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Showing posts from June, 2011

Adios, Amazon

So California decided to tax Amazon. And, as expected, Amazon said, "See ya!"Amazon has already emailed its termination of its affiliate advertising program with 25,000 websites. The letter says, in part:

(The bill) specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.


We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.

The new law won't affect customers, Amazon said, but added that the immediate termination of the affiliate program also applies to en…

Kahn Collapse

The case against DSK is in trouble:The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.

Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

Senior prosecutors met with lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn on Thursday and provided details about their findings, and the parties are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges. Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who…

Tapped Out

Well, that didn't take long:Oil prices have surged in the last few days and are now less than a dollar from where they were when President Obama made the controversial decision to tap the nation's strategic reserve last Thursday.

On Thursday, West Texas Intermediate crude edged lower to $94.27 a barrel. But that's still nearly $5 higher than last week, when prices fell over 4% following the oil release announcement.So, did the release really mean anything? Probably not:The amount of oil contracts that 60 million barrels generates is tiny compared to the amount of oil contracts that are traded on the world's financial markets every day, said Tim Evans, a futures analyst at Citigroup.

"The futures and options markets trades that in an hour," said Evans. "The only fundamentals that matter are the ones that the paper market decides that matter."

Evans noted that oil prices jumped 2% Wednesday, partly on the back of a report showing a 4.4 million barrel…

Phreaks Not Wanted

The Westboro whackjobs won't be back:Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay Topeka congregation known for protesting military funerals, has sent guest speakers to FBI training sessions, the bureau said.

But church members won’t be welcome in the future.

The sessions were designed to teach younger FBI agents and law-enforcement officers around the country how to deal with groups they strongly disagree with, said church member Timothy Phelps, who spoke at some of the sessions.

According to National Public Radio, which first reported the story, the bureau won’t invite the congregation back.

The Associated Press quoted an unnamed FBI official who said the bureau underestimated how Westboro Baptist’s involvement would be viewed.
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FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said Westboro was invited “in an effort to establish open dialogue in an academic setting to train law enforcement on how to more effectively engage with the activist community.”

In the future, there will be additional layers of…

Old Folks' Obamacare

For all the scare tactics from Democrats that Republican plans to scale back or do away with Obamacare will send Grandma over a cliff, it turns out that Obamacare will actually cost seniors more if they paid their own way:To see how the Social Security wrinkle would work, consider a hypothetical example of two neighbors on the same block.

They are both 62 and have the same income of $39,500 a year. But one gets all his income from working, while the other gets $20,000 from part-time work and $19,500 from Social Security.

Neither of them gets health insurance on the job. Instead, they purchase it individually.

Starting in 2014, they would get their coverage through a new online health insurance market called an exchange. Millions of people in the exchanges would get federal tax credits to make their premiums more affordable. Less-healthy consumers could not be charged more because of their medical problems.

The neighbor who is getting Social Security would pay an estimated $206 a month…

Stimulus Fail

Not too surprisingly, the stimulus didn't actually work:The Federal Reserve's massive stimulus program had little impact on the U.S. economy besides weakening the dollar and helping U.S. exports, Federal Reserve Governor Alan Greenspan told CNBC Thursday.

In a blunt critique of his successor, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Greenspan said the $2 trillion in quantative easing over the past two years had done little to loosen credit and boost the economy.

"There is no evidence that huge inflow of money into the system basically worked," Greenspan said in a live interview.

"It obviously had some effect on the exchange rate and the exchange rate was a critical issue in export expansion," he said. "Aside from that, I am ill-aware of anything that really worked. Not only QE2 but QE1."

Greenspan’s comments came as the Fed ended the second installment of its bond-buying program, known as QE2, after spending $600 billion. There were no hints of any more monetar…

Obamacare Wins One

An appeals court makes its decision:In the first ruling by a federal appeals court on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, a panel in Cincinnati handed the administration a victory Wednesday by agreeing that the government can require a minimum amount of insurance for Americans.

A Republican-appointed judge joined with a Democratic appointee for the 2-1 majority in another milestone for Obama’s hotly debated signature domestic initiative — the first time a Republican federal court appointee has affirmed the merits of the law.

The White House and Justice Department hailed the panel’s affirmation of an earlier ruling by a federal court in Michigan; opponents of the law said challenges will continue to the U.S. Supreme Court.Which is apparently what the court wanted. Apparently, even the ruling judges had questions about the law's scope:Reagan-appointed Judge James Graham, the lone dissenter in the Sixth Circuit decision, was most emphatic about the unprecedented nature of …

Give Conservatism A Chance

John Lennon, a Reagan fan?John Lennon was a closet Republican, who felt a little embarrassed by his former radicalism, at the time of his death - according to the tragic Beatles star's last personal assistant.
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"He'd met Reagan back, I think, in the 70s at some sporting event... Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young (peace) demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that... He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.

"I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who's an old-time communist... He enjoyed really provoking my uncle... Maybe he was being provocative... but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

"He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he'd been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy's naivete."Some are saying not so fast.

Desert Cold War

Is a new arms race emerging in the Middle East?A senior Saudi Arabian diplomat and member of the ruling royal family has raised the spectre of nuclear conflict in the Middle East if Iran comes close to developing a nuclear weapon.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior Nato military officials that the existence of such a device "would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences".

He did not state explicitly what these policies would be, but a senior official in Riyadh who is close to the prince said yesterday his message was clear.

"We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that," the official said. "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit."Scary talk, but it's not as if Iran has felt any reason to be deterred...

Barack And The Jets

So now Obama has decided to go after so-called jet-setters. There's just one thing:The problem is that most of the people that would be subject to the higher taxes the president wants aren’t likely to be private-jet owners. Someone earning $250,000 a year–among those scheduled for a tax increase in 2012–is unlikely to afford a jet–or even a few charter trips on a jet.

For those, like the president, who may not be well-versed in Jetonomics, here are some of the basics. The numbers come courtesy of Jay Duckson at Central Business jets:

COST OF BUYING A JET

New Citation CJ (entry level jet)–$5 million. Annual operating costs (fuel, hangar space, pilots) about $500,000.

Cheapest Used Jet–$100,000 to $500,000. Annual operating costs (hangar, pilots, mechanics, fuel) about $1 million a year.

COSTS OF CHARTERING A JET

Typical charter–$3,000 an hour

It is possible, of course, that someone earning $250,000 a year might spend 5% to 10% of their annual income on a single flight by charteri…

The Greening Of Education

It's now official: In Maryland, in order to graduate from high school, you have to go green.The new rule is a regulation from the State Board of Education, not a law passed by the legislature, so it lays out no specifics. Governor Martin O'Malley offers no real details but praises it, saying it will "infuse core subjects with lessons about conservation and smart growth and the health of our natural world."

O’Malley also said it'll serve as a "foundation for green jobs," though one analyst says training for those is just like it is for any other job.

"You need to know how to get there on time, how to be alert, how to work hard, how to absorb a lot of information, how to - you know - learn new skills," says Myron Ebell of free market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute."

The state education board leaves all content up to local school boards and a state official says "local systems will implement the requirement as they s…

Doctors Without Shoppers

A plan to use "Mystery shoppers" on doctors has been put on hold:The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has decided against using "mystery shoppers" to investigate whether primary care physicians are accepting or rejecting new patients depending on the type of insurance they have.

"After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period, we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project," an HHS official said in a statement.

Instead, according to the statement, the government would focus on improving access to primary care in other ways, including an emphasis on training new practitioners and encouraging providers to practice in underserved areas. The Obama administration is also working on a plan to offer better payments to providers.

The original government proposal describing the program said staff from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation would call 4,185 primary…

Gungate Goes Forward

What did Eric Holder know and when did he know it?The head of the embattled federal agency that combats gun trafficking has agreed to talk with Senate investigators, a potentially important breakthrough as Congress tries to determine whether higher-ups in the Obama administration knew about a controversial sting that let assault weapons flow across the border into Mexico’s drug wars.

The testimony—expected next month from Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—was brokered as part of a deal between Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the committee’s top Republican, Iowa's Charles Grassley. Grassley and his fellow Republicans were given full access to ATF documents, Melson, and other key witnesses; and in return, Grassley agreed to release three Obama administration nominees he had been blocking, according to correspondence obtained by NEWSWEEK and THE DAILY BEAST.
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Holder, the attorney general, h…

When Lefties Attack

Spy Doctor

Citizen spies, your government wants you:Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.

The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.
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Plans for the survey have riled many doctors because the secret shoppers will not identify themselves as working for the government.

“I don’t like the idea of the government snooping,” said Dr. Raymond Scalettar, an internist in Washington. “It’s a pernicious practice — Big Brother tactics, which should be oppos…

Blago Busted

It happened earlier this afternoon. I missed it because I was at the hospital, but apparently Blago is quite shocked by it all:A federal jury Monday convicted Rod Blagojevich of sweeping corruption, putting an end to a tragicomic legal and political drama that brought downIllinois’ showy and would-be populist former governor.

In its 10th day of deliberations, the 11-woman, one-man jury convicted Blagojevich of several shakedown attempts, including allegations that he brazenly tried to sellPresident Barack Obama’s oldU.S. Senate seat in 2008. The decisive verdict came less than a year after the first jury to hear the case found him guilty of one criminal charge but deadlocked on the rest.

The new jury had no such reservations, finding Blagojevich guilty on 11 criminal counts related to the Senate seat and six counts involving fundraising shakedowns of a hospital executive and racetrack owner.

The verdict could lead to a lengthy prison term for Blagojevich, normally a hard-to-silence ta…

The Playing Field Stays

Campaign fiance reform has been dealt another setback:A closely divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that allows the state to level the financial playing field for candidates running against wealthy opponents, a decision that advocates of tighter campaign finance regulation describe as a blow to efforts to limit the influence of money on politics.

The high court’s 5-4 decision was a victory for conservative business groups that challenged the constitutionality of an Arizona law giving publicly financed candidates additional subsidies for every dollar that privately financed opponents raised over state spending limits.

At least a half dozen states, plus New York City and San Francisco, have similar laws, according to the Campaign Legal Center.

The decision was not a surprise, given the justices' skeptical questioning of the Arizona law's legal underpinnings during oral arguments earlier this year. But to campaign finance reformers, it represents the latest…

Gutsy Time

Barack Obama, man of action:In the first two years of Obama's presidency, his top aides had grown accustomed to a process in which Obama drew out and explored the views of his full team and searched for a consensus — decision by ballot, some called it.

Increasingly, however, that process has changed, according to a wide group of Obama's personal friends, informal advisors and top aides interviewed during the spring. In recent months, they say, the president has been relying more heavily on his own instincts and feeling less impelled to seek accord among advisors.

The change, which came into view with the Egypt decision in February, was vividly on display in the meetings that led to the decision to send a team of Navy SEALs to raid Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

The success of the Bin Laden raid reinforced Obama's security in his own judgments, aides said.

"I think he reached a point where he had to trust his instincts, and there was nothing left to inform…

Trojan Economy

As goes Greece, so goes the EU?Twelve years on from the birth of the euro, as the EU prepares to lend more billions to Greece after an initial €110bn failed to do the trick, serious figures in the European debate now believe the euro's crisis could cause the entire EU project to implode. Sir Stephen Wall, Britain's ambassador to Brussels under John Major and Tony Blair – and no kneejerk Eurosceptic – declared recently that the EU was "on the way out". He added: "After all, very few institutions last for ever." A decade ago he could never have predicted he would say such a thing.

On Wednesday, the Greek parliament will vote on a new package of austerity cuts and sweeping economic reforms. If the vote is in favour, the EU will press ahead with its next bailout. No one is sure, however, whether pumping in more EU money will be enough to prevent Athens from defaulting on its massive debts. The fear is that it will not be, and that a Greek default will cause Por…

This Is An Ex-Commandante?

Just what is going on with Hugo Chavez, anyway?The normally verbose leader has not been seen in public since a June 10 operation in Cuba to remove a pelvic swelling. His long absence has prompted widespread speculation he may be seriously ill, possibly being treated for prostate cancer.

His government insists Chavez is fine but says he won't return to Venezuela until he is ready. And it has accused his opponents of "rubbing their hands together" in glee.

"President Chavez is recovering well from his surgery. His enemies should stop dreaming and his friends should stop worrying," Vice Foreign Minister Temir Porras said on the social networking site Twitter late on Saturday.

"The only thing that has metastasized is the cancer of the Miami Herald and the rest of the right-wing press."

Porras was referring to a report in the Nuevo Herald, the Miami Herald's Spanish-language sister paper, on Saturday that cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as sa…

Hizzonor Speaks

Remember Ray Nagin? Well, he has a new book out about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina:The book recounts many anecdotes familiar to New Orleanians: Nagin’s discovery at Zephyr Field in Jefferson Parish shortly after the storm of mountains of relief supplies; his first helicopter tour of the flooded city; his shower on Air Force One; his rescue of his daughter’s pet, Fishy.

Among the more shocking revelations is the former mayor’s account of the evening of Aug. 30, 2005. Nagin writes that he and his top aides were in the Hyatt’s fourth-floor command center when about 20 men entered, “dressed in black combat outfits and adorned in bulletproof vests, rifles, and leg straps holding at least two very large handguns each.

“Their presence was shocking, menacing, bizarre, and surreal,” he writes, adding that one barked out: “‘We’re here to protect the mayor. Everybody else get out.’”

The armed men wouldn’t say who sent them or why, though Nagin surmises they may have worked for mega-d…

Payment Board Pushback

Who are the latest evil right-wingers to come out against a key part of Obamacare? No less a group than the American Medical Association:The nation's largest doctors group this week formally called for the repeal of a key plank in the Democrats' health care overhaul -- a new board tasked with reining in the growth of Medicare.

The so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board was one of several "defects" in the law that representatives of the American Medical Association voted against at their annual meeting in Chicago.

The organization, which offered its qualified support for the health care overhaul before final passage last spring, named the Medicare board at the top of its list of "needed changes" in the law.
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At the annual meeting, the AMA's House of Delegates also called for medical liability reform and other changes in the context of the health care law.

The Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights hailed the move, saying the board would &…

Non-Recovery Summer

I suppose this means that bad economic news can now be "Expected":A drumbeat of disappointing data about consumer behavior, factory sales and weak hiring in recent weeks has prompted economists to ratchet down their 2011 economic forecasts to as little as half what they expected at the beginning of the year.

Two months ago, Goldman Sachs projected that the economy would grow at a 4 percent annual rate in the quarter ending in June. The company now expects the government to report no more than 2 percent growth when data for the second quarter is released in a few weeks.

Macroeconomic Advisers, a research firm, projected 3.5 percent growth back in April and is now down to just 2.1 percent for this quarter.

Both these firms, well respected in their analysis, have cut their forecasts for the second half of the year as well. Then this week, the Federal Reserve downgraded its projections for the full year, to under 3 percent growth. It started the year with guidance as high as 3…

Stuck In A Moment

U2, long known for their philanthropy and idealistic intentions, isn't feeling the love from everyone these days:As U2 took to the stage, activists from Art Uncut inflated a 20-foot balloon bearing the words "U Pay Your Tax 2," according to the UK's Press Association. But security guards reportedly wrestled them to the ground before deflating the balloon and removing it.
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Art Uncut said Bono was hypocritical in campaigning about poverty while seeking to reduce the amount he paid in taxes. "Bono is well known for his anti-poverty campaigning but tax avoidance by multi-national companies and rich individuals is a massive problem for the developing world," the group's spokesman Steve Taylor told CNN.

"The developing world, which Bono professes to care so much about, loses more through tax avoidance each year than it receives in aid. By moving their business abroad, Bono is very much a part of that problem. There is an element of hypocrisy here.&q…

Meeting Of The Like-Minded

It's transparency, sort of:Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, former technology executive Bernard Schwartz and banking executive James Staley were among 30 well-connected figures in the business and finance world who met with President Barack Obama at the White House in March for an unusual economic discussion organized by the Democratic National Committee.

The White House released the names on Friday under a policy Obama instituted in 2009 to disclose nearly all White House guests approximately three months after they visit.

The March 7 meeting in the Blue Room of the residence has drawn attention and criticism because most of the attendees were donors or fundraisers and the session was arranged by the DNC. Good-government advocates said hosting the event at the White House was ill-advised.

“There’s a pretty clear line — or there should be a clear line,” Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, which presses for tighter controls on campaign finance, recently told POLITICO.…

New York Express

Gay marriage is now legal in the Empire State:Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate who supported the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.An important moment to be sure, but perhaps more telling was this:With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.…

"Just One More Question..."

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Remembering Peter Falk:We watched…no, we adored…Peter Falk’s Columbo because he was us: an everyman, working class, messy, and imperfect, dealing with the physical and domestic woes we know so well, and constantly underestimated by wealthier, better-educated people as a result.

Yes, Columbo was brilliant, as outrageously so as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. But thanks to Falk’s humanity and humor, his pitch-perfect performance and shrewd choices, he made Columbo more than a character to us and much more than a collection of colorful quirks. He made him a living, breathing person.Of course, Mr. Falk is known for more than just his portrayal of the rumpled but sharp as a tack detective:



R.I.P.

Slicker Than Oil

Tim Geithner insists it was an act of necessity:U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the decision by industrialized nations to release emergency oil reserves into global energy markets, saying on Friday that it was not a political move.

"It's really as simple as this: there's a war in Libya, costs between one and two million barrels a day in lost output, I think 140 million barrels off the market so far," he said in response to a question at Dartmouth College, where he spoke on a panel.

"Reserves exist to help mitigate those kinds of disruptions and we helped to organize a coordinated global international response to help ease some of that pressure," he added.Of course, we already have plenty of reserves in the ground-if the Obama administration and the EPA didn't keep trying to declare them off limits...

Battle Lines

They've been drawn in Washington (sort of):Challenging presidential power, a defiant U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Friday to deny President Barack Obama the authority to wage war against Libya. But Republicans fell short in an effort to actually cut off funds for the operation in a constitutional showdown reflecting both political differences and unease over American involvement.

In a repudiation of their commander in chief, House members rejected a measure to authorize the Libya mission for a year while prohibiting U.S. ground forces in the North African nation, a resolution Obama had said he would welcome.

The vote was 295-123 with 70 Democrats abandoning the president just one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made an unusual appeal to rank-and-file members. A Senate committee is to consider the same resolution next Tuesday and is expected to support it, raising the prospect of conflicting messages from Congress.So, it wasn't a total cutoff. But I gu…

What's The Secrecy, Kenneth?

It looks like things are going to get interesting in the Gunwalker case:The acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is strongly resisting pressure to step down because of growing controversy over the agency's surveillance program that allowed U.S. guns to flow unchecked into Mexico, according to several federal sources in Washington.

Kenneth E. Melson, who has run the bureau for two years, is reportedly eager to testify to Congress about the extent of his and other officials' involvement in the operation, code-named Fast and Furious.

Melson does not want to be "the fall guy" for the program, under which ATF agents allowed straw purchasers to acquire more than 1,700 AK-47s and other high-powered rifles from Arizona gun dealers, the sources said. The idea was to track the guns to drug cartel leaders. But that goal proved elusive, and the guns turned up at shootings in Mexico, as well as at the slaying in Arizona of a U.S. Bord…

Avoiding Shrinkage, Government Style

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Tim Geithner tries to explain the logic (or lack thereof) of the Obama administration's tax plan:“We're not doing it because we want to do it, we're doing it because if we don't do it, then, again, I have to go out and borrow a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to finance those tax benefits for the top 2 percent, and I don't think I can justify doing that,” said Geithner.

Not only that, he argued, but cutting spending by as much as the “modest change in revenue” (i.e. $1 trillion) the administration expects from raising taxes on small business would likely have more of a “negative economic impact” than the tax increases themselves would.

“And if we were to cut spending by that magnitude to do it, you'd be putting a huge additional burden on the economy, probably greater negative economic impact than that modest change in revenue,” said Geithner.But, as has been pointed out by others in the past, it's the spending that's the problem, not the revenu…

Flying The Anti-Semetic Skies

This story was first reported by WorldNetDaily, so naturally it was somewhat difficult to take seriously. But there seems to be some truth behind the rumors:Earlier today some Jewish and Christian readers in the blogosphere were fired up about stories that Delta Airlines, in its new alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines, might wind up enforcing a Saudi policy of not admitting Iraelis and non-Islamic religious items like Bibles on their flights.
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Jewish leader Rabbi Irwin Kula was wary about inflaming concerns on this, saying he knows many professionals who are very open about their Jewish religious identity who fly to Saudi Arabia all the time for business.Delta's official response can be found here. The Kingdom does seem to have a history of this, however. One would think, as they have bigger fish to fry in Yemen and Bahrain, that they'd want to stay on America's good side over this. We'll see.

O.J. And O

The Juice, now willing to confess?O.J Simpson has confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he murdered his former wife, it has been reported.

The talk show host made headlines recently saying that one of her regrets was never having got the shamed former sportsman to confess to the killing.

And it appears her wish may well have come true with reports Simpson has already told one of her producers in an interview from jail that he knifed ex-wife Nicole in self-defence - a confession he will now repeat to the talk show queen during a spectacular televised sit down interview.

The chat, which would be held in prison, would be a huge coup for Oprah, whose network, OWN, has suffered a massive hit in ratings recently.Is he crazy-or crazy like a fox, knowing that he can't be tried for the same crime twice and that said "confession" will air on a little-watched network? Or, with his reputation long since gone down the proverbial toilet, he feels he has nothing left to lose by coming clean?…

Dutch Free Speech Treat

A Dutch politician wins one:Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders was acquitted of inciting hatred of Muslims in a court ruling on Thursday that may strengthen his political influence and exacerbate tensions over immigration policy.

The case was seen by some as a test of free speech in a country which has a long tradition of tolerance and blunt talk, but where opposition to immigration, particularly from Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries, is on the rise.

Instantly recognizable by his mane of dyed blond hair, Wilders, 47, is one of the most outspoken critics of Islam and immigration in the Netherlands.

His Freedom Party is now the third-largest in parliament, a measure of support for its anti-immigrant stance, and is the minority government's chief ally. But many of Wilders' comments -- such as likening Islam to Nazism -- are socially divisive.

The presiding judge said Wilders's remarks were sometimes "hurtful," "shocking" or "offensive,&qu…

Southbound

It's time for another story on the "Great Migration Reversal," this time from the NY Times, which has apparently finally discovered the trend:About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state, according to census data. Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South....

The movement is not limited to New York. The percentage of blacks leaving big cities in the East and in the Midwest and heading to the South is now at the highest levels in decades, demographers say....

“New York has lost some of its cachet for black people,” [said Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University who was the curator of a prominent exhibit on the Great Migration at the Smithsonian Institution]. “During the Great Migration, blacks went north because you could find work if you were willing to hustle. But today, there is less of a s…

Coming Home

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Obama's speech on Afghanistan:



Maybe he doesn't want to be remembered as the President who actually escalated the war, or perhaps he saw which way the wind was blowing. At any rate, the first wave of troops are coming home...just in time for the election. Be that as it may, the endgame in Afghanistan has clearly begun.

Climate Pocket Change

At NASA, it seems you can never be too gullible, or too rich:The NASA scientist who once claimed the Bush administration tried to "silence" his global warming claims is now accused of receiving more than $1.2 million from the very environmental organizations whose agenda he advocated.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., a group claims NASA is withholding documents that show James Hansen failed to comply with ethics rules and financial disclosures regarding substantial compensation he earned outside his $180,000 taxpayer-paid position as director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

"Hansen's office appears to be somewhat of a rogue operation. It's clearly a taxpayer-funded global warming advocacy organization," said Chris Horner, a co-founder of The American Tradition Institute, which filed the lawsuit. "The real issue here is, has Hansen been asking NASA in writing, in advance, for permission for these outside activities? We have re…

A Banker Without A Clue

In the wake of more "Unexpected" bad economic news, Ben Bernanke finally admits what many have thought all along:In his second post-FOMC press conference, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke touched on every topic, admitting that the recovery was weaker than expected and that beyond temporary factors like supply chain disruptions in Japan and high energy prices, he was at a loss as to what was causing the soft patch. In a Q&A session with reporters, Bernanke said a disorderly default in Greece would have significant effects on the U.S. economy, while adding that the Fed still had several tools at its disposal to pump up the economy.
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Brutally honest, Bernanke admitted that he had no clue what was actually causing the current fragility in the U.S. economic recovery. While the FOMC statement assigned blame outside of the U.S., pointing at Japan along with rising food and oil prices, Bernanke was put on the spot by a reporter who noted the inconsistency behind that explanation …

Nannystating? It's Grrrreat!

Unless, of course, you're the target of the Food Police:Tony the Tiger, some NASCAR drivers and cookie-selling Girl Scouts will be out of a job unless grocery manufacturers agree to reinvent a vast array of their products to satisfy the Obama administration’s food police.

Either retool the recipes to contain certain levels of sugar, sodium and fats, or no more advertising and marketing to tots and teenagers, say several federal regulatory agencies.

The same goes for restaurants.

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Food industries are in an uproar over the proposal written by the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The most disturbing aspect of this interagency working group is, after it imposes multibillions of dollars in restrictions on the food industry, there is no evidence of any impact on the scourge of childhood obesity,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertiser…

Medicaid For All

Heh. Isn't this part of what Obama actually wanted?President Barack Obama's health care law would let several million middle-class people get nearly free insurance meant for the poor, a twist government number crunchers say they discovered only after the complex bill was signed.

The change would affect early retirees: A married couple could have an annual income of about $64,000 and still get Medicaid, said officials who make long-range cost estimates for the Health and Human Services department.

After initially downplaying any concern, the Obama administration said late Tuesday it would look for a fix.Considering the way the economy's going, the middle class might soon qualify for the original thing...

Fly The Thieving Skies

Forget about rising rates. The real thieves are in the TSA:In 2009, a TSA screener at Newark Liberty International Airport by the name of Pythias Brown was sentenced to three years in federal prison on multiple counts of grand larceny. Known to eBay buyers as “Alirla,” Brown had run the largest one-man theft ring in the short history of the Transportation Security Administration, netting an estimated $400,000 via the resale of stolen high-priced electronics.

And even Brown represents just the tip of the iceberg. According to TSA records, press reports, and court documents, Brown is just one of some 500 TSA officers who have been fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency’s creation in November of 2001. The airports servicing New York City—John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty—harbor the most flagrant offenders, but virtually no city in the nation is safe from the TSA’s sticky fingers.

In 2009, a half dozen TSA agents at Miami International Airport…

"We Don't Need No Stinkin' Budget"

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Umm, okay:



Apparently the Democrat in question doesn't mind the prospect of us turning into Greece. But there's apparently enough money for advertising, so there's nothing to worry about, right?

Life Issues

Hmm. First Mitt Romney won't sign the pledge. Now, this from Herman Cain:"I support right-to-life issues unequivocally and I adamantly support the first three aspects of the Susan B. Anthony pledge involving appointing pro-life judges, choosing pro-life cabinet members, and ending taxpayer-funded abortions.

However, the fourth requirement demands that I 'advance' the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. As president, I would sign it, but Congress must advance the legislation.

I have been a consistent and unwavering champion of pro life issues.

In no way does this singular instance of clarification denote an abandonment of the pro-life movement, but instead, is a testament to my respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency."Either the Republican tent really has gotten bigger, or a segment of the Party's "Base" just got a lot more marginalized. Either way, it's good to see Republican candidates who won't pander to …

The Wary And The Weary

Robert Gates, on hindsight:Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, as he prepared to depart the government for the second time, said in an interview on Friday that the human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had made him far more wary about unleashing the might of the American armed forces.

“When I took this job, the United States was fighting two very difficult, very costly wars,” Mr. Gates said. “And it has seemed to me: Let’s get this business wrapped up before we go looking for more opportunities.”

“If we were about to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Mr. Gates said. “I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice.”

Most recently, he expressed major reservations about American intervention in Libya.I guess this makes him one of those isolationists. So, what is Gates' legacy?“He’ll be remembered…

The EPA's Way Or The Highway

Who says Obama can't bring Americans together?On April 13, 2011, the EPA publishing its ruling that Texas must comply with the Clean Air Transport Rule (CATR). Using the CATR, the EPA is set to include Texas in the national sulfur dioxide program, without any comment from any of the state’s stakeholders, political leaders or industry leaders allowed. No public review, just bam!, Texans get the EPA jackboot. The EPA’s effort to strong arm Texas away from its successful and flexible state-level clean air program, established in the 1990s and which has enjoyed bipartisan support, and into the EPA’s less effective national program has been building since President Obama’s inauguration. The CATR ruling may bring that battle to a head.
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It’s a rare moment when Republicans and unions agree on much, but as it turns out, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union agrees: The EPA is dangerously overreaching in its CATR finding. The IBEW also fired off a letter of p…

Life After Assad

Why we should be concerned about Syria:It's not a secret that Syria is imploding. But the key thing to grasp is that it won't stop there: There is a real possibility that this regime will take its neighbors down with it. I'm not sure that the West--which from what I can tell is now completely preoccupied with itself and its economic problems--is sufficiently grasping this.
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Turkey's scared to death by this situation. Expect a nice warming in Turkish-Israeli relations now. The AKP has just received such a loud phone call from reality that even they can't pretend it was just a wrong number.

Before you say, "Well, that's good news!" re-read my last sentence: This is a phone call from reality so loud that even the AKP can't ignore it. That means the phone just jumped off the nightstand and body-slammed them.Maybe Turkey will remember that they're a part of NATO now, and stop trying to play both sides of the fence.

Weinervision

Quite frankly, I can't think of a better way for Weiner to just disappear:Within hours after Anthony Weiner announced his resignation from Congress, former MSNBC gabber Keith Olbermann suggested he may hire the soon-to-be-former New York lawmaker for a talk show on former Vice President Al Gore's fledgling television network, Current TV.

Olbermann, appearing on comedian Jimmy Fallon's late night television program Thursday night, was asked how long he thinks it would be before rival network CNN created a show for Weiner.

"Well, you know, I've got a nine o'clock show that I am probably going to hire somebody for," Olbermann told Fallon, referring to the space immediately after his upcoming new show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Current TV.

Fallon asked Olbermann if would hire Weiner.

"Eliot Spitzer is doing okay on CNN at eight o'clock," Olbermann replied with a smile.Of course, if it doesn't work out, there's always something el…

An Illegal Non-War?

That's apparently what Obama's own lawyers told him:President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — wh…

The Thirty Years' War

Jimmy Carter, in one of his rare moments, making sense on senseless policies:Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!

Some of this increase has been caused by mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws. But about three-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes. And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twe…

How Now, Sacred Cow?

Wow. This could indeed be big:AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington's debate over how to revamp the nation's entitlement programs.

The decision, which AARP hasn't discussed publicly, came after a wrenching debate inside the organization. In 2005, the last time Social Security was debated, AARP led the effort to kill President George W. Bush's plan for partial privatization. AARP now has concluded that change is inevitable, and it wants to be at the table to try to minimize the pain.

"The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens," said John Rother, AARP's long-time policy chief and a prime mover behind its change of heart.

The shift, which has been vetted by AARP's board and is now the group's stance, could have a dramatic effect on the debate surrounding the future of the federal safety net, from p…

The Internet Shrugged

When in doubt, the market will provide:Last week, Santa Rosa-based Internet service provider Sonic.net rolled out a blazing fast new fiber optic network that will provide Sonoma County residents with the fastest residential Internet in the United States at an extremely competitive price. Sonic.net's new offering blasts a hole in the arguments of "Net Neutrality" proponents who fear that ISPs will raise prices and limit quality Internet access without government regulation.

Sonic.net's fastest service package will be 1Gbps (gigabits per second) at only $70 a month, and will include two phone lines and unlimited long distance calls. It will also offer a 100 megabit per second connection for $40 a month, which will include one phone line and unlimited long distance calling.
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If every other standard of performance and quality in the technology industry is any indication, quality will only continue to improve while prices come down, creating ever-widening access to al…

Walkin' The Running Dogs

How to be a successfulanarcho-capitalist:Moving from would-be anarchist to successful business owner brings a few quandaries. If you oppose the idea of a state, should you pay taxes? Is it ethically sound to care for the animals of professionals while they are at work at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund? And if you don’t believe in corporations, should you buy health insurance from one?

From the start, Brighter Days has taken a path in the middle, keeping as close to its anarchist ideals as possible while running a legitimate business.

“We made compromises about any number of things,” says Joshua Stephens, who started the collective in 2006 with his friend John Seager, the drummer in his punk band.
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The collective’s disdain for the corporate world notwithstanding, its clients — Washingtonians who can afford to pay $16 for a 30-minute walk — are generally establishment types. “They’re definitely all professionals,” Seager says. “I would hesitate to slap any othe…

The Next Russian Revolution

Maybe this is how it begins:Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday challenged the legacy of his powerful predecessor, Vladimir Putin, condemning the centralization of economic and political power at the Kremlin in what was interpreted by some as an early campaign move ahead of next year's presidential election.

Medvedev's statements in a keynote speech to investors at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum were a strong indication that he wants to distance himself from Putin, Russia's prime minister, in the run-up to next March's presidential vote.
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Medvedev acknowledged that the government's expansion in managing the economy and the centralization of authority in the Kremlin under Putin was necessary in an earlier period of the country's post-Soviet development. But, he said, "this economic mode is dangerous for the country's future."

"The proposition that the government is always right is manifested either in corrup…

Gungate Fallout

In the wake of the ATF gunrunning scandal, it looks like Eric Holder may be toast:What did Attorney General Eric Holder know and when did he know it concerning the underlying concept, operational protocols and legal status of the Operation Fast and Furious program in the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau?

Those questions gained special relevance Wednesday when four ATF agents testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and squarely contradicted a Feb. 4, 2011, claim by a department spokesman that DOJ did not approve of the program that sanctioned the illegal sale here in America by legitimate gun dealers of assault weapons to representatives of Mexican drug cartels. The idea behind the program was that the hundreds of firearms thus sold would then be traced from specific crimes, thus enabling prosecutions of the individuals involved.
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Documents released by the Issa panel make it clear that Operation Fast and Furious was well-known and enthusiastically …

Waiving Away The Waivers

It's about time:Removing a potential political distraction ahead of next year's elections, the Obama administration Friday announced an early end to a health care waiver program that has come under fire from congressional Republicans.

Political considerations were "absolutely not" part of the decision, said Steve Larsen, head of a section of the Health and Human Services department that oversees President Barack Obama's health care law.

Larsen said no new applications for waivers will be considered after Sept. 22. Approvals or renewals received by the deadline will be good through 2013. Starting in 2014, the main coverage provisions of the health care law will take effect, and such waivers will no longer be needed.Of course they're saying that it's because they're no longer necessary. It's not because favoritism is suddenly out of style, is it?

Misery Is...

...Living in the Age of Malaise:Misery, as measured in the unofficial Misery Index that simply totals the unemployment and inflation rates, is at a 28-year high, reflective of how weak the economic recovery has been and how far there is to go.
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Put another way, by Paul Dales at Capital Economics:

“The good news is that other measures suggest conditions aren't quite that bad and over the next 18 months the gloom should lift a little,” the firm’s chief US economist wrote in a Misery analysis. “The bad news is that households won't be in the mood to boost their spending significantly for several more years.”Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the government feels the same way...

Weiner Quits

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He pulled out, so to speak:Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a high-profile New York Democrat who had been considered a leading candidate to be the city’s next mayor, said Thursday that he was resigning from Congress following revelations of lewd online exchanges with several women.

“I’m here to apologize for the personal mistakes I have made and the embarrassment that I have caused,” Mr. Weiner said, adding that he had hoped to be able to continue serving his constituents. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the distraction I created has made that impossible.”

Mr. Weiner announced his resignation in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, at a senior center where he announced his first campaign for City Council in 1991. But while that moment was filled with promise and excitement, his resignation occurred in a raucous and circuslike atmosphere, punctuated by shouting from a group of hecklers.So what now for Weiner, aside from being a punchline for the Howard Stern Show, that is:

King Corn Is Dead

Well, almost:A bipartisan majority of the Senate voted Thursday to end more than three decades of federal subsidies for ethanol, signaling that other long-sacrosanct programs could be at risk as Democrats and Republicans negotiate a sweeping deficit-reduction deal.

The tax breaks, which now cost about $6 billion a year, had long been considered untouchable politically because of the power of farm-state voters and lawmakers. Iowa's role as the site of the first presidential caucuses has further elevated the political potency of the biofuel.

Presidential hopefuls made a quadrennial ritual of going to Iowa and pledging to support the tax breaks, tariffs and mandates that supported production of ethanol motor fuels from corn. This year, however, some Republican presidential candidates have pointedly refused to endorse ethanol tax breaks.

Thursday's vote doesn't by itself doom federal support for the corn ethanol industry. The House is expected to reject it on the grounds that…

Conan Does College

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Conan O'Brien delivers his first commencement address in more than a decade:

Bloggin' In The Years: 2009

Just being cautious at such an early stage? Or maybe prescient?

The Joke That No One Gets

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If you're the only one laughing, and you told the joke, then you bombed:

Friends In Low Places

Cronyism? Really?A new report by iWatch claims the Obama administration gave 200 of its biggest campaign donors key assignments within the government or granted their business interests with federal contracts.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was pressed about the issue at the White House briefing Wednesday and said that giving money doesn't qualify someone for a post, but also doesn't disqualify them and that decisions were based on merit.

"You asked me about supporters of the president who may have been donors who have gotten positions and I would point out to the fact that the people who got those positions got then because of their credentials. They also happen to be donors in some cases. There are obviously numerous and far many more cases of people who weren't donors who were appointed the jobs," Carney said.So, just who were these "supporters," and what did they get in return?The investigation revealed that the donors, or so-called "bu…

Grandma And Grandpa Are People, Too

Why arguments against life extension should be rejected:There's nothing wrong with liking trees and wild places enough to spend your hard-earned resources on helping to maintain them. But environmentalism has a way of veering off into the worship of death and destruction, a sort of modern penitent movement focused on the mortification of society as a whole. It's so widespread and embedded in our cultures now that even mild-mannered, everyday folk declare their support for shorter and fewer human lives, for abandonment of technologies that improve the quality of human life, and for relinquishment of technological development that will greatly improve life in the future.Given the choice, I'm sure most people would rather live longer and healthier. If environmentalists don't want to do either, that's their problem.

Kinetic Justification

Team Obama defends the non-war:“We are acting lawfully,” said Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, who expanded on the administration’s reasoning in a joint interview with White House Counsel Robert Bauer.

The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces have not been in “hostilities” at least since April 7, when NATO took over leadership in maintaining a no-flight zone in Libya, and the United States took up what is mainly a supporting role — providing surveillance and refueling for allied warplanes — although unmanned drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles as well.

They argued that United States forces are at little risk in the operation because there are no American troops on the ground and Libyan forces are unable to exchange meaningful fire with American forces. They said that there was little risk of the military mission escalating, because it is constrained by the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorize…

Social Insecurity

While the Democrats like to talk about how the Republicans want to kill Grandma, the need for reform continues to make itself woefully apparent:The Social Security Administration made $6.5 billion in overpayments to people not entitled to receive them in 2009, including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor, a government investigator said Tuesday.

In all, about 10 percent of the payments made under the agency's Supplemental Security Income program were improper, said Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr., the Social Security inspector general.

Error rates were much smaller for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, which make up the overwhelming majority of Social Security payments, O'Carroll told a congressional panel.

"By any standard, the scope of these problems is considerable," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee. "Regardless of whether a payment occurs because of simple err…