Budget Cuts Endanger Agency That Saved Countless Lives in Oklahoma | The Nation


Budget Cuts Endanger Agency That Saved Countless Lives in Oklahoma | The Nation.

This makes for really grim reading…and we know who is at fault.

As a tornado is forming, NWS workers are synthesizing a rapid amount of data from radar, satellites, on-the-ground meteorologists, and citizens calling in what they see. The alerts have to be accurate—and they have to be quick.

“The adrenaline is building up. You’re looking at storms that you know are just really bad,” Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, told The Nation. “It takes a special kind of person because you have to juggle ten or fifteen balls all at the same time, and then make life-and-death decisions based on that.

“It’s an extremely stressful, extremely busy time,” he said. “[It’s like] when an accident is occurring and you have seconds to make a decision as to whether to turn right, or left, or slam on your brakes or whatever—but stretched out over a couple hours. That kind of feeling.”

Five minutes after the tornado touched down on Monday, but twenty minutes before it hit Moore, Oklahoma, the NWS issued a strongly worded “tornado emergency” advisory:

This no doubt saved hundreds of lives in Moore. According to ABC News, the Plaza Towers Elementary School does not have an underground shelter—but the fourth, fifth and sixth grades had enough time to evacuate to a local church, where they remained safe. The entire school building was destroyed.

The NWS deserves enormous credit here. But what if it wasn’t up to the task? That’s an increasingly real possibility. Just this month, Sobien’s group, which represents 4,000 employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (of which NWS is a part), issued a warning that the budget battles are imperiling crucial NWS functions, and creating “[r]educed efficiency and accuracy for tornado events due to reduced alertness of short staffed offices.” Hurricane monitoring and response is also endangered, along with crucial wildfire monitoring efforts and a wide array of other NWS activities.

Since taking control of the House in 2011, Republicans have targeted NOAA for severe cuts—they came out of the gate proposing a massive 28 percent cut in their first budget that year, which was moderated by the end of the process.

 

But the assaults on the NOAA budget continued, and the agency couldn’t escape the sequester, which will lop 8.2 percent from the NOAA budget. This lead the acting administrator to institute an across-the-board hiring freeze in March, and four days of mandatory furloughs are on the horizon. (There is already a 10 percent vacancy rate at the agency.)

This is all occurring at an agency that could badly use more money, not less. The satellite equipment there is badly antiquated, and the Government Accountability Office said the “satellite gap” is one of the thirty biggest threats facing the federal government.

“Remember that bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis? The Weather Service is like that bridge a week before it collapsed,” Sobien said. “The strains are happening. I’m just seeing things just not working the way they should be.”

In fact, amidst all the turmoil yesterday, the NWS suffered some notable problems. In the evening a communications outage affected offices in Chicago; Anchorage; Binghamton, New York; and Kentucky, according to Sobien. The Nation confirmed this outage with an official at the NWS office in Chicago.

In addition, Sobien says the NWS office in Midland, Texas—the next office upstream from Oklahoma City that does upper-air surveillance of storms with weather balloons—declined to do a special weather balloon release after the storm to help monitor conditions because of budget concerns. (An official at that office said he was not aware of that particular situation.)

Those ended up being trivial outages, but next time might be different. If a disaster strikes where a NWS office is under-staffed, it’s easy to see how lives could be lost.

What People From Classic Paintings Would Look Like in Real Life | DeMilked


real life models imitating famous paintings (flora-borsi; courtesy demilked)

real life models imitating famous paintings (image: flora-borsi; courtesy demilked)

What People From Classic Paintings Would Look Like in Real Life | DeMilked.

There’s a strange conceit to this piece as, with the possible exception of the Flora Borsi work, art historians are probably able to vouch for the ‘real life’ nature of the models portrayed.

Strolling in Versailles, France – Thomas Peck – PhotoBotos.com


 

strolling in versailles (image: thomas peck; courtesy photobotos.com)

strolling in versailles (image: thomas peck; courtesy photobotos.com)

Strolling in Versailles, France – Thomas Peck – PhotoBotos.com.

Jewish National Fund UK faces official questions over racial discrimination | The Electronic Intifada


Jewish National Fund UK faces official questions over racial discrimination | The Electronic Intifada.

If it wasn’t so tragic and sad, the irony of this would be hilarious…

In 2005, Israel’s high court found that the JNF, which owns 13 percent of the country’s land and has significant influence over most of the rest, systematically excluded Palestinian citizens of Israel from leasing its property.

In the Naqab, the JNF is involved in projects to “Judaize” the southern desert – known as the Negev in Hebrew. Palestinian Bedouin communities are being compelled to move into American-style reservations dubbed “development towns.”

The “unrecognized” village of al-Araqib, for example, has reportedly been destroyed by Israel and rebuilt around 50 times since 2010.

In October 2012, Budour Hassan reported for The Electronic Intifada that JNF representatives raided the 5,000-strong town of Bir Hadaj (which is ostensibly “recognized”) alongside interior ministry agents, handing out demolition orders. When local youths protested, police invaded, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and some live ammunition.

Secret Sea Otter Site


Everywhere Once

Sea Otter

True, it’s not a secret. Nothing really is anymore thanks to people like us who blab about everything we find on the internets. But if you’re looking for an up-close encounter with wild and endangered sea otters you may not find a better location than Moss Landing, California.

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Nincompoopery at Work: Cantor’s Con Would Steal Workers’ Overtime Pay by Jim Hightower on Creators.com – A Syndicate Of Talent


Nincompoopery at Work: Cantor’s Con Would Steal Workers’ Overtime Pay by Jim Hightower on Creators.com – A Syndicate Of Talent.

Hey, it’s Tuesday and time for our weekly Jim Hightower fix…  Indeed, another one worth reproducing in full.

My state of Texas seems to have an inordinate share of nincompoops in public office. But it’s only fair that officeholders from other place be considered before deciding which state is the nincompoopiest of all.

Give credit to Pennsylvania, for example, whose GOP governor, Tom Corbett, recently scored big nincompoop points by explaining why his state ranks 49th in job creation.

“Many employers,” the guv grumbled during a radio interview, “say, ‘We’re looking for people, but we can’t find anybody that has passed a drug test.'” Yes, the old my-constituents-are-a-bunch-of-drug-addicts dodge! That’s world-class nincompoopery. Did I mention that Tom’s voter approval rating is down to 38 percent?

But compare Corbett to one of the Lone Star State‘s congress-critters, Steve Stockman. Steve’s re-election campaign has put out a bumper sticker with this uplifting thought: “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” Wow — that’s two nincompoopisms in only eight words!

Still, even Steve can’t hold a candle to Rep. Louie Gohmert, the mouth that never shuts. Vice chair of a House homeland security subcommittee, Gohmert recently revealed an astonishing piece of intelligence on the terrorist threat to the U.S. of A. Al-Qaida, he informed the whole world, has set up radical Islamist camps on the “other side” of the Texas-Mexico border.

Really? No. But the Islamist alarmist proceeded to tell us that Mexican drug gangs are teaching al-Qaida infidels how to cross the border into Texas and to help them fit in. Gohmert says the drug cartels are teaching Islamists how to “act like Hispanics.”

Hmmm, wondered many Latinos on “this side,” how does Louie think one would “act” Hispanic? Sing “La Cucaracha,” drive a low-rider, dress up as landscapers? But “think” is not part of Gohmert’s shtick — his mouth operates on its own without any connection to a brain or reality.

But when it comes to having its share of political nincompoops, few states can keep up with Virginia thanks to the plethora of political stunts by Eric Cantor, the prancing political prissy who serves as the GOP’s House majority leader. He’s presently trying to pull a con on all of us under the guise of helping working families.

Apparently, Cantor thinks he’s too slick to get caught in an outright legislative lie — or maybe he thinks we rubes are too dumb to figure out that he’s trying to slick us.

Either way, a crude deceit is at the very heart of his “Working Families Flexibility Act,” which he recently slid through the House. His bill would eliminate a central piece of America‘s middle-class framework, namely the eight-hour workday and 40-hour week. Under the 1938 Fair Labor Law passed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, bosses can only force hourly employees to work extra by paying an overtime wage for the added hours.

Cantor claims his bill would improve this New Deal protection by letting corporate managers require extra hours on the job without overtime pay by offering “comp time” to the employees. In other words, work more hours now in exchange for taking off those same number of hours later on.

With a wink at corporate lobbyists, Eric slyly refers to this switch as “women-friendly,” allowing working moms the flexibility to decide when to take time off. Therein lies the lie.

It’s not workers who get to decide, but bosses. Note that Cantor’s bill provides no guarantee that employees can actually use the time off they supposedly get by giving up extra pay. In fact, they can use the comp time only if and when the employer says it’s OK — which might be never. Also, even if employees are granted time off, bosses can require them to be on-call during their “free” time.

Cantor’s bill is a flimflam. It hands workplace flexibility to corporations, not to “moms,” while also stealing the hard-won right of workers to be assured of an eight-hour day or extra pay.

For more information, contact the National Partnership for Women and Families at nationalpartnership.org.

Petcube lets you play with your pet, wherever you are


Petcube lets you play with your pet, wherever you are.

Now for something completely different…

It’s good people can connect to their pets at a distance to assist housebound animals to exercise.  What a pity the pet won’t be able to understand it’s their human companion who is intervening in their day.

Amazon plans intersecting biospheres for Seattle campus headquarters


Amazon plans intersecting biospheres for Seattle campus headquarters.

From ‘swivel-eyed loons’ to lesbian queens’: what fresh hell for the Tories? | Hadley Freeman | Comment is free | The Guardian


From ‘swivel-eyed loons’ to lesbian queens’: what fresh hell for the Tories? | Hadley Freeman | Comment is free | The Guardian.

In which Hadley Freeman strips away the dross from recent coverage and gets to the heart of the matter.  The question she begs with her conclusion is whether we want the Tories to follow her recommendation…

Proving yet again that people’s prejudices invariably reveal far more about their own dark imagination than anything about the object they purport to fear, Norman Tebbit has raised the spectre of Britain being ruled by a lesbian queen should gay marriage be legalised. Now, depending on your cultural reference points, the phrase “lesbian queen” will bring to mind a dodgy calypso song you once heard on holiday, a giant yacht ploughing its way majestically through the Indian ocean, or Clare Balding. Honestly, I’d be fine having any of the above as the ruling figure of Great Britain. Seriously, who wouldn’t rather be ruled by a calypso song than Prince Charles?

The past few days have offered extraordinary riches in nomenclature of non-existent demographics. First there were the “swivel-eyed loons”, aspossibly but definitely not coined by Andrew Feldman, who was recently made a peer for his fundraising and tennis-playing services to David Cameron.

Then on Monday, “aggressive homosexuals” were introduced by Tory MP Gerald Howarth, a man whose societal nous was proven 12 years ago when he appeared on Brass Eye’s Paedogeddon episode, in which he warned about paedophiles who lure children by putting naked photos of themselves in public phoneboxes, and then proceeded to play the song Stay Away From Me “by the US chart toppers Smash My Brother’s Face In“.

This week Howarth warned that “the aggressive homosexual community”(it is possible that Howarth is confusing “homosexual” with “pitbull”) sees same-sex marriage as “a stepping stone”. A stepping stone to what? Howarth sadly was not allowed to elaborate. Gay wedding lists? Gay couples spending their Saturdays arguing in Ikea? I was living in New York when same-sex marriage was legalised there in July 2011 and, let me tell you, it became impossible for me even to go out to buy a coffee in a morning without being strong-armed by an aggressive homosexual trying to drag me to the nearest marriage venue. I had to go out and forage for food under the cover of darkness. Honestly, New York City these days? It is unrecognisable from how it was before July 2011. It’s like 28 Days Later, but with aggressive homosexuals roaming up and down Fifth Avenue, knuckles dragging on the sidewalks.

It’s always interesting to note the correlation between a person’s fears that he will be ravaged by a sex-crazed homosexual, and their likely appeal to any homosexual at all. As a longterm fashion writer and fan of Erasure, I’ve spent many a night getting inebriated with gay men and, let me tell you, not even at 3am, stumbling out of G-A-Y on Old Compton Street drunk to the eyeballs, would any homosexual pose a threat to Gerald Howarth’s honour.

And finally, Norman Tebbit and his “lesbian queen”. Tebbit, who has clearly been spending much time thinking about the matter, said: “When we have a queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?” Seeing as the royal consorts to most queens have traditionally been little more than sperm donors, it’s not entirely clear what Tebbit’s beef is here. After all, the only difference between two royal queens with a sperm donor and the more traditional royal set-up is that the press would get to coo over two wedding dresses. And how is that a bad thing?

First, David Cameron should bring his own tax havens to book | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian


First, David Cameron should bring his own tax havens to book | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Regular followers of mine may recall I don’t always agree with Simon Jenkins.  Seldom, however, is he less than thought provoking, and once again he hits the nail on the head…

Years ago I, by mistake, slipped an income tax voucher for March into my folder for April. This delayed payment to the next tax year. Somehow I was detected. I was dragged before Her Majesty’s inspector, reprimanded and hit with a swingeing fine – just to show who was boss.

I wish my name had been Goldman SachsAmazonStarbucksGoogleor Apple. I would instead be popping in and out of Downing Street, lunching with the chancellor and having “sweetheart” conversations with HMRC, offering them a few quid out of kindness as I left. The only downside would be a day spent before an “influential” Commons committee, listening to some bat called Margaret Hodge boring on about how evil I was.

We cannot open a paper these days without reading tales of the fiscal antics of big corporations. Ever since the tycoon Leona Helmsleydeclared in 1989 that “only the little people pay taxes”, taxpayers have grown littler and littler. Treasuries have become more grasping. The wealth of the world has grown inexorably. But Helmsley’s law has held good. Taxes are paid by fools. Real men go offshore.

Jenkins then continues…

There are proposals to force firms doing any sort of business in Britain (and hopefully Europe and the US) to register their profits wherever they operate, and be assessed for tax pro rata. The trouble is that any company whose business is not nailed to British soil seems to treat corporation tax as voluntary. It might be better to ease it out in favour of sales tax, business property tax and, if the City bites the bullet, a financial transactions tax. Meanwhile we gasp at the absurdity of HMRC in ignoring the cyber-corps’ gigantic warehouses and gleaming London offices as evidence of “business”.

The biggest challenge lies in the havens themselves. Why do they survive as part of any tolerated union? Brussels is ruthless in enforcing its rules on members, yet indulges such fiscal miscreants as Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Monaco. Why does it not excoriate Switzerland?

The British Crown retains “dependencies” that enjoy the benefits of UK citizenship and yet harbour people who are lifting billions of pounds from UK taxpayers. The Cayman Islands, the worst culprit, has a government accountable to Britain that enforces banking secrecy, levies zero company tax and is consequently home to the biggest money-laundering and tax-evading operation this side of Dubai.

British governments sometimes claim they turn a blind eye to these practices and places because they fear the tax-dodgers might go further afield, to the Gulf and the east. Why not then ban the dodgers from residing in England and their “companies” from operating in England – and, if Europe means anything, from Europe? Besides, we do not allow fraudsters free rein for fear they might take their business abroad.