Friday, January 31, 2014

Government Tune

Gibson unveils its Government Guitar:
Great Gibson electric guitars have long been a means of fighting the establishment, so when the powers that be confiscated stocks of tonewoods from the Gibson factory in Nashville—only to return them once there was a resolution and the investigation ended—it was an event worth celebrating. Introducing the Government Series II Les Paul, a striking new guitar from Gibson USA for 2014 that suitably marks this infamous time in Gibson’s history.
You can see it here.

No Problems

The State Department has no issues with the Keystone pipeline:
An Obama administration analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline application shows the project wouldn’t likely change the amount of oil ultimately removed from Canadian oil sands, suggesting that building the pipeline would have little impact on global climate change.

The report found that the “approval or denial of any single project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction of the oil in the oil sands, or the refining of heavy crude on the U.S. gulf coast,” a State Department official told reporters Friday. …

The report makes no recommendations on TransCanada Corp.’s permit request, leaving President Barack Obama the space to draw his own conclusions about whether the pipeline should get built.
I'm sure he'll get started right away...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cartoon Land

Larry King is not a fan of the current CNN:
“CNN’s got problems,” Larry King told HuffPost Live on Wednesday. “I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

January has been the network’s third-lowest month in ratings history. This month, the news network has fallen far behind Fox News and MSNBC and is even trailing its sister-network HLN.

King offered CNN some programming advice: put on cartoons. “Put Spongebob on CNN — 24 hours — until a big story breaks. Then we break into Spongebob, and go to the hurricane, and then back to Spongebob,” he said, referring to the hit cartoon Spongebob Squarepants.

As for his replacement, Piers Morgan, King said Piers Morgan Live is “not the kind of show that I enjoy” because the British host makes it “too much about him” and not enough about the opinions of his guests.
But would Spongebob take calls from his viewers?

Paying Their Own Way

A push to finally get rid of public convention funding:
Bipartisan legislation targeting political convention money has passed the Republican-led House and is being championed in the upper chamber by Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), a former Democratic National Committee chairman who is close to President Obama.

The bill, which was pushed through the House by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), would redirect money from political conventions to pediatric research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The “Gabriella Miller Kids Research First Act” was named after a 10-year-old Virginia girl who had an inoperable brain tumor. Gabriella lobbied hard for raising money to find a cure for childhood cancer, making videos and helping build a grassroots movement. She died in October and was the focus of an emotional CNN segment last month.

Some Democrats in the House ripped the bill as a “Band-aid” approach, but it easily passed in December, 295-103. Seventy-two Democrats backed it.
Naturally, those opposed are worried about losing their meal tickets...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Battle Of New Orleans

Whatever happened to Ray Nagin?
Jury selection is underway this week in the case accusing the former Democratic mayor of using his office for personal gain, by accepting payoffs, free trips and gratuities from contractors while the city was struggling to recover from Katrina’s devastation -- caused when levees broke and water flooded much of the city.

The 21-count indictment, which includes bribery and wire-fraud charges, is the outgrowth of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.

The indictment states Nagin accepted more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of businessman Frank Fradella -- who secured millions of dollars in city contract work after the hurricane. The hurricane and its aftermath killed roughly 1,800 people and cost an estimated $108 billion.

Fradella pleaded guilty in June to bribery conspiracy and securities-fraud charges and has been cooperating with federal authorities.

Nagin also is charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts.
At least his bus will run on the way to Club Fed...

Don't Call Us

The IRS isn't taking your calls:
The National Taxpayer Advocate found only 61 percent of people seeking to speak with a customer service representative last year got through to anybody -- leaving nearly 20 million calls unanswered.

The report largely blamed budget cuts, and lamented the impact the poor customer service is having on taxpayers.

"At the risk of vast understatement, it is a sad state of affairs when the government writes tax laws as complex as ours -- and then is unable to answer any questions beyond 'basic' ones from baffled citizens who are doing their best to comply," the report from National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said.

The study detailed how customer service has steadily declined over the past several years, including at its 400 "walk-in sites." In fiscal 2014, the office said, the IRS will only answer "basic" questions at those sites during filing season. And it will not answer any questions, "even basic ones," after April, even for filers who got extensions.

"In addition, the IRS will discontinue its longstanding practice of preparing tax returns for low income, elderly and disabled taxpayers who seek help," the report said.
"Service" is a relative term...

Winter Armageddon

Tales from the Ice Apocalypse:
People ran out of medicine, a baby was born to a stranded mother and pleas for help flooded Twitter and Facebook as a region that rarely deals with ice and snow came to a screeching halt during a meteorological event that Wednesday morning was still icing points as far south as Brownsville, Tex.

Although less than three inches of snow fell throughout the Atlanta region, the ice was crippling and its impact unanticipated. Hundreds of students spent the night in Atlanta schools, watched over by teachers, state patrol officers and the National Guard. Cindy Warner, a spokeswoman for the school system in Shelby County, Ala., said in an email Wednesday that 26 schools had housed about 1,500 students overnight. Three hundred adults stayed to monitor the children in the district, which is near Birmingham.

Several officials spent time trying to explain how things got so bad so quickly

“This came very suddenly,” Craig Witherspoon, superintendent of Birmingham City Schools in Alabama, said Wednesday. An estimated 600 students in his district spent the night in schools, tended by about 100 staff members.

“All reports for the Birmingham area were that we’d get a light dusting to the south of where we were,” Mr. Witherspoon said. “And the flakes started coming, and then it just poured out.”

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta was defensive in a briefing Wednesday morning as he attempted to calm parents whose children were still at school and drivers who were still trapped on roadways.

He acknowledged a bad bit of timing, when seemingly all of metro Atlanta hit the road in the early afternoon to try to get children from school and get home. “We created a situation from a traffic standpoint that was very challenging,” he said, adding that “people were making a lot of independent decisions.”

Much of the problem was on state roads, he said. “If you look at anybody’s street in any community across the entire region,” he said, “there’s no one doing a better job than we are in the city of Atlanta.”
One can only hope. It's enough to make you want to knee someone.

Rep Rage

New York's lone Republican Congressman apologizes:
"My constituents know I'm extremely passionate," Grimm said, adding he worked throughout the day Tuesday on flood insurance. "My district, people were slammed by Superstom Sandy. I have to go home and look people in the eye that have nothing, OK? They have lost everything they have ever owned, and they are almost completely out of hope, and you know what they expect? They expect Michael Grimm to have their back, and that's what I'm going for."

"I'm the guy that's going to stand up for these constituents," he continued. "I'm going to be relentless, and I'm very passionate about it. And unfortunately, when you're that type of person who has that kind of passion, your emotions can get the better of you."

The congressman's outbreak happened after the president's State of the Union address when a reporter from NY1 asked him about a federal investigation into possible campaign finance violations. According to NY1's transcript of what happened, Grimm lost it following the question, saying: "Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this f----- balcony." The congressman than told the reporter "you're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy." Grimm, who was first elected to Congress in 2010, is a former Marine and was once an undercover FBI agent.
Don't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry...

Executive Questions

Eric Holder has trouble explaining President Obama's Constitutional power:

Extreme Office Makeover

Oh, the irony:
The federal agency charged with helping consumers make better financial decisions is facing questions about how it has managed its own money.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, came under fire Tuesday on Capitol Hill for what Republicans characterized as a lavish plan to renovate property located on G Street near the White House.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb. Hensarling (R., Texas) questioned why renovating the building had soared to $145.1 million from a prior estimate of $95 million, according to a December financial report from the regulator. The regulator’s employees are expected to move to temporary space while the renovation work is being completed.

Mr. Hensarling compared the agency’s renovation of the late-1970s-era building, on a cost-per-square foot basis, to the Trump World Tower in New York, Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai—the tallest building in the world.

“Explain to me, Mr. Director, why I should be–why I shouldn’t be outraged, and why the American people shouldn’t be outraged,” he said.

The building is the former headquarters of the now-defunct Office of Thrift Supervision. It’s owned by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which merged with OTS in the wake of the financial crisis, and is leased to the CFPB for 20 years.
Meet the new office, same as the old one...

Private Eyes

They're watching you:
Sitting in my car with the engine on, watching this mystery man in the black car, it crossed my mind that I was being paranoid. I called my editor and we went back and forth over who might be tailing me. I’m a national security reporter, and the Justice Department has been cracking down on whistle-blowers. The Obama administration is even threatening James Risen to testify against a source, or face jail time.

But I’m no James Risen. There are few people who would find it worth their while to follow me around town.

Then there was the question of the car. As I explained to my editor, there’s no way a federal agent would drive a BMW on a stakeout. It’s too easy to spot.

Could it be revenge for an old story? Or was it a story that I was doing research on? Either way, I couldn’t understand what purpose following me would serve. Were they looking for my sources? Or just something embarrassing about my personal life?

My editor told me to sit tight, but if I saw the car again, he advised me to approach the man inside and ask him who he was.
Just because you're paranoid...

Failing Grade

The case of the school and the classes that weren't there:
A 2012 investigation found that some UNC-Chapel Hill students were receiving grades for classes which they had not attended and which required no work beyond writing and turning in a single paper. Many of the classes had been offered by the school's African and African-American Studies Department since the 1990s.

In all, 216 courses were found to be problematic. This past December, the department's former chair, Julius Nyang'oro, was indicted for defrauding the university after allegedly being paid for a class that he didn't teach.

Folt admitted that the scandal of the fake courses had "undermined our integrity and our reputation." However, the university has pushed back hard against claims made by Mary Willingham, a former researcher who claimed in 2012 that athletes had been steered toward the fake classes and added that her analysis of test data showed that 18 of approximately 180 athletes could read only at an elementary school level.
Welcome to the diploma mill...

Lifetime Guarantee

How to create a dictatorship:
Nicaragua's national assembly on Tuesday voted to scrap presidential term limits, which could allow socialist President Daniel Ortega to remain in power indefinitely and has stoked concerns about democracy in the Central American country.

Lawmakers must still formally sign off on the details of the bill, likely in a vote on Wednesday, which will make the impoverished country the latest in a string of Latin American nations from Bolivia to Ecuador to give presidents power extending beyond their traditional limits.

It would allow 68-year-old Ortega, a prominent Cold War antagonist of the United States, to seek a fourth term. He has yet to say publicly whether he wants to run again for the presidency in 2016, but is widely expected to do so.

Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla and ally of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has been president since 2007. He first took power after Nicaragua's 1979 revolution and was formally elected president for a single term in 1984.
Yet another argument for term limits, Latin American style...

The Ceiling Stays

I suppose that's that, then:
The most senior figures in the House Republican Conference are privately acknowledging that they will almost certainly have to pass what’s called a clean debt ceiling increase in the next few months, abandoning the central fight that has defined their three-year majority.

The reason for the shift in dynamics in this fight is clear. Congress has raised the debt limit twice in a row without drastic policy concessions from President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats, essentially ceding ground to Democrats. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are again ruling out negotiations over the nation’s borrowing limit, which would leave Republicans fighting against a unified Democratic front. It’s a tricky situation for the GOP in an election year: They would have to pass a clean debt limit bill or risk default.

“I’ve been saying publicly that once we voted for the budget, you knew that you were going to get a clean debt ceiling,” said conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), referring to the recently passed budget deal that he voted against. “The time to fight for spending cuts is when you’re talking about spending, not at debt ceiling time. So when people caved on the budget and caved on the [Ryan-Murray] agreement, it’s really hard for them to come back and say, ‘We don’t want to increase the debt ceiling’ when they’ve already voted for something that increases the debt.”

Labrador added, “In my opinion, we should just pass a debt ceiling with Democratic votes, then they can go back to their constituents and explain why they don’t want to reform the way Washington is doing business.”
I guess you take your wins where you can...

Dried Up

Well, this doesn't sound promising:
The Fresno Bee says dropping reservoir levels across the state are leading to struggles over water set aside via the Central Valley Project, a federally-run network of reservoirs, pumping plants and canals.
That includes about 340,000 acre-feet of water stored at San Luis Reservoir.
As federal officials consider the lingering drought, they have declined to rule out the possibility of taking the carried-over water for other purposes outlined by the CVP.
Farmers and lawmakers of both parties are urging the Interior Department not to redirect the water.
Water, water, nowhere?

Higher Uneducation

What they're not learning these days:
U.S. history doesn’t make the grade at the nation’s elite liberal arts colleges, where students can dodge classes on America's founding by studying electronic dance, movie animation and, at one school, a course on "The Rhetoric of Alien Abduction," a new report finds.

The report — “Education or Reputation?: A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges” — found that within those top 29 colleges, not a single institution except for three military academies requires a “foundational, college-level course” in American history or government.

“If you look at the course catalogs of most of these institutions, they recognize the importance of a strong foundation of varied skills and knowledge, but in many respects these are simply empty promises,” said Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which released the report on Monday. “It’s essentially representative of the ‘anything goes’ curriculum that reigns on college campuses nowadays.”

For example, a student at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, can avoid a survey course in American history by fulfilling the general education concentration requirement by completing courses like “History of Electronic Dance Music” or “Decoding Disney: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Animated Blockbuster,” according to the report.
"What do you mean, I can't get hired because of my major in Alien Abduction Rhetoric?"

Baby Wipes

For Medicaid, "No child left behind" takes on a new meaning:
A lack of competitive bidding processes among state Medicaid agencies caused the program to overpay for diapers by about $62 million in 2012, according to a report released by federal auditors on Monday.

Only five state Medicaid agencies have implemented competitive bidding programs for "disposable incontinence supplies," according to the inspector general for the department of Health and Human Services.

Those states reported saving up to of 50 percent on those supplies, the IG report found.

States nationwide implemented cost control mechanisms, the report noted, but Medicaid could have saved about $62 million if competitive bidding processes were adopted nationwide.

Those savings would amount to 23 percent of the Medicaid bill for disposable incontinence supplies, which include nine categories of diapers and liners, including products for adults and children.
Big government is literally for the children?

In Whose Interests?

Public-sector unions don't operate in the public interest:
Public-sector unions interfere. They demand more pay and benefits, and more control over the workplace, than the people’s elected representatives might choose if they were answerable only to voters.

Indeed, political war chests accumulated through dues checkoffs and agency fees give public-sector unions more influence than ordinary voters in many states and counties. At contract time, they face their political allies across a bargaining table. That table, by the way, is behind closed doors; collective bargaining is often exempt from “sunshine laws” that cover other public business.
Corruption is easier when it's legal...

Obama On Defense

President Obama defends Obamacare during his State of the Union speech:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Twitter Therapy

How Twitter tracks depression:
Horvitz and a team of researchers helped develop a model that can scan tweets and predict depression in Twitter users, with an accuracy they claim to be 70%. Researchers say the system is still far from perfect. When the model scans your tweets, it misses some signals and doesn’t diagnose many people—about 30%—who really will get depression. And the system has a “false positive” issue, Horvitz said, causing it to incorrectly predict that healthy Twitter users will get depression in about 10% of cases.

The Microsoft team found 476 Twitter users, 171 of whom were seriously depressed. They went back into users’ Twitter histories as far as a year in advance of their depression diagnosis, examining their tweets for language, level of engagement, mentions of certain medications, and other factors, using computer models to sift through a total of 2.2 million tweets. By comparing depressed Twitter users’ feeds with the non-depressed user sample class, they came up with a method for predicting depression diagnoses before they happened. When they tested the model on a different set of Twitter users, it showed 70% accuracy in predicting depression before its onset.
A Tweet of prevention?

The Walking Bees

And now: the zombie bee apocalypse?
John Hafernik, a professor from San Francisco State University, discovered the first zombie bees in 2008. A fly called Apocephalus borealis attaches itself to the bee and injects its eggs, which grow inside the bee, Hafernik said. Scientists believe it causes neurological damage resulting in erratic, jerky movement and night activity, "like a zombie," Hafernik said by phone Tuesday.

These aren't undead bees doomed to roam for eternity. They often die only a few hours after showing symptoms, Hafernik said.

Hafernik and his team of colleagues and students have been tracking the zombie bee spread across the United States. California, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota all have confirmed zombie bees while this is the first time the bee has been found this far east, said Hafernik. The fly previously attached to bumblebees as hosts, not honeybees, according to Hafernik.

"Right now, we don't know if it's an isolated thing," Stephen Parise, Vermont agricultural production specialist, said Tuesday at the state's annual farm show.
But what about other zombies?

The Rock Bottom Years

President Obama's final years don't look good:
I can’t get over that second table showing how much negativity has grown since 2011. We went from a spread of -12 in January of that year to nearly three times as much now. And the dips and bounces you’d expect along the way aren’t there. If gridlock was driving the pessimism, I would have predicted a surge in negative words in January 2012, after a full year of divided government and four months after the first debt-ceiling standoff triggered a downgrade from S&P and nearly caused a technical default. Nope. The 2012 spread is nearly identical to a year before. Likewise, I would have expected a modest decline, if any, in January 2013 since Americans typically respond hopefully about the next four years after a presidential election. Nope. That’s when the bottom drops out in terms of negativity. A roaring economic recovery can cure all political ills, but short of that happening in the next three years, I think we’re staring at O’s political legacy here. Division and deterioration.
When you dig your own hole, it's hard to climb out of it...

Dueling Economies

Whose economy would you prefer?
The president under whom the poorest quintile enjoyed the largest increase in after-tax household income was George W. Bush. And the two administrations under whom the richest quintile and richest 1 percent fared the worst were the two Presidents Bush. Among Barack Obama’s four immediate predecessors, the two biggest income equalizers were George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Just to be clear, I am not pining for the good old days of the economy of George W. Bush.
But George W. Bush was the most successful of our recent past presidents in achieving very substantial increases in incomes for the poorest quintile (+18.4%), while keeping gains for the richest quintile and richest 1 percent at modest levels. For example, under Bush the Younger, the incomes of the richest 1 percent rose only 6.5 percent in eight years, compared to a staggering 84 percent under Clinton and 91 percent under Reagan.
Democrats, the party of the wealthy...


Sarah Palin defends her former running mate:
I consider Senator John McCain an American hero and a friend. He fights to remind our President that the federal government’s first priority must be strong defense of our homeland, and, like Congressman Johnson, he fights against big-spending colleagues who don’t prioritize for our military’s needs. Upon the Senator’s shoulders he’s carried part of our message of opposition to today’s “fundamental transformation” of America directly to the problem: President Obama and Harry Reid’s far left agenda.

I appreciate Senator McCain’s steadfastness in demanding truth in the White House’s Benghazi cover-up. Because of his persistence we WILL get that truth, and then more eyes will be open to see how dangerous an Obama-led retreating America is in this volatile world.

It goes without saying we don’t all agree on all political issues. For instance, I shall keep pushing to open ANWR, I oppose letting illegal aliens cut in line and receive American benefits via “immigration reform,” and I oppose any Congressional action that allows President Obama to incur more U.S. debt. During this time of dangerous lawlessness in the executive branch, those who agree on stopping the intended transformation of our country had better unite to fight. So at this time, it’s perplexing to see Senator McCain’s good efforts to uncover the Obama agenda being ignored and perhaps even hindered now by those wanting to censure the Arizona Senator. Despite our differences on some other issues, there is no questioning Senator McCain’s dedication to national security in spite of the White House’s agenda.

We live in a time of diminishing virtues because of societal influence towards total self-centeredness. This is unfortunate and makes raising families, conducting business, and governing that much more challenging. I know how important the virtue of loyalty is because in politics it’s pretty much nonexistent. I stand on that most important virtue and answer those asking today: “Yes, I am proud to have been asked to run with him in 2008, and he is my friend.”
That's what friends are for...

Climate Change Court

The dangers of challenging the Climate Change authority, as experienced by Mark Steyn and others:
If the case proceeds, life will merely get worse, as the defendants could be subject to discovery, or in other words a full cavity search of every piece of communication generated over a court-mandated period of time. For those unfamiliar, I have seen what a robust discovery consists of in a bankruptcy case: It is time-consuming, invasive and likely embarrassing (that off-color joke you emailed around the office or that hilarious cat meme you texted to your friend could now enter the public domain). And if you’re an individual like Mark Steyn, the price of defending yourself in such a legal process could literally bankrupt you.

Thus, regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, all who have the temerity to claim that the Earth is not getting hotter, or colder, or weather getting more random, or whatever the new consensus may be, must now feel a deep polar vortex-like legal chill down their collective spines. Who would ever criticize, let alone belittle any scientist or academic knowing that you could go 14 months in court without actually making any progress in clearing your name.
If you haven't done anything wrong, they'll make something up...

Long Time Passing

Pete Seeger has died:
Seeger -- with his a lanky frame, banjo and full white beard -- was an iconic figure in folk music. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s, leaning on two canes. He wrote or co-wrote "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his banjo strapped on.

"Be wary of great leaders," he told The Associated Press two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. "Hope that there are many, many small leaders."

With The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group -- Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman -- churned out hit recordings of "Goodnight Irene," "Tzena, Tzena" and "On Top of Old Smokey."

Seeger also was credited with popularizing "We Shall Overcome," which he printed in his publication "People's Song," in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from "will" to "shall," which he said "opens up the mouth better."

"Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger," Arlo Guthrie once said.

His musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association dogged him for years.
Some more on that here. But he should be remembered for his music:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kid Stuff

A school rediscovers the benefits of letting kids be kids:
Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.”
It's amazing what a little common sense can accomplish...

Deciding On The Decider

More Americans don't think President Obama can make the right calls:
A bare majority of Americans, 52 percent, feel Obama does not understand the problems of people like them – a shocking downward turn for Obama on an important likeability issue in which he dominated in 2012. A majority of Americans, 51 percent, also believe Obama is not a strong leader. His disapproval rating stands currently at 50 percent, with 41 percent disapproving strongly – only 23 percent support him strongly. 50 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of the president.

For perhaps the first time, Obama’s personal popularity seems to be suffering from his inability to govern effectively. He is not being damaged by the NSA scandal, for example – a solid 59 percent of Americans think Obama either went too far or was just right in how he changed NSA policy in the aftermath of surveillance revelations. Instead, his personal popularity is dropping – a shocking development for a president who has largely relied on that popularity to push forward policy.
Not so much anymore, it seems...

Executive Inaction

Good question:
ED HENRY: On executive action, if the president wants to move quickly to create jobs why not take that pen today and approve the Keystone pipeline?

JAY CARNEY: Ed, as you know, as has been the practice for many years now of administrations of both parties, the reviews involved in an international pipeline like this, a pipeline that crosses an international boundary, are done or run by the State Department and that process continues at the State Department.

HENRY: But you would be involved in the decision. The State Department handles it, but they’ve had it on their desk, for what, two years?

CARNEY: Well, what the president is doing is what his predecessors did, presidents of both parties, which is allowing the State Department to oversee a process where this pipeline is evaluated and when that process is done I’m sure we’ll be made aware of it. But what the president believes is that it’s important to maintain a process that was devised, again, and utilized by White Houses of both parties in order to assure that the right decision is made.
When the "process" matters more than the pen...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

You Have Been Warned

Be prepared:
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday that President Obama will offer “practical” proposals to move the country forward this year and suggested the president will take executive action to advance his agenda when Congress doesn’t cooperate.

“If Congress doesn’t act, the president will,” Pfeiffer told “Fox News Sunday.”

Pfeiffer’s comments mark the second time this weekend that he has attempted to prepare Americans for what Obama will say in his State of the Union address Tuesday before Congress.
It's not as if he cares about what you think...

To The Bank

It's not as if it were your money, after all:
...a previously unannounced change in banking policy is blocking some customers from making large withdrawals without “evidence” explaining why they need the money from their accounts.

The policy affects customers attempting withdrawals for amounts as little as £5,000 ($8,253).

HSBC says it’s all done in the name of customer protection.

"The reason being we have an obligation to protect our customers, and to minimize the opportunity for financial crime,” HSBC said in a statement. “However, following feedback, we are immediately updating guidance to our customer facing staff to reiterate that it is not mandatory for customers to provide documentary evidence for large cash withdrawals, and on its own, failure to show evidence is not a reason to refuse a withdrawal. We are writing to apologize to any customer who has been given incorrect information and inconvenienced."

The change in approach comes after the BBC aired reports from multiple HSBC customers who said they were denied in their recent attempts to make cash withdrawals.
When you give your money to a thief, don't expect him to hand it back...

Blogging Nostalgia

A blogger comments on old-school blogging's benefits:
A personal blog, a blog that is really your own, and not a channel of the The Daily Beast or Forbes or The Washington Post or what have you, is an iterated game with the purity of non-commercial social intercourse. The difference between hanging out and getting paid to hang out. Anyway, in old-school blogging, you put things out there, broadcast bits of your mind. You just give it away and in return maybe you get some attention, which is nice, and some gratitude, which is even nicer. The real return, though, is in the conclusions people draw about you based on what you have said, about what what you have said says about you, about what it means relative to what you used to say. People form expectations about you. They start to imagine a character of you, start to write a little story about you. Some of this is validating, some is irritating, and some is downright hateful. In any case it all contributes to self-definition, helps the blogger locate and comprehend himself as a node in the social world.
I'm a node? Must be my character...

Depth Perception

Is modern politics really that corrupt?
Political malfeasance grabs headlines, and few public failings are as colorful as a House legislator who stores $90,000 in marked bills in his basement freezer (William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, convicted of bribery, racketeering and money laundering in 2009) or one who boasts to an F.B.I. undercover agent, “I’ve got larceny in my heart” (John W. Jenrette Jr., Democrat of South Carolina, convicted of accepting bribes in the Abscam sting; Mr. Jenrette was later found guilty of shoplifting shoes and a necktie at a Marshalls department store).

Nevertheless, political analysts say, one rotten apple — or even the scores of them picked up in the past two decades — does not spoil the barrel. “I’ve studied American political corruption throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and, if anything, corruption was much more common in much of those centuries than today,” said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Well, that doesn't seem to say much for the current state of affairs...


Is America becoming a food-stamp nation?
Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America's former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.

Economists say having a job may no longer be enough for self-sufficiency in today's economy.

"A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps is becoming more common for the working poor," said Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in income inequality. "Many of the U.S. jobs now being created are low- or minimum-wage -- part-time or in areas such as retail or fast food -- which means food stamp use will stay high for some time, even after unemployment improves."
Welcome to the part-time economy...

Teacher, Teacher

Students take on the system:
"It is virtually impossible to get (bad teachers) out of the system," said Theodore J. Boutrous, who is joined on the plaintiffs’ legal team by Theodore B. Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general who argued Bush v. Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2000 presidential election.

Meanwhile, both teachers unions and the state are gearing up to meet the legal challenge, head-on.

"If you give teachers resources and appropriate class sizes, principals and superintendents that support them — they will be successful in increasing student achievement," Jim Finberg, an attorney representing the California Teachers Association, told the Times.

"California teachers care deeply about students and welcome a policy debate on how best to improve California schools. But that debate should be in the Legislature, not in a courtroom."
They welcome the debate, but are they listening?

The Hole Truth

Stephen Hawking says there are no black holes:
In his paper, Hawking writes: "The absence of event horizons means that there are no black holes - in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity."

He told Nature journal: “There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory, but quantum theory, however, “enables energy and information to escape from a black hole.”

Don Page, a physicist and expert on black holes at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada told Nature that "the picture Hawking gives sounds pretty reasonable".

“You could say that it is radical to propose there’s no event horizon", he said. "But these are highly quantum conditions, and there’s ambiguity about what space-time even is, let alone whether there is a definite region that can be marked as an event horizon.”
But if there are no real black holes, then how does he explain government spending?


A man and his iceberg:
As the chunk of ice floats southward to its thawing doom, he'll witness his new home get smaller and smaller until it is no more and he finds himself adrift in the ocean. He hopes to raise awareness of climate change and global warming, and to draw parallels between his mission and the broader human condition. The main challenge, however, will be finding ways to kill time; he'll be there for up to 12 months, the limit he's set on the task. It sounds tough, but Bellini's got a pretty solid track record when it comes to weird endurance stunts.

Bellini defines himself as an "adventurer." Born in a mountain hamlet in northern Italy, his life wasn't always one of great excitement. In 2001, he was a 20-year-old student in Milan, looking toward a career in banking. But as the prospect of spending his life in that sector began to look more and more concrete, he felt so turned off by the idea that he embarked on quite a drastic diversion: he left for Morocco to run the Marathon des Sables, a 254km race on foot through the Sahara Desert, with virtually no training.
Sink or swim?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Matters To Whom

President Obama's issues aren't the same as the peoples':
When Quinnipiac asked voters "What do you think should be the top priority for President Obama and Congress in 2014?" -- income inequality earned 1%, class inequality earned 1%, gun issues earned 1%, and immigration earned only 2%.
More bad news for a media desperate to further their Global Warming hoax through the dark art of portraying everyday weather as The Worst Ever, is that only 2% of the public see the environment as a priority.
Issues the American people unsurprisingly do list as top priorities are the economy (15%), jobs/unemployment (16%), and healthcare (18%). And it is in all three of those areas where Obama's standing with the American people is in the dumpster. On the economy and healthcare, the president is upside down on approval 39-56% and 36-59% , respectively.
When you look down on the people, everything seems right side up...

The Smoky Backroom

Don't air your dirty money in public:
Obama on Friday announced the opening of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, three years after the investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency.

“The White House’s announcement … again raises troubling concerns about the illegal use of taxpayer funds to support campaign-related initiatives,” said California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

In a January 2011 report, the watchdog office found that staff in George W. Bush’s Office of Political Affairs violated federal statutes that prohibit the use of Treasury Department money for some political activity while working with groups to get Republican candidates elected.

“That appears to be precisely what the re-branded Office of Political Strategy and Outreach will do,” Issa said Friday.
A little corruption goes a long way...

Hipster Love

The new bohemians' existential problem:
It is not every day that an article in Vogue magazine exposes the shaky foundations of democracy. But as I read “The Talk of the Town” for the second time I could not help noticing how these attractive, talented, up-and-coming thirty-somethings relied, again and again, on personal connections to get where they are today. Weisberg describes the couple’s success in terms of “personal intensity and random luck.” But the luck here is less random than he thinks. Kass and Wagner were lucky to be born to their parents, and if they have children their sons and daughters will be lucky to be born to them. They are members of a self-perpetuating milieu, a caste of right thinking yuppies whose position and wealth and patterns of consumption are the fruit of personal relationships spanning decades. There is income inequality, for sure, but there is also status inequality, and this latter form of inequality is a topic on which most bourgeois bohemians are silent.
Being ironically hip means never having to say you're sorry for your status...

The L Party

The GOP tries outreach with Liberty Republicans:
They are the young, more libertarian-minded, grassroots supporters that used to be identified chiefly by their favorite Republican presidential candidate, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Now, as the Republican National Committee tries to repair relationships and increase outreach to all political groups, they are doing their best to entice more libertarian Republicans into the fold.

Some of these supporters were turned off by what was described as the “railroading” of Ron Paul supporters by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus during the 2012 convention in Tampa.

But the RNC wants to appear welcoming to the libertarian element in their party, which more established members of the party once derided as “Paultards” after they disrupted events in favor of their candidate.
The Republicans have a good case to make against the current administration with regards to liberty, and they need all the help they can get.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Taking A Meeting

What a conference call would look like in real life:

Le Shrinkage

Socialist policies aren't working out so well in France:
French business activity shrank again in January, albeit at a slower pace than expected, a monthly survey showed on Thursday, adding to government pressure to revive the struggling corporate sector.

With business recovering in much of Europe, the French corporate sector’s weak performance increasingly stands out…

Data compiler Markit said its composite purchasing managers’ index rose in January to a three-month high of 48.5 from 47.3 in December. It remained below the 50-point threshold separating expansions in activity from contractions.

“Companies are worried about the outlook,” Markit chief economist Chris Williamson said.

“They’re worried about the political situation, about the lack of proper reforms and just how the French government is going to bring about a recovery in the economy,” he added.
As well they should be...

Festival Follies

Some documentaries are more equal than others:
A Minnesota film festival is being accused of pushing a political agenda by yanking a pro-fracking documentary from its lineup while keeping two anti-fracking films on the program.

Organizers of the Frozen River Film Festival in Winona, Minn., decided last week to cut “FrackNation,” a widely discussed 2013 documentary about hydraulic fracturing, reportedly citing concerns about the film’s financial links to the oil and gas industry and the filmmakers’ inability to attend the screening.

The decision represents the first time the festival has pulled a film in its nine-year history. Instead, the festival plans to fill Sunday’s slot with a forum discussion, “Documentaries Today: My Fact Your Fiction?”
Their facts only, it seems...

Don't Advertize

Welcome to Sochi:
“The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk,” said the memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Designer Ralph Lauren on Thursday unveiled the official uniforms that American athletes will wear to the Opening ceremony. The uniforms feature a knit patchwork cardigan emblazoned with big stars, an American flag, and the Olympic rings.
“A dynamic mix of patriotic references in a classic color palette of red, white and navy defines the Ralph Lauren 2014 Team USA Opening ceremony uniform, which is proudly Made in America,” the company said in a statement Thursday.
Greg Bretz, a member of the men’s halfpipe team, told the Wall Street Journal that U.S. Olympic officials “have told us not to wear our USA gear outside of the venues,” but added, “I have so much faith in the United States and our safety that I’m not too worried about it.”
Concerns about safety in Sochi have prompted some Olympians to tell their loved ones to stay home, however. One of them is Canadian goaltender Mike Smith, who said he doesn’t want to expose his wife and kids to any unnecessary risk.
It's not exactly a safe place...

International Football

Um, okay:
The Oneida Indian leader from upstate New York who has become a high-profile critic of the Washington Redskins’ nickname is taking his case to the United Nations.
The Oneida Indian Nation says Ray Halbritter will meet Friday with the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Halbritter argues that the Washington team’s nickname is racially insensitive and should be changed.
The NFL team was already facing a fresh round of criticism when the Oneidas began airing radio advertisements during the NFL’s regular season critical of the nickname.
Well, I'm sure this will be at the top of their agenda...

Four For The Price Of One

Can a candidate actually run for Congress this way?
As he sees it, all roads lead to Rome.
"No matter where you win a seat in Congress, you go to the same building. You do the same work," he said. "You can work for your constituents, which all have similar needs, but the key is you go to Washington and help solve the country's problems."
Legally, his strategy is possible. But it likely will be a logistical nightmare.
Running a congressional campaign as a political newcomer is tough enough. Multiply that by four and add a society that's quick to shun "carpetbaggers" -- people who move to a state to run for office -- and you get what some experts predict to be a waste of time and money.
It appears Levene may be the first to try the unusual tactic. But what if he succeeds? Is he blazing a trail for a new campaign model?
How much representation can states handle?

The Decline And Fall Of CNN

They certainly seem to be on their last legs:
I'm telling you, folks, this is stunning: 98,000 viewers in prime time on a national cable news network that, by the way, used to have a monopoly on cable news. Up until 1996 or '7, they were it. They just sit there and lose their audience. They just keep losing it and losing it -- and to those of us on the outside, it's clear why, and apparently it is not clear to them. It just stunning.

In the old days of broadcasting and media, this wouldn't have been allowed to get to this degree. There would have been heads rolled and massive changes years ago. They would not even be permitting this, and there certainly wouldn't be anybody remaining at that place called a star, and there wouldn't be an exec that was considered at the top of his game. It's just... The corruption of everything, achievement-wise, that the left touches, to me is just remarkable.

Now, in addition to that, they're laying people off left and right. We just learned that 40 senior journalists have been laid off at CNN, including a pregnant producer who is due to give birth I think to twins in two weeks. It may not be twins, but the birth is in two weeks. They've actually been laying people off since November. So it's stunning, to me, it truly is.
They could never accept that they were no longer the kings of cable news. Now they're paying the price of arrogance.

Income Party

Where rich Democrats go to discuss income inequality:
In less than two months, the House Democrats will discuss this and other issues at the swanky and posh St. Regis hotel in Manhattan. Rooms start at $695 a night if you would like to join them.

Of course, you can’t simply show up at the DCCC’s “Issues Conference.” According to the email invitation, “[t]his annual Issues Conference is open to 2014 DCCC Business and Labor Council Platinum Members and to our 2014 Chairman’s Council Members.” I’m not certain what it takes to be a “plantinum member,” but I imagine it takes the kind of money that doesn’t blink at a $695 hotel room. Helpfully, the DCCC says you can contact them to determine one’s “eligibility.”

For those fortunate enough to attend, “the St. Regis New York has unveiled a bold new era of glamour at Manhattan’s best address,” according to the hotel’s website. Recently renovated, the hotel says the redesign’s “fresh and sophisticated approach has married original design elements, such as the crystal Waterford chandeliers and elegant crown moldings, with beautiful, large-format photographic artwork, vibrant-hued fabrics and stunning beveled mirrors.”
I wonder what would happen if they actually had to look at themselves in them...

The Loyal Opposition

Virginia's AG says his state's gay marriage ban is Unconstitutional:


Aetna issues a warning:
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini told CNBC on Wednesday that Obamacare has failed to attract the uninsured, and he offered a scenario in which the insurance company could be forced to pull out of program.

The company will be submitting Obamacare rates for 2015 on May 15.

“Are they going to be double-digit [increases] or are we going to get beat up because they’re double-digit or are we just going to have to pull out of the program?” Bertolini asked in a “Squawk Box” interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Those questions can’t be answered until we see the population we have today. And we really don’t have a good view on that.”

He said that so far, Obamacare has just shifted people who were insured in the individual market to the public exchanges where they could get a better deal on a subsidy for coverage. “We see only 11 percent of the population is actually people that were firmly uninsured that are now insured. So [it] didn’t really eat into the uninsured population.”
There just don't seem to be enough uninsured to go around...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Amazing Colossal Government

It's just too big:
Gallup released its "Mood of the Nation" poll yesterday, conducted between January 5-8, finding that 66% of Americans are "unhappy with the size and power of the federal government." This number has been the roughly the same for the last three years after jumping 10 percentage points between 2008 and 2011. In addition, 65% of Americans "are dissatisfied with the nation's system of government and how well it works, the highest percentage in Gallup's trend since 2001."
The poll found that "Republicans and independents are largely responsible for the overall decrease in satisfaction with government effectiveness in recent years," and "satisfaction among Republicans and independents began to wane during President George W. Bush's final year in office," which was also when the Tea Party movement started to form in response to the big-government programs of the Bush administration.
The poll also found that Republicans and independents have become even more dissatisfied with government since President Barack Obama got elected in 2008 while Democrats' satisfaction has remained steady since 2004. Gallup found that "satisfaction among independents, meanwhile, has gone down 10 percentage points" since 2004.
Liberals, of course, are extremely satisfied with the way things have gone...

Go To Sleep

What if President Obama spoke and nobody cared?
No one's really listening to the president now. He has been for five years a nonstop wind-up talk machine. Most of it has been facile, bland, the same rounded words and rounded sentiments, the same soft accusations and excuses. I see him enjoying the sound of his voice as the network newsman leans forward eagerly, intently, nodding at the pearls, enacting interest, for this is the president and he is the anchorman and surely something important is being said with two such important men engaged.

But nothing interesting was being said! Looking back on this presidency, it has from the beginning been a 17,000 word New Yorker piece in which, calmly, sonorously, with his lovely intelligent voice, the president says nothing, or little that is helpful, insightful or believable. "I'm not a particularly ideological person." "It's hard to anticipate events over the next three years." "I don't really even need George Kennan right now." "I am comfortable with complexity." "Our capacity to do some good . . . is unsurpassed, even if nobody is paying attention."

Nobody is!
I'm sorry; was he saying something?

National Security Review

A review board finds the NSA somewhat lacking:
“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”

The report is bound to spur further debate in an already charged environment in which many lawmakers are divided about the program’s value and legality. Two federal judges have issued conflicting opinions on the program’s constitutionality.

The 238-page report is arguably the most extensive analysis to date of the program’s statutory and constitutional underpinnings, as well as of its practical value.
Debate is good. A true Republic needs it...

War For Women

Why Mike Huckabee is in trouble today:
Of course, the MSM were up in arms, as were those who were offended without knowing why. More sugar, please...

From Riches To Rags

Why Bob McDonnell fell:
Living beyond your means and trying to be something you're not is fraught with danger. In this regard, the McDonnells are extreme examples of modern American culture.

Sometimes people who come from humble beginnings become bitter and resentful, even as they rise in station. And folks who don't have a lot of money, but are trying to accomplish something, often don't have the luxury of holding out for the perfect situation. They have to accept some messiness.

In the writing world, this might be as simple as whether to do a project that feels hackish or trite, but pays well. When money's not an issue, you are a little bit freer to avoid anything that might offend your artistic sensibilities. But if you have a mortgage, credit card debt, and a bunch of kids, you may have to lower your standards.

This seems like a small thing, but sometimes small things turn into more small things. And then big things.

Preachers talk a lot about sexual sins, but I suspect just as many lives (and political careers) have been destroyed by the temptations associated with envy. Greed and covetousness are pernicious.
It's the appearance and attitude that get you, even if it is legal...

Paper Chase

At TCU, it's a paper shortage:
“This is a big thing,” said student body president Cody Westphal. “You know, TCU has this reputation for the highest quality everything — whether it is education, technology, teachers, students — whatever. I think the next obvious step would be to take the step of quality toilet paper!”
Students in dorms craving the two-ply comfort of home were on their own.
“I know a lot of people have gone out of their way to go to the store to get two ply,” said TCU student Tora Coursey.
So, when the student government asked students “How can we help you?” the students overwhelmingly replied, “Two ply please!”
“One part of the issue is a simple comfort factor,” said Luke Baldwin. “You just can’t put a price tag on single ply versus double ply. You’ve got to think what’s more comfortable for the person using it.”
At least they can get toilet paper, unlike in Venezuela...

The Non-Social Network

The end of an era?
"Facebook has already reached the peak of its popularity and has entered a decline phase," they concluded. "The future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017."

Facebook is worth $139 billion and has more than one billion users worldwide.

Researchers looked at the number of Google searches for Facebook, and found that they peaked in December 2012. A similar spike in searches was observed for Myspace months before it hit its peak in 2008, before heading into terminal decline.

The report said that every user who joins a social network expects to stay indefinitely, "but ultimately loses interest as their peers begin to lose interest."

They compared the decline of social networks to the spread of disease, adding: "Eventually, users begin to leave and recovery spreads infectiously as users begin to lose interest in the social network."
It was fun while it lasted...

Hollywood Confidential

The IRS is at it again:
A collection of perhaps 1,500 right-leaning players in the entertainment industry, Friends of Abe keeps a low profile and fiercely protects its membership list, to avoid what it presumes would result in a sort of 21st-century blacklist, albeit on the other side of the partisan spectrum.

Now the Internal Revenue Service is reviewing the group’s activities in connection with its application for tax-exempt status. Last week, federal tax authorities presented the group with a 10-point request for detailed information about its meetings with politicians like Paul D. Ryan, Thaddeus McCotter and Herman Cain, among other matters, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the organization’s confidentiality strictures, and to avoid complicating discussions with the I.R.S.

Those people said that the application had been under review for roughly two years, and had at one point included a demand — which was not met — for enhanced access to the group’s security-protected website, which would have revealed member names. Tax experts said that an organization’s membership list is information that would not typically be required. The I.R.S. already had access to the site’s basic levels, a request it considers routine for applications for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Of course, these are Hollywood conservatives, so there must be something suspicious about them...

Flying Whale

It's a whale of a plane:
The whale design is such a leap from the norm that it has even been described by technology website as looking "more like something thought up for the "Transformers" movie franchise than a legitimate aircraft".

According to Vinals, double-decker planes are so yesterday. The belly of his plane would be so round that it could fit three levels and 755 passengers. The decks would be divided according to class - first class at the top, business in the middle and economy at the bottom. Of course.

It would also feature engines that Vinals claims would be able to tilt up to 45 degrees and make it possible for the plane to take off on the spot, leading to the end of runways as we know them.
Traveling in the belly of the beast?

Undeveloped Nation

So where does America rank in terms of being business-friendly?
New Zealand is the easiest place in the world to create a new business. Starting one there requires "one procedure, half a day, (and) less than 1 percent of income per capita and no paid-in minimum capital," the study noted. New Zealand was followed by Canada, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong in the top five.

By contrast, the U.S. requires, on average, six procedures, takes five days and requires 1.5 percent of the company's income per capita.

In addition to being beaten out by Rwanda (9), Azerbaijan (10), and Belarus (15), the U.S. lost out to Malaysia (16); Taiwan (17); Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory (18); and Mauritius (19).
Does this officially make us what they used to call a "third world" country?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dayz Go By

When gameplay imitates life:
Hall created DayZ based on his experience in the New Zealand army, which sent him on a survival exercise in Brunei that nearly killed him in 2010. "[The exercise] was really tough, and I kind of wondered, why is it that as a soldier you have to go through and do all of this training?" says Hall. "Was there maybe a way to do some of this in a computer game?" Hall developed a mod (the term for a modification of an existing game) of military simulation game Arma 2, in which a soldier's character, health, and equipment persisted from mission to mission, rather than starting over each time. He then had fellow soldiers play the simulation as training.

"I noticed how different they were behaving when their characters saved to a database, and they knew that the character was going to be back there every day," says Hall. "They were suddenly arguing with each other. They were really tense. When someone got shot they were really concerned; they would try to help them. Normally in the simulation training we do, someone would die and they’d carry on with the mission. Well, if that happens in real life that’s not what happens, you know?"
"Keeping it real" gets real...

Daughter Art

An artist poses his daughter in recreations of classical paintings:
Bill Gekas is an Australian photographer with a particular liking for the artwork of the Old Masters, such as Vemeer and Rembrandt. He wanted to recreate their work through photography, but wasn't sure of the best way to do it... until he got the crazy idea of having his own five-year-old daughter as the subject.
Art in miniature...

Option Number Two

The Swedish discover the benefits of choice:
More than half a million Swedes now have private health insurance, showed a new review from industry organization Swedish Insurance (Svensk Försäkring). In eight out of ten cases, the person's employer had offered them the private insurance deal.

"It's quicker to get a colleague back to work if you have an operation in two weeks' time rather than having to wait for a year," privately insured Anna Norlander told Sveriges Radio on Friday. "It's terrible that I, as a young person, don't feel I can trust the health care system to take care of me."

The insurance plan guarantees that she can see a specialist within four working days, and get a time for surgery, if needed, within 15.

Sweden aims to make sure people can see their general practitioner within one week, which the organization said was a modest goal in and of itself.

"The target for maximum wait in Sweden to see your primary care doctor (no more than seven days) is underachieved only by Portugal, where the corresponding figure is 15 days," the report stated.

Health system wait times in Sweden were deemed so lengthy that they pulled Sweden down the European ranking despite the country having technically advanced healthcare at its disposal.
The waiting is the hardest part...

Southern Pipeline

The usual suspects are quite upset that the oil is actually flowing in the South:
“Today’s announcement is a painful example of President Obama’s all of the above energy plan at work: polluted air and water, carbon pollution, and the ever present threat of poisoned drinking water for millions of Texas and Oklahoma families,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

“The Sierra Club will fight hard to protect the families who are now at risk, and turn the Obama administration’s shortsighted dirty energy policy around,” added Brune, who is normally a fan of Obama’s climate agenda.

The environmental advocacy group’s Bill McKibben, also pointed the finger at Obama for falling out of line with his promises to battle climate change.

“Expediting KXL south was not the mark of a president who really ‘gets’ climate change,” McKibben said in a statement on Wednesday.
"All of the above" means all of the above, doesn't it?


Glenn Beck gets introspective:

In Defense Of Twitter

Don't hate Twitter:
The genius of Twitter is instantaneousness and compression. It is solipsistic, a form of narcissism, at the same time as being the ne plus ultra of outreach. Its essence is the link. Through links, tweets are in fact very long, so long that Twitter is a great way to waste time; in fact I hardly recall any longer how I wasted time before Twitter. It is also a great scattershot way to stumble on the unexpected or the enriching.
But you still have to wade through a lot of junk to find it...

Service Of The Apes

Allowing monkeys to be used as service animals:
Monkeys aren't recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but some states have exemptions, Schickel said.

His bill has been referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Paul Hornback, said he's willing to bring the bill up for discussion.

"I don't know much about it myself," said Hornback, R-Shelbyville. "I'm going to try to read up on it."

The measure would restrict monkeys to in-home use and would not allow them to assist their owners in public places.
This is how it begins...

God's Game Plan

Well, I can understand why the losers feel this way:
“Just ahead of the 2014 Super Bowl, 50 percent of sports fans see some aspect of the supernatural at play in sports, meaning they either pray to God to help their team, have thought their team was cursed at some point in time, or believe that God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events,” reports a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan, non-profit group based in the nation’s capital.

A fervent 26 percent of the respondents say they have prayed that “for God to help their team”, while an equal number have entertained the notion that their team was “cursed.”

The gridiron tends to bring out this behavior.

“Football fans are also more likely than other fans to say they pray for their team (33 percent ), perform pre-game or game-time rituals (25 percent), or to believe that their team has been cursed (31 percent).
Especially during the second half...

Mind Apps

Feeling down? There's an app for that:
Stop, Breathe & Think, a free iPhone app, prompts people to check how they are feeling mentally, emotionally and physically and will recommend three guided meditations between five and 10 minutes long.
"We wanted to give people a friendly and accessible tool to develop these skills - something they could easily integrate into their daily routine," said Jamie Price, executive director of Tools for Peace, a California-based non-profit which developed the app.
It aims to help people feel more grounded, calmer and happier, he added, and to recognize emotions and impulses and to react positively.
"The recommended meditations are meant to be a support, to help you deal with whatever is going on from the perspective of kindness and compassion, and with a greater sense of being positively connected," Price said in an interview.
On the bright side, it is less expensive than therapy...

Red Money

Red states don't actually get more federal funds:
It should be pointed out that federal funds go toward a vast array of issues, including military, infrastructure, and disaster relief. Moreover, a state’s population plays a large role in the total amount received. But the argument isn’t about which states are “more deserving” of federal aid. The argument is that “red” states receive more funds than anyone else.

...some argue that certain states spend their federal funds differently, giving more back to the “pie” than others, and that this somehow changes everything.

Again, that’s not the argument. The original argument claims “red” states receive more federal funds than anyone else, leading to things like an uptick in income growth. But as the above clearly indicates, “red” states simply don’t get more in fed funds.
That's because red states typically don't want or need more money, because they are simply better run.

The Right To Give

Happy anniversary, Citizens United:
At his State of the Union address four years ago, President Barack Obama lectured Supreme Court justices about their decision he said would let corporations — even foreign corporations — play an unprecedented new role in electoral politics.

But America’s largest companies haven’t used the Citizens United v. FEC case to open up their checkbook. Instead, most still prefer the time-tested avenues of political influence-peddling: industry trade associations, politically active nonprofits and company PACs that are limited to giving just $5,000 per candidate.

In 2010, Supreme Court gave companies, nonprofits and unions carte blanche to spend unlimited funds directly on election-related politicking in Citizens United — so long as that activity was not coordinated with a candidate or political party. Combined with another case, SpeechNow v. FEC, the ruling led to the creation of super PACs and hybrid PACs, which have been used to dramatically change the political system.

But it’s been individuals giving the vast majority of cash, not companies.
If it ain't corrupt, don't corrupt it...

Irrelevance At The Top

There's a disconnect within the National Education Association:
To illustrate, the union asked the rank-and-file members whether they had contact with a union representative in the past year. Three-quarters had met at least once with a local building rep and 60 percent had contact with a local affiliate board member. But very few members had any contact whatsoever from a union rep above the local level.

More than 60 percent had zero contact with the state affiliate board, more than 70 percent had zero contact with an RA delegate, and more than 80 percent had zero contact with a member of the NEA board of directors.

The middle statistic is the most significant. There are anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 delegates that attend the annual convention, and boast about being “the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.” In practical terms, the RA cannot be very democratic or deliberative if it never hears from three-quarters of its constituents.
Or, as in the case of other unions, wants to...

Round Two

Chris Christie gets a second chance:
Throughout the ceremony, Mr. Christie, 51, known for a swagger and unapologetic belligerence, seemed transformed. He did not break a smile, instead pursing his lips somberly and waving his hand almost sheepishly, even as an auditorium packed with supporters gave him a long standing ovation. His wife rubbed his back reassuringly. His children gave him long hugs.

Longtime supporters detected an unmistakable change.

“It appears to have taken a toll on him, his personality,” said Dennis Calabrese, a contractor who came out to see the governor.

Mr. Christie’s already low-key inaugural was muted by the arrival of a winter storm that forced the cancellation of an evening gala on Ellis Island, left scattered seats unfilled on the first floor of the theater, and prompted Mr. Christie to declare a state of emergency before his guests had finished filing out the door.
Can he ride out the storm?

What About Bob?

Yet more proof that corruption crosses both parties:
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and his wife, Maureen, were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges of accepting more than $140,000 in loans and gifts in exchange for promoting the business of a political patron who was seeking special favors from the state government.

The 14-count indictment filed by the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia included charges of fraud and soliciting loans and gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of Star Scientific, a maker of dietary supplements, who hoped to use the governor to promote his products.

The indictment accuses the McDonnells of accepting some $135,000 in cash from Mr. Williams, thousands of dollars in golf outings, designer clothing and a Rolex watch engraved “71st Governor of Virginia” on the back. It accuses the former first couple of lying about the gifts on loan statements and to government investigators.
So, Virginia has gone from a governor receiving gifts to a governor giving them...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Court Fees

The Supreme Court hears arguments on whether union workers have the right not to give:
At issue are the complaints of home health care workers in Illinois, who object to having to pay "fair share fees" to compensate the union for its work. The workers say the fees violate the First Amendment by compelling them to associate with the union.

Though lower courts have thrown out the lawsuit, if the Supreme Court agrees it could undermine the ability of unions in several states -- not just Illinois -- to collect fees from home care workers. That would, then, chip away at union budgets and membership in the public sector.

In Illinois, those workers are classified as state employees because their salaries come from Medicaid.

Paul Smith, who represented the state, argued that the union fees are being spent on a variety of services, including negotiating contracts, operating a call center and maintaining a "grievance system."

But William Messenger, representing the workers, said the "compulsory" fee system "violates the First Amendment."
It would seem that the workers have certain grievances that aren't being addressed by their system...

Machine Man

President Obama, caught in the machine:
I had a sense that I never had before from the president of being defeated. That he felt like, 'You know what? I can't really make a big difference in this office.' He spoke about the stream and being part of a stream in history and you can't turn things around.

He does say at one point, you know, he says to his staff, 'we run the biggest organization, the most powerful organization in the world.' But on the other hand, he speaks as if he's a man caught in the maws of a larger machine, and he is not able to make a difference. And I thought, boy, that's not the Obama that I heard of in 2008.
But he still wants to act like he's got power...

Life After Elizabeth

Is England prepared for an activist King?
Modern British monarchs have habitually adopted a position of political neutrality because of their constitutional power to call for the formation of a government. The present queen has gone further and stayed out of public debate on nearly every topic.

Colin Talbot, professor of government at Manchester University said: “This is a constitutional convention which can be changed by the simple fact of a monarch doing things differently. There is nothing written down which says the monarch cannot express opinions. Charles could quite simply be a more outspoken monarch.

“We have got very used to Elizabeth II saying nothing controversial but having a monarch who stays quiet on such matters is a very post-1945 phenomenon. Her predecessors certainly were more prepared to express opinions. It may also be difficult for Charles to stop behaving as he is used to.”
Since few people took him seriously before, not much should change, then...

The Great Divide

Under Obama, the rich have gotten richer, while the poor get poorer:
In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama said: "The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

But a look back shows that income inequality has grown, not shrunk, under the current president.

"All told, income inequality has tended to get worse under President Obama," American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks said.
Encouraging poverty is what Democrats do best...

Out Of Town

Sean Hannity is outta there:
“Now I want to tell you something – I was born and raised in New York,” Hannity said. “I want you to know that and I can’t wait to get out of here. I really can’t. I don’t want to pay their 10-percent state tax anymore. I live in the second-highest property taxed county in the entire country in Nassau County. I can’t wait to sell my house to somebody who wants it. I can’t wait to pay no state income tax down in Florida or Texas. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m leaning Florida because I like the water and I like to fish.”
Sounds more like he's retiring, but yeah. It's definitely warmer down there.

House Of Cards

Is China about to go bankrupt?
A WMP default, whether relating to Liansheng or Zhenfu, could devastate the Chinese banking system and the larger economy as well.  In short, China’s growth since the end of 2008 has been dependent on ultra-loose credit first channeled through state banks, like ICBC and Construction Bank, and then through the WMPs, which permitted the state banks to avoid credit risk.  Any disruption in the flow of cash from investors to dodgy borrowers through WMPs would rock China with sky-high interest rates or a precipitous plunge in credit, probably both.  The result?  The best outcome would be decades of misery, what we saw in Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s.
But at least Japan is a democracy with a free market. China, not so much...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Red Light Districts

American schools are turning into censorship zones:
"The U.S. Supreme Court has called America's colleges and universities 'vital centers for the Nation's intellectual life.' However, the reality today is that many of these institutions severely restrict free speech and open debate. Speech codes -- policies prohibiting speech that would, outside the bounds of campus, be protected by the First Amendment -- have been repeatedly struck down by federal and state courts for decades," the executive summary of the report states. "Yet they persist, even in the very jurisdictions where they have been ruled unconstitutional."
It's hard to get old censors to change their ways...

The Tinfoil Hat Presidency

We're all conspiracy theorists now:
Spend a little while on Twitter or in Internet comment sections and you'll see a significant number of people who think that the NSA may have been relaying intelligence about the Mitt Romney campaign to Obama operatives, or that Chief Justice John Roberts' sudden about-face in the Obamacare case might have been driven by some sort of NSA-facilitated blackmail.

A year ago, these kinds of comments would have been dismissable as paranoid conspiracy theory. But now, while I still don't think they're true, they're no longer obviously crazy. And that's Obama's legacy: a government that makes paranoid conspiracy theories seem possibly sane.
Paranoia is the new normal...

Liberals Only

Andrew Cuomo is not a fan of conservatives:
"Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves," he said. "Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are."
Well, it's not as if they were ever really welcome in the first place...

Mirror Universe

Every time I try to get out of Obamacare, they keep pulling me back in:
Missouri resident Lesli Hill learned the hard way that terminating an Affordable Care Act plan can be far more difficult than navigating the website to buy one. She spent six weeks being bounced from operator to operator, calling the help line, using the online chat, blasting out emails to anyone who would listen, before ultimately driving to Kansas City last week to enlist her insurance company's help. Only then was she able to break through the bureaucratic logjam, and cancel her policy.

"It's consumed my whole life," she told, albeit with a hint of relief in her voice as she described the Kafkaesque experience behind her.

"I felt like I'd slipped into a parallel universe. ... It's just as hard to go off as it is to get on."
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave...


The Sherman saga, explained:
It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. When I say I’m the best cornerback in football, it’s with a caveat: There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven. Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday. To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.
Maybe he is one of the best in the game, but still. And, just to recap:

Justin's Stash

Well, it would certainly explain some of his behavior:
There were styrofoam cups scattered throughout the house that had elaborate drawings on them ... including the names of the people who used them. The cups, we're told, were used for Sizzurp (also called lean) -- which is Justin's drug of choice. We're told he likes to draw on the cups with markers after using them.

And speaking of Sizzurp ... Sprite is usually part of the mix, but we're told Justin preferred pineapple Fanta instead. There were empty Fanta bottles that were discolored ... we're told from the codeine.

There were lots of "swisher sweets" cigars laying around the house -- Bieber's preferred way to smoke marijuana.

And speaking of weed … we're told Justin has a dedicated smoking room in the house, complete with hookah pipes. Sources say when cops showed up ... some of his friends went into the room and some of the illicit stuff went down the toilet.
Insert your own metaphor for his career here...

Why Haters Gotta Hate

President Obama thinks he knows the reason for his unpopularity:
“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president,” Obama said in the article by David Remnick, appearing in the magazine’s Jan. 27 edition.

“Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president,” Obama said in his most direct comments on how race has affected his political standing since he’s been in office.
Lots of other people have said this, and now he's gone there, so I guess that makes it official...

No Hackers Near Her

Joy Reid's story continues to fall apart: Cybersecurity expert Jason McNew, who spent 12 years working for the White House and Camp Davi...