as Towering 'Wall of Snow' Buries Buffalo

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 03:53
The bitter arctic storm is expected to get worse tomorrow.

Four people have been killed and a state of emergency declared in parts of New York state as a towering "wall of snow" dumped up to six feet of snow on Buffalo yesterday.

The arctic storm, which is expected to get worse tomorrow, has plunged nearly half of the US into temperatures well below freezing.

New York state has been one of the hardest hit areas, and was covered in up to six feet of snow leaving many people stranded amid the bitterly-cold weather chaos while a driving ban was enforced in some areas.

Firefighters were also spotted carrying a patient 10 blocks down the street to Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo as the blanket of snow was too thick and high to drive through.

The record-low temperatures are said to be characteristic of January rather than November and are the coldest for this time of year since 1976, according to Weather Bell Analytics, a meteorologist consulting firm.

Snow is reported to have fell at a rate of up to five inches (13 cm) an hour and some areas approached the US record for 24-hour snowfall totals of 76 inches (193 cm).

States bordering the Great Lakes such as North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania were also hit with chilling temperatures as low as -11 degrees Celsius during the night.

Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed the New York State National Guard to affected areas yesterday to help residents cope with the severe weather conditions with emergency operations centers activated on Monday night.

The state has employed the use of 526 plows, 74 large loaders and about two-dozen large snow blowers to shift the wall of snow blocking the doors and driveways of people's homes.

County officials confirmed yesterday that there had been four snow storm-related deaths.

One person was killed in a traffic accident and three others died after suffering heart problems, two of whom were believed to have been shoveling heavy snow at the time.

At least another two people are believed to have died in car accidents caused by icy conditions and decreased visibility on the roads in New Hampshire and Michigan over the past week.

Parts of Erie County, western New York, had 60 inches (1.5m) of snow, with more expected to fall over today and tomorrow, said Steven Welch of the National Weather Service near Buffalo.

Concerned residents whose week has been blighted by sub-zero temperatures and disruptions posted their thoughts and pictures on social media.

"This storm may persist until Friday morning with the potential for another two feet of snow," Cuomo said in a statement.

"New Yorkers in these areas should exercise extreme caution, and stay off the roads until conditions are clearer and safer."

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Victory for Environmentalists: Senate Narrowly Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 03:34
The measure failed by a vote of 41-59.

The Senate voted this evening to reject the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried Alberta tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The measure failed by a vote of 41-59. Sixty votes are required to pass a bill out of the Senate. The project has been stalled for six years due to widespread public opposition.

The bill easily passed the House of Representatives last week, where it was on the floor for the ninth time since Republicans took control of that chamber. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, has not brought it to the Senate floor until now. The Senate bill was introduced by Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, hoping to score points with voters in her oil-dependent state going into a closely contested runoff with her Republican opponent, Congressman Bill Cassidy. Cassidy was the sponsor of the latest bill in the House.

After introducing the bill last week, Landrieu worked feverishly to round up the 60 votes required to pass any legislation in the Senate, as anti-pipeline activists expressed outrage and charges of political grandstanding on Landrieu’s part. Landrieu responded indignantly to Kansas Senator Pat Roberts’ suggestion that she called for the vote for political reasons, saying on the floor of the Senate, “I was very disappointed in the senator from Kansas. I think he said he was ‘bemused’ that we would be debating this, because he thinks it’s some kind of political issue. “For him to come to the floor and make those remarks … is beneath the dignity of the state he represents and the Marine Corps.” (Roberts is a former Marine).

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell did some showboating of his own, referring to the bill during debate as “Congressman Bill Cassidy’s Keystone jobs bill.” He continued that it was “common sense, a shovel-ready jobs project that will help thousands of Americans find work.” But this weekend, on ABC’s This Week, Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, admitted that it would create at most 50 permanent jobs along with several thousand temporary ones, referring vaguely to 42,000 “direct and indirect ongoing and enduring jobs.” The Tampa Bay-Times PolitiFact feature rated that statement “false,” saying he based that figure on temporary multiplier jobs that would be created only during construction to service the workers, such as hotel workers, waitresses and entertainers.

Landrieu’s desperation led to even more hyperbole on the Senate floor during the debate:

Meanwhile, prior to the vote, protestors amassed outside Landrieu’s Washington, DC home where they installed a large inflatable pipeline. Four protesters were arrested outside Delaware Senator Tom Carper’s office. Carper has generally been pro-environment but indicated he would vote to approve Keystone XL. Another seven were arrested at Colorado Senator Michael Bennet’s office.

Two representatives of the campaign opposing Keystone XL in Nebraska where a lawsuit is currently blocking construction, Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb and rancher Randy Thompson, delivered a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell Monday night.

It said, “We are really sick and tired of being told how safe this project will be by people who live fifteen hundred miles away and are fully insulated from the inherent risks associated with it. Would you be so anxious to vote “yes” if this pipeline were going to run through your property where your family lives, works and plays? Our families will not watch our land and water get polluted so Canada can get their risky tar sands to the export market. You oil-soaked Senators should be ashamed of yourselves and if you have the nerve to talk about the constitution or property rights again, we will be there to set the record straight.”

Environmental groups prepared for the worst, as the vote locked close up until roll call, with approval seeming to hinge on perhaps a single vote. The Natural Resources Defense Council put out “8 discredited talking points pushed by Keystone XL proponents in Senate debate.”

And California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Keystone XL opponent said, “What does XL stand for? To me it stands for extra lethal. This is a serious environmental hazard.”

Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada is opposed to the pipeline but he allowed it to come to a vote for the first time. Reid has joined with a multitude of environmental justice groups in calling on President Obama to veto it, which the President in the last week has strongly suggested he would if it passed. Soon-to-be Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said it would be the first item of business when he assumes leadership of the Senate in January.

“We applaud the Senators who stood up for the health of our families and our climate by fighting back against this big polluter-funded sideshow,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “There’s no good reason the Senate should have wasted all this time on yet another meaningless push for Keystone XL. Since day one, the decision on the pipeline has belonged to President Obama, and he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he’ll do.”

Kleeb agrees with Brune, “Today’s defeat of Keystone XL should send a strong signal to the incoming GOP-led Congress that farmers and ranchers will never back down to their oil soaked intentions. We call on President Obama to stand up and reject Keystone XL now.”

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Historic Black Florida Town Slated for Ultra-Rich Luxury Shopping Development

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 13:23
Customers could drop more money in a day than the town’s entire population earns in a year.

The oldest black town in America, Eatonville in central Florida, where a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line, voted Tuesday night on a plan to transform the community into a luxury shopping destination for the ultra-rich.

Customers of the $200 million project called the World Transportation Exchange, where luxury cars, helicopters, yachts and corporate jets would be on display, could drop more money in a day than the town’s entire population earns in a year.

Developer Elliott Kahana, a luxury car dealer from Clearwater on Florida’s west coast, said he is undisturbed by the juxtaposition of ostentatious wealth alongside neighborhood poverty.

“Everything changes. Progress happens,” Kahana said.

The exchange would encompass nearly 20 percent of Eatonville, a town of one square mile, which was made famous by Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” about black society at turn of 20th century America.

If the project is approved, residents in the future will be able to feast their eyes on a massive, eight-story luxury car showroom complex displaying brands such as Rolls Royce, Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Plans also include a hotel, conference center, apartment buildings and offices.

Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount, who did not return a call from seeking comment, will ask the town council to approve the $9.5 million sale of the 117-acre property, which is 5 miles from downtown Orlando, according to the city agenda.

In 1887, Eatonville become the first incorporated African-American municipality in the country. It remains 85 per cent black, according to U.S. census data, with 26 percent unemployment and average household income under $28,000 a year.

The plan so far has generated little public comment, following on the heels of several other development plans for the same property that fell through in recent years.

The development is expected to employ about 2,000 people, almost as many as there are residents in Eatonville.

“It’s going to allow the constituents of Eatonville and their children, whoever wants to leave stagnation and be part of that which has going on around them for 70 years, to do that,” said Kahana.

(Editing by David Adams and Eric Walsh)

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Fox News' New Campaign of Lies About Jon Stewart

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 13:15
In new interviews, Stewart explains the difference between Hannity and O'Reilly.

Jon Stewart has been on the interview circuit to promote his new film, “Rosewater,” but many of his comments have turned to partisan politics and the pundits who encourage them.  Interviewers have not been able to resist the urge to talk about Stewart’s thoughts on the midterm elections, on immigration, and on the legacy of Obama.  But what has been really interesting to watch is Stewart’s comments on Fox News and on commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Stewart explained that most of Fox News is about fear.  Fox News viewers, he explained, operate in a world where they have a high sense of being persecuted, and this is why, for instance, we will soon see pieces on the “War on Christmas” with commentators standing next to 60-foot-tall Christmas trees.  But not all Fox News commentators are equal in Stewart’s eyes.  He considers O’Reilly to be more like a “Kennedy Democrat” who comes by his views honestly.  Not so with Hannity, whom Stewart describes as “probably the most loathsome dude over there.” He describes Hannity as espousing “pure cynicism”: “Everything is presented in as devious a manner as it could possibly be presented.”

It’s worth remembering that from the moment that Fox News was founded in 1996 the goal was to offer a partisan view of the news.  David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt in “The Fox Effect” explain in detail how Roger Ailes turned the cable channel into a propaganda machine.  And once the channel launched, all other cable news responded. Few recall that Ann Coulter used to work for MSNBC before Fox was founded.  It’s hard to imagine it in the blue versus red world we live in now.

Three years after Fox News used the slogan “fair and balanced” to promote a channel that had no intention of being either, Jon Stewart took over “The Daily Show” and he has been using satire news as a foil for Fox News ever since.

Stewart has the crazy idea that we should treat the citizens of our nation with respect and that we should offer accurate and informed news to help educate an active and engaged democracy.  Meanwhile on Fox News it is common to see pundits attack major segments of our society while misinforming their viewers.

Evidence of these tactics was in place in the Nov. 14 interview between Stewart and O’Reilly on “The O’Reilly Factor.”  O’Reilly began the interview introducing Stewart as a “big-time liberal commentator” and focusing on the midterm elections.  He asked Stewart to explain why the Democrats lost and Stewart responded with a very non-partisan answer: “Because they curled up in a little ball and tried to make sure that nobody hit them. I have no idea what they even ran on.” But Stewart’s answer wasn’t what O’Reilly wanted to hear.  So he offered his own analysis: The Democrats lost “because the callow youth that watches your program didn’t show up,” he said to Stewart.

Callow youth? First of all, all the data suggests that the millennials, the main demographic for Stewart’s show, did show up.  At 21.3 percent they voted at the same percentage as last midterm.  And this despite the very real challenges they have to actually casting votes. These young people juggle jobs and classes that make finding the time to get to the voting booths a real challenge. Add to that the voter ID regulations and lack of early voting options designed to suppress their vote.

Second of all, it is hard to understand how O’Reilly can refer to Stewart’s young viewers as callow stoners when they also volunteer at a higher rate than boomers.  And they score higher in knowledge of political issues than viewers of Fox News.  So if they are all stoned, it isn’t affecting their ability to keep track of the facts and give back to their country.

This sort of misrepresentation is legion on Fox News and makes its viewers the most misinformed in our nation.  A fact-checking site found that Fox News only tells the truth 18 percent of the time.   In contrast, the satirical comedians like Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have been proven to accurately inform their audiences even though they are not news shows.

And despite the hype, it is not Stewart, Colbert and Oliver who are stirring up the partisan spin.  Sure they attack Fox News, sure they call out the outrageous positions of many Republicans, but they go after the Democrats too.  Stewart’s post midterm election coverage included a bit called “Obama and the Pussycrats.”  That’s far from subtle.

In contrast, Hannity paid $300,000 for a portrait of Obama burning the Constitution.  And when he was asked to respond to Stewart’s comments about him from Rolling Stone for Politico Hannity was quick to attack: “Jon’s problem is he has his head so far up Obama’s ass he cannot see clearly, he is obviously better suited to reading his joke writers material, and making his clapping seal audience happy.”  No wonder Stewart said he had no interest in having Hannity ever appear on his show.

These exchanges have shown that Fox News propaganda is hitting new highs.  The parallel between these interviews and the subject of a free press covered in “Rosewater” should not escape us.  Iran may have put Maziar Bahari in prison for his reporting, and Stewart may be free to critique Fox News, and yet we have much in common.  If Stewart started his interviews explaining that his film was about fundamentalist ideologues pretending to be sources of news, but instead spouting propaganda and misinforming the public, you might think he made a movie based right here on our home turf.

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The Shady PR War Unleashed Against Environmentalists Who Oppose Keystone Pipeline

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 12:40
PR giant Edelman lists nine anti-pipeline claims that threaten the project.

With possible Canadian oil sand pipeline profits estimated to be in the $100 billion range, it’s no surprise how low backers will go to smear opponents to win approval. A cache of secret documents prepared in May by Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, for pipeline developer TransCanada, more than confirms the no-holds-barred mentality the oil industry will use to exploit one of the continent’s dirtiest energy sources. The documents concern the so-called Energy East pipeline, which would carry oil sands production to eastern Canada; the Keystone XL pipeline would take the same oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“We also recommend continuing to emphasize the term 'natural resources' when possible, instead of oil sands which is perceived negatively,” said a lenghty May 2014 strategic plan, in a passage that typfied the double-speak Edelman is unfurling.

Its multiprong campaign also includes demonizing opponents, cultivating local reporters along the pipeline path, creating front groups to exaggerate support and posting online “dark content” to create an outsized clamour asserting that the climate change-accelerating project is as warm, fuzzy and clean as a newborn's blanket.

“These documents show that the pipeline company is planning to adopt the deceitful tactics employed by the oil industry in the U.S. to attack environmental advocates,” said Travis Nichols of Greenpeace USA, one of Edelman’s and TransCanada’s targets.

“The documents, written between May and August 2014, lay out a strategy to, 'Add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources’ by recruiting third parties to do and say things ‘when TransCanada can’t,’” Nichols wrote, quoting the documents. “They identify over 40 Edelman staff people and 9 TransCanada staff people who will work on the campaign, which is led from Edelman’s DC office. The advertising and pro-Energy East advocacy website described in the documents have already been launched.”

This is the same playbook created by one of America’s most notorious corporate lobbyists, Richard Berman, who was secretly taped in June at a Colorado meeting for the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” segment of the oil and gas industry, where he described how it was necessary to demonize, belittle, mock, personally attack, and smear opponents in what is an endless publicity battle for corporate profit-making.

What’s especially intriguing in the Edelman documents is that they list many of the very strong anti-Keystone arguments being used by opponents in the United States and Canada—including those heard in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate debate. It similarly lists the pro-pipeline script, which centers on “the four agreed-upon campaign platforms of Safety; Environmental Stewardship; Economic Benefits and Jobs; and National (or Strategic) Interest.”    

Here are the nine anti-pipeline arguments cited by Edelman it says (pages 28-to-29) are seriously threatening and must be neutralized with pro-corporate spin:

  • “The marine terminal at Cacouna will be a threat to the survival of the beluga [whale] in the St. Lawrence River.”
  • “The risk of spills is great; the number of pipeline leaks has tripled over the last 10 years.”
  • “In the event of a leak or spill, the clean water supply could be seriously compromised.”
  • “Oil from oil sands is more toxic, therefore, more difficult to clean in the event of a spill.”
  • “Quebec will profit very little from the project, as jobs created will be essentially for the construction period; there will not be gas reductions at the gas pumps as it won’t reduce our dependence on foreign oil, particularly as Quebec refineries aren’t equipped for processing the heavy Western oil.”
  • “The project would seriously contribute to a worsening climate crisis, since the exploitation of the oil sands represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. They estimate that the project would generate additional greenhouse gas emission of between 30 and 32 million tons per year—thart’s to say the equivalent of having 7 million more cars on our roads.”
  • “The project threatens considerable amounts of arable land, something that’s been on the decline for a few years now in Quebec.”
  • “TransCanada is not a company for which safety is a priority.”
  • “TransCanada’s control center is in Calgary and will have issues insuring the pipeline’s safety in Quebec.”

Many of these are the same arguments made by U.S. pipeline opponents—just swap the references to locations, local ecosystems and economics.

Edelman will host daily conference calls to monitor and then rebut any news report whenever these anti-pipeline arguments are made, the document said on page 28. That response includes having a “zero-tolerance policy” for what it deems to be “misinformation in the media.” The TransCanada PR team said it would seek to respond to any negative press within an hour of seeing the coverage, primarily by having selected spokespeople call reporters and editors.

“Environmentalists have been clear on why we oppose the Energy East pipeline,” said Greenpeace USA’s Nichols. “We believe that the threat posed by this pipeline is an unnecessary one because we have better options available to us to meet our energy needs.

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These Are the Warmongering, Corporation-Loving Republicans Taking Over the Senate

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 11:23
The incoming GOP committee chairs have a frightening disregard for America's bedrock programs.

Following the November elections, the Republicans will now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Although many have their eyes trained at incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), equally important is the fact that gaining control of the Senate allows the GOP to elect new committee chairs. Although the new Congress is not yet in place, we can use seniority to reliably estimate who will be elected the chairs of the various committees in the Senate.

These committees have large sway over the sorts of hearings that the body holds and the legislation that makes it to the floor. Who controls them is incredibly important, and who is about to control them is incredibly troubling.

The Republican Who Claims Global Warming Is Good For Us Leading The Environment Committee

The New Republic's Rebecca Leber notes that Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is next in line to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – the chief committee that deals with the environment and climate issues.

Inhofe has taken various positions on global warming, all arguing for some variation of not doing anything to stop it. In 2003, he said that there was no global warming could actually improve humanity, saying that “that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” In 2012, he pivoted to citing the Bible for a reason we shouldn't act on the climate: “[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

But the reason for his inaction may be closer to the earth than the Heavens; for the 2014 cycle, the oil and gas industry are his top contributors, with him getting over $400,000, more than half of it from political action committees.

The Man Behind “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” Will Helm The Armed Services Committee

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will chair the Armed Services Committee, giving him wide leeway over both the defense budget and related foreign policy issues. McCain made a name for himself as an unrepenant war hawk, backing the Iraq war and famously singing “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” to the tune of a Beach Boys song during the 2008 race.

Just weeks before the election, McCain told a crowd at the Pacific Council on International Policy that he wants to push for an increase of U.S. troop presence in Iraq and increased funding for rebels – as well as a no-fly zone in Syria taking aim at that country's government, which so far the Obama administration has ruled out.

McCain apparently is not bothered by the fact that ISIS brags in its official magazine that the war in Iraq he supported is what allowed them to take over large portions of that country to begin with.

The Tea Partier Who's Head Of Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee tackles a wide range of issues, including a number not directly related to security, such as general oversight of spending. The man slated to be its chair is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who rode in on a tea party wave in 2010.

Johnson, who defeat progressive icon Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) that year, has all sorts of views that are completely disconnected from reality. During his race against Feingold, he claimed that sunspots – yes, sunspots – are the cause of extreme weather events, rather than global warming. He said reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act was unconstitutional. Although Johnson will be in charge of key spending oversight responsibilities, he has often played fast and loose with statistics; last month he overstated one Obamacare figure by 900 percent while trying to claim there were large premium hikes in Wisconsin due to the law.

The committee is also charged with overseeing the Post Office, which is especially troubling in Johnson's case. Earlier this year the mailing industry, one of Wisconsin's largest employers, was angered by Johnson's suggestion that the Post Office's activities were harming “the American taxpayer.” The industry protested that, of course, the Postal Service is self-funded through its own revenues, and doesn't take a penny of taxpayer dollars. Johnson was either purposefully obfuscating or was unaware of this fact – and he's about to take over the oversight role for the entire system.

The Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee Chair Who Wants To Cut Them All

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to be the head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee (HELP). Alexander has been an avowed advocate for cuts in all four of these areas, joining the GOP in its repeated attempts to kill Obamacare.

Although he's a former Department of Education official, Alexander is an advocate for predatory for-profit colleges, who have also bankrolled his career, making them one set of schools funding that he isn't trying to cut. Alexander is also an advocate for a budget plan that would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by more than a trillion dollars; this is despite the fact that Social Security currently keeps half of Tennessee seniors out of poverty.

He also has castigated the United Auto Workers in their organizing attempts in Chattanooga, boasting about his state's status as so-called “right to work.” Although the HELP committee has traditionally been a place to boost labor rights, Alexander opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, calling it the “No Choice Act.”

Chairs For How Long?

The incoming GOP chairs are frightening in their disregard for some of America's most treasured programs – Social Security, Medicare, the Post Office – and most important causes – climate change, peace – and it's easy to get pessimistic. But the 2016 landscape is relatively favorable to the Democrats, and there's a chance they could retake the body that year. Unfortunately, two years may be more than enough time for the Republicans to do major damage.

 

How the Israel Lobby Protected Ukrainian Neo-Nazis

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 11:10
Rep. John Conyers wanted to block U.S. funding to neo-Nazis in Ukraine. But the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center refused to help.

AlterNet has learned that an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have forbidden US assistance, training and weapons to neo-Nazis and other extremists in Ukraine was kept out of the final bill by the Republican-led House Rules Committee. Introduced by Democratic Representative John Conyers, the amendment was intended to help tamp down on violent confrontations between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists. (Full text of the amendment embedded at the end of this article).

A USA Today/Pew poll conducted in April while the NDAA was being debated found that Americans opposed by more than 2 to 1 providing the Ukrainian government with arms or other forms of military assistance.

If passed, Conyers' amendment would have explicitly barred those found to have offered “praise or glorification of Nazism or its collaborators, including through the use of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, or other similar symbols” from receiving any form of support from the US Department of Defense.

The amendment was presented by congressional staffers to lobbyists from Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, two of the country’s largest established Jewish pressure groups. Despite their stated mission to combat anti-Semitism and violent extremism, the ADL and Wiesenthal Center refused to support Jeffries and Conyers’ proposal.

According to Democratic sources in Congress, staffers from the ADL’s Washington office and the Simon Wiesenthal Center rejected the amendment on the grounds that right-wing Ukrainian parties like Svoboda with documented records of racist extremism had “moderated their rhetoric.” An ADL lobbyist insisted that “the focus should be on Russia,” while the Wiesenthal Center pointed to meetings between far-right political leaders in Ukraine and the Israeli embassy as evidence that groups like Svoboda and Right Sector had shed their extremism. 

The ADL’s Washington office and the Simon Wiesenthal Center did not respond to numerous requests by email and telephone for comment.

Earlier this year, the ADL’s outgoing National Director Abraham Foxman noted Svoboda’s “history of anti-Semitism and platform of ethnic nationalism” in a press releasedemanding the party renounce its past glorification of Stepan Bandera, a World War Two-era Nazi collaborator who has become a symbol of Ukrainian nationalism.

When the Ukrainian parliament failed to pass a bill this October honoring Bandera’s Ukrainian Rebel Army, about 8000 supporters of Svoboda and the extremist Right Sector marched on the building, attacking riot police with homemade weapons while waving Banderist flags and Svoboda banners. The violent backlash was a reminder that the legend of Bandera would not die any time soon, and that Foxman’s admonitions had fallen on deaf ears.

Svobodoa’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, once called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” In 2010, following the conviction of the Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk for his supporting role in the death of nearly 30,000 people at the Sobibor camp, Tyahnybok flew to Germany to praise him as a hero who was “fighting for truth.”

Since the Euromaidan revolution, however, Svoboda has fought to rehabilitate its image. This has meant meeting with Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Reuven Din El and appealing to shared national values. “I would like to ask Israelis to also respect our patriotic feelings,” Tyahnybok has remarked. “Probably each party in the [Israeli] Knesset is nationalist. With God’s help, let it be this way for us too.”

Right Sector, the radical right-wing movement that battled riot police during the latter stages of the Euromaidan uprising, earned plaudits from the ADL’s Foxman when its leader arranged his own meeting with Din El. “[Right Sector leader] Dmitry Yarosh stressed that Right Sector will oppose all [racist] phenomena, especially anti-Semitism, with all legitimate means,” the Israeli embassy declared.

The results of this month’s Ukrainian parliamentary elections were widely portrayed as a setback for the ultra-nationalist right-wing, with Svoboda taking around 6 percent of the vote while Yarosh’s Right Sector failed to qualify for seats. The outcome cheered the American Jewish Committee, which declared that “Jews in most of Ukraine are heartened by the election results and even optimistic about the country’s future.”

But the dismal showing by the traditional ultra-nationalist parties was hardly evidence of a diminished right-wing. With President Petro Poroshenko leading the nationalists’ dream war in the East, Svoboda and Right Sector lost the protest vote they had commanded during the heady years of insurrection. As Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on Europe’s radical right, explained, “in 2012, Svoboda was also considered almost the only ‘patriotic’ party, but now all democratic parties are patriotic, so Svoboda has lost its ‘monopoly’ on patriotism.”

During the national election campaign, Ukraine’s leading party, the People’s Front of neoliberal Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was honeycombed with far-right militants. Andrei Parubiy, the co-founder of the neo-Nazi-inspired Social National Party and former chief of the Maidan defense committees, was among the extremists who won seats on the People’s Front ticket.

Besides Parubiy, the People’s Front included Andriy Biletsky, leader of the overtly Azov militia, an overtly neo-Nazi fighting force that has been on the front lines of the battle against Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Azov deputy commander Vadym Troyan joined him on the party’s electoral list, rounding out a peculiar mix of khaki shirt clad fascists and buttoned-down neo-liberals.

Unlike Svoboda, these figures do not even feign moderation. “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival,” Biletsky recently wrote. “A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

Azov fighters are united by their nostalgia for Nazi Germany and embrace of open fascism. Sporting swastika tattoos, the battalion “flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag,” the New York Times’ Andrew Kramer recently reported.

With the government in a state of flux, Azov is filling the void in the East. As Ukrainian parliamentarian Gregory Nemira complained to reporter Anna Nemtsova in September, “The president still has not appointed a chief of staff for the armed forces. He has not admitted we are in a state of war, preferring to throw the battalions like Azov into the most dangerous combat zones, where authorities would not have the courage to send regular troops.”

Azov is precisely the sort of neo-Nazi organization that Conyers’ NDAA amendment would have deprived of US assistance. But when the congressman sought help from the ADL and the Wiesenthal Center in moving the proposal forward, he was rebuked. The amendment died a quiet death and Azov’s American supply line remains intact.
 

Failed Amendment barring US assistance to Ukrainian neo-Nazis by Max Blumenthal

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7 Corporations That Pay Their CEOs More Than They Pay in Taxes

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 11:09
It's not like we could have used that money to improve our schools or roads.

This week leaders in Congress are trying to decide what action to take on a set of “tax extenders” – a hodge-podge of tax breaks that range from the arguably meritorious to the patently absurd that could cost the government as much as $590 billion if Congress adopted a package favored by House Republicans.

While that fight brews, it pays to remember the work Congress is not doing to ensure corporations pay their fair share of taxes. Some of the consequences are laid out in a report released today by The Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies.

That report finds that 29 of America’s 100 largest corporations paid more to their CEO than they did to the federal government in taxes in 2013. In fact, the report states, “The 29 firms reported $24 billion in U.S. profits last year and yet collected $238 million in tax refunds.” That’s right: these firms not only did not pay net federal taxes; they received a refund.

Some of the companies were able to claim refunds because they claimed financial losses – but that’s not true of the companies at the very top of the list, the seven of the 30 largest multibillion-dollar American corporations that pay their CEO more than they pay in taxes to the federal government. In fact, most of the seven corporations got refund checks from the government. A particularly egregious example is that of JPMorgan Chase and its chief executive, Jamie Dimon. JPMorgan Chase had a pre-tax income of more than $17 billion in 2013, according to the report, and Dimon’s take-home pay that year was $11.8 million. JP Morgan’s net tax bill? A negative $1.3 billion. That works out to an effective tax rate of -7.6 percent.

All seven of the corporations where CEO compensation exceeded what they paid in federal taxes were profitable, together reporting $74 billion in pre-tax profits in 2013. “If the seven giant, highly profitable corporations that paid their CEOs more than Uncle Sam had paid the full statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent, they would’ve owed $25.9 billion in federal taxes,” the report said. “Instead they received $1.9 billion in refunds, for a total difference of $27.8 billion.”

That’s revenue that could have been used to help school districts replace nearly all of the public school teaching positions lost in the 2008 recession and its aftermath, the report said. Or it could be used to resurface 22,240 miles of road. Or it could fund two months’ worth of health care services at veteran’s hospitals.

While conservatives argue that keeping more dollars in the hands of the corporations means more of an incentive for them to invest and create jobs, the report includes the reminder that while the actual tax rate paid by large corporations has averaged just 19.4 percent – not anywhere close to the “statutory” rate of 35 percent – corporations in the past few years are “engaging in record levels of repurchasing their stock and in buying out competitors through mergers” instead of making job-creating investments.

Many of the techniques that these large corporations use to lower their tax bills to below zero are included in the package of tax extenders that are now pending before Congress. They include the “active financing exception” that allows corporations to dodge taxes by shifting profits from leasing and lending activities to offshore entities, and accelerated depreciation rules that were initially written into the 1999 Recovery Act to encourage corporations to spend money during the depths of the recession but that corporations now want to make a permanent part of the code.

The report also lists bills that Congress should really be considering on the way to broader corporate tax reform. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin’s “Cut Unjustified Tax (CUT) Loopholes Act (S. 268)” would remove some of the tax advantages of offshoring. The Corporate Tax Fairness Act by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky would eliminate the ability of corporations to defer taxes on their offshore profits. Then there are the proposals in Congress that would eliminate the tax advantage for “inversions,” in which a U.S. corporation buys an entity in a low-tax country in order to claim that country as its headquarters for tax purposes.

“Corporations are turning to taxpayers as never before to fund basic business expenses that have previously been paid for by shareholders,” the report concludes. Even more outrageously, “America’s corporations then ask the nation’s working families to pick up part of the cost of paying CEOs, most of whom earn more in a year than most of their low-level workers could earn in several lifetimes.”

Most of the voters who went to the polls earlier this month find this repugnant, but congressional campaigns are funded by the very corporations who are this week lobbying to keep these and other tax advantages on the books. Nonetheless, we need to keep our voices loud and strong against corporate tax giveaways that take from the many to concentrate wealth among the few – even as we also fight for a political system where our voices count more than their money.

 

10 of America's Least Boozy States

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 09:03
These states have the lowest percentage of reported binge drinking sessions.

Americans love their booze. In 2012, 71% of US residents reported having consumed an alcoholic beverage in the past year, and about half of people over the age of 18 identified as regular drinkers, according to a survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Only 13% said they were infrequent drinkers, consuming less than 11 drinks in the past year.

But geography may play a role in determining Americans’ drinking habits, with average alcohol intake varying pretty widely from one state to the next. Liberty-loving New Hampshire is the booziest state, according to this map, followed by Washington, DC.

But which states are the least boozy? The Street put together this list of the 10 US states with the lowest percentage of reported binge drinking sessions in the last month. You may not be surprised at the inclusion of some of ‘em…

10. Alabama

Binge Drank in the Last Month19.79%

9. Idaho

Binge Drank in the Last Month: 19.78%

8. Vermont

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 19.71%

7. Virginia

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 19.51%

6. Mississippi

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 19.49%

5. Georgia

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 18.94%

4. West Virginia

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 18.94%

3. Tennessee

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 17.21%

2. North Carolina

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 17%

1. Utah

Percentage of People that Binge Drank in the Last Month: 15.65%

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These Companies Paid Their CEOs More Handsomely Than They Pay in Taxes

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:42
And adding insult to injury, there's hardly any transparency from public corporations on how much taxes they actually pay.

Of the 30 largest U.S. corporations, seven paid their CEO more last year than they paid Uncle Sam.

All seven—Boeing, Ford Motors, Chevron, Citigroup, Verizon, J.P. Morgan, and General Motors—had strong U.S. profits in 2013. And yet thanks to various tax credits, loopholes, and deductions, each reported getting more money back from the U.S. government than they paid in federal income taxes.

CEO pay at the seven firms ranged from $9.1 million for Daniel Ackerson at GM to $23.3 million for Jim McNerney at Boeing.

These figures are from a new report I co-authored by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government, the third in a series on corporations that paid their CEO more than they reported paying in federal income taxes.

As in years past, the corporate flacks have come out swinging, but in sort of a kindergarten wiffle ball style.

First, all of the companies proudly deny having broken any laws. We never accused them of criminality. The problem is that tax-dodging that should be criminal currently isn’t.

The second rebuttal tactic is to claim that the firm pays just oodles and oodles of taxes worldwide. But when asked to separate out how much they pay the U.S. Treasury versus state or foreign governments, they refuse. Verizon, for example, told Reuters that it paid $422 million in income taxes in 2013, but “we do not provide a breakdown.” Our report focuses on federal taxes because they happen to be the focus of congressional debate.

Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers told CBS News that their total tax expense in 2013 was $1.6 billion, “but much of that is deferred.” We don’t include deferred taxes in our calculations because many firms, particularly large ones that have amassed significant profits in overseas tax havens, can defer these taxes indefinitely. The foreign earnings of U.S. corporations are only taxed in the United States if they are repatriated.

Some have also questioned the source of our tax data. Like Citizens for Tax Justice and many other reputable research groups, we rely on the number public corporations report to the SEC in their 10-K forms for current taxes paid. The figure is what company accountants expect the firm pay when they file their tax return, which they prepare several months later. This is the only available information on corporate income taxes broken down by federal, state, and foreign governments, and we stand by it.

At the same time, we’d be very pleased if corporations would voluntarily reveal the precise tax payment figure from their IRS returns (Line 31 of Form 1120). So far, none have done so.

We’d be even more pleased if public corporations were required to report how much they’re paying in taxes —in the United States and other countries—as well as an explanation of why their U.S. tax payment may be less than the statutory 35 percent. We know large corporations pay much less on average, but figuring out exactly why is next to impossible.

Some companies would scream privacy invasion, but publicly traded corporations already must report detailed financial information to the SEC. And at a time when taxpayers are footing the bill for massive corporate tax breaks, privacy doesn’t seem the overriding issue.

In the lame-duck session, Congress is considering the renewal of a package of tax breaks known as the “extenders.” The House already passed one bill to permanently extend a business tax credit—at a cost of more than $500 billion over the next decade.

Today’s debate over corporate tax disclosure reminds me of the historical debate over CEO pay disclosure. In 1936, corporate critics of the initial SEC executive pay disclosure rules claimed that any public interest in executive salaries amounted to “criminal curiosity.”

About a decade ago, when the SEC required more detailed, standardized reporting, business groups again objected. Today, while debates over CEO pay practices continue to rage, squabbles over accurate numbers have all but disappeared.

Polls suggest a strong public appetite for more information on corporate taxes. When Gallup asked Americans if corporations are “paying their fair share in federal taxes, paying too much or paying too little,” two-thirds said “too little.”

A Hart Research Associates poll found that 67 percent of voters believe “we should end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs and profits offshore and level the playing field for small businesses that create jobs in America.”

Indeed, smaller corporations stand to gain the most from greater clarity over which companies pay how much and where. As the Main Street Alliance has pointed out, it’s America’s largest corporations that are able to take greatest advantage of tax havens and many other loopholes designed to benefit mega-firms.

As with CEO pay, increased disclosure wouldn’t end the battles over corporate tax policy. But at least we could move past the bickering over the numbers and have a better-informed debate over a central issue in our economic future.

 

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"People Were Having Sex and Doing All Kinds of Crazy Things": A Married Couple Dishes on Swinging

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:25
Mark and Christy Kidd had a pretty average marriage, until they accidentally stumbled upon a swingers party.

“Swingers.” The word brings to mind hot tubs, handlebar mustaches, bowls of keys and the cheesy come-ons of Austin Powers. Put more succinctly: “dorky images from the seventies,” as Mark and Christy Kidd put it in their new memoir, “A Modern Marriage.”

But all of that associated imagery changed when they accidentally stumbled upon a swingers party one New Year’s Eve. “OMG. I mean to tell you: Oh. My. God! Atop the mattresses was a wall-to-wall landscape of pleasure-seeking, pleasure-giving naked human bodies in every conceivable configuration,” they write. “A guy on the left was a dead ringer for Brad Pitt — naked Brad Pitt. A few bodies down, a woman babbling in Italian was like a younger Sophia Loren.”

That this existed, even in their home of New York City, came as a shock. ”Call us naive, or call us normal, I’m not sure which, but we had never thought about a scene like that one,” they write. Once they saw it, they couldn’t un-see it — or  stop talking about it. In fact, the next morning, they were already discussing how they would give swinging a try. ”Just by dumb luck we had stumbled across the party that was going to change our lives forever. That evening was the start of an adventure that’s evolved and transformed our world for eight years now, with no sign of letting up or slowing down.” In fact, they refer to that fateful night as the “Great Awakening.”

The Kidds spoke with Salon about how to conquer jealousy, why women usually drive the decision to swing and how the whole scene is actually pretty vanilla.

Tell me about the first time you went to a swinging party — you ended up there somewhat by accident.

Christy: It was a New Year’s Eve party; we thought it was actually a regular party, and we just wanted to do something for the holiday. We ended up at this loft in midtown. Everything was normal in the party, people were just walking around and whatnot, and we were almost ready to leave the party when I noticed a curtain with a guard in front of it. Mark had gone to the restroom, and I approached the guard and he wouldn’t let me go in without the person I came with. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. So as soon as Mark came back, we went up to the curtain and he opened it for us and we saw this crazy, completely opposite of what we were seeing on the outside, it was completely crazy with wall-to-wall people, mattresses on the floor, people were having sex and doing all kinds of crazy things.

Mark: Like Christy was saying, it’s definitely not something we expected. We didn’t even know this existed. I had no idea people did this kind of thing in public.

You must have heard of swinging before, but you didn’t know that it happened in that public way?

Mark: We had heard of it, but it was a general idea that we kind of knew nothing about. My idea of it was maybe 1970s notion of hot tubs and stuff. Just seeing normal people having sex and trading partners and having orgies, it was really incredible.

How did you feel seeing this?

Mark: It was a powerful experience for me.

Christy: For both of us. It was initial shock, of course, because we didn’t expect that to be behind the curtain, and intriguing as well. People were watching, it wasn’t just people having sex. It was a totally a turn-on to see this happening before your eyes.

Mark: It was a very powerful experience. We were captivated by it. We had to sit down. We both felt compelled to watch instead of running away. It started the conversation. The conversation the next day was inevitable. We had to explore this.

How did you end up talking about it the next day?

Mark: We first were completely fired up sexually. Because it was so visceral, our reaction to it all, we felt like we had to explore it. I think the conversation was that we couldn’t stop thinking about it. And we both felt like we had to figure it out, we had to see what this was all about.

How did you decide to actually try it out?

Mark: We started on the Internet, because that was the most obvious starting place. That led us to meeting all kinds of crazy characters.

Christy: We just Googled “swingers” and found AdultFriendFinder.com.

Tell me about the first swinging experience you had.

Mark: We toyed with it for almost a year before we were finally successful with it. We met one couple we were trying to get to know and the chemistry seemed good so we met them at a motel and it was just awkward. They brought a bag of sex toys. It just didn’t work. So we ended up leaving.

Christy: We didn’t know what we were doing and we weren’t ready to dive into the notion of swapping. We were still newbies and amateurish, and the couple we met had been in the lifestyle for a while. When we met them at the bar, they seemed normal, the chemistry was there. So then we met up with them at a motel — a motel motel — and had dinner in the room. It had a kitchenette.

Mark: The four of us were eating at a dinette under a very bright light. There was lots of forks clinking on the plates.

Christy: It was awkward. We started talking and everything and the girl brings out a roller bag full of sex toys. We weren’t prepared for that. We ended up mutually leaving and deciding to meet up again, which was another failed attempt.

Mark: There were a lot of missteps. Some of it was my fault. My jealousies had control over me. I couldn’t get past the thought of Christy having sex with someone. I knew I wanted to pursue this, I just couldn’t get past it for like a year. Finally after all those couples and experiences, we found the sex club that worked for us.

Why did you decide to push through those feelings of jealousy? It seems like such a challenge.

Mark: We really felt compelled to conquer this whole thing.

Christy: We saw at that first party that people were having fun. It was a very joyful environment and we were like, “Why are we having all of these missteps?” Obviously we weren’t to that point yet.

Mark: What was really transitional for us in this learning process was one couple we met that essentially served as our mentor couple. They were really a free-spirited, Brooklyn-cool kind of couple that showed us how to have fun with it and take the personal out of it.

Do you feel like you’ve conquered jealously?

Christy: Not completely. Jealously is a human reaction and feeling. We’ve learned over time that you separate your feelings and personal live from sex. Sex is sex.

Mark: I would say I’ve overcome 80 percent of my jealousies. I really have. In my previous relationships in college, jealousy was such an issue for me. Now it’s not so much. I have that so much more in check.

How do you overcome jealousy?

Christy: We started on this journey together and have a very open line of communication, we’re honest with each other, we talk through things. It’s a mutual decision. We do everything together. By having that dialogue and doing this together has made us not as jealous because of the trust and honesty that we have.

Mark: Sex in and of itself is not that big of a deal. In the book we talk about a two-year committed relationship that we ended up developing with another couple. I would get jealous of the relationship that Christy had with Brett and it had nothing to do with sex.

Christy: Not everyone can do that. But we’ve just learned and kind of separate the two.

Tell me about that committed relationship to another couple.

Basically, we had been doing this for a while. Once when we were visiting Texas, we decided to meet up with an old high school friend-of-a-friend and his wife. There was some chemistry there when we were out one night having drinks and we approached them and they were kind of into the idea, so during that vacation we ended up all getting together. It turned into them coming to New York to visit us; we’d go down to Austin to stay with them and it evolved further as Christy and Brett developed their relationship and Terry and I developed ours.

Christy: We would start doing things on our own as other couples, Brett and myself and Terry and Mark. And as a couple they would come visit us and bring their daughter. Every couple of months we would see each other. It got very intimate very quickly.

Sounds like it could get very emotionally complicated.

Christy: Very much so. Brett and I were very similar in the things that we liked to do. The same was true of Terry and Mark. I guess what Terry wasn’t interested in, I was. So it complemented each other’s couples. That’s where some of the jealousy comes into play. When Mark sees a DVD of me and Brett skydiving he couldn’t watch it because it was too much, it was something that Mark wouldn’t do but that I always wanted to do. It was very difficult because it was not just sex anymore.

How did that relationship end?

Mark: Sadly, it ended with them getting a divorce. Unbeknownst to us they were having marriage problems in the beginning. They were using this lifestyle to improve their marriage, which is a big-time mistake.

You mention in the book that it’s pretty common for people to use swinging as a last-ditch effort to save a marriage. Do you think that ever works?

Mark: I don’t think so. I think it would make it worse. If you have a good relationship, it could make it really great. But if there’s cracks in it it could really mess it up.

What sort of boundaries do you guys have?

Mark: First and foremost, we don’t do it too often. We don’t go to sex clubs or house parties more than once a month. We keep it light. Although we like to become intimate one on one with other couples, we don’t communicate with them on the side.

What was your sex life like before swinging?

Mark: It was good.

Christy: We’ve never had a problem or had any kind of disinterest in each other. This was just an added element that sparked a different flame. And it made us closer.

Mark: There was never a deficiency, but it made it even better.

What’s the biggest misconception that you had about the swinging world?

Christy: It’s not any certain class of people.

Mark: That’s a big thing. You would think it might be all cool, edgy and good-looking people, but it’s normal people. It’s not just people tatted up for something like that.

Christy: We’ve met AIDS scientists –

Mark: Nannies, teachers –

Christy: Casino owners –

Mark: Republicans, Democrats, lawyers –

Christy: This lifestyle has what we call a social equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you do –

Mark: Your status in life or anything. Everyone is equalized. Once their clothes are off, everyone’s the same. We’ve been to parties where there are millionaires there, but everyone’s the same.

Christy: Also, it’s interesting to note that women drive this process more than men.

Mark: To the tune of 80 to 90 percent, I think.

Why do you think?

Christy: A couple reasons. Women want to spice up their sex life and so, of course, if they express interest in it, I don’t think a man would say no to it.

Mark: I think men are the more insecure and jealous of the two. It’s usually the men that can’t handle it.

Christy: The woman will initiate this and the man will totally be on board, but when they get into an actual swinging situation the men are the ones that actually back out.

Christy: One of the other misconceptions we want to dispel: Fetishes are completely different than swinging.

Mark: This world is pretty vanilla. It’s pretty standard sex, it’s just partners trading with each other.

 

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Christian Kids Dying Because Their Parents Refuse Medical Treatment -- And It's Perfectly Legal

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:10
Lawmakers and public officials in Idaho have refused to challenge a state law providing a religious exemption from manslaughter and murder charges.

Despite the deaths of least 12 children from “faith healing” Christian families in their state, lawmakers and public officials in Idaho have refused to challenge a state law providing a religious exemption from manslaughter and murder charges,Vocativ reported.

The childrens’ families belonged to a Pentecostal group known as the Followers of Christ, which punishes members who seek medical care by shunning them from their church. According to state law, parents can substitute prayer as a form of treatment. The religious exemption covers manslaughter, capital murder and negligent homicide charges, but cannot be cited if a parent uses any other form of treatment on top of praying for the child.

“If the parent combines prayer with orange juice or a cool bath to bring down a fever, the parent loses the exemption,” Rita Swan, co-founder of the advocacy group Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, said.


According to Swan’s organization,
 Idaho is one of 32 states that have religious exemptions to felony or misdemeanor charges involving children.

A bill calling for a change to the law did not advance in the state legislature earlier this year. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Gannon (D), told Vocativ that pursuing a new bill is “honestly not something that I’ve thought a lot about lately.”

Similarly, Republicans appear unwilling to push for a change to the religious exemption.

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” state Rep. Christy Perry (R) said. “This is about where they go for eternity.”

KATU-TV reported last year that, out of 553 marked graves at a cemetery outside of Boise, 144 of them appeared to be burial spots for children, constituting about 26 percent of the deceased.

Among those buried was Jackson Scott Porter, a newborn girl who lived for just 20 minutes before dying in her grandfather’s home. The girl’s mother did not receive any pre-natal care. Her cause of death was listed as untreated pneumonia.

“That’s the way we believe,” the grandfather, Mark Jerome, told KATU at the time. “We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things.”

KATU also reported that local officials believe that another minor, 14-year-old Rockwell Sevy, had undiagnosed Down’s syndrome before he also died from pneumonia, in 2011.

Sevy’s father, Dan Sevy, refused to discuss his son’s death with KATU last year, citing his right to freedom of religion.

“I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you take ‘a’ freedom away,” Dan Sevy said. “It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you’re chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine.”

Vocativ reported that, according to autopsy records, each of the children from “faith healing” families who have died over the past three years succumbed to conditions that could have been treated medically. No charges have been filed in any of their deaths.

 

Robert Reich: The .01 Percent Blow Their Fortunes on Yachts, Personal Jets and America's Politicians

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 06:40
Their political investments have more than paid off.

The richest Americans hold more of the nation's wealth than they have in almost a century. What do they spend it on? As you might expect, personal jets, giant yachts, works of art, and luxury penthouses.

And also on politics. In fact, their political spending has been growing faster than their spending on anything else. It's been growing even faster than their wealth.

According to new research by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics, the richest one-hundredth of one percent of Americans now hold over 11 percent of the nation's total wealth. That's a higher share than the top .01 percent held in 1929, before the Great Crash.

We're talking about 16,000 people, each worth at least $110 million.

One way to get your mind around this is to compare their wealth to that of the average family. In 1978, the typical wealth holder in the top .01 percent was 220 times richer than the average American. By 2012, he or she was 1,120 times richer.

It's hard to spend this kind of money.

The uber rich are lining up for the new Aerion AS2 private jet, priced at $100 million, that seats eleven and includes a deluxe dining room and shower facilities, and will be able to cross the Atlantic in just four hours.

And for duplexes high in the air. The one atop Manhattan's newest "needle" tower, the 90-story One57, just went for $90 million.

Why should we care?

Because this explosion of wealth at the top has been accompanied by an erosion of the wealth of the middle class and the poor. In the mid-1980s, the bottom 90 percent of Americans together held 36 percent of the nation's wealth. Now, they hold less than 23 percent.

Despite larger pensions and homes, the debts of the bottom 90 percent -- mortgage, consumer credit, and student loan -- have grown even faster.

Some might think the bottom 90 percent should pull in their belts and stop living beyond their means. After all, capitalism is a tough sport. If those at the top are winning big while the bottom 90 percent is losing, too bad. That's the way the game is played.

But the top .01 percent have also been investing their money in politics. And these investments have been changing the game.

In the 2012 election cycle (the last for which we have good data) donations from the top .01 accounted for over 40 percent of all campaign contributions, according to astudy by Professors Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal.

This is a huge increase from 1980, when the top .01 accounted for ten percent of total campaign contributions.

In 2012, as you may recall, two largest donors were Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who gave $56.8 million and $46.6 million, respectively.

But the Adelsons were only the tip of an iceberg of contributions from the uber wealthy. Of the other members of the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans, fully 388 made political contributions. They accounted for forty of the 155 contributions of $1 million or more.

Of the 4,493 board members and CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations, more than four out of five contributed (many of the non-contributors were foreign nationals who were prohibited from giving).

All this money has flowed to Democrats as well as Republicans.

In fact, Democrats have increasingly relied on it. In the 2012 election cycle, the top .01 percent's donations to Democrats were more than four times larger than all labor union donations to Democrats put together.

The richest .01 percent haven't been donating out of the goodness of their hearts. They've donated out of goodness to their wallets.

Their political investments have paid off in the form of lower taxes on themselves and their businesses, subsidies for their corporations, government bailouts, federal prosecutions that end in settlements where companies don't affirm or deny the facts and where executives don't go to jail, watered-down regulations, and non-enforcement of antitrust laws.

Since the top .01 began investing big time in politics, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels. That's enlarged the wealth of the richest .01 percent by an average of 7.8 percent a year since the mid-1980s.

But the bottom 90 percent don't own many shares of stock. They rely on wages, which have been trending downward. And for some reason, politicians don't seem particularly intent on reversing this trend.

If you want to know what's happened to the American economy, follow the money. That will lead you to the richest .01 percent.

And if you want to know what's happened to our democracy, follow the richest .01 percent. They'll lead you to the politicians who have been selling our democracy.

 

Jon Stewart Mocks GOP and Fox's Latest Freakout

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 06:24
The President may take executive action to push immigration reform. Republicans are not pleased.

President Obama may take executive action to end deportations for undocumented parents of US citizens and extend protections to Dreamers and their parents. Republicans, naturally, are not pleased. 

"How's Congress taking it? I'm going to go with unbridled ...enthusiasm?" Stewart coyly asks. Not likely!  "We're going to fight the President tooth and nail," vows John Boehner. Stewart goes on to mock one Republican after another threatening everything from government shutdown to impeachment in order to impede the President's plan on immigration.  Watch: 

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,The Daily Show on Facebook,Daily Show Video Archive

 

Ferguson Organizer: ‘Police Are Preparing for War’

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 17:36
‘We don’t see any interest from police in shifting their relationship with the communities they serve.’

So it begins. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency on Monday. He authorized the National Guard to assist police in Ferguson ahead of the grand jury’s decision on whether or not to charge Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Less than a week ago, Nixon announced that law enforcement was well prepared for protests in Ferguson if Wilson walks free. He said, “Violence will not be tolerated”—but he wasn’t referencing police violence. Instead, since Brown was killed in August, St. Louis County police has spent $172,669 on tear gas, rubber bullets and other equipment meant to harm protesters.

“We see them preparing for war,” said Mervyn Marcano, spokesperson for Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE).

“We don’t see any interest from them in shifting the relationship between police and the communities that they serve,” said Marcano, who is from Oakland, California, and now lives in Ferguson.

Police Prepare for War

The Ferguson community has little faith that prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch will indict Wilson, Marcano said. And it’s doubtful that newly released evidence on Wilson will be taken into account.

In a video published Friday, Wilson is seen threatening a man and saying he will “lock [his] ass up” for filming him. Wilson then proceeded to illegally arrest the man. Also on Friday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch released surveillance footage of Wilson heading to the hospital, which seems to contradict police’s claims that Wilson was severely injured.

But prosecutors play a large role in swaying a grand jury, and McCulloch has a history of siding with police. Because an indictment against Wilson is unlikely, Marcano said police have spent a lot of time and energy talking to businesses and in public forums stoking fear of the imminent protests.

“What the police publicly are saying is that they’re interested in protecting the First Amendment rights of protesters, but what they’re sort of doing is sending a racist dog whistle that the First Amendment is really dangerous,” he said. “So on the one side of their mouth they’re telling people they are preparing for peace, and on the other side of their mouth they’re instructing businesses to board up their windows and prepare for civil unrest.”

Protesters Prepare to Fight for Peace

Meanwhile, organizers in Ferguson have tried to push police to demilitarize their response to protests. The Don’t Shoot Coalition, which includes MORE, has proposed this in the form of its 19 “Rules of Engagement” to officers, which police have refused to sign.

MORE has already trained more than 500 people in non-violent civil disobedience and will continue until the grand jury decision is announced. Its trainings include participating in direct action, documenting police misconduct and conducting jail support. Marcano said MORE has seen more than 300 arrests in Ferguson, and the organization will continue to play a key role in paying bail for protesters.

 “You’ll see not just a legal defense strategy but an offensive legal strategy on our part,” he said. “We have a rock star team of civil rights lawyers coming to town to monitor the situation.”

Since Wilson shot Brown in August, Marcano said there’s been an outpouring of energy from people in the community looking to both get involved in the current struggle and have a long-term conversation about the justice system. MORE and other groups continued to plan actions, including Ferguson October, a "weekend of resistance." Ferguson organizers also interrupted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s concert, singing the civil rights song, “Which Side Are You On?”

“That is a choice you have to make here,” Marcano said. “The young people in the streets, they’re asking for… transformative change in our system,” he added. “I think the measure of any society is the response to the loss of one of our members. And this system responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. … So the question for everyone in St. Louis is how will you stand with the young people asking for change and for justice and letting them define what that looks like?”

Ferguson Faces Racism

While Marcano said the Ferguson community is seeing a cross-section of older white people join with young people of color in the struggle, “all sorts of ugliness” has still been on display. Cops have worn “Darren Wilson” wristbands, community members have bought “Darren Wilson” shirts, and people nationwide contributed to raising more than $400,000 for Wilson. The local KKK also promised to use legal force on Ferguson protesters. Hacktivist group Anonymous has since hacked its site.

Marcano believes these people are in the minority, and that people are waking up to the idea that black lives matter.

“On the one hand, we’re seeing lots of folks across the spectrum show up and show out,” Marcano said. “On the other hand, you have the lingering race problem in St. Louis. St. Louis is the eighth most segregated city in the country and … [race] has not been in the forefront of this city’s conversation for quite some time. I think now, at the core, St. Louis is ready to have a conversation about race that it has not been ready to do before, and it is leading the nation in that conversation.”

Crucial to that conversation is an understanding of the injustice that occurred in Ferguson and accurately contextualizing the protests that are likely to occur.

“This isn’t easy,” Marcano said. “You know, what is the appropriate response to an 18-year-old child who was killed by an officer? What is the appropriate response to a community in grief that has lost a child? I don’t think anyone really has an answer for that. So our message...is don’t forget the humanity of the people who are out in the streets—who are dealing with the loss of a child.”

VisitFergusonAction.comfor actions planned across the country following the grand jury’s decision.

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