Friday, July 31, 2009
BY E.W. Jackson Sr.
Like Obama, I am a graduate of Harvard Law School. I too have Muslims in my family. I am black, and I was once a leftist Democrat. Since our backgrounds are somewhat similar, I perceive something in Obama's policy toward Israel which people without that background may not see. All my life I have witnessed a strain of anti-Semitism in the black community. It has been fuelled by the rise of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan, but it predates that organization.
We heard it in Jesse Jackson's "HYMIE town" remark years ago during his presidential campaign. We heard it most recently in Jeremiah Wright's remark about "them Jews" not allowing Obama to speak with him. I hear it from my own Muslim family members who see the problem in the Middle East as a "Jew" problem.
Growing up in a small, predominantly black urban community in Pennsylvania, I heard the comments about Jewish shop owners. They were "greedy cheaters" who could not be trusted, according to my family and others in the neighborhood. I was too young to understand what it means to be Jewish, or know that I was hearing anti-Semitism. These people seemed nice enough to me, but others said they were "evil". Sadly, this bigotry has yet to be eradicated from the black community.
In Chicago, the anti-Jewish sentiment among black people is even more pronounced because of the direct influence of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Most African Americans are not followers of "The Nation", but many have a quiet respect for its leader because, they say, "he speaks the truth" and "stands up for the black man". What they mean of course is that he viciously attacks the perceived "enemies" of the black community - white people and Jews. Even some self-described Christians buy into his demagoguery.
The question is whether Obama, given his Muslim roots and experience in Farrakhan's Chicago, shares this antipathy for Israel and Jewish people. Is there any evidence that he does? First, the President was taught for twenty years by a virulent anti-Semite, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In the black community it is called "sitting under". You don't merely attend a church, you "sit under" a Pastor to be taught and mentored by him. Obama "sat under" Wright for a very long time. He was comfortable enough with Farrakhan -- Wright's friend -- to attend and help organize his "Million Man March". I was on C-Span the morning of the march arguing that we must never legitimize a racist and anti-Semite, no matter what "good" he claims to be doing. Yet a future President was in the crowd giving Farrakhan his enthusiastic support.
The classic left wing view is that Israel is the oppressive occupier, and the Palestinians are Israel's victims. Obama is clearly sympathetic to this view. In speaking to the "Muslim World," he did not address the widespread Islamic hatred of Jews. Instead he attacked Israel over the growth of West Bank settlements. Surely he knows that settlements are not the crux of the problem. The absolute refusal of the Palestinians to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is the insurmountable obstacle. That's where the pressure needs to be placed, but this President sees it differently. He also made the preposterous comparison of the Holocaust to Palestinian "dislocation".
Obama clearly has Muslim sensibilities. He sees the world and Israel from a Muslim perspective. His construct of "The Muslim World" is unique in modern diplomacy. It is said that only The Muslim Brotherhood and other radical elements of the religion use that concept. It is a call to unify Muslims around the world. It is rather odd to hear an American President use it. In doing so he reveals more about his thinking than he intends. The dramatic policy reversal of joining the unrelentingly anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and pro-Islamic UN Human Rights Council is in keeping with the President's truest - albeit undeclared - sensibilities.
Those who are paying attention and thinking about these issues do not find it unreasonable to consider that President Obama is influenced by a strain of anti-Semitism picked up from the black community, his leftist friends and colleagues, his Muslim associations and his long period of mentorship under Jeremiah Wright. If this conclusion is accurate, Israel has some dark days ahead. For the first time in her history, she may find the President of the United States siding with her enemies. Those who believe, as I do, that Israel must be protected had better be ready for the fight. We are.
E.W. Jackson is Bishop of Exodus Faith Ministries, an author and retired attorney.
By: David Freddoso
"You cannot have a stand alone bill to help lawyers … so we have to tuck it into something." This is the sort of thing lobbyists usually keep private when they discuss legislation in Congress. But according to Legal Newsline, Washington's top lobbyist for trial lawyers said it in a public forum while discussing a billion-dollar tax break she wants Congress to pass on behalf of her industry. Linda Lipsen, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Association of Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), was in San Francisco addressing a group of trial lawyers at an AAJ conference when she outlined this strategy of attaching the tax break to some other piece of important, must-pass legislation. The tax break in question would allow plaintiffs' lawyers to deduct right away on their taxes the money they invest in filing speculative lawsuits. When plaintiffs' lawyers take cases on contingency -- that is, when they sue in exchange for a percentage of the settlement or judgment -- the IRS treats the expenses involved in the suit as a loan to the client. Lipsen and AAJ would like to change that tax treatment so that lawyers can simply write off their costs in the same year they are incurred. Legal Newsline reports that the tax break is worth about $1.6 billion to trial lawyers. They quoted Lipsen yesterday describing the difficulties of getting it through Congress. "It costs a couple billion," she said. "So we're going to have to find what they call a 'pay-for' so that we can make it budget neutral and get it passed. This is going to be tough because there is no money."Still, she told the forum that there exists bipartisan support for this in some quarters of Congress. "Right now all these senior Democrats and some Republicans are saying, 'Let's do it,' so again let's cross our fingers," she said.
Historically, trial lawyers are extremely politically active. Since the 1990 election cycle, lawyers and law firm PACs have contributed more than $1 billion to politicians, about three quarters of that going to Democrats.Lipsen did not respond to The Examiner's request for comment about the bill and the members of Congress who support it.
LONDON — The U.N. unveiled a multimillion dollar strategy a dozen years ago to save children worldwide, but a new study has found the program had surprisingly little effect in Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries.
Since 1997, more than 100 countries have adopted the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness Program, designed by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. It was supposed to reduce deaths in children under age 5 due to diarrhea, pneumonia, measles and malnutrition, which make up about 70 percent of all child deaths.
Bangladesh is the only country where researchers compared results between areas that implemented the U.N. strategy with those that did not. In research published in the medical journal Lancet on Friday, experts found the program had no major impact on saving children.
U.N. officials could not say how much the program in Bangladesh cost, but said millions have been spent on its implementation around the world.
"It's remarkable the program has achieved so little," said Philip Stevens, a director at the International Policy Network, a London think-tank. "And it's baffling that it has been rolled out globally without any evidence that it works."
The U.N. strategy has three main components: training health workers; improving health systems, which includes ensuring drugs are available; and encouraging communities and parents to do things like maintain good hygiene and have their children immunized.
In Bangladesh, international researchers found the strategy improved the skills of health workers and convinced more people to seek treatment when they got sick. In the areas where the U.N. strategy was used, more children were breast-fed and the prevalence of stunted growth dropped by 20 percent.
But in areas where the program wasn't implemented, slightly more children were vaccinated against measles, and there was no big difference in death rates.
Researchers weren't sure why the program had failed, but said the community part of the U.N. strategy was "less effective than expected."
The study was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Some officials insisted the U.N. needed even more money for the program.
In an accompanying commentary in the Lancet, Trevor Duke of the University of Papua New Guinea called for an extra US$5-8 billion for the program to be expanded in 40 of the world's poorest countries.
Stevens said the U.N. should first prove its strategies work.
"If a private company produced results like this, it would rapidly go out of business," he said. "Yet in U.N. land, failure is used as a justification to ask for more money to do more of the same."
By BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE AND MATT APUZZOASSOCIATED PRESS WRITERS
In a photo made July 15, 2009, workers dismantle a bridge over the Rum River west of Cambridge, Minn. Minnesota will spend about $50 million in stimulus cash on bridges, with less than half of that going to bridges deemed "structurally deficient." (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
WASHINGTON -- Tens of thousands of unsafe or decaying bridges carrying 100 million drivers a day must wait for repairs because states are spending stimulus money on spans that are already in good shape or on easier projects like repaving roads, an Associated Press analysis shows.
President Barack Obama urged Congress last winter to pass his $787 billion stimulus package so some of the economic recovery money could be used to rebuild what he called America's "crumbling bridges." Lawmakers said it was a historic chance to chip away at the $65 billion backlog of deficient structures, often neglected until a catastrophe like the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed two years ago this Saturday.
States, however, have other plans. Of the 2,476 bridges scheduled to receive stimulus money so far, nearly half have passed inspections with high marks, according to federal data. Those 1,123 sound bridges received such high inspection ratings that they normally would not qualify for federal bridge money, yet they will share in more than $1.2 billion in stimulus money.
The wooden bridge built in 1900 carrying Harlan Springs Road in Berkeley County, W.Va., is one of the nation's unsafe structures not being repaired. About 2,700 cars cross it every day. But with holes in the wooden deck and corroded railings and missing steel poles, only one car at a time can travel the 300-foot rickety span.
The bridge is an example of how Obama's call to spend recovery money quickly - on "shovel ready" projects to get people back to work - has clashed with other goals of the stimulus, such as targeting high-unemployment areas and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure. State transportation officials say the need for speed makes it hard to funnel money into needy counties or to take on extensive bridge repairs that can involve years of planning and construction.
Repaving or widening roads requires less planning and can be done quickly, which is why such projects account for 70 percent of the $17 billion in transportation stimulus money approved so far. Bridge projects represent 12 percent.
The spending decisions by states are OK with the Obama administration.
Ed Deseve, the president's chief executive of the stimulus, said the administration understands the desire to tackle "longer-term, gleam-in-the-eye projects" but told states "please, give us your shovel-ready projects."
The idea, he said, was to provide an immediate jolt to the nation's economy.
"We're delighted states are able to move quickly," Deseve said.
A few states, such as Virginia and South Carolina, are targeting their troubled bridges. In all, 1,286 deficient or obsolete bridges are expected to share $2.2 billion in stimulus money for repairs, the AP analysis shows.
But that's less than 1 percent of the more than 150,000 bridges nationwide that engineers have labeled deficient or obsolete. Of those, more than 39,000 are considered the worst, rated poor in at least one structural component and eligible to be replaced with federal money.
William Stubblefield, a Berkeley County, W.Va., commissioner, said he's confident state transportation officials are monitoring bridge safety and money will come soon for his county's bridges. The wooden bridge in Berkeley County is among more than a third of the state's 7,064 bridges deemed deficient or obsolete by inspectors.
Safety problems are so obvious on some spans, like the Harlan Springs bridge, that engineers have restricted traffic.
"If we're seeing some obvious deterioration, that's too late," Stubblefield said.
For its analysis, the AP asked each state and the District of Columbia to identify every bridge on which it planned some work using stimulus money. In some states that represented a final list. In others, new projects could be added. Most states provided project costs, but some did not. Some states included in their costs other road work related to the bridge project, like paving or widening nearby roads.
The AP then researched each bridge using the latest inspection data available from the Transportation Department.
This analysis found that:
- Many states did not make bridge work a priority in stimulus spending. More than half plan work on fewer than two dozen bridges and 18 states plan fewer than 10 projects.
- In 24 states, at least half of the bridges being worked on with stimulus money were not deficient.
- In 15 states, at least two-thirds of the bridges receiving stimulus money are not deficient.
Transportation officials said the stimulus program's mandates - shovel-ready projects that can be finished in three years and create jobs quickly - made it nearly impossible to focus on bad bridges that weren't already scheduled for repairs.
"The feds had their own priorities, and their big priority was jobs and the economy. As a result, we had to move things quickly. I don't fault that," said John Zicconi, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. "Nobody put the stimulus together as an answer to all our bridge issues. It was about putting people to work."
That's not exactly how it was billed. Obama pointed to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge during the Great Depression as an example of how transportation money in the new stimulus law could "remake the face of the nation."
"It's what we're doing once more, by building a 21st century infrastructure that will make America's economy stronger and America's people safer," Obama said in March.
While the stimulus will pay for a few such projects, like the massive new Cleveland Innerbelt Bridge, for the most part the money will not build a 21st century transportation system. It will repave the 20th century system.
Democrats helping Obama campaign for the stimulus program singled out bridge repairs when promoting the bill. In a conference call with reporters before passage, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed said a bridge in Providence would benefit from the recovery program.
"If we fix that bridge, we're not only putting people to work, but we're going to speed, literally speed our economic activity," Reed said.
The Pawtucket River Bridge may have helped Reed make his point, but it was already on track to be repaired and is not part of the state's stimulus plan. Rhode Island, the state with the nation's highest percentage, 52 percent, of bad bridges, so far plans to use stimulus money to work on only six of its 397 deficient or obsolete structures.
After the stimulus bill was passed in February, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was asked on National Public Radio to list projects the stimulus would fund.
"I can tell you that, for example, we have some prominent bridges that are structurally deficient that we want to get to as soon as possible for reasons of safety," Patrick said.
But Patrick knew that months earlier he and state legislators had passed a $3 billion bridge program that didn't rely on stimulus money. Massachusetts, a state with more than half of its 5,063 bridges deemed deficient or obsolete by inspectors, so far is spending recovery money on only one bridge.
Some states did decide early to target bad bridges with economic recovery money.
In Virginia, state bridge engineer Kendal Walus recalled bosses telling him last fall, as talk of a stimulus was just beginning, that the state would probably make bridges a priority.
"They said, get as many bridge projects as I could get and they'd be willing to entertain it," Walus said.
With more than 1,200 deficient bridges in the state and an estimated $3.7 billion needed to repair or replace them, there were lots of choices. Engineers selected small bridges that could be fixed without the long engineering process and environmental permitting normally required for larger structures. Walus said engineers worked long hours this winter tying up loose ends to get those projects ready to go.
As a result, 69 of the 73 Virginia bridges receiving stimulus money are either deficient or obsolete, according to inspection records.
But targeting deficient bridges with new federal money isn't as easy as it sounds, officials in other states said.
Washington state, for example, struggled with a plea from King County officials to help pay for the replacement of the 75-year-old drawbridge that serves as a major corridor in Seattle and connects two of the city's industrial areas. The bridge's cracked concrete foundations, widespread corrosion in steel beams and deteriorating moveable spans make it one of the nation's worst still in daily operation - scoring a 3 out of 100 for structural sufficiency.
State officials couldn't commit stimulus money to the project, which already was getting local and state funds, said Paula Hammond, the state's transportation secretary. The South Park bridge was not a state priority, and officials needed to focus on projects that could be completed quickly, Hammond said.
"Every state is going through this because speed was a major, major factor for us," she said.
More than a quarter of Washington's 7,763 bridges are either deficient or obsolete, inspection records show.
With $27 billion in highway and bridge money, the stimulus provided an important stopgap but is too little to remake the U.S. transportation infrastructure, she added.
"If you wanted that to happen," Hammond said, "you'd probably have to multiply that number by 10."
When First Lady Michelle Obama planted an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn in March 2009, she hoped to both set an example of healthy eating and to grow tasty edibles for her daughters and husband. But Michelle's organic dream has been dashed by a nasty toxic legacy lurking in the soils of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It turns out that a previous Presidential gardening team had used sewage sludge for fertilizer. This is a fairly common practice with one huge problem. Sewage sludge tends to be laced with anything that people pour down the drain and often contains heavy metals. Not surprisingly, the National Park Service tested the dirt beneath Michelle's garden and found the plot has highly elevated levels of lead averaging 93 parts per million. That's below the 400 ppm that the Environmental Protection Agency says is a threat to human health. But I'd wager that Sasha, Malia and Barack won't be getting arugula or tomatoes from this garden any time soon.
The likely source of the toxic sludge that has ruined Michelle's garden? The Clinton White House apparently used a sludge-based product to fertilize the lawn during the 1990s! Aside from casting a shadow on the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt resided there, the sludge ensures that Michelle's garden will never attain organic status. Organic certification processes strictly prohibit the use of sludge as a fertilizer substitute. The White House has sought to downplay the issue, and a number of experts have pointed out that 93 ppm of sludge in soil is somewhat normal for older urban locales. However, the EPA recommends not growing food in soil that has 100 ppm. Several major food producers, including H.J. Heinz and Del Monte, won't accept produce grown in sludge. That's despite decades of U.S. government efforts to encourage farmers to use solid sewage wastes in lieu of traditional fertilizer products.
2. Incentives and tax cuts encourage economic activity.
3. There are many members of Congress who would prefer to curtail all consumption, hence a conundrum.
4. A tax holiday would have been preferable and more successful to the print the money stimulus program Obama sponsored.
5. The government wants and command and control economy.
6. Liberty is sacrificed to the whims of government.
See photo at link and make up your own mind if this is acceptable behavior at a polling place or anywhere
The Justice Department's decision to drop an already-won voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party merits multiple, independent investigations.
On Tuesday, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, officially asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to refile the case. Mr. Holder should comply.
So far, the Justice Department has stonewalled legitimate inquiry. It has yet to provide records sought by this newspaper back in May. It has yet to answer a July 22 letter from Mr. Wolf that asks 35 questions on 17 different subjects relating to the Black Panther case. Justice has claimed, falsely, that the decision to drop the case was made by career attorneys only, not by political appointees. And it has declined to let congressmen interview the career attorneys who originally filed, and won, the case against the Black Panthers.
As first reported by The Washington Times, career attorneys at Justice already had won a default judgment against three Black Panthers and the party as a whole for intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place while wearing paramilitary-style garb, as one of them brandished a nightstick and made racial threats.
One of the Black Panthers, Jerry Jackson, was an official poll watcher for the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler refused several times to say whether department lawyers consulted with any outsiders. Yet Kristen Clarke of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund confirmed that she talked about the case with Justice Department lawyers.
Ms. Schmaler said she would not talk about "internal deliberations." But if they consulted with outside groups, those deliberations by definition are not just internal.
Robert N. Driscoll, former chief of staff of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, told us it would be ethically dubious if political appointees consulted with outside interest groups without telling the career attorneys who filed the case. "I would be hammered if I were to have had such a meeting," he said.
Mr. Wolf's July 22 letter raised numerous discrepancies between Justice Department explanations and readily available facts. In a July 13 letter to the congressman, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch wrote that the department dropped the cases against the New Black Panther Party as a whole and its leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, because "the factual contentions in the complaint did not have sufficient evidentiary support" to prove that they "managed" and "directed" the intimidating behavior of the two Panthers deployed at that polling place.
Mr. Wolf responded that, "the confession on national television by Malik Zulu Shabazz on Nov. 7, 2008, flatly contradicts your assertion. Mr. Shabazz unequivocally claims that his activities in Philadelphia were part of a nationwide effort involving hundreds of party members, and that the use of weapons was a necessary part of the Black Panther deployment."
Mr. Welch claimed one reason the charges against Mr. Jackson were dropped was that "he was a resident of the apartment building where the polling place was located," and thus allowed to be there. Mr. Wolf wrote back that Mr. Jackson "has never resided" at that address, which is a senior living facility called Guild House. At a fit and trim age 53, Mr. Jackson hardly qualifies for a retirement home.
Mr. Jackson's MySpace page still lists one of his main "general interests" as "Killing Crakkkas." Four days after the Justice Department dropped the complaint against Mr. Jackson, he again was named an official election poll watcher for the Democratic primary in Philadelphia's municipal election. How convenient.
Jul 30 08:22 PM US/EasternBy CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKERAssociated Press Writer
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela's top prosecutor insisted Thursday that freedom of expression in Venezuela "must be limited" and proposed legislation that would slap additional restrictions on the country's news media.
The new law would punish the owners of radio stations, television channels and newspapers that have attempted to "cause panic" and "disturb social peace," Attorney General Luisa Ortega said.
It also would punish media owners who "manipulate the news with the purpose of transmitting a false perception of the facts."
"Freedom of expression must be limited," Ortega said.
Ortega urged lawmakers to consider her suggestions as they debate a bill that would punish as-yet-undefined "media crimes." The National Assembly, which is controlled by allies of President Hugo Chavez, is expected to approve the measure in coming months.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, warned the proposed legislation "would be a terrible regression for freedom of expression."
"They are trying to increase the penalties for expressions that could be considered offensive for authorities," Vivanco said in an interview broadcast by RCN Radio in Colombia.
Carlos Lauria of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the bill "reminiscent of the dark days of Latin American dictatorships with its archaic provisions for so-called media crimes."
Chavez's administration is slowly tightening its grip over the news media, raising concerns among watchdog and human rights groups that accuse the government of trying to stifle dissent.
Venezuela's telecommunications commission notified 50 radio stations earlier this week that their broadcast licenses could be revoked because they failed to update their registrations. Commission chief Diosdado Cabello said a final determination on the licenses will be made following investigations. He said authorities might also seize broadcasting equipment.
Nearly 200 other broadcasters that did not meet a June deadline to register also will be investigated, but have not yet been formally notified, Cabello said
Broadcast regulators have also opened a series of investigations into Globovision, the only strongly anti-Chavez channel remaining on the open airwaves.
Station vice president Carlos Alberto Zuloaga accused Chavez on Thursday of "deciding to shut down Globovision."
"He's just looking for the way to diminish the political cost," Zuloaga said at a forum in Washington organized by the libertarian Cato Institute.
Chavez denies that he intends to silence critics, saying his government fully respects freedom of expression.
HAVANA, July 30 (Reuters) - Havana's famous seaside avenue, the Malecon, could be mistaken for Hollywood Boulevard this week as four high profile film stars come to the Cuban capital in the splashiest sign yet of warming U.S.-Cuba relations.
Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and James Caan arrived in Cuba on Wednesday, with del Toro in town to pick up an award and the other three working on a "research project," a spokesman for the group said on Thursday.
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said the stars were accompanied by other people in the movie industry, including producers he would not name.
Because of the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against communist-led Cuba, Americans have been forbidden, with some exceptions, from visiting the island 90 miles (145 km) from Key West, Florida.
Hollywood stars such as Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Steven Spielberg have come to Cuba in the past but cultural exchanges slowed due to restrictions imposed by former U.S. President George W. Bush.
The spokesman said the group is traveling under a license granted by the U.S. Treasury Department.
U.S. President Barack Obama offered earlier this year to "recast" relations with Cuba, which have been sour since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.
Obama has lifted travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and restarted immigration talks with Cuba that were suspended under Bush.
Last week, the United States said a Bush-era news ticker on the U.S. Interests Section building in Havana, which the Cuban government viewed as an affront, had been turned off.
Del Toro won praise last year for his portrayal of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine who fought alongside Castro in the Cuban revolution, in the two-part biopic "Che" directed by American Steven Soderbergh.
The movie was shown to great acclaim in Cuba last December and on Thursday del Toro was given an award by Cuban artists and intellectuals. (Reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and Todd Eastham)
Government Suspends 'Clunkers' Program
Read the rest here.
The American ideal is that we are “a nation of laws, not of men,” as John Adams put it. The unpleasant reality is that the ruling class of any society - including ours - obeys only the laws it chooses to obey. Understanding this reality is essential to making progress toward the ideal.
The population of a country can persuade its ruling class to “choose to obey” its laws through various means, and not even the absolute monarchs of ancient times could casually disregard all of them. Even the more deranged emperors and “sun kings” had to take some steps to avoid antagonizing their entire aristocracy, and the aristocracy had some limits to the abuse it could impose on its citizens. Our modern democracy expects much greater respect for the law, and the rights of its citizens - but our ruling class continues to routinely disregard laws it finds inconvenient, and we have very limited means to compel their obedience.
Of course, there is always the punishment we can administer at the ballot box, but this is precisely what I mean by “limited means.” The rate of re-election for the House of Representatives hovers around 95%, and rarely drops below 90% . Senators enjoy high re-election rates as well, with the worst years of the modern era barely dipping below 80%. The most fabulously corrupt members of Congress have been there for decades. Jack Murtha has been doing his Jabba the Hutt routine in the House since 1974. William “Cold Cash” Jefferson served nine terms, and managed to get re-elected after the FBI raided his offices in 2006. The authors of the subprime disaster, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, have been in office since the early 1980s, and both survived the financial meltdown of 2008, although Dodd’s future isn’t looking terribly rosy at the moment.
Electoral punishment isn’t much of a deterrent to lawlessness, because there are so many factors contributing to elections. Long-term congressional incumbents have little reason to fear that their power base will suddenly decide unethical behavior outweighs the huge amount of federal pork they bring home to their districts. You have probably heard the supporters of at least one corrupt politician defend them in precisely these terms. During the Clinton impeachment saga, we were repeatedly told that it would be primitive and narrow-minded of us to deprive the nation of Bill Clinton’s magnificent leadership because of a squalid little perjury, committed in the course of covering up a silly little sexual indiscretion.
Personal corruption is not the worst aspect of elite disregard for the law. The growth of the modern super-state has been assisted by the State’s increasing appetite for circumventing or disregarding legal restrictions on its power, most obviously the Constitution. Things have degenerated to the point where no one even bothers asking how President Obama’s trillion-dollar “stimulus” plans, nationalized health insurance, or industrial takeovers can be justified under the Constitution - which is not just a dead letter, but a ghostly outline in the dust where a dead letter used to be. When Texas governor Rick Perry spoke of invoking the Tenth Amendment to resist Obama’s federal power grabs, he was dismissed by the media as a hopeless eccentric, as is the Tea Party protest movement. The media very much sees itself as part of the ruling class, and they regard the notion of restraining government “progress” with antiquated laws, written by dead white males in powdered wigs, as ridiculous. Even when the State does find itself on uncomfortable legal terrain, it can always find a more agreeable climate in the penumbras and emanations of the Constitution. The Left has been describing the Constitution as a “living document” for many years, and all living things can be taught to perform tricks.
A decision by France’s energy regulator that seems to defy both logic and Europe’s green consciousness has set off a political storm here.
At the center is a tiny company that seeks to save consumers money.
Two weeks ago, the French Energy Regulatory Commission, the C.R.E., decided that Voltalis, a company that installs electricity management devices in homes and businesses and then manages their use, would have to, in effect, pay power producers for the power that it saves.
Voltalis’s Bluepod boxes, free to consumers, plug into the home electrical panel and communicate back to the company’s computers by Internet. When, for example, summer demand on the electrical grid nears a peak, the system would automatically turn off air-conditioners for hundreds or thousands of consumers willing to give up the coolers for a short time to avoid the need for additional electrical production to come on line.
The company says its “distributive load shedding” technology can save users as much as 10 percent on their electricity bills and save power producers billions in investments in new plants used only to meet peak demand. Voltalis’s business model assumes the grid operator pays Voltalis for help in maintaining supply and demand equilibrium.
But the regulatory commission ruled that Voltalis should pay the power company because “its service would not be possible without the producer maintaining production.”The ruling immediately led to charges of too much coziness among entrenched interests in the electrical power sector.
Challenges, a French business magazine, suggested that the country’s electricity producers, including Électricité de France, which is 85 percent owned by the government, wielded too much influence over regulators.
Voltalis’s chief executive, Pierre Bivas, took his case to the public last weekend, where the reaction has been scathing.
“At this rate, it will soon be obligatory in France to consume large quantities of electricity, or face taxes and fines, and maybe imprisonment, too,” the antinuclear group Sortir du Nucléaire said in criticizing the decision.
At peak periods, producers must bring more costly capacity on line or demand must be limited. Voltalis’s technology, which is also in use in the United States, changes that.
“From the consumer’s side, it’s exactly symmetrical,” Mr. Bivas said on Tuesday. “In both cases, the energy produced is used by consumers and paid for by consumers. They’re saying consumers should pay for the energy that was never produced and never used.”
He said the company had already installed about 5,000 boxes, but was aiming for “tens of thousands and ultimately millions.”Cécile George, a technical expert for the regulator, said the decision hinged on how the company would be paid. “Voltalis can’t be a free rider,” she said.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
New York Sending Homeless To Georgia
Posted: 6:48 am EDT July 29, 2009Updated: 8:57 am EDT July 29, 2009
NEW YORK -- New York City is buying one-way plane tickets for homeless families to leave the city and head to Georgia or anywhere else they want to go.
It's part of a Bloomberg administration program to keep the homeless out of the expensive shelter system, which costs $36,000 a year per family. More than 550 families have left the city since 2007. All it takes is for a relative to agree to take them in.
The city employs a travel agency for domestic travel and the Department of Homeless Services handles international travel.
City officials say there are no limits on where a family can be sent and families can reject the offer.
Families have been sent to 24 states and five continents, mostly to Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas and Puerto Rico.
At least one family picked Paris, France and New York paid $6,332 for their tickets. Another flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, with the city picking up the tab for the $2,550 tickets.
City officials say none of the relocated families have returned to city shelters.
Colombia-Venezuela relations erode further with rocket revelation
Swedish rockets and launchers sold to Venezuela have been recovered at a Colombian rebel camp.
By Chris KraulJuly 28, 2009Reporting from Bogota, Colombia — Colombia's tenuous relations with Venezuela have worsened again with the revelation that Swedish-made rockets and launchers sold to the Venezuelan armed forces have been recovered in a Colombian rebel group's camp. Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez canceled a summit with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and said he would "reassess" binational relations in light of Colombia's consent to host U.S. anti-drug aircraft at as many as four air bases.Then, on Sunday, Uribe confirmed reports that his military had recovered powerful antitank rockets during a raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, weapons cache in the Macarena National Park last year.Without naming the suspected supplier, Uribe said the FARC had acquired them on the "international arms market" and that protests had been made with unnamed countries "through diplomatic channels." Colombian Defense Ministry officials said Monday that the rockets were AT4 shoulder-fired antitank weapons made by Saab Bofors Dynamics with serial numbers indicating they were sold to Venezuela. Saab official Thomas Samuelsson confirmed to reporters that his company made the rockets and had sold them to Venezuela, which he said had "signed a final-destination agreement" forbidding re-export without notification."Sometimes a weapon ends up where it shouldn't belong, but that's a rare occurrence," Samuelsson told the Agence France-Presse news agency. Sweden has asked Venezuela for an explanation of how the weapons ended up in FARC hands.The disclosure does not prove that the Chavez government sold or willingly gave them to rebels, said Jane's Americas analyst Anna Gilmour. Venezuelan arsenals, she said, are notorious for "seepage" by corrupt officers, who resell arms and munitions as contraband. In a news conference Monday, Venezuelan Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami denied giving the weapons to the FARC or "any collaboration with criminal or terrorist organizations. . . . If anything, we have combated terrorism."Still, the recovered weapons seem to resemble rockets described in e-mails allegedly retrieved from the laptop computers of Raul Reyes, the FARC commander killed by Colombian forces in a March 2008 raid in Ecuador. As represented by the Colombian government, the e-mails show exchanges between Reyes and rebel emissaries in Venezuela allegedly trying to acquire arms, including rockets, from high-level Venezuelan officials. Chavez later denied that his government gives material support to the FARC. Although the AT4s do not pose the strategic threat that surface-to-air missiles do, they are powerful weapons that "could potentially bring down a helicopter" from short range, said Gilmour.The FARC is known to be actively seeking SAMs to attack Colombian special-forces helicopters. Analysts say such an acquisition could change the dynamic of a civil war in which the Uribe government has gained the upper hand.An article this month in the Bogota daily newspaper El Tiempo said the FARC was negotiating with "Venezuelan contacts" to buy as many as 20 Russian Igla S-24 surface-to-air missile launchers.The weapons, the article said, are the "latest generation of surface-to-air arms developed by Russian industry." Venezuelan armed forces displayed about 50 of the SAMs during a march in April. Chavez acquired them from Russia as part of a massive military buildup that included purchases of Russian assault rifles, tanks, submarines and fighter jets. Two high-profile reputed global arms dealers, Monzer Kasser of Syria and Victor Bout of Russia, have been arrested in the last two years through stings in which decoys posed as FARC representatives trying to buy SAMs. The "rebels" were actually undercover U.S. agents. "We know through intelligence sources that they are trying to get surface-to-air weapons to attack our aircraft," Uribe said Monday, issuing a plea to the "international community to not sell them."Kraul is a special correspondent.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday ramped up her criticism of insurance companies, accusing them of unethical behavior and working to kill a plan to create a new government-run health plan.
"It's almost immoral what they are doing," Pelosi said to reporters, referring to insurance companies. "Of course they've been immoral all along in how they have treated the people that they insure," she said, adding, "They are the villains. They have been part of the problem in a major way. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening."
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Editing by Sandra Maler)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.
The Food Standards Agency who commissioned the report said the findings would help people make an "informed choice".
But the Soil Association criticised the study and called for better research.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at all the evidence on nutrition and health benefits from the past 50 years.
“ Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review ” Peter Melchett, Soil Association
Among the 55 of 162 studies that were included in the final analysis, there were a small number of differences in nutrition between organic and conventionally produced food but not large enough to be of any public health relevance, said study leader Dr Alan Dangour.
Overall the report, which is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no differences in most nutrients in organically or conventionally grown crops, including in vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
The same was true for studies looking at meat, dairy and eggs.
Differences that were detected, for example in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, were most likely to be due to differences in fertilizer use and ripeness at harvest and are unlikely to provide any health benefit, the report concluded.
Gill Fine, FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health, said: "Ensuring people have accurate information is absolutely essential in allowing us all to make informed choices about the food we eat.
"This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food.
"What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food."
She added that the FSA was neither pro nor anti organic food and recognised there were many reasons why people choose to eat organic, including animal welfare or environmental concerns.
Dr Dangour, said: "Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."
He added that better quality studies were needed.
Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said they were disappointed with the conclusions.
"The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences.
"Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not 'important', due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods.
"Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review.
"Also, there is not sufficient research on the long-term effects of pesticides on human health," he added.
By Tim Graham
The revolving door between the media and Team Obama continues to rotate. Some journalists on the campaign trail were infatuated with Obama, and that’s certainly true of the Newsweek reporter who covered Obama in-depth (with the promise that nothing he learned would be revealed until after the election). Philip Klein on The American Spectator’s blog reported:
Daren Briscoe, a Newsweek correspondent who was embedded with Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, has taken a job with the Obama administration, according to an email sent to a listserv of his classmates at the Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
The email, written by Time reporter and fellow Columbia grad Jay Newton-Small, said Briscoe would be serving as deputy associate director of public affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy as of Monday.
"Despite his multiple basketball games with our commander-in-chief, he always brought a skeptical eye to his work and in conversations about the candidate," Newton-Small wrote the email.
Briscoe's campaign reporting helped provide the basis for Newsweek's book on the campaign, A Long Time Coming.
When the campaign was over, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham told the story of how Briscoe went silently into the Obama campaign bubble:
On the trail with Obama, Daren understood early on that, come what may, it was a historic campaign. "As Obama crisscrossed Iowa -- the linchpin for his then fanciful-sounding 'early state strategy' – in December of 2007," Daren says, "I found myself at an event, wondering what an all-white, elderly crowd of rural Iowa farmers would make of this skinny black guy – until I noticed how many faded pairs of overalls and worn straw hats already had OBAMA buttons pinned to them."
Then, in March 2008, when clips of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright crying "God damn America" were playing endlessly, Daren wondered whether Obama's candidacy would survive – until he watched Obama's subtle speech on race in Philadelphia. Daren's father, born and raised in the pre-civil-rights South, later told him: "That's the first time I've ever heard anybody explain how I feel." Daren's dad is 69 years old.
Briscoe will work for Obama "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske, who was sworn in on June 19.
My list of twelve who have spun through the revolving door between journalism and the Obama campaign and/or Obama administration. (Unless otherwise linked, in my early May post you can learn more about those involved in each job switch: “Third CNN Staffer Joins Obama's Team, As Does ABC Vet; Revolving Door Up to Ten”):
Warren Bass: Washington Post deputy editor (of the Outlook section) > adviser to United Nations Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice.
Daren Briscoe: Newsweek Washington correspondent > Deputy Associate Director of Public Affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Jay Carney: Time magazine Washington bureau chief > Assistant to the Vice President and Director of Communications for Vice President Joe Biden.
Linda Douglass: ABC News Washington correspondent (previously with CBS News) > senior strategist and senior campaign spokesperson on the road for the Obama campaign, now Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services and leading spokesman for Obama's health reform.
Kate Albright-Hanna: CNN producer > director of “new media” (online video) for the Obama campaign, “content lead” for the Obama transition Web site.
Peter Gosselin: Los Angeles Times Washington correspondent > speechwriter for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Sasha Johnson: CNN senior political producer > Press Secretary at the Department of Transportation.
Beverley Lumpkin: Justice Department correspondent for ABC News > Press Secretary at the Justice Department.
Aneesh Raman: CNN Middle East correspondent > worked in communications for the Obama campaign.
Vijay Ravindran: Chief Technology Officer for Catalist, a voter database provider which worked for the Obama campaign > Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President of the Washington Post Company.
Rick Weiss: Washington Post science reporter > communications director and senior policy strategist at the White House Office of Science and Technology.
Jill Zuckman: Chicago Tribune Washington correspondent > Director of Public Affairs for the Department of Transportation.
—Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center
7 Victims In One Attack; Total Of 15 Hurt Over Four Hours
Geologist Ian Plimer takes a contrary view, arguing that man-made climate change is a con trick perpetuated by environmentalists
By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver SunJuly 28, 2009
Ian Plimer has outraged the ayatollahs of purist environmentalism, the Torquemadas of the doctrine of global warming, and he seems to relish the damnation they heap on him.
Plimer is a geologist, professor of mining geology at Adelaide University, and he may well be Australia's best-known and most notorious academic.
Plimer, you see, is an unremitting critic of "anthropogenic global warming" -- man-made climate change to you and me -- and the current environmental orthodoxy that if we change our polluting ways, global warming can be reversed.
It is, of course, not new to have a highly qualified scientist saying that global warming is an entirely natural phenomenon with many precedents in history. Many have made the argument, too, that it is rubbish to contend human behaviour is causing the current climate change. And it has often been well argued that it is totally ridiculous to suppose that changes in human behaviour -- cleaning up our act through expensive slight-of-hand taxation tricks -- can reverse the trend.
But most of these scientific and academic voices have fallen silent in the face of environmental Jacobinism. Purging humankind of its supposed sins of environmental degradation has become a religion with a fanatical and often intolerant priesthood, especially among the First World urban elites.
But Plimer shows no sign of giving way to this orthodoxy and has just published the latest of his six books and 60 academic papers on the subject of global warming. This book, Heaven and Earth -- Global Warming: The Missing Science, draws together much of his previous work. It springs especially from A Short History of Plant Earth, which was based on a decade of radio broadcasts in Australia.
That book, published in 2001, was a best-seller and won several prizes. But Plimer found it hard to find anyone willing to publish this latest book, so intimidating has the environmental lobby become.
But he did eventually find a small publishing house willing to take the gamble and the book has already sold about 30,000 copies in Australia. It seems also to be doing well in Britain and the United States in the first days of publication.
Plimer presents the proposition that anthropogenic global warming is little more than a con trick on the public perpetrated by fundamentalist environmentalists and callously adopted by politicians and government officials who love nothing more than an issue that causes public anxiety.
While environmentalists for the most part draw their conclusions based on climate information gathered in the last few hundred years, geologists, Plimer says, have a time frame stretching back many thousands of millions of years.
The dynamic and changing character of the Earth's climate has always been known by geologists. These changes are cyclical and random, he says. They are not caused or significantly affected by human behaviour.
Polar ice, for example, has been present on the Earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time, Plimer writes. Plus, animal extinctions are an entirely normal part of the Earth's evolution.
(Plimer, by the way, is also a vehement anti-creationist and has been hauled into court for disrupting meetings by religious leaders and evangelists who claim the Bible is literal truth.)
Plimer gets especially upset about carbon dioxide, its role in Earth's daily life and the supposed effects on climate of human manufacture of the gas. He says atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at the lowest levels it has been for 500 million years, and that atmospheric carbon dioxide is only 0.001 per cent of the total amount of the chemical held in the oceans, surface rocks, soils and various life forms. Indeed, Plimer says carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, but a plant food. Plants eat carbon dioxide and excrete oxygen. Human activity, he says, contributes only the tiniest fraction to even the atmospheric presence of carbon dioxide.
There is no problem with global warming, Plimer says repeatedly. He points out that for humans periods of global warming have been times of abundance when civilization made leaps forward. Ice ages, in contrast, have been times when human development slowed or even declined.
So global warming, says Plimer, is something humans should welcome and embrace as a harbinger of good times to come.
2. If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. -- Mark Twain
3. Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But then I repeat myself. -- Mark Twain
4. I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle . -- Winston Churchill
5. A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. -- George Bernard Shaw
6. A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money. -- G. Gordon Liddy
7. Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. -- James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)
8. Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. -- Douglas Casey, Classmate
of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University
9. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. -- P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian
10. Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. -- Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)
11.. Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
-- Ronald Reagan (1986)
12. I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. -- Will Rogers
13. If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free! -- P.J. O'Rourke
14. In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other. -- Voltaire (1764)
15. Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you! -- Pericles (430 B.C.)
16. No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session. -- Mark Twain (1866)
17. Talk is cheap...except when Congress does it. -- Anonymous
18. The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other end. -- Ronald Reagan
19. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
-- Winston Churchill
20. The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.-- Mark Twain
21. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools. -- Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)
22. There is no distinctly native American criminal class...save Congress.-- Mark Twain
23. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians. -- Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)
24. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. -- Thomas Jefferson
Yesterday morning, on my weekly sojourn into town for Dadcation Day, I spotted a bumper sticker in the Borders parking lot that had me shaking my head:
HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT
Now, health care is certainly an important commodity. I sure like being able to see a doctor when something ails me, and to get my teeth cleaned and fixed on occasion. I’m also a big fan of antibiotics, x-rays, vaccinations for the kids, and all the other medical advances that have doubled human lifespans in just a few generations. Health care is great, and I wouldn’t want to be without access to it.
But a “human right”? Hippie, please.
I have no doubt that the owner of the thusly-stickered car considers him- or herself to be educated, informed, and thoroughly on top of things. By proclaiming health care a “right”, however, he or she demonstrates a rather galling unfamiliarity with the nature of rights.
Let’s get the most obvious point out of the way first. You cannot have a right to something that necessitates a financial obligation on someone else’s part.
Follow the link for the rest.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Exclusive by CAROLYN CHURCHILL
July 28 2009
Almost one in three patients in Scotland experience problems with their NHS care, but it goes unrecorded because many believe nothing will be done.
A report commissioned by the Scottish Health Council highlighted poor communication and staff attitude as the most persistent problems, but found "significant" barriers to making a complaint.
In all, almost one-third of patients had encountered a problem with the NHS, but 53% of that group did not complain about the service they received, with many saying that it "wouldn't make any difference".
The report said: "People perceive many disincentives to complain even when things have gone quite seriously wrong for them in their contact with the NHS in Scotland. People's experiences and relationships with the NHS in Scotland are often complex and most people just want to move on from them.
"Fundamentally, people in Scotland just do not want to complain about the NHS."
The Making It Better report was based on a survey of almost 2000 people, including 257 who had complained to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, and responses from health boards and complaints-handling staff.
About 35 formal complaints are made for every 100,000 patient contacts, but the report warned that this "cannot be assumed to be a mark of patient satisfaction" as people have "low expectations" and many do not give any feedback about their treatment.
The majority (69%) of people said they were satisfied with their experience of the NHS in Scotland, but 31% had encountered a problem.
However, only 18% of those who had experienced a problem said they had made a formal complaint and almost two-thirds (64%) of those who did not take any further action said it was because they thought it "wouldn't make any difference".
A further 27% said that they had expressed concern or given feedback to staff, but the report warned that data on issues mentioned informally may "not be captured, meaning that trends are going unrecognised".
Other concerns were that the patient might be "branded a troublemaker" and this could affect their future treatment, that they were too busy coping with their illness or caring for someone to follow up their complaint and that they did not know how to complain. Other people expressed a "fear of being thought to be motivated by financial gain".
The report said that people can feel "disempowered and disadvantaged" in the healthcare system.
But it added: "We found this is often unwarranted. Some NHS Boards are actively encouraging feedback from patients and have made important changes following patient complaints.
"We also found a high proportion of GP practices surveyed had changed systems and practices in light of patient complaints and feedback. The NHS has in many instances been responsive to patients."
Statutory response times for dealing with complaints are "not being met consistently across Scotland" and the report recommended action to enable health boards and GP practices to deal with complaints in shorter timescales.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Most people are satisfied with the treatment and contact they have with the NHS. But for those who are not, it is important that they are able to raise these issues and have them dealt with appropriately."
"There is a need for alternatives for people who have concerns about the NHS to be able to raise these and have them dealt with by means other than the NHS complaints procedure, when they choose to.
"This is why we commissioned the report. We are now considering its recommendations and how best to implement them."
By RYAN KOST, Associated Press Writer Ryan Kost, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. – How much are politicians straining to convince people that the government is stimulating the economy? In Oregon, where lawmakers are spending $176 million to supplement the federal stimulus, Democrats are taking credit for a remarkable feat: creating 3,236 new jobs in the program's first three months.
But those jobs lasted on average only 35 hours, or about one work week. After that, those workers were effectively back unemployed, according to an Associated Press analysis of state spending and hiring data. By the state's accounting, a job is a job, whether it lasts three hours, three days, three months, or a lifetime.
"Sometimes some work for an individual is better than no work," said Oregon's Senate president, Peter Courtney.
With the economy in tatters and unemployment rising, Oregon's inventive math underscores the urgency for politicians across the country to show that spending programs designed to stimulate the economy are working — even if that means stretching the facts.
At the federal level, President Barack Obama has said the federal stimulus has created 150,000 jobs, a number based on a misused formula and which is so murky it can't be verified.
At least 10 other states have launched their own miniature stimulus plans and nine others have proposed one, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many of them, like Oregon, have promised job creation as a result of the public spending.
Ohio, for instance, passed a nearly $1.6 billion stimulus package even before Congress was looking at a federal program. When Gov. Ted Strickland first pitched the idea last year, he estimated the program could create some 80,000 jobs.
In North Carolina, a panel authorized hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt to speed up $740 million in government building projects. According to one estimate, the move could hurry the creation of 25,000 jobs.
As the bills for these programs mount, so will the pressure to show results. But, as Oregon illustrates, job estimates can very wildly.
"At best you can say it's ambiguous, at worst you can say it's intentional deception," said economist Bruce Blonigen of the University of Oregon. "You have to normalize it into a benchmark that everybody can understand."
Oregon's accounting practices would not be allowed as part of the $787 billion federal stimulus. While the White House has made the unverifiable promise that 3.5 million jobs will be saved or created by the end of next year, when accountants actually begin taking head counts this fall, there are rules intended to guard against exactly what Oregon is doing.
The White House requires states to report numbers in terms of full-time, yearlong jobs. That means a part-time mechanic counts as half a job. A full-time construction worker who has a three-month paving contract counts as one-fourth of a job.
Using that method, the AP's analysis of figures in Oregon shows the program so far has created the equivalent of 215 full-time jobs that will last three months. Oregon's House speaker, Dave Hunt, called that measurement unfair, though nearly every other state that has passed a stimulus package already uses or plans to use it.
"This stimulus plan was intentionally designed for short-term projects to pump needed jobs and income into families, businesses and communities struggling to get by," Hunt said in a statement. "No one ever said these would be full-time jobs for months at a time."
Still, critics say counting jobs, without any consideration of their duration, isn't good enough.
"You can't let them say, 'Well, we never said it was going to be full-time,'" said Steve Buckstein, a policy analyst for the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank. For the price of Oregon's $176 million, lawmakers could have provided all 3 million state residents with a one-hour job paying about $60, he said.
"By their definition, that's 3 million jobs," Buckstein said. "Is anybody gonna buy that?"
Oregon's 12.4 percent unemployment rate surpasses the national average of 9.4 percent. To supplement the federal stimulus, the state sold bonds to pay for everything from replacing light bulbs to installing carpet and finishing construction of a school in the farming community of Tillamook.
The "Go Oregon" program is still new. According to its latest progress report, 8 percent of the money has been spent and hundreds of projects have yet to be completed. More paychecks are bound to be written as construction continues.
If Oregon's dollars-to-jobs ratio remains steady, the program will create about 688 full-time, yearlong jobs. So far, it's generated only enough hours to employ 54 people full-time for a year.
Still, contractor Deborah Matthews of Pacificmark Construction, based in Milwaukie, Ore., is happy for any work. Her company picked up three contracts for painting, installing a water filter system and refurbishing a maintenance building. Prior to those contracts, which lasted about six weeks, she had laid off nearly all her construction workers. She brought back three full-time and hired a part-time worker.
"It was a little bit," she said, "to just keep us going."
Do you see where this is going?
When historians look back to identify the pivotal moments in the nation's struggle against obesity, they might point to the current period as the moment when those who influenced opinion and made public policy decided it was time to take the gloves off.
As evidence of this new "get-tough" strategy on obesity, they may well cite a study released today by the Urban Institute titled "Reducing Obesity: Policy Strategies From the Tobacco Wars."
In the debate over healthcare reform, the added cost of caring for patients with obesity-related diseases has become a common refrain: most recent is the cost-of-obesity study, also released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It finds that as obesity rates increased from 18.3% of Americans in 1998 to 25% in 2006, the cost of providing treatment for those patients' weight-driven problems increased healthcare spending by $40 billion a year.
If you happen to be the 1-in-3 Americans who is neither obese nor overweight (and, thus, considered at risk of becoming obese), you might well conclude that the habits of the remaining two-thirds of Americans are costing you, big time. U.S. life expectancies are expected to slide backward, after years of marching upward. (But that's their statistical problem: Yours is how to make them stop costing you all that extra money because they are presumably making poor choices in their food consumption.)
"Facing the serious consequences of an uncontrolled obesity epidemic, America's state and federal policy makers may need to consider interventions every bit as forceful as those that succeeded in cutting adult tobacco use by more than 50%," the Urban Institute report says. It took awhile -- almost 50 years from the first surgeon general's report on tobacco in 1964 -- to drive smoking down. But in many ways, the drumbeat of scientific evidence and the growing cultural stigma against obesity already are well underway -- as any parent who has tried to bring birthday cupcakes into her child's classroom certainly knows.
Key among the "interventions" the report weighs is that of imposing an excise or sales tax on fattening foods. That, says the report, could be expected to lower consumption of those foods. But it would also generate revenues that could be used to extend health insurance coverage to the uninsured and under-insured, and perhaps to fund campaigns intended to make healthy foods more widely available to, say, low-income Americans and to encourage exercise and healthy eating habits.
If anti-tobacco campaigns are to be the model, those sales taxes could be hefty: The World Health Organization has recommended that tobacco taxes should represent between two-thirds and three-quarters of the cost of, say, a package of cigarettes; a 2004 report prepared for the Department of Agriculture suggested that, for "sinful-food" taxes to change the way people eat, they may need to equal at least 10% to 30% of the cost of the food.
And although 40 U.S. states now impose modest extra sales taxes on soft drinks and a few snack items, the Urban Institute report suggests that a truly forceful "intervention" -- one that would drive down the consumption of fattening foods and, presumably, prevent or reverse obesity -- would have to target pretty much all the fattening and nutritionally empty stuff we eat: "With a more narrowly targeted tax, consumers could simply substitute one fattening food or beverage for another," the reports says.
Of course, the United States also would have to adopt extensive menu- and food-labeling changes that would make "good foods" easily distinguishable from the bad ones subject to added taxes. Not to worry though: Several European countries, most notably Great Britain, have led the way in this area.
And here's the payoff: Conservatively estimated, a 10% tax levied on foods that would be defined as "less healthy" by a national standard adopted recently in Great Britain could yield $240 billion in its first five years and $522 billion over 10 years of implementation -- if it were to begin in October 2010. If lawmakers instituted a program of tax subsidies to encourage the purchase of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, the added revenue would still be $356 billion over 10 years.
That would pay for a lot of healthcare reform, which some have estimated will cost as much as $1 trillion to implement over the next ten years.
There can be little doubt that lobbyists for the food, restaurant and grocery industries would come out swinging on any of these proposals. But the report cites evidence of a turning political tide for proposals that would hold the obese and other consumers of nutritionally suspect food accountable for their choices. A recent national poll found that 53% of Americans said they favored an increased tax on sodas and sugary soft drinks to help pay for healthcare reform. And even among those who opposed such an idea, 63% switched and said they'd favor such a tax if it "would raise money for health-care reform while also tackling the problems that stem from being overweight."
-- Melissa Healy
"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against -- then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. there's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can be neither observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted -- and you create a nation of law-breakers -- and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."
Monday, July 27, 2009
A Brooklyn nurse claims she was forced to choose between her religious convictions and her job when Mount Sinai Hospital ordered her to assist in a late-term abortion against her will.
SPOTLIGHT ON FED RULE SHIELDING 'CONSCIENCE' WORKERS
The hospital even exaggerated the patient's condition and claimed the woman could die if the nurse, a devout Catholic, did not follow orders, the nurse alleges in a lawsuit.
"It felt like a horror film unfolding," said Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo, 35, who claims she has had gruesome nightmares and hasn't been able to sleep since the May 24 incident.
The married mother of a year-old baby was 30 minutes into her early-morning shift when she realized she had been assigned to an abortion. She begged her supervisor to find a replacement nurse for the procedure. The hospital had a six-hour window to find a fill-in, the suit says.
Bosses told the weeping Cenzon-DeCarlo the patient was 22 weeks into her pregnancy and had preeclampsia, a condition marked by high blood pressure that can lead to seizures or death if left untreated.
The supervisor "claimed that the mother could die if [Cenzon-DeCarlo] did not assist in the abortion."
But the nurse, the niece of a Filipino bishop, contends that the patient's life was not in danger. She argued that the patient was not even on magnesium therapy, a common treatment for preeclampsia, and did not have problems indicating an emergency.
Her pleas were rejected, and instead she was threatened with career-ending charges of insubordination and patient abandonment, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court.
Feeling threatened, Cenzon-DeCarlo assisted in the procedure.
She said she later learned that the hospital's own records deemed the procedure "Category II," which is not considered immediately life threatening.
"I felt violated and betrayed," she recalled. "I couldn't believe that this could happen."
A native of the Philippines, Cenzon-DeCarlo moved to New York in 2001 and started at Mount Sinai on the East Side as an operating-room nurse in 2004. During her job interview, an administrator asked Cenzon-DeCarlo whether she'd be willing to participate in abortions. She flatly said no.
The nurse said she put her beliefs in writing.
The day after the procedure, Cenzon-DeCarlo filed a grievance with her union. Later that week, she was cornered by two supervisors who told her if she wanted any more overtime shifts, she would have to sign a statement agreeing to participate in abortions, the suit says.
The next month, Cenzon-DeCarlo was assigned to one overtime shift, rather than the eight or nine she usually received, the suit claims.
Although the Brooklyn resident is still working at Mount Sinai, she's asking a court to order the hospital to pay unspecified damages, restore her shifts and respect her objections to abortion.
"I emigrated to this country in the belief that here religious freedom is sacred," Cenzon-DeCarlo said. "Doctors and nurses shouldn't be forced to abandon their beliefs and participate in abortion in order to keep their jobs."
Providing legal advice for her action is the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian group seeking to put a national spotlight on the case. The suit also seeks to force Mount Sinai to give up federal funding it receives, because it failed to uphold a federal rule protecting employees who have moral objections to controversial procedures.
Mount Sinai said it would not comment.
Galen Sherwin, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Rights Project, said the case centered on whether a medical emergency existed.
"The law provides protections for individuals who object to performing abortions, but at the same time, health-care professionals are not permitted to abandon patients," Sherwin said.
H.J. Res 5: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.
And the only president to actually serve more than two terms was, correct me if I'm wrong, a Democrat. I think the Bush meme was, what the psychologists call, 'projection'.
Supreme military organisation and a flair for agricultural invention are traditionally credited for the rise of the Incas. However, their success may have owed more to a spell of good weather — a spell that lasted for more than 400 years.
According to new research, an increase in temperature of several degrees between AD1100 and 1533 allowed vast areas of mountain land to be used for agriculture for the first time. This fuelled the territorial expansion of the Incas, which at its peak stretched from the modern Colombian border to the middle of Chile.
“Yes, they were highly organised, and they had a sophisticated hierarchical system, but it wouldn’t have counted a jot without being underpinned by the warming of the climate,” says Dr Alex Chepstow-Lusty, a palaeo-ecologist from the French Institute for Andean Studies in Lima, Peru.
As the treeline moved higher up the mountains, the Incas re-sculpted their landscape to maximise agricultural productivity. They carved terraces into the mountainsides and developed a complex system of canals to irrigate the land.
Although the climate remained dry, the gradual melting of glacial ice meant that they had a constant supply of water to nourish their crops.
The resultant surplus of maize and potatoes freed a large part of the growing population for activities outside food production, such as constructing roads and buildings, and serving in an increasingly ambitious army.
“It was the perfect incubator for the expansion of a civilisation,” says Dr Chepstow-Lusty, who led the study.
The Incas’ Royal Road, which went through the highlands for a distance of 3,250 miles, and the Coastal Road, which stretched for 2,520 miles, were both constructed during the warm spell. So, too, was Machu Picchu, “the Lost City of the Incas”, where temples, sanctuaries and houses stand remarkably intact today, demonstrating the scale and the skill of Inca architecture.
By the time the Spanish colonials arrived in 1533, the Incas had built up food supplies to last the population more than ten years.
However, internal divisions, the Spanish invasion and the consequent introduction of new diseases led to the Inca population plummeting.
The team behind the study identified the change in climate by examining the sediment on the floor of a small lake called Marcacocha, in the Cuzco region of the Peruvian Andes, from where the Incas began their expansion.
Each layer of sediment represents a period of time, rather like the rings in the trunk of a tree. By analysing pollen, seeds and other environmental indicators buried in the layers of mud, the team were able to find clues to the climate at the time.
They noted the appearance for the first time of a range of trees and crops at the lake, which is 11,000ft above sea level, over the critical period, corresponding to a tree line edging upwards.
The lake sediments also revealed a major drought that took place around AD880, and that may have been responsible for the collapse of a previous empire, known as the Wari.
The study’s authors say that the findings have important implications for Peru and other countries facing the prospect of the most extreme shifts in climate because of global warming. For many countries, the prospect of warming is unwelcome. However, with the correct landmanagement techniques some of these countries might be able to turn a warmer climate to their advantage.
Dr Chepstow-Lusty recommends a national reforestation programme in Peru and the restoration of the country’s irrigation canals to increase water security in the region.
•The Inca empire was a theocracy in which the king, Sapa Inca, was said to descend from Inti, the god of the Sun
•At its peak the empire supported about eight million people
•The remaining Inca populations, such as the Quechuas and the Aymara people, retain a strong cultural heritage but are economically marginalised
•The Inca civilisation remains the largest empire to have existed in the Americas
Raul Castro says Cuba must put land to better use
By WILL WEISSERTASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Cuba's President Raul Castro adjusts his glasses as he attends a rally marking the Cuba’s Day of National Rebellion in Holguin, northeast of Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2009. July 26, Cuba’s Day of National Rebellion, marks a new anniversary of the attack against Moncada military complex, where a band of rebels, led by Fidel and Raul Castro, launched the attack 56 years ago, planting the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution. Holguin was selected to host the main July 26, 2009, celebration. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)
HOLGUIN, Cuba -- Raul Castro said Sunday that the global economic crisis means tougher times ahead for Cuba, but the country has no one to blame but itself for poor farm production that leads to frequent shortages of fruits, vegetables and other basics.
In a speech marking Revolution Day, Cuba's president said the island can't pin all its problems on Washington's 47-year-old trade embargo. He implored Cubans to take better advantage of a government program begun last year to turn unused state land over to private farmers.
"The land is there, here are the Cubans," he said, pounding the podium. "Let's see if we get to work or not, if we produce or not, if we keep our word."
The line did not get much of a response from a crowd not thrilled about working under the island's scorching tropical sun, but the 78-year-old Castro called agricultural production Cuba's top priority and a matter of national security.
"It is not a question of yelling 'Fatherland or death! Down with imperialism! The blockade hurts us,'" he said, referring to U.S. sanctions begun in 1962. "The land is there waiting for our efforts."
He made almost no other mention of the United States.
Three years since the last time his 82-year-old brother Fidel was seen in public, the younger Castro showed signs he is getting more comfortable with national addresses, opening with a joke about how whoever designed the stage failed to provide any shade for the speaker or the crowd. He later harpooned his own Agricultural Ministry, asking how previous Cuban generations managed to ever grow even a single mango tree if all state advisers do today is say there's no money for reforestation.
Tens of thousands of supporters, most wearing red T-shirts or caps, filled a grassy plaza dotted with red and black "July 26" flags. Revolution Day, the top holiday for the communist government, commemorates the date in 1953 when the Castros led an attack on the Moncada army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. The attack was a disaster, but Cubans consider it the beginning of the revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster on New Year's Day 1959.
Unlike in his last two holiday speeches, Raul Castro did not address the crowd with a sculpture or banner of his brother's face nearby.
Instead, an eight-story tall banner on a building behind the crowd featured a picture of both Castros thrusting their arms skyward under the words "The Vigorous and Victorious Revolution Keeps Marching Forward."
Despite Cubans' hopes for change after Raul formally took over as president in February 2008, economic reforms that were supposed to ease life on the island have been slow to come. Meanwhile, Cuba's economy has been hammered by the global economic crisis, and U.S. relations have not improved much under President Barack Obama.
Raul Castro "was working to improve things, but with all that's happened with the economy in the world, the effect has been minimal," said Silvia Hernandez, a retired commercial analyst for a state-run firm in Holguin, where Castro spoke.
Castro has asked Cubans to be patient as he implements "structural changes" to a struggling economy more than 90 percent controlled by the state. He also has said he'd be willing to meet with U.S. leaders over any issue - including the country's political prisoners and human rights record, though he did not mention that Sunday.
Officials from Cuba and the U.S. discussed immigration this month for the first time since 2003. The Obama administration lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to the island. But Washington has said it wants to see small political or economic reforms before going further.
"The other side doesn't want to do anything," said housewife Elena Fuentes, 73, referring to the Obama administration. "We've been like this for 50 years. That's too long. They talk about 'change,' but the change we want is for things to get better with the United States."
In recent months, the government has ordered lights and air conditioners turned off at banks, stores and other government institutions and closed state-run businesses and factories early to conserve oil - even though Venezuela sends the island about 100,000 barrels of crude a day at favorable prices.
Farming and land reform have bolstered production of vegetables somewhat, but government money problems have delayed imports of other food, causing shortages of basic staples such as cooking oil.
Castro said that since state officials began doling out unused state land to private farmers and cooperatives, 82,000 applicants have received more than 1.7 million acres - nearly 40 percent of fallow state land. The program bets private interests can revive an agricultural sector crippled by decades of government mismanagement.
He also said Sunday that government leaders will meet in coming days to assess the affect of the global crisis on Cuba's economy, "particularly the significant reduction of income from exports."
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became a dissident anti-communist and was jailed in 2003, said Castro has failed to keep his promises as president.
"He knows times have changed, but ... he hasn't confronted the very strong inertia within the government," said Espinosa Chepe.
Cuba's free health care and subsidized food and housing do little to soften the sting of further belt-tightening in a country where nearly everyone works for the state and the average wage is less than $20 per month.
"More steps against the crisis, more adjustments, aren't going to be easy," said Reina Delgado, a 70-year-old retiree.