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Showing posts from November, 2010

King Corn Is Dead

Is the era of ethanol over?In a clear sign of momentum against ethanol subsidies, a bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators has signed onto a letter urging Senate leaders to let the subsidies expire during this Congress, a move that could put many officials in a tricky political spot and could even have ramifications for the 2012 presidential race.

The letter, which I obtained from a source, was authored by senators Dianne Feinstein and Jon Kyl, and includes a number of Democrats and Republicans, including John McCain, Susan Collins, Richard Burr, and Mike Enzi. This is key, because the question of whether the subsidies should expire is emerging as a key test -- just like earmarks -- of whether Republicans are serious about reining in spending and the deficit.

While this issue could divide Dems along regional lines, it's more directly revelant to the GOP. With leading GOP senators now coming out for letting the subsidies expire, this could up the pressure on Republican sena…

Feel The Self-Love

Well, this should make a certain President happy:Narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and the need for constant attention, has been eliminated from the upcoming manual of mental disorders, which psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illness.

As Charles Zanor reports in today’s Science Times, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — due out in 2013 and known as D.S.M.-5 — has eliminated five of the 10 personality disorders that are listed in the current edition. The best known of these is narcissistic personality disorder.

It is a puzzle why the manual’s committee on personality disorders has decided to throw N.P.D. off the bus. Many experts in the field are not happy about it….One of the sharpest critics of the D.S.M. committee on personality disorders is a Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. John Gunderson, an old lion in the field of personality disorders and the person who led the personality disorders…

Mr. Freeze

He's doing what he can:President Barack Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze of the salaries of some 2 million federal workers, trying to seize the deficit-cutting initiative from Republicans with a sudden, dramatic stroke. Though signaling White House concern over record deficits, the freeze would make only a tiny dent in annual deficits or the nation's $14 trillion debt.

"Small businesses and families are tightening their belts," Obama said in brief remarks at the White House. "The government should, too." The administration said the plan was designed to save more than $5 billion over the first two years.

The proposal, which must be approved by Congress, would not apply to the military, but it would affect all others on the Executive Branch payroll. It would not affect members of Congress or their staffs, defense contractors, postal workers or federal court judges and workers.Needless to say, not everyone's impressed. Philip Klein shows the real…

Who Watches The Leakers?

Personally, I think this is a bit much:Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who is scheduled to become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Monday that WikiLeaks should be designated a terrorist organization for releasing hundreds of thousands of secret and classified government documents.

“The benefit of that is, we would be able to seize their assets and we would be able to stop anyone from helping them in any way,” King said, appearing on MSNBC.

King also hinted at getting WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, extradited for prosecution in the U.S. Naming WikiLeaks a terrorist group would help the U.S. government, he said, “as far as trying to get them extradited, trying to get them to take action against them.”

“Either we’re serious about this or we’re not. I know people may think this is a bit of a stretch, but I analogize it as the RICO statute, where they had a pretty narrow definition of criminal enterprise in the beginning, but now that’s been expanded quit…

Blind Faith

George Will explains the odd connection between progressives and moral crusades:In 1956, fear of comic books was suddenly eclipsed by fear of Elvis Presley, whose pelvis would not be the last cause of moral panic. Pre-Presley panics had concerned ragtime music, "penny dreadful" novels, jazz, "penny theatres," radio and movies. By 1926, seven states and at least 100 municipalities had censors who pre-screened movies. In 1940, NBC radio banned more than 140 songs that were thought to encourage, among other evils, "disrespect for virginity." NBC would broadcast only the instrumental version of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." Post-Presley panics about threats to children have concerned television (broadcast, then cable), rap music and the Internet.

Concern for children's sensibilities is admirable. The coarsening of the culture is a fact with many causes, but its consequences are unclear. And it can bring out a Puritan streak in progressivis…

Domain Wars

Oh, this is going to go over well:Federal authorities have shut down more than 70 websites in one the broadest actions yet against companies the government suspects of selling counterfeit or pirated products.

Visitors to the affected sites--which offer such diverse goods as scarves, golfing gear and rap music--are greeted with a notice stating their domain names have been seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The notice cites penalties for willful copyright infringement and trafficking in counterfeit goods.

An ICE spokeswoman confirmed that the agency executed court-ordered seizure warrants against a number of domain names, but declined additional comment. "As this is an ongoing investigation, there are no additional details available at this time," she said.

The agency, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, has been moving on multiple fronts to crack down on sales of goods it contends violate U.S. companies' trademarks and copyrights.
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Peter E…

Break Time

They want a vacation:Taliban forces—the real ones—are definitely feeling the impact of stepped-up U.S. action in southern Afghanistan. A group of 17 ground commanders recently traveled to the Pakistani frontier city of Quetta to meet with one of their top military chiefs, Abdul Qayum Zakir, say four Taliban officials who didn’t want to be named for safety reasons.

The commanders informed Zakir that they and their men were temporarily suspending combat operations and asked that he either transfer them to less hotly contested areas or let them recover in Pakistan until the spring thaw. “We have lost many friends and commanders,” one member of the delegation told Zakir, says Mullah Salam Khan, a midlevel commander in Helmand province who was briefed on the meeting by a participant. “We are tired and want to take a rest.” Zakir, says Khan, acknowledged their complaint—but said he needed the commanders to help him keep up at least a harassing presence in their areas so villagers could see …

Pay As I Say, Not As I Do

When it comes to Warren Buffett's appeal for higher taxes, Robert Green says it's time for Daddy Warbucks to put his money where his mouth is:Warren Buffett says the rich should pay more taxes, but what he really means is he should pay more taxes and stop ripping off the American taxpayer because he feels guilty. He hasn’t paid half his net worth in taxes, as most Americans have. He’s probably paid less than $10 million in taxes, a tiny percentage of his $50 billion net worth.
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Why should the upper income let Buffett preach about paying higher taxes, when we’re already paying over 50% when you add it all up, and he’s probably paying less than 5%? The billionaires who want to talk about raising taxes in the public domain need to put their money where their mouth is and publish their tax returns. Let’s take a look behind the curtain and see what these people are paying in taxes.I'm betting it's a lot less than some of those other evil top earners are...

The Color Of Security

At long last, sanity?The Homeland Security Department is looking to scrap the five-tiered color-coded terror warning system in favor of a streamlined one with as few as two alerts. The post-9/11, Bush-era system has been criticized as too vague to be useful in communicating the terror threat to the public, either ignored or the butt of jokes.

One option under consideration is to go to two threat levels instead of five: elevated and imminent. When the threat level would change to imminent under the new model, government officials would be expected to be as specific as possible in describing the threat without jeopardizing national security. And an imminent threat would not last longer than a week, meaning the public wouldn't see a consistently high and ambiguous threat level.

The 8-year-old alert system, with its rainbow of colors — from green, signifying a low threat, to red, meaning severe — has become a fixture in airports, government buildings and on newscasts.

Over the past fo…

Happy Turkey Day, 2010 Edition

Image
If the Pilgrims had to travel today:
           Happy Turkey Day

Ditching The Dollar

The once almighty dollar is D.O.A.:China and Russia have decided to renounce the US dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade, Premier Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced late on Tuesday.

Chinese experts said the move reflected closer relations between Beijing and Moscow and is not aimed at challenging the dollar, but to protect their domestic economies.

"About trade settlement, we have decided to use our own currencies," Putin said at a joint news conference with Wen in St. Petersburg.

The two countries were accustomed to using other currencies, especially the dollar, for bilateral trade. Since the financial crisis, however, high-ranking officials on both sides began to explore other possibilities.Maybe blaming China wasn't such a good idea after all...

Nuance Versus Nukes

Obama's cerebral approach to international affairs may have trouble jibing with reality:President Barack Obama has set the goal of eventually ridding the world of nuclear arms as a central theme of his presidency, but North Korea's defiance and other recent setbacks have raised fresh doubts about whether he can turn his vision into reality.

With Obama's broader nuclear agenda seemingly imperiled at home and abroad, he now faces a test of whether he can salvage credibility for U.S. leadership in dealing effectively with more immediate threats like the one posed by Pyongyang.

"It won't be enough to just hope for the best," said Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute in Washington. "He's going to have to start prioritizing."

North Korea has suddenly jumped to the top of Obama's list with the disclosure of new advances in uranium enrichment at its main atomic complex and its shelling of a South Korean island on Tuesday…

Have A Hart

She was just exhausted. Now she's unemployed:Velma Hart, who burst onto the media scene after telling President Obama she was scared about her financial future, has been laid off. Hart was let go as the chief financial officer for Am Vets, a nonprofit Maryland-based veteran services organization.

Hart has become another casualty of the tough economy in which so many people have lost their jobs.

"It's not anything she did," said Jim King, the national executive director of Am Vets. "She got bit by the same snake that has bit a lot of people. It was a move to cut our bottom line. Most not-for-profits are seeing their money pinched."

King would not say whether the organization had had other layoffs.

"Velma was a good employee," he said. "It was just a matter of looking at the bottom line and where could we make the best cuts and survive."

King hadn't seen the irony in Hart being fired just two months after she emotionally told Obam…

War, What Is It Good For?

Getting a psychotic regime attention:President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged the United States would defend South Korea after what the White House branded a provocative, outrageous attack by North Korea on its neighbor. Its options limited, the U.S. sought a diplomatic rather a military response to one of those most ominous clashes between the Koreas in decades.

"South Korea is our ally. It has been since the Korean war," Obama said in his first comments about the North Korean shelling of a South Korean island. "And we strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance."

Working to head off any escalation, the U.S. did not reposition any of its 29,000 troops in the South or make other military moves after North Korea fired salvos of shells into the island, setting off an artillery duel between the two sides.

The president, speaking to ABC News, would not speculate when asked about military options. He was expected to telephone South Kor…

Dude, Where's My Green Economy?

Those who were promised it are still waiting:With nearly 15 million Americans out of work and the unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent for 18 consecutive months, policymakers desperate to stoke job creation have bet heavily on green energy. The Obama administration channeled more than $90 billion from the $814 billion economic stimulus bill into clean energy technology, confident that the investment would grow into the economy's next big thing.

The infusion of money is going to projects such as weatherizing public buildings and constructing advanced battery plants in the industrial Midwest, financing solar electric plants in the Mojave desert and training green energy workers.

But the huge federal investment has run headlong into the stubborn reality that the market for renewable energy products - and workers - remains in its infancy. The administration says that its stimulus investment has saved or created 225,000 jobs in the green energy industry, a pittance in an econom…

He Is Not A Crook

Is Dinnerjacket in trouble?Iran's parliament revealed it planned to impeach President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but refrained under orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exposing a deepening division within the regime.

Lawmakers also launched a new petition to bring a debate on the president's impeachment, conservative newspapers reported Monday.

The reports of challenges to Mr. Ahmadinejad were intended as retorts to a powerful body of clerics that urged Mr. Khamenei to curb the parliament's authority and give greater clout to the president.

In a report released Sunday and discussed in parliament Monday, four prominent lawmakers laid out the most extensive public criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad to date.

They accused him and his government of 14 counts of violating the law, often by acting without the approval of the legislature. Charges include illegally importing gasoline and oil, failing to provide budgetary transparency and withdrawing millions of dollars from Iran…

The Fake Negotiator

So much for smart diplomacy:For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakis…

Groping For Thee, Not For Me

Some fliers are more equal than others:Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.

Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington's Reagan National Airport.

The heightened new security procedures by the Transportation Security Administration, which involve either a scan by a full-body detector or an intimate personal pat-down, have spurred passenger outrage in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday airport crush.

But while passengers have no choice but to submit to either the detector or …

King Cornpone

Al Gore finally comes clean:Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore said support for corn-based ethanol in the United States was "not a good policy", weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.

U.S. blending tax breaks for ethanol make it profitable for refiners to use the fuel even when it is more expensive than gasoline. The credits are up for renewal on Dec. 31.

Total U.S. ethanol subsidies reached $7.7 billion last year according to the International Energy Industry, which said biofuels worldwide received more subsidies than any other form of renewable energy.

"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol," said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank.

"First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.

"It's hard once such a programme is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

Groping For Dollars

Guess which group has its own lobbyists in Congress?The companies with multimillion-dollar contracts to supply American airports with body-scanning machines more than doubled their spending on lobbying in the last five years and hired several high-profile former government officials to advance their causes in Washington, records show.

L-3 Communications, which has sold $39.7 million worth of the machines to the federal government, spent $4.3 million to influence Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of this year, up from $2.1 million in 2005, lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show. Last year, the company spent $5.5 million on lobbying.

Its lobbyists include Linda Daschle, a prominent Democratic figure in Washington, who is a former Federal Aviation Administration official.

Rapiscan Systems, meanwhile, has spent $271,500 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. It has faced criticism for hiring Michael Chert…

Buffett's Billions

Give as I say, not as I do:Billionaire Warren Buffett said that rich people should pay more in taxes and that Bush-era tax cuts for top earners should be allowed to expire at the end of December.

“If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further,” Buffett said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour” that is scheduled to air on Nov. 28. “But I think that people at the high end -- people like myself -- should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.”
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“The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you,” Buffett, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said in the interview. “But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”Well, it is the holiday season, so maybe Mr. Buffett will be feeling more…

The Business Of Healthcare Reform Is Business

When Obamacare was pitched to the public, it was partly sold as a way to clamp down on medical corporate greed. Well:Eight months into the new law there is a growing frenzy of mergers involving hospitals, clinics and doctor groups eager to share costs and savings, and cash in on the incentives. They, in turn, have deployed a small army of lawyers and lobbyists trying to persuade the Obama administration to relax or waive a body of older laws intended to thwart health care monopolies, and to protect against shoddy care and fraudulent billing of patients or Medicare.

Consumer advocates fear that the health care law could worsen some of the very problems it was meant to solve — by reducing competition, driving up costs and creating incentives for doctors and hospitals to stint on care, in order to retain their cost-saving bonuses.

“The new law is already encouraging a wave of mergers, joint ventures and alliances in the health care industry,” said Prof. Thomas L. Greaney, an expert on …

The Red Tape Economy

It seems that's what it's coming to:The combined expenditures of federal, state and local government are rapidly taking over our economy. At the beginning of President Obama's term, government spending made up 35 percent of gross domestic product. Now, it is up to almost 45 percent, which puts us seventh among advanced economies.

And the Obama administration's new regulatory initiatives make this considerably worse in subtle ways.

The two largest pieces of legislation enacted in the past two years - health care and financial reform - are very vague. Take the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It has a broad mandate to protect us from financial abuse, but when it comes to the actual implementation, the Brookings Institution wrote that unelected regulators will decide "almost everything" about how the organization works.

This is highly dangerous to innovation, which depends on clear and transparent rules. The more complexity, the more incumbents are f…

The Worst Job In The World

It really does suck to be them:Many TSA agents hate the new rules and find it to be sapping morale to have to grope passengers. Some of it appears to be the verbal abuse they're getting from travelers, but some of it is just the fact that they have to keep touching people they'd rather not touch in that way:"It is not comfortable to come to work knowing full well that my hands will be feeling another man’s private parts, their butt, their inner thigh. Even worse is having to try and feel inside the flab rolls of obese passengers and we seem to get a lot of obese passengers!"Of course, it does seem like a lot of the "morale" part comes from everyone accusing them of molesting them. I recognize, they're not the ones making policy, but many of the people being groped do feel violated and it's not surprising that many of them speak out."Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing…

As The Double Worm Turns

Evidence suggests that, whatever its original intent, we should be more worried about Skynet spreading:The malicious program, known as Stuxnet, is designed to disable both Iranian centrifuges used to enrich uranium and steam turbines at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to begin operation next year, said the engineer, Ralph Langner, an industrial control systems specialist based in Hamburg, Germany.

His analysis adds further detail to a report by researchers at the Symantec Corporation, an American computer security company, which concluded that the software code was intended to induce fluctuations in the rotational speed of motors, by taking over a power device known as a frequency converter.

“It’s an awful complex code that we are looking at,” said Mr. Langner, who has spent several months studying the program, which was discovered by a Russian antivirus company in June, after the company received complaints from Iranian customers. The link between the worm and a…

Holy Harrassment, Batman

Was Lex Luthor behind this?With the Hall of Justice unavailable, a group of street performers nicknamed the Hollywood Characters aired their beef against the Los Angeles Police Department in federal court. And on Wednesday, a judge ordered the LAPD to stop harassing and arresting them as they perform on Hollywood Boulevard for pocket change.

The four street performers who sued had argued they were wrongly arrested and intimidated by the LAPD. U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that the characters had a First Amendment and Fourth Amendment right to remain on the public sidewalk free from police persecution as long as they were not blocking the walkway or overzealously demanding change.

“The court is further sensitive that although costumed performance may not be a traditional form of speech, it is without doubt a protected one,” (.pdf) Pregerson ruled.It's a sad day when the Man of Steel is considered a threat to public safety...

Old Media Is Watching You

As they say, what could go wrong?On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would give the Attorney General the right to shut down websites with a court order if copyright infringement is deemed “central to the activity” of the site — regardless if the website has actually committed a crime. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is among the most draconian laws ever considered to combat digital piracy, and contains what some have called the “nuclear option,” which would essentially allow the Attorney General to turn suspected websites “off.”

COICA is the latest effort by Hollywood, the recording industry and the big media companies to stem the tidal wave of internet file sharing that has upended those industries and, they claim, cost them tens of billions of dollars over the last decade.

The content companies have tried suing college students. They’ve tried suing internet startups. Now they want the federal government to act a…

Don't Mess With DeMint

They're circling the wagons around the latest "True conservative" icon:A coalition of conservative organizations and leaders pledged today to field primary opponents for Republican senators who "unfairly" criticize Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who led an insurgent funding effort that helped elect several of the six GOP freshmen senators in the 112th Congress

DeMint has been criticized by anonymous unnamed senior Republican sources who claim his Senate Conservative Fund supported insurgent candidates who lost races to Democrats that allegedly would have been won by more moderate GOPers.

"Such false and unfair attacks aid and abet President Obama, the Democratic Party and the liberal media. We consider such attacks on Senator Jim DeMint an attack on us and all conservatives, and especially the conservative movement that is the successor to Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other great progenitors of the conservative movement,"…

Bristol Stomp

Some people just see conspiracies everywhere:When TV viewers voted Bristol Palin into the finals of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," one of prime time's most popular shows, her opponent Brandy cried, a Wisconsin man shot his television in disgust, and the blogosphere lighted up like a Christmas tree on fire.

It was the seventh consecutive time this season that the 20-year-old newcomer to dance performance had beaten out an opponent despite having lower scores from the judges on TV's second most-watched program, which draws an average audience of more than 20 million. The reason for her surprising success, charged fuming critics and some viewers across the Internet, was that "tea party" activists had spearheaded a campaign that essentially stuffed the show's ballot box in favor of Sarah Palin's daughter.

This latest reality show tempest highlights the power of popularity over talent when mostly unregulated public voting is involved and, perhaps mo…

Four The Hard Way

Witness the effects of prohibition, as people try to get their last legal drop of Loko:An expected move by Bay State liquor regulators to restrict sales of the highly concentrated alcohol and caffeine drink next Monday had consumers raiding liquor stores for the last remaining rations of Four Loko.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Jerry Geagan of Hurley’s Liquors in Brighton.

In fact, Four Loko may well become a new black market, with the drink’s maker agreeing to remove caffeine from the beverage. Critics contend the stimulant masks the effects of the alcohol. The 23.5-ounce drink contains 12 percent alcohol by volume, about the same amount as a bottle of wine.Which, the way things are going, might soon be illegal as well...

King Obama

John Podesta thinks Obama should forget about that silly Congress and do things his way:“I think most of the conversation since the election has been about how President Obama adjusts to the new situation on Capitol Hill,” Podesta said. “While that’s an important conversation, it simply ignores the president’s ability to use all levels of his power and authority to move the country forward.”

Citing his experience in Clinton’s White House after the GOP House takeover of 1994, Podesta said Obama’s administration “can and should take” the specific measures detailed in a report released by the Center for American Progress, utilizing all the tools at its disposal to circumvent Congress in a way to keep his agenda moving forward.

“One of the best ways for the Obama administration to achieve results of that nature, in the short term, is through substantial executive authority to make and implement policy,” Podesta said. “As noted in the Constitution and the laws of the United States give the…

The Great Migration

A new study shows how higher taxes can cost a state more than money:Migration from high-tax states to states with lower taxes and less government spending will dramatically alter the composition of future Congresses, according to a study by Americans for Tax Reform

Eight states are projected to gain at least one congressional seat under reapportionment following the 2010 Census: Texas (four seats), Florida (two seats), Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington (one seat each). Their average top state personal income tax rate: 2.8 percent.

By contrast, New York and Ohio are likely to lose two seats each, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will be down one apiece. The average top state personal income tax rate in these loser states: 6.05 percent.

The state and local tax burden is nearly a third lower in states with growing populations, ATR found. As a result, per capita government spending is also lower: $…

Banker To The World

Rupert Murdoch is worried. Yet still, it continues:The United States's top creditor China increased its stockpile of American debt in September, official figures showed on Tuesday, even as other nations slashed their holdings.

Both China and Japan bucked the trend of foreign investors cutting their exposure of US assets.

Overall holdings -- known as net long-term capital inflows in financial jargon -- fell 37 percent from elevated levels in August.

Amid political sensitivities over the level of US bonds held by Beijing, the emerging market giant -- excluding Hong Kong -- increased its holdings by 1.7 percent to nearly 884 billion dollars.Considering this, maybe the Feds should start listening to their critics?

The Welfare State Withers Away

Europe's baby steps towards fiscal realism continue:Most developed countries in Europe and Asia—not some, most—are moving, "however hesitantly," toward market-based government pension and health care systems, at least for the middle class. Most now fund future pensions with investment funds and stock holdings, either instead of or in addition to pay-as-you-go plans. Even countries historically suspicious of the free market—such as Italy, Sweden, and Poland—now use such schemes.

Though the corrections and austerity budgets "aren't anywhere close to correcting the immense long-term balances these economies face," they represent a change of direction. Perhaps because the dollar isn't—yet—under international pressure, the United States has taken the opposite road. President Obama is trying to try to spend his way back into growth, Americans of all stripes still consider "privatization" of Social Security anathema, and even President Bush now regr…

Who Ya Gonna Call?

First, they came for the cell phones:Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said using a cell phone while driving is so dangerous that devices may soon be installed in cars to forcibly stop drivers — and potentially anyone else in the vehicle — from using them.

“There’s a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we’re looking at that,” said LaHood on MSNBC. LaHood said the cellphone scramblers were one way, and also stressed the importance of “personal responsibility.”

The hosts of Morning Joe pushed the secretary about the possibility of requiring scrambling technology installed in vehicles.

“I think it will be done,” said LaHood. “I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives.”

LaHood’s appearance coincided with the transportation department’s launch of the “Faces of Distracted Driving,” an online campaign aimed at scarin…

Endgame

He might have taken his ball and gone home, but that didn't stop him from getting busted:Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), once one of the most powerful members of the House, was convicted Tuesday on 11 counts of violating ethics rules and now faces punishment.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the adjudicatory subcommittee and the full House ethics committee, announced the decision late Tuesday morning following an abbreviated public trial and nearly six hours of deliberations.

"We have tried to act with fairness, led only by the facts and the law," Lofgren said. "We believe we have accomplished that mission."

The full ethics panel will now convene a sanctions hearing to recommend a punishment, which ethics experts say will most likely be a reprimand or formal censure. The ethics committee had yet to announce by Tuesday afternoon when the hearing would occur.

Serious sanctions — including formal reprimand, censure or expulsion — require a vote on the …

No Honor Among Propagandists

Oh, this is too rich:Two Democratic consultants are accusing Arianna Huffington and her business partner of stealing their idea for the powerhouse liberal website Huffington Post.

Peter Daou and James Boyce charge that Huffington and partner Ken Lerer designed the website from a plan they had presented them, and in doing so, violated a handshake agreement to work together, according to a lawsuit to be filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

The complaint is a direct challenge to the left’s most important media property from two stalwarts of the progressive movement. And it challenges Huffington’s own oft-told story of coming up with the idea in conversation with Lerer and other friends.
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Huffington called the charge of stolen ideas and broken deals “a completely absurd, ludicrous supposition” from men whom she’d turned down for jobs on the site.

“We have now officially entered into Bizzaro World. James Boyce and Peter Daou, two political operatives who we rejected go…

World Tour

Since Asia didn't seem to work out so well, will Europe be any better? Maybe not:Despite the European love affair with Obama when he was elected two years ago, he has let transatlantic ties slip down his priorities list while focusing on rising Asian powers like China and India and domestic concerns such as high unemployment and an anemic economy.

It will not be lost on his European hosts that Obama, who visited Europe six times in his first year, is dashing to Lisbon for little more than 24 hours on the ground after conducting a 10-day four-country tour of Asia.

The White House insists that Obama's engagement with economically dynamic Asia will not come at the expense of America's "enduring partnership" with less-vibrant Europe.

But analysts believe sweeping Republican gains in the November 2 midterm elections, which could cause legislative gridlock, will make it harder for him to make progress on top European concerns like financial regulation, climate change a…

The Forest Footprint

It looks like Ronald Reagan was right again:Forests in the Interior West could soon flip from carbon sink to carbon source, forest experts say. The region's forests once absorbed and stored more carbon from the atmosphere than they released. But huge conflagrations -- like the 138,000-acre Hayman Fire in Colorado in 2002 and the Yellowstone fires of 1988, which scorched 1.2 million acres -- combined with a series of severe bark beetle infestations and disease outbreaks, have left large swaths of dead, decomposing trees in almost every major Western forest.

Those dead trees are releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide, turning the region into a net emitter of carbon rather than a CO2 sponge.

The reversal, which has already occurred in Colorado and is anticipated in several other states, is the result of misguided forest management practices and a changing climate, forest experts say. Rising temperatures, resulting in shrinking snowpacks and drier conditions, have left the region…

Cease-Fire?

Is it really time for a truce after all?Representatives of the loosely organized tea party movement urged GOP leaders in a letter released Monday to abandon their fronts in the culture wars – issues such as gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion – and instead focus their new electoral power on individual liberties and "economic freedoms."

The letter, signed by 16 tea party groups and a conservative gay organization, points to an emerging rift between the tea party movement and the GOP, which still counts social conservatives seeking "moral government" as a key constituency.

The signatories, ranging from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce to local tea party group leaders, say the key lesson the GOP should draw from the election is that Americans are concerned chiefly about taxes and the size of government, not their neighbors' lifestyle choices or personal decisions.

But the push to quit the culture wars is already meeting resistance from mainstream Republi…

Waivers For All?

Via Hot Air, Michelle Malkin reports:In early September, I noted the push by Obamacare promoter and Democrat Rep. Ron Wyden for a special state waiver from the very federal mandate he advocated for everyone else.

A few weeks later, McDonald’s finagled its own Obamacare waiver after warning federal regulators that it could be forced to drop its affordable health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 restaurant workers unless it got a pass.

In early October, the Obama administration announced it had granted waivers not only to McDonald’s, but also to several other firms and labor unions.

Now comes word that Torquemada HHS Secretay Kathleen Sebelius has approved a whopping 111 waivers for businesses of all sizes, along with more unions and other providers of health insurance. The escapees include employers of many low-wage and part-time workers whose health insurance plans would otherwise be dropped, including Darden Restaurants — the parent company of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster and oth…

Nothing, Nada. Zip.

President Obama's excellent Asian adventure seems to have been a bust:After watching his party take a beating in the midterm elections, Obama wasn't able to secure even a symbolic victory on a trip that was expected to give him plenty of opportunities to claim a win.

"This certainly was the worst 10 days of his political life," said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio. "Given that he's not going to be able to get any domestic achievements with the Republicans in control of the House ... if he doesn't do it in foreign policy that's a big problem for him.

"He came back with bupkis [Yiddish for 'nothing']."
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Compounding his problems, Obama had to dial back on comments made back home by top adviser David Axelrod, who suggested Obama will cave on ending tax cuts for the rich.

Even when he had a chance to back embattled outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his biggest political ally who wants to remain leader of the House Democra…

The Fat Police

Since we're turning into a society of fatties, this obviously makes sense:The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five "responsibility deal" networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises.It all reminds me a bit of the future diets in Woody Allen's "Sleeper":

Don't Bother Them With Facts

They told me that if John McCain ran, we'd have an administration that hated science-and they were right!President Obama recently fretted that our politics has become so rough-and-tumble that "facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time." Speaking at a Democratic fundraiser just before the election, the president worried that Americans were so rattled by economic anxieties that they might lose their heads and choose Republicans over Democrats -- a fear that became a reality on Nov. 2.

But his larger point was that Democrats are guided by facts and science and argument while Republicans act on ideological or even irrational motives. As liberals and Democrats are fond of saying, they are part of the "reality-based community."

Except when they're not.

In the course of the Obama administration we have seen examples of Democrats in the White House, Congress and across the government pursuing ideological goals that are not only n…

Uncle Sam's Payday

This isn't really new news, but it shows how not everyone's hurting these days:The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The fast-growing pay of federal employees has captured the attention of fiscally conservative Republicans who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's elections. Already, some lawmakers are planning to use the lame-duck session that starts Monday to challenge the president's plan to give a 1.4% across-the-board pay raise to 2.1 million federal workers.
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Since 2000, federal pay and benefits have increased 3% annually above inflation compared with 0.8% for private workers, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Members of Congress earn $174,000, up from $141,300 in 2000, an increase below the rate of inflation.

Jessica Klement, government affairs director at the Federal Managers Assoc…

Avatar Of My Dreams

Welcome to the 21st Century:



So what's it all about?Miku is a singing, digital avatar created by Crypton Future Media that customers can purchase and then program to perform any song on a computer.

Crypton uses voices recorded by actors and runs them through Yamaha Corp.’s Vocaloid software -– marketed as “a singer in a box.” The result: A synthesized songstress that sounds far better than you ever have in your shower.

Crypton has even set up a record label called KarenT, with its own YouTube channel. The Vocaloidism blog has more details about the software.The holograms are coming. You have been warned...

So Now They Have A Plan

...And, remarkably, it seems reasonable:There's no way, mathematically, to make up all or even most of our budget problems with tax increases. There were always going to be more spending cuts than tax increases, especially in health care.

There is especially no way given that, um, Republicans exist. You can get as angry as you want, but you cannot assume away the half of the political spectrum that does not want a massive increase in government spending and income redistribution. If you do, the voters will . . . well, do what they just did, and elect more of those people. Get angry at the voters, if you want, but it's foolish to get angry at the commissioners.

Conservatives are getting angry that there is any tax increase at all seem as foolish, at least. There was never any chance of a 100% spending cut program--even if the Democrats didn't control a thing, remember how Social Security privatization went? This is a good compromise: the tax take increases by roughly 1…

The Last Picture Show

Remembering Dino De Laurentiis:Mr. De Laurentiis’s career dated to prewar Italy, and the hundreds of films he produced covered a wide range of styles and genres. His filmography includes major titles of the early Italian New Wave, including the international success “Bitter Rice” (1949), whose star, Silvana Mangano, became his first wife; two important films by Fellini, “La Strada” (1954) and “Nights of Cabiria” (1957); and the film that many critics regard as David Lynch’s best work, “Blue Velvet” (1986).

But Mr. De Laurentiis never turned his nose up at unabashed popular entertainments like Sergio Corbucci’s “Goliath and the Vampires” (1961), Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella” (1968) and Richard Fleischer’s “Mandingo” (1975) — several of which hold up better today than some of Mr. De Laurentiis’s more respectable productions.

“A producer is not just a bookkeeper, or a banker, or a background. He makes the picture,” Mr. De Laurentiis told Cue magazine in 1962. “If the film is a failure, I …

Smoking Is Really, Really Bad For You

I'd really like to know whose bright idea this was:Federal drug regulators on Wednesday unveiled 36 proposed warning labels for cigarette packages, including one showing a toe tag on a corpse and another in which a mother blows smoke on her baby.

Designed to cover half the surface area of a pack or carton of cigarettes, and a fifth of any advertisements for them, the labels are intended to spur smokers to quit by providing graphic reminders of tobacco’s dangers. The labels are required under a law passed last year that gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate, but not ban, tobacco products for the first time.

Public health officials hope that the new labels will re-energize the nation’s antismoking efforts, which have stalled in recent years. About 20.6 percent of the nation’s adults, or 46.6 million people, and about 19.5 percent of high school students, or 3.4 million teenagers, are smokers.Needless to say, this looks like yet another attempt to demonize a le…

Creeping Skepticism

Is it time for another "Reset?"Germany's undiplomatic outbursts against U.S. policy, calling it "clueless" before a G20 summit, show growing estrangement on economics as America's focus shifts away from transatlantic ties to domestic challenges and Asia.

"The Atlantic is getting wider," said Anton Boerner, head of Germany's Foreign Trade Association, who spoke of a "creeping alienation" between America and Europe, which has been exacerbated by the global financial crisis.

Germany and the United States often criticize each other's approaches to aiding economic recovery, with U.S. calls for more expansive policy falling on deaf ears in fiscally disciplined Germany. But Berlin has taken the rhetoric to a new level.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, 68, said last week that the U.S. Federal Reserve decision to buy $600 billion of government bonds undermined U.S. credibility and was "clueless." There was no point, he said,…

Jim Jumps In

Um, say what? Or, why they still don't get it (the money quote comes in at about three minutes in.)

Needless to say, I agree with Allahpundit:Let me gently suggest that this bumper-sticker version is doing him no favors, since it can’t help but alienate every last libertarian who sees it.
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Originally, I thought this message was just something DeMint was pitching at Christian conservatives to convince them that the tea party’s libertarianism is overblown, that they’re still a cherished constituency despite the reordering of conservative priorities to favor spending over “values.” But now I think he means it, which makes me wonder.Well, so much for his being a big-tent kind of guy...

One Of Our Rockets Is Missing

So, what's going on?The Pentagon Tuesday said it was trying to determine if a missile was launched Monday off the coast of Southern California and who might have launched it.

Spokesmen for the Navy, Air Force, Defense Department and North American Aerospace Defense Command said they were looking into a video posted on the CBS News website that appears to show a rocket or some other object shooting up into the sky and leaving a large contrail over the Pacific Ocean.

The video was shot by a CBS affiliate KCBS' helicopter, the station said Tuesday.

"Nobody within the Department of Defense that we've reached out to has been able to explain what this contrail is, where it came from," Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said. "So far, we've come up empty with any explanation."Well, I feel much better now...

Feeding The Beast

Ah, welcome to the Golden State:California businesses already pay some of the highest unemployment taxes in the country – and the tab is likely to increase.

The recession and the Legislature's decision years ago to raise benefits have drained the state unemployment insurance fund, which now has a estimated $10.3 billion deficit.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, in a recent report titled "California's Other Budget Deficit," said the state will probably need to raise unemployment taxes on employers as well as reduce benefits to bring the fund back in balance.

Raising the tax would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature and might be politically impossible. Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has promised not to raise taxes without voter approval.

But pressure is growing on Sacramento to fix the system soon – whether it wants to or not. California has borrowed about $8.5 billion from the federal government to keep benefits flowing, and the repa…

The Long Road Home

Remember when McCain was attacked for saying that he'd be comfortable with our staying in Iraq for the next hundred years? Well:The United States is open to the idea of keeping troops in Iraq past a deadline to leave next year if Iraq asks for it, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

"We'll stand by," Gates said. "We're ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us."

Gates urged Iraq's squabbling political groups to reconcile after eight months of deadlock. Any request to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq would have to come from a functioning Iraqi government. It would amend the current agreement under which U.S. troops must leave by the end of 2011.

"That initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis; we are open to discussing it," Gates said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have said for months they expect Iraqi leaders to eventually ask for an extension of the military agreement with the U.…

The Twinkie Defense

Now this is my kind of diet:For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most -- not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his "convenience store diet," he shed 27 pounds in two months.

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub's pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.I've always suspected that it's not necessarily what you eat, but how much of it. …

Not Your Father's Republican Revolt

Ross Douthat is concerned that the Republicans still don't get it:The modest Mr. Boehner leads a party with much to be modest about. Gingrich could brandish an agenda because he had an agenda — a raft of conservative policy proposals, on welfare and crime and taxes, that couldn’t get any traction in a Democratic-controlled Congress. Today’s Republicans, by contrast, know what they’re against (the health care bill, tax increases, cap and trade) but have a world of trouble saying what they might actually be for.

Instead, they tend to fall back on the reassuring story they’ve been spinning for the last two years, in which they lost to the Democrats only because they failed to hold the line on spending. It’s a narrative that flatters conservative self-regard, while absolving Republicans of the obligation to think too deeply about policy. All they need to do is say “no” to bigger government, and the rest will take care of itself.

This strategy has worked for them in opposition, thank…

Don't Analyze This

Keep your friends close, and your psychatrist closer:A growing police crackdown and a rebellion among businessmen expected to pay protection money have left some sons of organised crime families wrestling with self-doubt, unsure they are cut out to take their fathers' and grandfathers' place in the bloody, vengeful world of the mob.

But seeking help is risky business: among mobsters, visiting a psychologist is a weakness you can pay for with your life. Palermo psychologist Girolamo Lo Verso recalled the case of a mobster's son who told another therapist at a public mental health facility: "'If my father knows I come here, he'll kill us."'

"If you're a mafioso and you're anxious, you're not trustworthy and you have to be eliminated," said Mr Lo Verso. "A mafioso is paranoid about everything" - trusting the Mafia code of silence - "omerta" - more than the medical code of patient confidentiality.It's tough ou…

The Rise And Fall Of President Spock

Hendrik Hertzberg laments the end of "Cool":“Obama's temperament has become a political liability. In 2008, his calm was a synergistic counterpoint to the joyous excitement of the throngs that packed his rallies. In the tidy, quiet isolation of the White House, his serene rationality has felt to many like detachment, even indifference. For him and for the country, the next two years look awfully bleak. Capitol Hill will be like Hamburger Hill, a noisy wasteland of sanguinary stalemate. There will be no more transformative legislation; it will be all Obama can do simply to protect health-care reform from sabotage. The economy, like the climate, will be left to fend for itself...”He says that like it's a bad thing.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

In its zeal to promote healthy eating, the government might actually be doing the opposite:Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

When Michelle Obama implored restaurateurs in September to help fight obesity, she cited the proliferation of cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. “I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options,” she told the National Restaurant Association’s annual meeting.

But in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both t…

Playing The Game

A real soccer mom teaches kids that it's OK to win:They played harder, with a bit more pressure and a less equal share of personal glory than they’d ever done before. But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game. Yes, winning and being allowed to give their best effort as a team was far more exciting and rewarding for them than being told they had done wonderfully by just showing up, that everyone should be treated equal as if there were no difference in talents, and that the results didn’t matter.

Suddenly, I noticed that one boy’s mother was really angry at him, claiming he hadn’t showed good sportsmanship because he was too happy over the victory. Not seeing anything that might have provoked her outrage, I wondered whether this was a suggestion that one should apologize for winning. Still, the bawling out didn’t put a damper on his big smile.

Next week, of course, they will be back to losing. But I think that perhaps they l…