Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy New Year’s, or Happy Tax Collector’s Day?

By Rebekah Rast
Americans might be celebrating New Year’s a little differently this year.

Unless Congress is able to compromise on big-ticket items like the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts before Dec. 31, 2010, New Year’s resolutions will consist of more ways Americans can save money due to the tax increases.

So far the lame-duck session has done nothing to relieve the anxieties of individuals and businesses as to what they can expect for next year’s tax rates.

Since nothing has yet to be done, discussion on this issue is now postponed until after the Thanksgiving break. That gives Congress about a month to decide on these tax cuts before they expire come Jan. 1, 2011.
Both sides the aisle say they don’t want taxes raised for the middle-income class. But what about the wealthy, those individuals making more than $200,000 a year and those couples making more than $250,000 a year?

Get full story here.

Upton’s Light Bulb Ban

Video by Frank McCaffrey

Permalink here.

ACORN Community Labor Organizing Center Listed as “Not in Good Standing” But Still “Active”

By Kevin Mooney

Apparently there is at least one ACORN affiliate that has declined to drop the organization’s tainted name. The ACORN Community Labor Organizing Center (ACLOC), which is registered in Louisiana and also maintains a strong presence in Texas, has served as a major conduit for political operations and could play a prominent role in the 2012 elections. The affiliate was prominently mentioned in a House Oversight Committee report that probed into ACORN’s financial transactions and political activities.

“According to a document provided by former ACORN employees, the ACORN Community Labor Organizing Center (“ACLOC”) led important campaigns including the Texas for Obama Campaign,” the report said. “According to the document, ACLOC raised 1.3 million dollars from political campaigns and delivered the funds directly to ACORN offices. The document noted, `[d]oes the ACORN association board want Wade [Rathke] to be this intimately involved in coordinating campaigns this close to ACORN?’ACORN readily acknowledged its partisan behavior.”

ACLOS is categorized as an “active” organization on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s web site, but it is also listed as being “Not in Good Standing for Failure to File Annual Report.”

Get full story here.

Krugman’s Conspiracy Theory

By Robert Romano

The world is plotting against Paul Krugman’s economic central planning scheme. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to believe, based on his recent contribution to the national political dialogue, “Axis of Depression.”
In this piece, Krugman has a theory about recent Republican criticism of the Federal Reserve’s planned purchase of $600 billion of U.S. treasuries: Republicans know Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s policies will work to improve the economy, and so they oppose them because if they are not implemented they will win elections.

Krugman quotes Stan Collender, who says, “with Republican policy makers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory… [they will be] opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better.”

Krugman writes, “Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House”, adding, “In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed.”
Although Krugman acknowledges that “some of Mr. Bernanke’s critics are motivated by sincere intellectual conviction,” they only operate on the periphery in his fantasyland. The real motive is “self-interest” in the case of Republicans, who want a weak economy to bolster electoral returns. And also in the cases of Germany and China, both Fed critics who, Krugman maintains, want to keep running trade surpluses.

There’s a few problems with this line of analysis. Namely, all of Krugman’s boogeymen have perfectly valid reasons to oppose the Fed’s monetary expansions.

Take China. Because it keeps the yuan on a fixed exchange rate to the dollar, the Fed’s dollar depreciation merely has the effect of simultaneously devaluing the yuan. If cheap currencies are the route to cheap exports, then the U.S. action might actually help boost Chinese exports. So, it’s not the balance of trade that might motivate a Chinese protest of the Fed’s money-printing.

Perhaps China is being sincere about its objections to the Fed’s purchases of U.S. national debt. Its credit rating agency, Dagong, recently downgraded U.S. debt, writing that the $600 billion of Fed treasuries purchases “entirely encroaches on the interests of the creditors, indicating the decline of the U.S. government’s intention of debt repayment.” So, they’re actually worried about all the cash they have lent us being repaid with monopoly money.

For Germany’s part, its Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble actually said, “With all due respect, U.S. policy is clueless… [The problem] is not a shortage of liquidity. It's not that the Americans haven't pumped enough liquidity into the market and now to say let's pump more into the market is not going to solve their problems.” Okay, so they think more paper and ink simply won’t work to create “a stronger pace of economic recovery,” as the Fed claims.

Then there’s the Republicans. In order for Krugman to be correct, conservatives would have to have a secret conspiracy to wreck the U.S. economy all to undermine Barack Obama, and land whoever the GOP nominee is in 2012 into the White House. The means? Stop the Federal Reserve from implementing its money-printing “stimulus”.

Only, Republicans are in no position to stop the Fed or Bernanke from doing anything. Nor have they prevented the Fed from taking a single action since the central bank began blowing up the housing bubble in 1990’s and 2000’s. Back then, the king could do no wrong. Alan Greenspan was a monetary wizard, an alchemist who could sprinkle his magical fairy dollar dust into the economy, and poof! Prosperity would ensue.

At least, inflation ensued.
Get full story here.

Second embryonic stem cell trial to go ahead

Just a month after Geron Corporation started treating people with its embryonic stem (ES) cell-based therapy, GRNOPC1, US regulators have given the green light to a second company to begin trials using human ES cells.

Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) announced today that the US Food and Drug Administration approved the Santa Monica, California-based company’s application to use retinal cells derived from ES cells to treat people suffering from Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, a common form of progressive juvenile blindness. The phase 1/2 trial will involve 12 patients at several hospitals across the US, including the Casey Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon, and the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.

According to Robert Lanza, ACT’s chief scientific officer, the company also plans to file an investigational new drug application in the coming weeks to use the same ES cell-derived retinal cells to treat people with macular degeneration.

Stargardt’s macular dystrophy affects around 25,000 people in the US, and occurs in approximately one in 10,000 children. By comparison, macular degeneration impairs the sight of more than 10 million Americans.

Euro crisis – Act II: the consequences of an Irish default

 by Holger Zemanek
The Irish bailout shows that Greece was just the first act of the ongoing euro crisis. It is now almost certain that Ireland will accept an EU/IMF rescue package to calm down financial markets. In this second act of this euro area tragedy, however, the UK is likely to be a leading player as well. Indeed, the British government offered direct rescue funds to Ireland as British banks hold many Irish government bonds. The already troubled and largely state-owned RBS is a major lender to Ireland.

Of course, the Irish case is very different from the Greek one. Greece had accumulated huge public debt, cheated with official deficit data and had increased wages much above what was justified by productivity. While the latter is also true for Ireland, its government actually significantly reduced public debt until the financial crisis started. Yet, at the same time, Irish banks had accumulated unsustainable private receivables financed by foreign debt. During the crisis, the Irish government nationalised these “toxic” banking assets. Government debt rocketed as a result and this is the key reason for the second act of the euro area crisis.  

Now it would appear that the Irish bank assets are to be “supranationalised” at European level. Euro-area taxpayers and also British taxpayers will bear the risk and perhaps the costs. And there are at least two further problems with the quasi-bailout. Firstly, a rescue package for Ireland will potentially increase moral hazard for (not only) Irish banks but also for governments throughout Europe. Secondly, the political resolve in Ireland to undertake radical reform programmes and severe budget cuts may in practice be weakened by the rescue funds. This could weaken the necessary structural adjustment and threaten the Irish recovery.

However, there is a more important point. If Greece and Ireland are unable to repay the rescue package and guarantees become payable, public debt in the rescue-providing countries will increase. Then Irish and Greek debt will have to be paid back in the “donor” countries by spending cuts, tax increases or higher inflation. Not only will the banks and lenders to Ireland or Greece have to bear the costs but all taxpayers in the UK or Germany. A European transfer union would be established through the back-door.

The third act of the tragedy is already looming with Portugal as the next candidate for default.

..iPad 'newspaper' offered by Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch

iPad 'newspaper' offered by Steve Jobs and Rupert MurdochThe latest offering from Apple and News Corp. represented by Rupert Murdoch will soon be releasing an iPad centric newspaper as reported by the Daily.

The iPad / tablet only news edition is expected to be launched by the end of the month and be officially be released in early Q1 2011.

It is work which is a production of Apple and News Corp. will soon be unveiled as an iPad only paper as stated by the newspaper.

Daily will be run from News Corp. offices here in the US and will soon be released to be priced as iPad (tablet) subscribers $0.99 cents per week.

Meanwhile it is staged that the print edition of the Daily will soon be released, as claimed by iPad and tablet versions.

It is stated that it soon will be released and readied to compete against other rivals. We wait what other competitors have to offer.

Florida Mom, Three Children Brutally Murdered, Police Baffled

Brandi Peters, 27, and her children, twins Tamiyah and Taniyah Peters

A Tallahassee neighborhood is shocked and still reeling from the grizzly murder of a Mother and her three young children last Saturday in their north Florida home (pictured below).

Tallahassee Police have identified the slain victims as Brandi Peters, 27, and her children, twins Tamiyah and Taniyah Peters, 6 (pictured above), and Jovante Segura, 3. Investigators, who described the homicide scene as "violent" are scratching their heads as to who could have committed such a despicable act.
Although there has been an increase in break-ins in the Peter's five-year-old subdivision, robbery has been ruled out, according to police, because there was no sign of forced entry or broken glass strewn about anywhere within the modest single-family home.

The neighborhood is mostly made up of families and is surrounded by dense woods. It is only a few miles away from Florida A&M and Florida State Universities.
Florida Mom, Three Children Brutally Murdered, Police Baffled, Brandi Peters

The bodies were discovered, after police were tipped off by an unidentified caller at around 10:15 a.m. Saturday morning:

"We had a neighbor call us who was concerned, so we responded to try to look around the house and so forth, and that's when we discovered the bodies," Tallahassee Police Department spokesman Officer David McCranie told the AP. "There are obvious signs of violence" in the house, he added. "This is a very shocking and unusual case for us."

Neighbors told police that Peters was a single parent who was a stay-at-home Mom. A neighbor who lives across the street from Peters and whose children played with the slain kids told police that the Mom had not been married. Peter's children had two different fathers.

One woman told the AP that although police patroled the area, home invasions were still very prevalent and crime was an ongoing problem for the residents.

Autopsies were performed on all of the murdered victims on Sunday. Police did not release any cause-of-death specifics about Peters and her children but did categorize the tragic incident as a homicide. Police are asking anyone with any information about the family to call the Tallahassee Police Department at 850-891-4200.

By Ruth Manuel-Logan

Forgiving Michael Vick By Summer M.

Last week in my hodgepodge, I mentioned that I needed Michael Vick to score at least 33 points to win my fantasy match-up (because I know you care).  Otherwise, I would look like an idiot for benching Tom Brady, who had already had an impressive day against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Well, Vick came through for me, scoring 54 points in what will probably always be known as “The Michael Vick Game.”  Vick threw four touchdowns and ran for 2 more, finishing the day with 333 yards passing and another 80 yards rushing.   The performance drew comparisons to Steve Young, engendered some MVP talk for Vick, and even warranted a patronizing-ass “I’m prouder of his work off the field,” comment from NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell:

“There is a big message in what Michael is doing,” Goodell told the newspaper. “He’s a superstar athlete who everyone thought had everything in the world. He fell from grace tragically by making some horrific mistakes, paid a significant price, worked his way back in and now he’s being successful. It demonstrates to me to get to these young men earlier and work with them and make them understand their responsibility making decisions that will define them for a period of time.”
Of course, this response to Vick’s amazing performance was not entirely positive.  The creator of a fantasy football blog I frequent, for instance, acknowledged the awesomeness of Vick’s (fantasy) performance, but not without noting that she would never have Michael Vick on any of her fantasy teams.  As if, I suppose, one might express one’s moral fiber by what one decides to do within the confines of a game that a bunch of nerds such as myself obsess over.  Interestingly, I’ve never heard mention of the morally deleterious rhetoric of fantasy.  Fantasy players love to talk about the athletes they “own.”  Because, you know, it’s ethically acceptable to pretend that you own a person, especially when considering his trade value, but not hardly moral to own a player who supported dog fighting in real life.  (For the record, I do not claim to own players.  That’s wack.)  Such acts seem akin to folks who play anti-Monopoly…with a Monopoly board game…that they purchased.

What does it mean to articulate that one hates Michael Vick?  What does it mean to find it necessary to hold that opinion still?  To be sure, I was not a Michael Vick defender.  I am, by all accounts, a dog person.  I often find dogs more tolerable than people.  I was alarmed and saddened upon hearing the details of what Vick and his associates did those dogs.  Yet, I don’t hate Michael Vick, and I don’t believe–as many do–that he should have never been allowed to play professional football again.  In my mind, there aren’t many instances where I would think that a person, as abominable as their actions may be, should as a result no longer be allowed to do a thing she is really good at and presumably loves if the crime is unrelated to that vocation.  Vick, according to the way this culture runs, paid his debt to society.  Vick served his time in prison, declared bankruptcy, was conditionally reinstated, and by all accounts both adequately acknowledges his past mistakes and has worked to ameliorate them.  Even St. Tony Dungy (he’s a saint because he never cusses and because he led my Colts to a Super Bowl victory.) has become a vocal proponent for this new Michael Vick.  Yet there were vehement protests when the Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick as a back-up quarterback, because, I suppose no one should be given a second chance, or allowed to work after they’ve done a bid.  Some of those protesters have yet to give up the fight.

What, in this Christ-loving culture of ours makes some believe that they have the right to “hate” and/or withhold forgiveness, the latter of which implicitly suggests that they have the right to grant it?  How asinine is our earnestness when we think our moral compass is pointing in the right direction when we say things like, “I’ll never cheer for Michael Vick”?  I suppose it’s a lot easier to sleep at night when we think about our moral stance on a rich athlete who put dogs to death than it is to examine the ways that our daily actions may endanger the lives of people we’ll never know.  What would justice for those dogs have looked like?  Vick never playing football again?  Why?  I suppose he could have worked for a company like Dell while in jail, gained some employable skills so we never again had to watch him on Sunday afternoons.

The moral vitriol spewed at Vick, two years after he served his 21-month jail sentence, ensured his position atop Forbes’ list of most disliked athletes yet again this year.  Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger (who looks like Jeff Daniels to me) has settled in at number 3.  He was accused of sexual assault–twice.

2010 City Crime Rankings puts Oakland at number 5

So, this year’s CQ Press City Crime Rankings are out, and once again, Oakland finds itself right up at the top of the list.

The rankings are based on 2009 crime stats, available for cities throughout the United States thanks to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

Oakland moves down a couple spots this year, back to number five, where we sat in 2008, which, I suppose, is a nicer place to be than 2007′s number 4 or last year’s number 3.

City officials, as usual, will remind us that the FBI cautions against ranking cities based on crime statistics, dismiss the report as misleading (PDF), and remind us that crime is mostly concentrated in certain parts of town.

All of this, of course, completely misses the point, which is that crime in Oakland is simply too high. Of course a number ranking based on some formula (PDF) using data that has limitations of its own (PDF) does not paint a complete picture of the relative merits and flaws of every city in the US. I don’t think anyone would pretend it does. Of course a per capita rating for the entire City doesn’t reflect the fact that there are neighborhoods with less crime and neighborhoods with more crime. But I have always failed to see how that matters. I mean, I’ve never been, but I assume that St. Louis has nice parts of town too.

But the fact that since 2005, Oakland has been playing musical chairs at the top of the list every year with St. Louis and Detroit and Camden should be cause for concern. I, for one, welcome the loud annual reminder that when it comes to the amount of violent crime that goes on in Oakland, we are not in the type of company that we want to be keeping. So yes, it is good that reported crime compared to last year is down. And it is good that it is also down from the year before that.

But the fact remains, people are constantly getting killed on our streets, and despite recent progress, we have a really long way to go before we’re we want to be in terms of public safety in this Oakland.

Anyway. Here’s the top 10 from this year’s city crime rankings (PDF):
  1. St. Louis, MO
  2. Camden, NJ
  3. Detroit, MI
  4. Flint, MI
  5. Oakland, CA
  6. Richmond, CA
  7. Cleveland, OH
  8. Compton, CA
  9. Gary, IN
  10. Birmingham, AL
And if you’re wondering how other cities stacked up? Check it out here:

by V Smoothe

Carbolic Smoke Ball Flashback: November 22, 1963: The Film Review Lee Harvey Oswald Was Writing at the Time of His Arrest

Dallas TheaterAfter President Kennedy was shot, his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was captured inside the Texas Theater in Dallas watching a motion picture called “War is Hell.”  Here is the film review Oswald was writing at the time of his capture:


War is Hell is about the Korean War or something.  Please excuse me if I’m sketchy on the plot because I came in late.  I was busy doing something downtown.

World War II hero Audie Murphy, narrates the film.  I, for one, could never understand how the name “Audie” is suitable for a guy.

The actors who play the platoon members all seem to be about the right age, which is a first for Hollywood. In contrast to, say, the Borscht Belt comics who play the sailors in the popular TV sitcom “McHale’s Navy,” whose average age is 58.

 Oh, no, they’re coming for me! The jig is up . . . .

 Editor’s note: The review abruptly ends here.

Pentagon Moves Up Release Of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Study To November 30th

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has agreed to move up the release date of the Pentagon’s study of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by one day — from Wednesday December 1st to Tuesday, November 30, Defense Department spokesperson Geoff Morrell said in a statement emailed to reporters tonight. Politico’s Josh Gerstein has Morrell’s statement:
“Secretary Gates is pushing all involved in the Comprehensive Review Working Group’s report to have it ready for public release on November 30th in order to accommodate the desire of the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold hearings as soon as possible.” [...]
“Frankly, December 1st was already an aggressive deadline by which to complete the report, incorporate the views of service secretaries and chiefs and for the Secretary to make a recommendation on the way ahead, but he has further compressed the timeline in order to support Congress’ wish to consider repeal before they adjourn,” Morell wrote. “Now, the Secretary has instructed his staff, without cutting any corners, to have everything ready a day sooner because he wants to ensure members of the Armed Services Committee are able to read and consider the complex, lengthy report before holding hearings with its authors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Last week, hoping to ensure that repeal can be passed during the lame duck session, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) sent a letter to Gates asking the Secretary to release the study as soon as possible. “Given the limited amount of time remaining in the 111th Congress, the soonest possible release of the working group’s report could therefore be instrumental in allowing the defense bill to move forward,” they wrote.

But until tonight, the Pentagon has argued that it was already operating on an expedited timeline and wouldn’t release the study before the first of the month. “We have compressed that timeline such that we are now operating on parallel tracks. Not only is the draft report still being finalized, but we are also doing the internal work that would have taken place after December 1st simultaneously so that we can, on December the 1, not just release the report but the Secretary can state where he wants to take us with regards to this measure,” Morrell said in his press conference on Thursday. He also assured reporters, “Congress will see this report on December the 1, not before December the 1. So don’t go camped out on the Hill, it’s not going to be worth your while.”

A leak to the Washington Post from two sources who have seen a copy of the study have said that more than “70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) is expected to hold hearings on the report during the “first days of December.”

By Igor Volsky