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Tear-stained eye

Son Volt:

Nana gets an iPad

I loved this story.

Republicrats follow the money

Mike Lofgren recently argued that the super-rich have seceded from the United States. That’s obvious, but read to the end of his article to see how deeply he appreciates the implications of their secession. More here.

Feeling safer yet?

This is what the bozos who keep shrieking about “cutting government spending” don’t seem to get – that money’s spent on very useful things, like food safety. Oh well!

The U.S. Agriculture Department announced Monday it will close nearly 260 offices nationwide, a move that won praise for cutting costs but raised concerns about the possible effect on food safety.

Gee, ya think?

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the goal was to save $150 million a year in the agency’s $145 billion budget. About $90 million had already been saved by reducing travel and supplies, and the closures were expected to save another $60 million, he said.

The plan calls for 259 offices, labs and other facilities to be closed, affecting the USDA headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states. Seven foreign offices also will be shut.

Some of the closures had been previously announced. The USDA said last year it would shut down 10 agricultural research stations, including the only one in Alaska, where scientists were seeking ways to use the vast waste generated by the largest wild fishery in the nation to make everything from gel caps for pills to fish meal for livestock feed.

Other parts of the announcement were a surprise. Andrew Lorenz, deputy district manager for the Food Safety and Inspection Service in Minneapolis, learned his office would be closed, along with those in Madison, Wis., and Lawrence, Kan.

“They wiped out the entire Midwest,” said Lorenz, whose office handles all federal inspections of meat, poultry and egg products in Minnesota, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming.


Removed and arrested at a Romney event. Ho hum, nothing to see here.

Reflecting light

The remarkable Sam Phillips:

‘The Tree of Life’

Terrence Malick’s movie makes life feel like a dream, but the dream seems more realistic than most conventional realistic dramas or, God help us, reality TV. More here.

Wild weather patterns

Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters continues to sound the alarm on our extreme weather patterns. Maybe someone in a position to do something about manmade climate change policies should, you know, do something about it?

Flowers are sprouting in January in New Hampshire, the Sierra Mountains in California are nearly snow-free, and lakes in much of Michigan still have not frozen. It’s 2012, and the new year is ringing in another ridiculously wacky winter for the U.S. In Fargo, North Dakota yesterday, the mercury soared to 55°F, breaking a 1908 record for warmest January day in recorded history. More than 99% of North Dakota had no snow on the ground this morning, and over 95% of the country that normally has snow at this time of year had below-average snow cover. High temperatures in Nebraska yesterday were in the 60s, more than 30° above average. Storm activity has been almost nil over the past week over the entire U.S., with the jet stream bottled up far to the north in Canada. It has been remarkable to look at the radar display day after day and see virtually no echoes, and it is very likely that this has been the driest first week of January in U.S. recorded history.

Portions of northern New England, the Upper Midwest, and the mountains of the Western U.S. that are normally under a foot of more of snow by now have no snow, or just a dusting of less than an inch. Approximately half of the U.S. had temperatures at least 5°F above average during the month of December, with portions of North Dakota and Minnesota seeing temperatures 9°F above average. The strangely warm and dry start to winter is not limited to the U.S–all of continental Europe experienced well above-average temperatures during December.

The cause of this warm first half of winter is the most extreme configuration of the jet stream ever recorded, as measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The Arctic Oscillation (AO), and its close cousin, the North Atlantic Oscillation (which can be thought of as the North Atlantic’s portion of the larger-scale AO), are climate patterns in the Northern Hemisphere defined by fluctuations in the difference of sea-level pressure in the North Atlantic between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. The AO and NAO have significant impacts on winter weather in North America and Europe–the AO and NAO affect the path, intensity, and shape of the jet stream, influencing where storms track and how strong these storms become.
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Cash cow

For those of us who live in areas where charter schools flourish, we’ve seen some variation of this story over and over again – charter school CEOs who enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the students and faculty. These schools are far too frequently vehicles for corruption:

A Monroe County charter school has violated the state charter school law by having “improper entanglements” with a church run by the school’s founder, according to a preliminary report issued by the state auditor general’s office.

The report, obtained by The Morning Call, says the Pocono Mountain Charter School in Tobyhanna also may have illegally diverted taxpayer money to adjacent Shawnee Tabernacle Church. It also may have improperly received $87,101 from the state in rental reimbursements for its building lease agreement with the church.

The report also says the charter school may have violated the state Ethics Act rule against conflict of interest in other dealings with the church, which is run by the Rev. Dennis Bloom.

[…] The attorney general’s preliminary report comes as Pocono Mountain officials are assessing the Charter Appeals Board ruling.

Bethlehem attorney Ellen C. Schurdak, who represented the school district administration in the public revocation hearings, told The Morning Call: “My initial reaction to this preliminary report you’ve read from [shows it] vindicates the board’s decision.”

The school board’s unanimous revocation vote was based on documents and testimony presented during public hearings that alleged:

• Bloom, acting in dual roles as president of the church and CEO of the charter school, directed the church’s board of directors and the charter’s board of trustees to enter into a 2007 lease agreement that obligated the charter school to build a 35,000-square-foot addition that would connect to Shawnee Tabernacle.

• The charter school’s lease payments to the church grew by 124 percent to $920,000 between the 2005-06 school year and the end of construction in 2007

• Local and state taxpayers paid more than $900,000 for the addition’s construction, which included a gym floor emblazoned with “SHAWNEE TABERNACLE,” a parking lot, elevator and an outdoor electronic sign, all of which revert to church ownership once the lease expires.
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Florida foreclosure firings

An investigation that smears the victims for doing their jobs.

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