Saturday, January 5, 2013

A child reaches from the womb to take her doctor’s hand

Jan. 5, 2013

A remarkable photograph of a baby reaching out from the womb to grip the finger of the doctor working to deliver her by C-section has drawn a huge amount of attention on the Internet:

The baby is named Nevaeh (it’s “Heaven” spelled backward) and her mother, Alicia Atkins, is a professional photographer. She didn’t take this particular photo, since she was rather preoccupied at the time, so the shutterbug duties fell to her husband Randy.

A report at Life News notes that such events are not unknown to hospital staff, but it’s very rare for such a perfect photograph of a baby reaching out from the womb to be captured. The Atkins’ are reportedly surprised at the popularity of the photo, which Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon clocks at “over 5,000 likes and close to 3,000 shares” on Facebook as of Thursday.

While Mrs. Atkins professers herself gratified by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the picture, Williams was somewhat under-whelmed:

Maybe it’s different for cesarean sections, but if you’ve ever held a newborn, you already know that the grip is among a baby’s first parlor tricks. Sonogram evidence shows that babies can do all kinds of clever things with their hands before they’re even born. They can suck their thumbs, clasp their hands, touch their feet. Twins can even hold each other’s hands — or rowdily tug each other’s umbilical cords. And I can attest that halfway through pushing out my second child, my obstetrician said something surprising: He told me to take the baby. I reached down to grab her, and she dutifully wrapped her little monkey fingers tightly around me as we pulled her into the world. It was one of the neatest tricks I have ever witnessed, one of the most humbling, profound moments of my life.

So I fully understand the wow factor of tiny little fingers curled around a big grown-up hand. For a parent to capture that special event precisely as it happened – and for the Internet to respond with welcome and love – is a rare bit of sweetness. But while I’ll grant that her first photo is eminently more tasteful than your average visceral, full-color Facebook birth shot, I’m also willing to be the last spoilsport on Earth to ask if really need to share every intimate, awe-inspiring moment of our children’s lives with the entire world. Yahoo News says that “Few lives will be as documented as Neveah’s” because her mother is a professional photographer — to which I have to reply, have you been on Instagram lately? Our babies are public property while they’re still in the womb. And I’ll likewise be the one to say that Neveah wasn’t being eager, or polite, or grateful, or anything that any other human might be upon making a first out of womb appearance. She was just being born. She’s a spectacular miracle. In other words, she’s just like everybody else.

I can appreciate her point about the excesses of the paparazzi culture, in which digital images give everyone the easy and affordable ability to fill the equivalent of a thousand scrapbooks with the kind of photos the previous generation didn’t really want to see when they were pasted into actual scrapbooks – the sort of books whose appearance produced barely-stifled groans at many a family gathering. Maybe there is a bit too much “sharing” going on. It’s hard to be surprised that people take an awful lot of pictures, now that they’re packing cheap, tiny cameras that contain essentially limitless amounts of “film.” And thanks to the proliferation of the smart phone, almost everyone is carrying such a camera, every hour of the day.

But it seems as if Williams is missing the significance of this particular photo, just as the importance of the sonogram to the pro-life movement was originally underestimated. We are a visual culture. We believe what we see, and tend to undervalue what is merely described. The image of a baby reaching out from the womb is touching, beautiful, intriguing… and powerful. If I might appropriate words Mary Williams meant in a different context, it’s not good that we view babies as “public property while they’re still in the womb.” Seeing one reach outside, in the moments before her birth, is an unforgettable rebuke to that world-view. Nevaeh Atkins eagerly enters the world, and it grows larger.

Source: Human Events

Barack Obama’s $7 million Hawaii vacation is an insult to America’s struggling middle class

Jan. 5, 2013

Barack Obama: making sacrifices for his country?
$16.4 trillion – that’s the latest figure for America’s massive national debt. Nearly $6 trillion of this debt was racked up in the first term of the Obama presidency – a 50 percent increase. It is horrifying to imagine what the debt will be when Obama leaves the White House in 2016, unless Congress has the willpower to stand in the way.

Meanwhile, as the world’s superpower is literally drowning in debt, President Obama is basking in the warmth of the beaches of Hawaii, at an exclusive resort way beyond the financial reach of most Americans. The president pays the cost of his own family’s accommodations, but there are a large number of associated costs which are paid from the public purse.

What is the actual cost of Obama’s lavish vacation to the American taxpayer? A staggering $7 million, according to veteran White House reporter Keith Koffler, who wrote in his blog earlier this week:

In a move that is rich in irony, President Obama agreed Tuesday night to sign an emergency deficit reduction bill that does almost nothing to rein in spending and then jetted out to Hawaii to resume his vacation at an extra cost of more than $3 million to taxpayers.

The price tag is in addition to more than $4 million that is already being spent on the Obamas’ Hawaii idyll, bringing the total cost of the excursion to well over $7 million.

The added cost was incurred because by the time the Obamas return from Hawaii – whenever that is – the president will have used Air Force One to travel to Honolulu and back twice.

The White House doesn’t like to publish the costs of presidential vacations, but Koffler has done the sums:

Air Force One is known to cost about $180,000 an hour to fly. Based on an estimated 18 hours roundtrip flying time for the jet between Washington and Honolulu, the travel cost alone of Obama’s decision to return to Hawaii amounts to around $3.24 million. And that doesn’t include the price tag for the massive security operation required to move the president or the cost of the cargo plane that follows Air Force One around.

As Koffler notes, President Obama could easily have saved taxpayers a good deal of money:

The Obamas could have saved taxpayers millions by returning from Hawaii together after Christmas and then resuming their vacation at one of the many ritzy resorts that lie outside of Washington. If the beach is a must, even a trip to Florida would have been far less expensive.

Or they could have simply stayed at the White House or Camp David, each a luxurious government-run installation, billing taxpayers a relative pittance.

According to Koffler, "the total cost to taxpayers of Obama’s vacations to Hawaii since becoming president is likely in excess of $20 million, and possibly much, much more."

The message this sends is one of sheer contempt for the American taxpayer. $7 million may be viewed by the White House as a drop in the ocean compared to the overall size of America’s federal debt, but it is the principle that counts. The vast majority of American people simply couldn’t afford the kind of vacation enjoyed by the US president, not least at a time when 12.2 million Americans are still out of work.

For most of America’s embattled middle class, who, unlike the president have already returned to work, this kind of luxury is simply unimaginable in the current economic climate. And they’ve just been hit hard with a significant rise in their payroll taxes due to the expiration of the Social Security tax break. According to the Tax Policy Center, 77 percent of US households will now be paying more in federal taxes following this week’s fiscal cliff deal.

Barack Obama benefits from a largely deferential liberal press in the United States which rarely questions his opulence in office. It would be unthinkable for the British prime minister to act in the same manner. If David Cameron flew off to Hawaii and billed the British public £5 million for his Christmas vacation, he would be out of a job.

President Obama frequently calls on the American people to make sacrifices, but he is simply unwilling to lead by example and do so himself. In a speech in Virginia back in April 2011, Obama famously declared:

We are going to have to ask everybody to sacrifice. And if we’re asking community colleges to sacrifice, if we’re asking people who are going to see potentially fewer services in their neighborhoods to make a little sacrifice, then we can ask millionaires and billionaires to make a little sacrifice.

The president is elected to serve his country, rather than lord over it, a message which appears to be completely lost on the present White House. The federal government is simply running out of money, and America faces economic ruin unless spending is cut dramatically and the vast entitlements system is reformed. Barack Obama’s Hawaii vacation is merely a symbol of his wider presidency – a culture of impunity and extraordinary arrogance, reckless spending, a striking lack of accountability, and a shameless let them eat cake mentality. America’s middle class deserves to be treated better than this from a president who fails to practice what he preaches.

source: Nile Gardiner - UK Telegraph

Chuck Hagel’s nomination and the clarity it would bring

Jan. 5, 2013

The word is that President Obama is set to nominate Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Reportedly, the nomination could come as early as Monday.

Hagel’s nomination would be a victory for clarity. As has widely been observed, Hagel has no natural constituency, except perhaps for those who want a foreign and defense policy that is tougher on Israel and softer on Iran. Unfortunately, as I have observed, Obama belongs to that constituency.

Hence, the clarity his nomination would bring. Israel would be clear that Obama views the Jewish state with hostility. Iran would be clear that it has nothing serious to fear from the Obama administration.

Actually, these are the lessons of the past four years. But, if the rumors about Hagel are true, they are about to be driven home.

Nothing else can explain this odd nomination. Team Obama tried to couch it as a bipartisan act, inasmuch as Hagel was a Republican Senator. But key Republican Senators have made it clear that they don’t want Hagel at the Pentagon. Key Democrats have also failed to express enthusiasm over that prospect. Even Barney Frank opposes Hagel. If there’s a bipartisan consensus around Hagel, it’s that Obama should nominate someone else.

Under these circumstances, nominating Hagel would make sense only if he brought something special to the table. And he does — his animus towards Israel and his desire to appease Iran, views that fall well outside the foreign policy and defense mainstream from which Defense Secretaries normally are selected.

Certainly, there is nothing else special about Hagel. His Senate career was distinguished only by grandstanding and nastiness. As Bill Kristol says:

His backers can cite no significant legislation for which Hagel was responsible in his two terms in the Senate. They can quote no memorable speeches that Hagel delivered and can cite no profound passages from the book he authored. They can summarize no perceptive Hagelian analysis of defense or foreign policy, and can appeal to no acts of management or leadership by the man they’d have as our next secretary of defense.

The fact is that those legislative achievements, intellectual insights, or management triumphs don’t exist. A long and comprehensive history of the Senate during Chuck Hagel’s tenure there could be written that would barely mention him. A long and comprehensive account of American foreign and defense policy in the last thirty years would hardly note his existence.

It was to be expected that, in a second term, Obama would show more clearly his true colors. In fact, he promised the Russians to do so.

And there is something to be said for the kind of clarity Hegal’s selection will bring. Perhaps with Israel shedding the last of its illusions about Obama’s willingness to stop Iran from obtaining nukes it will become more likely to attack Iran, as Alan Dershowitz believes. Perhaps that would be a good development; perhaps not.

But the world is a dangerous place. And a well-run Pentagon headed by a Secretary who provides the White House with sound advice helps us cope with the danger. A Pentagon headed by a grandstander whose biases are contrary to our security interests will, in the end, only make the world more dangerous.

source: Powerline

Squatter's Rights: California lawmaker proposes 'homeless bill of rights'

Jan 5, 2013

California law protects its residents from discrimination based on sex, race, religion and sexual orientation.

Now a state lawmaker is pushing to add another category to the list: homelessness.

New legislation titled the "Homeless Bill of Rights" by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco is meant to keep communities from rousting people who have nowhere to turn.

The measure is sure to be controversial in cities such as Sacramento, which has battled for years over "tent cities" for homeless people, and San Francisco, where voters passed an ordinance barring sitting or lying on sidewalks.

The heart of Assembly Bill 5 would give legal protection to people engaging in life-sustaining activities on public property. Among other activities, it specifically mentions sleeping, congregating, panhandling, urinating and "collecting and possessing goods for recyling, even if those goods contain alcoholic residue."

Ammiano declined to comment to The Bee on Thursday about the bill. His measure also would give homeless residents the right to sleep in cars that are legally parked, to receive funds through public welfare programs, to receive legal counsel when cited – even for infractions – and to possess personal property on public lands. Local officials could not force the homeless into shelters or social service programs.

If the bill passes and is signed into law, courts would be left to sort out the extent to which communities could limit the legal rights it conveys – for example, whether local ordinances could close parks during late-night hours for public safety reasons.

The bill states that homeless Californians have the right to safe, affordable housing and 24-hour access to clean water and safe restrooms, but Paul Boden, a spokesman for one of its sponsors, said the measure is not meant to require cities and counties to add new facilities.

Boden and other advocates of AB5 say that existing laws to sweep the homeless from public view are similar to Jim Crow laws of decades ago in the segregated South, and to "anti-Okie" laws of the 1930s that prohibited bringing extremely poor people into California.

The measure "would require local governments to leave people in peace who are not committing crimes," said Boden, who describes his group as a collective of West Coast social justice organizations.

Boden said homeless people routinely tell him they have been harassed for sleeping, loitering or sitting down, and the bill's supporters maintain that constitutes an attack on basic civil rights.

"Homelessness is a condition, it's not a voluntary choice," said Sacramento attorney Mark Merin, a longtime advocate for the homeless who spoke at a Capitol rally Thursday supporting the bill.

Jack Larson, 52, said he has been a homeless Sacramentan for five years and has been cited dozens of times for panhandling. He said he hopes AB5 would enable him to solicit money and sleep in public without harassment.

"They need to go catch murderers and burglars – and leave us panhandlers alone," he said.

Dianna Buettner, a Stockton high school teacher who attended Thursday's rally, added that "houseless people need to be treated like everybody else – it's not a crime to be without a house."

Assemblyman Curt Hagman, a Chino Hills Republican, said he has not seen the bill but that the state should carefully weigh whether it would violate the rights of other Californians by giving the homeless legal permission to congregate, sleep and sustain themselves on public property.

"We do have a safety net in this society," Hagman said. "If you don't use it, that's your right, but you shouldn't impose your lifestyle on everybody else."

Neither the League of California Cities nor the California State Association of Counties has taken a position.

But Eva Spiegel, spokeswoman for the league, said the group generally "favors policies that allow local flexibility to address homelessness issues or other land-use issues because of the unique circumstances in each jurisdiction."

For years, Sacramento has wrestled with how best to respond to hundreds of homeless people who often sleep near the city's two rivers or within walking distance of food distribution or other social service programs.

Several months ago, Sacramento city officials agreed to pay $796,000 to 1,143 people whose property was seized and destroyed during raids on illegal campsites since 2005.

Last September, Sacramento County rangers launched night patrols in the American River Parkway in an intensified effort to root out and evict scores of homeless people camping illegally.

During Sacramento's offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, more than 100 arrests were made of protesters seeking to remain in Cesar Chavez Plaza after the park's 11 p.m. weekday or midnight weekend curfew.

Advocates say the homeless, some of them mentally ill, often are looked down upon, threatened, verbally abused and otherwise harassed because of their appearance or mannerisms. In one of the most extreme examples, a Los Angeles woman was doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze last week while on a bus bench outside a 24-hour Walgreens store.

"These people are poor people, our poor people, and if we don't recognize that, then we're lost," said Kevin Carter, urban outreach coordinator for the Occupy Sacramento group.

But former Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness, now a Sacramento radio host, said government exists partly to maintain sanitation, discourage the spread of disease, and ensure public safety.

"That's the expectation, that's why people pay taxes – that's what they want from the police," McGinness said.

The bill could make it easier for a homeless person to subsist, but California might be better served by targeting root problems causing homelessness, he said.

"Do you want to see people living like that?" McGinness said. "I don't."

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Ex-Burglars Say Newspaper’s Gun Map Would’ve Made the Job Easier, Safer

Jan. 5, 2013

Reformed crooks say the New York newspaper that published a map of names and addresses of gun owners did a great service – to their old cronies in the burglary trade.

The information published online by the Journal-News, a daily paper serving the New York suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, could be highly useful to thieves in two ways, former burglars told Crooks looking to avoid getting shot now know which targets are soft and those who need weapons know where they can steal them.

“That was the most asinine article I’ve ever seen,” said Walter T. Shaw, 65, a former burglar and jewel thief who the FBI blames for more than 3,000 break-ins that netted some $70 million in the 1960s and 1970s. “Having a list of who has a gun is like gold - why rob that house when you can hit the one next door, where there are no guns?

"What they did was insanity," added Shaw, author of "License to Steal," a book about his criminal career.

The newspaper published the online map last month alongside an article titled, "The gun owner next door: What you don't know about the weapons in your neighborhood." The map included the names and addresses of pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

While the paper ostensibly sought to make a point about gun proliferation in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the effort backfired. A blogger reacted with a map showing where key editorial staffers live and some outraged groups have called for a boycott of parent company Gannett’s national advertisers. Ironically, the newspaper has now stationed armed guards outside at least one of its offices.

“They just created an opportunity for some crimes to be committed and I think it’s exceptionally stupid,” said Bob Portenier, 65, a former burglar and armed house robber turned crime prevention consultant.

Professional burglars are always looking for an edge, and like most folks, they read the paper, said Portenier.

“Criminals are always looking for opportunity and words travels through the grapevine—burglars trade secrets and when you see something like that in the paper, that’s is something burglar’s are going to talk about,” Portenier said. “‘Did you see in the paper where all these people have guns and their addresses?’ and that kind of stuff, they’ll say.”

While some burglars may use the newspaper’s information to avoid guns, Portenier said others will target homes with guns. The newspaper’s decision could even lead to legally-owned guns proliferating on the street, he said.

“That’s one of the first things we’d check out—guns are on the top of the list of what you want to steal,” he said. “They can walk out with a shotgun and a couple of handguns and sell them on the street for $300 or $400 a pop. They can sell them to a gangbanger who ends up killing someone."

Frank Abagnale, who was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 film “Catch Me if You Can,” and is perhaps the most famous reformed thief to ever earn a legitimate living by offering the public insight into the criminal mind, called the newspaper’s actions “reprehensible.”

“It is unbelievable that a newspaper or so called journalist would publish the names and addresses of legal gun owners, including federal agents, law enforcement officers and the like,” said Abagnale, who noted that he grew up in the suburban New York area served by the Journal-News. “This would be equivalent to publishing the names of individuals who keep substantial sums of money, jewelry and valuables in their home.”

source: Fox News

The single dumbest gun-control measure ever proposed

Jan. 5, 2013
The Week

With extraordinary shortsightedness, Connecticut lawmakers want to publicize the addresses of handgun owners

Lt. Ray Mesek registers a pistol at a gun buyback event at the Bridgeport Police Department in Connecticut on Dec. 22.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The Connecticut state legislature is about to consider changing the law to make the information and addresses of 170,000 Connecticut handgun owners public. Aside from potentially being unconstitutional on the grounds that such a law would violate (somewhat ironically) the right to privacy first enumerated by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, this proposal would, if passed, prove a boon for criminals, a disaster for unarmed Connecticuters, and would eventually lead to the proliferation of handgun ownership throughout the state.

That was not a typo: I did, in fact, write that the law would most harm people who do not own handguns. Of course, the gun-rights crowd is emphasizing the harm the proposal would do to gun owners' privacy. And they argue that it would put handgun owners in more danger. It's certainly true that the law would invade the privacy of Connecticut residents who own guns. But it wouldn't put them in harm's way. It would actually maximize the utility of owning a firearm — to the detriment of people who don't own guns.

Think about it. What idiot is going to choose to rob a home where he knows the owner is packing heat? Criminals tend to be stupid, but not that stupid. On the contrary, owning a registered handgun would dramatically decrease the likelihood of your home being targeted, all things being equal.

Here's what would happen: Someone, probably some ridiculous newspaper that does not think the consequences through, will FOIA the gun ownership records and publish them online in an easily searchable database. Would-be robbers would then visit this website and figure out which houses do not have residents who own registered handguns. Those will be their targets. In other words, this law would screw the very people it is aimed at protecting: People who do not own handguns.

Civilians will quickly catch on to this logic. It turns out that if you are a civilian and you are worried, you probably are going to want to be on that gun owner list, if only because you do not want to be among the crowd most likely to be targeted. At this point, the proposal's most perverse consequence of all becomes clear: If this bill becomes law, Connecticut would likely see first-time handgun permit requests and handgun purchases skyrocket as people who never had any reason to desire a gun flock to stores so that criminals will be more likely to leave them alone. And because the proposal exempts rifles, people who already own guns for sporting purposes will also probably head to the store and pick up a handgun that they neither wanted nor needed.

This proposal, which appears to have received almost no critical thought prior to its introduction, is a perfect example of why legislators need to think long and hard about how they seek to regulate firearms. If they do not, ill-conceived proposals are apt to do exactly the opposite of what they were originally designed for. For historical evidence, look no further than the Assault Weapons Ban of 1990. The ban eliminated high-capacity magazines... but only for a limited time. Furthermore, the law grandfathered in all pre-ban magazines and failed to ban their importation in certain circumstances. Thus the number of high-capacity magazines actually increased while the ban was in place.

Additionally, the ban limited supply and, in the wake of the ban, demand skyrocketed. Gun companies like Glock cleverly arranged to have many of the police departments that use Glock trade their old weapons (with their pre-ban magazines) in for new weapons. Glock then resold the old guns and, more importantly, the pre-ban magazines at a considerably higher price, creating a windfall for the company. And then, of course, when the assault weapons ban expired, Glock resumed production.

If legislators are going to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, they would do well to develop a more pronounced appreciation of the law of unintended consequences.

Source: Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for FrumForum. 

America’s European moment

Jan. 5, 2013

The troubling similarities between the fiscal mismanagement in Washington and the mess in the euro zone

FOR the past three years America’s leaders have looked on Europe’s management of the euro crisis with barely disguised contempt. In the White House and on Capitol Hill there has been incredulity that Europe’s politicians could be so incompetent at handling an economic problem; so addicted to last-minute, short-term fixes; and so incapable of agreeing on a long-term strategy for the single currency.

Those criticisms were all valid, but now those who made them should take the planks from their own eyes. America’s economy may not be in as bad a state as Europe’s, but the failures of its politicians—epitomised by this week’s 11th-hour deal to avoid the calamity of the “fiscal cliff”—suggest that Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s in three depressing ways.

Can-kicking is a transatlantic sport

The first is an inability to get beyond patching up. The euro crisis deepened because Europe’s politicians serially failed to solve the single currency’s structural weaknesses, resorting instead to a succession of temporary fixes, usually negotiated well after midnight. America’s problems are different. Rather than facing an imminent debt crisis, as many European countries do, it needs to deal with the huge long-term gap between tax revenue and spending promises, particularly on health care, while not squeezing the economy too much in the short term. But its politicians now show themselves similarly addicted to kicking the can down the road at the last minute.

This week’s agreement, hammered out between Republican senators and the White House on New Year’s Eve, passed by the Senate in the early hours of New Year’s Day and by the House of Representatives later the same day, averted the spectre of recession. It eliminated most of the sweeping tax increases that were otherwise due to take effect from January 1st, except for those on the very wealthy, and temporarily put off all the threatened spending cuts (see article). Like many of Europe’s crisis summits, that staved off complete disaster: rather than squeezing 5% out of the economy (as the fiscal cliff implied) there will now be a more manageable fiscal squeeze of just over 1% of GDP in 2013. Markets rallied in relief.

But for how long? The automatic spending cuts have merely been postponed for two months, by which time Congress must also vote to increase the country’s debt ceiling if the Treasury is to be able to go on paying its bills. So more budgetary brinkmanship will be on display in the coming weeks.

And the temporary fix ignored America’s underlying fiscal problems. It did nothing to control the unsustainable path of “entitlement” spending on pensions and health care (the latter is on track to double as a share of GDP over the next 25 years); nothing to rationalise America’s hideously complex and distorting tax code, which includes more than $1 trillion of deductions; and virtually nothing to close America’s big structural budget deficit. (Putting up tax rates at the very top simply does not raise much money.) Viewed through anything other than a two-month prism, it was an abject failure. The final deal raised less tax revenue than John Boehner, the Republican speaker in the House of Representatives, once offered during the negotiations, and it included none of the entitlement reforms that President Barack Obama was once prepared to contemplate.

The reason behind this lamentable outcome is the outsize influence of narrow interest groups—which marks a second, unhappy parallel with Europe. The inability of Europeans to rise above petty national concerns, whether over who pays for bail-outs or who controls bank supervision, has prevented them from making the big compromises necessary to secure the single currency’s future. America’s Democrats and Republicans have proved similarly incapable of reaching a grand bargain; both are far too driven by their parties’ extremists and too focused on winning concessions from the other side to work steadily together to secure the country’s fiscal future.

The third parallel is that politicians have failed to be honest with voters. Just as Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Fran├žois Hollande have avoided coming clean to the Germans and the French about what it will take to save the single currency, so neither Mr Obama nor the Republican leaders have been brave enough to tell Americans what it will really take to fix the fiscal mess. Democrats pretend that no changes are necessary to Medicare (health care for the elderly) or Social Security (pensions). Republican solutions always involve unspecified spending cuts, and they regard any tax rise as socialism. Each side prefers to denounce the other, reinforcing the very polarisation that is preventing progress.

Fixed today, hobbled tomorrow

Optimists will point out that America is unlikely to face a European-style debt crisis in the near future, but the slow-burning fuse is itself a problem. One positive side-effect of Europe’s crisis is that it has forced euro-zone countries to raise their retirement ages and rationalise pensions and health-care promises. America, which has the biggest structural budget deficit in the rich world bar Japan, will become an outlier in its failure to deal with the fiscal consequences of an ageing population. Its ageing is slower than Europe’s but, as its debt piles up and business and consumer confidence is dampened, the eventual crunch will be more painful.

The saddest thing about this week’s deal is how unaware Messrs Obama and Boehner seem to be of the wider damage their petty partisanship is doing to their country. National security is not just about the number of tanks or rockets you have. As it has failed to deal with the single currency, Europe’s standing has crumbled in the world. Why should developing countries trust American leadership, when it seems incapable of solving anything at home? And while the West’s foremost democracy stays paralysed, China is making decisions and forging ahead.

This week Mr Obama boasted that he had fulfilled his mandate by raising taxes on the rich. In fact, by failing once again to clear up America’s fundamental fiscal trouble, he and Republican leaders are building Brussels on the Potomac.

source: The Economist

Obama '08 Campaign Fined $375,000 by FEC for the ONE TIME it was caught

Jan. 5, 2013

President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign has been fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for reporting violations related to a set of donations received during the final days of the campaign.

The fines are among the largest ever levied on a presidential campaign by the FEC and stem from a series of missing notices for nearly 1,200 contributions totaling nearly $1.9 million.

Campaigns are required to file reports within 48 hours on donations of $1,000 or more received during the final 20 days of the campaign. The fine was detailed in a conciliation agreement sent to Sean Cairncross, chief counsel for the Republican National Committee.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan said the 2008 campaign had more than 3 million donors and "the very few outstanding questions have now all been resolved." Obama's campaign raised nearly $750 million from 2007 to 2008.

The fines, first reported by Politico, are among the largest assessed on a presidential campaign, according to the FEC. Al Sharpton's 2004 campaign was fined more than $200,000, and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's 1988 presidential campaign paid a $100,000 fine.

Among other large fines involving political organizations, liberal group America Coming Together was fined $775,000 in 2007.

The fines followed an audit of the campaign by the FEC in the aftermath of complaints by the Republican National Committee and others groups. The Obama campaign paid $230,000 in fines and the Democratic National Committee, which ran a joint fundraising committee with the campaign, paid the remainder.

source: ABC News

GOP increasingly ready for government shutdown

Jan. 5, 2013

The appetite for a government shutdown is growing among Republicans, who had shied away from one during the debt and spending fights in the last Congress but now say one may be needed.

Several high-profile senators this week began laying the groundwork for a shutdown, saying that it may be necessary in order to restore “fiscal sanity” on the federal budget.

“I think the last time we saw a shutdown, the fact that Republicans were willing to stand together — on fiscally conservative principles — ended up producing a result that was responsible and that benefited the country and that ultimately produced enormous economic growth,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, a freshman Republican from Texas.

Fellow Texan Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on Friday saying a partial shutdown may be needed to show Congress is serious about cutting spending.

“It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain,” he wrote.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, also said the GOP needs to be “to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown,” telling MSNBC this week that it could be disruptive, but it’s better than accepting ever-increasing spending.

After losing on most of their demands in this week’s tax deal, which included minuscule spending cuts, congressional Republicans have warned that they will not cave in on the next fights.

Those battles include another increase in the government’s debt limit, due within two or three months, and another battle over automatic spending cuts, due by March 1. A month after that the government’s funding runs out and must be renewed for the next six months.

Missing the debt deadline would force the government to cut about 40 percent of services immediately, while missing the six-month spending deal would mean an even broader shutdown.

The automatic spending cuts, or sequesters, would impose nearly $90 billion in immediate cuts.

Mr. Cornyn said the GOP’s willingness to see a partial shutdown should be a warning to President Obama, who has said he will not negotiate changes to spending with Republicans in exchange for another increase in the government’s borrowing ability.

But even if he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, Mr. Obama will be unable to avoid negotiations over the annual spending bills, which run out on March 31.

In the wake of the tax fight, some analysts have said Mr. Obama now has a weaker hand since the tax-rate issue is off the table, and the fight now is on the GOP’s issues of spending and debt.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she thinks Mr. Obama keeps a strong hand after the debt fight.

She also said Mr. Obama should consider bypassing the debt fight altogether and claim the Constitutional ability to make good on the debt regardless of the ceiling set by Congress.

“I would do it in a second,” she told reporters.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, talking to fellow Republicans behind closed doors Friday morning, didn’t go as far as his Senate colleagues in warning of a shutdown, but he did say Mr. Obama will have to talk spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit deal, according to a source in the room.

The debate is already under way,” he said.

source: Stephen Dinan and Tom Howell Jr. - The Washington Times

Cops: Mother of two surprises intruder with five gunshots

Jan. 5, 2013

Paul Slater
(Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office)
The Loganville mother of two assumed the knocks on her front door Friday afternoon were from a solicitor.
“Don’t answer,” she yelled to her 9-year-old twins playing downstairs.

When the visitor began repeatedly ringing the doorbell, she called her husband at work.

“Get the kids and hide,” he told his wife.

As he dialed 911, his 37-year-old spouse, who works from home, collected the children and hid with them in a crawlspace adjoining her office. By that time, the intruder had forced his way into the three-story residence on Henderson Ridge Drive with a crowbar, authorities said. He allegedly rummaged through the home, eventually working his way up to the attic office.

“He opens the closet door and finds himself staring down the barrel of a .38 revolver,” said Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman, who relayed the woman’s narrative to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He asked that her name be withheld.

The woman fired six bullets, five of which hit Paul Ali Slater in the face and neck area, Chapman said. But Slater was still conscious.

“The guy’s face down, crying,” the sheriff said. The woman told him to stay down or she’d shoot again.

Slater, unaware that she had emptied her chamber, obliged as the mother and her children ran to a neighbor’s house.

The injured burglar eventually made it out of the home and into his car, driving away before deputies arrived on the scene. He didn’t get far.

“When you got five bullets in you, it makes you kind of disoriented,” Chapman told the AJC.

Deputies found Slater bleeding profusely in a neighbor’s driveway.

“I’m dying. Help me,” he told them, according to Chapman.

Slater was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center and is expected to survive, the sheriff said.

The Long Island native, who now lives in Gwinnett County, was released from the Gwinnett jail in late August after serving six months for simple battery and three counts of probation violation. Slater has six other arrests in Gwinnett dating back to 2008, according to jail records.

“My wife’s a hero,” the woman’s husband, Donnie Herman, told Channel 2 Action News in a brief statement. He did not respond to a request for comment from the AJC. “She protected her kids. She did what she was supposed to do.”

Chapman remarked that one of his deputies, impressed with the woman’s resolve, told the sheriff she had handled her first shooting better than he had.

“That mother’s instinct kicked in,” Chapman said. “You go after a mother’s kids and she’ll find herself capable of doing things she never thought she was capable of.”

source: Atlanta Constitution Journal

Of Complexities, Contradictions and Second Chakras

Jan. 5, 2013
by Ed Driscoll

(PJMedia) - Al Gore believes that the world is going to come an end in less than five years. Over the years, he professes to attempt to solve the “problem” of reducing the earth’s “carbon footprint” by expending plenty of carbon himself, with first a movie, and then a rock concert, and eventually a TV channel. He demands that the rest of us change our lifestyle to suit his worldview, but publicly vows not to change his, Al lives in a mansion, flies around in a private plane, and, this, along with his various business ventures, gives him an overall carbon footprint the size of well, one giant Manbearpig. Or as Ann Coulter once quipped, “I kind of respect [Al] more, it shows he is not stupid enough to believe all this global warming nonsense. He’s trying to get us to believe. Okay, fine, he may be a hypocrite but at least he’s not a moron.”


The $1 Trillion Platinum Coin Is As Good an Idea As FDR's Court-Packing

Jan 5, 2013

A provocative idea has the Treasury secretary minting $1 trillion coins to pay off the debt. Ignore it.

(AP Photo/US Mint)
There’s been lots of talk on the interweb machine about using platinum coins to solve the debt-ceiling crisis. Although it’s almost certainly just the theoretical fun of economics writers, and is extremely unlikely to happen, it does illuminate the intransigence of Republicans, the limited options of the president, and the distinction between what’s political overreach and what isn’t.

With Republicans vowing another debt-ceiling crisis, the administration is in a quandary over how to deal with this kind of madness. The Treasury Department can’t just print money to meet the nation’s debt obligations. But it does have unlimited power to mint platinum coins of any denomination—a provision that was meant for meeting the needs of coin collectors. This power could, in theory, be used to mint a $1 trillion coin that Secretary Timothy Geithner could then deposit at the Federal Reserve, at least temporarily, thus working around Republican intransigence about raising the debt ceiling.

The Atlantic Wire explains the possibility. Bloomberg’s Josh Barro makes the case. Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal takes on the idea. There’s a petition afoot and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has endorsed the idea. Cullen Roche’s Pragmatic Capitalism started the bandwagon.

But it’s a bad idea. As wacky as the House GOP's idea is of using the debt ceiling as a hostage-taking weapon, this is no answer. Their intransigence shouldn’t be met by an equally unprecedented move.

As bad as the House behavior has been, using a small legal provision meant to please numismatists to leverage the nation’s debts seems, um, risky. The only analogy I can think of is the Court-packing mess of the 1930s when President Roosevelt, faced with a cranky Supreme Court that overturned his social-welfare programs and those in the states, tried to enlarge the size of the Court to fill it with more sympathetic appointees. After an outcry, the president backed down. But FDR at least tried to make the change by proposing a statute and forcing a Senate debate. (The bill never cleared the chamber.)

Minting the coins would seem even more imperious. After all, the Supreme Court in the 1930s was knocking down state minimum-wage laws and other expressions of the popular will. FDR had some momentum behind him. But President Obama would look despotic if he embraced this tactic. (Imagine all the pictures of King Obama on a coin.)

Is it a useful negotiating tool, at least? Perhaps, but unlikely. Yes, the Supreme Court did seem to respond to court packing, going on to uphold a minimum-wage law similar to one it previously struck down. But the House GOP would likely see such a move as an idle threat, and merely brandishing it might make Obama look more delusional than strong.

The administration earlier this year showed good sense in begging off another legal cul de sac—the 14th Amendment—to just ignore Congress on the debt ceiling. (See Jay Carney’s response to that.) President Clinton, on the other hand, argued for using the 14th Amendment option as a weapon. At least the 14th Amendment option would give the president some constitutional imprimatur, unlike minting up some coins.

In the end, just beating the House Republicans the old-fashioned way is the president’s best course.

source: National Journal

Dug In: Partisan warfare in the 113th Congress.

Jan 5, 2013

Last week the 113th Congress met for the first time, with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in charge of the Senate. The Obama administration is optimistic that it can work its will over this legislature, driving a hard bargain on sequestration and the debt ceiling and pushing through reforms on immigration and gun control.

David Cost
This is extremely unlikely. In fact, for a host of reasons, expect the new Congress to resemble the one that just finished—mired in stalemate with the president, lurching from one short-term, ad hoc budget deal to the next, with none of the biggest issues facing the country being addressed.

The most significant impediment to legislative action is ideological division. With 234 House Republicans and 55 Senate Democrats, the 113th Congress will be the most ideologically polarized in recent memory. That offers a poor prospect for governmental action.

Compounding this is the mandate of congressional leadership. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House speaker John Boehner are both responsible to their majorities. In other words, it is only in rare instances that Reid would allow a bill on the Senate floor that a majority of Democrats opposed, and similarly Boehner with House Republicans (though there are exceptions, like the recent fiscal cliff bill). This means that any major piece of legislation will have to attract the support of most House Republicans and most Senate Democrats—a monumental task in this time of stark ideological divisions.

One might be tempted to think that, because the partisan divisions in Congress today mirror those in the early Reagan years (when the GOP held the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House), bipartisan breakthroughs are still possible. Yet during the Reagan years the Democratic House majority depended entirely on conservative, Southern Democrats, whose districts Reagan had won handily.

That points to another substantial impediment—the political geography of the House of Representatives. Reagan had leverage over House Democrats in the early 1980s because his victory over Jimmy Carter had been geographically broad. Many congressional Democrats, especially from Dixie, knew that Reagan had won at least a plurality in their districts, so they had reason to fear him. Barack Obama’s victory in 2012, while slightly larger than Reagan’s in 1980 in terms of raw vote percentage nationally, was much narrower in geographic terms. In fact, Obama won reelection having carried fewer than 218 congressional districts, while approximately 215 House Republicans represent districts that Mitt Romney won.

This is a consequence of President Obama’s driving minority turnout to unparalleled levels: African-American and Latino voters are often clustered in minority-majority congressional districts, thanks to the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act. Add these districts to the “gentry liberal” ones in and around major cities, and the result is that Obama overwhelmingly carried a minority of congressional districts, while Mitt Romney narrowly won a majority of districts (at least 225, with 4 still to be determined).

At first blush, this might seem to be a trivial point, but what kind of influence does President Obama have in a district that voted 55-45 percent for Mitt Romney? What sort of political rebuke can he possibly deliver to a recalcitrant Republican from a district such as that, especially in light of the fact that no incumbent party has ever gained a significant number of House seats in a president’s second midterm? Put simply, most House Republicans need not fear that defying the president will result in their defeat in 2014.

If political muscle won’t be enough to force legislative breakthroughs, then a deft touch might do the trick. Perhaps the president could play coy dealmaker, in the manner of Lyndon Johnson. Here, however, President Obama has proven himself to be quite incompetent, more a Jimmy Carter than an LBJ.

One of the messages of Bob Woodward’s Price of Politics is that Obama made a grand bargain on the debt ceiling harder to reach, not easier. And in the wake of last week’s tax deal, Speaker Boehner reportedly told his caucus that he is done negotiating with the president one-on-one. For a president who, as a candidate in 2008, promised to bring people together, Obama seems to lack the temperament to broker a big deal between the key players in Washington.

More on Page Two>>

source: Weekly Standard

Don't be so sure Republicans are ready to win a debate on spending cuts

Jan. 5, 2013

They don't really believe the American people are on their side.

I'm reading a lot of hopeful commentary from conservatives today to the effect that, with tax increases now out of the way, the debate shifts to more favorable territory for Republicans because the public wants spending cuts. This, we're told, puts the GOP in a strong position to demand cuts as a condition for another debt ceiling increase, which is going to be needed within weeks.

Too, because John Boehner faced a lot of dissention within conservative ranks over the fiscal cliff deal, we might expect him to stiffen his spine a little bit the next time he comes up against Obama on fiscal issues.

Yeah, the public says we need to cut spending, and all you have to do is look at the nation's balance sheet to see that there's no way around it. The public seems to understand that no tax increase is going to bring us anywhere close to balancing the budget, and certainly not the one just passed, which won't even trim $100 billion off a $1.2 trillion deficit.

In theory, the case for spending cuts is an easy one for Republicans to make. The problem is that these debates don't happen in theory. They happen in real life, and Republicans don't wage them very well because they are not prepared for the way Democrats fight. They also often lack the courage of their own alleged convictions.

As soon as you start talking about cutting spending, the first thing Democrats will do is hand the media a narrative about spending priorities they can paint as essential to the American way of life. How the hell do you think we ended up talking about Big Bird during the presidential campaign? Mitt Romney made a very reasonable point that while there is nothing wrong with Big Bird, his survival cannot be a spending priority of a federal government running more than $1 trillion worth of red ink every year. Anyone with any business sense would have to agree.

But the narrative that gets created is: Republicans hate children's television! Or: Republicans are blaming Big Bird for the deficit! Of course, that wasn't true at all. Romney was merely pointing out that of course you're going to run a deficit if you can't say no to things that might be nice but are not essential. It didn't matter what example he used. Democrats would have demagogued it just the same, and the media would have spit out their talking points just the same.

Every time we have a debate about spending cuts, Republicans get caught completely unprepared for this line of argument. Whether it's seniors eating dog food or poor people dying in the street, Democrats create a narrative in which disaster befalls America's most virtuous and helpless people because their only hope is federal spending, and Republicans are going to meanly take it away from them.

This is the point where Republicans should argue:

1. An awful lot of people who benefit from federal spending can and should go get the means of their subsistence elsewhere, and if it means they have to face a challenge, then they have to.

2. No constituency is so sacrosanct that they shouldn't be asked to adjust to a change if it's necessary to preserve the nation's fiscal integrity. And yes, that includes seniors. Republicans are terrified of what will happen if they actually say this, but defined contribution systems are far more sustainable than defined benefit systems. Democrats insist that any change in the current system of guaranteed benefits is a beyond-the-pale betrayal of seniors. But the fact is that there's no way to make entitlement programs sustainable if that is not changed. Anyone who can do basic math can understand this, but Republicans are convinced they will be destroyed politically if they come out and say it.

3. Yes, there are specific things that need to be cut from the budget, and they should be named, and the cuts should be defended. Some do almost nothing worthwhile for the nation. Others we just have to accept doing without because we can't afford them and that's life. Republicans are usually afraid to name specific cuts because they know Democrats will respond with sob stories about what will happen when these items are eliminated. That means Republicans always allow Democrats to set the terms of debate, and that's why Republicans lose. If you really believe we shouldn't spend this money, why are you so afraid to defend that belief?

I think much of Republicans' skittishness stems from the fact that they know the media are aligned with the other side. They figure they can't possibly win the debate because the media will carry the Democrats' water and influence public opinion far too powerfully for Republicans to overcome. It's true that the media represent a problem, but people who are serious about achieving goals find ways to overcome problems. You don't just keep showing up on Sunday shows saying the same stuff over and over again and hoping your coverage will somehow improve. You need to find better ways to make your case to the people.

With the power these days of social media and other new communication technology, this really shouldn't be hard. But creatures of Washington don't seem to understand that you're not necessarily losing the debate even if you're getting lambasted in Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the New York Times. That's why Republicans can talk in the abstract about out-of-control spending, but can never seem to get the public behind them for actually addressing it.

I think it all comes down to this: Democrats and their media allies treat the American people like children who cannot be made to understand that you can't have everything you want. The only way for Republicans to successfully counter this approach is to treat the American people like adults who understand that sometimes no is the right answer. I think the American people are more adult than either party gives them credit for, and can be brought along to accept this reality.

But that's not going to happen if the only party that really believes in spending discipline is afraid to try it. And I've never seen evidence that Republicans are really prepared to put their alleged beliefs into action and defend what they're doing, which is why I'm not at all confident they're going to prevail in the upcoming debt ceiling showdown. They know what they believe, but they aren't confident the American people are on their side, and they aren't at all confident they can persuade them.

Sounds to me like a recipe for more Republican humiliation.


FDA begins implementing sweeping food-safety law in order to raise food costs even higher and create more government dependency through food stamps

Jan. 5, 2013

How to read between the lines: Lesson 101

Charles Dharapak/AP - “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a common sense law that shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
The Obama administration moved ahead forward Friday with the first major overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system in more than 70 years, proposing tough new standards for fruit and vegetable producers and food manufacturers.(exempting GMO giant Monsanto)

The long-awaited proposals by the Food and Drug Administration are part of a fundamental change aimed at preventing food-borne outbreaks — caused by everything from leafy greens to canteloupes to peanut butter — rather than simply reacting to them. Every year, contaminated foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans and kill 3,000.

The rules, which span 1,200 pages, are aimed at creating safer conditions from farm to fork. Produce farmers would be required to ensure that their crops aren’t contaminated by bad water or animal illegal immigrant waste piss and shit. Some will likely be compelled to build fences to keep out wildlife and to provide adequate restrooms and hand-washing facilities for field workers illegal workers.

Food-processing companies would be required to design and document an exhaustive regimen of sanitary measures — from pest control to bathroom cleanliness to what workers wear on the factory floor.

“It’s a big leap forward in applying modern, preventive more costly measures across the whole food supply,” Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in an interview. “It’s important to see these rules as setting the standards for food safety.”

The proposed rules focus on two key portions of a broader food-safety bill that President Obama signed into law two years ago and that many lawmakers, consumer advocates and industry officials say has taken far too long to implement.

FDA officials and consumer advocates say the rules are essential to laying the groundwork for bankrupting all but the largest companies. of the country’s food safety system.

These rules “are the heart and soul of the law government control,” said Sandra Eskin, director of the Food Safety Campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “These are the priorities. Everything else flows from them.”

Taylor said FDA officials tried to craft the rules in a way that would set a common safety standard while allowing for the different ways in which foods are produced. (Regardless of the company's ability to afford it)

“The strength of this system is it is science-based big donation-based; it’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s inherently adaptable to all sorts of operations with the ability to pay for it,” he said. “We’re looking to take widely recognized principles and apply them to force them on a widely diverse food supply.”

Food industry groups Big government advocates welcomed the proposals, saying they provided some clarity but stopped short of endorsing them outright. They said many growers and processors already adhere to high standards. Groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Produce Marketing Association said they would continue to work with the FDA to shape the rules in the months ahead.

The FDA estimated that the produce regulations would cost a large farm roughly $30,000 a year, the same cost for a small farm. The agency exempted a wide array of fruits and vegetables that are almost always consumed only after being cooked or canned, from the "Hispanic favorite" plantains to pumpkins to sweet potatoes.

What remains unclear is how to pay for a wave of new inspectors and additional regulations, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would cost the government $1.4 billion over the first five years.

FDA officials have said that they will rely in part on help from state and local governments, and Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has said that user fees from food companies and farms could help pay for the increased oversight costs. But mean, evil Republicans in the House, eager to shrink the size of government and skeptical that the pending regulations warrant vast new resources, have resisted an increase in funds for the FDA.

“We still have a food supply that’s 99.99 percent safe,” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) told The Washington Post shortly after Congress approved the food safety bill in late 2010. “No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”

The next summer, House Republicans made much the same argument in voting to cut millions of dollars from the FDA’s budget, arguing that the greatest priority was reducing the budget deficit.

“We need additional resources to fully fund control” the law industry, Taylor said when asked how the agency would pay for the new rules. “We’re hopeful we can work with Congress to get those resources.”

President Obama set the stage for a massive food-safety overhaul early in his presidency when he used a weekly address in March 2009 to highlight outbreaks involving spinach, peppers and peanut products (grown in Mexico) that had sickened Americans in recent years. “Food safety sipply control is something I take seriously, not just as your president but as a parent dictator,” he said.

Nearly two years later, Congress passed the far-reaching Food Safety Modernization Act with bipartisan RINO support and backing from an array of consumer groups and food industry representatives.

The law focuses on the 80 percent of the food supply regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, including produce, dairy and seafood. Beef, poultry and some egg products are overseen by the Department of Agriculture. (The other 20 percent, including farm markets, roadside stands and your garden will be included later)

The law gives the FDA broad new powers, including the ability to force companies to recall products and the authority to examine internal records at farms and food-production plants without warrants. It calls on the FDA to increase inspections, particularly at “high-risk” facilities prone to contamination, and to hire about 2,000 new inspectors big brothers.

Supporters Radicals had grown increasingly frustrated by repeated delays in the rule-writing process. Food safety experts, consumer groups, industry representatives, editorial boards and lawmakers on Capitol Hill took turns urging the Office of Management and Budget to release the rules.

Those calls grew louder after a 2011 outbreak of listeria traced to cantaloupe that left 33 people dead and led inspectors to unsanitary equipment maintained by illegal immigrants at a processing plant in Colorado. In November, a salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people in numerous states prompted the FDA to assert its new powers to temporarily halt production at the country’s largest organic peanut butter producer after finding numerous safety and sanitation problems.

The new proposals spent more than a year awaiting final approval from the OMB. That led some stakeholders (Monsanto) to speculate that the administration might have been holding up the proposals until after the election.

“There’s no one explanation,” Taylor said when asked about the long delay. “They are complicated and interconnected; they are legitimately complex.”(Translation: Yes, we were waiting for after the election)

More proposed rules are expected to be issued soon, including ones that would require that imported foods comply with U.S. safety standards. The FDA also plans to propose rules involving the production of animal foods in order to control that industry as well.

It could be years before the proposals become final regulations. The FDA will take comments on the proposals for four months and then probably make changes. And some farms will have two years or more to comply with the rules.

source: Washington Post

AT&T, Microsoft among donors to Obama's second inauguration

Jan. 5, 2013

(Reuters) - More than 400 donors, including AT&T Inc and Microsoft, have contributed money to help pay for the festivities to mark President Barack Obama's inauguration to a second term, organizers said on Friday.

The committee of Obama supporters organizing the parade and other gala events did not say how much money has been raised so far, disclosing only the list of "benefactors," most of whom are individuals.

In 2009, the presidential inauguration committee raised a record $53 million for his first inauguration, refusing corporate donations and capping the maximum donation at $50,000.

This year, the committee is accepting funding from corporations and has encouraged gifts of $250,000 from individuals.

Aside from AT&T and Microsoft, other corporate donors listed were pharmaceutical company Genentech, which is part of Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG,, health insurer Centene Corp, and West Coast wealth manager Whittier Trust Co.

Obama will be publicly sworn in for his second term on January 21. The inauguration is expected to be much smaller than Obama's first, which attracted a record 1.8 million visitors. Organizers have planned only two official balls, down from 10 in 2009.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Philip Barbara)

Socialism: U.S. jobs crisis could last until 2021

Jan. 5, 2013

WASHINGTON, (Xinhua) -- The ongoing U.S. jobs crisis could last for the next nine years if employment growth maintains the status quo, a U.S. economist said Friday.

Friday's U.S. jobless rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics remained unchanged from its revised level the previous month, adding 155,000 jobs, roughly equal to the average 153,000 jobs added monthly over the first 11 months of the year.

"At December's growth rate the labor market will not fill in (the) gap until the end of 2021," said Heidi Shierholz, economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

Indeed, the economy is 9 million jobs in the hole -- those jobs lost since the recession hit in 2007 plus the jobs that should have been added -- but were not -- to keep up with the growth of the work force, she said.

A jobs crisis ending in 2021 would mark 14 years of high unemployment, and the December employment situation marks five years since the start of the major downturn in 2007 and more than three years since the official start of the so-called recovery in 2009.

Average hourly wages rose by 7 cents in December and have climbed at a 2.1-percent rate over the last year, roughly in line with inflation. That means real wages have been flat over the last year amid persistent high unemployment that has pushed down wage growth, she said.

Long term unemployment -- defined as those out of work 27 weeks or longer -- remains a problem, with nearly 3 million long term jobless, December's jobs report found. What's worse, many are caught in a vicious cycle: the longer they remain unemployed, the harder it is to find work. That is because employers, rightly or wrongly, believe that skills erode when not used daily.

Still, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group and frequent guest on PBS' Nightly Business Report, said all the major metrics of the U.S. economy are pointed in the right direction, from the housing market to the health of banks to consumer finances.

He predicted the economy will come back to life this year, once Washington gets past its gridlock over government spending.

"Corporations are sitting on a pile of cash just waiting to be put to use," he said, adding that companies will start hiring when there is more clarity coming from Washington on spending cuts and other fiscal issues over which Congress has been bitterly divided.

Indeed, U.S. markets surged more than 2 percent Wednesday after Congress struck a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" -- a spate of sweeping tax hikes and spending cuts that would have kicked in and sparked another recession had Congress not acted.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Illinois DEMS Legislation: Turn In Guns or FACE PROSECUTION

Jan. 4, 2013

(Patriot Update) - If it can happen to gun owners in Illinois, your state could be next.

Illinois Senate Democrats advanced legislation late Wednesday to restrict semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, pressing forward with new gun control measures in the waning days of the session over the objections of firearms groups.

Amid the developments, the Illinois State Rifle Association issued an “urgent alert” to its members warning them that Democratic legislators were trying to push through last-minute anti-gun legislation.
“There would be no exemptions and no grandfathering,” the group stated in its alert. “You would have a very short window to turn in your guns to the state police and avoid prosecution.”

A Senate committee approved two bills, one dealing with the weapons and the other with magazines. Democratic supporters could face a tough sell in the full Senate.

One measure would ban the possession, delivery, sale and transfer of semiautomatic handguns and rifles. People who currently own such weapons could keep them but would have to register them. The bill would allow semiautomatic weapons to be used at shooting ranges, but those facilities would be regulated.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde told lawmakers the bill would restrict about 75 percent of handguns and 50 percent of long guns in circulation today. He also said it would treat law-abiding gun owners like criminals, and is in conflict with Second Amendment rights upheld by the courts.
“I’ve never seen a piece of legislation that tramples on so many court decisions,” Vandermyde said.
The other bill, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski, would limit ammunition magazines to 10 or fewer rounds.

Those pushing for enhanced restrictions say stricter rules are needed in the wake of a string of high-profile mass shootings — most recently the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Gun manufactures in Illinois have already threatened to leave the area if laws limiting guns are put in place. ArmaLite owner Mark Westrom told that he’s been fielding offers from at least two others states to move his operation if gun control laws in Illinois are pushed through.

Post Continues on

Egyptian Magazine: Muslim Brotherhood Infiltrates Obama Administration

Jan. 4, 2012

An Egyptian magazine claims that six American Islamist activists who work with the Obama administration are Muslim Brotherhood operatives who enjoy strong influence over U.S. policy.

The Dec. 22 story published in Egypt's Rose El-Youssef magazine (read an IPT translation here) suggests the six turned the White House "from a position hostile to Islamic groups and organizations in the world to the largest and most important supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood."

The story is largely unsourced, but its publication is considered significant in raising the issue to Egyptian readers.

The six named people include: Arif Alikhan, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for policy development; Mohammed Elibiary, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council; Rashad Hussain, the U.S. special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Salam al-Marayati, co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC); Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); and Eboo Patel, a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

Alikhan is a founder of the World Islamic Organization, which the magazine identifies as a Brotherhood "subsidiary." It suggests that Alikhan was responsible for the "file of Islamic states" in the White House and that he provides the direct link between the Obama administration and the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.

Elibiary, who has endorsed the ideas of radical Muslim Brotherhood luminary Sayyid Qutb, may have leaked secret materials contained in Department of Homeland Security databases, according to the magazine. He, however, denies having any connection with the Brotherhood.

Elibiary also played a role in defining the Obama administration's counterterrorism strategy, and the magazine asserts that Elibiary wrote the speech Obama gave when he told former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave power but offers no source or evidence for the claim.

According to Rose El-Youssef, Rashad Hussain maintained close ties with people and groups that it says comprise the Muslim Brotherhood network in America. This includes his participation in the June 2002 annual conference of the American Muslim Council, formerly headed by convicted terrorist financier Abdurahman Alamoudi.

He also participated in the organizing committee of the Critical Islamic Reflection along with important figures of the American Muslim Brotherhood such as Jamal Barzinji, Hisham al-Talib and Yaqub Mirza.

Regarding al-Marayati, who has been among the most influential Muslim American leaders in recent years, the magazine draws connections between MPAC in the international Muslim Brotherhood infrastructure.

Magid heads ISNA, which was founded by Brotherhood members, was appointed by Obama in 2011 as an adviser to the Department of Homeland Security. The magazine says that has also given speeches and conferences on American Middle East policy at the State Department and offered advice to the FBI.

Rose El-Youssef says Patel maintains a close relationship with Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, and is a member of the Muslim Students Association, which it identifies as "a large Brotherhood organization."

source: IPT

Golden Arches and Broken Dreams: A Euro-Socialist's spin on America's financial crisis

Jan. 4, 2013

WOW! This is CLASSIC! A European leftist's view of America's financial turmoil.. I cannot  recollect an article with so many omissions of information purposely left out to avoid exposing the real culprits. If this is their version of a typical news story, is there any wonder why Europe has become almost entirely a social state?

American Cities Drown in Debt:

Ketchup and mustard, always in exactly the same amounts -- this is the secret of the serving machine that Albert Okura keeps in the first display case at his museum. Here in San Bernardino, California, in the building that once housed the first McDonald's restaurant, Okura has collected nearly everything the fast-food chain has ever produced. There are paper cups, paper napkins, Happy Meal toys -- all the consumer detritus of America's golden years -- but nothing is more important to him than this small metal machine. "It was a brilliant idea," he says. "This way, every hamburger is the same."

Okura believes in that idea to this day. It reminds him of San Bernardino's heyday, here in this city where brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened their first fast-food restaurant.

Back then, in 1948, people came from all over the country to see the brothers' unusual hamburger stand. One of those people was Ray Kroc, then a traveling salesman for milkshake mixers, who later transformed the San Bernardino hamburger joint into a global corporation worth billions.

Couldn't the same thing happen again? Seventy years after the McDonald brothers, couldn't Albert Okura, son of a Japanese immigrant, one day be discovered in the same way, thanks to a bit of patience and a good idea?

Suspended Services and Pay

On August 1, 2012, San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy. Today this city, located an hour's drive east of Los Angeles, is one of the poorest, most violent cities in the United States. Once the setting for one of America's greatest success stories, the city can no longer even afford to pay its police officers and is rotting in its own waste.

The situation is a catastrophe for everyone who hasn't packed up and moved away. It is also representative of the bankruptcy of a country that failed to use its prosperous decades to sustain a functioning government. Funds are short at all levels, from Washington to the states to the cities and towns. The US is no longer investing in its infrastructure, weakening the foundation that gives all Americans a chance to have a piece of the American Dream.

San Bernardino was the third city in California to declare bankruptcy last year. First came Stockton, in June, followed by the ski town Mammoth Lakes. The majority of American cities are deep in debt, and unlike the federal government, they have limits to the amount of money they can borrow. Their residents are feeling the effects.

Analyst Meredith Whitney, who predicted the fates of Citigroup and Lehman Brothers, warned in late 2010 that the collapse of America's cities and towns was coming. Up to 100 cities were at risk of going broke, she said, and their potential losses could total several hundreds of billions of dollars. This city-level debt, which amounts to a total of $2 trillion (€1.5 trillion), is still less than the $16 trillion debt the federal government in Washington has amassed. But the crisis is leading to considerable reductions in services.

San Bernardino, for example, is no longer even able to pay city employees' salaries. To reduce costs, the city has cut about 20 percent of its employees, with those who remain taking a 10 percent pay cut. The mayor's staff has been reduced from nine to two, and three of four city libraries have closed, as have two centers dedicated to combating gang violence. The police may soon have to share the patrol vehicles of neighboring cities' forces -- which isn't particularly welcome news in a city that had over 32 murders in 2012 and that ranks among the 100 most dangerous in the US.

San Bernardino, population 213,000, is short $45 million for the current fiscal year and is already unable to fulfill even its most crucial obligations, including making pension payments to retired city employees, which were simply suspended.

Trying to Save the City from Abandonment

The financial crisis has significantly reduced the city's sources of income. This includes sales tax, but more crucially property tax on houses and real estate, which are now nearly worthless.

The number of house foreclosures here is three and a half times the national average, and the rate of decline is accelerating every day. Detroit sprays the front yards of abandoned houses with green paint so that it at least looks as if lawns still grew there. But San Bernardino doesn't even have the money for paint.

Beena Khakhria is a real estate agent in San Bernardino. She works for Neighborhood Housing Services of the Inland Empire (NHSIE), a nonprofit organization that tries to save abandoned structures. She bids on foreclosed houses, and if she wins the bid, she has the worst of the damages repaired, replacing rotten window frames and infested floors. Then she looks for buyers, who must prove they plan to live in the city.

It's an attempt to save something that is already beyond salvation. Take, for example, the house on Rose Street, directly across from Interstate 210. The highway is a behemoth of rock and concrete, loud and eight lanes wide. Khakhria would like to buy this three-bedroom, two-bath house. At $56,000, it costs a tenth the price of an apartment in the better areas of Los Angeles. But will anyone want to live in a house facing the highway?

However, Khakhria doesn't have the same worries that real estate agents in better cities do. "The location is perfect," she says. "For my clients, it's an advantage that the highway is so close. It makes them feel safer if the neighborhood doesn't seem completely dead."

The "Me" Culture

The US government's investment in its economy has declined steadily since the 1970s. Publicly held assets accounted for 72 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 1975; today, that amount is under 55 percent. The mayors of individual American cities have certainly initiated construction projects, such as stadiums or community centers, sometimes using borrowed funds, but there is no overarching plan. The federal government no longer undertakes large-scale projects as it did with the Hoover Dam in the 1930s or the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, in many places, mayors, government employees and police officers have simply helped themselves to city funds, giving themselves higher and higher salaries and creating new privileges for themselves. San Bernardino has firefighters who earn $100,000 a year. At the same time, the city's retirement fund contributions have risen. Now they are three times what they were a decade ago, devouring 15 percent of the city's budget and leaving the city government with its hands tied.

But instead of addressing such problems, public debate has tended to focus on one thing: lower taxes. Property tax in San Bernardino is just 1 percent. It used to be much higher, but was reduced by a referendum, a decision that is now taking its toll. For example, the city lacks a modern transportation system that would connect its residents to the nearby metropolis of Los Angeles without requiring them to navigate the overburdened freeways.

This reliance on public infrastructure is surely what President Barack Obama meant when he declared during his election campaign that entrepreneurial success is not possible without a strong government, telling business owners: "You didn't build that."

Obama's comment was directed at the mistaken belief that each individual is completely and solely responsible for his or her own success or failure. Republican politicians stubbornly block most attempts to increase taxes in the US. Indeed, America is in crisis precisely because it has held this belief in an individual's complete and sole responsibility for far too long.

Dreams and Reality

Albert Okura, the man who owns the museum at the site of the original McDonald's restaurant, founded Juan Pollo, his own fast-food chain specializing in grilled chicken, in 1984. Okura says his success is based on the same principle as the one behind the McDonald's serving machine in his museum: He grills each chicken the same way, down to the second.

Juan Pollo now has 32 locations, making Okura one of San Bernardino's few modern-day success stories. He would like to open a restaurant in Los Angeles, but doesn't have the necessary funds -- a restaurant in Los Angeles would cost much more than all his restaurants in this city where no one wants to live.

Okura calls himself the "Chicken Man" and says his life goal is to sell more chicken legs than anyone else in the world. He's also trying to get his name in the newspaper to help advertise his company. For example, for a festival celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the first McDonald's, Okura rented a sports car and parked it in the museum's parking lot.

He was trying to appear like a successful businessman, but the car was unfortunately stolen from the museum parking lot. The next morning, Okura's name was indeed in the newspaper -- under a headline reading "Car Stolen."

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

source: spiegel