Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 14th, 2008

RIAA in serious trouble now

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This is so good:

Friday may mark a significant milestone in the RIAA’s legal campaign against file-sharing, as it is the deadline for exonerated RIAA defendant Tanya Andersen to refile her malicious prosecution lawsuit against the record labels. Soon afterwards, discovery will begin, and all sorts of unsavory details about the RIAA’s legal campaign against suspected file-sharers are likely to emerge.Andersen is a single mother living in Oregon who was sued by the record labels in February 2005. She eventually filed a counterclaim against the RIAA, and when the labels voluntarily dismissed their case against her last June, she filed a malicious-prosecution lawsuit. In it, Andersen accuses the RIAA of fraud, racketeering, invasion of privacy, libel, slander, deceptive business practices, and violations of the Oregon state RICO Act.

Last month, a federal judge dismissed Andersen’s original complaint, saying that she had “not adequately stated claims for relief,” but gave her a one-month window to refile. Her attorney, Lory Lybeck, told Ars that he plans to file a new 80-page complaint tomorrow. “The focus of the amended complaint is essentially the sham litigation and abuse of the federal judiciary to operate this criminal enterprise that has harmed Tanya Andersen and thousands of other people,” Lybeck said.

With a new complaint, the case is certain to move forward into the discovery phase, as the judge has told both sides that she would not entertain any further motions to dismiss this case. It’s an uncomfortable place for the RIAA to be in.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 6:30 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Librarian Chick

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Interesting site.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Good news on telecom immunity

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My God, the Dems have grown a backbone!

After weeks of threats, arguments and a secret session thrown in for good measure, the House on Friday passed a controversial bill to renew the administration’s electronic surveillance program. Unlike the Senate-passed version, however, the lower-chamber’s proposal would not give the phone companies amnesty for crimes they may have committed in cooperating with the program in past years without a judicial order. The House vote was 213 to 197.

House and Senate leaders now must meet to hash out the differences between the two bills. But as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed out this afternoon, even Democrats don’t believe the immunity language is likely to survive the process.

The White House has said that legal immunity is vital to entice the telecom industry to participate in the program in the future. Roughly 40 lawsuits have been filed against the companies on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and others who argue that the warrantless wiretapping program violates the Fourth Amendment. Despite the threat of those suits, however, all the companies have agreed recently to cooperate in the program.

In the House, the issue has been all partisan all the time, with Republicans arguing that, without the enhanced surveillance authority (including telecom immunity), the nation is in greater danger of terrorist attack. Democrats have countered that the administration has plenty of other spying tools to lean on that don’t infringe on the  privacy rights of U.S. residents. While civil rights groups and privacy watchdogs have supported the Democrats, many legal experts say that both sides are guilty of stretching the truth for political gain.

In the wake of Friday’s vote, the partisan rhetoric rumbled right away. House Speaker Nancy (D-Calif.) issued a statement charging that Congress, because only a few members had been given access to classified documents surrounding the wiretapping program, was in no position as a body to decide how the telecoms should be treated for their cooperation in the program.

The bill before us acknowledges that immunity for the companies may already exist under current law and allows that determination to be decided by a judge with due protection for classified information. Not by hundreds of people who really do not have the facts.

Republicans, for their part, countered with the argument that Pelosi & Co. are playing political games at a threat to the nation’s peril. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the House vote a “cover vote” allowing lawmakers to escape public scrutiny during the two-week Easter recess, which begins tomorrow.

This House vote represents a ‘cover vote’ which the Democratic leadership believes will allow them to go on their Easter recess claiming to have passed a bill that protects America. But instead, they’ve done great harm to the effort to enact a responsible strengthening of our anti-terror laws during this session of the Congress.

Might it be an election year?

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Horseradish fire warning

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The smell of horseradish could soon be more than a sign of an imminent roast dinner. A smoke alarm developed at Shiga University of Medical Science Hospital in Japan exploits the fact that the pungent aroma of horseradish wakes people from the deepest sleep – especially if they are hearing impaired. The device, which will spray a horseradish extract, could be launched within two years.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Technology

The Quantico circuit

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Still spying on citizens:

At least one US cellphone network may have a direct link to the FBI, allowing it to wiretap mobile calls, texts and downloads without warrants, according to an industry insider.

The allegation comes from Babak Pasdar, a security engineer who was hired to upgrade the internet security systems at a mobile phone firm in 2003. While there, he told the Government Accountability Project, he discovered the existence of a system insiders dubbed the “Quantico circuit” – a high-speed line giving access to call content, billing and location data. The FBI’s intelligence unit is based in Quantico, Virginia.

The news comes as the White House is seeking to rush through national security legislation that will give cellphone firms immunity from any lawsuits from wiretapped subscribers.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 3:02 pm

EPA still closing its libraries

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Even against Congress’s direction:

The Environmental Protection Agency began closing several of its libraries in 2006 due to a shrinking budget. But the agency did not take into account how access to important environmental data would be blocked for legislators, researchers and citizens. Out of its 26 repositories, the EPA “closed physical access to three regional office libraries in Chicago, Kansas City and Dallas, and to the headquarters library and the Chemical Library in Washington. Operating hours were reduced at libraries in Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston.” In early 2007, further closures were halted due to Congressional concerns, and in December, Congress allocated $1 million to re-open the facilities and directed the EPA to do so. To date, none have been re-opened. The EPA says that they plan to digitize their collections to provide access online, but due to copyright and other concerns, only about 10 percent of the collection would be eligible for digital transfer. Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee said, “The agency’s modernization effort is characterized by poor planning, failure to communicate with its employees, the public or Congress and failure to protect unique government assets. As a result, EPA library services are impaired, employees will have a harder time doing their jobs and the public has lost access to government information.”

Source: Washington Post, March 14, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 2:28 pm

Rankings of free online Bus Admin courses

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Business, Education

The Clinton campaign

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Good points:

… What’s been striking about recent turns in the Democratic presidential contest is how the tactics of Hillary Clinton’s campaign have come to mirror the Bush strategies – simultaneously playing the bully and the victim, asserting that up is down, and bashing anyone who notices the contradictions.

Stunned by Obama’s surprising successes and his delegate lead, Clinton’s campaign has thrown what it calls the “kitchen sink” at the Illinois senator – including overt attacks on his ethics and sub rosa insinuations about his race and religion.

On Feb. 26, Internet gossip Matt Drudge reported that a Clinton staffer e-mailed around a photo taken of Obama during a 2006 trip to Kenya when he was dressed in a turban and other traditional garb of a Somali Elder. That reinforced earlier rumors spread about Obama as a secret Muslim, though he has long belonged to a Christian church in Chicago.

Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe denounced the Clinton campaign for circulating the photo, complaining of “shameful offensive fear-mongering.”

Instead of showing remorse, the Clinton campaign denied knowledge of the photo and went on the attack. “If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed,” said Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams.

Some Clinton defenders went further, arguing that Sen. Clinton was the real victim, since there was no hard evidence that the Clinton campaign was orchestrating the Internet smears of Obama, which also have been spread by right-wing operatives in talk radio and on the Internet.

On March 2, however, when Hillary Clinton had a chance to slam the door on these tactics, she didn’t.

Asked on CBS’s “60 Minutes” whether she believed rumors claiming that Obama was a closet Muslim, Clinton responded in a way that left the question open. “No, no, why would I?” she said, before adding: “there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert called Clinton’s response “one of the sleaziest moments of the campaign. … As far as I know. If she had been asked if she thought President Bush was a Muslim, would her response have included the caveat ‘as far as I know’? What about Senator McCain? Why then, with Senator Obama?” [NYT, March 8, 2008]

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Undermining other governments

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So much for Bush’s self-proclaimed protection of democracy throughout the world:

A thick fence, surveillance cameras, and armed guards protect the U.S. Embassy in La Paz. The embassy is a tall, white building with narrow slits of windows that make it look like a military bunker. After passing through a security checkpoint, I sit down with U.S. Embassy spokesman Eric Watnik and ask if the embassy is working against the socialist government of Evo Morales. “Our cooperation in Bolivia is apolitical, transparent, and given directly to assist in the development of the country,” Watnik tells me. “It is given to benefit those who need it most.”

From the Bush Administration’s perspective, that turns out to mean Morales’s opponents. Declassified documents and interviews on the ground in Bolivia prove that the Bush Administration is using U.S. taxpayers’ money to undermine the Morales government and coopt the country’s dynamic social movements–just as it has tried to do recently in Venezuela and traditionally throughout Latin America.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 2:02 pm

More on the Spitzer affair

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Scott Horton has some good points:

It looks like the Bush Justice Department just bagged themselves another Democratic Governor. Here’s the New York Times on the story:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who gained national prominence relentlessly pursuing Wall Street wrongdoing, has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a law enforcement official and a person briefed on the investigation.

The wiretap captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a hotel room, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Manhattan. The person briefed on the case and the law enforcement official identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.

Mr. Spitzer, a first term Democrat, today made a brief public appearance during which he apologized for his behavior, and described it as a “private matter.” He did not address his political future. “I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong,” said Mr. Spitzer, who appeared with his wife Silda at his Manhattan office. “I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.”

On the other hand, ABC News this evening offers a starkly different account of how the investigation got launched. According to ABC, the whole investigation of the prostitution ring itself was triggered by an investigation of Spitzer.

The federal investigation of a New York prostitution ring was triggered by Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s suspicious money transfers, initially leading agents to believe Spitzer was hiding bribes, according to federal officials. It was only months later that the IRS and the FBI determined that Spitzer wasn’t hiding bribes but payments to a company called QAT, what prosecutors say is a prostitution operation operating under the name of the Emperors Club. …

The suspicious financial activity was initially reported by a bank to the IRS which, under direction from the Justice Department, brought in the FBI’s Public Corruption Squad. “We had no interest at all in the prostitution ring until the thing with Spitzer led us to learn about it,” said one Justice Department official.

Fox News reported earlier in the day that Spitzer would resign at his press conference. He did not. In any event, however, Spitzer—who was previously viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party—is now damaged goods. Many had expected him to consolidate power in Albany, inching the Democrats towards control of the State Senate, and to rule as a powerful governor. He may or may not survive the initial shock waves of the scandal, but certainly no one now expects him to be a powerful force in the statehouse.

The Times notes in its story that Spitzer once prosecuted a prostitution ring:

In one such case in 2004, Mr. Spitzer spoke with revulsion and anger after announcing the arrest of 16 people for operating a high-end prostitution ring out of Staten Island. “This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multitiered management structure,” Mr. Spitzer said at the time. “It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring.”

These facts are likely to dominate the punditry’s discussion of the issue. Spitzer will be labeled a hypocrite (a charge he can hardly refute).

However, there is a second tier of questions that needs to be examined with respect to the Spitzer case. They go to prosecutorial motivation and direction. Note that this prosecution was managed with staffers from the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice. This section is now at the center of a major scandal concerning politically directed prosecutions. During the Bush Administration, his Justice Department has opened 5.6 cases against Democrats for every one involving a Republican. Beyond this, a number of the cases seem to have been tied closely to election cycles. Indeed, a study of the cases out of Alabama shows clearly that even cases opened against Republicans are in fact only part of a broader pattern of going after Democrats. So here are the rather amazing facts that surface in the Spitzer case:

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 1:59 pm

Hillary Clinton’s role: claimed vs. actual

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Regarding health insurance:

Hillary Clinton, who has frequently described herself on the campaign trail as playing a pivotal role in forging a children’s health insurance plan, had little to do with crafting the landmark legislation or ushering it through Congress, according to several lawmakers, staffers, and healthcare advocates involved in the issue.

In campaign speeches, Clinton describes the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, as an initiative “I helped to start.” Addressing Iowa voters in November, Clinton said, “in 1997, I joined forces with members of Congress and we passed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.” Clinton regularly cites the number of children in each state who are covered by the program, and mothers of sick children have appeared at Clinton campaign rallies to thank her.

But the Clinton White House, while supportive of the idea of expanding children’s health, fought the first SCHIP effort, spearheaded by Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, because of fears that it would derail a bigger budget bill. And several current and former lawmakers and staff said Hillary Clinton had no role in helping to write the congressional legislation, which grew out of a similar program approved in Massachusetts in 1996.

“The White House wasn’t for it. We really roughed them up” in trying to get it approved over the Clinton administration’s objections, Hatch said in an interview. “She may have done some advocacy [privately] over at the White House, but I’m not aware of it.”

“I do like her,” Hatch said of Hillary Clinton. “We all care about children. But does she deserve credit for SCHIP? No – Teddy does, but she doesn’t.”

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

US outsourcing torture

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Some important articles are on-line from Mother Jones. A complete list is at the link, but here’s an example: Sometimes the US doesn’t do torture directly, but more or less subcontracts it out after an illegal kidnapping:

For hours, the words come pouring out of Abu Omar as he describes his years of torture at the hands of Egypt’s security services. Spreading his arms in a crucifixion position, he demonstrates how he was tied to a metal door as shocks were administered to his nipples and genitals. His legs tremble as he describes how he was twice raped. He mentions, almost casually, the hearing loss in his left ear from the beatings, and how he still wakes up at night screaming, takes tranquilizers, finds it hard to concentrate, and has unspecified “problems with my wife at home.” He is, in short, a broken man.

There is nothing particularly unusual about Abu Omar’s story. Torture is a standard investigative technique of Egypt’s intelligence services and police, as the State Department and human rights organizations have documented myriad times over the years. What is somewhat unusual is that Abu Omar ended up inside Egypt’s torture chambers courtesy of the United States, via an “extraordinary rendition”—in this case, a spectacular daylight kidnapping by the Central Intelligence Agency on the streets of Milan, Italy.

First introduced during the Clinton administration, extraordinary renditions—in which suspected terrorists are turned over to countries known to use torture, usually for the purpose of extracting information from them—have been one of the CIA‘s most controversial tools in the war on terror. According to legal experts, the practice has no justification in United States law and flagrantly violates the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty that Congress ratified in 1994. Nonetheless, Congress and the American courts have essentially ignored the practice, and the Bush administration has insisted that it has never knowingly sent anyone to a place where he will be tortured.

But Abu Omar’s case is unique: Unlike any other rendition case, it has prompted a massive criminal investigation—though not in the United States. An Italian prosecutor has launched a probe of the kidnapping, resulting in the indictment of 26 American officials, almost all of them suspected CIA agents. It has also generated a treasure trove of documents on the secretive rendition program, including thousands of pages of court filings that detail how it actually works. Late last year, I traveled to Milan to review those documents and to Egypt, where Abu Omar now lives. What I found was a remarkable tale of CIA overreach and its consequences—a tale that could represent the beginning of a global legal backlash against the war on terror.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with

Rolling back reform

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Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.

The White House did not say why it was necessary to change the rules governing the board when it issued Bush’s order late last month. But critics say Bush’s order is consistent with a pattern of steps by the administration that have systematically scaled back Watergate-era intelligence reforms.

“It’s quite clear that the Bush administration officials who were around in the 1970s are settling old scores now,” said Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. “Here they are even preventing oversight within the executive branch. They have closed the books on the post-Watergate era.”

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 1:23 pm

Why Guantánamo is a stain on the US

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I blogged recently about a general who had commanded Guantánamo being posted to Pakastan, a wavering ally and strongly Muslim country. This posting seems tone-deaf  (at best) with respect to the impact it will have on diplomatic efforts in view of Guantánamo’s role and reputation. For example:

A U.S. military report on a battle in which a U.S. soldier died in Afghanistan was altered after the fact to falsely blame a young Canadian prisoner, his lawyer said on Thursday.

The report initially said the assailant who threw the fatal grenade had himself been killed in the battle near the Afghan city of Khost on July 27, 2002, the lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, told reporters at the Guantanamo naval base.

The officer who wrote that report on July 28, 2002, revised it about two months later to say the grenade thrower survived, implicating Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, said Kuebler. He asked a judge in the Guantanamo war court to allow him to interview that officer about the contradictory accounts.

Khadr is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a special forces medic who entered a suspected al Qaeda compound after an aerial bombing and was hit by a grenade.

No one saw who threw the grenade but the U.S. military says it must have been Khadr because he was the only person still alive inside the compound when U.S. forces entered.

“We now know that story was false,” Kuebler said. “It’s consistent with the proposition that the government manufactured evidence to make it look like Omar was guilty.”

Another U.S. soldier said in documents released in February that a second al Qaeda suspect was lying on the floor of the compound with an AK-47 assault rifle at his side, injured and moaning but still alive after the grenade was thrown. The soldier said he shot and killed that suspect, then shot Khadr twice in the back as Khadr sat on the floor.

The altered report was written by a U.S. military officer known as “Col. W,” who was in charge at the scene but did not see what happened inside the compound, Kuebler said.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 10:10 am

Bush longing to be on the front lines

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Bush, speaking of the war in Afghanistan:

“I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”

“It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said.

It seems churlish to point out that, when Bush actually was younger and not employed, he in fact had a chance to be on the front lines, romance and all, in Vietnam, but that he did everything in his power to avoid that.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 10:01 am

Geraldine Ferraro explains

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

Interesting take on the Spitzer affair

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From Greg Palast (via email):

While New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was paying an ‘escort’ $4,300 in a hotel room in Washington, just down the road, George Bush’s new Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was secretly handing over $200 billion in a tryst with mortgage bank industry speculators.

Both acts were wanton, wicked and lewd. But there’s a BIG difference. The Governor was using his own checkbook. Bush’s man Bernanke was using ours.

This week, Bernanke’s Fed, for the first time in its history, loaned a selected coterie of banks one-fifth of a trillion dollars to guarantee these banks’ mortgage-backed junk bonds. The deluge of public loot was an eye-popping windfall to the very banking predators who have brought two million families to the brink of foreclosure.

Up until Wednesday, there was one single, lonely politician who stood in the way of this creepy little assignation at the bankers’ bordello: Eliot Spitzer.

Who are they kidding? Spitzer’s lynching and the bankers’ enriching are intimately tied.

How? Follow the money.

The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and it’s variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chuck of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 a month payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram – because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 9:47 am

EPA in a bind

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When Bush forces decisions:

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA.

EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA’s scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

“It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves exclusively to EPA’s expert scientific judgment,” said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The president’s order prompted a scramble by administration officials to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements on the harm caused by ozone.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules contradicted the EPA’s past submissions to the Supreme Court, according to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 9:33 am

Try to blame this on Clinton

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I’m sure Bush will make the attempt, but…  Take a look:

Antique store owners in lower Manhattan, ticket vendors at India’s Taj Mahal and Brazilian business executives heading to China all have one thing in common these days: They don’t want U.S. dollars.

Hit by a free fall with no end in sight, the once mighty U.S. dollar is no longer just crashing on currency markets and making life more expensive for American tourists and business people abroad; its clout is evaporating worldwide as foreign businesses and individuals turn to other currencies.

Experts say the bleak U.S. economic forecast means it will take years for the greenback to recover its value and prestige.

Negative dollar sentiment is growing in nations where the dollar was historically accepted as equal or better than local currency — and dollar aversion is even extending to some quarters in the United States.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 9:29 am

Barack Obama campaign: free idea

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An idea for a YouTube campaign video, once Obama secures the nomination: The “3:00 a.m. phone call” meme is going to continue, so…

A shot of a darkened bedroom. A digital clock shows 2:59, then clicks to 3:00 just as the (red) phone rings. A bald-headed white man in profile (a McCain lookalike) picks up the phone, listens briefly, then sings (using the existing actual audio) “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.” Cut to full-screen message: “Is this what you want?”

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2008 at 9:21 am

Posted in Election

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