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Selma Considers Changing Name of Historic Bridge

Alabama senators took a step toward renaming Selma’s Edmund Pettus bridge, a historic site in the voting rights movement that also bears the name of a Ku Klux Klan officer.

Senators approved a resolution on Wednesday to rename it the Journey to Freedom Bridge. The bridge became a symbol of the fight for voting rights after marchers were beaten by state troopers there in 1965.

The bridge is Selma’s most notable landmark, but its KKK association has drawn the ire of some in the majority black city. Pettus was a US senator, a Confederate general and a KKK grand dragon.

The Alabama house of representatives has not voted on the idea.

Lee Sentell of the Alabama tourism department said changing the bridge’s name could threaten its status as a national historic landmark.


Lawmakers Close on Police Body Camera Bill

A group of senators and representatives appear poised to reach a compromise on a bill promoting police body cameras.

The three senators on a conference committee said Wednesday they would talk to senators about accepting the House proposal to take a year to have law enforcement, defense lawyers and others study the issue and create guidelines. The Senate proposed a six month study.

Republican Rep. Tommy Pope of York says the extra time gives lawmakers a chance to find more money for body cameras.

House members told senators they would be willing to drop their language safeguarding cases where a body camera malfunctions because it isn't necessary.

The committee hopes Thursday to send the bill back to the whole House and Senate to be considered at a special session.


Finance Committee Suggests Limited Raises for Employees

Anderson County Council approve the second reading of the county's FY 2016 budget on Tuesday night, but not before almost every council member sugested major changes will be need before final approval. This includes some concerns among some on council over suggestions from the Anderson County Council Finance Committee.

If those changes make it through to the final budget, there will be no across the board salary increases for county employees, but instead a total of $243,787 of raises would be doled out to nine positions.

If approved, the increases would be received by some employees in the following departments: treasurer, finance, assessor, register of deeds, planning/community development, information technology, and the animal shelter. An additional $139,600 from the Sheriff’s millage would divided between his employees at the detention center and among deputies.  

An independent study commissioned by Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns, had suggested not only across-the-board raises for all employees, but an additional cost-of-living increase to all full-time employees of Anderson County.

“The (study recommendation) would cost the county more than $2 million and the finance committee did not think we could avoid raising taxes if we gave that level of salary increase,” said Anderson County Council Finance Committee Chairman Francis Crowder

Crowder said the finance committee was charged with examining the budget, and as a result the group looked for ways to “find an orderly way to prevent a 2-mil tax increase without taking the $2.4 million from the fund balance.”

The adminstrator's budget had requested $640,360 for an across the board raise for all employees. The current budget still includes the larger pay increase.

“These are only suggestions from the finance committee, this is not the gospel according to John 3:16,” Crowder said. He said the finance committee was 100 percent successful in their goals, and produced a budget with a fund balance of $500,000.

“That means no other employees would get any raises, is that correct?” said Anderson County Coucilwoman Gracie Floyd.

“Yes, ’mam,” said Anderson County Finance Department Manager Rita Davis.

On the proposed annual $20 per vehicle road fee, Crowder said that if passed, the committee would consider what else could be added to or cut from the budget.

Crowder also suggested that if a road fee is passed, he favors keeping the money paid in the district in which it is paid.

"Keep in mind the vehicle fee is not in the current budget," Dunn said. "It would have to be considered as as separate item."

"If somebody hits a pothole it will cost more to fix that than the fee," Dunn said. "We want to do what's best for Anderson County as a whole. I think we've got to do something for our employees. We're losing good people."

A meeting is scheduled next week to determine how many of the recommendations of the finance committee will make it into the final budget.

"It make take two or three more meetings for everybody to soak this in," Dunn said. "I've got a whole list of things I'd like to consider."

"I looked at it today, and if we take out overtime for our 911 center people, even with the raise, most of them will be taking a pay cut."

"We've got until the end of this month, whatever it takes."

"I'm for moving forward tonight, but if we can’t get some major things sorted out before third reading, I can’t support it,” said Anderson County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson.

In relation to the committee's proposed $14.5 million downtown county office building, Crowder said the county lags the city and other organizations with the county's older facilities.

"In the future we are going to need a building,” Crowder said. "When I walk into this place (historic county courthouse) and then I walk into Anderson City Hall, it’s like going from dark to daylight. And yet tonight, in less than 15 minutes we voted to finance a $12.5 million building for something up there (Tri-County Tech).

Earlier, council approved:

The S.C. 81 North Overlay District, a master plan to assure planned development of the stretch of the highway stretching from Interstate 85 to Reed Road. The area  includes “all zoned properties or portions of properties that are within 500 feet of the centerline of Highway 81, and directly access Highway 81; bounded to the northwest by the centerline of Scotts Bridge Road, to the northeast by the centerline of Long Road, and to the south by the centerline of Reed Road.” The plan calls for a consistent and efficient pattern of growth, permanent building materials (brick, stone, wood), no electronic signs, restricted lighting, and the county’s most restrictive Type 6 bufferyard.

In moving the plan forward, Anderson County Councilman Francis Crowder suggested naming the project “Gateway to Anderson,” which was approved by a 6-1 vote.

A bond issue agreement to provide $12.5 million bond for Tri-County Technical College's rennovation and capital construction.

A resolution honoring the town of Pendleton on its 225th anniversary.

A resolution to recognize the Clemson Anderson Soccer Alliance's Ul6 girls' soccer team on an outstanding season and to congratulate them for winning the South Carolina Youth Soccer State Championship.


Study: California Drought to Cost Agriculture $1.8 Billion

The California drought, now in its fourth year, is set to cost the agriculture sector $1.8bn in direct losses this year, researchers at the University of California, Davis found in a study released on Tuesday.

The loss represents around 4% of the state’s massive $45bn agriculture economy.

When indirect losses are included on top of direct ones to the agriculture industry, the same study found that this year’s ongoing drought is set to cost the California economy a total of $2.7bn.

The UC Davis study, authored by Richard Howitt, Jay Lund, Josue Medellin-Azuara, Duncan MacEwan and Daniel Summer, estimated that around 564,000 acres of previously farmable land would be made fallow this year, resulting in around half of the direct loss in revenue.

Droughts affect farming because of the reduction in available surface water. Dwindling bodies of surface water – a term used to refer to waters above the ground, like streams and lakes – lead farmers to turn to groundwater pumping, found below the ground.

When farmers have no access to groundwater or do not have the means to pump, they may choose to either sell their land or leave it to fallow, Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis and one of the study’s authors, explained.

Pumping for groundwater alone is set to cost the industry $600m this year.

Full- and part-time job losses in the agriculture sector caused by the drought are estimated at 8,650, with total job losses estimated at 18,600 when spillover effects are taken into consideration.


NASA to Launch Flying Saucer

NASA has planned the second test-run of braking technology for its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD, hoping for more success with the giant parachutes that could one day help it slow down as it lands on Mars.

The saucer-shaped LDSD is expected to be launched on July 3 with a weather balloon to test its redesigned supersonic parachute, which last year shredded during its first 3,000 mph descent. The supersonic parachute, which last year already was the largest ever flown, has been reshaped, reinforced and enlarged.

The LDSD has a doughnut-shaped balloon that creates atmospheric drag as it descends through a planet's atmosphere before parachutes open to further slow it and allow for safe landing.

For the test, NASA has four cameras mounted on the craft -- two will show the performance of the balloon as it inflates, one is focused on the rockets that allow NASA to control the LDSD in space, and one on the parachutes -- and will stream video live on NASA TV Wednesday, no earlier than 1:30 p.m. EDT.

Their biggest concern, of course, is what happens to the supersonic parachutes at Mach 2.35.

"You get to see all the same video I do, at the same time I do," said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a press release. "This year's test is centered on how our newly-designed supersonic parachute will perform. We think we have a great design ready for the challenge, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding will be made live for everyone to see."


Senate Votes to Curb Spying on American Phone Conversations

In a remarkable reversal of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate voted on Tuesday to curtail the federal government’s sweeping surveillance of American phone records, sending the legislation to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The passage of the measure, achieved after a vigorous debate on the Senate floor, will lead to the reinstatement of government surveillance efforts that were blacked out on Monday after Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, blocked their extension.

The vote was a rebuke to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, as lawmakers beat back a series of amendments that he sought that would have rolled back proposed controls on government spying.

Mr. McConnell took the Senate floor to give a speech unusual in its timing and tenacity before the final vote on the bill, which he cast with derision. The new law, he said, would “take one more tool away from those who defend our country every day.”

The vote was held after members of the House starkly warned that they would not accept any changes to the law, setting off an unusual stalemate between House Speaker John A. Boehner and Mr. McConnell.

President Obama said on Twitter that he would sign the bill when it comes to his desk.

“Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act,” he wrote on the @POTUS Twitter account. “It protects civil liberties and our national security. I’ll sign it as soon as I get it.”

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VA Spent $10 Billion on Private Medical Care This Fiscal Year

Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs told a House Committee on Tuesday, that the agency has been spending billions of dollars a year, on private medical care for veterans in hospitals and clinics without contracts.

The hearing before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs's investigations panel was a result of allegations of misspending of billions of dollars brought forward by Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the VA.

Medical care costs for veterans outside of VA hospitals and clinics are estimated to exceed more than $10 billion this fiscal year, according to The Washington Post.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Management and Interim Chief Financial Officer Edward J. Murray testified before the hearing.

"VA acknowledges that our long-standing procurement processes for care in the community need improvement," Murray said referring to the care of veterans outside of the VA system, also known as non-VA care, adding that "serious legal questions" have been brought up over the medical care of veterans outside of VA hospitals and clinics.

Frye sent a 35-page memo to the VA Secretary Robert McDonald in March, where he accused VA officials of spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of contracting regulations, also describing a culture of "lawlessness and chaos" at the Veterans Health Administration healthcare system that serves nearly 9 million veterans.

"When federal contracts are required and you don't use them, there are terms and conditions that are missing from the contract," Frye said at the hearing. "There are termination issues. Disputes over fair and reasonable prices. A whole host of issues. Safety and efficacy. Without them, the contractor is there to do what he or she wants."


Volvo Financing Could Cost S.C. More Than $200 Million

The incentives package that brought Volvo to South Carolina could cost taxpayers an additional $87 million if the state pays for promised infrastructure improvements entirely the way Gov. Nikki Haley wants.

That's on top of the $123 million the state would borrow.

House leaders propose putting $70 million of a newly available windfall toward the Volvo commitment, leaving $53 million to borrow.

Haley said Monday she expects a legislative panel to approve borrowing all $123 million as the chambers' leaders promised in April.

She says Volvo wants it funded that way.

That would require creative financing and interest-only payments. Documents for the panel's meeting Wednesday show the debt service over 17 years would total nearly $87 million.

Haley says she'd support authorizing borrowing the full amount, then paying it down.


Bernie Sanders: Love Him or Hate Him, He Has a Cause

Via The New Yorker

Six days after formally entering the 2016 Presidential race, Senator Bernie Sanders is having some time of it. After attracting overflow crowds at a number of stops in Iowa late last week, Sanders moved on to Minnesota on Sunday, where he appeared at the Minneapolis American Indian Center and declared, “Our country belongs to all of our people and not just a handful of billionaires.” According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, about three thousand people turned out. A local television station estimated the number of attendees at four thousand.

Whatever the exact number was, the seventy-three-year-old from Vermont appears to be attracting bigger crowds than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. With one recent national survey finding that fifteen per cent of likely Democratic voters support him, and a new Des Moines Register poll showing him picking up sixteen per cent of the Democratic vote in Iowa, the media is starting to accord him some serious attention. The Times, having initially failed to report Sanders’s formal announcement of his candidacy in its print edition, ran a front-page story on Friday about his appeal to senior citizens, and another piece over the weekend about the enthusiastic reception he was receiving in Iowa. Before speaking in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sanders appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he highlighted the “grotesque level of income and wealth inequality” in the U.S. and said, “I think we need a political revolution in this country.”

To be sure, not all of the Sanders coverage has been helpful to his campaign. Last week, Mother Jones, as an accompaniment to an interesting piece about his early years in left-wing politics, reprinted an article he wrote in 1972 for an alternative newspaper called the Vermont Freeman, the subject of which was male and female power relations, and sexual fantasies. One line in particular got quite a bit of media attention, including an explainer by NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben. “A woman enjoys intercourse with her man—as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously,” Sanders wrote. On “Meet the Press,” the host, Chuck Todd, asked the senator about the piece. Sanders described it as fiction, adding, “It was dealing with gender stereotypes, why some men like to oppress women, why other women like to be submissive. You know, something like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Very poorly written, forty-three years ago.”

While it is embarrassing to Sanders, the flap about his literary effort, which he wrote while trying to get by as a carpenter and freelance journalist, seems unlikely to have much lasting effect on his campaign. That’s partly because Sanders’s run for the White House isn’t based on his personal character, or even his record as a mayor, congressman, and U.S. senator. Sanders is running for a cause—a resurgent progressivism that was conceived during decades of wage stagnation and rising inequality, born during the great financial crisis of 2008, and announced on the political stage by the street protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the widespread public support they engendered.

Of course, many candidates claim that their campaigns aren’t about them but about something larger. But when Sanders uses this line, which he does all the time, he is merely stating a fact. Before he entered the 2016 race, the new progressivism was a cause in search of a candidate. After Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to step up and run, Sanders seized his chance, and he is now getting his reward. In a contest dominated by a consummate insider with strong ties to the moneyed élite, many disaffected Democrats are embracing him as an underdog and an outsider. During a general election, almost all of Sanders’s supporters would vote for Clinton over Jeb Bush or any other Republican, but, right now, his presence in the primary gives them the opportunity to raise a rumpus, and to try to pull the party in a liberal direction.

As the campaign progresses, it will be fascinating to see how far this effort succeeds. Already, Clinton has shifted her stance on immigration reform and the criminal-justice system. In two recent speeches, she pledged to extend President Obama’s initiatives aimed at undocumented workers and their families, and called for an end to mass incarceration.

Although each of these policy proposals is important in its own right, neither would cost the Democratic Party’s donor class any money. The political test for Clinton will come in the area of economic policy, where Sanders has put out a comprehensive and, by American standards, quite radical manifesto. It includes reforming the tax code to make the rich pay more, raising the federal minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, reforming trade policies, breaking up the big banks, and turning Medicare into a public health-care system for Americans of all ages.

When Sanders unveiled this plan last December, I pointed out that it isn’t all at variance with the policies of the Clinton-Obama wing of the party. Virtually all Democrats support raising the minimum wage and eliminating some of the tax breaks for the rich, for instance. In these areas, and others, Clinton should be able to find common ground with progressives. But the question remains: In positioning herself as a battler for the middle class, how far to the left will she go?

We may get some clues on June 13th, when she speaks at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, on Roosevelt Island. In a note to reporters on Monday, a campaign official said that Clinton would “lay out her view of the challenges facing this country and her vision and ideas for moving the country forward.” As I wrote on Friday, Clinton has made a strong start in the opinion polls, with her approval ratings largely withstanding the barrage of stories about deleted e-mails and the finances of the Clinton Foundation. But with Sanders and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, now officially in the race, the dynamics are changing. Although neither of Clinton’s challengers is known as a political cutthroat, both will look to knock holes in Clinton’s record, and to draw contrasts with their own policy positions.

Sanders, indeed, has already begun. “I know where I have been on trade agreements,” he told NBC’s Todd. “I know where I have been on Wall Street. I know where I have been on the Keystone pipeline. And Secretary Clinton will obviously explain her position to the American people.”


Army Unveils New Combat Uniforms

The U.S. Army on Monday revealed its new Operational Camouflage Pattern combat uniforms slated for release next month.

The Operational Camouflage Pattern for the Army Combat Uniforms, also known as ACUs, will be available for purchase in select military clothing stores beginning July 1 for a price similar to the cost of the current Universal Camouflage Pattern.

Stores will not receive the uniforms until November.

New soldiers will be given ACUs starting January 2016 and enlisted soldiers will continue to receive a clothing allowance to replace worn uniforms.

"The Operational Camouflage Pattern was selected following the most comprehensive uniform camouflage testing effort ever undertaken by the Army, reflecting the Army's paramount commitment to force protection," the U.S. Army said in a press release.

Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey said he encourages soldiers to purchase new uniforms with their annual clothing allowance.

"All enlisted soldiers receive an annual stipend for the purchase of uniforms and accessories. I myself will wait until I am issued my clothing allowance before purchasing a uniform with the Operational Camouflage Pattern," Dailey said. "I encourage all soldiers and leaders to do the same by budgeting for a new uniform, belt, boots, and T-shirts as you receive your clothing allowance over the next 2-3 years."

The new ACUs will also incorporate minor design changes.

"These include redesigned shoulder sleeve pockets with a zipper opening, no trouser drawstring, a button on the lower calf pocket, two pen pockets on the sleeve instead of three, and the elimination of the elbow and knee patch hook and loop," the U.S. Army added.

The U.S. Army National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve, and Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps will receive uniforms and equipment fitted in the Operational Camouflage Pattern during the summer of 2016.

Soldiers will be allowed to mix and match T-shirts, belts, and boots with either the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern or the new ACUs during the transition period expected to end in October 2019.

"Presenting a professional appearance is very important to soldiers. But, we will not inconvenience or burden our troops," Dailey said. "We will still be the most lethal fighting force the world has even known even if our belts don't match for the next few years."


Lindsey Graham's Resume for Presidential Candidate

Sources: The Guardian


AP: FBI Operating Fleet of Spy Aircraft Across U.S.

The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the US carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, the Associated Press has learned.

The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.

Aerial surveillance represents a changing frontier for law enforcement, providing what the government maintains is an important tool in criminal, terrorism or intelligence probes. But the program raises questions about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies pose intrusive opportunities for government spying.

The FBI confirmed for the first time the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies, such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services. Even basic aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.” Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance”.

But the planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecutions.

Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers into coughing up basic subscriber information, is rare.

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Report: Billionaires' Spending on Elections Mostly Ineffective

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has one; Texas Senator Ted Cruz has one; even former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, considered a longshot for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has a billionaire in his corner. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has two.

Campaign finance watchdog groups fear heavy spending by these ultra-rich Americans will warp the election - already expected to be the most money-soaked in history. The idea that billionaires can buy elections has taken root in the public imagination.

Those billionaires are now seeing small, early signs of a pushback. Whether these are the beginning of a new trend is far too soon to say, but polls show there is wider discontent about the perceived influence of big money in U.S. politics and a growing gulf between the country's very rich and very poor.

These nascent rumblings - along with evidence that the super-rich are inefficient political spenders - raise questions about how effective billionaires will be in the 2016 elections.

Some voters in Philadelphia, for example, were turned off by the billionaires backing a top candidate in the city's May 19 mayoral race. And a Silicon Valley startup, Crowdpac, is hoping to bank on public ire against big political spenders to attract small donations to its new for-profit election campaign crowdfunding platform.

"There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrell West, the author of "Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust," and the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution think tank.

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