News Cycle

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Archive for June 2009

Billy Mays, 50, Found Dead; No Foul Play Suspected

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Tampa police say Billy Mays, the television pitchman known for his boisterous hawking of products such as Orange Glo and OxiClean, has died, according to The Associated Press. He was 50.

Authorities say Mays was pronounced dead Sunday morning after being found by his wife at home. There were no signs of a break-in, and investigators do not suspect foul play. The coroner’s office expects to have an autopsy done by Monday afternoon.

Mays’ wife, Deborah Mays, says the family doesn’t expect to make any public statements and asked for privacy.

Mays was also featured on the reality TV show ”Pitchmen” on the Discovery Channel, which followed Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their marketing jobs.

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June 28, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Billy Mays

A House Filibuster? Boehner Gets Help From a Leading Democrat in Effort to Kill Climate Bill

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GOP Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio had a rare chance to filibuster the climate change bill tonight, and he got some help from the Democrats.

There cannot be a filibuster in the House of Representatives because House rules provide for limited amounts of time for each Representative to speak. In the Senate, there are no rules regarding how long a Senator may speak, so a filibuster may be used, unless three-fifths of Senators agree to invoke cloture, that is, end debate on an issue.

But in the House, the Speaker, Majority Leader and Minority Leader are given greater latitude to speak.

While Boehner was speaking (that is, actually reading part of the bill into record), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked the chair if Boehner could continue to read and read and read. The concern was that Boehner was trying to delay the vote pass 6:30 p.m. Eastern to avoid an annoucement of an Obama victory on the network evening news shows.

“I know we have this magic minute that gives leaders a lot of extra time to speak. But I’m just wondering if there is some limit under the rules on the time that a leader may take, even though the time yielded was not 20 or 30 minutes?” Waxman asked.

Then, and here’s the interesting part, instead of cutting Boehner off, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a Democrat from California, then ruled that Boehner was in order.

That’s right, a leading House Democrat ruled against her own party and her president, nearly derailing the bill by allowing the House minority leader to speak as long as he wanted to.

“It is the custom of the House is to listen to the leader’s comments,” Tauscher said to cheers of Republicans.

That could not have been comfortable for Democrats Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was witnessing the events unfold from the back of the chamber.

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June 26, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Controversial Climate Bill Passes 219-212 in House

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The House of Representatives passed the controversial Climate Change bill by a narrow vote tonight, 219-212. The vote on the more than 1,000-page bill was close because 44 Democrats voted against it due to fears that the cost in jobs and taxes would be overwhelming to the middle class.

The Waxman-Markey bill’s ultimate cost was the center of the controversy, as described by Steven Mufson of The Washington Post.

The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the bill would only cost U.S. households an average of $98 to $140 a year from 2010 through 2050. But government analysts acknowledged that estimates are highly uncertain and depend on such factors as the price of oil and the pace of innovation on energy efficiency, carbon capture and sequestration, as well as how people and businesses respond to higher fossil-fuel prices.

GOP leaders have tried to portray the proposal as placing a heavy cost on Americans. Boehner has asserted that the bill would raise annual energy costs by $3,128 per household in 2015 and would drive jobs out of the country. He said in an April 2 news release that that figure did not include higher costs for food and consumer goods and services. The conservative Heritage Foundation has asserted that the cost could reach $4,300 a year.

Boehner’s office said that it extrapolated its per-household figure from a two-year-old study of a cap-and-trade bill co-sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). That study, by John M. Reilly, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, said that a cap-and-trade bill could generate $366 billion a year in revenue and that the GOP leader’s office said it simply divided that by the number of households expected in 2015.

Afterward, Reilly sent a letter to Boehner accusing him of inflating the cost 10-fold by ignoring the offsetting benefits, such as tax cuts and free allowances, that are part of the current Waxman-Markey bill embraced by President Obama. Reilly said that the measure’s cost for a family of four, in today’s dollars, starts at about $75 in 2015, rises to nearly $510 by 2025, and then falls to $205 by 2050 as new technology works its way into power plants, building efficiency and automobiles. The average overall cost would be about $340 a year, he said.

“Concern about the cost impacts on middle and low income families needs to be focused on making sure allowance or tax revenue is used to offset cost impacts on these households rather than as an excuse for not proceeding with measures that would help avert dangerous climate change,” Reilly said in an April letter.

Today’s Wall Street Journal had pushed hard for rejection of the bill in this morning’s editorial:

For starters, the CBO estimate is a one-year snapshot of taxes that will extend to infinity. Under a cap-and-trade system, government sets a cap on the total amount of carbon that can be emitted nationally; companies then buy or sell permits to emit CO2. The cap gets cranked down over time to reduce total carbon emissions.

To get support for his bill, Mr. Waxman was forced to water down the cap in early years to please rural Democrats, and then severely ratchet it up in later years to please liberal Democrats. The CBO’s analysis looks solely at the year 2020, before most of the tough restrictions kick in. As the cap is tightened and companies are stripped of initial opportunities to “offset” their emissions, the price of permits will skyrocket beyond the CBO estimate of $28 per ton of carbon. The corporate costs of buying these expensive permits will be passed to consumers.

The biggest doozy in the CBO analysis was its extraordinary decision to look only at the day-to-day costs of operating a trading program, rather than the wider consequences energy restriction would have on the economy. The CBO acknowledges this in a footnote: “The resource cost does not indicate the potential decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) that could result from the cap.”

But there was also a hard push for this bill’s passage, not from the Democrats, but from the energy industry. Anne C. Mulkern of The New York Times reports:

E&E examined spending for 10 industries with stakes in climate and energy legislation: oil and gas, electric utilities, chemical and related manufacturing, agricultural services and products, alternate energy and production services, mining, environmental, forestry and forest products, and natural gas transmission and distribution. The industry data was compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, which uses reports filed with the House and determines the industry categories.

For half of those industries, funds for lobbying increased. For others, particularly those battered by the recession, spending stayed flat or fell. Mining spent about 24 percent less than it did a year earlier. Utility lobbying stayed about even with last year.

But for others, it was time to ramp up the persuasion.

Oil and gas companies, agricultural services and product makers, alternative energy producers, environmental groups, and those in the natural gas businesses spent more than they did last year. Within each of those categories are stories of individual companies and organizations laying out far more than they have in the past.

Those groups say they must educate Congress.

“We’re spending that money to represent our member companies at a time when initiatives in the new administration and Congress will have an impact on the viability of the industry,” said Robert Dodge, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for about 400 small and large companies.

Others see advocacy spending more critically.

“It’s influence peddling. What you’re doing is trying to purchase influence,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a watchdog group. “Most of the time there’s a positive return on your investment.”

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June 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Environment

Olbermann Mistaken in Calling Hoekstra Iraqi Trip ‘Top Secret’

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Keith Olbermann will stretch the facts every now and then to make a point. But last week his misuse of military terms was sloppy and incorrect; and ultimately damaging to any commentator’s reputation.

Olbermann noted on June 18 that a Tweet by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., compared messages of disgruntled Republicans during a congressional squabble with the messages from bloodied Iranian protesters who say they were disenfranchised.

“This would be the same congressman who last year Tweeted the whereabouts of a top secret mission to Iraq,” Olbermann said.

The problem is Hoekstra was not on a top secret mission, rather a congressional fact-finding tour. And while the military had asked that the media embargo news of the tour until it was over for security reasons, there were no restrictions on the congressional delegations to tell people about the trip. Their staff and families all knew beforehand where they were going and the reason for the trip.

During the trip, the congressman did post a number of Tweets about the trip, but none gave specific news of the delegation’s whereabouts or business.

Here is PolitiFact’s assessment:

Olbermann is wrong to characterize the delegation’s trip as a “top secret mission to Iraq.” The term “top secret” means something in military and government circles. There is a hierarchy of classified information, beginning with “confidential,” graduating to “secret,” “top secret” and “special classified information.” You need varying levels of security clearance in order to be privy to classified information.

This trip was none of those. But more to the point, “top secret mission to Iraq” conjures images of rifle-toting troops on a highly sensitive military operation. This wasn’t a military mission, it was a congressional visit. In fact, many in the news media knew about the trip, but just agreed to keep it embargoed. Hoekstra’s staff knew about it. His wife knew about it.

“We’re not talking about something that was classified,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk. “Not at all. Top secret? No. We see these reported all the time in the press.”

So Olbermann hasn’t just exaggerated, he’s incorrectly described the visit as a “top secret mission.” Without knowing the background, you might think Hoekstra spilled the beans on some covert military operation. We rule Olbermann’s statement False.

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June 26, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Iranian Cleric Supports Execution of Protest Leaders to ‘Provide a Lesson’

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The Associated Press is reporting this afternoon that a leading Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, during his Friday sermon at Tehran University called for the execution of the protest leaders as a means to stopping dissent and to provide a lesson to the opposition.

“Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction,” he said in the nationally broadcast speech.

The cleric alleged that some involved in the unrest had used firearms.

“Anyone who takes up arms to fight with the people, they are worthy of execution,” he said. “We ask that the judiciary confront the leaders of the protests, leaders of the violations, and those who are supported by the United States and Israel strongly, and without mercy to provide a lesson for all.”

Khatami said those who disturbed the peace and destroyed public property were “at war with God,” and said they should be “dealt with without mercy.”

He reminded worshippers that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rules by God’s design and must not be defied.

The cleric also lashed out at foreign journalists, accusing them of false reporting, and singled out Britain for new criticism.

“In this unrest, Britons have behaved very mischievously and it is fair to add the slogan of ‘down with England’ to slogan of ‘down with USA,'” he said, as his remarks were interrupted by worshippers’ chants of “Death to Israel.”

Meanwhile, USA TODAY’s Ken Dilanian is reporting today that President Barack Obama is planning to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents. This would be a continuation of a program that became controversial when it was expanded by President George Bush, and would could contradict earlier administration statements that the United States is not providing support for the dissidents.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has for the last year been soliciting applications for $20 million in grants to “promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran,” according to documents on the agency’s website. The final deadline for grant applications is June 30.

Dilanian reports:

U.S. efforts to support Iranian opposition groups have been criticized in recent years as veiled attempts to promote “regime change,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, the largest Iranian-American advocacy group. The grants enable Iran’s rulers to paint opponents as tools of the United States, he said.

Although the Obama administration has not sought to continue the Iran-specific grants in its 2010 budget, it wants a $15 million boost for the Near Eastern Regional Democracy Initiative, which has similar aims but does not specify the nations involved. Some of that money will be targeted at Iran, said David Carle, a spokesman for the appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign affairs.

“Part of it is to expand access to information and communications through the Internet for Iranians,” Carle said in an e-mail.

President Obama said this week the United States “is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs,” rejecting charges of meddling that were renewed Thursday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Asked how the democracy promotion initiatives square with the president’s statement, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said, “Let’s be clear: The United States does not fund any movement, faction or political party in Iran. We support . . . universal principles of human rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law.”

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “Respecting Iran’s sovereignty does not mean our silence on issues of fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the right to peacefully protest.” [The State Department oversees the USAID.]

The Bush program “was a horrible idea,” Parsi said. “It made human-rights activists and non-governmental organizations targets.”

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June 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Iran

Health Care: How Many Are Actually Uninsured?

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We’ve all heard the number: 45.7 million Americans are without health care. This has been a driving argument for the passage of some kind of federally sponsored health-care program.

But is the number real? Is it overstated, or even understated?

FactCheck.org’s Jess Henig took a look at the data, and comes to the conclusion that it may not be as high as that, but because of the job losses over the past months the number is likely to increase.

•The Census Bureau estimates that 45.7 million lacked health insurance at any given time in 2007. But fewer lacked coverage for the full year, and more did without for one or more months during the year. All three numbers are likely to be higher for 2008 due to massive job losses.

•Twenty-six percent of the uninsured are eligible for some form of public coverage but do not make use of it, according to The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation. This is sometimes, but not always, a matter of choice.

•Twenty-one percent of the uninsured are immigrants, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But that figure includes both those who are here legally and those who are not. The number of illegal immigrants who are included in the official statistics is unknown.

•Twenty percent of the uninsured have family incomes of greater than $75,000 per year, according to the Census Bureau. But this does not necessarily mean they have access to insurance. Even higher-income jobs don’t always offer employer-sponsored insurance, and not everyone who wants private insurance is able to get it.

•Forty percent of the uninsured are young, according to KFF. But speculation that they pass up insurance because of their good health is unjustified. KFF reports that many young people lack insurance because it’s not available to them, and people who turn down available insurance tend to be in worse health, not better, according to the Institute of Medicine.

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June 26, 2009 at 9:06 am

Posted in Health Care Reform

Sanford Used State Funds to Visit Mistress in Argentina Last Summer

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South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said he visited his mistress in Argentina last summer on a trip that was paid for by taxpayers, and that he plans to reimburse the state.

The visit was a taxpayer-financed trade mission to South America. The admission heighten calls for his resignation.

“While the purpose of this trip was an entirely professional and appropriate business development trip,” Mr. Sanford said in an e-mail statement issued by his office to The New York Times, “I made a mistake while I was there in meeting with the woman who I was unfaithful to my wife with.”

Jim Rutenberg and Robbie Brown of the Times write:

Mr. Sanford called questions about the trip to Argentina “very legitimate” and said he would reimburse its costs. Documents provided by the South Carolina Department of Commerce suggested that they totaled at least $12,000.

Coming one day after Mr. Sanford confessed that he had spent his week’s absence from the state in Argentina with the woman with whom he had been having a year-old affair, Thursday’s admission was yet another blow to his reputation and led several fellow South Carolina Republican leaders to say he could no longer serve as governor.

“I think he’s gone, it’s over,” said one of them, Harvey S. Peeler Jr., majority leader of the State Senate. “Leaving aside his personal life, when you use taxpayer dollars, that’s what Republicans are all about — spending tax dollars wisely. This was not spending tax dollars wisely.”

Mr. Peeler said calls from his constituents were running two to one in favor of the governor’s resignation, though he said that was ultimately Mr. Sanford’s call to make.

Robert W. Harrell Jr., speaker of the Republican-controlled House, said the governor would now have to decide whether he could remain effective in office. Glenn McCall, one of the two Republican national committeemen from South Carolina, called on him to resign, as did two newspaper editorial boards in the state.

But his spokesman, Joel Sawyer, said Mr. Sanford had “no plans to resign,” adding that the governor had called a cabinet meeting for Friday. And The Associated Press reported that Mr. Sanford himself, visiting his family at their beach house on Sullivans Island, near Charleston, shook his head no when, leaving the house by car, he was asked if he planned to step down.

“His next focus is going to be on building back the trust of South Carolinians,” Mr. Sawyer said.

State Senator Thomas C. Davis, the governor’s friend and former chief of staff, said, “Mark has never been one to bow to pressure, and I haven’t heard any calls yet for impeachment.”

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June 25, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Sanford

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