Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Decision in Lockerbie case Thursday

LONDON — A decision has been reached in the case of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and will be announced Thursday, the Scottish government said.

Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill "has informed families and other interested parties that he has reached his decisions on the applications for prisoner transfer and compassionate release," a government statement said.

"This fulfills the Justice Secretary's pledge to inform families on both sides of the Atlantic, in advance, of the timing of his public announcement," it said.

Sky News, citing unnamed sources, reported Wednesday that al-Megrahi will be released from prison on compassionate grounds.

Al-Megrahi, 57, has terminal cancer.

He was convicted in 2001 of taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988. The airliner — which was carrying mostly American passengers to New York — blew up as it flew over Scotland. All 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground died when the aircraft crashed into the town of Lockerbie.

Some families have been angry over the possibility that al-Megrahi could be returned to Libya. Seven U.S. senators and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have urged MacAskill not to release al-Megrahi.

Brett Favre Not the Answer for Vikings

By Bruce Ciskie

After two public retirements and countless behind-the-scenes waffles, Brett Favre is back.

The long-rumored marriage with Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings only adds fuel to the fire of fans who think the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender. While the evidence already existed in support of the Vikings, the perception that Favre is the key to a Super Bowl run doesn't make much sense, given some of the factors in place.


Brett Favre is going to turn 40 this season. While it's not at all inconceivable that a healthy Favre would put up better numbers than he did last year with the Jets, he is battling Father Time, whose effects are often unpredictable.

Favre might put up better numbers if he can keep the trigger from breaking down, but it's also not very likely that a 40-year-old player would improve from year to year.

Not only did the right arm break down with the Jets, but Favre was hit a lot more than he had been most of his career in Green Bay. He was sacked 30 times in 2008, his most since 2000. In fact, Favre had only been sacked 36 times combined over 2006 and 2007.

If you want to respond with "Well, the Vikings are much better at protecting the passer than the Jets," it should be noted that Vikings quarterbacks Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson were sacked 43 times last year. Blame their relative immobility all you'd like, but Jackson is a far better runner than Favre at this point, and Frerotte can't be that much worse.

Favre will also battle history as he joins the Vikings. No quarterback who has passed the age of 40 has ever led an NFL team to the playoffs. Favre has made history throughout his career, but can he repel the effects of aging and lead the Vikings all the way?


Favre is no different than any other NFL veteran. As Cris Carter noted on ESPN, they all hate training camp, and none of them want to go.

Last year, Favre successfully avoided any offseason workouts, and didn't show up with the Jets until the day of their first preseason game. While he did have to take part in some training camp practices, the bulk of the work was done before he showed up.

While he got off to a hot start, Favre was never truly consistent, and then faded badly in December. In a five-game stretch that saw the Jets go 1-4 and limp to a non-playoff finish of 9-7, Favre hit just 56 percent of his passes (well below his season percentage of 65.7), averaged just 202 yards per game, and had just two touchdowns compared to nine interceptions.

The only other year in which Favre skipped his team's offseason program was 2005. Then-Packers coach Mike Sherman insisted that Favre work out at home with a personal trainer, instead of working out with the team in Green Bay. The results were disastrous. Favre led the team to a 4-12 record, their worst since 1991, and he threw a career-high 29 interceptions. 21 of those picks were thrown over Green Bay's final ten games.

After Sherman was fired, Mike McCarthy took over as coach, and the first thing he did after Favre decided to return was make it clear Favre would take part in the offseason program. Favre did that in both 2006 and 2007, working on a throwing program that he and McCarthy devised. Favre averaged 4,000 yards over those two seasons, tossed 46 touchdowns to 33 interceptions, and led the Packers to a 13-3 season in 2007.

It's a small sample size, but it doesn't seem as if Favre is always at his best when he doesn't spend time working out with his teammates in the offseason.

This time around, not only did Favre avoid the offseason program, but he also stayed away from training camp. The Vikings broke camp in Mankato on Thursday, flying from there to Indianapolis for their first preseason game. They are back at their normal facilities in the Twin Cities this week.

Does Favre make the Vikings better?

Is Favre really the best quarterback in the NFC North now? Probably not. Certainly, he wasn't as statistically sound as Aaron Rodgers was in 2008, and he also wasn't as good as Jay Cutler.

Not only did Cutler's Broncos whip the Jets on a rainy Sunday at the Meadowlands last year, but Cutler's numbers were superior in nearly every way to Favre's. He threw for more yards, more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, and had a higher rating. Same goes for Rodgers, even though his team wasn't as good as Favre's.

The Vikings were not a shoo-in to win the NFC North this year, thanks to the Packers being healthier and a year older, and the Bears acquiring a top quarterback without giving up any major pieces at other positions. Oh, and there's still a chance the Vikings might lose their best two defensive players for the first four games of the season.

Can they take the next step with a 40-year-old quarterback?

There will be a ton of pressure on this team, both on the field and off. Favre's signing only increases the heat, because now the media will crush on the team's Eden Prairie, Minn., headquarters. Favre's every move will be scrutinized. He is said to know this offense inside and out, but can he outperform two players who took part in the entire offseason program?

If he doesn't, can coach Brad Childress keep the locker room in order? While the team hasn't been great on the field since his arrival, there's no doubt that Childress has held the locker room together quite well. This is his ultimate test. What will Sage Rosenfels think about no longer having a chance to start? Is Tarvaris Jackson's already-shaky confidence going to take a deadly blow with this latest move?

Favre's signing is a very high risk, but it carries the potential for a high reward. The fall, however, could be enough to cost at least one prominent person (Childress) his job.

60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt dies

R.I.P. Don Hewitt:

"60 Minutes" spokesman Kevin Tedesco confirmed 86-year-old Don Hewitt has died. Earlier this year, Hewitt was diagnosed with a small, contained tumor.

Hewitt was already a veteran CBS newsman in 1968 when he created "60 Minutes," pioneering the TV newsmagazine format. He served as executive producer of the program until his retirement in 2004.

Hewitt has been honored with the second annual Lifetime Achievement Emmy presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1995, he was awarded the Founders Emmy by the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Buffett: Economy recovering, debt a threat

Nebraska billionaire investor Warren Buffett believes the U.S. economy is improving. However, he says the financial price of the federal stimulus package and other big spending bills are looming as a new threat.

Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK), wrote a guest op-ed for The New York Times in Wednesday’s edition titled “The Greenback Effect.” It says that while mistakes were made in attempts to end the recession and restart the lagging economy, a meltdown of our economy was avoided by a “gusher of federal money.”

“The United States economy is now out of the emergency room and appears to be on a slow path to recovery,” Buffett wrote. “But enormous dosages of monetary medicine continue to be administered and, before long, we will need to deal with their side effects.

“For now, most of those effects are invisible and could indeed remain latent for a long time. Still, their threat may be as ominous as that posed by the financial crisis itself.”

He says the country’s “net debt” — that which is publicly held — is mushrooming. While much of the driving force behind the economic-recovery plans lies with President Obama’s executive branch, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, Buffett says the ultimate solution to the debt problem lies with the U.S. Congress.

“Our immediate problem is to get our country back on its feet and flourishing — ‘whatever it takes’ still makes sense,” Buffett wrote. “Once recovery is gained, however, Congress must end the rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio and keep our growth in obligations in line with our growth in resources.”

In July, Buffett told cable TV network CNBC that it’s a good time to invest in stocks, even with the Dow Jones Industrial Average having recovered to rise beyond 9,000. In that interview, he said investors shouldn’t wait until businesses turn around before investing in stocks again.

“If you wait until you see the robin, spring will already be over,” he said at the time.

J. Edgar Hoover’s 1971 Cadillac and eBay

Rex Tomb served in the FBI from 1968 until his retirement in 2006. For most of his career he served in the Office of Public Affairs, retiring as Chief of its Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit.

By Allan Lengel

The classic black 1971 Fleetwood Cadillac would have been a sweet acquisition regardless. But what made it all the more appealing was the online ad on eBay with the notation “1971 CADILLAC LIMOUSINE - (J. EDGAR HOOVER) FBI” and a photo of a dashboard adorned with switches marked “siren” and “phone”.

After a week of bidding - the first bid started at $765 — the winning bid for a piece of Americana was $6,677.77 on Aug. 7 at 9:47 p.m. The winner was Harvey Pincus, a collector of cars who runs Model Garage Inc. on 39th Street in Brooklyn, N.Y.

How could he be sure it was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s car?

Pincus, who didn’t want to say much until he picked up the car, said by telephone that he saw the letter of authenticity on eBay.

“There was a letter posted and I have some knowledge” of other things to verify it, he said. He declined to elaborate, and for that matter, say much more until he picks up the car.

He bought the car with about 50,000 miles from Bill McDaniels of Petersburg, N.J., a man described by a friend as semi-retired, a car collector and a jack of all trades. McDaniels did not return several calls made to his cell phone.

But his friend Brad Sturgess, 35, who sold the car for McDaniels, did.

Sturgess said he helped sell the car on eBay because McDaniels is ” not real good with the computer and I do eBay and Craigslist and all that stuff.”

Sturgess said McDaniels bought the car in recent years for $9,000 from the second person to own it since Hoover. Sturgess said McDaniels decided to sell it because he was accumulating too many cars and “It was time to liquidate.”

Sturgess said the car had some unique features: separate air conditioning unit for the back seat, switches for the now-disconnected siren and phone and a “huge” generator and alternator. He said it also appeared that there was once flashing police lights in the front grille of the car.

“It’s neat,” he said. “It’s older than me.”

Hoover, who unquestionably is one of the most legendary of America’s law enforcement figures, had five FBI cars; two in Washington, two in New York and one in Los Angeles, according to a July 1977 Associated Press report.

After Hoover’s death on May 2, 1972, the cars were sent to the General Services Administration, which turned over four to the Secret Service and put the fifth one up for auction. Denny Tiche of Boyers, Pa. bought it in 1976 for more than the $2,900 book value, the AP report said.

The following year, Tiche planned to sell the car, but wanted to wait until he got a letter of authenticity. In a letter dated June 21, 1977, the FBI wrote:

“The automobile in question was assigned to the late Director Hoover and, on April 22, 1976 was taken to the GSA sales center for disposal.”

Tiche did not return a phone call for comment.

This month, 33 years after Tiche bought the car, 26 people posted bids on eBay.

“I had a bunch of people outside of the country wanted to ship it,” Sturgess said. ” I didn’t want to get involved. They were paying the same amount. Had a guy from France. Had a guy from Spain.

In the end, Sturgess said he was surprised the car didn’t fetch more money. In fact, after the sale, he said someone said that the car was worth far more.

But in the eBay world, he said, “”that just so happens how it works.”

Obama Reaches Out to Pakistan's Radical Islamist Parties, Including One That Helped Give Birth to Taliban.....

What are the odds an apology took place?.....

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama has started reaching out to some of Pakistan's most fervent Islamist and anti-American parties, including one that helped give rise to the Taliban, trying to improve Washington's image in the nuclear-armed state.

Obama's special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is initiating dialogue between the United States and religious parties previous administrations had largely shunned, both sides said.

Holbrooke invited Jamaat-e-Islami, whom some U.S. officials compare to the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to visit the heavily guarded American embassy compound in Islamabad, seeking to dispel long-running rumors that thousands of U.S. Marines would be based there.

Holbrooke rejected the party's complaints about a Western "assault" on Islam, saying "that could not be further from the truth" with Obama, who has roots in the religion, now in the White House.

Fazl-ur-Rehman, whose Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Islam party was active in rousing support for the Taliban in 1990s, also got an audience with Holbrooke and his team.

Rehman denies al Qaeda's responsibility for the September 11, 2001, attacks, and once warned that if U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, no American in Pakistan would be safe.

Terror Attacks In Baghdad

by Doug Mataconis

It sounds like the peace that had settled over Iraq in the past year or so may have come to an end:

BAGHDAD — At least 45 people were killed and 300 wounded in a series of truck-bomb and other attacks on Wednesday that rocked areas around official buildings in central Baghdad, the interior ministry said.

The explosions, at least one of them close to the heavily-fortified Green Zone security area, sent plumes of dark smoke billowing over the capital as police and army units scrambled, closing two main bridges over the Tigris river. A first blast came shortly before 11 a.m., sending white smoke into the sky. But then, 10 minutes later, a more powerful blast shook another area of Baghdad near the foreign ministry, shattering windows inside the nearby Green Zone and shaking houses in many parts of the city.

Two American helicopters were seen by witnesses hovering over the scene of the second explosion as Iraqi police and army units moved in. Two main bridges across the River Tigris — Jumhouriya Bridge and Sinak Bridge — were closed to civilian traffic.

The second explosion was close to but apparently not inside the Green Zone, a complex housing government officials and diplomats, including the American Embassy, according to the witnesses. News reports said a mortar shell may have landed close to a United Nations compound in the Green Zone.

Could this be a sign of renewed instability, and what impact might that have on the U.S. withdrawal plan ?

World markets fall, rattled by sharp loss in China

LONDON — World markets sank Wednesday as investors were spooked by sharp losses in China that strengthened fears stocks are now overpriced after this year's powerful rally. U.S. markets were also set to open lower.

With a lack of new economic data across most of Europe and the U.S., investors focused on the jitters in Asia, where Shanghai's index fell as much as 5 percent on worries that the Chinese government's easy credit policy to support the economy will not fuel a sustainable recovery.

Germany's DAX fell 28.76 points, or 0.6 percent, to 5,221.98 while Britain's FTSE 100 dropped 20.46 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,665.32. France's CAC-40 fell 11.48 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,439.21.

In futures trading, the Dow industrials futures were down 74 points, or 0.8 percent, at 9,133 and Standard & Poor's 500 futures lost 8.4 points, or 0.9 percent, to 981.20.

The drops came after the Shanghai index plunged over 5 percent at one point before closing down 125.30 points, or 4.3 percent, at 2,785.58.

The index has lost nearly 20 percent this month on worries about corporate profits, the strength of China's recovery and possible changes in Beijing's easy credit policy that has helped to fuel the bull run in Chinese stocks this year.

"Global markets are entering a crucial period: with questions being asked of the global recovery's longevity as key sources of stimuli pass their peak, confidence in the outlook may not be so readily found amongst investors as was so clearly the case in the first half," said Neil Mellor, analyst at Bank of New York Mellon in London.

Wednesday's losses came on the heels of a steep fall in world markets Monday, when investors were dismayed by weakness in American consumer spending. That seemed to many to augur an end to the five-month rally that has boosted some benchmarks over 50 percent.

"We've had a very strong run and people are a little unnerved by what's going on in China, so it seems like a good opportunity to take some money off the table," said Adrian Mowat, chief Asian and emerging market equities strategist at JP Morgan in Hong Kong.

World stock markets have mostly been rising since March on relief that the economic crisis will be shorter than previously feared. But once many indexes reached new highs for 2009, investors started wondering whether stocks are overvalued. Considering trading volumes are limited by the summer holiday season, the uncertainty has caused markets to hover in a range over the past few weeks.

Stuart Bennett, senior foreign-exchange strategist at Calyon in London, said European stocks may be overreacting to the Chinese market movements. He said losses may be short-lived, considering the speed with which Monday's sharp drop was quickly stabilized on Tuesday.

"The ups and downs over the past few days and the inconsistent reaction to data and news still leads to the conclusion that the market does not know which way to point," he said.

In Britain, minutes published from the Bank of England's latest policy meeting showed three rate-setters wanted a larger monetary stimulus than announced. Led by governor Mervyn King, the three policmakers wanted to increase the amount of quantitative easing, or increasing the supply of money in the economy, by 75 billion pounds, not just 50 billion pounds. That suggests the central bank may not be done with efforts to spur the economy.

"If the recovery is weaker than the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) expects, there is a good chance that the MPC will extend the quantitative easing program again in November," said Vicky Redwood, economist at Capital Economics.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average lost 80.96 points, or 0.8 percent, to 10,204.00. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 1.7 percent to 19,954.23.

South Korea's Kospi fell 0.3 percent, India's Sensex was 1.5 percent lower and Taiwan's index was flat. Australia's benchmark lost 0.2 percent. Indonesia's market, another investor favorite this year, was down 2.7 percent.

Overnight in the U.S, stronger-than-expected retail earnings reports and the latest reading on housing sent markets to a higher finish following a bout of heavy selling on Monday.

The Dow rose 0.9 percent to 9,217.94. The S&P 500 gained 1 percent to 989.67, while the Nasdaq rose 1.3 percent to 1,955.92.

Oil prices fell in Europe, losing 27 cents to $68.92 a barrel. On Tuesday, the contract gained $2.44 to settle at $69.19.

The dollar fell to 94.24 yen from 94.70 yen, while the euro fell to $1.4106 from $1.4131.

Violence Shakes Kabul on Afghan Election Eve

Afghan counter-terrorism soldiers drag dead body of militant down stairs of bank in Kabul, 19 Aug 2009

Afghan security forces are making their presence felt in Kabul after gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed a bank in the capital on the eve of national elections.

Officials say the gunmen forced their way into a Pashtany bank branch, located about a kilometer from the presidential palace, early Wednesday.

The head of the Interior Ministry's anti-crime unit, General Abdul Jamil Junbish, says his forces killed three of the gunmen and recovered about 30 weapons. Three policemen were wounded.

This violence comes on Afghanistan's Independence Day holiday and as election officials make last-minute preparations for Thursday's presidential and provincial elections.

Afghan and international military officials are increasingly worried about the impact insurgent attacks could have on potential voters. Already, a Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility for the bank attack, telling news agencies the incident is just one in a series of attacks planned for the eve of the election.

Abdul Hamid rests after carrying polling materials inside Friday Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan, 19 Aug 2009
The Taliban previously said it would attack polling stations and retaliate against anyone who dared to vote.

At least 16 people were killed in attacks on Tuesday, with more scattered violence reported Wednesday.

In a move criticized by journalists (including the International Federation of Journalists and the Independent Journalist Association of Afghanistan), the Afghan government has asked domestic and foreign media not to report violent incidents on election day for fear it could keep voters from going to the polls. Some Afghan journalists say they will not comply with the ban, saying it violates their constitutional rights to cover the news.

The Australian officer responsible for international efforts to provide election security said Tuesday Afghan police will be in and around the country's 6,500 polling stations while Afghan soldiers will guard an outer perimeter. He said the International Security Assistance Force will be nearby to help if needed.

Meanwhile, NATO announced it will halt offensive operations during the balloting.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging Afghans to vote despite the recent upsurge in violence.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces some 30 challengers in the August 20 poll. Recent opinion surveys indicate he remains in the lead, but there are signs the race has tightened. Candidates must win more than 50 percent of the total votes to avoid a run-off.

Speed Read: Nate Robinson Twitters Own Arrest

And so the NBA Twitter Revolution takes another strange, unexpected turn: Tweeting live, during your own arrest. The New York Knicks’ Nate Robinson is the unlucky pioneer here, as his Twitter followers got a blow-by-blow account of him getting pulled over by police in Brooklyn on Tuesday afternoon, and then getting hauled down to the local precinct for driving on a suspended license.

In Twitter posts that have been subsequently deleted by Robinson (but salvaged by the NEW YORK POST), our protagonist at first seems to laugh off the incident as he sits in his car (with passenger Terence Williams of the Nets), presumably waiting for the officer to run his information. But then things get a little more serious. From THE POST:

Robinson, 25, soon announced via a Twitter posting that, “Cops pulled me over cuz my windows were 2 dark (but my windows were down) lol how funny is that.”

Williams posted his own tweet: “being pulled over is so funnnnny now I got to go get him mannnnnnnnn”

Robinson followed up with another Twitter posting: “Iam still pulled over and its been 35 min they have me sit in my truck like I dnt have s#*+2 do lol.”

At 6 p.m., Robinson was arrested and charged with unlicensed operator of a motor vehicle, and taken into custody by cops. He currently is being booked at the 52nd Precinct.

Robinson’s Twitter postings soon after were taken down. Williams also deleted his posts.

If you go to Robinson’s Twitter page now, you can pick up the dialogue as he enters the apology phase. I’m assuming he Tweeted these when he got home that night, and not from a holding cell.

“To All My Tweeps: I was irresponsible earlier when I tweeted about being pulled over.”

“I apologize to the Knicks, my family and fans.”

“I also want to thank the NYPD especially the arresting officer. He was fair and helped process me quickly.”

Then it starts getting weird:

“the media is try n 2kill my name and my image, but its cool only GOD can judge me now, they are make n it seem iam a head case not cool”

God’s going to judge you for a suspended license? That must be from the Old Testament …

Anyway, here on Earth, I’m not sure what’s the bigger imperative for the Knicks; taking away Robinson’s iPhone, or his car (his license has been suspended four times since June, 2008). It’s not very wise to flake on paying your tickets, but it’s even crazier to Tweet your own arrest, especially when you’re a restricted free agent trying to negotiate a new contract.

One of the first things that many high schools did when cell phones became ubiquitous with students was to ban them during school hours. And since professional sports is like high school with money, and athletes are getting themselves and their teams into trouble all the time with technology, it’s inevitable that contracts will soon begin including clauses such as “May not use Twitter while a member of this organization.” It wouldn’t be as hard to enforce as you’d think: One intern with a laptop and no social life could keep tabs on an entire team. The Truth Is Out There.

But what about the contention by Robinson that the media was trying to “kill” his name? Dude, you posted that only four hours after you were arrested. Quick work if it’s true.

Well, at least his car was stopped while he typed. I hope.

What can and should we take away from the "trial" of Texas Judge Sharon Keller?

I have not closely followed the controversy surrounding Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller because I have never been confident that her actions on the day the Supreme Court granted cert in the Baze lethal injection case — or the vocal complaints about her actions that day — reflected anything more than the usual sturm und drang that surrounds the death penalty in Texas. Nevertheless, the controversy rages on, as evidenced by this New York Times report on the start of Judge Keller's "trial" yesterday:

The highest-ranking criminal judge in Texas, the woman who presides over the most active execution chamber in the country, sat at a defense table on Monday to face charges of intentionally denying a condemned man access to the legal system.

The judge, Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, took her seat before a gallery crowded with bloggers, lawyers and death penalty protesters. Outside the courthouse, demonstrators called for her ouster. Inside, lawyers on both sides emphasized that capital punishment was not on trial.

But to some, Judge Keller has come to embody the practice. An intensely private former member of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, she won election to the court in 1994 and to the post of presiding judge in 2000. She has cultivated a reputation for rulings favorable to the prosecution in death penalty cases.

On Sept. 25, 2007, Judge Keller put in a 10-hour workday and went home around 4 p.m. to meet a repairman. That morning the United States Supreme Court had effectively suspended lethal injection as a manner of execution by accepting a challenge to its constitutionality in a Kentucky case. Largely on the basis of the justices’ action, lawyers for a Texas death row inmate were putting together an appeal to stave off execution. An assigned duty judge was waiting at the courthouse for any last-minute appeal on the inmate’s behalf.

Around 4:45 p.m., the general counsel of Judge Keller’s court called her to relate a request to file paperwork after 5 p.m., the usual closing time for the court clerk’s office. Judge Keller replied that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. A few hours later, the inmate was executed.

As the story behind the execution spread, defense lawyers, editorial boards and legislators called for Judge Keller’s removal. In February, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct filed formal charges. The case was assigned to a special master, Judge David Berchelmann Jr. of the district court here in Bexar County, for the civil fact-finding proceeding that opened Monday.

In written arguments, the commission contends that Judge Keller circumvented normal procedures, which provide for after-hours appeals in capital cases. Judge Keller responds that the lawyers for the inmate, Michael Richard, a convicted murderer who made no claim of innocence, should have filed their paperwork with the assigned duty judge rather than trying to go through the clerk’s office.

The trial, expected to last most of the week, promises to unfold as a finely wrought dance around the details of an afternoon’s timeline.....

A lawyer for Judge Keller, Charles L. Babcock, argued that the entire case amounted to a few innocent, misunderstood words spoken on the telephone. “Judge Keller is an honorable, competent, popularly elected judge who believes in and follows the rule of law,” Mr. Babcock said.

As suggested by the title of this post, I am not sure what to take away from the trial of Judge Keller. I am sure, however, that Scott at Grits for Breakfast is likely to provide a sober and shrewd perspective on this case. Consider, for example, this post at Grits, titled "Sharon Keller misconduct trial more about judicial activism than the death penalty."

Video: Barney Frank Confronts Town Hall Protester

Earlier today, Massachusetts representative Barney Frank had a run-in with a town hall protester who opposes President Obama's proposed health care reform. The woman asked asked the congressman, "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy?" Frank's off-the-cuff response shows why he has become a favorite of cable television talk shows. Watch:

AARP, Losing 60,000 Members Gets Challenge From American Seniors Association

AARP, Losing Members Over Health Care, Faces Challenge From Grassroots Senior Advocacy Group

The Atlanta-based American Seniors Association (ASA) , which is opposed to President Obama's health care plan, is trying to capitalize on growing public dissatisfaction with the AARP.

FOX News

Look out AARP. There's a new senior advocacy group on the block offering a conservative alternative to seniors.

The Atlanta-based American Seniors Association (ASA), which is opposed to President Obama's health care plan, is trying to capitalize on growing public dissatisfaction with the AARP.

About 60,000 seniors have quit AARP since July 1 due to the group's support for health care reform, a spokesman for the organization said this week.

AARP is running ads to support a health care overhaul and hosted Obama at an online forum recently to promote his agenda to AARP members. But the group has not endorsed a specific bill and says it won't support a plan that reduces Medicare benefits.

Spokesman Drew Nannis told The Associated Press it wasn't unusual for the powerful, 40 million-strong senior citizens' lobby to shed members in droves when advocating for a controversial issue.

Nannis said the group loses some 300,000 members a month but he couldn't say how many more members had quit for other reasons in that time period. He said AARP gained some 400,000 new members during the same period and that 1.5 million members renewed their membership.

But ASA is swooping in to pick up the disaffected seniors.

The group is offering any senior that sends in a torn AARP card a special deal that provides them with a two-year membership for the price of one year.

Founded in 2005 as the National Association of Senior Concerns by retired business executive Jerry Barton, a longtime supporter of conservative values and causes, the group later changed its name to the American Seniors Association.

ASA advocates reform of Medicare, Social Security and the tax code. The group also goes outside of traditional issues that affect seniors by opposing illegal immigration.

Among the variety of services the group offers are prescription discounts, mortgage loans, travel agency and insurance products through a partnership with Liberty Mutual.

Actor Peter Marshall, former host of Hollywood Squares, is the group's honorary chairman.

ASA did not immediately respond to an e-mail request by for comment. The group said in a voice mail message and on its Web site that due to recent media coverage its phones lines are full and it is experiencing a high volume of e-mail.

On its Web site, the group blasts Obama's health care plan.

"President Obama must think the American people are idiots if he thinks the health care rationing, restrictions and regulations being debated in Congress will save money and result in better preventative medicine," Stuart Barton, president of the organization, said in a statement.
"The president told the AARP meeting that opponents are 'making people scared.' Well, they ought to be scared at current proposals," he said, citing congressional analysts' estimates that the plan will cost up to $1.8 trillion over 10 years. "That's absurd in a recession, let alone good times."
In an opinion article published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday, Barton wrote that his group opposes the plan because "a government-run plan would limit patient-doctor choice," "an employer mandate would kill jobs and lower wages," and paying for the cost with new taxes and Medicare cuts "attacks baby boomers and seniors."

Many seniors are concerned or fearful that Obama's plan to cut $313 billion dollars to Medicare over 10 years to pay for reform will adversely affect them. But Obama says he wants to eliminate the waste and inefficiencies from the system.

Recent polling by FOX News shows seniors, many of whom are on Medicare, don't want a major overhaul -- 93 percent rate their current coverage as good or excellent, and 56 percent say they oppose the creation of a government-run option for all Americans.

As the health care debate intensifies, some seniors have started protesting AARP. At a forum in Dallas earlier this month, AARP officials walked out after several seniors interrupted the meeting with critical questions and comments.

The AARP has tried to distance itself from Obama after the president declared at town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., that the group is supporting his plan "because they know this is a good deal for our seniors."

The AARP said Obama's statements were "inaccurate," explaining that it hasn't endorsed any plan or bill. The group admits, however, that it supports some provisions in the legislation.

Barton said in Monday's opinion article that he's not surprised that a number of seniors are growing disgusted with AARP.

"They see that the AARP has betrayed its membership in order to support 'reform' for White House 'favors' in return," he wrote.

Video: Obama's press conference with Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak

This is President Obama's press conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the White House on Tuesday.

Let's go to the videotape.

Unfortunately, there is no close captioning for the Arabic, but we are getting an English translation.

Note that Mubarak says that until Obama came to Cairo they thought the US was against Islam. It's no secret that Mubarak did not get along with George W. Bush, who called Islam a 'religion of peace.'

Someone's cell phone seems to go off around the 7:45 mark. Heh.

Mubarak says that their disagreements with prior administrations did not change their relations with the United States. Yeah, getting a $2 billion gift every year helps bury differences, doesn't it?

Note how - as usual - he overstates the impact of the 'Palestinians' on the world. One day, someone is going to do a scholarly treatise on how the world was taken in by the 'Palestinian' band of thieves.

At 10:16 we get the question about approvals for new construction in 'Israeli settlements' that was described in my earlier posts.

Around 17:30, Mubarak gets asked what's different this time (note that he understands enough English to understand the question without the interpreter). He argues that the level of violence is higher than it was ten years ago. Maybe. But it's MUCH lower than it was eight years ago, because the IDF controls Judea and Samaria. And it would be lower in Gaza too if the IDF were still there.

As to Mubarak's claim that his people want peace, don't believe it. See here.

The rest of it until the last minute is an Obama pep talk. He claims that what's different is that they started dealing with the issue on Day One since - of course - it's more important than the financial crisis. Screwing the Jews always is the most important item on the agenda.

I can't see America electing a President who thinks the 'Palestinians' are so important again anytime soon, so it really may be now or not for a long time.

Note that Mubarak's last comment refers to 'displaced people.' Sure....

New Meaning from An Old Story

By Richard A. Lee

Speculation that longtime Superior Court Judge Mathias E. Rodriguez, who retired last week, may run for the State Assembly brings back memories from my early days as a State House reporter.

When then-Governor Tom Kean nominated Rodriguez to a Superior Court judgeship in 1988, I was covering the State House for The News Tribune of Woodbridge. Rodriguez lived in Perth Amboy so his nomination had a local interest for us. Still it was more or less a routine story – until a veteran reporter from another newspaper tipped me off that Rodriguez’ nomination was being blocked by Senatorial Courtesy and that Kean, the author of The Politics of Inclusion, was upset that the nomination of a Hispanic to a judgeship was being delayed. My reporter friend wasn’t interested in the story for his paper since Perth Amboy was far from its circulation area, but he suggested that if I could find a way to ask the governor about the nomination – and if I could do it when no other reporters were around – it would evoke the type of response that would result in a good story.

The next day Kean had a photo op in the Governor’s Outer Office. As was his style, he stayed at the podium afterward to answer questions from the State House press corps. I waited patiently as reporter after reporter obtained the information he or she needed for their stories and then departed. The wire services were the last to leave, and then I asked the governor if Rodriguez’ nomination was being held up. Kean indicated that a member of the Middlesex County delegation had yet to sign off on the nomination. He also made it clear that he felt it was important for New Jersey to have more Hispanics on the bench.

I had my story. It ran on page 1 the next day, and shortly thereafter the lone holdout in the Middlesex delegation signed off on the nomination, clearing the way for Rodriguez to become a Superior Court judge.

I found a copy of the story the other day. Aside from bringing back some personal memories, the article provided an interesting perspective on the recent confirmation process for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to sit on the high court.

During the confirmation process, Sotomayor’s 2001 statement that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life” drew the ire of conservatives and some Republican senators.

Back in 1988, Kean – a Republican governor – said it would be tragic if Rodriguez’ nomination was not confirmed because it was important to have individuals with Hispanic heritage on the bench.

“We desperately want to appoint more minorities, particularly people who have Hispanic heritage, to the courts,” he said at the time.

More than two decades later, the issue of Hispanics and the courts played out on the national stage – more evidence that New Jersey is indeed a bellwether state. Whether it’s how businesses adjust to changes in the economy, how the state approaches the problems of sprawl and congestion, or how society plans for a larger, older population, what happens in New Jersey today is likely to have an impact on our nation tomorrow.

It happened in 1988 and it could happen again this year – with health care, with clean energy or with any other issue that is rising to the forefront in our densely populated state. All the more reason for the eyes of the nation to focus on the Garden State.

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Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.