DECEMBER 31, 2010, 4:42 A.M. ET
Days of Auld Lang What?
The origin of the New Year's anthem—and what it means to us.
You know exactly when you'll hear it, and you probably won't hear it again for a year. The big clock will hit 11:59:50, the countdown will begin—10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4—and the sounds will rise: the party horns, fireworks and shouts of "Happy New Year!"
And then they'll play that song: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?"
It is a poem in Scots dialect, set to a Scots folk tune, and an unscientific survey says that a lot of us don't think much about the words, or even know them. The great film director Mike Nichols came to America from Germany as a child, when his family fled Hitler. He had to learn a lot of English quickly and never got around to "Auld Lang Syne": "I was too busy with words like 'emergency exit' on the school bus," he told me. "As a result, I find myself weeping at gibberish on New Year's Eve. I enjoy that."
The screen and television writer Aaron Sorkin, who this year, with "The Social Network," gives Paddy Chayefsky a run for his money, says that every year he means to learn the words. "Then someone tells me that's not a good enough New Year's resolution and I really need to quit smoking."
"Auld Lang Syne"—the phrase can be translated as "long, long ago," or "old long since," but I like "old times past"—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.
It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print." Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one "from an old man"—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne "exceedingly expressive" and thought whoever first wrote the poem "heaven inspired." The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it's sung to mark the new.
The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet."
"The phrase old acquaintance is important," says my friend John Whitehead, fabled figure of the old Goldman Sachs, the Reagan State Department, and D-Day. "It's not only your close friends and people you love, it's people you knew even casually, and you think of them and it brings tears to my eyes." For him, acquaintance includes, "your heroes, my heroes—the Winston Churchills of life, the ones you admire. They're old acquaintances too."
But "the interesting, more serious message in the song is that the past is important, we mustn't forget it, the old has something for us."
So does the present, as the last stanza makes clear. The song is not only about those who were in your life, but those who are in your life. "And there's a hand, my trusty friend, and give a hand of thine, We'll take a right good-will draught for auld lang syne."
To Tom Coburn, a U.S. senator from Oklahoma, the song is about friendship: "I think it's a description of the things we lose in our hurry to do things. We forget to be a friend. We have to take the time to make friends and be friends, to sit and tell stories and listen to those of others."
Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said he always experienced the song as celebratory and joyful until something happened in 2004. Mr. Daniels was running for office, and it became a new bonding experience for him and his father, who followed the campaign closely: "He loved my stories from the road." The elder Daniels died unexpectedly in August, "50 days short of my election as governor." At a New Year's party, the governor-elect heard the song in a new way. Ever since, "I hear its wistfulness."
Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes," enjoying one of the great careers in the history of broadcast news, thinks of childhood when she thinks of "Auld Lang Syne": "I see New Year's Eve parties going way back, all the way back to when we were little kids and you had to kiss someone at midnight and you had to sing that song." She interviewed Mark Zuckerberg recently. "Maybe in the age of Facebook you don't lose old friends," she says. "Maybe it's obsolete." Maybe "they'll have to change the song."
For the journalist and author Marie Brenner, the song didn't come alive until she moved from her native Texas to New York City, in the 1970s. That first New Year's in town, "Auld Lang Syne was a revelation to me. . . . I thought, this is beautiful and maybe written by a Broadway composer, by Rodgers and Hammerstein." She saw people singing it "on the street, and at a party in a bar downtown." There was "this gorgeous moment when everyone seemed to know the words, and people looked teary and, yes, drunk." They played the song back in San Antonio, "but it took me coming to New York to really hear it."
The song is a staple in movies, but when I asked people to think of the greatest "Auld Lang Syne scene," every one of them had the same answer. Not "When Harry Met Sally," not "Out of Africa," not, for film buffs, Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush." The great "Auld Lang Syne" scene in cinematic history is from "It's a Wonderful Life," which Mr. Sorkin puckishly describes as "Frank Capra's classic tale of an angel who takes up the cause of a progressive in order to defeat a heartless conservative. It's possible I'm misinterpreting the movie, but the song still works."
The scene comes at the end of the film. Friends surround George Bailey, recently rescued by an angel. Someone bumps against the Christmas tree and a bell ornament makes a sound. George's daughter says, "Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings," and George looks up and winks. "Thanks, Clarence," he says, as the music swells. God bless the baby boomers who discovered that film on TV after their elders dismissed it as Capra-corn.
Tonight I'll be at Suzie and Joe's, with whom I worked at CBS News in auld lang syne. I'll think of some who won't be entering the new year with us—big, sweet-hearted dynamo Richard Holbrooke, and Ted Sorensen, counselor to presidents, whose pen was a terrible swift sword. I'll take a cup of kindness yet for them, for all the old acquaintances in this piece, and for the readers, for 10 years now, of this column. We mark an anniversary. Thank you for being in my life. Happy New Year.
'Give It Back For Jobs' Helps Affluent Return Tax Cuts
First Posted: 12-30-10 10:36 PM | Updated: 12-30-10 11:19 PM
For affluent Americans outraged by the fiscal and social consequences of tax cuts handed to them by President George W. Bush and recently extended for two more years, a trio of similarly dismayed academics has furnished a way for them to put their money where their mouth is.
Their new website, giveitbackforjobs.org, invites high-income Americans to calculate the value of their tax cut under the extension and then pledge to donate that money directly to charities that the site says encourage "fairness, economic growth, and a vibrant middle class." The site doesn't accept contributions directly, but links users to the charities.
The site has been engineered to offer Americans who view the tax cuts as misguided a means to personally direct dollars toward countering the effects, while also registering a protest for broad policies that have exacerbated economic inequality.
"It's like civil disobedience," said Daniel Markovits, a professor at Yale Law School, and one of the three academics behind the initiative. "You're not committing a crime, but the government says, 'This is what you should give,' and you're saying, 'No, I should give more.'"
President Obama took office last year on a pledge to end the tax cuts lavished by his predecessor on the wealthiest American households. But he agreed to continue the cuts via a controversial compromise with Republicans in Congress in which he gained an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, while also securing the renewal of lowered taxes for middle-class households.
The deal landed as a bitter disappointment to liberal economists, who have assailed it for perpetuating the conditions that have led millions of ordinary Americans to take on impossible debts in recent years to finance housing, health care and education while their wages have stagnated. The tax cuts accelerated a long-term flow of increased shares of national wealth to the most affluent households, leaving smaller and smaller slices for everyone else
Give It Back For Jobs aims to narrow the gap by effectively mimicking the tax policy that would have been in place had the Bush tax cuts been allowed to expire. Had the tax cuts gone off the books, more dollars would have flowed into federal coffers, making more money available to pursue job-creating public works projects and aid to now ailing states and local communities. The new website seeks to compensate for those lost tax revenues by inviting wealthy Americans to voluntarily contribute equivalent funds to social service groups that are focused on aiding people contending with the weak economy.
"It's private collective action that builds upon itself and, in effect, amounts to a kind of shadow tax policy," said Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell Law School, and another force behind the site. "It's a partial representation of what a proper tax policy would be."
The website grows out of a similar effort that Markovits and Hockett unleashed five years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, called givebackthetaxcut.org, which raised around $250,000 in relief aid.
They viewed that disaster, and the dearth of help for people affected, as more than an accident: They saw it as the outgrowth of policies that have favored the wealthy while leaving middle class and poor Americans to fend for themselves.
"When Katrina struck, we were both sort of astonished," said Hockett. "It was a humanly facilitated disaster. It seemed it was no coincidence that the failure coincided with unbelievably gigantic tax cuts."
That site employed a tax calculator, much like the one on giveitbackforjobs.org, and it, too, invited people to donate money what they would have been giving the government absent the Bush tax cuts.
Ironically, that calculator was designed by none other than Peter Orszag, who headed Obama's Office of Management and Budget, and recently took a senior executive position at the Wall Street goliath Citibank. He played no role in developing the new site.
"He's busy with other things now," Hockett said wryly.
For the new site, Hockett and Markovits joined forces with Jacob Hacker, a Yale political scientist who has written frequently about economic inequality and the strains of the middle class.
"The 2001 tax cuts were a really terrible policy," Hacker said. "They were really skewed towards the rich in the 20 years in which the rich got much richer. To sustain that policy in the face of majority popular support for ending tax cuts for the rich is a pretty egregious example of what I call 'winner-take-all' politics."
The tax cuts will give about $300,000 to taxpayers in the top one-tenth of one percent of the bracket, or those making $2 million in annual income and above. The median tax cut is about $1,000.
Far from a conduit for money to flow to social service groups, Give It Back For Jobs is pitched by its creators as a way to enable political action, while giving contributors the means of proving their convictions and sharing in a collective undertaking.
"People are privately incredibly generous," said Markovits. "There are a quite a few people who would like society as a whole to be juster, to let their private commitments be translated into a langauge that says, 'We are in this together.'"
The professors chose to give the money to charities in part as a rebuke of what they portray as an inadequate federal response to the long-running national economic crisis.
"We're trying to immediately and directly support programs the government ought to be doing," said Markovits.
They have opted to target organizations focused on expanding access to health care and housing, and those that train unemployed workers for new careers.
"We wanted the categories to have an obvious connection with economic downturn," said Hockett.
Some view the site as more symbolic than substantive--a kind of feel-good effort that does not alter the real economic policies that have assailed the middle class and working poor. In this view, such policies can be changed only by the White House and Congress, and that will only happen through advocacy and effective political organization.
"If you want to get anywhere with this agenda, you wont get anywhere by being nice," said said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. "It's like going to a gunfight with an olive branch."
But the professors behind Give It Back For Jobs dismiss such criticisms, while asserting that they have realistic aims.
"We don't think this is suddenly going to raise all the money it would have raised if tax cuts on the wealthy had been allowed to expire," said Markovits.
Rather, he suggested, the new website may alter the national debate, raising awareness of the consequences of extending the tax cuts, and setting up conditions for a different policy trajectory in the years ahead.
"If people took a cold shower for a moment, and got a little bit more reflective, surely they would realize that one of the things that the funding of a government is for is to assist those who are suffering through no fault of their own," said Hockett.
The best (and oddest) political moments of 2010
The 2010 campaign provided enough memorable moments to fill out a list all by itself. Christine O’Donnell, Joe Manchin shooting the cap and trade bill, Aqua Buddha: It was that kind of year.
But that was mostly noise. We’ve compiled a list of moments below that represents the framework through which 2010 can begin to come into focus for what it was as a narrative. We’ll leave what it means, or will mean, for later on down the road. 2011 will go a long way toward deciding that.
Below are the “Big Impact” moments from 2010, along with two other categories: the “Best of the Rest,” and then some moments sent in to us by political types. We hope you enjoy.
And Happy New Year!
Big Impact Moments
1. Scott Brown’s shocker: When the Massachusetts Republican ripped Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat out from underneath the Democratic Party, we thought it was the end of President Obama’s health care bill. We were wrong about that, but so was the White House when they insisted that their policies had nothing to do with the voter backlash.
2. Passage of Obama’s health care bill: Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid surprised the nation when they pressed forward with the health overhaul, but were able to push the bill through despite huge procedural obstacles (remember “deem and pass”?) and the presence of a few thousand protesters outside the Capitol building, behind probably one of the most intense vote whips by congressional leaders in the institution’s history. When Pennsylvania Democrat Bart Stupak brought his bloc of pro-life Dems over to the yea column following the president’s executive order, the game was over. But the battle over the bill will rage on for years.
3. The BP Oil spill: Summer has been a bad time of year for this president. In 2009 it was the Tea Party town halls. In 2010, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a slow burn of daily pain for the White House. Obama wanted to pivot from the health care bill to jobs, to gain some momentum going into the fall elections. Instead, his administration found itself on the defensive for three months.
4. Obama anti-business meme hits mainstream: In June, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg gave a speech faulting Obama’s policies for keeping the business community from expanding and creating jobs. Days later, GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s comments critical of the president’s economic policies leaked out. Fareed Zakara wrote a column saying that CEO’s he talked to though Obama was “anti-business.” It was a body blow to the president’s standing with the country, and to Democrats’ chances for the fall.
5. Midterm election results: 63 House seats. 6 Senate seats. The GOP’s gains in the House were the biggest swing for either party in 62 years. Obama admitted it was a “shellacking,” but indicated he still believed his core agenda was the right one.
Obama’s lame duck compromises with the GOP could be added to the list above. But they are more accurately viewed as 2011 developments, even if they occurred in the 2010 calendar. If Obama is successfully resurrecting his political fortunes in the year ahead, the lame duck session will likely be seen in retrospect as the moment when he began his comeback. If 2011 is a draw or a defeat for him, the lame duck will be a footnote.
The Rest of the Best
Michael Steele’s expenses: Of course the expenses were many, and those have been well documented, and even apologized for by Steele himself. But nothing broke through the clutter like the news that among the RNC’s receipts for February was $1,946 to hang out at a strip club in West Hollywood featuring “topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex,” as The Daily Caller’s Jonathan Strong first reported. Was Steele there himself? Well, no. Did that matter to ? Not really.
Rolling Stone’s article on Gen. McChrystal: If you read the Michael Hastings piece before the story broke into the mainstream, you could probably feel the heat coming off the computer screen. The temperature was also rising inside the White House, as Obama and his advisers absorbed the comments of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and his aides ridiculing the president, the vice president, and his top advisers. In the end, the decision for Obama wasn’t all that hard, because most liberals and conservatives agreed that Gen. Stanley McChrystal needed to go. But the flap pushed the war in Afghanistan to the fore of the nation’s mind at an unhelpful time for Obama.
Obama’s flip flop on the Ground Zero mosque: He was for it before he had no position on it. Either way, Obama’s comments in August on the matter threw wood on a simmering fire, giving the story new life. It was the second summer in a row Obama had waded into an emotionally charged issue – in 2009 it was his “acted stupidly” comment about cops in Cambridge who arrested a black professor. In each case Obama prolonged and intensified a controversial story with his remarks and took on water politically when he didn’t have to.
Harry Reid gives detailed colonoscopy description: The October debate between the Senate Majority Leader from Nevada and his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, was among the more entertaining political moments of the year because of its sheer absurdity. Angle did her part, casting the race between her and Reid as “a choice between the free market and Americanism.” But Reid took the cake with his rambling, incoherent answer to a question about insurance companies. Here is the entirety of his comment, which represents this reporter’s favorite 30 second political moment of the year:
“Insurance companies don’t do things out of the goodness of their hearts. They do things out of a profit motive and they have almost destroyed our economy. We need them to be forced to do mammograms. That’s why you see … the baseball players wearing pink shoes and the football players wearing pink helmets. It’s because people dread breast cancer. And you don’t get breast cancer. You correct breast cancer. You detect it if you do mammograms. Colonoscopies. If you do colonoscopies, colon cancer does not come because you snip off the things they find when they go up and, no more. And we need to have insurance companies do this.”
The dueling rallies on the National Mall by Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart: Forget the numbers estimates. That’s besides the point. The point is, a lot of people came out to Washington in late August for Beck and then again in late October for Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The striking thing was that both rallies had clear political points of view – though the perspectives of the two rallies were opposed in most ways – and both attracted hundreds of thousands of Americans who largely for political reasons. But both Beck and Stewart went out of their way to avoid a political message, and both, in fact, said much the same thing, albeit in very different ways. The message from both was essentially, “Be a better person, and be nicer to other people.” In the end, both rallies ended up being the same thing: an attempt by a PR-savvy media personality to build on his already large following and position himself and his message for greater influence.
The Deficit Commission’s final weeks: First you had the two co-chairs leak their draft proposal. Then others released theirs. That made the panel’s final vote on its work product anti-climactic. Or so we thought. It turned out that 11 of the commission’s 18 members voted for a proposal that everybody vehemently disliked for different reasons. It was a show of bipartisan accommodation that was surprising even for a process that had no binding authority or impact on actual legislation. Republican Tom Coburn and Democrat Dick Durbin both swallowed their objections and voted in favor, giving the nation a sliver of hope that its elected leaders may actually have the ability to get serious about the government’s looming fiscal crisis. But don’t get your hopes up just yet.
Bill Clinton takes over the White House briefing room: It was late on a Friday afternoon – near evening time really – when former President Clinton suddenly appeared at Robert Gibbs podium in the West Wing, with the current president at his elbow. This reporter was walking across the Capitol to watch Sen. Bernie Sanders conduct an actual filibuster when he got a phone call from a frenzied source about Clinton’s inexplicable presence in front of the White House press corps. Further confounding observers, Obama left after a brief statement, leaving Clinton alone to defend the president’s tax deal compromise with the GOP. Clinton barely blinked as Obama sidled out, and then held court for nearly 30 minutes, in one of the oddest political moments of the year.
Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute: “My favorite political moment of 2010 was when Charlie ‘The Chameleon’ Crist described himself as a ‘true-blue Reagan conservative.’”
Greg Jenkins, Brunswick Group communications, former Bush White House aide: “The best political moment was when a candidate was compelled to deny her own witch hood.”
Toby Gati, former White House adviser to President Clinton on Russia, Ukraine and the Eurasian States: “My favorite moment was actually a moment of silence: [Tom] DeLay is sentenced for illegally raising money for Republican candidates in Texas races in the election that saw several long-time Democrats defeated and ensured that redistricting would favor these same Republicans – but since then not a word (from Republicans or Democrats) about the legitimacy of those elections. If illegal money helps a candidate win, why isn’t the election fraudulent? Can you think of a better way than the possibility of invalidating an election to ensure that candidates are extremely careful about where their money comes from? As things stand now, if you are willing to risk getting caught and going to jail (6 or 7 years later), you can do ANYTHING illegal for campaign fundraising. What a system.”
Taylor Griffin, principal, Hamilton Place Strategies: “For favorite political moment, the irony of the Obama Administration defending the Bush tax cuts. Also, I’ll give them some credit for political courage in resisting calls for a foreclosure moratorium during the robosigning debate.”
Rob Collins, political director, American Action Network: “Favorite moment: Marco Rubio winning Election night.”
Fran Coombs, managing editor, Rasmussen Reports: “Sarah Palin shooting and carving up a caribou on her TV show.”
Twins’ Facebook Fight Rages On
December 30, 2010
SAN DIEGO — Some people go to court hoping to win millions of dollars. Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss have already won tens of millions. But six years into a legal feud with Facebook, they want to give it back — for a chance to get more.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Tyler Winklevoss, left, and his twin, Cameron. They want to undo a $65 million deal and pursue a case against Facebook.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has said the Winklevoss brothers’ idea was specifically for a dating site, not a social network.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Cameron Winklevoss, left, and Tyler Winklevoss, Olympic rowers, in action last spring in London.
The Winklevosses — identical twins and Harvard graduates — say that they, along with another Harvard student, Divya Narendra, had the original idea for Facebook, and that Mark Zuckerberg stole it. They sued Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg in 2004, and settled four years later for $20 million in cash and $45 million in Facebook shares.
They have been trying to undo that settlement since, saying they were misled on the value of the deal. But it has not been an easy decision.
As recently as Thursday, the brothers considered dropping their effort to unwind the agreement, and went as far as drafting a statement to that effect, according to people close to the case. They decided, though, to keep fighting.
Their argument is that Facebook deceived them about the value of the shares, leaving them with far less than they had agreed. Whatever their value at the time of the deal, Facebook’s shares have soared since, putting the current worth of the settlement, by some estimates, at more than $140 million.
Next month, the twins and Mr. Narendra plan to ask a federal appeals court in San Francisco to undo the deal so they can pursue their original case against Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg, and win a richer payday. They could, though, lose it all.
Still, they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the principle — and vindication.
“The principle is that they didn’t fight fair,” said Tyler Winklevoss during an interview at a pub here recently. “The principle is that Mark stole the idea.”
His brother, Cameron, chimed in, “What we agreed to is not what we got.”
Facebook denies it did anything improper and says the Winklevosses simply suffer from a case of “settlers remorse.”
To make matters more complicated, the twins are also at war with the lawyers who helped them win the settlement. The brothers fired them, accused them of malpractice and refused to pay them. A judge recently found for the lawyers, and ordered the twins to pay the 20 percent contingency fee, or $13 million. For now, the money and shares remain in an escrow account.
Yet their battle with Mr. Zuckerberg is what has had them riled up. When they talked about him, and told their version of the founding of Facebook, they helped finish each other’s sentences, easily reciting every last detail of a tale they have evidently told time and again.
“It shouldn’t be that Mark Zuckerberg gets away with behaving that way,” Cameron Winklevoss said.
The company declined to make Mr. Zuckerberg available for an interview, and Andrew Noyes, a spokesman, said Facebook would have no comment “beyond was is already in our appellate briefs.” In the past, Mr. Zuckerberg has denied he stole the Facebook idea from the Winklevosses, saying they planned a dating site, not a social network.
The twins, who are 29, recently told portions of their story in a “60 Minutes” interview for CBS. They grew up in affluence in Greenwich, Conn., were varsity rowers at Harvard and competed in the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008. They now live here in San Diego, where they are training for the 2012 London Olympics.
They are as physically striking and imposing as they appeared in the film, “The Social Network, where they were portrayed by one actor, Armie Hammer. They are 6-foot-5 , and their frames are lean and muscular, shaped by years of rowing.
For the interview, they wore hoodies and jeans, and only the variation in the hoodies — one zippered with a Ron Jon Surf Shop emblem, one a pullover with a Quicksilver logo — helped to tell them apart.
As they talked about the Facebook case, no detail was too small to omit, from where they first met Mr. Zuckerberg (the Kirkland House dining room) to the layout of Mr. Zuckerberg’s dorm room, to the content of the e-mails he had sent them after they asked him to do computer programming for a Web site called Harvard Connection. They recited arcane facts about the valuation of private companies and even quoted from the Securities Act of 1934, which they say Facebook violated when it drew up the settlement.
In addition to a bigger payday, the twins say they want a court to reconsider their original claims about Facebook’s founding, pointing to instant messages on the subject sent by Mr. Zuckerberg to various friends. The messages have come to light since the brothers signed the deal. But they say Facebook executives and board members have known about the messages since 2006, and played dirty by concealing them when they negotiated the settlement.
“If you take all those documents, it is a dramatically different picture,” Tyler Winklevoss said.
Facebook declined to comment on the messages. In prior interviews, Mr. Zuckerberg said he had regretted sending some of them.
While the Winklevosses could end up losing their settlement, the risks for Facebook are high as well. If the court unwinds the agreement, the company will have to decide whether to offer them a richer settlement or face a trial. Recent trades on a private exchange suggest that Facebook, which is not a public company, now is worth around $50 billion, and the company may not want the negative publicity associated with a trial, especially if it decides to move forward with a stock offering.
The roots of the original dispute date to 2003, when Mr. Zuckerberg, then a Harvard sophomore, said he would help the Winklevosses and Mr. Narendra program Harvard Connection, later renamed ConnectU. But Mr. Zuckerberg delayed work on Harvard Connection, and when pressed for answers, stalled, according to the Winklevosses. In February 2004 he released TheFacebook, which eventually became Facebook.
After ConnectU and its founders sued, Facebook countersued in 2005.
The settlement, which gave Facebook ownership of ConnectU, was supposed to resolve all claims.
The details of the new dispute, which erupted almost immediately, are less known, in part because the parties reached the settlement after a confidential mediation. But according to court documents, the parties agreed to settle for a sum of $65 million. The Winklevosses then asked whether they could receive part of it in Facebook shares and agreed to a price of $35.90 for each share, based on an investment Microsoft made nearly five months earlier that pegged Facebook’s total value at $15 billion. Under that valuation, they received 1.25 million shares, putting the stock portion of the agreement at $45 million.
Yet days before the settlement, Facebook’s board signed off on an expert’s valuation that put a price of $8.88 on its shares. Facebook did not disclose that valuation, which would have given the shares a worth of $11 million. The ConnectU founders contend that Facebook’s omission was deceptive and amounted to securities fraud.
They refuse to say how much they would ask for in a new negotiation, but they said that based on the lower valuation, they should have received roughly four times the number of shares. At today’s price, that would give the settlement a value of more than $500 million.
In its brief, the company says it was under no obligation to disclose the $8.88 valuation, which was available in public filings. Facebook describes it as one of many that it received and as “immaterial” to the calculations of ConnectU founders and their battery of lawyers and advisers.
“There was no chance that that one valuation would have affected the decision of these sophisticated investors and their entourage of advisers,” Facebook wrote in its brief.
In marketplaces that match buyers and sellers of the shares of privately held companies, Facebook’s shares have soared to more than $100 in recent trades, after adjusting for stock splits.
So far, Facebook’s arguments have won the day in multiple court rulings.
The brothers are hoping for better luck next month, before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Unless they decide to give up.
Last year, the Winklevoss brothers completed coursework for a masters in business administration at Oxford. Cameron helped to start Guestofaguest.com, a Web site that offers information about “people, places and parties” in New York, Los Angeles and the Hamptons.
“We are moving forward and trying to be productive individuals,” Cameron said.
When asked if they could have turned ConnectU into a site with hundreds of millions of users, like Mr. Zuckerberg did with Facebook, the twins replied in unison, “Absolutely.” They added that Mr. Zuckerberg deserved some credit for “not screwing up” and expanding Facebook into a community of 500 million users. But they believe the fame and fortune is undeserved.
Tyler Winklevoss said: “Mark is where he is because we approached him to include him in our idea.”
Dec 30, 2010
Obama vacation costing more than $1.4M, paper claims
No one knows exactly how much President Obama's vacation in Hawaii is costing taxpayers -- neither the White House nor the Secret Service like to provide such information -- but one local news outlet is putting the tab at more than $1.4 million, at least.
The Hawaii Reporter did some calculating, though, as we've explained before, it's almost impossible to assess the true cost of these kinds of trips.
For example, most of the cost of the Reporter's estimate is the president's Air Force One ride to Hawaii on the night of Dec. 22; Air Force One is under constant maintenance, and could well be used even if the president wasn't on vacation. (The paper also points out that Mrs. Obama and the Obama daughters flew out early to the islands.)
Secret Service costs are included, but they would be guarding the president anyway, though their housing has to be paid for when they are on the road. The same applies to the president's staff.
We should also point out, as the Reporter does, that Obama is paying his own house rental.
And there are also a host of unknown costs, and one basic truth: Being president is expensive, especially when they are on the road.
Here's part of the paper's breakdown:
With estimates secured from a host of professionals, city officials and law enforcement, Hawaii Reporter estimates costs to taxpayers will at least include:
Mrs. Obama's early flight to Hawaii: $63,000 (White House Dossier)
Obama's round trip flight to Hawaii: $1 million (GAO estimates)
Housing in beachfront homes for Secret Service and Seals in Kailua ($1,200 a day for 14 days): $16,800
Costs for White House staff staying at Moana Hotel: $134,400 ($400 per day for 24 staff) -- excluding meals and other room costs
Police overtime: $250,000 (2009 costs reported by Honolulu Police Department)
Ambulance: $10,000 (City Spokesperson)
TOTAL COST: $1,474,200
Rental of office building in Kailua on canal
Security upgrades and additional phone lines
Costs for car rentals and fuel for White House staff staying at Moana Hotel (Secret Service imports most of the cars used here to escort the president)
Surveillance before the president arrives
Travel costs for Secret Service and White House staff traveling ahead of the President
(Posted by David Jackson)
2010: THE YEAR IN REVIEW
2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards
This was the year the Earth struck back.
Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010 - the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined.
"It just seemed like it was back-to-back and it came in waves," said Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. It handled a record number of disasters in 2010.
"The term `100-year event' really lost its meaning this year."
And we have ourselves to blame most of the time, scientists and disaster experts say.
Even though many catastrophes have the ring of random chance, the hand of man made this a particularly deadly, costly, extreme and weird year for everything from wild weather to earthquakes.
Poor construction and development practices conspire to make earthquakes more deadly than they need be. More people live in poverty in vulnerable buildings in crowded cities. That means that when the ground shakes, the river breaches, or the tropical cyclone hits, more people die.
Disasters from the Earth, such as earthquakes and volcanoes "are pretty much constant," said Andreas Schraft, vice president of catastrophic perils for the Geneva-based insurance giant Swiss Re. "All the change that's made is man-made."
The January earthquake
that killed well more than 220,000 people in Haiti is a perfect example. Port-au-Prince has nearly three times as many people - many of them living in poverty - and more poorly built shanties than it did 25 years ago. So had the same quake hit in 1985 instead of 2010, total deaths would have probably been in the 80,000 range, said Richard Olson, director of disaster risk reduction at Florida International University.
In February, an eartquake that was more than 500 times stronger than the one that struck Haiti hit an area of Chile that was less populated, better constructed, and not as poor. Chile's bigger quake caused fewer than 1,000 deaths.
Climate scientists say Earth's climate also is changing thanks to man-made global warming, bringing extreme weather, such as heat waves and flooding.
In the summer, one weather system caused oppressive heat in Russia, while farther south it caused flooding in Pakistan that inundated 62,000 square miles, about the size of Wisconsin. That single heat-and-storm system killed almost 17,000 people, more people than all the worldwide airplane crashes in the past 15 years combined.
"It's a form of suicide, isn't it? We build houses that kill ourselves (in earthquakes). We build houses in flood zones that drown ourselves," said Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado. "It's our fault for not anticipating these things. You know, this is the Earth doing its thing."
No one had to tell a mask-wearing Vera Savinova how bad it could get. She is a 52-year-old administrator in a dental clinic who in August took refuge from Moscow's record heat, smog and wildfires.
"I think it is the end of the world," she said. "Our planet warns us against what would happen if we don't care about nature."
The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave - setting a national record of 111 degrees - would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming.
Preliminary data show that 18 countries broke their records for the hottest day ever.
"These (weather) events would not have happened without global warming," said Kevin Trenberth, chief of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
That's why the people who study disasters for a living say it would be wrong to chalk 2010 up to just another bad year.
"The Earth strikes back in cahoots with bad human decision-making," said a weary Debarati Guha Sapir, director for the World Health Organization's Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. "It's almost as if the policies, the government policies and development policies, are helping the Earth strike back instead of protecting from it. We've created conditions where the slightest thing the Earth does is really going to have a disproportionate impact."
Here's a quick tour of an anything but normal 2010:
While the Haitian earthquake, Russian heat wave, and Pakistani flooding were the biggest killers, deadly quakes also struck Chile, Turkey, China and Indonesia in one of the most active seismic years in decades. Through mid-December there have been 20 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher, compared to the normal 16. This year is tied for the most big quakes since 1970, but it is not a record. Nor is it a significantly above average year for the number of strong earthquakes, U.S. earthquake officials say.
Flooding alone this year killed more than 6,300 people in 59 nations through September, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, 30 people died in the Nashville, Tenn., region in flooding. Inundated countries include China, Italy, India, Colombia and Chad. Super Typhoon Megi with winds of more than 200 mph devastated the Philippines and parts of China.
Through Nov. 30, nearly 260,000 people died in natural disasters in 2010, compared to 15,000 in 2009, according to Swiss Re. The World Health Organization, which hasn't updated its figures past Sept. 30, is just shy of 250,000. By comparison, deaths from terrorism from 1968 to 2009 were less than 115,000, according to reports by the U.S. State Department and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The last year in which natural disasters were this deadly was 1983 because of an Ethiopian drought and famine, according to WHO. Swiss Re calls it the deadliest since 1976.
The charity Oxfam says 21,000 of this year's disaster deaths are weather related.
After strong early year blizzards - nicknamed Snowmageddon - paralyzed the U.S. mid-Atlantic and record snowfalls hit Russia and China, the temperature turned to broil.
The year may go down as the hottest on record worldwide or at the very least in the top three, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The average global temperature through the end of October was 58.53 degrees, a shade over the previous record of 2005, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Los Angeles had its hottest day in recorded history on Sept. 27: 113 degrees. In May, 129 set a record for Pakistan and may have been the hottest temperature recorded in an inhabited location.
In the U.S. Southeast, the year began with freezes in Florida that had cold-blooded iguanas becoming comatose and falling off trees. Then it became the hottest summer on record for the region. As the year ended, unusually cold weather was back in force.
Northern Australia had the wettest May-October on record, while the southwestern part of that country had its driest spell on record. And parts of the Amazon River basin struck by drought hit their lowest water levels in recorded history.
Disasters caused $222 billion in economic losses in 2010 - more than Hong Kong's economy - according to Swiss Re. That's more than usual, but not a record, Schraft said. That's because this year's disasters often struck poor areas without heavy insurance, such as Haiti.
Ghulam Ali's three-bedroom, one-story house in northwestern Pakistan collapsed during the floods. To rebuild, he had to borrow 50,000 rupees ($583) from friends and family. It's what many Pakistanis earn in half a year.
A volcano in Iceland paralyzed air traffic for days in Europe, disrupting travel for more than 7 million people. Other volcanoes in the Congo, Guatemala, Ecuador, the Philippines and Indonesia sent people scurrying for safety. New York City had a rare tornado.
A nearly 2-pound hailstone that was 8 inches in diameter fell in South Dakota in July to set a U.S. record. The storm that produced it was one of seven declared disasters for that state this year.
There was not much snow to start the Winter Olympics in a relatively balmy Vancouver, British Columbia, while the U.S. East Coast was snowbound.
In a 24-hour period in October, Indonesia got the trifecta of terra terror: a deadly magnitude 7.7 earthquake, a tsunami that killed more than 500 people and a volcano that caused more than 390,000 people to flee. That's after flooding, landslides and more quakes killed hundreds earlier in the year.
Even the extremes were extreme. This year started with a good sized El Nino weather oscillation that causes all sorts of extremes worldwide. Then later in the year, the world got the mirror image weather system with a strong La Nina, which causes a different set of extremes. Having a year with both a strong El Nino and La Nina is unusual.
And in the United States, FEMA declared a record number of major disasters, 79 as of Dec. 14. The average year has 34.
A list of day-by-day disasters in 2010 compiled by the AP runs 64 printed pages long.
"The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion," said Greg Holland, director of the earth system laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
For example, even though it sounds counterintuitive, global warming likely played a bit of a role in "Snowmageddon" earlier this year, Holland said. That's because with a warmer climate, there's more moisture in the air, which makes storms including blizzards, more intense, he said.
White House science adviser John Holdren said we should get used to climate disasters or do something about global warming: "The science is clear that we can expect more and more of these kinds of damaging events unless and until society's emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles are sharply reduced."
And that's just the "natural disasters." It was also a year of man-made technological catastrophes. BP's busted oil well caused 172 million gallons to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Mining disasters - men trapped deep in the Earth - caused dozens of deaths in tragic collapses in West Virginia, China and New Zealand. The fortunate miners in Chile who survived 69 days underground provided the feel good story of the year.
In both technological and natural disasters, there's a common theme of "pushing the envelope," Olson said.
Colorado's Bilham said the world's population is moving into riskier megacities on fault zones and flood-prone areas. He figures that 400 million to 500 million people in the world live in large cities prone to major earthquakes.
A Haitian disaster will happen again, Bilham said: "It could be Algiers. it could be Tehran. It could be any one of a dozen cities."
Borenstein reported from Washington. Reed Bell reported from Charlotte, N.C.
December 29, 2010
Tucker Carlson: Michael Vick 'should have been executed'
Tucker Carlson, filling in for Sean Hannity on Fox News last night, picked up the issue of President Barack Obama’s call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, during which the president thanked Lurie for giving Michael Vick a second chance.
The call had been a hot topic on Fox throughout what was a pretty slow news day, but Carlson’s take took things to a new level.
I’m Christian. I’ve made mistakes. I believe fervently in second chances. Michael Vick killed dogs in a heartless and cruel way. I think, firstly, he should have been executed for that. The idea the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs is beyond the pale.
UPDATE: Carlson is well known as an animal advocate. For the past couple years, he and Ana Marie Cox have served as spokespeople for the Washington Animal Rescue League, and in fact co-hosted a holiday party for the organization just this month.
“It’s the oldest animal rescue league in Washington,” Cox said. “It’s a no-kill shelter, which appeals to my bleeding heart liberalism, but it also accepts no government funding, which appeals to Tucker’s libertarianism.”
She and Carlson were approached by the league after the organization found her name in its database of supporters.
“They thought it would be cute to team me up with a conservative,” she said. “It turned out that Tucker had adopted one of his dogs from the league. It was a great fit.”
In a PSA they taped together for WRAL, they use their partisan differences to set up animal advocacy as one thing upon which both liberals and conservatives could agree. “Animals shouldn’t be mistreated,” Carlson says while holding a dog.
Carlson did not respond to requests for comment, and Cox said she couldn’t not speak to his latest statement.
“I would say that Tucker can have a very subtle intellect, but he also knows how to make an impression. I’m not sure which side of his brain was at the forefront when he said that.”
Nor is she sure that the president made the best choice by singling out Vick, of all people, for a second chance in the court of public opinion.
“I appreciate the president wants to endorse the idea that once people have been to prison and served their sentences, they deserve a second chance,” she said. “I think there are lots better examples out there to grant presidential grace to. What [Vick] did was really unconscionable and almost inexcusable.”
* This post has been updated to make it clear Cox was referring to Vick in the final sentence.
LINK TO VIDEO
A tow truck was caught on camera destroying an SUV.
A dramatic YouTube video showing a city tow truck crunching a parked SUV in snowbound Brooklyn Heights went viral Tuesday with more than 700,000 people watching the clip.
The caught-on-tape slam-a-thon shows a stuck front-end loader bashing into the parked vehicle as a tow truck tries to yank the loader out of a snowy parking spot.
The yellow snow-mover careens into the city-owned Ford Expedition, then strikes it several more times as it lurches out of the spot.
On the way out, the plow crashes into the window of the SUV, and also sideswipes another parked car.
"It could had been completely avoided," said the wife of Eugene McArdle, 53, whose city-owned SUV was crushed. "It was a poor decision."
McArdle is the emergency liaison for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development and needs the vehicle for his job, a spokeswoman said.
The SUV is a 1995 Expedition with 95,000 miles on it that the agency inherited from the city Department of Environmental Protection.
"We're happy no one was hurt," the spokeswoman said. "It's just a car."
The video was shot from an apartment window around 9:15 a.m. Monday, after the snow had stopped and the blizzard moved away from the city.
A crowd of neighbors gathered outside near the corner of Joralemon and Hicks streets as the city tow truck started trying to pull out the snow-mover.
The onlookers warned the tow truck driver to be careful squeezing out of the snowbound street. Instead he blasted his way out, the video shows.
Along with the city-owned SUV, which has "Official" plates, the front-end loader also clipped the McArdles' personal Toyota sedan.
"There were about 30 people out, yelling to stop," the wife said. "They chose to disregard what we were saying."
The clip started going viral after it was aired on CNN Tuesday morning and quickly attracted 219,000 views within a couple of hours.
Asked about the incident at a press conference, Mayor Bloomberg said anyone who suffered property damage should file a claim with the city.
Man stole games from casket of western Pennsylvania teen, police say
Published: Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 10:34 AM Updated: Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 10:39 AM
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — State police are trying to find a western Pennsylvania man they say stole a handheld video game system and accessories from the casket of a teenager killed in a sport utility vehicle crash on Christmas Day.
Jody Lynn Bennett, 37, of Mentcle, grabbed a Game Boy, three games and a Game Boy Light from the open casket during the public visitation around 9:30 p.m. Monday at Rairigh Funeral Home in Montgomery Township, the news release said. He fled when confronted by family members, police said.
State police in Indiana, Pa., would not comment on the case beyond a brief news release issued Wednesday.
A trooper at the Indiana barracks said only that police were still searching for Bennett on Wednesday morning and could not say whether police have an arrest warrant for him. Online court records do not reflect that police have filed charges, but they show an arrest record for several drinking and relatively minor drug offenses dating to 2000.
The Associated Press could not immediately find a telephone number for Bennett, and a call to his parents’ home was not immediately returned. But Dianna Bennett, who identified herself as his aunt, said the family is aware of the allegations and embarrassed by them.
Bennett said her family is close friends with the parents of 17-year-old Bradley McCombs, of Clymer, who was killed when his sport utility vehicle skidded off a snowy road and hit a utility pole Saturday morning.
“I sort of figured they would be looking for him,” Bennett said Wednesday. “I wasn’t there that night, but we all went over yesterday” to the funeral home. Bennett said her nephew “has been into drugs, he’s into alcohol. He’s just messed up.”
A woman who identified herself as McCombs’ mother declined to comment when she was reached at home a few hours before her son’s funeral. The funeral home also declined to comment.
Woman arrested for calling 911 to complain about manicure
Updated: Monday, 27 Dec 2010, 10:07 PM EST
Published : Monday, 27 Dec 2010, 11:30 AM EST
VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) -
A Volusia County woman was arrested after several 911 calls were made complaining about a bad manicure.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office says on Sunday Cynthia Colston, 44, from Deltona, was fighting with her nail technician at Central Nails on Elkcam Boulevard in Deltona because she apparently didn’t like the length of her nails.
During the fight the nail technician was slightly injured but it was Colston who called Volusia County Sherriffs deputies to the salon. Investigators say while one deputy was inside trying to settle the dispute over payment, Colston was calling 911 again, for the fourth time. She called two times after her original 911 asking when deputies would arrive. With no emergency, and a deputy already on the scene, Colson was arrested and charged with misuse of the wireless 911 system and taken to the Volusia County Branch County Jail in Daytona Beach.
LINK TO VIDEO
According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll released on Tuesday, only 49 percent of Republican voters say they are likely to support Sarah Palin if she runs for her party’s presidential nomination.
“That’s a huge 18-point drop since December of 2008, when two-thirds of GOPers said they were likely to support Palin. It also puts her well behind potential rivals Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, and a bit behind Newt Gingrich as well,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
When asked if they would back Palin in a Republican primary fight, 23 percent of respondents said they were “Very Likely” to do so, while 26 percent answered “Somewhat Likely.” Twenty-eight percent said they were “Not Likely at all” to support the former Alaska governor and television personality.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they would be either very or somewhat likely to back former Arkansas Governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came in second place, with 59 percent saying they were either very or somewhat likely to support him in the Republican primary. Romney was followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who received 54 percent support.
Surprisingly, Palin didn’t even do especially well among self-described Tea Party supporters. Although 62 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to back her, 66 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to support Romney, while 72 percent said the same of Huckabee. Sixty-one percent said the same of Gingrich.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Dallas pastor accused in burglary of east Oak Cliff home
08:49 AM CST on Sunday, December 26, 2010
IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News
A southern Dallas pastor and estranged member of a politically active family spent much of Christmas in jail after being accused of breaking into an east Oak Cliff home.
Police and jail records listed the woman arrested as Kathy Robinson, but Charles McGriff said Saturday that the jail mug shot of the arrested woman was of his sister-in-law, Sandra McGriff. She is charged with burglary of a habitation and resisting arrest.
Her husband, Weldon, is a brother of Bishop Larry McGriff, a clergyman who was active in local politics and interfaith work until his death in February. Larry McGriff was leader of Church of the Living God, on East Overton Road near Lancaster Road.
Neither Sandra McGriff nor Weldon McGriff could be reached for comment. She was released Saturday evening from the Dallas County Jail on bail totaling $26,000.
Police accuse Sandra McGriff of stealing more than $10,000 worth of clothing, purses and electronics from a home in the 2200 block of Village Way near Kiest Boulevard and Lancaster Road.
After a neighbor called police about the burglary about 5:30 p.m. Friday, officers arrived and found a broken kitchen window and saw McGriff carrying two fur coats out a back door of the home.
They also saw a laptop computer and three purses in the back seat of her blue Jaguar.
McGriff told officers that a friend had sent her to pick up her coats and that her arm was injured because she could not find a key under the doormat and had to break in through the window.
Police called the resident, Serita Agnew, who told them she had not given anyone permission to go into her house or take her property.
She also said that McGriff had called her to talk about an hour before the burglary was reported. During that conversation, Agnew told McGriff she was away from home visiting her daughter.
After McGriff was treated for the injured arm, officers struggled to arrest her. She slipped out of one set of handcuffs and resisted being restrained.
She slipped a second set of handcuffs off while waiting in a police car, and kicked and tried to scratch officers as they again restrained her.
Her brother-in-law, Charles McGriff, said his family's relationship with Sandra and Weldon McGriff had been strained for months as they had disagreements over how best to lead a church. Sandra and Weldon McGriff went on to start a new Church of the Living God, on Lancaster Road north of Kiest Boulevard.
"When my sister died in September ... [Weldon] didn't go to her funeral," Charles McGriff said.
Charles McGriff said he'd always known the woman as Sandy McGriff, not Kathy Robinson.
"We just don't know much about Sandy," he said. "We've always wondered where this woman came from."
On Saturday, the woman whose home was burglarized said she had mixed feelings about the incident because McGriff was her pastor. Agnew had known McGriff and her husband for about 10 years before joining their church.
"She really seemed to be this woman who had a connection with God," she said. "I still really can't believe it."
LINK TO VIDEO OF PASTOR
Mon Dec 27 09:26am EST
Obama calls Eagles owner to congratulate him for signing Vick
NBC's Peter King reports that Barack Obama called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie earlier this week to congratulate him for giving Vick a second chance after his release from prison. According to King, the president said that released prisoners rarely receive a level playing field and that Vick's story could begin to change that.
Forget your political allegiances or feelings about Michael Vick and take a step back to think about this. The sitting president of the United States went out of his way to publicly praise a man who, 3 1/2 years ago, many thought would never play again in the NFL. Even the most ardent believers in Vick couldn't have fathomed a turn-around like this.
In retrospect it seems obvious that Vick would get a second chance in the NFL, but it wasn't so clear-cut back when he was lying to the commissioner, getting sternly admonished in federal court and serving out a sentence at Leavenworth. We tend to take for granted unbelievable events when they slowly unfold before our eyes. The step-by-step nature of these sorts of tales tend to minimize the shock when taken in over a long process. So though it now seems like it was all pre-destined to work out like this, it wasn't: Vick's rise and fall and rise is a truly stunning tale. He went from star to pariah to inmate to backup to MVP candidate to political prop for the leader of the free world all in a span of a couple years.
For Obama to praise Vick now shows a number of things, namely that uttering the quarterback's name is thought to be a safe political move. He's playing the best football of his life for a playoff team and was the second-leading vote getter for the Pro Bowl. At the moment, he's the model of redemption, someone worthy of praise.
Because, if you think about it, Vick got that "second chance" from Lurie 16 months ago. There was no phone call from the president then. Praising Vick at that time would have been a political third rail. But now that Vick is playing great and most people seem to have either forgiven him or stopped caring about his transgressions, it's a shrewd political move. After what could be termed a rough two years in office, the president is looking for a second chance from the people who have turned against him over the past two years. Supporting a huge star like Vick could help with the president's recent image problems. It may not register much nationally, but it couldn't hurt in Pennsylvania. After all, it's a swing state and 2012 is just around the corner.
Top Ten political winners and losers of 2010
AP photoRep. John Boehner is overcome by emotion as he talks about his working-class roots.
It's been a momentous and turbulent year in American politics. President Obama's popularity tanked and Republicans seized control of the House. The Tea Party burst onto the scene, with significant success, and billionaire business people tried to buy elective office, with limited success.
So who were some of the big political winners and losers of 2010? Here's our list:
Don't cry for me, Dear Ohio! The truth is that this Ohio congressman who once was voted out of a GOP leadership position by his House colleagues has staged an amazing comeback. The future House Speaker hopes to learn from the mistakes of his one-time ally, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The Senate Minority Leader showed how a minority can rule in our democratic system. The Kentucky Republican's "just say no" philosophy stifled much of the liberal Democratic agenda for most of 2010.
The Paul family
Texas Rep. Ron Paul breezed to re-election, as usual. The big news was the stunning success of his son (and fellow doctor) Rand. The junior Paul, a Tea Party loyalist, shocked the GOP establishment in the Republican primary and whipped a popular Democrat in the general election. They will become the first "son-father" team in Senate-House history.
Even while President Obama's approval ratings sank, his Secretary of State remained popular . . . even among Republicans. Her tough-on-terrorists talk and diplomatic skill have managed to please hawks at home and anti-American skeptics abroad.
When Democrats were in trouble and wanted a president to campaign for them, who did they call? Bill Clinton. The 42nd president was credited with helping Democratic candidates win victories in Pennsylvania, California and other states. A slumping President Obama couldn't match Clinton's batting average.
George W. Bush
Another president's ratings were going up as President Obama's were going down. George W. Bush, who left office as the most unpopular president since the disgraced Richard M. Nixon, rebounded in the polls after a national book tour to promote his best-selling memoir, Decision Points.
Vice President Rubio? The Republican Party might be looking for a telegenic, conservative Latino from a key swing state (Florida) in 2012. The former Florida House Speaker came out of nowhere to scare GOP Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary and then crush Crist and hapless Democrat Kendrick Meek in the general election.
One non-politician makes our list. Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who served under both Presidents Bush and Obama, managed to avoid a military mutiny over repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans out-of-the-closet gays from the armed forces. He's a rare player in Washington who is respected across partisan and ideological lines. Too bad he's likely to leave his post in 2011.
The South Carolina Republican, perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate, became both a kingmaker and a thorn in the side of the party's establishment in 2010. He butted heads with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chair of the Senate GOP campaign committee, in GOP primary battles in states from New Hampshire to Delaware, with varying degrees of success. Still, DeMint made himself a force to be reckoned with on the Republican Right.
Never heard of this guy? You will. He's not the old-time Hollywood actor. He's a rising star among congressional Republicans. The California conservative was elected to No. 3 House leadership job after just two terms in office. The former small businessman from Bakersfield seems likely to be a key player in the ideological battles of 2011 — and beyond.
Meredith McDermott/Hearst NewspapersNancy Pelosi goes from the most powerful person on Capitol Hill to leader of the oppressed minority.
The soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House goes from formidable political figure to leader of the smallest bloc of Democratic House members since 1948. The San Francisco liberal will have fewer pesky centrists to deal with, but she'll have a president prepared to cut deals with congressional Republicans rather than the largely irrelevant House Democrats.
Until the not-very-lame lame duck session, President Obama was headed for the No. 1 spot on the list of political losers of 2010. The president's plunging popularity in the South and the industrial heartland cost his party dearly in the midterm elections. But he's had some huge legislative victories in 2010, ranging from health-care reform to repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
A maverick no more, the Arizona senator managed to alienate old friends without making new friends. The 2008 GOP presidential candidate's run as a bipartisan dealmaker are over. Now, he's more like the irascible old guy hurling insults at the kid from down the street (a.k.a. President Obama).
John McCain's most famous Democratic partner, fellow campaign reformer Russ Feingold, had a horrible year. In January, the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law was struck down by the Supreme Court. In November, the maverick Wisconsin Democrat got canned by his constituents.
The veteran Pennsylvania senator didn't make it to November. This Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat got canned by his old/new Democratic constituents in the new/old party's primary. To add insult to injury, conservative Republican Pat Toomey, who almost unseated centrist Specter in the GOP primary six years ago, narrowly won the seat in the general election.
She lost a lot more than an election. The former eBay CEO invested more than $150 million of her fortune on a costly misadventure also called a campaign for governor of California.
For four decades, Mike Castle was the most durable politician in Delaware, a moderate Republican who was popular across party lines and never lost a race. But he'd never run against a witch before. Conservative insurgent Christine O'Donnell, who boasted of once dabbling in witchcraft and satanic altars and the like, upset Castle in the Republican primary. The result of the Delaware melodrama: Democrats not only won the Senate seat, they also took Castle's old House seat from the GOP.
The gravel-voiced New York City Democrat has gone from chairman of one of the most powerful committees on Capitol Hill to forlorn back-bencher. Rangel lost his Ways & Means Committee chairmanship amid an ethics probe, then was convicted by his colleagues and censured. Still, he won re-election with some 80 percent of the vote. So he'll be back. Sort of.
For years, conservative Republican firebrand Tom DeLay said he was the victim of a political witch hunt conducted by a partisan Democratic district attorney. Whether he's right or wrong on that one, he's also now a convicted felon. The former U.S. House Majority Leader from Sugar Land was found guilty of conspiracy and money laundering by a jury of his peers in Austin, the most liberal big city in Texas.
The 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate saw his political career end in the most tawdry way: cheating on his terminally ill wife, having a "love child" out of wedlock and then getting outed by the National Enquirer. Elizabeth Edwards' tragic death in December only served to put an exclamation point on this tale of hubris and self-indulgence.
December 27 2010 at 08:42 AM
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/nov05election/detail?entry_id=79809#ixzz19KlGTgCG
'Octomom' faces eviction from Southern Calif. home
SHAYA TAYEFE MOHAJER
Sun Dec 26, 9:15 pm ET
LOS ANGELES – The man who sold his Southern California home to "Octomom" Nadya Suleman said Sunday that he's going ahead with eviction proceedings because she hasn't made a long overdue $450,000 payment.
Amer Haddadin said he'll evict Suleman if she and her lawyer Jeff Czech don't pay the balance on the house by Friday. A balloon payment was due Oct. 9.
"I think they have money, but they are hiding the money," Haddadin said.
Suleman and Czech were served notice on Dec. 2 by mail and by hand, Haddadin said. He expects the eviction to be speedy.
Suleman and her 14 children have lived in the 4-bedroom house for nearly two years, ever since she brought her octuplets home to the quiet cul-de-sac in La Habra, about 25 miles east of Los Angeles. Her father purchased the home for $565,000, including a $130,000 down payment.
Suleman's father, Ed Doud, cut a deal with Haddadin for the house because a traditional bank loan wasn't available to Suleman, who is unmarried and unemployed. She previously lived with her mother in a small Whittier home before that house was foreclosed on.
In April, Haddadin granted a 6-month extension on the remaining balance, and says that as a Jordanian, he took pity on a fellow Arab in a tough spot, and pledged to help Doud, who is Palestinian.
Haddadin said Czech and Suleman became joint owners of the house in August, after her father transferred the deed from his name.
Reached by phone Sunday, Czech said he had no immediate comment except that Suleman has been making $4,000 payments every month.
Suleman already had six small children before giving birth to the octuplets. All 14 children were conceived through in vitro fertilization.
Cops: $450K in drugs found on man passed out in taxi
Frustrated cabdriver delivered passenger to police station
Joseph Hoffman (December 25, 2010)
A frustrated cabdriver unwittingly delivered a man carrying a bag that was allegedly filled with nearly a half-million dollars in drugs to officers at the Rogers Park District police station over the weekend.
The driver, who asked not to be named, said he picked up a fare in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Saturday afternoon and took the man to an address in Rogers Park.
The passenger, later identified by police as Joseph Andrew Hoffman, 25, chatted on his phone for about half the trip but was unconscious by the time they arrived at the destination, the cabdriver said.
The cabdriver said he tried to rouse the man for about 10 minutes before driving to the police station. Police searched the man's bag and found bottles of a "clear, crystalline substance" connected by wires to a "power source," which together apparently amounted to a miniature methamphetamine lab, according to a police report.
The street value of the drugs in the man's bag was nearly $450,000, the police report said.
Hoffman, of Vancouver, Wash., was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. Police said he consented to a search of a residence in the 800 block of West Dakin Street, where officers found a gallon jug filled with suspected GHB, the so-called date rape drug; small bags of marijuana; $1,401 in cash; and other drug paraphernalia, the report said.
Hoffman was charged with six felony counts and on Sunday was ordered held on $100,000 bail by a Cook County judge.
The cab that brought Hoffman to police was searched by a Chicago Fire Department hazardous materials team. Police didn't tell him what they had found on the passenger when they returned the car, the cabbie said.
"They said they found a lot of bad stuff. My only concern was to collect my fare," the cabdriver said Sunday. "It was going on and on, and I didn't even get my full fare."
8:01 p.m. CST, December 26, 2010
12/25/10 8:05 PM
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Americans can give thanks in this Christmas season for an end to the reckless and destructive 111th Congress. This is the Congress that passed Obamacare, against the wishes of a substantial majority of the public, on Christmas Eve of last year. In the dead of night, Democratic lawmakers stuffed the monstrous 2,700-page bill with special-interest goodies and political payoffs like the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase." As we have learned since, most members were still ignorant of the bill's contents three months later, when it gained final passage in the House. No surprise that its immediate results -- both intended and unintended -- have been almost uniformly bad.
Similarly, odds are that not one member of the 111th Congress actually read the so-called "cap-and-trade" bill before it passed the House in June 2009. Even a speed-reader could not have digested House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman's last-second, 309-page amendment, which read as clear as mud: "Page 14, strike lines 1 through 3 and insert the following. ..." It was filed after 1:30 a.m. just before the vote on final passage. There is also serious doubt that any member of Congress understood the 2,000-page financial reform bill that Congress passed this summer. One of its two main sponsors, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., remarked, "No one will know until this is actually in place how it works. But we believe we've done something that has been needed for a long time. ..."
And Democrats wonder why Gallup found this Congress to be the least popular in the history of its polls?
After suffering a comprehensive and humiliating defeat in the midterm election, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the unfrocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led lame-duck congressional Democrats on a last-minute banzai charge for more federal spending, debt, earmarks, taxes and regulations. They unsuccessfully pushed for the biggest tax increase in American history, a yearlong spending bill loaded with pork, and a DREAM Act to award amnesty to certain children of illegal immigrants. We hope that voters will remember these misguided initiatives in two years.
Our Founding Fathers were always wary of those who wanted government to do lots of big things. That's why they created a system that separated powers among three more or less equal branches and provided each of them with powerful checks and balances. When professional politicians become frustrated with Congress, it is a sign that our system is working as intended. Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley told Bloomberg News recently that "this is probably the most productive session of Congress since at least the '60s." When Congress votes on bills that no one reads or understands, it can be quite "productive." Americans have already rendered a verdict on such productivity and elected a new Congress with orders to clean up the mess in Washington.
Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/editorials/2010/12/examiner-editorial-closing-books-worst-congress#ixzz19FoCWhnW
Voters elected Republicans to end Obamaism, not expand it
12/23/10 8:05 PM
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisIt has probably escaped the attention of all but the few who make it their business to pay attention to such things, so we note here that a subtle but dangerous piece of revisionism about the meaning of the November election crept into the national political conversation this week.
Nowhere was that revisionism more evident than in President Obama's comments late Wednesday in lauding the just-ended 111th Congress, and in particular its lame-duck conclusion: "A lot of folks in this town predicted that after the midterm elections, Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock. And instead, this has been a season of progress for the American people. That progress ... is a reflection of the message that voters sent in November, a message that said it's time to find common ground on challenges facing our country." A few paragraphs later, it became clear that Obama wants us to believe that voters meant for congressional Democrats and Republicans to find that common ground so they can do more of what made the 111th Congress "the most productive two years that we've had in generations."
No, Mr. President, voters in 2010 did not demand bipartisan cooperation in 2011 to advance Obamacare, increase out-of-control federal spending that drove the national debt to $13.4 trillion and the annual deficit to $1.4 trillion, add thousands of bureaucrats to the government payroll even as private-sector unemployment remains near 10 percent, create hundreds more wasteful, duplicative federal programs that mainly benefit Democratic-favorite special interests like Big Labor, impose thousands more growth-killing environmental regulations, or erect multitudes of additional obstacles to achieving energy independence here at home.
To be sure, voters have lost patience with the endless partisan harangues, elitist arrogance, political corruption, and hypocritical pandering to special interests that long ago came to define Washington and its professional politicians in both parties. That was why Republicans were tossed out of congressional power in 2006. The same factors further coalesced in 2010 with disgust with Obamacare, the failed $814 billion economic stimulus program, the "Always Apologize for America" foreign policy, and exploding spending and debt. The result was that voters tossed Democrats out of control of the House and handed Republicans their deepest midterm election victory since 1938. Only in a liberal fantasy world does such an electoral result represent an electorate demanding bipartisan cooperation for more of the same.
Historians may someday describe the just-ended lame-duck session as the high-water mark of Big Government. Come Jan. 5, the reality of what voters did on Nov. 2 will become incontestably clear as a Republican House majority takes office. Then, as Sen. Tom Coburn said Wednesday, henceforth, "there will be no more big spending bills." The new year cannot come too soon.
Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/editorials/2010/12/voters-elected-republicans-end-obamaism-not-expand-it#ixzz19FmOnTCU
Prescription drug abuse is fastest-growing drug problem in country
Dec 26, 2010 02:36AM
David and Gail Katz thought their 25-year-old son Daniel had finally turned the corner on his addiction to prescription painkillers after a year and a half of sobriety. Then, over a two-week period in 2007, Daniel’s drug use suddenly “spiraled out of control,” his parents said.
On June 15, 2007, Daniel, a well-liked former hockey player, died at his best friend’s house after overdosing on OxyContin and cocaine. “We heard that he had told his girlfriend that he wanted to start again and turn his life around and that night, he overdosed,” Gail Katz said.
Some think it’s harmless The Katzes think Daniel started abusing painkillers in college after experimenting with marijuana and alcohol in high school. Though they sought treatment for him several times, Daniel “just couldn’t stay sober,” Gail Katz said. The Highland Park couple has since made a full-time job of educating teens and their parents about prescription drug abuse, the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.
Deaths from unintentional drug overdoses in the United States have increased five-fold over the last two decades, claiming more lives than any other type of accidental injury except car accidents, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this year. Largely driving the trend is rampant misuse of prescription drugs, particularly painkillers such as OxyContin (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone) and fentanyl.
Abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more overdose deaths in 2007 than heroin and cocaine combined, the CDC says. Rates of treatment admissions for abuse of painkillers and other non-heroin opiates also rose 345 percent nationwide between 1998 and 2008, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Five years ago, 70 percent of the people we saw here were heroin addicts. Today, 70 percent of the people we see are prescription drug users,” said Jake Epperly, president of New Hope Recovery Center in Lincoln Park.
Prescription painkillers, known as opioids, are synthetic versions of opium used to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain. But in excess quantities, these drugs can suppress a person’s ability to breathe. They’re especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Experts say too many people, especially teenagers, mistakenly think that prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street drugs, even when used improperly. “People think, ‘It comes from the doctor. Mom took it for a toothache or a broken bone. How bad can it be?’ ” said Sally Thoren, executive director of Gateway Foundation, which provides substance-abuse treatment at locations throughout the state.
The surge in prescription drug abuse followed a shift in doctors’ prescribing habits that began in the 1990s. Recognizing that they needed to do a better job of managing chronic pain than they had in the past, doctors started writing more prescriptions for pain drugs. Greater availability opened the door for more widespread abuse, said Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy. “In the 80s and early 90s, there was so little pain medicine prescribed,” Kane-Willis said. “Now, the pendulum has kind of swung the other way. ”Docs prescribe moreRather than denying pain medication to people who need it, Kane-Willis said more doctors need to have frank conversations with their patients about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
Also contributing to the problem are rogue online pharmacies, operating mostly outside the United States, which provide medications to patients who have never seen or talked to a doctor. Street gangs, too, have become increasingly involved in prescription drug diversion, according to the Chicago field division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Dan, a 30-year-old businessman from Chicago who asked that his full name not be used, has struggled with his addiction to Vicodin for the last eight years. He was first prescribed the drug after a motorcycle accident in 2002. Before long, Dan, whose family has a history of substance abuse, was going from hospital to hospital, pretending to have shoulder pain, kidney stones and other ailments in order to score more painkillers. At one point, he took as many as 60 to 70 pills a day, often with alcohol. Monitoring program “It’s to the point where you can get pain medication as easily as you can get liquor,” he said. “All you have to do is say, ‘I’m experiencing pain,’ and automatically, they’re going to give you pain medication to control that. You can use that doctor for probably a month or two before they catch on.”
After several failed attempts to get clean on his own, a near-fatal overdose in August led Dan to seek help for his addiction at New Hope Recovery Center. Now, he’s cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind him. “I can’t say I’m going to be clean for the rest of my life, but I can promise that when I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, I’ll be clean,” he said. “I’m taking it one day at a time.”
Since 2000, Illinois has had a prescription drug monitoring program that tracks prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies. But the onus is mostly on health care providers to check the database to see whether there’s a pattern of doctor-shopping with their patients. Most people who abuse prescription drugs get them from a friend or family member.
To dispose of unused or expired medications safely, don’t just throw them in the trash or the toilet, said Janet Engle, head of the department of pharmacy practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Instead, remove the medication from its original container, mix it with an undesirable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds and then throw it out in a nondescript container that can be sealed.
Earlier this year, the DEA and Walgreens launched safe drug disposal programs. Disposemymeds.org is also a resource for finding drug take-back programs in your area. David Katz said prescription drug abuse will continue to be a widespread problem until the public recognizes that misuse of these drugs can have fatal consequences, as it did for his son. “Nobody wants to think this could happen to them, but it can,” Katz said.
Link To Photo Of David and Gail Katz
Sanford city hall closed till new year
Updated: Friday, 24 Dec 2010, 10:58 AM EST
Published : Thursday, 23 Dec 2010, 8:17 PM EST
FOX 35 News
SANFORD, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - One by one folks showed up to Sanford City Hall trying to take care of business, only to find out it's closed until next year.
The sign on the door reads “Notice: City Hall will be closed December 23rd through January 2nd.”
"Then they don't get their money until after new years," said Gene Strick, who wanted to pay is water bill.
FOX 35 spoke with Sanford's mayor. She says its all part of the city's cost cutting measures.
City hall is already closed on Fridays, so employees would have been off this Friday and next Friday. Monday is the city's Christmas holiday.
Due to tough financial times the city hasn't given employee yearly raises or holiday bonuses in the past three years. So to compensate city leaders voted to give employees Thursday next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off, an extra 4 days. No word yet on how much that is saving the city.
"That's very nice of them, however, I'm here to pay my bill. I feel they already have Friday off. Give me my Thursday, OK?" said James Lee. "That long of a period is a little too much."
The mayor says with city hall shut down, folks might be inconvenienced if they want to apply for a building permit because they'll have to wait until next year. She did say folks like Lee could write a check and leave utility bill payments in the drop off box. "I drove specifically to the bank to get cash to pay my water bill," said Lee in frustration.
LINK TO VIDEO
Oprah On Palin Run: 'I Believe In The Intelligence Of The American Public'
First Posted: 12-22-10 11:00 PM | Updated: 12-22-10 11:18 PM
Oprah spoke to Parade magazine for its latest issue, and one of the subjects that came up was a potential run by Sarah Palin for the presidency.
Oprah has dodged the question about her thoughts on Palin before, most notably in an interview with Barbara Walters, where she pointedly refused to answer whether she thought Palin was qualified. This time, she said the public would "fall in love" with Palin if they watched her reality show. The interviewer then asked if the thought of a Palin run scared her.
Oprah's response? "It does not scare me because I believe in the intelligence of the American public."
(H/T Political Wire)
Kmonicek/APJimmy McMillan, who ran for New York governor as a member of the Rent Is Too High party, plans to run again - for President of the United States.
The rent won't be Too High at the White House.
Jimmy McMillan, the quirky character who stole the spotlight during New York's 2010 governor's race, is now setting his sights on a higher office: the presidency.
"I know Barack Obama is an Internet hog. I know he knows that I am out there. But what he hasn't heard yet is that Jimmy McMillan is running for President of the United States of America," McMillan told the online "Revolution Radio."
"If you don't do your job right, I am coming at you," he vowed.
McMillan, a fast-talking Vietnam vet who regularly wears a suit and black gloves, became a Web sensation after stealing the show during the lone gubernatorial debate of 2010.
His catchline, "The rent is too high," caught fire on Twitter, scored him hundreds of thousands of YouTube views and even got him an impersonation on "Saturday Night Live."
In the end, McMillan won about 40,000 votes in the governor's race -- and a job as a pitchman for an Internet auction site.
On the flip side, McMillan was tagged for years of anti-Semitic comments, including linking Jews to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also admitted lying to various press outlets about his own reasonable rent.
The lion-maned McMillan -- who's given to lengthy diatribes -- says he's registering as a Republican to avoid a Democratic primary.
McMillan, a self-proclaimed "karate master," says he's not worried about taking on the likes of Obama, or Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
"I can sit here and say how to control the country in 30 seconds, and they can't say it in 30 years," he said.
"Not one of them can sit on a stage and address the issues that concern the American public. Not one of them. The president has not done it."
"I love you, Mitt Romney. I love all of you guys. Y'all can come and bring me some water," McMillan added.
'I'm not Bernie Madoff!': Accused church robber Nathaniel Linden 'was just trying to survive'Michael J. Feeney
Thursday, December 23rd 2010, 4:00 AM
W. Miller for NewsNathaniel Linden (below) was arrested while burglarizing St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on the Grand Concourse (interior, above).
The crackhead burglar accused of robbing 11 Bronx churches hotly denied a police account that he said he was out for revenge on pedophile priests.
"I never said any of that! I'm not angry at God!" Nathaniel Linden told the Daily News in a jailhouse interview.
His robberies, he said, were all about finding easy targets so he could pay his Con Ed bill and feed his pets.
"I'm a nonviolent person. I wasn't going to rob a bank. It was just an easy and nonviolent way to get money," he said. "I also robbed a lawyer's office, a dentist's office and a doctor's office. I don't hate God! I don't hate churches!"
Linden, 51, is accused of robbing 11 Bronx churches starting on Nov. 6, two days after he was released from prison after serving five years foran earlier string of church burglaries.
The admitted crack addict was arrested Sunday while burglarizing St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on the Grand Concourse and is being held on $50,000 bond.
Linden insisted he isn't a bad person. When asked if he felt bad taking alms meant for the poor, he said, "I didn't steal millions of dollars. I'm not Bernie Madoff!"
During the interview, he constantly picked at cuts on his right hand and wiped his face repeatedly.
Cops said Linden told them "I started going after churches" because of the Catholic Church's child-molesting scandal.
Cops also said Linden told them he became angry at God after witnessing his mother's murder and spending a "miserable" childhood in foster care.
Linden admitted taking a little more than $100 from one church - in pennies - and snagging some canned Vienna sausage from a church pantry.
"I needed the money. I was just trying to survive," he said. "I didn't have any food."
Besides feeding himself, he said, he had to buy food for his two parrots, his fish and his cat, Prince.
"I love animals," he said. "My cat is like my child."
Linden, who lives in Kingsbridge Heights and has two grown children who live outside the city, said he got a degree in business administration from Iona College in New Rochelle, where he first started doing cocaine at college parties.
Linden said he hoped he could win the lottery someday and pay back those he stole from.
"I'm sorry. I was wrong. I just hope they can forgive me," he said.
Is Rudy Giuliani a 2012 dark horse?
As a 2008 primary front-runner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani tanked. But as a 2012 dark horse, he could do surprisingly well.
It’s not because Giuliani has shifted; it’s because the Republican Party has. The 2010 election was less about social conservatism than it was fiscal conservatism, and that aligns with Giuliani’s socially moderate and fiscally conservative ideology.
There is another promising wind of change blowing Giuliani’s way, one that’s less ideological. This isn’t the era of kinder, gentler politicians. This is the age of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — three politicians whose appeal lives, partly, in their aggressive rhetoric.
But, according to Giuliani, he started the political fad. When explaining Christie’s appeal to the New York Post, Giuliani said: “What’s making him popular is that he’s not afraid to be called a bully. I used to be proud to be called a bully, and Christie would call me and tell me, ‘I’m going to do it just the way you did.' "
Thus, both the national ideology and aesthetics of these political times are more favorable to Giuliani than, perhaps, at any time in his political career.
So what’s he been up to?
While Giuliani maintained his visibility at a national level this year through frequent appearances on cable political shows, he also showed the GOP that he was willing to do the less glamorous work of crossing the country on behalf of Republican candidates.
In the run-up to the midterm elections, Giuliani made high-profile visits on behalf of Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, Illinois senatorial candidate Mark Kirk, West Virginia senatorial candidate John Raese and many more, garnering significant media attention along the way.
Skeptics often claim that Giuliani’s political activity is simply good business, since it keeps him relevant. For example, Auburn University shelled out $85,000 earlier this year for a Giuliani speech on leadership — an amount that might be less if he weren’t flirting with a bid.
But that obscures the fact that his success, financially, is a good sign of his continuing appeal, politically.
The question for any presidential aspirant is whether he or she is building a broad case for the presidency. At the very least, Giuliani has built a broad one against the current president, slamming Barack Obama on everything from foreign policy to being, well, too New York.
Earlier this year, he questioned the president’s philosophical approach to foreign policy, not to mention his actual record, which he’s frequently criticized on missile defense, terrorism and Middle East relationships.
“President Obama thinks we can all hold hands, sing songs and have peace symbols. North Korea and Iran are not singing along with the president.”
And while Gingrich literally wrote a book, christening the Obama administration a “secular-socialist machine,” Giuliani has been similarly critical of the president’s economic policy, telling conservative bloggers that Obama is trying to turn the United States into a “European social democracy.”
Then there’s the ironic and primary-friendly charge that Obama has too much of the mayor’s hometown blood in him.
“The president may be suffering … from the inability to see the rest of America from having a warped view in New York,” Giuliani told ABC’s “The View” last month.
Fire in the belly:
Giuliani has refused several times this year to close the door on a bid. Most recently, he told The Wall Street Journal that it’s been difficult to give up the dream.
“It’s always in your mind when you’ve done something like this,” he said.
And it’s possible that his poor showing in 2008 hasn’t done much to diminish his confidence in another bid. Earlier this year, Giuliani told The Washington Post that his failure could have been as simple as bad timing.
“You know, I was conflicted about running when I did ... I don’t think any Republican could have won in 2008,” he said.
That being said, if he did do it again, it’s not likely he’d take any chances and stake the race on Florida, as he did in 2008.
“If you’re going to run for president and get nominated, you better win Iowa [or] New Hampshire. By then, it’s probably over. If it isn’t over by then, it’s over by South Carolina,” he told the Post.
What lies ahead:
In the end, it’s perhaps smartest to appeal to a former New York state representative, Guy Molinari, who once told reporters of Giuliani: “Rudy is Rudy. Rudy is either going to run or not based on how he feels. He’s not a guy who looks at statistics and worries about the fact that ... maybe he could win, maybe he can’t win.”
And that makes him a wildcard, a dark horse — and a worthy figure to watch in 2012.
Obama Press Conference: President Discusses 'Season Of Progress' At Year-End News Conference
BEN FELLER | 12/22/10 06:26 PM |
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama celebrated a bipartisan "season of progress" on Wednesday at a year-end news conference marking an up-and-down second year in office that blended a thrashing at the polls, slow progress on the economy and late victories in Congress.
He forecast struggles over spending in 2011 with Republicans who take control the House, and vowed to try again and pass sweeping immigration legislation that was blocked by GOP critics. "If I believe in something strongly I stay on it," he said.
Obama opened the news conference with a reference to the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that the Senate ratified earlier in the day on a bipartisan vote. In addition to cutting nuclear weapons and launchers, he said the pact will allow U.S. inspectors to "be back on the ground" in Russia.
"So we'll be able to trust but verify," he added, quoting the late President Ronald Reagan in another in a string of bipartisan gestures of recent weeks.
The president, who signed legislation earlier in the day permitting gay members of the armed forces to serve openly, said he does not currently favor legalizing gay marriage.
"I struggle with this. I have friends, people who work for me who are in powerful, long standing gay or lesbian unions," he said. "I have said that at this point my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them protection and legal rights."
The economy was not nearly as dominant a subject as it has been at other news conference in Obama's tenure. He said the nation is past the "crisis point," and he intends to focus in 2011 on reducing unemployment and making the country more competitive in the international marketplace. Unemployment was measured at 9.8 percent in November, down only slightly from its double-digit high in 2009. Economic growth has been stronger in recent months than earlier in his term, but not yet powerful enough to guarantee a quick recovery.
Obama said deficit reduction would be a major issue in 2011.
"I guarantee you, as soon as the new Congress is sworn in, we're going to have to have a conversation about, how do we start balancing our budget or at least getting to a point that's sustainable when it comes to our deficit and our debt?" he said.
"And that's going to require us cutting programs that don't work, but it also requires us to be honest about paying for the things that we think are important."
The president said that after midterm elections on Nov. 2, many "predicted Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock. Instead, this has been a season of progress for the American people."
He added that the accomplishments of a postelection session of Congress demonstrate "we are not doomed to endless gridlock."
Obama spoke a few hours after the Senate ratified the treaty he negotiated with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to reduce both nation's nuclear arsenals, the final major action of a productive postelection Congress.
In the six weeks since midterm elections he bluntly called a shellacking for his party, Obama has signed bipartisan legislation to prevent a spike in income taxes, cut Social Security taxes for one year and extend long-term jobless benefits through the end of 2011.
Obama will soon sign a measure strengthening the safety of the nation's food supply. He also wrapped up a trade deal with South Korea.
The Senate's ratification of the arms control treaty was Obama's top foreign policy priority of the postelection session of Congress, and a victory the administration ground out over the past few weeks by securing the votes of Republicans. The top two GOP senators voted against the pact, although it was not clear how hard they worked to prevent its ratification.
Obama was flying to Hawaii later in the day, joining his wife and the couple's two children for a year-end holiday.
When he returns, it will be a few days before a new Congress convenes, with a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate with a shrunken Democratic majority.
Despite Obama's upbeat reviews, he conceded disappointment with Congress' failure to enact some of his other priorities.
He said his biggest disappointment was failure of Congress to pass legislation giving young illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military. The bill was blocked by Senate Republicans. "I am determined to get immigration reform done," he added.
He also said he was disappointed Congress wasn't able to approve a budget, saying he expects "robust debate" on federal spending when Congress returns.
House Republicans have vowed to roll back spending on hundreds of federal programs to 2008 levels, a proposal certain to spark opposition among Democrats in Congress.
The president said political leaders of both parties must re-examine long-held beliefs to help the economy recover.
But he made it clear that he intends to contest Republicans when the tax bill he just signed comes up for renewal in two years. It extends tax cuts at upper incomes, and the president said he continues to believe "we can't afford a series of tax breaks for people who are doing very well and don't need it."
Coin Thieves Use Old Trick For Quick Cash
How they fool change machines.
Here is the link to video: http://www.wreg.com/videobeta/6a8f2a1d-3260-4106-bd96-66f198d83735/News/Stringing-Thefts
Horn Lake, MS —
Several men in Horn Lake, Mississippi are using a method you may have seen in cartoons to fool change machines into giving them money, without giving any up themselves.
It's what Horn Lake Police call "stringing" basically fooling a change machine to give up change without ever really putting any money in.
It may not sound like a serious crime, but in some cases, these crooks get enough cash to raise their crimes to felony levels.
Brandon Wilder says it's the most frustrating thing in the world.
He'll often go to the car wash, and can't get the change machines to give him enough change to wash his car. "I get mad and end up having to go all the way down the end of the street to a gas station and get change."
Horn Lake police say, blame the "stringing" thieves.
Lieutenant Scott Evans of the Horn Lake Police Department says they're hitting these places for hundreds of dollars. "Sometimes it's just as much as a few hundred dollars, to up in the hundreds of dollars up in to felony amounts." said Lieutenant Scott Evans.
In Mississippi, once a thief steals 500 bucks or more, it becomes a felony.
How are they doing it? They're putting a string or some tape onto a big bill, then putting it in the slot, getting their change, then pulling the bill back out.
And almost every time they do it, a hidden camera snaps their picture. Horn Lake police have put together quite a collection of these thieves over the past few months.
"We're hopin' that somebody in this community will know who it is and we can find these people, and stop these losses." said Evans.
And he, somebody somewhere knows who all these men are.
"They're gonna get caught. We've got your pictures. It's just a matter of time for us to know who you are and you care gonna be charged."
And Brandon Wilder hopes that happens before the next time he washes his car. "They need to be put in jail."
Lieutenant Evans says it's possible these people are stealing the money to go gambling at the slot machines in Tunica. Either way, he says what these men are doing is illegal and he's out to make sure they not only pay for their crimes, but pay back what they've taken
5:36 p.m. CST, December 21, 2010
Reindeer Christmas Light Display Found in Compromising Sexual Position
|Frisky Reindeer Light Display (Joseph Huerta/ FOX40 News / November 29, 2010)|
LINK TO VIDEO
FOX40 News discovered a reindeer Christmas light display in a compromising sexual position after a viewer alerted us to it.
People driving by a light display outside a shopping center on Sunrise Blvd. aren't sure what to think about what they are seeing? Am I really seeing what I think I am? Is this a prank?
A viewer called the newsroom Monday night to report the frisky light display to us.
We called around to see who the display belongs to and it appears to be a private display.
It is unknown whether the display was intentionally set up like that or if someone decided to pull a prank and put them in the compromising position
Police: Man kills bride, best man, self at wedding
December 20, 2010 07:40 PM
19:40 PST RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) --
A bridegroom fatally shot his new wife, his best man and then himself after announcing to horrified guests that he had a "surprise" for them, authorities said Monday.
Witnesses reported that 29-year-old Rogerio Damascena, a sales manager in Camaragibe, outside the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, did not give any previous indication that anything was wrong at his wedding reception, police investigator Joao Brito said.
Brito would not speculate on a possible motive, saying family members were in shock and he had not interviewed them yet.
Brito did say the killings are believed to be premeditated because of the groom's announcement and because he had hidden a gun in his father's pickup truck.
Twenty-five-year-old bride Renata Alexandre Costa Coelho and best man Marcelo Guimaraes were both killed in Saturday's murder-suicide. A brother of the bride was treated at a hospital and released.
The website Globo.com quoted a sister of the bride who left before the shootings as saying she didn't believe it was a crime of passion.
"My sister was a wonderful person who loved and wanted to be loved," Lucia Helena Coelho was quoted as saying.
"He was happy, she was happy, the party was beautiful. His family adored her and doesn't understand this," Coelho told Globo.com. "He revealed himself as a sociopath who fooled the entire family and killed his best friend, who was ... the best man."
Arias/AP; O'Boyle/AP Sarah Palin has repeatedly taken aim at Michelle Obama's efforts to fight childhood obesity.
She's all for cutting flabby government, but Sarah Palin wants Michelle Obama to butt out of keeping kids from getting fat.
The moose-munching Tea Party darling is picking a fight with the First Lady - over dessert.
"Where are the s'mores ingredients?" the sharp-elbowed hockey mom growled in Sunday's episode of her outdoorsy TLC show "Sarah Palin's Alaska."
"This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert," Palin said mockingly as she rummaged through her kitchen cupboards for graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.
The former vice presidential candidate was apparently referring to a speech in which Michelle Obama did not quite put a ban on sweet treats.
"As I tell my kids, dessert is not a right," Obama told the NAACP in July, touting her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity.
While Obama's program does not explicitly tell parents to avoid dessert, it suggests cutting back on sugar.
It was the second time in a month Palin has bashed the First Lady's calorie-curbing movement.
"What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat," the ex-Alaska governor told radio host Laura Ingraham last month.
"Instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician's or politician's wife's priorities, just leave us alone . . . "
The White House declined to comment on Palin's barbs, or her appetite for s'mores.
Studies show that one in three American children is overweight or obese, increasing their risk of developing life-altering illnesses like diabetes.
The First Lady's "Let's Move" program encourages families and schools to adopt a healthy approach to activity and nutrition.
Obama has led by example. She has planted a vegetable garden at the White House, and last month she led kids in an exercise class at a Police Athletic League center in Harlem.
In her efforts, Obama has not been holier than thou, admitting to having a soft spot for at least one dessert.
"One of the reasons I talk about pie and burgers is because if you tell people they can never have the stuff they love, they'll shut down," she told Ladies' Home Journal in August. "What is life without the things you love to eat? For me it's pie."
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Burglars Breaking In Homes Through Mail Slots
Updated: 7:45 pm EST
December 17, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There's a new burglary spree in Orlando. Thieves broke into four houses near Silver Star Road in the past week and WFTV found out how they're doing it through mail slots.
"I think they stuck their hand in here and just unlocked it," Stacy Drebenstedt told WFTV.
She still can't believe she's the victim of a burglary, let alone how the crooks unlocked the deadbolt through the mail slot.
"My hand goes in to here, so if you have smaller arms than me you can put your hand right in," she said.
In the last seven days, there have been four similar break-ins in the College Park area. Drebenstedt was targeted in broad daylight, between 2:00 and 2:30pm, between the time she went to work and the mailman showed up to find her door open.
"It's scary to come home with your door ajar and you're alone and you're a woman," she said. "I feel violated. It's horrible."
The thieves made off with more than $10,000 in jewelry and other valuables, including her husband's paycheck he had just cashed.
People in the neighborhood said they noticed a white or cream-colored vehicle randomly parked in driveways recently with two men inside scoping out the area. They also noticed a stranger walking the street.
Orlando police are investigating. At this point, they aren't saying the crimes are related or if the strangers are suspects.
Drebenstedt has two dogs, but they were in the backyard at the time of the robbery. She has covered the mail slot the best she can until she buys a mail guard.
Orlando police said they will be patrolling the area.
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Waste in U.S. Afghan aid seen at billions of dollars
Dec 20, 2010
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Waste and fraud in U.S. efforts to rebuild Afghanistan while fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban may have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, a special investigator said on Monday.
Arnold Fields, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said the cost of U.S. assistance funding diverted or squandered since 2002 could reach "well into the millions, if not billions, of dollars."
"There are no controls in place sufficient enough to ensure taxpayers' money is used for the (intended) purpose," said Fields, whose independent office was created in 2008 to energize oversight of what U.S. auditors have described as a giant, poorly coordinated aid effort that has sunk some $56 billion into Afghanistan since 2002.
Of that sum, some $29 billion has gone to building up Afghanistan's nascent security forces, many of whose members cannot read and are just learning to shoot.
Another $16 billion has gone to trying to develop this poor country, where life expectancy is just 45 years and only 28 percent of people are literate, and to strengthening governance, said Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general.
Experts believe it will take years to build an effective government that can provide basic services in Afghanistan, where corruption and the lack a functional justice system have driven many villagers into the arms of the Taliban.
Efforts to bolster Afghanistan's weak central government and in many cases its dysfunctional local leadership took center stage last week when a White House review of the nine-year-old war reported some military success but cautioned there was more to be done on improving governance and curbing corruption.
President Barack Obama is under pressure to show results in Afghanistan in the first half of 2011 so he can start bringing U.S. troops home in July.
U.S. and NATO partners hope Afghan forces will be able to take control by the end of 2014 as the West looks to curtail its involvement after nine years that at the present level of effort costs U.S. taxpayers at least $113 billion a year.
More than 700 foreign troops have been killed in 2010, the most violent year since the Taliban was toppled in 2001. Afghan casualties are far higher.
U.S. reconstruction activities are a major component in an even bigger outside assistance effort involving dozens of donor countries and hundreds of aid groups large and small.
Field's office, known as SIGAR, described in a report issued this fall a 'confusing labyrinth' of agencies and contractors in that aid effort.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan; editing by Philip Barbara)
Gum that Costs $500
Anrica Deb By: Rigoberto Hernandez | December 20, 2010 – 6:02 am
It was there when Heather Raich arrived on Thurday morning to open up her restaurant, Charanga. Stuck to her window was a notice staying that she needed to clean the gum off the sidewalk in front of her restaurant in the next seven days, or pay a $500 fine.
Charanga is on Mission Street, one of the most heavily trafficked thoroughfares in the neighborhood. The corridor that it resides on – those eight blocks between the 16th and the 24th Street BART stops, could be described as arguably more gum than sidewalk.
“Merry Christmas,” says Raich, dispiritedly. “I’m used to the graffiti citations, but this was a first. I think they’re trying to make up some kind of budget shortfall. At $500 a pop, depending on how many storefronts they hit – that’s some money.”
Not so, says Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Works.
Merchants on heavily trafficked streets, like Mission and 24th Streets, have been receiving either brochures or letters about their sidewalk responsibilities, long before the warnings were posted, Falvey says.”The City is responsible for the streets, and the businesses are responsible for the sidewalks. That’s how it works in San Francisco.”
According to some numbers crunched by our former science reporter, Anrica Deb, there is over a ton of gum speckling the sidewalks of the Mission district. Her conclusion: better economic and environmental sense to leave it there than use the water, electricity, and money necessary to get it off. It would take one person working full-time for three years straight to get every last piece of gum off – and that’s only if the people of the Mission spontaneous stopped spitting fresh wads onto the sidewalk.
The employees at La Oxaquena and Mission Street Liquor and Groceries said they received letters about cleaning up the gum in front of the businesses. Harry from La Oxaquena said that they scrapped the gum off and wash it off with a pressure washer. This set him back $300 dollars.
Coincidentally, $300 is exactly how much it is going to cost Ismael Karagh, the owner of Farah Smoking Shop, to hire a company to clean his three storefronts.
“This is good for the companies that clean,” Karagh said.
Karagh said he tried to clean the sidewalk and showed a reporter a collection of chemicals he used while trying to clean up the sidewalk. None of them worked, he said.
Business owners were provided a number where they can call someone from the city to help business owners clean their sidewalk.
Karagh instead suggested that the city instead adopt a program in which business owners paid a monthly fee and the city cleans the sidewalks.
“If I pay to clean it up, when they inspect again its going to be back,” he said.
Either way, those who dispose of their gum on the sidewalk are leaving business owners in a sticky situation.
As for those gum chewers, who cause the issue to begin with, Harry of La Oxaquena asks, “What can you do?”
Obama has strong first-half finish
President Obama ends his first two years with image-altering successes; the next two may prove more frustrating.
Paul West, Christi Parsons and Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
December 20, 2010
Reporting from Washington
President Obama is ending the first half of his term the same way he began it — with a storm of activity of impressive, even historic, dimensions. But he may look back on these two often frustrating years as the easy ones.
In the last week, Obama signed into law a deal he forged with Republicans — an $858-billion package of tax cuts and jobless aid — and saw Congress redeem one of his campaign pledges, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces. Before this week is out, the Senate could deliver another major victory — ratification of a new arms reduction treaty with Russia.
For all the achievement, it still may not be enough. Obama has two years left to persuade Americans that his approach of compromise and consensus-building is assertive enough to revive the economy and the flagging fortunes of the Democrats.
Arrayed before him will soon be a far more conservative Congress and a continuing slow-motion economic recovery that will likely hang over his head for the next two years.
Still, the year-end victories have gone a long way toward reshaping the image of a president who seemed isolated and out of touch only a month ago after an enormous midterm election defeat.
Obama now looks like a dealmaker who can reach across party lines to get things done and, perhaps, make progress that Americans found lacking when they went to the polls.
The soon-to-depart Democratic-controlled Congress, under prodding from Obama, will likely go down as among the most productive since President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society almost half a century ago.
Obama is "a progressive leader who, in fact, understands that politics is all about the art of the possible," Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday on NBC. Both parties, Biden said, had "heard the message" of the election: that voters "want us to reasonably compromise to move the business of the nation forward."
By working closely with Republican leaders over the last few weeks, Obama appears engaged and involved in a way he didn't before. Along the way, he's helped himself with portions of his base and given independent swing voters a reason to take a fresh look.
White House officials were "elated and emotional" after Congress agreed to lift the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, a senior aide said. But otherwise, the internal response to the wins of the last few days has been cautious.
There haven't been Champagne toasts like the one that followed the passage of the healthcare overhaul this year. There wasn't a victorious news release like the one the night the tax-cut package passed, and the president's bill-signing ceremony was a businesslike affair, concluding quickly so the attendees could get back to work.
To be sure, White House officials count the weekend events as important accomplishments. But they also believe this is no time for them to run anything that looks like a partisan victory lap.
Obama's aides realize that, like the Hawaiian vacation he was forced to curtail, recent victories could turn out to be fleeting, as disposable as Christmas wrapping after the presents are opened.
Many parts of the country have yet to pull out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Unless the recovery gathers steam, the public's mood will remain dark and Obama's reelection will stay in doubt.
"The economy isn't only the No. 1 issue, it's issue one through 10," said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. "It dwarfs everything else. We have made a ton of progress, but there is much more work to do. The tax-cut package signed into law this week is an important step in that direction."
Meantime, in snow-covered Washington, an incoming, more conservative Congress is itching to undermine the president's achievements and prevent a second term.
Republicans want to starve federal agencies of money needed to implement Obama's agenda and have already succeeded in blocking a plan that would have funded the government into next fall.
Between now and March, a major budget battle will play out, with Republicans determined to cut tens of billions in spending and Obama determined to resist. A silver lining for the president in a divided Congress is that the new Republican House can be counted on to stop any more of the far-reaching legislation that has been less than popular with voters.
Already, there is renewed emphasis, at least rhetorically, on the need for bipartisanship.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on CNN that "we demonstrated on the tax package there is some business we can do. And if the president's willing to come and adopt positions that, frankly, I and my members hold anyway, why would we say no?"
Communicating with the country — once thought to be Obama's great strength — will be key to his ability to navigate this new reality.
Too often, during the first half of his term, the president allowed Republicans to frame the debate. Even loyal Democratic voters came to adopt the derogatory "Obamacare" label that conservatives successfully stuck to his healthcare legislation.
Now, freed from the need to let Democrats in Congress take the lead, Obama is "in a much better position to stop deferring and start pushing," and that could allow him to communicate more aggressively and effectively, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
Opinion surveys show that voters across the political spectrum give the tax deal high marks, which will let Obama do something else he was unable to do before: associate himself with a highly popular initiative.
The lame-duck Congress, for all its remarkable activity, was hardly an unalloyed success for the president. Repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" reassured dispirited Obama backers, including younger voters and gays of all ages, that change was, in fact, possible in Washington. That victory could placate at least a portion of Obama's liberal base, still fuming over his willingness to grant tax cuts to billionaires.
However, the hopes of millions of Latino voters were set back again when the Senate killed a measure over the weekend that would have offered a path to U.S. citizenship to many young people who are in the country illegally.
Candidate Obama had pledged to fix the nation's broken immigration system, but he's probably farther away from delivering on that promise than he was at the start of his term. Instead, he will enter the third year of his presidency without delivering for the nation's fastest-growing minority.
At the same time, his policy of ramped-up border enforcement brewed anxiety among Latinos and other immigrant communities while failing to achieve its political goal of attracting enough Republican support for a change in policy.
At midterm, Obama still faces many of the doubts that have emerged since he took office, including whether he has what it takes to get things done in Washington and make voters believe he understands their problems and is making progress on fixing them.
Obama and his aides contend that's what he's been doing. But the president acknowledged after the midterm election that he had lost track of the way he connected with Americans during the 2008 campaign and that the swirl of activity in the capital had left voters feeling "as if government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to."
But if the tax deal succeeds in boosting the nation's tepid economic growth rate next year, as some forecasters predict, the public's pessimistic mood could brighten and lift Obama's reelection prospects along with it, said veteran Democratic strategist Bill Carrick.
"That is the most important political dynamic going into 2012," he said, "that people think the economy is turning around."
East End store owners fighting back
Another robbery suspect dies as shop owners turn to deadly force to protect what's theirs
Dec. 19, 2010, 11:38PM
Twice in the past five days, business owners or their relatives have fatally shot robbers on the premises of their shops. Law enforcement officials are stepping up patrols and educational efforts, and owners of neighboring businesses are traumatized and angry.
"There's a lot of reason to be scared," said Guillermo Memo Villarreal, who owns a record shop midway between the scenes of the two recent robbery-shootings on Canal. "In one minute, they can destroy you."
On Saturday morning, police said, a man identified by police as the owner of Shew Food Market, in the 7500 block of Canal, shot a robber who was fleeing, along with an accomplice, after taking a bag containing a substantial sum of money.
Two men later showed up at Ben Taub General Hospital, where one of them, identified by police as Elton Guidry, died. His alleged accomplice, Corey Taylor, 31, was jailed without bail on a charge of robbery with bodily injury.
Just two days earlier, an afternoon robbery at Castillo Jewelry Store — just three miles away, in the 4500 block of Canal — ended in a bloodbath.
Robbers shot the owner, 52-year-old Ramon Castillo, in the abdomen, shoulder and legs, leaving him in critical condition Sunday. Castillo shot and killed the three armed robbers, who had tied up his wife of 30 years.
On Saturday, Villarreal said he worried about the family who owns the store, whom he described as "some of the hardest-working, nicest people" he had ever known.
Neighbors said the grocery store had been owned by a Chinese family for 60 years. A family member declined to comment Sunday.
According to investigators, the owner of Shew Food Market was returning to the store about 11 a.m. with a bag containing a large amount of cash. A vehicle pulled up and a man got out of the car and struck the owner in the head, causing him to fall to the ground. The robber took the bag and ran to the vehicle where another person was waiting. Police said the owner got to his feet and, fearing the man was armed, fired at the vehicle as it drove away.
'We are working people'
Police described the crime as gang-related. Records show Taylor, of the 10400 block of Fairland, has an extensive criminal history in Harris County, including convictions since 1998 for various drug offenses, evading arrest, criminal trespassing and driving without a driver's license.
Villarreal, whose record store has operated on Canal for 42 years, is an active member of civic clubs in the East End — a close-knit, predominantly Hispanic community where outdoor church and family activities were as obvious as burglar bars on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
It's unfair, Villarreal said, that violence forces a life change upon hard-working, taxpaying business owners who sometimes feel deadly force is their only option to protect themselves and their livelihood.
"We are working people. For some 'crazy' to come to try to destroy our lives after we've been working here so many years …," Villarreal said before starting to weep. "We are open seven days a week. We don't have a day off. We have our community. We have our churches. We have our schools. We help each other. It's not right what these people do."
'Fighters and survivors'
His sentiments were echoed by Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino, who knows the families involved in both recent robberies.
In the wake of the crimes, Trevino's office has stepped up marked and unmarked patrols, as well as communication with business owners in the area.
His office has not noticed a spike in inquiries from the business community after these latest high-profile crimes, Trevino said, but Precinct 6 deputies and Houston police officers have been working with them more closely since robbers shot and killed a store owner and clerk last year.
Officers offer free escorts to the bank, for example, and seminars teach prevention and protection, including how to properly use deadly force.
"These business people are fighters and survivors," Trevino said. "They will fight, do whatever it takes. If it means using deadly force for some of them, it wasn't their choice.
"The one who made the choice are those suspects who robbed them. I think the ones who should be worried are the crooks. You've got to do what you've got to do, to stay alive. This time, the business people got the upper hand."
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Scam Could Cost Couple Everything
LINK TO VIDEO
The most important rule to remember is if a sweepstakes wants you to pay anything up front, it's bogus.
6:47 p.m. CST, December 16, 2010
Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Passes Senate 65-31
First Posted: 12-18-10 11:49 AM | Updated: 12-18-10 09:05 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted 65-31 on Saturday to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, defeating a 17-year policy of banning gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the military. Six Republicans initially crossed the aisle to vote against the policy: Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).
The Senate vote is a vindication of Obama's decision to push for congressional repeal as opposed to unilateral executive action, though activists note he could have done both. The Senate will make a final vote on ending the policy at 3 p.m.
In the first procedural vote on Saturday morning, 63 senators voted in favor of the bill and 33 against. In the final passage, Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) switched their vote to "aye," despite initially voting against moving forward with the bill.
"The important thing today is that 63 senators were on the right side of history," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told HuffPost after the first vote, adding he sees the bill as a "stepping stone to further advances for the gay and lesbian community."
Gay-rights activists owe a small debt to their Latino brethren, as the DREAM Act, which the House and Senate have been considering at the same time, showed the way forward for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Roughly a week before a crucial cloture vote failed, said one top aide, Democratic leadership staff saw that the same legislative tactic could be used to bring a standalone version of the repeal bill to the Senate floor as was currently being used to bring DREAM up. For needlessly complex reasons, a bill that comes to the Senate as a "message from the House" faces fewer obstacles to a floor vote than one that originates in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) proposed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the House consider moving first. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had the same idea.
"Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins determined that they would introduce a bill," Hoyer told HuffPost earlier this week. "I called and talked to a number of people. I then called Senator Lieberman and said 'Joe, my intent will be to talk to Congressman Murphy' -- who's the sponsor of the amendment that was adopted in the defense bill -- 'and put this in as a free standing bill, because we can probably send it over to you more quickly than you can send to us.' And he agreed and we introduced exactly the same bill that they have in the Senate."
The bill passed in the House 250-175 on Dec. 16.
During debate before the cloture vote, Republicans ran through the usual list of arguments against repealing DADT, claiming it would hurt unit cohesion and that troops had not been given an adequate chance to voice their opinions on the bill. A survey on ending DADT was sent to 400,000 service members, at least 100,000 of whom responded. Of those who responded, 70 percent said they would "work together to get the job done" if there was a gay service member in their unit -- and 69 percent said they know or suspect there is a gay service member serving with them already.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the reason survey results were mostly positive because troops already thought the repeal was "a done deal" because politicians had said they planned to repeal it. Repealing DADT would harm recruitment and retention, he said. "I was shocked at how well this has worked for a long period of time," Inhofe said. "We have a saying in Oklahoma, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Well, this isn't broke, it's working very well."
Republican senators said their opposition was not related to homophobia or lack of appreciation for those who have served or are serving in the military. "This has nothing to do with the gays and lesbians who have given valuable service to our military," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). "That's a given."
Still, they rejected the idea that the military could adjust seamlessly to a more open policy. "Some people will say this is about civil rights and its time has come. The Marine Corps doesn't have that view," Graham said. "This is about effectiveness on the battle field, not about civil rights."
In the end, though, support for a repeal won out. A number of Democrats made impassioned appeals for the bill in the debate. "I can't think of something more egregious to our fabric, to our military," said Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y). "If you care about national security, if you care about military readiness, you will vote against this corrosive policy."
Now, though, Republicans are threatening that the vote will threaten another effort: ratification of the START Treaty, which supporters say would strengthen national security.
"Some Republicans are saying they're not going to vote for the START Treaty now because we had a vote on the DREAM Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after the vote.
President Barack Obama applauded the Senate for moving toward repeal. "By ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay," he said in a statement. "And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love."
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
Sat Dec. 18, 2010
Lawyer convicted in marijuana-growing operation
Inquirer Staff Writer
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer Richard K. Creamer and James Alberts spent $100,000 to convert this Northern Liberties warehouse into a high-tech growing operation, Alberts said.
A Philadelphia lawyer is facing a mandatory 10-year prison sentence after being convicted of operating a sizable and sophisticated marijuana-growing operation in North Philadelphia.
Richard K. Creamer, 38, practiced real estate and corporate law in Northern Liberties. In October 2007, Creamer and James Alberts, a South Philadelphia contractor, bought a warehouse on the 2300 block of North American Street, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph T. Labrum III.
Creamer and Alberts, 37, had worked together before, buying distressed properties and selling them for profit. But when Creamer learned that Alberts was grossing thousands of extra dollars a month with a marijuana operation at Third and Tasker Streets, the Temple University law grad wanted in.
Alberts was initially apprehensive, but relented, Labrum said.
"It was his chance to do his best-ever grow and make even more money," Labrum said. "He couldn't have done it without Creamer's contribution."
According to Alberts, who testified at Creamer's trial in federal court, they spent $100,000 to renovate the structure to create a high-tech marijuana farm on the second floor, Labrum said.
From March through June 2009, gardeners harvested 20 pounds of high-grade cannabis a month, Labrum said.
Creamer's share ranged from four to five pounds, which the gardeners would put in his office across the hall or deliver to his house, Labrum said. Creamer then handed off the weed to his brother, a New York City disc jockey, to sell, Labrum said.
Creamer and Alberts began to dream big. On July 2, 2009, the partners flew to the West Coast and signed an agreement to buy a 40-acre tract in Northern California they intended to use as an outdoor cannabis farm.
Two weeks later, DEA agents raided the Philadelphia warehouse and arrested Alberts and eight others. The agents found more than 1,600 marijuana plants growing under 1,000-watt sodium lights in three cultivation rooms.
Creamer canceled the Northern California deal, Labrum said, claiming he had just learned his business partner was involved in criminal activity.
Creamer was convicted Thursday of conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants and maintaining a place for manufacture of controlled substances. Sentencing is scheduled for May 23.
Labrum said Alberts also pleaded guilty to similar charges and was awaiting sentencing.
Attorneys for Creamer and Alberts could not be reached for comment.
What worked for Clinton probably won't for Obama
Watching Bill Clinton in the White House pressroom this week called back memories of the former president, 16 years ago, standing in the same place. Like Obama today, Clinton had taken a shellacking from the midterm voters, losing both houses of Congress. In the pressroom he insisted, almost mournfully, "The president is relevant. The Constitution gives me relevance . . . And the fact that I'm willing to work with the Republicans."
Clinton's endorsement of the Obama tax compromise and his counseling visit to the Oval Office gave rise to speculation that Obama will seek to emulate the Clinton strategy -- ignore his base, tack to the center and seek compromises with the GOP. If so, we might look at some of the differences between now and then.
On the first day of Clinton's presidency, he discovered the federal deficit was $360 billion, up $60 billion from what George H.W. Bush admitted during the 1992 campaign. A pittance perhaps in today's world, but it had a clarifying effect on the Clinton agenda, raising deficit reduction to a prime spot.
Clinton found that his three major campaign promises -- a middle- class tax cut, health-care reform and ending welfare as we know it--were a difficult brew under the circumstances. So he dropped the tax cut, postponed welfare reform and put Hillary in charge of reforming the health-care system. "If I don't get health care done," Clinton said, "I'll wish I didn't run for president."
Minority Leader Bob Dole promised there would be no Republican votes whatever for anything that raised taxes. Facing that, the Clinton health-care plan emerged as a botched initiative that drew fire from nearly every special interest it affected. The massive 2,409-page bill never even came to a vote in Congress. Still, it was the defining issue in the Republican seizure of power in the midterms.
Obama came to office facing a much different landscape: two wars, a collapsing financial industry, an auto sector facing extinction and a federal deficit that dwarfed that of 1993. Facing an even more determined GOP opposition, Obama pressed forward and by any measure his legislative accomplishments dwarf those of Clinton's first two years. Still, on Election Day, unemployment stood at 9.8 percent, there was an atmosphere of hostile partisan gridlock in Washington and Obama was hammered in the midterms.
So, can Obama recover by following the Clinton playbook? Remember, Clinton wandered in the wilderness for nearly six months wondering what to do. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the ascendant leader in national politics, and Clinton's 1995 State of the Union was a surrender document.
Then Clinton hit on his recovery strategy of "triangulation," getting halfway between Republican and Democratic positions, picking the issues and extolling the virtues of compromise. That appears to be what Obama sought to do on the Bush tax cuts, though many Democrats think he went far more than halfway.
The difference in the times, however, is that Clinton had real issues to work with. Welfare reform was guaranteed to get Republican support, though Clinton had to use his veto twice before the GOP gave him a bill could sign. Trade liberalization, NAFTA, originally was a Republican idea and triangulating worked there as well. Control over the sale of assault weapons and regulation of tobacco gave Clinton popular issues by which to define differences.
Out of Clinton's season of doubt came a pragmatism that paid off. Accepting his party's nomination in 1996, Clinton could trumpet 10 million new jobs, 1.8 million moved from welfare to work and a budget deficit down 60 percent and headed toward zero.
If Obama chooses to follow the pragmatic, centrist path of his predecessor, it is hard to see where he finds the kind of issues that Clinton employed, hard to see where he gets similar accomplishments. Education reform and renewable energy are possibilities. But determined obstructionism still defines the GOP agenda -- repeal Obamacare, roll back financial regulation, deny Obama a second term. If that's the game, the president will more likely spend the next two years fighting a rear guard action.
Bode is the former national political correspondent for NBC News and a former political analyst for CNN.
Owner kills 3 robbers in jewelry store shootout
Dec. 17, 2010, 4:07AM
Johnny Hanson Chronicle
Houston police officers on Thursday investigate after the shooting at Castillo's Jewelry on Canal in the East End.
Raw video: Robbery leaves 3 dead
But Ramon Castillo had a surprise for the gunman and two cohorts, who had announced they were robbing the business.
Castillo pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot the gunman dead. Then he grabbed a shotgun from his office and engaged in a shootout with the other two armed robbers.
When it was over, all three robbers were dead — and Castillo, though shot at least three times, was still standing, having successfully defended what was rightfully his.
It was the third time his shop, Castillo's Jewelry at 4502 Canal at Super Street, had been robbed since it opened 22 years ago, East End residents said.
Castillo, 52, apparently did not immediately realize he had been shot, officers said. He walked outside the store and looked around for more gunmen, then went back inside the business, realized he was wounded and untied his 48-year-old wife, who was unharmed, said Houston Police Department homicide investigator M.F. "Fil" Waters.
He remained in surgery at Ben Taub General Hospital late Thursday, where he was listed in critical but stable condition, with gunshot wounds to his left shoulder, left abdomen and legs, Houston police said. He is expected to survive.
Investigators said so many shots were fired inside the jewelry shop in a two- or three-minute span that they could not estimate the number of rounds. "We've got bullet fragments all over the place, casings all over the place, shotgun slugs all over the place, so it's really hard to determine at this point how many rounds were actually fired - but quite a few," Waters said.
"It is a pretty incredible story. The man was clearly defending his business, clearly defending his wife," Waters said. "It's amazing with all the bullets flying around in there that she wasn't hit."
'It's about time'
East End residents smiled proudly when they learned how Castillo had taken charge and protected his wife of 28 years. It is the first time he has turned the tables on his attackers, they said.
"It's about time he did something," said Theresa Arellano, 49, a lifelong East End resident.
Neighbors described the Castillos as a hard-working couple who labor seven days a week and take care of customers who live in the neighborhood, selling jewelry at affordable prices and allowing people to pay small amounts y toward purchases in layaway.
They said Castillo protects his store like a fortress, using an electronic door to buzz customers in and out. Customers are locked inside the store until they leave. Numerous video cameras are inside. "He's done everything he can do to secure his business," Waters said.
The dead robbers' names were not released, but police said they are not believed to be from the neighborhood.
"Somebody would have to be stupid to come rob the place because of the way it's set up," said a 30-year-old East End resident who would not give his name. "Everybody in the neighborhood knows how it is - everybody knows once you get in, he has to let you out. When you walk in, he buzzes you in, and when you walk out, he has to buzz you out."
The crime unfolded at 2:08 p.m. Thursday when two men posing as customers came into the store and asked the Castillos to show them some rings. As the husband and wife helped the two men, a third man walked into the store, pulled a pistol and announced he was robbing the business.
The two men who had posed as customers also then pulled pistols on the Castillos, police said. The Castillos were ordered to the back of the store at gunpoint, where Eva Castillo was tied up.
Castillo then pulled a pistol from his waistband, "obviously fearing for the safety of his wife and himself," said HPD spokesman Kese Smith. Castillo killed the robber who had tried to tie him up, then grabbed his shotgun from his office and killed the other two men.
Police are looking for a possible fourth suspect who may have dropped off the third robber at the jewelry shop.
That man never got out of his car. He is described as Hispanic, 20 to 25, with a short buzz haircut and a thin face. He was dressed as a construction worker. He drove away in a "boxy" brown or gold-colored vehicle that may have been an early 1990s model Nissan Sentra or Toyota.
The Castillos' shop was last robbed in 1993, according to a cursory check of HPD records, Waters said.
The Castillos also run a second business on the weekend at a flea market on Telephone Road, East End residents said.
Eva Castillo remained at the hospital with her husband Thursday night. The couple's son, who stayed at the jewelry shop talking to police, declined to speak with the media.
The Red Cross bans Christmas
Christmas has been banned by the Red Cross from its 430 fund-raising shops.
Staff have been ordered to take down decorations and to remove any other signs of the Christian festival because they could offend Moslems.
The charity's politically-correct move triggered an avalanche of criticism and mockery last night - from Christians and Moslems.
Christine Banks, a volunteer at a Red Cross shop in New Romney, Kent, said: 'We put up a nativity scene in the window and were told to take it out. It seems we can't have anything that means Christmas. We're allowed to have some tinsel but that's it.
'When we send cards they have to say season's greetings or best wishes. They must not be linked directly to Christmas.
'When we asked we were told it is because we must not upset Moslems.'
Mrs Banks added: ' We have been instructed that we can't say anything about Christmas and we certainly can't have a Christmas tree.
' I think the policy is offensive to Moslems as well as to us. No reasonable person can object to Christians celebrating Christmas. But we are not supposed to show any sign of Christianity at all.'
Labour peer Lord Ahmed, one of the country's most prominent Moslem politicians, said: 'It is stupid to think Moslems would be offended.
'The Moslem community has been talking to Christians for the past 1,400 years. The teachings from Islam are that you should respect other faiths.'
He added: 'In my business all my staff celebrate Christmas and I celebrate with them. It is absolutely not the case that Christmas could damage the Red Cross reputation for neutrality - I think their people have gone a little bit over the top.'
The furore is a fresh blow to the image of what was once one of Britain's most respected charities.
The British Red Cross lost friends this year over its support for the French illegal immigrant camp at Sangatte and its insistence on concentrating large efforts on helping asylum seekers.
Yesterday officials at the charity's London HQ confirmed that Christmas is barred from the 430 shops which contributed more than £20million to its income last year.
'The Red Cross is a neutral organisation and we don't want to be aligned with any political party or particular philosophy,' a spokesman said.
'We don't want to be seen as a Christian or Islamic or Jewish organisation because that might compromise our ability to work in conflict situations around the world.'
He added: 'In shops people can put up decorations like tinsel or snow which are seasonal. But the guidance is that things representative of Christmas cannot be shown.'
Volunteers, however, said they believed the Christmas ban was a product of political correctness of the kind that led Birmingham's leaders to order their city to celebrate 'Winterval'.
Rod Thomas, a Plymouth vicar and spokesman for the Reform evangelical grouping in the Church of England, said: 'People who hold seriously to their faith are respected by people of other faiths. They should start calling themselves the Red Splodge. All their efforts will only succeed in alienating most people.'
Major Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, said: 'There is really nothing to hurt the Red Cross in Christmas, is there? Would the Red Crescent stop its staff observing Ramadan?
'In practice, the role of the Red Cross is to run prisoner- of-war programmes and relief efforts for civilians. Those activities require the agreement of both sides in a conflict in the first place. Celebrating Christmas in a shop in England could hardly upset that.'
Major Heyman added: 'Moslems are just as sensible about these things as Christians. The Red Cross is just engaging in a bit of political correctness.'
British Red Cross leaders have, however, not extended the ban to their own profitable products. Items currently on sale include Christmas cards featuring angels and wise men and Advent calendars with nativity scenes.
The spokesman said: 'The Red Cross is trying to be inclusive and we recognise there are lots of people who want to buy Christmas cards which they know will benefit us.'
The charity's umbrella body, the Swiss-based International Red Cross, has also had politically-correct doubts about its famous symbol. But efforts to find an alternative were abandoned in the face of protest and ridicule five years ago.
House Passes Tax Deal 277-148, Sending Bill To President
First Posted: 12-17-10 12:17 AM | Updated: 12-17-10 01:24 AM
Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.
WASHINGTON -- A coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats combined to push the Obama-GOP tax-cut deal through the House by a vote of 277-148 in Friday's early morning hours. The bill slashes the estate tax, extends all the Bush tax cuts and reauthorizes unemployment insurance for 13 months. The bill will now go to the president for his signature.
The crucial vote was not on final passage of the tax cuts, but on the vote before, to reduce the generosity of the estate tax cut. Had it been included in the final measure, the bill would have gone back to the Senate. An identical version of that amendment passed in December 2009 with 225 votes, but it failed this time 233-194, with 60 Democrats voting against tightening the estate tax.
President Obama whipped support for the tax-cut deal in the final days leading up to the vote. One member told HuffPost that Obama, a Hawaii native, personally called Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono to urge her to support the deal. (She voted against the tax-cut deal and for increasing estate taxes on wealthy heirs, despite the pressure.)
The bill was a major priority for Obama, who ironed out the deal with congressional Republicans earlier this month. It passed easily through the Senate on Wednesday in a rare bipartisan vote, with 81 senators voting for the bill and 19 voting against it.
The bill reauthorizes extended unemployment benefits through 2011, meaning more than a million people whose benefits lapsed this month will receive retroactive lump-sum payments within a few weeks.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), a Blue Dog, sponsored the amendment that would have altered the estate tax deal and, say Republicans, blown up the bargain. His fellow Blue Dogs rebuffed his attempts throughout the past few days to lobby them to his side.
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) played a leading role in organizing Blue Dogs to hold together to beat back the estate-tax amendment and preserve the deal. "We realized pretty quickly that the House hands were completely tied. The deal was struck with the Senate and the Senate wouldn't accept anything going forward," he told HuffPost. "Listening to Vice President Biden, we realized pretty quickly there wasn't no give or take."
In the House, rank-and-file Democrats bemoaned tax cuts for the rich in the deal, arguing they would threaten the future of Social Security and other social programs. Most of the 148 dissenters were Democrats.
As the Democratic leadership struggled to find a way to move the bill through the House, they settled on a procedure that allowed one amendment, introduced by Pomeroy, which would set the estate tax at 45 percent for inheritances of $3.5 million or higher.
The amendment was chosen over several other ideas to change the tax deal, including a resolution by Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) to extend unemployment benefits to two years -- the same length tax cuts for the wealthy were extended in the tax deal.
Choosing the estate-tax provision doomed the package to passage.
"Unfortunately, Democratic votes, of all the good liberal issues, that's the one where people are weakest," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told HuffPost about the estate tax amendment. Frank said that a few other members opposed the estate tax amendment not on its own merits but because they didn't want to disturb the deal. "We lost a few people who were afraid of the consequences of the thing failing. There is this risk aversiveness on the part of some members," he said.
Earlier in the evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made a concession to Republicans when he gave up on an omnibus spending bill that would have funded Democratic spending priorities for the next year. Instead, Reid announced the Senate will pass a continuing resolution to fund the government for 45 days, meaning Republicans will have further opportunities to push for cuts in the near future.
Debate over extending the tax cuts will now take place in 2012, when Obama, all House members and some senators are up for reelection.
HuffPost asked Wu -- who pushed for the unemployment extension to last as long as the tax cuts extension -- for his final thought on the bill as he went down a flight of stairs just off the House floor. He paused for several moments before delivering his answer: "Screwed again."
3 Broward deputies arrested in jail contraband, sex investigation
Charges range from sex with an inmate to bringing cell phones into a county jail
Kiara Walker, Salisia Pascoe and Roderick Lopez (BSO, courtesy)
FORT LAUDERDALE —
Three Broward Sheriff's Office deputies are facing third-degree felony charges in an investigation of contraband and sex at a Broward County jail.
The arrested corrections deputies — Salisia Pascoe, 29; Kiara Monet Walker, 21, and Roderick Lorenzo Lopez, 29 — appeared in Broward Magistrate's Court on Thursday evening.
Pascoe is charged with two counts of using a two-way device — a cell phone — to facilitate a felony. She is also charged with one count of sexual misconduct with an inmate and one count of introduction of contraband to a detention facility.
Referring to an arrest affidavit, Judge John "Jay" Hurley said Pascoe admitted having consensual sexual intercourse with a male inmate in a jail storage room. Her bond was set at $3,500 on the first three counts and $2,500 on the fourth charge.
Pascoe joined the Sheriff's Office in August 2004.
Walker is charged with one count of introduction of contraband to a detention facility, one count of official misconduct and one count of using a cell phone to facilitate a felony. Her bond was set at $5,000 for each charge. She joined the Sheriff's Office in April 2008.
Lopez faces one count of introduction of contraband — a cell phone— to a detention facility and official misconduct. His bond was set at $1,500 on the first count and $1,000 for the second charge. He joined the agency in July 2006.
All three deputies were released from jail Thursday night. If convicted, each defendant could receive a five-year prison sentence for each charge.
"There is an ongoing investigation initiated by us and we're not releasing any information this evening," said Broward Sheriff's spokesman Mike Jachles. He declined further comment.
7:40 p.m. EST, December 16, 2010
Kids write Santa this year for basic needs instead of toys
|Updated 12/15/2010 11:12 AM ET|
Santa Claus and his elves are seeing more heartbreaking letters this year as children cite their parents' economic troubles in their wish lists
U.S. Postal Service workers who handle letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole say more letters ask for basics — coats, socks and shoes — rather than Barbie dolls, video games and computers.
At New York City's main post office, Head Elf Pete Fontana and 22 staff elves will sort 2 million letters in Operation Santa, which connects needy children with "Secret Santas" who answer their wishes. Fontana, a customer relations coordinator for the Postal Service, has been head elf for 15 years. "The need is greater this year than I've ever seen it," he says. "One little girl didn't want anything for herself. She wanted a winter coat for her mother.
"MAP: Post offices participating in Operation Santa GIFT GUIDE: Christmas books for children ECONOMY CLUES: Watch the bras
At more than 20 post offices, workers log every letter, black out identifying information except first name and age, and ask the public to respond. Lobby displays promote the program. People return with gifts and letters, which carriers deliver.
Cesar, 7, wrote for himself and his baby sister. "This year my moom don't have much money to spend on Christmas gifts so I'm writing to you," Cesar told Santa. "It would make us very happy if you and your elves would bring us toys and clothes.
"There are more letters from unemployed parents asking for kids' gifts they can't afford, says Darlene Reid of New York City's main post office.
One mom sent a turn-off notice from the electric company, Fontana says. A single mother of a girl, 8, and a boy, 2, wrote that she recently lost her job. "I am unable to buy my children toys and clothes," she said. "Santa may you help me with my family?
"Tough times are shrinking the number of Secret Santas, Fontana says. Meanwhile, "the percentage of people who need help has increased," says Mark Reynolds at the Postal Service's Chicago district, and about half the letters won't get answered.
Melanney, 9, asked Santa for a coat and boots. "I have been a very good girl this year," she wrote.
Cedar Bluff bank robbery suspects nabbed
Times Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 2:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 9:47 p.m.
Money was flying out of the window of a red car when Cherokee County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Pettit saw it speeding on Alabama Highway 35 Tuesday morning.
“That was the first clue that this could be our bank robbers,” Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver said. This was minutes after four men armed with guns went in Union State Bank on Alabama Highway 68 in Cedar Bluff and took an undisclosed amount of money.
Six men, all from the Gadsden area, are in custody and expected to be transferred to Birmingham within 72 hours to face bank robbery and other charges.
An alert about the bank robbery was issued, and several residents were able to give accurate details about the car the men were believed to be in, Shaver said.
The men had switched cars within a half-mile of the bank, dumping a gold Chevrolet Malibu that had been reported stolen.
Shaver said deputies and other law enforcement officers already were setting up a perimeter in the area.
Pettit and deputy Keith Morgan were in Pettit’s patrol car and stationed on Alabama
Highway 35 near the intersection of Alabama Highway 273 in the Blanche community. They spotted a red Nissan Maxima on Alabama Highway 35 and saw money coming from inside the car. Pettit began a pursuit and had lost sight of the car when the deputies drove upon it after it wrecked a few miles away in DeKalb County, near New Canaan Church in the Adamsburg area between Fort Payne and Little River Canyon National Preserve.
The men already had bailed from the car, and officers quickly set up a perimeter in the area.
Deputies from Cherokee, Etowah and DeKalb counties, Fort Payne police officers and FBI agents responded.
DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office tracking dog and handler Jimmie Jones were called to respond and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Deputy Gerald “Red” Taylor went to the airport and got in the air in his own plane, DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said.
A dog tracking team from St. Clair Correctional Facility was called, along with the state trooper helicopter.
Harris said the sheriff’s office tracking dog led officers to one of the men hiding in the cab of an apparent abandoned semi-truck.
Two others were soon found in the same area — about a half mile from where they bailed — and all three were taken to the Cherokee County jail Tuesday afternoon for questioning.
Harris said numerous officers searched for the fourth man, but someone on Dean Road — unaware the man was wanted for the bank robbery - gave him a ride to a nearby store.
The man was able to hide behind the store and call some friends from Gadsden to come pick him up.
Harris said the man and his friend spotted deputies in the area and were spooked. The man jumped out of the car on Alabama Highway 35, ran through the woods, crossed Beason Gap Road and was hiding in a garbage can when the tracking dogs found him.
“They went right up the garbage can and just stopped,” Harris said.
He and the two men still in the car were taken into custody and also transported to Cherokee County jail about 5 p.m.
“We’re just glad we caught them,” Harris said.
Rob Savage, commander of the Etowah County Drug Enforcement Unit, initially responded because of the request through the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force.
Savage said he is familiar with some of the men and had dealings with them in the past.
Savage said another person was taken into custody in East Gadsden and detained at the Etowah County DEU headquarters as part of the investigation, but later was released.
He said the bulk of the money and some weapons also have been recovered.
Shaver praised the efforts of all of the involved law enforcement agencies which include Cherokee and DeKalb county sheriff’s offices, Cedar Bluff, Leesburg, Centre, Gadsden and Fort Payne police departments; Cherokee County District Attorney’s office, U.S. Park Service,Police, District Attorney’s Office, US Park Service, FBI, Alabama Marine Police, Alabama State Troopers, Etowah County DEU and Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia.
Woman loses cash; finder could face felony
You can forget that old saying about finders being keepers.
A man in Dalton could face felony charges after he found an envelope full of cash at a gas station and then pocketed it.
Police there are looking for a suspect who was wearing blue jeans and a dark jacket with white shoulder stripes. On Friday around 4:30 p.m., security cameras captured grainy images of the man picking up an envelope containing $950. He then paid for his gas and drove off in a Toyota Camry or Corolla that was about two decades old.
The envelope belonged to a Dalton woman who had stopped at the gas station after cashing a check, police said.
Depending upon how uncooperative he is, the man could face a felony charge of theft of lost or mislaid property, Officer Will Bryan of the Dalton Police Department told the AJC.
"The main thing is we'd like to get the money back," Bryan said.
The crime is a violation of state law punishable by up to 10 years in prison if the value of the property exceeds $500. It's a misdemeanor for lesser amounts.
Bryan said people who find wads of cash -- or anything else of value -- should try to find the rightful owner. If ownership can't be determined, they should call police.
Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier said in such cases, officials would try to find the rightful owner. After a set period of time, in accordance with state law, lost cash then would go into the city's general fund, he said. If someone steps forward to claim money or anything else of value, the city can provide reimbursement after ownership is proven, he said.
Bottom line: Finders-keepers is out.
LINK TO VIDEO SURVEILLANCE
Tea Party ramps up efforts against tax deal
Michael O'Brien - 12/13/10 12:13 PM ET
Conservatives aligned with the Tea Party ramped up pressure Monday on Republicans to vote down the tax deal before Congress.
A Tea Party umbrella group circulated a petition in opposition to President Obama's tax deal with Republicans, while another high-profile GOP lawmaker aligned with the grassroots movement said he's inclined to vote against it.
"The idea that this massive tax and spend bill has not yet even been written but may be voted on by the Senate this weekend is appalling, and has rightfully drawn the anger of the TeaPartyPatriots.org and other Tea Party activists, an anger that will not diminish," said a petition crafted by the Tea Party Patriots.
The pressure comes before a vote in the Senate expected Monday afternoon on the fate of the tax deal the president struck with Republicans.
GOP lawmakers have been largely supportive of the deal, which extends all expiring income taxes for two years in exchange for an extension in unemployment benefits and middle-class tax credits, as well.
But some conservatives have balked. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has announced his opposition to the deal, as have some other Tea Party-aligned Republicans.
"Today, as I understand this, I'm likely to be a no," argued Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), another Tea Party favorite, on Monday on Fox News.
Republican staffers in Congress have sought to promote conservatives' endorsements for the deal to help give their members cover on the vote. FreedomWorks, another Tea Party umbrella group, endorsed the deal last week.
GOP staff is hoping to quell the idea of a rift — real or perceived — in the party's congressional representation, especially after a sometimes-tense primary season where Tea Partiers went after establishment GOP candidates and incumbents.
Author, Executive Coach, and Performance Improvement Consultant
December 13, 2010 08:58 AM
Workarounds: One Simple Key to Greatnes
Last week, I asked "Are You Choosing Greatness or Just Settling For The Crumbs? Today, I would like to share a few more ideas that can help you overcome what gets in the way of having the life you want.
Indeed, each of us has been confronted with difficult circumstances and unattractive choices. You probably did not "choose" this economy, the lost job, the shattered bank account. And yet, here you are. The only choice you really have is what you will do to work around whatever is holding you back.
Much like the sailor who loses her mast in a storm, you can bemoan your fate, or you can come up with a "workaround," a "jury-rigged" temporary mast that will at least get you going again. While it may not be a perfect solution, at least you are moving again. Sometimes the path from crumbs to your version greatness is simply a question of finding that temporary solution, something that at least gets you moving.
My new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," addresses this question in a number of work-related circumstances, ranging from overwhelming workloads and meaningless meetings to uncooperative people, misaligned silos and broken systems. In this article, I want to share with you a powerful "workaround that works" to improving your life, a simple yet effective approach for overcoming anything that appears to be in your way.
That workaround is a simple question: "What can I do that would make a difference in my life that requires no one's permission other than my own?"
Of course, the value of that question is relative to your willingness to simply ask the question in the first place. Now, if you don't want to change anything, if you would rather wallow in the hopelessness of the economy and blame politicians, bankers, and just about anyone else for your predicament, that's your choice. But if you want to find a workaround that will get you moving again, read on.
How You Frame the Problem Is the Problem
Last week, I suggested that an important key to overcoming life's challenges lies in how you frame the problem. If you frame the problem as impossible, then you won't find many choices to help. If you frame the problem as the economy, the politicians, the bankers, etc., you won't find much you can do.
The article suggested that you can choose to move from crumbs to greatness simply by your willingness to take those first steps.
BrooklynCitizen echoed a sentiment held my many when writing:
While all this is valuable we keep stressing the individual as if all their choices actually allowed control over their life. We can at best guide our lives but certainly not control it. Also what is not mentioned is the role other people play in our greatness. Behind every great life is a great support system; no one does anything alone and if they live this way they will fall short of greatness.
BrooklynCitizen was so close to getting the idea, and then fell into a somewhat common misperception that obscures the point. That misperception? That the game of life is about controlling something outside your own self.
The one thing that you can control is something most people ignore as though it were meaningless and insignificant: you may not control what happens in your life, but you do control how you respond to what happens. Regardless of the situation, you always have a choice about how you respond, about the choices you make next. The choices may not seem all that great, but if you don't make the ones available, you have no chance at finding your version of greatness.
The challenge is that simply making a choice, even the best one available in the moment, rarely vaults you from crumbs to greatness. However, that one forward-moving choice, no matter how small and apparently inconsequential, may be the choice that puts you on the path to greatness.
Viktor Frankl's incredible story of surviving Nazi concentration camps involved his startling realization that freedom was the experience he had just after the Nazis did something to him and just before he chose how he would respond. That freedom to choose his response was the one thing the Nazis could not take from him, and so it enabled him to remain in a position of control -- not much control, mind you, but enough that he was able to endure through the incredible agony and horrific circumstances to which he was apparently doomed.
Did his choice about how to respond make a difference in his life? Sure did. Did it change his circumstances? Not so much. But did it make a positive difference? Beyond all measure, because the choice to remain resolute in his own inner experience allowed him to survive and to eventually thrive.
Remember, positive thinking just doesn't work, at least not all by itself. Positive action works. But how do you take a positive action step without first having a positive thought? You can use this one simple question to put you on the path of discovering your own workarounds for whatever is blocking your path.
There's more to the puzzle, to be sure. However, no matter where you find yourself, there's always some little step you take that will begin to move you forward.
How about you? What choices could you make that would put you on a path to overcoming whatever is in the way?
I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about how you have chosen in the past or what you are focusing on as you look ahead.
Please leave a comment here or drop me an e-mail to let me know your experience.
Airport security finds ammo in boxing promoter Don King's carry-on
CNN December 13, 2010 2:44 a.m. EST
(CNN) -- Security officials found ammunition in the carry-on luggage of boxing promoter Don King as he headed out of Cleveland after attending his wife's funeral, an airport spokeswoman said Monday.
The incident took place at Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport Sunday night, said spokeswoman Jackie Mayo.
"He was stopped at a security checkpoint and ammunition was found in his carry-on luggage," she said.
The ammunition was confiscated and King was allowed to continue to his flight, Mayo said. No charges were filed.
The Transportation Security Administration also confirmed the incident, without identifying the passenger.
King was in Cleveland for the funeral of his wife, Henrietta King, who died of stomach cancer at age 87 on Thursday.
Known for his flamboyant style and showmanship, King has promoted some of the greatest fighters in modern boxing history, including Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson.
Last Updated: 11:50 AM, December 12, 2010
Posted: 12:21 AM, December 12, 2010
He's a lost Claus.
A politically correct West Village YMCA has fired Ol' St. Nick in favor of Frosty.
Kids who once thrilled at sitting on Santa's lap at the 14th Street McBurney YMCA's wildly popular annual holiday luncheon will now suffer the icy embrace of a talking snowman and his sidekick, an anonymous penguin, at today's event.
Forget about bringing a list or checking it twice -- Frosty doesn't take gift requests, and doesn't care if you're naughty or nice.
YMCA officials, who say they are in the midst of "rebranding" the Young Men's Christian Association to "The Y," defended their decision.
GETTY IMAGESTHAT'S COLD! A West Village YMCA has given Santa Claus the boot in favor of Frosty the
Snowman for its holiday luncheon.
Helayne SeidmanFrosty the Snowman
"It wasn't replacing; it was transitioning," said John Rappaport, executive director of the McBurney YMCA. "We realized that change is sometimes good, and that Frosty is a great winter character who would appeal to a broader number of kids."
The decision to ditch Father Christmas came down from McBurney branch administration, not the Y's Chicago headquarters.
A chilly reception greeted the news that the YMCA -- an organization founded to spread Christian values in 1844 -- was replacing the Christmas icon with a secular cartoon character.
"Christmas is not about Jack Frost; it's not about snowmen," fumed Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. "We're not talking about some secular organization that has no religious roots. If they can't celebrate Christmas, then they should check out. What a bunch of cowards."
"Santa belongs to all the people," added Ed Bobrow, who has played Santa at Central Park's Belvedere Castle for years. "He represents openness and an invitation for anyone and everyone to celebrate good will toward man."
Bobrow, who is Jewish, says it's the kids who will miss out. "Try to see it through the eyes of the children," he said.
"It's sad that people are so offended by a man in a red suit," said Taylor Patterson, an 18-year-old member of the McBurney Y. "It's not a Christian thing. It is the spirit of the holiday that counts. I think the Y is well intended, but misguided."
Director Rappaport offered an olive branch to critics, insisting that everyone is welcome today -- even "Santa . . . if he's in town."
Gojkovich,Brown/Getty/MSNBC/APKeith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow have all spoken out against Obama's tax deal with the GOP.
This could be a first: Rush Limbaugh agrees with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.
The right wing radio host slammed the GOP's tax deal with President Obama during his show on Friday, arguing Republicans are giving up too much to get it.
"I now hope this deal fails," Limbaugh said. He then urged Republicans to allow taxes increase so they can use their new majority in the House of Representatives to pass a better deal in January.
"Let 'em go up. Wait for our cavalry to show up and deal with this the right way, They had two years to deal with this," the radio show host said referring to the Democrats. "They've had the two years of Obama's presidency to deal with this and they haven't, on purpose. They want the tax rates to go up. We're selling for nothing."
Maddow and Olbermann have also blasted the deal, but for different reasons than Limbaugh. The liberal television hosts are concerned the two-year deal will become permanent.
Olbermann also argued the compromise benefits the rich and gives too little to the poor and middle class.
"Mr. President, for these meager crumbs, you have given up costly, insulting, divisive, destructive tax cuts for the rich and you have given in to Republican blackmail which will be followed by more Republican blackmail," Olbermann said earlier this week.
On Monday, President Obama and the Republicans announced the tentative deal to extend the tax cuts for all Americans for two years. Obama had previously said that he wanted to extend them for all but the wealthiest Americans - individuals who earn more than $200,000 or households that make more than $250,000.
In exchange, the GOP agreed to extend employment insurance benefits for an additional 13 months, among other things.
Progressives are furious with the President for conceding the extension of the upper-income tax cuts to the GOP - something he'd promised on the campaign trail he wouldn't do.
Self-described Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gained national attention on Friday after a nearly nine hour speech railing against the deal, claiming later that it wasn't a filibuster.
During his Saturday radio and Internet address, the President said the deal wasn't perfect, but overall would benefit Americans.
"Our recovery will be strengthened or weakened based on the choice that now rests with Congress," he said.
HOSister Marie E. Thorton is being investigated for embezzeling $1.2 million from Iona College.
A Catholic nun who served as the vice president of finance for Iona College was arrested Thursday for allegedly embezzling more than $1.2 million from the school.
Sister Marie Thornton, 62, was charged with stealing from the New Rochelle-based Catholic school over a 10-year period beginning in 1999 by submitting false invoices and using a college-issued credit card, prosecutors said.
It took officials until May 2009 to notice that something was amiss with school finances, according to media reports.
"I expect us to reach a result in this case that all parties would be satisfied with," said Thornton's lawyer, Sanford Talkin. "She's back to being a nun."
In September, the school newspaper reported that the suspected swindling sister was taking a six-month leave of absence due to medical reasons and that she wasn't expected to return to the campus.
After she surrendered to authorities yesterday, she pleaded not guilty at a Manhattan Federal Court arraignment. She was released without bail.
Calls to the school were not immediately answered.
More than 4,000 students attend the college, which is located 20 miles north of Manhattan.
KSU instructor arrested for allegedly exposing self in class
A Kennesaw State University part-time instructor was arrested for allegedly exposing himself to students in a classroom.
The incident occurred on Nov. 30 between 4:35 and 4:45 p.m., the university police department states in the warrant.
A student in the class reported the incident to school officials Friday, Arlethia Perry-Johnson, vice president of external affairs for the university, told the AJC.
"We took this issue very seriously when the student complaint was registered," Perry-Johnson said Tuesday evening.
Taylor, of Kennesaw, was arrested Monday at the university and charged with public indecency, according to jail records. He was released from jail Tuesday afternoon after posting $5,000 bond.
Taylor declined to discuss the incident when a WSB radio reporter called him at home late Tuesday.
Taylor, who worked in the business department on a contract basis, taught an accounting class during the fall semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays, according to the class schedule posted on the university's website.
"He will not be teaching again at KSU," interim Provost Ken Harmon told the AJC.
Any other students with information regarding the incident are asked to contact campus police. The incident remains under investigation.
LINK TO PHOTO
Platt/GettySarah Palin was a victim of WikiLeaks supporters, who hacked Visa and Mastercard Wednesday.
Shadowy supporters of jailed WikiLeaks wizard Julian Assange launched a barrage of cyber attacks on Wednesday that shut down the web sites of Visa and Mastercard.
The hackers, who call themselves "Anonymous," went on Twitter to declare war on the credit card companies for blocking payments to WikiLeaks.
"Operation Payback," their message read. "TARGET: WWW.VISA.COM :: FIRE FIRE FIRE!!! WEAPONS."
Visa temporarily went down at 4 p.m., around the time the Mastercard site was restored after being down most of the day.
In an online interview with Agence France-Presse, the hackers vowed to stage cyber assaults against anyone with an "anti-WikiLeaks agenda."
The group has also claimed credit for taking down the sites of PayPal, the Swiss Post Office bank, and other entities that have begun shutting off the WikiLeaks money spigot.
Sarah Palin told ABC News that she too had been hacked.
"No wonder others are keeping silent about Assange's antics," Palin emailed. "This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts."
The computer-based campaign was waged a day after Assange was thrown into a British jail after a judge denied him bail on a controversial Swedish rape rap.
His supporters call him an Internet hero and the victim of a U.S.-backed frameup to keep him from revealing more secrets on the web.
Meanwhile, the latest batch of WikiLeak-ed documents revealed that Libya bullied the Brits into releasing the Lockerbie bomber.
They warned the British government "flat out that there will be 'enormous repercussions'" if they didn't spring Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, cables from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli revealed.
The Brits are caught "between a rock and a hard place," the Oct. 24, 2008, cable warned.
Less than a year later, the Libyan secret agent was released from a Scottish prison, over the objections of the U.S. government and outraged relatives of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing.
The Brits insisted Al-Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, had three months to lives. They denied that Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Khadafy threatened to bar British companies from access to his oil.
Al-Megrahi, 58, is still alive more than a year after his release.
Most of the people aboard the doomed New York-bound flight were Americans, many from the metro area.
There were also 35 Syracuse University students on the doomed flight.
Wed, Dec. 8, 2010
Cash-sniffing dog comes through at airport
Nina, the currency-sniffing dog, sniffed out a bonanza Friday at Philadelphia International Airport - $41,500 in the checked luggage of a passenger bound for Jamaica. The money was concealed in the suitcase liner, Stephen Sapp, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, said.
That was in addition to $1,802 in the carry-on bag of the woman, a U.S. citizen, who was headed to the Caribbean. The woman had declared that she was carrying $5,000, Sapp said. The woman abandoned the $43,302 and was released, he said. There is no limit to how much currency travelers can carry into or out of the country, but they must declare amounts exceeding $10,000.
Ted Turner: Adopt China's one-child policy to save planet
Atlanta's most unguarded tongue is at it again, telling global leaders meeting in Mexico that the rest of the world should adopt China's one-child policy, CNN founder Ted Turner: "If we’re going to be here [as a species] 5,000 years from now, we’re not going to do it with seven billion people."
"If we’re going to be here [as a species] 5,000 years from now, we’re not going to do it with seven billion people," CNN founder Ted Turner said Sunday at a conference discussing the impact of demographic trends on the future of greenhouse gas emission.
If such a plan was adopted, the father of five said, poor people could profit from their decision not to reproduce by selling fertility rights.
China claims its policy has resulted in 400 million fewer births since 1979, limiting emissions growth even as the country becomes more industrialized. But critics argue the mandate has contributed to more abortions and high levels of female infanticide.
Former Irish president Mary Robinson said such a radical proposal is a non-starter.
"If we do it the wrong way, we can divide the world," said Robinson, who, in a dig at Turner, added "[many] people in the climate world could communicate this very badly.
Of course the former Braves owner is no stranger to controversy. A look at some of his more colorful statements over the years:
Palin Success Triggered FCC Complaints
Voting, hug angered “Dancing with the Stars" viewers
Many of the complainants, whose letters were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, were upset that, as one Oregonian put it, “the top scores were voted off yet Sarah Palin’s daughter remained on.”
One viewer from Pittsburgh alleged that the show’s voting system had been “fixed by extreme supporters of the Tea Party and Radical Right-Wing. I find that it has become a political platform for Sarah Palin to improve her image and ooze her political slime.” The aggrieved correspondent continued, “Bristol is not a star, what did she do, she had sex and got pregnant. Lets reward her…I made several call to ABC’s complaint line and I hope that their phone lines melt. It has become a political movement, with Tea Party websites instructing on how to vote for Bristol. Ridiculousness!”
Another source of grievances was a hug delivered to the 20-year-old Palin by one of the show’s judges, Carrie Ann Inaba.
Noting that “no other dancer was called over for a hug,” one viewer claimed that the clinch was a “signal for the GOP/Tea Party supporters of Sarah Palin to ‘stuff’ the vote for Bristol Palin, who on both dates had to be dragged over the dance floor.” The writer added, “My 96 year old Mother-in-Law can dance better than Ms. Palin...I want my Government to protect me the viewer from deceptive practices.”
A Cerritos, California resident reported that the “physical contact” made by Inaba “sets the contestant up for thinking the judge will favor them. She was impartial to one and partial to the others.”
Other viewers sought an FCC probe of the show’s voting, since “people are bragging how they ‘gamed the system'.” Two other viewers (one from Indianapolis, the other a Brooklynite) were upset that Palin beat out the R&B singer Brandy for the last spot in the program’s three-person final.
Palin, whose baffling success led one man to blast his own TV set, ultimately finished third behind actors Jennifer Grey and Kyle Massey in the November 23 “Dancing with the Stars” finale. It is unclear whether the FCC received complaints about the outcome of that vote. (7 pages)
Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2010
Elzabeth Edwards died at the age of 61 in her North Carolina home after a battle with breast cancer on December 7, 2010. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Elizabeth Anania Edwards, who became a national figure in her fight against cancer and as a partner in her husband John's political career, died today. She was 61.
Edwards spent much of her life as a little-known Raleigh lawyer and mother. But that all changed when her husband, John Edwards, entered politics as a U.S. senator and became a two-time presidential candidate and the Democratic nominee for vice president.
Her husband's career put her in the spotlight as a smart, plain-spoken wife who was a key adviser to her husband.
She later became a figure of sympathy as she battled breast cancer and dealt with her husband's infidelity. And, in the last few years, her public image shifted again: the scorned woman whose husband fathered a child with another woman.
She and John Edwards separated at the beginning of 2010 but remained close.
Still, Elizabeth Edwards helped change the way political wives were viewed. She was the self-proclaimed "anti-Barbie" who was comfortable sitting in on campaign strategy meetings, chatting with Oprah on TV, or even going head-to-head with conservative columnist Ann Coulter.
She brought a similar self-possession to the media attacks that circulated around her in the wake of news about her husband's infidelity.
"I'm 5 feet 2, dark-haired and could hardly be further from the Barbie figure," Edwards once said. "I think of myself as a fairly serious person."
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she spent two years in graduate school with the goal of earning a doctorate in English literature and pursuing a teaching career. But job prospects for English graduates were poor, and she entered law school, something her mother had always wanted her to do.
It was at UNC's law school that Elizabeth Anania met Johnny Edwards, three years her junior.
He was the pseudo-redneck who had been out of the South only once -- on a trip to Washington. He had few intellectual interests. She was a devotee of Henry James and a politically active liberal Democrat.
He was the soft-spoken, get-along guy. She was an outspoken, hot-tempered Italian-American who dominated every social situation. She was also regarded as more of a catch, drawing the attention of many of the boys.
They were married a few days after they graduated and passed the bar exam. She kept Anania as her last name until her husband prepared to run for the Senate.
Although John Edwards had the high-powered legal career, their marriage was one of intellectual equals. She became his most trusted adviser in both law and politics. She was be a major influence on his life, just as Hillary Clinton was for Bill Clinton.
Edwards could have had a high-profile law career like her husband's, but she did what many women do: She balanced her career with the demands of rearing two children -- Wade, born in 1979, and Cate, born in 1982.
She still practiced law, working as a bankruptcy lawyer for the firm of Merriman, Nicholls & Crampton, in the state Attorney General's Office, and as an instructor at the UNC law school.
During big trials, John Edwards often talked to her by phone, asking her to critique the day's events.
Living in the fashionable Country Club Hills section of Raleigh, she was also a soccer mom, hauling coolers of soft drinks to her children's soccer games. One Halloween, she dressed Wade and eight other children as a nine-hole golf course, growing grass on sandwich boards they wore over their shoulders.
The family's life took a dark turn in 1996 when Wade, 16, was killed in a freak automobile accident on Interstate 40 between Raleigh and the coast.
The couple were crippled emotionally by Wade's death. John Edwards stopped working for six months, and Elizabeth quit practicing law for good.
They left their son's room unchanged for years, a capped, half-finished bottle of Gatorade left on the bedside table along with his papers and an 11th-grade textbook.
Elizabeth Edwards would read to her son at the gravesite at Oakwood Cemetery and lie down on his grave to be close to him. The couple continued to invite their son's friends over for dinner every Tuesday night.
"The intensity of that pain is greater than any emotion I ever had," she would write in her memoirs. "Not love, not fear, not wonder. The greatest of all is pain."
Wade's death changed the arc of the Edwardses' lives. They found religion, began a second family in midlife and changed careers from law to politics.
Edwards was an active participant in her husband's political career, serving as a sounding board for nearly a decade as he climbed the ladder, which culminated with his selection as the Democratic vice presidential running mate of Sen. John Kerry in 2004.
She became a popular figure on the presidential campaign trail in 2004, seen as someone approachable, less glamorous and more down to earth than her husband. She would make fun of herself as someone without perfectly coiffed hair or a stylish outfit, as someone who struggled with her weight.
It was during a campaign trip in Wisconsin a few weeks before the 2004 election that Edwards noticed a lump in her breast. Tests indicated that she had cancer, but she and her husband kept it a secret until after the election.
The day after the election, when Kerry and John Edwards made their concession speeches in Boston, Edwards went to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for a biopsy and to begin treatment. She spent much of 2005 undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment after surgery.
She received 65,000 messages of support.
The Edwardses returned to North Carolina, moving to a 28,200-square-foot home they built just outside Chapel Hill. To critics, the size of the home was jarring, given John Edwards' emphasis on helping the poor. But the Edwardses had become multimillionaires and had lived in a Georgetown mansion when he was in the Senate.
In 2006, Edwards wrote her best-selling autobiography, "Saving Graces." The book focused on her health struggles and sold nearly 180,000 copies.
When John Edwards entered the 2008 presidential campaign, she said her cancer was in remission. But in March 2007, she and her husband stunned the political world by announcing that her cancer had spread to her bones and that while it was treatable, it was not curable.
Doctors said most patients in her position had five years to live, but she urged her husband to continue the campaign.
All the while, the Edwards' marriage was unraveling. The unraveling was a secret to the world, and also to Elizabeth.
John Edwards began an extramarital affair with Reille Hunter, a part-time videographer who met him outside a New York City hotel.
Seven months after Edwards dropped out of the race for president, he dropped his bombshell.
John Edwards went on national TV to acknowledge an affair with Rielle Hunter, but denied that he was the father of her baby. He said he had told his wife about the affair in late 2006 and had broken off with Hunter.
Elizabeth Edwards did not appear on TV with her husband when he admitted the affair. But she put out a statement saying she stood by him.
"John made a terrible mistake in 2006," she said. "The fact that it is a mistake that many others have made before him did not make it any easier for me to hear when he told me what he had done. But he did tell me. And we began a long and painful process in 2006, a process oddly made somewhat easier with my diagnosis in March of 2007."
Friends described the situation as anguishing, but Elizabeth Edwards chose to continue in her marriage, in part for the sake of the children.
In July 2007, the couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows in a backyard ceremony.
After the revelation about the affair, the Edwardses largely disappeared from public view.
But in 2009, a federal investigation into John Edwards' campaign finances pulled them back into media reports. Edwards' associates and his mistress were called to testify before a grand jury in Raleigh.
In January, another bombshell: John Edwards admitted paternity of Hunter's daughter, Frances Quinn. In those same stories, the Edwardses acknowledged they had separated.
The couple, friends say, remained close. Elizabeth Edwards went with John to spend time with Frances Quinn after their separation.
Elizabeth Edwards spent most of the year doing the routine things -- attending UNC basketball games or Christmas shopping with her youngest daughter, Emma Claire, at Target. She also opened a furniture store in Chapel Hill.
Fight erupts between bridesmaids
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
ANTHONY G. ATTRINO AND MOLLIE GRAY
Verona-Cedar Grove TimesStaff writers
Police officers from Verona, Cedar Grove and Montclair were called to break up a fight between two bridesmaids at the Richfield Regency last Sunday, according to police.
The bridesmaids had been attending a wedding reception when an argument broke out and the two got physical, police said.
The catering hall is located at 420 Bloomfield Ave.
Verona Police Chief Doug Huber said the disagreement arose between a 17-year-old girl and an adult woman, both of whom had been in the wedding party.
"They had some sort of verbal dispute that led to them pushing each other," Huber said.
Guests made efforts to keep the bridesmaids away from each other, said Jude Roppatte, owner of the business.
"They tried to break up the fight, but we didn't want to take chances so we called the police," Roppatte said, adding: "We call the police because we need to protect ourselves."
Roppatte called the fight a "family dispute between bridesmaids" but said he did not know what caused the problem.
A Richfield Regency staff member called police about 4 p.m.
The feud was still going on when the first officers arrived, according to Huber.
Four officers from Verona responded. Huber said additional backup was needed from Cedar Grove and Montclair police.
Roppatte said he didn't know why so many officers were needed, saying the decision to call in more agencies was made by police.
"There was a big crowd there, that's why we called in other officers," Huber said. "We had to separate the people because there was a large group of people around."
He estimated that more than 100 were at the reception.
Four people were treated by the rescue squad, but no serious injuries were reported.
No one was arrested, Huber said.
"Once the police got here everybody calmed down," Roppatte said. "The police calmed everybody down."
The bridesmaids were escorted out of the catering hall, Roppatte said.
"The wedding continued right after," he said.
The names of the bridesmaids were not released.
Roppatte called the disturbance out of the ordinary for the Richfield Regency. The business website describes the establishment as "a unique blend of city sophistication and suburban charm."
Judge denies WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange bail
AP – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, back to camera, is driven into Westminster Magistrates Court in London
CASSANDRA VINOGRAD and RAPHAEL G. SATTER, Associated Press Dec 7, 2010 1 min ago
LONDON – A British judge jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday, ordering the leader of secret-spilling website behind bars as his organization's finances came under increasing pressure.
Assange showed no reaction as Judge Howard Riddle denied him bail in an extradition case that could see him sent to Sweden to face allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.
Assange denies the accusations and has pledged to fight the extradition, while a spokesman for his organization said the U.S. diplomatic secrets would keep on flowing — regardless of what happened to the group's founder.
"This will not change our operation," Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Associated Press ahead of Assange's hearing. As if to underline the point, WikiLeaks released a cache of a dozen new diplomatic cables, its first publication in more than 24 hours.
Assange appeared at before City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in London after turning himself in to Scotland Yard earlier Tuesday, capping months of speculation over an investigation into alleged sex crimes committed in Sweden over the summer.
Assange and his lawyers claim that the accusations stem from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex" in Sweden in August, and have claimed the case has taken on political overtones. Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny has rejected those claims.
Riddle asked the 39-year-old Australian whether he understood that he could consent to be extradited to Sweden. Assange, dressed in a navy blue suit, cleared his throat and said: "I understand that and I do not consent."
The decision to fight the extradition could be difficult. Extradition experts say that European arrest warrants like the one issued by Sweden can be tough to beat, barring mental or physical incapacity. Even if the warrant was defeated on a technicality, Sweden could simply issue a new one.
Assange's website, meanwhile, came under increasing financial pressure Tuesday — with both Visa and MasterCard saying they would block payments to the controversial website.
In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Visa Inc. said it was taking steps "to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks' website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules."
MasterCard sent a similar statement, saying it would suspend payments "until the situation is resolved."
The move chokes off two important funding avenues for WikiLeaks, a loosely knit group of activists who rely on individual donations to fund their operations.
PayPal Inc., a popular online payment service, has already cut its links to the website, while Swiss authorities closed Assange's bank account on Monday, freezing several tens of thousands of euros, according to his lawyers.
WikiLeaks is still soliciting donations through bank transfers to affiliates in Iceland and Germany, as well as by mail to an address at University of Melbourne in Australia.
Elizabeth Edwards' cancer takes sharp turn for worse; estranged husband John reportedly by her sideHelen Kennedy
Originally Published:Monday, December 6th 2010, 5:24 PM
Updated: Monday, December 6th 2010, 5:29 PM Sayles/APElizabeth Edwards arrives at the 'Stand up to Cancer' event in Culver City, Calif., in September.
Elizabeth Edwards' loved ones were rushing to her bedside Monday after her cancer took a sharp turn for the worse and doctors said further treatment was useless.
The wronged wife of the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee posted what read like a goodbye on Facebook:
"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that," she wrote.
"I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope," Edwards said.
"These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined."
The Edwards family in Chapel Hill, N.C., released a statement saying that doctors told her any further treatment would be "unproductive."
"She is resting at home with family and friends," the statement said.
ABC News reported the former senator was also by his estranged wife's side.
Elizabeth Edwards, 61, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the final days of her husband's failed 2004 general election campaign. She was a popular figure on the campaign trail and a major asset to her husband.
The cancer went into remission, but returned in 2007 during his 2008 primary bid - when the North Carolina senator was also secretly cheating with the blonde videographer who would bear his child.
He continued both his campaign and his marriage until the lies caught up with him in August 2008.
A federal grand jury is investigating potentially serious charges of using campaign donations to pay off the secret girlfriend. His former campaign manager and his press spokeswoman gave testimony last Thursday.
John and Elizabeth, married 33 years, are legally separated and were reportedly planning a final divorce next month.
They had four children: an adult daughter, Cate; a son, Wade, who died as a teenager; and two younger kids, Jack, 10, and Emma Claire, 12.
Edwards fell ill over Thanksgiving and was briefly hospitalized last week, People magazine said. Doctors advised her to return home. The cancer has spread from breast to bone to liver.
"It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day," Edwards wrote on Facebook.
"To you I simply say: you know. With love, Elizabeth."
Be careful what you say, even in confidence; the world's listening
12/5/2010 11:34 PM
I empathized with Katie Couric when I learned about her open-mike comments on the Palin family after Gov. Sarah was chosen as John McCain's running mate.
Katie was going over Palin's bio with her news team when she came to the name of her eldest son, Track.
"Where the h--- do they get these?" she asked, flashing a pearly smile. And when she read that the governor's parents were out hunting caribou when they got the news of the selection, she cracked, "You can't make this up."
It's understandable small talk when you're chatting in private with friends and colleagues. It's embarrassing when the word gets back to the object of your levity.
But Katie's embarrassment is small-time when compared to the embarrassment felt around the world over the release of secret diplomatic cables by a hacker who runs a website called WikiLeaks.
How would you like to be the king of Saudi Arabia and have it get back to the president of Pakistan that you called him the biggest obstacle to progress in that country and that "when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body"?
How would you like to be the U.S. ambassador to Eritrea and let it get back to the despotic leaders of that little country on the Horn of Africa that you told your bosses, "Eritrean officials are ignorant or lying"?
How would you like to be Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the eccentric leader of Libya, and have the world told that you're spending most of your time with your voluptuous Ukrainian nurse? And how would you like to be the diplomat who confidentially disclosed that juicy bit of gossip to his superiors?
If you're realistic, you know that people say things behind your back that they wouldn't want you to hear - and that you probably wouldn't want to hear.
In the case of Couric, Palin is using the "gotcha" tape to show that the CBS anchor was biased against her during the presidential campaign and therefore made the Alaska governor look bad during their famous interview.
News flash: It would be wretchedly hard to find anybody in any news organization that isn't biased one way or the other in a presidential race. Good journalists recognize their biases and struggle for objectivity in spite of them. Bad journalists let their biases bleed through their reportage.
And most journalists have a strain of cynicism - or at least irreverence - that surfaces in the privacy of conversations among themselves. It's one way of keeping your equilibrium in a wacko world.
So yeah, I can imagine even a conservative Republican looking over Palin's bio, coming across the unconventional names of her kids and saying "Where the h--- do they get these," especially when she's reading up on the candidate for the first time. And Palin's folks out caribou hunting when the word reaches them? It's a classic "You gotta be kidding me" situation.
But that doesn't explain why the interview turned into a fiasco for Palin. The governor was like a rookie up from the minors who was not yet ready for the big leagues. The questions Katie asked her were fair questions, and they were asked in a neutral way. The governor, who is normally articulate and quick-witted, was poorly prepped. The responsibility for the debacle lies with her and her handlers, not with her interviewer.
As for the kings and presidents and ambassadors who are being embarrassed by the blogger's harvest of "gotchas," I say a pox on the leakers instead of the speakers.
There are times when candor is necessary; when one has to speak in the confidence that what you say will go no farther than the ears you're speaking into.
I remember once when a new executive editor called me into his office and asked for my candid appraisal of the people who supervised me.
"Let's have it with the bark off," he said.
I gave it to him as honestly as I could, and I think it helped him lift the newspaper a notch or two above the mediocrity in which it had wallowed for years.
Later, I was asked for written appraisals of the people who worked under me. I considered them all to be friends, but I felt that I owed top management candid assessments. The appraisals were a long way from scathing, and I thought they reflected my generally positive feelings toward my staff. But when one of the staffers found the memos unguarded and shared them with his fellow workers, it created some tensions.
So I can understand the anxiety Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must feel as she engages in damage control with the foreign governments who are now hearing what the United States has said about them to their backs. And I can understand the angst foreign diplomats may feel as they wonder which of their unguarded comments might get back to the officials who have the power to fire them and even to execute them.
Diplomacy is like liver pudding coated with chocolate. It's supposed to look nice on the outside, but the inside is smelly and messy. Maybe the public needs to know all the smelly and messy details. But once they learn about them, North Korea will still have nuclear arms and a recklessly contemptuous attitude toward the rest of the world; Iran will still be eager to flex its nuclear muscles; China will continue to be on the rise, hoping to emulate the West's technology while spurning its human-rights values; and Russia will still be a ponderous giant unsure of whether it wants to take the plunge into democracy or to retreat into its traditional tyranny.
And the hackers out there will continue to make it difficult to have a confidential conversation.
FILE - In this May 3, 2010 file photo, Oprah Winfrey arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file) Email This Story IM This Story Print This Story
Winfrey picks 2 Dickens novels for book club
HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer Sun Dec 5, 11:36 AM PST
Better set some time aside for Oprah Winfrey's latest book club pick.
The talk show host has selected a pair of Dickens classics, "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Great Expectations." The two novels are being issued in a single bound Penguin paperback edition, around 800 pages, with a list price of $20. The electronic version, also from Penguin, sells for $7.99.
Because the copyright has long expired on the 19th-century novels, they are available through a variety of publishers and even directly from retailers. "Great Expectations" can be downloaded for free on Amazon.com's Kindle reader. "A Tale of Two Cities" costs 99 cents on Barnes & Noble's e-book device, the Nook.
Winfrey is to announce her selection Monday, when her long-awaited reconciliation with Jonathan Franzen will air.
Winfrey picked Franzen's "Freedom" nine years after his ambivalence over her selection of his novel "The Corrections" led her to withdraw his invitation to appear on her show. Franzen has written enviously of Dickens' time, when a new literary release "was anticipated with the kind of fever that a late-December film release inspires today."
On Sunday, The Associated Press purchased a copy of the new Dickens volume, which has the book club logo on the cover.
Messages left for Winfrey's Harpo Productions in Chicago weren't immediately returned.
Winfrey has chosen older works before, including Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" and John Steinbeck's "East of Eden." Her website recommends Dickens' "David Copperfield," noting it was a favorite of Tolstoy's.
Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this report from Chicago.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule, first privately owned spaceship, set to attempt launch into orbitLukas I. Alpert
Monday, December 6th 2010, 4:00 AM
SpaceXFalcon 9 rocket with Dragon capsule will launch from Florida.
The future of the space travel will undergo a crucial test Tuesday when the first privately owned spaceship attempts a launch into orbit.
If it succeeds, SpaceX's Dragon capsule will then try to reenter the atmosphere - also a first for a nongovernment-owned spacecraft.
The outcome of the launch will play a vital role in determining the direction of U.S. space travel as NASA looks to private companies to fill in the gap as the space shuttle program is put into mothballs next year.
"[It is] a huge thing, gigantic, historic," TV science host Bill Nye told AOL News. "It may very well lead to everyday people having access to space."
Other commercial firms - most notably Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic - have achieved suborbital flight, but this would be the first to break free of the atmosphere.
SpaceX - founded by PayPal guru Elon Musk - signed a $1.6 billion contract with NASA in December 2008 to conduct 12 resupply missions to the International Space Station
A second rocket-building company, Orbital Sciences Corp., has a similar $1.9 billion deal with NASA.
Tomorrow's test launch from Cape Canaveral will attempt to put the gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule into orbit atop an 18-story Falcon 9 rocket.
If it makes it back, it's hoped the capsule will land in the Pacific off California.
It would mark an important step in showing that private industry is technologically up to snuff to take over travel into space.
Musk, 39, said when Congress authorized the private launch in October that it set "NASA on an exciting course" while "recognizing the valuable role American companies are ready to undertake."
With News Wire Services
Huffington Post Reporting
State Department To Columbia University Students: DO NOT Discuss WikiLeaks On Facebook, Twitter
Posted: 12- 4-10 04:16 PM
Talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger your job prospects, a State Department official warned students at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs this week.
An email from SIPA's Office of Career Services went out Tuesday afternoon with a caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.
"[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter," the Office of Career Services advised students. "Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government."
While the massive disclosure of once-classified documents detailing some of the nation's most tightly-guarded secrets has inflamed allies and enemies alike, the move by the State Department represents a new front in the administration's camapaign against unauthorized leaks.
The State Department has yet to respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this week, companies like Amazon and PayPal shut off the services they provided to WikiLeaks, threatening the site's survival and impeding further dissemination of its treasure trove of classified documents.
Now, however, it appears the federal government has moved beyond staunching the flow of leaked information, to suppressing even the very mention of WikiLeaks online by prospective employees.Story continues below
While republishing the leaked documents could indeed raise legal issues for students, it was the admonition against social media chatter that riled some at Columbia.
"They seem to be unable to make the distinction between having an opinion and having a contractual obligation to keep a secret," said Hugh Sansom, a masters student from New York.
Students were taken aback by the email, said Sansom, who described his non-American classmates — nearly half of this year's incoming class at Columbia speaks a native language other than English — as "amused and surprised."
By late in the week, word of the email had reached the blogosphere.
"Seems the ambitious young things studying IR and considering a foreign service careers are being warned not to touch Cablegate," wrote Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist. A comment posted to that story said that Georgetown University had been similarly put on notice.
Stephen D. Biddle, a professor at the school, said that the email amounted to counseling on the university's part.
"It strikes me as entirely plausible that some government officials would take a dim view of people appearing to use WikiLeaks material for professional gain," Biddle said.
But as for commenting on the leaked information on Facebook or Twitter, Biddle acknowledged, "once it's out, it's out."
The email, obtained by The Huffington Post, is published in full:
From: Office of Career Services
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 3:26 PM
Subject: Wikileaks - Advice from an alum
To: "Office of Career Services (OCS)"
We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.
The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.
Office of Career Services
Senate blocks Obama's tax plan
Stephen Dinan-The Washington Times
Updated: 1:37 p.m. on Saturday, December 4, 2010
Republican Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., arrives for a rare Saturday lame duck session of the U.S. Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. The Senate agenda features a pair of votes: one on a proposal to extend all expiring tax cuts on individuals with incomes of less than $200,000 a year and married couples making less than $250,000; the other to renew them for all tax filers with incomes of less than $1 million. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
The Senate blocked President Obama's and Democratic leaders' tax cut plans Saturday in a foreordained symbolic vote that now sends both sides back to the negotiating table to work out a viable deal.
A bipartisan filibuster, led by unified Republicans and joined by four Democrats and one independent, proved there isn't enough support to back Mr. Obama's preferred option to extend income tax cuts for couples making less than $250,000 and tax increases for those making more than that.
With that vote out of the way, attention turns back to the high-level working group Mr. Obama and congressional leaders set up this week to try to work out a solution. That group met three times already, but Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and one of the negotiators, said it was clear to him that Democrats weren't going to negotiate until they had gone through the votes to prove to their political base that raising taxes on the wealthy wasn't viable.
"It's been very clear that we're not going to be negotiating anything until all of this political process is over, until the partisan votes have been cast," he said an hour before the votes in a rare weekend Senate session.
The negotiators seem to be headed toward an agreement that would extend all the 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts temporarily. Still to be decided was what sweeteners Democrats would secure to make swallowing the tax cuts more palatable. Possible options included extended unemployment benefits.
But emotions on both sides are running high, which is complicating matters.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, lashed out at Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the Senate floor, saying she didn't know how Democrats were supposed to negotiate with him after the Kentucky Republican said before the elections that his top priority is to see Mr. Obama defeated in 2012.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of holding the middle-class "hostage" in their push to extend all tax breaks.
"I am very disappointed that the Senate is not going to pass legislation that has already passed the House of Representatives that would make the middle class tax cuts permanent," he said. "Those provisions should have passed."
Tax cuts are just one of a host of issues still unresolved by Congress even after two weeks of a lame-duck session.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the Senate must act on tax cuts and the outstanding spending bills, and said he wants to see it take up a nuclear arms reduction treaty, a massive immigration bill, the defense policy bill that would overturn the ban on gay and lesbian troops, and several other measures sought by his party's liberal base.
In January, Republicans take control of the House and increase their clout in the Senate, likely cutting off chances for Democrats to secure many of those priorities.
The Senate on Saturday first rejected an option that would have extended the Bush tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, but let the rates rise back to pre-2001 levels for everyone else. The vote was 53-46, leaving Democrats seven votes shy of the 60 needed to end the filibuster.
Next, senators blocked an option that would have raised the threshold for extended tax cuts to $1 million. That also fell seven votes shy of the threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.
"Republicans are willing to hold hostage the middle class tax cut so they can get a tax cut for the very wealthy," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who offered the higher income threshold.
With Republicans unified for months, the votes' outcome was not in doubt. But Democrats held the votes anyway in response to liberal lawmakers who said they wanted to show the country exactly where lawmakers stoof.
On Thursday, House Democratic leaders used their tight control of the rules and their soon-to-expire overwhelming majority to force through the president's position.
National Geographic ChannelAbout 70 elephants went on a wild spree near the border states of West Bengal and Orissa.
A herd of about 70 elephants got drunk on a fermented rice-based drink and then went on a four-day rampage in India, killing three people and smashing dozens of homes.
Local officials said Thursday that the herd left a path of destruction near the border states of West Bengal and Orissa. In the wake of the drinking binge, several of the elephants were found sleeping it off, according to The Guardian newspaper.
Villagers had stockpiled the drink in preparation for a festival.
Experts say encounters between humans and elephants are becoming more common in India - often with deadly results. About 100 elephants are killed by villagers each year.
"These herds are effectively semi-urbanized," Amirtharaj Williams of the World Wildlife Fund told The Guardian. "There are elephants who are getting a taste for food that humans prepare because it is tastier, stronger-smelling and often more nutritious, and that includes rice- or molasses-based drinks. Some go looking for it."
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has granted the first pardons of his presidency, to nine people convicted of crimes including possessing drugs, counterfeiting and even mutilating coins.
No one well-known was on the list, and some of the crimes dated back decades or had drawn little more than a slap on the wrist in the first place — such as the Pennsylvania man sentenced in 1963 to probation and a $20 fine for mutilating coins. The White House didn't explain the charge, but tampering with federal currency is a crime.
The White House declined to give details on the cases or comment on why these particular people were selected by a president who previously had only pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys.
Presidential pardons often come in the holiday season toward year's-end, but they can sometimes be extremely controversial, such as when Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich at the end of his presidency.
President George W. Bush drew heat for commuting the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, in the case of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. But Bush rejected Cheney's vigorous urging that he later pardon Libby as well.
"The president was moved by the strength of the applicants' post-conviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions," said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin. The White House announced the pardons Friday as Obama was in the air on the way home from a surprise visit to Afghanistan.
Obama has received 551 pardon petitions in the course of his presidency, of which he's denied 131, according to the Justice Department. Another 265 petitions were closed without presidential action.
The people pardoned were:
_James Bernard Banks, of Liberty, Utah, sentenced to two years of probation in 1972 for illegal possession of government property.
_Russell James Dixon, of Clayton, Ga., sentenced to two years of probation in 1960 for a liquor law violation.
_Laurens Dorsey, of Syracuse, N.Y., sentenced in 1998 to five years of probation and $71,000 in restitution for conspiracy to defraud by making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration.
_Ronald Lee Foster, of Beaver Falls, Pa., sentenced in 1963 to a year of probation and a $20 fine for mutilating coins.
_Timothy James Gallagher, of Navasota, Texas, sentenced in 1982 to three years of probation for cocaine possesion and conspiracy to distribute.
_Roxane Kay Hettinger, Powder Springs, Ga., sentenced in 1986 to 30 days in jail and three years of probation for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
_Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr., of Minot, N.D., who received 24 months of confinement and a pay reduction for cocaine use, adultery and bouncing checks.
_Floretta Leavy, of Rockford, Ill., sentenced in 1984 to 366 days in prison and three years of parole for drug offenses.
_Scoey Lathaniel Morris, of Crosby, Texas, sentenced in 1991 to three years of probation and $1,200 restitution for counterfeiting offenses.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
December 3, 2010 12:44 PM
Hillary Clinton: Secretary of State is "My Last Public Position"
At a town hall meeting appearance in Manama, Bahrain on Friday, Clinton denied intentions to run for either president or vice president on the ticket with President Obama, who defeated her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. Some experts have also speculated that she could replace Robert Gates next year when he retires as secretary of defense.
"I think I will serve as secretary of state as my last public position," she said. Clinton's career has included not only her current position as secretary of state, but also eight years in the Senate representing New York.
Clinton has repeatedly laughed off rumors that she may seek the highest office in the country, and she was notably out of the country during the midterm elections when Democrats lost control of the House.
When her current position is over, Clinton "would like to continue working to improve lives for others," she said, adding that she will "probably go back to advocacy work, particularly on women and children and probably around the world." This marks the first time Clinton has publicly discussed alternatives to political office in her future.
In returning to advocacy work, she could follow in the footsteps of her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who has largely turned to humanitarian work through his Clinton Foundation since leaving the White House.
Mrs. Clinton has formerly worked extensively for the rights of women and children. She went on to note that while she has had a "fascinating and rewarding public career," she particularly enjoyed her time as a lawyer for the Children's Defense Fund, which advocates for abused and neglected children, as well as her women's rights work, according to Reuters.
"I feel very lucky because of my parents and then my education, the opportunities that I've had, so I would like to continue working to improve lives for others," she added.
In addition to personal passions, Clinton also noted the strain of the job of president as a deterrent towards seeking further election.
"Every president, if you watch what they look like when they come into office, you can see their hair turn white because it's such a hard job," she said.
Sierra/APMexican army soldiers escort a 14-year-old suspected of working as a killer for a drug cartel in the city of Cuernavaca, Mexico.
The suspect is nicknamed "El Ponchis," or "the cloaked one."
This hit man is a mere boy: "El Ponchis," a 14-year-old killer who claims he was involved in four decapitations while working for a Mexican drug cartel.
The teen assassin, whose existence was considered more rumor than reality by many, was busted late Thursday at a Mexican airport as he tried to flee the country, officials said.
The alleged young killer is known as "El Ponchis" or "the cloaked one." He confessed to his role in the gruesome killings to reporters at the Mexican Attorney General's office in Cuernavaca.
"I participated in four executions, but I did it drugged and under threat that if I didn't, they would kill me," the teen said Friday, speaking calmly and without remorse.
He was arrested with his 16-year-old sister, who reportedly disposed of her brother's victims by dumping the bodies on streets and freeways, officials said.
The boy also said that he was employed by the cartel since he was 11 years old.
He and his sister are suspected of working with the South Pacific Cartel headed by Hector Beltran Leyva, whose drug lord brother Arturo was killed last year by Mexican Marines.
Hector's war for control of the drug cartel is blamed for an upsurge in violence in the region south of Mexico City.
"El Ponchis" and his sibling already had plane tickets when they were taken into custody. The sister told reporters that they were heading to join their mother in San Diego.
The boy and his sister were living in a working class suburb outside Cuernavaca.
Funeral director tried to hide ashes mix-up
Families got wrong remains; 30 days in jail, $10,000 fine
A suburban funeral director concocted an elaborate plan to illegally hide an error that sent two sets of cremated human remains to the wrong families, even going so far as to secretly dig up a buried urn of ashes.
Marcee Dane, 32, also tried to cover the mix-up by obtaining the cremated remains of a third person, then telling a grieving family the ashes actually were from their deceased relative, Lake County prosecutors said Thursday.
Dane was sentenced to 30 days in jail Thursday after pleading guilty to felony charges of desecrating human remains. She also was ordered to serve 150 days of home confinement, spend 30 months on probation and was fined $10,000.
As part of her plea deal, Dane also is barred from ever working again in the funeral industry, authorities said.
The mix-up began in May 2010 when Burnett-Dane Funeral Home in Libertyville inadvertently switched the cremated remains of two unrelated people. Dane took unlawful steps to hide the error, authorities said.
When one family became suspicious that the ashes they were given weren't from their deceased relative, Dane obtained the cremated remains of an unidentified person from a suburban crematory, prosecutors said. Dane later mailed those ashes to the grieving family, assuring them they were the remains from their deceased family member, authorities said.
When Dane learned investigators were probing the mix-up, she traveled to a Des Plaines cemetery and under the guise of planting flowers at a gravesite, secretly dug up the urn belonging one of the relatives of the families involved, prosecutor Christen Bishop said.
She then removed an identification tag on the urn in an attempt to obscure whose remains were buried at the site, Bishop said.
LINK TO VIDEO AND PICTURE
Tongue-in-cheek Boehner refers to Dems' tax cut vote as 'chicken crap'
Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the House Democrats' vote on extending certain tax breaks "chicken crap" on Thursday.
"I'm trying to catch my breath so I don't refer to this maneuver going on today as chicken crap, all right," the top-ranking House Republican said sarcastically, "but this is nonsense! We're 23 months from the next election and the political games have already started trying to set up the next election.
"We have an honest conversation at the White House about the challenges that we face to get out of here. ... And to roll this vote out today, it really is just ... it's what you think I was going to say," he said.
Moments earlier the House voted to move on to general debate of a tax-cut measure that would extend current rates, set to expire at the end of the month, to individuals making less than $250,000.
A vote on the final bill will take place later Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced the House would vote on permanently extending the tax cuts, enacted in 2001 and 2003, for American families earning as much as $250,000 a year. But that would not address the income tax rates for the highest earners, which includes a number of small businesses.
The Democratic move came as negotiators for the House, Senate and White House began bipartisan talks on resolving a months-long impasse over the issue. Many in Washington believe those discussions will ultimately result in a temporary extension for all the current tax rates.
“No, I don’t think [the vote] will undermine [the negotiations], nor is it intended to embarrass or to put Republicans in a difficult place,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), however, said the bill would be dead on arrival in the Senate.
"Forty-two Republican senators, which is all of us, and an indeterminate number, significant number of Democrats, don't think we ought to raise taxes on anybody. So regardless of what the majority forces House Republicans to do, it's not going to go anywhere. We're going to extend the current tax rates, we're not going to raise taxes on anybody. The only thing we're discussing right now is how long that extension will be," the top-ranking GOP Senator said Wednesday night following a meeting with newly elected GOP governors.
Boehner said Wednesday "the bipartisan vote tomorrow will be to oppose only providing some tax relief."
Costanza for NewsMelissa Petro, who admitted in an article that she was a sex worker before becoming a teacher, has been charged with conduct 'unbecoming a teacher' by the Education Department.
Sex worker-turned-teacher Melissa Petro was charged Wednesday with conduct "unbecoming a teacher," a city Education Department spokeswoman said.
The mayor chose to remove Petro from her classroom in September after she published an article admitting she'd been paid for "sexual services."
Education Department officials declined to explain what grounds they have to fire the tenured art teacher from the Bronx's Public School 70 on the basis of an article she wrote.
Her sex worker career ended before she started teaching, Petro's article says.
Officials also declined to release the investigative documents that might explain the specific charges and refused even to explain why the documents are not public.
Spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said, "On advice of counsel, I am declining to release the report.".
That's an apparent switch in policy.
Less than two weeks ago, when officials announced they wanted to can Brooklyn principal Jonathan Straughn, the agency released a full explanation.
Petro did not return a request for comment.
In her Huffington Post article, Petro defended Craigslist's right to post sex-worker ads, but that's not the only public evidence that she views sex workers as unfairly vilified.
"I wouldn't encourage my daughter to be a sex worker. I wouldn't discourage her either. Ultimately, every woman is free to choose. ..." she wrote in a blog post.
WH 2012: The professional left better learn to live with disappointment
White House officials do not expect liberal commentators who view President Obama as the compromiser-in-chief to lessen their criticism of the administration in the coming two years.
In fact, they expect it to get worse.
That’s because Obama has shown every indication that he is reading from former President Clinton’s playbook and moving toward the right in the name of bipartisan compromise. And nobody at the White House is pushing back on that description.
In the days following the Democrats’ November shellacking, Obama has given every indication that he is serious about joining Republicans in their at-least-rhetorical push to cut spending.
That continued Tuesday as Obama, after meeting with Democratic and GOP leaders at the White House, said that he is looking for “common ground” with Republicans.
Obama made it clear: He favors results to ideological purity, and he expects the same from Republicans.
“[Americans] did not vote for unyielding partisanship,” Obama said. “They’re demanding cooperation.”
The president even told the GOP that he didn’t do a good enough job of reaching out to it over the past two years. The Republicans did not reciprocate.
So is the president “bending” while Republicans show no signs of moving in Obama’s direction?
“I’m not sure I call that bending,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “I call that trying to work together.”
While that sounds like the basis for Triangulation 101 and a feel-good Washington story of sacrifice for the common good, all liberals hear is more of Obama giving while Republicans take.
And labor unions, the most fundamental and well-organized constituency within the left, were nothing short of furious at Obama’s call for a two-year pay freeze for federal workers this week.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Obama’s move risks “reinforcing the myth, pushed by some for politically convenient but cynical reasons, that America suffers from a federal government comprised of unproductive and overpaid civil servants.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Trumka said.
If the White House is worried about further angering its base, aides certainly aren’t showing it.
White House officials do not take seriously any talk, no matter how preliminary, of a credible primary challenge to the president, and the larger view is that the more Obama is seen as a centrist, the better off he’ll be.
Liberals, they think, can shut up and get on board to help Obama paint the portrait of moderation the White House is hoping to have framed before November 2012.
After Tuesday’s meeting at the White House, it was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who used Clinton as a model, noting the bipartisan efforts of that era in words that undoubtedly caused nausea within the ranks of the professional left.
“I think of the second Clinton administration, with welfare reform, with balanced budgets, with trade agreements,” McConnell said. “I think we all agree there’s no particular reason why we can’t find areas of agreement and do some important things for the American people over the next two years.”
While it turned out well for Clinton, liberals say Obama is missing the point.
Democrats didn’t lose because moderates broke for Republicans, lefties say. Democrats lost because liberal independents, the same ones who were chanting, “Yes we can!” in 2008, stayed home in 2010.
The kind of energy that swept Obama into the White House will not be replicated during the president’s reelection campaign if liberals feel abandoned by Obama, says the professional left.
In other words, the enthusiasm gap that Obama repeatedly dismissed in 2010 could cause him serious heartburn in 2012 even if he doesn’t have to fight another Democrat for the nomination.
Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, warned of just that on Tuesday, saying that the midterms should be a “wake-up call” for Obama.
“President Obama shouldn’t be worried about criticism from ‘the professional left,’ ” Taylor said. “He should be worried about criticism from millions of former Obama voters who are severely disappointed in him right now. The fact is that many former Obama voters stayed home in 2010, and unless he starts enacting the popular progressive change he campaigned on, they may stay home again in 2012.”
If members of the left are holding out hope that Obama will come around to their reading of the midterms, they had better learn to live with disappointment. And Obama had better hope disappointment doesn’t lead to disengagement.
GOP says it'll block bills until tax cuts extended
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
13:01 PST WASHINGTON
Senate Republicans threatened Wednesday to block virtually all legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government, vastly complicating Democratic attempts to leave their own stamp on the final days of the post-election Congress.
"While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike," all 42 GOP senators wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The 42 signatures are more than enough to block action on almost any item he wishes to advance.
The threat does not apply to a new arms control treaty with Russia that is pending, since it would be debated under rules that differ from those that apply to routine legislation. President Barack Obama has made ratification of the pact a top priority.
But it does threaten Democratic attempts to lift the Pentagon's ban on openly gay members of the military, a separate item to give legal status to young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military, and a measure to expand first responders' collective bargaining rights. The tax and spending bills are likely to be the last to pass before Congress adjourns for the year.
"Republicans have pleaded with Democrats to put aside their wish-list to focus on the things Americans want us to focus on. They've ignored us. The voters repudiated their agenda at the polls. They've ignored them. Time is running out. They're ignoring that," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in remarks on the Senate floor. "The election was a month ago. It's time to get serious. It's time to focus on priorities."
McConnell and Reid met Wednesday to discuss the legislative agenda, but no agreements were reached.
The Democratic to-do list also includes extending the expiring tax cuts — although they and Republicans differ on particulars, as well as a measure to keep the government in operation. But the rest of their agenda marks an attempt to court voters Democrats need in 2012 to recapture the majority, including Hispanics, gay-rights activists and organized labor.
Call it lame-duck politics.
Take the so-called Dream Act, a measure to give young people whose parents brought them into the United States illegally before they were 16 a path to legal status by going to college or joining the armed forces.
The measure has enjoyed some degree of bipartisan support in the past, and Reid, the majority leader, vowed last month — in the thick of his tough re-election fight in heavily Hispanic Nevada — to hold a vote on it when Congress returned to finish its end-of-the-year business. He said Tuesday he'd move to overcome GOP objections and force a test vote, although it's unclear when one will occur.
Hispanic voters also played a major role in sparing other Democrats — including Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California — from being toppled by a GOP wave.
"There was a firewall in the West where Latino voters turned out in big numbers to reward people who championed them," said Frank Sharry of America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. "We're going to try to make it painful" for those who oppose efforts to give illegal immigrants a path to legal status, he added.
Most Republicans vehemently oppose the Dream Act, saying it amounts to amnesty. And they decry the strategy of acting on such issues during the lame-duck session, accusing Democrats of playing politics and ignoring the message voters sent Nov. 2.
But Democrats also face pressure from their left flank.
Gay-rights groups have criticized Reid for not pushing hard enough to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy against openly gay soldiers, as the House has already voted to do.
Reid has promised to hold a Senate vote on the matter before year's end, after hearings can be held later this week on a Pentagon report on the impact that openly serving gays would have on the military.
Republicans say they need to examine the report, which was issued Tuesday, before acting. It concluded that getting rid of the policy might cause some disruption at first but wouldn't create widespread or long-lasting problems.
Obama seized on the conclusion to call on the Senate to act "as soon as possible" to repeal the ban, "so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally."
Reid also said Wednesday he'd force action on legislation long sought by public safety worker unions to create federal rules guaranteeing first responders in every state and the District of Columbia have the right to organize and bargain on hours, wages and work rules, among other things.
The measure is seen by labor as a final chance before Democrats' Capitol Hill clout fades to accomplish a legislative goal, after its top priority — a bill to make it easier for workers to form unions — stalled in the Senate.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, which has pushed hard for the bill, gave nearly $2 million to congressional candidates in advance of last month's midterm elections, most of it to Democrats.
Love is blind: The man who lost his sight every time he had sex
Last updated at 1:58 PM on 29th November 2010
A man was forced to seek medical help after going temporarily blind every time he had sex.
The unnamed patient would lose his sight every time he climaxed during intercourse.
Bafflingly, the blindness would never occur while performing any other strenuous exercise, the NCBI ROFL blog claimed.
The original report, published by the Department of Ophthalmology at Glostrup Hospital, University of Copenhagen, revealed the cause of the condition to be vasoconstriction, where the muscle walls contract around a blood vessel, restricting the flow of blood.
Vasoconstriction is the same condition that causes erectile dysfunction.
Doctors had earlier speculated that an embolism was causing the man’s blindness.
The report said: ‘Hypothetical mechanisms of transient monocular visual loss in our patient include vasoconstriction or embolism in the arterial blood supply of the eye.
‘The repeated and completely transient nature of our patient's symptoms supports the fact that embolism was not involved.’
The patient was eventually treated using drugs to widen his blood vessels.
NCBI ROFL is a blog written by two PhD students in Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley.
It features scientific articles with humourous subjects from the PubMed medical database.
Why Does Barack Obama Want to Cut the Salaries of Federal Employees?
President Obama is often blamed for not reaching out to Republicans. In truth, as Monday morning's announcement that Obama wants to cut the pay of all federal employees illustrates, he has the opposite problem. Obama frequently proposes essentially Republican policies, which makes it impossible for him to use those ideas to buy Republican votes for bipartisan legislation.
When legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions was being negotiated in the Senate Obama undermined the bargaining process by simply unilaterally opening up new areas for offshore oil drilling. Increased drilling was supposed to be one of the things Democrats gave to Republicans in a comprehensive energy reform bill as an inducement to vote for it. Republicans hardly applauded Obama for the move, and the average swing voter seems not to have given the Democrats any credit for it in the recent election. In fact, the BP oil spill turned the drilling decision into a potential liability for Democrats.
This was be a textbook lose-lose, and so is the federal employee pay cut. Just a few months ago Republicans were proposing the same thing, and Democrats, including even moderate deficit hawks like Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), were criticizing it. Democrats opposed to the idea of a two year pay freeze for federal employees, which is really a pay cut if there is any inflation, because it would be counter-productive to the economic recovery. If there is one thing that any economist from across the political spectrum will tell you it is that the government should currently be pumping money into the economy, rather than removing it. You can do that through a mix of immediate tax breaks for working families and infusions of investment in economically productive programs such as education and transportation infrastructure, as Democrats tend to favor, or you can do it less effectively through tax breaks for the wealthy as Republicans advocate. But the one thing you ought not to do is take money out of the economy. But that is precisely what this proposal would do, in the name of deficit reduction. How much deficit reduction? Not much, just an estimated $60 billion over 10 years, which is less than one-tenth of what the government will save if it allows the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans to expire.
The other reason many liberals are opposed to cutting pay for federal employees is that the argument for such a cut is based on the suspect premise that federal civil servants are highly paid. Many federal employees do indeed make more than the average American, but that's because of the type of work they do and their qualifications. Cabinet departments and law enforcement agencies are filled with lawyers, holders of advanced degrees, and other experts. Compared to the economy as a whole there are relatively few high school drop outs doing low-paid menial work for the federal government. So, in fact, it turns out that federal employees actually make less than private sector employees with comparable jobs. A report by the U.S. Office of Personnel Office for Fiscal Year 2011 found that federal employees' average 22.13 percent less (the disparity is bigger or smaller depending on where in the country). "In the context of the overall deficit problem Obama will get chump change from this policy and will only enlarge the degree to which Federal pay lags behind that of the private sector," says Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Even liberal economists who think some federal workers are overpaid say this approach -- punishing the underpaid and the overpaid, the effective and the ineffective, alike -- is bad policy. "There are undoubtedly federal workers who are overpaid. Why doesn't [Obama] find them and cut their pay?" says Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research.
Nonetheless, if you are a liberal who is committed to deficit reduction then you would probably be wise to accept this relatively small sacrifice as part of a bipartisan deal to reduce the long term deficit and debt. Any such deal will require sacrfices from all quarters. But that makes it all the more confounding that Obama chose to hand Republicans this potential bargaining chip in exchange for nothing just two days before the President's Fiscal Commission makes its next announcement. It seems Obama is undermining the work of his commissioners and his allies in Congress by taking a chip that could be coupled with a similar measure that Republicans would only reluctantly support, such as eliminating a tax deduction or a reduction in military spending. "Why he would offer to do such a thing without getting something from the Republicans in return is mindboggling," says Mishel.
Other liberal economic wonks reacted with similar disgust, dismissing it as motivated by political triangulation rather than legitimate policy considerations. "It's a cheap stunt," James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas says, "It's depressing that this is being offered as policy, when it's nothing but a gesture -- and a dishonorable one."
Meanwhile the Republicans who Obama seeks to curry favor with were notably silent on the President's announcement. House Republican leaders John Boehner of Ohio and Eric Cantor of Virginia, who have been advocating this policy, did not issue the kind of statement that Obama did in support of the congressional Republicans' proposed earmark ban. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky did not a return a request for comment from NEWSWEEK.
Conservative fiscal responsibility groups have not issued statements applauding Obama either but they readily praise his move when asked. Phil Kerpen, vice-president for policy at Americans for Prosperity calls it "a very small step in the right direction," and Adam Brandon, spokesman for Freedom Works agrees that it's "a great start."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on their motivations or strategic rationale. Ezra Klein suggests one possible policy justification: it's "a smart way to protect the federal workforce." Congressional Republicans have been signaling that they will go after the federal workforce as a place to find budget cuts. By heading them off preemptively and grabbing a share of the budgetary high-ground Obama may diminish the momentum for a more drastic move, such as cutting the federal workforce, which Boehner has advocated.
Politically, Brandon suggests that Obama may have been motivated by a recent widely circulated USA Today article which reported that the average federal employee's compensation package is twice that of the average American worker. Even though that is an apples to oranges comparison, it fed a growing public perception that civil servants have been lavished with unaffordable generosity. "Federal workers earning double their private counterparts," is, as Brandon notes, "a pretty <snip>ing headline if you’ve got the American people hurting and 10 percent unemployment." Unfortunately, this reaction won't do anything to solve those problems.
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