November 23, 2014

Tourist fined $15,000 for tagging Colosseum

In the latest episode of tourists behaving badly in Rome, a Russian has been fined €20,000 (£15,800) for carving his initial into the Colosseum.
The 42-year-old tourist used a stone to carve a 25cm “K” into a wall inside the ancient amphitheatre. He was caught in the act by a guard and arrested by police, before being fined and given a four-month suspended prison sentence.
The director of the Colosseum, Rossella Rea, said the €20,000 fine was justified as the visitor had damaged “a magnificent and symbolic monument”. “You cannot write on a historic wall, it’s absolutely forbidden,” she said.
However, she denied tourists were running amok at the world-famous site. Out of six million annual visitors, five have been stopped by police this year for scrawling on the amphitheatre. An Australian and his son were caught, as well as a teenager from Brazil and another from Canada. The minors escaped being fined because of their age.
The vandalism was much worse under the Fascists and was at its peak in the 1930s, Rea said.
The ancient Romans also lent themselves to graffiti, with their works now preserved and proudly displayed at the Colosseum. Depicting arena scenes and celebrating famous gladiators, they are incomparable to modern-day vandalism, Rea said: “There are beautiful designs, which are historic and very important.”
Darius Arya, a Rome-based archaeologist, said the fine would send a powerful message to would-be vandals. “It’s an extraordinarily high fee. This says ‘we have no patience’; they’re upping the ante as a new form of protection.”

The Fed Just Acknowledged Its Too Big To Jail Policy: The federal government until recently shielded big banks from criminal prosecution out of concern that convictions may damage the financial system

The federal government until recently shielded big banks from criminal prosecution out of concern that convictions may damage the financial system, a top Federal Reserve official said Friday, explicitly acknowledging a policy long denied by the Obama administration.
The admission came during a tense exchange between William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) at a Senate Banking Committee hearing meant to explore the cozy relations between federal regulators and the banks they supervise.
Until May, large financial institutions investigated for wrongdoing had dodged criminal prosecution under the Obama administration, despite evidence from federal regulators and prosecutors showing that big banks had, for instance, laundered money for suspected terrorists and drug cartels; manipulated interest rate benchmarks; rigged various commodities markets; mislead investors in mortgage-linked securities; duped homeowners into taking out expensive mortgages; manipulated municipal debt markets; and broke state and federal rules when attempting to seize homes after borrowers fell behind on their payments, a scandal that became known as "robosigning."
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have long suspected that federal prosecutors didn’t pursue guilty pleas because they were afraid the consequences -- a potential unraveling of a giant bank -- would endanger the global economy. Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that was the case in March 2013, but quickly walked back his comments after a public outcry.
It wasn’t until May that years of persistent criticism eventually gave way to a guilty plea by Credit Suisse, the giant Swiss bank, to allegations it helped thousands of Americans hide their wealth to evade U.S. taxes.
But until Friday, no senior federal official had acknowledged this was explicit U.S. policy.
“We were not willing to find those firms guilty before, because we were worried that if we found them guilty, that could somehow potentially destabilize the financial system,” Dudley said. “We've gotten past that and I think it's really important that we got past that.”
Dudley’s admission was just one of several cringe-worthy exchanges during an hour-long appearance before a committee intent on holding him accountable for regulatory lapses.
Senate Democrats seized on recent news media and government reports that found widespread regulatory failures at the Federal Reserve, specifically at Dudley’s branch in New York. A recent report from the central bank's inspector general found that the Fed dropped the ball on JPMorgan's London Whale debacle, which lead to $6.2 billion in losses for the bank. Former New York Fed employee Carmen Segarra also releasedtapes showing higher-ups at the New York Fed ordering lower-level regulators to go easy on Goldman Sachs.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tore into Dudley over a risky transaction between Goldman and a Spanish bank, Santander, which was designed to help Santander dodge European capital rules. Dudley claimed that he did not know whether he or anyone at the New York Fed had contacted European authorities to inform them of the deal's intent after waving it through.
WATCH Warren's exchanges with Dudley in the video above.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) aggressively questioned Dudley's claim that the New York Fed had helped end too big to jail with the Credit Suisse case. No human beings are actually in jail for Credit Suisse's tax evasion scheme -- either the Americans who stashed cash in secret, illegal offshore accounts, or the Credit Suisse employees who executed the scheme. The criminal investigation into Credit Suisse, Merkley emphasized, was spurred by a report from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), not the Fed.
"You're the regulator," Merkley said. "Doesn't that mean you're asleep at the switch?"
Republicans made things hard on Dudley by not showing up. Only five senators attended the hearing, and one, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), asked no questions. The others -- Sens. Brown, Warren, Merkley and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are bank reform hawks who have long been critical of the Fed's weak oversight.
Reed opened his questioning by taking issue with the way regional Fed presidents like Dudley are elected, noting that banks have a big say in who ultimately oversees them. Each regional fed board has three classes of directors -- one selected by banks, another headed by corporate leaders selected by banks, and a third that is supposed to represent other public interests. The corporate and public interest directors choose the Fed president. Since big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase select the corporate directors in the New York region, they exercise a great deal of influence over the process. Dudley himself is a former Goldman Sachs banker.
And while Dudley insisted that he had changed the culture of the New York Fed for the better since succeeding Timothy Geithner, who left to serve as treasury secretary, he also pushed back against calls for more aggressive oversight of the banking system. He rejected Warren's suggestion that the Fed's bank regulators should function as "the cop on the beat" looking out for misconduct.

‘Invest into space, not war’ – Russian cosmonaut urges Russia-US cooperation

Fruitful cooperation between the Russian and US crews at the International Space Station should become a template for relations between Moscow and Washington, cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev told RT as a new mission prepares to head to the ISS on Sunday.
Artemyev believes that lack of consent between politicians is what prevents humanity from moving forward and starting deep space exploration.
“Both Russia and the US have technical capabilities [to move into deep space], but there’s no understanding that we need this. Of course, it’s easier to start a war and pump a lot of money into it than invest into the space industry,” he said.
The cosmonaut has called the International Space Station (ISS) “a diamond of international cooperation” where the current tensions between Moscow and Washington aren’t felt at all.
“Space unites us all,” he explained, stressing the need for “more space projects that would make the people understand that there’s no need for confrontation.”
“I lived in the American segment [of the ISS]… and I communicated with the US, European and Japanese crew members, and it turns out that peace and family values are of prime importance to all of us,” the 43-year-old said.
 Image from

‘I never dreamt of space’

Despite going to school in the Kazakh town of Baikonur where the world’s largest space launch facility is situated, Artemyev confessed that he didn’t even dream of becoming cosmonaut in his younger years.
“It was something unachievable. A completely different level. Cosmonauts at the Baikonur Cosmodrome were super people for us school kids,” he said.
Artemyev said decided to try joining the space program a lot later when he was a student in Moscow.
The cosmonaut now says that the 169 days he spent at the ISS in March – September 2014 “were absolutely great.”
“This is my job and I have no regrets in choosing it. I think anyone who could imagine what I saw and felt, would certainly want to go to space,” he stressed.
 Namib desert in Africa pictured from the ISS. (Image from

The pinnacle moment of his space journey were the two space walks, which were “difficult and dangerous, but fascinating,” Artemyev said.
“When the hatch opened, I was fully prepared, as we have to undergo extensive training for this back on Earth, up to two years. It takes place in a hydrolaboratory in the Cosmonaut Training Center in a pressure suit, but underwater which is pretty much the same, but a bit more complicated. The main difference is that underwater you receive assistance from the divers - they can always help you. But in open space you and your partner are all alone – and helping each other is vital,” he stressed.

One Year After Ending Stop-And-Frisk, NYC Murder Rates Hit 20-Year Low

The aggressive stop-and-frisk laws that were supposed to make citizens safer might not have been as effective as people thought.
For the past two years, the media have depicted the stop-and-frisk laws as necessary to save black and Hispanic lives.
Yet, this week, New York City's crime rate hit a 20-year low. Last week, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said there were 20 fewer murders this year compared to last. “Our rates are probably some of the best in the nation," Bratton said.
The man behind this new policy to stop unnecessary police stop-and-frisks is New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. His focus was ending the thousands of unconsitutional stops of people who weren't suspects, most of whom were black and Latino. Between 2004 and 2012, there were 4.43 million stops, 52 percent being black and 32 percent Latino.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional because cops were stopping people without reasonable suspicion, making the policy an example of indirect racial profiling.
Her comments sparked intense media debate that stop-and-frisk is essential to preserving life on the streets, especially by the right-wing media.
“Stats aside, it's a fact if you take stop-and-frisk away, more black Americans and more Hispanic Americans are going to die,” said Bill O'Reilly.
However, the call to action on this issue was not to take stop-and-frisk away; it was to address the unconstitutional searching of people who are not suspects and are not committing crimes.
Over the last two years, police stops have fallen significantly, down 75 percent from 2011. In 2013, the city recorded the fewest amount of murders in its history.
Cities across the country without aggressive stop-and-frisk policies have seen big drops in their murder rates as well.

November 22, 2014

Cook and Janitor Care for Elderly Residents of Assisted Living Facility Without Pay After It Closed Down

When an assisted living home in California shut down last fall, many of its residents were left behind, with nowhere to go.

The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.

"There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says.

"If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says.

Their roles quickly transformed for the elderly residents, who needed round-the-clock care.

"I would only go home for one hour, take a shower, get dressed, then be there for 24-hour days," says Alvarez.

Rowland, 35, remembers passing out medications during those long days. He says he didn't want to leave the residents — some coping with dementia — to fend for themselves.

"I just couldn't see myself going home — next thing you know, they're in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down," Rowland says. "Even though they wasn't our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time."

For Alvarez, the situation brought back memories from his childhood.

"My parents, when they were younger, they left me abandoned," he says. "Knowing how they are going to feel, I didn't want them to go through that."

Alvarez and Rowland spent several days caring for the elderly residents of Valley Springs Manor until the fire department and sheriff took over.


College student intentionally becomes homeless, lives off campus freebies

Patton Chambers may be the only college student who actively blogs about his underwear and ingrown toenails—all the while being homeless.
A senior at Auburn University, Chambers decided to forgo living in his apartment in order to experience the “homeless” lifestyle for the remainder of his college career. According to the 23-year-old, without the stress of working, homelessness has been the best decision he could have made. 

“What could I do that would eliminate having to work, would open up big opportunities, and be a really fun, interesting experience for me?” Chambers askedCampus Reform in an interview last week. The physical education major had just finished a run at the campus recreation center and was headed to class.
For Chambers, the decision to become homeless wasn’t necessarily a financial one—although he says he appreciates no longer being burdened by rent—but more of a personal experiment. When Chambers lived in his apartment, he rarely left. He says he is too “awkward” for college parties and didn’t do much dating before he gave up his permanent residency.
So Chambers wanted to “start fresh.” He wanted to leave his comfort zone and do things he’s never done before. And he also wanted to quit his job in the fast food industry.
“One of the reasons [to become homeless] was to get out of working,” Chambers told Campus Reform. “It was just stressful night after stressful night, and anytime I’m getting any kind of unnecessary stress put upon me, it’s total bull crap, and I don’t feel the need to put myself through that because it’s not necessary because if I don’t need stress, why am I having stress?”
“And that’s the big thing,” he said. “All I was really working for was money to pay for rent. Honestly, I would rather be homeless and not have to work. That would be a better life.”
Chambers said for years he worked at Chick-fil-a, and while he could take home as much chicken as he wanted each night, he was never on the same page as his coworkers.
Yet since becoming homeless—or “pansy homeless” as he calls his technology-filled lifestyle—Chambers has met more people, and unlike before, he works to establish deeper relationships with the people he comes into contact with whom he can engage in “quality” conversations.
“I figured the homeless thing, if anything, it would help my dating situation because if not anything else, it’s an icebreaker,” Chambers said, laughing. “Now I have better opportunities to make something happen.”
Of course, Chamber’s experiences have drastically changed, but he’s found that more change doesn’t always mean more challenge.
“For the most part, the university’s got dang good facilities everywhere you look,” he said. “People don’t really take advantage of them, they don’t really appreciate them, I don’t feel like, but they’re everywhere.”
From Sunday night to Friday afternoon, a corner of Auburn’s library transforms into Chamber’s bedroom. The library is open 24 hours during the week, and so far, the security guard hasn’t evicted the student. On the weekends, Chambers sleeps in a tent in the woods near campus.

"Toughest Sheriff In America" Suing Obama For His Immigration Policy

Joe Arpaio is suing President Barack Obama for his executive action on immigration. 
Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, said "(Obama's immigration) programs are unconstitutional abuses of the President's role in our nation's constitutional architecture and exceed the powers of the President within the U.S. Constitution,” in his complaint, which was filed in a federal court in Washington.
Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, and in May of 2013 a judge ruled that Arpaio and his police force racially profiled Latino drivers. The judge ordered a court monitor to oversee Arpaio’s operations and decided race could not be used as factor in law enforcement. Maricopa County is nearly 30 percent Latino.
Obama’s executive action will grant temporary amnesty to some 4.7 million undocumented immigrants. About 6 million immigrants will not see a change in their legal status. 
Arpaio’s lawsuit contends that the executive action would encourage more people to immigrate into the United States illegally. In his speech last night, Obama said “[this executive action] does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive.”
Obama also announced plans to increase border security. “First, we'll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over,” he said.