Melissa Harris-Perry apologizes to Romney family – By HADAS GOLD | 12/31/13 8:50 AM EST

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry apologized in a series of tweets Tuesday morning for using Mitt Romney’s black adopted grandchild in a comedy segment over the weekend.

“I am sorry. Without reservation or qualification. I apologize to the Romney family,” the apology started. “I work by guiding principle that those who offend do not have the right to tell those they hurt that they (are) wrong for hurting. Therefore, while I meant no offense, I want to immediately apologize to the Romney family for hurting them.”

(VIDEO: MSNBC uses Romney grandson in comedy segment)

Each tweet of the apology came with the hashtag #MHPApology.

“As (a) black child born into large white Mormon family I feel familiarity w/ Romney family (picture) & never meant to suggest otherwise,” she continued. “I apologize to all families built on loving transracial adoptions who feel I degraded their lives or choices.”

(Also on POLITICO: Palin: MSNBC ‘dispicable’)

In the segment, part of an hour taking a comedic look at 2013, Harris-Perry pulled up a Romney family photo with the newly adopted grandson, who is black, sitting on Mitt Romney’s knee.

One panelist, actress Pia Glenn, sang “one of these things is not like the other” with another joking that it was representative of the Republican Party’s lack of diversity. “It really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party, the RNC. At the convention, they find the one black person,” said comedian Dean Obeidallah.

(Also on POLITICO: MSNBC jokes about Romney’s grandson)

Harris-Perry joked about Romney’s grandson marrying the child of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The segment brought on a backlash from people like Sarah Palin, Scott Brown and conservative bloggers, demanding MSNBC apologize.

Update 12 p.m.:

Harris-Perry has also posted an apology on, in which she said the point of featuring the photo was to celebrate it:

On Sunday’s program, we showed a photo of Governor Romney holding his adopted grandson, who is African-American.

The intent of featuring the photo was to celebrate it — I often speak to the issue of the increasingly diverse American family.

Whatever the intent, the segment proceeded in an unexpected way that was offensive. Without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family and to all families built on loving transracial adoptions.

The new leaders on gun safety in 2013? Moms! – By Trymaine Lee 12/31/13 08:15 AM—UPDATED 12/31/13 10:54 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at Jan 1, 2014 10.46 1`

A little more than a month after Neil Heslin’s little boy was shot and killed along with 19 other first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Heslin sat before a group of Connecticut lawmakers and wondered aloud why any American needed the kind of firepower used in the killings.

“Is there anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question, why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips?” Heslin said. Heslin paused for a moment and looked around the room. “And not one person can answer that question or give me an answer.”

Then, he got an answer.

“Our rights will not be infringed!” someone called out. “Second Amendment!” yelled another.

Only weeks had passed since Heslin’s son, Jesse Lewis, 6, and his classmates were gunned down. But already the nation’s collective heartbreak was beginning to spiral into hostility and angry debate over America’s deadly obsession with guns.

After Newtown, there were calls for stricter gun-control measures aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of people like Adam Lanza, the killer.

The pendulum of the gun control debate has swung back and forth. There have been victories and failures for gun-safety groups, whose efforts have been largely supported by President Barack Obama, other Democrats, and a broad movement that formed after Sandy Hook. But there’s also been more bloodshed.

Article continues:

California Should Secede From The United States…..

…..and begin the building  of the Newnited States of America. We can start all over and get it right this time.

I’ll move back in a heartbeat.

Social Media as a Megaphone to Pressure the Food Industry – By STEPHANIE STROM Published: December 30, 2013

Renee Shutters has long worried that food dyes — used in candy like blue M&M’s — were hurting her son, Trenton.

She testified before the Food and Drug Administration, but nothing happened. It wasn’t until she went online, using a petition with the help of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, that her pleas to remove artificial dyes from food seemed to be heard.

Mars, the candy’s maker, is now hinting that it may soon replace at least one of the dyes with an alternative derived from seaweed.

“I’ve really thought about calling them,” Ms. Shutters said about Mars. “I’m not trying to be this horrible person. What I’m really thinking is that this is an opportunity for their company to lead what would be an awesome publicity coup by taking these dyes out of their products.”

While the F.D.A. continues to allow certain dyes to be used in foods, deeming them safe, parents and advocacy groups have been using websites and social media as powerful megaphones to force titans of the food industry to reconsider the ingredients in their foods and the labeling and processing of their products. In several instances in the last year or so, major food companies and fast-food chains have shifted to coloring derived from spices or other plant-based sources, or changed or omitted certain labels from packaging.

Matthew Egol, a partner at Booz & Company, the consulting firm, said that while food companies had benefited from social media to gain rapid insight into trends, data on what products to introduce and which words to use in marketing, they also had been the target of complaints that sometimes become magnified in an online environment.

Mr. Egol said companies were approaching the negative feedback they get with new tools that help them assess the risks posed by consumer criticism. “Instead of relying on a P.R. firm, you have analytical tools to quantify how big an issue it is and how rapidly it’s spreading and how influential the people hollering are,” he said. “Then you can make a decision about how to respond. It happens much more quickly.”

Article continues:

Firing Season Begins With a Fusillade

Black Monday lived up to its billing this year as five N.F.L. coaches and one general manager were fired in a dramatic, if unsurprising, mass catharsis that left owners across the league ready to reset the clock and shop for replacements.

The teams showed little in the way of patience — the Cleveland Browns even did their part to beat the rush by dismissing Rob Chudzinski on Sunday night. They were followed by the Minnesota Vikings, who ousted Leslie Frazier on Monday morning, and then the Washington Redskins, who dismissed Mike Shanahan before lunch.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers waited until early afternoon, but they fired Greg Schiano and the general manager, Mark Dominik. The Detroit Lions followed, making Jim Schwartz the fifth coach of the day to find himself jobless. His team skidded out of the playoff picture by losing six of the last seven games.

Like Black Friday, the modern shopping holiday, Black Monday is, at its root, a day about new acquisitions. The troubled teams all hope to move past their difficult seasons and begin a new era — presumably with the coming announcement of a new coach, in the hope that happiness can be found in the next big purchase.

None of Monday’s moves qualified as a surprise, although the Browns’ decision did seem a bit abrupt, given that Chudzinski was given only a year to turn around a franchise mired in irrelevance. His team went 4-12, but the Browns have had only one winning season in the past decade.

The wholesale dumping of coaches has become a tradition on the day after the end of the N.F.L. regular season. This year did not quite reach the level of last year when seven coaches and five general managers were ushered into unemployment. But there was at least one asterisk — the Houston Texans jumped the gun by firing Gary Kubiak on Dec. 6.

If the dismissals are the first step in the Black Monday dance, the owner’s statements are the next. On a day of dizzying personnel changes, echoing sentiments about “new directions” and “new focus” rang out across the land.

The Browns’ owner, Jimmy Haslam, declared, “Nobody cares more about winning than the people you’re looking at right now, especially the owner.”

Bryan Glazer, a co-chairman of the Buccaneers, said, “The results over the past two years have not lived up to our standards, and we believe the time has come to find a new direction.”

Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, said, “We will focus on what it takes to build a winning team, and my pledge to this organization and to this community is to continue to commit the resources and talent necessary to put this team back in the playoffs.”

Shanahan’s dismissal by Snyder was perhaps the most widely expected move of the day, coming after a drawn-out and widely publicized rift between owner and coach that played out during Shanahan’s weekly news conferences, which doubled as opportunities for Shanahan to needle Snyder and cast aspersions on his quarterback.

If there was a surprise in Washington, it was that Snyder did not fire Shanahan the instant the team finished sputtering through its 13th loss Sunday, this one to the Giants.

Shanahan’s stormy 24-40 tenure in Washington included three seasons with double-digit losses and the questionable handling of the talented quarterback Robert Griffin III. Shanahan was widely criticized after last season for leaving Griffin in a playoff game — and eventual loss — against the Seattle Seahawks when he was hobbling on an injured knee. The injury helped sink this season, as Griffin never recovered his rookie form.

In Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers were so disappointed by their 4-12 season — which included a particularly gruesome 0-8 start — that Schiano and Dominik are now looking for work. Dominik presided for five seasons and exactly one playoff appearance. Schiano, who took over after a successful run at Rutgers, was hired to restore discipline after Raheem Morris was fired two years ago, but his disciplinarian ways apparently grew old quickly.

In Detroit, Schwartz’s fate was sealed sometime during the Lions’ season-ending tailspin, a collapse marked by penalties, turnovers and blown fourth-quarter leads. This followed a 6-3 start that offered relief after a miserable 4-12 season last year. Schwartz had one trip to the playoffs, in 2011, and a memorable postgame confrontation that season with San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh, but, otherwise, Schwartz’s tenure could be summed up in his 29-51 record.

“He’s done a lot of good things for this team and this organization, so it’s tough,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford told reporters after the announcement. “I’ve only played for one head coach in the N.F.L., Coach Schwartz, and I felt like we had a great locker room. It’s not always what everyone hears on the outside. It was a joy to play for him. It was fun.”

Prada Casts Second Woman of Color; 12.30.13

Photo by Prada


Prada Casts Second Woman of Color: In June, Prada made a splash, casting its first African American model in a campaign in 19 years. Then-newcomer 19-year-old Malaika Firth fronted the brand’s Fall/Winter 2013 campaign alongside major industry names including Christy Turlington and Freja Beha, making her the first African American face of Prada since Naomi Campbell in 1994. Now, for its Spring/Summer 2014 campaign, the brand has continued its path towards greater diversity, tapping young Wilhelmina model Cindy Bruna — who most recently walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The ad, photographed by Steven Meisel, features the collection’s art-inspired fur coats and Teva-style sandals. [Fashionista]

Article continues:

The Economy’s Secret Success in 2013 – ByDaniel Gross 12.31.13

Photo by Richard Drew/AP

In 2013, the U.S. economy managed not just to survive a series of shocks—the fiscal cliff, the sequester, tax increases, the government shutdown, the advent of the Affordable Care Act—but to power through them. As we speak, the U.S. is closing out its 54th month of growth, and the headline growth numbers are as good as they’ve been in years. The stock market is at a record high.

This confluence of events remains something of a mystery. The U.S. is a consumer-driven economy, but consumer confidence remains at recessionary levels and wages have hardly budged. Companies are hoarding cash. The Federal Reserve has continued to support the economy with unprecedented levels of bond-buying but with diminishing returns. And government continues to weigh on the economy.

There is one overlooked factor that can help explain the comparative buoyancy of the U.S. economy: the decline of financial failure.

Financial failure comes in many forms: the shuttering of banks, defaults on mortgages, credit-card charge-offs, corporate and personal bankruptcies, and mass lay-offs. Each is damaging as an event on its own. But, like rocks tossed into lakes, their impacts cause larger ripples. Because the American financial system piles debt upon debt, one small financial failure can lead to a larger number of financial failures. Because humans are, well, human, they tend to react to failures around them by becoming more financially conservative—even if their own livelihood isn’t in danger. Put another way, failure is pro—cylical—a company going bankrupt fires a worker, who defaults on a mortgage, which causes a sharp decline in value on a mortgage-backed security, which can help push a bank toward insolvency. And that’s part of the reason the recession of 2008-2009 was so deep and harsh. Failure begot failure.

But the forces work in the other direction. For the reasons cited above, success (or a mere decline in failure) can lead to further success (or further declines in financial failure.) And to a large degree, this was the story of 2013.

Fewer companies failed this year than in previous years. Corporate bankruptcies in the third quarter of 2013 (PDF), at 8,119, were down 12.2 percent from the third quarter of 2012. In fiscal year 2013, which ended in September, corporate filings were down 17 percent from the year before—and down 42 percent from fiscal 2009. Yes, companies continue to restructure, revamp, and rightsize, often in very public ways. Through the first 11 months, large companies publicly announced478,428 job cuts, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. But that’s down 2.5 percent from the first 11 months of 2012. Overall, there was generally a lot less firing in 2013 than in 2012. As a result, the weekly pace of first-time unemployment claims declined over the course of the year. In the second half of 2013, on a seasonally adjusted basis, about 330,000 Americans experienced the trauma and psychological blow of filing for unemployment benefits each week. In the second half of 2012, about 380,000 Americans did so.

Article continues:

US announces six drone test sites – BBC News 30 December 2013 Last updated at 15:20 ET

DIY drones: Enthusiasts making their own aircraft

The US aviation regulator has announced the six states that will host sites for testing commercial use of drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) picked Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

The sites are part of a programme to develop safety and operational rules for drones by the end of 2015.

Hitherto mainly used by the military, the potential of drones is now being explored by everyone from real estate agents to farmers or delivery services.

The head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, said safety would be the priority as it considers approval for unleashing the unmanned aircraft into US skies.

Pilots will be notified through routine announcements about where drones are being flown.

The FAA said in a statement that its decision followed a 10-month process involving proposals from 24 states.

The agency said it had considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.

The sites chosen are:

  • A set of locations proposed by the University of Alaska in seven zones with varying climates, from Hawaii to Oregon
  • Griffiss International Airport in central New York state will test how to integrate drones into the congested north-east airspace
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce will test the human impact of drones and also how the aircraft cope in temperate climates
  • The state of Nevada will concentrate on standards for air traffic and drone operators
  • Texas A&M University plans to develop safety requirements for drones and testing for airworthiness
  • Virginia Tech university will research operational and technical areas of risk for drones

The biggest chunk of the growth in the commercial drone industry is currently expected to be for agriculture and law enforcement.

In death, as in life, one size doesn’t fit all – by Jamie Tarabay December 30, 2013 5:00AM ET

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at Dec 31, 2013 5.54

A casket in the workshop of Goliath Caskets, an Indiana company that specializes in providing coffins for the growing number of obese Americans. This 52-inch model, one of the company’s larger designs, awaits a liner and other final touches.Hollis Bennett for Al Jazeera America

“We need to quit hiding it and thinking, ‘Oh, well, they’re just larger than life,'” says Keith Davis, slightly out of breath. “If I hear that one more time, I think I’m going to scream.”

Davis is puffing a little because as we’re speaking, he’s loading one of the specialized caskets he manufactures onto a truck to begin its journey from his town of Lynn, Ind., to another state and, eventually, a funeral home.

But Davis’ caskets are different from those most Americans are placed in after they die. The one he’s wheeling onto the truck is 37 inches wide; the average casket width is about 26 inches. Davis and his company, Goliath Caskets, make some of the largest caskets in the country for some of the largest Americans, who are simply too big to fit into the ones most people use.

The New Year usually brings with it resolutions to tackle weight gain. Gym memberships spike in January as more people vow to get fit and drop pounds.

Responses to the obesity epidemic often deal with the issues facing those living with the disease: how to combat it, medicate it or prevent future generations from suffering from it.

Companies everywhere are adapting products and services to accommodate the widening of girths and the steady climb in the numbers on scales. Movie-theater seats are wider. Car seats are broader; some even have rearview cameras for drivers too big to turn around when they drive in reverse. Revolving doors are roomier. Amtrak is adjusting its dining-car seats. Hospitals have surgery tables that can support heavier patients.

Yet one of the most overlooked aspects of obesity is what happens after we die.

Caskets and the many other aspects of a funeral that come into focus after death are often the last things people think of, says Davis.

“Stuff you would never, never think about suddenly become gigantic obstacles,” he says. “Who would ever have thought you’d have to have two grave sites or have a backhoe come in and lower the casket into the grave?”


‘A noticeable trend’


Bob Arrington has been in and around funeral services since he was 7 years old, growing up in Milan, Tenn.

“My elementary school was across the road from the funeral home my neighbor worked at,” he recalls. “I used to go across the road and wait for my neighbor to drive me home at the end of the day.”

By the time he was 9, he was helping out — opening the front door, handing out flowers, spending the long summer months there. Now 57, he heads a funeral directors’ association in Jackson, Tenn., and is the treasurer of the National Funeral Directors Association.

He says he began to see changes in the size of caskets about seven years ago.

“You go to a casket convention, you used to have one or two choices. Now they have a whole line of choices because it’s becoming more requested,” he says. “It’s a noticeable trend.”

“They’re making more room on the inside,” he says of average-width caskets, which can range from 26 to 30 inches. “The casket manufacturers are realizing that this is an issue, and they’re starting to make changes.”

Most of the standard caskets have room to accommodate people who are slightly wider or heavier than average. They’re usually filled with extra padding to fit most people.

When someone is simply too big for that accommodation, specially made oversize caskets come in.

The larger caskets are “among the fastest growing of the different categories of products,” says Teresa Gyulafia of Batesville Casket Co., one of the largest manufacturers of caskets in the country.

And, she says, the demand varies by geography too.

“There are parts of the U.S. — states that have higher-than-average demand for oversize products,” she says.

The spread of obesity across the country and now across the world has reached epidemic proportions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the U.S., approximately 1 in 3 adults is obese, as well as 1 in 6 children. It is a major cause of death, a consequence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The World Health Organization reports that obesity, “once considered a problem only in high-income countries,” is now increasingly an issue in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa and Central and South America.

Causes for the rise in obesity range from a change in lifestyle for many in developed countries — from labor intensive to largely sedentary — to the availability and higher cost of fresh, natural food compared with easily accessible, cheaper fast and processed food.

The statistics in this country have raised so much concern that First Lady Michelle Obama has taken the helm of a White House initiative to spotlight obesity and, as she says on the Let’s Move campaign’s website, “change the way a generation of kids think about food and nutrition.”


Eating into an early grave


If anyone can do a snap survey of the fluctuating fortunes of overweight Americans, it’s Keith Davis. From the casket-manufacturing business he inherited from his father, he has a pretty good sense of how widespread the obesity problem is and how young those who die of obesity-related complications can be.

“We have a generation of people now, especially the younger ones in their 30s, who are going to die before their parents because of obesity,” he says. “As I travel around and deliver these caskets, the average age of these people is 40, 45 years old. And many of them are younger than that.

“I’ve delivered to people who are 25 years old, and it’s not because they died on a football field. They were just so big, their hearts gave out or their kidneys gave out,” he says. “We’re eating ourselves into an early grave, one shovelful at a time.”