Friday, December 4, 2009

Tense White House exchange with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and April Ryan of American Urban Radio

Contentious exchanges between White House press secretaries and members of the media have been fairly commonplace during the past few presidential administrations.

However, the one that took place Wednesday between White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and April Ryan of American Urban Radio, in which Gibbs essentially compared Ryan to a petulant child, is among the most heated (and entertaining) in recent memory.

The testy exchange was sparked by Ryan's insistent questioning of White House social secretary Desiree Rogers' role at the recent state dinner, which has been in the headlines because of the fallout from Tareq and Michaele Salahi's "party crashing."

Ryan claimed that there have been whispers around Washington insinuating that Rogers had overstepped the traditional role of her title at the event to become the "belle of the ball," thus "overshadowing the first lady." Frustrated by Ryan's tabloid-y line of questioning, Gibbs instructed her to "calm down" and to take a deep breath," adding "I do this with my son and that's what happens."

As the press corps cringed, murmured and chuckled at Gibbs' chastising, Ryan shot back: "Don't play with me." Check it out:

Same-Sex Marriage: It’s Time for the Legislature to Take a Stand

By Richard A. Lee

Regardless of where you stand on the volatile issue of same-sex marriage, you deserve a decision from the New Jersey State Legislature.

Now after some hesitation by state lawmakers, it looks like there will be one. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo has agreed to post a bill to legalize same sex marriage on Monday, and Senate President Richard Codey said he will schedule a vote before the full Senate on Thursday if the measure is approved by Sarlo’s committee.

Although it had been widely expected that the legislature would take up the bill during the current lame-duck session, some lawmakers – fearing repercussions – became reluctant to take a public stance on the controversial measure. “I'm not going to put people in harm's way where they have to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when we don't have the votes to get it out (of committee),” Sarlo had said before he changed his position and agreed to post the bill.

At least give Sarlo credit for his candor. Other lawmakers had offered more transparent excuses, such as the need to address the state’s mounting fiscal problems. Don’t get me wrong. Clearly, the economy must be a priority for this and future legislatures, but it need not become an excuse for avoiding other issues. No matter what the issue is, lawmakers have a responsibility to make tough decisions, not to avoid them. That is why we elect them. We place our faith and trust them to do what is right. If we disagree or are unhappy with their actions, we have an opportunity to vote them out of office.

But when solutions to the difficult issues confronting elected officials are politically untenable, action can be stifled. Perhaps this is why, over the years, the state has yet to come to grips with some of the root causes of its high property tax rates.

Ironically, the repercussions of taking a stance on same-sex marriage may not be as great as they are being perceived. A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released last month found that New Jerseyans favor same-sex marriage by a margin of 46 to 42 percent and that only 15 percent of the respondents consider it a very important issue.

“Residents of New Jersey are more supportive of gay marriage than opposed to it, and more importantly a majority would accept a legislative decision legalizing same-sex marriages,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and a political science professor at the university. “While this tests opinion outside the intensity of a campaign to ban gay marriage as occurred in California, there is more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude in New Jersey than in many other states that have dealt with this issue.”

A Quinnipiac University poll, also released in November, showed respondents opposing same-sex marriage by a 49-46 margin. Although the opposition numbers were higher, the figures indicate that a substantial portion of the New Jersey citizenry supports legalization.

Poll results aside, the results of last month’s gubernatorial election also suggest that social issues are not high on the agenda when voters cast their ballots. Republican Chris Christie ousted incumbent Governor Jon Corzine even though Christie’s positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and other social issues are not shared by sizeable numbers of citizens in New Jersey, which is regarded as one of the more progressive states in the nation. The economy was the priority for New Jersey voters, and they put their faith in Christie to guide the state for the next four years.

We can learn a number of lessons from what transpired at the polls last month. Among them is the fact that voters are willing to look at the big picture and vote for the candidate they feel is best equipped for the job, even if they don’t agree with him or her on every single issue. Hopefully, this is a lesson that New Jersey lawmakers will take heed of.

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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.

Barack Obama Ecstasy Pills Hit Streets: Approval Ratings High

President Barack Obama's approval rating may be hovering in the 50 percent range, but that doesn't mean America's Commander-in-Chief isn’t catching on with new constituents.

There is now a line of Ecstasy pills made in the image of the 44th president of the United States, according to Texas police who have snatched a batch off the streets.

Ecstasy is known for a sense of elation, diminished feelings of fear and anxiety, and ability to induce a sense of intimacy with others.

Perhaps a good Election Day strategy to get out the vote?

A stash of the brightly colored tablets was found Monday during a south Texas traffic stop.

Police in Palmview detained a driver after finding black tar heroin, cocaine, marijuana and several Ecstasy pills in the back of his car.

The drugs look like a "vitamin for kids," police spokesman Lenny Sanchez said.

Police say that other Ecstasy pills they found were made to look like the cartoon characters Homer Simpson and the Smurfs.

The 22-year-old driver is expected to face felony drug possession counts.

Palmview is near the border with Mexico.

No word on the driver's political affiliation.

Tupac makes Vatican's MySpace playlist

-- A MySpace Music playlist
submitted by the Vatican includes Mozart's "Don Giovanni" alongside the less traditional "Changes" by Tupac Shakur.

The playlist, which also includes "Uprising" by Muse and "After the Rain" by Dame Shirley Bassey, was compiled by Father Giulio Neroni, artistic director of church publisher St Paul's Multimedia, to be a "perfect mix of classical, world and contemporary music," The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

"Changes," which was released in 1998, after the rapper's shooting death in 1996, features lyrics about violence and drug crime.

"The genres are very different from each other, but all these artists share the aim to reach the heart of good minded people," the description on the Vatican's MySpace Music page reads.

African-American group challenges Cuba on race

The Cuban government must confront a legacy of discrimination against black Cubans on the island, a group of prominent African Americans charged.

A group of prominent African Americans, traditionally sympathetic to the Cuban revolution, have for the first time condemned Cuba, demanding Havana stop its ``callous disregard'' for black Cubans and declaring that ``racism in Cuba . . . must be confronted.''

``We know first-hand the experiences and consequences of denying civil freedoms on the basis of race,'' the group declared in a statement. ``For that reason, we are even more obligated to voice our opinion on what is happening to our Cuban brethren.''

Among the 60 signers were Princeton professor Cornel West, actress Ruby Dee Davis, film director Melvin Van Peebles, former South Florida congresswoman Carrie Meek, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of President Barack Obama's church in Chicago, and Susan Taylor, former editor in chief of Essence magazine.


The declaration, issued Monday, adds powerful new voices to the chorus pushing for change on the island, where Afro-Cubans make up at least 62 percent of the 11.4 million people yet are only thinly represented in the top leadership, scientific, academic and other ranks.

``This is historic,'' said Enrique Patterson, an Afro-Cuban Miami author. Although predominantly white Cuban exiles ``tried to approach these people before, they lacked credibility. Now [African Americans] are listening.''

A news release accompanying the statement acknowledged that ``traditionally African Americans have sided with the Castro regime and condemned the United States' policies, which explicitly work to topple the Cuban government.''

But more African Americans traveling to Cuba have been able ``to see the situation for themselves,'' said David Covin, one of the statement's organizers and former president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.

The growing number of Afro-Cuban activists complaining about racial discrimination and casting their struggle as an issue of ``civil rights,'' rather than ``human rights,'' has helped to draw the attention of African Americans, said Victoria Ruiz-Labrit, Miami spokesperson for the Cuba-based Citizens' Committee for Racial Integration.

``The human rights issue did not make a point of the race issue, and now we have an evolution,'' she added.

``Cuban blacks moved closer to the term `civil rights' because those are the rights that the movement here in the U.S. made a point of -- the race issues.''

Alberto González, spokesman for Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington, said it was ``absurd'' to accuse of racism a Cuban government that ``has done more for black Cubans than any other in all areas, including health, education and welfare.''

The African Americans' statement was ``part of a campaign of subversion against Cuba,'' he added, designed to impact the administration of the first African-American president of the United States.

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Rapper Nas had ‘green tongue' during DUI arrest

As Grammy award nominated rapper Nas appeared in a L.A. court to work out the details of his divorce from singer Kelis, news of his DUI arrest in Henry County made waves on the Web.

Enlarge photo Jason DeCrow, ASSOCIATED PRESS This 2006 photo shows Nas during MTV's "Total Request Live" three years ago.

The arresting officer observed Nas, born Nasir Jones, as he was participating in a license/safety check Sept. 10, according to a police report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The officer stopped the 36-year-old's black Cadillac Escalade and “immediately smelled the odor of raw marijuana coming from inside the vehicle,” the report said.

The officer put him through a series of evaluations of which he failed before being arrested. His SUV was impounded.

“He had a green tongue with raised taste buds and his pulse was raised to 116 beats per minute,” states the report, as well as "eyelid tremors in both eyes and body tremors."

“Green tongue” is used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Drug Evaluation and Classification Training Program as a possible indicator of marijuana use.

Nas, according to the incident report, was charged with DUI. A court date was set for Oct. 8, but it is unclear whether he was present for that appearance.

A native of Brooklyn, NY, Nas is best known for his hits "If I Ruled the World," featuring Lauryn Hill, and "One Mic."

One Asian carp found in canal fish kill

Chicago -- An expensive fish kill that netted just one Asian carp in a Chicago ship canal was worth it to protect Lake Michigan from the invasive fish, officials said.

"The bottom line is we have to know what we're dealing with. We have to know where they are and how many there are," Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud said of the $3 million kill conducted this week in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

The 22-pound dead Asian carp was among tens of thousands of dead fish found Thursday, a day after the canal was poisoned with 2,200 gallons of toxic rotenone , the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.

Previous DNA sampling suggested the carp already may have penetrated underwater electric barriers and entered Lake Michigan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to shut down one of the two barriers this week for maintenance and supported the fish kill as a preventive measure.

The lone dead Asian carp was found about six miles from the electric barrier, McCloud said.

The dead fish were to be scooped up and taken to a landfill. A detoxifying agent was applied to the canal waters Thursday to limit the spread of rotenone beyond the kill area, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Polanski's house arrest is a splendid captivity

GSTAAD, Switzerland — Roman Polanski's life took a dramatic turn for the better Friday as he traded a Swiss jail for house arrest surrounded by family in his luxury Alpine chalet.

It's not clear how long this splendid captivity will last — the threat of extradition to the United States and a possible prison term there still hang over the 76-year-old director.

But surely there are worse fates than being stuck in the tony resort of Gstaad, gazing up at the snow-covered Swiss Alps with your wife and two children by your side — especially after two months in a Swiss jail.

Polanski cannot leave the three-story house and its garden while Swiss authorities decide whether to send him to Los Angeles to face sentencing in a 32-year-old sex case.

He will miss the pleasures of walking in the snow, skiing or Christmas shopping on the main street. Still, it's a vast improvement over his small detention cell in Winterthur, near Zurich, which had only a sink, bed, toilet, television and storage compartment.

In jail, he was allowed outside for one hour of daily exercise, could occasionally use the telephone but could only see family and friends for one hour each week. In Gstaad, Polanski can organize his days as he likes, working on his films and phoning and e-mailing whenever he wants.

The Oscar-winning director can receive guests or hold parties at the house and order in gourmet meals. He has views of snowcapped Alpine peaks, spacious rooms and all the amenities of a town known for its skill at catering to the wishes of the rich and famous.

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Nature sees no reason to investigate climate papers

Nature weighs in on the story of the emails stolen from East Anglia University.

By Chris Lee
As has been well discussed on Ars, private e-mail from servers of the Climate Research Unit were recently made public and, since then, many people who were skeptical or dismissive of climate change have been having a field day. In these private conversations, the scientists revealed themselves to be petty, vengeful, emotional, and, well, human.

Additionally, we see that science-in-process is a messy business with many a prat-fall between inspiration and publication. Unfortunately, the people most keen in analyzing these emails seem unable to distinguish prat-falls, tests, mistakes, and just plain stupid ideas from the actual research and data that emerged from the CRU as published work. Now, although most of us realize this, the major scientific publications are starting to weigh in with their take on the whole affair.

The general consensus among scientists is that the revelations don't change the science at all. The conclusions about anthropogenic global warming are derived from multiple sources of independent data and analysis. Even if it turned out that everything from the CRU were false, it would not actually change the conclusions, because it is only one source among many. And, as the Nature editorial argues, there isn't much there to suggest that the CRU's published works are false.

But—and the general thrust of the editorial in Nature supports this—we have a disaster on our hands. Just as the world governments appear to be showing a willingness to take action (and this is mostly because the US government seemed to be about ready to play ball), anyone seeking to avoid policy changes has been given more of a platform from which to shout. And those people, including US Senator James Inhofe and Saudi Arabian diplomats, have indeed latched onto the e-mails.

So, what appears to be happening is that documents that don't seem to speak to the science are being used to derail an attempt to develop policies that are based on the conclusions of the scientific community. All in all, not a win for critical thinking.

Jesus Appears On An Egg Shell In Texas

NO one besides Osama bin Laden’s wife ever sees the real Santa Claus, but Jesus is everywhere. In Burleson, grandly billed as a “city, 13 miles south of Fort Worth” a Christian god has appeared on the top of a hen’s egg.

While angels dance on a pin head, Jesus is manifest in the chicken shed at Tracy and Pam Norrell’s farm. The Norell’s tells the media that the egg was laid “straight from heaven”. Bur-burck:

“This time of the year, we get so taken up with the presents and money and we forget about the reason. I think he [God] was just telling us he is the reason for the season.”

The reason for the season is nice. Anorak might use it in a card - £4.99 for one that plays the Birdie Song slowly on an organ when you open it up. For £17.99 you get the one that lights up.

Gore Lambasts Copenhagen Targets Too

A day after being lambasted by Jim Hansen for compromising over climate change, veteran climate change campaigner Al Gore has also criticised the current CO2 targets as being way too soft.

Gore has said that anything agreed at Copenhagen can only be the first step towards much tougher CO2 targets.

“Even a final treaty will have to set the stage for other tougher reductions at a later date,” he told the Times newspaper. “We have already overshot the safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.”
Gore argues that the present goal set for Copenhagen for stabilising CO2 at or below 450 ppm — enough to prevent a rise in average global temperatures of no more than 2C — was insufficient.

A much safer target would be 350 parts per million.

Gore said: “Are we doing enough? The answer is obviously no — 450 is not the right target. But it is presently seen as beyond the capacity of governments around the world. We are stretching the capacity of governments even to hit a 450 target.”

“We are gambling with the future of human civilisation in accepting odds that by any definition make our present course reckless . . . But it’s still the most likely path to success.”

Gore also took issue with Obama saying that American targets were “weaker than it should be”.

Gore also dismissed the climate sceptics who have seized on climate gate, arguing that the scientific consensus around climate change “continues to grow from strength to strength”.

He added: “The naysayers are in a sunset phase with a spectacular climax just before they subside from view. This is a race between common sense and unreality.”

So the common sense solution will be a radical legally-binding agreement that puts the world on a sustainable path towards 350 ppm.

The World According to M.I.S.S.: Obama Sends 30,000 Troops to Afghanistan

Barack Obama announced his plans to deploy around 30,000 troops to Afghanistan

Addressing the United States in a broadcasted speech President Barack Obama announced his plans to deploy around 30,000 troops to Afghanistan after reviewing the nations strategy at the West Point military academy in New York. Although this deployment if US military is not being labeled an invasion, the announcement comes on the heels of the deadliest couple of months during the war in Iraq, a fight that has been taking place for at least eight years. President Obama has also announced plans to begin pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan in 18 months, a decision that is said to instill a sense of urgency in the Afghan government to become a trustworthy sovereignty free of corruption; a task that hasn’t always been the easiest to accomplish.

“I do not make this decision lightly,” he said. “I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.”

Sending troops won’t come cheap to the American public, not surprisingly. It’s been estimated that the deployment will cost an outstanding $32.4 billion dollars, which sounds like a much bigger number if you think about the fact that our economies recovery is at a stand still – not getting better, but thankfully not any worse. As much as this military push is costing Americans, it necessary. Obama claims that the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the center of Al-Qaeda activity, and is threatening the safety of the nation. While watching his address to his constituents, you could sense the urgency in his voice, something I hadn’t seen from an official since 9/11.

He said new attacks were “being plotted as I speak” and that al-Qaeda and its allies must also face “growing pressure and strong partnerships” in Yemen and Somalia. Mr Obama insisted that the core goal of the refined strategy was unchanged: to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al-Qaeda and to ensure the Taliban could not overthrow the Afghan Government.

So in the next couple months more lives will be put on the line for the safety of a nation. I’m sure this was a very difficult decision for the President to come to, (especially seeing that in his campaign he basically promised the troops would be home by now), but as difficult as it’s been, it also seems necessary. Right?

Elin Nordegren: Model Mother

A photo of Elin Nordegren, the wife of Tiger Woods. She's hot. But are you surprised? Tiger Woods is the man. Come on. If he can't get Elin Nordegren, who can.

As the drama surrounding Tiger Woods’ alleged philandering continues, it seems his wife Elin Nordegren’s friend are furious with the golf great because she’s such a good mother to their children.

An inside source told press, “Elin spends so much time with the children. She loves them and is always home with them. Whatever caused the accident, she should not have to go through all of this.”

According to another source, Elin and Tiger “have already begun intense marriage counseling- at their home- with a counselor who has been conducting sessions several times daily.”

In the meantime, Tiger has reportedly paid Elin a “hefty seven-figure amount” not to leave him. Their prenuptial agreement states that they must remain married for ten years in order for Ms. Nordegren to collect a divorce settlement of $20 million.

Unexpected drop in jobless rate sparks optimism

A surprising drop in the November unemployment rate and in job losses cheered investors Friday and raised hopes for a sustained economic recovery.

The rate unexpectedly fell to 10 percent last month, from 10.2 percent in October, as employers cut the fewest number of jobs since the recession began. The better-than-expected figures provided a rare dose of good news for a labor market that's lost 7.2 million jobs in two years.

The average work week also rose, along with average earnings. And the Labor Department said 159,000 fewer jobs were lost in September and October than first reported.

The stock market jumped and Treasurys fell in response to the reports. In midmorning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average surged 110.94, or 1.1 percent. Broader stock averages also rose.

Still, the respite may be temporary. Job creation is expected to remain far too weak in coming months to absorb the 15.4 million unemployed people who are seeking work — and 11.5 million others who are either working part-time but want full-time jobs or have given up job hunting. As more people begin seeking work, the jobless rate is likely to resume rising.

The report offered further evidence of how hard it remains to find employment: The number of people jobless for at least six months rose last month to 5.9 million, and the average length of unemployment rose to more than 28 weeks.

"We will need very substantial job growth to get unemployment lower, especially when the labor force ... starts growing again," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

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