Friday, April 30, 2010

Deepwater Blues

How badly could the Gulf oil spill hurt Obama? Perhaps worse than he thought:
Will this be Obama's Katrina? Should the federal and state governments have done more, and earlier? Did they learn the lessons of the devastating hurricane?

Political calculations vied with the increasingly scary Gulf reality—hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil and its progression to landfall Thursday night. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who also is in a hot campaign for the Senate, flew over the slick and commended the federal actions to date but wondered if anyone, really, could be doing enough in this situation. "It appeared to me," he said, "that this is probably much bigger than we can fathom."

The crisis began with a massive explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20, more than 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. The search for 11 missing workers overshadowed environmental concerns until they were given up for lost.

Rear Adm. Mary Landry, chief of the Coast Guard in the region, said at the outset that most of the oil was burning off, leaving only a moderate rainbow sheen on the water and no sign of a major spill.

"Both the industry and the Coast Guard have technical experts actively at work," she said. "So there's a whole technical team on both sides of the aisle here to ensure we keep the conditions stable."
....

Throughout last week and into this one, the government was deferring to BP on what was being done at the site and on assessments of progress.

The Coast Guard was not doing its own independent, firsthand assessment of the seabed rupture. Landry repeatedly asserted that BP was the responsible party and would shoulder the costs and organizational duties associated with the cleanup effort while the Coast Guard monitored things and approved the numbers of vessels working the scene and the methods of control.

On Monday, Landry offered assurances that the Gulf Coast should be safe. "This is ample time to protect sensitive areas and prepare for cleanup should the oil impact this area," she said. And at sea, BP officials were "doing their best."

On Wednesday night, she reported the findings of federal experts that up to 5,000 barrels a day were leaking from the well. BP had estimated only 1,000. As well, the company told the Coast Guard a new leak had been found. Obama was briefed on these developments on Air Force One while returning at night from the Midwest.

By Thursday afternoon, the White House had assembled a team of top advisers to showcase the administration's determination to head off the damage posed by the oil slick. And Gibbs acknowledged details of the president's drilling proposal might be revisited, depending on the investigation into the rig explosion and spill.

The equation had changed, like a hurricane setting a new course.
And like Katrina, this oil storm could engulf Obama's efforts to deal with it.

Cheaters

First of all, this is from the National Enquirer, so I would take it with a huge grain of salt. But if true:
PRESIDENT OBAMA has been caught in a shocking cheating scandal after being caught in a Washington, DC Hotel with a former campaign aide, sources say.

And now, a hush-hush security video that shows everything could topple both Obama's presidency and marriage to Michelle!

A confidential investigation has learned that Obama first became close to gorgeous 35 year-old VERA BAKER in 2004 when she worked tirelessly to get him elected to the US Senate, raising millions in campaign contributions.

While Baker has insisted in the past that "nothing happened" between them, the ENQUIRER has learned that top anti-Obama operatives are offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know about the alleged hush-hush affair.
If any of this pans out, it could be devastating to Obama's presidency. From what I've heard, whatever his other faults might be, he's been a dedicated family man. So, this could be nothing more than somebody trying to make a buck on a smear campaign. But, as they say, we'll see.

"He Is With Us Always"

How one woman literally keeps her husband's memory alive:
When Paul Challis died of cancer last July, his widow Maria, 35, created two six-foot-one-inch cardboard cutouts of him as a way to keep him around.

He even attended his own funeral. Since then, the physical reminder of Paul has taken on a life of its own.

His cardboard cutout celebrated Halloween as Dracula, Christmas as Santa Claus, and attended a close friend's wedding in a tie and boutonniere.

"I wanted him to attend his last party and since then, what's come off the back of it has been fun," Maria Challis told ABC News by telephone. "It's not something morbid, and it appears to help everybody handle his death."
....

Now, his wife says, the physical token of his life has become a part of their household. "The cutout is in my dining room at home, and every now and then I move him around," Challis said. "People feel comfortable seeing him there, especially my children, who are worried they will forget he's there."
He seems to be the perfect mate-never complains, and is always there for them. But does he remember to put the toilet seat down?

Afghani Ga Ga

Lady Ga Ga comes to Afghanistan! (Sort of):



The Taliban were not immediately available for comment.

Sorry, Blago

It looks like Obama won't be showing up on Blago's behalf after all:
A federal judge refused on Friday to approve a subpoena calling for President Barack Obama to testify at the political corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The request from Blagojevich's attorneys fell "very short of authorizing a subpoena for the president," U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said. But Zagel said he might revisit the issue, perhaps during the trial, if any evidence suggests Obama might have something relevant to tell the jury.

Blagojevich is due to go on trial, starting with jury selection June 3. He is charged with scheming to use his power as governor to fill U.S. Senate vacancies in order to sell or trade the Senate seat that Obama vacated after he was elected president in November 2008.

The former governor is also charged with trying to use his power to bring illegal pressure for money on potential campaign contributors. His brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich, is charged with helping him. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Too bad. Now, if Blago wanted to be on another reality show...

Kernall Clipped

Palin's hacker has been busted:
A Tennessee jury on Friday convicted the man who hacked Sarah Palin's e-mail account on two of four charges -- computer fraud and obstruction of justice. The panel did not find David Kernall guilty guilty of wire fraud. It deadlocked on an identity theft charge.

The former University of Tennessee student faced as much as 50 years for breaking into Palin's e-mail while the former Alaska governor was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008.

The two charges for which Kendall was convicted -- unlawful computer access and obstruction of justice -- carried a combined maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. It also calls for as much as eight years of supervised release, but it will be up to the judge to decide the sentence.

Prosecutors reserve the right to hold a new trial on the one charge for which they deadlocked.
In a response, Sarah Palin said he tasted like chicken...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Enough Is Enough

Obama swears he's not out to punish success (video at the link):
"Now, what we’re doing, I want to be clear, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that's fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you've made enough money."
But how much is enough? Is it five million?
Obama made almost $5.5 million last year, most of which came from book royalties according to his tax return.

This comes on top of the other millions of dollars Obama received in previous years. The fact that Obama has been in the public spotlight as a politician has undoubtedly had an impact on the royalties of his two books as well.
Maybe federal employees make enough:
As of 2008, the average federal salary was $119,982, compared with $59,909 for the average private sector employee. In other words, the average federal bureaucrat makes twice as much as the average working taxpayer. Add the value of benefits like health care and pensions, and the gap grows even bigger. The average federal employee's benefits add $40,785 to his annual total compensation, whereas the average working taxpayer's benefits increase his total compensation by only $9,881. In other words, federal workers are paid on average salaries that are twice as generous as those in the private sector, and they receive benefits that are four times greater.
So, I guess it depends on what the definition of "Enough" is, isn't it, Mr. President?

Spill, Baby, Spill

While Obama defends his plan, the oil rig spill in the Gulf looks like it might be worse than Exxon Valdez:
The oil leak triggered by a deadly rig blast off the coast of Louisiana has the potential to cause more environmental damage than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, one of the largest ecological disasters ever recorded, some observers say.

"As it is now, it's already looking like this could be the worst oil spill since the Valdez," John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA, told msnbc.com on Thursday.

"It’s quite possible this will end up being worse than the Valdez in terms of environmental impact since it seems like BP will be unable to cap the spill for months. In terms of total quantity of oil released, it seems this will probably fall short of Exxon Valdez. But because of the habitat, the environmental impact will be worse."
Meanwhile, Obama is sending in SWAT to help deal with the situation, but I wonder if this will come back to haunt him.

Now, in all fairness, this is more BP's fault than anyone else's. But how Team Obama deals with it will be part of their legacy, just as Katrina was with Bush. And that's one comparison with his predecessor that I don't think Obama can afford.

Not This Time

Obama says no thanks to a fight over immigration:
Immigration reform has become the first of President Barack Obama's major priorities dropped from the agenda of an election-year Congress facing voter disillusionment. Sounding the death knell was Obama himself.

The president noted that lawmakers may lack the "appetite" to take on immigration while many of them are up for re-election and while another big legislative issue — climate change — is already on their plate.

"I don't want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn't solve the problem," Obama told reporters Wednesday night aboard Air Force One.

Immigration reform was an issue Obama promised Latino groups that he would take up in his first year in office. But several hard realities — a tanked economy, a crowded agenda, election-year politics and lack of political will — led to so much foot-dragging in Congress that, ultimately, Obama decided to set the issue aside.
Considering how hard it was for Bush to get anything done on this topic, dropping it now during what looks to be a tough year for his party was probably a smart thing for him to do. In the long run, however, hispanic voters are going to remember-and they might not be so willing to forgive and forget.

Bad Vibes

David Henninger believes that Obama showing voters his angry side is a bad idea:
There may be any number of good, political reasons for Mr. Obama to let it rip. But let's cut to the real reason this is happening. The answer is (f): It's what Barack Obama likes to do.

And it's a mistake.

Even Achilles had a heel, and Mr. Obama's may be his decision to be his own Saul Alinsky. Defining, demonizing and making a mockery of one's opponents was one of Alinsky's main rules for community organizers. But community organizers, though often charismatic, can also be annoying jerks.

The only Barack Obama the American people have ever known is the one presented to them from January 2007 onward—the amazing, improbable fellow in "Dreams from My Father." Candidate Obama was about as perfect as it ever gets. The best since JFK.

JFK, an imperfect man, worked hard to stay perfect in public. So did FDR and Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. For Barack Obama to believe that any persona he offers the public will be OK with them is hubris. Showing voters a side of him that he enjoys, but many of them may not, is flirting with disaster. If all the positive vibe that held up his presidency on its first day ever breaks, the fall could be fast.
President Obama may want to show both skeptics and supportes that he's willing to fight. But as we saw with Bush, that can make him look obstinate instead of principled, and unwilling to yield in the face of reality. And as many a politician can attest to, reality is a harsh teacher.

New York State Of Mind

I know the New York state legislature has the reputation of being an asylum where the inmates are in control, but this is ridiculous:
Hothead state Sen. Kevin Parker erupted again Tuesday, this time with a race-based rant that rattled even his supporters.

"He needs help," said Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), an ally who witnessed the latest angry outbursts. "He lost control of himself."

Parker exploded in anger at fellow Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, who was questioning a nominee to the New York Power Authority.

DeFrancisco, who is white, asked Mark O'Luck, who is black, about the nominee's prior claim that without programs for minorities, whites and the affluent "would have access to nearly 100%" of government funding.

As DeFrancisco told O'Luck he can't fault everyone who's prospered, Parker began screaming that the GOPer was "out of order."

"How dare you!" Parker shouted, at one point referring to "you racist people in here."

"I've never seen a white appointee be treated like this, in such rude fashion!" the Brooklyn Democrat yelled.

In a scene straight out of the Al Pacino movie "And Justice for All," Parker was repeatedly ruled out order.

"You're out of order!" he screamed back. "This committee's out of order!"
But since he's a Democrat, I guess his public display of insanity makes it "Dissent".

For the sake of comparison, here's Pacino's classic rant:

Spreading Greek Fire

The domino effect continues:
There were fears that Britain could follow Greece into a financial crisis after a global finance chief warned of economic "contagion" spreading across Europe.

The head of the International Monetary Fund urged politicians to finalise a bail-out for the debt-laden Mediterranean country, saying that every day lost in resolving the problems risked spreading the impact "far away".

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's comments came amid more evidence of Europe's mounting fiscal problems after Spain's debt was downgraded - a move recently applied to its under-pressure neighbour Portugal as well as Greece.

On Wednesday, shadow chancellor George Osborne raised the spectre of the crisis affecting the public finances of the UK, which faces dealing with its own £163 billion mountain of public borrowing.

Speaking to the annual conference of the Institute of Directors about the need to deal with the record debt, he said: "If anyone doubts the dangers that face our country if we do not, they should look at what is happening today in Greece and in Portugal."
It's starting to sound like 1930 all over again, isn't it? And we all know how that turned out for Europe.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birthers Begone

Some people just won't get a life:
A brand-new chapter dawns in the birther controversy over President Obama's hidden birth certificate.

The Hawaii legislature has now officially passed a measure that would allow state officials to legally ignore each month's dozens of repeated requests by persons or organizations seeking to see the infant Obama's actual birth certificate.

For personal privacy reasons the certificate resides under government lock and key in Hawaii and, as is his right, Obama has never authorized its release.

That's a refusal that has only inflamed conspiracy theorists who theorize that if it's really legit, what's Obama's problem with disclosing it? The repeated non-response of spokesmen has been that's a silly issue.
I don't know what's sadder-the Birthers and their ongoing lunacy, or the fact that they actually had to pass a law to get them to go away.

Unhappy Meals

Remember when you were a kid, and you got toys along with your Happy Meal? Well, now they've come for the toys:
No toy for you, Junior.

Not if you live in unincorporated Santa Clara County, where the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ban restaurants from giving away toys with children's meals that exceed set levels of calories, fat, salt and sugar.

The ordinance, which the board passed by a 3-2 vote, is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. The target is the fast-food industry and what critics call its practice of marketing unhealthful food to children and fueling an epidemic of obesity among the young.

"This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes," said the law's author, Supervisor Ken Yeager. "Obviously, toys in and of themselves do not make children obese. But it is unfair to parents and children to use toys to capture the tastes of children when they are young and get them hooked on eating high-sugar, high-fat foods early in life."

Representatives for the California Restaurant Association, whose members include chains that opposed the ordinance, have 90 days to offer an alternative to the legislation. Violations under the version the board approved Tuesday would be punishable by fines of as much as $1,000 for each meal sold with a toy.

Yeager said he hopes the law will inspire cities and counties across the country to follow suit like "ripples that create a wave."
....

Members of the California Restaurant Association were unsure if they will offer an alternative to the ordinance, said Amalia Chamorro, the association's director of governmental affairs.

"If the point is to get a dialogue going with the industry about health, that dialogue is already ongoing," Chamorro said. "If the point is to solve childhood obesity, taking away a toy isn't going to help."

Chamorro said her members will "obey the laws of the land," but she said she feared the new ordinance could unintentionally punish all child-friendly restaurants. "Where does it stop? Restaurants that offer crayons and coloring books?"
Don't give them any ideas. Remember, nannystating is For the Children!

Old Soda

Along with this, drinking too much Coke can apparently make you old before your time:
A liking for fizzy drinks could make you old before your time, scientists have warned.

Research shows that phosphate, which gives many soft drinks their tangy taste, can accelerate ageing.

The mineral, which is also added to processed meats, cakes and breads, was found to make the skin and muscles wither and could also damage the heart and kidneys.

Although the experiments were carried out in mice, the researchers – from the respected Harvard University – believe the results show the potential consequences of high doses of the mineral.

Gerald Weissmann, of the research journal FASEB, where the results were published, said: ‘Soda is the caffeine delivery vehicle of choice for millions of people worldwide, but comes with phosphorous as a passenger.

‘This research suggests that our phosphorous balance influences the ageing process, so don’t tip it.’
So when they talk about the Pepsi generation, will you know them by their walkers?

Healthcare Malaise

Researchers seem surprised that Americans are losing faith in Obamacare:
Americans are steadily losing confidence in their ability to get healthcare and pay for it, despite the passage of healthcare reform legislation, according to a survey published on Wednesday.

The Thomson Reuters Consumer Healthcare Sentiment Index found that confidence lost three percentage points from a baseline of 100 in December to 97 in March.

"Strikingly, Americans expect the situation to worsen significantly in the next three months," said Gary Pickens, chief research officer at Thomson Reuters.

"The thing I thought was interesting was ... the level of sentiment about future expectations worsened more. The future outlook seems to be causing the people we interviewed angst."
Maybe stuff like this is part of the reason why.

Economic Black Death

What hath Greece wrought?
Fears that Greek debt crisis will spread to other eurozone nations intensified on Wednesday when Spain suffered a debt downgrade from Standard & Poor’s, sending the euro to fresh lows against the dollar.

The downgrade, by one notch from AA plus to AA, dealt a blow to Spain’s frantic efforts to avoid contagion from Greece and followed S&P downgrades this week of Greece and Portugal.

As financial markets continued to gyrate and investors offloaded Spanish stocks and bonds, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development compared the growing debt crisis to the Ebola virus.

“It’s not a question of the danger of contagion; contagion has already happened,” Angel GurrĂ­a told Bloomberg. “This is like Ebola. When you realise you have it you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”
That's not much help when the rest of the body is still sick...

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Better late than never?
Pope Benedict XVI may issue a mea culpa for the church's handling of clerical sexual abuse cases when he attends a meeting of the world's clergy in June, the Vatican official in charge of handling abuse cases said.

Cardinal William Levada also said he intended to hold up the U.S. policy dealing with abuse as a model for bishops around the word.

Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made the comments in an interview broadcast late Tuesday on U.S. public broadcaster PBS, his first interview since the scandal erupted several weeks ago.

"It's a big crisis. I think no one should try to diminish that," Levada said. He acknowledged that the Vatican was caught by surprise, even though it was well aware of the scope of the U.S. and Irish crises, and blamed "a certain media bias" for keeping the story alive.
As opposed to the Church's behavior?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bloggin' In The Years: 1900

I'm certain many students will identify with this unfortunate young man:
Parker was an "A" man in the law school and for weeks had been "grinding" day and night to keep up his standard in spite of the difficulty of his subjects.

A few days ago, while taking an examination in constitutional law, in which he has been making a specialty, he suddenly put his hands to his head and began to shout "Constitutional law!" Then in an agaonized tone he followed this with moans and mutterings of the same subject. Today he died witn an abcess on the brain, brought on by his intense mental strain.
Considering his circumstances, it's a wonder lawyers survive law school as it is.

The Great Immigration Debate

It continues, as Marco Rubio and even Tom Tancredo express "concerns". Byron York responds:
The law requires police to check with federal authorities on a person's immigration status, if officers have stopped that person for some legitimate reason and come to suspect that he or she might be in the U.S. illegally. The heart of the law is this provision: "For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…"

Critics have focused on the term "reasonable suspicion" to suggest that the law would give police the power to pick anyone out of a crowd for any reason and force them to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Some foresee mass civil rights violations targeting Hispanics.

What fewer people have noticed is the phrase "lawful contact," which defines what must be going on before police even think about checking immigration status. "That means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he's violated some other law," says Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the measure. "The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop."

As far as "reasonable suspicion" is concerned, there is a great deal of case law dealing with the idea, but in immigration matters, it means a combination of circumstances that, taken together, cause the officer to suspect lawbreaking. It's not race -- Arizona's new law specifically says race and ethnicity cannot be the sole factors in determining a reasonable suspicion.
I suppose we'll find out how much discretion the cops will actually use here. There are legitimate concerns over racial profiling and so forth. We'll see if this creates a civil rights migraine for Arizona or not.

Regulation Without Reform

The Heritage Foundation has a list of 14 points from Chris Dodd's financial "Reform" plan that deserve better scrutiny-and highlighting-from the Republicans. Needless to say, this is mainly an excuse for even greater nannystating of the economy and the continuation of the bailout culture that got us into this mess in the first place. Professor Bainbridge responds:
why are we federalizing corporate law?

The approach...will create:

a "one-size-fits all" approach to the resolution of these issues that will deprive the American economy of diversity and innovation, impose an unwarranted burden on mid-sized and smaller companies, marginalize the state corporate law expertise that has been developed over decades and is better suited to address these issues, and undermine ongoing reforms undertaken by the State of Delaware and the "Model Business Corporation Act," which impacts 30 states.
Dodd's "Reform" would reward special interests at the expense of the little guy he claims this bill would be protecting. But who would protect the little guy from the "Reform?"

Debtville

I wonder if this counts as a sign of "Recovery":
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which has missed $6 million in debt payments since Jan. 1, should consider seeking Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, City Controller Dan Miller told a three-hour special committee hearing.

Miller, the first of four people to testify last night in an “informational session” on insolvency convened by Gloria Martin-Roberts, council president, said bankruptcy may offer Harrisburg relief from $68 million in debt-service payments this year tied to a waste-to-energy incinerator project. Martin- Roberts opposes a bankruptcy filing.

Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, the sixth-most populous U.S. state, has guaranteed payments on $282 million in bonds on the incinerator, run by the Harrisburg Authority. The payments on the bonds and on a working-capital loan this year add up to four times the amount the city collects in property taxes each year, budget documents show.

“It’s not good,” Miller said at the start of the hearing before a silent audience of about 20 that included city officials and union members. “Nobody wants to do it, but it’s there for a reason,” he said. “Maybe for the purpose of helping cities that are in the situation we are in now.”

The city this month skipped a $637,500 payment due on a loan to Fairfield, New Jersey-based Covanta Holding Corp., operator of the incinerator.
Don't worry, Harrisburg. According to Harry Reid, this is "Good news".

Rules Were Meant To Be Followed

It looks like the Democrats got caught admitting what they already knew:
When major companies declared that a provision of the new health care law would hurt earnings, Democrats were skeptical. But after investigating, House Democrats have concluded that the companies were right to tell investors and the government about the expected adverse effects of the law on their financial results.

At issue is a section of the law that eliminates a tax break available to companies that provide drug benefits to retirees as part of their insurance coverage. The tax change, expected to generate $4.5 billion of revenue over the next 10 years, will help offset the cost of providing coverage to the uninsured.

Within days after President Obama signed the law on March 23, companies filed reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying the tax change would have a material adverse effect on their earnings.

The White House suggested that companies were exaggerating the effects of the tax change. The commerce secretary, Gary F. Locke, said the companies were being “premature and irresponsible” in taking such write-downs.
....

In a memorandum summarizing its investigation, the Democratic staff of the committee said, “The companies acted properly and in accordance with accounting standards in submitting filings to the S.E.C. in March and April.”

Moreover, it said, “these one-time charges were required by applicable accounting rules.” The committee staff said this view was confirmed by independent experts at the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the American Academy of Actuaries.

Mr. Waxman, the chairman of the committee, and Mr. Stupak canceled a hearing at which they had planned to question executives on the effects of the law.
Considering that the Democrats wanted these companies to foot the bill for the government's Medicare program, I can see why Waxman wanted to avoid the embarrassment of a hearing. It's tough to accuse with your foot in your mouth.

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Hugo Chavez, Twitterer?
Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President, has announced that he will start using Twitter, the microblogging site which will test his ability to deliver a concise message.

Mr Chavez speaks to the nation for hours every Sunday on his radio and television program but on Twitter he will be limited to much shorter messages of just 140 characters each time.

His use of Twitter also marks a new tactic in his approach to the internet and social networking.

In January Mr Chavez said that using Twitter, the internet and text messaging to criticise his regime was "terrorism."

He has now decided to use the social networking tool for his own purposes.

"Comandante Chavez is going to open his Twitter account soon to wage the battle online," Diosdado Cabello, director of Venezuela's state-run telecommunications agency, said on Venezuelan television, according to Bloomberg News.
I suppose the good news is, he won't be able to rant as long. But at least his loyal subjects will be able to know what El Comandante is having for lunch.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coffee Coup

What if somebody tried to overthrow the leader of the Coffee Party and nobody cared?
Annabel Park says there’s no coup in the works to remove her as the leader of the Coffee Party movement and replace her with someone more angry, radical and willing to be confrontational with conservatives. But a recent article in Newsweek suggests otherwise.

Park, contacted through Facebook, criticized the Newsweek article and it’s author Steve Tuttle for quoting a woman at a Washington DC Coffee Party who said the movement would die “unless we get someone a little more powerful.”

“Steve spoke to one person at one event who was curious enough to attend. She is not one of the organizers and I don’t know any movement to oust me. He needed to look for conflict and exaggerated what he came across,” Park told The Daily Caller.

The much-hyped Coffee Parties grew out of a YouTube video posted online by Park calling for an alternative to the conservative, grassroots Tea Party movement.
And yet for all the "Hype", they're apparently just not getting any bigger. And now they're already experiencing infighting. Even Air America managed to limp along as an "Alternative" without coup attempts against Al Franken.

Big Doctor Is Dosing You

Medicine is looking to become a lot more mobile, and more attached:
The Senate Committee on Aging last week offered a preview of the government’s future role in health care, showing how Americans will interact with doctors and other health care providers. The demonstration offers a glimpse at an overlooked effect of health care reform.

The effort, loosely called e-Health or e-Care, combines health-care technology with 21st-century Internet connectivity. It will allow doctors to interact with their patients through innovations such as video chats, telephone health checkups, and home-health monitoring devices that relay data over wireless Internet connections.

“The development of the broadband network and health information technologies has the potential to truly transform health care and simultaneously enable better outcomes and lowering costs,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

One of the new health technologies on display last Thursday was an automatic drug dispenser that can monitor and adjust medication dosages wirelessly, allowing doctors to tailor dosages of drugs such as insulin without having to schedule in-person visits with patients.

“What we’re talking about, folks, is using a device like this one,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, as he displayed the small device. “It attaches to the patient’s skin and is loaded with drugs that are administered in the exact way that the doctor prescribes – wirelessly.

“That means that a doctor can vary the doses based on the information the doctor is receiving [from the monitor]. The patient doesn’t have to go in to the doctor and then the pharmacy to change his or her prescription,” he said.
I can see the benefits in this, but also the potential for abuse-what if the doctor-or someone else with access to the gadgets-decided they wanted to fool around with the dosage? But as with any new technology, there will be risk along with the rewards.

Adios, Mon Ami

Pineapple Face is going away for a while.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday signed off on the extradition of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France, clearing the way for him to stand trial there on money laundering charges.

Clinton signed a so-called "surrender warrant" for Noriega after a federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking the extradition last month, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The move cleared the last hurdle to Noriega's extradition and one of his French lawyers, Yves Leberquier, said he would be on an overnight flight to Paris.

"When he arrives he will be presented to the prosecutor and notified of the arrest warrant, and he will confirm his opposition" to the warrant, Leberquier said.

"After that, at some point Tuesday, Noriega will be presented to a Paris judge who will determine whether he should stay in custody pending further action. Leberquier said Noriega's lawyers will push for that hearing to be open "so that the defense can be totally transparent."
As far as I'm concerned, they can have him.

New Media Versus The Long Arm Of The Law

Have bloggers finally arrived after all?
Gawker Media said on Monday that computers belonging to one of its editors, Jason Chen, were seized from his home on Friday as part of what appeared to be an investigation into the sale of a next-generation iPhone.

One of Gawker’s blogs, Gizmodo, published articles last week about the future phone after purchasing the device for $5,000 from a person who found it at a bar in California last month.

Gawker’s chief operating officer, Gaby Darbyshire, said it expected the immediate return of the computers and servers.

“Under both state and federal law, a search warrant may not be validly issued to confiscate the property of a journalist,” she wrote in a letter to San Mateo County, Calif., authorities on Saturday. “Jason is a journalist who works full time for our company,” she continued, adding that he works from home, his “de facto newsroom.”

“It is abundantly clear under the law that a search warrant to remove these items was invalid. The appropriate method of obtaining such materials would be the issuance of a subpoena,” Ms. Darbyshire continued.

The letter was shared on Monday afternoon by Nick Denton, the founder and president of Gawker Media. “Are bloggers journalists? I guess we’ll find out,” Mr. Denton said in an instant message.
Indeed. But what constitutes as a legitimate journalist in such a case? The cops' move may have been dumb, but does Gawker really have grounds for a case?

Tent City Blues

How to create an instant Obamaville:
Desperate times call for desperate measures – even if it means camping out in the rain for a chance at a job application.

Hundreds of job-seekers did just that in Queens in the hopes of landing a coveted union job.

Construction workers, engineers, electricians -- hundreds spent the weekend right here. Many left with a job application, while many others walked away empty-handed.

"The sky's the limit after this!" said Aaron Johnson of Mount Vernon.

Johnson is living month-to-month, struggling to pay the bills, with a 4-year-old daughter to support -- and he was one of the lucky ones.

After three days of sleeping on the street, he left with one of just 750 job applications handed out for a position as an elevator technician apprentice -- a secure job with pension and benefits and an earning potential up to $40 an hour.

"You don't wanna keep working these dead-end jobs, check to check to check to check. I don't want to do that anymore," Johnson said.

More than 1,000 eager applicants began lining up as early as Friday morning armed with a variety of skills -- and warm blankets.

Though many near the end of the line knew they probably wouldn't even get an application, desperation to land a job fueled their determination to stand on line anyway -- and hope for the best.

"I got laid off and that's why I'm here, looking for my future," said Benny Rodriguez of Flushing, Queens.
If this is the future, I think I'd rather be living in the past.

Satire Hurts

Well, this should be fun.
The Penn State climate professor who has silently endured investigations, hostile questioning, legislative probes and attacks by colleagues has finally spoken out. He says he'll sue the makers of a satirical video that's a hit on You Tube.

Their response: Bring it on.

Michael Mann, one of the central figures in the recent climate-data scandal, is best known for his "hockey stick graph," which was the key visual aid in explaining how the world is warming at an alarming rate and in connecting the rise to the increase in use of carbon fuels in this century. E-mails stolen from a university in England were released online, revealing exchanges between climatologists and a reference to a "trick" that Mann had used to get the graph to portray what global warming scientists wanted to see.

The parody video, titled "Hide the Decline," had more than 500,000 viewers on YouTube and received national attention when Rush Limbaugh played it on his radio show. It features a cat with a guitar, a talking tree, and a dancing figure sporting the image of Professor Mann. It's the use of his image that Mann is complaining about, arguing that the video supports "efforts to sell various products and merchandise."

"The guy is crazy to threaten legal action," said Jeff Davis, the President of No Cap and Trade, a large organization that includes the group Mann is threatening to sue, Minnesotans for Global Warming. "A lawsuit would give us full discovery -- and there's a lot to look at in his work."
Be careful what you wish for, professor...

Game Face

In what has to be the ultimate irony, SCOTUS is going to hear a case involving the Governator and...violent video games:
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to rule on the constitutionality of a state law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The Court accepted for review an appeal by the state of California, urging the Court to adopt a new constitutional standard that would enable states to ban such games for those under age 18. The case is Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association (08-1448).

The Court apparently had been holding the case until it decided another First Amendment case involving violent expression — U.S. v. Stevens (08-769). In that ruling, issued last Tuesday, the Court struck down a federal law that banned the depiction in videotapes of animal cruelty. In that ruling, the Justices refused to create a new exception to the First Amendment free speech right. The Court could have opted to send the California case back to the Ninth Circuit Court to weigh the impact of the Stevens decision. Instead, it simply granted review; the case will be heard and decided in the Court’s next Term, starting Oct. 4.

In the new appeal, California officials urged the Court to adopt a constitutional standard, created for use in cases involving protection of minors against obscene materials, that has never been used when the content was violent in nature, rather than obscene. The standard, derived from the Court’s 1968 decision in Ginsberg v. New York, allows states to pass laws barring minors’ access to obscene materials if the law represents a reasonable judgment by the legislature that exposure to such materials will harm minors.
Well, they can always fall back on watching Arnold blow stuff up in one of his old movies...

Fairey Tale

Guess who the latest Obamafan to become disappointed with the one is?
In creating his now iconic Obama "Hope" poster, Shepard Fairey went from being a cult street art figure to a artist synonymous with Barack Obama’s revolutionary 2008 presidential campaign.

But the artist, whose stylized portrait was emblematic of change, said he hasn't been wowed by Obama's performance in the White House thus far.

“Obama is to me a quality human being and someone that, given the limitations of the two-party system, that’s trying to do a good job,” Fairey told Niteside at a book signing at the Brooklyn Museum on Sunday.

“But I have to grade the whole thing on a curve because the two-party system to me is not yielding the results I want to see.”
Like getting the guy he supported elected?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

E.T., Don't Phone Home

Stephen Hawking thinks trying to talk to aliens is a bad idea:
THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.
....

Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”
Or they might simply wipe us out. Of course, we may simply be projecting our own fears about each other onto aliens who might not even think the way we do, but it's a fact that the predators are the ones who tend to survive in nature. And let's face it-as potential prey, we're not all that bright.

Following The Wrong Europeans

Matt Welch explains why Obama's flirtation with the VAT is following the wrong example:
The only reason VAT is even on the table right now is that bureaucrats like VAT enthusiast Nancy Pelosi have an appetite for spending that far outpaces Americans’ willingness to cough up their hard-earned dough. Every statehouse and city council across the land is literally out of money, and turning to the only people who can print the stuff: Washington.

The federal government spent $3.5 trillion last year while taking in just $2.1 trillion, producing a deficit-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio of 10%, a level not seen since World War II. By contrast, the European Union requires member countries to keep deficits at 3% of GDP. If America was in Europe, we’d be Greece.

What’s worse for us is that we’ve pretty much given up trying to address the root problem, which is the decade long spending binge initiated by George W. Bush and then tripled down on by Barack Obama. The VAT isn’t a way to streamline a complicated tax code; it’s a new spigot to flood money into the pockets of teachers who can’t be fired, and securities regulators who can’t get enough porn.

The grand irony here is that the very continent we’re scrambling to emulate has been moving aggressively in the opposite direction on taxes and economic policy.

While the US keeps corporate taxes frozen near 40%, EU countries have slashed them down to an average of around 25%. Top marginal income tax rates, which in the US are 35%, are under 25% all across the former East Bloc.
But that's "New Europe," as opposed to economically correct "Old Europe". Which, the last time I checked, isn't all that interested in bailing out failed welfare states these days.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bloggin' In The Years: 1972

Murray Rothbard is not enamored of the idea of a VAT:
The VAT is essentially a national sales tax, levied in proportion to the goods and services produced and sold. But its delightful concealment comes from the fact that the VAT is levied at each step of the way in the production process: on farmer, manufacturer, jobber and wholesaler, and only slightly on the retailer.

The difference is that when a consumer pays a 7 percent sales tax on every purchase, his indignation rises and he points the finger of resentment at the politicians in charge of government; but if the 7 percent tax is hidden and paid by every firm rather than just at retail, the inevitably higher prices will be charged, not to the government where it belongs, but to grasping businessmen and avaricious trade unions.

While consumers, businessmen, and unions all blame each other for inflation like Kilkenny cats, Papa government is able to preserve its lofty moral purity, and to join in denouncing all of these groups for "causing inflation."
Well, when government doesn't want to accept responsibility for its actions, what else can government do?

Drawing Lines

Ann Althouse breaks with some of her contemporaries on the subject of offending art:
I have endless contempt for the threats/warnings against various cartoonists who draw Muhammad (or a man in a bear suit who might be Muhammad, but is actually Santa Claus). But depictions of Muhammad offend millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats. In pushing back some people, you also hurt a lot of people who aren't doing anything (other than protecting their own interests by declining to pressure the extremists who are hurting the reputation of their religion).
....

People need to learn to deal with getting mad when they hear or see speech that enrages them, even when it is intended to enrage them. But how are we outsiders to the artwork supposed to contribute the the process of their learning how to deal with free expression? I don't think it is by gratuitously piling on outrageous expression, because it doesn't show enough respect and care for the people who are trying to tolerate the expression that outrages them.
I tend to agree-the best way to deal with the extremists is to mock them-not necessarily the religion that they claim to represent. One knee-jerk reaction does not justify another.

Mattel's Muscle

Call me crazy, but I think antirtust laws were created for stuff like this:
The nation’s biggest toy maker, Mattel Inc., is getting another exemption on federal safety rules even as smaller companies struggle with testing costs imposed after a rash of Mattel toy recalls in 2007.

Under the law passed after the recalls, the makers of children’s products must perform independent third-party tests for lead, lead paint and other potential dangers.
On Friday, however, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to approve Mattel’s request to use two more of its own company laboratories for the third-party checks on its toys. …

The third-party testing required under the 2008 law followed a slew of recalls of Chinese-made toys contaminated by lead, including six Mattel-related recalls.

But the legislation also has a provision that allows CPSC to consider requests — for so-called “firewalled laboratories” — from manufacturers who want to use their own testing facilities for the third-party checks. The firewalled labs are supposed to have safeguards in place to prevent any undue company pressure on an employee to clear a dangerous product.
In other words, they get to pick and choose which labs to use for their own testing-and want people to accept on their word that their toys are safe. That's a nice little racket they've got going, isn't it?

Yield Not

It turns out that the victim might not have been such a victim after all:
The German bank on the losing end of the Goldman Sachs derivatives deals that have attracted the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission was so absorbed in the pursuit of high-yield returns from financial instruments linked to the U.S. housing market that it preferred to lose one of its top executives rather than change course.

This single-minded pursuit of yield provides an important context for the SEC's case against Goldman. In hindsight, it can appear that Goldman must have been committing some kind of fraud in order to sell subprime CDOs that performed so badly. But at the time, the buyers of these instruments were actively seeking exposure to subprime risk.
Simply put, they seemed to be doing what they did with their eyes wide open. It doesn't absolve Goldman-Sachs of all blame, but it does help put things in perspective.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Skipping Out On Reform

A look ahead at insurance fines reveals:
Among those who are subject to the penalty, many will voluntarily report on their tax returns that they are uninsured and pay the amount owed. However, other individuals will try to avoid making payments. Therefore, the estimates presented here account for likely compliance rates, as well as the ability of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to administer and collect the penalty. In total, about 4 million people are projected to pay a penalty because they will be uninsured in 2016 (a figure that includes uninsured dependents who have the penalty paid on their behalf). CBO and JCT estimate that total collections from those penalties will be about $4 billion per year over the 2017–2019 period.
Peter Suderman responds:
Some people will likely pay the fine because it's a better deal. Others will likely game the system—hopping on and off of insurance plans in order to get coverage for big expenses without paying in long term. And if that's the case, we could find ourselves in an insurance death spiral, with a shrinking insurance pool and premium prices rising faster than ever. All of which is to say that no matter how the mandate works, or doesn't, the possible outcomes don't look good.
Except, maybe, for those insurance companies that the reform is supposed to "Regulate".

The Party's Over

Well, I guess it's good that they're starting somewhere:
The executive board of the Republican National Committee moved quietly this week to order an independent review of the organization's spending practices, a move that reflects internal concerns about cost controls and oversight of the $121 million in tax-exempt receipts the committee collected this election cycle.

The move came after Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady, a former federal prosecutor in the Justice Department's fraud section, helped conduct a confidential review of party spending at the request of national Chairman Michael S. Steele. Brady's review concluded that while the party's internal controls are good, its policies for approving expenditures warrant a deeper look, RNC officials said.

Brady and Utah businessman Bruce R. Hough, who co-chaired the review, said the independent assessment by an accounting firm will not focus on committee expenditures that have generated recent controversies, including a payment for entertainment of a Young Republicans group at a bondage-themed West Hollywood nightclub. Hough said the review will look at "what is currently happening and how to improve on it." RNC spokesman Doug Heye said, "It is not an audit."
In the future, they'll need to justify those trips to the strip club...

Greek Tragedy

Greece is now literally begging for a handout:
Greece called for activation of a financial lifeline of as much as 45 billion euros ($60 billion) this year in an unprecedented test of the euro’s stability and European political cohesion.

The appeal for help from the European Union and International Monetary Fund follows a surge in borrowing costs to what Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called unsustainable levels that undermine efforts to cut a budget deficit that is more than four times the EU limit.

“There was no response from the markets, either because they didn’t believe in the political will of the EU or because they decided to go on with speculation,” Papandreou said today. “The situation threatens to demolish not only the sacrifices of the people but also the regular course of the economy.”

With national debt of almost 300 billion euros and investors demanding almost triple what they charge Germany for its 10-year bonds, Greece faces a fiscal mess that threatened to spread to Spain and Portugal, forcing the EU to set up a standby aid facility. At stake is the future of the euro 11 years after its creators gave the European Central Bank responsibility for interest rates while leaving budget policy in national capitals.
Of course, I don't suppose it's ever occured to the Greeks that an unsustainable welfare state wasn't a good idea in the first place. Now that Greece has become "Too big to fail", it will be interesting to see if tough love from its neighbors will make them get the message or not.

Government X

When P.J. O'Rourke called it a "Parliament of Whores", he wasn't kidding:
Senior staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers while they were being paid to police the financial system, an agency watchdog says.

The SEC's inspector general conducted 33 probes of employees looking at explicit images in the past five years, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The memo says 31 of those probes occurred in the 2 1/2 years since the financial system teetered and nearly crashed.

The staffers' behavior violated government-wide ethics rules, it says.

It was written by SEC Inspector General David Kotz in response to a request from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

The memo was first reported Thursday evening by ABC News. It summarizes past inspector general probes and reports some shocking findings:

- A senior attorney at the SEC's Washington headquarters spent up to eight hours a day looking at and downloading pornography. When he ran out of hard drive space, he burned the files to CDs or DVDs, which he kept in boxes around his office. He agreed to resign, an earlier watchdog report said.

- An accountant was blocked more than 16,000 times in a month from visiting websites classified as "Sex" or "Pornography." Yet he still managed to amass a collection of "very graphic" material on his hard drive by using Google images to bypass the SEC's internal filter, according to an earlier report from the inspector general. The accountant refused to testify in his defense, and received a 14-day suspension.

- Seventeen of the employees were "at a senior level," earning salaries of up to $222,418.

- The number of cases jumped from two in 2007 to 16 in 2008. The cracks in the financial system emerged in mid-2007 and spread into full-blown panic by the fall of 2008.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said it was "disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation's economy on the brink of collapse."

He said in a statement that SEC officials "were preoccupied with other distractions" when they should have been overseeing the growing problems in the financial system.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment Thursday night.
Granted, it's what the Internet was made for. But at taxpayer expense? We pay politicians for that, not goverment drones.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tax As I Say, Not As I Do

Now this is ironic:
An Internal Revenue Service agent was found liable for back taxes and penalties for not reporting income on nearly 2,000 transactions on EBay Inc., the online auction site, according to the U.S. Tax Court.

Andrea Fabiana Orellana failed to report $41,842 in income in 2004 and 2005 from sales of designer clothing, shoes and other items, according to a Tax Court summary opinion. Orellana is liable for $12,428 in unpaid taxes and $2,486 in penalties.

Orellana, who represented herself, sold items under several names, including “BlackTheRipper,” the court document said. She could not be reached for comment.

“Petitioner’s attitude toward the preparation of her tax returns appeared to be cavalier,” the U.S. Tax Court opinion said.
Karma. Would that we could all be so cavalier...

Mother Earth's Day

As Earth Day turns 40, Bjorn Lomberg points out how things have improved:
As we approach the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, people who care about the environment actually have a lot to celebrate. Of course, that's not how the organizers of Earth Day 2010 see it. In their view (to quote a recent online call to arms), "The world is in greater peril than ever." But consider this: In virtually every developed country, the air is more breathable and the water is more drinkable than it was in 1970. In most of the First World, deforestation has turned to reforestation. Moreover, the percentage of malnutrition has been reduced, and ever-more people have access to clean water and sanitation.

Apocalyptic predictions from concerned environmental activists are nothing new. Until about 10 years ago, I took it for granted that these predictions were sound. Like many of us, I believed that the world was in a terrible state that was only getting worse with each passing day. My thinking changed only when, as a university lecturer, I set out with my students to disprove what I regarded at the time as the far-fetched notion that global environmental conditions were actually improving.

To our surprise, the data showed us that many key environmental measures were indeed getting better.
It should be noted that most of this has been done through better technology-not necessarily better legislation, which if anything is more about being anti-capitalist than pro-environment.

Earth Day began as a sincere movement that came with a healhy dose of the hippie idealism of the time. It turned into a feel-good day for limosine liberals and a way for Hollywood types to spout off about how we're ruining the planet. Meanwhile, real science has given us real ways of dealing with the problem-but that would put the "Green warriors" out of business, wouldn't it?

Acne Busters

Finally, hope for teenagers everywhere:
Nanotechnology's bright future has finally come up with a possible treatment for the dreaded pimples of our teen years. That has arrived in the form of gold nano-bombs which deliver a lethal dose of lauric acid to skin-dwelling bacteria responsible for that unsightly acne, according to UPI.

Lauric acid can convert into a compound which essentially destroys the outer lipid walls of bacteria, and is found in coconut oil and human breast milk. Bioengineers at the University of California-San Diego packaged the lauric acid inside of artificial microscopic sacs to become bacteria-busting nano-bombs.

Gold nanoparticles studding the outside of the nano-bombs prevent the sacs from fusing together, and also help them act as smart bombs to track down bacteria based on the skin's pH level and other microenvironment factors.

The nano-bomb liposomes shed their gold nanoparticles once they reach the acidic microenvironment of the bacterial membranes, and allow the lauric acid to do their dirty work and help clear up acne.
Now, if they could just do something about the dreaded nerd syndrome...

Outsourcing The Future

Does this mean that we can all be mad scientists now?
The Summer 2010 Humanity+ Conference is emphasizing DIY with the brilliant theme "The Rise of the Citizen Scientist." (Our last magazine edition was organized around the DIY theme, focusing particularly on DIY Bio.)

Humanity+ Executive Director Alex Lighman is encouraging the crowdsourcing approach to problem solving: “Knowledge may be expanding exponentially, but the current rate of civilizational learning and institutional upgrading is still far too slow in the century of peak oil, peak uranium, and 'peak everything.' Humanity needs to gather vastly more data as part of ever larger and more widespread scientific experiments, and make science and technology flourish in streets, fields, and homes as well as in university and corporate laboratories.”
This does fit in with that death ray project I've been meaning to work on...

The Verdict

In a case stemming from one of the most notorious incidents of the Iraq War, the book is closed:
A U.S. Navy SEAL was cleared Thursday of charges he covered up the alleged beating of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding the grisly 2004 killings of four American security contractors.

A six-man Navy jury found Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas not guilty of dereliction of duty and attempting to influence the testimony of another service member. The jury heard too many differences between the testimony of a sailor who claimed he witnessed the Sept. 1 assault at a U.S. base outside Fallujah, Iraq, and statements from a half-dozen others who denied his account.

Smiling and composed as he left the courthouse at the U.S. military's Camp Victory on Baghdad's western outskirts, Huertas said he felt vindicated.

"It's a big weight off my shoulders," said Huertas, 29, of Blue Island, Illinois. "Compared to all the physical activity we go through, this has been mentally more challenging."
....

In his closing argument, Grover pleaded with the jury to hold Huertas responsible as an example of "why we're better than the terrorists."

Huertas' lawyers, however, cast strong doubt that Abed was ever beaten in the first place. Photographs of Abed's face and body taken in the days immediately after the alleged attack show a visible cut inside his lip but no obvious signs of bruising or injuries anywhere else.

"There was no abuse," Monica Lombardi, Huertas' civilian attorney, told the jury. She said Abed could have bit his lip on purpose to cast blame on U.S. troops, calling it "classic terrorist training."
Of course, not everyone's happy:
"These trials are just propaganda for their justice and democracy," sneered Abdul-Rahman Najim al-Mashhadani, head of the Iraqi human rights group Hammurabi.
With all due respect to Hammurabi, the military justice system did work-the accused had his day in court, and a verdict was rendered by a jury of his peers. Given the circumstances, I think what happened then could fall under the "fog of war", and the outcome was certainly far more grounded in the law than a trial in Saddam's day would have been.

Green Day Jaunts

How will Team Obama be celebrating Earth Day? By literally wasting everyone else's time:
The parallel visits of Air Force One (a 747/VC-25 aircraft) and Air Force Two (a 757/C-32A aircraft) will delay dozens, if not hundreds of commercial flights at Kennedy and LaGuardia and other nearby airports as no-fly zones are implemented. Jets will be forced to circle and burn more fuel as they wait for the VIPs to come and go. Their security contingents consisting of dozens of cars, SUVs and helicopters will burn even more. Throw in thousands of commuters’ cars and delivery trucks sitting idle in traffic as law enforcement closes large swaths of the city and you have yourself a very Earth-unfriendly day.
....

Thursday’s dual jaunt seems especially egregious considering the frivolous nature of Biden’s visit, in particular: He’ll be yukking it up with Whoopi and Barbara as a guest on The View. Not sure what he’ll be talking about, but you can be certain that whatever he has to say could be done just as effectively using a video camera and satellite hookup from the White House.

Meanwhile, Obama will be making a speech about new banking and finance regulations, a worthy subject, to be sure. Federal Hall on Wall Street, the site of George Washington’s first inauguration which stares directly at the doors of the New York Stock Exchange, would be the ideal location for this speech, but Obama will deliver it from…an art and engineering school? Any symbolism of delivering the speech in NYC is lost. He may as well save everyone the effort and talk to the nation from the Oval Office.
Yeah, but then it wouldn't have been as good a photo op.

The Bleeping Prophet

What the bleep?
After last week's episode of the Comedy Central series sparked a threat (and yes, it was certainly a threat) from a radical Islamic website, the network has cracked-down-for-their-own-good on creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone during last night's continuation of the show's storyline.

For those who missed the drama, the show's 200th episode last week mocked the one "celebrity" that the series has been largely unable to depict, the Prophet Muhammad, who was hidden from view in a bear costume. A U.S.-based website RevolutionMuslim.com then warned Parker and Stone they could end up like Theo Van Gogh (the Dutch filmmaker who was murdered by Muslim extremists after depicting Muhammad on his show) and even posted the address of the show's production office. The site has since been shut down.

Last night, "South Park" continued the controversial Muhammad storyline, but with a key difference: every instance of the words "Prophet Muhammad" was bleeped out, making the episode practically incomprehensible, especially to anybody who missed the previous week.

The character of Muhammad was once again also hidden from view, covered by a large block labeled "censored."
And no, it wasn't a joke:
A Comedy Central spokesperson confirmed it was the network's decision to bleep the words.

The Muhammad content is also not available on the South Park Studios website.

A message on the site states: "We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show. We will bring you a version of [episode] 201 as soon as we can."

Ironically, "South Park" apparently shows an image of the Prophet Muhammad briefly in its opening credits that has gone largely unnoticed.

UPDATE: Parker and Stone comment on "South Park" censorship:

In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too.
That's too bad, because apparently fear and intimidation worked in this case.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Der Fuher's Fakes

It's the end of an era, at least on Youtube:
A recent wave of takedowns affecting many of the Hitler “Downfall” parody videos has resulted in their removal from YouTube. (EDIT: These videos were blocked by YouTube’s Content ID system, not taken down via DMCA notices. For more on the difference between these two, see the EFF’s Guide to YouTube Removals.) The copyright claim is being filed on behalf of Constantin Films, the German production company that owns the rights to the 2004 film...from which the clip originates.

Downfall parodies are a well-established part of online culture... The Downfall format has been used to mock everything from social networking sites, to politicians, to the iPad, to self-important hipsters. The list goes on, but as of this week Downfall videos are disappearing fast.
As an Internet phenomenon, the parodies represent a watershed moment in online culture. The Best Magazine in the World responds:
The issue is YouTube's kneejerk takedowns. The site is free to do what it likes; nobody will bother going to court over something so ephemeral as a Hitler joke; and though YouTube is obviously the best and most popular forum for any video, it's not like there's some inalienable right to run your content there. Still, the use of immediate takedowns is a blunt instrument that YouTube and its owner Google will, I hope, learn to refine in the future. Meanwhile, brand-new Downfall parodies, including the inevitable Hitler-issues-DMCA-takedowns version, are available elsewhere.

Of course, Constantin films should be overjoyed at the success of the Downfall meme. I don't know that it would even be possible to total up all the views on all the parodies out there, but it is conceivable that thanks to these parodies more Americans are aware of Downfall than of any non-English-language film ever made.
When was the last time any European art-house movie got this kind of free publicity? Hopefully Youtube will reconsider the error of its ways on this one.

The Ash Economy

Looking at the bright side of the Iceland eruption:
Think of the stranded travelers in Europe who are now spending money on food and lodging that they would not have spent otherwise. What a boon to the hotel and restaurant industry at the airports and elsewhere! Think of the people like John Cleese who took a $5100 cab ride from Oslo to Brussels. What a glorious time for the taxicab industry! When is the last time cabbies got fares like that? Rental cars, trains, and even boats are rolling in the profits the last few days.

Now consider the layer of ash that is covering much of Iceland and northern Europe. What at first seems like a real mess is in fact a one-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity: think of all the jobs that will be created in cleaning up that ash! Given the double-digit rates of unemployment that affect much of Western Europe, the ash is something of a gift as it could conceivably create clean-up jobs for millions.
Who says living in the EU can't give you a job?

Like Father, Like Father

On wanting to raise your own clone:
I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I'm sure we'd share. I'm confident that he'd be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me. I'm not pushing others to clone themselves. I'm not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?
But isn't that just about the "Parent's" ego? And what about the "Kid?" Clones would be individuals, with their own personalities as unique as any other offspring. If that's the case, then personal cloning, if it comes, would most likely be more of a vanity exercise than anything else.

"There Is No Bisexuality In Baseball!"

At least, not according to these folks:
Three bisexual men are suing a national gay-athletic organization, saying they were discriminated against during the Gay Softball World Series held in the Seattle area two years ago.

The three Bay Area men say the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance in essence deemed them not gay enough to participate in the series.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle accuses the alliance of violating Washington state laws barring discrimination. The alliance organizes the annual Gay Softball World Series.

Beth Allen, the alliance's attorney, said the lawsuit is unwarranted and that the three plaintiffs "were not discriminated against in any unlawful manner."

In any case, Allen said, the alliance is a private organization and, as such, can determine its membership based on its goals.

Whether the alliance is public or private will likely have to be determined in court, since the plaintiffs characterize the alliance as a "public accommodation" that's open to the public and uses public softball fields.

The three plaintiffs — Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles and Jon Russ — played on a team called D2 that qualified for the 2008 Gay Softball World Series, which is organized by the alliance.

The alliance's rules say that each World Series team can have no more than two heterosexual players. According to the lawsuit, a competing team accused D2 of violating that rule.

Each of the three plaintiffs was called into a conference room in front of more than 25 people, and was asked "personal and intrusive questions" about his sexual attractions and desires, purportedly to determine if the player was heterosexual or gay, the lawsuit alleges. The alliance has no category or definition for bisexual or transgender people in its rules, the plaintiff's attorney said.

At one point during the proceedings, the lawsuit alleges, one of the plaintiffs was told: "This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series."

The alliance ruled the three men were "nongay," stripped D2 of its second-place finish and recommended that the three players be suspended from participating in the World Series for a year, according to the suit.
So what does it say about gay society when you can be considered "Not gay enough?" Is this grounds for a civil rights case? Or will the would-be players strike out?

President Bookworm

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can get a pretty good read on how presidents think by what they read, if someone like Carter is any indication:
Presidential reading backfired on Jimmy Carter as well. In the summer of 1979, with the economy struggling and the presidency shaken by the Iran hostage crisis, Carter delivered his infamous speech proclaiming a "crisis of confidence" in America. It became known as the "malaise" speech and is widely regarded as a major political mistake. The address, written mainly by adviser Pat Caddell, was inspired by Christopher Lasch's best-selling book "The Culture of Narcissism." Lasch had come to the White House for a dinner about six weeks before the address, and his ideas apparently stayed behind. Two days after the July 15 speech, Carter fired several Cabinet members, adding to the sense of drift that seemed to define the era.
A great many of our presidents have actually been quite avid bookworms, and their literary choices give revealing insights into their thought processes and worldviews, even if some of them didn't seem to learn from what they read.

The Man Who Would Be Kingmaker

The UK's answer to Obama seems to be running up quite a tab:
Nick Clegg was forced on to the defensive last night over his expenses and lobbying activities.

The Lib Dem leader regularly claimed more than Gordon Brown and David Cameron and charged the taxpayer for three kitchen upgrades in six months.

He also billed for foreign phone calls, napkins, cake tins and for hundreds of pounds to prune his fruit trees.

Questioned over his expenses relating to his constituency property, he hit back, bizarrely saying: 'It's not my home, it's yours.'

As the Lib Dems faced unprecedented media and public scrutiny following their extraordinary poll bounce:

It emerged that Mr Clegg worked as a partner of a major European lobbying firm, G-Plus, only five years ago

The Lib Dem leader repeatedly refused to say which main party he would back in a hung Parliament
The spotlight turned on to the expenses claims of other Lib Dem MPs

Figures showed half the Lib Dems' recent donations came from a figure linked to disgraced benefactor Michael Brown

Mr Clegg's claim to be a straight-talker was undermined by his repeated refusal to indicate which party he would back if a coalition was necessary to form a government.

'I'm Nick Clegg, I'm not Nostradamus,' he said yesterday.
True, because he surely didn't see the scrutiny coming.

Know Your Enemy

Green Day comes to Broadway. Ann Althouse isn't impressed:
It's an odd business to obsessing about George Bush when he's keeping such a low profile these days. He's hoping to fade into history, perhaps, but some people really miss him — miss him in the sense that they want him there in center stage to hate on, like back in the good bad old days. And now here he is, center stage, on Broadway, where they do punk rock now.
It does seem like the weird flip side of "Miss me yet?" when you have the entertainment world pining for their favorite target.

Aloha, America

It's for "Leadership":
Demands for a quick end of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's tenure are sure to become louder and more insistent in the wake of revelations in Hotline on Call that the GOP's top campaign organization spent more than $340,000 to send 33 staff members to Hawaii for a January semi-annual meeting.

This news comes as some party leaders are wondering where all the money raised by the RNC under Steele has gone and why there are questions about whether the GOP will be able to fund properly all of its congressional candidates in a mid-term election that offers an historic opportunity to regain majority power in Congress.

Based on FEC reports, Hotline says "the RNC spent $167K on facilities for the 3-day meeting, which took place at a posh resort in Waikiki. That figure doesn't include rooms and office space for the party employees who staffed the meeting, which added up to at least another $90K.

"At least 33 RNC staffers and officials made the trip to HI, including top members of the political, communications and research departments, as first reported by Hotline OnCall. Party staff were reimbursed for meals and travel as part of the trip."
Well, if this keeps up, maybe Steele can look forward to a permanent vacation...

Arizona Wants You

Oh for God's sake:
The Arizona House on Monday voted for a provision that would require President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate if he hopes to be on the state's ballot when he runs for reelection.

The House voted 31-22 to add the provision to a separate bill. The measure still faces a formal vote.

It would require U.S. presidential candidates who want to appear on the ballot in Arizona to submit documents proving they meet the constitutional requirements to be president.

Phoenix Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema said the bill is one of several measures that are making Arizona "the laughing stock of the nation."

Mesa Republican Rep. Cecil Ash said he has no reason to doubt Obama's citizenship but supports the measure because it could help end doubt.
Well, maybe they could just follow McCain's suggestion and arrest him when he shows up to run for re-election.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Goldmangate?

The GOP wants more info. The party leadership points out how President Populist helped out Wall Street. Meanwhile, Goldman-Sachs' money trail is nagging Obama:
U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias pushed his Republican opponent in Illinois to give back donations from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. without saying whether President Barack Obama should return almost $1 million that bank employees contributed to his White House bid.

Obama, a political mentor and basketball buddy to Giannoulias, received the money from employees and their family members, making Goldman Sachs second only to the University of California as his biggest single source for donors in 2007 and 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs has politicians gauging the fallout from taking donations from the bank. Giannoulias and his opponent, Congressman Mark Kirk, are competing for the seat once held by Obama in a race that will help determine whether Democrats retain control of the Senate.

“This would be a lot more interesting if Wall Street banks, joined by Mark Kirk, weren’t fighting tooth and nail against the needed reforms the administration is advocating for,” Hari Sevugan, Democratic National Committee spokesman, said in a statement.

Sevugan didn’t respond to an e-mail query when asked whether Obama plans to return money from Goldman Sachs employees. Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman, deferred questions about Goldman Sachs contributions to the DNC.
I think it's way too soon to tell at this point whether or not this will hurt Obama legally. But as the SEC goes after Goldman, certain skeletons are going to be coming out of a lot of closets.

Salt Lickers

First, they came for the salt shakers.
The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

The legal limits would be open to public comment, but administration officials do not think they need additional authority from Congress.

"This is a 10-year program," one source said. "This is not rolling off a log. We're talking about a comprehensive phase-down of a widely used ingredient. We're talking about embedded tastes in a whole generation of people."

The FDA, which regulates most processed foods, would be joined in the effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat and poultry.
It's the latest front in the war on politically incorrect foods. But, as with other nannystating initiatives, the science doesn't support them:
High-salt diets may not increase the risk of death, contrary to long-held medical beliefs, according to investigators from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

They reached their conclusion after examining dietary intake among a nationally representative sample of adults in the U.S. The Einstein researchers actually observed a significantly increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with lower sodium diets.

The researchers analyzed data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), which was conducted by the federal government among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. These data were then compared against death records that had been collected by the government through the year 2000. The sample of approximately 8,700 represented American adults who were over 30 years of age at the time of the baseline survey (1988-1994) and were not on a special low-salt diet.

After adjusting for known CVD risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes and blood pressure, the one-fourth of the sample who reported consuming the lowest amount of sodium were found to be 80% more likely to die from CVD compared to the one-fourth of the sample consuming the highest level of sodium. The risk for death from any cause appeared 24% greater for those consuming lower salt, but this latter difference was not quite large enough to dismiss the role of chance.

“Our findings suggest that for the general adult population, higher sodium is very unlikely to be independently associated with higher risk of death from CVD or all other causes of death,” says Dr. Hillel W. Cohen, associate professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.
Of course, that won't stop the nannystaters. Facts are for people in denial over what's good for them, after all.

The Pizza Case

On the heels of this ruling, the Supreme Court is now grappling with the issue of sexting on the job.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in a caseon Monday involving Jeff Quon, a police sergeant on the SWAT team of the Ontario, Calif., police department, who used his work pager to send racy text messages -- a practice also known as "sexting." The messages were retrieved and read by his bosses.

Justices differed on whether Quon had a "reasonable expectation of privacy" and whether the Fourth Amendment, which shields citizens against violations by the government, also protects a government employee.

"I just don't know how to tell you what is reasonable," Chief Justice John Roberts said during the proceeding. "I suspect it might change with how old people are and how comfortable they are with the technology."

The case is complicated by apparent confusion about the police department's rules. The official policy told employees not to expect any privacy on their work devices, but according to Quon, a supervisor had told staff that he would not audit their personal messages as long as they paid for overages.

At one point, Justice Stephen Breyer indicated he might side with employees, saying a policy prohibiting personal texts outright would be too severe.

"You want to let them have a few," he said. "You need pizza when you are on duty."

But then he added that no privacy should be expected and that employers should have the right to audit messages sent through work accounts.

"I don't see anything, quite honestly, unreasonable about that, when you are the employer (…) where you are paying for this in the first place," he said.
Well, we all like pizza. But what if the boss is paying for lunch?

Product Placement

A Kelly Clarkson ad in Indonesia has made for some unusual bedfellows:
As smoking has declined in many Western countries, it has risen in Indonesia—about 63 percent of all men light up and one-third of the overall population smokes, an increase of 26 percent since 1995. Smoking-related illnesses kill at least 200,000 annually in a nation of 235 million.

"Indonesia is a big concern, a big epidemic, a big population, and very little control," said Dr. Prabhat Jha, a tobacco control expert at the University of Toronto's Center for Global Health Research. "They have a chaotic taxation and regulatory structure. They have made the mistake of letting the Marlboro Man into the country."

In recent months, anti-tobacco forces have rallied. A new health law has declared smoking addictive and urged the government to hammer out tobacco regulations. An anti-smoking coalition is pushing for tighter restrictions on smoking in public places, advertising bans and bigger health warnings on cigarette packages.

Public debate also exploded last month after Indonesia's second-largest Islamic organization, Muhammadiyah, issued a fatwa banning smoking. Though not legally binding, the religious ruling does put pressure on smokers in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Anti-smoking advocates now hope Clarkson will drop the sponsorship of Indonesia's third-largest tobacco company, Djarum. A growing number of voices have started pleading with the Grammy-winning pop star on her Facebook page.
On the other hand, maybe it's not so unusual, considering how the antismoking jihad has created a de facto prohibition in the West. I guess the health police need all the allies they can get...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Legacy Of Cynical

Bill Clinton has a piece in the NY Times about Oklahoma City on its fifteenth anniversary. Fair enough. After all, it happened on his watch. But with all the noise he's been making about tea partiers and anger, is it any wonder that some are accusing him of blatant hypocrisy? As Jacob Sullum points out:
Note that Clinton does not have the guts to say outright that people who criticize the government too harshly have blood on their hands. Instead he strongly suggests it, then retreats to the position that criticism is OK, though violence isn’t, as if anyone were suggesting otherwise. Still, he wants to draw a line between “criticizing a policy or a politician,” which is “part of the lifeblood of democracy,” and “demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws,” which encourages mass homicide. But since he offers no examples of either, it’s hard to know what sort of speech he considers beyond the pale. For example if I call Clinton a state-worshiping crybaby who equates opposition with sedition, is that legitimate criticism or demonization?
If you're an increasingly unpopular Democratic president, apparently yes.