December 18th, 2012

Parks and Rec Leslie and Ben

I thought we could use some happy news

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Hasbro says it will begin selling gender-neutral Easy-Bake ovens after meeting with a 13-year-old New Jersey girl who had campaigned for them.

McKenna Pope, of Garfield, N.J., got more than 40,000 signatures on her online petition at She also got the support of celebrity chefs, including Bobby Flay, who backed her call for Hasbro (HAS) to include boys in Easy-Bake oven ads and make them in gender-neutral colors.

She began her campaign after finding only pink or purple Easy-Bake ovens. She wanted to buy ovens in other colors as a Christmas gift for her four-year-old brother, Gavyn Boscio.

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Joyous follow-up to this


Anything is For Sale in Wal-Mart. Bribery is their Way of Life.

The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Used Payoffs to Get Its Way in Mexico
Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited, an examination by The New York Times found.

Wal-Mart longed to build in Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field. It was an ideal location, just off this town’s bustling main entrance and barely a mile from its ancient pyramids, which draw tourists from around the world. With its usual precision, Wal-Mart calculated it would attract 250 customers an hour if only it could put a store in Mrs. Pineda’s field.

One major obstacle stood in Wal-Mart’s way.

After years of study, the town’s elected leaders had just approved a new zoning map. The leaders wanted to limit growth near the pyramids, and they considered the town’s main entrance too congested already. As a result, the 2003 zoning map prohibited commercial development on Mrs. Pineda’s field, seemingly dooming Wal-Mart’s hopes.

But 30 miles away in Mexico City, at the headquarters of Wal-Mart de Mexico, executives were not about to be thwarted by an unfavorable zoning decision. Instead, records and interviews show, they decided to undo the damage with one well-placed $52,000 bribe.

The plan was simple. The zoning map would not become law until it was published in a government newspaper. So Wal-Mart de Mexico arranged to bribe an official to change the map before it was sent to the newspaper, records and interviews show. Sure enough, when the map was published, the zoning for Mrs. Pineda’s field was redrawn to allow Wal-Mart’s store.

Problem solved.

Wal-Mart de Mexico broke ground months later, provoking fierce opposition. Protesters decried the very idea of a Wal-Mart so close to a cultural treasure. They contended the town’s traditional public markets would be decimated, its traffic mess made worse. Months of hunger strikes and sit-ins consumed Mexico’s news media. Yet for all the scrutiny, the story of the altered map remained a secret. The store opened for Christmas 2004, affirming Wal-Mart’s emerging dominance in Mexico.

The secret held even after a former Wal-Mart de Mexico lawyer contacted Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville, Ark., and told them how Wal-Mart de Mexico routinely resorted to bribery, citing the altered map as but one example. His detailed account — he had been in charge of getting building permits throughout Mexico — raised alarms at the highest levels of Wal-Mart and prompted an internal investigation.

But as The New York Times revealed in April, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut down the investigation in 2006. They did so even though their investigators had found a wealth of evidence supporting the lawyer’s allegations. The decision meant authorities were not notified. It also meant basic questions about the nature, extent and impact of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s conduct were never asked, much less answered.

The Times has now picked up where Wal-Mart’s internal investigation was cut off, traveling to dozens of towns and cities in Mexico, gathering tens of thousands of documents related to Wal-Mart de Mexico permits, and interviewing scores of government officials and Wal-Mart employees, including 15 hours of interviews with the former lawyer, Sergio Cicero Zapata.

The Times’s examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.

Through confidential Wal-Mart documents, The Times identified 19 store sites across Mexico that were the target of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s bribes. The Times then matched information about specific bribes against permit records for each site. Clear patterns emerged. Over and over, for example, the dates of bribe payments coincided with dates when critical permits were issued. Again and again, the strictly forbidden became miraculously attainable.

Thanks to eight bribe payments totaling $341,000, for example, Wal-Mart built a Sam’s Club in one of Mexico City’s most densely populated neighborhoods, near the Basílica de Guadalupe, without a construction license, or an environmental permit, or an urban impact assessment, or even a traffic permit. Thanks to nine bribe payments totaling $765,000, Wal-Mart built a vast refrigerated distribution center in an environmentally fragile flood basin north of Mexico City, in an area where electricity was so scarce that many smaller developers were turned away.

But there is no better example of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s methods than its conquest of Mrs. Pineda’s alfalfa field. In Teotihuacán, The Times found that Wal-Mart de Mexico executives approved at least four different bribe payments — more than $200,000 in all — to build just a medium-size supermarket. Without those payoffs, records and interviews show, Wal-Mart almost surely would not have been allowed to build in Mrs. Pineda’s field.

The Teotihuacán case also raises new questions about the way Wal-Mart’s leaders in the United States responded to evidence of widespread corruption in their largest foreign subsidiary.
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it cant rain all the time

Gun lobby has laid groundwork against any new laws

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) - A cacophony of calls to change gun laws has emerged after last week's tragedy in Connecticut, and the National Rifle Association has kept quiet.

But no one expects silence from the NRA once President Obama or members of Congress make any move to change the laws.

For years, the well-known gun rights advocate and lobbying group has laid the ground work to ward off any move to change national gun policy, spending millions of dollars to kill laws that would make it tougher to buy or wield guns.

Enlisting celebrities such as Chuck Norris and the late Charlton Heston as spokesmen, the NRA is considered royalty in Washington, and is known to easily mobilize its 4 million members.

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Murasaki Shikibu
  • homasse

Newtown overwhelmed by media

Newtown overwhelmed by media

"Go home, please, go home, all of you."

The man standing in front of me in the lobby of my hotel was not in the slightest bit aggressive, but he was very clear.

"It's unbearable. What do you all want? I know four or five of the families who lost kids and it's too much for them, with all the media here. What do you all want?"

Most of the rest of the lobby - and much of the hotel - was taken up by notebook-wielding, fleece-wearing, camera-toting journalists. But that's just the start.

The village of Sandy Hook, the centre of which is little more than a crossroads, has been transformed.

A changed town

It seems like a nice place - a classic little New England village, with white wooden houses and good-looking shops.

But it is difficult to know what it is actually like because, early on Saturday, it had been transformed into a set, a backdrop for the vast swarm of journalists that had descended on the place.

The main street, Church Hill Road, that leads towards Sandy Hook Elementary school, was grinding with bumper-to-bumper cars that it is difficult to imagine are there every - or any - day.

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Murasaki Shikibu
  • homasse

Guns and the Decline of the Young Man

Guns and the Decline of the Young Man

Adam Lanza was a young man. Jacob Roberts was a young man. James Holmes is a young man. Seung-Hui Cho was a young man. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were young men.

We can all name a dozen or so hypotheses about why they kill: their parents’ unlocked gun cabinet, easy access to weapons on the Internet, over- or under-medication, violent video games and TV programs, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental disorders, abusive or indifferent parents, no stable social network, bullying. However, young women are equally exposed to many of the same conditions yet rarely turn a weapon on others. This leaves us wondering about the young men.

There is something about life in the United States, it seems, that is conducive to young men planning and executing large-scale massacres. But the reasons elude us.

The first reaction to the horror and bloodshed of a mass killing like the one in Newtown, Conn., is a rekindling of the gun control debate. I happen to believe, along with many others, that the repeated mandate we give to the National Rifle Association and its lobby, and the complacency with which we allow our politicians to be subject to the will of gun manufacturers is odious.

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...Have at, y'all. 'Cause hooboy.

Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin Not Done with Being Biggest Asshole of 2012.

GOP Going for Broke with Pissing Off The Gays One More Time.

Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin Now Going After Gay Troops

The controversial congressman, who lost a Senate race in November after explaining how victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant, is going out with a bang.

Rep. Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican who scuttled the GOP's chances of holding the Senate with his remark about "legitimate rape," and who predicted that same-sex marriage would lead to the collapse of civilization, has one last task before leaving the House: undercutting the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

In May, the House approved a version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that includes a religious "conscience clause" authored by Akin. The measure purported to protect the religious liberties of service members by preventing them from being punished on the basis of their religious beliefs "concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality." The provision is broad, and LGBT rights supporters fear it would permit discrimination against gay and lesbian service members. Under Akin's proposal, a service member could cite his or her religious beliefs on homosexuality for refusing to serve alongside gay and lesbian colleagues, or for treating them differently from everyone else. For example, a service member could object to being housed in the same facility as someone who is gay or lesbian. Akin says this provision is necessary to prevent service members from "being persecuted for their views," but the language could allow the persecution of service members on the basis of their sexual orientation.

"It carves out a set of special rights for those who would want to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation," says Allyson Robinson, an Army veteran and executive director of the LGBT rights group Outserve-Service Members Legal Defense Network. "What this language does is make it less clear to that unit commander on the ground how they should implement Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal."

The White House released a statement noting that Akin's provision, and another measure banning the use of military facilities for ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions, could be "harmful to good order and discipline." 

The Senate passed a version of the 2013 defense spending bill without the Akin proposal in early December. But with both houses of Congress negotiating the final version of the bill, the two main Republican negotiators, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), want Akin's so-called "conscience clause" to remain in the bill.

"They're pushing pretty hard," said a House Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations. McCain and McKeon were both fierce opponents of allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. McKeon, who donated to the Proposition 8 campaign that banned same-sex marriage in California, previously threatened to scuttle a defense bill unless it contained language banning military chaplains from performing same-sex ceremonies even if they were willing to. LGBT rights supporters view the GOP's new hard line on the Akin language as a surprise. "Despite a totally open amendment process in which more than 100 amendments were approved, no senator offered a similar amendment to the Akin language," says Ian Thompson of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The negotiations could be resolved as early as Tuesday evening.

During the debate over repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Republicans and other opponents of the move warned that getting rid of the policy would be harmful to unit readiness and cohesion, and would harm morale. Since repeal was enacted in September 2011, however, both the Defense Department itself and outside studies have found little evidence that ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell had any negative consequences at all. "My view is that the military has kind of moved beyond it," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters in May. And LGBT rights activists now contend that the Akin provision—should it become law—could cause chaos in the military.

"It turns out that after years of saying that repeal of DADT was a threat to unit cohesion a threat to good order and discipline, a threat to morale," Robinson says, "turns out that it's those anti-gay Republicans in Congress who are the real threat to unit cohesion, good order and discipline, and morale."