03/25/2015 archive

As the Crow Flies

How do you get a government agency to fix a rule that isn’t working? Simple. Get Jon Stewart to do a funny, but factually accurate, segment that highlights the flaw and, bingo, less then 24 hours situation remedied.

On Monday night Jon mocked the Veterans Administration’s Choice Program which was put in place to speed up medical care for veterans who lived far from a VA facility. The problem was that to be eligible the vet must live forty miles from the nearest facility. The rule was worded like that to keep down the cost of the program. But that distance was measured by “as the crow flies,” because, as Jon put it, “that is the least-meaningful way to judge how hard it is to get somewhere for non-crows.”

Then low and behold, less than 24 hours later the VA announced that they were “relaxing the rule” that made it difficult for veterans living in rural areas to prove they live 40 miles from the nearest VA facility.

The change comes amid complaints from lawmakers and advocates who say the VA’s current policy has prevented thousands of veterans from taking advantage of a new law intended to allow veterans in remote areas to gain access to federally paid medical care from local doctors. [..]

The VA said it will now measure the 40-mile trip by driving miles as calculated by Google maps or other sites, rather than as the crow flies, as currently interpreted. The rule change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible veterans. [..]

Under the new interpretation, the distance veterans must travel will be calculated through commercial products such as Google maps or other websites, rather than a straight line.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., hailed the rule change but said it did not go far enough. The VA policy applies to any VA medical facility within 40 miles of a veteran’s home, even if the veteran needs specialized care that is farther away.

While this change will help a good many veterans, congress still will need to tweak the program for those requiring special care.

Thank you, Jon, for your “damning piece of investigative joke-a-lism.” We will miss you when you’re gone.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Susan Greenbaum: GOP’s plan to shred the safety net in 2016

Republicans intend to inflict more painful austerity on those who can least withstand it

The GOP majorities in both chambers of Congress have crafted their 2016 budget proposals, newly confident about fulfilling promises to cut spending, reduce taxes and shrink the government. Although inequality has reached Gilded Age levels, austerity continues to dominate their internal debates. Never mind that drastic spending cuts have harmed, not helped, the struggling economies of the eurozone, where mounting evidence eviscerates the theory that austerity can spur growth.

The latest tax reform proposal from Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee is a full-blown version of supply-side economics, to the tune of $4 trillion in revenue loss over a decade that would have to be offset by spending cuts. The plan targets programs that benefit the poor the most: Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). On all sides and in both chambers, the Republicans appear determined to inflict more painful austerity on those who can least withstand it.

Winnie Byanyima: Another World Is Possible, Without the 1%

Activists from around the world will defy the terrorists to attend the World Social Forum in Tunis on March 25, determined to make the occasion a beacon for free speech, justice and equality. I am proud to join the leaders of Greenpeace, ActionAid, Civicus and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in highlighting the urgent need to tackle the vested interests of the 1 percent, in order to build a better world for all of humanity.

If you are in the top 1 percent of the global wealth stakes, our economic system works exceptionally well. Since the financial crisis in 2008, most of the wealth created in the world has ended up in your bank accounts. By next year, you could own more wealth than the rest of the world put together.

This is not just a global phenomenon. The growing gap between rich and poor is a reality for seven out of ten people on the planet. Last week the World Bank calculated that ten Africans own more wealth than half the continent. Statistics like these are actually a cold shower on people’s natural, positive aspirations to improve their lot – they’re telling us the 99 percent won’t get there, or anywhere close.

Amanda Marcotte: Political Lobby for Frats Wants to Make It Harder to Enforce Title IX

The political arm of the national fraternity system-known as the Fraternity & Sorority Political Action Committee (FratPAC)-is getting involved in the campus rape debate. Sadly, it seems they want to make it as hard as possible for schools to discipline students who sexually abuse or harass each other. [..]

The sentiment may sound fair-minded; it’s anything but. FratPAC is singling out sexual assault as the only crime they want universities to handle in this way. Underage drinking, drug dealing, burglary, assault-all of these actions break both school rules and the law, but FratPAC is not asking universities to wait for the criminal courts to adjudicate these crimes before punishing the students for breaking their corresponding school rules. In the situation they’re proposing, a school could punish a student for stealing from another student without waiting for the courts to adjudicate the matter; but if a student rapes another student, the school couldn’t act.

Joan Walsh: GOP innovation paralysis: How Jeb Bush sucks the oxygen out of Republican “reform”

While some governors practice genuine policy innovation, Bush’s fundraising juggernaut keeps them on the sidelines

I feel for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He can’t get traction as a potential 2016 GOP presidential nominee with anyone so far – except political journalists. He sits around 1 percent in polls (that bother to mention him) and yet he’s been the focus of two long, laudatory profiles, touting his potential presidential appeal, in the last 18 months.

The New York Times’s Trip Gabriel found Kasich to be a maverick who “defies GOP with defense of safety net.” Now Yahoo Politics’s Andrew Romano asks if he could be “the GOP’s secret weapon in 2016?” He answers, archly, “John Kasich thinks so,” but the sympathetic profile suggests Romano agrees. Kasich seems eternally poised on the brink of defining a new way for the GOP – Compassionate Conservatism 2.0 – but is stymied by his inability to a) raise big money and b) get taken seriously (beyond Ohio and the national media), at least partly because he seems a tiny bit loopy and c) get past the boys of the Bush dynasty. [..]

The moderate establishment wing of the GOP, by contrast, seems content to let Jeb Bush be its standard bearer, charged with figuring out how much to cave to his party’s far-right base during the primaries, while trusting him to course correct in time for the general election. The campaign is unlikely to feature a genuine debate about a GOP economic growth agenda – a debate that a Kasich candidacy might catalyze. That’s a loss not just for Kasich, if indeed he skips a run, but for the country.

Julia Harumi Mass: FBI Ordered to Disclose its Surveillance Tactics on Communities

On Monday, a federal district court in San Francisco issued an important ruling for government transparency and accountability. Judge Richard Seeborg disallowed the FBI’s attempt to use a “law enforcement exemption” in the Freedom of Information Act to shield from public disclosure details of the agency’s surveillance programs. [..]

This ruling well upholds the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act and its limited law enforcement exemption. As the FBI has expanded its activities to include generalized monitoring and surveillance, unconnected to any suspected criminal activity, it is critical that records related to those broad surveillance programs be available for public scrutiny.

Dispatches From Hellpeckersville-Going To School

Tomorrow me and Cleetus are headed into Dan’s school to make gummies with his class. There’s only six students, so I have plenty of molds and ingredients and all that, but I’ve never been that mom who’s at school volunteering for things left and right. I’m kind of tied up here at home taking care of my mom. But this year Dan’s class has this star student of the month thing, where every week a different thing revolves around him and on the last week, if possible, the parents come in to do a favorite activity with the class. I’m a little nervous.

It’s not that I’m not good with kids, for twenty years before I had any I was the fun aunt. I was also the friend who if I had any sort of demonstration or home party, yeah, bring your kids, I can have an activity all set up for them. You want to decorate a fancy bag, kids? here ya go, stickers, glitter glue, foam shapes, whatever you need. I like kids, I like doing crafts with kids. And if it’s a craft that’s new to them or even just new supplies–oh, it’s almost like magic. I’ve had a table full of kids making bags, jewelry, puppets, all kinds of things, too many times to count. So why am I nervous?

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done it with any kids other than my two boys, but I’m pretty sure it’s like riding a bike, so I shouldn’t be nervous about that. Is it because they’re special needs? Nah. My niece used to bring her adult clients from the local workshop over and when Barb wanted to make a dreamcatcher, I said, okay, let’s make one, and out came the supplies. I believe that dreamcatcher hung in her room until the day she died. I don’t have a problem working with any kind of special needs. I think it’s the whole going into the school thing.

I just associate school with authority. It makes me uncomfortable. I have a difficult time reconciling school and fun together in my mind. And this thing not taking place at my house, my OCD-ish nature keeps making me sure that I’ll forget something that will turn the whole thing into a fiasco and Dan will be humiliated in front of his friends. I know that’s not reasonable, but that doesn’t stop me.

Anyway, wish me luck for tomorrow, I have to go check my supplies again, it’s been over an hour and some may have escaped.

The Breakfast Club (Chain Of Fools)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 marchers to the state capitol in Montgomery, Ala. 146 people were killed when fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York. Aretha Franklin, Elton John born

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.

Elton John

On This Day In History March 25

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 25 is the 84th day of the year (85th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 281 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in history, two tragic fires occurred in New York City. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire claimed 146 lives and 79 years later, in 1990, the Happy Land fire killed 87 people, the most deadly fire in the city since 1911.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent immigrant Jewish women aged sixteen to twenty-three. Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.


The Triangle Waist Company factory occupied the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building on the northwest corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, just to the east of Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. Under the ownership of Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the factory produced women’s blouses, known as “shirtwaists.” The factory normally employed about 500 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who worked nine hours a day on weekdays plus seven hours on Saturdays.

As the workday was ending on the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire flared up at approximately 4:45 PM in a scrap bin under one of the cutter’s tables at the northeast corner of the eighth floor. Both owners of the factory were in attendance and had invited their children to the factory on that afternoon. The Fire Marshal concluded that the likely cause of the fire was the disposal of an unextinguished match or cigarette butt in the scrap bin, which held two months’ worth of accumulated cuttings by the time of the fire. Although smoking was banned in the factory, cutters were known to sneak cigarettes, exhaling the smoke through their lapels to avoid detection. A New York Times article suggested that the fire may have been started by the engines running the sewing machines, while The Insurance Monitor, a leading industry journal, suggested that the epidemic of fires among shirtwaist manufacturers was “fairly saturated with moral hazard.” No one suggested arson.

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. Although the floor had a number of exits – two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Place – flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway, and the door to the Washington Place stairway was locked to prevent theft. The foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate.

Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions. Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, a flimsy and poorly-anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below. Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo saved many lives by traveling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped down the empty shaft. The weight of these bodies made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.

The remainder waited until smoke and fire overcame them. The fire department arrived quickly but was unable to stop the flames, as there were no ladders available that could reach beyond the sixth floor. The fallen bodies and falling victims also made it difficult for the fire department to approach the building.

The Happy Land fire was an arson fire which killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club called “Happy Land” (at 1959 Southern Boulevard) in the West Farms section of The Bronx, New York, on March 25, 1990. Most of the victims were ethnic Hondurans celebrating Carnival. Unemployed Cuban refugee Julio Gonzalez, whose former girlfriend was employed at the club, was arrested shortly after and ultimately convicted of arson and murder.

The Incident

Before the blaze, Happy Land was ordered closed for building code violations in November 1988. Violations included no fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. No follow-up by the fire department was documented.

The evening of the fire, Gonzalez had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She claimed that she had had enough of him and wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Gonzalez tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Gonzalez was enraged, not just because of losing Lydia, but also because he had recently lost his job at a lamp factory, was impoverished, and had virtually no companions. Gonzalez returned to the establishment with a plastic container of gasoline which he found on the ground and had filled at a gas station. He spread the fuel on the only staircase into the club. Two matches were then used to ignite the gasoline.

The fire exits had been blocked to prevent people from entering without paying the cover charge. In the panic that ensued, a few people escaped by breaking a metal gate over one door.

Gonzalez then returned home, took off his gasoline-soaked clothes and fell asleep. He was arrested the following afternoon after authorities interviewed Lydia Feliciano and learned of the previous night’s argument. Once advised of his rights, he admitted to starting the blaze. A psychological examination found him to be not responsible due to mental illness or defect; but the jury, after deliberation, found him to be criminally responsible.

Found guilty on August 19, 1991, of 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder, Gonzalez was charged with 174 counts of murder- two for each victim he was sentence maximum of 25 years. It was the most substantial prison term ever imposed in the state of New York. He will be eligible for parole in March 2015.

The building that housed Happy Land club was managed in part by Jay Weiss, at the time the husband of actress Kathleen Turner. The New Yorker quoted Turner saying that “the fire was unfortunate but could have happened at a McDonald’s.” The building’s owner, Alex DiLorenzo, and leaseholders Weiss and Morris Jaffe, were found not criminally responsible, since they had tried to close the club and evict the tenant.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Cruz Control)

Ricky Valez and Mike Yard- Awkward

I haven’t screened this clip myself.  I understand it’s about two men’s search for an extinct flightless bird in Greenland.

Tonight the Twitter comes through (h/t TMC).  Our topic is Ted Cruz’s prospects for election (hint: think snowball in a volcano).  Our panelists are Lewis Black (always a pleasure), Amy Holmes (ick), Kristen Anderson (the voice of Kanga), and Kal Pen (Harold and Kumar, the White House Office of Public Engagement).

It’s all part of Larry’s Blacklash 2016 election coverage.


He prefers just ‘The Doctor’

This Week’s Guests-

Jon Ronson is perhaps best known for his book (and subsequent film) The Men Who Stare at Goats.  Less well known (at least here in the States) is his work on BBC Radio 4 and Channel 4 Television.  He’s also managed and played with some Bands.  He’ll be on tonight to talk about his new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s 2 part web exclusive extended interview and the real news below.