Another way Walmart costs this country money


As if it’s not bad enough that Walmart gets most of its cheap products outside the country, then somehow ends up paying relatively little in corporate income taxes, and pays wages so low most of its employees end up on food stamps and other forms of public assistance.

Now it turns out that the company’s stores in many locations are overburdening local police departments even as the chain slashes costs by eliminating jobs like greeters, floor walkers and security personnel who would lessen the burden on law enforcement.

All this is still happening more than a year into a corporate campaign to bring down crime—a campaign Walmart says is succeeding. Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, who took charge of the giant retailer in February 2014, has made reducing crime a top priority. The company’s new strategy primarily involves shifting employees within stores—moving them from the storeroom and aisles to store exits, where some of them spot-check receipts. It’s also stationing people at self-checkout areas, installing eye-level security cameras in high-theft areas (particularly electronics and cosmetics departments), and using data analytics to detect when people try to get credit for things they didn’t buy (thieves love to find discarded receipts in the parking lot, then go into the store, gather up items on the list, and “return” them for cash). To cut down on calls to police, Walmart has been rolling out a program where first-time offenders caught stealing merchandise below a certain value can avoid arrest if they agree to go through a theft-prevention program. At some higher-crime stores, the company is also hiring off-duty police and private security officers. According to Walmart Stores executives, it’s all starting to work.

Police chiefs and their officers on the ground say that’s just not so. Ross likes to joke that the concentration of crime at Walmart makes his job easier. “I’ve got all my bad guys in one place,” he says, flashing a bright smile. His squad’s sergeant, Robert Rohloff, a 34-year police veteran who has to worry about staffing, budgets, and patrolling the busiest commercial district in Tulsa, says there’s nothing funny about Walmart’s impact on public safety. He can’t believe, he says, that a multibillion-dollar corporation isn’t doing more to stop crime. Instead, he says, it offloads the job to the police at taxpayers’ expense. “It’s ridiculous—we are talking about the biggest retailer in the world,” says Rohloff. “I may have half my squad there for hours.”

An employee in the Beech Grove, Ind., parking lot.
Photographer: Johnathon Kelso

Walmart knows police departments are frustrated. “We absolutely understand how important this is. It is important for our associates, it is important for our customers and across the communities we serve,” says Judith McKenna, Walmart’s chief operating officer for the U.S. “We can do better.”

But when? That’s what law enforcement around the country wants to know. “The constant calls from Walmart are just draining,” says Bill Ferguson, a police captain in Port Richey, Fla. “They recognize the problem and refuse to do anything about it.”

Yeah, when will that happen?

The descendents of Walmart’s founder all rank as some of the richest people in America. This company continues to make a very small subset of the population rich, while the rest of us pay and pay and pay to subsidize the profits of one of the biggest corporations in the world.

Sacramento Court Helps Kids By Healing Parents’ Addictions

At 10 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, a line of parents pushing strollers filed into a conference room at the Sacramento County Courthouse. They sat at rows of narrow plastic tables, shushing their babies and gazing up at a man in a black robe.

Hearing Officer Jim Teal sounded his gavel. “This is the time and place set for Early Intervention Family Drug Court,” he began, gazing sternly at the rapt faces of parents who sit before him. “Graduation from this court is considered a critical factor in determination that the children of participants will be safe from any further exposure to the danger and destructive impact of parental substance abuse.”

Substance abuse is a factor in up to 80 percent of cases in which a child is removed from home. Recently, the number of children entering the foster care system has surged after years of decline. Roughly 265,000 kids entered foster care last year — the highest number since 2008, according to a recent government report. And there are signs that the opioid epidemic may be to blame.

Parents who receive addiction treatment are much more likely to get their kids back, but four in five parents fail to complete their treatment regimen.

The Early Intervention Family Drug Court in Sacramento aims to change that by helping parents complete treatment before their children enter the foster care system. If they fail, they’ll be sent next door to a formal family drug court, where their children are taken away and given attorneys of their own.

But before that, the parents get this opportunity to enter recovery, through a mix of support, medication-assisted treatment and tough love.

Many parents in the court entered the system after having babies born dependent on opioids or other drugs, while others were reported to Child Protective Services by friends or family. All are at risk of losing custody of their children because of their drug abuse.

Emma, 20, a striking woman with long blond hair, approached Teal’s podium. California Healthline is withholding her last name to protect the child’s privacy.

“Good morning,” said Teal. “Who do you have with you there?”

“My daughter, Cailynn,” Emma answered proudly, bouncing her cooing baby on her hip.

Emma started using drugs when she was just 16. At first it was methamphetamines, but she quickly transitioned to heroin. Then she got pregnant.

When Cailynn was born, the baby tested positive for opioids. Child Protective Services came to the hospital and took her into custody.

“I regret every moment of it. It’s hard. But I’ve gotta keep my head up and keep going,” Emma said. She wanted her daughter back.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 16, 2016 Early Intervention Family Drug Court in session, in Sacramento, Calif., March 16, 2016. Photo by Robert Durell

A drug court booklet gives parents inspiration to stay sober. They paste a photo of their child on the front and then write about their experiences inside. (Robert Durell for California Healthline)

Usually, Sacramento County has a three-month wait for people who need substance abuse treatment. But by volunteering to participate in the early intervention court program, Emma was able to get treatment right away.

“So Emma, it says here you’re 63 days compliant,” Teal said from the podium. “And 63 days in the program, so you’ve been good. You’ve been doing what you’re told. Congratulations.”

The other parents in the room burst into applause — this is a major accomplishment. The six-month program is rigorous. In addition to monthly sessions at the court, the parents must attend almost daily group meetings, submit to random drug tests and take parenting classes. Many, like Emma, go to inpatient rehab. Medication-assisted therapy for opioids is also available. And once or twice a week, they get a home visit from their social worker.

Emma attributes much of her success in the program so far to social worker Matthew Takamoto, whom she calls “amazing.”

Takamoto has been a social worker for 20 years and has been part of the early intervention program since it began six years ago. The program, he said, is an important change in way the county handles addiction.

“In the olden days, we were quicker to send them to court,” he said. Their approach was “more blaming the addict verses giving them the tools they need.”

In the afternoon following the court meeting, Takamoto drove to the inpatient residential facility where Emma lives with her daughter. In the back is a grassy yard with a small jungle gym. Several mothers watch their children play. Emma sat in a plastic chair, holding Cailynn in her lap.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 16, 2016 Early Intervention Family Drug Court in session, in Sacramento, Calif., March 16, 2016. Photo by Robert Durell

Matthew Takamoto has been a social worker with the early intervention program in Sacramento County from its start and is pleased with its success. The hardest part, he said, is realizing that not every parent will be able to quit drugs for good. (Robert Durell for California Healthline)

Takamoto seemed happy with her progress. “You take these clients from the very beginning where they’re broken and it’s the worst day of their life. And to see them slowly get back up as they have days of clean time, it’s been incredible,” he said.

But he said the hardest part of his job is realizing that not all parents are going to make it through the program — in fact, just one-third of parents end up graduating. “If these parents aren’t successful, it’s the kids [who] pay the price,” he said. “The parents are doing what they want to do, but the kids don’t have a choice.”

Just 5 to 10 percent of families in the country who could use family drug courts have access to them, according to Children and Family Futures, an organization that advises and evaluates family drug courts. Sacramento’s program is one of about 350 in the country, though most work with families after their children have entered the foster system.

Sherri Z. Heller, director of Sacramento’s Health and Human Services Department, describes family drug courts as a success story.

“People can overcome addiction if the motivation is strong enough, and this is the most effective motivation I have ever seen,” said Heller. She points to the early intervention court as evidence.

Just 10 percent of kids with families in the program end up being removed from their home, compared to 30 percent of children in families who do not participate. That represents a major savings to the county — about $21,000 a year for every kid who doesn’t have go into the court and foster system, for an annual savings of $7 million.

“The rush that comes with getting high is pretty spectacular. And it’s very hard physically, once the addiction happens, to overcome,” said Heller. “But if there is one thing that matters to people more than the thrill of getting high, it’s the thrill of doing the right thing for your children and keeping your family intact.”

Emma clearly wants to be a good mom. Asked by Teal how she sees her future in six months, Emma said she wanted to have her own apartment with her daughter. “Have a good life. Clean. Don’t have to have drugs no more,” she said.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Oprah’s Harpo Studios in Chicago are no more


It was the Chicago home of a worldwide television icon, and it exists no more.

Harpo Studios, which helped revitalize the city’s West Loop and gave a home to Chicago’s hometown girl who became a media empire, are seen in the video below being demolished to make way for the location of the McDonald’s Corporation’s new worldwide headquarters. Which is kind of funny given how much of Oprah’s show’s and entire zeitgeist was about weight loss.

The video was shot by West Loop resident Moshe Tammsot and published first on the Chicagoist web site.  In the Chicagoist article Tammsot says of Harpo, “It was one of the catalysts that changed the area. It employed a lot of people and put the West Loop on the map. There was no reason to come here other than gawk at the studio. It got white people to come stand in line in the winter, just to stand in front of the ‘O.’ That spurred so much.”

There is other interesting trivia in the article, including a note about how the Harpo building was used as a temporary morgue in the 1915 SS Eastman steamship disaster on the Chicago River during which 844 passengers and crew were killed just feet from safety when the ship overturned in dock.

A Trump-related clip so scary it’s almost not funny at all

These are not actors. These are real Trump supporters. Now watch it and be horrified.

First of all, the producers of this clip had to get these people to sign releases in order to appear in this bit. And they all signed it. Which means:

  1. They don’t care if they look completely stupid and they signed it anyway.
  2. They don’t think they look stupid, which I guess makes more sense than the first answer.

It could still be answer #1 because so much of extreme right-wing America thinks being intelligent means either thinking you’re better than other people (chiefly them) or that education is evil because it makes you less likely to believe in Jesus and join the KKK.

Racist and dumb-as-a-rock stupid: welcome to the 30-odd percent of the country that is impervious to reason and has been fucking up society ever since the Republicans decided to give them a seat at the table in order to keep winning the Deep South.

It should also be pointed out that not all of Trump’s supporters are this clueless. Some of this support has dropped off already. That alone proves that some of them are open to reason. But the people in this video? I don’t get how people reach adulthood and remain this thick. There is an education problem in this country.


London infrastructure project yields fascinating finds

Massive boring machines like this one—dubbed Victoria in honor of the British queen who oversaw the birth of modern railways—are carving 26 miles of tunnels beneath London as part of Europe’s largest infrastructure project. (NATGEO)

London’s version of Boston’s massive big dig is fully underway, and they are excavating some priceless historical artifacts during a public infrastructure project that gives urban archaeologists the rare chance for extended exploration in an area that is usually too densely populated and too busy for this kind of unearthing:

“These excavations have provided us with fascinating snapshots into the lives of Londoners through the ages,” says Don Walker, a human osteologist, or bone specialist, for MOLA. “It makes you realize that we all are just small, passing players in a very long-running story.”

One of the earliest chapters of that story came to light after 2010 at the three-acre building site for Bloomberg London, the soon-to-open European headquarters of the Bloomberg financial empire. Located in the ancient ward of Cordwainer, where leather workers had plied their trade since Roman times, a 40-foot-deep excavation pit turned out to be one of the most significant early Roman sites ever found in London.

As the soil was removed, entire street scenes were revealed, complete with timber-framed shops, homes, fences, and yards. Dating from the early 60s A.D. onward, the site was in such an astonishing state of preservation that archaeologists dubbed it the “Pompeii of the north.” More than 14,000 artifacts were found over the course of the excavation, including coins, amulets, pewter plates, ceramic lamps, 250 leather boots and sandals, and more than 900 boxes of pottery.

You can read more here.


Poor Sarah


Regrets, I have a few


Stop suggesting Donald Trump is mentally ill

Donald Trump mocks disabled New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski at a campaign rally in November 2015.
Donald Trump mocks disabled New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski at a campaign rally in November 2015.

There seems to be a meme of sorts starting among many members of the mainstream media trying to blame Donald Trump’s complete inability to follow norms of civilized behavior on some sort of mental illness.

During the primary season, as Donald Trump’s bizarre outbursts helped him crush the competition, I thought he was being crazy like a fox. Now I am increasingly convinced that he’s just plain crazy.

I’m serious about that. Leave aside for the moment Trump’s policies, which in my opinion range from the unconstitutional to the un-American to the potentially catastrophic. At this point, it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that Trump’s grasp on reality appears to be tenuous at best.

Begin with the fact that he lies the way other people breathe. Telling a self-serving lie — no matter how transparent, no matter how easily disproved — seems to be a reflex for him. Look at the things he has said in just the past week.

On Wednesday, at a news conference in Florida, Trump said he has never met Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is,” he said.

Last November, he claimed that he “got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes.’ ” That made no sense; while the two men were featured the same evening on the CBS newsmagazine show, they were interviewed in different cities and would have had no interaction. But there’s more: In 2014, speaking at the National Press Club, Trump said, “I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.”


So was he lying last week, when he was trying to deflect criticism of his admiring words for the Russian strongman? Or was he lying two years ago, when he was trying to convince everyone what a big shot he was?

The answer? He was lying then and he is lying now. And he has been lying all the times in-between.

Stop saying he is mentally ill. Stop writing it.

Trump clearly has mental issues, most notably the worst case of narcissism ever seen outside of the ruling family that has long tormented North Korea. Although one suspects Trump might even give Dear Leader a run for his money in this department.

But to suggest that he is mentally deficient in some global way is to excuse what he is, what his party now represents, and those who are partly responsible for the making of Donald Trump and his rise to power.

First of all, the mental illness argument lets off the hook every single member of the mainstream media who laughed at, and excused, his childish, narcissistic lies all these years. Barbara Walters. Tom Brokaw. The entire casts of the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning. Every entertainment news show ever created. 

None of them can act shocked now at that which was plainly in front of their faces for so so long, yet ignored by them because they wanted, they needed to be on The Donald’s guest list in New York and Florida.

Are you a member of the MSM who attended one of his parties or fundraisers instead of covering the real story — that he is a racist, sexist, homophobic lying pig who inflates everything about his life? Then you helped create him and, no, you cannot now credibly maintain that he has some mental illness you never noticed before.

Second, to say he is globally mentally ill ignores that Donald Trump is the living embodiment of more than four decades of the grubby, brazenly hateful Republican id. He is what happens when lies and self-aggrandizement are allowed to run their course in a human being without anyone around to tell him the truth of the horrible person he is becoming. He is the ultimate spoiled brat all grown up.

To say he is mentally ill ignores all these years of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. It’s as if both of those media entities mated and had a child named Donald. This is not mental illness. This is the perfect conception of greed and ignorance.

Stop saying he is mentally ill. He is not. He is the GOP nightmare come to life. And none of those people can now blame mental illness for that which they have created and nurtured themselves.




If Trump controlled nuclear weapons?


Such a range of ridiculous reactions to Melania Trump photos


In one sense, the Trump campaign’s self-serving and hypocritical response to potential First Lady Melania Trump’s newest nude photos is ridiculous beyond words. Can you imagine if a Democratic presidential candidate’s wife did such a thing, no matter how many years ago it happened? 

Cries about some cheap whore sullying the pure office of First Lady would have animated the right-wing in this country as nothing else has thus far. Yet we have mostly silence from the Right and the Trump campaign explaining in earnest how “European” the photos are and how the rest of us are just salacious Americans unable to understand true art.

Even if the artistic value of Melania’s photos are up for debate, the Trump campaign has a point if we take it at its word. Titties and vaginas are just that and it’s probably time that the rest of us stopped acting like 12-year-olds whenever they appear.

Given the increasing ease with which young Americans trade nude photos of one another, the day is approaching when a sitting First Lady will have a naked photograph become public — ones she probably sent to a young man (or woman) while she was tripping balls on Molly at Coachella or Burning Man or just some after hours party at Stanford.

We’re going to have to get over these things.

Yet the left side of the political internet is crowing with jubilation about Melania’s newly revealed set of x-rated photographs, with Winning Democrats hyperventilating “HOW MELANIA TRUMP’S NUDIES EXPOSE THE RIGHT-WING HYPOCRISY WE’VE ALWAYS KNOWN EXISTED.”

Really? Then why put it in all caps if we’ve always known it existed?

You act as if the wingnuts care about hypocrisy at all.

If that part of the political spectrum is comfortable with completely replacing Jesus and “Love Thy Neighbor” with Republican orthodoxy and Wall Street greed, I suspect that Melania’s photos are going to just bounce off all of them without leaving so much as a scratch in their feelings about the GOP right wing. Put another way:in a GOP which despises the poor, the sick, the elderly and immigrants who are not Melania you don’t really imagine a few nude photographs of the mail order bride of the fascist Republican standard-bearer will bring about any changes of heart, do you?

And let’s be clear: the photos are fair game, despite what many family values types are saying in the media. Either the female form is nothing to be ashamed about, or it is. You cannot have it both ways.

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