Good morning Conflucians!! And Happy Easter!!
Today is the most important religious holiday to Christians. May they and everyone find peace and bliss in their lives. The picture above is not really about Easter, but Easter Island looks pretty cool.
On to some news. It looks like Justice Stevens will be retiring pretty soon:
Stevens, who turns 90 later this month, isn’t quite ready to say. “I can tell you that I love the job, and deciding whether to leave it is a very difficult decision,” he said in an interview. “But I want to make it in a way that’s best for the court.”
That would mean a decision sooner rather than later, in time for the nomination and confirmation process to be completed before a new term begins in October, he said. He acknowledged that he told a reporter early last month that he would decide in about 30 days, but he said with a laugh that he hoped “that wasn’t being treated as a statute of limitations.”
His departure will hand President Obama his second chance to leave a lasting mark on the nine-member Supreme Court. “I will surely do it while he’s still president,” Stevens said, who plans to leave either this year or next.
NYT has an article about it as well. Nothing definite, but it sounds very likely to be soon.
Post says Dems have been raising more money than GOP despite the polls:
Democrats in both chambers are enjoying the traditional advantages of majority-party status — and then some. They lead in donations by political action committees, by committees affiliated with the national political parties or with House and Senate leaders, and in individual contributions to incumbent lawmakers. In some instances, their lead exceeds what the Republicans had when that party controlled both chambers in the 2005-06 midterm election cycle.
To no surprise, analysts differ by party on the causes and significance of the disparity. Some Republicans say a donation surge may still come, particularly as the party courts new, small donors outside Washington. They also complain that donations to party stalwarts have been affected by internal squabbles with rebellious “tea partiers,” which they hope will end soon.
So not a surprise given the incumbent, large majority status. Then why is it news he asked knowing full well they’re all in it together. I’d guess the money isn’t coming from the lowly voting peasants out here given the polls. So it’s most likely their getting money from their corporate bosses. It will be interesting to see if the bosses turn on them even though they’ve done their bidding so nicely.
Pilots are now permitted to fly on antidepressant medication:
The Federal Aviation Administration will let some pilots who take four popular antidepressants return to the skies, saying Friday that it is easing its long-standing ban on psychiatric medications.
The old policy stemmed in part from concerns over possible side effects of psychiatric drugs, including sedation. But newer medications have fewer side effects, and pilots’ associations have pressured the agency to reconsider the ban.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said some pilots with depression likely weren’t being treated or were doing so in secret out of fear of losing their jobs. “We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associated with depression,” said Mr. Babbitt.
Starting Monday, the agency will consider granting waivers that will allow pilots to fly while taking Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro, as well as their generic equivalents.
Medical experts and mental-health organizations supported the move, noting that untreated depression itself has an impact on job performance. They cautioned that the FAA needed to monitor the changes and keep pilots’ confidentiality in mind.
On the one hand, drugs, that is, more drugs? On the other hand, depressed and pilot don’t sound like a good combination.
Apparently the census is a disorganized mess:
In their ambitious effort to count every citizen, U.S. Census Bureau officials formed 125 committees in the Chicago area, many composed of community organizers who saturated ethnic neighborhoods with volunteers to allay fears and encourage people to fill out their forms.
But some community activists say the effort was disorganized and that local census officials provided little support, leaving them to devise their own plans. Census officials complain that some community groups may have confused wary immigrants by asking them to sign pledge cards and, in some cases, asking sensitive questions about citizenship.
Those were some of the problems that came to light this week after census officials reported that Chicago had one of the lowest response rates in the country, despite a regional promotion campaign heralded as a national model.
The mail return rate in Chicago rose to 44 percent Friday, but it was still lower than the national rate of 56 percent.
Some of us have been quite enjoying basketball this season. But apparently the NCAA is going to ruin everything by some big changes for next year:
Beware the man who stares at perfection and proclaims, “I can improve this!” He most certainly can’t, and if you dare let him try, the only thing that’s certain is that he’ll end up ruining it.
And ruin, sadly enough, is the near-certain fate of what for a quarter-century has stood as one of the sports world’s last pillars of unspoiled perfection: the NCAA basketball tournament. As this year’s edition of March Madness climaxes in Indianapolis, it has become clear that the NCAA will junk the current tournament format and expand to a 96-team field starting next season.
A few days ago, the NCAA released a blueprint for its beefed-up bracket, laughably claiming that it was all theoretical and that no decisions had yet been made. Don’t be fooled. It was only the latest step in a tightly scripted rollout that began a year ago. Soon, the NCAA will sever its tournament contract with CBS and ratify the new postseason format. Then the bidding will begin.
And money, no matter what they claim, is what this is about. More than ever, television advertisers covet live events like the tournament, which still deliver the large, broad audiences that scripted sitcoms, dramas and movies-of-the-week delivered a generation ago. To accommodate 96 teams, 16 games– spaced out over two days — will be added to tournament. A few years ago, ESPN (which can blow the broadcast networks out of the water, thanks to cable subscriber fees) bid more than $1 billion to air one NFL game a week. Imagine what it’ll pay for 79 do-or-die basketball games.
Time will tell.
According to this report, after the oh so rough and tumble bitter battle over healthcare (president’n is hard), Obama is not inclined to have a battle over immigration or climate change. Of course not:
President Obama’s victory on healthcare gave him some much-needed political momentum. But he seems disinclined to ride that into another all-in battle this year on his keystone domestic agenda items of climate change and immigration.
Instead, the White House is planning to focus on narrower efforts to pump up the economy, rewrite financial regulation, amend campaign finance laws to limit corporate donations and impose new fees on banks to repay federal bailout funds.
The White House is careful to say that it remains strongly committed to overhauling immigration and limiting greenhouse gases. But so far, the Obama administration has shown little appetite to engage aggressively in crafting legislation and rounding up votes on Capitol Hill for what would probably be deeply partisan fights over those issues as congressional elections near.
Significantly, regardless of the specific issue, Obama so far is following the same playbook he used in the early phase of the healthcare fight: deferring to Congress and giving lawmakers wide latitude in writing legislation and plotting strategy.
“Our approach is to lay out the parameters and to challenge the Congress” to pass bills, said White House senior advisor David Axelrod, adding: “There’s this myth that if the president arrives on the steps of the Capitol with stone tablets, people will bow and vote accordingly. I think that’s a naive view of how laws are made.”
The prospect that the administration will not go all in this year on its signature initiatives alarms several Democratic interest groups. They say a firmer White House hand is needed for the bills to have any chance of passing before November’s midterm elections.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which advocates for a new immigration system, said that with healthcare, “the mistake [the White House] made was to wait too long and leave Congress in charge of the process for too long. And quite frankly, they’re on the verge of making a similar mistake with immigration reform.”
Similarly, environmentalists want to see action in the Senate on the energy bill that would establish a controversial emissions cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases.
Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said the White House and Democratic congressional leadership “should not . . . move anything that shows gridlock or Democratic division.”
Silly liberals, Obama is for big corporations. And well, that all sounds like really hard work.
After getting Sarah Palin to campaign for him, John McCain now has a comfortable lead of 57-32 in his primary:
A new Research 2000 poll sponsored by Daily Kos, out Friday, showed McCain beating Hayworth easily, 52-37. Meanwhile, McCain ended the first quarter of 2010 with $4.5 million in the bank, after raising more than $2.2 million this year so far. Hayworth announced that he raised more than $1 million, but didn’t say exactly how much. (And one of his top advisors, Arizona public relations mogul Jason Rose, recently quit because Hayworth couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give him a paying contract to keep working on the campaign.)
McCain is taking the race deadly seriously, running all over Arizona in an effort not to let Hayworth carve out much space to his right. His campaign aides push back against the slightest provocation from Hayworth with overwhelming force. And of course, Sarah Palin — who he launched from Alaska to global superstardom in 2008 — came through to rally the faithful for him last weekend. True, the state’s Republicans are rabidly conservative, and some of them have never liked McCain; his push a few years ago for immigration reform hurt him among some segments of the GOP base. Hayworth has had some luck raising money from tea party groups outside Arizona who think McCain is an apostate.
Clearly Palin is still a superstar, and I’m sure that drives the Republican establishment that hates here and the Democratic establishment that keeps bipartisaning in their pants.
Hey, how come we don’t have these? Wales had a pop harp festival:
Wales is thought to have more harpists per head of population than any other country, so it’s a natural setting for an international harp festival.
From Sunday 4 April the Galeri arts centre is the venue for the second Wales International Harp Festival, with concerts and competitions, lectures and master classes.
It also incorporates the celebration of an important anniversary as John Parry, the blind musician who put Welsh harp music on the map, was born 300 years ago this year.
“He was born in Nefyn to a poor family, but had a great talent,” explained festival director Elinor Bennett.
“He came to the attention of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and went to London and mixed with the gentry, playing with people like the composer Handel. He published the first collection of Welsh harp music in 1742.”
To commemorate his contribution each competitor in the festival must play one of his works, as well as a piece by a modern Welsh composer.
“It’s nicer performing in front of the public and not just three judges. The performance element is always important, right from the beginning.”
But you don’t have to be an experienced harpist to take part. There will be a taster session for adult beginners.
Meinir Llwyd explained: “It seems that a lot of adults wanted to play as children, but didn’t get the chance, so now they’re retired they’ve decided to fulfil their dreams.”
Elinor Bennet now hopes the festival will be held every four years.
She said: “We’ve had a harp festival in the William Mathias Music Centre in Caernarfon since it opened in 1999, but we wanted to lift the profile of the harp not only in Wales, but on an international scale.
“That was the idea behind the festival in 2006 and it was so successful that we wanted to do it again.”
Shuttle Discovery is readying for launch on Monday. The Shuttle program is coming to a close:
Only three shuttle flights remain after this one. President Barack Obama will visit the Cape Canaveral area April 15 – while Discovery is in orbit – to elaborate on his post-shuttle plans. He created a furor in the aerospace community in February when he killed NASA’s Constellation program, which had been aimed at returning astronauts to the moon. That will mean even more lost jobs for Kennedy Space Center and NASA’s other hubs for human spaceflight operation.
Launch manager Mike Moses told reporters that even as the shuttle program winds down, the work force remains as loyal and dedicated to the job as ever.
“But I don’t want to take away from the fact that this is a very human space program, not just with the humans flying in the shuttle, but the folks building it and preparing it and getting ready to launch it,” he said.
As excitement builds toward Monday morning’s launch, “I don’t think there are too many people out there right now at their desks, worried that we’re about to end,” Moses said. “You ask that question on Tuesday, we might get a little different answer. But right now, I think spirits are very high and geared up toward that launch.”
Discovery will spend 13 days in orbit, on its next-to-last flight.
After that we’ll have to do much of our work via broken down Russian rockets. The symbolism is interesting.
What does the easter bunny have to do with Easter. Nothing, but…
Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. They were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
According to University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the Easter bunny — can be traced back to 13th century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.
Spring also symbolized new life and rebirth; eggs were an ancient symbol of fertility. According to History.com, Easter eggs represent Jesus’ resurrection. However, this association came much later when Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany in the 15th century and merged with already ingrained pagan beliefs.
The first Easter bunny legend was documented in the 1500s. By 1680, the first story about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published. These legends were brought to the United States in the 1700s when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country, according to the Center for Children’s Literature and Culture.
The tradition of making nests for the rabbit to lay its eggs in soon followed. Eventually, nests became decorated baskets and colorful eggs were swapped for candy, treats and other small gifts.
So in addition to technologically stripping us (with later photos on the internet to prove it) and poking and prodding us, it looks like the US is finally going to start officially profiling us as well:
The United States will announce Friday it plans to begin profiling U.S.-bound passengers in a major shake up of air travel security measures.
Under the new measures to begin this month, which will apply to U.S. citizens as well, the level of screening of travelers will depend on how closely their personal characteristics match against intelligence on potential terrorists.
The measures will replace mandatory enhanced screening of all passengers traveling to the United States from 14 mostly-Muslim nations, put into place following a failed Al-Qaeda attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day.
“It’s much more tailored to what intelligence is telling us and what the threat is telling us, as opposed to stopping all individuals from a particular nationality,” said an unnamed U.S. official quoted by The Washington Post.
Forbes has an article about how and why big corporations pay little or no taxes:
As you work on your taxes this month, here’s something to raise your hackles: Some of the world’s biggest, most profitable corporations enjoy a far lower tax rate than you do–that is, if they pay taxes at all.
The most egregious example is General Electric. Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.
Avoiding taxes is nothing new for General Electric. In 2008 its effective tax rate was 5.3%; in 2007 it was 15%. The marginal U.S. corporate rate is 35%.
Read on for their logic of why.
That’s a bit of the news today. Chime in with what you’re hearing and reading, and what’s on your mind.