Bonus Critter Blogging: Pacific Barreleye Fish
(Photograph courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and published at National Geographic.)
A place for a tired old woman to try to figure things out so that the world makes a bit of sense.
Dallas-area civil rights activists drawn here last year by the brutal killing of a young black man, who authorities say was run down by two white men, have divided the community they came to help: black Paris residents, some of whom invited the outsiders, and others who'd prefer that they go home.
"I really wish they would stay where they are," local NAACP president James Price said. "We are actively pursuing racial dialogue and harmony. We don't have any more problems than anyone else."
But other local blacks – wary of a history that includes a notorious 1893 lynching and the 2006 jailing of a black teenager who shoved a teacher's aide – welcome activists such as Olinka Green and her New Black Panther Party of Dallas to the northeast Texas town.
"We wouldn't have to come into that town if they took care of their business," said Green, the group's spokeswoman, who helped organize protests arguing unsuccessfully for authorities to reclassify the September slaying of Brandon McClelland as a hate crime.
Demonstrators backed by some Paris residents accused officials of covering up a hate crime. While the designation wouldn't increase the potential punishment in the murder case, the activists hoped it would draw attention to the killing and ensure that a lesser sentence wouldn't be doled out.
The protesters railed against the legal and educational systems in Lamar County, accusing officials of harassment and abuse, unfair prosecutions and sentencing disparities exemplified by the case of Shaquanda Cotton, a black high school student who was sent to a Texas Youth Commission lockup for up to seven years after being convicted of assaulting a teacher's aide. Cotton was freed after about a year.
Activists have also taken up the cause of a black amputee who was threatened with eviction from his Paris apartment after being charged with assault. And a local factory worker filed a federal complaint last week because a hangman's noose, Confederate flag and racist graffiti were on display for months at his workplace. (Emphasis added.)
Much of the attention in this economic downturn has focused on the growing legions of men and women who are officially counted as unemployed. There are now more than 11 million of them.
But a better picture of the economic distress related to employment emerges when the number of jobless Americans is combined with two other categories of workers: the underemployed (those who are working part time, for example, because they can’t find full-time work) and the so-called labor force reserve, workers who have abandoned their job searches but who would work if employment became available.
This total pool of underutilized labor has now risen above 24 million, according to researchers at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. That total will only grow in the coming months.
The Obama administration has more than enough on its plate at the moment, but before long it will likely have to consider a range of additional strategies, beyond the recently passed stimulus package, for putting jobless Americans to work.
A comparison of the number of people being thrown out of work in this recession with that of the severe recession of 1981-82 will indicate why. The peak unemployment rate was higher in that earlier recession than today’s 7.6 percent, largely because the last big wave of the baby-boom generation was entering the job market in the early ’80s. Those boomers who couldn’t find work were officially counted as unemployed.
What is different and more frightening about the current downturn is the number of people actually losing their jobs — being laid off or fired. That number is dramatically, dangerously higher.
The burden will indeed go far higher than in the Clinton years via a technicality -- one that will come as a rude shock even to the taxpayers already braced for a soaking.
The group that's hit hardest are the taxpayers I call the HENRYs, for "High Earners Not Rich Yet." The HENRYs are families who make between $250,000 and $500,000 a year.
Here's how the HENRYs will get hammered. Say a family earns $300,000 a year, and pays $50,000 a year in mortgage interest; the family also contributes $5,000 to Boy Scouts, Red Cross and other charities. Under the AMT's top effective tax rate of 35%, they benefit from savings of $19,250 on those deductions.
But under Obama's new plan, the share of that $55,000 that HENRYs can deduct is no longer 35%. It's capped at 28%. Hence, their tax bill rises by almost $4,000. That's a jump in their marginal tax rate, the crucial share of an extra dollar of income they get to keep, from 35% to over 37%.
Labels: Humane Treatment of Animals
...the economic crisis, as it did for Franklin D. Roosevelt, will serve as a stepping stone to a radical shift in the relationship between the people and their government. It will bind Americans to their government in ways not experienced since the New Deal. This tectonic shift, if successful, will be equal to the forces of public authority set in motion by Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The Obama presidency is going to be a radical presidency.
Mr. Obama believes health-care costs cause a bankruptcy "every 30 seconds" and will drive 1.5 million Americans from their homes this year. Therefore, the budget's vision on health is "historic" and a "downpayment" toward comprehensive health insurance. This "will not wait another year," he said.
He announced "tax-free universal savings accounts" as a solution to Social Security's crisis. This is a savings plan supported by federal matching contributions automatically deposited in individual accounts.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that this spending -- which in the public sector's new vocabulary is always "investment" -- will be costly. His read-my-lips moment was that no family with an income under $250,000 will pay a "single dime" in new taxes to support the construction of this new federal skyscraper. If that's still true in 2015, Mr. Obama will be walking back and forth across the Potomac River.
He told Congress he does not believe in bigger government. I don't believe that. It's becoming clear that the private sector is going to be demoted into a secondary role in the U.S. system. This isn't socialism, but it is not the system we've had since the early 1980s. It would be a reordered economic system, its direction chosen and guided by Mr. Obama and his inner circle.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's postspeech reply did not come close to recognizing the gauntlet Mr. Obama has thrown down to the opposition. Unless the GOP can discover a radical message of its own to distinguish it from the president's, it should prepare to live under Mr. Obama's radicalism for at least a generation.
* The Purple Finch feeds on flowers by crushing the base to get the nectar and leaving the upper flower undamaged. In a similar action, it often feeds on the seeds of fruits rather than the pulp.
* The decline of the Purple Finch in the East may be partly explained by competition with the introduced House Finch. In aggressive interactions, the House Finch nearly always wins. A population decline was noted with the introduction of the House Sparrow too, nearly 100 years earlier.
* Two subspecies of the Purple Finch are recognized, a Pacific Coast form and the more widespread form. The Pacific form differs by having a different wing shape and duller colors. The songs differ too, with Eastern birds singing a more leisurely series of warbles spanning a wider range of notes.
Medicare costs vary wildly across the country, according to a study that found the government paying twice as much for treating a patient in Miami as in San Francisco.
The dramatic cost differences don't appear connected to climate or to who lives where, and people in the more expensive areas don't get better care.
More expensive medical technology is only part of the picture, according to the report released Wednesday by the Dartmouth Atlas Project, which studies medical resources. The findings were being published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study said the differences in spending from one area to another can be blamed on decisions made by individual doctors who are influenced by what medical services are available nearby.
"Technology doesn't drive the growth in health care spending, people do," said Dr. Elliott Fisher, the lead study author and a medicine professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.
Fisher said physicians are not the only issue, but also questions like whether there's a local medical health race among local hospitals or whether a community has a single hospital that is more focused on primary care.
The Dartmouth Atlas findings, drawn from an analysis of government Medicare data from 1992-2006, suggest great inefficiencies in care in some parts of the country. It also says there is plenty of room for reform if practices in the regions of the country that are less expensive could become the national norm.
That won't come easy since the country's medical system frequently rewards expensive practices, the study notes. For example, hospitals lose money if they improve care in a way that reduces admissions. Doctors don't have a financial incentive to spend time carefully listening to a patient rather than quickly referring them to a specialist.
"There are no financial rewards for collaboration, coordination or conservative practice," the study said.
(Q:) Farmington Hills, Mich.: Dan,
I have to say that I don't care for the new column format. It seems harder to read all your posts and the flow of the blog is really interrupted for me. I like the old way better, but who know maybe I'll get used to this.
After hearing Obama's speech yesterday I'm wondering if you believe he has the ability to change conservative thinking to accept government as long as it is good government. Can he move us beyond ideology in regards to the size of government and make us more pragmatic? Do you see this change happening or are the dividing lines too entrenched?
Dan Froomkin: As for your comment on the format, thanks. Perhaps we'll meet half way or something.
Your question is an excellent one. Certainly, there's no evidence yet that the Republican leadership is the least bit interested in moving beyond ideology at this point. They see Obama's pragmatism as liberalism in sheep's clothing -- and they aren't entirely wrong. And consider that contempt for government is sort of a hallmark of modern Republican politics.
But I also think it's possible that Obama is shifting the political center while the Republican leadership isn't looking. And that might spell real trouble for them.
(Q:)Shepherdstown, W.V.: Dan - Always enjoy your analysis, and I thought your posting about the speech was quite accurate. My question is, did you see the president talking with Sen. Shelby (R-Ala.)? Do you think he apologized to President Obama for casting doubts on his U.S. citizenship? That appears to be an issue that just won't die - I saw on a blog that some soldier is suing for the right to examine the birth certificate. I mean, gimme a break!
Dan Froomkin: Thanks. Obama apparently doesn't take any of that stuff personally. Which I just don't get. But I think it serves him extremely well.
(Q:)But I also think it's possible that Obama is shifting the political center... : I think this is a great point, Dan. The MSM and the cable shows keep focusing on the fact that Obama is not getting much support from Republicans. They don't seem to connect that with the fact that there are demonstrably fewer Republicans than in the past and that the further away from Capitol Hill you get, the more Republicans you do find willing to give Obama some support.
He's already got the Dems and, most importantly, independents. Even with just a few Republicans supporting him, Obama and his party are developing a strong base from which to govern and win future elections.
Dan Froomkin: I think you may be correct, but I think any such reality will take a long time to penetrate the Beltway. The inside-the-Beltway mentality seems inimically linked to cable TV -- and cable TV shows no signs of adjusting its practice of "balancing" everything along the Bush-era right-left axis.
(Q:) San Jose, Calif.: Hi Dan,
You haven't skipped a beat since the new administration came to the beltway. Keep up the good work.
What do you make of the things, national security matters in particular, on which the Obama Administration has NOT changed course from the previous administration? Specifically, the two court cases happening in my neck of the woods: the case of Jeppeson, the CIA contractor accused of planning extraordinary rendition flights and the case of the telecoms and their immunity to their possible involvement in a conspiracy to violate the fourth amendment, both of which the new justice department is taking the same position as the old justice department--they threaten national security secrets. Both plaintiffs' claims are legitimate, and in the case the telecoms, the judge is already questioning the constitutionality of the telecom immunity law. Your coverage of these cases has been great, but it seem that perhaps too much focus has been on what Obama is doing differently, and more focus should be on what is the same, and why.
Dan Froomkin: Thanks. I am, bluntly, shocked. I don't get it. And you know what else I don't get? Why they aren't explaining their position. Where's the vaunted transparency?
I weighed in on some of those issues here.
There's a theory which is that the Obama folks are just trying to buy a little time to firm up their positions, but that theory is wearing thin.
Toward the end of Monday’s meetings on fiscal responsibility at the White House, Senator Kent Conrad stood up and produced a little bolt of honesty. “Revenue is the thing almost nobody wants to talk about,” said Mr. Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “But I think if we’re going to be honest with each other, we’ve got to recognize that is part of a solution as well.
Mr. Conrad’s frankness was delivered in the cryptic language of budget experts, and many people might have missed the point. So allow me to translate:
Your taxes are going up.
They will probably go up in the coming decade, and the increase will be permanent. For a half-century, federal taxes have remained fairly constant relative to the size of the American economy — equal to about 18 percent of gross domestic product. But the 18 percent era has to end soon.
It won’t end because President Obama is some radical tax and spender, either. It will end because of a basic economic reality.
Americans have made it clear that they want a certain kind of government, one that can field a strong military and also maintain popular programs like Medicare. Yet we are not paying nearly enough taxes to maintain those programs. Even major changes to the health care system — the single most important step for closing the budget gap — will not close it entirely. Taxes must rise, too.
This is a point on which serious Democrats and serious Republicans agree, even if they do so with euphemism. “We are on an unsustainable path,” says Peter Orszag, Mr. Obama’s budget director. Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has said, “Revenues are going to have to go up.” Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Dan Crippen, budget experts who advised the McCain campaign, have quietly acknowledged the same.
Fortunately, the coming tax increase does not have to be economically ruinous. Despite all the scary stories you’ve heard, the evidence that higher taxes necessarily cripple an economy is somewhere between thin and nonexistent.
When over the past 60 years did the American economy grow fastest? The 1950s and 1960s, when the top marginal tax rate was a now-unthinkable 90 percent. And when over the past generation did the economy grow fastest? The late 1990s, when President Bill Clinton briefly took federal taxes to 20 percent of the G.D.P. (Emphasis added.)
President Obama goes into tonight's big event in a commanding position, despite the enormous challenges he and the country face.
He is vastly more popular than the members of Congress he is addressing, and the American public strongly supports the policies he has advanced so far.
In fact, two new polls show not only that Americans are resoundingly behind him, but that they want his political opponents to back down and let him govern.
On the issue of bipartisanship, something of an inside-the-Beltway obsession, the public actually thinks Obama has gone too far, while Republicans haven't gone far enough. According to the New York Times/CBS News Poll, a whopping 79 percent of Americans think working in a bipartisan way is more important for Republicans than sticking to their party's policies. By contrast, 56 percent think it's more important for Obama to stick to the policies he campaigned on than to reach out.
Obama's approval rating is dropping slightly because support from Republicans is plummeting. But overall, the numbers suggest that the Republican Party's decision to redefine itself in opposition to Obama and his stimulus package may simply accelerate its transformation to a regional party without much of a national foothold.
Americans put far more faith in Obama than in congressional Republicans: Sixty-one percent said they trust Obama more than the GOP on economic matters; 26 percent side with the Republicans in Congress. On that question, Obama's advantage is bigger than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush ever had over the opposition party in the legislature.
"Overall, Democrats maintain an edge of nearly 2 to 1 over Republicans as the party that Americans prefer to confront 'the big issues' over the next few years."
The U.S. Senate is scheduled to debate giving the District of Columbia a voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives next week (ed.note; written Feb. 16). Delegate Eleanor Homes Norton (D-DC) has told reporters that she believes the votes are there to pass the legislation. The Obama fever gripping the Congress during President Barack Obama's 'honeymoon' period may be enough to propel the bill to passage.
Obama's recent opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has declared he believes such legislation would be unconstitutional because the District of Columbia is not a state. Residents of the District gained the Presidential vote with passage of the 23rd Amendment however lack voting representation in Congress.
Labels: Guantanamo Bay
Debt-laden state governments were supposed to be the big winners from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. But at least five Republican Governors are saying thanks but no thanks to some of the $150 billion of "free" money doled out to states, because it could make their budget headaches much worse down the line. And they're right. (Emphasis added.)
...the group proposes a form of term limits, moving justices to senior status after 18 years on the court. The proposal says that justices now linger so long that it diminishes the likelihood that the court's decisions "will reflect the moral and political values of the contemporary citizens they govern."
To get around the Constitution's prescription that justices serve for life, the group would let justices stay on the court in a senior role -- filling in on a case, perhaps, or dispatched to lower courts -- or lure them into retirement with promises of hefty bonuses.
It would set up a regular rotation on the court by providing for the nomination of a new justice by the president with each new two-year term of Congress. If that results in more than the current nine justices, only the nine most junior would hear cases.
The new policy would not take effect until those already on the court are off, but the current tenure of the court suggests what a radical change that would be. Four of the court's justices -- John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and David H. Souter -- have already surpassed the 18-year mark, and Clarence Thomas gets there later this year. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer are not far behind.
University of Chicago professor Eric Posner said the Constitution's call for lifetime appointments is one element of American democracy that is never copied by other countries, perhaps because "it is very undemocratic."
"People who wield an enormous amount of power should not have lifetime appointments," Posner said.
Relatedly, the group calls for the justice who serves as chief to be limited to seven years in the job, because it has "extended into numerous other political, administrative and non-judicial roles calling for a measure of special accountability."
The third proposal deals with the removal of justices in failing health "who are increasingly prone to remain in office and retain their political power even if no longer able to perform their office."
It did not name names. But it said the chief justice should have the duty of advising such a justice to resign and promptly report that fact to the Judicial Conference of the United States (if the chief is the one in question, it falls to other justices to report him).
And the proposal would deprive the justices of one of their greatest powers: deciding which cases they hear. Justices now comb through the thousands of petitions for certiorari they receive each year, and in recent years have declared a declining portion of them worthy of their time.
The court issued 67 merit opinions last term, the lowest number since the 1950s. The number of cases the court will decide this term is a bit higher.
"It is increasingly difficult to justify absolute independence for justices whose chief work is expressing and imposing on the public laws on topics of their choice," the proposal said.
It envisions a "Certiorari Division" made up of senior justices and appellate judges who would review the petitions and send 80 to 100 each year for the Supreme Court to decide, whether it wanted to or not.
PRESIDENT OBAMA says that it's time to stop kicking the can down the road when it comes to dealing with runaway entitlement spending and the grim long-term fiscal picture. This week will put those words to the test.
"We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's," he told The Post five days before taking office.
Is that about to happen? The signals are mixed, at best. The fiscal responsibility summit that Mr. Obama announced with fanfare has turned into something of a fiscal responsibility improv, a slapdash affair in which invitations were being issued as late as Friday. It seems destined to end up being yet another gabfest about the dire fiscal situation -- albeit a presidential-level gabfest.
There isn't likely to be a repeat of the Bush administration charade of submitting budgets that leave out known, huge costs, such as dealing with the alternative minimum tax. The administration's decision to return to showing a 10-year budgetary path, rather than the Bush administration's five, is another welcome sign of willingness to deal with fiscal reality.
To be clear, we're not talking about making cuts now; the economy needs boosting, and deficit spending is in order. But the large gap between revenue and spending must eventually be closed. Mr. Obama would be wise to use the economic crisis as a reason to rethink some of his campaign promises, such as not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year and to cut taxes further on those making up to $200,000 a year. How can additional tax cuts be affordable given the existing gap between spending and revenue? Likewise, if Mr. Obama is to propose -- and find a way to pay for -- a broad expansion of health insurance, he should reconsider his opposition to changing the preferential tax treatment of employer-provided health insurance. Why should some taxpayers without health insurance subsidize the overly generous policies enjoyed by others?
"This, by the way, is where there are going to be very difficult choices and issues of sacrifice and responsibility and duty," Mr. Obama said with respect to the fiscal challenge. "You have to have a president who is willing to spend some political capital on this. And I intend to spend some." The next several days would be a good time to start.
As soldiers stream home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the biggest charity inside the U.S. military has been stockpiling tens of millions of dollars meant to help put returning fighters back on their feet, an Associated Press investigation shows.
Between 2003 and 2007 — as many military families dealt with long war deployments and increased numbers of home foreclosures — Army Emergency Relief grew into a $345 million behemoth. During those years, the charity packed away $117 million into its own reserves while spending just $64 million on direct aid, according to an AP analysis of its tax records.
Tax-exempt and legally separate from the military, AER projects a facade of independence but really operates under close Army control. The massive nonprofit — funded predominantly by troops — allows superiors to squeeze soldiers for contributions; forces struggling soldiers to repay loans — sometimes delaying transfers and promotions; and too often violates its own rules by rewarding donors, such as giving free passes from physical training, the AP found.
Founded in 1942, AER eases cash emergencies of active-duty soldiers and retirees and provides college scholarships for their families. Its emergency aid covers mortgage payments and food, car repairs, medical bills, travel to family funerals, and the like.
Instead of giving money away, though, the Army charity lent out 91 percent of its emergency aid during the period 2003-2007. For accounting purposes, the loans, dispensed interest-free, are counted as expenses only when they are not paid back.
The Army also exercises its leverage in raising contributions from soldiers. It reaches out only to troops and veterans in annual campaigns organized by Army personnel.
For those on active duty, AER organizes appeals along the chain of command. Low-ranking personnel are typically solicited by a superior who knows them personally.
Spiegel, the AER administrator, said he’s unaware of specific violations but added: ‘‘I spent 29 years in the Army, I know how ... first sergeants operate. Some of them do strong-arm.’’
Up to a quarter of global food production could be lost by 2050 due to the combined impact of such problems as climate change, land degradation and water scarcity, the United Nations says.
The fall-off will strike just as 2 billion more people are added to the world's population, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which says cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish catches are declining.
In a new report, UNEP says a 100-year trend of falling food costs could be at an end and that last year's sharp price rises have driven 110 million people into poverty.
Over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, finds a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme released today.
This staggering amount of waste plus environmental degradation is putting an end to a 100-year trend of falling food prices, the study warns. Food prices may increase by 30 to 50 percent within decades, forcing those living in extreme poverty to spend up to 90 percent of their income on food, findings that are supported by a recent report from the World Bank.
The UN report was issued at the UNEP Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum taking place in Nairobi through Friday. The environment ministers are focused on finding solutions to the world's environmental, financial, food and energy crises through the emerging concept of a green economy.
"The Environmental Food Crisis" report offers seven major recommendations:
1. Regulate food prices and provide safety nets for the impoverished
2. Promote environmentally sustainable higher-generation biofuels that do not compete for cropland and water resources
3. Reallocate cereals used in animal feed to human consumption by developing alternative feeds based on new technology, waste and discards
4. Support small-scale farmers by a global fund for micro-finance in developing diversified and resilient ecoagriculture and intercropping systems
5. Increase trade and market access by improving infrastructure, reducing trade barriers, enhancing government subsidies and safety nets, as well as reducing armed conflict and corruption
6. Limit global warming
7. Raise awareness of the pressures of increasing population growth and consumption patterns on ecosystems.