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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Island DIY: Kauai residents don't wait for state to repair road

By Mallory Simon

(CNN) -- Their livelihood was being threatened, and they were tired of waiting for government help, so business owners and residents on Hawaii's Kauai island pulled together and completed a $4 million repair job to a state park -- for free.

Volunteers bring in a heavy crane for work on a bridge to Polihale State Park on Kauai last month.

Volunteers bring in a heavy crane for work on a bridge to Polihale State Park on Kauai last month.

Polihale State Park has been closed since severe flooding destroyed an access road to the park and damaged facilities in December.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources had estimated that the damage would cost $4 million to fix, money the agency doesn't have, according to a news release from department Chairwoman Laura Thielen.

"It would not have been open this summer, and it probably wouldn't be open next summer," said Bruce Pleas, a local surfer who helped organize the volunteers. "They said it would probably take two years. And with the way they are cutting funds, we felt like they'd never get the money to fix it."

And if the repairs weren't made, some business owners faced the possibility of having to shut down.

Ivan Slack, co-owner of Napali Kayak, said his company relies solely on revenue from kayak tours and needs the state park to be open to operate. The company jumped in and donated resources because it knew that without the repairs, Napali Kayak would be in financial trouble.

"If the park is not open, it would be extreme for us, to say the least," he said. "Bankruptcy would be imminent. How many years can you be expected to continue operating, owning 15-passenger vans, $2 million in insurance and a staff? For us, it was crucial, and our survival was dependent on it. That park is the key to the sheer survival of the business."

So Slack, other business owners and residents made the decision not to sit on their hands and wait for state money that many expected would never come. Instead, they pulled together machinery and manpower and hit the ground running March 23.

And after only eight days, all of the repairs were done, Pleas said. It was a shockingly quick fix to a problem that may have taken much longer if they waited for state money to funnel in.

"We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part," Slack said. "Just like everyone's sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, we were waiting for this but decided we couldn't wait anymore."

Thielen has been waiting, too. She wants the legislature to approve her Recreation Renaissance project, a $240 million booster shot to help fix parks across the state. Without it, at least five state parks may be forced to close, and there would be no emergency repair money to fix Polihale State Park.

"We shouldn't have to do this, but when it gets to a state level, it just gets so bureaucratic, something that took us eight days would have taken them years," said Troy Martin of Martin Steel, who donated machinery and steel for the repairs. "So we got together -- the community -- and we got it done."

The park is a fixture on the west side of the island and a favorite spot for many in the area, but it's also a hub for tourists.

"Tourism is our lifeblood. It's what pays all of our bills," Slack said. "The money that pours in comes from tourism is really an important factor for everyone here in Hawaii, and it's such an important time to encourage tourism."

And it's an important time to keep jobs, which were threatened if the park had to remain closed. In February, Kauai's unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent, up from 2.8 percent during the same time in 2008, according to Hawaii's Department of Labor.

"I think it's crucial to say the doors are open, everyone is ready," Slack said. "So when one of the most important parks in Hawaii is closed, it really changes things."

Now, because of their hard work, volunteers hope they'll be ready to send that positive message -- right in time for the tourist season.

Slack said he likes to have business up and running by April 15, and the season gets busy around May 1.

The business owners and residents are hopeful that their generous contributions in time and resources mean the park should officially open soon. Pleas says they have only to get the new bridge certified and do minor cleanup.

"A lot of people are quietly sitting by, waiting for it to open," Slack said. "This really this is one of the nicest parks in the state and in all of Hawaii, in the entire state parks department. Now, hopefully, those people get their wish."

Original here

Obama to Push Immigration Bill as One Priority

By JULIA PRESTON

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, center, has been visiting churches to build support for a bill.

While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight.

Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs.

Democratic legislative aides said that opening a full-fledged debate this year on immigration, particularly with health care as a looming priority, could weigh down the president’s domestic agenda.

Debate is still under way among administration officials about the precise timing and strategy. For example, it is unclear who will take up the Obama initiative in Congress.

No serious legislative talks on the issue are expected until after some of Mr. Obama’s other priorities have been debated, Congressional aides said.

Just last month, Mr. Obama openly recognized that immigration is a potential minefield.

"I know this is an emotional issue; I know it’s a controversial issue,” he told an audience at a town meeting on March 18 in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I know that the people get real riled up politically about this."

But, he said, immigrants who are long-time residents but lack legal status “have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows.”

The White House is calculating that public support for fixing the immigration system, which is widely acknowledged to be broken, will outweigh opposition from voters who argue that immigrants take jobs from Americans. A groundswell among voters opposed to legal status for illegal immigrants led to the defeat in 2007 of a bipartisan immigration bill that was strongly supported by President George W. Bush.

Administration officials said that Mr. Obama’s plan would not add new workers to the American work force, but that it would recognize millions of illegal immigrants who have already been working here. Despite the deep recession, there is no evidence of any wholesale exodus of illegal immigrant workers, independent studies of census data show.

Opponents of legalization legislation were incredulous at the idea that Mr. Obama would take on immigration when economic pain for Americans is so widespread.

“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration. Mr. Beck predicted that Mr. Obama would face “an explosion” if he proceeded this year.

“It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,’ ” he said.

In broad outlines, officials said, the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense. The legislation would seek to prevent future illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, while creating a national system for verifying the legal immigration status of new workers.

But administration officials emphasized that many details remained to be debated.

Opponents of a legalization effort said that if the Obama administration maintained the enforcement pressure initiated by Mr. Bush, the recession would force many illegal immigrants to return home. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it would be “politically disastrous” for Mr. Obama to begin an immigration initiative at this time.

Anticipating opposition, Mr. Obama has sought to shift some of the political burden to advocates for immigrants, by encouraging them to build support among voters for when his proposal goes to Congress.

That is why Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Mr. Obama’s hometown, Chicago, has been on the road most weekends since last December, traveling far outside his district to meetings in Hispanic churches, hoping to generate something like a civil rights movement in favor of broad immigration legislation.

Mr. Gutierrez was in Philadelphia on Saturday at the Iglesia Internacional, a big Hispanic evangelical church in a former warehouse, the 17th meeting in a tour that has included cities as far flung as Providence, R.I.; Atlanta; Miami; and San Francisco. Greeted with cheers and amens by a full house of about 350 people, Mr. Gutierrez, shifting fluidly between Spanish and English, called for immigration policies to preserve family unity, the strategic theme of his campaign.

At each meeting, speakers from the community, mainly citizens, tell stories of loved ones who were deported or of delays and setbacks in the immigration system. Illegal immigrants have not been invited to speak.

Mr. Gutierrez’s meetings have all been held in churches, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, with clergy members from various denominations, including in several places Muslim imams. At one meeting in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, officiated.

One speaker on Saturday, Jill Flores, said that her husband, Felix, an immigrant from Mexico who crossed the border illegally, had applied for legal status five years ago but had not been able to gain it even though she is an American citizen, as are their two children. Now, Ms. Flores said, she fears that her husband will have to leave for Mexico and will not be permitted to return for many years.

In an interview, Mr. Gutierrez rejected the idea that the timing is bad for an immigration debate. “There is never a wrong time for us,” he said. “Families are being divided and destroyed, and they need help now.”

Original here


Did Obama bow to Saudi king? See video

A photo of President Obama apparently bowing in front of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is stirring a royal-size controversy.

The photo and a video were largely ignored by mainstream media outlets but created outrage in some quarters.

“Such an act is a traditional obeisance befitting a king's subjects, not his peer. There is no precedent for U.S. presidents bowing to Saudi or any other royals,” said the conservative Washington Times.

An Obama aide speaking anonymously denied that the president was bowing.

“It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” the aide was quoted as saying by Politco.com Wednesday.

That explanation was “absurd,” the conservative Weekly Standard said. And the caption attached to the Getty Images photo said the president was bowing.

The setting was world leaders mingling before their official photo at the G-20 economic summit in London on April 1.

The heads of state were being photographed with Queen Elizabeth II — to whom Obama did not bow, online commenters said.

Some on the Hot Air Web site had fun with the whole affair, offering:

— “That is how they do it in Chicago . . .”

— “He wasn’t bowing . . . he was ducking in case someone threw a shoe.”

Original here

Olbermann-“This Is Wiretap” WTF!!!

This is some very disturbing news. I first caught wind of this via The Joshua Blog. I’m too distraught so I’ll let Mr. Olbermann tell you about it.

This is really bad news folks.

Original here

Jon Stewart took on people "speaking crazy to power last night." Rep. Michele Bachmann recently said that President Obama is going to put our children in reeducation camps, and Sean Hannity congratulated her for her crusade against tyranny. Stewart followed this clip up with a litany of moves the Bush administration made to reduce American freedom, transparency, and state's rights, and said the pair were confusing "tyranny" and "losing."

But that's not all: Andrew Breitbart went on Sean Hannity's show and blamed Obama for his kids' school using the term "Potato Day" instead of "St. Patrick's Day." Stewart pointed out that this request probably didn't come from Obama himself, and that Potato Day is much more offensive than St. Patrick's Day.


WATCH:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Baracknophobia - Obey
comedycentral.com

Actor Kal Penn joins White House team

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has hired actor Kal Penn as a liaison between President Barack Obama's administration and Hollywood.

White House spokesman Shin Inouye said Tuesday that the actor who has a recurring role on Fox's TV show "House" and has starred in several movies would join the staff as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison. His role will be to connect Obama with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as arts and entertainment groups.

Penn starred as Kumar in the movie, "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay."

Penn was an Obama supporter during the campaign. The White House says a start date for Penn hasn't been set.

The hire was first reported by Entertainment Weekly.

Original here

Poll: Obama Approval Hits New High - 66%

President Barack Obama gestures during his speaech to Turkish paliament on Monday, April 6, 2009, at Cankaya Palace in Ankara, Turkey. (CBS)

As President Obama concludes his well-publicized trip to Europe, Americans are more positive about the respect accorded to a U.S. president than they have been in years, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.

Sixty-seven percent say world leaders respect Mr. Obama, while 18 percent say they do not respect the president. That's a sharp contrast to the response when this question was asked about Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, in July 2006: Just 30 percent then said the president is respected by the leaders of other countries.

Mr. Obama's overall approval rating, meanwhile, has hit a new high of 66 percent, up from 64 percent last month. His disapproval rating stands at 24 percent. Nearly all Democrats and most independents approve of the way the president is handling his job, while only 31 percent of Republicans approve.

While Americans approve of the president and believe he is respected worldwide, they do not believe the U.S. is respected by other countries in general. More than half of those surveyed - 52 percent - think the United States is not respected around the world today. Thirty-six percent say the country is respected around the world.

Still, Americans are more positive about perceptions of their country than they were in July 2007, when just 24 percent said the U.S. is respected around the world and 71 percent said it is not.



The U.S. And World Economy

Most Americans - 60 percent - agree with the argument articulated by the president at the G20 summit last week that the United States needs to work with other countries to fix the problems facing the global economy in order to fix the economic problems back home.

Thirty-seven percent disagree with the argument that the United States should be working with other countries to fix its economy. (Click here for poll data on Americans' views on trade with other countries.)

Americans remain concerned that the United States may lose its position as the world's economic leader. Nearly eight in 10 are at least somewhat concerned, including 40 percent who are very concerned.

Still, the percentage of Americans who are very concerned is down 10 points from last July.

Approval Of The President And The Country's Direction

(CBS)
President Obama's approval ratings on foreign policy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economy are nearly as high as his 66 percent approval rating overall.

Fifty-nine percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, and an identical percentage approve of his handling of Iraq; 58 percent approve of his handling of Afghanistan, while 56 percent approve of his handling of the economy.

Approval of the president coincides with a growing optimism about the direction in which the country is headed. Although a slight majority still thinks the country is on the wrong track, the percentage that thinks the country is now headed in the right direction has been growing steadily since Mr. Obama took office.

Thirty-nine percent now think the country is headed in the right direction, up four points from last month and 32 points from the all-time low of seven percent reached last October. Fifty-three percent say the country is on the wrong track, down from 89 percent in October.

First Lady Michelle Obama continues to be popular with many Americans. Fifty-percent view her favorably, while just 5 percent view her unfavorably.

Afghanistan And Iraq:

(AP Photo/Allahuddin Khan)
President Obama’s second stop on his trip to Europe was the NATO summit meeting in France, much of which focused on the alliance's first military mission outside of Europe - the war in Afghanistan.

In December 2001, following the U.S. invasion there, 93 percent of Americans thought the war there was going well. In March 2003, the numbers had declined somewhat, but 76 percent still thought the war was going well.

Now, however, only 36 percent of Americans think the war in Afghanistan is going well, and most (52 percent) think it is going badly.

Americans are divided as to whether or not the U.S. should send more troops to Afghanistan, something Mr. Obama has announced he plans to do. Thirty-nine percent of Americans think U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should be increased, but 33 percent think they should be decreased - up from 24 percent in February.

Eighteen percent say U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should remain the same.

Those who think things are going badly in Afghanistan are divided about what should be done: 40 percent say troop levels should be increased, while 38 percent say they should be decreased.

Americans are far more optimistic about the situation in Iraq than they are the war in Afghanistan. Sixty-two percent say things are going well there, up from 22 percent in June 2007. Thirty percent say things in Iraq are going badly.

More findings from the poll:

  • Almost three-quarters of Americans think it is a good idea to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 per year. In fact, two-thirds of Americans think the tax code should be changed so that middle-class Americans pay less than they do now and "upper income" people pay more. (Read more here.)


  • Fewer than half support the Obama administration's recent plans for either the auto or banking industries - though there is more support for the administration’s proposals for automakers.
    (Read more here.)


  • Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they are willing to pay higher taxes in order to provide all Americans with health care coverage. While seventy three percent of Democrats favor a tax increase to fund coverage, only 29 percent of Republicans back such a move. (Read more here.)


  • Some critics have suggested President Obama is trying to accomplish too much too soon, but 55 percent of Americans think he is trying to accomplish the right amount. More do say the president is trying to accomplish too much (38 percent) than say too little (4 percent).



This poll was conducted among a random sample of 998 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 1-5, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.


Original here

Report Calls CIA Detainee Treatment 'Inhuman'

Washington Post Staff Writers

Medical officers who oversaw interrogations of terrorism suspects in CIA secret prisons committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential report that labeled the CIA program "inhuman."

Health personnel offered supervision and even assistance as suspected al-Qaeda operatives were beaten, deprived of food, exposed to temperature extremes and subjected to waterboarding, the relief agency said in the 2007 report, a copy of which was posted on a magazine Web site yesterday. The report quoted one medical official as telling a detainee: "I look after your body only because we need you for information."

New details about alleged CIA interrogation practices were contained in the 43-page volume written by ICRC officials who were given unprecedented access to the CIA's "high-value detainees" in late 2006. While excerpts of the report were leaked previously, the entire document was made public for the first time by author Mark Danner, a journalism professor, on the Web site of the New York Review of Books.

The confidential report sheds additional light on the CIA's handling of the detainees, who were held in secret overseas prisons for up to four years and subjected to what the agency describes as "enhanced interrogation techniques." In addition to widely reported methods such as waterboarding, the report alleges that several of the detainees were forced to stand for days in painful positions with their arms shackled overhead. One prisoner reported being shackled in this manner for "two to three months, seven days of prolonged stress standing followed by two days of being able to sit or lie down."

In addition to the coercive methods -- which the ICRC said "amounted to torture" and a violation of U.S. and international treaty obligations -- the report said detainees were routinely threatened with further violence against themselves and their families. Nine of the 14 prisoners said they were threatened with "electric shocks, infection with HIV, sodomy of the detainee and . . . being brought close to death," it said.

The ICRC report was based on accounts made separately to agency investigators by individual detainees, all of whom had been kept in isolation before the interviews, the document states. CIA officials have confirmed that three of the prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

An ICRC spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the document and said the organization "deplores that what was to be a confidential report has been made public."

The CIA declined yesterday to comment on the report, citing the Red Cross's own policy of maintaining the confidentiality of its reports. But spokesman Mark Mansfield noted that the agency had long since ended the controversial interrogation program.

"Director [Leon] Panetta has taken decisive steps to ensure that the CIA abides by the president's executive orders. That means CIA will not use interrogation techniques outside the Army Field Manual," he said. He noted that Panetta also has stated repeatedly that "no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished."

Previously, top Bush administration officials defended the interrogation methods, saying they were legal and necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.

The report's release puts added pressure on the Obama administration, which has banned the use of waterboarding and similar techniques but has resisted calls to conduct legal inquiries to determine whether Bush administration officials broke laws.

The presence of medical personnel at CIA interrogation sites has been reported previously, but ICRC investigators found that their participation in some of the more harsh episodes to be a severe breach of medical ethics. The report said the officials were enlisted to ensure that the detainees did not die or suffer irreparable damage.

Original here

US confirms man plotted to kill Obama

US authorities confirmed that Turkish police have arrested a man who claims to have plotted to kill US President Barack Obama when he visited Turkey.

The Secret Service in Washington said Monday night that Turkish National Police arrested the man last Friday in Istanbul. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the president was never in any immediate danger, as Obama arrived in Turkey on Sunday, two days after the man's arrest.

As standard procedure involving a threat against the president overseas, the Secret Service is following up with Turkish authorities regarding the case and is not releasing any information about the suspect, Donovan said.

On Monday, the Saudi daily Al Watan reportedm that Turkish security services has arrested a man of Syrian descent who was planning to assassinate Obama during his trip to Turkey.

According to the report, the man, who was arrested on Friday, was carrying a press card identifying him as an employee of Al Jazeera. He reportedly confessed to his intention to stab Obama with a knife and said that he was aided by three accomplices.

The report stated that Turkish authorities were still unsure as to whether the press card was a fake or whether it had actually been issued the man by the Qatari news network.

Al-Jazeera's Ankara bureau chief, Yussef al-Sharif, told the paper that news of the suspected assassination plot had come as an utter surprise to the network's staff in Turkey, adding that all of Al-Jazeera's employees in the country claimed that they were not acquainted with the suspect.

Sharif said that the ID card had "most certainly" been forged.

He said that Turkish authorities knew all of the employees of Al-Jazeera's Ankara offices.

Original here

America’s New Marijuana Zeitgeist

Writing last week in Time.com, Joe Klein became the latest in a steady stream of media pundits to call for the legalization of marijuana (”Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense”). That’s right, ‘legalization’ — with an “L.”

While the notion of regulating the sale and consumption of cannabis for adults might still induce reflexive giggles from the Oval Office, the issue is no longer a laughing matter among the public.

Lawmakers in two states — California and Massachusetts– are debating the merits of taxing pot like alcohol, and a pair of recent polls indicate that Western voters endorse this proposal by a solid majority. According to statistician Nate Silver, national support for legalization could reach “supermajority” status in just over a decade!

Why this momentum now? Klein sums up three primary reasons.

1) Americans are spending billions in judicial resources arresting and prosecuting minor marijuana offenders; these monies could be better redirected elsewhere.

2) America is in the midst of an economic recession; taxing marijuana could decrease criminal justice costs, raise tax revenue, and greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the involvement of drug cartels in the illicit marijuana trade.

3) The use of marijuana by adults is objectively less dangerous — both to the user and to society as a whole — than the consumption of alcohol. (Case in point: Drinking alcohol, even low to moderate amounts, was recently associated with elevated incidences of cancer, particularly among women. By contrast, a study published last week shows that cannabis kills malignant cancer cells.) It is illogical to endorse a public policy that arbitrarily prohibits the former while embracing the latter.

Of course, Klein is hardly the only mainstream pundit as of late to jump on the marijuana ‘legalization’ bandwagon.

In the past days, leading commentators like David Sirota, Kathleen Parker, Paul Jacob, Hendrik Hertzberg, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald , Debra Saunders (San Francisco Chronicle), Leonard Pitts (Miami Herald), John Richardson (Esquire), and Margery Eagan (Boston Herald), have all opined in favor of regulating cannabis. In fact, Americans’ sudden support for legalization is even beginning to draw attention from those outside the United States.

As well it should be.

American’s support for marijuana law reform is fast approaching a tipping point — a scenario made all that more remarkable when one considers that the federal government has spent nearly seven decades propagandizing against it. Mainstream America is coming to terms with marijuana, and growing more and more dissatisfied with our nation’s failing pot policies. Writes Klein: “Obviously, marijuana can be abused. But the costs of criminalization have proved to be enormous, perhaps unsustainable. Would legalization be any worse?”

He’s no longer the only one asking.

Original here

Republican Caller Tells Limbaugh: "You're A Brainwashed Nazi" (AUDIO)

Jason Linkins

Media Monitor Cathy Talbot tipped us off to an on-air smackdown that transpired today between Rush Limbaugh and one of his callers, who criticized the talk radio host for hurting the Republican party's fortunes and supporting the practice of torture. The caller, Charles, identified himself as a Republican and a veteran, who "really didn't want to see Obama get in office." From there, he let loose, especially on the torture issue, telling Limbaugh, "We're not supposed to be torturing these people. This is not Nazi Germany, Red China, or North Korea." He then added, "I hate to say it...but I think you're a brainwashed Nazi."

This did not go over well, at all! Limbaugh shot back with a brainwashing accusation of his own, and blamed Charles and people like him for Obama winning the election. "I didn't vote for him," Charles protested, "I voted for McCain. I voted Republican." No matter. Rush signed off by saying, "Charles, Barack Obama is president of the United States today because of stupid, ignorant people who think like you do. You pose -- you and your ignorance are the most expensive commodity this country has."

Media Matters has the audio, so, judge for yourself:

[LISTEN.]

[TRANSCRIPT.]

LIMBAUGH: We're going to go to Chicago. This is Charles. Charles thank you for waiting and for calling. Great to have you here. Hello.


CALLER: Thanks Rush. Rush listen, I voted Republican and I really didn't want to see Obama get in office. But you know Rush, you're one reason to blame for this election, for the Republicans losing. First of all, you kept harping about voting for Hillary. The second big issue was the torture issue. I'm a veteran. We're not supposed to be torturing these people. This is not Nazi Germany, Red China, North Korea. There's other ways of interrogating people, and you just kept harping about, it's okay, or it's not really torture. And it was just more than waterboarding. Some of these prisoners will killed under torture.

And it was crazy for you to go on and on like Levin and Hannity and Hewitt. It's like you're all brainwashed. And my last comment is, no matter what Obama does, you will still criticize him because I believe you are brainwashed. You're just -- and I hate to say it -- but I think you're a brainwashed Nazi. Anyone who can believe in torture has got to be -- there has got to be something wrong with them.

LIMBAUGH: You know --

CALLER: And I know Bush wanted to keep us safe and all of that but we're not supposed to be torturing these people.

LIMBAUGH: Charles, if anybody is admitting that they are brainwashed it would be you.

CALLER: No, no, Rush. I don't think so. You, Hannity, and Levin are all brainwashed --

LIMBAUGH: Charles, you said at the beginning of your phone call that you didn't want Obama in there. But you voted for him because of me.

CALLER: I didn't vote for him. I voted for McCain. I voted Republican.

LIMBAUGH: Oh, so you're saying I turned people off --

CALLER: You turned people off with all this vote for Hillary and all this BS.

LIMBAUGH: That was Operation Chaos. That was to keep the chaos in the Democrat primaries --

CALLER: It didn't work and what we have with you Hannity Levin and Hewitt is sour grapes. That's all we have. And believe me, I'm not -- I'm more to the right than I am to the left.

LIMBAUGH: Oh, of course you are.

CALLER: I am.

LIMBAUGH: Of course you are. You wouldn't be calling here with all of these sour grapes if you weren't.

CALLER: Well I'm tired of listening to go on and on with this --

LIMBAUGH: I don't know of anybody who died from torture.

CALLER: We're not supposed to torture people. Do you remember World War II, the Nazis? The Nuremburg trials?

LIMBAUGH: Charles, Barack Obama --

CALLER: What's the matter with you? You never even served in the military. I served in the Marine Corps and the Army.

LIMBAUGH: Charles, Barack Obama is president of the United States today because of stupid, ignorant people who think like you do. You pose - you and your ignorance are the most expensive commodity this country has. You think you know everything. You don't know diddly squat. You call me a Nazi? You call me someone who supports torture and you want credibility on this program? You're just plan embarrassing and ludicrous. But it doesn't surprise me that you're the kind of Republican that our last candidate attracted. Because you're no Republican at all based on what the hell you just said right here.

So, military service and opposition to things like torture and juvenile primary season stunts are values that lie outside Limbaugh's definition of "Republican." Good to know, I guess!

Send us tips! Write us at tv@huffingtonpost.com if you see any newsworthy or notable TV moments. Read more about our media monitoring project here and click here to join the Media Monitors team.

Original here


Why Marijuana Legalization is Gaining Momentum

Back in February, we detailed how record numbers of Americans -- although certainly not yet a majority -- support the idea of legalizing marijuana. It turns out that there may be a simple explanation for this: an ever-increasing fraction of Americans have used pot at some point in their lifetimes. The following chart details marijuana usage rates by age as determined from a 2007 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:



The peak time for pot usage occurs at or about age 20 -- a period known to most of us as "college" -- before declining fairly rapidly throughout one's 20s and then plateauing from roughly age 30 through age 50.

More important to the policy debate, however, may be the fraction of adults who have used marijuana at any point in their lifetimes. This is a dual-peaked distribution, with one peak occurring among adults who are roughly age 50 now, and would have come of age in the 1970s, and another among adults in their early 20s. Generation X, meanwhile, in spite of its reputation for slackertude, were somewhat less eager consumers of pot than the generations either immediately preceding or proceeding them.

The key feature of this distribution is how rapidly lifetime usage rates decline after about age 55 or so. About half of 55-year-olds have used marijuana at some point in their lives, but only about 20 percent of 65-year-olds have.

There is not, of course, a one-to-one correspondence between having used marijuana and supporting its legalization; one can plausibly support its legalization without having ever inhaled, or vice versa. Nevertheless, I would venture that the correlation is fairly strong, and polls have generally found a fairly strong generation gap when it comes to pot legalization. As members of the Silent Generation are replaced in the electorate by younger voters, who are more likely to have either smoked marijuana themselves or been around those that have, support for legalization is likely to continue to gain momentum.


Original here

Economist: US collapse driven by 'fraud'; Geithner covering up bank insolvency

Stephen C. Webster

In an explosive interview on PBS' Bill Moyers Journal, William K. Black, a professor of economics and law with the University of Missouri, alleged that American banks and credit agencies conspired to create a system in which so-called "liars loans" could receive AAA ratings and zero oversight, amounting to a massive "fraud" at the epicenter of US finance.

But worse still, said Black, Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama's Secretary of the Treasury, is currently engaged in a cover-up to keep the truth of America's financial insolvency from its citizens.

The interview, which aired Friday night, is carried on the Bill Moyers Journal Web site.

Black's most recent published work, "The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One," released in 2005, was hailed by Nobel-winning economist George A. Akerlof as "extraordinary."

"There is no one else in the whole world who understands so well exactly how these lootings occurred in all their details and how the changes in government regulations and in statutes in the early 1980s caused this spate of looting," he wrote. "This book will be a classic."

But that book only covers the fallout from the 1980s Savings & Loan crisis; Black's later first-hand involvement in that scandal being the ensuing liquidation of bad banks.

"A single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than the entire Savings and Loan Crisis," reported PBS. "The difference between now and then, explains Black, is a drastic reduction in regulation and oversight, 'We now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80.'"

That financial calamity, he explained, was brought about not by mishap or accident, but only after a concerted effort to undermine and remove all regulations, allowing a creditor free-for-all that hinged on fraudulent risk ratings for bad loans.

"[T]he way that you do it is to make really bad loans, because they pay better," he told Moyers. "Then you grow extremely rapidly, in other words, you're a Ponzi-like scheme. And the third thing you do is we call it leverage. That just means borrowing a lot of money, and the combination creates a situation where you have guaranteed record profits in the early years. That makes you rich, through the bonuses that modern executive compensation has produced. It also makes it inevitable that there's going to be a disaster down the road.

"...This stuff, the exotic stuff that you're talking about was created out of things like liars' loans, that were known to be extraordinarily bad," he continued. "And now it was getting triple-A ratings. Now a triple-A rating is supposed to mean there is zero credit risk. So you take something that not only has significant, it has crushing risk. That's why it's toxic. And you create this fiction that it has zero risk. That itself, of course, is a fraudulent exercise. And again, there was nobody looking, during the Bush years. So finally, only a year ago, we started to have a Congressional investigation of some of these rating agencies, and it's scandalous what came out. What we know now is that the rating agencies never looked at a single loan file. When they finally did look, after the markets had completely collapsed, they found, and I'm quoting Fitch, the smallest of the rating agencies, "the results were disconcerting, in that there was the appearance of fraud in nearly every file we examined."

He equated the entire US financial system to a giant "ponzi scheme" and charged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, like Secretary Henry Paulson before him, of "covering up" the truth.

"Are you saying that Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others in the administration, with the banks, are engaged in a cover up to keep us from knowing what went wrong?" asked Moyers.

"Absolutely, because they are scared to death," he said. "All right? They're scared to death of a collapse. They're afraid that if they admit the truth, that many of the large banks are insolvent. They think Americans are a bunch of cowards, and that we'll run screaming to the exits. And we won't rely on deposit insurance. And, by the way, you can rely on deposit insurance. And it's foolishness. All right? Now, it may be worse than that. You can impute more cynical motives. But I think they are sincerely just panicked about, 'We just can't let the big banks fail.' That's wrong."

Ultimately, said Black, the financial downfall of the United States in the wake of the Bush years is due to "the most elite institutions in America engaging in or facilitating fraud."

"When will Americans wake up and hold the real criminals - Banksters - accountable for their actions, and pressure the government to enact systemic changes to prevent future abuses?" asked Huffington Post blogger Mike Garibaldi-Frick.

The full interview can be viewed on-line.

Original here

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gingrich warns of third party in 2012

The former Republican Speaker discussed 2012 during a recent speech at a Missouri college.
The former Republican Speaker discussed 2012 during a recent speech at a Missouri college.

(CNN) — Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is warning of a third party mutiny in 2012 if Republicans don’t figure out a way to shape up.

“If the Republicans can’t break out of being the right wing party of big government, then I think you would see a third party movement in 2012,” Gingrich said Tuesday. The speech, to a group of students at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, was recorded by Springfield TV station KY3.

But Gingrich, bemoaning President Barack Obama’s “monstrosity of a budget,” acknowledged that Republicans are partially to blame for the escalation in federal spending.

"Remember, everything Obama’s doing, Bush started last year,” he said. “If you’re going to talk about big spending, the mistakes of the Bush administration last year are fully as bad as the mistakes of Obama’s first two, three months.”

Gingrich told the students that the current governmental system “is so sick, so out of touch and so arrogant that you’re going to have a nationwide rebellion at the polls of people in both parties who are just fed up.”

“You can do a Facebook page, you can Twitter,” he said. “I Twitter right now and I think we’re at like, I don’t know, 18,000 or 20,000 thousand people that follow my Twitter, which I have to say I think is nuts. But there are ways to communicate, you’re not trapped by CBS news.”

Gingrich has repeatedly said that he will decide in early 2011 whether he plans to seek the White House in 2012.

Original here

Blagojevich, his brother, top aides indicted

Federal prosecutors expanded their case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich today in an indictment that drew more of his closest aides into the scandal and adds new schemes to the list of charges against him: Pocketing money funneled through his wife through a phony real estate job. Shaking down a powerful congressman. Running the state as a racket.

Coming nearly four months after federal agents roused a sitting governor out of his Northwest Side home in a predawn arrest -- and weeks after lawmakers dumped him from power -- today's indictment of Blagojevich, his brother and four former top insiders could have been anti-climactic.

Indict505x175.jpg

Left to right: Rod Blagojevich, Rob Blagojevich, Christopher Kelly, Alonzo Monk, William F. Cellini Sr., John Harris. (Tribune and AP photos)

Instead, prosecutors added a few more chapters to the Blagojevich saga, further pulling his family into the pay-to-play conspiracy, revealing yet more confidants had turned on him and suggesting he was intent on corruption before he was even sworn in. The indictment carries a potentially lengthy prison sentence and possible forfeiture of his family home should Blagojevich be convicted.

After turning Illinois politics into an amusement-park ride, most notably for allegedly trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich spent the day of his indictment with his family at Disney World.

Blagojevich was indicted on 16 racketeering, fraud and extortion counts. Among the new, damaging allegations were that Blagojevich delayed a $2 million grant to a public charter school while trying to extort campaign cash from now-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and threatened to withhold future state business from financial institutions that refused to hire his wife.

Blagojevich's effort to profit, both personally and for his Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, was so pervasive that federal prosecutors labeled the racketeering scheme the "Blagojevich Enterprise."

"The primary purpose of the Blagojevich Enterprise was to exercise and preserve power over the government of the State of Illinois for the financial and political benefit of Rod Blagojevich, both directly and through Friends of Blagojevich, and for the financial benefit of his family members and associates," the indictment alleged.

Prosecutors alleged that Blagojevich and his most trusted confidants conspired to enrich themselves before his election as governor in November 2002, even striking a deal to divide the spoils after he left the state's highest office.

Also indicted were Blagojevich's close friend and fundraiser Christopher Kelly and two former chiefs of staff -- Alonzo "Lon" Monk, a longtime friend who also managed Blagojevich's campaigns for governor and later became a well-heeled lobbyist, and John Harris, who succeeded Monk as chief of staff. Blagojevich's brother, Robert, who headed his campaign fund, also was charged, as was Downstate Republican power broker William Cellini.

Blagojevich's wife, Patricia, was not indicted but was essentially described as a co-conspirator amid efforts to enrich her and the Blagojevich family.

Prosecutors said Harris had agreed to cooperate, and details contained in the indictment indicated that Antoin "Tony" Rezko, once a major fundraiser and adviser to Blagojevich who was convicted in June on corruption charges, also was helping to build the case against the former governor. And in a new twist, sources also said Monk had negotiated to work with federal prosecutors.

In a statement released by the public relations firm representing him, Blagojevich said he was "innocent."

Orlando's WESH-TV posted on its Web site a video of the former governor in sunglasses and shorts sitting beside a pool. As his wife tried to block the camera's view, Blagojevich declined to discuss the charges and said he would talk "at the appropriate time."

It was clear from the indictment that new cooperation from former close associates, such as Rezko, was providing prosecutors with valuable information.

The indictment alleged that Rezko played an integral role in boosting the Blagojevich family's finances, steering little or no-work real estate commissions to Patricia Blagojevich's real estate firm and later hiring her for his own real estate business at $12,000 a month. Rezko also allegedly gave Monk as much as $90,000 to help pay for a car and home improvements.

Among the earliest and biggest plots in the "Blagojevich Enterprise" was a scheme to direct the sale of billions of dollars in bonds to refinance the state's pension debt to a company whose lobbyist secretly agreed to kick back hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rezko. Sources with knowledge of the situation identified that company as Bear Stearns and the lobbyist as Robert Kjellander.

The indictment also alleged that even though it was public knowledge in 2006 that Rezko and Kelly were under federal investigation, Blagojevich continued his effort to benefit from his post. One notable example involved Emanuel, then a Northwest Side congressman, who was supporting a $2 million grant for Chicago Academy and Chicago Academy High School, but Blagojevich allegedly delayed it in an effort to force Emanuel and one of the congressman's brothers to hold a fundraiser for him. No fundraiser was held.

The indictment largely restated the criminal charges leveled against Blagojevich in the December complaint. It contended he sought to profit from the sale of his appointment of a U.S. Senate successor to Obama in forms ranging from an ambassadorship or cabinet post to a job for his wife.

The indictment also restated that Blagojevich allegedly tried to seek the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers who were critical of him in exchange for granting state help in the sale of Wrigley Field. The indictment indicates Blagojevich directed Harris to go to Tribune Co. leaders with the proposal but did not allege that Harris followed through with the governor's request.

Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of more than $188,000 from Blagojevich and threatened to go after his property -- including his Ravenswood Manor home and an apartment in Washington.

Gov. Pat Quinn offered his reaction at a quick news conference after stepping off a plane at O'Hare International Airport.

"This is a very sad day for the people of our state the people of Illinois are entitled to honest government all the time, the charges today are very, very serious. The defendants are entitled to their day in court, we believe in that in America. The people of Illinois are entitled to honest government that works for them 24 hours a day every day, that's what I'm committed to, that's why I was sworn in, I think, 9 weeks ago," Quinn said.

To read a Chicago Tribune editorial on the indictment of Rod Blagojevich, see Vox Pop at chicagotribune.com.

Monique Garcia contributed to this report.

--Rick Pearson and Jeff Coen

Original here

Joe the Plumber Gets Booed Out of Pennsylvania

Somebody in the Republican Party thought it would be a great idea to send Joe the Plumber to Pennsylvania to rally against the Employee Free Choice Act. The pretend plumber faced audiences so hostile in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg that he skipped a rally in Philadelphia. This perfectly sums of the state of both Joe the Plumber’s 15 minutes of fame, and the GOP.

Here is the report from KDKA about Joe in Pittsburgh:


Here is Joe in Harrisburg admitting that only knows a little about the issue:


These two videos pretty much sum up the intelligence of the Republican Party right now. They send a fake plumber on a tour of an increasingly Democratic state to lobby against a bill that he readily admits he doesn’t understand. Not only do they send him to Pennsylvania, but they send him to three of the biggest pro-union areas in the state. Even the conservative parts of Pennsylvania in the so called “T” have union roots due to the mining and manufacturing that used to be here.

I can’t begin to fully express what a stupid idea this was. Joe could have had a nice little tour if he would have went to the conservative areas of the state, but to schedule him for a trip to the two biggest liberal strongholds was dense beyond belief. Plus, Harrisburg as the state capitol has a huge number of public sector union members. Pennsylvania is one of those states where the Employee Free Choice Act is going to be popular with many people.

The latest Joe fiasco is another sign of the Republicans still don’t get it. The state Republican is mirroring the national GOP by moving further to the right, which explains why they are so eager to rid themselves of Arlen Specter. Pennsylvania teased Republican presidential nominees for years, but it is not going to be in play in 2012. It has gone Democratic in 5 straight presidential elections.

There is a growing discussion about whether or not Pennsylvania should be classified as swing state anymore, so sending the intellectually ill equipped Joe the Plumber into such hostile territory reeks of detachment, desperation, and stupidity. Right now those three adjectives could also be used to sum up the state of the Republican Party.

Original here

Lawmakers Have Long Rewarded Their Aides With Bonuses

WASHINGTON -- While Congress has been flaying companies for giving out bonuses while on the government dole, lawmakers have a longstanding tradition of rewarding their own employees with extra cash -- also courtesy of taxpayers.

Capitol Hill bonuses in 2008 were among the highest in years, according to LegiStorm, an organization that tracks payroll data. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to the data. That was the highest jump in the eight years LegiStorm has compiled payroll information.

Total end-of-year bonuses paid to congressional staffers are tiny compared with the $165 million recently showered on executives of American International Group Inc., which is being propped up by billions of dollars of U.S. government subsidies. But Capitol Hill bonuses provide a notable counterpoint to the populist rhetoric and sound bites emanating from Washington these past weeks.

Last year alone, more than 200 House lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, awarded bonuses totaling $9.1 million to more than 2,000 staff members, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of office-disbursement forms. The money comes out of taxpayer-funded office budgets, and is surplus cash that would otherwise be forfeited if not spent.

Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000. Lawmakers, at their own discretion, gave the money to chiefs of staff, assistants, computer technicians, and more than 100 aides who earned salaries of more than $100,000 a year.

This has gone on for many years. There is no prohibition against handing out excess cash. The lawmakers say it is a nice incentive to get staff to conserve budgets, and it rewards hard work and long hours.

"Most aides could make more money elsewhere, but choose to work on Capitol Hill because they believe in public service," said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who along with other top House leaders awarded bonuses. (Senators also give bonuses, but documents showing those payments aren't yet available.) Mr. Daly said bonuses are a small perk for underpaid government employees.

Each House office receives between $1.3 million and $1.9 million annually in government funds to pay for office expenses, including salaries. In 2008, some lawmakers returned excess cash to the government, including Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican (who also gave some bonuses) and Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat. Meredith Salsbery, a spokeswoman for Mr. Walz, said aides are asked to be "thrifty and conscious of taxpayer dollars" and that Mr. Walz "knows the power of setting a good example."

The 435 House offices typically return a total of about $1 million or $2 million a year, or less that 0.5% of the overall budget for office expenses, but the amount can vary widely. In 2006, for example, lawmakers returned just $36,549.

Disbursement forms show that dozens of aides working for the Financial Services Committee got a bonus from panel Chairman Barney Frank. Spokesman Steven Adamske said the Massachusetts Democrat gives bonuses to staffers because "government workers are pretty low paid." He said several aides who got bonuses had worked long hours during 2008 on the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Top Financial Services Committee Republicans also gave their aides bonuses. "These were merit bonuses for people who had performed especially well," said Larry Lavender, an aide to Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Overall in the House, disbursements were roughly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Six lawmakers who lost their re-election races paid more than $300,000 in bonuses to 89 staffers. Thelma Drake, a Republican, gave about $40,000 in extra compensation to about a dozen aides after losing her Virginia seat. Mrs. Drake said the payments were a form of severance to "good staff members who worked their hearts out and who were about to lose their jobs."

A handful of lawmakers who retired handed out a total of $283,000 in bonuses. After Republican Heather Wilson gave up her New Mexico seat in the House to run unsuccessfully for the Senate, she gave 13 aides bonuses as high as $3,000. "My practice over 10 years in Congress was to give bonuses at the end of the year," she said.

Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California handed out the largest payments, giving $14,000 apiece to three aides. Spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod said her boss is "proud of the bonuses she is able to give."

Last fall, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall left the House to run for New Mexico's Senate seat. Several members of his House staff took leaves from their government jobs to work for his campaign. When Mr. Udall won the race and returned to Washington, his office budget had accrued a large surplus. He decided to spend the surplus funds by increasing salaries for nearly his entire staff for a short time.

Disbursement forms show that in late December, Mr. Udall temporarily increased salaries for 19 of his 22 employees to an annualized rate of $163,795. Among those who earned the higher pay were staff assistants, a scheduler, an executive assistant and a part-time employee.

Spokeswoman Marissa Padilla said Mr. Udall traditionally "adjusts salaries at the end of the year based on seniority, merit and unused leave" when his office has a surplus.

Write to Brody Mullins at brody.mullins@wsj.com and Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@dowjones.com

Original here

O’Reilly: Protesters who use the Internet to organize are just like child molesters.

Thousands of protesters have gathered in London ahead of the G20 summit, many of them angry over a multi-million-dollar pension paid out to a failed executive at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Host Jon Scott asked Bill O’Reilly what he thought of “these nuts,” and O’Reilly said “the Internet’s driving this kind of stuff” — including protesters and, apparently, child molesters:

The Internet’s driving this kind of stuff. … There was always this crew, this anarchist crew, these people can’t fit into society, they’re angry for whatever reason, they want to cause trouble. They’ve always been there. But now they’re coordinated by the internet, now they can talk to each other. It’s like child molesters, you know? I mean, child molesters have always been around but now they got a place to go and gather and do their evil deeds.

Watch it:

O’Reilly has never been a fan of the Internet. Last fall, he decried its well-known liberal bias, and he frequently lashes out at bloggers and the blogosphere in general. No wonder he said he “doesn’t really go” on the Internet.

Original here

Sebelius paid over $7,000 in back taxes

By














Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius has paid back taxes and interest of more than $7,800 stemming from "unintentional errors" revealed during her accountant's review of recent tax returns.

The White House on Tuesday released a letter Sebelius sent to the Senate Finance Committee, detailing how she lacked proper paperwork in accounting for some charitable donations and business expenses. The Kansas governor also mistakenly claimed a mortgage interest deduction on a house she had already sold.

Sebelius was nominated for health secretary after President Barack Obama’s first choice, former Sen. Tom Daschle, dropped out after failing to pay more than $100,000 in income taxes on free limo rides provided by a friend and Democratic donor.

But the committee’s reaction to Sebelius’ tax issue was much different that the reaction to Daschle. In attempt to show he didn't consider her nomination in jeopardy, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) quickly issued a statement calling for quick action on Sebelius’ bid to serve as health secretary.

“Congress is going to need a strong partner at the Department of Health and Human Services to achieve comprehensive health reform this year, and we have that partner in Governor Sebelius,” said Baucus. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Governor Sebelius has the political experience, determination, and bipartisan work ethic to get the job done with Congress this year. She’s the right person for the job and I look forward to hearing from her at the Finance Committee’s hearing on Thursday.”

The details about Sebelius' back taxes emerged several hours after she testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which hears testimony from the HHS nominee as a courtesy but does not vote on whether to send the nomination to the Senate. That power rests with the Finance Committee, which conducts a thorough review of the nominees' records.

In her letter to the Finance Committee, Sebelius said she and her husband hired a certified public accountant to review their tax returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“That evaluation revealed unintentional errors, which we immediately corrected by filing amended returns,” Sebelius wrote.

She paid $7,040 in additional taxes and $878 in interest, Sebelius said.

Regarding charitable contributions of more than $250, she said she could not locate acknowledgment letters from the organizations on three out of 49 donations made in those three years. Sebelius eliminated the deductions, she said.

Sebelius said she sold her home in Topeka, Kan., for an amount less than the outstanding balance on the mortgage. She continued paying off the loan and the interest for which they continued to claim a deduction.

“Another loan for home improvements was treated similarly,” she wrote. “These errors were corrected in our amended returns.”

With the business expenses, Sebelius said she discovered “insufficient documentation required to claim some of our tax deductions for business expenses.”

Baucus and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, appeared to otherwise give her a clean bill of health. In a letter to Sebelius, the senators said “no additional items were identified that needed to be addressed as a result of our review.”

Original here

And Then They Came for Koh ...


Former CIA Director James Woolsey (R), vice president of the Global Strategic Security Division of Booz Allen Hamilton; listens as Harold Hongju Koh (R). Click image to expand.It's 11:45 a.m. on April 1, and if you run a Google News search on Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School and President Obama's pick for legal adviser to the State Department, here's what you'll find: 13 pieces on far-right Web sites characterizing Koh as dangerous and anti-American; several Fox News stories, updated several times daily, one of which describes the anti-Koh screeds as "burning up the Internet"; and a measly two blog posts defending Koh from these attacks. By the time you read this, I suspect that Fox News will have a scrolling red banner that reads, "Obama's Koh pick imperils us all" (and … wait for it … BINGO!), the anti-Koh pieces will number 18, and the pro-Koh blog posts will number three.

And yet by my most recent tally, every one of the anti-Koh rants dutifully repeats a canard that first appeared in a hatchet piece in the New York Post by former Bush administration speechwriter Meghan Clyne. She asserts that Koh believes "Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts." The evidence for her claim? "A New York lawyer, Steven Stein, says that, in addressing the Yale Club of Greenwich in 2007, Koh claimed that 'in an appropriate case, he didn't see any reason why Sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States.' "

Needless to say, if the future lawyer for the State Department wanted to apply sharia law willy-nilly in American courtrooms, it would be a terrifying prospect. And so Daniel Pipes can title his post "Obama's Harold Koh, Promoter of Shari'a?" … OMG, people! Dean Koh wants to see women executed in the middle of the town square for wearing the wrong color burkha.

But, of course, Koh believes nothing of the sort. And the only real revelation here is that truth can't be measured in Google hit counts or partisan hysteria.

The New York Post today published a letter from Robin Reeves Zorthian, who actually organized the Yale Club dinner to which Stein refers. In that letter, Zorthian writes that "the account given by Steve Stein of Dean Koh's comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate" and that she, her husband, "and several fellow alumni ... are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts." Why should we believe her and her colleagues over Stein? Well, for one thing, Koh in all his academic articles and many public statements has never said anything to suggest some dogged fealty to sharia. But the right-wing blogs have yet to take note of Zorthian's version of events; the sharia fable is chuffing along on its own steam now; and Fox can continue to pass along Stein's account of the story in a breathless game of sky-is-falling telephone.

Chris Borgen, at Opinio Juris, has done a great job of debunking some of the worst of Clyne's distortions of Koh's legal and constitutional views, and Above the Law treats her absurd sharia claims with all the unseriousness they warrant. The underlying legal charge from the right is that Koh is a "transnationalist" who seeks to subjugate all of America to elite international courts. We've heard these claims from conservative critics before. They amount to just this: The mere acknowledgment that a body of law exists outside the United States is tantamount to claiming that America is enslaved to that law. The recognition that international law even exists somehow transforms the U.S. Supreme Court into a sort of intermediate court of appeals that must answer to the Dreaded Court of Elitist European Preferences.

Harold Koh is not a radical legal figure. He has served with distinction in both Democratic and Republican administrations (under Presidents Clinton and Reagan), and in that capacity he sued both Democratic and Republican administrations. He was confirmed unanimously 11 years ago, and yet this time around, he is a threat to American sovereignty.

Clyne's gross distortions of Koh's views have gone completely unanswered in the mainstream press. You can certainly argue that ignoring the whole story signals that it's beneath notice. But it also means that, once again, the only players on the field work for Fox News. So last night, while you were reheating Monday's lasagna, Glenn Beck was jubilantly warning his viewers that Koh went to Europe and "protested against Mother's Day." And thus one of the country's leading academics—a man who has authored 175 law review articles and/or legal editorials and eight books—has been reduced to an ad hoc answer to a gotcha question that nobody but the questioner himself seems to understand.

Why am I bothered by this? This kind of vicious slash-and-burn character attack, the kind in which the nominee is attacked as a vicious hater of America, is hardly new. The little trick of upending Dean Koh's legal arguments and recharacterizing them as the nefarious plotting of Dr. Evil is a surprise to nobody at this point. But we can be bothered even if we're not surprised. When moderate Americans and the mainstream media allow a handful of right-wing zealots to occupy the field in the public discussions of an Obama nominee, they become complicit in a character assassination. Dawn Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University and one of the most qualified candidates ever tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, now faces the prospect of a Senate filibuster because it took weeks for the mainstream media to evince outrage at how she was being treated.*

As Neil Lewis observes today in the New York Times, the attack on Johnsen (who is an acquaintance and used to write for Slate) also started out with an attack from a handful of conservative blogs. The posts asserted that a 20-year-old footnote in a brief Johnsen had authored "equated pregnancy with slavery." And this bizarre claim rapidly became a holy truth to Senate Republicans at her confirmation hearing, even when they couldn't quite recall where they had read it or why.

Original here

Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense


By Joe Klein

For the past several years, I've been harboring a fantasy, a last political crusade for the baby-boom generation. We, who started on the path of righteousness, marching for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, need to find an appropriately high-minded approach to life's exit ramp. In this case, I mean the high-minded part literally. And so, a deal: give us drugs, after a certain age — say, 80 — all drugs, any drugs we want. In return, we will give you our driver's licenses. (I mean, can you imagine how terrifying a nation of decrepit, solipsistic 90-year-old boomers behind the wheel would be?) We'll let you proceed with your lives — much of which will be spent paying for our retirement, in any case — without having to hear us complain about our every ache and reflux. We'll be too busy exploring altered states of consciousness. I even have a slogan for the campaign: "Tune in, turn on, drop dead."

A fantasy, I suppose. But, beneath the furious roil of the economic crisis, a national conversation has quietly begun about the irrationality of our drug laws. It is going on in state legislatures, like New York's, where the draconian Rockefeller drug laws are up for review; in other states, from California to Massachusetts, various forms of marijuana decriminalization are being enacted. And it has reached the floor of Congress, where Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter have proposed a major prison-reform package, which would directly address drug-sentencing policy. (See pictures of stoner cinema.)

There are also more puckish signs of a zeitgeist shift. A few weeks ago, the White House decided to stage a forum in which the President would answer questions submitted by the public; 92,000 people responded — and most of them seemed obsessed with the legalization of marijuana. The two most popular questions about "green jobs and energy," for example, were about pot. The President dismissed the outpouring — appropriately, I guess — as online ballot-stuffing and dismissed the legalization question with a simple: "No." (Read: "Can Marijuana Help Rescue California's Economy?")

This was a rare instance of Barack Obama reacting reflexively, without attempting to think creatively, about a serious policy question. He was, in fact, taking the traditional path of least resistance: an unexpected answer on marijuana would have launched a tabloid firestorm, diverting attention from the budget fight and all those bailouts. In fact, the default fate of any politician who publicly considers the legalization of marijuana is to be cast into the outer darkness. Such a person is assumed to be stoned all the time, unworthy of being taken seriously. Such a person would be lacerated by the assorted boozehounds and pill poppers of talk radio. The hypocrisy inherent in the American conversation about stimulants is staggering.

But there are big issues here, issues of economy and simple justice, especially on the sentencing side. As Webb pointed out in a cover story in Parade magazine, the U.S. is, by far, the most "criminal" country in the world, with 5% of the world's population and 25% of its prisoners. We spend $68 billion per year on corrections, and one-third of those being corrected are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. We spend about $150 billion on policing and courts, and 47.5% of all arrests are marijuana-related. That is an awful lot of money, most of it nonfederal, that could be spent on better schools or infrastructure — or simply returned to the public. (See the top 10 ballot measures.)

At the same time, there is an enormous potential windfall in the taxation of marijuana. It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone. And that's probably a fraction of the revenues that would be available — and of the economic impact, with thousands of new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. A veritable marijuana economic-stimulus package! (Read: "Is Pot Good For You?")

So why not do it? There are serious moral arguments, both secular and religious. There are those who believe — with some good reason — that the accretion of legalized vices is debilitating, that we are a less virtuous society since gambling spilled out from Las Vegas to "riverboats" and state lotteries across the country. There is a medical argument, though not a very convincing one: alcohol is more dangerous in a variety of ways, including the tendency of some drunks to get violent. One could argue that the abuse of McDonald's has a greater potential health-care cost than the abuse of marijuana. (Although it's true that with legalization, those two might not be unrelated.) Obviously, marijuana can be abused. But the costs of criminalization have proved to be enormous, perhaps unsustainable. Would legalization be any worse?

In any case, the drug-reform discussion comes just at the right moment. We boomers are getting older every day. You're not going to want us on the highways. Make us your best offer.

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Obama’s Nobel Headache

Paul Krugman has emerged as Obama's toughest liberal critic. He's deeply skeptical of the bank bailout and pessimistic about the economy. Why the establishment worries he may be right.

By Evan Thomas | NEWSWEEK

Andrew Eccles for Newsweek

Traditionally, punditry in Washington has been a cozy business. To get the inside scoop, big-time columnists sometimes befriend top policymakers and offer informal advice over lunch or drinks. Naturally, lines can blur. The most noted pundit of mid-20th-century Washington, Walter Lippmann, was known to help a president write a speech—and then to write a newspaper column praising the speech.

Paul Krugman has all the credentials of a ranking member of the East Coast liberal establishment: a column in The New York Times, a professorship at Princeton, a Nobel Prize in economics. He is the type you might expect to find holding forth at a Georgetown cocktail party or chumming around in the White House Mess of a Democratic administration. But in his published opinions, and perhaps in his very being, he is anti-establishment. Though he was a scourge of the Bush administration, he has been critical, if not hostile, to the Obama White House.

In his twice-a-week column and his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, he criticizes the Obamaites for trying to prop up a financial system that he regards as essentially a dead man walking. In conversation, he portrays Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other top officials as, in effect, tools of Wall Street (a ridiculous charge, say Geithner defenders). These men and women have "no venality," Krugman hastened to say in an interview with NEWSWEEK. But they are suffering from "osmosis," from simply spending too much time around investment bankers and the like. In his Times column the day Geithner announced the details of the administration's bank-rescue plan, Krugman described his "despair" that Obama "has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they're doing. It's as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street."

If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading Krugman makes you uneasy. You hope he's wrong, and you sense he's being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see. By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence, as Liaquat Ahamed has shown in "Lords of Finance," his new book about the folly of central bankers before the Great Depression, and David Halberstam revealed in his Vietnam War classic, "The Best and the Brightest." Krugman may be exaggerating the decay of the financial system or the devotion of Obama's team to preserving it. But what if he's right, or part right? What if President Obama is squandering his only chance to step in and nationalize—well, maybe not nationalize, that loaded word—but restructure the banks before they collapse altogether?

The Obama White House is careful not to provoke the wrath of Krugman any more than necessary. Treasury officials go out of their way to praise him by name (while also decrying the bank-rescue prescriptions of him and his ilk as "deeply impractical"). But the administration does not seek to cultivate him. Obama aides have invited commentators of all persuasions to the White House for some off-the-record stroking; in February, after Krugman's fellow Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote a critical column accusing Obama of overreaching, Brooks, a moderate Republican, was cajoled by three different aides and by the president himself, who just happened to drop by. But, says Krugman, "the White House has done very little by way of serious outreach. I've never met Obama. He pronounced my name wrong"—when, at a press conference, the president, with a slight note of irritation in his voice, invited Krugman (pronounced with an "oo," not an "uh" sound) to offer a better plan for fixing the banking system.

It's possible that Krugman is a little wounded by this high-level disregard, and he said he felt sorry about criticizing officials whom he regards as friends, like White House Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer. But he didn't seem all that sorry.

Krugman is having his 15 minutes and enjoying it, although at moments, as I followed him around last week, he seemed a little overwhelmed. He is an unusual mix, at once nervous, shy, sweet and fiercely sure of himself. He enjoys his outsider's power: "No one has as big a megaphone as I have," he says. "Aside from the world going to hell, it's great." He is in much demand on the talk-show circuit: PBS's "The NewsHour" and "Charlie Rose" on Monday last week, ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" this past Sunday. Someone has even cut a rock video on YouTube: "Hey, Paul Krugman, why aren't you in the administration?" A singer croons, "Hey, Paul Krugman, where the hell are you, man? We need you on the front lines, not just writing for The New York Times." (And the cruel chorus: "All we hear [from Geithner] is blah, blah, blah.")

Krugman is not likely to show up in an administration job in part because he has a noble—but not government-career-enhancing—history of speaking truth to power. With dry humor, he once told a friend the story of attending an economic summit in Little Rock after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. As the friend recounted the story to NEWSWEEK, "Clinton asked Paul, 'Can we have a balanced budget and health-care reform?'—essentially, can we have it all? And Paul said, 'No, you have to be disciplined. You have to make choices.' Then Paul says to me (deadpan), 'That was the wrong answer.' Then Clinton turns to Laura Tyson and asks the same questions, and she says, 'Yes, it's all possible, you have your cake and eat it too.' And then [Paul] says, 'That was the right answer'." (Tyson became chairman of Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers; she did not respond to requests to comment.) Krugman confirmed the story to NEWSWEEK WITH a smile. "I'm more tolerant now," he says. But at the time, he was bitter that he was kept out of the Clinton administration.

Krugman has a bit of a reputation for settling scores. "He doesn't suffer fools. He doesn't like hauteur in any shape or form. He doesn't like to be f––ked with," says his friend and colleague Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz. "He's not a Jim Baker; he's not that kind of Princeton," says Wilentz, referring to the ur-establishment operator who was Reagan's secretary of the Treasury and George H.W. Bush's secretary of state. But Wilentz went on to say that Krugman is "not a prima donna, he wears his fame lightly," and that Krugman is not resented among his academic colleagues, who can be a jealous lot. Krugman's fellow geniuses sometimes tease him or intentionally provoke his wrath. At an economic conference in Tokyo in 1994, Krugman spent so much time berating others that his friends purposely started telling him things that they knew weren't true, just to see him get riled up. "He fell for it every time," said a journalist who was there but asked not to be identified so she could speak candidly. "You'd think that eventually, he would say, 'Oh, come on, you're just jerking my chain'." Krugman says he doesn't recall the incident, but says it's "possible."

Born of poor Russian-immigrant stock, raised in a small suburban house on middle-class Long Island, Krugman, 56, has never pretended to be in the cool crowd. Taunted in school as a nerd, he came home one day with a bloody nose—but told his parents to stay out of it, he would take care of himself. "He was so shy as a child that I'm shocked at the way he turned out," says his mother, Anita. Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the "Foundation" series—"It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, 'See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism'."

His Yale was "not George Bush's Yale," he says—no boola-boola, no frats or secret societies, rather "drinking coffee in the Economics Department lounge." Social science, he says, offered the promise of what he dreamed of in science fiction—"the beauty of pushing a button to solve problems. Sometimes there really are simple solutions: you really can have a grand idea."

Searching for his own grand idea (his model and hero is John Maynard Keynes) Krugman became one of the top economists in the country before he turned 30. He took a job on the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration at the age of 29. His colleague and rival was another brilliant young economist named Larry Summers. The two share a kind of edgy braininess, but they took different career paths—Summers as an inside player, working his way up to become Treasury secretary under Clinton and president of Harvard, then Obama's chief economic adviser. Krugman preferred to stay in the world of ideas, as an "irresponsible academic," he puts it, half jokingly, teaching at Yale, MIT, Stanford and Princeton. In 1999 he almost turned down the extraordinary opportunity to become the economic op-ed columnist for The New York Times. He was afraid that if he became a mere popularizer he'd blow his shot at a Nobel Prize.

Last October, he won his Nobel. Most economists interviewed by NEWSWEEK agreed that he richly deserved it for his pathbreaking work on global trade—his discovery that traditional theories of comparative advantage between nations often do not work in practice. He was stepping into the shower at a hotel when his cell phone rang with the news that he had achieved his life's ambition. At first, he thought the call might be a hoax. His wife Robin's reaction, once the initial thrill wore off, was, "Paul, you don't have time for this." He is, to be sure, insanely busy, producing two columns a week, teaching two courses and still writing books (his latest is "The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008"). He posts to his blog as many as six times a day. Last Thursday morning, he was gleeful because he was able to thump a blogger who insisted, wrongly, that Keynes did not use much math in his work.

In class that day, discussing global currency exchange with a score of undergraduates, he was gentle, bemused, a little absent-minded, occasionally cracking mordant jokes (on trade with China: "They give us poisoned products, we give them worthless paper"). He says he plans to reduce his teaching load a little, and his colleagues say his best academic work is behind him. "His academic career culminated with him winning the prize," says his Princeton colleague and friend Gene Grossman. "He's not that engaged anymore with academic research. He has a public career now. That's what he views as his main avocation now—as a public intellectual."

He has made enemies in the economics community. "He's become more and more outspoken. A lot of what he says is wrong and not considered," says Daniel Klein, professor of economics at George Mason University. A longtime mentor, MIT Nobel laureate Robert Solow, who taught Krugman as a grad student, remembers him as "very unassertive, mild-mannered. One thing he still has is a smile that plays around his face when he's talking, almost like he's looking at himself and thinking, 'What am I doing here?' " But, Solow added, "when he started writing his column, his personality adapted to it."

Academic life, bolstered by book and lecture fees, has been lucrative and comfortable. Krugman and Robin (his second wife; he has no children) live in a lovely custom-built wood, stone and glass house by a brook in bucolic Princeton. Krugman pointed out that unlike some earlier Nobel Prize winners, he has not asked for a better parking place on campus. (He was not kidding.)

Arriving at the Times just before Bush's election in 2000, he was soon writing about politics and national security as well as economics, sharply attacking the Bush administration for invading Iraq. Someone at the Times—Krugman won't say who—told him to tone it down a bit and stick to what he knew. "I made them nervous," he says. In 2005, Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent wrote, "Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults." Krugman says that Okrent "caved" to the criticism of conservative ideologues who were out to get him. ("I tried to be an honest broker," says Okrent. "But when someone challenged Krugman on the facts, he tended to question the motivation and ignore the substance.") It's true that during the Bush era Krugman was the target of cranks and kooks, but it is also true that in areas outside his expertise he sometimes gets his facts wrong (his record has improved lately). Krugman is unrepentant about his Bush bashing. "I was more right in 2001 than anyone in the pundit class," he says.

Ideologically, Krugman is a European Social Democrat. Brought up to worship the New Deal, he says, "I am not overflowing with human compassion. It's more of an intellectual thing. I don't buy that selfishness is always good. That doesn't fit the way the world works." Krugman is particularly passionate about the growing gap between rich and poor. Last week he raced down to Washington to testify on the subject before the House Appropriations Committee. In the 2008 election, Krugman first leaned toward populist John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton. "Obama offered a weak health-care plan," he explains, "and he had a postpartisan shtik, which I thought was naive."

Krugman generally applauds Obama's efforts to tax the rich in his budget and try for massive health-care reform. On the all-important questions of the financial system, he says he has not given up on the White House's seeing the merits of his argument—that the government must guarantee the liabilities of all the nation's banks and nationalize the big "zombie" banks—and do it fast. "The public wants to trust Obama," Krugman says. "This is still Bush's crisis. But if they wait, Obama will be blamed for a fair share of the problem."

Obama administration officials are dismissive of Krugman's arguments, although not on the record. One official made the point that pundits can have a 60 percent chance of being right—and just go for it. They have nothing to lose but readers, and Krugman's many fans have routinely forgiven his wrong calls. The government does not have the luxury of guessing wrong. If Obama miscalculates, he could truly crash the stock market and drive the economy into depression. Krugman's suggestion that the government could take over the banking system is deeply impractical, Obama aides say. Krugman points to the example of Sweden, which nationalized its banks in the 1990s. But Sweden is tiny. The United States, with 8,000 banks, has a vastly more complex financial system. What's more, the federal government does not have anywhere near the manpower or resources to take over the banking system.

Krugman swats away these arguments, though he acknowledges he's not a "detail" man. He believes he is fighting a philosophical battle against the plutocrats and money-changers. Although he thinks Geithner has been captured by Wall Street, he has hope for Summers. "I have a strong suspicion that if Larry was on the outside and I was on the inside, we'd be reversing roles," he says, but adds, "Well, not entirely. Larry has more faith in markets. I'm more of an interventionist."

Last week Krugman and Summers were "playing phone tag." ("It doesn't necessarily mean that much," says Krugman. "We've known each other all our adult lives." Summers initiated the call; Krugman suspects he wanted to talk him through the administration's plan.) In Friday's column, Krugman tweaked Summers directly for his faith in markets, though he grudgingly gave the Obamaites credit for calling for extensive regulation of the financial world. Krugman thinks that Obama needs some kind of "wise man" to advise him and mentions Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman who tamed inflation for Reagan and now heads an advisory panel for Obama. How about Krugman himself for that role? "I'm not a backroom kind of guy," he says, schlumped over in his Princeton office, which overflows with unopened mail. He describes himself as a "born pessimist" and a "natural rebel." But he adds, "What I have is a voice." That he does.

With Pat Wingert, Daniel Stone, Michael Hirsh and Dina Fine Maron

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