Take Five (States’ Blights edition)

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Take-FiveONE: The Classless of 2010

When this column was launched in December 2010, many now-notorious Republican governors weren’t even sworn in, but within months of taking their oaths of office they began appearing regularly here, lewd exemplars of the very worst of what their party breezily describes as “ideas.” Soon, maddeningly, it seemed as though they’d been around forever, like syphilis or Larry King.

The big story in American politics post-Dubya is not about President Obama or about Washington’s tawdry doings and even tawdrier non-doings; it’s about what’s happening in the 30 governors’ mansions currently occupied by Republicans and in the legislatures where their conservative running dogs frantically attempt to dismantle half a century of hard-won progress.

Republicans in DC have one arrow in their quiver – stubborn obstructionism – but their state-level colleagues have two: not only do they stall and subvert any and all efforts by Democrats to do much of anything, they actually manage to enshrine their own wretched ideas into law. Bad law. The freshman Republican governors of the “classless of 2010” – along with their elder GOP peers – have had a larger impact on people’s lives than this or any President could ever hope to have, and that impact has been dire. At the state level, the Republican Party’s War on Damn Near Everyone has inflicted heavy casualties.

This year and next, 38 states will hold elections for governor, and the results will be every bit as important as the results of the 2014 House and Senate elections. Women’s rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, gay rights, all rights remain at risk as long as Republicans are allowed to control anything.

TWO: Rick-Rolled

Either Rick Perry has finally run out of ideas for screwing over Texas or he’s just setting his sights on screwing over something even bigger, like the entire country. Perry announced recently that he won’t seek another gubernatorial term, but there’s lots of in-progress screwing over to complete before he saddles up, rides off into the sunset, and leaves the whole shambling mess to his unfortunate successor.

Perry’s announcement was originally scheduled to be made in June but was delayed due to some of that aforementioned screwing over, in this case involving draconian restrictions on reproductive rights for women. Consistent with most legislation passed during Perry’s tenure, some of the ramifications of the bill can scarcely be guessed at now and the extent of the damage to the body politic can’t be fully assessed until the legislation has metastasized, but metastasize it surely will.

After state Senator Wendy Davis successfully filibustered SB 5, ol’ Rick just went right ahead and convened his darn self a special session of the Legislature and got the bill passed. He explained his determination simply, confirming yet again that the words “Rick Perry” and “simple” have an almost magnetic mutual attraction:

“Texas is a place where we defend life.”

The 261 folks executed on Perry’s watch might take umbrage at the statement, but them’s the breaks if you insist on being an evil-doer in a Rick-rolled state. Of course, restricting women’s rights isn’t the only thing the lame duck governor has on the docket. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s transparently political body blow to the Voting Rights Act, the Perry regime took pains to crow – uh, announce that it will enforce photo ID provisions, provisions previously halted by a federal court as discriminatory against minority voters.

In a line from his retirement announcement aimed at friends and supporters, Perry said:

In our time together, we have made the most of this unique opportunity to shape the future of Texas.

That they have, it’s true. And despite the relief millions of Texans will feel on seeing the east end of a westbound Rick Perry, they still have 18 more months to wait, heartsick, while he and his cronies continue to make the most of this unique opportunity. At which point those Texans will have a chance to start repairing the damage by electing a Democrat to replace him, and giving that Democrat a Legislature dominated by Democrats. Implausible? Maybe, but George Bush the Lesser being succeeded in Austin by someone even worse seemed implausible too, 12 years ago.

For a superb, though far from comprehensive, roundup of the damage Perry had done to Texas and Texans, go here.

THREE: Three of a Kind

Perry isn’t the only far-right gubernatorial goober to institutionalize rolling back women’s rights. In fact, the practice is spreading across state lines faster than this summer’s wildfires.

The execrable Scott Walker signed a bill recently that prevents a doctor from performing abortions unless said doctor has admitting privileges at a “local” hospital, and mandates – another Republican fave rave – that women seeking an abortion undergo the scarlet-letter indignity of a medically unnecessary ultrasound. Lawsuits filed by two Wisconsin abortion providers are pending. Continue reading Take Five (States’ Blights edition)

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Take Five (Wieners Circle edition)

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ONE: The Boy Can’t Help It

I’m convinced that the Republican Party is running some sort of “say the stupidest thing that pops into your head” contest for its membership. Maybe the reasoning, if there actually is any, is that it keeps their names in the news.

A case in point is Todd Akin. His Senate candidacy notwithstanding, I’m guessing few people had ever heard of Akin before August, when the six-term Congressman decided to share his decidedly pre-Renaissance views on rape and pregnancy with KTVI, a St. Louis television station. Ever since, it’s nearly impossible to get through a day without hearing something from or about him.

Amanda Marcotte, with an assist by the American Bridge 21st Century PAC, introduced another Akin Rhapsody in Ridiculousness recently when she shared C-SPAN video footage of Akin speaking on the House floor in 2008 about abortion providers:

Who wants to be at the very bottom of the food chain of the medical profession? And what sort of places do these bottom-of-the-food-chain doctors work in? Places that are really a pit. You find that along with the culture of death go all kinds of other law-breaking: not following good sanitary procedure, giving abortions to women who are not actually pregnant, cheating on taxes, all these kinds of things, misuse of anesthetics so that people die or almost die. All of these things are common practice, and all of that information is available for America.

Akin, like the rest of his party, despises the Affordable Care Act, but if he were the “reading various things and attempting to process them into a clear and cogent worldview” type, he might be delighted to hear about a new study which underscores the abortion-reducing potential of the ACA:

When more than 9,000 women ages 14 to 45 in the St. Louis area were given no-cost contraception for three years, abortion rates dropped from two-thirds to three-quarters lower than the national rate, according to a new report by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers.

The report doesn’t mention what percentage of abortions still performed were on non-pregnant participants, women who presumably just enjoy the heck out of the process and don’t want to wait until they actually have a pregnancy they want ended. And don’t even get me started on all those “culture of death” doctors who devote themselves to aborting non-existent embryos, whooping all the while like the hopped-up teenagers who terrorized Dana Andrews and his family in Hot Rods to Hell.

Akin also made the news, not for the first time, for his finances. If only he didn’t spend so much time jawing obsessively about things he knows absolutely zilch about, perhaps he would do a more conscientious and thorough job with those pesky disclosure forms:

Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin on Thursday released a decade’s worth of federal financial reports he has updated with nearly $130,000 in state pension income that he received, but failed to disclose, over that time.

“This was an unintentional oversight and I regret any inconvenience this may cause,” the Missouri congressman wrote in a letter dated Tuesday to the chairman of the House Ethics Committee…

This marks the second time that Akin has amended a decade’s worth of personal financial disclosure reports while running for the Senate.

In July 2011, Akin amended his reports from 2001 through 2010 to show his stake in properties owned by family partnerships in the St. Louis and Cape Cod, Mass., areas.

Cape Cod? Could he be a – gasp! – closet liberal? Fear not, grasshopper; Akin’s odious opinions, misinformed views and general ignorance of the planet on which he lives recently earned him lavish praise from fellow rightwing doofus Pat Boone, and there’s no more cranium-emptying assurance of regressive bona fides than that. Akin was so goshdarn tickled about it that he featured the endorsement on his campaign site:

“I’m strongly supportive of Todd Akin for US Senator from Missouri. My ancestor Daniel Boone would be, too–he and Rebecca had 10 kids, definitely pro-life. Todd’s opponent is resolutely of the “pro abortion” camp which championed, just last year, the “termination” of over 600,000 baby girls. Todd Akin will represent the true values of Missouri families.”

Golly Moses. And if the legendary Pat Boone can’t put him over the top, Akin just got reinforcements in the form of America’s most beloved breeding pair, the Duggars. The continuously copulating conservative couple will hold rallies for Akin in Osage Beach, Farmington and Poplar Bluff on October 15 and 16.

Might as well pack your bags, Claire McCaskill, and book a ticket for some commie bastion like New York or Hollywood, or Cape Cod, where you can get yourself a post-menopausal abortion just for the hell of it at one of those unsanitary, tax-dodging pits you love so much.

TWO: The Doctor Is Sick

If Todd Akin really wants to find the very bottom of the food chain of the medical profession, he should start with his colleague Paul Broun, who has represented Georgia’s 10th District since 2007. Broun is a homophobe, an Islamophobe, a religious fanatic, a climate change denier and such a vigorous “traditional marriage” champion that he’s been hitched four times. He’s also a medical doctor and has a degree in chemistry. Broun recently appeared at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet and horked up this:

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior…

“You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth,” he said. “I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”

But wait, there’s more!

“What I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it,” he said. “It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”

The Congressman didn’t explain precisely where in the Good Book he received the guidance that induced him to vote against, among other things, mandatory troop rest periods between deployments to Iraq (August 2007), SCHIP reauthorization (September 2007), the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund (October 2007), funding to combat AIDS, malaria and TB (April 2008), requiring OSHA to establish combustible dust safety standards (April 2008), GI Bill expansion (May 2008), FDA regulation of tobacco (July 2008), the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (January 2009), financial regulation (December 2009 and June 2010), expansion of unemployment benefits (April, July and November 2010), the Mine Safety Act (December 2010), income tax deductions for small businesses (April 2012), and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012 (May 2012).

I guess you just have to read between the lines. Continue reading Take Five (Wieners Circle edition)

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Take Five (Misrule of Law edition)

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ONE: Fed Up but Still Hungry in Wisconsin

If Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall election results left a bad taste in your mouth – and my confident guess would be that if you’re reading this, they sure as hell did – I offer as a completely inadequate diversion the curious case of Wisconsinite Bill Wisth.

Wisth is a hungry man who finds himself at odds with Chuck’s Place, a Thiensville eatery featuring a purported all-you-can-eat Friday Fish Fry, which actually, according to Wisth’s allegations, turns out to be more of an all-some-can-eat proposition:

He was there [May 11] when the restaurant cut him off after he ate a dozen pieces.

“Well, we asked for more fish and they refused to give us any more fish,” recalled Wisth.

The restaurant says it was running out of fish and patience; arguing Bill has been a problem customer before.  They sent him on his way with another eight pieces, but that still wasn’t enough.

He was so fired up, he called the police.  “I think that people have to stand up for consumers,” said Wisth.

And stand up he will. Wisth has vowed to picket Chuck’s Place every Sunday until its management sees sense and allows the 350-pound seafood enthusiast to chow down without restriction. As a former union member, registered Democrat and fellow consumer, I feel I can do no less than support him robustly, but at least one Chuck’s Place worker makes my sense of solidarity waver:

Elizabeth Roeming is a waitress there and says they’ve tried to work with Bill over the years — like letting him have a tab he still hasn’t paid off.

It’s only my theory, of course, but I suspect Wisth might have scheduled his picketing for Sundays so that he could take advantage of the Friday Fish Fry that the Prime Minister Restaurant, a very short drive from Chuck’s Place, also features. With potato pancakes, soup or salad, cole slaw and dessert, all for a wallet-friendly $9.49, it will help should Wisth ever decide to pay off that tab over at Chuck’s Place.

TWO: Cited Sub, Didn’t Sink Same

Elsewhere in Wisconsin’s apparently chaotic food scene, you might recall a story about Mitt Romney and his slimy little buddy Paul Ryan greasing Waukesha voters’ palms with free sandwiches back in April.

The Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board, which was denied because the GAB considered it a possible criminal matter. A parallel complaint was filed with Brad Schimel, DA of Waukesha County, but Schimel has now announced that he doesn’t believe the two Republicans committed a crime:

In a letter to Melissa Bauldauff, research director for the state Democratic Party, Schimel said he would not be filing charges.

“The lunch was set up for a specific group. Anyone who was from that specific group was not charged for their lunch,” Schimel wrote. “A corner of the restaurant was designated for these individuals and the RFP campaign was permitted to display campaign signs in that area. Other customers who were not part of this group were charged the normal price for their meals and drinks.”

“To obtain a criminal conviction for election bribery, a prosecutor must prove that the individual(s) offered something of value with the intent to induce individuals to vote by providing something of value. There is no evidence to contradict the intent claimed by the organizers of the luncheon. The most reasonable conclusion that may be drawn from the evidence appears to support the claim by the RFP campaign that they did not intend to induce the general public to vote.”

To which I can only say, Mr. Schimel, baloney.

THREE: “But it’s a dry oppression…”

The Achilles heel of the rule of law is bad law. Enter the Republican Party. An immense amount of abysmal legislation has been rammed through Republican-dominated state houses in the last few years, much of it derived from paint-by-numbers bills produced by everyone’s favorite “nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions,” the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Arizona’s 50th Legislature, now mercifully adjourned, is a depressing case in point:

Lawmakers proposed some of the most conservative measures in the nation: abortion limits; allowing employers to opt out of providing contraceptive health-care coverage; restricting union activities; allowing guns on college campuses; cutting taxes; and curbing regulation.

They pursued controversial efforts to require presidential candidates to show proof of citizenship to get on the state ballot, sought to take control of federal land and tried to prevent any level of Arizona government from adopting environmental-sustainability policies.

The session was not an unqualified win for Arizona Republicans, however:

Despite Republicans’ political advantage, their bills had mixed success. Many of the session’s most-controversial efforts failed or were significantly watered down. Political insiders cite a variety of reasons: lawmakers trying to cater to more-moderate voters during an election year, a governor who hasn’t been afraid to wield her veto power and vocal opposition from the public.

Due to redistricting, some retirements and even possible voter backlash, the worst might be over for Arizona come November:

“You will see the 21 Republican [Senate] seats shrink to 17 or 18,” predicted Chris Herstam, a former state representative and political commentator.

So only 18/21sts as bad as it is now? In red states, you better take progress where you find it, I guess. Continue reading Take Five (Misrule of Law edition)

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TSW #32

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Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, April 29:

… the [Wisconsin Democratic primary] competition has boiled down to a two-man race between former Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, the 2010 Democratic nominee, and Kathleen Falk… It is a competitive primary, in which both sides are well financed and motivated. There just isn’t much difference between the two.

… Barrett is better known than Falk as a former mayor of Milwaukee and congressman … Barrett, however, is not a perfect candidate either, and has only been in the race since the end of March. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 against Walker and he lost…

… Wisconsin Democrats still have to sift through their candidates and pick one on May 8. They just may have a difficult time staying awake in the process.


They may? That’s strange, because I’m pretty damned sure Wisconsin Democrats are wide awake. It’s Jacobs who seems to be asleep. Otherwise, how are we to account for Kathleen Falk, a woman, being named as one-half of a “two-man race”? Or Tom Barrett, the current mayor of Milwaukee, being described twice as the “former mayor” of Milwaukee? He won a third term on April 3, as a matter of fact. There were balloons and everything.

As to Jacobs’ apparent objection to there not being “much difference between the two,” it’s difficult to understand why and how he would expect two generally mainstream, career Democratic politicians to have “much difference” between them. Continue reading TSW #32

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Take Five (Mooks'n'Mamalukes edition)

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ONE: Say It Ain’t Joe

Joe Arpaio has had one hell of a run. Twenty years as sheriff of a county now comprising 3.8 million people is no mean achievement, especially if said sheriff has a propensity to bend, bludgeon or break the law routinely.

It would be foolish to assume that his run is necessarily over, no matter how things seem to be unfolding for Arpaio, but I’m pleased to see that things seem to be unfolding rather badly for him. As buzzards circle over Maricopa County, John Dougherty (who has covered the sheriff from the beginning) notes that Arpaio is running out of friends:

The latest Arpaio political supporter to fall is former Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas, who was disbarred April 10 for engaging in unethical conduct to intimidate and smear his and Arpaio’s political adversaries…

Thomas’ disbarment comes six months after Arpaio’s closest ally in the state Legislature was recalled from office. Angry voters ousted former Senate President Russell Pearce for his leading role in passing Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070… Pearce was once Arpaio’s chief deputy and is credited with coming up with the idea 20 years ago of housing thousands of county inmates in tents.

Arpaio has also lost key support staff within his office, including his longtime chief deputy David Hendershott, who was fired last year for his role in an unfolding Arpaio campaign finance scandal that is the subject of another federal criminal investigation.

The Thomas disbarment, in particular, should make Arpaio sweat, since the Arizona Supreme Court disciplinary panel:

… said there was enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the sheriff and three of his closest allies participated in what the panel believes was federal crime in December 2009.

Uh-oh. What with the campaign finance probe, an ongoing DOJ investigation into possible civil rights violations, and speculation mounting that a three-year grand jury investigation into abuse of power allegations will soon result in criminal charges, it’s tempting to think Arpaio might be stopped before he can win a sixth term this fall. Which would be terrific, not least because Arpaio’s buddies over at WND would surely gnash their teeth and rend their garments in hilarious fashion were old Joe to be brought down. Until or unless that happens, WND frantically continues to lobby Congress to follow the lead of Arpaio’s cold case posse:


WND claims that 47,321 people have already signed the petition. It seems that the way to a birther’s heart is through the caps lock key.

TWO: Joeverkill

Every stinking time God turns around, some politician is invoking Him or justifying an ill-chosen career by blaming its every detail on poor old omnipresent God.

“God says vote for me.”

“God told me to support all that bad legislation.”

“God told me to run again and act like all that bad legislation I supported is something to be proud of.”

“God says vote for me again.”

As if to demonstrate his political bona fides, first-time Congressional candidate Samuel Wurzelbacher – AKA Joe the Plumber – doesn’t think God is on his side, he knows it. Just like he knows a bunch of other things that are also false:

Obama’s ideology is un-American, I say that every day, and I won’t shut up about it.

Obviously he won’t.

His views are socialist. He’s been hanging around with them for a very long time. It’s connecting the dots, it’s very simple. It’s not conspiracy theory, it’s not a bunch of hoopla, it’s real. And people have to call it out, and not be afraid of the media slapping them down. I won’t be.

Hey, God – may I call You God? – if You’re really on Samuel Wurzelbacher’s side, as he claims You are, could You please inspire him to pick up a book and learn something about socialism? Or plumbing?

THREE: No True Hairpiece

When Donald Trump and his entourage swept into the Scottish Parliament yesterday morning, a stiff breeze barrelled down from the Edinburgh crags and threatened to lift the famously thin but coiffured locks from the American entrepreneur’s head.

As it did so, a bemused bystander remarked quietly: “Aye, now we know why he doesn’t like the wind.”

America’s bilious billionaire blowhard was at Holyrood to renew his threats to take his marbles and go home if Scotland doesn’t cancel a proposed wind farm adjacent to Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf course. Trump had planned to add a resort hotel and luxury housing to the course, which is slated to open in July, but maintains that he will cancel the expansions if the 11-turbine renewable energy project goes ahead. His testimony before the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee was, let’s say, quintessentially Trumpian:

At one point he was challenged to provide evidence that building thousands more wind farms would destroy Scottish tourism. “I am the evidence,” he bluntly retorted. “I am considered a world-class expert in tourism.”

Trump accused former First Minister Alex Salmond of misleading him during a 2007 dinner meeting in New York:

Mr Trump said the First Minister had “scoffed” at the idea the offshore wind farm would get planning approval, citing the Ministry of Defence’s concerns about its effect on radar and it blocking shipping lanes…

“So after I’ve invested this tremendous amount of money, all of a sudden this really obnoxious and ugly wind farm appears,” he said. “It’s going to look like Disneyland, except a bad version of Disneyland. I felt betrayed.”

After leaving Holyrood, Trump did what Trump does best. He strutted:

As he strolled out, smirking in pleasure and waving, anti-wind activists hailed his support and his enemies hurled abuse. Police officers rushed into the crowd and surrounded Trump in a protective cordon as the property baron tried to touch hands with admirers crushed behind a crowd barrier.

What a pity that Scotland can’t relocate the wind farm over Trump’s mouth. Renewable energy just doesn’t get more renewable than that. Continue reading Take Five (Mooks’n’Mamalukes edition)

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Take Five (Wild, Wild Life edition)

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ONE: “Turkeys are bad enough.”

Not that there had been much suspense about it beforehand, but Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made her loyalties in the Republican Party’s War on Women abundantly clear when she suffered mild friction burns in her haste to sign the Women’s Health and Safety Act into law.

The bill has nothing to do with women’s health and safety, of course. It’s just another iteration of the standard Republican end-run around women’s reproductive rights, comparable to those already implemented in various other states:

… the law includes education in public schools prioritizing birth and adoption, signs throughout health-care facilities warning against abortion “coercion,” and an order for the state health department to create and maintain a website touting alternatives to abortion and displaying images of fetuses. Also required is abortion counseling for women aiming to abort pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities, and if the abnormality is certain to be fatal, the counseling incorporates perinatal hospice information before ending the pregnancy. It reaffirms existing barriers to access, like the requirement of a notarized parental consent form for minors and a mandatory ultrasound screening within 24 hours of having an abortion.

Brewer’s stance on another issue, however, was a little more surprising. She vetoed for a second time a bill that would have allowed firearms to be carried on public property, although the veto was motivated by fiscal and consensus concerns rather than ideological ones:

“The decisions to permit or prohibit guns in these extremely sensitive locations — whether a city council chamber or branch office staffed with state workers — should be cooperatively reached and supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including citizens, law-enforcement officials and local government leaders,” Brewer wrote in her veto letter…

House Bill 2729… proposed making it legal for people to enter public property with a weapon unless the property was secured by either a state or federal certified law-enforcement officer or an armed security guard and metal detectors…

Cities, counties, law-enforcement agencies and business organizations opposed it, saying they would have had to either let guns into buildings where the public would rather not have them or pay millions of dollars to provide the security required to keep them out.

A study conducted by legislative staff estimates that security costs for a government entity to ban guns could have ranged from $5,000 to $113,800 per public entrance in the first year with ongoing costs of $54,400 to $108,800 per year.

Hey, scoff if you must, but if you want smart policy from an administration like Brewer’s, it’s invariably going to be unintentional.

Elsewhere on the gun (out-of-) control front, an Oklahoma legislator recently offered up a novel rationale for the open-carry bill that recently passed out of committee and is headed for a legislative vote. Ralph Shortey, a – surprise! – Republican, treated fellow members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety to this harrowing anecdote:

“I was in oil and gas,” Shortey said. “I was out on a lease at one time and I got attacked by a turkey. Wait until you get attacked by a turkey. You will know the fear that a turkey can invoke in a person. And so I beat it with a club. That was all I could do.

“I wish that I had a gun with me,” he said. “And I started carrying a gun in my truck after that without a license because I didn’t want to get attacked by a mountain lion. Turkeys are bad enough.”

Maybe I’m naïve, but it seems to me that all this proves is that Oklahoma should consider an open-carry law for clubs. If they’re good enough for Shortey, they should be good enough for everyone else.

TWO: “… one of these massive, nuclear submarine-type sturgeon.”

It’s a pleasure to report that, despite Scott Walker’s worst intentions, at least one part of Wisconsin’s government is still functional, the Department of Natural Resources.

Near Shawano, DNR wardens recently discovered a sturgeon reckoned to be 125 years old. The fish was laying eggs in the Wolf River, over 30 pounds’ worth. The sturgeon’s length was measured at seven feet, three inches, and its weight at 240 pounds.

Said Wisconsin DNR sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch: “I knew they were out there and I thought, ‘We finally got one of these massive, nuclear submarine-type sturgeon.'”

The wardens kindly tagged and released the fish before Wisconsin Republicans could take a cleaver to it like they have everything else in the state.

THREE: Do you know the way to San Jose? And could someone please turn up the heat in here?

Two recent incidents indicate that the TSA might finally have succeeded in its apparent mission to drive air travelers completely bonkers.

On April 10, a woman lit up a cigarette in a nonsmoking area of the B Concourse at Denver International. Asked to extinguish the cigarette, she complied. Then she removed her clothing. Whatever the relevance may be to the smoking and/or the stripping, the woman told Denver police officers that she hadn’t slept the night before (the incident occurred at about 8:45 in the morning). She was later taken to an area hospital for a medical assessment.

You’re probably thinking this was just a weird, one-off occurrence, worthy of a smile but not a second thought. Not so fast, gentle reader. Consider a question recently posed by Gothamist:

So is naked TSA protesting now a trend?

Well, maybe. A week after the Denver incident, one John Brennan, bound for San Jose, California, was going through security screening at Portland International. At some point in the process, Brennan decided to – whoops! – take his clothes off, too:

Police charged John E. Brennan with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure after he disrobed while going through the security screening area at the airport Tuesday evening.

“When interviewed about his actions, Mr. Brennan stated he fly’s (sic) a lot and had disrobed as a form of protest against TSA screeners who he felt were harassing him,” a police incident report said…

“Mr. Brennan’s actions caused two screening lanes to be closed and while some passengers covered their eyes and their children’s eyes and moved away from the screening area, others stepped out of the screening lanes to look, laugh and take photos of Mr. Brennan,” the police report said.

Which, for the latter group mentioned, at least, put a little fun back into the reliably crappy experience of modern air travel.

Gothamist didn’t venture into woo territory searching for a connection between the two incidents, but there’s no reason why I shouldn’t. Who’s to say that there isn’t something nefarious afoot here? Some plot to destabilize America via inconvenient nudity? Some weird George A. Romero scenario, but instead of becoming zombies, the infected attack an unsuspecting world by jiggling their jiggly bits at them in inopportune settings? Or maybe Brennan was just on something?

He was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time, police said.

Until further data is available, I guess I’ll just go with the Romero scenario, then. I hope at least the judge remembers to thank Brennan for not smoking. Continue reading Take Five (Wild, Wild Life edition)

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Take Five (Civilitas Successit Barbarum edition)

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ONE: One Live Badger

A review of petitions by Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board validated almost 901,000 signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker and over 800,000 to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, far in excess of the 540,208 needed for each.

Republicans had sagely “warned” that the integrity of the petition process would be compromised by fake names, and their “fears” were borne out when fake names were indeed discovered, a whopping four of them (Adolf Hitler, Mick E. Mous, Donald L. Duck and I Love Scott Walker Thanks, if you’re curious). A fifth name, Fungky Van Den Elzen, was initially thought fake, but later confirmed to be happily real.

Recall election season officially began with the GAB’s certification of the results on March 30. Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, who lost to Scott Walker in 2010, announced his candidacy for governor that same day, to nobody’s surprise. Almost immediately after Barrett’s announcement, the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s communications director, Ben Sparks, got busy rewriting history:

Wisconsin rejected Barrett and elected Governor Walker by an overwhelming majority because they wanted to move Wisconsin forward from the 8 years of failed liberal policies that culminated in 150,000 lost jobs and a $3.6 billion budget deficit.

You might remember that Walker’s “overwhelming majority” was 52.25% of the vote, even if Ben Sparks doesn’t. And you might know that the proximate reason for Wisconsin’s fiscal woes (and those of the rest of the country) wasn’t failed liberal policies but failed conservative ones trickling down from DC during the Bush years, even if Ben Sparks doesn’t.

Sparks moved on to a carefully vague denunciation of Barrett’s record in Milwaukee:

We look forward to contrasting Governor Walker’s bold record of moving Wisconsin forward with Barrett’s liberal tax and spend agenda that has only led to a total downward spiral of Milwaukee’s economy.

Despite that whole total downward spiral thing, Milwaukee voters seem to like Tom Barrett’s liberal tax and spend agenda, even if Ben Sparks is paid not to. They enthusiastically elected Barrett to another mayoral term on April 3. Listen up, Ben Sparks! This is an overwhelming majority:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett cruised to victory in his re-election bid Tuesday, easily winning another four-year term by turning back challenger Edward McDonald.

Unofficial returns showed the Democratic mayor with about 70 percent of the vote, compared with about 30 percent for McDonald.

Barrett is currently the favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, which will be decided in a May 8 primary. He leads his nearest rival, Kathleen Falk, 36% to 29%, but with workers’ rights figuring to be a prominent campaign issue, he isn’t as well positioned as his backers might hope:

Barrett earned the ire of Milwaukee unions last year, when he used Walker’s budget reforms (known as Act 10) to propose a budget that cut city employees’ health and pension benefits rather than making a deal with unions before the law took effect. He also clashed with unions in an attempt to take over the public school system.

Unlike Falk, Barrett has not promised to veto any state budget that didn’t restore collective bargaining rights.

A dispiriting March 25 poll indicated that neither Barrett nor his Democratic rivals would best Walker:

Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk trails by 49%-45%; Milwaukee Mayor and 2010 Democratic nominee Tom Barrett is behind by 47%-45%; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout trails by 49%-41%; and Secretary of State Doug La Follette trails by 49%-42%.

Yet by April 2, another poll hinted that Walker’s malefic, misery-soaked tenure might just be drawing to a close:

A new Rasmussen Reports statewide survey shows that, if the recall election was held today, 52% of Likely Voters would vote to recall Governor Walker and remove him from office. Forty-seven percent (47%) would vote against the recall and let him continue to serve as governor.

Yes, it’s Rasmussen, and yes, the poll has an MOE of plus or minus 4.5%, but the shift it purports to document is hugely encouraging at this stage of the recall. The last official seal of the Wisconsin Territory in 1839 and the first state seal in 1848 both featured the motto “Civilitas successit barbarum,” which translates as “Civilization succeeds barbarism.” Can Democrats restore civilization to Wisconsin after Scott Walker’s barbarism? Yes, they can. Is Tom Barrett the right person to lead that effort? Labor troubles aside, he might be; Wisconsin urgently needs a brave guy who doesn’t like thugs, and whatever his shortcomings, Barrett is that. Of course it would be completely wrong of me to liken the actions of Scott Walker and his legislative cronies to an attack on Wisconsin with a metal pipe, so I won’t resort to that metaphor. It was much more like a baseball bat attack, anyway.

TWO: Give or Take $7.3 Million

Forty days or so after Scott Walker was sworn in last year, mass protests against his policies were underway. For weeks, huge crowds rallied on the grounds and in the rotunda of the Capitol in Madison. It was magnificent.

Walker’s administration was predictably frantic about getting protesters barred from the building. After litigation ensued, a government official – in one of the earliest, best examples of the administration’s helpless affinity for simply making shit up – told the court that the protests had inflicted an estimated $7.5 million of damage on the building and its environs:

DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch originally claimed that tape used to hang signs throughout the Capitol building may have damaged marble stones. A memo from DOA’s historic preservation officer Dan Stephans estimated it could cost as much as $500,000 for an estimate of the damage, another $6 million for professional restoration work on the tape-affected marble and $1 million to repair damage to the Capitol grounds.

Stephans acknowledged in the memo that the numbers were an “estimated guess.” An open-records request by the Journal Sentinel revealed the estimate was based on a few of Stephans’ handwritten estimates on a single sheet of notebook paper.

Other than a potential $20,000 for additional landscaping, the final tally for cleanup costs is now in, and it turns out the government’s original estimate was off by a mere $7,302,541.

(Note to Governor Walker: fire Dan Stephans and save the state his $110,888.54 salary, and Wisconsin taxpayers are only on the hook for $86,570.46 in cleanup costs. Hey, always happy to help out a fiscal hawk like your bad self, sir.)

THREE: The Last Days of Pompous

David Badash’s estimable website The New Civil Rights Movement mistakenly “broke” a story from May 2011 when it belatedly picked up a Forbes report on Scott Walker’s failed attempt to deny same-sex couples hospital visitation rights. It’s a story worth reading anyway, and the site quickly published a correction. The error was understandable, really; it’s easy to get confused over the timing of Walker’s various profanations of the public realm. They all share the same gorge-taunting odor, and there are so damned many of them it gets hard to remember their specifics.

And now, with the growing possibility that he might end up unemployed some weeks hence, Walker and his legislative toadies are treating state law the way Keith Moon treated hotel rooms. Democracy Now! provides a succinct and nauseating summary of his recent policy achievements:

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker has privately signed a series of controversial bills aimed at curbing access to abortion and sex education. The first bill bans most abortion coverage under policies obtained through a health insurance exchange set to be created under the Obama administration’s healthcare reform law, allowing coverage only for rape, incest or medical necessity. A second bill requires every woman seeking an abortion to meet privately with a doctor and undergo an exam before the procedure so the doctor can ensure she is not being pressured. Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a felony. A third bill requires teachers in schools that offer sex education to stress abstinence and says they no longer need to address contraception. Wisconsin’s current law requires some instruction on birth control options. Walker signed the bills Thursday, but did not announce the move until the next day on Good Friday, when his office released a list of about 50 bills he had recently signed… Among the other bills Walker signed was a repeal of the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which gave women and other marginalized groups more power to fight wage discrimination.

All part of what Ben Sparks would call “Governor Walker’s bold record of moving Wisconsin forward.” Although Sparks never did specify the final destination Walker has in mind, its outlines get clearer all the time. Continue reading Take Five (Civilitas Successit Barbarum edition)

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Take Five (Déjà Vu All Over Again edition)

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ONE: Hey, would you rather have fungus in your OJ?

Last week, Take Five coughed up a small hairball over the USDA’s recently announced downsizing, which will see 259 facilities and 7,000 employees slashed, a reduction Tom Vilsack was quick to claim “… will have no impact whatsoever on our ability to ensure food safety…”

Well, that’s very good news, Mr. Secretary. Just days after your announcement, the good people at PepsiCo Inc. noted that tests have found traces of carbendazim, a “potentially dangerous” fungicide, in their Tropicana brand orange juice. This follows rival Coca Cola’s announcement that shipments from Brazil intended for their Minute Maid brand juice had turned up carbendazim in quantities that were found to be below federal safety standards:

Carbendazim is used in Brazil to combat blossom blight and black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees.

But in the United States, its use is limited to non-food items such as paints, textiles and ornamental trees, although U.S. authorities allow trace amounts of carbendazim in 31 food types including grains, nuts and some non-citrus fruits.

The FDA said low levels of carbendazim are not dangerous and the agency had no plans for a recall.

So far so good, then. Thanks to a sound regulatory regime and admirable compliance from the corporations being regulated, we can assume that no consumer has found his sperm development compromised, or her chromosomes damaged, which is nice. As originally noted in Pesticides News No. 57 in September 2002, carbendazim is:

… of major concern due to its suspected hormone disrupting effects. It has been highlighted by Friends of the Earth as one of their ‘filthy four’ pesticides as it could be harmful to human health and the environment.

For good measure, let’s also assume that not a single one of those 7,000 positions or 259 facilities soon to be eliminated ever had to deal with carbendazim. Everyone can sleep better that way, and start tomorrow with a refreshing glass of fungus-free orange juice.

TWO: The Voting Dead

Last week, Take Five looked on in disgust as South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and his boss Nikki Haley announced a lawsuit against the DOJ for its refusal to rubberstamp the state’s new voter ID law. In an incredible (as in “not even a tiny bit credible”) coincidence, last week Wilson asked the State Law Enforcement Commission to investigate what he claims is:

… the fact that over 900 persons, who were deceased at the time of [recent] elections, appear to have “voted” in those elections.

Wilson purportedly bases this claim on data provided by DMV Director Kevin Shwedo.

Scott Keyes at Think Progress succinctly summarized what invariably occurs when such allegations arise:

… while salacious accusations like Wilson’s grab headlines, the subsequent investigations that find no voter fraud rarely get as much attention. Indeed, no election would be complete without allegations of dead voters; yet each time, officials perform the same Scooby-Doo routine, investigating wild accusations before discovering a much simpler explanation for the discrepancies.

Keyes goes on to quote some illustrative examples from a paper on voter fraud commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, but I recommend you read the whole thing (PDF here). It pretty much puts paid to the notion that such a thing as voter fraud exists in any statistically meaningful sense. Keyes concludes by saying:

Whether it’s a spelling error, a check-in error, or simply a death shortly after Election Day, minor discrepancies do pop up during elections; zombie voters, less so.

Officials like Wilson would do well to apply Occam’s Razor in matters like these before spinning wild accusations.

Yes, they would, but of course Wilson needs to spin these wild accusations if he hopes to implement the new voter ID law in time to suppress Democratic votes this November. Barack Obama got 44.9 percent of the South Carolina vote in 2008, and what few forecasts there are to suggest he’ll do better this year strike me as mostly wishful thinking, but – as that old skunk Karl Rove himself would no doubt agree – when it comes to elections there’s really no such thing as an abundance of caution.

THREE: Talking (and Talking and Talking) Book

The Romney campaign site is currently touting an endorsement from Senator John McCain, the last Republican candidate to have his butt kicked by Barack Obama:

“Governor Romney offers us the commonsense reforms of government policy that are necessary to turn around our economy,” said Senator McCain. “His record of accomplishment in government and business are a testament to his leadership abilities. His commitment to a strong defense and principled diplomacy will earn the world’s respect for American leadership.”

Strangely, however, McCain’s 2008 campaign team didn’t share the Senator’s seeming respect for Romney’s “record of accomplishment” or his “leadership abilities” or anything else about him. In fact, they appear to have regarded him as the transparently phony jackass that he actually is.

Andrew Kaczynski at BuzzFeed has posted what appears to be the McCain campaign’s opposition research book on Mitt Romney. Snippets have surfaced before, but this is the first time the entire thing has been made available. It was worth the wait. There’s so much juicy stuff in here it should inspire Newt Gingrich and Romney’s other remaining primary rivals to wet dreams.

If you’re pressed for time, head straight to the “Top Hits” section on page 7, but it’s worth poking around some more if the thought of reading so much about Mitt Romney doesn’t make you too queasy. You’ll find the biographical timeline beginning on page 3 quite informative, and there are handy executive summaries of Romney and social issues (page 13), economic issues (page 45), foreign policy (page 66), domestic policy (page 87), Romney’s business record (page 135), his flip-flops (page 168) and miscellaneous political issues, including campaign ethics and “questionable Republican credentials” (page 179). Each summary prefaces pages of carefully sourced excerpts from letters, transcripts and other primary documents, press releases, news stories, editorials, commentary and analysis. What follows are a few items I particularly enjoyed.

About those business accomplishments:

Bain Capital financed 1988 buyout with junk bonds issued by Drexel Burnham – when SEC filed charges against the firm and CEO Michael Milken, Bain Capital maintained their business relationship; Romney later reminisced about “the glorious days of Drexel Burnham.” (page 135)

Romney has been criticized by experts for failing to deliver on issues of business development and economic growth after selling himself as the “CEO governor.” (page 8 )

Bain Capital owned company named Ampad that purchased an Indiana paper plant, fired its workers and offered to bring them back at drastically reduced salary and benefits – the firings became an issue in the 1994 Senate race when workers blamed Romney for their situation and appeared in Kennedy campaign ads. (page 135)

About those accomplishments in government:

In 1994, Romney opposed the Contract with America without even reading it. (page 179)

Romney’s spending decisions as chairman of the Republican Governors Association during 2006 election cycle “raised eyebrows” in light of his presidential aspirations. (page 179)

Romney took no position on estate tax issue in 2002 and signed 50% increase in state cremation fee, which observers call “hidden tax on the dead.” (page 9)

There’s even a fun section about Romney’s, um, consistent values and steadfast positions:

ABORTION: Romney Was Pro-Choice. Then Not Pro-Choice. Then Pro-Choice Again. Then Pro-Life (page 168)

SECOND AMENDMENT: Romney Once Bragged Of Opposing NRA. Promised Not To “Chip Away” At Tough Gun Laws But Now Seeks NRA Endorsement (page 171)

OWNING A GUN. Romney Said He Owned A Gun Himself. Then Admitted It Was Not His Gun (page 171)

CLIMATE CHANGE: Romney Once Claimed Global Warming Debate Was “Pretty Much Over” But Now Expresses Skepticism And Attacks His Opponents (page 172)

GAY MARRIAGE: In 2002, Romney Refused To Endorse Constitutional Amendment Banning Gay Marriage, Saying It Was Too Extreme, But Later Endorsed Amendment Banning Gay Marriage In 2006 (page 173)

STEM CELL RESEARCH: Romney Once Endorsed Embryonic Stem Cell Research And Promised To “Work and Fight” For It Before Changing His Position (page 174)

And the book doesn’t overlook the kind of stuff that’s really important to today’s voters:

FAVORITE BOOK: Romney Insisted L. Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth” Was His Favorite Novel, Then Said Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” Was His Favorite (page 174)

FAVORITE MOVIE: Romney Has Changed Positions On His Favorite Film In Recent Years (page 175)

Keep in mind that this happy compendium was put together four years ago, so it’s missing almost half a decade of new policy reversals, contradictions, exaggerations, lies, duplicity, scuzzy business dealings and miscellaneous Mittery. If the other remaining Republican candidates have a lick of sense (which I doubt) they’ve got their campaigns working overtime on the sequel to this blockbuster. Continue reading Take Five (Déjà Vu All Over Again edition)

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How We Got Here, and What Liberals Could Do Now

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Americans are now at a place where our credit worthiness as a nation has been downgraded, and more economic hard times are looming. Republicans succeeded beyond their expectations in putting the nation at risk, holding our economy hostage via their one-sided debt ceiling demands. After taking debt negotiations all the way to the wire, Speaker Boehner proudly proclaimed that his party had won as much as 98% of what Republicans wanted. For most Americans and the economy, however, the deal represented about 100% of what they hadn’t asked for.

S&P’s Research Update explains the agency’s downgrading of America:

“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options.” 

The Tea Party’s original raison d’etre was protesting the government’s Wall Street bailouts, an event that had been initiated by the Bush Administration after eight years of George Bush’s disastrous economic policies. The Tea Party didn’t actually show up until after Pres. Obama had been inaugurated, although no one ever bothered to ask these so-called activists why they arrived so late to their own party.

In the summer of 2009, at the onset of the health care debate, the “Teabaggers” focused on opposing Pres. Obama in every way, shape and form, which included a confused mix of “government is bad/health care is bad/righting the economy is bad/socialism is bad/Obama is as bad as Hitler” and whatever else was anti-Democratic Party. They were the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” corporate-funded brigade, an older, richer, whiter America’s version of civil rights activism, protesting the new Democratic administration and its attempts at utilizing government spending, a la Keynes, to spur a failing economy.

The corporate media, for varied reasons, began immediately showering these newly minted faux-Howard Beales with wall-to-wall television coverage. If there was one protester at one town hall meeting, he got as much media coverage as the President. The same three video clips of an angry white person, or two or three, shouting down Democratic congresspersons in purple districts were shown on the tube repeatedly. As the networks and cable outfits cheered in excitement at the tantalizing possibility of a death match between proponents of health care reform and those who insist that government should keep their hands off of their government-run health care, the Tea Party grew shrill and loud.

Tea Party members were always relatively small in numbers, which makes one wonder if intense media coverage of their existence was ever justified. I don’t believe the media ever explained adequately their fascination with this crew. What we did learn is that the size of a protest group never really matters, because the numbers can be made to multiply and grow. The media assigned itself that duty, and there is evidence that they worked hard to get the job done. Continue reading How We Got Here, and What Liberals Could Do Now

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Take Five (We're Having a Heatwave, a Tropical Heatwave edition)

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ONE: Time for Georgia and Alabama to consider a border fence?

Maybe it’s just the weather, but a few Florida-centric crime stories from last week suggest that some people’s synapses are really beginning to short-circuit a tetch.

That may not be much of a revelation, given the state’s reputation, but even by Florida’s usual standards, last week was a suspiciously weird one.

Consider this odd incident in Utah, involving a Floridian, nudity, and a gun:

Joseph Dennis Alfieri, 50, was cited by the U.S. Forest Service on Sunday with being publicly nude and causing public inconvenience, annoyance and alarm, both misdemeanors. According to information filed Monday in U.S. District Court, a woman camping near the Cobble Rest Campground tracked down forest rangers to report a man walking in a dispersed camping area naked while armed with a pistol.

The woman told rangers the man wore only a holster for his pistol, according to court documents. He reportedly walked around the camping area “at all hours of the night” shouting at the river, the witness said.

Just what that darned river did to piss him off will likely not be known until a court can sort this out, but it appears that Alfieri has a developing habit of behaving badly when way out west:

Federal court records show Alfieri’s address is listed as North Miami, Fla., but property records show he has previous Utah addresses in St. George, Park City and Salt Lake City. Utah state court records show Alfieri pleaded guilty to a DUI-related charge in 1996.

Months ago, I urged Rick Scott to consider imposing a temporary moratorium on out-of-state travel until Floridians can all learn to comport ourselves in a law-abiding fashion. Sure, such a travel ban would violate both state and federal statutes, but it would still be a smart move. That being the case, we can rest assured Governor Scott won’t entertain the idea, so residents of the other 49 had better brace themselves for more buck-naked Floridian pistoleros. At least concealed carry won’t further complicate things, or so we must hope.

Another Floridian, Cherilyn Lopez, decided to keep it local, and she made it a family affair to boot:

A woman who brought in a 3-year-old boy with her when she robbed a bank today told deputies that she has a prescription drug addiction and was going to use the money to buy narcotic pills, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said…

Deputies learned that Lopez originally drove to the bank and parked, leaving the boy in the minivan, the sheriff’s office said.

She entered the bank, but the boy got out of his car seat on his own and headed to the bank. He put his face against the glass and a bank manager noticed him. The bank manager approached Lopez and asked whether the boy was with her, the sheriff’s office said.

Lopez walked outside and grabbed the boy. They walked in and she robbed the bank, the sheriff’s office said.

Huge kudos to the bank manager for ensuring the child’s safety, and here’s to Lopez getting the help she needs. Or, as a baseline, at least considering a sitter next time…

Finally, the sole witness to a burglary in Ocala appears to have reaped a quick reward… from the perp(s):

One of the homeowners told a sheriff’s deputy that he and his wife had left their residence, located in the 3100 block of Southeast 22nd Avenue, around 1 p.m. They returned about 5 p.m. and discovered the break-in.

Removed from the residence was $13,000 worth of jewelry and $400 in cash. Officials noted it appeared the thief/thieves had removed rotisserie chicken from the refrigerator and fed it to the dog.

The homeowner told the Star-Banner that he had purchased the chicken the night before from Publix, and it was found on the living room floor when he discovered the burglary. Continue reading Take Five (We’re Having a Heatwave, a Tropical Heatwave edition)

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