Special Comment from February 15, 2010
February 16th, 2010
Special Comment from February 15, 2010
A new report estimates that 20 percent of U.S. population has been infected with H1N1, the novel flu virus that caused a worldwide pandemic last year. That's about 57 million people in the first nine months the virus circulated.
The report, which projects actual infections from last April through Jan. 16, says the virus sent 257,000 to the hospital and killed nearly 12,000. (See this simple chart.)
These figures are much higher than the number of confirmed cases collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for H1N1 illness, hospitalizations and deaths.
The CDC estimates that about 70 million people in the U.S. have been inoculated with the swine flu vaccine. So with the 57 who've been infected, there's potentially 127 million people — 41 percent of the 308 million of us — who may be protected.
But the percentage is surely lower because some who received vaccinations were probably immune because of a previous H1N1 infection.
When the 2009 Novel H1N1 flu outbreak began, the CDC started tracking and reporting laboratory-confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The figures didn't include people who never went to the doctor or those who didn't get tested (or whose sample was used on faulty kits) to confirm their symptoms stemmed from H1N1. Some people may have had more serious complications that masked the symptoms. Others only had mild reactions — or no immune response — and may not have known they were infected.
The causes for several presumed H1N1 deaths last year remain pending with the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office.
Those are among the reasons why there's an undercount of H1N1 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. And that's why the CDC began working on a way to assess the true number of cases.
Researchers issued an early report tracking the U.S. pandemic from April through July that projected that each reported H1N1 case represented 79 actual cases and every counted hospitalization translated into 2.7 people who ended up admitted because of swine flu.
The next CDC report extended those estimates through October 17, 2009. Subsequent releases have projected the impact of the illness last year through Nov. 14 and December 12.
The most current report, issued Friday, extends estimation through Jan. 16. The upshot? Between 41 million and 84 million of us have had swine flu. (The 57 million figure is in that range.)
Since December, there's been declining H1N1 activity nationwide, but experts caution that a third wave of the virus could roar back before the flu season officially ends in May.
As of Feb. 6, no states were reporting widespread flu activity — the highest level — but Texas and 47 other states reached that status in October when H1N1 activity peaked.
Feb. 15, 2010, 12:42PM
Update: Toyota executives say the Japanese automaker may raise incentives or increase warranties as it tries to recover from a string of safety-related recalls. Group Vice President Bob Carter told dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando, Fla., that mechanics have repaired more than 500,000 of the 2.3 million cars and trucks covered by a recall for sticky gas pedals. Several dealers say people have the mistaken impression they are not selling cars because of publicity about Toyota Motor Corp.’s recall.
WASHINGTON — The government has received new complaints that bring to 34 the total number of alleged deaths in Toyota vehicles due to sudden acceleration since 2000, according to government data posted Monday.
The government has received complaints during the past three weeks alleging 13 deaths. The deaths allegedly tied to this problem happened in nine crashes between 2005 and 2010.
From 2000 to 2009, complaints alleging 21 deaths in Toyota vehicles had been filed with the government.
Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past four months because of problems with gas pedals, floor mats and brakes, threatening the safety and quality reputation of the world’s No. 1 automaker. The government typically receives a surge in complaints following a recall. None has yet been verified.
The new complaints reflect the heightened awareness of the massive recall among the public and underscore a flurry of lawsuits on behalf of drivers alleging deaths and injuries in Toyota crashes. Three congressional hearings are planned on the Toyota recalls.
The database also shows new complaints filed over the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid, which was recalled last week to replace braking software.
When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened its investigation of Prius on Feb. 3, the government had received 124 consumer complaints. Through Feb. 11, the government has received nearly 1,000 new complaints for a total of 1,120 complaints alleging 34 crashes, six injuries and no deaths.
Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair said in a statement it was “normal for NHTSA to receive an increase in consumer complaints after a recall is announced and the public learns of a safety defect.”
Alair said NHTSA takes every complaint seriously and is quickly gathering data on additional complaints “to help guide our examination of sudden acceleration, the Prius braking system, as well as other safety issues.”
Toyota officials did not immediately respond to the death allegations.
Should Toyota get its own tag now?
Early voting starts Tuesday
By APRIL CASTRO
Feb. 14, 2010, 9:59PM
AUSTIN — Texas Republican voters will have a chance to give their opinions on such issues as voter identification and federal stimulus spending through five nonbinding resolutions that will appear on the GOP primary ballot.
The resolutions, which include perennial Republican priorities that have failed in the Legislature, were chosen by the State Republican Executive Committee and are designed to send a message to elected leaders in Austin and Washington, D.C.
“These ballot propositions are Texas Republicans' chance to be heard on issues facing our state,” said Republican Party of Texas chairwoman Cathie Adams. “Voters should study the questions and then use their vote to speak directly to their elected officials.”
Early voting starts Tuesday for the March 2 primary election.
The top resolution would encourage the Legislature to “make it a priority to protect the integrity of our election process by enacting legislation that requires voters to provide valid photo identification in order to cast a ballot in any and all elections” in Texas.
The issue was among the most contentious during the most recent legislative session. A voter ID bill ultimately failed, but the matter is likely to re-emerge when the Legislature next meets early next year.
Democrats argue that the requirement would place undue hardships on some voters, discouraging them from taking part in elections.
Republican voters in Texas usually approve primary ballot resolutions. But because they are nonbinding, they'll have no practical effect.
Budget increase limits
The second proposition would require government bodies in Texas to limit annual budget increases to “the combined increase of population and inflation unless it first gets voter approval to exceed the allowed annual growth or in the case of an official emergency.”
Versions of both the spending and voter identification propositions appeared on the 2008 and 2006 primary ballots and were approved by voters.
The repeated efforts are to remind lawmakers, “You guys didn't take care of the issue last time, maybe you should this time,” said Bryan Preston, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.
Three other issues
Also appearing on the Republican ballot are:
• • Ballot Proposition No. 3: “In addition to aggressively eliminating irresponsible federal spending, Congress should empower American citizens to stimulate the economy by Congress cutting federal income taxes for all federal taxpayers, rather than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on so-called federal economic stimulus.”
• • Ballot Proposition No. 4: “The use of the word ‘God,' prayers and the Ten Commandments should be allowed at public gatherings and public educational institutions, as well as be permitted on government buildings and property.”
• • Ballot Proposition No. 5: “The Texas Legislature should enact legislation requiring a sonogram to be performed and shown to each mother about to undergo a medically unnecessary, elective abortion.”
While Democrats have used nonbinding resolutions in the past, none will appear on those ballots this year.
Early Voting has started now and is available until February 26th. General voting will be happening on March 2nd.
P.S. Mods, why don't we have a democrats or gop tag?
By Laurel J. Sweet, Jessica Van Sack, Jessica Fargen and Ira Kantor
Monday, February 15, 2010 - Updated 21h ago
As authorities searched for clues into what could have sent a University of Alabama neurobiology professor on an alleged killing spree, friends and family yesterday described Braintree native Amy Bishop as an awkward introvert on the brink of losing her teaching job.
Bishop’s husband, James Anderson, told the Herald his wife had been fighting the university for over a year about a tenure denial, and several months ago received a final decision. She was upset, but not overly emotional, approaching her appeal “like a game of chess,” he said.
Police in Huntsville, Ala., charged Bishop, 44, with capital murder after she allegedly opened fire on six colleagues at a faculty meeting Friday, killing three. Afterward, she calmly called her husband and asked him to pick her up as if nothing had happened, said police Chief Henry Reyes.
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Suit says the newborn she was given to nurse wasn't hers
The day after her son was born, Jennifer Spiegel was awakened about 4 a.m. in her Evanston Hospital room and told by a staffer, "Your baby wants you."
A patient-care technician then wheeled a newborn in and handed him to Spiegel, who breast-fed him.
A surprised nurse walked in while Spiegel was breast-feeding the boy and realized the mix-up, the Spiegels told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"The nurse saw Jennifer and looked very surprised. She told us ... 'I was just with your baby in the nursery,' " said Jennifer's husband, Scott, who was in the room at the time.
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WASHINGTON — The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.
The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.
It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the group’s spiritual leader.
Disclosure of Mullah Baradar’s capture came as American and Afghan forces were in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.
His capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations, at least in the short term, said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who last spring led the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review.
Details of the raid remain murky, but officials said that it had been carried out by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and that C.I.A. operatives had accompanied the Pakistanis.
The New York Times learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.
The Times is publishing the news now because White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region.
Several American government officials gave details about the raid on the condition that they not be named, because the operation was classified.
American officials believe that besides running the Taliban’s military operations, Mullah Baradar runs the group’s leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura because its leaders for years have been thought to be hiding near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan.
The participation of Pakistan’s spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan’s leaders, who have been ambivalent about American efforts to crush the Taliban. Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan — as they have quietly done for years — without endangering themselves. Indeed, American officials have speculated that Pakistani security officials could have picked up Mullah Baradar long ago.
The officials said that Pakistan was leading the interrogation of Mullah Baradar, but that Americans were also involved. The conditions of the questioning are unclear. In its first week in office, the Obama administration banned harsh interrogations like waterboarding by Americans, but the Pakistanis have long been known to subject prisoners to brutal questioning.
American intelligence officials believe that elements within Pakistan’s security services have covertly supported the Taliban with money and logistical help — largely out of a desire to retain some ally inside Afghanistan for the inevitable day when the Americans leave.
The ability of the Taliban’s top leaders to operate relatively freely inside Pakistan has for years been a source of friction between the ISI and the C.I.A. Americans have complained that they have given ISI operatives the precise locations of Taliban leaders, but that the Pakistanis usually refuse to act.
The Pakistanis have countered that the American intelligence was often outdated, or that faulty information had been fed to the United States by Afghanistan’s intelligence service.
For the moment it is unclear how the capture of Mullah Baradar will affect the overall direction of the Taliban, who have so far refused to disavow Al Qaeda and to accept the Afghan Constitution. American officials have hoped to win over some midlevel members of the group.
Mr. Riedel, the former C.I.A. official, said that he had not heard about Mullah Baradar’s capture before being contacted by The Times, but that the raid constituted a “sea change in Pakistani behavior.”
In recent weeks, American officials have said they have seen indications that the Pakistani military and spy services may finally have begun to distance themselves from the Taliban. One Obama administration official said Monday that the White House had “no reason to think that anybody was double-dealing at all” in aiding in the capture of Mullah Baradar.
A parade of American officials traveling to the Pakistani capital have made the case that the Afghan Taliban are now aligned with groups — like the Pakistani Taliban — that threaten the stability of the Pakistani government.
Mullah Baradar oversees the group’s operations across its primary area of activity in southern and western Afghanistan. While some of the insurgent groups active in Afghanistan receive only general guidance from their leaders, the Taliban are believed to be somewhat hierarchical, with lower-ranking field commanders often taking directions and orders from their leaders across the border.
In an attempt to improve the Taliban’s image both inside the country and abroad, Mullah Baradar last year helped issue a “code of conduct” for Taliban fighters. The handbook, small enough to be carried in the pocket of each Taliban foot soldier, gave specific guidance about topics including how to avoid civilian casualties, how to win the hearts and minds of villagers, and the necessity of limiting suicide attacks to avoid a backlash.
In recent months, a growing number of Taliban leaders are believed to have fled to Karachi, a sprawling, chaotic city in southern Pakistan hundreds of miles from the turbulence of the Afghan frontier. A diplomat based in Kabul, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview last month that Mullah Omar had moved to Karachi, and that several of his colleagues were there, too.
The leadership council, which includes more than a dozen of the Taliban’s best-known leaders, charts the overall direction of the war, assigns Taliban “shadow governors” to run many Afghan provinces and districts, and chooses battlefield commanders. It also oversees a number of subcommittees that direct other aspects of the war, like political, religious and military affairs.
According to Wahid Muzhda, a former Taliban official in Kabul who stays in touch with former colleagues, the council meets every three or four months to plot strategy. As recently as three years ago, he said, the council had 19 members. Since then, six have been killed or captured. Others have since filled the empty seats, he said.
Among the council members killed were Mullah Dadullah, who died during a raid by NATO and Afghan forces in 2007. Among the captured were Mullah Obaidullah, the Taliban defense minister, who reported to Mr. Baradar.
“The only man more powerful than Baradar is Omar,” Mr. Muzhda said. “He and Omar cannot meet very often because of security reasons, but they have a very good relationship.”
Western and Afghan officials familiar with the workings of the Taliban’s leadership have described Mullah Baradar as one of the Taliban’s most approachable leaders, and the one most ready to negotiate with the Afghan government.
Mediators who have worked to resolve kidnappings and other serious issues have often approached the Taliban leadership through him.
As in the case of the reclusive Mullah Omar, the public details of Mullah Baradar’s life are murky. According to an Interpol alert, he was born in 1968 in Weetmak, a village in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province. Terrorism experts describe him as a skilled military leader who runs many high-level meetings of the Taliban’s top commanders in Afghanistan.
In answers to questions submitted by Newsweek last summer, Mullah Baradar said that he could not maintain “continuous contacts” with Mullah Omar, but that he received advice on “important topics” from the cleric.
In the same interview, Mullah Baradar said he welcomed a large increase in American troops in Afghanistan because the Taliban “want to inflict maximum losses on the Americans, which is possible only when the Americans are present here in large numbers and come out of their fortified places.”
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mullah Baradar was assigned by Mullah Omar to assume overall command of Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan. In that role, he oversaw a large group of battle-hardened Arab and foreign fighters who were based in the northern cities of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif.
In November 2001, as Taliban forces collapsed after the American invasion, Mullah Baradar and several other senior Taliban leaders were captured by Afghan militia fighters aligned with the United States. But Pakistani intelligence operatives intervened, and Mullah Baradar and the other Taliban leaders were released, according to a senior official of the Northern Alliance, the group of Afghans aligned with the United States.
Foreign demand for US Treasury bonds and notes fell by a record amount in December as China reduced its holdings.
The Treasury said foreign holdings of US debt dropped by $53bn, surpassing the previous record set last April.
China cut its holdings by $34.2bn - meaning it is now the second-biggest US debt holder after Japan.
The drop in demand may mean that the US has to pay more to borrow, just as the government has to fund a record budget deficit.
In total, net purchases of long-term stocks, bonds and notes increased by $63.3bn in December, down from $126.4bn in the previous month, the Treasury said.
China was a net seller for a second straight month.
Its bond holdings amounted to $755.4bn in December, down from $789.6bn the previous month.
China has previously questioned whether the US bonds are safe and whether it can sustain its deficits. It has also questioned the US dollar's role as the world's reserve currency.
The impenetrable stupidity of Sarah Palin knows no boundaries. She wallows in mediocrity. Palin is the queen bee of a cult of personality where to be anti-intellectual is a trait to be rewarded. Ultimately, she presides over a confederacy of dunces.
People of color have many a shared experience that comes from being racially marked in a White society. One of my favorite examples of this social reality is the moment when a crime is announced on the evening news and we collectively grimace with the thought, "I hope he or she isn't black/brown/yellow/or red." I must also imagine that in a post 9/11 world, my Arab-American brothers and sisters likewise have a similar moment where they hold their collective breath in dread upon the announcement of some act of terrorism (real or imagined, in any part of the world).
Question: Do white people lower their heads in collective shame when they listen to Sarah Palin? Is there a moment where white folks shake their heads in mass and say to themselves, "Lord, I wish she weren't white?"
To be White is to be "normal," "invisible," and quintessentially "American." It is also the freedom to be an individual. When crazy white people bomb buildings, kill cops in the name of radical right wing politics, go on shooting rampages, or more generally just act like fools, it is never framed as a "White" problem. I would suggest that these actions are rarely, if ever, interrogated for what they reveal about Whiteness and/or white folk at large. In short, there is no "I hope that person isn't white" moment. Why? Because a given white person's actions are usually a reflection of their individual shortcomings, not a commentary on white people as a whole.
Efforts to communicate the essence of white privilege in American society are often made difficult because of the denial, fear, and vulnerability that comes from self-reflection about power. Moreover, in a time of economic calamity, white Americans are probably (and quite understandably) resistant to hearing about some "unearned privilege" when they are fighting for their financial lives. Surely, this is a time when conversations about the deep linkages between race, wealth, and white supremacy in the United States are an increasingly hard sell, even in so far as they remain especially true (as the old saying goes, "When White America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu...or worse").
Nevertheless, the need to discuss how race structures life opportunities remains necessary--and perhaps even more so--during our Great Recession. As opposed to the heavy theory and abstractions often favored by academics, scholars, and public intellectuals, I prefer practical common sense examples to prove my point. To that end, Sarah Palin is a perfect object lesson.
So, let's play a game of fill in the blanks. I will start:
If Sarah Palin were black she would have disappeared into obscurity long ago.
If Sarah Palin were black, her daughter's out of wedlock, "baby daddy drama" would have been presented as an example of both pathological behavior and a dysfunctional family that is symbolic of the social problems in that community. If Sarah Palin were black, never would the poor decision making by the Palin family be marked off as challenges overcome, or deeds to be valorized.
If Sarah Palin were black, her neo-secessionist husband would have been the death knell for her political career, because as we all know you can't trust "those people."
If Sarah Palin were black, her lack of intellectual curiosity, willful and cultivated ignorance, and lack of grace both written and spoken, would not be taken as "folksy." Instead, Palin would be viewed as unqualified for any public office.
If Sarah Palin were black she would be tarred and feathered as an "affirmative action baby."
What do you think? I agree with the general tenets in this article, but when I see Sarah Palin, I'm not ashamed she's white, I'm ashamed she's a woman.
Mr. Kim, however, did not attend a birthday bash at which top officials from the armed forces, the Workers’ Party, and the government pledged allegiance to him. While recovering from a stroke, he appears to be focused on grooming his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, for power by taking him on visits to factories and military units.
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Berlusconi’s Photoshop trick: using Milosevic’s methods?
by Viktor on February 12, 2010
When this photoshopped photo of Berlusconi came out couple of days ago, there were many here who immediately thought of another dictator – one who had much bigger influence on their lives, of course.
Source Belgraded gblo
A PSYCHOLOGIST has admitted she started an affair with a convicted child killer she had treated because she believed her romantic feelings would be of ''most therapeutic value'' for him.
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Flier: I was water deboarded
It wasn't what the doctor ordered.
A Manhattan surgeon said he was booted off a plane at La Guardia Airport yesterday after he asked for water for his pregnant wife when the cabin overheated.
Mitchell Roslin, of Lenox Hill Hospital, said he, his family and about 200 other passengers were stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours after the Spirit Airlines plane experienced engine trouble that made it difficult to ventilate the cabin.
Roslin -- who was traveling to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with his two kids and seven-months-pregnant wife -- said passengers weren't allowed to leave the plane and were refused water.
Flight attendants told him that it was "against corporate policy" to give out water before the plane took off and that they did not have "company approval," Roslin said.
When Roslin persisted, he was asked to leave the plane, he said. His wife, their son, 9, and daughter, 11, got off with him.
He blasted the discount airline, saying, "I guess you get what you pay for.
"I refuse to accept that people can't have a moral compass to give out water."Spirit did not return a call for comment.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), four upper-chamber Democrats — Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) — argue that including the public option would improve not only the Senate’s health reform bill, but also “the public’s perception of it.”
There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option….
The Senate has an obligation to reform our unworkable health insurance market — both to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices. A strong public option is the best way to deliver on both of these goals, and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules.
With the pressure increasing on Democrats to reach across the aisle, it’s not likely that Reid would take such a controversial step. Then again, there’s been no indication that the Republicans’ calls for bipartisanship are in any way sincere. And of course, Reid’s slumping popularity in Nevada leaves him with little to lose.
Washington (CNN) -- President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees Tuesday for two nuclear reactors to be built in Burke County, Georgia.
A new nuclear power plant has not been built in the United States in three decades.
The new reactors are to be part of an expansion of an existing nuclear facility near Augusta, Georgia, operated by Atlanta-based Southern Co.
The loan guarantees will help create 3,500 on-site construction jobs and 850 permanent operations jobs, administration officials claimed. The reactors will help provide power to over 550,000 homes and 1.4 million people, it said.
"This is only the beginning," Obama said during a visit to an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Lanham, Maryland. "We'll continue to provide financing for clean energy projects ... across America."
The president acknowledged that construction of new nuclear facilities will meet with some political resistance. Nuclear development has traditionally been opposed by more progressive elements of the Democratic Party. But nuclear power, he said, remains the country's largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions.
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Evan Bayh Won't Rule Out Becoming A Lobbyist After His Term Ends
A day after he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh declined to rule out a career as a lobbyist.
"I have no idea what I'm doing next," Bayh said in a statement to HuffPost. He would not elaborate further on his career plans when his term ends in 11 months.
Bayh offered a few clues about his next move in his retirement announcement on Monday: "At this time, I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning, or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor."
While it may be premature to speculate on Bayh's post-retirement plans, it's not too early to speculate about some things: Bayh is willing to rule out a run for president in 2012.
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The Media’s Billion Dollar Ad for Evan Bayh
The mainstream media has been giving Evan Bayh a big fat sloppy kiss for the last 24 hours. Every single story is about how moderate and centrist and independent he is. Golly gee willikers, Evan Bayh is such a pure and innocent person and he just couldn't take the corruption of Congress anymore. He was so fed up with the partisanship and like any great man decided he must strike out on his own and leave DC.
Come on, are these people this naïve or do they have a stake in this? Do you really think Evan Bayh only has pure motivations and was the last good man in Washington. This is absolutely absurd and on many fronts the exact opposite of the truth. No one made a deal with corporate lobbyists faster than Evan Bayh did. He wasn't sick of the problems of DC, he was the problem of DC.
Bayh masked his craven capitulation to corporate lobbyists with a veneer of bipartisanship and moderation. If he sold out to enough special interests, he could claim that he was on both sides. But the one side he was never against was business interests that fed him his campaign cash.
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A college student wants IM GAY on his Oklahoma car tag, and he is suing to force state tax officials to approve his request.
"I want to tell people who I am and what I am. I’m proud of it. I’m openly gay. I’m not hiding,” said Keith Kimmel, 28, of Norman. "What better way to tell everybody than to put it on the back of a car?”
The Oklahoma Tax Commission turned Kimmel down last year because of an internal rule against special license tags that "may be offensive to the general public.”
Kimmel points out officials allowed tags such as STR8FAN and STR8SXI. "They defended using ‘straight sexy.’ … They didn’t think that one was inappropriate but yet ‘I’m gay’ is. I think it’s kind of a double standard,” said Kimmel, a political science/pre-law student at Oklahoma City Community College.
In his lawsuit, filed Wednesday, Kimmel asks Oklahoma County District Judge Noma Gurich to order tax officials to grant his application for the IM GAY tag. His attorney contends the Tax Commission’s rule violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.
The attorney, Brittany Novotny, calls it "viewpoint discrimination.”
The Oklahoma Tax Commission has issued more than 54,000 personalized tags, a spokeswoman said. Tax officials Friday declined comment until after they could review the lawsuit.
During an administrative hearing last year, a Tax Commission attorney argued: "License plates — even personalized license plates — are not the private billboard for the person to whom they are issued. They are still a state license plate.”
A Tax Commission employee denied during last year’s hearing that STR8SXI was about sexual orientation, records show. "I think she’s trying to say, ‘I’m cute.’ … That’s just how … I personally interpreted it,” the employee said of the tag owner.
Asked about the tag VIBR8R, the employee admitted that could be interpreted as vibrator.
"That definitely slipped through our process,” the employee said.
The three tax commissioners in October upheld the decision to deny Kimmel’s application.
They agreed Kimmel failed to prove during the administrative hearing that his proposed tag would not be offensive to the general public.
Kimmel said he will appeal if he loses before Judge Gurich.
I love how the one Tax Comission attorney says that vanity plates aren't a private billboard. Last I knew, that's what vanity plates were all about.
Dropping in on the Tea Party
It's hard to imagine how a town like Leitchfield (population: 6,139) in central Kentucky could survive without government. Sitting between Nolin and Rough River Lakes, it's on the way to nowhere in particular, so no private interest would build a road to it. In surrounding Grayson County more than one in five people and one in three children is on food stamps, so no one would feed it. It does not produce enough wealth to sustain itself. Unemployment, long in double figures, stands at 16 percent. One in five lives below the poverty line; the median income is $35,011. Were it not for the redistributive effects of taxation, its residents would literally go nowhere and many would be incredibly hungry when they got there.
But when Republican Senate primary hopeful Rand Paul arrived in town in December to argue that the spread of government represents America's greatest threat, he had an eager audience. Paul, the son of Congressman Ron Paul, who attracted a huge libertarian following during the last presidential election, was the insurgent tea party candidate in May's primary. Now he's the front-runner. According to a Rasmussen poll he leads both potential Democratic rivals.
He now wears the glass slipper that is Sarah Palin's endorsement.
Just when you thought the Republican Party could not get more right wing, along came the tea party movement--people who fault George W. Bush for not being conservative enough. The temptation of liberals to deride this tendency has, for some, been irresistible. There are mad hatters here, for sure. According to a recent Daily Kos poll of self-identified Republicans, 36 percent believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States, almost a third think he is a racist who hates white people and almost a third believe contraceptives should be banned.
But for all the derision heaped upon it, the tea party movement that began with people in period costume has become a serious electoral force. Rasmussen polls in December revealed that if the tea party were an actual party it would beat the Republicans; among voters not affiliated with either major party it was the most popular. As Paul's candidacy shows, these hypotheticals are becoming actuals. A year ago "moderate" Florida Governor Charlie Crist led unknown ultraconservative Marco Rubio 57 to 4. Then Crist embraced Obama and his stimulus package. Now Rubio is leading by 12 points and is favored to trounce his prospective Democratic challenger. A few days before I met Paul, I attended a tea party rally in Little Rock, Arkansas: it was 300-strong and standing room only. All the Senate candidates who plan to challenge Democrat Blanche Lincoln attended to kiss the movement's ring.
At this stage the tea party's influence can be exaggerated. A group of people brought together by things they don't like can easily splinter. The recent Tea Party Convention sparked as much division as unity, and a large share of its attendees were not participants but reporters. Still, it should not be underestimated.
Blasting bank bailouts and NAFTA, the tea partyers espouse a brand of populism that resonates in the absence of coherent analysis of America's economic decline coming from progressives and the administration. These may be people who voted for Bush twice, but they are not turning out for the same reasons as they did before. This time, their agenda is more economic than social. In more than an hour neither Paul nor any of the thirty-five audience members at Leitchfield's town hall meeting mentioned abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, creationism or religion in schools. "Remember when one of Clinton's aides said, 'It's the economy, stupid'?" Paul asked me afterward. "It still is the economy.... I'm not running for preacher. I'm running for office."
The movement is almost exclusively white. The fact that its agenda is informed by issues of race and its ranks infected with racism is undeniable, but the driving force behind it is clearly much more complicated. If Condoleezza Rice were president they would probably love her. And if Obama were half as liberal as his base thinks he is, he would spark opposition regardless of his race.
While some have drawn an equivalence between the tea partyers and Obama voters, the comparison is more asymmetrical. Obama launched a campaign that aspired to become a movement; the tea partyers have created a movement that is trying to gain electoral expression. The former found its focus via a candidate; the latter have no obvious champion. It's not even clear they're looking for one. (Most love Palin, but the movement would survive quite well without her.)
This movement's leadership is in the media. In the absence of Republican leadership it has been stoked by Fox News and talk-radio. Every Tuesday at a nonalcoholic Bar None in Lexington, a 9/12 Project group meets. This is Fox presenter Glenn Beck's initiative, aimed at returning America to the values it embraced the day after 9/11--not the outpouring of gratitude toward government workers, like firefighters and police but the flag-waving patriotic and religious unity that ostensibly engulfed the nation. Fourteen showed up the night I was there. A straw poll revealed that they blamed the entire establishment, not Obama alone, for leading America in the wrong direction. Half believed Obama is a Muslim, just one thought he's a Christian and the vast majority thought he was a communist, socialist and Marxist. None believed he was born in America; most said they did not know.
With words that could have come from a liberal in the run-up to the Iraq War, Abigail Billings chided the media for their incompetence: They are "not doing any research. They're not asking any questions. They're not reporting any longer. They're now opinionated talk-shows. They're no longer offering factual news coverage." Billings watches Fox News. And so does everyone else.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, was hospitalized Monday after taking a fall, his spokesman said. The 86-year-old Lautenberg, who is in his fifth term in the Senate, was taken to the hospital as a "precautionary measure," spokesman Caley Gray said.
"The senator is in great spirits and joking with the doctors," Gray said.
He will remain at the hospital overnight for observation, Gray said.
UPDATE: Communications Director Caley Gray says Lautenberg was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer Tuesday morning and "underwent a successful endoscopy procedure to treat it."
"After becoming lightheaded and taking a fall as a result of the condition, the Senator sought medical attention last night. The Senator is expected to make a full recovery and will be back to work soon," said Gray.
Mullen finds little resistance among soldiers to gay troops
AMMAN, Jordan — Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was nearing the end of a 25-minute question and answer session with troops serving here when he raised a topic of his own: "No one's asked me about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" he said.
As it turned out, none of the two dozen or so men or women who met with Mullen at Marine House in the Jordanian capital Tuesday had any questions on the 17-year-old policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military — or Mullen's public advocacy of its repeal.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Darryl E. Robinson, who's the operations coordinator for defense attache's office at the U.S. Embassy here, explained why after the session. "The U.S. military was always at the forefront of social change," he said. "We didn't wait for laws to change."
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London's local councils have never been known for good sense or sagacity, and yet they continually manage to surprise me with new levels of folly. Illustrating this point, Tower Hamlets council is planning to install two hijab-shaped arches at each end of Brick Lane - at a reported cost of £1.85 million.
The proposal has understandably ruffled a few feathers, not only because of the associated cost, but because of the symbol chosen to represent the area. The hijab, highly symbolic of Islam, will brand the area with a single identity, casting aside the diversity that makes the area what it is. Muslims account for more than 30% of the local population, which is, of course, relatively high, but that is little justification. Would the council think to erect two massive crosses for the area's Christian population or two yarmulkes to represent its links with the Jewish community?
Personally, I cannot identify with the symbolism, even as a Muslim woman. For many, the hijab represents modesty and freedom of choice, but we cannot ignore that it is also one of the most contentious and divisive issues of modern times - within the Muslim community as well as outside it. Its proposed role as a symbol of integration and inclusiveness is counter-intuitive at best and unfathomable at worst.
This brings us to the question of a more appropriate symbol. What would accurately represent the history of the area? What could the council use instead? Well, how about nothing? In the current economic climate, plans to spend copious amounts of money on unnecessary branding exercises should simply be abandoned.
I agree with Tracey Emin, who is reported as saying that "rubbish collections, vermin control, education and improved policing are more important".
As a Tower Hamlets resident that lives five minutes from Brick Lane, I think the whole idea is ridic. If we're going to "brand" Brick Lane, how about its overpriced "vintage" and coffee shops?
On Tuesday, a newspaper Web site in Dubai published the video released by the authorities, which appears to show the suspects following the Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh; changing into disguises; and spending a lot of time on the second floor of the hotel where the murder took place. The video, embedded below, was edited by the Dubai police and includes titles that explain their interpretation of the movements of the 11 suspects before, during and after the assassination.
There's a lot more info at the source. If you have the time you should REALLY watch the video (it's about a half hour long). It's fascinating stuff, like something out of the Bourne movies.
Programmes investigating Italy's PM hit after changes to rules for broadcasters
Silvio Berlusconi's supporters in the Italian parliament last night outraged opposition MPs and journalists with a controversial clampdown on political talk shows ahead of next month's regional elections.
The ruling PDL Party's majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster's most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content – or face a transfer from mid-evening to graveyard shifts. Programmes such as Ballarò and Annozero, which have frequently held Mr Berlusconi to account for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the main victims of the month-long clamp down that prompted accusations of censorship.
Political content will be allowed – but only if all 30 or so parties standing in the elections are represented on every show, which programme-makers said would make their formats unworkable.
The rules will apply from 28 February until 28 March, when the country's regional elections are held. Government
supporters said the rules were needed to ensure political neutrality during the election campaign. Marco Beltrandi of the PDL said: "The rules mean that the analysis programmes can choose. They can give political platforms [to everyone] or be broadcast at different times and in different ways."
The Prime Minister, whose Mediaset empire owns three of the six principal Italian terrestrial TV channels – some of which have been censured for pro-government bias – has often complained that RAI shows attack him unfairly.
But Fabrizio Morri of the opposition democratic Party said the ruling centre-right coalition had "voted for the suppression of journalistic analysis". "This sort of censorship wouldn't happen in a proper democratic country," he said. "I doubt very much whether the communications watchdog will cancel Matrix or any other of Mediaset's political shows," he added.
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Berlusconi is known for his sleaziness -- but it's not just his womanizing that's been getting him negative attention. His totalitarian control of the media, along with his blatantly misogynistic tv shows have been the focus of a lot of criticism.
A muckraking documentary recently came out called Videocracy, detailing the history of corruption in the Italian media. The trailer is here.
A television series on the Kennedys that is nearly a year away from official release has already spurred heated debate and aggressive pushback over its treatment of the iconic American family.
On Tuesday progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald released a short video preemptively calling into question the accuracy of "The Kennedys," an eight-hour miniseries which will air on the History Channel and is being produced by Joel Surnow, the creator of the series "24" and a well-known Hollywood conservative.
In on-camera interviews, a set of renowned Kennedy historians, including Ted Sorensen -- a one-time aide to John F. Kennedy -- trash the script, which was obtained in advance by Greenwald. Charging that it is littered with easily documented falsehoods, they insist that the production team drafted a "cartoon" and "caricature" of the former president -- downplaying weighty historical episodes in favor of tawdry and salacious material.
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