Wednesday, June 30, 2010

HEALTHCARE - As I Expected, Reform Update

"Poll: Favorable views of health reform law increasing among Americans" by David S. Hilzenrath, Washington Post 6/30/2010

The health-care overhaul gained popularity from May to June, according to a new tracking poll.

The results suggest that the Obama administration's promotion of the legislation may be paying off or that the public may be warming to the law as early provisions take effect.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48 percent of the public had a favorable view of the law in June while 41 percent had an unfavorable opinion. A month earlier, the split was 41 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable.

The latest survey results were not much different from those in March, shortly before the law was enacted. Then, at the end of a bitter year-long battle, 46 percent said they supported the proposed legislation while 42 percent opposed it.

Since President Obama signed the law, Democrats and Republicans vying for advantage in the fall elections have been fighting to shape how the public perceives the historic legislation. The administration has been spotlighting potentially crowd-pleasing elements as they are phased in, including a provision that will allow many parents to keep young adult children on their insurance policies until age 26, and another provision that is helping some Medicare beneficiaries narrow a gap in their prescription drug coverage.

"Overall, roughly a third of voters say that a candidate who voted for the health reform law will be more likely to get their vote, a third say less likely, and a third say it doesn't really matter," said the foundation, which studies and distributes information about health-care policy.

When voters were pressed to choose the issue most important to them, "economic concerns came out on top, with 29 percent naming either the economy or unemployment," the foundation said. Thirteen percent mentioned dissatisfaction with government, 12 percent mentioned health care, and 9 percent each pointed to the Gulf Coast oil spill and the budget deficit, the survey found.

The full impact of the health-care legislation will not be felt until 2014, when some of the most far-reaching and controversial elements take effect. Those include an end to discrimination by insurers based on preexisting conditions and a requirement that everyone carry health insurance.

The Kaiser tracking poll was conducted June 17 through 22 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points, the foundation said.

SUPREME COURT - More on Kagan's Confirmation

"Kagan may get confirmed, but Thurgood Marshall can forget it" by Dana Milbank, Washington Post 6/29/2010


Oppo researchers digging into Elena Kagan's past didn't get the goods on the Supreme Court nominee -- but they did get the Thurgood.

As confirmation hearings opened Monday afternoon, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the unusual approach of attacking Kagan because she admired the late justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked more than two decades ago.

"Justice Marshall's judicial philosophy," said Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, "is not what I would consider to be mainstream." Kyl -- the lone member of the panel in shirtsleeves for the big event -- was ready for a scrap. Marshall "might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge," he said.

It was, to say the least, a curious strategy to go after Marshall, the iconic civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown vs. Board of Education. Did Republicans think it would help their cause to criticize the first African American on the Supreme Court, a revered figure who has been celebrated with an airport, a postage stamp and a Broadway show? The guy is a saint -- literally. Marshall this spring was added to the Episcopal Church's list of "Holy Women and Holy Men," which the Episcopal Diocese of New York says "is akin to being granted sainthood."

With Kagan's confirmation hearings expected to last most of the week, Republicans may still have time to make cases against Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

Hay, enjoy the show as the GOP continues to shoot themselves in the foot.

OIL SPILL - Opinion, GOP Failure

"Gulf oil spill disaster demonstrates that GOP fails to accept reality" by David Heller, Morning Call 6/28/2010

The Gulf disaster clearly demonstrates Republicans are not serious about protecting the environment or worker safety. It is now obvious that all the major energy companies have been simply cutting and pasting the same bogus response plan for years. The president has prudently placed a temporary moratorium on new drilling operations until these companies can demonstrate fundamental safety measures are in place. This doesn't shut down existing production; it affects only new, deep-water drilling. If energy companies had these measures in place as they had claimed, it would not be an issue. How reckless do these companies need to be before Republicans start to hold them responsible?

We saw 11 Americans killed and are witnessing the worst environmental disaster perhaps in human history. Yet U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R- Louisiana, tells us the moratorium is "based on unfounded science. It is not really based on any knowledge of technology or facts on the ground." Huh? On what planet does this gentleman spend most of his time?

Debating how to solve the energy problem is a healthy part of our democratic process. But how can we have the debate when half of our leadership refuses to acknowledge reality?

Totally agree. But remember what the GOP worships: Money, non-regulation, and corporations BEFORE individual people.

SUPREME COURT - Opinion on Chief Justice Roberts

"The Roberts Court Comes of Age" by ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times 6/29/2010


Last June, the Supreme Court term ended with restraint and a cliffhanger, as the court left the Voting Rights Act intact and ordered re-argument in Citizens United, the big campaign finance case.

A year later, the profile of the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is fundamentally changed. Judicial minimalism is gone, and the court has entered an assertive and sometimes unpredictable phase.

That will only intensify with the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, a 35-year veteran of the court and the leader of its liberal wing, and his likely replacement by Elena Kagan, the solicitor general, whose confirmation hearings in the Senate are under way this week.

Chief Justice Roberts, who joined the court five years ago, took control of it this year, pushing hard on issues of core concern to him, including campaign finance, gun rights and criminal procedure, even as he found common ground with his colleagues, including some liberals, on an array of other issues.

He was in the majority 92 percent of the time, more than any other justice. Last year that distinction went to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is often regarded as the court’s swing vote.

“More than in any other year since he became chief justice, this has truly become the Roberts court,” said Gregory G. Garre, who served as solicitor general in the administration of George W. Bush and is now at Latham & Watkins.

While I'm not a fan of Justice Roberts, I have to say he turned out not to be as "bad" as I had expected. But time will tell.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

POLITICS - Congressional Reluctance and States

"As States Cut Public Workers, Congress Is Reluctant to Act" by Annie Lowrey, Washington Independent (non-profit news) 6/29/10


For tens of thousands of America’s teachers, it is the start of an endless summer. In the past month, the Los Angeles Unified School District has sent pink slips to 693 employees. The Detroit school system has laid off 1,983 teachers, including Michigan’s 2007 teacher of the year. And Greensboro, N.C., has received national attention, as its supervisor has fired or reassigned more than 500 teachers in a district serving just 71,000 students.

In 2010, the Obama administration has estimated, school districts across the country might lay off as many as 300,000 employees, many of them teachers. That would be five times the number of layoffs in 2009, and ten times the number of layoffs in 2008.

These pink-slipped teachers are just the first and most noticeable wave of public-sector employees getting the chop as states slash their budgets. (Schools need to notify teachers that they might be laid off at the end of spring or beginning of summer in order to officially let them go before school comes into session in the fall.) As state and local governments prepare to begin their new fiscal year on July 1, they are frantically cutting not just teachers, but social workers, firefighters and police officers. Oakland, Calif., is firing 80 police officers, more than 10 percent of the current force. New Jersey and New York are bracing for state-wide cuts in governmental offices.

The reason? Last year, the federal government provided stimulus funds for states to make up their yawning budget gaps. (Every state save for Vermont is required to keep a balanced budget.) This year, Congress has declined to step in.

It looks like 2010 might be the annus horribilis for those state budgets, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Even though state tax revenues are starting to rebound a little bit, the absence of the federal assistance from last year and the need to pass the [state Medicaid funding] and education assistance is huge,” Jon Shure, the deputy director of the CBPP’s state fiscal project, explains. “There’s reason to believe this year will be the worst.”

ECONOMY - Home-Town Example of Improvement

"Rising Home Price Streak Stretches to 12th Month" by KELLY BENNETT, Voice of San Diego (non-profit news) 6/29/2010

San Diego County home prices rose 11.7 percent in April compared to same time last year. And prices were up 0.7 percent between this March and April, the 12th in a string of consecutive monthly price increases since prices hit a low last spring.

The numbers out this morning from the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index show the one of the last months of the scramble for the federal homebuyer's tax credit. The analysts behind the index noted that though many metropolitan areas around the country showed these kinds of increases in April, this morning's report concluded that nationally, "home prices do not yet show signs of sustained recovery."

San Diego was the only market out of the 20 the index measures that did not dip negative in the winter months.

From the peak in November 2005, prices fell 42 percent to reach the market low in April 2009. Now they've roared back to a slighter 30.62 percent off the peak.

San Diego County prices are still 61 percent higher than they were in January 2000.

Broken down by price tier, the index showed across-the-board increases compared to the month before and compared to the same month a year ago:

  • Low tier (under $312,669): Prices were up 14.5 percent compared to April 2009, and up 1 percent from March.

  • Middle tier (homes priced $312,669 to $467,814): Prices were up 8.9 percent compared to April 2009, and up 0.5 percent from March.

  • High tier (homes priced over $467,814): Prices were up 8.3 percent compared to April 2009, and up 0.3 percent from March.

ENVIRONMENT - Dolphins in Southeast Asia

"Southeast Asia dolphins near extinction" by Lemery Reyes, Newsdesk (non-profit news) 6/24/2010


A rare breed of dolphins in Southeast Asia is on the brink of extinction, according to a conservation group.

The Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) are oceanic dolphins located in countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. In a 2009 report released by conservation group, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are an estimated 64 to 76 dolphins remaining in Cambodia’s Mekong River. The river runs over 100 miles through parts of Cambodia. It is also considered one of the major rivers worldwide.

Pollution, inbreeding and accidentally net deaths are cited as reasons for the decline of dolphins along the Mekong River.

“With such a high and unsustainable mortality rate, and marginal recruitment due to the large proportion of calves dying, the Mekong Population is likely to be the most critically threatened population of freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. With this population in serious decline, they face extinction in the near future, if immediate conservation action is not taken,” the study reported.

“These threats may all be additive or synergistic in their complex relationship to each other, making the overall conservation solutions very difficult. Integrating these health issues as one component of conservation, into policy development, will be crucial to the overall success of this project, to reverse the population decline and save the Mekong River dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) from extinction.”

WORLD - A View of Gas Disasters From India

"Bhopal gas victims still searching for justice after 25 years" by Don Clyde, Newsdesk (non-profit news) 6/29/2010


Victims of the Bhopal gas disaster that killed thousands and affected hundreds of thousands more say a new compensation effort by the Indian government is too little and too late.

It is estimated that over 2,000 residents in Bhopal were killed outright in 1984 after a leak of methyl isocyanate from a US-owned Union Carbide factory was released into the air. Aid groups estimate that up to 23,000 died over time due to the leak.

The Indian government on June 7, 2010 sentenced seven senior Indian officials to two years in prison for negligence, but they were released on bail and fined $2,000, according to

The soft punishment, 25 years after the accident occurred, incensed victims and activists. They say the government has responded by offering an additional compensation package and new cleanup efforts at the site.

Now, each family who lost a family member will receive about $22,000, while those who were permanently disabled by the accident will receive $4,000, according to the article.

Activist groups said it was not nearly enough. They said the compensation would only go to about 42,000 victims, but they estimate over 500,000 were affected.

“The government is doing this because they want to stop the anger of the people after the court decision, but we cannot accept this,” activist Abdul Jabbar Khan said in the report.
Indian activist groups have also blasted what they consider U.S. hypocrisy in its response to corporate industrial disasters. President Barack Obama forced BP to set aside $20 billion in compensation to those affected by the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

They also said it was a double standard that the Obama administration has strongly attacked BP officials, while there was no such action during Bhopal disaster.

Note that Obama was not in office in 1984 when the Indian disaster occurred. Frankly, Obama has enough on his plate dealing with the Gulf Oil Spill.

POLITICS - Opinion, Obama's Administration

"Obama's Unbelievable Winning Streak" by Peter Beinart, Daily Beast


So he hasn’t plugged the leak, and his poll numbers are sagging. Truth is, Obama has exceeded in 18 months what Clinton and Carter achieved in a combined 12 years.

I know this is supposed to be Barack Obama’s summer of discontent. The oil spill is still gushing; the economy is still floundering; the Afghan war is deteriorating; Americans don’t find him so charming anymore. But have you noticed that when it comes to actual policy, he keeps racking up the wins? This week it was financial-regulatory reform. One can argue about whether the bill the Senate passed will truly change the way Wall Street operates, but off the top of your head, can you name a more significant piece of progressive legislation signed by either of the last two Democratic presidents? Neither can I. And that goes for Obama’s stimulus package and his health-care reform as well. All of which means that, legislatively at least, Obama has exceeded in 18 months what Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter achieved in a combined 12 years. By summer’s end, he’ll also have shepherded two young liberal justices on to the Supreme Court.

Even on the foreign-policy front, Obama has been meeting with success. He’s gotten Beijing to revalue its currency, which has been a goal of America’s China policy hands for several administrations now. He’s gotten China and Russia to back new United Nations sanctions against Iran, and he’s dramatically improved relations between Washington and Moscow, drawing Russia closer to the West and further from China, which once looked like its emerging strategic partner.

To be sure, the summer of 2010 could go down as the moment Obama doubled down on his dubious Afghan war strategy, bringing in David Petraeus and thus tipping the bureaucratic balance against a significant troop withdrawal next year. And it could go down as the moment when the oil spill and the recession lost him his majority in Congress. But even if Obama never manages another legislative victory, he’ll already have pulled off one of the most impressive opening acts in American political history. The question is why we’re paying so little attention.

Need I say? I totally agree.

This is why, even though they deny it, the GOP is in a panic. I'm having fun watching the GOP tear themselves apart (Teabaggers, misstatements, in-fighting, etc).

POLITICS - Another Bad Bush Policy Gone

"Obama Reverses Bush’s Space Policy" by WILLIAM J. BROAD & KENNETH CHANG, New York Times 6/28/2010


The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a space policy that renounces the unilateral stance of the Bush administration and instead emphasizes international cooperation, including the possibility of an arms control treaty that would limit the development of space weapons.

In recent years, both China and the United States have destroyed satellites in orbit, raising fears about the start of a costly arms race that might ultimately hurt the United States because it dominates the military use of space. China smashed a satellite in January 2007, and the United States did so in February 2008.

The new space policy explicitly says that Washington will “consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.”

The Bush administration, in the space policy it released in August 2006, said it “rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space,” a phrase that was interpreted as giving a green light to the development and use of antisatellite weapons.

The policy also stated that Washington would “oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access or use of space,” a phrase that effectively ruled out arms control.

In secret, the Bush administration engaged in research that critics said could produce a powerful ground-based laser, among other potential weapons meant to shatter enemy satellites in orbit.

By contrast, the Obama policy underlines the need for international cooperation. “It is the shared interest of all nations to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust,” the new policy says in its opening lines. “Space operations should be conducted in ways that emphasize openness and transparency.”

POLITICS - PolitiFact's Obameter

"The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises" PolitiFact

Here's a screenshot of their Obameter as of 6/29/2010

POLITICS - Reminder, Banking Greed

"Greene Claims Banks Need Derivatives to Make Loans" PolitiFact Florida 6/28/2010

A derivative a day keeps the bad economy away. That seemed to be the message from Jeff Greene during last week's Democratic U.S. Senate debate between him and his opponent, Rep. Kendrick Meek. Talking about the subprime mortgage crisis, Greene, a real estate billionaire and investor, touched on the topic of financial derivatives:

"Do we have to regulate derivatives? Yes, we do. Cause when I did this in my investments, frankly, no one knew who could pay who. But derivatives have an important place in our economy. If there were not derivatives, there would be no bank loans at all today, because people want to get fixed-rate 30-year loans, but banks don't want to keep 30-year loans on their books," said Greene.

Derivatives have recently gotten a lot of criticism in the press for helping to fuel the ongoing economic crisis, so we wondered whether Greene was right that banks need them to make loans.

First, however, a little primer on "derivatives." The conversation could become very technical very quickly, so we'll just say that a derivative is fundamentally a contract between two or more parties. The value of the contract depends on (i.e. is derived from) some other asset. If you think that the U.S. housing market is on the verge of collapse, you can use derivatives to make a bet that will pay out only if you prove to be right. If you're wrong, you'll lose the money. In this context, banks can use derivatives as a form of insurance policy -- if the borrower defaults on his home loan, for example, the bank won't crumble because the derivative will pay out instead.

That said, let's look at Greene's statement.

We contacted numerous experts on finance, most of whom told us pretty much the exact same thing: Banks have been making loans way before derivative use became widespread, and as long as there is money to be made, banks will continue to make them. "A claim that banks won't make (sound) loans without derivatives is ridiculous," wrote Lynn A. Stout, professor of corporate and securities law at UCLA. John Cochrane from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business specifically said that "banks made lots of 30-year loans many years ago before ... derivatives were even invented."

Still, Greene wasn't completely off when he said that eliminating derivatives now could impact lending. Don Chance from Louisiana State University said that he agrees with Greene's underlying point but disagrees with the wording. It is likely that banks would "significantly" reduce giving out both long- and short-term loans, said Chance. Peter DeMarzo from Stanford agrees. "Eliminating all derivatives would ... very likely significantly reduce loan-making activity," wrote DeMarzo. Cochrane emphasized that derivatives allow banks to make more loans and to do so more efficiently. It is also thanks to derivatives that banks can offer loans to clients who are considered more risky, such as first-time homeowners.

Nevertheless, even without derivatives to help them hedge against risk, banks could still give out loans, even the 30-year fixed interest mortgage loans that Greene specifically referenced in the debate. Kenneth French from Dartmouth College said that if derivatives suddenly disappeared, the banking sector would undergo lots of restructuring, but "almost all the banks that remain would continue to make loans."

Jeff Greene said that "if there were not derivatives, there would be no bank loans at all today." Many of the experts we spoke with told us that Greene's underlying point that using derivatives makes it easier for banks to issue long-term loans is sound. Still, there was a consensus that Greene did take his argument too far by categorically declaring that banks would stop making loans. Banks were making mortgage loans before the derivatives that Greene was talking about even existed, and they would continue to make them even if derivatives disappeared tomorrow, albeit perhaps in decreased quantities. We rate this one Barely True.

Did you notice? "People want to get fixed-rate 30-year loans, but banks don't want to keep 30-year loans on their books."

Yes, profit over what's good for a consumer, aka GREED. Just a reminder that banks and mortgage companies are NOT in business for YOUR welfare. In my opinion, they are just above Snake Oil Salesmen..... on second thought, same level.

POLITICS - Elena Kagan's Confirmation

"Kyl says American Bar Association calls for 12 years of experience in practice of law" PolitiFact 6/28/2010


We downloaded a copy of a pamphlet published by the 15-member ABA panel that scrutinizes the records of appointees to federal judgeships and rates them as either "well qualified," "qualified" or "not qualified." (The ratings aren't binding, but they carry weight among many of the senators who ultimately vote on federal judgeships.

The pamphlet, "The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary: What It Is and How It Works," details the criteria used in the panel's evaluations.

"The committee's evaluation of prospective nominees to the federal bench is directed solely to their professional qualifications: integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament," the pamphlet says.

It goes on to say, "The committee believes that a prospective nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law. In evaluating the professional qualifications of a prospective nominee, the committee recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important. Distinguished accomplishments in the field of law or experience that is similar to in-court trial work — such as appearing before or serving on administrative agencies or arbitration boards, or teaching trial advocacy or other clinical law school courses — may compensate for a prospective nominee’s lack of substantial courtroom experience."

So there is some truth in Kyl's statement. The ABA panel's "own criteria" do indeed "call for, among other things, at least 12 years' experience in the practice of law," as Kyl put it. What he said also fits with the idea that the ABA panel "recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important."

But Kyl's statement leaves out what we think is an important qualifier -- that "distinguished accomplishments in the field of law or experience that is similar to in-court trial work — such as appearing before or serving on administrative agencies or arbitration boards, or teaching trial advocacy or other clinical law school courses — may compensate for a prospective nominee’s lack of substantial courtroom experience."

We realize that distinguished alternate career paths, by the panel's definition, "may compensate" for having less than 12 years of practice -- not "will compensate." But Kagan can make a pretty good argument that she has compensated for not having 12 years’ experience in the practice of law by instead satisfying the standard of "distinguished accomplishments in the field of law." She has, after all, served as U.S. Solicitor General, Dean of Harvard Law School and as a White House counsel -- at least three positions that we think most people would classify as "distinguished" achievements of a lawyer's career.

LAW - Immigration vs Jobs

"Does Immigration Cost Jobs?" 5/13/2010



Do immigrants take American jobs? It’s a common refrain among those who want to tighten limits on legal immigration and deny a "path to citizenship" — which they call "amnesty" — to the millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. There’s even a new Reclaim American Jobs Caucus in the House, with at least 41 members.

But most economists and other experts say there’s little to support the claim. Study after study has shown that immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby creating jobs. There is even broad agreement among economists that while immigrants may push down wages for some, the overall effect is to increase average wages for American-born workers.

Full analysis in article

LAW - Arizona's Immigration Law FackCheck

"Arizona’s ‘Papers Please’ Law" 6/3/2010



We’ll leave it to others to decide whether Arizona’s new immigration law is a good thing or a bad thing — but here we try to straighten out some of the confusing factual claims. First, a quick summary. Contrary to what the law’s defenders often say, the new statute does more than merely mirror federal law. For example:
  • It’s a state crime for an illegal immigrant to apply for a job, or to solicit work publicly.

  • The law also makes it a misdemeanor for a citizen driving a vehicle to stop to hire anyone if that "impedes" traffic.

  • Citizens will be able to sue officials or agencies whose policies interfere with vigorous enforcement of federal immigration law.

On the much-discussed issue of whether the law permits or encourages "racial profiling," we find:

  • The amended law allows police to consider "race, color or national origin" when deciding whether to ask somebody for proof of citizenship, but only to the extent already deemed constitutional by the courts.

  • It remains to be seen how police will interpret the law’s anti-profiling language in practice. State officials tell us they have yet to work out what factors police should be trained to use to establish "reasonable suspicion" of illegal status.

  • Federal officials are open to criticisms similar to some of those being made about Arizona’s law. A federal manual for training state and local officials says they may consider whether a person has a "thick foreign accent" or looks "out of place" when deciding whether to ask them about their immigration status.

Finally, we examine a widely circulated chain e-mail written by an Arizona state senator who supports the law, and find her claims to be misleading. The violence against ranchers that she describes is real, but it is the work of Mexican crime cartels, not illegal immigrants.


Recently, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer posted a video that uses a frog puppet to mock critics of the state’s new immigration law for not having actually read it. We’re asked to sing along with the amphibian as he croaks, "reading helps you know what you’re talking about."

Well, we’ve read it (take that, frog!). Below, we try to address a few of the questions and misperceptions that seem to go hand-in-hand with the get-tough statute that targets illegal aliens.

According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, there were an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants living in Arizona in 2008. The state wants that number to drop. In its first paragraph, the new law says that "the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona."

There's more analysis in full article

In my opinion, giving local LEOs power to ask "papers please" is totally wrong. This power belongs ONLY to Federal Immigration Officers.

SECURITY - And the Song Goes On

"In Ordinary Lives, U.S. Sees the Work of Russian Agents" by SCOTT SHANE & CHARLIE SAVAGE, New York Times 6/28/2010


They had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy teenagers.

But on Monday, federal prosecutors accused 11 people of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American “policy making circles.”

An F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago culminated with the arrest on Sunday of 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia. The documents detailed what the authorities called the “Illegals Program,” an ambitious, long-term effort by the S.V.R., the successor to the Soviet K.G.B., to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit more agents.

The alleged agents were directed to gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics, prosecutors say. The Russian spies made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons researcher, among others. But the charges did not include espionage, and it was unclear what secrets the suspected spy ring — which included five couples — actually managed to collect.

SUPREME COURT - Gun Law Update

"Justices Extend Firearm Rights in 5-to-4 Ruling" by ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times 6/28/2010


The Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The ruling came almost exactly two years after the court first ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller, another 5-to-4 decision.

But the Heller case addressed only federal laws; it left open the question of whether Second Amendment rights protect gun owners from overreaching by state and local governments.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said the right to self-defense protected by the Second Amendment was fundamental to the American conception of ordered liberty. Like other provisions of the Bill of Rights setting out such fundamental protections, he said, it must be applied to limit not only federal power but also that of state and local governments.

The ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, but its short-term practical effect is unclear. As in the Heller decision, the justices left for another day just what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protection. The majority said little more than that there is a right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense.

Indeed, over the course of 200 pages of opinions, the court did not even decide the constitutionality of the two gun control laws at issue in the case, from Chicago and Oak Park, Ill. The justices returned the case to the lower courts to decide whether those exceptionally strict laws, which effectively banned the possession of handguns, can be reconciled with the Second Amendment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

POLITICS - More From the GOP Loony-Bin

"Statement Regarding Comments Overheard On Stream Following Sarah Palin Speech" by Brandon Mercer, Fox40 Sacramento 6/25/2010


Thousands of people from California and around the world tuned in to to listen to a speech prepared by Sarah Palin Friday evening from the campus of California State University, Stanislaus. During that stream, other reporters in the media overflow room were heard on our microphone, due to the unusual circumstances of how we managed to bring the live feed.

First, FOX40 News was the only station streaming a live signal from CSU Stanislaus during Sarah Palin's presentation. Friday, we were told by officials organizing the speech that we were not permitted to beam a live signal direct from the dining hall where Sarah Palin was presenting. Instead, we were offered the opportunity to aim a FOX40 camera at a projection screen inside a room for assembled media several hundred feet from where Sarah Palin was speaking. They would not allow us to get a direct feed of audio, so we had to hold a mic up to their speakers. Our choice was either to not carry a speech of local and national interest due to the low-quality video and audio options, or to provide a signal by any means necessary. It was with the public interest in mind that we opted for the latter.

While our cameras pointed at the CSU screen, showing the CSU camera, several reporters for other stations walked in front of our camera. Also, again, since CSU did not offer us a direct audio feed, we had to put a microphone in front of their sound system. Other reporters were overheard on that, despite several warnings that we had a hot mic, and several thousand people watching.

Following Sarah Palin's address from CSU Stanislaus, several reporters were again heard making comments about the speech that some viewers considered inappropriate and unprofessional.

The comments overheard were made by reporters assembled from other newspaper and television outlets, and at no time was the voice of our photographer or our reporter heard on the stream. It's very likely that those reporters and photographers were unaware, or simply forgot, that there was one television station with an open microphone broadcasting to the world. If you did not hear their comments (refereed video below) captured by a viewer who was watching the live stream.

EyeBlast TV
(comments hard to hear, turn video volume full up)

OIL SPILL - What is This GOP Governor Trying to Hide?

"Bobby Jindal vetoes bill to open his office's records on oil spill" by Melinda DeSlatte, AP 6/27/2010


Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected a bill Friday that would have required him to make public and to preserve all his office's documents involving the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In his veto letter, the governor said the legislation would have hurt the state's position in future litigation against BP PLC, the oil giant that leased the rig which exploded April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and causing the disaster.

"This bill would allow BP and other parties with potential liability to the state to obtain information retained by any state agency responding to this tragic event," Jindal wrote, saying such access could jeopardize the state's position in seeking legal remedy for the spill's damage.

The Senate sponsor of the public records provision said Friday night that Jindal's veto was expected. He noted that the governor has repeatedly fought attempts to require preservation and open most of his office's records to public scrutiny.

DUH! "This bill would allow BP and other parties .... obtain information retained by any state agency," shouldn't ALL litigants have the RIGHT to this info? Is Jindal protecting the state OR protecting himself? (I'll vote for Jindal's self interest)

ECONOMY - Opinion on Economic Leadership

"Create jobs and tax the rich" by Warren Bennis, Washington Post 6/22/2010

Q: The overwhelming consensus among economists is that the economy needs another shot of short-term stimulus spending. But as the president and congressional leaders have discovered in trying to pass a new stimulus bill, voters want to start bringing the deficit down now. Is this one of those leadership moments when it is better to accommodate strong constituent beliefs rather than trying to convince them they are wrong?

Leadership is key here. And this is the time for Obama to deploy it.

The issue is not the false dichotomy between voters looking for a deficit reduction versus fiscal stimulus. Deficit reduction is a stale political gambit, which will require attention at some later time, but is egged on now by the conservative pundits and pols who can't think of any other intelligent thing to say except NO.

The president and his advisers must surely realize that the people most disenchanted are out of work and feel hopeless about getting future work; they need jobs now and without more fiscal stimulus and more spending, that won't be possible.

The president has to make that point loud and clear to the voters: Fiscal stimulus means more jobs, and the deficit can be reduced by taxing the rich.

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California, where he was the founding chair of The Leadership Institute.

That rabid howling you hear in the background is from the GOP and their big-money paymasters.

POLITICS - ....of GOP "Support" of Americans

"Do Republicans actually want America to fail?" by Alex Pareene, Salon 6/24/2010


Tomorrow, more than a million people who've been out of work for six months or more will lose unemployment benefits, because Senate Republicans and theoretical Democrat Ben Nelson joined together to block an already too-small package of half-measures designed to provide some modicum of help for the nation's millions of jobless people.

The vote was 57-41. Oddly, the side with 41 votes actually won. Because that is how the Founders wanted things to not work in this god-blessed nation.

Hundreds of thousands of public- and private-sector employees will also soon to joint he ranks of the unemployed (and hope they don't become the long-term unemployed, because no one much seems to care about them), because the bill could not be made quite weak and ineffective enough to win the support of the only two "moderate" Republicans alive (two women from Maine who never actually act on their "moderate" beliefs).

"It's unpleasant to think about, and I really hope it's not true, but it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy," Steve Benen wrote.

POLITICS - Arizona's GOP Xenophobic

"Arizona's Brewer: Most illegal immigrants are 'drug mules'" CNN 6/27/2010


A labor union representing nearly 20,000 border patrol agents and staff Friday disputed comments made by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that most illegal immigrants coming across the southern border are smuggling drugs.

Brewer initially made the comments earlier this month during a debate of Republican gubernatorial candidates. She repeated them Friday when asked by a reporter for the basis of the claim.

"Well, we all know that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules," Brewer said. "They're coming across our borders in huge numbers. The drug cartels have taken control of the immigration.

"So they are criminals. They're breaking the law when they are trespassing and they're criminals when they pack the marijuana and the drugs on their backs."

When pressed, Brewer explained that many are simply coming to the United States to look for work but "are accosted, and they become subjects of the drug cartels."

T.J. Bonner of the National Border Patrol Council told CNN that Brewer's claims were "clearly not the case." Bonner said that some undocumented immigrants caught by border patrol agents have drugs on them, and that they sometimes blame pressure from the drug cartels.

But, he said, those claims have little credibility because drug smugglers are typically transporting much larger quantities of drugs. And besides, he said, if what Brewer said were true, there would be many more prosecutions for drug smuggling.

Xenophobic = "Suffering from xenophobia; having abnormal fear or hatred of the strange or foreign"

For the GOP: "Strange or foreign" = ANYONE who disagrees with their world-view, especially if "they" are non-white, do NOT kowtow to Big Business, or (GASP!, horror) like Obama.

HEALTH - Diabetes Research, Artificial Pancreas

"JDRF Reaches Milestone in Artificial Pancreas Project in Partnership with UC Santa Barbara and Sansum Diabetes Research Institute" PR Newswire 6/25/2010


The University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Sansum Diabetes Research Institute (Sansum) announced today the achievement of a milestone in the Artificial Pancreas Project funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

The world's most flexible artificial pancreas system platform, currently being used in clinical trials around the globe, now has the benefit of compatibility with Animas Corporation insulin delivery products.

Animas Corporation is supplying its insulin delivery products to UCSB/Sansum and will be supplying them through the Animas Investigator-Sponsor Study (ISS) Program to other members of the Artificial Pancreas consortium, which comprises those teams participating in JDRF's Artificial Pancreas Project. The Artificial Pancreas System (APS) platform was developed in Santa Barbara by UCSB in collaboration with Sansum, and is being used by researchers around the world. The insulin delivery products provided by Animas seamlessly configure with UCSB/Sansum's APS.

"The APS platform enables researchers from around the world to focus on developing the core algorithms for the artificial pancreas without the burden that is associated with the integration of hardware, software and a human machine interface," commented Dr. Eyal Dassau, lead scientist for UCSB's Artificial Pancreas System. "The APS is the only system that allows fully automated closed-loop clinical trials and its design allows it to be expanded as new devices become available."

"Animas Corporation has been instrumental in supporting the addition of their pump to our artificial pancreas platform," commented Dr. Howard Zisser, Director of Clinical Research and Diabetes Technology at Sansum. "This milestone should improve the communication performance of the system while also expanding the number of possible research centers that can use it to help close the loop for automated insulin delivery for patients with type 1 diabetes. The extended communications range will also allow research subjects greater freedom during clinical trials."

"The significant progress that the researchers at UCSB have made with their artificial pancreas system is proving to be a critical component in allowing us to see a first-generation artificial pancreas commercially available in the near future," said Aaron Kowalski, PHD., Assistant Vice President of Glucose Control for JDRF and Director of the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project. "Building on the announcement we made with Animas earlier in the year, we are all aware of the near-term impact on quality of life that even a partially automated artificial pancreas system can have for people with diabetes, and we are excited to see this development move forward."

POLITICS - Special Comment on McChrystal Firing

with Keith Olbermann

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

POLITICS - The "Drill Baby Drill" Judge

with Keith Olbermann

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

TECHNOLOGY - Our Young and Cyberbullying

"Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray" by JAN HOFFMAN, New York Times 6/27/2010


The girl’s parents, wild with outrage and fear, showed the principal the text messages: a dozen shocking, sexually explicit threats, sent to their daughter the previous Saturday night from the cellphone of a 12-year-old boy. Both children were sixth graders at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J.
Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as "willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected.

Affronted by cyberspace’s escalation of adolescent viciousness, many parents are looking to schools for justice, protection, even revenge. But many educators feel unprepared or unwilling to be prosecutors and judges.

Often, school district discipline codes say little about educators’ authority over student cellphones, home computers and off-campus speech. Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have, educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.

I have to say the obvious. Parents, what are your adolescent children doing with cellphones (especially those that text) and using home computers unsupervised?

AFGHANISTAN - Two Views on Deal With Taliban

"Overture to Taliban Jolts Afghan Minorities" by DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times 6/26/2010


The drive by President Hamid Karzai to strike a deal with Taliban leaders and their Pakistani backers is causing deep unease in Afghanistan’s minority communities, who fought the Taliban the longest and suffered the most during their rule.

The leaders of the country’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, which make up close to half of Afghanistan’s population, are vowing to resist — and if necessary, fight — any deal that involves bringing members of the Taliban insurgency into a power-sharing arrangement with the government.

Alienated by discussions between President Karzai and the Pakistani military and intelligence officials, minority leaders are taking their first steps toward organizing against what they fear is Mr. Karzai’s long-held desire to restore the dominance of ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for generations.

The dispute is breaking along lines nearly identical to those that formed during the final years of the Afghan civil war, which began after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989 and ended only with the American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 100,000 Afghans died, mostly civilians; the Taliban, during their five-year reign in the capital, Kabul, carried out several large-scale massacres of Hazara civilians.

“Karzai is giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban, and he is opening up the old schisms,” said Rehman Oghly, an Uzbek member of Parliament and once a member of an anti-Taliban militia. “If he wants to bring in the Taliban, and they begin to use force, then we will go back to civil war and Afghanistan will be split.”

The deepening estrangement of Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun communities presents a paradox for the Americans and their NATO partners. American commanders have concluded that only a political settlement can end the war. But in helping Mr. Karzai to make a deal, they risk reigniting Afghanistan’s ethnic strife.

"Pakistan’s Plan on Afghan Peace Leaves U.S. Wary" by SCOTT SHANE, New York Times 6/27/2010


President Obama and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency both reacted with skepticism on Sunday about the prospects for an Afghanistan peace deal pushed by Pakistan between the Afghan government and some Taliban militants.

While Mr. Obama said a political solution to the conflict was necessary and suggested elements of the Taliban insurgency could be part of negotiations, he said any such effort must be viewed with caution. The C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, was even more forceful in expressing his doubts.

“We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce Al Qaeda, where they would really try to become part of that society,” Mr. Panetta said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Acknowledging that the American-led counterinsurgency effort was facing unexpected difficulty, Mr. Panetta said that the Taliban and their allies had little motive to contemplate a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan.

“We’ve seen no evidence of that and very frankly, my view is that with regards to reconciliation, unless they’re convinced that the United States is going to win and that they’re going to be defeated, I think it’s very difficult to proceed with a reconciliation that’s going to be meaningful,” he said.

POLITICS - ....of Wall Street Greed

"On Finance Bill, Lobbying Shifts to Regulations" by BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, New York Times 6/26/2010


Well before Congress reached agreement on the details of its financial overhaul legislation, industry lobbyists and consumer advocates started preparing for the next battle: influencing the creation of several hundred new rules and regulations.

The bill, completed early Friday and expected to come up for a final vote this week, is basically a 2,000-page missive to federal agencies, instructing regulators to address subjects ranging from derivatives trading to document retention. But it is notably short on specifics, giving regulators significant power to determine its impact — and giving partisans on both sides a second chance to influence the outcome.

The much-debated prohibition on banks investing their own money, for example, leaves it up to regulators to set the exact boundaries. Lobbyists for Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and other large banks already are pressing to exclude some kinds of lucrative trading from that definition.

Regulators are charged with deciding how much money banks have to set aside against unexpected losses, so the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents large financial companies, and other banking groups have been making a case to the regulators that squeezing too hard would hurt the economy.

Ah, yes. The barbarian's plea, so they can continue to pillage and rape our economy in the name of profit.

Friday, June 25, 2010

POLITICS - House/Senate Seal Deal on Financial Reform

"Obama: Reform will hold Wall St. ‘accountable’" AP 6/25/2010


President Barack Obama declared victory Friday after congressional negotiators reached a dawn agreement on a sweeping overhaul of rules overseeing Wall Street.

Lawmakers shook hands on the compromise legislation at 5:39 a.m. after Obama administration officials helped broker a deal that cracked the last impediment to the bill -- a proposal to force banks to spin off their lucrative derivatives trading business. The legislation touches on an exhaustive range of financial transactions, from a debit card swipe at a supermarket to the most complex securities deals cut in downtown Manhattan.

Speaking to reporters as he left the White House to attend an economic summit of world leaders in Toronto, the president said he was "gratified" for Congress' work and said the deal included 90 percent of what he had proposed. He said the bill, forged in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, represents the toughest financial overhaul since the Great Depression.
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"We've all seen what happens when there is inadequate oversight and insufficient transparency on Wall Street," he said. "The reforms working their way through Congress will hold Wall Street accountable so we can help prevent another financial crisis like the one that we're still recovering from."

Asked by reporters whether he can get the financial measure through the Senate, Obama said, "You bet." He said he will discuss the regulations with other leaders at the Toronto meeting because the recent economic crisis proves that the world's economies are linked.

Lawmakers hope the House and Senate will approve the compromise legislation by July 4. Republicans complained the bill overreached and tackled financial issues that were not responsible for the financial crisis.

OIL SPILL - The Legal "Fun" Starts

"Gulf Coast Attorneys File RICO Class Action Lawsuits Against BP" by Brendan DeMelle, Huffington Post 6/24/2010


Gulf Coast law firms Levin Papantonio, Eastland Law and others have begun filing a series of civil RICO actions in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama to hold BP accountable for the false assurances it gave the American people that it could handle a worst-case scenario deepwater oil spill. The suits allege that BP committed mail fraud, wire fraud and potentially other RICO predicate act violations when the company sought permits from the federal government for deepwater offshore drilling, knowing that it did not possess the technical expertise or equipment necessary to respond to an emergency such as the ongoing Deepwater disaster.

SECURITY - A Dangerous Law Proposed

The article reference that follows is dangerous because it lets the government decide an issue that impacts our Constitutional Rights without any review.

Why, the law would make it possible for the government to spy on citizens using the "backdoor" the law proposes.

"Say no to a government 'kill switch' for the Internet" by Bill Snyder, Tech's Bottom Line 6/24/2010


A proposed law would give the president sweeping new powers to shut down the Internet if he declares a 'cyber emergency'

A bad idea that keeps coming back

This sort of bad idea has been floating around Congress for a while. A year ago, a couple of senators proposed the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which would have given the government the power to shut the Web in an emergency and give it access to "all relevant data concerning [critical infrastructure] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access."

In effect it would have allowed, or maybe mandated, that back doors be built into private networks in case the government needed access in a hurry.

That bill was sidetracked during the health care debate, but the senators who sponsored it, Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), support this version. Snowe has even signed on as a co-sponsor, saying at a press conference, "We cannot afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before our government realizes the importance of protecting our cyber resources."

A price too high to pay

Yes, cyber attacks on this country's infrastructure are a serious potential threat, and it's reasonable to give the government the power to protect us. Certainly the apparent Russia-based cyber attacks on Georgia and Estonia show that cyber war, including massive DoS attacks, is more than science fiction.

Lieberman's bill, though, would create another bureaucracy within the already cumbersome bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security. It would be called the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC).

Bureaucracies have a bad track record when it comes to protecting individual rights. Just think how many innocent Americans have been denied the right to get on an airplane because they were mistakenly put on a no-fly list by Homeland Security. Once a bureaucracy labels someone a bad actor, getting the nameless, faceless functionaries to correct an error can be nearly impossible.

The bill has a provision that would grant broadband providers immunity from civil lawsuits if they cut service to a customer on the orders of the NCCC. At first glance that may seem reasonable, but the grant of immunity will make it that much harder for innocent people to gain redress if the bureaucracy makes a mistake.

As I said, I'm not a believer in conspiracies, and as much as I dislike this bill, I don't think that Lieberman and his co-sponsors are gearing up for some sort of dictatorship. But, there's no telling what the political landscape will look like in the future. In an age where the Internet has become one of the most important means of political expression, giving the government the power to shut it down is giving it the power to stifle free speech and dissent.

Of course, our government will deny any such usage (just trust us), as if the NSA is not already spying on citizens. This law will just make it legal.

EDUCATION - How Much is Your Child's Education Worth?

The title of this post asks the question that parents and our nations need to evaluate.

"School Is Turned Around, but Cost Gives Pause" by SAM DILLON, New York Times 6/24/2010


As recently as 2008, Locke High School here was one of the nation’s worst failing schools, and drew national attention for its hallway beatings, bathroom rapes and rooftop parties held by gangs. For every student who graduated, four others dropped out.

Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward. Newly planted olive trees in Locke’s central plaza have helped transform the school’s concrete quadrangle into a place where students congregate and do homework.

“It’s changed a lot,” said Leslie Maya, a senior. “Before, kids were ditching school, you’d see constant fights, the lunches were nasty, the garden looked disgusting. Now there’s security, the garden looks prettier, the teachers help us more.”

Locke High represents both the opportunities and challenges of the Obama administration’s $3.5 billion effort, financed largely by the economic stimulus bill, to overhaul thousands of the nation’s failing schools.

The school has become a mecca for reformers, partly because the Department of Education Web site hails it as an exemplary turnaround effort.

But progress is coming at considerable cost: an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school. Skeptics say the Locke experience may be too costly to replicate.

I do not have children, but my answer is, whatever it takes. Our nation depends (politically and economically) on well educated people.

Note that the majority of funding for this project is from the private sector. So what's the problem? It's their money, not taxpayer's. Replication depends on individual schools presenting a convincing program to get private sector support, which is doable.

WAR ON TERROR - Afghanistan & Pakistan

"Pakistan Is Said to Pursue a Foothold in Afghanistan" by JANE PERLEZ, ERIC SCHMITT, CARLOTTA GALL; New York Times 6/24/2010


Pakistan is exploiting the troubled United States military effort in Afghanistan to drive home a political settlement with Afghanistan that would give Pakistan important influence there but is likely to undermine United States interests, Pakistani and American officials said.

The dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal will almost certainly embolden the Pakistanis in their plan as they detect increasing American uncertainty, Pakistani officials said. The Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, preferred General McChrystal to his successor, Gen. David H. Petraeus, whom he considers more of a politician than a military strategist, said people who had spoken recently with General Kayani.

Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.

In addition, Afghan officials say, the Pakistanis are pushing various other proxies, with General Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with the Taliban leadership.

So Pakistan is trying to convince Afghanistan to trust the Taliban. Really?!

Reminder to my readers, or enemy is Al-Qaeda (the perpetrators of 9/11) and the Taliban is NOT Al-Qaeda. BUT the Taliban is still a political group that preaches hatred to the West, which means the USA.

OT - The Unbelievable Tennis Match

(OT = Off Topic)

I am not a big sports fan. I don't watch sports most of the time, with the exceptions of New Years Day college football (American) and The Superbowl.

One sport I have an interest in is Tennis. Mainly because I played with my dad when I was a kid (many decades ago). Of course, the premier game is Wimbledon.

On 6/24/2010 the "Unbelievable Tennis Match" was played at Wimbledon. A 11hr/3day game where John Isner won over Nicolas Mahut. The 5th set alone took 8 hours and 11 minutes.

"Isner beats Mahut in epic 11-hour match" AP 6/24/2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

CONSTITUTION - Immigration Law Ruling

"Texas federal judge rules immigration law unconstitutional" BNET 5/26/2010

A federal judge has declared unconstitutional an ordinance in a Texas city that, like a law proposed in Hazleton, prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, according to published reports.

In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle of Dallas said only the federal government - not a community like Farmers Branch, Texas - can enforce U.S. immigration laws, the Dallas Morning News reported.

"We are cautiously optimistic that the Farmers Branch ordinance will be upheld on appeal," Kobach said in the report.

Nina Perales, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers on the Farmers Branch case, praised the ruling and referenced the Hazleton proposal, which was struck down in a federal court in Scranton in 2007.

"This is the third ordinance that has fallen," Perales, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in San Antonio, told the Dallas Morning News. "At some point, Farmers Branch has to realize it is not worth the financial drain or the cost to race relations in the city."

Both sides in the Hazleton case await a ruling from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in the case in October 2008.

"It is pretty clear that the way these cases are moving through the appellate courts that this is an issue that ultimately the Supreme Court will have to decide," Mike Hethmon, general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, told the Dallas newspaper.

Whether local and state officials can regulate illegal immigration is a persistent concern, Hethmon said in the report.

Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, professor at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y., said he is monitoring the Farmers Branch and Hazleton cases, and noted a recent ruling in favor of Arizona, which had imposed sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

As lower courts continue to offer differing opinions on whether local government can regulate illegal immigration, it is more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue, he said.

"If there is a conflict between different circuits, then the case could end up in the Supreme Court," Yale-Loehr told the Dallas newspaper.

CONSTITUTION - Reminder, Religious Freedom

I am posting the following article as a reminder of what could happen in America if we allow the Ultra-Conservative Religious Right to use public law to enforce their religious dogma. Examples: Anti-Gay Marriage laws, or forcing Biblical Creationism on public schools.

America could end up with a Christian version of this:

"Saudi convicts 15 men, women for mingling at party" by ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI, AP 6/23/2010

Judicial officials say a Saudi court has convicted four women and 11 men for mingling at a party and sentenced them to flogging and prison terms.

The men, who are between 30 and 40 years old, and three of the women, who are under the age of 30, were sentenced to an unspecified number of lashes and one or two year prison terms each.

The fourth woman, a minor, was sentenced to 80 lashes and was not sent to prison.

The ruling was handed down on Tuesday at a court in the northern town of Ha'il.

The officials say the police saw the group partying until dawn last month. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam that prohibits unrelated men and women from mingling.

POLITICS - Tea Party Twister

"The Tea Party Conspiracy Theory" by Benjamin Sarlin, Daily Beast 6/23/2010


Florida Republicans are accusing the state’s Tea Party, which will have its own candidates on the ballot in about two dozen races, of being a Democratic front operation. Is it?

Have conservatives created a monster? Tea Party leaders are concerned that their brand is being used against them in the form of phony candidates that would split the conservative vote. A blowup over a newly minted third party in Florida has become the latest to draw their ire.

The Florida Tea Party, which will be on the ballot in close to two dozen state and federal races this November, is raising eyebrows by fielding a number of candidates with limited experience and campaign operations, including a handful registered as Democrats. Conservative activists have sued to stop the party from participating in the elections, and they aren’t the only ones upset—the state Republican Party is sounding the alarm as well in the strongest terms possible.

The accusations mirror similar claims in Nevada, where a Tea Party Senate candidate, indicted businessman Scott Ashjian, has been attacked by a number of Tea Party groups throughout the country as a fraud out to bolster Harry Reid’s re-election hopes. The Tea Party Express’ PAC even took out an ad to warn Nevada conservatives to stay away.

Twister, as in tornado


"Republican Party Spends Over $2 Million Fighting Tea Party Challenges To GOP Establishment" Think Progress


Despite a promise by RNC Chairman Michael Steele earlier this year that the “Republican Party will not to meddle in local races — especially GOP primaries featuring candidates backed by Tea Party activists,” the GOP appears to be focused on centrally planning their candidates. According to a report by ThinkProgress using Federal Elections Committee data, Republican political action committees controlled by current GOP members of Congress have spent at least $2,162,790 on establishment-picked candidates in primaries against tea party candidates.

HEALTHCARE - One of the Many Reasons We Needed Healthcare Reform

"U.S. scores dead last again in healthcare study" by Maggie Fox, Reuters 6/23/2010

Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The United States ranked last when compared to six other countries -- Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Fund report found.

"As an American it just bothers me that with all of our know-how, all of our wealth, that we are not assuring that people who need healthcare can get it," Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Previous reports by the nonprofit fund, which conducts research into healthcare performance and promotes changes in the U.S. system, have been heavily used by policymakers and politicians pressing for healthcare reform.

Davis said she hoped health reform legislation passed in March would lead to improvements.

The current report uses data from nationally representative patient and physician surveys in seven countries in 2007, 2008, and 2009. It is available here.

In 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, more than double that of any other country in the survey.

Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454.

This is a big rise from the Fund's last similar survey, in 2007, which found Americans spent $6,697 per capita on healthcare in 2005, or 16 percent of gross domestic product.

"We rank last on safety and do poorly on several dimensions of quality," Schoen told reporters. "We do particularly poorly on going without care because of cost. And we also do surprisingly poorly on access to primary care and after-hours care."


The report looks at five measures of healthcare -- quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.

Britain, whose nationalized healthcare system was widely derided by opponents of U.S. healthcare reform, ranks first in quality while the Netherlands ranked first overall on all scores, the Commonwealth team found.

U.S. patients with chronic conditions were the most likely to say they gotten the wrong drug or had to wait to learn of abnormal test results.

"The findings demonstrate the need to quickly implement provisions in the new health reform law," the report reads.

Critics of reports that show Europeans or Australians are healthier than Americans point to the U.S. lifestyle as a bigger factor than healthcare. Americans have higher rates of obesity than other developed countries, for instance.

"On the other hand, the other countries have higher rates of smoking," Davis countered. And Germany, for instance, has a much older population more prone to chronic disease.

Every other system covers all its citizens, the report noted and said the U.S. system, which leaves 46 million Americans or 15 percent of the population without health insurance, is the most unfair.

"The lower the performance score for equity, the lower the performance on other measures. This suggests that, when a country fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also fails to meet the needs of the average citizen," the report reads.

(click for larger view)

NOTE: The highest ranking for the USA is 4th for Patient-Centered Care.

OIL SPILL - Update, New "Setback"

"BP oil leak setback: 'Top hat' removed, oil flow unhindered" by Mark Seibel, McClatchy News 6/23/2010

Workers removed the "top hat" device collecting crude oil from BP's gushing Deepwater Horizon well Wednesday morning in a major setback to efforts to contain the leak.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the BP oil leak, told reporters in his daily briefing that the long term impact of the decision was uncertain, but video from the leak showed crude gushing unhindered into the water for the first time since the "top hat" device, also referred to as the Lower Marine Riser Package, was set in place June 3.

It was unclear how soon the top hat might be put back in place, Allen said. He said he had only learned of the problem as he was headed to the Coast Guard headquarters briefing room in Washington. A BP press statement later said the incident had occurred at 8:45 a.m. Central time.

BP called the measure temporary, but provided no information on when the device might be reinstalled.

The incident came a day after BP collected the most crude oil captured at the site -- more than 27,000 barrels, including 10,429 that were burned by the Q4000 drilling rig.

Allen said the Discoverer Enterprise drilling ship, which has been collecting oil through the "top hat," removed the device from the bleeding well after workers detected what appeared to be gas coming directly into the ship through a line that was being used to run warm water into the top hat to prevent a buildup of ice-like hydrate crystals. With the ship burning off thousands of cubic feet of natural gas each day, workers were concerned the gas might ignite, creating an explosive situation aboard the ship.

Allen said it was unclear how the gas came to be in the warm water line, but that initial suspicions centered on the possibility that a robot vehicle working near the top hat had accidentally bumped it and closed one of the vents through which the crude continues to escape. That may have increased pressure within the top hat, forcing gas into the warm water line.

Allen said workers would have to determine if hydrates had formed in the top hat and pipeline leading to the Discoverer Enterprise. If so, new pipe will have to be run to the top hat before collection can begin again.

Collection of oil through the Q4000, which draws crude directly from the well's blowout preventer and doesn't depend on the top hat, was unaffected by the incident, BP said.

HEALTH - Alzheimer’s Detection Breakthrough?

"Promise Seen for Detection of Alzheimer’s" by GINA KOLATA, New York Times 6/23/2010


Dr. Daniel Skovronsky sat at a small round table in his corner office, laptop open, waiting for an e-mail message. His right leg jiggled nervously.

A few minutes later, the message arrived — results that showed his tiny start-up company might have overcome one of the biggest obstacles in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. It had found a dye and a brain scan that, he said, can show the hallmark plaque building up in the brains of people with the disease.

The findings, which will be presented at an international meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association in Honolulu on July 11, must still be confirmed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But if they hold up, it will mean that for the first time doctors would have a reliable way to diagnose the presence of Alzheimer’s in patients with memory problems.

And researchers would have a way to figure out whether drugs are slowing or halting the disease, a step that “will change everyone’s thinking about Alzheimer’s in a dramatic way,” said Dr. Michael Weiner of the University of California, San Francisco, who is not part of the company’s study and directs a federal project to study ways of diagnosing Alzheimer’s.

POLITICS - Latest Washington "Believe it or Not"

"BP Is Pursuing Alaska Drilling That Some Call Risky" by IAN URBINA, New York Times 6/23/2010


The future of BP’s offshore oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico has been thrown into doubt by the recent drilling disaster and court wrangling over a moratorium.

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.

The project has already received its state and federal environmental permits, but BP has yet to file its final application to federal regulators to begin drilling, which it expects to start in the fall.

Some scientists and environmentalists say that other factors have helped keep the project moving forward.

Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency’s unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

“The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre,” one of the federal scientists said.

The scientists and other critics say they are worried about a replay of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because the Liberty project involves a method of drilling called extended reach that experts say is more prone to the types of gas kicks that triggered the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

Let see.... We have an oil company who has caused the biggest oil disaster in years in the Gulf and we are going to trust their (BP's) environmental review?!


Want to bet the GOP has no problem with this scenario? The phrase "fox guarding the hen house" comes to mind.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

POLITICS - GOP Doesn't Get It, Never Will

From Harry Hope, alt.politics.usa 6/22/2010


The evidence continues to pile up to suggest Republican lawmakers and candidates actively dislike -- on a personal level -- those who've lost their jobs in the recession.

It's been remarkable to watch this unfold of late.

One GOP congressman recently compared the unemployed to "hobos."

Several Republicans have blocked extended benefits for the unemployed.

In the House, GOP lawmakers tried to eliminate a successful jobs program.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) actually started pushing a measure to require the unemployed to take mandatory drug tests in exchange for benefits.

And now Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, in his infinite wisdom, wants the jobless to quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul has a blunt message for the millions of Americans who remain unemployed in the long-term:

"Accept a wage that's less than [you] had at [your] previous job" and "get back to work."

According to Paul, the issue is "bigger than unemployment benefits" and the Tea Party-backed Senate hopeful made his position on the matter clear in an interview with talk radio host Sue Wylie on WVLK-AM last week.

"As bad as it sounds, ultimately we do have to sometimes accept a wage that's less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work and allow the economy to get started again," Paul explained. "Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough love things that has to happen."

It occurs to me that, as bad as it sounds, ultimately someone has to tell Rand Paul to accept the fact that he's a bit of a nut-job.

Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough love things that has to happen.

Honestly, does this guy have any idea what the job market is like right now?

Does he understand the ratio of applicants to openings?

Can he appreciate what happens to a struggling family, that's desperate to get back on track, that loses meager unemployment benefits?

For the record, at 10.4%, Kentucky has one of the higher unemployment rates in the country.

One wonders if the state's jobless intend to vote in November.

And in the larger sense, I continue to marvel at the Republican Party's fundamental dislike of the unemployed.

It's almost as if the GOP finds the jobless personally offensive.

This just highlights the GOP philosophy: You are out of work because you are lazy and a bum. Take ANY job even if wages cannot pay for a dinner, or rent, or any other normal living expense. AND we have NO responsibility to anyone but our Paymasters (aka BIG Business).


"Unemployment extension fails for 3rd time" Reuters 6/25/2010