January 14th, 2012

President Obama seeks the power to merge fed depts to save money and improve efficiency

President Barack Obama on Friday took aim at his government's own messy bureaucracy, prodding Congress to give him greater power to merge agencies and promising he would start by collapsing six major economic departments into one. Pressing Republicans on one of their own political issues, Obama said it was time for an "effective, lean government."

Obama wants the type of reorganizational authority last held by a president when Ronald Reagan was in office. Obama's version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose only mergers that promise to save money and shrink government. The deal would help Obama considerably by entitling him to an up-or-down vote from Congress in 90 days.
Recommended: Obama formally requests increase in debt ceiling
Still, final say would remain with lawmakers, both on whether to grant Obama this fast-track authority and then in deciding whether to approve any of his specific ideas.

"We can do this better," Obama declared in an event with business owners at the White House, even presenting slides to help make his case.

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You would think that what with the ideological call from conservatives to cut government that eliminating redundancy would be greeted with glad cries. Look at the money that would be saved! However, the lack of enthusiasm by the Republicans simply shows us how their ideological concerns are hollow, masking their true greed for control and power.
MISC - moustache

What if Tim Tebow were Muslim?

Tim Tebow’s profession of faith has thrust the mixture of sport and religion into the national spotlight in a way that few can remember.

Students have been suspended for “Tebowing” — dropping to one knee to pray, even if you’re the only one doing it — in a school hallway in New York. Rick Perry claimed that he would be the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses. “Saturday Night Live” lampooned Tebow’s fan-boy love for Jesus. In response, Pat Robertson has claimed that the skit demonstrates “anti-Christian bigotry.” His supporters even called for a boycott of HBO after a Bill Maher tweet made fun of Tebow and his relationship to Jesus after his Denver Broncos lost to the Buffalo Bills.

After an overtime upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, Tebow’s Broncos play the top-seeded New England Patriots on Saturday. For at least one more media cycle, there will appear to be no way to separate Tim Tebow – the person, the quarterback, the Christian – from his religion.

But back in September, the cultural critic Toure asked a fascinating question in ESPN the Magazine. In a piece called “What if Michael Vick were white?,” Toure argued with those who said the quarterback would not have received a two-year sentence for dogfighting if he was white. Would he have been involved with dogfighting? Would an entourage have led him to the same mistakes? Would he have had a stronger paternal relationship?

So I ask, what if Tim Tebow were Muslim? How would our society react if during every interview, Tebow said “Insha’Allah” or “Allāhu Akbar” rather than thank his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Or instead of falling to one knee and praying, Tebow pulled out a prayer rug and faced Mecca? A recent study by the Pew Research Center suggests it would not be well received. While American Muslims in general tend be satisfied with their lives and communities in the United States, 55 percent report that being Muslim in the U.S. has become more difficult since Sept. 11. Twenty-eight percent report that people have viewed them with suspicion and 22 percent report having been called offensive names. The TLC show “All-American Muslim” has lost advertisers who were pressured by groups claiming that the show was Islamic propaganda. Yet Pat Robertson claims that the United States is a breeding ground for anti-Christian bigotry.

I don’t have answers to these questions. We can’t know the answers until we are faced with a prominent Muslim athlete who is willing to be so visible with his faith. In a country that consistently prides itself on freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion – we can hope that Muslim athletes who are visible with their faith would find themselves just as revered as Tebow is for his.

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Kansas jumps on the Personhood bandwagon

Topeka — Twenty-five Kansas House members, including TerriLois Gregory, Baldwin City, and Connie O’Brien, Tonganoxie, have agreed to sponsor a proposed "personhood" amendment to the state constitution to ban abortion and are close to introducing it, the leader of a group pursuing the measure said Friday. Collapse )

Update on Wikipedia

Wikipedia considering joining SOPA blackout protest
Count Wikipedia among the growing number of sites that are likely to take action against SOPA.

As anger towards the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act grows, more and more people and organizations are joining the fight against the bipartisan Congressional legislation. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

Earlier this week, the news site Reddit announced it would shut down for 12 hours on January 18 in a bid to make its displeasure known about SOPA and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. And now, there are strong signs that Wikipedia may express its community's protest sentiment, although it's not yet known in what form.

Other sites, including the Cheezburger Network, home to massively popular Internet meme sites like I Can Has Cheezburger, have also said they will shut down on January 18.

And the tide may be turning against SOPA. Perhaps in recognition of the growing number of Web sites protesting the legislation, Twitter users adding "STOP SOPA" banners to their profile images, and many other methods people are using to fight the proposed law, SOPA's sponsor, U.S. Rep Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said today that he is pulling a Domain Name System provision from the bill that would force ISPs to cut access to overseas Web sites accused of piracy.

In a discussion thread about what to do about SOPA, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales indicated his inclination to shut down Wikipedia on January 18:
I'm all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I'd like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that's a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does (but in our own way of course) per the emerging consensus on how to do it, is a good idea. But that means we need to move forward quickly on a concrete proposal and vote - we don't have the luxury of time that we usually have, in terms of negotiating with each other for weeks about what's exactly the best possible thing to do. As I understand it, the Foundation is talking to people about how we can geolocate and guide people to their Congressperson, etc....Our task is to decide to do it with a thumbs up / thumbs down vote.
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Thanks to everyone who signed and reposted the petition for Wikipedia to do dark to his/her social networks! I don't know if we had any influence, but I'd like to hope we had a measurable impact.

Gingrich Calls for the Restoration of the 'Church Militant'

Newt Gingrich today joined a conference call with members of his campaign’s Faith Leaders Coalition including Pastor Jim Garlow, American Family Association founder Don Wildmon, and Religious Right pollster George Barna where he urged social conservative voters to coalesce behind his candidacy. During the call, Gingrich repeated his claim that religious charities are losing their rights because they refuse to follow codes that prevent taxpayer-funded services from discriminating against people such as married same-sex couples. He even warned that America might go the way of Europe where Gingrich claimed that reading parts of the Bible regarding homosexuality would be a “hate crime”:

Gingrich: The state governments, for example in Massachusetts, which has literally driven Catholic adoption services out of the state, the District of Columbia, which has literally driven Catholic services out of taking care of the poor, the degree to which if you aren’t pro-gay, pro-abortion and pro-secular, you don’t have any rights. If you watch Europe right now, there is an increasing risk of speech becoming illegal, there are sections of the Bible you can’t read anymore in some European countries because it involves homosexuality and the act of reading it from the pulpit would be considered a hate crime. [1]

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  • xerox78

16-year-old threatened for getting prayer banner removed from public school

Police, School Officials Investigating Online Prayer Case Reaction for Cyberbullying
Cranston Police and School District officials reportedly have told the Ahlquist family that they are aware of and investigating alleged threats made on the Internet during the intense reaction to the prayer mural case.

The uncle of the 16-year-old Cranston West student and victorious plaintiff at the forefront of the school prayer mural case said his niece is the victim of cyberbullying and police and school officials confirmed they are investigating.

Twitter, Facebook and message boards were on fire yesterday and last night as people reacted to a federal court judge's decision that orders the Cranston School District to remove the controversial prayer banner, or mural, that hangs in the auditorium at Cranston High School West.

And it appears that some of the comments could constitute cyberbullying and represent violations of the Safe Schools Act — recently passed legislation that establishes a unified state policy against cyberbullying approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly last year and signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee last summer.

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Beatrice A. Lanzi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) defines cyberbullying as "the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression" that "causes physical or emotional harm to the student," "places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself," or "creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or abusive educational environment for the student."

Yesterday, one Twitter user said "this girl honestly needs to be punched in the face."

Another user bragged "your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you ****ing worthless c***."

And some users using their real names identified themselves as classmates of Jessica Ahlquist, the plaintiff, one saying "definelty laying it down on this athiest tomorrow anyone else?"

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Other articles related to the case

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Jessica Ahlquist College Scholarship Fundraiser ends February 29.

Jessica Ahlquist's website

Anonymous Letter mailed to the Ahlquist family
DN - Puppy!Matt - Yay!

'Work It' cancelled. Faith in humanity gets a +1

ABC fires polarizing comedy 'Work It'
by Lynette Rice

ABC has cancelled the controversial cross-dressing comedy Work It after two episodes.

The Tuesday night comedy debuted to a 2.0 rating in the adult demo last week, then dropped 20 percent this week to a 1.6 — down 27 percent from its lead in, Last Man Standing.

In its place, ABC will begin airing repeats of Last Man Standing this Tuesday. (To prepare for the possibility of a Work It elimination, ABC also just ordered two more episodes of the Tim Allen comedy). But it seems likely that Cougar Town — which has yet to receive a midseason berth — will take its place, eventually.

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http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/01/14/work-it-cancelled/ <-- Link to the source (in case my html is messed up)

Dude, Paul Lee, just sayin'- there's cheeky humor, and then there's offensive-and-potentially-or-actually-hurtful humor. 'Work It' fell under the latter of these two.
absinthe, wormwood

George Monbiot - More Cuts Please

The government is burning the money that could save public services.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 4th October 2011

Crisis, what crisis? There must be one: George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said so twelve times in yesterday’s speech(1). But if it really is as bad as he says, why is he squandering what remains of our money like an aristocratic gambler in a Russian novel?

This column is about the cuts the government has failed to make. It’s about the profligate, pointless spending which has not been slashed, and the money Osborne could have raised but instead has decided to fritter away. For the sake of argument it accepts his estimate of the amount that will need to be saved. But it will show that over half of it could be found with much less pain.

Let us begin with the easiest cut of all: one that would hurt no one except a few grasping corporations. By cancelling its planned re-organisation of the National Health Service, the government would save £2bn(2). That would allow it to drop three-quarters of the cuts to the NHS’s capital spending budget it has planned for the next 4 years(3).

To show how reasonable I mean to be, I won’t adopt Simon Jenkins’s arresting proposal that we cut the entire armed forces budget(4). I’ll suggest we drop only the military projects of such withering pointlessness that even the government can’t decide what they’re for.

The strategic purpose of the war in Afghanistan changes by the week. Its prospects of achieving any of its fluctuating aims recede by the day. Pulling out would save us £4.5bn a year(5). That’s equivalent to the entire cut in the government grant to local authorities(6), plus the entire cut to the housing budget, which will raise social rents to impossible levels(7). So here’s the choice: Sure Start centres, libraries, citizens’ advice bureaux, affordable housing, all the other services that give the poor a chance of a decent life; or an unwinnable war likely to sow further conflict.

Whatever else the ministry of defence gets wrong, however, you can’t fault it for innovation. It’s spending £6.2bn on a pair of aircraft carriers with a unique feature: they won’t carry any aircraft(8). The jets they were to have supported won’t be ready in time, or perhaps at all. They will drift around the oceans like the Flying Dutchman, the embodied ghosts of our imperial pretensions. Because of the commitments already made, cancelling them now would save only £1.2bn(9). But that’s enough to avert all but £200m of the government’s cuts to early intervention programmes for families which might otherwise run into trouble(10).

While we’re on the subject of pointless foreign intervention, could someone in government please explain the survival of the Export Credit Guarantee Department? Its purpose is to subsidise multinational companies, by underwriting their business in other countries: such as drilling for oil in fragile environments or selling weapons to dodgy regimes(11,12a,12b). It costs the government £20m a year(13). This money could saved the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution four times over(14).

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This article was originally published in The Guardian here, however I have posted the blog version which includes all the references and can be found here. Although this article is 3 months old, I thought it contained some interesting talking points, especially given Labour's recent capitulation to the 'cuts' narrative.

(no subject)

No federal civil-rights charges for former SPD Officer Ian Birk

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle explained why civil-rights criminal charges won't be filed against Ian Birk, the ex-SPD officer who fatally shot woodcarver John T. Williams in 2010

Federal prosecutors will not charge former Seattle police Officer Ian Birk in the 2010 shooting death of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams.

After what was described as a "comprehensive and independent" investigation — which sources have confirmed involved a grand jury — the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI concluded that the "evidence was insufficient, beyond a reasonable doubt, that [Birk] acted willfully and with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids."

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last April that it would review the Williams shooting after King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that state law precluded him from charging Birk because it required proof that Birk acted with malice.

Federal prosecutors faced a similarly high legal standard for proving that Birk acted willfully and with the intent to violate Williams' civil rights.

Prosecutors broke the news to the Williams family in a lengthy face-to-face meeting Friday morning, according to Seattle attorney Tim Ford, who represented the family in a civil case against the city and was present at the meeting.

The decision, Ford said, "is a great disappointment to his family," which had hoped that a jury would have the opportunity to hear the case. He said the Williams family, including John's brother, a totem carver in Seattle, "wished they hadn't set the bar so high."

One irony that came out of the meeting, Ford said, was that prosecutors were concerned that Birk would use the department's training as a defense. The DOJ, after an 11-month investigation, concluded last month that Seattle officers engaged in an unconstitutional "pattern and practice" of using excessive force and cited the department's training as inadequate.

"Basically, he would have been able to claim that he was trained to fear for his life when no real threat existed," Ford said.

The federal investigation examined whether Birk violated the civil rights of Williams when he shot and killed him on a downtown city sidewalk.

Williams, who was a well-known public inebriate and hard of hearing, did not respond to Birk's repeated demands that he drop a knife he was carrying. A department review of the shooting found that Birk acted outside the department's "policy, tactics and training" when he shot Williams four times, just seconds after getting out of his police vehicle.

The criminal investigation into Williams' death was separate from a probe into the Seattle Police Department (SPD) by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which concluded last month that the SPD has a "pattern and practice" of using illegal, excessive force. Most of the victims, the DOJ said, were people of color, the mentally ill and those under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The DOJ concluded there was not sufficient data to determine whether the department engages in biased policing, but said the information it was able to gather was troubling.

Satterberg announced last February that the state could not charge Birk because the law required prosecutors to show that the officer acted with malice and without good faith. Birk, 28, who had been an officer for two years, resigned from the department after Satterberg's announcement. The city of Seattle settled with Williams' family for $1.5 million.

Williams' shooting resulted in public outrage and united community groups to demand accountability from the department. There had been earlier videotaped incidents — an officer slugging a teenager during a jaywalking incident, for instance — but none reverberated in the community like the patrol-car dash-cam video of Williams ambling across the intersection in front of Birk's car, a folding knife and board in his hands.

Birk was seen crossing in front of the car in pursuit, his weapon drawn, then a series of shots are heard a few seconds later.

The department was further criticized when initial statements made at the scene, that Williams had advanced on the officer, turned out to be untrue. A King County inquest jury was divided on whether Birk felt he was threatened when he fired.

Birk could not be reached for comment, and the Seattle Police Department said Friday it would not have any comment.

However, Seattle attorney Ted Buck — who represented Birk during the King County inquest hearing — praised the decision and said it would come as a relief to street cops.

"Had Birk been charged, the effect would have been that you'd be telling officers on the streets that they can't do their job," Buck said.

The shooting was pivotal in the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union's decision to send a letter in late 2010, signed by 34 Seattle-area community groups, asking the DOJ to investigate the SPD.

Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU Seattle Office, said Friday that, regardless of the charging outcome, the shooting "highlighted the need for better training so that police don't use deadly force except when it is absolutely necessary."

"It crystallized the problem and training and culture in the department that have been raised by others for years," he said.

A report on the Justice Department's investigation, issued last month, said the illegal use-of-force issues it found were exacerbated by the fact that nearly a third of Seattle's officers had less than three years on the force.

Source - http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017233847_birk14m.html

GDI. Fuck the police. He shot the Williams seconds after telling him to drop the knife, which isn't enough time for anyone to respond, nevermind someone who's hard of hearing. IMO he had already decided what he was going to when he got out of the car. 


Is your cousin French-Canadian? Congratulations!


When Mitt Romney introduces himself to voters, he has a peculiar habit of guessing their age or nationality, often incorrectly. (A regular query: “Are you French Canadian?”)
When making small talk with locals, he peppers the conversation with curious details. . . . Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands. . . . Mr. Romney likes to congratulate people. For what, exactly, is not always clear.
—The Times, December 28, 2011.

The moment President Romney entered the room where the opening reception of his first G-8 summit was being held, he was approached by a small man who shook his hand and said, “Je suis Nicolas Sarkozy.”

“Are you of French-Canadian origin?” President Romney said, smiling broadly.

“I am French,” Sarkozy replied, looking somewhat puzzled. “I am, in fact, the President of France.”

“Congratulations,” President Romney said. “Lipstick contains a substance made from fish scales.”

Before Sarkozy could reply—in fact, before he could think of anything to say on the subject of lipstick manufacturing—they were approached by Angela Merkel, of Germany, who looked eager to greet the newest leader in the G-8. President Romney peered at her briefly and then said to Sarkozy, “Your aunt? Your mother?”

“This is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Sarkozy said.

Chancellor Merkel looked somewhat taken aback at being mistaken for Sarkozy’s aunt. When she’d regained her composure, she said to President Romney, “I know you will have much to add on the question of the debt crisis in the euro zone, Mr. President.”

President Romney looked at the German Chancellor carefully, up and down. “I’d say you’d go about one-forty, give or take five pounds,” he said. “Am I in the ballpark?”

Chancellor Merkel, hoping she might have misunderstood the President, said, “I believe the future of the euro will dominate our discussions in the coming days.”

“The city that has more bridges than any other city in the world is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” President Romney said. “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations to Pittsburgh?” Chancellor Merkel asked.

President Romney thought for a moment. “No,” he said. “Just congratulations.”

Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, joined the group and introduced himself to President Romney.

“Are you of French-Canadian origin?” President Romney said.

“No, I’m not,” the Prime Minister replied. “But I am Canadian.”

“The state stone of Michigan is the Petoskey stone,” the President said. Then, spotting a gentleman standing a few feet away, he asked, “Are you of French-Canadian origin?”

“No, I am David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,” the man said.

President Romney looked at Cameron and then at Harper and then at Cameron again. “Brothers?” he said. “Cousins? Uncle and aunt?”

“No,” Cameron said.

At that point, the group was joined by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, of Japan. He and President Romney were introduced. “What are you—around fifty-five or sixty?” the President asked. “Am I close?”

“I am fifty-six years of age,” the Japanese Prime Minister said, rather formally.

“Yoshihiko sounds French-Canadian,” the President said. “I don’t suppose you’re of French-Canadian origin, are you?”

“No, I am not,” the Prime Minister said.

“Congratulations,” the President replied. “Saul Rogovin, of the Detroit Tigers, hit a grand-slam home run in 1950, and it wasn’t until 2008 that another Jewish pitcher hit a grand-slam home run.”

“Congratulations,” Chancellor Merkel said.

“Yes,” the others murmured. “Congratulations.”

Robots Put You In Two Places At Once


Mike Fennelly isn't easily surprised by cutting-edge technologies, but when he started as an IT guy at a Silicon Valley startup called Evernote, he was caught off guard by a robot rolling around the office.

"It was slightly disturbing for not really knowing what the robot was for at the beginning, and then going, 'Oh, OK. That's Phil,' " he says.

CEO Phil Libin is also known as the company's "robotic overlord." Libin himself isn't actually a robot, but when he's out of town, his robot keeps an eye on things.

Technology that allows people to be present even while far away is becoming more affordable than ever. Companies working on "telepresence robots" are building off the idea that busy schedules and the hassle of travel require such products.

The QA telepresence robot by Anybots chats with people on the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2009. The CEO of one Silicon Valley startup uses an Anybots robot around the office when he's away on business.
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