Monday, January 31, 2011

ECONOMY - Funding of Startup America Partnership

"Technology Cos. Commit Funds To Obama Program" AP, CBS News 1/31/2011

US Technology Companies Commit Hundreds Of Millions To Startup America Partnership

Three of the biggest U.S. technology companies are committing hundreds of millions of dollars to an initiative backed by President Barack Obama to encourage job creation and economic growth by supporting small businesses.

The program, called the Startup America Partnership, is aimed at helping entrepreneurs start businesses and help them grow. In his State of the Union address last week, the president encouraged such efforts to stimulate the economy.

Intel Corp. said Monday it is giving $200 million to the campaign, while IBM Corp. is investing $150 million. Hewlett-Packard Co. is also participating, but did not disclose if it was committing funds to the partnership. A Hewlett-Packard representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

IBM said its funds will be used in part to help mentor start-up companies, support software developers and expand mentorship programs.

Startup America is an independent private-sector alliance, working with the White House to support entrepreneurial businesses.

It will be chaired by Revolution LLC CEO and AOL Inc. co-founder Steve Case, whose Case Foundation along with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation will provide launch funding for the partnership.

The White House is making an effort to move away from the heavy government spending that it relied on to pull the economy out of recession to a business-friendly strategy to make the U.S. more competitive in the global marketplace.

The week, Obama will discuss innovation with technology business leaders on Tuesday.

Kauffman Foundation CEO Carl Schramm will be one of Startup America's founding board members.

"This partnership will bring together partners from across the private, public and non-profit sectors, working together toward a common goal: supporting the entrepreneurs who are the lifeblood of our economy," Schramm said in a statement.

POLITICS - Two Opinions on Republicans 2011

"The GOP again twists reality on tax cuts, deficit" by Stanley J. Suser (Letters to the Editor) Washington Post 1/27/2011

Sen. Jeff Sessions's Jan. 24 op-ed, "Economic policy that's stuck in reverse," was just the latest example of the right wing's propensity to play fast and loose with the truth.

Mr. Sessions contended that President Obama agreed to maintain current tax rates only if Congress would agree to increase federal deficit spending and that the president continues to resist any meaningful steps to secure our financial future. He further contended that Obama's chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, lashed out at Republicans for trying to lower the deficit as part of the effort to raise the debt ceiling.

Mr. Sessions, of course, is well aware that Mr. Obama intended all along to maintain current tax rates for 98 percent of the population and that it was he and his Republican brethren who refused to maintain the rates for this 98 percent unless the rates were also maintained for the remaining 2 percent (those making more than $250,000), which had a $700 billion impact on the deficit. Mr. Sessions also neglected to mention that it was Mr. Obama who set up the deficit commission to deal with our financial future in the face of massive GOP opposition that forced him to do this by executive order rather than more effectively through legislation.

Finally, Mr. Sessions's contention that Republicans have been trying to lower the deficit is laughable, given their insistence on maintaining income tax cuts and initiating estate tax cuts for the wealthy, which widens the deficit by close to a trillion dollars.

"Obama’s Re-election in 2012 Looks Good" by Paul Bedard (Washington Whispers), USNews 1/25/2011

Republicans aren’t as cocky about firing Obama in 2012 as they were just a few months ago. Aides to top GOP presidential prospects say the slow but upward trajectory of the economy could be a game-changer in the election.

Plus, they are up against a candidate who plans to raise $1 billion and operate two campaigns—one in the White House, the other in Chicago. That’s prompting B-list Republicans to reconsider plans to delay getting in the race. A quicker entry would give them more time to raise money, staff, and public awareness.

Which is why the Republican House will spend the next 2yrs trying to scuttling ANYTHING Obama does so they can blame it all on him, rather than ACTUALLY doing the people's business. It's their "Scorched Obama Policy."

MEDIA - New York Times and WikiLeaks

"For New York Times, a Complex Relationship With WikiLeaks, Government"
PBS Newshour 1/28/2011

AMERICA - Egypt and the State of the Union

"Shields and Brooks on Obama 'Recalibrating' Stance on Egypt, State of the Union"
PBS Newshour 1/28/2011

Excerpt from transcript

JIM LEHRER (Editor Newshour): Yes, yes, yes.

Speaking of -- back to other issues for a moment here before we go, how does the president's State of the Union address look to you three nights later, sound to you three nights later?

MARK SHIELDS (syndicated columnist): Well, it struck me, thematically, the president was masterful. I mean the American people expect optimism from their leaders. And he projected optimism. He captured the future. Americans want to live in the future. They want a -- they want the country to be forward-looking.

It just strikes me that there are two great problems in this country, I mean jobs and the economy. And we have got an economy where we have got record corporate profits, and we're not producing jobs for our people.

And we have got this incredible fiscal deficit, debt time bomb that is on a very, very short wick right now. And one party, the Democrats, address the first and want to talk about it, at least in terms of the economy, not particularly and specifically jobs but kind of want to go light on the second. And the Republicans only want to talk about the second and basically want to tiptoe around the first.

And it -- we have just got an incomplete dialogue going on.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree? We have got an incomplete dialogue?

DAVID BROOKS (New York Times columnist): Yes. Well, the country doesn't want to take the tough measures.

And what it takes is a president who not only gives a great thematic speech -- which I agree it was -- but who says, here's the tough measures. I'm going to call for some sacrifice on all of you. I am going to get out in front of you and lead this. And we're going to do some things, not only light-rail -- we're fine -- I'm fine with light-rail -- but maybe a little bigger than that to create real jobs. And I'm going to make some cuts and I'm going to raise some taxes.

That's the only thing that is going to avoid a fiscal crisis, which is imminent. 2019, our debt will be a trillion dollars. Our interest payments on the debt alone will be a trillion dollars. And so that is imminent.

And I think historians will look back on this Congress, both on the Republican side and the Democratic side, and say they gave good speeches, but the fact they weren't grappling with this with both hands at this moment, they will -- they will -- that will strike them as bizarre.

JIM LEHRER: Bizarre?


And think about this just in terms of the deficit. I mean, that doesn't -- that doesn't fill a prescription. That doesn't put a book in a child's hand. That doesn't put a plane in the air. It doesn't build a bridge. It's a transfer payment of people of ordinary income paying their taxes to bondholders.

And bondholders are overwhelmingly better off than the people who are paying the taxes. It is a terrible, terrible public policy to run up that kind of deficit. We -- this year, in fiscal year 2011, we will spend 24.7 percent of the gross domestic product of the country, the federal government will, and will collect 14.8. OK?

That's 10-percent difference. I mean, you can't do that. And I agree with David that -- I mean, we have been talking for 10 years about sacrifice. We were talking about George Bush not calling for sacrifice at the time of the war. We haven't had a leader call for sacrifice.

He mentioned it in the speech sort of as an abstract noun, but at no point did he say this is what I am asking of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Bowles-Simpson commission set it up. They put everything on the table. They laid the problem out. And I thought he really could have grasped that.

And we have all sat with interviews with President Obama, and he's always said: Next year, I'm really going to tackle the deficit.

Well, it is Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown at some point. And so I -- I want him to actually say, OK, this is the year we're going to talk about it.

And, so, I guess my reaction to the speech was very positive the first day, but it's gotten a little sour the subsequent days.

JIM LEHRER: Is it the same progression from you? He -- it sounded better the night he said it than he -- than it does now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's -- there is a little bit of the Gary Hart-Fritz Mondale race: Where's the beef?

You know, I mean, the question that Mondale asked of Hart was sort of a, in the future, we have got to get moving. We're a great country. We're this and that. He evoked our great days of the past, gave us a sense of confidence and optimism about the future. But it didn't come down to the action statement. Therefore, this is what I am asking of you, and me, and every American tonight.

And that's what is missing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

WORLD - Our "Life in a Day"

"Conversation: Kevin MacDonald, Director of 'Life in a Day'" by Jeffrey Brown, PBS Newshour 1/27/2011

Academy Award-winning director Kevin MacDonald has made gripping documentaries and dramas before, including "One Day in September," for which he won an Oscar, "Touching the Void," "State of Play" and "The Last King of Scotland." But his latest film is unlike anything he's ever been a part of, he says.

For "Life in a Day," a 90-minute documentary film, MacDonald, with help from a team of researchers, pieced together real-life footage selected from more than 80,000 YouTube submissions (which added up to over 4,500 hours of tape) all shot on July 24, 2010, from all over the globe.

Despite the radical differences that separate human beings on earth, MacDonald says the thing that stands out is how fundamentally similar we all are. The most common subjects? Children, love, work, illness and death -- the whole life cycle is played out in a single 24-hour period.

Life in a Day site (opens in new page)

ECONOMY - Financial Meltdown Finger Pointing

"Financial Crisis Commission Divided Over Causes, Culprits Behind Meltdown"
PBS Newshour 1/27/2011

ECONOMY - Opinion From the U.K.

"Conservative Austerity Idea Is Failing" by David Blanchflower, Bloomberg 1/27/2011

Sorry, fiscal austerity doesn’t work. For evidence, look no further than the U.K.

This can’t be good news for the U.S. political right, whose mantra has been: cut spending, put a lid on deficits, and growth will improve.

All sorts of good things, it is claimed, will spring from a turn to austerity that stops all this stimulus nonsense and prevents the Federal Reserve from doing more quantitative easing. Reductions in spending, according to a theory known as Ricardian equivalence, will do no harm because lower borrowing will automatically lead to higher private spending. Plus, of course, there is the notion of crowding out, meaning that reining in the public sector leaves room for the private industry to step in and all will be well.

This is dangerous hogwash.

There is little historical precedent in the real world, though lots of fantasizing in the made-up world of economic theorists, to suggest that fiscal austerity works. The best example of austerity’s failure is the double-dip that occurred in the late 1930s in the U.S., when spending was reduced too soon in a nascent recovery. In contrast, the U.K. didn’t have a double-dip because it was engaging in classic Keynesian spending as it began re-arming.

Claims are often made that there are examples where fiscal austerity has worked. But it turns out that this is generally due to the monetary stimulus that accompanied it, as in the U.K. under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The most frequently cited example is Canada, but it was able to cut interest rates while at the same time benefiting from the Clinton boom of the 1990s.

Back in Recession

Fiscal austerity has already been started in Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and this seems to be pushing all of them back into recession. Over the last four quarters, growth in Greece was negative and falling, and bond investors are once more demanding sky-high returns to compensate their risk. The excuse in these countries was that they have little choice because they are stuck in the European monetary union and don’t have the ability to depreciate their exchange rate.

The U.K. may be a purer case of the harm austerity at the wrong time can inflict. Britain now looks as if it is headed back into recession on fear about the damage that will be done by massive spending cuts and tax increases, which haven’t even gone into effect yet. Government ministers with their talk of austerity have already smashed confidence.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has said the economy was “bankrupt” and had “run out of money,” which of course is simply untrue. Prime Minister David Cameron and other ministers made similar unsupported claims, which seem to have had a deleterious effect on animal spirits.

Confidence Game

Despite the government’s claims that its intent was to raise confidence, consumer and business confidence tumbled right after the new government took office.

Businesses and consumers know what is coming and have cut back accordingly. Retail spending has flat-lined. The balance of trade is deteriorating. Unemployment is rising, and house prices have started to fall again.

Earlier this week, the Office of National Statistics reported that fourth-quarter gross domestic product slumped 0.5 percent while forecasters had expected a gain of 0.5 percent. The ONS suggested that bad weather -- as if the U.K. had any other kind in the winter -- had contributed to the decline and without it growth would have been zero.

Even so, this was consistent with a sharp slowing of the economy following growth of 1.1 percent in the second quarter and 0.7 percent in the third, which at the time led Osborne to pronounce that the government’s policies were working.

First-Quarter Forecast

There may be worse to come with the recently imposed rise in the national sales tax to 20 percent from 17.5 percent and more tax increases to come. My own forecast is that growth in this year’s first quarter will be negative, meaning the U.K. probably will be back in recession.

Too bad the government is in such deep denial. “There is no question of changing a fiscal plan that has established international credibility on the back of one very cold month,” Osborne said earlier this week. “That would plunge Britain into a financial crisis. We will not be blown off course by bad weather.”

That didn’t convince anyone.

The government’s Plan B to this point has been to count on the central bank to keep rates down and, if the recovery goes into reverse, do more quantitative easing. But with inflation rising, and minutes of the last meeting of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee showing signs of hawkishness, it’s hard to imagine that monetary policy will ride to the government’s rescue.

Fiscal austerity in the U.K. is failing. The only good thing to be said about it is that it might offer some lessons for the U.S.

Humm... (paraphrase) "Those who ignore evidence of history are doomed to repeat it." Republicans, you listening? (I doubt it)

AMERICA - A Hate Manual Behind LEO Attacks

"Investigators: White Power Guerrilla Manual Behind Attacks on Police" by Ryan Lenz, Southern Poverty Law Center 1/25/2011


Two men charged with attempting to kill police officers in Hemet, Calif., used what prosecutors are calling a white power “guerrilla warfare manual” to guide a nine-month campaign of terror and violence against the police department, its buildings and vehicles.

The anonymously written “White Resistance Manual” was posted on the website and contained do-it-yourself guides that Nicholas John Smit and Steven Hansen used to build such guerrilla-styled weapons as zip guns and “Panji boards” – spiked boards rigged with trip wires, according to Daniel DeLimon, a prosecutor with the district attorney in Riverside, Calif. “It’s basically a guerrilla warfare manual instructing people on different types of weapons, on creating weapons, on police investigations, basically how to conduct covert urban operations,” DeLimon told HateWatch in a telephone interview.

The manual is not the first to provide extremists with the know-how to turn militant. Similar antigovernment paramilitary manuals were circulated among private militia groups in the 1990s, and directions to build pipe bombs or create the neurotoxin ricin periodically appear on extremist newsgroups. Still, this manual’s comprehensive approach prompted alarm in an area of southern California that DeLimon described as a “magnet” for white supremacist ideologues. “We see all different types of propaganda,” he said. “But I’ve never actually seen this manual.” has since been pulled offline, investigators say, and the manual appears to no longer be readily available on the Internet. Its existence came to light when The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., reported details of police search warrants that were unsealed in response to a request from the newspaper.

POLITICS - Response, State of the Union 2011

"FactChecking the GOP Response" by DAngelo Gore, Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely; 1/27/2011



We fact-checked President Obama’s State of the Union address (opens in new page), but what about the Republican response speeches? We found two new claims that we haven’t covered before:
  • In the official response, Rep. Paul Ryan said that "trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high." He’s wrong on both counts. Trust has been lower, and government has been larger, in the past.

  • In her own rebuttal to Obama, Rep. Michele Bachmann said that the bailout cost "$700 billion." The net cost actually is estimated to be much less — $25 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

(below links open in new page)
In addition, the two Republicans repeated several false and misleading charges we’ve already written about. Our readers will be familiar with many of them, such as claims that the stimulus didn’t create jobs (it did), that the health care law hurts job growth (experts say the impact will be small), and that "16,500 IRS agents" will enforce that law (that’s based on a flawed, partisan analysis).


Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin gave the official Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 25. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota also gave a response speech that night to Tea Party Express activists. We found factual issues with both of their remarks.

Not So ‘All-Time’ After All

Ryan was off the mark with his claims about "all-time" highs and lows in the size and distrust of government:

Ryan, Jan. 25: When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn’t do any of them very well. It’s no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high.

Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert said that the congressman was measuring size of government by spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. In that case, Ryan’s "all-time high" claim is off by more than 60 years.

According to historical tables from the Office of Management and Budget, federal spending as a percent of GDP was 24.7 percent in 2009, and estimated to reach 25.4 percent in 2010. Neither of those figures even comes close to the real "all-time high" figure of 43.6 percent in 1943 and 1944.

Ryan was closer with his claim about public skepticism of government, but still not quite right.

Only 22 percent of those surveyed said they trusted the federal government "almost always or most of the time," according to an April 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press — the source for Ryan’s claim. That’s indeed "among the lowest measures in half a century," the report noted. But the Pew report highlighted other polls conducted over the years — by other organizations — with slightly lower percentages. Case in point, polls conducted by CBS News and the New York Times in October 2008, and by Gallup in June 1994, found that just 17 percent of respondents said they trusted the government most or all of the time.

Ryan’s suggestion that the level of government trust and size of government are somehow connected was also undercut somewhat by Pew’s research. "The current survey and previous research have found that there is no single factor that drives general public distrust in government," the report said.

Stimulating Falsehoods

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus program, was a target for both Ryan and Bachmann. Ryan repeated a claim that we already debunked about the increase in domestic spending under Obama.

Ryan: The facts are clear: Since taking office, President Obama has signed into law spending increases of nearly 25 percent for domestic government agencies — an 84 percent increase when you include the failed stimulus.

It’s true that domestic spending has increased, but not nearly as much as Ryan claims. As we’ve written before, the 84 percent figure is the result of a flawed analysis by the Republican staff of the House Budget Committee.

The partisan Republican report claimed that “domestic discretionary spending” increased 84 percent from 2008 to 2010 when including the stimulus. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report this month that shows (on table E-7) that domestic discretionary spending rose from $485.1 billion in 2008 to $614.2 billion in 2010, an increase of $129.1 billion or 27 percent. The CBO figures include all discretionary spending, including stimulus funds in 2009 and 2010.

Also, Ryan said the stimulus "failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs." As we wrote during the midterm elections, it’s just wrong to say that the stimulus didn’t create jobs. Ryan can say — as Bachmann did — that the program failed to keep unemployment at 8 percent, as projected in a January 2009 report by the administration when it was lobbying for the bill. But the nonpartisan CBO says the stimulus increased employment by between 1.4 million and 3.6 million people in the third quarter of 2010, compared with what would have happened without it.

Exaggerations by the Billions

Bachmann also resorted to exaggeration to make partisan points about spending.

Bachmann, Jan. 25: After the $700 billion bailout, the trillion-dollar stimulus, and the massive budget bill with over 9,000 earmarks, many of you implored Washington to please stop spending money that we don’t have.

Let’s take the most egregious exaggeration: "the $700 billion bailout." That figure is grossly outdated. Bachmann is referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which President Bush signed into law in October 2008. As the CBO explained in a November 2010 report, the "authority for the Troubled Asset Relief Program was originally set at a maximum of $700 billion; however, that total was reduced to $475 billion in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act." But the estimated net cost to taxpayers will be $25 billion after the government sells its stocks and the companies repay the money, as CBO estimated in its report.

As for her figures on earmarks and the stimulus, Bachmann is essentially correct — although she likes to round up. A trillion dollars is a nice round number, but that’s not how much the stimulus will cost. The CBO initially estimated it would cost $787 billion and now says it will cost $814 billion over 10 years. As for the "9,000 earmarks," Bachmann is referring to the 2009 omnibus spending bill signed by Obama in March 2009. That bill had 8,570 earmarks worth $7.7 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Close enough.

Bachmann not only exaggerates but is flat-out wrong when she repeats the oft-stated false claim about the need to hire "16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama’s health care bill." As we reported previously, the figure of 16,500 originated from a House Republican report that relies on false assumptions and outright misrepresentation. The CBO estimated in March 2010 that the health care law would increase IRS administrative costs by $5 billion to $10 billion over 10 years. But that money will not be going for "16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing" health care mandates. The IRS is mostly responsible under the new law for administering tax credit programs, not collecting penalties.

Health Care Misrepresentations

Ryan made several criticisms of the health care law, saying:

Ryan: What we already know about the president’s health care law is this: Costs are going up, premiums are rising, and millions of people will lose the coverage they currently have. Job creation is being stifled by all of its taxes, penalties, mandates and fees.

The long list includes false, misleading and not entirely true statements.

As we’ve written before, rising medical costs are the primary driver of increasing premiums, and that’s according to insurance companies and state insurance commissions. In fact, the CBO has said the law won’t have much of an impact on premium costs for most Americans, compared with what premiums would have been without the law. (Premiums have been rising well before the law, and were expected to rise without it.) Those on the individual market — persons who buy their own insurance — will see an average increase of 10 percent to 13 percent, but more than half of those individuals will get subsidies that reduce their out-of-pocket costs substantially. And the increase in premiums will be due to an increase in benefits in those plans.

Ryan spokesman Seifert pointed us to a Wall Street Journal article about some insurers claiming they were raising premium rates substantially — primarily in the individual market — because of the new benefit requirements in the health care law. But experts told us they would estimate a 1 percent to 3 percent increase attributable to the law, possibly more if the insurer offered stripped-down, minimal plans. Ryan’s office also cites a report from CBO on the impact of the law on Medicare Advantage — that’s the version of Medicare offered by private insurers. Medicare Advantage plans are paid more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare, and the law will slowly change that over time. As a result, Advantage plans won’t offer the extra benefits they now do, such as vision plans or gym memberships. CBO estimates that 4.8 million fewer seniors will choose to be on an Advantage plan by 2019, than CBO projected without the health care law. And the loss of extra benefits is valued at an average $67 per month per person. One could consider this an increase in cost for those seniors who use the extra benefits and then decide to pay for them on their own. At the same time, the change in Advantage plans saves the government $117 billion over 10 years.

Health care spending overall is expected to rise a bit — by less than 1 percent over a decade. That’s because about 34 million more Americans will gain coverage, according to the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

As for "millions" losing their current coverage, there’s truth to that, but context is required. The CBO estimated that 8 million to 9 million people who would normally have employer-sponsored coverage won’t get such an offer from their employers. The reason is that these are mostly low-income workers who will get subsidies to go buy their own insurance in state-based exchanges. (We’d note that it’s not clear that all of these workers have coverage now, but would be expected to have it by 2019.) Also, whether the law had been enacted or not, employers would be free to drop coverage.

Ryan reiterated the GOP claim that the law kills jobs. This time, he said it stifles job creation, but he again pointed to a CBO report that Republicans have badly misrepresented. CBO said the law would have a small impact on the labor supply, and that would be mostly due to workers retiring early or working less because they would have more secure health care options. Other experts have said the law would have a minimal impact on jobs.

Ryan also claimed: "Health care spending is driving the explosive growth of our debt. And the president’s law is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy." That claim was echoed by Bachmann, who said the law "could have a devastating impact on our national debt for even generations to come." But both politicians are wrong to make such claims.

The law is actually expected to reduce the deficit, according to the CBO, over the next two decades and beyond. It remains to be seen whether all of the cost-cutting measures will be fully implemented. But we went through various Republican claims about the supposed flaws in CBO’s analysis and found the GOP assertions to be mostly bogus.

Bachmann also wrongly said this about the law:

Bachmann: "[U]nless we fully repeal Obamacare, a nation that currently enjoys the world’s finest health care might be forced to rely on government-run coverage.

First, as we’ve said many times, the law doesn’t create a government-run system. Instead, it builds on our current system and adds a lot of new business for private insurers. Second, some studies on the quality of care worldwide have not put the U.S. at the top. A 2010 Commonwealth Fund study ranked the U.S. last among seven countries in health system performance. In other health outcome measures, the U.S. ranks 49th in life expectancy, according to the CIA World Factbook, and plenty of other countries have lower rates of infant mortality.

POLITICS - In House Tea Party Bully

"Terrified of tea" by Jonathan Allen, Politico 1/27/2011

When Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was named to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year, one of her Republican colleagues responded this way: “Is that a punchline?” Another simply said, “Jumbo shrimp. Oxymoron.”

Neither dared to attach his name to his comment.

Bachmann’s Republican critics may be sick of her grandstanding, but they’re more terrified of her tea party following.

In just her third term, she has developed a fan base like 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s: Energized, fiercely loyal and capable of making a critic’s life miserable with threats of political retribution. She’s also a huge media draw — whether it’s MSNBC, which lampoons her, Fox News, which promotes her, or CNN, which aired her entire State of the Union rebuttal Tuesday night. All that’s missing is a Saturday Night Live spoof.

It’s enough to make most Republicans think twice before crossing her — or at least wish they had.

Take Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Hours after POLITICO published his comment knocking Bachmann’s rebuttal to the State of the Union address, the second-term Utah Republican issued a statement, through Bachmann’s office no less, walking back his criticism.

“My primary concern with Congresswoman Bachmann’s speech was the timing of it relative to Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) official response to the President’s State of the Union address. I felt at the time the proximity of her speech was too near Chairman Ryan’s official response,” Chaffetz said. “I have since learned that the timing of Congresswoman Bachmann’s address was not simultaneous to Chairman Ryan’s official response. … Now understanding the true order of events, I would not have made the same comments to the media.”

That’s a far cry from his original assessment: “To try to upend Paul Ryan was just wrong.”

Chaffetz knows well the power of conservative grassroots movements, as he won his seat with a right-flank challenge to then-Rep. Chris Cannon in 2008 and is now looking at a primary challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch. Though he didn’t mention Chaffetz or Bachmann, the top strategist for the Tea Party Express said in a Thursday National Review Online story that Hatch won’t be targeted by the group in 2012.

Not everyone in the GOP is jittery about crossing the line into criticism when it comes to Bachmann or Palin.

Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, a tea party favorite in Illinois, isn’t backing down from his judgment that Bachmann miscalculated, even though he’s gotten some angry calls from her backers.

“She was out of line. She had no business stepping on the official Republican response to the State of the Union,” Walsh said in an interview with POLITICO. “I can say that to you saying I’m a fan of Michele Bachmann’s. She and I think the same on virtually probably every darn issue.”

But he said he understands why some other lawmakers may be less willing to go on the record with their gripes.

“She’s got a huge movement. She’s got a huge following,” he said. “I am sure that many politicians and elected officials do not what to upset that huge movement and that huge following.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) — who has a long conservative voting record — said he learned the power of Palin’s following the hard way after suggesting she stay out of Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary on a radio show.

“There was a firestorm in the office for about 24 hours,” he said, with people “questioning my Republican conservative credentials” in phone calls. “To Sarah Palin’s credit, you have a national network of very energized fans.”

Friends and critics alike say Bachmann’s trending toward Palinesque status in terms of her ability to generate attention and build a following. She raised more than $13 million for her last re-election campaign, roughly tripling an opponent whose $4.2 million haul would typically be considered prolific.

For any Republican who fears a primary challenge — or would like help for a general election — there’s no percentage in getting on the wrong side of Palin or Bachmann.

“The base loves them and if you want the base to love you, you have to love them,” said Republican strategist John Feehery, a former House GOP leadership aide. “If you don’t care about the base, then you can say whatever you want.”

But the reality is most Republicans do care about the base — and fear the consequences of crossing their stars.

Yap. Tea Party crazy and dangerous. Of course Republicans tend to be weak-spined when it comes to the Tea Party.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

NASA - Honoring Astronauts

"NASA honors astronauts lost from Apollo, shuttles" AP, Washington Post 1/27/2011

NASA is pausing Thursday to remember the 17 astronauts lost in the line of duty.

The so-called Day of Remembrance - always the last Thursday of January - takes on special meaning this year. Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the shuttle Challenger launch disaster.

Flags will fly at half-staff at NASA centers nationwide Thursday. In addition, NASA officials will lay wreathes at various memorials to honor the dead.

NASA's three space-related fatalities occurred within days of one another but years apart. Three astronauts were killed in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire on Jan. 27, 1967. Seven more died aboard Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. And the seven-member crew of Columbia perished during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.

In the name of science and America. We thank you.

AMERICA - Missing Guns

"Lost and Loaded? 62,000 Guns 'Missing' from Gun Shops Since 2008" by DEVIN DWYER, ABC News 1/27/2011


ATF Data Reveals Alarming Gap in Gun Control, Brady Center Says

More than 62,000 guns disappeared from U.S. firearm dealers' inventories in the past three years without any record of being sold, according to a report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

The estimate means, on average, that dealers "lost" 56 firearms a day between 2008 and 2010.

In many cases, the weapons were likely stolen or sold under the table or on the black market, circumventing established registration procedures and background checks, experts said. Without a record of a purchase, the weapons are considered hard to trace.

"No wonder it's so easy for gang members and dangerous people to get guns," said Paul Helmke, president and CEO of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group favoring stricter gun control. "It's obvious these folks aren't losing inventory -- they're selling it under the table or out the back door, feeding the criminal market."

Helmke said the numbers, first publicized by the Brady Center Wednesday after appearing in a public ATF slideshow presentation at a Las Vegas trade show last week, likely understate the extent of the problem.

The ATF data are based on spot compliance inspections of 20 percent of the more than 60,000 retail gun dealers in the U.S.

"The ATF doesn't have the staffing, the manpower, the money, or the authority to do what it needs to do," Helmke said. "And they haven't had a full time director since 2006."

The ATF, which has approximately 600 inspectors, conducted 10,500 inspections in 2010. Following those inventories, dealers could not account for more than 21,000 guns.

Dealers who improperly complete licensing forms or fail to report multiple handgun sales, among other violations, could face fines or have their retail licenses revoked. Sixty-seven dealers were shut down last year, according to the data.

"We always hear from the other side that Switzerland has lots of guns and they're safe," Helmke said. "But in Switzerland you have to account for them -- individuals even have to account for the number of bullets they have at the end of each month."

Also we need to take into account how Switzerland's militia is organized:

However, the Swiss Militia continues to consist of most of the adult male population (with voluntary participation by women) required to keep an automatic rifle at home and to periodically engage in combat and marksmanship training.

LEBANON - Premier Takes the High Road

"Next Premier of Lebanon Tries to Set His Own Course" by ANTHONY SHADID, New York Times 1/26/2011


Najib Mikati, a billionaire backed by Hezbollah to become prime minister of Lebanon, promised on Wednesday to forge good relations with the United States and declared that he would not interfere with an international tribunal expected to accuse members of Hezbollah of involvement in the assassination of a former prime minister.

The remarks by Mr. Mikati in an interview were a clear signal of an independent path that he hopes to chart in a country reeling from its worst crisis in years and navigating a new alignment of power in which Syria has emerged again as power broker. Mr. Mikati faces enormous pressure to denounce the tribunal, and his supporters and opponents acknowledge that his ability to hew to that independence will probably define his tenure.

“We cannot afford to have an enemy,” he said.

Genial and engaging, Mr. Mikati, 55, is buffeted by a breathtaking array of influences that embody this Mediterranean country’s fate. Though small and relatively insignificant on its own, Lebanon has long served as an arena for battles far greater than itself, entangling the United States and France, as well as Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region.

The tribunal is the latest incarnation of that contest. Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim movement, has sought to discredit it, accusing the United States and Israel of wielding the tribunal as a way to frame it in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. When Mr. Hariri’s son, Saad, Mr. Mikati’s predecessor, refused to denounce the tribunal, the movement withdrew its support, forcing the collapse of his 14-month-old unity government and setting off a bitter confrontation.

MIDDLE EAST - Ripple Effect?

"Protesters in Egypt Defy Ban as Government Cracks Down" by KAREEM FAHIM and LIAM STACK, New York Times 1/26/2011


The Egyptian government intensified efforts to crush a fresh wave of protests on Wednesday, banning public gatherings, detaining hundreds of people and sending police officers to scatter protesters who defied the ban and demanded an end to the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

The skirmishes started early in the afternoon, and soon, small fires illuminated large clashes under an overpass. Riot police officers using batons, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets cleared busy avenues; other officers set upon fleeing protesters, beating them with bamboo staves.

Egypt has an extensive and widely feared security apparatus, and it deployed its might in an effort to crush the protests. But it was not clear whether the security forces were succeeding in intimidating protesters or rather inciting them to further defiance.

In contrast to the thousands who marched through Cairo and other cities on Tuesday, the groups of protesters were relatively small. Armored troop carriers rumbled throughout Cairo’s downtown on Wednesday to the thud of tear-gas guns. There were signs that the crackdown was being carefully calibrated, with security forces using their cudgels and sometimes throwing rocks, rather than opening fire.

But again and again, despite the efforts of the police, the protesters in Cairo regrouped and at one point even forced security officers, sitting in the safety of two troop carriers, to retreat.

"Egypt’s Young Seize Role of Key Opposition to Mubarak" by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MICHAEL SLACKMAN, New York Times 1/26/2011


For decades, Egypt’s authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, played a clever game with his political opponents.

He tolerated a tiny and toothless opposition of liberal intellectuals whose vain electoral campaigns created the facade of a democratic process. And he demonized the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as a group of violent extremists who posed a threat that he used to justify his police state.

But this enduring and, many here say, all too comfortable relationship was upended this week by the emergence of an unpredictable third force, the leaderless tens of thousands of young Egyptians who turned out to demand an end to Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Now the older opponents are rushing to catch up.

“It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date and decided to go,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday with some surprise during a telephone interview from his office in Vienna, shortly before rushing home to Cairo to join the revolt.

Dr. ElBaradei, a Nobel prize winner, has been the public face of an effort to reinvigorate and unite Egypt’s fractious and ineffective opposition since he plunged into his home country’s politics nearly a year ago, and he said the youth movement had accomplished that on its own. “Young people are impatient,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t think the people were ready.”

"Thousands in Yemen Protest Against the Government" by NADA BAKRI and J. DAVID GOODMAN, New York Times 1/27/2011


Yemen, one of the Middle East’s most impoverished countries and a haven for Al Qaeda militants, became the latest Arab state to see mass protests, as thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in the capital and other regions demand a change in government.

But in contrast to demonstrations in Egypt this week and the month of protests that brought down the government in Tunisia, the Yemen marches appeared to be carefully organized and mostly peaceful, and there were no immediate reports of clashes. Predictably, the protests were most aggressive in the restive south.

In Sana, at least 10,000 protesters led by opposition members and youths activists gathered at Sana University and around 6,000 more elsewhere, according to local news reports. Some groups carried banners and wore headbands and sashes that were color-coordinated by opposition party.

The government responded by sending a large number of security forces into the streets, said Nasser Arabyee, a Yemeni journalist in Sana reached by phone.

“There are very strict security measures, antiriot forces,” he said, adding that security forces for the moment were closely monitoring the gatherings in the capital.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

POLITICS - That Old-Time Immigration

"Republicans want a return to workplace immigration raids" by Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times 1/27/2011


Republican lawmakers called on the Obama administration to return to the era of workplace raids to arrest illegal employees, an approach that contrasts sharply with the president's continued push to create a path to citizenship for "responsible young people" and deport only those illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes.

Deportations under Obama have reached new heights for two years running, statistics show, but Republicans said they would use their new majority in the House to press for more aggressive enforcement without any path to legal status.

Large-scale workplace arrests of illegal workers were hallmarks of the George W. Bush administration's approach in its final years. But two years ago Obama decided to shift enforcement efforts to focus on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.

Arrests from worksite raids for immigration-related offenses, such as using a forged driver's license or a fake Social Security number, have dropped by 70% since the end of the Bush administration, when a series of large raids of factories and meatpacking plants received national media attention.

Because Democrats hold a Senate majority and Obama has veto power, the GOP cannot force a change in the enforcement policy.

But with illegal immigration likely to be a hot-button issue in the 2012 campaign season, House Republicans on the House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement plan to hold hearings to criticize an administration they claim allows illegal immigrants to take American jobs.

Yap. Typical. Look backward, NEVER forward, and focus on beating Obama in 2012.

And, "we all know spiks are lazy, good for nothing, leaches." (paraphrase) Which they are NOT.Of course, also ignore that most Americans would not want the jobs these workers do for the same pay.

POLITICS - State of The Union Speech From L.A.

"That old familiar SOTU" by Doyle McManu, Los Angeles Times 1/26/2011


If every wish ever uttered by a president in the State of the Union address had been granted, we'd be living in a much different America.

Thanks to Richard Nixon, we wouldn't have to import foreign oil for our energy needs. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, we'd have a smaller federal government and a balanced budget. George W. Bush would have solved the dilemma of illegal immigration years ago. And thanks to Barack Obama, we'd have an economic boom, thriving green industries and an education system that even China would envy.

But State of the Union speeches are just that: wish lists. No president gets everything he asks for, even when his own party controls Congress. Just ask Obama.

Especially when House Republicans will concentrate on making Obama a one-term President rather than actually addressing problems of ordinary citizens.

AMERICA - State of the Union 2011

Rather than post the video, I am only posting the link to the full transcript with excerpts and my analysis.

Note the links in the article to other responses and commentary. Note that I've made links below "Excerpts" open in a new page.

"Full Text of Obama's 2011 State of the Union" PBS Newshour Transcript, 1/25/2011 (includes video of full speech)


View the NewsHour's Annotated State of the Union and Republican response for analysis and background

Watch more State of the Union videos, responses and analysis:
  1. Shields and Gerson React to the President's Address

  2. Rep. Paul Ryan Delivers GOP Response

  3. Shields and Gerson on the GOP Response

  4. Rep. Michele Bachmann Delivers Tea Party Response

  5. Watch Reactions From Lawmakers on Capitol Hill


We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

So true, but not much if we get stuck on money. There ARE things that are worth being paid for, that we NEED to pay for, NOT cut.


The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

Now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.

None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.

...that means SPENDING.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

About time.

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American. That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit – worth $10,000 for four years of college.

No comment needed.

Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.

Nice to propose, but likely? Not as long as big-business can contribute, in secret, to campaigns and party coffers. They like today's tax code with the majority of loop holes that benefit them.

Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.

What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition. I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business owner from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their parents’ coverage. So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.

This is the healthcare debate. In my opinion the Republicans are totally wrong on this subject. Seeing the Americans can get (afford) healthcare IS one of the things that is worth paying for. I see this as a moral issue.

Going back to what existed before the new law is NOT a good option. Reminder, in the past we had the healthcare system as it was BECAUSE Republicans always said "tomorrow" we cannot do it now, or "lets do this right." Result was NOTHING WAS EVER DONE, until 2008. Note I personally think the new healthcare law is flawed, but it IS a good start, and about time, and should NOT be repealed.

We are living with a legacy of deficit-spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.

I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.

Good luck on this one. This is a test for Republican thinking, cut with a scalpel or cut with an ax.

Side note: One of the major things I disagree with the Republican in dogma is their definition of "limited government" as I read it, "no or VERY little government." They believe government, at the federal level, never works. Well it does, especially in the realm of regulation and providing protections for ALL the people regardless of what state they live in. It is deregulation (or limiting regulation) that gave us Enron or the recent crash of our economy. No one was properly guarding the hen house while the greedy foxes raided it. Our old healthcare system was, essentially, a sink-or-swim system; if you could afford it you swim, if not you sink and die. We were NOT taking care of our citizens.

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.

Over the objections of anti Social Security Republicans? I will admit I am prejudice, I am retired and receiving Social Security.

Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.

We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.

Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote – and we will push to get it passed.

Ah! The bureaucracy. Again, good luck in consolidation. There are people in congress that have a vested interest in keeping the complex bureaucracy as is, because they have control.

My favorites are agencies that are mandated by law to a dual roll, promoting/supporting an industry at the same time as regulating it. Promoting/supporting ANY industry belongs in the Commerce Department, regulatory agencies should NOT be promoting industry. Another example is the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), food + drugs?! Drug regulation belongs in the Health Department.

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.


And the FINELY...

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools; changing the way we use energy; reducing our deficit – none of this is easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad – no matter how many homes are bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything’s possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working class kid from Scranton can stand behind me. That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.

That dream – that American Dream – is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. One day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000 foot hole into the ground, working three or four days at a time with no sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged. He had already gone home, back to work on his next project.

Later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We are a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company. I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree. I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try. I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will.”

We do big things.

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WORLD - New START Treaty; Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

"Russia OKs Landmark Nuclear Arms Pact with U.S." AP, CBS News 1/25/2011

Russia's lower house of parliament on Tuesday ratified a landmark nuclear arms pact with the United States that was earlier been approved by the U.S. Senate.

The State Duma voted 350-96 with one abstention to pass a ratification bill of the New START treaty. The treaty will now go to the upper house for final approval.

The New START would limit each country to 1,550 strategic warheads, down from the current ceiling of 2,200 and also re-establish a system for monitoring that ended with the expiration of a previous arms control pact.

The treaty's passage has never been in doubt in the Kremlin-controlled parliament, but Russian lawmakers wanted to counter a U.S. Senate resolution that accompanied its December's ratification with a similar motion.

Just like the U.S. Senate resolution that raised some Republican concerns about the pact without directly affecting it, the Russian ratification bill wouldn't interfere with the deal.

While the Senate resolution said the treaty shouldn't restrict U.S. plans to develop a missile defense system, the Duma ratification bill stated that the treaty can only be fulfilled if emerging missile defenses don't erode the Russian nuclear deterrent.

The Russian draft bill also mimicked the Senate resolution that mentioned increased funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal by emphasizing the need to modernize Russia's nuclear forces.

Neither the Senate, nor the Duma resolution would affect the text of the treaty, which is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" ties with Russia.

ECONOMY - Europe's Debt Crisis, Ripple Effect

"How Severe Is Europe's Intertwined Debt Crisis?"
PBS Newshour 1/24/2011

Just ANOTHER reminder that the economic crisis is not just American.

(full comedy routine)

Humm... EU loans sound familiar.... AH! Sub-Prime Loans!

My favorite lines:
  • Q: Why are people selling EU currency and buying U.S. Dollars?

  • A: Because the U.S. economy is so much stronger than the EU economy.

  • Q: Why is that Roger?

  • A: Because it's owned by China.

LAW - Loughner and Our Court System

Another example of home-grown insanity attack. Our own "terrorist."

Now lets see how our legal system deals with this one.

"Fair Trial for Loughner Poses Big Challenge for Court System" PBS Newshour Transcript 1/24/2011 (includes video)


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): Now, for a closer look at the legal and ethical issues at play in the Loughner case, we are joined by Laurie Levenson, professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor.

Let's pick up where Michael Kiefer just left off, Ms. Levenson.

This whole question about competency, we -- we heard this kind of disturbing story of him coming to court today, laughing as if to himself. We have heard lots of other stories about him. At what point does that begin to enter into the determination of the court about what charges to bring and how he's to be prosecuted?

LAURIE LEVENSON, Loyola Law School: Well, I think that the judge even today asked Judy Clarke, the defense lawyer, are there issues of competency? And she said, not at this time.

I think they're trying to sort this out. Eventually, they might send him out for a competency exam. They would send him to a hospital prison institution to be evaluated -- that could take months -- and determine whether he really understands the proceedings and can participate.

If he can't, he's sent to the institution to get better. And then, when he is better, they will have the proceedings. But if he's competent, they will just move forward.

GWEN IFILL: Now, not at this time, that doesn't mean -- that doesn't preclude her possibility of making this case later. Just today she wasn't prepared to make that case.

LAURIE LEVENSON: That's right. She is very -- moving very carefully here. There's a lot that needs to be sorted out.

They still need to know what the federal authorities are going to charge, whether they're going to seek the death penalty, what his mental state is, what his mental history shows. So, I think Judy Clarke is doing what she often does, play it close to the vest, not reveal anything more than she has to.

GWEN IFILL: You say -- you say what she often does. She's known in legal circles for these kind of -- making -- mounting this kind of defense before?

LAURIE LEVENSON: She has represented very difficult defendants in the past. Probably the one best known by your viewers is the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who also had some mental problems. She also represented Susan Smith, who drowned her children.

So, Judy Clarke is very familiar, both with the federal death penalty and then with mental issues as well. She needs to get the information from the government in order to decide what her tactics will be for her client.

GWEN IFILL: One of the things you would think she would be worried about is the possibility of a tainted jury. Today, they were talking about moving this back to Tucson, exactly -- exactly the place where you could imagine every single person they could call for jury -- a jury would have heard about this, if not all over the country. Why wouldn't she have objected to that today?

LAURIE LEVENSON: I think it's a matter of timing.

I mean, right now, as the reporter said, they're just dealing with pretrial matters and hearings. And I think she wants to appear as cooperative as possible. If they end up having this trial in Arizona, she's fighting for his life perhaps. She wants it to look like they're cooperating.

There will be a time, if there actually is a trial, for her to argue, it's unfair. There's inflammatory publicity. We have got to move it out, maybe move it to San Diego or somewhere else.

But she doesn't have to argue that now.

GWEN IFILL: How does one determine if someone is mentally competent to stand trial in a case like this, especially when there has been so much publicity about what seems to be instability on his part?

LAURIE LEVENSON: This is something that has to be sorted out, frankly, by experts, by the doctors, to make sure that this isn't a show, which some people will claim, that, in fact, he doesn't really get what's happening in these proceedings.

Now, it's a low threshold to be competent. And the odds are, he probably is competent. We have had people like Colin Ferguson, the freeway -- I mean, the subway shooter in New York. He was bizarre, but he was competent.

And there's two different issues here, of course, whether he's competent to stand trial, which is simply, does he understand what's happening? Can he participate? And then the separate issue of whether he will raise an insanity defense.

GWEN IFILL: And there's some evidence at least that the government has put forward that there is -- may have been premeditation involved in his actions, which leads one to think that that doesn't make him insane, if he can sit there and plot and plan. But I guess you could argue this lots of ways.

LAURIE LEVENSON: That will be much harder for him.


LAURIE LEVENSON: Gwen, you're -- you're absolutely right.

You know, if he's planning, and they have the writings by him that's calling it an assassination, and he's buying the ammunition, and taking the taxi, and then, on the day of the shooting, when he's told to get back in line, and he momentarily does that, that shows that he was functioning.

And the standard for insanity is no longer the one that we had before, when Reagan was shot. It's one that very difficult for defendants to meet.

GWEN IFILL: Is there a distinction to be made between the federal charges which are being brought against him and the state charges that we anticipate as well?


I mean, first of all, the state charges, we assume, will be the murder charges, probably going to be the death-penalty charges. The procedures are different. In the federal charges, he's starting to get some of the discovery here. I think he got a load of 250 interviews already for his lawyer to review.

So, the procedures are different. And, also, the tone of the courtroom can be quite different.

WORLD - Russia, Terrorist Attack

"Tajiks, Taxi Drivers Among Hardest Hit in Deadly Moscow Airport Bombing"
PBS Newshour 1/24/2011

"Deadly Blast Comes at Sensitive Time for Russia" by ELLEN BARRY, New York Times 1/24/2011


A suicide bomber attacked Moscow’s busiest airport on Monday, killing dozens of people and injecting new pain into a country already split along ethnic lines.

There was no indication on Monday night of who was behind the blast. Past terrorist attacks have been traced to militants in the North Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim region in the south of Russia. And the city was on edge even before the attacks, after ethnic Russian nationalists lashed out violently at migrants from the troubled region in mid-December.

The attack inflicted a deep injury on Moscow’s image just as President Dmitri A. Medvedev prepared to woo foreign investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The bomb — set off in the international arrivals hall of Domodedovo, the city’s glittering showcase airport — killed and wounded visitors from the West, something that has occurred very rarely in previous terrorist attacks.

But Russians were too shocked Monday night to focus on the implications.

The smoke was so thick after the blast that it was hard to count the dead. Hours later arriving passengers stepped into the hall to see the wounded still being loaded onto stretchers. Ambulances sped away crowded with three or four patients apiece, bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds. By nightfall, officials reported that at least 35 people had been killed and 168 wounded.

“They pushed them away on baggage carts,” said Aleksei Spiridonov, who works at an auto rental booth a few yards from the site of the blast. “They were wheeling them out on whatever they could find.”

Russia’s leaders have struggled, with a good measure of success, to keep militants from the North Caucasus from striking in the heartland. In March, two female suicide bombers detonated themselves on the city’s subway, killing more than 40 people — an act that the Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov claimed to have ordered, promising Russians that “the war will come to your streets.”

Mr. Umarov’s organization also took responsibility for the bombing of a luxury train, the Nevsky Express, which killed 28 in November 2009.

Monday’s attack could also have political implications, coming after a period of tentative liberalization. In the past, such attacks have strengthened the influence of Russian security forces and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin by firmly establishing security as the country’s top priority.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MEDIA - Keith Olbermann and MSNBC

Sad Day for America
"Olbermann's Exit Ends Tumultuous MSNBC Affair"
by SAM SCHECHNER and LAUREN A. E. SCHUKER, Wall Street Journal 1/24/2011

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

(Lets see how long MSNBC keeps this video online)

A liberal voice killed by internal business politics of the media business.

As noted by T.J. Walker (audio comment in WSJ article) MSNBC is a struggling network and decides to dump its top-rated personality?!

I see this decision as an example of WHY this network is struggling, decisions made from a board that does NOT really understand the business they are in. You don't dump a rating-magnet just because you don't like him, especially when your network is in trouble. You don't heal to outdated standards when your competition is betting you. What DOES matter to your network is YOUR VIEWERS like him.

NOTE: I just checked The Maddow Blog (at MSNBC) and see no comment from her on this, although she has been a fan and supporter of Keith. MSNBC gag order?

Keith Links: (both open in new page)

Keith on Daily Kos

Keith's Facebook

ECONOMY - Obama on Regulation

Missed this one when it was published.

"Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System" by President Barack Obama, Wall Street Journal 1/18/2011

For two centuries, America's free market has not only been the source of dazzling ideas and path-breaking products, it has also been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known. That vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people.

But throughout our history, one of the reasons the free market has worked is that we have sought the proper balance. We have preserved freedom of commerce while applying those rules and regulations necessary to protect the public against threats to our health and safety and to safeguard people and businesses from abuse.

From child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to our most recent strictures against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.

Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.

This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It's a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.

Where necessary, we won't shy away from addressing obvious gaps: new safety rules for infant formula; procedures to stop preventable infections in hospitals; efforts to target chronic violators of workplace safety laws. But we are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.

For instance, the FDA has long considered saccharin, the artificial sweetener, safe for people to consume. Yet for years, the EPA made companies treat saccharin like other dangerous chemicals. Well, if it goes in your coffee, it is not hazardous waste. The EPA wisely eliminated this rule last month.

But creating a 21st-century regulatory system is about more than which rules to add and which rules to subtract. As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens. It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices. And it means making sure the government does more of its work online, just like companies are doing.

We're also getting rid of absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money. We're looking at the system as a whole to make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation. And finally, today I am directing federal agencies to do more to account for—and reduce—the burdens regulations may place on small businesses. Small firms drive growth and create most new jobs in this country. We need to make sure nothing stands in their way.

One important example of this overall approach is the fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. When I took office, the country faced years of litigation and confusion because of conflicting rules set by Congress, federal regulators and states.

The EPA and the Department of Transportation worked with auto makers, labor unions, states like California, and environmental advocates this past spring to turn a tangle of rules into one aggressive new standard. It was a victory for car companies that wanted regulatory certainty; for consumers who will pay less at the pump; for our security, as we save 1.8 billion barrels of oil; and for the environment as we reduce pollution. Another example: Tomorrow the FDA will lay out a new effort to improve the process for approving medical devices, to keep patients safer while getting innovative and life-saving products to market faster.

Despite a lot of heated rhetoric, our efforts over the past two years to modernize our regulations have led to smarter—and in some cases tougher—rules to protect our health, safety and environment. Yet according to current estimates of their economic impact, the benefits of these regulations exceed their costs by billions of dollars.

This is the lesson of our history: Our economy is not a zero-sum game. Regulations do have costs; often, as a country, we have to make tough decisions about whether those costs are necessary. But what is clear is that we can strike the right balance. We can make our economy stronger and more competitive, while meeting our fundamental responsibilities to one another.