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Showing posts from April, 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 Gua…

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 be…

"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 worr…

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 Bla…

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...

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 bi…

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…

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 ha…

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 p…

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…

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…

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 ear…

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 t…

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?

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 ph…

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…

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…

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. T…

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 loya…

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 "…

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 an…

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 hear…

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 …

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 anymo…

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…

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 Cou…

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?

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&…

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 …

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 &qu…

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 …

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-p…

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.

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 …

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, includ…

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 …

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 …

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 t…

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 …

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 m…

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 don…

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 Muhamm…

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 fre…

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 &q…

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 bookw…

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 …

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 staff…

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.

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…

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 …

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 pr…

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 warn…

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 …