Wednesday, January 7, 2009

BREVITAS

ALL IN THE FAMILY

NY Times - An upstate New York developer donated $100,000 to former President Bill Clinton's foundation in November 2004, around the same time that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure millions of dollars in federal assistance for the businessman's mall project. Robert J. Congel donated $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation as Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed bills to help his mall project. Mrs. Clinton helped enact legislation allowing the developer, Robert J. Congel, to use tax-exempt bonds to help finance the construction of the Destiny USA entertainment and shopping complex, an expansion of the Carousel Center in Syracuse.

Mrs. Clinton also helped secure a provision in a highway bill that set aside $5 million for Destiny USA roadway construction. . . Mr. Congel and Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, both said there was no connection between his donation and her legislative work on his project's behalf. Mr. Reines said Mrs. Clinton supported the expansion of Carousel mall "purely as part of her unwavering commitment to improving upstate New York's struggling economy, and nothing more."

Portland Press Herald, ME -
Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson has instructed local police to treat certain crimes, including some cases of operating with a suspended license, as traffic offenses in order to reduce prosecutors' caseloads. An increase in criminal cases and the loss of a prosecutor to state budget cuts have left the district attorney looking for ways to trim roughly 4,000 cases per year from the criminal docket.

Boston money manager
Harry Markopolos sent a stunning memo to the SEC's New York office in November 2005. In the memo, he says, "The World's Largest Hedge Fund is a Fraud." Of course, he was talking about Bernie Madoff's investment fund. In the memo, he lays out a compelling case for why Madoff's investment returns were impossible and even goes as far as to call the operation a Ponzi scheme. It appears that Markopolos' memo was not taken seriously, as the SEC only performed cursory investigations of Madoff's firm and declined to subpoena documents to determine the validity of Madoff's claims. Text of memo

ARTS & CULTURE

Discovery Channel
- Stonehenge was built as a dance arena for prehistoric "samba-style" raves, according to a study of the acoustics of the 5,000-year-old stone circle. . . Rupert Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University in northern England, discovered that Stonehenge's megaliths reflect sound perfectly, making the stone circle an ideal setting for listening to repetitive trance rhythms.

OBAMALAND

We've spotted the term
"Obama haters" for the first time. . . on the Open Left site. The use of the term "hater" for someone who opposes a particularly politician gained widespread use by the Clintonistas. Anyone who didn't agree with Clinton was a hater, a phrase that raised Clinton to the status of other oppressed peoples of the world like blacks and Jews. Clever but pretty sick.

DRUG BUSTS

Boston Globe - Massachusetts officially decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, but many police departments across the state were essentially ignoring the voter-passed law, saying they would not even bother to ticket people they see smoking marijuana. "We're just basically not enforcing it right now," said Mark R. Laverdure, chief of police in Clinton, a Central Massachusetts town of about 8,000 residents, who said the law was so poorly written that it cannot be enforced. . . Andrew J. Sluckis Jr., chief of police in Auburn, said his 39 officers would not be issuing $100 citations for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, as required under the ballot initiative . . . "If the Legislature enacts some changes, we'll be happy to do it in the future, but as it stands now we're not going to be issuing civil citations," he said. If an officer spots someone smoking marijuana, he said, "We will confiscate it and the person will be sent on their way."

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

Harry Reid is not only wrong, he's a little delusional. Here's from a memo he sent out the day after the Burris disaster: "Yesterday was a terrific day to be a Democrat. We swore in 7 new senators, a true testament to all the hard work you put in to ensure a Democratic victory last November. We still face huge challenges - a slumping economy, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a looming climate crisis. But looking out over the Senate chamber yesterday, I feel more confident than ever that our new senators - backed by your tireless grassroots support - will be a huge part of turning this country around." Unless, of course, Harry Reid screws it up again.

HEALTH & SCIENCE

LA Times -
Blue Shield has agreed to reissue medical coverage to nearly 700 Californians that the company dropped after they got sick and to make other changes in the way it handles insurance purchased by individuals, state officials said. . . The deal is the latest between state regulators and health insurers that attempts to settle investigations prompted by a series of articles in The Times examining rescission, the controversial practice of canceling policyholders after they get sick. Most of the state's major health insurers remain mired in litigation over the practice that led to the cancellation of thousands of policies of sick patients, as well as financial losses for them, physicians and hospitals. . . Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said he hoped the settlement would "make whole" 678 consumers dropped by Blue Shield and "put an end to rescission practices that were hurting consumers."

HOW SERIOUS IS NUT POISONING?

CITIES

Seattle Times
- Following the lead of cities such as London and Singapore, officials in San Francisco are considering a plan to ease traffic by charging drivers a fee upon entering notoriously clogged sections of the city. Using $1 million in federal funds, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority is studying various "congestion-pricing" options. If approved, such pricing would make San Francisco the first U.S. city to charge cars a fee to enter certain neighborhoods at certain times. . . In 2003, London began charging drivers to enter the central part of the city; Singapore and Stockholm, Sweden, also have such fees. Last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated a proposal to charge drivers $8 upon entering a heavily trafficked part of Manhattan, but the plan died in the state Assembly.

SUSTAIN YOURSELF

Tree Hugger
- We often write about how the dumb solutions make a lot more sense than the complicated and expensive ones. A great example is the Hurriquake nail, designed by Ed Sutt of Bostitch. For just fifteen bucks over the cost of a house, it makes it twice as resistant to high winds and 50% more resistant to earthquake forces. All through careful design of a nail. We often use ring nails on flooring or for drywall (they hold better; according to a nail guide, "When pounded into wood, they split the fibers. The fibers then settle into the spaces between the rings for an incredibly strong hold." Spiral nails act much like screws and grab tightly as well.
But a spiral nail doesn't cut away as much metal and has better shear strength, needed for lateral forces like an earthquake, so the Hurriquake nail combines both. Add a big head to withstand pull-through and you have a sophisticated little piece of wire.

ECO CLIPS

Daily Mail, UK
- Fizzy drinks sold by Coca-Cola in Britain have been found to contain pesticides at up to 300 times the level allowed in tap or bottled water. A worldwide study found pesticide levels in orange and lemon drinks sold under the Fanta brand, which is popular with children, were at their highest in the UK. . . The study uncovered pesticides in some fizzy drinks at up to 300 times the level permitted in tap water. . .

USA Today - Many hybrid car owners, who often get tax credits and special use of HOV lanes, are getting another perk: parking privileges. An increasing number of offices, hotels and others are giving drivers of hybrids free or reduced-cost parking or reserved spots closer to entrances, similar to those for the disabled or for pregnant women. They're following at least a dozen cities, which introduced such perks in 2004.

ELDERS

Unsilent Generation - As one of its final acts in the worst economic year since the Great Depression, the federal government passed legislation suspending for 2009 the rule requiring old people to withdraw a minimum amount of money from their 401Ks, IRAs, or other individual retirement accounts. The current rule imposes a 50 percent tax penalty on anyone over age 70 1/2 who fails to take their so-called mandatory distributions by the end of the year. . . The idea behind the legislation is that seniors shouldn't be forced to sell off their investments at a loss. Unfortunately, however, it applies to 2009, not 2008-which is, of course, when our retirement accounts got gutted. According to the New York Times, some members of Congress urged Henry Paulson's Treasury Department to apply the same change to 2008, but it declined to do so.

FREEDOM & JUSTICE

Washington Post -
Jet Blue Airways and two officials with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration have paid $240,000 to settle charges that they illegally discriminated against an Iraqi-born U.S. resident who was barred from a flight until he covered his T-shirt, which carried an Arabic phrase, his attorneys announced yesterday. . . Jarrar, a U.S. legal permanent resident who immigrated in 2005 with his wife, an American citizen, alleged that he was barred from boarding an August 2006 flight to Oakland, Calif., because he wore a T-shirt that read "We Will Not Be Silent" in English and Arabic. He was not permitted to board until he covered his shirt and then was re-seated at the rear of the plane.

ACTIVIST UNMASKS HIMSELF AS FBI INFORMANT IN G.O.P. CONVENTION CASE

RECOVERED HISTORY

Discovery Channel - Stonehenge was built as a dance arena for prehistoric "samba-style" raves, according to a study of the acoustics of the 5,000-year-old stone circle. . . Rupert Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University in northern England, discovered that Stonehenge's megaliths reflect sound perfectly, making the stone circle an ideal setting for listening to repetitive trance rhythms.

FURTHERMORE . . .

Al Kamen, Washington Post - If Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) is confirmed this month as interior secretary, he'll have a snappy, scarcely used bathroom in his fifth-floor office, thanks to Dirk Kempthorne, the outgoing secretary. Seems Kempthorne spent about $235,000 in taxpayer funds renovating the bathroom a few months ago, which included installing a new shower, a refrigerator and a freezer and buying monogrammed towels, department officials told our colleague Derek Kravitz. . . "If Gale Norton needed to shower, at least she was conservative enough to go to the gym in the basement of the building," one career employee quipped, referring to Kempthorne's predecessor.

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