Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Report: Nearly 6,000 deaths connected to driver distraction

Washington -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off a two-day summit on distracted driving this morning, calling it a "menace to society" and a "deadly epidemic."

LaHood wants to crack down on texting behind the wheel and other activities that take drivers' focus from the road as the government issued a report that said 6,000 deaths last year were linked to distracted driving.

"Every single time you take your eyes off the road or talk on the phone while you're driving, even for just a few seconds, you put your life in danger," LaHood said. "We need a combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education to make a difference."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving distracted drivers, or about 15 percent of all road deaths. But there is no good data on how many of those deaths are linked to texting or using mobile phones. Every day, at least 800,000 vehicles are driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.

More than 300 people are taking part in the summit of lawmakers, safety experts, agency officials, automakers and representatives of the wireless industry.

Kristin Backstrom, senior manager at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said "shame on us" if the summit focuses solely on cell phone and texting, noting there are lots of other distractions that lead to serious crashes. She noted that some teens have said that driving distracts them from other activities.

The relatives of several victims of distracted driving crashes are taking part in the summit, at a Washington hotel. One offered a painful story of the death of a relative because a driver was putting on makeup and not paying attention.

Much of the summit is aimed at the worst drivers -- the youngest ones on the roads.

"The worst offenders are the youngest, least experienced drivers: men and women under 20," LaHood said.

While automakers and LaHood want a ban on hand-held texting while driving, some have noted that it will be difficult for police to enforce prohibitions on texting or other distracted behavior.

"We cannot rely on legal action alone, because in reality, you can't legislative behavior," LaHood said. "There aren't enough police on patrol to catch everyone who's breaking the law."

Texting is growing in popularity, and has soared 500 percent in recent years among teens. Americans with 270 million cellular phones are sending more than 100 billion text messages a month.

In July, a 25-year-old tow truck driver in upstate New York was texting behind the wheel when he crashed through a fence, sideswiped a house and ended up in a swimming pool, injuring his passenger.

Last year, a commuter train engineer in Chatsworth, Calif., was texting and failed to stop at a red signal, hitting another train head on. The crash killed 25 people and injured 135 others.

Bills in Congress would withhold 25 percent of highway funding to states that won't agree to ban hand-held texting behind the wheel.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held texting by drivers; six states and the District of Columbia ban cell phone use by all drivers without using a hands-free device.

LaHood plans to unveil an action plan Thursday.

University of Wisconsin professor John Lee said not all technology leads to more distraction. He said a factory installed global positioning system is less distracting than unfolding a map while driving.

Judge tosses Dan Rather's CBS lawsuit

A New York state appeals court has dismissed Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit against CBS, legal records show.

Rather, 77, alleged in court papers that the network, his workplace for 44 years, violated their contract with him, limited his air time and ruined his reputation by making him take the fall for an erroneous 2004 story about President George W. Bush's Vietnam-era Texas Air National Guard service.

However, the New York Post said a five-judge panel ruled unanimously Tuesday that the veteran broadcast journalist's lawsuit had no merit.

"We believe the decision is incorrect on a number of grounds and, accordingly, we intend to ask the New York Court of Appeals to review it," Rather's attorney, Martin Gold, told the newspaper.

Documents shed little light on Caylee case

-- Forensics released in the case of slain Florida toddler Caylee Anthony include little evidence linking her death to her mother, court documents indicate.

Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, has been charged with her daughter's 2008 slaying. But WESH-TV, Orlando, said that court documents detailing forensic evidence in the case released Tuesday shed little light on Anthony's possible guilt, the Orlando, Fla., Sentinel reported.

A large stain found in the trunk of Anthony's car, which investigators reportedly believe was caused by Caylee's body being stored there for days, may or may not have been from a body, an FBI photographic supervisor said in the documents, adding "it is too speculative" to draw conclusions about what the stain might be, WESH reported.

The station also reported the documents as saying that a Maitland, Fla., man saw Caylee and her mother together shortly before her July 2008 disappearance, allegedly telling investigators, "To think I was one of the last people to see Caylee alive, it bothers me constantly."

Report: Timberlake and Biel break up

U.S. pop star Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel have ended their three-year courtship, a mutual friend told

The source said Timberlake broke up with Biel on the phone. "It was about a month ago," the friend reported, adding the actress is in "severe denial and won't accept" the relationship is over.

"There's no way of knowing if it's a firm breakup, because with them it's so hot and cold," another source told

Timberlake previously dated singer Britney Spears and actress Cameron Diaz.

Georgia 'started unjustified war'

The war in Georgia last year was started by a Georgian attack that was not justified by international law, an EU-sponsored report has concluded.

However, the attack followed months of provocation, and both sides violated international law, the report said.

Russia said the report delivered an "unequivocal answer" on the question of who started the conflict.

But Georgia said the investigation proved that Russia had been preparing for war all along.

The report said about 850 people were killed in the August 2008 war, and that more than 100,000 fled their homes, about 35,000 of whom are still displaced.

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Iran must restore confidence on nuclear aims at talks: US

GENEVA — Iran must take steps to restore confidence that it has peaceful nuclear intentions during crucial talks with six major powers in Geneva on Thursday, a senior US official said Wednesday.

"We want them to come prepared to focus on the nuclear issue and demonstrate that they are willing to take steps to restore the confidence that's been lost in their peaceful intentions," the official told reporters in Geneva.

"And they will have to be a lot more transparent than they've been and a lot more cooperative with the IAEA than they have been in several years," he said, referring to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Last week's revelation that Iran was secretly building a second uranium enrichment site in Qom underscored the "collective sense of urgency and impatience" among the six world powers, said another senior US official.

European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana will conduct Thursday's talks with Iran's nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, along with senior officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The senior US official said the so-called P5+1 group will have to establish during negotiations Thursday "if the Iranians are willing to engage on the nuclear issue."

"Another urgent task for all of us is to support the IAEA in ensuring that Iran lives up to its obligation to full and unfettered access to the Qom site as well as to people and documents connected to that facility," he added.

The official said there must be concrete results from the negotiations.

"This from the point of view of the United States can't be an open-ended process -- talks just for the sake of talks, especially in light of the revelations about Qom," he said.

"We need to see practical steps and measurable results and we need to see them starting quickly," he stressed.

Singer Andy Williams - Obama a "Marxist"

Classic Artist says Obama defaming Classical Ideals of Nation's Founding

Joining a growing list of Hollywood Performers and Actors harshly critical of the Obama agenda, including Actor Jon Voight and Comedian Jackie Mason, 1960s singing sensation Andy Williams accused the Democrat of "following Marxist theory."

From the UK Telegraph, Sept. 28:

"Don't like him at all," he said, "I think he wants to create a socialist country. The people he associates with are very Left-wing. One is registered as a Communist.

"Obama is following Marxist theory. He's taken over the banks and the car industry. He wants the country to fail."
The 81-year old Williams had a string of easy listening hits in the 1950s and '60s, including "Moon River" (video here), the up-tempo "Watch the Girls Go By," "Born Free" and "Speak Softly Love" the theme song from the movie, The Godfather.

Note - Williams is a self-described "Republican."

Friedman: America in 2009 Is Like Israel Before the Rabin Assassination

by Matt Welch

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, fresh off pining openly for a one-party communist United States instead of having to tolerate minority-party Republicans (no really, he said that), now posits that right-wing criticism of Obama is just like domestic criticism of Israel's Yitzhak Rabin before the prime minister was assassinated.

Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

I'm sure those with more Middle East expertise than I can suggest some flaws in this analogy; not least of which is the fact that the United States is not a small, recently minted nation surrounded on all sides by remarkably hostile countries against whom they have fought wars and continue to confront militarily. Still, nobody likes a violently poisonous climate, right? Let's see Friedman's evidence:
What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, "Should Obama be killed?" The choices were: "No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care." The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.

Sick, yes. But exactly what was being done to Rabin? I'm pretty sure the life-and-death currents in Israeli politics were (and are) a little bit more serious, entrenched, and organized than some retard's Facebook prank. Surely there are more indicators of impending violence?
Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet "socialist" to calling him a "liar" in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

1) None of this rises to the level of even rhetorical violence, and 2) you could make a similar list to the one above using George W. Bush, the Florida recount (or the Ohio vote-counting in 2004), "Bush lied," and Cynthia McKinney. Indeed, that's part of Friedman's point: that we've gone "24 years without a legitimate president." But Friedman wasn't writing assassination-anxiety columns in 2007, 2001, or 1998 (as far as I know, anyway). He is saying, without coming close to making the case, that what we are seeing is a widespread problem of "people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable." The Paranoid Center rises again.

As always, I'm haunted by the question: What if I'm wrong? Even if the purportedly violent townhall meetings this summer actually weren't, and signs abound of the racial-anxiety hypothesizers drastically overstating their case–my favorite from today is a fundraising e-mail sent out by The Nation claiming, falsely, that the 9/12 protest on Washington, D.C. included "tens of thousands waving Confederate flags, anti-gay hate signs, and shouting 'White Power!'"–it would take only one kook to forever validate the popular thesis that the rednecks are paving the way for racist ultra-violence. For now I can only trust my own (admittedly optimistic) eyes...and I ain't seeing it.

UPDATE: Yes, you can still talk about killing George W. Bush on Facebook. But that's just satire!

Hillary Clinton Fundraiser Norman Hsu Sentenced to 24 Years in Prison on Federal Fraud and Campaign Finance Charges

Norman Hsu, 56, is escorted into a Redwood City, Calif., courtorom, Friday, Sept. 21, 2007. Hsu on Tuesday was charged with fraud and campaign finance violations in a case that prompted Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions

Former Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton fundraiser has been sentenced to 24 years in prison today on federal charges – separate from his earlier California convictions.

Former Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison Tuesday by a judge who accused him of funding his fraud with a “conniving use of the political process.”

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero sentenced Hsu to 20 years in prison for his guilty plea to fraud charges and another four years and four months in prison for his conviction at trial for breaking campaign finance laws.

The judge said Hsu stole more than $50 million from hundreds of investors in a 10-year fraud by winning their confidence with a pristine reputation, even as he ripped them off in a complex Ponzi scheme, a recipe that the judge noted fits many white collar crimes.

He called Hsu a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

He said his “conniving use of the political process to fund his fraud” made his crimes “much more sinister and reprehensible.”

Before he was sentenced, Hsu apologized.

His donations became an embarrassment for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign. His arrest led Clinton to return more than $800,000 to donors linked to Hsu.

Wonder if his hard-won Democrat friends, like Bill and Hillary will send him a cake while he is sitting in Club Fed?

Norman who?


WZZM - A West Michigan woman says the state is threatening her with fines and possibly jail time for babysitting her neighbors' children. Lisa Snyder of Middleville says her neighborhood school bus stop is right in front of her home. It arrives after her neighbors need to be at work, so she watches three of their children for 15-40 minutes until the bus comes. The Department of Human Services received a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home. DHS contacted Snyder and told her to get licensed, stop watching her neighbors' kids, or face the consequences. "It's ridiculous." says Snyder. "We are friends helping friends!" She added that she accepts no money for babysitting.

Q Poll: Christie Lead Cut In Half

A new Quinnipiac poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race seems to show a September surge of sorts for Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

General Election Matchup
Christie 43 (-4 from last poll, 9/1)
Corzine 39 (+2)
Daggett 12 (+3)
Undecided 6 (unch)

The poll brings Chris Christie's (R) lead in the RCP Average down to 5 points, the lowest in our tracking. One potential reason why: a sharp spike in Christie's unfavorable numbers -- from 30 percent earlier this month, to 38 percent in today's survey. His unfavorable rating has nearly doubled since July, while Corzine's has held steady.

Favorable Ratings
Christie 38 / 38
Corzine 34 / 56
Daggett 11 / 3

Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, finds that at this stage, independent Chris Daggett's numbers "do matter," with him now above double digits. Christie leads among independent likely voters by a margin of 45-32, with Daggett getting 16 percent.

Corzine's job approval rating is now at 36 percent, with 58 percent disapproving. President Obama's approval rating improved to 56 percent from 51 percent earlier this month; 39 percent disapprove.

The survey of 1,188 likely voters was conducted September 23–28, with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent points.

Sarah Palin Memoir: To Be Released on November 17

Over the last few weeks, Levi Johnston has given the world his original, hilarious take on Sarah Palin.

On November 17, the former governor of Alaska and current cult-like figure will release her own story, as Going Rogue: An American Life hits stores earlier than originally announced.

It will go up against the release of Kris Allen's debut CD that day.

Some Republicans, and ALL Democrats, hope Sarah Palin is a nominee for President in 2012.

The 400-page memoir from HarperCollins was essentially penned by ghostwriter Lynn Vincent.

Palin was likely too busy shooting wolves from helicopters and believing in the unproven premise that abstinence education leads to fewer pregnancies.

Among the topics expected to be covered in the tome are:

•Palin's life as a beauty pageant contestant;
•Her selection as Vice Presidential running mate by Jon McCain;
•Daughter Bristol's pregnancy;
•A passionate defense of Alaska's proximity to Russia;
•The main reasons why Katie Couric is a stupid head;
•An English translation of her Gubernatorial resignation speech.
We may have made a few of those up.

Boxer, Kerry to Unveil Climate Bill Today

By Aaron Wiener
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are set to roll out long-awaited climate legislation this morning. The two senators, who chair the Senate’s Environment and Public Works and Foreign Relations committees, respectively, are releasing their cap-and-trade bill more than three months after its House counterpart passed in June.

All indications are that the bill will be slightly stronger than the House version. Kate Sheppard obtained a leaked draft (PDF) of the Senate bill that would mandate a 20-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, as opposed to the 17-percent target set by the House. The long-term targets of the two bills — including an 83-percent emissions reduction by 2050 — are largely the same. The Senate bill will also address concerns over the cooperation of China and India, a sticking point in the debate thus far.
Today’s rollout will highlight the national security benefits of the legislation, as Kerry and Boxer will be joined by a retired Navy admiral and a U.S. Army Afghan war veteran. Kerry’s very presence as a lead sponsor of the bill marks a shift from the House debate, when the legislation was crafted and debated almost exclusively by members of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

But Kerry also emphasized the environmental and economic advantages of his bill in a column in Politico today. And he didn’t shy away from the game-changing nature of the legislation. “The Clean Jobs and American Power Act is aimed at no less than the reinvention of the way America produces and uses energy,” he wrote.

The Environment and Public Works Committee will now take up debate on the legislation, which will eventually be merged with an energy bill passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June — a bill that left many environmentalists disappointed.

Boxer and Kerry’s draft, on the other hand, is sure to please environmental advocates, with its aggressive targets and retained authority for the Environmental Protection Agency. But given the difficulty of passing progressive health care reform in the Senate — and predictions that climate legislation will be even more contentious — few believe that a bill this strong will be able to clear the Senate floor.

Newsmax: Military Coup Would Take Care Of "Obama Problem"

From John L. Perry at Newsmax:

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America's military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the Obama problem. Don't dismiss it as unrealistic.

America isn't the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn't mean it wont. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it. So, view the following through military eyes:

Did you get that? Perry doesn't advocate a military overthrow of the Obama administration, he's...just sayin'. Does anyone doubt that we'll see "military coup" signs at the next tea party? Mr. Perry believes he has the pulse of our military, but his assumptions go beyond the pale, straining the limits of credulity:

Top military officers can see the Constitution they are sworn to defend being trampled as American institutions and enterprises are nationalized.

They can see that Americans are increasingly alarmed that this nation, under President Barack Obama, may not even be recognizable as America by the 2012 election, in which he will surely seek continuation in office.

They can see that the economy ravaged by deficits, taxes, unemployment, and impending inflation is financially reliant on foreign lender governments. Read on...

There are so many flaws in this clown's logic, I don't know where to begin. What he's actually describing is George Bush's presidency, not Barack Obama's. If you can stand to click through to Perry's article, I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on his assumptions. As Jamie asked -- can you say treason?

Also worth remembering: Rush Limbaugh actually promoted this idea a few months ago.

Samoa tsunami: at least 100 feared dead on Pacific islands

• Tonga and American Samoa expecting death toll to rise
• British toddler among victims thought swept away by waves

Samoa tsunami leaves at least 100 people dead Link to this video At least 100 people are believed to have died and many more been injured in the Pacific island nations of Samoa, Western Samoa and Tonga after the powerful undersea earthquake this week that led to tsunami waves up to six metres high.

Officials in Samoa, the worst-hit location, said 63 people were known to have been killed as the fast-churning waters flattened buildings and swept people and cars out to sea, although this figure was expected to rise significantly with many more remote locations still being searched.

The Foreign Office said one British national had died on Samoa. Reportedly this was a two-year-old child.

At least 30 people died in American Samoa, the governor of the US-administered island said, also warning that more bodies were likely to be found. In the capital, Pago Pago, streets and fields were filled with debris, mud, overturned cars and several boats.

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