Archive for May 16, 2008

I’m having a hard time with the recent hype, that things are getting so much better on the nation’s economic front. A question for those of you who feel the same way, Do you have a plan?


Historic food, gas prices take toll on N.C. people who struggle to pay bills


As food and gas prices hit historic highs, Duke Energy is shutting off more customers this year because they can’t pay their power bills.

Charlotte-based Duke, the largest utility in the Carolinas, disconnected 14 percent more N.C. customers during the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to an Observer review of state records.

That’s an average of more than 500 shut-offs every workday out of its 1.8 million N.C. customers. April saw a 38 percent surge over the same month last year as stretched families are being forced to make hard choices about which household expenses to put off.

Local aid agencies are feeling the financial stress, in particular Charlotte’s Crisis Assistance Ministry, which helps families with emergency money and rent to avoid utility disconnections and evictions. The ministry is seeing record numbers this month.

“This is really about the cost of living and the price of everything going up,” said Doug Hartjes, development officer for the ministry. “This is a disaster.”

Duke said its customers are reporting financial stress from high gasoline and food prices and because of recent unemployment or loss of hours at work. The utility said it considers disconnection a last resort and that it follows N.C. regulatory rules, which allows shut-offs after missing three months of payments.

Duke said it tries to work with customers to set up payment plans that allow minimum payments on past due balances to catch up, said spokesman Andy Thompson.

Most disconnected customers, up to 85 percent, are reconnected by the next day — but not before the utility collects a $25 fee for turning the power on during business hours and $75 after-hours. Duke says the fee covers the cost of a technician traveling to the customer.

Thompson said unpaid bills, and the extra business expense of reconnecting customers, would increase bills for everyone if Duke didn’t have the threat of disconnection or charge a reconnection fee: “We don’t like to do it, but we are just like any other business.”

In contrast, Raleigh-based Progress Energy disconnected fewer customers during the first four months — less than 1 percent fewer — compared with the same period last year, according to state records. Progress said the drop is because of a repayment program it started last summer that works with customers to prioritize household spending. The utility started the program because too many customers reported paying nonessential bills first, such as the cable bill, before their power bill, said spokesman Drew Elliot.

Some were favoring cable over electricity because the cable company, largely unregulated, will disconnect service quicker. Electric utilities, on the other hand, are regulated by the state and are not allowed to disconnect without multiple warnings to customers over the three months.

Duke said it doesn’t have a similar program, Thompson said.

Power companies that operate in North Carolina are required to report monthly disconnections due to nonpayment to the N.C. Utilities Commission, which has a Public Staff and consumer services division meant to look after the rights of utility customers. The records show an average disconnection rate monthly this year of 10,875 customers.

Carl Goolsby, director of consumer services, said utilities have become hard-nosed about granting time extensions beyond what’s legally required. Some savvy customers, about to be shutoff, have complained to Goolsby’s office, he said.

“Sometimes we’ll try to find a compromise or a loophole to try and work something out for the consumer,” he said. “The utilities are usually agreeable. But with the way things are, their collection policies are a little bit tight, and they are trying not to give in.”

Duke’s $2.9 million in donations shared by 82 assistance agencies

Duke Energy said it donated $2.9 million to assist customers through the Share the Warmth, Cooling Assistance, and Fan Relief programs last winter and summer. The money goes to 82 special assistance agencies in the Carolinas, said spokesman Andy Thompson. Duke employees and the Duke Energy Foundation also gave $3.5 million to the United Way of the Carolinas, which helps fund Crisis Assistance Ministry and other nonprofit agencies, he said.

Keeping the lights on

Carla Howard waited outside Charlotte’s Crisis Assistance Ministry on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to keep her lights on. Freshly laid off from a customer service job with a cable company, she needed emergency money to pay Duke $158 to avoid disconnection. She got it. “I was kind of living paycheck-to-paycheck. When you get laid off, that’s the end of your means.” The average residential bill in North Carolina is about $80. Families faced with months of unpaid power bills sometimes can’t catch up.

The ministry, which helps families with housing and utility emergencies, is a place of last resort where people line up before 8 a.m. hoping to be seen that day. The agency’s budget is about $10 million, with $7.4 million going directly to assistance. About 52 percent of the assistance covers utility bills. The rest is for emergency rental and mortgage payments to avoid eviction and foreclosure.

One morning this month, 200 people were lined up around the building and into the next parking lot. That was among the top five busiest days, ever, Hartjes said. The agency can see about 100 people a day, so half were turned away and some were given appointments for the next day, he said.

To donate or volunteer with the ministry go to

Rumsfeld On Tape: Terror Attack Could Restore Neo-Con Agenda
Former Defense Secretary’s conversation with military analysts on political problems – “The Correction For That…Is An Attack”

Paul Joseph Watson

Shocking excerpts of confidential recordings recently released under the Freedom of Information Act feature former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talking with top military analysts about how a flagging Neo-Con political agenda could be successfully restored with the aid of another terrorist attack on America.

The tape also includes a conversation where Rumsfeld and the military analysts agree on the possible necessity of installing a brutal dictator in Iraq to oversee U.S. interests.

The tapes were released as part of the investigation into the Pentagon’s “message force multipliers” program in which top military analysts were hired to propagandize for the Iraq war in the corporate media.

In attendance at the valedictory luncheon Rumsfeld hosted on December 12, 2006 were David L. Grange, Donald W. Sheppard, James Marks, Rick Francona, Wayne Downing, and Robert H. Scales, Jr. among others.

The most extraordinary exchange takes place when Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong bemoans shrinking political support for Neo-Con war plans on Capitol Hill and suggests that sympathy for the Bush administration’s agenda will only be achieved after a new terror attack.

Rumsfeld agrees that the psychological impact of 9/11 is wearing off and the “behavior pattern” of citizens in both the U.S. and Europe suggests that they are unconcerned about the threat of terror.

DELONG: Politically, what are the challenges because you’re not going to have a lot of sympathetic ears up there until it [a terror attack] happens.

RUMSFELD: That’s what I was just going to say. This President’s pretty much a victim of success. We haven’t had an attack in five years. The perception of the threat is so low in this society that it’s not surprising that the behavior pattern reflects a low threat assessment. The same thing’s in Europe, there’s a low threat perception. The correction for that, I suppose, is an attack. And when that happens, then everyone gets energized for another [inaudible] and it’s a shame we don’t have the maturity to recognize the seriousness of the threats…the lethality, the carnage, that can be imposed on our society is so real and so present and so serious that you’d think we’d be able to understand it, but as a society, the longer you get away from 9/11, the less…the less…

Click here for the audio clip.

In another exchange, after assuring that comments are “off the record,” Rumsfeld and one of the military analysts agree that Iraq could use a “Syngman Rhee” to take control of Iraq. Syngman Rhee was the ruthless authoritarian dictator of South Korea from after World War II through the Korean War to 1960. If the invasion of Iraq was about liberating the Iraqis from a tyrant in the form of Saddam Hussein why is Rumsfeld talking about installing an even more brutal dictator?

Click here for the audio clip.

Newsvine has the recording in full.

 Probe of Blackwater Killing Moves Forward 
By Gene Johnson 
TruthOut/The Associated Press


Seattle – A Justice Department team has traveled to Iraq to investigate the fatal shooting of an Iraqi guard by a security contractor, hastening the resolution of questions about whether US attorneys can prosecute him, an official said Thursday.

The contractor, Andrew Moonen of Seattle, was fired by Blackwater USA but never prosecuted and eventually given an overseas job by another contractor. The shooting outraged Iraqis, who questioned how an American could go free under such circumstances.

The team sent to Iraq included two federal prosecutors, a Seattle FBI agent and a prosecutor from Justice’s domestic security section in Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan in Seattle told The Associated Press.

They were scheduled to leave Baghdad on Friday after spending a week in Iraq, Sullivan said.

The trip followed a long analysis of whether U.S. prosecutors can bring charges if there is evidence of a crime. It also involved months of logistical planning and represents a significant step in determining whether Moonen will be charged.

Sullivan said he expects to make a decision by summer’s end.

“I believe at this point we have jurisdiction, but if we charge this case, that will be one of the issues that has to be litigated,” Sullivan said.

“I think they were able to interview most of the witnesses they needed to talk to, and that should put me in a position to make a knowledgeable decision,” the prosecutor said.

The case, like the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards last September, highlights the murky issue of whether security contractors can be held liable for actions in the war zone.

By U.S. order, the contractors are immune from Iraqi law. But the U.S. Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 provides that any member of the military, Department of Defense worker or contractor, or anyone “supporting the mission of the Department of Defense overseas,” can be prosecuted in the U.S. for crimes committed abroad.

Blackwater has a State Department contract to provide security for diplomats; prosecutors could argue that constitutes support of the Defense Department’s mission.

Moonen’s lawyer, Stewart Riley, declined to comment except to say that he was aware the Justice Department team was traveling to Iraq and that he hoped to meet with prosecutors soon. His client is not giving interviews, he said.

Moonen, 27, was wandering drunk around Baghdad’s Green Zone after a party on Christmas Eve 2006 when he fatally shot a 32-year-old guard to Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi, according to a congressional report on the case. He reported the shooting at a nearby post for another contractor, Triple Canopy, saying he had been in a gunfight with Iraqis.

Blackwater arranged to have the State Department fly him back to the United States, fired him and fined him, and paid the slain guard’s family $15,000.

Two months later, Moonen got a job in Kuwait with Defense Department contractor Combat Support Associates. Because Blackwater and State Department officials had kept the shooting quiet, Combat Support said, it was unaware of Moonen’s history when it hired him. He stopped working for that contractor in August 2007.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

“If it is determined that he acted unlawfully, we would strongly support holding him accountable,” she said.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., expressed frustration at how long the investigation has taken.

“I’m glad someone is finally trying to get to the bottom of things,” she said. “It shouldn’t have taken this long, but hopefully we’ll soon see some closure.”

Sullivan agreed that the case has taken longer than he would like, but said, “That’s what’s necessary in this kind of a case” because of its legal, factual and logistical complexity.



SANTIAGO, (Reuters) – Chile’s Chaiten volcano groaned, rumbled and shuddered on Thursday, raising new concerns among authorities, as lightning bolts pierced the huge clouds of hot ash hovering ominously above its crater.

Chile’s National Emergency Office, ONEMI, said heavy ash kept shooting from the volcano in southern Chile as it generated small tremors.

On the ground, heavy flooding hit the area around Chaiten as falling ash swelled rivers, overflowing their banks.

“There’s been additional volcanic activity that we’re really worried about,” regional governor Sergio Galilea told reporters.

The Chaiten volcano, 760 miles (1,220 km) south of the capital Santiago, started erupting on May 2 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing ash, gas and molten rock into the air.

The government on Wednesday declared the town of Chaiten, only six miles (10 km) from the erupting volcano, off-limits for three months and reported that about 90 percent of the town had been flooded by the Blanco and Raya Rivers.

“The flooding has receded in terms of water. But there’s a lot of material left, more mud than water,” Galilea said.

Rains are normal during the southern hemispheric winter in Patagonia, but the deluge of volcanic ash has caused nearby rivers to breach their banks.

No deaths have resulted, but thousands of people have been evacuated within a 30-mile (48-km) radius, including the 4,500 residents of Chaiten.

The column of ash above the volcano, kept aloft by the pressure of constant eruptions, rose as high as 20 miles (32 km) early in the eruption but has since fallen back to about 4.5 miles (7 km).

“The decision to evacuate was very opportune, as was the decision to keep the zone clear for now,” said chief government spokesman Francisco Vidal after a meeting with President Michelle Bachelet on Thursday.

Chile’s chain of some 2,000 volcanoes — 500 of them potentially active — is world’s second-largest after Indonesia’s. (Additional reporting by Damian Wroclavsky; Writing by Lisa Yulkowski; Editing by Eric Walsh)


Anne Minard for National Geographic News

Scientists have peered through a thick shroud of interstellar dust to reveal the youngest supernova ever seen in the Milky Way.

Stephen Reynolds, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University, and his team suspected that supernova G1.9+0.3 was very young.

So they compared 2007 images of the object from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory with radio observations from the mid-1980s—and their suspicions were confirmed.

Estimated at just 140 years old, G1.9+0.3 is at least 200 years younger than the next oldest known supernova, Cassiopeia A, which was discovered in the 17th century A.D.

“Cas A had been the reigning youngest remnant for so long that it took a while to sink in that we had found something less than half its age,” Reynolds said.

If it weren’t so obscured by dust, people in the late 1800s would likely have seen G1.9+0.3 appear in the constellation Sagittarius.

As it is, G1.9+0.3—located about 26,000 light-years away—is still expanding at a surprisingly fast rate, and its discovery may pave the way to a greater understanding of exploding stars.

The results will appear in the June 10 edition of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Galaxy Drivers

Supernovas, or exploding stars, are believed to help drive the life cycles of galaxies. A supernova explosion disperses heavy metals, as well as cosmic rays and high-energy particles that fuel the formation of new stars. (Related: “Brightest Known Supernova Detected” [October 15, 2007].)

The brightness of supernova remnants (SNRs) can easily be obscured from optical telescopes by gas and dust, but are usually visible to x-ray and radio telescopes.

Astronomers have been puzzled, however, by a shortage of young supernova remnants in our galaxy. Only half a dozen have been found, as opposed to the more than 30—roughly two a century—predicted to exist.

More recent supernovas have been discovered in other galaxies, such as the 21-year-old blast called SN 1987A, which is 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

But supernovas in our own Milky Way are easier to study and visible for far longer.

G1.9+0.3 has increased in size by 16 percent in the last 22 years, suggesting that the initial explosion occurred only 140 years ago—or less, if the rate of expansion has been slowing, researchers point out.

“Normally, we deal with older remnants and have to work very hard to see even tiny changes,” Reynolds said.

“This supernova is getting brighter, which means it’s still on its way up. Studying it will go a long way toward filling in gaps in our knowledge of these events and their effect on galaxies.”

Eager for More

Richard Arendt, a scientist with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the Goddard Space Flight Center, said G1.9+0.3 was suspected as being a young supernova but wasn’t confirmed until now.

“The results are very interesting and important, but I wouldn’t really call them a surprise,” he said.

Arendt said most astronomers believe there must be around ten supernova remnants younger than Cassiopeia A.

“So SNR G1.9+0.3 now fills part of that gap,” he said. “The real surprises may come in the discovery of and in the nature of the other very young SNRs that are almost certainly out there.”

Supernova expert Craig Wheeler is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and president of the American Astronomical Society. He suggested researchers should now focus on discovering the nature of G1.9+0.3.

“The issues that are top on my mind are how to determine whether this was a Type Ia—an exploding white dwarf—or a core collapse [supernova],” he said, adding that “some means of directly measuring the nearby magnetic field would be great.”

If G1.9+0.3 resulted from the core collapse of a star, for example, the explosion could be sending out a powerful energy jet, he pointed out. Otherwise, its boundaries could be limited magnetically.

Reynold said that the best strategy will be to spy on G1.9+0.3 with “every possible astronomical instrument that can observe it.”

His team submitted a proposal in March for longer observation time using Chandra.

“We’ve just never had the opportunity to study a remnant in this phase of its life,” Reynolds said.

“Now that we know how fast it’s changing, it will be useful to re-observe it again and again and watch its evolution—pretty rare for an astronomical event!”



From Raw Story:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) is still on the hunt for former Bush strategist Karl Rove.

“We’re closing in on Rove,” Conyers was heard saying today on the House floor, according to a source for Politico. “Someone’s got to kick his ass.”

Rove, having refused to obey a subpoena calling for testimony on his role in the dubious prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, has a week to change his mind. If he doesn’t show, Conyers said: “We’ll do what any self-respecting committee would do. We’d hold him in contempt. Either that or go and have him arrested.”

Don’t believe it?  Read “The Repubs as usual lie to us” it throughly explains why we are in the mess we are in. A priceless excerpt;

Republicans proudly proclaim, (some say chant), that it is a proven fact that tax cuts stimulate economic growth and result in higher tax revenues for the government. This is a seductive idea. They are saying that you can get somethin for nothin. It is simple and straight forward. Heck it could even be true. We would never know. It is simply a cover story for Republicans to justify the looting of the public treasury by the rich and powerful elite that control the Republican agenda.

A thief stealing your wallet is the Republican metaphor for taxes. It is a gross distortion. I am also opposed to the stimulus plan however a better and much more accurate metaphor for taxes is: You are contractually obligated to give some of your money to a personal assistant who pays your bills, hires a security company and buys food for your dependents who are not able to provide for themselves.


Republicans are extremely talented at manipulating the American people by framing issues in a distorted way. For example, they have a fetish for Paris Hilton, (so do I actually), but the Repubs got the hots for her so bad that they rename the estate tax as the death tax and try to pass the “Paris Hilton Relief Act.”


Files Intent to Sue Letter with USDA and Michigan Department of Agriculture

Falls Church, Virginia – Attorneys for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund  today sent a Notice of Intent to Sue letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) over implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a plan to electronically track every livestock animal in the country.

The Notice asks the USDA and MDA to “immediately suspend the funding and implementation of NAIS,” and “fully and fairly examine” whether there is even a need for such a program.

Taaron Meikle, Fund president, said that contrary to USDA’s claim, NAIS will do nothing to protect the health of livestock and poultry. “At a time when food safety and costs are a concern, the USDA has spent over $118 million to promote a program that will burden everyone from pleasure horse owners to ranchers and small farmers to individuals who raise a few chickens or steers on their own land for their own use.”…

The Notice charges that USDA has never published rules regarding NAIS, in violation of the Federal Administrative Procedures Act; has never performed an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act; is in violation of the Regulatory Flexibility Act that requires them to analyze proposed rules for their impact on small entities and local governments; and violates religious freedoms guaranteed by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“We also think there are constitutional issues at stake here,” Meikle noted. “The requirement to use electronic ear tags or RFID chips violates the religious beliefs of some farmers, such as the Amish, and provisions in a memorandum of understanding between the USDA and the MDA could violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution by requiring the state to stop and inspect vehicles carrying livestock without a warrant or probable cause.”

The MDA has implemented the first two stages of NAIS –property registration and animal identification – for all cattle and farmers across the state as part of its mandatory bovine tuberculosis disease control program, which is mandated by a grant from the USDA.

The Notice of Intent to Sue the (USDA) and (MDA) is available here.


How does the NAIS and Premises ID violation our Rights:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there of;


Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,


Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.


Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


(Concerned citizens can support the Fund by joining here, or by contacting the Fund at 703-208-FARM. The Fund’s sister organization, the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation , works to support farmers engaged in sustainable farm stewardship and promote consumer access to local, nutrient-dense food.)

h/t Corrinne N. 

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