Thursday, June 2, 2011

Obama’s Blank Check

By Robert Romano
Don’t play politics with the debt ceiling. That’s what the so-called experts have said. Just give the Obama Administration a clean vote increasing the $14.294 trillion borrowing limit. “I don’t see why anybody’s playing chicken with the debt ceiling,” chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee commented on ABC’s “This Week” program in January.

He warned that failing to pass the debt ceiling would cause the “first default in history caused purely by insanity.” Well, Obama got what he asked for, a “clean” vote on a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling.

And it was crushed. There was hardly any support at all, with only 97 voting yes. 318 representative stood firm against the “clean” approach to giving Barack Obama yet more borrowing authority.

We didn’t default either, with all due respect to Mr. Goolsbee. The sky did not fall, and the world did not end, even with the overwhelming verdict by the House.

Instead, it appears that House members do not wish to speed along the process of bankrupting future generations with a mountain of debt that cannot possibly be repaid. The votes simply are not there. Members want a clear plan to deal with the debt, an alternative to growing the debt to over $26 trillion by 2021 under the Obama plan.

“We couldn't pass it even if we wanted to,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said of a “clean” debt ceiling increase to Fox News. “You've got to cut spending.”
Get full story here.

A $2 Million Dinner Plate

By Rebekah Rast
Roughly 46 million Americans, 14 percent of the U.S. population, rely on the federal government’s food stamps program.

This is an 11 percent increase from one year ago and nearly 61 percent higher than the same time four years ago.
More than half of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget is nutrition assistance programs.

Despite the fact that the government is having to support more people than ever before on its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the possibility of a cut fiscal year 2012 budget by Congress, the Department of Agriculture is revamping an old marketing symbol.

The price tag on this symbol’s makeover: $2 million.

It has been decided that after two decades the food pyramid has not done its job. The new symbol, designed to resemble a dinner plate, contains wedges representing each food group. Much of the plate is taken up by food groups consisting of vegetables and fruits. A small round circle off to the side of the plate is said to represent dairy — a glass of low-fat milk possibly.

Get full story here.

Are We All Socialists?

By David Bozeman

The liberal tongue is so agile it can stretch any word or concept beyond all recognition. 'Human rights,' 'constitutional,' 'family' and 'entitlements' can all mean whatever the day's marching orders dictate.

Here's the setup: Bill O'Reilly recently anointed Bill Maher his pin-head of the day for suggesting that there is nothing wrong with embracing socialism a la Europe, and that government control of prisons, education, the military and hospitals is good. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell concurred, opining that socialist haters don't really understand the concept behind the word. He basically repeated the rant from his interview in the current Playboy. "We're all socialists… I'm a socialist because I support Social Security and Medicare. Everyone who supports these programs is supporting socialism — including most Republicans."

In truth, Republicans, like all conservatives, hold various complex views on how to make caring for the poor, sick and elderly more compassionate and efficient. Someday, when public discourse is less demagogic and predictable, maybe the grown-ups can talk longer than two minutes at the microphone before having to call in armed security.

Liberal editorialists frequently sneer that even the most loyal Tea Partiers take advantage of Social Security and Medicare well beyond what they paid in. Yet that is less a matter of socialism than mere survival — public options, which derive their funds from the private sector, typically eclipse the choices inherent in a free market.
Get full story here.

Movie Review: X-Men, First Class

While some of us were gallivanting around the south of France, others caught screenings of Matthew Vaughn’s crack at the X-Men franchise, First Class, which boasts an appealing cast led by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence and—for starters—strong reviews. The movie opens wide on Friday.
Todd McCarthy, THR:
”...roughly the first half of this massive and very well cast origins extravaganza is arguably the best hour of Marvel Comics-derived filmmaking among the torrent of it that’s cascaded across screens in recent years. Audacious, confident and fueled by youthful energy, this is a surefire summer winner for a wide global audience.”
Louise Keller, UrbanCinefile:
“Although the filmmakers have packed far too much into the storyline, there’s first class action, superb special effects and a nice sprinkling of humour in a plot whose heart rests in the bond between Professor X and Magneto…Charismatic and enigmatic, Fassbender is superb as Erik, who is driven by hatred and an insatiable appetite for revenge…The politicizing of this prequel changes its nature considerably, taking it from its roots of fantasy action to a political thriller set at the time of the Cuban missile crisis but with Bond-style overtones. This is good for a debate all by itself.”
Thompson on Hollywood
Katey Rich, Cinemablend:
“McAvoy and Fassbender are the undeniable center of X-Men: First Class,..Vaughn and his bevy of fellow screenwriters knit these characters so well into the real world that you don’t need to know Beast from Banshee to understand their motivations. That’s a rare, rare thing in comic book movies, particularly when elsewhere in the Marvel movie universe every film seems to be geared not toward its own characters, but toward a larger mythology that requires hours of research to understand. Though it is certainly the kickoff of a new franchise, and lugs around a story more sprawling than it needed to be, X-Men: First Class feels spry and self-contained, a blast of colorful and passionate enthusiasm with just enough weight to matter. It feels phenomenal to have these mutants back.”
Thompson on Hollywood
David Poland:
“Basically, [Vaughn] made a Bond film with good guys and bad guys alike who just happen to have super powers…Vaughn has been a little denuded here. He is great at filthy fun. But still, he shows that he has the chops. Look for the masterfully artful effects sequence early in the film and some of the great ways Vaughn has his characters manifest their powers. And while it makes you wonder how much better X-Men 3 could have been, it also makes you happy that he didn’t do an X-film until he had the opportunity to do it his way fully.”
Brendon Connelly, BleedingCool:
“All in , First Class is a damn fine superhero movie. More geared, I would suggest, to the more mature fanboy as opposed to some of the aspartame-crazed comic book capers that tend to pop up on the boxes of Happy Meals.”

by Anne Thompson

Transcript: Weiner stiffens defenses against #Weinergate "distraction", lawyers up, and insists that we all "move on"

Robert Stacy McCain has been pursuing the Weinergate story since it broke and earlier today he relayed word that Weiner has hardened his stance on the lewd photo allegations.

New York Rep. Anthony Weiner has retained an attorney to advise him “what civil or criminal actions should be taken” after a lewd picture was sent from his Twitter account... Weiner, who has represented part of New York City since 1998, says online hacking led to a close-up shot of a man’s underwear being sent from his official Twitter account Saturday night...

...Weiner’s office did not answer specific questions about the photograph, whether he has contacted authorities or the Seattle woman who received the photograph... He has said that his Facebook was hacked and if his Twitter had the same password, that too could be vulnerable...

...The key point about Weiner’s retaining counsel and making noises about “civil or criminal actions” is that it permits the congressman to employ the old “ongoing legal proceedings” excuse not to talk about the case. Anyone who remembers the Clinton administration will be familiar with this tactic: “Oh, well, we’re exploring our legal options and aren’t at liberty to discuss an ongoing investigation.”

Interviewed briefly by CNN, Weiner was curiously incurious about the pursuit of the person(s) who compromised his Twitter account.

I was hacked, it happens to people. You move on.

This is a prank, uhh, not a terribly creative one, and it's a distraction...

Look... you've got Republicans playing games with the debt limit, a Supreme Court Justice who is refusing to recuse himself despite conflicts of interest, you have a health care act that's under siege, this... this is a distraction.

Oh. Right. It's a distraction.

We should move on. C'mon, people. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Need food stamps in Florida? Prepare to be drug tested

If you find yourself falling on hard times in Florida and need to apply for food assistance, you’d better be prepared to pee in a cup. Gov. Scott on Tuesday signed a law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients.
The Scott campaign website (which is now run by the Republican Party of Florida) posted a statement from Scott boasting about the bill signing, calling it a “promise kept”:
Today, I signed HB 353, keeping my promise to require drug screening for welfare recipients.
The bill is designed to increase personal accountability and prevent Florida’s tax dollars from subsidizing drug addiction, while still providing for needy children. Parents failing the required drug test may designate another individual to receive the benefits on behalf of the children.
While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction. This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.
Republicans and Scott offered no evidence of widespread drug abuse among Florida food stamp recipients prior to pushing the bill through during the recent legislative session. Unlike last Thursday’s “private” celebration of Scott’s $615 million vetoes and signing of the state’s new budget, there was no rally, no bused in charter school students chanting Scott’s campaign slogan, and no Sheriff’s deputies scanning the crowds for dissenters.

Recipients of state assistance must pay for the drug tests themselves, and will be reimbursed by the state if they get a negative result. That could wind up costing, rather than saving, Florida taxpayers money. Per The Buzz,
Taxpayers will reimburse welfare applicants for negative drug tests. Positive tests will carry an immediate ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for six months. A second positive test will result in a three-year ban on state assistance.
Other details in the new law:
• The Department of Children and Families must inform applicants that they can avoid a drug test if they do not apply for benefits.
• The state must assure each applicant “a reasonable degree of dignity while producing and submitting a sample.”
• Parents who fail drug tests can get benefits for their children by naming a state-approved designee to collect the money. That designee must also pass a drug test.
That first bullet looks awfully like an attempt to intimidate people into not applying for benefits, which of course, would indeed save Florida money…

The ACLU of Florida has not said whether or not they will sue over the law, which seems like a blatant violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights if you ask me. The group did issue a statement, and said they would have an announcement tomorrow about Scott’s executive order forcing drug tests on state employees. Here’s the full statement from the group’s executive director, Howard Simon:
“Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals.
“The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse.
“In 2003, a Federal court determined that forcing those applying for temporary welfare assistance to submit their bodily fluids for a government search violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.
“Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the State’s own earlier experimental drug-testing program.
“Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida’s poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution.
“Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law.”
According to the St. Pete Times:’
About 233,000 Floridians applied for cash assistance in 2009-10, including 114,000 families, according to DCF statistics. This month, 93,170 Floridians received cash assistance, a drop of 8.3 percent from a year ago.
Scott’s communications team claimed last month that he divested himself of his interest in Solantic, a chain of clinics that could see a windfall from the new law. No documentation of the stock sale was provided, so Floridians will just have to take the governor’s word for it.

Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh running for President of Egypt

Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail
Remember how the Muslim Brotherhood wasn't going to run a candidate for President of Egypt? Of course, they're running a candidate for President of Egypt.
Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail announced his intention to run in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections.

He said that if elected he would implement Islamic sharia law and cancel the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Ismail was the Brotherhood’s candidate in 2005 parliamentary elections for Dokki in Giza.

The group announced earlier that it would not take part in the presidential elections and confirmed that it would compete for only half the seats in Parliament. But Ismail is the second Brotherhood member to have announced his intention to run for president in defiance of the group's leadership. The other Brotherhood candidate is Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, a liberal-minded Islamist.

Abu Ismail said Saturday during a speech in a Dokki mosque that he will sweep the elections. Since he is an ordinary man, he said, the masses will support him.


Concerning the peace treaty with Israel, he said, “The Camp David peace treaty is insulting to the Egyptian people, so it must be canceled, and I will do my best to convince people to cancel it.”
What could go wrong?

posted by Carl in Jerusalem

Flogging Prisoners--Better Than the Lousy System We've Got?

That's the provocative thesis of criminologist Peter Moskos's new book, titled In Defense of Flogging. Over at CNN's In the Arena blog, Moskos explains why he thinks whipping people is better than living with the Drug War status quo:
The Supreme Court has affirmed a federal order telling California to reduce its overflowing prison population, a situation the majority said "falls below the standard of decency." California now has to figure out how to reduce the population by more than 30,000 prisoners. From your point of view, why does the prison system in the U.S. continue to fail?
Prisons fail because they don't do what they were designed to do: cure criminals. And as long as we insist on fighting an idiotic "war on drugs," nothing is going to better. [...]
So California now says they're not going to release prisoners who are a danger to society. But if they're not a danger to society, why are they behind bars in the first place? If we just want to punish people for breaking the law, there are better—and cheaper—ways to do so.
In your new book, you are proposing that convicted prisoners should be offered a choice between a standard prison sentence and a set number of lashes? Are you serious? Do you think a criminal would choose being whipped?
I'm deadly serious. Given the choice between five years and ten lashes, wouldn’t you choose the lash? What does that say about prison? And if flogging were so bad, where’s the harm in offering it as a choice?
Of course some people are too dangerous to release, but these people are kept behind bars simply because we’re afraid of them. But for most criminals, those we just want to punish, flogging is a more honest. It's also a lot cheaper. Simply to bring our prison population down to levels we had until the 1970s, we’d have to release 85 percent of our prisoners. How are we going to do that unless we end the war on drugs or have alternative forms of punishment?
Ironically, once people hear my idea, often they say that flogging isn't harsh enough. It's good to move beyond the facile position that flogging is too cruel to consider, but if you think flogging isn't harsh enough—that we need to keep people locked up for years precisely because prison is so unbelievable horrible—then you may be a truly evil person.
Moskos wrote a piece on drug-arrest incentives in our July special issue on the criminal justice system (pictured), which has begun landing in subscribers' mailboxes already. Don't subscribe to the magazine? Here's a link; do it. Though even then it will be too late for this particular issue, so get thee to a newsstand or bookstore, and reward good journalism (and most importantly, yourself).

I'll be speaking about the issue, and Moskos' proposal, beginning at 9 AM eastern time (otherwise known as NOW!) on The Pat Campbell Show, KFAQ 1170 AM Tulsa. Listen live at this link. UPDATE: Here's the podcast!