Thursday, January 31, 2013

End Of The Road

It's so hard to say goodbye to your relevancy:
It’s no great surprise to read that Vladimir Putin’s solution to Russia’s demographic challenge is to hire 1990s vocal group Boyz II Men to promote increased fertility. Why Boyz II Men? I can only guess that East 17 are busy promoting fallout shelters in North Korea.

The story comes from the Moscow Times, which writes: “The stylish trio of Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B group of all time, is coming to Moscow on Feb 6. The group will perform a selection of their classic and new romantic ballads, hopefully giving Russian men some inspiration ahead of St. Valentine's Day.” The Times insists that the band will be lending their “powerful voices” to Putin’s fertility campaign. Whether or not the Russian kingpin personally got on the phone, tracked down their agent and demanded that they “do the show right here” is pure speculation on the newspaper’s part.
The Backstreet Boys were unavailable for comment...

Contraction Claims

As President Obama folds his jobs council, some more news that their job might not have been finished:
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week stayed in a range consistent with job growth and incomes rose in December by the most in eight years, mildly positive signs for a still-fragile economy.

The data suggests points to some underlying momentum in the economy despite a surprise contraction in gross domestic product during the fourth quarter, which largely came from temporary factors.

Last week, initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 38,000 to 368,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

The increase follows a week where new claims were at their lowest in five years and still points to an economy where employers are adding jobs, albeit at a lackluster pace.
But hey, don't knock the recovery...

Senator Geraldo

He's apparently quite serious:
Fox News host Geraldo Rivera said Thursday he is "truly contemplating" throwing his hat in the ring for the 2014 election.

"I mention this only briefly...fasten your seatbelt," he said on his radio program. "I am and have been in touch with some people in the Republican Party in New Jersey. I am truly contemplating running for Senate against Frank Lautenberg or Cory Booker in New Jersey."
....

He continued to say that he's "not going to drill this out" at the moment because he has commitments to Fox and his radio program.

"But I figure at my age, if I'm going to do it, I gotta do it," he added.

Rivera, a longtime broadcast journalist, has lived in Edgewater, New Jersey and once owned the Two River Times newspaper from 1994-2001.
But will there be chair-throwing at the debates?

Trolls Of Gloom

Why the middle class shouldn't be afraid:
The post-blue future for the middle class is bright, and instead of using the weight of the state to shore up a declining blue system to defend an embattled middle class we need to use that power to promote the transition to a 21st-century political economy and a reinvigorated middle class—larger, richer and more in charge than ever before. This is not a call to dismantle the state; there really are important things that government has to do in a complicated and interconnected society. It’s a call to transform, retool and repurpose the state so that it becomes an engine for progress rather than an anchor trying to hold us in place.
Always trust the people-not the institutions that want to "help" them...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Contractions

The economy is still getting smaller:
The U.S. economy posted a stunning drop of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, defying expectations for slow growth and possibly providing incentive for more Federal Reserve stimulus.

The economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. That's a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter.
According to some people, this is good news. At least we're not Zimbabwe...

This Is...A Meltdown

Is CNN racist?
Many staffers were stunned when Feder constantly complained that the viewership of “Early Start” and “Starting Point” was “too ethnic,” based on the high concentration of minority viewers. This common complaint worked itself up through the company, to CNN’s Diversity Committee, and to other staffers, who were mortified that a CNN executive was squabbling over attracting minority viewers. *Update below.

For all of of the talk that “Starting Point” has been a failure, CNN execs have few to blame. Phil Kent, CEO of Turner, CNN’s parent company, is said to have hated the show and O’Brien in particular. Sources say he routinely ripped the show in the past six months.

All in all, staffers are feeling a cocktail mix of emotions that include relief, fear and anger. They say they’ve long tired of conflicting messages, promises that were never delivered, and a schizophrenic vision offered by a cadre of executives who never got along.
CNN's woes go beyond bigotry, but this certainly doesn't help...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Rubio Plan

Marco Rubio makes the case for immigration reform as a conservative idea:



This could be an effective way to sell reform (which is sorely needed) to the Right, at least those who do recognize the need for it. Will it work in practice is the big question.

The Coming Intervention

Are we getting in deeper?
Only the French intervention in its former colony has turned the tide in the battle for control of Mali, which shares its border with seven fragile African states that could easily be threatened if Mali fails to defeat its Islamic militants. Many of these fighters were once mercenaries in the pay of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. When Gadhafi's regime was toppled in a popular uprising that received significant military and financial assistance from a U.S.-led coalition, they returned to Mali, heavily armed and champing at the bit to overrun its American-backed government.

Though France has blunted that effort, it doesn't have the military resources to sustain its fight against Mali's jihadists without help from the U.S. military. For now, that amounts to the use of giant transport planes to ferry French troops into Mali, and planes to refuel French combat aircrafts that are pummeling the militants' positions.
As history has shown, such things tend to escalate...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cell Time

If laws like this didn't exist, we'd have to invent them:
Starting this weekend it is illegal to unlock new phones to make them available on other carriers.

I have deep sympathy for any individual who happens to get jail time for this offense. I am sure that other offenders would not take kindly to smartphone un-lockers.

But seriously: It's embarrassing and unacceptable that we are at the mercy of prosecutorial and judicial discretion** to avoid the implementation of draconian laws that could implicate average Americans in a crime subject to up to a $500,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

If people see this and respond, well no one is really going to get those types of penalties, my response is: Why is that acceptable? While people's worst fears may be a bit unfounded, why do we accept a system where we allow such discretionary authority?
Because most people don't know about it until it happens to them, and by then it's too late...

Lap Of Poverty

Want to be poor in the UK? It's all paid for:
Danny Creamer, 21, and Gina Allan, 18, spend each day watching their 47in flatscreen TV and smoking 40 cigarettes between them in their comfy two-bedroom flat.

It is all funded by the taxpayer, yet the couple say they deserve sympathy because they are “trapped”.

They even claim they are entitled to their generous handouts because their hard-working parents have been paying tax for years.

The couple, who have a four-month-old daughter Tullulah-Rose, say they can’t go out to work as they could not survive on less than their £1,473-a-month benefits.

The pair left school with no qualifications, and say there is no point looking for jobs because they will never be able to earn as much as they get in handouts.

Gina admits: “We could easily get a job but why would we want to work — we would be worse off.”
Being lazy is a full-time job...

Viva Mussolini?

Benito defends Benny:
"It's difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time," said Berlusconi, who is campaigning for next month's election at the head of a coalition that includes far-right politicians whose roots go back to Italy's old fascist party.

"Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it," he said.

"As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews," he told reporters. "The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well," he said, referring to laws passed by Mussolini's fascist government in 1938.

Although Mussolini is known outside Italy mostly for the alliance with Nazi Germany, his government also paid for major infrastructure projects as well as welfare for supporters.
He did make the trains run on time, when he wasn't plotting world domination...

Charity Begins Outside The Home

Well, this sound slike a nice little arrangement:
Twitter and six other San Francisco tech companies are set to receive sizable tax breaks from the city in exchange for non-binding promises to make charitable contributions totaling, in many cases, just tens of thousands of dollars — along with promoted tweets for local groups.
....

The tax breaks exempt companies in the Mid-Market neighborhood from the city's 1.5 percent payroll taxes on new hires for six-years. Twitter tax breaks are estimated to be worth $22 million over six years. ZenDesk, the only company to share their financial information with BuzzFeed, offered an estimate of $36,248 in tax breaks in 2012.
Hippies hate capitalists-until they need their money...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Train To Nowhere?

Say, whatever happened to that California bullet train?
Construction of California's high-speed rail network is supposed to start in just six months, but the state hasn't acquired a single acre along the route and faces what officials are calling a challenging schedule to assemble hundreds of parcels needed in the Central Valley.

The complexity of getting federal, state and local regulatory approvals for the massive $68-billion project has already pushed back the start of construction to July from late last year. Even with that additional time, however, the state is facing a risk of not having the property to start major construction work near Fresno as now planned.

It hopes to begin making purchase offers for land in the next several weeks. But that's only the first step in a convoluted legal process that will give farmers, businesses and homeowners leverage to delay the project by weeks, if not months, and drive up sales prices, legal experts say.

One major stumbling block could be valuing agricultural land in a region where prices have been soaring, raising property owners' expectations far above what the state expects to pay.

"The reality is that they are not going to start in July," said Anthony Leones, a Bay Area attorney who has represented government agencies as well as property owners in eminent domain cases.
It does look like high speed rail is going nowhere fast...

Status Quo

The Electoral College stays as is:
Despite all the discussion of a small movement in the Virginia legislature to change the state's rules to grant presidential electoral votes proportionately based on congressional districts, the effort is not a top concern for members of the Republican National Committee, who met here to re-elect a chairman this week.

Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins said in an interview on Friday that he hadn't yet read the bill, which is set for a vote in a Virginia state Senate committee next week, but that changing the Electoral College rules in Virginia is "not at all" on his list of priorities.

"If the base committee approves it, then we'll all take a look at it and see what we're going to do," Mullins said.

The bill, which has been introduced unsuccessfully 13 times in the past decade, is unlikely to get that far. Virginia state Sen. Ralph Smith, a Republican on the state Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, has voiced opposition to the measure, which means it will likely never make it out of the committee and to a vote on the floor.

Even in the unlikely scenario that the bill makes it through both houses of the Virginia legislature, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell wouldn't sign it into law, a top aide said.

“The governor does not support this legislation," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin told Yahoo News. "He believes Virginia’s existing system works just fine as it is. He does not believe there is any need for a change.”
Not everyone wants to follow down the path of Sore Loserdom...

Rocky Mountain Not So High

Tom Tancredo decides that maybe lighting up isn't such a good idea after all:
Tancredo, who says he does not smoke pot, made the promise to a film producer working on a documentary about the Amendment 64 effort before the votes were taken.

On Wednesday, Tancredo told FoxNews.com that he would follow through on the vow.

"I made a bet with the producer of the film that if Amendment 64 passed ( I did not think it would) that I would smoke pot," he said through his research and education institute, the Rocky Mountain Foundation. "I will therefore smoke pot under circumstances we both agree are legal under Colorado law.”

However, he apparently changed his mind a couple of days later.

“I am especially concerned that the publicity may cause my grandkids to have to justify my actions to their peers and afraid that no matter how many times I say I am NOT condoning the use of marijuana, that that message will not get through,” said Tancredo, according to an email posted by Denver TV station KUSA. “My grandchildren are extremely precious to me and I would never want to do anything that puts them in a difficult situation.”
Like discovering that Grandpa made a dumb bet?

The Mean Media Machine

President Obama discovers media bias:
"One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates," he tells editor Frank Foer and owner and publisher Chris Hughes. "If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it."

We've often noted here on the blog that right-wing media, especially Fox and Limbaugh, have an outsized influence on Republicans -- and are arguably more powerful than most members of congress. But Obama notes that left-wing media plays a role in shaping political debate, as well.

"The same dynamic happens on the Democratic side," he said. "I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself—and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this—are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done."

The president also faulted nonpartisan media outlets for their adherence to "he said, she said" journalism, which places equal blame on Democrats and Republicans when, according to the president, Republicans should bear more blame.

"[T]hat’s one of the biggest problems we’ve got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity," Obama told Foer and Hughes. "And so the default position for reporting is to say, 'A plague on both their houses.' On almost every issue, it’s, 'Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree'—as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?"

Obama also suggested that the media's obsession with confrontation presented a roadblock.

"Some of [the institutional barriers] have to do with our media and what gets attention," he said. "Nobody gets on TV saying, 'I agree with my colleague from the other party.' People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things."
All well and good, but what about the name calling and confrontation from the majority of the media that support him?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Laws Of the Land

In the Gulf states, everyone is a criminal:
When it comes to environmental laws, the states getting hit the hardest are the five that border the Gulf of Mexico -- Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Among them, nearly 1,000 laws criminalizing activities along the coast have been put on the books, Texas Public Policy Foundation analyst Vikrant Reddy said.

While there is no concrete figure, there are an estimated 300,000-400,000 environmental laws, statutes and mandates believed to be in circulation nationally. Many can land a person in prison, regardless of whether another person, plant or animal is harmed.
They say that ignorance of the law is no defense. but in an environment like this, how can anyone be expected to keep up?

Hitting Rock Bottom

Congratulations, Land of Lincoln:
Standard & Poor’s cut Illinois’s credit rating by one notch on Friday on concerns the state is failing to bolster its finances as it seeks to close a $96bn unfunded pension liability.

S&P lowered the ratings on the debt to A- from A, and threatened to cut it again in a move that could raise Illinois’ borrowing costs ahead of the state’s planned sale of $500m in general obligation securities next week.

“Lack of action on pension reform and upcoming budget challenges could result in further credit deterioration, particularly if it translates into weaker liquidity,” said Robin Prunty, an S&P analyst.

The downgrade impacts about $26bn in debt and left Illinois’ bonds only four notches above junk, tied with California as S&P’s lowest-rated state. Earlier this month Fitch also lowered the state’s ratings, and a Moody’s downgrade last year gave Illinois the lowest credit rating in the nation.
So, Illinois, how does it feel to be Greece?

Kings Row

And he wonders why they want to leave:
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is not backing down from a request for information about Microsoft's dealings with California, a gesture that many interpreted as a warning to prospective Sacramento Kings buyer and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

After reports emerged that Ballmer was one of the investors seeking to purchase the Kings and relocate them to Seattle, Steinberg sent a letter to the Department of General Services asking for data about California's contracts with Microsoft and the monetary value of the state's past purchases from the technology giant.

Steinberg faced criticism from those who said he was unfairly bullying Ballmer and endangering a lucrative partnership. But Steinberg defended his move on Thursday as a service to constituents and said he would press on.

"There's something that doesn't feel right about making money working directly with the state of California - in fact, having some of their largest contracts with the state of California - and at the same time using at least some of those gains or profits to try to move a major asset out of the state of California in its capital city," Steinberg said after emerging from a closed-door meeting about the Kings with Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and other lawmakers on Thursday.
God forbid that investors should be able to do what they want with their property...

Final Report

Well, they would be embarrassed by a new one:
In its last report, published in 2011, the president’s own Council of Economic Advisors released an estimate showing that, for every $317,000 in “stimulus” spending that had by then gone out the door, only one job had been created or saved. Even in Washington, that’s not considered good bang for the buck.

Moreover, that was the fifth consecutive “stimulus” report that showed this number getting progressively worse.

Alas, that was the last report we’ve seen. Never mind that Section 1513 of the “stimulus” legislation, which Obama spearheaded and signed into law, requires the executive branch to submit a new report every three months.
....

Section 1513 further specifies, “The first report…shall be submitted not later than 45 days after the end of the first full quarter following the date of enactment of this Act….The last report required to be submitted…shall apply to the quarter in which the [Recovery Accountability and Transparency] Board terminates under section 1530.” Section 1530 declares, “The Board shall terminate on September 30, 2013.”

In other words, the Obama administration is required by law to submit quarterly reports on the “stimulus” through the third quarter of 2013.
If they wanted to run out the clock, this would be a good way for them to do it...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cash Action

Team Obama goes all in for corporate cash:
In its first days, Organizing for Action has closely affiliated itself with insider liberal organizations funded by mega-donors like George Soros and corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Citi and Duke Energy.

And it has quietly sought support from the same rich donors who backed Obama’s campaigns, asking for help from Democratic donors and bundlers in town for the Inauguration at a closed-door corporate-sponsored confab that featured Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker.

In fact, invitations for the Saturday meeting at the Newseum where Organizing for Action was unveiled for the liberal big-money set came from Obama’s National Finance Committee (one member of which gave a transferable ticket to POLITICO), as well as the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the Center for American Progress and Media Matters.

Dubbed the “Road Ahead” meeting, the conference was sponsored by a White House-allied trade association called Business Forward, which is funded by major corporations including Microsoft, Walmart and PG&E – each of which sent senior executives to participate in a panel on how to boost American economic competitiveness.
....

The initial fundraising push highlights the tricky path Obama’s allies face in starting the new group. Consider: Obama, who long cast himself as an ardent opponent of big money in politics, is to some extent tying the fate of his populist second-term agenda to a non-profit group registered under a section of the tax code – 501(c)4 – that allows the secret, corporate donations he spent months decrying after they were unleashed by a 2010 Supreme Court decision.
He hates them, but he'll take their filthy luchre...

No Love Lost

Al Gore is not a fan of TV news:
"I think that the influence of television over the last half century has been harmful to the operations of our democracy," said Gore. "In the age of our founding, and for much of the history of the republic, crucial. Individuals could gain easy access to information and could express their own views. They can't do that on television."

"They get plenty of information from it, but they can't participate in a dialogue or engage in collaborative decision-making," he went on. "But the internet is now growing in importance and pervasiveness, to the point where soon it may offer an alternative to the TV media environment that reinvigorates democracy. I'm hoping that's the case."

Gore's dissatisfaction with TV won't stop him from making the talk show rounds next week to promote his new book, The Future. He is expected to make appearances on Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Today show, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In his book, Gore complains that "virtually every news and political commentary program on television is sponsored in part by oil, coal and gas companies," a conflict of interest that, he argues, prevents them from reporting the truth about the issue most important to him: climate change.

But he does have kind words for one outlet: Al Jazeera, the network that bought Current from him.

"The change that many analysts believe was most important in sowing the seeds of the Arab Spring was the introduction in 1996 of the feisty and relatively independent satellite television channel Al Jazeera," he writes in his book.

Critics have pointed out that Al Jazeera has close ties to the government of oil-rich Qatar, but Gore did not respond to questions about it.
One man's propaganda organ is another's quick cash sale, after all...

The Votes Are Out?

Bad new for the gun grabbers:
A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.

At least six of the 55 senators who caucus with Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats wouldn’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.
I imagine a lot of Red State Democrats are squirming over this...

In Recess

President Obama can no longer make royal appointments:
In an embarrassing setback for President Barack Obama, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that he violated the Constitution in making recess appointments last year, a decision that would severely curtail the president's ability to bypass the Senate to fill administration vacancies.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board because the Senate was officially in session — and not in recess — at the time. If the decision stands, it could invalidate hundreds of board decisions made over the past year.

The court said the president could only fill vacancies with the recess appointment procedure if the openings arise when the Senate is in an official recess, which it defined as the once-a-year break between sessions of Congress.
This is a legal smackdown, and overdue.

The Talented Class

Whatever happened to talented people being rebels?
An economy in which the talented minority generates wealth that, in its wisdom and compassion, it then shares with the passive majority becomes a society destined to be ruled in perpetuity by that talented minority. The titans of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, advised by the professors of the great universities and the high civil servants, can perpetuate their social privilege and power forever as long as careers are open to talent. . . . The economy is making us more unequal, but a wise elite can mitigate the harm—if only we are willing to live under their tutelage. That is what liberalism 4.0 offers today; from an ideology of populism and reform it has mutated into a defense of the status quo.
When you want to become part of the establishment, you're only helping them...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Agent Of Change

Bobby Jindal wants change:
“Today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs,” he says. “We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping. This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play.” …

“The Republican Party must become the party of growth, the party of a prosperous future that is based in our economic growth and opportunity that is based in every community in this great country and that is not based in Washington, D.C.,” Jindal says.
Change comes from within...

Teachers' Dues

College professors face Obamacare sticker shock:
The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more starting in 2014, or face a penalty. The mandate is a particular challenge for colleges and universities, which increasingly rely on adjuncts to help keep costs down as states have scaled back funding for higher education.
....

The professors are understandably confused. Robert Balla, an adjunct professor of English at Stark State College, in North Canton, Ohio received a letter in which he was told that “in order to avoid penalties under the Affordable Care Act…employees with part-time or adjunct status will not be assigned more than an average of 29 hours per week.” He told the Journal that the move cut his $40,000 salary by about $2,000 and that he cannot afford health insurance.

“I think it goes against the spirit of the [health-care] law,” Mr. Balla said. “In education, we’re working for the public good, we are public employees at a public institution; we should be the first ones to uphold the law, to set the example.”
Actually, it pretty much seems in keeping with the law's intent of making everyone pay...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Transparent Secrecy

What was that about transparency?
The number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits filed against the federal government has increased dramatically under the Obama administration, according to a December study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

A comparison between the last two years of President George W. Bush’s second term and the last two years of President Barack Obama’s first term shows FOIA lawsuits jumped by 28 percent, TRAC reports.

FOIA lawsuits are filed to challenge denials of records requests or the use of exemptions of information by federal agencies.

The number of FOIA lawsuits filed against the State Department rose by 111 percent in those time periods, from 18 to 38. FOIA lawsuits rose by 60 percent at both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally, the Department of Justice saw an increase by 50 percent.
Asking questions of those in power is still the American way...

Population Explosion

The Federal government now has more people than the entire U.S. did at the time of its founding:
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the current civilian federal workforce, excluding postal service employees, was 2.15 million in 2011. The Census Bureau estimates that in 1776, the entire population of the United States was just a bit higher, at about 2.5 million. The number suggests that every adult man and woman living at the time – at least – would have been needed to staff today’s federal government.
....

In his first term as president, George Washington had only five Cabinet members and about 1,000 federal workers in his employ.

Under Obama, the civilian workforce has grown by nearly 200,000 from the level of 1.96 million in 2008.
So, the government is now bigger than the original thirteen states. But does it still represent the values of those states?

The Color Of Soda

Is Michael Bloomberg a racist?
The city defended its groundbreaking size limit on sugary drinks Wednesday as an imperfect but meaningful rein on obesity, while critics said it would hurt small and minority-owned businesses while doing little to help health.

The first courtroom arguments in the closely watched case ended without an immediate ruling - and with opponents saying they planned to ask a judge to delay enforcement during the suit, which has broached questions of racial fairness alongside arguments about government authority and burdens to business.

The NAACP's New York state branch and a network of Hispanic groups have joined a legal effort to block the first-of-its-kind restriction, igniting questions Wednesday about the groups' ties to the beverage industry.
Ironically, the ban is supported by those who supposedly believe in economic fairness...

An Army Of Janes

Women in combat may soon be a reality:
Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

A senior military official says the services will develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year. Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including Navy SEALS and the Army's Delta Force, may take longer.
But is this actual equality, or a can of worms?

Hillary's Emotion

Hillary gets angry:



With all due respect, Mrs. Clinton, if you can't stand the heat...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jail Care

I guess he couldn't wait until 2014:
A homeless man who was arrested after threatening the life of President Barack Obama claimed that he only did so in order to get needed medical attention.

The prisoner, 57-year-old Stephen Espalin, reportedly told the court his story Friday while addressing Senior U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp.

“I would have no intent to hurt the president,” Espalin was quoted as saying by the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I realize it wasn’t the right thing to do. I uttered those words knowing the [federal agents] would come and take care of me.”
Well, now he'll get his wish to get the same kind of substandard care that everyoen else will be getting...

The Hermit E-Kingdom

A look inside North Korea's electronic culture (such as it is):
No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in--a noisy bunch, with media in tow--not one of them looked up from their desks. Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.

Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.
When you're the most isolated country in the world, you need something to show the occasional guests...

The Long Budget

Well, at least he's trying:
Speaker John Boehner told House Republicans this afternoon that the GOP’s upcoming budget will balance the federal books in a decade.

Due to the Democrats’ control of the White House and Senate, the possibility of that promise becoming law is remote. But the speaker’s vocal support for the idea reportedly drew cheers within the House Republican conference.

According to sources in the room, Boehner made the pledge at a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement. The speaker said that Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the budget committee chairman, will lead the effort.
Sometimes, you have to be prepared for the long haul...

Music Madness

Using music as a weapon:
After being alerted that some of his educational children’s music was used as a weapon of war, GRAMMY award-winning songwriter Christopher Cerf set out on a mission to learn more about what he believed to be an “inhumane” use of his work. Al Jazeera’s cameras followed as Cerf personally interviewed former soldiers and detainees.

According to the report, prisoners, shackled and held in private cells, were subjected to near-deafening music from Metallica, AC/DC, Marilyn Manson, Drowning Pool, Eminem, Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against The Machine in addition to popular children’s classics from Sesame Street and Barney the purple dinosaur.
In all fairness, using Barney probably would qualify as being inhumane...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Blue On Blue Crime

When Democrats attack:
A Nevada lawmaker has been arrested on suspicion of threatening to harm a fellow legislator in a case that has prompted security protection to be provided for two top legislative leaders.

North Las Vegas police said Sunday that they began a search for Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-North Las Vegas, on Saturday after receiving corroborating witness statements supporting the victim's report of a threat. Police didn't identify the lawmaker who reported the threat.

Brooks was taken into custody without incident during a traffic stop late Saturday afternoon in his hometown, police said, and he was booked into the Las Vegas jail on a felony count of intimidating a public officer by threat of physical violence. He remained in jail Sunday afternoon, and it wasn't immediately known whether he had a lawyer.

Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, declined to comment on the target of the threat but said he and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick have been provided security protection because of it.

"All I can say is Assemblyman Brooks made some threats that gave concern to us and to law enforcement, and it was determined for a level of precaution that we get security details until this gets worked out," Horne told The Associated Press.
You don't have to be crazy bo bt a Nevada Democrat, but it helps...

From Russia With No Love

Russia fears the gay:
Legislation being pushed by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church would make it illegal nationwide to provide minors with information that is defined as "propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism." It includes a ban on holding public events that promote gay rights. St. Petersburg and a number of other Russian cities already have similar laws on their books.

The bill is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting Russian youth and by extension contributing to a wave of protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule.

Samburov describes the anti-gay bill as part of a Kremlin crackdown on minorities of any kind - political and religious as well as sexual - designed to divert public attention from growing discontent with Putin's rule.
If this keeps up, Putin may get more "gays" than he bargained for...

Decriminalizing Criminalization

Glenn Reynolds on how to keep prosecutors in check:
The absolute immunity of prosecutors – like the absolute immunity of judges – is a judicial invention, a species of judicial activism that gets less attention than many other less egregious examples. Although such immunity no doubt prevents significant mischief, it also enables significant mischief by eliminating one major avenue of accountability. Even a shift to qualified, good-­‐faith immunity for prosecutors would change the calculus significantly.

Another remedy might be a “loser pays” rule for criminal defense costs. After all, when a person is charged with a crime, the defense – for which non-­‐ indigent defendants bear the cost – is an integral part of the criminal justice process. For guilty defendants, one might view this cost as part of the punishment. But for those found not guilty, it looks more like a taking: Spend this money in the public interest, to support a public endeavor, or go to jail. To further discipline the process, we might pro-­‐rate things: Charge a defendant with 20 offenses, but convict on only one, and the prosecution must bear 95% of the defendant’s legal fees. This would certainly discourage overcharging.
More accountability from our legal system is always a good thing...

The New Elites

Who will benefit the most from a second Obama term?
Whereas the old left-wing definition of “who rules” focused on large corporations, banks, energy companies and agribusinesses, the Obama-era power structure represents a major transformation.

This shift stems, in large part, from the movement from a predominately resource and tangible goods-based economy to an information-based one. In the past, political struggles were largely fought over how to divide up the spoils generated by the basic productive economy; labor, investors and management all shared a belief in the ethos of economic growth, manufacturing and resource extraction.

In contrast, today’s new hegemons hail almost entirely from outside the material economy, and many come from outside the realm of the market system entirely. . . . To understand the possible implications of the new power arrangement, it is critical to understand the nature of the new clerisy. Unlike traditional capitalist power groups, including private-sector organized labor, the clerisy’s power derives not primarily through economic influence per se but through its growing power to inform opinion and regulate everything from how people live to what industries will be allowed to grow, or die.
Meet the new cronyism...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Smuggler's Row

And thus we see the effects of prohibition:
In 2006, the Mackinac Center estimated that New York had the fifth highest smuggling rate in the country as 35.81%. In 2008, New York’s state excise tax on cigarettes nearly doubled, going from $1.50 to $2.75 per pack. In the Mackinac Center’s 2009 report, New York rose to number two on the list, with a smuggling rate of 47.35%. State excise taxes rose again in 2010, going from $2.75 to the state’s current $4.35. Not surprisingly, the 190% increase in state excise taxes from 2006 through 2011 catapulted New York to its title as the most smuggled state.
When you try to tax a legal product out of business, only the criminals will make profits...

Losing The Argument

Someone like this isn't exactly the best choice to make your case against guns:
A Virginia lawmaker who drew gasps from his colleagues when he brandished a borrowed AK-47 during an anti-gun speech Thursday was found guilty in 2002 of committing a vicious 1999 assault, was sanctioned for legal misconduct while prosecuting a rape case, spent six months in jail for contempt of a federal court, and saw his law license revoked in 2003.

Democratic Delegate Joseph Morrissey brought the rifle to the floor of the House of Delegates to demonstrate how easy it is to carry firearms in Virginia. Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert interrupted Morrissey’s speech to ask him to remove his finger from inside the gun’s trigger-guard — a basic gun-safety practice.
Crazy, and a felon? No wonder he went into politics...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Post-Professional Apocalypse

Megan McCardle is worried about the coming law school collapse:
What happens to someone who has been teaching law for 20 years? Many of them are very smart people who might once have been great lawyers, but comparatively few of them have actual experience practicing law. When a law school shuts down, the professors will go from having one of the best jobs ever, to having to scramble for a job in a pretty lackluster market.

Of course, at worst we're talking about a few hundred, maybe a few thousand people, trickling onto the market over the next decade. It's not even going to show up in the labor statistics. But arguably it's a symptom of something much larger: the breakdown of even stalwart, safe options for middle class employment. Where are all of those non-lawyers, and non-law-professors going to go? And what if they're only the canary in the coal mine for doctors and MBAs and government workers? What if the entire professional class is about to lose its tenure?
They'll have to get real jobs? Seriously, it doesn't do a professional education good if all it can do is provide you with tenure at an increasingly expensive university.

Meanwhile:

The Man In Charge

He's proud, darn proud:

Department Of Do Nothing

Once again, a government proposal that goes nowhere:
The cost of FSMA will be borne by farmers and food producers of all sizes. The FDA estimates the FSMA will cost America’s small farms about $13,000 each per year. Larger farms—much more capable of bearing the costs—will be out about $30,000 per year. Other food producers are likely to face varying fees. . . . In truth, the law’s real impact on food safety will be minimal.

The FSMA would permit the FDA to hire about 2,000 new food-safety inspectors in order to increase the frequency of food-safety inspections. Specifically, the proposed rules would require that “[a]ll high-risk domestic facilities must be inspected within five years of enactment and no less than every three years, thereafter.” Given that the FSMA rules are just now open to public comment and won’t be final for another year or two, this translates into a likely total of exactly two inspections of what the FDA refers to as the most “high-risk domestic facilities” over the next decade.
For government agencies, doing nothing is a full-time job...

Meet The Bankrollers

President Obama is certainly hanging with a different crowd these days:
Unlike his first inauguration, Obama is allowing $1 million donations to help fund this weekend’s festivities, taking corporate donations that were banned last time around and refusing to provide full information about the donors.

In fact, all his Presidential Inaugural Committee is releasing about the 2013 donors is a name. No employer, city, state or amount given like last time. Americans won't get that information now until 90 days after the big bash is over.

Still, the latest rolls of donors Obama released this weekend show that big money interests with plenty of stake in Obama’s second term are paying for the inaugural party and winning access to the VIPs.

Phone giant AT&T, which is locked a battle with smaller carriers for more wireless spectrum and other issues at the Federal Communications Commission, is one of the big corporate donors to appear on the list.

Its stake in a second Obama term is clear: it hired more than two dozen lobbying firms to influence Washington last year and spent more than $14 million on lobbying, according to its lobbying disclosure reports.

Likewise, Big Labor also has made a big impact on the inauguration. More than a half dozen unions are listed as benefactors to the inaugural parties. They include the Laborers International Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Postal Workers Union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
So, what happens when these folks don't get what they literally paid for out of a second term?

In Retreat

You can't go into battle without a plan:
What has emerged from the House GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that Republicans did not have an entitlement-cutting proposal to present to Obama in debt-ceiling talks, had the president ever agreed to negotiate with them. The talk about big entitlement cuts, at least in connection with a debt-ceiling agreement, was mostly talk.

Now, by deciding to pass a short-term debt-limit bill, and at the same time demand that Democrats pass a budget — something Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not allowed in nearly four years — Republicans have sidestepped the entitlement issue altogether, at least for a while. That might have been the GOP’s only option, since it had not agreed on an entitlement-cutting proposal.

House Republicans placed themselves on the side of entitlement reform when they voted for the Ryan budget. But the Ryan budget was a far-reaching, intricately interconnected plan that addressed not only entitlement spending but taxes and revenues and more. It was not a proposal that Republicans could just throw at the president and say, Here, this is our position. As for the actions on entitlements that might have been part of GOP demands for a debt-ceiling deal, says one participant in the Williamsburg meeting: “Long term, those have to be figured out. But my sense of that is that it is not going to happen in ten days. This is complex, important.” In other words, there was no plan for major entitlement cuts as part of the debt-limit strategy.
If this keeps up, the Republicans could have more to worry about than their image...

Dear Mr. President

Hmm, obsessed much?
This has got to be one of the strangest things I’ve read in a long time. One of CNN’s political corespondents began writing President Obama letters on his inauguration day and has written the President every day of his first term…all four years!

from CNN:
Inauguration Day will signal the culmination of an effort I launched on January 20, 2009, to write a letter to the White House every single day of Barack Obama’s first term.

And I do mean every day. Weekends, holidays, when he was on vacation, and when I was on vacation. I wrote in my office, at home, in moving airplanes, cars, trains and even while running through the woods. I wrote early in the morning, in the middle of the day and late at night.

I wrote about things that were important, like unemployment, Afghanistan and women’s rights. I also wrote about things that were trivial, like sports, favorite foods and my yearly battle with Christmas lights.

The tally: 1,460 letters, well over a half-million words, or enough to fill about seven novels. Laid out as one line of text, these letters would stretch almost 3½ miles or considerably longer than the inaugural parade route.

I did not intend to get in this deep.
It's one thing to have a thrill up your leg a la Chris Matthews; it's quite another to be a stalker...

When Bulgarians Attack

Good grief:

Budget Busted

President Obama, a victim of his own spending:
President Barack Obama starts his second term in office facing unprecedented budget constraints that will challenge his ability to implement his economic vision.

Spending caps that Obama signed into law in 2011 will make it difficult to boost investment in education, scientific research, transportation and other areas that he says will help the country retool for heightened global competition and rapid technological change, budget experts say.

Because those caps won't keep pace with inflation and population growth, the government will effectively have 16 percent less to spend in these areas by the time Obama leaves office in 2017, according to White House estimates.

That could constrain college loans, preschool education, job training and other programs that Obama says will boost national competitiveness.

"Under the caps as they are currently constructed, we're going to see pretty significant diminishment of investment in all of those things," said Scott Lilly, who spent decades writing spending bills as a Democratic staffer in the House of Representatives.
That tends to be what happens when the money's pretty much gone already...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Keep The Bums In?

One man's bum is another's advocate:
A new Gallup poll finds that 75 percent of Americans support imposing term limits on lawmakers in D.C.

Twenty-one percent would vote against a law limiting the number of terms representatives and senators can serve.

It’s maybe no surprise at a time when Congress is less popular than, oh, say, colonoscopies. But Gallup writes that its findings recall similar polls from 1994 and 1996, when between two-thirds and three-quarters of respondents said they favored a constitutional amendment setting term limits.

Past opinion polls have also found that Americans generally have a good opinion of their representative—and a bad one of other lawmakers.
People tend to go with the devil they know...

Governor's Perogative

Scott Walker wins again:
A federal court of appeals on Friday upheld Wisconsin's law repealing most collective bargaining for most public employees, handing a victory to Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans who put the law in place amid tumult two years ago.

Parts of the collective bargaining law, known as Act 10, remain on hold because of a state judge's ruling in a separate case, but Friday's decision was a setback for public employees and their unions.

Last year, U.S. District Judge William M. Conley largely upheld the legislation but struck down parts of Act 10 dealing with prohibitions on government employers withholding union dues from workers' paychecks as well as a section requiring labor unions to vote to recertify yearly. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed that lower court's ruling in a split decision Friday that upheld the law in its entirety.

"Today's court ruling is a victory for Wisconsin taxpayers," Walker said in a statement. "The provisions contained in Act 10, which have been upheld in federal court, were vital in balancing Wisconsin's $3.6 billion budget deficit without increasing taxes, without massive public employee layoffs, and without cuts to programs like Medicaid."

The lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin State Employees Union and other unions. WEAC President Mary Bell expressed disappointment with the decision.

"What is so abundantly clear is that Act 10 was never about addressing the fiscal needs of the state but instead a ploy to eliminate workers' rights to have a voice through their union - political payback for citizens who didn't endorse the governor," Bell said in a statement. "This marks a setback, but the fact of the matter is that our members will not give up on their commitment to restoring their rights to negotiate for fair wages and safe working conditions."
The battle goes on, but the war seems to be over.

Asking Questions

Who killed Aaron Schwartz?
Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, sent a letter Friday questioning whether federal prosecutors were overzealous in their prosecution of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist and co-founder of the website Reddit who took his own life last week.

"Was the prosecution of Mr. Swartz in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act?" Mr. Cornyn said in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "If so, I recommend that you refer the matter immediately to the Inspector General."
....

The federal prosecutor, Carmen M. Ortiz, who is the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, defended the prosecution, saying it was reasonable. She also said the government had never vowed to seek the maximum penalties possible.

But Mr. Cornyn appeared to bristle at her claim that it was the punishments laid out by Congress that prompted the long list of charges. The Texas Republican demanded Mr. Holder answer whether prosecutors have discretion when charging people with crimes.
I suppose it's a bit much to expect transparency from Eric Holder over this matter...

What About Ray?

Ray Nagin is up on charges:
Ray Nagin, former New Orleans mayor and the public face of the battered city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has been indicted by a grand jury on 21 federal corruption charges.

The indictment, released Friday, alleges Nagin awarded lucrative city contracts to

contractors in exchange for more than $200,000 in kickbacks and first-class trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and Las Vegas.

Nagin, 56, served two four-year terms as mayor, from 2002 to 2010, and currently lives in Frisco, Tex., outside Dallas. If convicted on all charges, he faces more than 15 years in prison. Nagin becomes the first mayor in the city's 295-year history to be indicted under federal corruption charges.

Nagin could not be reached at phone numbers listed at his Frisco address. He's due in federal court Jan. 31 to be arraigned by a federal magistrate.

"This is a sad day for the city of New Orleans," current Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. "Today's indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin alleges serious violations of the public's trust. Public corruption cannot and will not be tolerated."
Well, no more than most corruption in New Orleans, anyway...

True To Form

They call it Taxachusetts for a reason:
Governor Deval Patrick unveiled more elements of his tax plans Thursday, including proposals to gradually raise the gas tax, MBTA fares, turnpike tolls, and Registry fees, plans he says will stabilize the transportation system long into the future.

Patrick’s blueprints would also eliminate 45 personal tax deductions worth $1.3 billion annually, including deductions for T passes, college scholarships, and dependents under 12.

The new elements follow Patrick’s announcement Wednesday of what is the core of his tax plan: raising the ­income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent while cutting the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. The changes, if approved, would take effect in 2014 and would result in higher taxes for about 50 percent of residents, with the biggest burden on higher-income earners. …

All told, Patrick’s changes, which also call for the elimination of some corporate tax benefits, would raise taxes by $1.9 billion annually, money the governor wants to use to shore up and expand transportation systems and broaden education programs.
So much for campaign promises.

Taking Stock

Four years later, summing up:
The Dow Jones Industrial average is up 5,550 points since then. The economy is growing (instead of contracting). Consumer confidence has nearly doubled (though it remains below where it was before the Great Recession). And a larger percentage of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction (but a majority still think it’s on the wrong track).
....

On the other hand, there’s data indicating that the nation isn’t better off than it was four years ago – and that the Great Recession continues to take a toll on families. Median household income (adjusted for inflation) is lower than it was in 2009. And more Americans live below the poverty level than they did four years ago.
Is it really progress when the bad news is on par with the good?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Activating The Infrastructure

The Endless Campaign has a new mission:
STEPHANIE CUTTER: President Obama provides the leadership here, and he said the American people have to speak up and make their voices heard in this debate. Just like the NRA is doing with there membership. And President Obama’s network across this country, grassroots individuals, who organize, volunteered with their time to get the president reelected are much more powerful than the NRA lobby.

And I think that you can expect to see that network activated, very soon. And for good reason. We need to pass commonsense legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who shouldn’t be carrying guns. That’s the commonsense nature of this.
It's about the agenda, and nothing else...

Birth Pains

Obamacare is for the children-except when you can't afford to have any:
The Windber Medical Center will stop delivering babies after March 31 because its obstetricians are either leaving or refocusing their practices, and because hospital officials believe they can't afford it based on projected reimbursements under looming federal health care reforms.

The hospital, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, is losing two obstetricians and two others are shifting their focus more to gynecology.

In a lengthy statement posted to its website Wednesday, the hospital cited several reasons for the decision -- including a claim that the population of women of child-bearing age is dropping and that the number of births the hospital would be called upon to perform isn't enough for it to provide the service in the face of lower reimbursements under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Affordable care just keeps getting more unaffordable, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dennis The Menace Arrives

Dennis Kucinich joins the Dark Side:
The former Ohio congressman, who lost his seat after redistricting to fellow Democrat Marcy Kaptur, said that Fox invited him to New York last week to discuss the deal. "That's when they made the offer and I accepted," he said.

He said that he'll appear on shows "across the Fox News Channel"; "There's a chance tomorrow, for example that I might end up being on O'Reilly. On another day I might end up being on Cavuto or on Fox Business."

In July, Kucinich announced that he was launching a PAC to support like-minded candidates after his exit from Congress. He said on Wednesday that "I'll continue to do that, but that's a long range plan and that's not going to in any way interfere with what I'm doing here."

Kucinich has been a semi-regular guest on Fox throughout much of his time in Congress, he pointed out: "I think that the perspective that I offer is one that they obviously have valued in the past because of the number of invitations that I've received."
Politics-and cable news-makes for strange bedfellows...

My Fake Girlfriend

This is just too strange:
Notre Dame says a story about Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying, which he said inspired him to play better as he helped the Fighting Irish get to the Discover BCS National Championship game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker.

The university issued a news release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record of Lennay Kekua existing.

The university says Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself" with Te'o, the school said, then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had died of leukemia.

The university said "the proper authorities" are investigating a "very cruel deception."
....

Friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created Lennay Kekua. Kekua does not have a death certificate, Deadspin.com reported. Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, has no record of anybody by that name.

Te'o issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.

"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.

"It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.

"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.

"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.

"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."
He hoaxed himself?

Signing Off

What happens when the voice of the people becomes too popular?
President Barack Obama’s deputies have quadrupled the number of signatures that petitioners on the administration’s “We the People” website must collect to get an official response from the White House, following a series of popular, provocative and disrespectful signature drives by his critics.

Some of the petitions sought approval for states to secede after Obama’s re-election, while others called on the White House to disavow executive orders that restrict gun rights, or to deport CNN’s British-born, progressive host Piers Morgan.

“Starting today, as we move into a second term, petitions must receive 100,000 signatures in 30 days in order to receive an official response from the Obama Administration,” said an early evening Jan. 15 statement from Macon Phillips, the White House’s digital strategy director.

“This new threshold applies only to petitions created from this point forward and is not retroactively applied to ones that already exist.”

Phillips claimed the increased threshold is a response to the increasing popularity of the site.

“That ‘good problem’ is only getting better, so we’re making another adjustment to ensure we’re able to continue to give the most popular ideas the time they deserve. … It’s wonderful to see so many people using We the People to add their voices to important policy debates here in Washington and bring attention to issues that might not get the attention they deserve.”
Just don't do it too much, apparently...

Going Mental

President Obama makes gun ownership a mental health issue:
Mr. Obama, unveiling his gun proposals Wednesday barely a month after the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., will make it clear that his health law, known as the Affordable Care Act, allows doctors to ask patients whether they have guns in their homes, and will tell them they are able to report any threats of violence they hear to police.

The president also will lay out the mental health coverage that all insurers will be required to provide under his signature-achievement law.

Those are some of the 23 executive actions Mr. Obama plans to take whether or not Congress acts on his broader recommendations, the White House said.

Other moves including offering incentives for schools to hire police; finally naming a new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and requiring federal authorities to trace all guns recovered in their criminal investigations.

Mr. Obama also will call on his secretaries of education and health and human services to hold a national dialogue on mental health.
Basically, if you own a gun, you must be nuts. Welcome to the crazy years...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Mysterious Document

Well, this is certainly encouraging:
Many House lawmakers either don’t understand the founding document or don’t take its precepts seriously, according to an analysis by The Washington Times that studied the constitutional backing that representatives submitted for each of the more than 3,000 bills they introduced in 2011.

Under rules that the new Republican majority put into place, each House member introducing a bill must cite specific parts of the Constitution that they think grant Congress the authority to take the action they are proposing.

The first year’s worth of action was less than inspiring for adherents of the founding document: Many lawmakers ignored the rule, while others sliced and diced the clauses to justify what they were trying to do. One thumbed his nose at the exercise altogether, saying it’s up to the courts, not Congress, to determine what is constitutional.
For people who in most cases went to law school, they don't seem very educated about what their actual jobs are...

The Borrowers

The government is in a trap of its own making:
Without the option to borrow, the government can only finance 60 percent of its operations and obligations in the short term. More than a third of that spending goes right onto the national credit card.

That sort of reliance on borrowing is why annual deficits are so high. It’s why total federal debt levels keep growing. It's why the Congressional Budget Office describes our debt trajectory as "unsustainable." It’s why it is so important to focus on spending — not just on our long-term entitlement obligations, but now. This year. We’re already spending so much that in near-term, 40 percent of it has to go on the credit card. That’s how utterly dependent on borrowing, and how utterly unable to reduce spending, our federal government already is.
It's past time to cut up the government's credit card. But can it even still be done at this point?

Kid Props

It's literally for the children:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced this afternoon that President Obama will unveil a “concrete package” of gun control proposals including assault weapons bans, high capacity ammunition magazine bans, and closing loopholes on background checks. Carney said that the president will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden as well as children who wrote to the president after the Newtown shootings. “They will be joined by children around the country expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents,” Carney confirmed.
So, does this mean that a pro-gun rights politician can surround themselves with crime victims in response?

The Men's Room

Maybe this is President Obama's real diversity problem:
"The larger question for a president is whether there's a diversity of ideas and experiences as well as races and genders. Hiring more Ivy Leaguers who vacation on Martha's Vineyard — whether they take a house in African-American-rich Oak Bluffs, like Valerie Jarrett, or own in whiter up-island, like Steve Rattner — isn't really widening your horizon that much."
Real leadership isn't about diversity for diversity's sake...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dope Run

Lance Armstrong officially comes clean:
The disgraced cyclist made the confession to Oprah Winfrey during an interview taped Monday, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the interview is to be broadcast Thursday on Winfrey's network.

The admission Monday came hours after an emotional apology by Armstrong to the Livestrong charity that he founded and took global on the strength of his celebrity as a cancer survivor who came back to win one of sport's most grueling events.

The confession was a stunning reversal, after years of public statements, interviews and court battles in which he denied doping and zealously protected his reputation.
The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem-even if it comes somewhat late...

Bad Reception

Over at CBS, the fix was in:
Apparently, executives at CBS learned that the Hopper would win "Best of Show" prior to the announcement. Before the winner was unveiled, CBS Interactive News senior-vice president and General Manager Mark Larkin informed CNET's staff that the Hopper could not take the top award. The Hopper would have to be removed from consideration, and the editorial team had to re-vote and pick a new winner from the remaining choices. Sources say that Larkin was distraught while delivering the news — at one point in tears — as he told the team that he had fought CBS executives who had made the decision.

Apparently the move to strike the Hopper from the awards was passed down directly to Larkin from the office of CBS CEO, Leslie Moonves. Moonves has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Hopper, telling investors at one point, "Hopper cannot exist... if Hopper exists, we will not be in business with (Dish)."

According to sources, reviews lead Lindsey Turrentine, Larkin, and CBS Interactive president Jim Lanzone fought hard against the mandate from CBS, with numerous calls between CBS Interactive and CBS in New York. One source told The Verge that Turrentine and Larkin were "beside themselves" over the situation.
Somewhere, Dan Rather is green with envy...

Mandate Plus

Are you ready for Mandate Plus?
The individual mandate penalties will be pretty weak as they are phased in over two years — only $95 when they start in 2014, much less than it costs to buy insurance. And yet, everyone with pre-existing conditions will have to be accepted for coverage right away.

That’s why insurance companies are telling the administration the mandate won’t be enough for the first two years. They want more incentives — such as a late enrollment fee — to get healthy people to sign up quickly. Without getting the healthy folks in, the fear is that everyone’s health insurance premiums could shoot through the roof when all those sick people get their coverage.

The idea is being called “mandate plus” — because some of the ideas were floated by health experts last year as replacements, in case the Supreme Court struck the mandate down. Now that the mandate is here to stay, insurance companies and some policy experts say the other ideas should go hand in hand with the coverage requirement to make the whole system work — and be affordable.
Except that, well, it looks like it won't be...

Taxes For Thee

Why going after the really rich is a waste of time:
While the affluent will pay more in taxes this year, that is probably not the case for the very wealthiest — those worth hundreds of millions or more. They may still be paying a lower tax rate than Warren Buffett’s secretary. Many millionaires are certainly paying at least 30% of their income in taxes, a goal President Obama set out in last year’s State of the Union address. But they’re more likely to be doctors, lawyers and people working in the financial services industry who get the bulk of their earnings in the form of paychecks. Partners in private equity firms and hedge fund managers, on the other hand, earn much of their money as a share of their funds’ earnings. And that income gets preferential tax treatment as so-called carried interest. A similar special tax treatment still holds true for Mr. Buffett as long as the bulk of his income comes from his investments and not a paycheck.
Meanwhile, everyone else has to make up the difference, as they are finding out...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Smog City

The most polluted city in the world?
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website that the density of PM2.5 particulates had surpassed 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city. The World Health Organization considers a safe daily level to be 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, so measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.

The Beijing center recommended that children and the elderly stay indoors, and that others avoid outdoor activities.

The U.S. Embassy also publishes data for PM2.5 on Twitter, and interprets the data according to more stringent standards.

In the 24-hour period up to 10 a.m. Sunday, it said 18 of the hourly readings were "beyond index." The highest number was 755, which corresponded to a PM2.5 density of 886 micrograms per cubic meter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air quality index goes up to only 500, and the agency advises that anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of "emergency conditions," with the entire population likely affected.
Al Gore couldn't be reached for comment...

Looking For A Label

"No Labels" tries to find relevance:
Despite a splashy New York launch, No Labels lacked a clear agenda and grassroots support and was largely dismissed as irrelevant. But with new leadership and a sharper focus, the group, which is redeploying with another New York conference on Monday, has shed some of its early idealism in favor of a more pragmatic acceptance of the partisanship that has divided the country and embroiled Washington in recent years.

"We started off thinking there was a broad group in the middle, but quickly realized that wasn’t productive. People have very different notions of what the middle is,” said Mark McKinnon, a longtime adviser to former President George W. Bush and a No Labels founder. “So we grew beyond that, and now have strong conservative and strong liberal partisans who want to participate.”

That perspective is shared by the group's new co-chairs -- West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and former Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who gave their first joint interview to Yahoo News since taking their new roles.

"It’s not about centrism, it’s about a new attitude toward the realities we face. It’s about finding Democrats and Republicans who will check their egos at the door,” said Huntsman, whose decidedly centrist run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination flamed out early in the primary process.
When you're irrelevant in the first place, it's kind of hard to gain new attention...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Money Man

It's a good thing Jack Lew didn't work for one of those evil banks, right?
From 2006 to 2008, he worked at Citigroup in two major roles, a notable line in his résumégiven that as Treasury secretary, he would be charged with implementing new rules regulating Wall Street.

But Lew did not have just any position at the bank.

In early 2008, he became a top executive in the Citigroup unit that housed many of the bank’s riskiest operations, including its hedge funds and private equity investments. Massive losses in that unit helped drive Citigroup into the arms of the federal government, which bailed out the bank with $45 billion in taxpayer money that year.

The group had been under pressure to compete with similar units at other big Wall Street firms and, some analysts say, took on too many risks as it played catch-up.

“The mismanagement of risk was comprehensive at that organization,” said Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Details about Lew’s exact responsibilities at Citigroup, where he worked from 2006 to 2008, are scant. He declined to comment for this article.
Maybe he just isn't "comprehensive" enough...

Executive Orders

Harry Reid wants action from his King:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats are putting new pressure on the White House to circumvent Congress to boost the nation’s debt ceiling if no bipartisan agreement can be reached.

In a strongly worded letter to President Barack Obama obtained by POLITICO, Reid and his leadership team argue that failing to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States. Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray asserted that Obama “must make clear that you will never allow our nation’s economy and reputation to be held hostage.”

“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without congressional approval, if necessary,” the Friday letter to Obama says.
So I guess he does work for him, after all.

Update: He may be a crook, but he's their crook...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Take A Pill

Michael Bloomberg rationalizes why people in NYC will have to suffer a little bit more:
Mr. Bloomberg stressed the initiative’s simple rationale is to prevent extra pills from piling up in the cabinets of New Yorkers who no longer need them, where they can pose a health risk if they’re abused.

“We talk about drugs, heroin and crack and marijuana, this is one of the big outbursts–and it’s a lot worse around the country than it is here. It’s kids and adults getting painkillers and using them for entertainment purposes, or whatever field of purposes, as opposed to what they are designed for,” he explained. “If you break a leg, you’re going to be in pain, nothing wrong with getting something that reduces the pain. But if you get 20 days worth of pills and you only need them three days, there’s 17 days sitting there. Invariably some of the kids are going to find them, or you’re going to take them and get you addicted.”

Mr. Bloomberg also argued the number of pain pills currently being prescribed had even contributed to an uptick in violent crimes outside of pharmacies from robbers looking to steal the drugs.
As is so often the case, the law-abiding are hurt the most by laws intended to stop the lawbreakers. Thus we see the prohibition mentality in action once again...

Paper Chase

Maybe we really are turning into a socialist country:
A shortage of high-quality paper for recycling could mean scratchy toilet tissue. To keep consumers happy and avoid any chafed rear ends, companies are now on a quest to find new paper supplies, according to an article in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).

The problem: Consumers once could fill up large bins with their recycled newspapers, magazines and print paper. But as electronic communication surges, these sources of recycled paper are becoming scarce.

The shortage could impact those who choose toilet paper with a bulky amount of recycled material, but most household tissue products contain very little recycled paper, according to WWF, an international environmental organization.
How much will people sacrifice for the sake of being trendy?

At Long Last, A Recovery?

The job outlook may be finally improving:
The problem is far from solved. Nearly 4.8 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, down from a peak of more than 6.5 million in 2010 but still a level without precedent since World War II.

The recent signs of progress mark a reversal from earlier in the recovery, when long-term unemployment proved resistant to improvement elsewhere in the labor market.

Total unemployment peaked in late 2009 and has dropped relatively steadily since then, while the number of long-term unemployed continued to rise into 2010 and then fell only slowly through much of 2011.

More recently, however, unemployment has fallen more quickly among the long-term jobless than among the broader population. In the past year, the number of long-term unemployed workers has dropped by 830,000, accounting for nearly the entire 843,000-person drop in overall joblessness.
So things are actually getting better-but is it because of Obama's policies, or in spite of them?

On The Trail Again

Mark Sanford is planning a comeback:
Sanford, a Republican who held the House seat himself from 1995 to 2001, will announce his intention to run early next week, ahead of the January 18 filing deadline. The special election to succeed Scott, who was appointed to the Senate by Governor Nikki Haley last month, will take place on May 7, with a GOP primary being held on March 19.

Sanford will join a crowded and growing field of Republican candidates vying for the House seat, though he is considered the favorite to advance to a likely primary runoff on April 2. Sanford has deep roots in the coastal district, which includes much of Charleston. The newly redrawn district also encompasses the Beaufort and Hilton Head areas, where Sanford grew up and still owns a farm.

Sanford gained a reputation in the House and later as governor as a libertarian-minded budget cutter, with a record that may appeal to the well-organized Tea Party and conservative grassroots of the district.
It's too bad that he gained a reputation for something else as well, but I wish him luck...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Uncle Sam Owes You

It's come to this:
Could IOU’s be the solution to an impasse on raising the nation’s borrowing limit?

Yes, and President Obama should publicly adopt the idea, Edward Kleinbard, a University of Southern California law professor and former chief of staff to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, argues in a Thursday New York Times op-ed. If lawmakers can’t reach an agreement before the nation hits its debt ceiling–which could happen as soon as next month–then Obama should have a backup plan of issuing IOU’s in place, Kleinbard argues.

“[Obama] should threaten to issue scrip—’registered warrants’—to existing claims holders (other than those who own actual government debt) in lieu of money. Recipients of these I.O.U.’s could include federal employees, defense contractors, Medicare service providers, Social Security recipients and others.”

Kleinbard is hardly the first to propose the idea. Slate’s Matt Yglesias suggested it in early December. And New York Times Op-Ed columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman argued for such IOU’s on Monday, though he called them “Moral Obligation Coupons.” In Krugman and Kleinbard, the idea has found two prominent proponents.
The problem is that IOUs are typically written by people who can't pay-or by thieves with a warped sense of humor...

Imperialistic Corn

Feed a biofuel fever, starve a country:
Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.

In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest.

Nowhere, perhaps, is that squeeze more obvious than in Guatemala, which is “getting hit from both sides of the Atlantic,” in its fields and at its markets, said Timothy Wise, a Tufts University development expert who is studying the problem globally with Actionaid, a policy group based in Washington that focuses on poverty.

With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.
Green imperialism marches on...

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Job Qualifications

What's three more crooks in office?
The allegations against the three officials vary widely: bribery, bank fraud and trying to bring a gun onto a plane. But experts say that while the charges differ, the accumulation and timing is damaging to Illinois as it struggles to address some of the most serious financial problems in its history.

"All this does is confirm those negative, cynical opinions that are out there," said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political scientist. "Part of that reputation is well deserved ... but if you're trying to get citizens of Illinois to accept the legitimacy of the process you need as much credibility and trust as you can muster. That's in pretty low supply in state government currently."

The three legislators, Rep. Derrick Smith, Rep. La Shawn Ford and Sen. Donne Trotter, are Chicago Democrats who were all sworn into office Wednesday in Springfield.
They've already come with on-the-job training...

Population Implosion

The coming demographic cliff:
The rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.

And then it will fall.

This is a counterintuitive notion in the United States, where we’ve heard often and loudly that world population growth is a perilous and perhaps unavoidable threat to our future as a species. But population decline is a very familiar concept in the rest of the developed world, where fertility has long since fallen far below the 2.1 live births per woman required to maintain population equilibrium. In Germany, the birthrate has sunk to just 1.36, worse even than its low-fertility neighbors Spain (1.48) and Italy (1.4). The way things are going, Western Europe as a whole will most likely shrink from 460 million to just 350 million by the end of the century. That’s not so bad compared with Russia and China, each of whose populations could fall by half. As you may not be surprised to learn, the Germans have coined a polysyllabic word for this quandary: Schrumpf-Gessellschaft, or “shrinking society.”

American media have largely ignored the issue of population decline for the simple reason that it hasn’t happened here yet. Unlike Europe, the United States has long been the beneficiary of robust immigration. This has helped us not only by directly bolstering the number of people calling the United States home but also by propping up the birthrate, since immigrant women tend to produce far more children than the native-born do.

But both those advantages look to diminish in years to come. A report issued last month by the Pew Research Center found that immigrant births fell from 102 per 1,000 women in 2007 to 87.8 per 1,000 in 2012. That helped bring the overall U.S. birthrate to a mere 64 per 1,000 women—not enough to sustain our current population.
What will happen when there aren't enough people being born? Just ask Japan...