Archive for July, 2009

In the FedEx-UPS feud, a scandal is revealed

In recent days, we’ve talked about the disastrous attempt by the Washington Post to sell access to Washington decision-makers, as well as to its own editors and reporters, and about Ralph Reed’s betrayal of his religious-right followers in return for casino cash. This morning, the topic was the distorting, corrupting influence of money and politics in setting defense spending.

But in terms of audacity, this one, from Politico, may take the cake:

“The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”

The conservative group’s remarkable demand — …

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Gates, Obama, McCain fight for those on the front line

Reporter Ann Tyson Scott, embedded with Marines in Afghanistan for The Washington Post, writes about shortages handicapping U.S. forces under fire:

“U.S. Marines pushing deeper into Taliban territory in Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley are short of basic equipment and supplies ranging from radios and vehicles to uniforms.

Here in Garmsir District, critical supplies of food, water and ammunition are being dropped to troops by helicopters ferrying sling-loads to bypass roads implanted with bombs, leaving little room to carry other gear.

Several Marines from one company, for example, ripped their pants during an arduous foot march and are still waiting for replacements — some in boxer shorts, officers said.

“We’re short vehicles, we’re short frog-suits [uniforms] … radios are trickling in,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Larosa of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Larosa said that the lack of basic gear is unprecedented in his experience, which includes seven other deployments. …

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After we’re gone, our machines would keep going

Back in the more innocent pre-9/11 days, I wrote a weekly technology column for the AJC called “Next,” exploring some of the cutting-edge work going on in labs around the country. It was a lot of fun. Some of the strangest, coolest stuff came out of the Pentagon-funded DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

They’d fund things like research into rats with special devices implanted in their brain that would allow you to steer them as you would a remote-controlled car.  The official idea was that the remote-controlled rats could be used for humanitarian missions such as locating victims buried beneath rubble in earthquakes. It went unmentioned that such creatures could also be used for other things, such as sneaking a bomb into an otherwise secure area.

This one’s even weirder:

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old …

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National parks: Another thing government does right

It’s summertime, in case you didn’t notice, and American families all over the country are descending on national parks to enjoy the natural legacy preserved there. I’m headed out West myself pretty soon for a week or so out in the wilds, and am very much looking forward to it.

Come fall, our beautiful national parks system will be the star of documentary maker Ken Burns’ next PBS series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” But over at National Review’s Corner blog, Iain Murray isn’t impressed:

As I detail extensively in my book, The Really Inconvenient Truths, the nationalization of so much wonderful scenery has led to appalling mismanagement and environmental degradation. When the Parks Service and Forest Service spent hours in 1988 debating whether or not a fire counted as “natural” because it started from a lighning bolt striking a telegraph pole, large areas of Yellowstone National Park burned to ashes. Another park-service biologist, Don Despain, saw the flames …

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The resurrection of a con man in a choir-boy face

Three years ago this week, Ralph Reed took a surprisingly bad whooping here on his home turf in Georgia, in a Republican primary in which his ties to the religious right were supposed to carry him to victory.

In a race for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor — his first attempt at elective office — Reed drew just 44 percent of the vote against Casey Cagle. That performance raised a question: How could a nationally known figure such as Reed, a man who had also served as state party chair, lose by a double-digit margin to a state senator making his first bid for statewide office?
“The moderate wing of the Republican Party showed up, but the pro-Ralph side of the party went to the beach,” former state GOP chairman Rusty Paul said afterward. “It had an impact all up and down the ticket,” with social conservatives losing primaries that year to moderates.
Conservative Christian voters are known for loyalty, but in this case they had good reason to be disillusioned with the …

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The best of times, the worst of times

From the New York Times:

NEW YORK — Even on Wall Street, the land of six- and seven-figure incomes, jaws dropped at the news Tuesday: After all that federal aid, a resurgent Goldman Sachs is on course to distribute bonuses that could rival the record paydays of the heady bull-market years.

Goldman posted the richest quarterly profit in its 140-year history and, to the envy of its rivals, announced it had earmarked $11.4 billion so far this year to compensate its workers.

At that rate, Goldman workers could, on average, earn roughly $770,000 each this year — or nearly what they did at the height of the boom.

Senior Goldman executives and bankers would be paid considerably more. Only three years ago, Goldman paid more than 50 employees above $20 million each. In 2007, CEO Lloyd Blankfein collected one of the biggest bonuses in corporate history.

Mort Zuckerman, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary estimate for job losses for June is …

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What to do when the days grow very short

After 54 years of marriage, British conductor Edward Downes, 85, and his wife Joan, 74, traveled to Zurich last week to take the last step in life together. Sir Edward was described by his children as almost completely blind and increasingly deaf; his wife suffered from terminal cancer.

In Zurich, at an assisted-suicide clinic that operates legally under Swiss law, the famous conductor and the successful dancer and choreographer drank a barbituate cocktail and laid down together and died. Their grown children reportedly watched, weeping.

The case has stirred up a lot of commentary, but the best I’ve seen has come from Melanie Reid, a columnist at the Times of London. She writes:

“… before we rush to judgment about the rights and wrongs, let us grant this couple one thing: the right to make their own decisions about their lives, as they had presumably done in all the years before. Let us allow their absolute moral entitlement to choose what they considered to be a good death: …

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The ‘birther’ story claims a major victim

From the folks at McClatchy and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

COLUMBUS, Ga. — U.S. Army Maj. Stefan Frederick Cook is seeking a federal court order to stall and eventually prevent an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

In the 20-page document — filed July 8 with the United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia — Cook’s California-based attorney, Orly Taitz, asks the court to consider granting his client’s request based upon Cook’s belief that President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and is therefore ineligible to serve as commander-in-chief of U.S Armed Forces.

The major has achieved his first goal. He will not be deployed to Afghanistan. The Army would not put a man of such poor judgment in a command position and ask others to follow him, particularly in a war zone. The military doesn’t look kindly upon such shenanigans when perpetrated by a lowly enlisted person; when the nut in question has risen to the rank of major, the …

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Why ARE Southerners so fat?

So I was browsing through this piece on Time’s site headlined “Why are Southerners so fat?”

fried candyReading all about fried chicken and cornbread and gravy made me so hungry that I wandered down to the snack bar to grab myself a Snickers bar.

But hey, at least it wasn’t a deep-fried Snickers bar! Compared to that, a regular Snickers bar is like, eating tofu, right?

Except it tastes a lot better than tofu.

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Economic ‘Dr. Doom’ predicts … more doom

Economist Nouriel Roubini, the infamous Dr. Doom who predicted the current economic crisis, posted his projections today about the course of unemployment. It is not by any means a pretty picture:

“Recent data suggest that job market conditions are not improving in the United States and other advanced economies. In the U.S., the unemployment rate, currently at 9.5%, is poised to rise above 10% by the fall. It should peak at 11% some time in 2010 and remain well above 10% for a long time….

But these raw figures on job losses, bad as they are, actually understate the weakness in world labor markets. If you include partially employed workers and discouraged workers who left the U.S. labor force, for example, the unemployment rate is already 16.5%; even temporary employment is sharply down. Monetary and fiscal stimulus in most countries has done little to slow down the rate of job losses as economies suffer from problems of insolvency, not just illiquidity, and as the fiscal …

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