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Showing posts from April, 2011

Better Healthcare Through Free Marketing

Dan Mitchell responds to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by pointing out what said editorial has unintentionally revealed:Let’s start by looking at why relative prices are falling for computers, cars, TVs and telephones. This isn’t because the companies that make these products are motivated by selflessness. Like all producers, they would love to charge high prices and get enormous profits. But because they must compete for consumers who are very careful about getting the most value for their money, the only way companies can earn profits is to be more and more efficient so they can charge low prices.
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In other words, Berwick’s column accidentally teaches us an important lesson. When consumers are in charge and responsible for paying their own bills, markets are very efficient and costs come down. But when government policies cause third-party payer, consumers have little if any incentive to spend money wisely – leading to high costs and inefficiency.Sometimes the simplest lessons are…

The Liar Chronicles

The White House continues to insist that some reporters aren't less equal than others:In a pants-on-fire moment, the White House press office today denied anyone there had issued threats to remove Carla Marinucci and possibly other Hearst reporters from the press pool covering the President in the Bay Area.

Chronicle editor Ward Bushee called the press office on its fib:

Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday. It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all.

The Chronicle's report is accurate.

If the White House has indeed decided not to ban our reporter, we would like an on-the-record notice that she will remain the San Francisco print po…

Forcing The Change

Michael Walsh examines the Obama administation's penchant for power grabs:Talk about the unitary executive:

* The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that Shell Oil Co. may not drill for oil this summer in the Arctic Circle off Alaska, where an estimated 27 billion barrels of domestic oil are waiting to be extracted.

Never mind that Shell's already spent nearly $4 billion on the project, including $2.2 billion to Uncle Sam for the leases. No, the EPA's appeals board said the oil giant had failed to include possible greenhouse-gas emissions from an icebreaking vessel in its calculations and that the project might somehow threaten the health of the 245 people in an Eskimo village 70 miles away.

So, thanks to a Nixon-era regulatory agency, our dependence on foreign oil will rise and gas prices will continue their relentless climb.

* Continuing President Obama's war on domestic oil production, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the three-inch Dunes Sageb…

Outsiders For Anonymity

As a candidate, Obama was against this sort of thing:“We don’t control outside groups,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today on Air Force One, as the president flew from Washington, DC, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “These are not people working for the administration.”

Carney was referring to Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, the new outside groups formed by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, who served as chief of staff to then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Priorities USA Action will register itself in the tax code as a “social welfare group,” which does not require the disclosure of donors. Or, as Burton and Sweeney put it in a press release: “Priorities USA Action is an Independent Expenditure PAC that supports candidates who will advance policies that provide the strongest and most sound outcomes for middle class families.”

In the 2010 elections, President Obama repeatedly protested the way outside that do …

Social Media Meets The Stone Age

So does this qualify as supression of dissent, or merely being out of touch?White House officials have banished one of the best political reporters in the country from the approved pool of journalists covering presidential visits to the Bay Area for using now-standard multimedia tools to gather the news.

The Chronicle's Carla Marinucci - who, like many contemporary reporters, has a phone with video capabilities on her at all times - pulled out a small video camera last week and shot some protesters interrupting an Obama fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel.

She was part of a "print pool" - a limited number of journalists at an event who represent their bigger hoard colleagues - which White House press officials still refer to quaintly as "pen and pad" reporting.

But that's a pretty Flintstones concept of journalism for an administration that presents itself as the Jetsons. Video is every bit a part of any journalist's tool kit these days as a functioning …

All The King's Uploaders

It might be illegal-but is the response overkill?The FBI has raided the Los Angeles apartment of a Screen Actors Guild member the bureau believes was first to upload the Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech as well as Black Swan, and other in-theater-only films to the Pirate Bay in January, according to interviews and sealed court records obtained by Wired.com.

The Tuesday raid of Wes DeSoto’s apartment came months after the guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences both lauded The King’s Speech with top-acting and top-picture awards.

The authorities are also investigating whether there is a link between DeSoto and the notorious Pirate Bay pre-release movie-uploading group TiMPE, according to a sealed FBI affidavit obtained by Wired.com. In the warrant request to search DeSoto’s apartment, FBI special agent Thomas Brenneis wrote Magistrate Suzanne H. Segal of Los Angeles that the bureau was seeking “records, documents, programs, applications or materials relating to ‘…

Wal-Mart Nation

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Liberals will no doubt cheer at the news that Wal-Mart is losing money. The rest of the populace, not so much:Wal-Mart's core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday.

"We're seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure," Duke said at an event in New York. "There's no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact."

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in.

Lately, they're "running out of money" at a faster clip, he said.

"Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year," Duke said. "This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern."Meanwhile, WalMart's critics continue their attack on low prices:

Who Distracts The Distractors?

So who really wanted to make the birther "Issue" their main story?Which media outlets were most guilty of sustaining attention on the issue? On cable news, at least, the answer runs contrary to the usual media narrative.

As it turns out, one was 35 times more likely to hear about the birther issue on CNN or MSNBC than on Fox News during the week of April 11 through 17, when Obama was touting his budget. The cable network most often railed against as the birther-enabler was least likely - by far - to even mention the issue.
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MSNBC devoted 23 times as much airtime as Fox to cover the birther issue. CNN devoted 12.5 times as much. So, as mentioned above, one was 35.5 times more likely to see a birther story on Fox's competition than on FNC itself.It does raise the question of what MSNBC was really up to:Unfortunately, simply by giving a megaphone to Donald Trump - the personality who undergirded much of the birther coverage of late - news networks implicitly gave voice …

Bless The Companions

There are animal lovers, and then there are animal "Equalizers," as a new academic rag takes animal rights to the next level:In its first editorial, the journal – jointly published by Prof Linzey’s centre and the University of Illinois in the US – condemns the use of terms such as ”critters” and “beasts”.

It argues that “derogatory” language about animals can affect the way that they are treated.

“Despite its prevalence, ‘pets’ is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers,” the editorial claims.

“Again the word ‘owners’, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint.”

It goes on: “We invite authors to use the words ‘free-living’, ‘free-ranging’ or ‘free-roaming’ rather than ‘wild animals’

“For most, ‘wildness’ is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence.

“There is an obvious prejudgment here tha…

Dinnerjacket's Decline

Is Ahmadinejad on the way out?A rift is emerging between Iran's president and its supreme leader, prompting several members of the parliament to call for the impeachment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has not been seen in public for days.

Ahmadinejad has refused to appear at the presidential palace since Friday in what is being seen as a reaction to Ayatollah Khamenei's reinstating of a minister he initially "asked to resign".
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Iran's opposition has speculated that Khamenei is worried about the increasing power of Ahmadinejad and especially his chief-of-staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Khamenei is believed to be particularly concerned about two key positions in the cabinet, the ministry of foreign affairs and the intelligence ministry, where he traditionally has influence. Ahmadinejad's administration is also accused of losing billions of dollars of Iran's oil revenues in recent years.So it's a battle of wills between the crazy secularist and the crazy…

Truth, Justice And The Kryptonian Way?

In all fairness, it kind of makes sense for the Man of Steel-who isn't human-to consider himself more as a citizen of the world than as purely an American:While this wouldn't be this first time a profoundly American comic book icon disassociated himself from his national identity -- remember when Captain America became Nomad? -- this could be a very significant turning point for Superman if its implications carry over into other storylines. Indeed, simply saying that "truth, justice and the American way [is] not enough anymore" is a pretty startling statement from the one man who has always represented those values the most.

It doesn't seem that he's abandoning those values, however, only trying to implement them on a larger scale and divorce himself from the political complexities of nationalism. Superman also says that he believes he has been thinking "too small," that the world is "too connected" for him to limit himself with a purely n…

They Were Fast As Lightning

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Speech laws get a singer in hot water:Cops sprang into action and arrested Simon despite the fact that he regularly features the 1974 No1 in his act at a seaside pub.

Simon, who has performed on TV with Michael Barrymore, was doing a spot with a pal at the town's Driftwood Beach Bar on Sunday afternoon.

All went well until he began the Carl Douglas disco classic, with its famous Chinese-sounding riff.

Simon said: "We were performing Kung Fu Fighting, as we do during all our sets. People of all races were loving it. Chinese people have never been offended by it before.

"But this lad walking past with his mum called us w*****s and did the hand sign before taking a picture on his mobile phone.

"We hadn't even seen them when we started the song. He must have phoned the police.

"They phoned me when I was in a Chinese restaurant that night. They arranged to meet me and I was arrested.

"I thought it was a joke but they were serious. They seemed pretty a…

iSpy

Steve Jobs attempts to set the record straight:Hoping to put to rest a growing controversy over privacy, Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, took the unusual step of personally explaining that while Apple had made mistakes in how it handled location data on its mobile devices, it had not used the iPhone and iPad to keep tabs on the whereabouts of its customers.

“We haven’t been tracking anybody,” Mr. Jobs said in an interview on Wednesday. “Never have. Never will.”

Mr. Jobs said that Apple would fix the mistakes in a free software update that it would release in the next few weeks.So, so far it sounds like an honest mistake. At least they weren't hacked.

The Thin Blue Picket Line

Everyone knows how much those Republicans hate workers and unions-oh, wait:House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.

Unions fought hard to stop the bill, launching a radio ad that assailed the plan and warning legislators that if they voted for the measure, they could lose their union backing in the next election. After the vote, labor leaders accused House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other Democrats of turning their backs on public employees.

“It’s pretty stunning,’…

Pump'N'Pay

When in doubt, blame the oil companies:Amid rising gasoline prices at the pump, President Barack Obama urged congressional leaders Tuesday to take steps to repeal oil industry tax breaks, reiterating a call he made in his 2012 budget proposal earlier this year. The White House conceded his plan would do nothing in the short term to lower gas prices.

The president wrote a letter to the bipartisan congressional leadership on Tuesday, a day after Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he was willing to "take a look at" repealing the multibillion-dollar tax subsidies enjoyed by the major oil companies.

Rising gas prices have become a political weight for the White House, with polls showing that as the cost rises at the pump, the president's approval ratings have slipped. Obama has increasingly sought to display action on oil, even as he acknowledges that there is no immediate answer to stem costs

"High oil and gasoline prices are weighing on the minds and pocketbook…

Culture Of Dependency

Why entitlement reform is so hard:Americans depended more on government assistance in 2010 than at any other time in the nation's history, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds. The trend shows few signs of easing, even though the economic recovery is nearly 2 years old.

A record 18.3% of the nation's total personal income was a payment from the government for Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other programs in 2010. Wages accounted for the lowest share of income — 51.0% — since the government began keeping track in 1929.
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Total benefit payments are holding steady so far this year at a $2.3 trillion annual rate. A drop in unemployment benefits has been offset by rises in retirement and health care programs.

Americans got an average of $7,427 in benefits each in 2010, up from an inflation-adjusted $4,763 in 2000 and $3,686 in 1990. The federal government pays about 90% of the benefits.

"What's frightening is the Baby Boomers hav…

Forgotten Mission Creep

While Team Obama muddles through in Libya, the first front is losing support:More Americans disapprove of President Obama’s management of the war in Afghanistan than support it, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a finding that reflects the public’s broader concern over the course of the nearly decade-old conflict.

Americans have given Obama wide leeway in escalating the conflict in Afghanistan, which as a presidential candidate he called “the war we have to win.” That latitude is changing — and fairly quickly — as the longer-running of the two wars he inherited approaches the 10-year mark.

In the Post-ABC News survey released Monday, 49 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Obama’s management of the war and 44 percent voiced approval. The disapproval mark is the highest on record in Post-ABC News polling. Overall, the figures have essentially flipped since January, the last time the poll asked the question. In that survey, 49 percent approved of Obama’s handli…

Intimidate All The Lawyers

That seems to have been what happened:Paul Clement, the conservative lawyer and former US solicitor general representing the US House of Representatives in its attempt to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act, is sticking by his client even though his law firm wouldn’t. And the move has won him support even among lawyers who disagree with the statute, which defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

In his resignation letter sent this morning to his now former firm King & Spalding, Clement wrote: “I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do.”The reaction from Mr. Clement's peers has been fast and furious, who come from across the political spectrum and have risen to his defense. But apparently, being a good attorney just isn't enough these days.

Atlas Shrugged, Chinese Style

Somewhere, John Galt is saying, "I told you so":For the past eight years, Liu Zhijun was one of the most influential people in China. As minister of railways, Liu ran China’s $300 billion high-speed rail project. U.S., European and Japanese contractors jostled for a piece of the business while foreign journalists gushed over China’s latest high-tech marvel.

Today, Liu Zhijun is ruined, and his high-speed rail project is in trouble. On Feb. 25, he was fired for “severe violations of discipline” — code for embezzling tens of millions of dollars. Seems his ministry has run up $271 billion in debt — roughly five times the level that bankrupted General Motors. But ticket sales can’t cover debt service that will total $27.7 billion in 2011 alone. Safety concerns also are cropping up.
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Liu’s legacy, in short, is a system that could drain China’s economic resources for years. So much for the grand project that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times likened to a “moon shot” and t…

Bloggin' In The Years: 1986

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Geraldo Rivera prepares to open Al Capone's secret vault:

Jones's Law

Congratulations, Michigan. You've just given Terry Jones an extra fifteen minutes of infamy:Defiant Christian pastor Terry Jones pledged to hold a rally next Friday in front city hall here, to protest a court order barring him from demonstrating in front of the nation's largest mosque.

Mr. Jones and his associate Wayne Sapp from the Gainesville, Fla. Dove World Outreach Center were briefly jailed Friday night after refusing to pay bond. A six-person jury ruled that the two men were likely to breach the peace. Judge Mark Somers set the bond at $1 on the condition the two men not go to the Islamic Center of America for three years. Mr. Jones said they paid the bond under protest.

"The City of Dearborn used the court as an instrument to prevent our protest from taking place today as scheduled, and has now violated our civil liberties," Mr. Jones said in a statement issued on Friday.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly said the city had always encouraged Mr. Jones to protes…

Indecent Proposal

So how's that hope and change working out?The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a court ruling that greatly diminished the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) ability to police the airwaves for indecency.

Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal filed a certiorari petition ahead of Thursday's deadline after previously filing for two extensions. The administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down the FCC's indecency policy last July.
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"The court’s decisions ... preclude the FCC from carrying out its statutory responsibility to ensure that broadcasters honor their longstanding public interest obligation not to air indecent material," the petition states.

The administration argues that in order to meet the court's concerns about "vagueness," the FCC would have to revert to its previous enforcement regime based around a list of words or images banned f…

Who Watches The Gropers?

You could say this was somewhat inevitable:A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport is facing charges that he distributed more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, records show.

Federal agents also allege that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform.

Homeland Security agents arrested the TSA officer March 24, and he is being held without bail.

Although the case was unsealed Thursday, neither the indictment nor the news release mentioned Gordon's job searching airline passengers for TSA.

The arrest comes as TSA grapples with several other incidents involving screeners, including a YouTube video posted last week by parents angry about the pat-down their 6-year-old daughter received at an airport in New Orleans. TSA officials said the pat-down …

Deep In The Heart Of Prosperity

California politicians go to Texas to find out where their state went wrong:"We came to learn why they would pick up their roots and move in order to grow their businesses," says GOP Assemblyman Dan Logue, who organized the trip. "Why does Chief Executive magazine rate California the worst state for job and business growth and Texas the best state?"

The contrast is undeniable. Texas has added 165,000 jobs during the last three years while California has lost 1.2 million. California's jobless rate is 12% compared to 8% in Texas.

"I don't see this as a partisan issue," Mr. Newsom told reporters before the group met with Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry. The former San Francisco mayor has many philosophical disagreements with Mr. Perry, but he admitted he was "sick and tired" of hearing about the governor's success luring businesses to Texas.
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Andy Puzder, the CEO of Hardee's Restaurants, was one of many witnesses to bemoan Cal…

Boeing, Not Going?

Can the government really do this?In what may be the strongest signal yet of the new pro-labor orientation of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama, the agency filed a complaint Wednesday seeking to force Boeing to bring an airplane production line back to its unionized facilities in Washington State instead of moving the work to a nonunion plant in South Carolina.

In its complaint, the labor board said that Boeing’s decision to transfer a second production line for its new 787 Dreamliner passenger plane to South Carolina was motivated by an unlawful desire to retaliate against union workers for their past strikes in Washington and to discourage future strikes. The agency’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, said it was illegal for companies to take actions in retaliation against workers for exercising the right to strike.

Although manufacturers have long moved plants to nonunion states, the board noted that Boeing officials had, in internal documents and news in…

Song For The One

Obama meets his base:Mr. Obama was in the middle of his remarks when a woman in a white suit stood up and said, Mr. President we wrote you a song. POTUS tried to get her to wait until later, but she persisted and the table of 10 broke into a song that pointed out they'd just spent $5,000 donating to his campaign and went on to protest the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The woman stayed standing as they sang. Mr. Obama looked to Ms. Pelosi and asked, Nancy did you do this? Ms. Pelosi had a look on her face, as she stared at the singing group, that definitely said she did not. The song - will send quotes after transcribe - talked about Bradley Manning and how he is "alone in a cell..."

The 10 singers then passed around 8.5x11 signs that said "Free Bradley Manning" or had a photo of him.Then the woman in the white suit stripped off her jacket to reveal a black T-shirt that said Free Bradley Manning, with an image of him. "We paid our dues. Where's our…

EPA, Hip Hop Hooray

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And, yes, this is for real:

Atlas Rising

Atlas Shrugged, sleeper hit:The power of Ayn Rand devotees has impressed some Hollywood distribution executives, who took note of the hefty $5,640 per-theater average scored by “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” during its opening weekend.

“Shocking,” one executive said about the healthy business the low-budget film has been doing, considering its “awful” marketing plan.

Awful or not, business has been brisk enough for producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro to expand from 299 theaters to 425 this weekend and to 1,000 by the end of the month. They don’t have enough film prints to fill all the orders.

“Things have turned for us,” Kaslow said. “When we started, exhibitors were not embracing the film like we thought they would. Now, we can pretty much go into as many theaters as we want. It’s just a matter of logistics.”Not too bad for a movie most of the "Major critics" didn't like. But why is this happening?Aglialoro, who co-wrote and financed the movie, said timing — politicall…

Kinetic Escalation

Our allies are becoming increasingly involved in the non-war:Europe has moved closer to doing what it said it wouldn't do in Libya — directly jump into the bid to overthrow leader Moammar Gadhafi.

France said Wednesday it has already sent military officers to work with Libyan rebels on the ground, in addition to stepping up airstrikes. Italy and Britain have said they're also sending military officers.

European officials portray their assistance as an effort to fill the military gap with Gadhafi's forces — and turn the tide without overstepping rules of the U.N.-sanctioned military operation to protect civilians.Meanwhile, it looks like the rebels are getting more money in spite of flickerings and non-war is proving to be a dangerous business for those covering it.

Forget About Me

That's what some Spanish are asking:Scores of Spaniards lay claim to a "Right to be Forgotten" because public information once hard to get is now so easy to find on the Internet. Google has decided to challenge the orders and has appealed five cases so far this year to the National Court.

Some of the information is embarrassing, some seems downright banal. A few cases involve lawsuits that found life online through news reports, but whose dismissals were ignored by media and never appeared on the Internet. Others concern administrative decisions published in official regional gazettes.

In all cases, the plaintiffs petitioned the agency individually to get information about them taken down.

And while Spain is backing the individuals suing to get links taken down, experts say a victory for the plaintiffs could create a troubling precedent by restricting access to public information.

The issue isn't a new one for Google, whose search engine has become a widely used tool…

Bright Lights, Green City

Is country living really cleaner? Maybe not:Despite the fact that the average city dweller may not have seen a starry night's sky for weeks, it turns out that he still manages to keep his carbon footprint smaller than that of the average person in the country. This finding by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a London-based nonprofit organization, has major implications for climate change.

"When you look at the lifestyle of people living in cities, they can often be better in terms of carbon emissions than people in the country," said David Dodman, a geographer and climate change scientist who headed the IIED research effort. "In certain cities, particularly in high-income countries but also in rapidly industrializing countries, the emissions from city dwellers were less than the average emissions form the country as a whole."
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"The average emissions in New York City are about 30 percent less than the U.S. average,&quo…

Mixed Medicare Messages

Is the Obama administration again bowing to reality? Or just bowing?Millions of seniors in popular private insurance plans offered through Medicare will be getting a reprieve from some of the most controversial cuts in President Barack Obama's health care law.

In a policy shift critics see as political, the Health and Human Services department has decided to award quality bonuses to hundreds of Medicare Advantage plans rated merely average.

The $6.7 billion infusion could head off service cuts that would have been a headache for Obama and Democrats in next year's elections for the White House and Congress. More than half the roughly 11 million Medicare Advantage enrollees are in plans rated average.

The shift "may represent a thinly veiled use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes," wrote Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan. Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Medicare. Hatch is his counterpart as ranking Republican…

Hot Ice

First, they came for the icemakers:In its latest effort to save the planet from global warming, the U.S. government is on the verge of regulating ice makers commonly found in many refrigerators because they increase energy consumption by a good 12 to 20%.

This could be detrimental to the environment since there are more than 100 million refrigerators across the nation and they devour a substantial chunk of the electricity used by all households. Energy consumed by refrigerators as a whole has long been documented but not what the ice makers inside their freezers use individually.
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In a nutshell, the culprit is the tiny motor inside the freezing system that’s used to release ice from the mold and into a tray. Because the motor is specially built to function in a cold setting, it requires an internal heater to keep it from freezing up. Here’s where it gets serious; heating elements require a lot of power and that’s where the extra energy consumption kicks in.

The study was conducte…

Downgraded

We're not Greece, but it looks like we're getting there:Standard & Poor’s issued a stark warning to Washington on Monday, cutting its outlook on US sovereign debt for the first time and throwing more fuel on the raging debate over America’s swollen deficits.

The agency kept America’s credit rating at triple A but for the first time since it started rating US debt 70 years ago, cut its outlook from “stable” to “negative”. A negative outlook means there is a one-third chance of a downgrade in the next two years.

Doubts about US creditworthiness could threaten the dollar’s use as a global reserve currency amid the rise of rivals such as China that have better growth prospects and fewer fiscal challenges.

“This, at its core, is questioning what was an unquestionable tenet of the financial markets,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at New York broker-dealer Janney Montgomery Scott. He said the chance of a downgrade represents “a higher risk level for the Treasury …

Deficit Reduction Rebuttal

Keith Hennessey is suspicious of President Obama's fuzzy deficit math:The President decided on about $3 trillion of deficit reduction over 10 years, maybe a little less. He wanted to claim that he was “matching” the Ryan plan in deficit reduction, but was just achieving that same goal in a better way. Matching Republican deficit reduction is a lynchpin of the President’s fiscal argument. He was short by a trillion dollars or more, so he and his team decided to measure his proposal over a different timeframe and hope no one would notice. They lengthened the window by which they would measure the President’s deficit reduction until they matched the $4 trillion over 10 years in the Ryan plan and came up with 12 years.
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The President’s new budget plan provides insufficient detail to support his claim of $4 trillion of deficit reduction over 12 years. But if we stipulate that amount, it is likely that the President’s new budget proposal would result in $1 trillion more debt over t…

Feed The Greens, Starve A Country

This is how it begins:Rising demand for corn from ethanol producers is pushing U.S. reserves to the lowest point in 15 years, a trend that could lead to higher grain and food prices this year.

The Agriculture Department has left its estimate for corn reserves unchanged from the previous month. The reserves are projected to fall to 675 million bushels in late August, when the harvest begins, or roughly 5 percent of all corn consumed in the United States. That would be the lowest surplus level since 1996.

The limited supply is chiefly because of increasing demand from ethanol makers, which rose 1 percent to 5 billion bushels. That's about 40 percent of the total crop.
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Corn prices affect most products in supermarkets. Corn is used to feed the cattle, hogs and chickens that fill the meat case, and it is the main ingredient in cereals and soft drinks.Maybe it's time for something like this. Which could help encourage this, if the Federal government doesn't mess it up first…

Atlas's Hour

Is Atlas Shrugged a film whose time has come?It occurred to me last night that this film wouldn’t have resonated nearly as well three years ago, or ten years ago, or perhaps not any time in the 54 years since Rand published the novel. The sense of crisis in the movie would have seemed too far from the experience of most Americans; likewise, the sense of aggressive, populist redistributionism would have looked hyperbolic and contrived. If this isn’t the perfect moment for this film, then it’s as close as I’d like to see it in my lifetime.Ed Morrisey's review can be found here. Atlas might not be shrugging yet, but he certainly seems to be flexing his shoulder muscles.

Holder's Holdout

Eric Holder, tax dodger?US Attorney General Eric Holder and his brother failed to pay the property taxes on their childhood home in Queens, which they inherited last August after their mother died, The Post has learned.

And because their ailing mom, Miriam, was already behind on two quarterly tax bills when she succumbed to illness on Aug. 13, the charges went unpaid for more than a year -- growing to $4,146.

It wasn't until The Post confronted Holder last week about the delinquency that he and younger brother William Holder finally paid up Friday, including $73.14 in interest.

The siblings "weren't aware of the initial missed payments, which happened in the last months of their mother's life when she was battling illness," said a Holder spokesman.

The subsequent unpaid bills "occurred during a time period in which the disposition of the estate is still being resolved," said Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller.Maybe he thought he qualified…

Environmental Poorhouse Agency

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EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus tries to explain how the EPA doesn't do job impact analysis, at least "not directly":

Right Here, Right Now

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Here's Sarah Palin, addressing the Tea Party crowd in Wisconsin:

Better Security Through Skynet?

We'll see how well this works out:The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace envisions a day when people conducting online activity no longer have to rely on passwords, which can be hard to remember or can be hacked.

Instead, people will be able to get a secure credential in the form of a smart card or a USB thumb drive, which will carry their personal information and can be used to authenticate their identity online.

It is expected to take several years to bring to reality, as the government and private companies have to come up with standards for technology and ensure that privacy protections are in place.

The plan is sure to raise concerns, because some (or many) individuals will be hesitant to turn their personal information over to the government or a private service in order to get a secure credential. But the plan emphasizes that nobody will be required to have a secure credential to conduct online activity.
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The plan envisions no one central database of…

"Go To Hell"

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Andrew Breitbart in Wisconsin:

Buying The Dinosaur

It just might be the next logical step:The music industry is economically quite small and unimportant compared to the computer industry. And yet somehow - through honed lobbying and old boy networks - it wields a disproportionate power that enables it to block innovative ideas that the online world wants to try.
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How about if Google *did* buy the music industry? That would solve its licensing problems at a stroke. Of course, the anti-trust authorities around the world would definitely have something to say about this, so it might be necessary to tweak the idea a little.

How about if a consortium of leading Internet companies - Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Baidu, Amazon etc. - jointly bought the entire music industry, and promised to license its content to anyone on a non-discriminatory basis?And force all of the lawyers who work for the labels to get real jobs? That's crazy talk!

Spreading Terrorism Through Democracy?

I guess this must be the Change:On the same day reports emerged of a new al Qaeda video that praised the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, one the U.S.'s top counter-terror officials warned the terror organization "thrives" in the political unrest that follows.

"The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have drastically changed in the last six months," FBI Assistant Director of Counter-Terrorism Mark Giuliano said Thursday. "They are now led by transitional or interim governments, military regimes, or democratic alliances with no established track record on counterterrorism efforts. Al Qaeda thrives in such conditions and countries of weak governance and political instability -- countries in which governments may be sympathetic to their campaign of violence."So much for hoping for the better, in spite of what Robert Gates has said. But I suppose "Encouraging" revolts without taking sides (sort of) can allow people to be "Fl…

The Working Group Plan

The idea of another deficit group isn't quite working out as planned:President Barack Obama’s deficit working group is off to a shaky start, with lawmakers from both parties expressing skepticism about another round of talks and the White House already agreeing to reduce the number of participants after complaints from congressional leaders.

Obama asked the leaders this week to name 16 lawmakers – four per caucus – to begin bipartisan negotiations in May led by Vice President Joe Biden, but not all of them agreed.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) named only two senators, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to have settled on only one. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is also expected to pick fewer than four representatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not said how many she will appoint.
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Boehner has not yet made any selections, but he’s strongly criticized the president for moving forward with the panel.

“Listen, we’ve had commiss…

Signing Away The Promises

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Campaign promises were made to be broken:In a statement issued Friday night, President Obama took issue with some provisions in the budget bill – and in one case simply says he will not abide by it.

Last week the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans were involved in intense negotiations over not only the size of the budget for the remainder of the FY2011 budget, and spending cuts within that budget, but also several GOP “riders,” or policy provisions attached to the bill.

One rider – Section 2262 -- de-funds certain White House adviser positions – or “czars.” The president in his signing statement declares that he will not abide by it.

“The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority,” he wrote. “The President also has the prerogative to obtain advice that will assist him in carrying out his constitutional responsibilities, and do so not only from executive …

Deducing Deductions

Not surprisingly, most Americans want to keep theirs:Americans make it clear they want to keep common federal income tax deductions, regardless of whether the proposed elimination of those deductions is framed as part of a plan to lower the overall income tax rate or as a way to reduce the federal budget deficit. No more than one in three Americans favor eliminating any of the deductions in either scenario.

The results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted April 13. Half of respondents were asked about eliminating the deductions as part of a plan to lower the overall tax rate and the other half were asked about eliminating the same deductions to reduce the federal budget deficit. The questions evoke similar levels of opposition to eliminating the deductions.

Budget plans that call for lower overall tax rates, such as the one proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, would essentially require that popular deductions be eliminated, basically trading off one tax break for another. President O…

The Judge Wins

That sound you hear is of Democratic Cheeseheads exploding:State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser emerged as the winner Friday over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in a heated election that drew national attention because of the fight over collective bargaining and a ballot reporting error in Waukesha County, following initial results that showed Kloppenburg leading the race.

A canvass of vote totals from the state's 72 counties finalized Friday afternoon shows Prosser beating Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general, by 7,316 votes. The final canvass of the April 5 vote was completed 10 days after the election, the maximum allowed by state law.

The margin - 0.488% - is within the 0.5% limit that would allow Kloppenburg to request a statewide recount at taxpayers' expense.

The deadline for calling for a recount is 5 p.m. Wednesday. Although counties have certified their results, by law the Government Accountability Board can't certify the statewide results and declare …

Taking A Bite Out Of Law Enforcement

It had to happen eventually:A man who bit a police dog as it apprehended him for a burglary is suing two Arizona cities for violating his civil rights and using excessive force in his capture, the Arizona Republic reported Friday.

Erin Sullivan, 33, has filed a lawsuit against the cities of Phoenix and Glendale seeking $250,000 and $200,000 respectively from the two cities for his alleged mistreatment.

Sullivan accuses the Phoenix K-9 squad of going too far in his March 19, 2010 burglary arrest and the Glendale police of refusing to give him insulin to treat his diabetes, which the lawsuit says led to him suffering a seizure in his jail cell.

Sullivan was convicted of criminal trespassing, second-degree burglary and cruelty to animals over a Glendale burglary and subsequent tussle with a Phoenix police dog called Zeke during his arrest. He is now serving an eight-year prison sentence, the Republic reported.

His complaint alleges that it was unnecessary for police to deploy Zeke as he …

You Remade It, Damn You

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All bad Charlton Heston puns aside, I'm actually looking forward to this one:

Rated XD

Technology marches on:Movie-goers flocked to see what is billed as the world's first 3D porn film as it opened to packed cinemas across Hong Kong on Thursday, with some screenings selling out completely.
Loosely based on a piece of classical Chinese erotic literature, the $3.2-million Cantonese-language movie "3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy" features orgies, swinging and some very graphic sex scenes.

Curious movie-goers from all walks of life -- office workers, retirees and students -- formed long queues outside cinemas in the southern Chinese city, eager to catch an eyeful of steamy 3D action.

Many in the crowd were women and were not shy about watching the movie.

"I'm not normally much of a movie-goer, but this one is just too good to miss," 32-year-old Justin Lai told AFP as she waited at a cinema in Causeway Bay, one of the city's busiest entertainment districts.

"I'd like to see what 3D porn is like on the big screen."No word y…

Torpedoes Of Inanity

I'm sure Charlie Sheen is shaking in his sunglasses:Television star Charlie Sheen is being warned not to smoke while on stage at Toronto's Massey Hall.

Sheen has frequently been seen smoking on stage during earlier stops on his My Violent Torpedo of Truth tour, which lands in Toronto Thursday for the first of two shows.

Ontario Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best said Thursday public health inspectors will be watching to make sure Sheen doesn't smoke on stage at Massey Hall.

Best also offered Sheen help to quit smoking, saying he should call her directly or the province's smokers' quit line.

Actor Sean Penn caused a similar stir by smoking on stage during the Toronto International Film Festival a few years ago, which resulted in fines against a local hotel.

Sheen, one of the stars of the T.V. show Two and a Half Men star tweeted on Wednesday that he was looking forward to "winning" with Torontonians.Just beware of the torpedoes of the Smoking Police.…

The Non-Quagmire

In keeping with the non-war, a non-rebellion?The more the intelligence agencies learn about rebel forces, the more they appear to be hopelessly disorganized and incapable of coalescing in the foreseeable future.

U.S. government experts believe the state of the opposition is so grave that it could take years to organize, arm and train them into a fighting force strong enough to drive Gaddafi from power and set up a working government.

The realistic outlook, U.S. and European officials said, is for an indefinite stalemate between the rebels -- supported by NATO air power -- and Gaddafi's forces.

"At this point neither side is able to defeat the other and neither appears willing to compromise," said one U.S. official who follows the Libyan conflict closely.

"The opposition needs time to do what they need to do -- forming a government, bringing together key opposition figures, getting on the same page and building a new generation of leaders," the official said.Tha…

Bloggin' In The Years: 2008

So what does Donald Trump think of the new guy? Apparently quite a lot:"I think he has a chance to go down as a great president. Now, if he's not a great president, this country is in serious trouble," said Trump.

"I think [Obama's] going to lead through consensus," continued Trump. "It's not going to be just a bull run like Bush did. He just did whatever the hell he wanted. He'd go into a country, attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with the World Trade Center and just do it because he wanted to do it."

Trump was then asked if he ever thought he would see an African-American president in his lifetime.

"They always said 100 years before a black man or woman could be elected president. And the 100 years turned out to be, like, one year. He's done an amazing job," said Trump.

An Associated Press GFK poll released Tuesday shows that a majority of people share Trump's approval of Obama.

A total of 72 percent of those survey…

"Our Debt, Your Responsibility"

The fiscal apocalypse hasn't yet arrived, but the blame game has already begun:Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday told Republican lawmakers that they would shoulder the blame if the country got too close to defaulting on its debt and roiled markets worldwide by not approving a debt limit increase.

In yet another warning about the perils of not allowing the U.S. to borrow more to fund spending already approved by Congress, Geithner said it would be deeply irresponsible for lawmakers to use debt limit negotiations for political gains.
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"(Lawmakers) will say there's leverage in it, we can advance it. But that would be deeply irresponsible and they will own the risk," Geithner said.

"It won't happen in the end, but if they take it too close to the edge, they will own responsibility for that miscalculation," he said.Except that...it's his boss's own policies that led us to this situation in the first place. Put the responsibility whe…

The Time Stealers

Maybe they're afraid that people will use it to try and escape?The latest guidance on television programming from the State Administration of Radio Film and Television in China borders on the surreal – or, rather, an attack against the surreal.

New guidelines issued on March 31 discourage plot lines that contain elements of "fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even propagating feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons, and a lack of positive thinking."

“The government says … TV dramas shouldn’t have characters that travel back in time and rewrite history. They say this goes against Chinese heritage,” reports CNN’s Eunice Yoon. “They also say that myth, superstitions and reincarnation are all questionable.”

The Chinese censors seem to be especially sensitive these days. But for the television and film industry, such strictures would seem to eliminate any Chinese version of “Star T…

No Rest For The Controllers

The Reversible Glass Ceiling

For years we've been hearing about how women make less than men. That might have been true once, but no longer.The unemployment rate is consistently higher among men than among women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.3% of men over the age of 16 are currently out of work. The figure for women is 8.3%. Unemployment fell for both sexes over the past year, but labor force participation (the percentage of working age people employed) also dropped. The participation rate fell more among men (to 70.4% today from 71.4% in March 2010) than women (to 58.3% from 58.8%). That means much of the improvement in unemployment numbers comes from discouraged workers—particularly male ones—giving up their job searches entirely.

Men have been hit harder by this recession because they tend to work in fields like construction, manufacturing and trucking, which are disproportionately affected by bad economic conditions. Women cluster in more insulated occupations, such as teaching, health c…

Green Grass

It's come to this: potheads are now to blame for global warming:Indoor marijuana cultivation consumes enough electricity to power 2 million average-sized U.S. homes, which corresponds to about 1 percent of national power consumption, according to a study by a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Researcher Evan Mills’ study notes that cannabis production has largely shifted indoors, especially in California, where medical marijuana growers use high-intensity lights usually reserved for operating rooms that are 500 times more powerful that a standard reading lamp.

The resulting price tag is about $5 billion in annual electricity costs, said Mills, who conducted and published the research independently from the Berkeley lab. The resulting contribution to greenhouse gas emissions equals about 3 million cars on the road, he said.Stoners are less environmentally correct than SUV drivers? What is this guy, high?

Worst Politician Ever?

Jay Cost thinks so:Obama has been demonstrating his political tone deafness since he emerged as the frontrunner in early 2008: his comment about how “bitter” rural Pennsylvanians “cling” to guns and God, how Hillary Clinton is “likeable enough,” the “vero possumus” seal, the arrogant trip to Europe that summer, the grand Barackopolis, and the weirdo artwork. All of these were politically short-sighted comments or images that the media intentionally overlooked. When you get right down to it, Obama hit his high point at Iowa’s Jefferson Jackson Dinner in November, 2007. It’s been downhill ever since – with one verbal gaffe or policy misstep after another.

Of course, the media overlooking all this stuff does not make the problem go away. And the proof is in the pudding: the right can’t stand him, the middle has abandoned him, and now even the left is criticizing him out in the open.

Let’s face it: this president is just plain bad at politics.And yet, the Endless Campaign keeps going...

The Big Snooze

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Joe Biden decides it's time for a nap:

Paying For America

Well, it is their money:The “Patriotic Millionaires” penned a letter to Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner, urging them to “increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000.”

The Millionaires—a group that includes producer and director Doug Liman, actress Edie Falco, the founder of Ask.com, and top Google engineers—wrote that the United States has helped them succeed financially, and they are willing to help the country do the same.

“Our country has been good to us. It provided a foundation through which we could succeed,” the group wrote. “Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.”

According to Alison Goldberg of the group Wealth for the Common Good, raising tax rates on millionaires could raise $60 billion to $80 billion a year in revenue.

"This small monetary sacrifice is both an ethical and patriotic decision, made in the hopes of allowing the United States of America to continue to be a le…

Elections, Who Needs 'Em?

Apparently, not the former queen of the losing side:In a speech by Nancy Pelosi at Tufts University earlier this week, the former speaker of the House had some advice for her Republican colleagues in particular and some reflections on elections in general:

To my Republican friends: take back your party. So that it doesn’t matter so much who wins the election, because we have shared values about the education of our children, the growth of our economy, how we defend our country, our security and civil liberties, how we respect our seniors. Because there are so many things at risk right now -- perhaps in another question I'll go into them, if you want. But the fact is that elections shouldn't matter as much as they do...But when it comes to a place where there doesn't seem to be shared values then that can be problematic for the country, as I think you can see right now.

This seems like a bit of change for Pelosi, who in 2009 suggested that the results of a special election…

The Tax Increase Cometh

I'd like to see him explain this once the actual campaign starts going:As he puts together his Wednesday speech on the federal debt, President Obama is poised to revive the great tax cut debate of late 2010 -- and launch what is likely to be a major campaign issue of 2012.

Namely, tax rates for wealthier Americans.

Late last year, Obama and congressional Republicans looked at the expiration of the tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Obama wanted to extend those tax cuts for the middle class, but not for the wealthy -- defined as individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and couples who make more than $250,000.

Republicans objected, saying no one's taxes should be raised during hard economic times.
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Obama said he would raise the issue again the next time the Bush tax cuts expire - which happens to be 2012, a re-election year.

That effort begins early, with Wednesday's speech.

In his string of Sunday show appearances, senior White House adviser Dav…

Friday's Child

It's been one of the biggest sleeper hits in recent memory. But is "Friday" something more?Musically, the song wouldn't seem to offer that much, but I would point out that its word play is not entirely conventional. The repeated placement of a three-syllable word "partying" into a duple metric creates some off-accent downbeats that are not entirely intuitive.

Far more significant is the underlying celebration of liberation that the day Friday represents. The kids featured in the video are of junior-high age, a time when adulthood is beginning to dawn and, with it, the realization of the captive state that the public school represents.

From the time that children are first institutionalized in these tax-funded cement structures, they are told the rules. Show up, obey the rules, accept the grades you are given, and never even think of escaping until you hear the bell. If you do escape, even peacefully of your own choice, you will be declared "truant,&quo…