25 May 2015

A project dubbed the "biggest construction failure" in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- already $1 billion over budget and more than a year behind schedule -- is getting another $100 million taxpayer bailout.

A project dubbed the "biggest construction failure" in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- already $1 billion over budget and more than a year behind schedule -- is getting another $100 million taxpayer bailout.
Construction will continue on a new veterans medical center near Denver, expected to serve 400,000 former military service members and their families. Ahead of Memorial Day, contractors had prepared to stop work on the project as approved funding dried up after repeated overruns and delays.
The Republican-led Congress approved the cash infusion this week before leaving Washington, D.C., for the holiday; President Obama on Saturday morning signed on the dotted line.
The fix is only a stop-gap measure: The $100 million funds just three more weeks of work. 
"I am pleased that Congress has taken action to ensure that construction at the site of the Denver Replacement Medical Center will continue," VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. "I look forward to working with Congress in the coming weeks to determine a path forward to finishing the campus."
The costs to taxpayers for the project have already ballooned from an initial $328 million price tag in 2005 to $1.73 billion, with years more construction to go, according to government watchdog groups.
House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has called the agency's entire construction program "a disaster" and the Denver project its "biggest construction failure."
Congress had imposed an $880 million spending cap on the program, but the agency has repeatedly lobbied lawmakers to lift the cap and provide more funds.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald was hailed during his appointment last year as a fiscal hawk and seasoned manager, a former CEO of Proctor & Gamble, who would restore efficiency to the nation's largest federal agency.
But the Denver project, which was a boondoggle before he arrived at the agency, has remained an embarrassment. He has said the "mistakes" were "made years ago by VA officials" who preceded him.
Government watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste named McDonald "porker of the month" for his role in not resolving cost overruns and continuing to ask Congress for more funds.

Low-income homeowners get free solar panels thanks to cap & trade. The arrays will save most homeowners $400 to $1,000 per year on electricity, depending on where they live.

The spread of residential solar power has been largely a middle-class affair.
Despite plunging prices in the last seven years, rooftop solar arrays remain an expensive home improvement, costing $15,000 or more. A 2013 study by the liberal research and advocacy group Center for American Progress found that 67 percent of solar arrays installed in California went to ZIP codes with a median household income between $40,000 and $90,000. Wealthier areas accounted for almost all of the rest.
A new California program, however, aims to make solar power available to lower-income families — using money from the state’s fight against global warming. For a 2nd time, San Francisco tries new way to fund home solar
Run by Oakland nonprofit Grid Alternatives, the effort will install home solar arrays in disadvantaged neighborhoods, using $14.7 million raised through California’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions. That system forces factories, power plants, oil refineries and other large businesses to buy credits for every ton of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases they pump into the atmosphere.
Kianté London used the program to put panels on his three-bedroom North Richmond home, which he shares with two sons and a daughter.
“It helps me and my family a great deal to have low-cost energy, because these energy prices are really expensive,” said London, 46, whose solar array was installed this week. “And I wanted to do my part. It’s clean, green energy.”
London had wanted a solar array for years, but couldn’t afford it on his income as a merchant seaman — roughly $70,000 per year. Even leasing programs offered by such companies as SolarCity and Sunrun were too expensive, he said. The new program, in contrast, paid the entire up-front cost of his array.
“These systems are saving families money every month for food, for clothes, for medical expenses,” said Julian Foley, communications director for Grid Alternatives.
The organization specializes in solar and energy-efficiency projects in working-class communities. Using the cap-and-trade money, Grid Alternatives plans to install arrays on more than 1,600 California homes by the end of 2016. It taps job-training programs to provide the installers and relies on donated equipment from such Bay Area solar companies as SunEdison, SunPower and Enphase.
Most homeowners are asked to make small contributions for the installation, such as agreeing to feed the crew installing the array, or agreeing to help with the installation themselves. Otherwise, it’s free.
The arrays will save most homeowners $400 to $1,000 per year on electricity, depending on where they live.
California’s cap-and-trade system places a slowly declining limit on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that companies can produce each year and sells emission credits at quarterly auctions, with most of the proceeds flowing to the state. So far, California has raised $1.6 billion. Companies can also sell the credits, called allowances, to each other.
A 2012 state law requires that 10 percent of the money raised be spent on projects that cut greenhouse gases or improve the environment in disadvantaged communities, defined as cities or neighborhoods with low incomes, high unemployment and significant pollution.
Hence the new solar program. To qualify, applicants must live in a neighborhood designated as disadvantaged by the state. They must own their homes and make no more than 80 percent of their community’s median household income.

Chinese Words For Animals Translated Into English (12 pics)

15 Interesting Facts You Need To Know About Peter Dinklage (15 pics)

Peter Dinklage is the who plays Tyrion Lannister and he's pretty cool on the small screen. You'll be happy to find out that he's just as cool in real life.

Peter Dinklage was was born with achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism that only applies to the long bones in the arms and legs.
He’s a vegetarian.

Peter Dinklage is best buddies with Steve Buscemi, ever since they met in 1995.

He lives in upstate New York with his wife, theater director Erica Schmidt, and their daughter Zelig. He enjoys playing in his herb garden.
Dinklage is thinking about having his own line of scent after a pal gave him a bottle of cologne he made. You know how Jessica Simpson and Beyoncé have signature perfumes and make a mint? he said. I'm thinking this cologne could be my ticket to fortune.
He and Lena Headey were friends long before Game of Thrones and Dinklage was apparently the one who originally suggested her as Cersei.

He is also an avid animal rights activist and is against testing on animals.

He has a scar that runs from his neck to his eyebrow from on onstage accident when he was performing at CBGB with his old punk-funk-rap band Whizzy in New York.  -
On his first day of college, Peter came dressed in tights and a woman's velvet cape.

He was Bruce Springstein’s neighbor. Growing up, Bruce even used to come and play guitar at the Dinklage household. Peter says his mom was not impressed by Bruce.

He is the only Game of Thrones cast member who is American.

Charles Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones, says that he is constantly apologizing to Peter on set because he treats him appallingly
when in character.
For his role as Tyrion on Game of Thrones, he was named one of the 'Eight Actors Who Turn Television into Art' in a cover story of The New York Times magazine.

Having studiously rehearsed an exchange with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) where he expresses his wish to die at the age of 80 with wine in my belly and a girl's mouth around my c**k, instead he came up with at the age of 80 with wine in my belly and a girl's c**k around my mouth. They apparently cracked
up so much they had to stop filming for a day.

23 May 2015

What It Looks Like When Spartan Warriors Ride The Subway (10 pics)

Spartan warriors are famous for being some of the toughest warriors in the history of mankind. Now they're becoming infamous thanks to this recent trip on the subway in London.

22 May 2015

The USA Freedom Act is being hyped as a prohibition of the N.S.A.’s controversial mass surveillance practices, but it actually extends the PATRIOT Act for years and opens up new avenues for more invasive forms of government spying.

In the United States, there’s a simple trick to passing legislation that egregiously violates people’s civil rights: give it a really nice-sounding name. We did it in 2001 with the PATRIOT Act, the bill that paved the way for the N.S.A. to engage in mass surveillance of online communications, and now we’re doing it again in 2015 with the USA Freedom Act, a bill that claims to reign the N.S.A. back in and end their bulk collection practices.
“Today, you will read all kinds of stories and tweets about how USA Freedom Act ends ‘bulk collection.’ It doesn’t.”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted that shortly after USA Freedom passed the House by a landslide, and his words could not better sum up a situation where the public and news media are being misled by U.S. lawmakers.
The USA Freedom Act is being hyped as a prohibition of the N.S.A.’s controversial mass surveillance practices, but it actually extends the PATRIOT Act for years and opens up new avenues for more invasive forms of government spying. Its passage into law would be more damaging to civil rights than if Congress did nothing at all. To understand why, it’s important to note that the N.S.A.’s practices were never lawful to begin with.
Indeed, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the N.S.A.’s phone metadata surveillance program was never actually authorized by Congress. In a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, the N.S.A. sought to justify its dragnet surveillance practices by pointing to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to collect records “relevant to an authorized investigation.” But the court (and even Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the PATRIOT Act’s original author) rejected this argument, saying the law was never meant to authorize such wide-scale data collection.
All of this should be a moot point, because Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act is set to expire on June 1 if Congress does nothing. But USA Freedom would extend this provision until 2019, and, crucially, it would tweak the language to allow the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs to continue, with only minor limitations.
On the surface, much of what’s in USA Freedom sounds good: a new public advocate for the F.I.S.C. court would increase surveillance transparency, and new restrictions on bulk data collection would seem to reign-in the N.S.A. Unfortunately, these restrictions are negated by a host of new privacy problems and loopholes.
The bill expands the type of data the government access from landline call data to VoIP calls, video chats and smartphone activity. The government will still be able to use broad search terms to target large portions of the population, and they can collect even more information from contacts “connected” to those targets. Companies that hand customer data over to the government will be rewarded with blanket immunity from lawsuits, even when they violate their own privacy agreements with customers. The N.S.A. will share information with the F.B.I., which can then use the information for investigations unrelated to counterterrorism. And the government can block the F.I.S.C. advocate from seeing anything they want to keep secret.
Follow the money and you’ll find that the members of the House who support the USA Freedom Act are disproportionately supported by campaign contributions from companies that profit from mass surveillance. The members of the House who voted for USA Freedom received, on average, more than twice as much money from the defense industry during the most recent election cycle than did the members who voted against it.
Defense contractors, including companies like Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Northrop Grumman, account for 70 percent of the N.S.A.’s budget. These companies have a financial interest in making sure Congress does not limit the government’s ability to collect and analyze massive amounts of communications data. Perhaps that’s why the Intelligence Community supports the USA Freedom Act.

Obama Bans Machine Guns, Tanks, Grenade Launchers Going to Local Cops

Last summer, the nation watched in disbelief as the police department of a town of 21,000 people cracked down on protests using armored vehicles, assault rifles, and other equipment meant for war zones. The public got a good long look at police militarization in Ferguson, and we got our first real debate about the federal program that sends billions of dollars of surplus military equipment to local police.
Today, the White House announced that “grenade launchers, tracked armored vehicles, armed aircraft, bayonets, and guns and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher”, as well as camouflage military uniforms,  would no longer be available to police through the Pentagon’s 1033 Program. While states like Montana have taken steps to rein in what police can get their hands on, this is the first significant national reform to stop the flow of war gear to police.
The administration’s report on police militarization concluded:
There is a “substantial risk of misusing or overusing these items,” which “could significantly undermine community trust” . . .
Other federally supplied equipment, such as wheeled armored vehicles, drones, helicopters, firearms and riot gear, will come with new strings attached for local police to ensure officers are trained in their use and in “community policing, constitutional policing and community input.”
Police must provide a “clear and persuasive explanation” for the need of the equipment and get approval from their local government.
In addition, police departments must agree to federal oversight and auditing of the equipment’s use. Over 150 departments have been suspended from the program for losing track of weapons given to them by the Pentagon.
The new rules stipulate that police must collect and report data whenever military equipment is used in a "significant incident."
In addition to blocking the distribution of equipment like grenade launchers from the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, NPR reports that the new rules also ban police from using federal funding or grants to purchase prohibited weapons and vehicles. This is a huge decision in seriously reversing militarization. As Radley Balko points out, most military-style gear going to police now is not coming from the Pentagon but is being purchased with Homeland Security grants.
The Associated Press also reports, “The federal government also is exploring ways to recall prohibited equipment already distributed.”
President Obama plans to give a speech outlining these and other reforms in Camden, NJ, later this afternoon.

Bernie Sanders: "Too Big To Fail Banks Are Too Big To Exist”

Remember seven years ago when the big banks were begging us for a bailout which President Bush eventually signed off on, to the tune of $700 billion? Senator Bernie Sanders remembers, and after six big banks just admitted to manipulating lending and foreign exchange rates, he wants the largest of the financial institutions to be broken up.

Despite the inevitable opposition in Congress to do anything about fraudulent activity in the financial sector, allowing the big banks to rip off consumers and only pay a fine when they get caught is a practice that has to be stopped.
In a press release yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders called for the largest banks to be split up in light of the recent news:
“Today, the six largest financial institutions have nearly $10 trillion in assets, equal to nearly 60 percent of our gross domestic product. They control more than two-thirds of the credit card market and one-third of the mortgages.  These huge institutions are not only involved in fraudulent activities, they have grown even larger and more powerful since the Wall Street crash of 2008.  They are not only an ongoing threat to taxpayers, but a burden on our entire economy.
“In my view, the only effective way of dealing with theses enormous financial institutions is to break them up.  Today’s news is just another example of why these too big to fail banks are too big to exist.” (Source)
Imagine if a working class person like you or I had done something remotely like what these banks have been doing? Remember the movie “Office Space” where Peter Gibbons and his friends find a way to round off fractions of pennies from the company’s financial transactions, only to end up with $350,000 almost immediately? That was a fictional story, but just think of the kind of jail time they would have faced had it been real, and the building hadn’t burned down just in time to save them?

Six banks, $5.8 billion in fines. That’s a lot of money to you or me, but that’s pocket change to these banks who see these fines as part of the price of doing business. To make up for these small losses, they’ll just pass on the price to customers and not a single executive or trader will see the inside of a jail cell. Even on that rare occasion when someone from the financial sector does end up in prison for fraud, they end up with a short sentence in a minimum security prison. Bernie Madoffwill spend the rest of his life in prison, but that’s probably only because he scammed a bunch of rich people and celebrities, and even then, his bookkeeper got zero jail time despite having been in charge of his records for decades.

Teen pleads guilty to 23 charges of swatting, harassing online game rivals

On Wednesday, a Canadian 17-year-old pleaded guilty to 23 charges relating to swatting calls and other false police reports, many of which had targeted his online opponents in the video gameLeague of Legends.
According to a lengthy report by Canadian publication Tri-City News, the prosecution's case against the Coquitlam, British Columbia teenager asserted that the teen (whose name wasn't released due to his age) targeted "mostly young, female gamers" who declined or ignored his friend requests on LoLand Twitter.
The most notable example was an University of Arizona in Tucson college student who'd dropped out after she and her family members had been victimized by repeated swatting calls (including this nearly simultaneous attack on both the woman and her parents), financial information theft, "text bombs," false cell phone service orders, and intrusions into her e-mail and Twitter accounts. According to prosecutors, the months of attacks against this woman began on September 16 when the teen called Tucson police as if he were at her address, "claiming he had shot his parents with an AR15 rifle, had bombs, and would kill the police if he saw any marked vehicles," the report stated.
The report also mentioned an incident on December 1 in which the teenager posted an eight-hour video stream of himself making fake bomb and ransom threats to various police stations. Ars was able to locate an archive of this video which included the same Grove City, Ohio police call described in the Tri-City News report (the specific, offending snippet can be found here). In that call, which he made using Google Voice, he described a hostage situation in which he had bound and gagged a family, was (again) wielding an AR15, had planted "six bombs" around their home, and demanded a $20,000 ransom.

New meaning of the word “obnoxious”

The user, who identified himself in the video as a member of Lizard Squad and went by the handles "obnoxious" and "internetjesusob," was arrested eight days later in his hometown of Coquitlam. That arrest, according to a Polk County Sheriff's Office press release, came after local authorities were tipped off about two fake bomb threats he'd called into an Orlando-area high school in September and October—which he'd called in after telling his "juvenile" victim, "I am going to swat your school."
The case against this swatting teen was stacked with even more stories of false reports, including him admitting to having called in a 2013 bomb threat to Disneyland that targeted its Space Mountain ride. The attacks described in the Tri-City News report targeted victims who resided almost exclusively in the United States, including other swatting and financial fraud incidents in Minnesota, California, and Utah.
The report described the teen's apparently remorseless appearance at the Wednesday hearing: "Wearing a sweatsuit, no shoes and shackles on his ankles, the teen smirked but showed little emotion during the proceeding, though often flipped his hair, drummed his fingers on his knees or pumped his leg quickly." He will return to the same Coquitlam court on June 29 for sentencing.

How Private Prisons Create Revenue (2 pics)

Prison isn't fun, especially when you're an inmate. But for the people running the show, private prisons can be a very profitable business.