Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs


March 3, 2013

With the Dow Jones industrial average flirting with a record high, the split between American workers and the companies that employ them is widening and could worsen in the next few months as federal budget cuts take hold.

That gulf helps explain why stock markets are thriving even as the economy is barely growing and unemployment remains stubbornly high.

With millions still out of work, companies face little pressure to raise salaries, while productivity gains allow them to increase sales without adding workers.

“So far in this recovery, corporations have captured an unusually high share of the income gains,” said Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “The U.S. corporate sector is in a lot better health than the overall economy. And until we get a full recovery in the labor market, this will persist.”

The result has been a golden age for corporate profits, especially among multinational giants that are also benefiting from faster growth in emerging economies like China and India.

These factors, along with the Federal Reserve’s efforts to keep interest rates ultralow and encourage investors to put more money into riskier assets, prompted traders to send the Dow past 14,000 to within 75 points of a record high last week.

While buoyant earnings are rewarded by investors and make American companies more competitive globally, they have not translated into additional jobs at home.

Other recent positive economic developments, like a healthier housing sector and growth in orders for machinery and some other durable goods, have also encouraged Wall Street but similarly failed to improve the employment picture. Unemployment, after steadily declining for three years, has been stuck at just below 8 percent since last September.

With $85 billion in automatic cuts taking effect between now and Sept. 30 as part of the so-called federal budget sequestration, some experts warn that economic growth will be reduced by at least half a percentage point. But although experts estimate that sequestration could cost the country about 700,000 jobs, Wall Street does not expect the cuts to substantially reduce corporate profits — or seriously threaten the recent rally in the stock markets.

“It’s minimal,” said Savita Subramanian, head of United States equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Over all, the sequester could reduce earnings at the biggest companies by just over 1 percent, she said, adding, “the market wants more austerity.”

As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. In recent years, the shift has accelerated during the slow recovery that followed the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008 and 2009, said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.

Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, he said, but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.

The New York Times
March 4, 2013    

“There hasn’t been a period in the last 50 years where these trends have been so pronounced,” Mr. Maki said.

At the individual corporate level, though, the budget sequestration could result in large job cuts as companies move to protect their bottom lines, said Louis R. Chenevert, the chief executive of United Technologies. Depending on how long the budget tightening lasts, the job cuts at his company could total anywhere from several hundred to several thousand, he said.

“If I don’t have the business, at some point you’ve got to adjust the work force,” he said. “You always try to find solutions, but you get to a point where it’s inevitable.”

The path charted by United Technologies, an industrial giant based in Hartford that is one of 30 companies in the Dow, underscores why corporate profits and share prices continue to rise in a lackluster economy and a stagnant job market. Simply put, United Technologies does not need as many workers as it once did to churn out higher sales and profits.

“Right now, C.E.O.’s are saying, ‘I don’t really need to hire because of the productivity gains of the last few years,’ ” said Robert E. Moritz, chairman of the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

At 218,300 employees, United Technologies’ work force is virtually unchanged from seven years ago, even though annual revenue soared to $57.7 billion in 2012 from $42.7 billion in 2005.

The relentless focus on maintaining margins continues, even though profit and revenue have never been higher; four days after the company’s shares soared past $90 to a record high last month, United Technologies confirmed it would eliminate an additional 3,000 workers this year, on top of 4,000 let go in 2012 as part a broader restructuring effort.

“There’s no doubt we will continue to drive productivity year after year,” Mr. Chenevert said. “Ultimately, we compete globally.”

When companies do hire, it is often overseas, where the growth is. Take 3M, another company among the Dow 30 that is trading at a record high.

Unlike United Technologies, the work force at 3M, based in Minnesota, has grown substantially in recent years, rising to 87,677 last year from 76,239 in 2007. But of those 11,438 positions added, only 608 were in the United States.

Even as President Obama and Congress have battled over the budget in recent months and growth has slowed to a crawl in the United States, the economic picture has actually brightened overseas. Asia has rebounded and Europe stabilized, factors helping the kind of big companies that make up the Dow, said Julia Coronado, chief North American economist at BNP Paribas.

“You’re investing in the global economy,” she said, “and you’re getting access to stronger growth abroad.”

The Federal Reserve has also played a crucial role in propelling the stock market higher, economists and strategists say, even if that was not the intent of policy makers. The Fed has made reducing unemployment a top priority, but in practice its policy of keeping rates very low and buying up the safest assets to stimulate the economy means investors are willing to take on more risk in search of better returns, hence the buoyancy on Wall Street amid the austerity in Washington and gloom on Main Street.

Of the broader market’s 13 percent rise in 2012, about half was a result of the Fed’s actions, Mr. Harris of Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates.

“The Federal Reserve has done a good job stimulating financial conditions and lifting the market,” he said. “It’s been less successful in stimulating job growth.”

FEBRUARY 12, 2013

The One Percent Gobbled Up the Recovery, TooIn fact, it put the 99 percent back in recession


resident Obama's State of the Union speech will reportedly address the problems of the middle class, which has not fared well in this economy. Practically the only people who have fared well are the notorious one percent. To paraphrase the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch: How are they doin'?

Astoundingly well. Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist who (with Thomas Piketty, an economist at the École d'economie de Paris) first mapped the enormous 34-year run-up in income share for America's top 1 percent, came up last year with a statistic that was widely quoted by people who care about rising income inequality. In 2010, the first year of economic recovery after the 2009-2010 recession, 93 percent of all pre-tax income gains went to the top 1 percent, which in that year meant any household making more than about $358,000. This was, I quipped at the time, a members-only recovery. No 99-percenters need apply.

Saez has now updated this statistic to include 2011. When you look at the economic recovery's first two years, the top one percent (which by 2011 meant any household making more than about $367,000) captured 121 percent of all pre-tax income gains.

How is it even possible for the one percent to capture more than 100 percent of all income gains since the last recession? Looked at from one point of view, it's not. It is enough to say that in 2010 and 2011 all of the recovery went to the one percent. If you were in the bottom 99 percent, as by definition nearly all of us are, you didn’t see a dime of that recovery.

What did the bottom 99 percent see? Over 2010 and 2011, it saw, on average, a slight net decline in pre-tax income of 0.4 percent. This "negative growth" is what, at least theoretically, boosts the one percent's share of income gains from 100 percent to 121 percent. If you think of income distribution as a Pac-Man game, with the one percent as Pac-Man, imagine your Pac-Man consuming all the pac-dots in one game and then somehow, after you’ve left the arcade, gobbling up some of the pac-dots in the next player’s game too. Another way to put it is that the one percent didn’t just gobble up all of the recovery during 2010 and 2011; it put the 99 percent back into recession.

It’s worth noting that 2011 wasn't an especially great year even for the mighty one percent. The one percent's pre-tax income stagnated that year. But the 99 percent's pre-tax income stagnated more. In 2010, the 99 percent's pre-tax income also stagnated (but didn’t decline), while the one percent's income rose sharply—sharply enough that, over both 2010 and 2011, the one percent saw a net increase in income, on average, of 11.2 percent. (All these numbers are corrected for inflation, of which there's been very little.) When the numbers come in for 2012, Saez predicts the one percent's income, on average, will once again have risen sharply "due to booming stock prices as well as re-timing of income to avoid the higher 2013 rates." The bottom 99 percent will have seen some income growth too, Saez predicts--though nothing remotely like the increase for the one percent.

In the meantime, we're left with an economic "recovery" in which the bottom 99 percent saw its pre-tax income decline over two years, and, during the second year, even the top one percent experienced negligible pre-tax income growth. If not to the one percent, where, in 2011, did the (admittedly anemic) economic recovery go? We have progressed from a members-only recovery to a Where's Waldo? recovery.

So where is Waldo? Initially I figured he had to be hiding in the nosebleed sections--the top 0.1 percent or the top 0.01 percent. But that turns out to be wrong.* The biggest gainers in 2011 were the bottom half of the top one percent, i.e., those making between $358,000 and $545,000. They saw their incomes increase, on average, by 1.70 percent (not much to write home about, but you've got to put a weak recovery somewhere). Interestingly, the group situated above the 99.99th percentile (2011 threshold: about $8 million) lost income in 2011. Remember, Saez urged me via e-mail, that not all the expansion in Gross Domestic Product for 2011 would be measurable as somebody's income. Undistributed corporate profits and non-taxable health insurance benefits both grew in 2011, Saez noted, but these wouldn't turn up in the IRS data on which he based these calculations.

If I were Obama, I'd be of two minds about flagging these statistics. On the one hand, they certainly make his case for the middle class more compelling. On the other hand … this happened on his watch! Since 1948, economic growth has most benefited those at the bottom of the income distribution whenever a Democrat was in the White House, and it's most benefited those at the top of the income distribution whenever a Republican was in the White House. Obama's first term, it seems increasingly clear, constitutes a dramatic break from this historic pattern. The U.S. economy’s current ability to expand—no matter who is president—without benefiting the 99 percent is something new. Perhaps we should do something to change that.

****Correction: An earlier version of this column stated, incorrectly, that only millionaires experienced the recovery in 2011. In fact, the biggest average gains were experienced by those within the one percent who earn a little more than half a million or less. Multimillionaires earning more than $8 million, on average, actually lost income in 2011.

GOP's Graham on Obama dinner: 'The election is over'

By Kasie Hunt and Mike Viqueira, NBC News

Lindsey Graham took the lead on the guest list. Barack Obama extended the invitations. And on Wednesday night, after weeks of gridlock, a dozen Republican senators are dining out with the president.

"We need to stop the campaign. The election is over," Graham said Wednesday. "If we never talk to each other, I know exactly what's going to happen, this country is going to fail."

So far, the Republicans who've been invited are giving Obama the benefit of the doubt -- even if they don't want to elaborate.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., comments on President Barack Obama's dinner invitation that he extended to a group of senators for Wednesday evening.

"I'm just looking forward to having a constructive conversation," said Bob Corker, R-Tenn., before dashing into the Senate chamber and away from prying reporters.

"I'm happy to go there and listen and provide input," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a dinner invitee who won his Senate race with considerable Tea Party backing and isn't usually on lists of moderate senators inclined to deal-making.

The idea for the sitdown came during a meeting Graham and Sen. John McCain had with Obama at the White House last week.

"How do you say no to the president of the United States who would like to have dinner with some of your colleagues? You don't," Graham said.

Related: Obama reaches out to GOP senators as Democrats seek more revenue

"When the president ask that I put together a group, I willingly -- I was honored to try to do that. Where this goes, I don't know."

Added Graham: "It is incumbent on us to reach back. When he reaches out, we need to reach back."

The plan is to spend three hours at The Jefferson, a swanky D.C. hotel that bills its main restaurant as "discreet and elegant."

Planning to break bread? Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Dan Coats, R-Ind.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; and Corker, Johnson, McCain and Graham.

At the top of the dinner's agenda: The possibility of a grand bargain combining entitlement reforms with lowering tax rates and closing loopholes that would head off the sequester and tackle some of the country's worst budget woes.

Both Democrats and Republicans think President Barack Obama doesn't do a good job at reaching out to members of Congress, but the White House has plans to change its current level of engagement. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

So far, negotiations between the White House and GOP leaders have led only to gridlock. Graham insisted the dinner wasn't a divide-and-conquer strategy, with the president going around Republican leaders in favor of the rank-and-file.

"I would say this is an effort by the president to talk to people who he would like to talk to who he normally doesn't talk to. I think he talks to the leadership guys a lot. This is not about replacing anybody," said Graham.

Said Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership: "There have always been attempts to sort of co-opt a few people up here. But this seems to be a more general outreach.

"Instead, Republicans say it's evidence that Obama's the one taking political heat for the sequester budget cuts that went into effect last week."

I think the president sort of got on the wrong side with the sequester by going out and using the scare tactics. And I think that's kind of bit him," Thune said. "He saw a 7-point drop in his approval rating in one week, and I think a lot of it had to do with the way he handled this."

Democrats familiar with the White House's thinking said the dinner is an attempt to "bring down the temperature" between Obama and the congressional GOP.

It's also an acknowledgment that sticking in a campaign mindset in the wake of the 2012 elections hasn't helped relationships on Capitol Hill -- and the dinner is a step away from that approach.

That helps explain the political calculation coming from the White House: Sitting down with the GOP will make it harder for Republicans to argue that Obama simply isn't talking to them.Democratic leadership, meanwhile, is skeptical that the dinner will actually bear fruit.

As they see it, Republicans willing to talk about any kind of bargain -- grand, petite, or otherwise -- represent a minority faction of their party.

At scene of her shooting, Giffords urges Congress to expand background checks 

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords speaks in Tucson, Ariz., in support of background checks for gun purchases. Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, returned to the scene where she was shot in 2011.
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned Wednesday to the Arizona grocery store where she was shot to push Congress to expand background checks for gun purchases.

“Be bold. Be courageous. Please support background checks. Thank you very much,” said Giffords, speaking carefully in a brief appearance at the podium.

Giffords appeared at the Safeway in Tucson with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and with survivors and relatives of victims of the January 2011 shooting. Besides Giffords, six people were killed and 12 wounded.
The former congresswoman also placed a bouquet on a memorial at the supermarket.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would toughen penalties for people who buy guns illegally for others and to make gun trafficking a felony.

Giffords and Kelly’s group, Americans For Responsible Solutions, is airing TV ads in Arizona to persuade Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, to back universal background checks.

A Flake spokeswoman said Wednesday that the senator opposes universal background checks. She said Flake supports making sure mental health records are better integrated into the background-check system “so that those who shouldn’t have access to guns are barred from purchasing them.”

Asked about universal background checks on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month, Arizona’s other senator, Republican John McCain, said senators were working on a bill “that I think that most of us will be able to support.”

Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after pleading guilty in Giffords’ shooting. Giffords was at the Safeway for a meet-and-greet with constituents on Jan. 8, 2011.

It was not the first time Giffords had returned to the Tucson Safeway. She was there for the anniversary of her shooting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Huge Russian Meteor Blast is Biggest Since 1908 (Infographic)
by Karl Tate
Date: 15 February 2013 Time: 03:54 PM ET

Find out about the huge meteor that exploded over Russia in this Infographic.
Source All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

A rock from space about 55 feet across (17 meters) entered Earth's atmosphere early on the morning of Feb. 15, 2013.
After traveling through the air for 32.5 seconds, the meteor was moving at about 40,000 mph (64,373 km/h) when it disintegrated. The explosion caused a massive shock wave that damaged hundreds of buildings and injured more than 1,000 people in the Chelyabinsk region. There was no advance warning before the meteor appeared in the sky.

Before entering the atmosphere, the object weighed about 10,000 tons. An early estimate of the energy of the Russian meteor explosion is that it equaled about 30 atomic bombs of the type used on Hiroshima in World War II.

The Russian meteor is second only to an explosion that occurred in Siberia in 1908. In the so-called Tunguska event, a 130-foot-wide (40 m) object exploded, flattening trees over an 825-square-mile area (2,137 square km). Even larger impacts from space occurred before recorded human history.

The solar system was shaped by even bigger impacts from space. Fifty thousand years ago, a rock about 150 feet wide (46 meters) crashed into what is now Arizona. The crater is 0.7 mile in diameter (1.2 km). Impacts have occurred since the beginning of our solar system. In 1994, the planet Jupiter was assaulted by fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

Big Story: Russia Meteor Blast is Biggest in 100 Years
The dramatic fireball that exploded over Russia was apparently the biggest such blast in more than a century, scientists say.

RAW VIDEO: Meteorite Crash in Russia Sparks Panic
A series of explosions in the skies of Russia's Urals region, reportedly caused by a meteor shower, has sparked panic in three major cities.
Meteor Streaks Over Russia, Explodes (Photos)
Meteor Blast Over Russia Feb. 15, 2013: Complete Coverage
NEOs: Near Earth Objects - The Video Show
5 Amazing Fireballs Caught on Video (Countdown)

Here we go again: Big asteroid set to buzz Earth 

Gianluca Masi / Virtual Telescope Project
This image of the asteroid 2013 ET was obtained on Monday by the Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project. The asteroid is visible as a faint dot in the center of the frame.

By Mike
A newly discovered asteroid the size of a football field will cruise through Earth's neighborhood this weekend, just days after another space rock made an even closer approach to our planet.

The 330-foot-wide (100 meters) asteroid 2013 ET will miss Earth by 600,000 miles (960,000 kilometers) when it zips by on Saturday. The space rock flyby will come just days after the 33-foot (10 m) asteroid 2013 EC approached within 230,000 miles (370,000 km) of us early Monday.

When asteroid 2013 ET passes Earth, it will be at a range equivalent to 2.5 times the distance between the planet and the moon, making it too faint and far away for most stargazers to spot in the night sky. But the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy, run by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi, will webcast a live telescope view of the space rock's flyby on Friday, beginning at 2 p.m. EST. You can access the free broadcast here.

There is no danger that 2013 ET will hit Earth, researchers say, just as 2013 EC posed no threat. But their flybys are slightly unsettling nonetheless, since both asteroids were discovered mere days ago.

Indeed, many space rocks are hurtling undetected through Earth's neck of the cosmic woods. Astronomers estimate that the number of near-Earth asteroids tops 1 million, but just 9,700 have been discovered to date.

Undetected objects can strike Earth without warning, as the surprise meteor explosion over Russialast month illustrated. The 55-foot (17 m) asteroid that caused the Feb. 15 Russian fireball detonated in the atmosphere before astronomers even knew it existed.

While many scientists stress the urgent need for expanded and improved asteroid-detection efforts, there is some good news: Humanity is unlikely to go the way of the dinosaurs anytime soon.

NASA researchers have identified and mapped the orbits of 95 percent of the 980 or so near-Earth asteroids at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide, which could threaten human civilization if they hit us. None of these behemoths are on a collision course with Earth in the foreseeable future.
For comparison, the asteroid believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago likely measured about 6 miles (10 km) across, scientists say.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. This article was first published on

House Dems set to oppose GOP-led stopgap bill

US House passed bill to fund Government through September 2013. 261 - 151

How will the Senate vote for it....

By Frank Thorp, House producer, NBC News

With the sequester deadline in the rear-view mirror, House Democrats are staking out their positions in the next budget battle over keeping the government’s lights on after a March deadline.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters Tuesday that she's recommending that her fellow Democrats vote against the GOP-drafted short-term federal budget bill.

Alex Wong / Getty Images file photo
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

“I'm an optimist,” Lowey said. “I'm hoping that we can end this process with a continuing resolution that makes sense, because Democrats care about reducing the deficit but they don't believe that a sequester is the appropriate way to do it..”

Democrats like Lowey plan to oppose Republicans’ “continuing resolution,” which would fund the government through September 30th of this year, because it would reduce overall spending due to the across-the-board budget cuts activated by last week’s sequestration order.

They also say that the GOP plan to offer budget flexibility only to defense-related federal agencies is unfair to other programs.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who wrangles the Democratic votes in the House, said Tuesday that he is not actively instructing his caucus to vote against the legislation "at this point."

But, with Democratic leaders vocally opposing the GOP measure, it’s clear that it will only pick up a handful of Democratic votes when the bill comes to the House floor this week. (The bill was originally slated for consideration Thursday, but lawmakers now expect to address it earlier due to expected inclement weather.

The White House said Tuesday that it is "deeply concerned about the impact" of the GOP bill but did not specifically threaten a veto if it passes.

Republicans are confident that they will be able to pass this bill without help from across the aisle, something they've had a problem doing in the past with major bills.

In particular, the conservative bloc of House Republicans seems to accept the CR as being in line with the spending levels that they believe were agreed upon based on the sequester's cuts.

"At the end of the day it's still the number we agreed on, so we're satisfied with that," Rep Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said.

Huelskamp added he would like to include some provision related to President Obama's health care law, but said the $982 billion government spending level for the 2013 fiscal year would be considered a "win" for conservatives.

NBC's Carrie Dann contributed to this report.

Florida student suspended after disarming gunman
After a football player threatened his teammate with a loaded gun on a school bus, the student who wrestled the gun away was suspended.

A Florida high school student was suspended for three days after he disarmed a fellow student on the school bus. The suspect was a football player who pointed the gun at a teammate's face and threatened to shoot him. (File/UPI/John Angelillo)
License photo

Published: March. 4, 2013 at 2:29 PMBy KRISTEN BUTLER,
A 16-year-old Cypress Lake High School student in Fort Meyers, Florida, disarmed a football player on the bus ride home. The next day the school suspended him for three days.

The student, who does not want to be identified out of fear for his safety, said the football player was threatening to shoot a teammate with the loaded .22 caliber RG-14 revolver. He grappled with the suspect and disarmed him, afterward saying there was "no doubt" he saved a life by doing so. Another student who witnessed the incident on the bus said of the suspect, "I think he was really going to shoot him right then and there."

The teen's mother told local media: "If they wouldn't've did what they had to do on that bus, I think there would have been a lot of fatalities."

Police reports state the suspected gunman was charged with possession of a firearm on school property and assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. There was no video of the incident because school bus surveillance cameras weren't operational.

"It's dumb," said the teen. "How they going to suspend me for doing the right thing?"

Florida law allows administrators to place anyone involved in such an incident on emergency suspension pending a hearing. The teen who wrestled the gun from the football player has been informed he can return to school Monday.

Man dies after fall, weeks without treatment

March 04, 2013 3:15 pm • By JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star

The 45-year-old Lincoln man, whose 10-year-old son cared for him for weeks after a crippling fall, died Sunday.
Bienvenu Asumani died two days after Lincoln Police Officer Cynthia Koenig-Warnke found him at his home in the 900 block of North 30th Street, incapacitated and unable to speak, according to a petition filed in Lancaster County Juvenile Court.

Hartley Elementary School Principal Jeff Rust called Lincoln police after not seeing the boy in school for four days, Koenig-Warnke said in a court affidavit.

The boy answered the door when Koenig-Warnke arrived Friday. She saw Asumani lying on a footstool inside.

The boy said his father fell and hit his head and body in mid-February, and he gave his dad food and fluids while he was incapacitated.

Asumani had his eyes open and was breathing, but he couldn't respond to questions, Koenig-Warnke stated in the court filing, which sought permission from a judge for the state Department of Health and Human Services to take custody of the boy.

The boy also said his father's bones were hurt and he had not moved or used the bathroom since the fall. Asumani was taken to Bryan West Campus Friday and died Sunday.

The boy told police his mother lives in Africa and that he has relatives in Arizona. Juvenile Judge Linda Porter ordered that he remain in state care for now.

People who want to help the boy can contact Health and Human Services employee Sherrie Spilde at 471-5138 or

Parents to Congress: Police no solution to mental illness

Liza Long, who penned an essay pouring out her anguish over her son's mental illness after Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people in Newtown Conn., including 20 young children.
By Maggie Fox, Senior Writer, NBC News

Liza Long’s son first went into the juvenile justice system at 11. He’s mentally ill, but the woman who wrote the viral Internet essay “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” told Congress the police are often the only authorities who can help deal with violent, mentally ill children.

Pat Milam repeatedly begged doctors in New Orleans to keep his psychotic and suicidal son hospitalized. Soon after they refused and released him in 2011, the young man killed himself while trying to set off a giant propane bomb in his bedroom, he told a Congressional hearing on mental health care held after the shootings of 20 young children and six adults last December in Newtown, Conn.

“We tell our daughters and our sons, ‘Oh, you are sick but we are not going to help you until you become dangerous.' Then when they become dangerous we blame and punish them,” Fairfax, Va. writer Pete Earley told the hearing on mental illness. “In that scenario, tell me who is crazy.”

Tuesday’s hearing of the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee was carefully staged to show the anguish felt by parents of mentally ill children and young adults who struggle with police and health care providers to get treatment.

All three parents complained that doctors’ interpretations of HIPAA -- the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act -- prevented them from helping their children. Doctors, they said, feared sharing vital information for fear of violating privacy rules. And, they complained, too often they had no one to call but police when their children became violent.

“Parents like me are struggling physically, emotionally, and financially,” Long, a Boise, Idaho, mother of four told the hearing via video link. “The stigma for parents and children is real. The magnitude of this problem will only be recognized after tragedies like Newtown.”

She said her son “Michael” -- she uses a pseudonym to protect him -- has never been properly diagnosed with any one illness. When she told him she was testifying, he told her, "Tell them I’m not a bad kid. Tell them I want to be well,’” she said.

“Parents like me are living in fear. Will my child be bullied? Will my child be the bully? Will I be blamed for my child’s explosive behavior?” Long said. Schools need more money to pay for counselors and behavioral interventionists, Long said.

Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center, says mentally ill patients are far less likely to become violent if they get treated.

The approach is called assisted outpatient treatment, and he says he used it successfully while working in a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C.

“I would go to the court and say, ‘Your Honor, this individual has been to the hospital 19 times. He has no awareness of his illness,’” Torrey testified.

The law allowed Torrey to order such a patient to receive a once-monthly injection of medication to help him stay well -- something that is key with some mental illnesses that cause patients to fear medication, mistrust doctors and to be unable to understand that they are ill. Studies have shown this type of forced treatment can decrease homelessness, arrests and can help prevent the patients from becoming victims of crimes.

Torrey says 44 states have assisted outpatient treatment laws, which allow for forced treatment under certain circumstances, but they are not used consistently.

“The crisis we find ourselves in is not just a question of funding. Rather the current situation demands more intelligent targeting of available funds towards the most promising treatments,” subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, told the hearing.

Earley says his son, who was 22 when he became ill, finally got treatment. He praised Virginia for tackling mental health after a mentally ill Virginia Tech student killed 32 people and wounded 17 in 2007. But he found it difficult. "Parents can’t do anything because of civil rights laws," he said.

“There was a time when I wished my son had not been born,” Earley, who wrote the book “Crazy”, told the hearing. “But today my son is doing great. He has a job, lives on his own, pays taxes. If he was sitting here today before you today you would not know that he has a mental illness,” Earley added.

“This is not a problem of us not knowing what to do. This is a problem of us not doing it. No father should ever be told, ‘Bring your son back after he tries to kill someone or tries to kill you.’"

Milam said he tried hard to get his son Matthew treated in a New Orleans hospital after he filled his bedroom with bomb-making materials, but his doctors and health insurance company insisted he was well enough to go home. Matthew had repeatedly threatened suicide and had tried at least twice, drinking bleach and slashing his own throat with a knife.

“I can’t tell you the words I used,” Milam said. “I was enraged they would let him out.” Matthew died at the age of 24, trying to set off the bomb in his bedroom, and investigators later said they found enough explosives in there to have leveled the house.

“We have 15 million children and teenagers who have a psychiatric disease or serious learning disorder in the U.S. today. Less than half get any help,” Torrey said.

Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said there’s no coherent U.S. system for managing mental health needs. “We are often forced to respond in an acute way to what is a chronic problem,” he said.

People with diabetes get medications, medical care and counseling to help keep themselves well. Mental health patients need the same consistent approach, he said.

Related links:
Mom's blog on mental illness goes viral
Mental illnesses share common DNA roots
Glitch in medical code threatens mental health care
After shootings, states rethink mental health cuts

Bipartisan group reaches deal on gun trafficking
By Kasie Hunt, Political Reporter, NBC News

A bipartisan group of senators has reached a deal on a bill that would make it a federal crime to buy a gun for someone who isn't legally allowed to own one.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced the agreement on the Senate floor Monday evening.

Illegal gun “straw” purchases, made by a buyer on behalf of someone who cannot pass a background check, are often not prosecuted under current law, usually because conducting such a sale yields such a weak penalty.

The new compromise legislation would make the consequences for both straw buyers and sellers far more serious - to the tune of decades in jail.

"Instead of a slap on the wrist or treating this like a paperwork violation, these crimes under our bill would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison," Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said.
In broad strokes, cracking down on gun trafficking has wide support in both parties and isn't intensely controversial, as other potential gun control measures are. A bipartisan group of House members have already introduced a similar trafficking bill in that chamber.

The National Rifle Association appears to be reaching out to minorities in its fights against new gun laws.'s Earl Ofari Hutchinson responds to the ad.

The Senate legislation will include penalties for the straw purchaser as well as for the gun seller. Collins is a cosponsor, as is Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Blumenthal, D- Conn., have also signed on.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the trafficking bill on Thursday, when it also plans to consider three other pieces of gun control legislation: an assault weapons ban, a school safety measure and a bill to require background checks for all gun buyers.

With an assault weapons ban all but doomed to fail, the focus is still on the universal background check bill. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Charles Schumer of New York have been negotiating with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., but those talks have mostly stalled over disagreements about whether to require that private sellers keep records of private gun sales.

“We’re working through all that and Tom will make a decision at the end where he is on the bill,” Manchin said Monday.

Coburn told reporters late Monday that he spoke by phone with President Barack Obama earlier in the day, but would not elaborate on the subject of their discussion.

Democrats have been circulating the potential background check bill to other Republican senators as they continue talking to Coburn. Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have both been involved, as has Collins.

It's unlikely that they'll reach a deal before Thursday's planned Judiciary Committee markup, Democratic aides said Monday. If there’s no deal, the committee would take up a background check bill that Democrats wrote during the last Congress.

Manchin said he hoped to reach a deal before the committee meeting. “We’re trying. But if not, it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

Negotiations around background checks could then continue until the bill reaches the Senate floor. The National Rifle Association opposes universal background checks; Coburn has an "A" rating from that group.

Asked which Republican senators might emerge as a potential cosponsor if Coburn decides not to, Manchin told NBC News: “I think that anybody that comes from the gun culture, especially those that have had A ratings.”

Senate Democratic aides say the chamber is likely to consider gun legislation on the Senate floor during the first week of April.

‘Stand Your Ground’: Ladies, You Have No Ground to Stand on 
May 16, 2012 1:35 PM 52,623 470 
Mobutu Sese Seko

Ah, Florida, cradle of justice. One day, when they document the great codifiers of the law, the names will ring out: Hammurabi, Solon, Justinian, Blackstone, Napoleon, Tallahassee. Last Friday, the state that's hosted the politically ugly Trayvon Martin reality show handed down a 20-year sentence against Marissa Alexander.

The two cases beg for comparison. Martin, an African American teen, was chased, beaten and shot by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed he feared for his life and had to stand his ground. Alexander, a 31-year-old African American mom with a Master's degree, claimed the same thing in her defense against an abusive husband. Zimmerman went free the night of his shooting and wasn't booked for murder for 45 days, until officials were shamed by an international outcry. Alexander—who has been incarcerated since Feb. 8, 2010—will, thanks to Florida's automatic sentencing laws, spend roughly the next 7,300 in prison.

The easy conclusion to reach is that the justice system in the state of Florida tolerates firing guns at, into, and through black people, but that their possessing and using guns themselves is a public safety crisis that must be stamped out immediately. As a long-time resident of the state, I can attest to the fact that there is no shortage of citizens who would advocate this point of view, often publicly, in predominantly white bars, at the point in the evening when drunk people have figured out exactly everything wrong with the world and realize that you have not.

Alexander's case, however, is more complicated than that.

On Aug. 1, 2010, Alexander began fighting with her 36-year-old husband Rico Gray in the house where she lived. The two had been living separately following a 2009 incident in which he shoved her down into a bathtub and she hit her head hard enough to need a hospital visit. In a deposition, Gray admitted to hitting her, as well as having "five baby mamas," all of whom he hit except one, all of whom "never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them." Prior to the August incident, Gray also admits that he and Alexander had had four or five other violent domestic clashes.

What muddies this story immediately is that Alexander filed a 2009 restraining order against Gray, then later amended the order so that the two could have contact and married him. She changed her mind about the no-contact provision after learning she was pregnant with his child, although prior to the 2010 shooting, she still lived with her mother and not with Gray.

The August 1 incident is likewise less than simple. Alexander claims that Gray discovered texts on her phone from her ex-husband and flew into a rage, hitting her, attempting to strangle her and threatening that no one else could have her. She tried to flee out the garage, but the garage door mechanism was broken, leaving her cornered in the dark without a cell phone or keys to her truck. She got her (licensed and concealed-carry permitted) gun from her glove compartment and re-entered the home, expecting that Gray and her two stepsons might have left. She discovered that Gray and the stepsons hadn't left, and when he charged at her and said, "Bitch, I will kill you," she fired a warning shot angled up and away from him. He then ran out with his kids and called the police, claiming that she had shot at him and his sons.

This account gets further complicated by two more factors. One, Gray initially agreed with almost all of Alexander's statement before contradicting it. He first said that the garage door was broken and that she couldn't leave, that he had threatened to have her beaten up by his friends. Most importantly, he said she'd had no intention of shooting him:
She knew the relationships I been in and I put my hand on her before. I honestly think she just didn't want me to put my hands on her anymore, so she did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn't get hurt, you know.... The gun was never actually pointed at me. When she raised the gun down and raised it up, you know, the gun was never pointed at me. 
Then the story changed to accord more with his 911 call. Two, Alexander assaulted Gray while out on bail. She claims that she visited him to sign health insurance papers for their child that she'd given birth to, nine days prior to the August 1 incident, but that he cornered her in the garage and attacked her again when their friends were in another part of the house. She was admitted to a hospital that night with injuries consistent with being struck in the face. 

Other details exacerbate the matter further. The prosecution claimed that the shot Alexander fired was at a height one could reasonably infer was meant to strike Gray: "It's not a warning shot when you fire and it comes in at about head level through the wall and only then goes up into the ceiling and into the living room." Meanwhile, Alexander's family has noted that she was a confident hand with a gun and had visited shooting ranges all her life. Alexander's ex-husband adds that the prosecution did not use additional photo evidence that showed the trajectory of the bullet passed upward and out of the room, into the ceiling, but that only prompts the question: Did Alexander's defense team use them, and did they argue the trajectory was true and not a ricochet?

Legal arguments and personnel surrounding this violent domestic conflict most strongly link it to the Trayvon Martin killing. Of Marissa Alexander's actions, prosecutor Angela Corey said,
She didn't fire into the ceiling. [Alexander's representatives] are blatantly lying. She fired the shot toward the living room, where they were, at an adult that she was angry with. She might have been angry at him, but what if that bullet had struck one of those kids? Who would be crying for Marissa Alexander then? Who fights for those two children? She fired at two children. These two young boys had no choice... Marissa Alexander made her decision.
Corey is a Duval County prosector, and not responsible for the initial investigation into the Martin killing in Seminole County. But she has been assigned the prosecution of George Zimmerman. Given those ties, it's hard to hear her "won't someone please think of the children!" hand-wringing and not think of the heel-ruts dug into the earth by every person in the criminal justice system who had to be dragged near Martin's dead body. Trayvon Martin was a child, too. He deserved an advocacy as zealous as the one afforded to two children who walked away alive, who might not have been in the room where a gun was shot (one of the children in Alexander's case has changed his testimony, just as his father did), who might have stood in another room as their father attempted to terrorize Marissa Alexander just as George Zimmerman did a teen with an iced-tea can. 

The parallels don't end with the prosecutor. Although Corey likewise dismisses Alexander's claim that her actions were acceptable under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, CBSNews reported that Alexander's
judge rejected a motion by Alexander's attorney to grant her immunity under the "stand your ground" law. According to the judge's order, "there is insufficient evidence that the Defendant reasonably believed deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to herself," and that the fact that she came back into the home, instead of leaving out the front or back door "is inconsistent with a person who is in genuine fear for her life."
The ruling is galling in light of the Martin killing, when you consider that George Zimmerman ignored a 911 dispatcher's comment that they did not need him to exit his car and pursue Trayon Martin, that he then hunted Martin through a neighborhood, fought him and shot him. Zimmerman walked free on the basis of a Stand Your Ground self-defense, despite not driving away in his safe and locked SUV, tracking and confronting the imminent Skittles-snacking threat to his life and engaging him in a fight. 

Worse, the judge's ruling galls on the basis of the fucking statute (emphases mine):
776.012  A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself
Consider the decision made against Alexander again: the judge ruled that Alexander, who was in her mother's home and the place where she had been a resident for months, somehow had a duty to retreat from her home, in contravention of both the Stand Your Ground statute and the Castle Doctrine concept from which it sprung. Moreover, she should have left from the garage whose inoperable door even the alleged victim, Gray, admitted she could not use. He also initially acknowledged in a deposition that he blocked her only other egress while threatening to have her beaten up, and that he'd beaten her before, by his own admission, four or five times. According to her—and according to him—he said no one else could have her, then allegedly charged at her while threatening to kill her. Nonetheless, the judge concluded that she did not reasonably believe that shooting a gun without actually shooting a person was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to herself. This time, apparently. 

Given the above, given the Martin context, it's hard not to think that when someone guns down a black person in Florida, that's just cleanup. But when a black person starts shooting off a gun, then you've got a real problem. Publicly, maybe that's how it plays. Legally, it's worse.

The implications of the Alexander conviction and sentencing go deeper. It has taken decades for American courts to get past the antiquated notion that a wedding ring constitutes absolute consent for any treatment, that husbands can actually rape and terrorize wives, that being a spouse to a woman you abuse does not immunize you from criminal prosecution. Not only does the Alexander ruling transgress the obscenely liberal affirmative defense of Stand Your Ground, it appears to decline it to wives.

Marissa Alexander wasn't afforded the privilege of being subject to repeated beatings and an in-the-moment strangling and having it count substantially in favor of her arguing that she "reasonably" believed she could be subject to great bodily harm. That wasn't good enough, despite a history of domestic violence, a modified restraining order and being in a home that was not her husband's. What signal does that send to women who live with their husbands, who don't have court orders, who don't have documented hospital and police reports of physical abuse? If an actual paper trail is bullshit, then the first offense is free. Beating a woman might as well be like signing up for the Columbia House Record Club: it's just free shit at first, but if you don't pay attention, eventually it might cost you.

"Mobutu Sese Seko" is founder of the blog Et tu, Mr. Destructo?

Image by Jim Cooke.

George Zimmerman Waives Right To 'Stand Your Ground' Hearing In Stunning Twist To Trayvon Martin Case

Posted: 03/05/2013 1:55 pm EST | Updated: 03/05/2013 7:08 pm EST

In the year since it landed on the international news radar, the Trayvon Martin case has raised a global discussion about Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law. But in a stunning twist of events Tuesday morning, George Zimmerman's attorneys waived their client's right to a scheduled April 22 hearing that was to be held under the law that has sparked so much debate, ABC news reports.

Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who is facing second-degree murder charges for the shooting of 17-year-old Martin, is awaiting trial set for June 10, 2013. His counsel's move waiving his right to the April hearing leaves open the opportunity for it to be rolled into Zimmerman's trial this summer, and gives the defense more time to prepare, an obvious concern after a motion to delay the proceedings was denied.

Martin was headed back to the home of his father's girlfriend shortly after 7 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2012, after a trip to the convenience store at the time he was killed. George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood-watch member, reported Martin to the police and told the 911 dispatcher that the teenager looked "suspicious." Zimmerman was told by the dispatcher not to follow Martin, but a few minutes after the police call, Martin lay dead from a gunshot to the chest.

Zimmerman admitted to police that he shot Martin, but claimed he acted in self-defense. He was later arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

This latest move comes after a string of setbacks for Zimmerman, when Florida judge Debra Nelson not only denied a trial delay but also ordered that the defendant must remain under 24-hour GPS monitoring while awaiting the proceedings.

Nelson was appointed to the case after the former Judge Kenneth Lester was asked to step down. Zimmerman's lawyers were also denied permission to question a young woman who is presumed to be the last known person to speak with Martin the night of the fatal encounter.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman's lawyers are investigating the young woman, who is known as Witness 8. Defense lawyer Don West said the witness "misrepresented" in a sworn statement that she missed Martin's funeral because she was hospitalized, however, prosecutors confirmed there were no medical records.

Kate Middleton
Baby Girl? Pregnant Royal Reportedly Hints At Sex Of Child (UPDATED)

The Huffington Post | By Ellie Krupnick Posted: 03/05/2013 7:06 pm EST | Updated: 03/06/2013 11:17 am EST

Is it a girl?! 

Kate Middleton may have let the sex of her unborn child slip today as she greeted well-wishers in Grimsby, England. As the Telegraph reports, the duchess was chit-chatting with fans when one woman handed her a teddy bear. Kate reportedly replied, "Thank you, I’ll take that for my d..." then stopped herself.

According to Us Weekly, another bystander asked her if she had meant to say "daughter," to which the royal replied, "We're not telling." Not telling or don't know? Because another bystander heard her say, "No, we don't know." The plot thickens...

Either way, this is exciting because we can finally start envisioning how amazing it would be if Kate and Will had a girl. No offense to baby boys, but think of the fashion potential!

In addition to inheriting a great sense of style, Catherine's baby girl would also inherit the throne. This year, the British parliament moved forward with legislation to end the principle of male primogeniture, so that Kate and William's first child can inherit the throne regardless of gender. Yes, Kate's first born might one day become queen.

But we probably won't know the baby's sex for a while. The British royal family's longstanding tradition is to not announce the sex of the baby until after the birth. Instead, a note is put on the gates of Buckingham Palace that announced the child's arrival, thus revealing the details to the world.

But in this day of social media and verbal gaffes heard 'round the world, we doubt the royal couple will make it to July without us finding out: Is it a boy or a girl?!

UPDATE: Wait, maybe it's a boy? A new report from the Grismby Telegraph complicates matters and suggests that perhaps Kate is expecting a son. Hull Daily Mail reporter Katy Forrester told the Grimsby Telegraph that she asked the duchess if the baby was kicking. "I swear she replied ‘Yes he is, very much so’ but no one else heard! Either I misunderstood it, or Kate is trying to confuse us all!" If so, she's definitely succeeded.

The Duchess Of Cambridge Visits Grimsby

Britain's Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge, receives flowers from children during her visit to Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, in Grimsby, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. The Duchess was visiting The Prince’s Trust Team program  which is a 12-week personal development scheme, which helps unemployed 16-25 year olds build the skills and confidence they need to get a job. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

Think You Have What it Takes to be a Secret Service Agent?

Posted:   |  Updated: 02/11/2013 3:55 pm EST

In the upcoming thriller, Olympus Has Fallen, the White House (Secret Service code: "Olympus") is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped. Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself trapped within the building. As our national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning's inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President and avert an even bigger disaster. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directs an all-star cast featuring Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd and Rick Yune.

Protecting the White House: Just How Secure Is It? (INFOGRAPHIC)

Posted: 02/21/2013 8:35 am EST | Updated: 02/21/2013 9:07 am EST

In Olympus Has Fallen, the upcoming action thriller by Antoine Fuqua, terrorists take over the White House (secret service code: "Olympus"). To celebrate the film's release on March 22, we're taking a closer look at what it takes to protect the most famous house in the world. Learn more about the security of the White House and the unsuccessful attempts to compromise it, by clicking to expand the infographic below.

Obama is WHO? Secret Service Codenames Declassified (INFOGRAPHIC)

Posted:   |  Updated: 01/23/2013 2:16 pm EST

In Antoine Fuqua’s latest thriller, Olympus Has Fallen, it’s up to an ex-secret service agent (played by Gerard Butler) to thwart a terrorist attack on the White House (code name: “Olympus”).


White House cancels tours, citing sequester

By Shawna Thomas and Kristen Welker, NBC News

The White House is canceling tours of the president's famous abode starting next week, saying the budget cuts that went into effect last week are to blame.

A phone recording on the call line for White House visitors informs callers that White House tours will be canceled, starting this weekend.

"Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House tours will be canceled effective Saturday March 9th, 2013 until further notice," the recording says. "Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours. We very much regret having to take this action particularly during the popular spring touring season."

The reason for the cancellations, an official with the Secret Service told NBC News, is because the Uniformed Division Officers normally tasked with securing the tours will be reassigned to other security posts at the White House. The move will reduce overtime costs and may reduce the number of furloughs the Secret Service could potentially face, according to the official.

It is unclear how many Uniform Division Officers will be impacted by the sequester. The Office of Management and Budget calculated that the Secret Service may need to cut as much as $84 million from its budget due to the cuts.

Though the White House made the ultimate decision to suspend tours, their conclusion was based on staffing decisions the Secret Service has been forced to make, according to a White House official.

The move, which Republicans paint as a publicity stunt, prompted at least one proposed legislative fix from a GOP congressman Tuesday.

In an amendment to a GOP stopgap budget bill headed to the floor later this week, Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, suggested that no funds from the bill be used "to transport the President to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume."

House Administration Committee Chair Candice Miller, R-Mich., said in a statement that the canceled tours are "wrong" and invited tourists to Washington D.C. to tour the Capitol instead.

"I believe closing the doors of the White House to the American people is wrong," she wrote. "I want to let those Americans planning a trip to Washington, D.C. know that the Capitol will remain open and encourage those wishing to visit to contact their member of Congress or the Capitol Visitors Center to schedule a tour."

As required by law, President Barack Obama ordered the automatic cuts into effect last Friday night. The broad budget reductions came after Congress and the administration failed to reach an agreement to avert the sequester.