Friday, December 31, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

But, before anything else,

And, of course, the really important question: "10 Hangover Remedies: What Works?" (CNN)


Napolitano Males Surprise Visit to Afghanistan: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, to spend New Year's Eve with the troops and meet with top American and Afghan officials." (Politico)

Obama Ends Year with Slightly Lower Approval Rating: "Despite a strong showing during the lame-duck session of Congress, President Obama closes out his second year in office with a slightly lower approval rating than at the end of 2009, according to a Gallup tracking poll released Thursday. The poll found that the president's approval rating was 47%, down slightly from his post-midterm-election peak of 49% but close to his average of 46% during that period. During the week between Christmas 2009 and New Year's Day, Obama's approval rating ranged from 51% to 53%." (LA Times)

Wikileaks Reveals Flaws of Data-Sharing System: "Before the infamous leak, the 250,000 State Department cables acquired by anti-secrecy activists resided in a database so obscure that few diplomats had heard of it. It had a bureaucratic name, Net-Centric Diplomacy, and served an important mission: the rapid sharing of information that could help uncover threats against the United States. But like many bureaucratic inventions, it expanded beyond what its creators had imagined. It also contained risks that no one foresaw." (WaPo)

Former Car Czar Settles: "Steven L. Rattner will be barred from appearing before a public pension fund in New York for five years as part of a deal with New York attorney general Andrew M. Cuomo." (NY Times)


Ford, Chrysler Recall 1000s of Vehicles: "Ford Motor Co. is recalling 19,600 2011 model year trucks and crossover SUVs over concerns that an electrical short could cause a fire, the manufacturer said Thursday. Chrysler Group LLC also is recalling nearly 145,000 trucks and crossover wagons in three separate campaigns for steering, stalling and airbag concerns, according to letters posted this week on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration." (CNN)

Dead Soul Is a Debt Collector: "Martha Kunkle died in 1995. But that didn't stop her signature from appearing on thousands of affidavits submitted by one of the nation's largest debt collectors, Portfolio Recovery Associates." (WSJ)

China's Tightening Bites: "China's industrial growth has begun to slow as a string of measures to choke excess credit and control inflation feed through the economy, threatening to curb the country's voracious appetite for commodities." (Daily Telegraph)

Paul Simon's Mama Finally Did It: "Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan., is the last company in the world developing Kodachrome film, and today is the final day it's taking film. The last roll probably will be processed sometime next week, the company said." (ABC)


South Korea Says North Boosting Special Forces: "North Korea is building up the elite special forces used for quick strikes against South Korea and supporting the North's nuclear and missile programs, Seoul's defense ministry says." (McClatchy)

Bolivia's Morales Scrambles to Stem Revolt Over Fuel Price Hike: " President Evo Morales's decision to cut fuel subsidies has led to repeated protests, most recently today, by poor Bolivians who make up his political base." (CSM)

Haiti's Cholera Deaths Increase: "The cholera death toll in Haiti is rising daily, with official figures indicating that 3,333 people have died since the outbreak of the epidemic in mid-October. Official sources state that, as a result of cholera, the numbers have averaged out to around 50 new reported deaths a day." (Al Jazeera)

Tech, Science

The Year We Stopped Talking: "Americans are connected at unprecedented levels — 93% now use cellphones or wireless devices; one-third of those are "smartphones" that allow users to browse the Web and check e-mail, among other things. The benefits are obvious: checking messages on the road, staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent waiting around. The downside: Often, we're effectively disconnecting from those in the same room." (USA Today)

Bird Flu Found in SKorea: "South Korea agriculture officials on Friday announced bird flu had been discovered in chicken flocks at two widely separated farms, prompting an emergency cull of more than 100,000 chickens and ducks and raising concerns the disease might spread to people. Several Asian countries have been monitoring the spread of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza as migratory birds flew south in recent weeks. Japan reported an outbreak of the same strain in chickens earlier this month." (WSJ)

Media, Entertainment

A Network With Her OWN View: "For decades cable channels have been built around specific interests like news, sports or classic movies. Beginning this weekend, there will be something altogether different: a cable channel shaped around a person, Oprah Winfrey." (NY Times)

Nintendo Warns on 3-D for Children: "The Japanese company said on its website that children under 6 years old shouldn't play 3-D games on the coming Nintendo 3DS hand-held game machine, due for release in Japan in February. The company said looking at 3-D images for a long period of time could have an adverse effect on the eyesight development of young children." (WSJ)


Thursday, December 30, 2010

MICROCREDITS are not always good for your health:
The horrific scene in Mondrai, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the city of Warangal, has played out in dozens of ways across Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth-largest state by area and the site of about a third of the country’s $5.3 billion in microfinance loans as of Sept. 30.

More than 70 people committed suicide in the state from March 1 to Nov. 19 to escape payments or end the agonies their debt had triggered, according to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, a government agency that compiled the data on the microfinance-related deaths from police and press reports.

Andhra Pradesh, where three-quarters of the 76 million people live in rural areas, suffered a total of 14,364 suicide cases in the first nine months of 2010, according to state police.

A growing number of microfinance-related deaths spurred the state to clamp down on collection practices in mid-October, says Reddy Subrahmanyam, principal secretary for rural development.

My friends in Spain chalk this one up to what they call "la gran gilipollez" of Spanish foreign policy - the great jackass-ness.  Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and FM Jimenez have put themselves in the business of manufacturing excuses.  When they discover that Hugo Chavez is providing safe haven and training to seriously dangerous members of ETA, they politely pretend like it's no big deal - and even go out of their way to declare that Venezuela has no political prisoners.  When Cuba restricts the travel rights of dissidents, Jimenez talks about the need for reflection.  When Morocco commits genocide in the Western Sahara, Zapatero simply demures, while on issues of global importance such as human rights, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism, he is simply at a loss.  Other than some notoriety for their vocal opposition to recognition of Kosovo (thanks to the Basques, Spain should be a natural ally of Georgia?), the biggest criticism of Spanish foreign policy is that it does not exist, having created such a low profile that isolationism is interpreted as cowardice - hence "la gran gilipollez."

MORE EVIDENCE that often a strong army is the best way to avoid war: Al-Aqsa Brigades in Gaza announce official ceasefire with Israel.

HOW WIKILEAKS just set back democracy in Zimbabwe.

SORRY, I totally forgot to leave a note here saying that I was going to be in meetings -- as you've probably noticed, there's no roundup today. Join me tomorrow for the last one of the year!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!


Fierce Winds Snarl Cleanup: "Vicious winds set back efforts to restore air travel Tuesday as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded to charges that his administration was slow to respond to a blizzard that snarled traffic and left many passengers stranded at airports." (WSJ)
parasol and swimming pool

Christie Slammed for Disney Vacation As State Buried in Snow: "To make matters worse, Christie's Lieutant Governor Kim Guadagno is vacationing in Mexico, leaving Senate President Stephen Sweeny -- a Democrat -- in charge." (NY Daily News)

Murkowski Way to Victory Now Clearer: "A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by conservative Tea Party favorite Joe Miller that challenged his loss in Alaska's election for a Senate seat, clearing the way for state officials to certify Lisa Murkowski's historic write-in victory." (Reuters)

2012 Cozying in Full Force: "The friendly phone calls are incoming, presidential wannabes are showering them with praise, and their campaign accounts have been flooded with fat checks from people with names like Palin, Romney and Gingrich. Members of Congress from South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire are once again getting wooed by the presidential set — and the potential candidates are reaching deep into those state’s political rosters in search of that critical endorsement." (Politico=

Homicide Rates Fall: "Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation. And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show. The reductions have continued despite a grinding recession, a slow economic recovery and spikes in gang membership, according to recently released FBI figures for the first half of 2010." (USA Today)

Terrain Shifts in Challenges to the Health Care Law: "Congress’s power to pass laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its assigned responsibilities is becoming an issue in the legal challenges to the health care overhaul." (NY Times)

Economic Downturn Disrupted Migration Patterns, Census Data Show: "The long-standing population shift to Sunbelt states slowed while states with more jobs and affordable homes saw gains. The question is whether those changes will stick or old trends will return." (LA Times)

Pilot Who Posted Video Calls Critics 'Naive': "The airline pilot now in the spotlight after he posted a cell phone video on the Internet criticizing airport security measures said today that his critics are "naïve" and ignoring a severe threat to the flying public." (McClatchy)

Will 'Billy the Kid' Get Posthumous Pardon? "With days left in his term in office, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is mulling whether to issue a posthumous pardon to Billy the Kid in the slaying of a sheriff." (CNN)


2010 Worst Year for Bank Failures Since 1992: "Amid high unemployment, a struggling economy and a still-devastated real estate market, the nation is closing out the year with 157 bank failures, up from 140 in 2009. As recently as 2006, before the bubble burst, there were none. Now, there are more on the horizon. The FDIC's list of "problem" banks - those whose weaknesses "threaten their continued financial viability"- stood at 860 as of Sept. 30, the highest since 1993. Historically, about a fifth of banks on the watch list end up failing." (WaPo)

Allstate sues BofA, Mozilo: "Allstate Corp has sued Bank of America Corp, its Countrywide lending unit and 17 other defendants for allegedly misrepresenting the risks on more than $700 million of mortgage securities it bought from Countrywide. Allstate, the largest publicly traded U.S. home and auto insurer, alleged it suffered "significant losses" after Countrywide misled it into believing the securities were safe, and the quality of home loans backing them was high." (Reuters)

Full House? Blame the Recession: "Census Bureau data released in September showed that the number of multifamily households jumped 11.7 percent from 2008 to 2010, reaching 15.5 million, or 13.2 percent of all households. It is the highest proportion since at least 1968, accounting for 54 million people. Even that figure, however, is undoubtedly an undercount of the phenomenon social service providers call “doubling up,” which has ballooned in the recession and anemic recovery. The census’ multifamily household figures, for example, do not include such situations as when a single brother and a single sister move in together, or when a childless adult goes to live with his or her parents." (NY Times)

Jobs Are Indeed Created -- Just That Not in the U.S.: "Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn't anyone hiring? Actually, many American companies are just maybe not in your town. They're hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat." (AP)

Strong Holiday Season for Retail Bolstered by Online Shopping: "Online shopping posted growth of 15.4 percent this season compared with last year, a new report finds. Overall, consumers spent 5.5 percent more between Nov. 5 and Dec. 24." (CSM)

Home-Price Dip Casts Pall on Economy: "A report from Standard & Poor's Corp. on Tuesday showed the housing market continues to cast a shadow over the consumer parade. A renewed drop of 1.3 percent in home prices in 20 major U.S. cities in October showed clearly that housing fell into a double-dip recession last fall." (Washington Times)

China to Cut Rare Earth Exports by 10% in 2011: "World manufacturers are heavily reliant on China for these minerals, which are essential for making many electronic goods, such as TVs and PC monitors. China has 97% of the world's known supply of the goods. The US mined none last year." (BBC)


Bad News for China's Topless Dancers: "China plans to crack down in the coming year on lavish parties and seminars organized by government officials, hoping to placate a public angered by corruption and accounts of sex and booze-fueled fetes held at taxpayer expense." (AP)

Tech, Science

The 10 Biggest Tech 'Fails' of 2010: "The missteps, misdeeds and mistakes that remind us that no one -- not even Steve Jobs -- is perfect." (CNN)

iPad Magazine Sales Drop: "Remember when Wired’s debut issue for the iPad sold more than 100,000 times in June? It looks like it will be a while before that type of performance is seen again. Digital sales dropped toward the end of 2010 for all the magazines that make those figures available to the Audit Bureau of Circulations." (WWD)

Media, Entertainment

Fox News Tops All Competitors Combined -- Nielsen: "That dominance came primarily at the expense of CNN which lost 29% of its total viewership in 2010 and 34% of its prime time viewers.  Yes, you read that right. MSNBC, meanwhile stayed the course in total day total viewers - it was the only news channel not to drop in that category -- but dropped 5% year over year in prime time total viewers and 9% in the prime time demo." (Business Insider)


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 27: Heavy equipment clears snow from the tarmac around jetliners at Terminal 4 following a major blizzard at John F. Kennedy International Airport December 27, 2010 in the Queens borough of New York City. A massive snowstorm crippled much of the Northeastern United States leaving up to a foot of snow for New York City and New England and left millions of holiday travelers stuck at airports and train stations around the eastern seaboard.  (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

East Digs Out: "Airports and railroads limped back to life, but thousands were still stranded. Roads remained glazed and city streets choked with snow. Subways and buses ran sporadically. Power was still out for thousands. Business was bad, and there were grim tales of people snowbound for hours in cars, buses and trains." (NY Times)

LaGuardia, JFK Back flying, but Mass Transit Still a Mess (NY Daily News)

Praising Vick, Obama Again Steps Outside Lines: "The president lauds the Philadelphia Eagles for giving the resurgent quarterback a second chance at the NFL after his release from prison." (WaPo)

2012 Obama Campaign to Be Run From Chicago: "Never in modern history has a U.S. president attempted to win reelection with a campaign operation based beyond the Potomac. But that's what President Barack Obama is apparently proposing to do. It's a daring move that strategists hope will enable him to recapture some of his 2008 magic." (Politico)

Lawmakers Find Ways to Short-Circuit Earmarks Ban: "No one was more critical than Representative Mark Steven Kirk when President Obama and the Democratic majority in the Congress sought passage last year of a $787 billion spending bill intended to stimulate the economy. And during his campaign for the Illinois Senate seat once held by Mr. Obama, Mr. Kirk, a Republican, boasted of his vote against 'Speaker Pelosi’s trillion-dollar stimulus plan.'  Though Mr. Kirk and other Republicans thundered against pork-barrel spending and lawmakers’ practice of designating money for special projects through earmarks, they have not shied from using a less-well-known process called lettermarking to try to direct money to projects in their home districts." (NY Times)

Obama to Pick His Top Economist Upon Returning from His Hawaiian Vacation: "Will he tap the business world with a figure such as Roger Altman, an investment banker and Clinton administration alumnus who might carry too much baggage from his association with Wall Street? Will he turn to academia instead, calling on a scholar such Yale President Richard Levin? Or will he go with deeply experienced insiders such as deficit hawk Gene Sperling at the Treasury Department or Jason Furman, the council's deputy director?" (AP)


As Ireland Flails, Europe Lurches Across the Rubicon: "Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy's pact at Deauville set off a chain of events that ultimately has led the leaders of the 16-nation euro zone to stumble into an even closer union." (WSJ)

Global Markets Fall: "World markets tumbled on Monday as fears grew that China’s attempt to control inflation could hit the tentative economic recovery in the West.  Soaring oil prices, which hit a 26-month high, also unsettled investors, with losses seen from Shanghai to Wall Street." (Daily Telegraph)

Production Recovery Brightens Japan Outlook: "Japan's industrial output rose for the first time in six months in November and is expected to gain more in the near future, the government said Tuesday, soothing concerns that ongoing deflationary pressures will lead to a sharp economic slowdown. But household spending fell unexpectedly and the unemployment rate stayed unchanged in the month, suggesting the better output was due to external factors and domestic demand remains weak." (WSJ)

Weather Puts a Chill on After-Christmas Shopping: "Many would-be shoppers stayed tucked in at home during what is typically one of the biggest sales times of the year, while some retailers postponed opening or kept stores closed on Sunday and Monday." (USA Today)


Iraq Wants the U.S. to Leave on Time: "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity." (WSJ)

Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan Kill 25: "Missiles presumably fired by U.S. drones on Monday incinerated three trucks thought to be ferrying fighters and weapons from Pakistan's tribal borderlands to Afghanistan. The strikes killed 25 suspected militants and injured four, Pakistani intelligence officials said. A campaign of American drone strikes against militants in the tribal areas has dramatically accelerated this year, targeting members of groups including the Taliban, an offshoot organization known as the Haqqani network, and Al Qaeda." (LA Times)

Iran Hangs 'Israeli Spy': "The Teheran Prosecutor's Office said that a man accused of spying for Israel was executed in Teheran's Evin Prison early Tuesday morning, official Iranian news agency IRNA reported. In and out of prison for decades, Ali Akbar Siadati was arrested in 2008 while trying to escape Iran with his wife, according to IRNA." (JPost)

White House Slams Khodorkovsky Verdict: "The Obama administration said it was 'deeply concerned' about a Russian court's decision to convict former oil mogul Mikhail Khodorkovsky for a second time after a trial marred by legal irregularities and allegations of political interference by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin."

Media, Entertainment

Amidala's Twofer: "Natalie Portman and choreographer Benjamin Millepied are engaged and expecting their first child, her reps confirm to PEOPLE exclusively. " (People)

Elton John's Christmas Present: "Sir Elton John and David Furnish have become parents to son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, the couple tells exclusively. The baby boy, who was born Dec. 25 in California via a surrogate, weighed 7 pounds, 15 ounces." (Us Magazine)


Monday, December 27, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 26: Pedestrians walk past a deli during a blizzard on December 26, 2010 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. A winter storm is pounding the East Coast of the United States and is expected to deliver a foot of snow for New York City and New England while snarling post-Christmas travel. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Blizzard Wreaks Havok in the Northeast: "Incoming and departing flights were suspended at New York's John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, as well as Newark Liberty International Airport in neighboring north New Jersey, Port Authority spokeswoman Sara Joren said. . . . air traffic won't resume until Monday. . . . The steady and, at times, heavy snow falling from Virginia up the East Coast on Sunday evening also affected travel on the roads and the rails." (CNN)

Governors Declare States of Emergency: "Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency. New Jersey's Acting Governor and State Senate President Steve Sweeney, declared a state of emergency Sunday night as the state was expected to get a foot of snow by midday on Monday." (ABC)

Miller Won't Try to Block Murkowski Win: "Joe Miller says he won't stand in the way of GOP rival Lisa Murkowski being certified the winner of Alaska's U.S. Senate race, but will continue his court challenge to the state's handling of the vote count." (AP)

The Next Congress: Action or Just Argument? "When the 112th Congress convenes on Jan. 5, it will have a decidedly new look, a feisty new attitude and a penchant for partisanship. Republicans will have their biggest House of Representatives majority since the Truman administration, but Democrats will still control the White House and the Senate." (McClatchy)

Obama in 2011 -- Same Cabinet, More Travel: "Don't expect major shake ups in the Cabinet next year as President Barack Obama gears up for his reelection campaign, senior White House advisers said Sunday. . . .  But top adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama will take a different approach to governing in the new year, spending more time mixing and mingling with the public." (Politico)

Whistleblower Pilot Wants to 'Come Out of Shadows': "The airline pilot who spoke out anonymously after he was reprimanded by the TSA for posting videos showing security flaws at a major airport said today he may reveal his identity this week." (ABC)

High-Altitude Cargo and Passengers, a Security Risk? "As the Obama administration works to harden domestic defenses against terrorism, some experts point to a potential vulnerability from thousands of flights that pass over the United States each week. Although the United States regulates overflights, the cargo aboard them is not screened to federal standards and passenger lists are not matched to names on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Transportation Security Administration. . . .  Security experts are divided about the severity of the risk." (WaPo)

Focus on Rail, Hotel Security: "The U.S. has made air travel safer over the past year for Americans and is sharpening its focus on potential terrorists attacks on trains, subways and "soft targets" such as hotels, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday." (Washington Times)

L.A. Homicides Decline to 1967 Levels: "The change, experts say, is not easily explained and is probably the result of several factors working together, including effective crime-fighting strategies, strict sentencing laws that have greatly increased the number of people in prison, demographic shifts and sociological influences. A significant factor, said Columbia University Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan, is the absence of a drug epidemic in recent years." (LA Times)


Investors Looking on the Bright Side: "In the face of several hazards, the stock market is hitting two-year highs and investors are feeling more bullish than they have in years. Even the market's 'fear gauge' is trading near its lowest levels since April." (WSJ)

Job Creation at Faster Rate than Other Recessions: "A Joint Economic Committee state-by-state analysis released Wednesday finds that jobs are returning faster compared with previous recessions despite greater overall job losses across all 50 states."

Throwing TARP Money After Bad: "Nearly 100 U.S. banks that got bailout funds from the federal government show signs they are in jeopardy of failing." (WSJ)

Oil Up to Two-Year High: "The price of oil hit a fresh 26-month high on Monday as ministers from producer nations signalled there were no plans to boost output." (BBC)

China Pledges to Rein On Inflation: "Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday that China's government will be able to keep prices at a reasonable level, a day after the central bank raised interest rates for a second time in just over two months to counter stubbornly high inflation." (Reuters)


Fresh Round of Bomb Alarm at Embassies in Rome: "Police said a suspect package found at the Venezuelan embassy was found to be a false alarm, while checks were being conducted at the embassies of Greece, Denmark and Monaco. Last week, an Italian anarchist group claimed responsibility for parcel bombs that wounded two people at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome." (Reuters)

South Korea's Blunt Warning: "South Korea's president vowed a relentless retaliation against North Korea if provoked again, saying Monday he is not afraid of a war with the communist North." (AP)

North Korea Still Stunted by Its Isolation: "A carefully monitored visit to North Korea offered hints of why its leaders might be eager to resume international aid and trade." (NY Times)

Khodorkovsky, Lebedev Found Guilty in Second Trial: "The Khamovniki court said Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had headed an organized group committing financial crimes in Russia's oil business via their oil company Yukos." (RIA Novosti)

Media, Entertainment

Ivory Queen of Soul Dies: "Teena Marie was found dead by her daughter after apparently dying in her sleep, manager Mike Gardner said. . . . While no cause of death has been released, the singer's publicist Lynn Jeter said that Marie suffered a grand mal seizure -- a neurological event, marked by loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions, according to the Mayo Clinic -- a month ago." (CNN)


Thursday, December 23, 2010

BECAUSE IT'S CHRISTMAS: Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, in gingerbread.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

OK, I GET the (overhyped, but that's another matter now; but read this study at the British Medical Journal, or this) second-hand smoking thing. So it's one thing to forbid smoking in a public place, as Spain has just done. But why the zealotry in pursuing people to give up on smoking altogether? I mean, smoking might be a bad thing, but is prohibitionism compatible with the "my body, my decision" from pro-choicers? Or from the so-called right to die with dignity? Because all three are coming from the same people, and it seems to me that you should be able to kill yourself slowly, or fast, if you want to.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

AS IF IT WAS really necessary to perform many experiments to prove this...
People who stay single, or become single again by divorce, may be somewhat more physically fit than those in wedded bliss, a new study suggests.

The research, which followed nearly 8,900 adults over several years, found that both men and women who got married during that time tended to experience a dip in cardiovascular fitness, as measured by treadmill tests.

In contrast, men who got divorced during the study saw a modest increase in their fitness levels.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, do not prove that a change in marital status directly causes the change in fitness -- for better or worse.

Still, researchers say the results support the notion that once people are married and, presumably, off the dating market, they tend to let themselves go a bit. But if they remain single or get divorced, they have more incentive to get in shape.

ANOTHER ONE for the "Just Imagine It Was Bush Instead of Obama" Folder:
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.
The reaction? Silence of the lambs.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "When I hear people talking about the Welfare State, I can't help suspecting that many are thinking of the state's welfare". (my translation)

SO THE COLD WAVE paralyzing half of the planet right now is the definitive proof that global waming is real. That trick would be much more credible if the prediction, until reality hit them on the face, wouldn't have been totally different.

UPDATE. Charles Butler emails: "Don't forget desertification -- Third successive year that you need an Everglades swamp boat to get into the olivar." Poor Sahara, it doesn't know what's coming...

Monday, December 20, 2010

IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND why Assange is in legal trouble in Sweden for alleged sex crimes, read this Time magazine piece:
Foreign visitors to Stockholm's lively bar scene might be struck by the assertiveness of the nation's women — the typical Swedish female seems to have no qualms about approaching men to start a conversation or initiate a romantic encounter. To Swedish feminists, that confidence is just one part of the country's wider effort to promote women's rights. "The whole society now expects women to be as forward with their sexual will as men. That, after all, is part of achieving gender equality," explains Karine Arakelian, chairwoman of Terrafem, a shelter organization for abused women.

But despite having the freedom to dictate their sexual encounters, Swedish women face a troubling fact: Sweden has by far the highest incidence of reported rapes in Europe, and one of the lowest conviction rates in the developed world. Various international bodies — from the U.N. to Amnesty International — have slammed the country for the prevalence of sex crimes committed by its citizens. In response, the Swedish government has in recent years undertaken aggressive measures to toughen up its sex-crime laws.

And it's in this context that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently under police watch in London, finds himself awaiting possible extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to five different sex-crime allegations. The claims, which include rape, stem from sexual encounters Assange had with two women in August that began as consensual but, according to his accusers, became nonconsensual. Assange and his attorneys have claimed that Sweden's public prosecutor is pursuing the former hacker at the behest of the U.S. government, as retribution for the embarrassing diplomatic cables published recently by WikiLeaks. But it's much more likely that political pressure of a different sort has landed Assange under police watch: Sweden's campaign to aggressively pursue all accusations of sex crimes.

On Thursday, a British judge released Assange on conditional bail. Assange had been granted bail on Tuesday but spent the next two days in prison while Swedish prosecutors appealed the decision. Assange has not been charged with a crime, and he denies any wrongdoing. But his arrest is another piece of Sweden's internal dialogue about how the country can counter its sex-crime crisis.
Keep reading, including the end bit: "And for the Swedes who are grappling with the disturbingly high rates of sexual crimes against women, when it comes to nonconsensual sex, what happens behind closed doors should never remain a secret. If anyone can understand that compulsion to expose injustice, it's Assange."

ONE OF THE (hopefully not many) feared Christmas terror attacks, foiled in the UK:
Twelve men were arrested early this morning in a major national counter-terrorism operation,  police said today.

The men - five from Cardiff, four from Stoke-on-Trent and three from London - were detained on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism in the UK.

The suspects, aged between 17 and 28, were detained by unarmed officers at approximately 5am.

It is understood that the plans for the alleged attacks were at an advanced stage and involved 'multiple' locations.

RICKY GERVAIS: Why I'm an atheist.

CHARLES ONIANS, March 20, 2000, at UK's The Independent:
Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.

Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as warmer winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries.
No Nostradamus, he...

Had it been a skeptic blowing it this bad, he'd be already on trial at the Climatic Inquisition. But you can be a ecochondriac, miss if by a thousand miles, and keep on pontificating as if nothing happened.

UPDATE. More at Power Line.

AN ADMINISTRATIVE NOTICE: I'm going to use this Christmas week to catch up with stuff, which means I'll be too busy to do the daily roundup.

Does that mean that this blog will be frozen? Of course not! I'll be writing individual posts throughout the day, but they won't be in the usual, everything-in-one-big-post format. So if you're coming here via the feature's permalink, please make sure you visit the homepage, or use the RSS feed if it's more convenient for you. Thanks!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

WHAT'S THE DEAL? According to The Guardian, Cuba banned Michael Moore's Sicko:
The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a "mythically" favourable picture of Cuba's healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a "popular backlash", according to US diplomats in Havana.

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

However, according to a dispatch from Spanish news agency EFE, dated April 26, 2008, Sicko was indeed shown on Cuban national TV that day (link in Spanish)

So what happened? Is this a mistake by The Guardian or EFE? Or is it a mistaken / deliberately false information in the US embassy cable, as Cuban apologists seem to be saying? Does that mean that (oh, my God!) we can't take this cable as an article of faith? Because then the implications are clear: if one cable wrong / false, how many more are wrong, or false?

Or is this just the expected disinformation, planted in order to discredit the whole enchilada? In that case the implications are the same: the cables can't be taken at face value, as quite a few of us have been saying, no matter how much Assange's supporters want to deify him.

UPDATE. Yes, I'm aware that the cable is dated January 31, 2008, four months before Sicko was apparently broadcast on Cuban TV. Still it would seem a strange ban, since the reasons for it hadn't changed; it's not like the Cuban healthcare had improved all of a sudden to match how Moore depicted it. At the same time, it opens another objection to the whole Cablegate: even of all the cables that Wikileaks has release are true, we don't know whether there's more. We don't know if there's further cables that later contradicted / corrected / updated the initial information. This means that the most explosive revelations -- not just this one -- could be rendered moot if we only knew the whole thing. That is, another reason to not to take Cablegate as The Single Most Important Thing that Has Happened in Diplomacy in the Last Decades, or something like that.

IT'S THE WOMAN LANGUAGE TRANSLATOR! A bit sexist, but fun video:

THE NEW YORK TIMES on how Spanish banks may be hiding the extent of their exposure to the real estate crash. Of course, I've been telling this since months ago...

UPDATE. Spain to Open Books in Bid to Calm Investors. Of course, it'll work depending on what's in them...

Friday, December 17, 2010

KISSILEAKS: some stalker-ish emails that Julian Assange wrote a few years back to a 19-year-old he had kissed have been leaked. Live by the sword...

IN MEETINGS, so no roundup today, I'm afraid. Next one on Monday!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 13: A commuter makes her way through downtown as temperatures hovered in the single digits during the morning rush hour December 13, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. With wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour the wind chill temperatures in the city have been around -10 degrees. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Icy Winter Mix Continues March Across South, Midwest: "A sprawling winter storm system spread an ugly mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from the Deep South to the upper Plains states Thursday, snarling traffic in the air and on the ground. The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings and advisories for more than a dozen states. The brunt of the system is poised to hit Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, but several inches of snow are forecast for portions of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Minnesota and North and South Dakota." (CNN)

House Votes Again to Lift DADT: "For the second time this year the House voted to dismantle the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, giving the Senate a final shot in the waning days of this Congress at changing a law requiring thousands of uniformed gays to hide their sexual identity. The strong 250-175 House vote Wednesday propels the issue to the Senate, where supporters of repeal say they have the votes but perhaps not the time to get the bill to the floor. It could be the last chance for some time to legislatively end the 1993 law that forbids recruiters from asking about sexual orientation and troops from acknowledging that they are gay." (AP)

Senate Agrees to Start Talking About START: "After months of wrangling over the future of the U.S. atomic-weapons complex, the Senate voted Wednesday to take up a new nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia, opening debate on a pact that President Obama regards as critical to his foreign-policy agenda. The Senate decided 66 to 32 to proceed, far more than the simple majority required. But the roll call was seen as somewhat of a proxy for the final vote, when the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will need a supermajority of 67 votes to pass." (WaPo)

Poll Finds Support for Obama's Move to Center: "President Barack Obama has public opinion and the Democratic grass roots with him as he searches for common ground with Republicans in the wake of his party's historic defeats in last month's midterm elections, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds." (WSJ)

What's in Rahm's Basement? "The fight over Rahm Emanuel's eligibility to run for mayor turned into a debate Wednesday over what's in the basement of his Chicago home. On day two of a rambling hearing into claims that Emanuel doesn't meet the one-year residency rule for candidates, testimony focused on his contention that his family left prized possessions stored in their North Side house when they went to Washington for his job as President Barack Obama's chief of staff." (Chicago Tribune)

Immigration to U.S. Up Again: "The flow of immigrants to the United States has resumed, after falling to the lowest level in decades during the recession, a new study finds. . . .  The rise pointed to an increase in demand for immigrant labor in the economy, said Audrey Singer, a demographer and co-author of the report. However, the number is still far below the increases of more than a million a year that took place earlier in the decade. The flow reached a peak in 2006, with a 1.8 million increase in the foreign born population." (NY Times)

Sarah Goes 'Lamestream': "After making attacks on what she memorably labeled 'the lamestream media' one of her signature issues, Sarah Palin has begun to experiment with a new strategy toward the press – engaging it. The former Alaska governor has started cautiously cooperating with some of the same media outlets she and her supporters have accused of unfair and inaccurate coverage they feel has caricatured her as a flaky lightweight – a narrative her team seems determined to rewrite as Palin openly weighs a bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination." (Politico)

Afghanistan War Support Drops: "A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment -- and a politically hazardous one -- in advance of the Obama administration's one-year review of its revised strategy.  Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation's longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the war's been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin." (ABC) -- Poll results (pdf)

House Opposes Unilateral Declaration of Palestine: "The US Congress voted late Wednesday not to support an unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood. The House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing opposition to the Palestinian Authority's efforts to obtain recognition for a state with 1967 borders, without an agreement with Israel." (JPost) -- Full text of resolution (pdf)


Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Tax Cut Deal: "A far-reaching $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders sailed through the Senate on Wednesday and was headed for a vote Thursday in the House, as lawmakers rushed to prevent a New Year's tax hike from striking virtually every American household. . . .  Prospects for House passage also appeared to be brightening, as lawmakers acknowledged the need to avoid expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the likely shock to the economy that would result. Liberal Democrats continued to complain that the bill included giveaways for the rich, as some conservative Republicans blasted the price tag. But House Democratic leaders were planning to stage two votes, one on an alternative package that would allow Democrats to express their dissatisfaction without blocking final passage of the compromise bill." (WaPo)
ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 02: U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is interviewed on day two of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center on September 2, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

... With No Pork for Hatch, McCain: "Earlier this month, Hatch asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to remove the earmarks that he had previously requested this year. Hatch made the request in a letter on December 2nd, explaining that in light of the GOP’s voluntary earmark moratorium enacted in November he wanted to remove the pork money that he had initially asked for. So while the massive omnibus bill now contains a whopping 6,714 earmarks at a cost of $8.3 billion, none of them come from Hatch. Hatch is joined by other GOP senators such as Arizona’s John McCain who also have no pork projects in the bill." (ABC)

Deal Could Revive Obama's Chances for 2012: "President Barack Obama's tax-cut deal with Republican lawmakers may help him lay the groundwork for his political revival heading into his 2012 re-election campaign — if it strengthens the economy as intended." (McClatchy)

Obama Pushes CEOs on Job Creation: "President Barack Obama pressed 20 corporate chief executives Wednesday to suggest policies that would spur them to 'start investing in job creating enterprises.' The private meeting at Blair House, across the street from the White House, was part of an administration effort to repair relations with corporate America, which have been battered by disagreements over policy and presidential rhetoric. . . . The invited CEOs have frequently visited the White House in the past and many serve as presidential advisers. The group convened in the morning and worked through lunch, where chicken and fish were served. The meeting ended about 2 p.m. and the executives were herded into a series of TV interviews orchestrated by the White House. Neither administration officials nor several attendees offered examples of specific advice provided to the president, or concrete proposals from the White House." (WSJ)

Foreclosure Activity Tumbles: "The number of U.S. homes taken back by lenders dropped to the lowest level in 18 months in November, the result of foreclosure freezes enacted by several banks following allegations that evictions were handled improperly." (AP)

Europe Staggers Ahead of Summit: "Europe’s smoldering financial crisis flared up on Wednesday, with riots over austerity spending in Greece, new signs of troubles in Spain and little indication that European leaders were moving any closer to agreement on a systemic approach to long-term stability. The day’s events emphasized the complex social, political and economic challenges facing government leaders at a European Union summit meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. The meeting is expected to focus on the financial crisis, but there was no sign of the emergence of the sort of comprehensive plan that financial experts say is needed to beat back the unfolding turmoil." (NY Times)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gestures inside a prison van with red windows as he arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice on December 16, 2010 in London, England. Mr Assange has been granted conditional bail, however he remains in police custody pending an appeal by Swedish prosecutors at the High Court. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

U.S. Tries to Build Case for Conspiracy By Wikileaks: "Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them. Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks. Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him." (NY Times)

Bail Decision Day for Assange: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will learn today whether he is to remain in prison into the new year as British prosecutors attempt to prevent him being released on bail. The 39-year-old will appear before the High Court in London as British lawyers acting for the Swedish authorities appeal against a decision to let him go free during extradition proceedings." (The Independent)

UK, Not Sweden, Fighting Bail Release: "Sky News has learned it was British authorities - not the Swedes - who have been trying to keep him at Wandsworth Prison. A spokeswoman for the Swedish prosecution service said: 'The decision to appeal against the granting of bail to Assange was entirely a British decision. The Swedish authorities had nothing to do with it.' The CPS confirmed it made the call to appeal against bail, but would not comment on Swedish involvement. A spokeswoman said: 'It is standard practice on all extradition cases that decisions regarding bail are taken by the domestic prosecuting authority.'" (Sky News)

Al Qaeda Planning Holiday Attacks in West? "Iraqi authorities have obtained confessions from captured insurgents who claim al Qaeda is planning suicide attacks in the United States and Europe during the Christmas season, two senior officials said Wednesday. Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told The Associated Press that the botched bombing in central Stockholm last weekend was among the alleged plots the insurgents revealed. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in a telephone interview from New York, called the claims 'a critical threat.'" (AP)

U.S. Afghan Withdrawal on Track for July: " A White House review of President Obama's year-old Afghan war strategy concluded that it is 'showing progress' against al-Qaeda and in Afghanistan and Pakistan but that 'the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable,' according to a summary document released early Thursday. . . .  The review, it said, indicated that the administration was 'setting conditions' to begin the 'responsible reduction' of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July." (WaPo) -- Summary of WH War Strategy Review (pdf)

UK Troops 'Will Be Out Afghanistan By 2014': "The most senior British military officer in Afghanistan has told Sky News he is confident the UK's 2014 deadline for the end of combat operations will be met." (Sky News)

U.N. Lifts Pre-Saddam Santions on Iraq: "One resolution permits Iraq to develop a civilian nuclear program and import materials once banned because they could possibly be used to help develop unconventional weapons. A second resolution formally shuttered the dormant, widely corrupt oil-for-food program. And the third gives the country control over most of its oil assets starting July 1, 2011, while simultaneously lifting the protection that shielded post-invasion Iraq from countless legal claims." (NY Times)

Tech, Science

Can Morality Be Changed in a Lab? "Scientists have shown they can change people's moral judgements by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses. They identified a region of the brain just above and behind the right ear which appears to control morality. And by using magnetic pulses to block cell activity they impaired volunteers' notion of right and wrong." (BBC)


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) listens as Senate Minority Whip Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) (R) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill December 14, 2010 in Washington, DC. The Senate Republicans spoke to the media on various issues including the omnibus spending bill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jumbo Spending Bill Stuffed With Earmarks: " Weeks after swearing off earmarks, many senators stand to gain tens of millions of dollars for pet projects in a massive spending bill that could be their last chance at the money before a more conservative Congress begins next month. The $1.2 trillion bill, released on Tuesday, includes more than 6,000 earmarks totaling $8 billion, an amount that many lawmakers decried as an irresponsible binge following a midterm election in which many voters demanded that the government cut spending." (WaPo)

'A Total Mess': "Republicans poring over a 1,924-page overarching spending bill proposed by Democrats to cover the rest of the fiscal year are threatening to grind the legislation to a halt, citing massive earmark spending, which, if passed, would be enacted into law without debate in the full Senate. . . . But the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he believes the legislation must pass." (Fox News)

Miller Appeals: "U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Miller appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court after a lower court ruled against his challenge of write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Superior Court Judge William Carey last week ruled Miller, a Tea Party-supported Republican, offered no evidence to support his claim of election fraud, and said election officials used the correct standard when they accepted ballots where Murkowski's name was misspelled but a write-in vote for her was clearly intended." (UPI)

Tax Deal Is Shaping 2012 GOP Campaign: "The tax deal now before Congress has kicked off the first real debate of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, with several prospective candidates heralding the package as a victory for taxpayers and others criticizing it as a costly stimulus bill in disguise. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have both come out sharply against the measure, which President Barack Obama hammered out last week with Senate Republican leaders. Both cite the deal's price tag, with Mr. Romney saying it will heap billions more onto the nation's debt load. Supporting the package are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all of whom praise the deal as good for the economy and the only way to spare Americans the jolt of a sudden tax increase that otherwise would take effect on Jan. 1." (WSJ)

House Dems to Amend Estate Tax Deal? "As the Senate prepared Tuesday to push through a sweeping tax package negotiated by the White House and congressional Republicans, House leaders were looking to amend the measure to satisfy the concerns of angry liberals without unraveling the deal altogether." (WaPo)

Reid to Steal Senators' Christmas? " Senate majority leader Harry Reid wants to take up a slew of important issues after the tax deal is passed – from a $1.2 trillion budget bill to a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.'" (CSM)

White House -- Ruling Won't Affect Obamacare Rollout: "'There's no practical impact at all as states move forward in implementing ... the law that Congress passed and the president signed,' White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that, as expected, the department would appeal Monday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson in Virginia. Hudson declared that a central provision of the law - the requirement for nearly everyone to carry health insurance - was unconstitutional." (AP)

Obama Planning Big Staff Makeover: "President Barack Obama has delayed the most significant staff shuffle of his presidency until after New Year’s — but the changes may be more sweeping than anticipated and could include the hiring of high-profile Democrats defeated in the midterms. . . .  Obama’s thinking on other specifics of his reconfigured West Wing — as well as a new campaign operation and Democratic National Committee structure — is largely unknown. But changes are expected across the administration, with familiar faces moving into new roles, both inside and outside the White House, and some unfamiliar ones joining the ranks." (Politico)

Keeping the Faith: "Bon Jovi joins a long list of big names, including eBay President and CEO John Donahoe and Starbucks Executive VP Paula Boggs, on the president’s newly formed White House Council for Community Solutions." (CNN)

Why Scott Brown Isn't As Vulnerable As Dems Think: "From his well-formed centrist brand, to his proven ability to raise money, to the lack of a well-funded Democratic challenger, it's becoming clear that Brown is no dead man walking in the halls of the Senate." (National Journal)

Holbrooke Last Remarks on Afghanistan Revisited: "It used to takes decades for legends about the supposed last words of famous people to seep into the culture and morph through constant repetition, until some enterprising scholar would look for hard evidence and soberly conclude that the well-known observation was most likely a myth or misunderstanding. In the case of Richard C. Holbrooke, the hard-charging diplomat who died on Monday, in the Internet age, that process took less than 24 hours." (NY Times)


The 20 CEOs Coming to Washington: "Twenty CEOs will meet with President Obama on Wednesday for a discussion that will cover trade, clean energy, the deficit and tax code reform. . . . The CEOs come from a wide range of industries, and the list includes a few surprises." (CNNMoney)

Fed Sticks to Bond-Buying Policy: "The Fed stuck to its policy of buying $600 billion in Treasury bonds and keeping short-term interest rates near zero amid signs that the recovery is gathering steam." (WSJ)
Senior Man/Wheelchair/Home Working At Computer

American Workforce Grayer than Ever: "The portion of people ages 16-24 in the labor market is at the lowest level since the government began keeping track in 1948, falling from 66% in 2000 to 55% this year. There are 17 million in that age group who are employed, the fewest since 1971 when the population was much smaller. By contrast, people in their 50s, 60s or 70s are staying employed longer than at any time on record. For example, 55% of people ages 60 to 64 were in the labor market during the first 11 months of 2010, up from 47% for the same period in 2000." (USA Today)

Russia, China Phasing Out Dollar in Int'l Trade: "On Wednesday, a Moscow securities exchange is scheduled to open direct trading between the Chinese currency, the renminbi, and the Russian ruble. If the market develops, it could eventually cut the dollar out of a portion of Russian and Chinese trade. Although China’s business with Russia is only a sliver of what it does with the United States, there is room to grow: Russia is the world’s largest energy exporting nation, and China a big consumer as the world’s second-largest economy, behind the United States. And yet when a railroad tanker of Russian oil crosses the border into China, the transaction is settled in dollars. The new currency exchange is meant to start changing that." (NY Times)

Moody's Threatens Spain Downgrade: "Ratings agency Moody's put Spain on review for a possible downgrade on Wednesday, highlighting concerns over a looming funding crunch next year and prompting the euro and bank shares to slide." (Reuters)

... And S&P Warns on Belgium: "Europe's debt woes have moved closer to the core of monetary union after Standard & Poor's threatened to downgrade Belgium over the failure of Flemings and Walloons to form a government. " (Daily Telegraph)


Wikileaks Founder Still in Jail as Sweden Appeals Bail Decision: "Sweden has decided to contest the granting of bail to Assange, who is being held pending an extradition hearing, on the grounds that no conditions imposed by a judge could guarantee that he would not flee" (Guardian)

USAF Blocks Sites Who Posted the Secret Cables: " When Air Force personnel on the service’s computer network try to view the Web sites of The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian, the German magazine Der Spiegel, the Spanish newspaper El País and the French newspaper Le Monde, as well as other sites that posted full confidential cables, the screen says “Access Denied: Internet usage is logged and monitored,” according to an Air Force official whose access was blocked and who shared the screen warning with The Times. Violators are warned that they face punishment if they try to view classified material from unauthorized Web sites." (NY Times)

Where's the Money? "A mutiny within WikiLeaks has former associates of leaker-in-chief Julian Assange charging that he's turned the web site into a cult of personality, and asking what has happened to the money." (ABC)

Classified Reports Counter Optimism on Afghan War: "The intelligence assessments contend that large swaths of the country remain at risk of falling to the Taliban and that Pakistan still supports militants, officials say." (LA Times)

Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens at Mosque in South Iran: "IRNA said the attacker struck outside Imam Hussein Mosque in the city of Chahbahar near the border with Pakistan on Wednesday. Dozens were also injured. The bombing appeared to target a group mourning Ashoura, which marks the 7th century death of the grandson of Islam's Prophet Muhammad." (Newser)

Dozens of Asylum Seekers Die in Boat Accident in Australia: "A wooden boat packed with around 70 asylum seekers smashed apart on jagged rocks in heavy seas off an Australian island Wednesday, flinging screaming women and children into churning whitewater and killing at least 27 people." (CBS)

Stuxnet Set Back Iran's Nuclear Program by 2 Years: "'It will take two years for Iran to get back on track,' [top German computer consultant] Langer said in a telephone interview from his office in Hamburg, Germany. 'This was nearly as effective as a military strike, but even better since there are no fatalities and no full-blown war. From a military perspective, this was a huge success.'" (JPost)

Silvio Not Booted From the Island: "Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday as demonstrators opposed to his rule clashed with police in street protests that essentially closed the center of Rome.  The 314 to 311 vote in the lower house of Parliament will allow Berlusconi to continue dominating the nation's politics but leave him struggling to govern with a slim majority. At the same time, it dealt a blow to opposition leaders and Berlusconi's ambitious former allies, who had considered it their best chance yet to remove the 74-year-old media mogul from power." (WaPo)

Bill 'Valium' Richardson on Mission to North Korea: "Mr Richardson, who has been to Pyongyang several times in recent years, said he hoped to persuade the North Koreans to 'calm down a bit'." (BBC)

Kosovo PM Head of Human Organ Ring: "Kosovo's prime minister is the head of a "mafia-like" Albanian group responsible for smuggling weapons, drugs and human organs through eastern Europe, according to a Council of Europe inquiry report on organised crime. Hashim Thaçi is identified as the boss of a network that began operating criminal rackets in the runup to the 1999 Kosovo war, and has held powerful sway over the country's government since." (Guardian)

Cuba Denies Exit Visa for Fariñas: "The Cuban authorities have refused an exit visa for a leading Cuban dissident to travel to France to receive the EU's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. " (BBC)

Tech, Science

First Person Cured from HIV? "Researchers in Germany are reporting that they may have cured a man of HIV infection. If true, that would represent a scientific advance . . . But AIDS researchers predicted the report will have little impact on practice." (CNN)

There Is Such a Thing as Beauty Sleep: "Researchers claim getting eight hours a night really does make you appear more attractive."


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NO ROUNDUP TODAY, SORRY: I'm in meetings all morning. Back tomorrow!


Monday, December 13, 2010

RICH GALEN on the Cancun climate conference:
  • Moving forward one year, this conference in Cancun attracted about 15,000 people. The U.K. Telegraph's environmental writer, Louise Gray, reported that "The carbon footprint of the conference was about 25,000 tons, the equivalent to 4,500 UK households for a year."
  • But, in an earlier dispatch, Ms. Gray calculated that her flight from the U.K. cost two tons and a two-week stay in a Cancun hotel another ton.
  • You know that I am missing the Arithmetic Gene, but even I know that if each of the 15,000 attendees produced three tons of carbon-stuff, then the total is not 25,000 tons, but 45,000 tons.
  • If we assume a passenger car produces about one ton of carbon for every 5,000 miles driven, then this conference was the equivalent of 255 million car miles.
  • Yea!
Yea indeed.

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 12: Larry Myer of Minneapolis shovels out his driveway after a snow storm December 12, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A blizzard dumped more than 20 inches of snow in parts of the Midwest forcing the NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings to be postponed till Monday and will be played in Detroit's Ford Field. There were no injuries reported from the collapse of the dome. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

The Big Freeze: "Temperatures were forecast to drop below zero early today throughout the Dakotas and in parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said. . . . Today, wind-whipped snow should be confined to the snowbelt regions of the Great Lakes, Appalachians and northern New England, according to The Weather Channel. An additional foot of snow is possible in the same areas of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio that were hammered last week. For most of the central and eastern USA, the intense cold and icy winds will dominate the weather for much of the week. The blast should be even colder than the one that slammed the East last week, according to the weather service." (USA Today)

Senate Nears Key Tax Deal Vote: "The Democratic-led Congress moved on Monday toward grudging approval of President Barack Obama's deal with Republicans to extend expiring tax cuts, even for the wealthiest Americans. Backers were expected to muster on Monday the needed 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to clear a procedural hurdle, before passage on Tuesday or Wednesday." (Reuters)

A Political Lift for Obama? "With the Senate poised to hold a key vote on Monday on the tax cut deal between President Obama and Republicans, the political jousting has focused on what the agreement does for the wealthy by extending all of the Bush-era tax rates, and for the unemployed, by continuing jobless aid.But a hefty portion of the $858 billion tax package will benefit middle- and upper-middle-income Americans — precisely the demographic that felt neglected the last two years as the White House and Congress focused on the major health care law and on helping the unemployed and people facing foreclosure." (NY Times)

Dems Try to Salvage Pride in Lame-Duck Session: "Having navigated the thickets of thickly drawn party lines on taxes, President Obama now must overcome a potent force inside his own Democratic Party: pride." (ABC)

Obama Launches Charm Offensive: "House Republicans don’t take power for another three weeks, but the White House is already engaged in a behind-the-scenes charm offensive designed to build relationships with incoming committee chairmen before they become powerful adversaries." (Politico)

Obama Faces Fight Over New START Ratification: "With only days left in the lame-duck Congress, President Obama is pushing hard to accomplish something never before done by a Democratic president: successfully get a nuclear arms-reduction treaty through the ratification process." (WaPo)

Steele On His Way Out? "Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, is expected to announce his intentions about running for reelection to the top party post Monday evening. Several sources are reporting that he is expected to step down when his two-year term ends in January." (CSM)

Transfer Ban for Gitmo Detainees Tucked into Spending Bill: " The Senate is expected to consider a provision this week that would block the Obama administration from bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States for trial, including the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks." (WaPo)

Federal Judge to Rule on Obamacare: "A Virginia federal judge is expected to rule Monday on whether the Obama administration's health law violates the Constitution, opening a new stage in the administration's defense of its biggest legislative achievement. The ruling by District Judge Henry E. Hudson is perhaps the most significant so far among a slew of state-based legal challenges to the law, which also faces attack by newly resurgent Republicans in Congress. More than 20 federal lawsuits have been filed against the health overhaul since President Barack Obama signed it in March." (WSJ)

Madoff Lawsuits Moving Toward Court: "David J. Sheehan, the counsel for Irving H. Picard, the trustee charged with recovering the assets, said on Sunday that he expected that “hundreds” of those suits — many against individuals, some of them prominent — were likely to be settled in negotiations before or soon after they reach court in coming months. But the remainder were likely to be contested and would proceed to trial, he said. Mr. Sheehan said the death on Saturday of Mark Madoff, the older of Bernard Madoff’s two sons, would not affect the complaints against him, his brother, Andrew, and other relatives." (NY Times)

Holbrooke Still in Critical Condition: "Even if the surgery has stabilized Holbrooke's condition, recovery is likely to be lengthy." (AP)


Economists Predict Growth in 2011: "Economists have grown more optimistic about the outlook for U.S. growth next year-" (WSJ)

Germany Signals Support for Euro-Zone: "In a shift of tone that may signal more commitment to keep the euro zone in one piece, Germany’s finance minister ruled out the possibility that any country would ever be ejected from the European monetary union, and said calls to restore the Deutsche mark were 'unrealistic nostalgia.' The comments by Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, may indicate that Europe’s biggest economy is becoming more willing to finance measures ensuring that countries like Greece and Ireland do not default on their debt." (NY Times)

Cuomo to Push for a Cap on Property Taxes: "Three New York governors have tried, and failed, to limit local taxes, which are among the highest in the nation and a primary reason suburbanites and upstate residents say the state has become unaffordable. But with the Senate all but certain to be controlled by the Republicans and voters in a tax-rebellion mood, Mr. Cuomo may be facing a more favorable political climate for a cap." (NY Times)


Wikileaks -- Israeli Attack on Iran May Lead to Nuclear War: "Australian intelligence agencies feared that Israel will attack Iran, leading to nuclear war, according to US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks on Monday." (JPost)

Rival to Launch Today: "Arguing that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has 'weakened the organization,' a newly organized rival to the website known for leaking official secrets says it will launch Monday. The founders of say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under Assange." (CNN)

Assange's Old Online Dating Profile Found: "The folks at Reddit have uncovered what appears to be WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's OKCupid dating profile." (NY Mag)

No Nukes for Clapton: "One of the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks reveals that North Korean officials suggested the U.S. government make arrangements for rock icon Eric Clapton to perform in Pyongyang as a way of building 'good will' between the countries." (CNN)

Al Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Stockholm Car Bomb: "An Islamist website called Shoumoukh al-Islam published a photograph of the man it said was the attacker. 'It is our brother, mujahid Taymour Abdel Wahab, who carried out the martyrdom operation in Stockholm,' it said. The photograph showed a man in dark glasses and Western clothes." (France 24)

UK Link? "British police are searching a property in southeast England amid reports that a man linked to bomb blasts in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, used to live in the country. . . . The search came as press reports suggested that a man who had studied and lived in Luton, north of London, was behind Saturday's blasts." (Al Jazeera)

Audio of Threat Released: "The Stockholm bomber sent a chilling audio recording in English shortly before two bombs went off warning his actions would 'speak for themselves'." (Daily Telegraph)

North Korea Threatens South Korea With Nuclear War: "North Korea warned Monday that US-South Korean cooperation could bring a nuclear war to the region, as the South began artillery drills amid lingering tension nearly three weeks after the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean island. The South's naval live-fire drills are scheduled to run Monday through Friday at 27 sites." (AP)

South Korea to Stage Big Air Raid Drill: "South Korea will stage a major civil defence drill this week against mock attacks by North Korean aircraft amid continuing high tensions after the North's bombardment last month, officials said Monday. The drill will take place at 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) on Wednesday, with a dozen South Korean fighter jets flying across the country to simulate air strikes, the National Emergency Management Agency said. 'Along with air raid sirens, people will be asked to run into some 25,000 state-managed shelters or other civilian underground facilities,' agency official Yoo Byung-Koo said." (AFP)


Tiny Numbers, Letters Discovered in the Eyes of the Mona Lisa: "Intrigue is usually focused on her enigmatic smile. But the Mona Lisa was at the centre of a new mystery yesterday after art detectives took a fresh look at the masterpiece – and noticed something in her eyes. Hidden in the dark paint of her pupils are tiny letters and numbers, placed there by the artist Leonardo da Vinci and revealed only now thanks to high-­magnification techniques."