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Wrap party and cookie swap

It’s time, Conflucians. Yes, once a year, we go looking for the tape and wherever the kids have hidden the scissors and spend the evening wrapping all of those things we spent too much money on.

Note to the economists: my gauge of a successful Christmas season is how much time I spend in predatory parking mode at the mall. This year, it didn’t take me long to spot my prey. Some years, I can circle the parking lot for 20 minutes. This year, not a problem. I have been finding them with relative ease. That’s not to say the mall isn’t crowded. This is NJ, after all. But there aren’t that many people blowing wads of cash this year. It’s not as bad as 2008 but it’s still pretty bad.

Anyway, I thought we could keep each other company during the wrap session by swapping cookie recipes. My favorites are Raspberry Jam Strips but I have to go look up the recipe. In the meantime, MissChievous, a Swiss-Canadian living in Switzerland, posted this chocolate cookie recipe for Tp-Die-For Chocolate Mint Cookies:

Yum-yum. Let’s see Paula Deen top that.

On your mark… Get set… Wrap!

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And now, a word from your sponsor

It has come to my attention that some of our commenters are of the opinion that they have the right to dictate the terms by which we express our opinions. This would be an incorrect assumption.

We, the front pagers can post our opinions on anything on our mind. We can say things that you do not particularly like. We are free to write things that will challenge your most cherished beliefs on a particular subject. If we know that there are people who are lying to you about something, we may feel obligated to tell you, to the best of our ability and understanding and sometimes from an inside point of view, exactly how we think they are misleading you. Just because it violates some preconceived notion put forth by your tribe doesn’t mean we are wrong or being mean. You may not like it. Tough. That’s our prerogative.

You may disagree with us if you want. That is what the comment section is for. However, it is not your right to tell us what to write or how to write it. It is not up to commenters to dictate what kind of blog we are. If you want a more exclusively feminist blog, there are others to choose from. This front pager does not think it is to anyone’s advantage to have only women blogging. That’s not the way the world works. We don’t achieve equality by partitioning ourselves off from the world and then pulling gender rage at everything that is written that we don’t like. That strikes me as dangerously close to the crap the Obots pulled on us in 2008 when everything we said, did or breathed was deliberately misconstrued as racist.

If you want a more Birkenstock wearing, academically minded, purist and unrealistic read, google someone like Chris Hedges. There are certain things that trigger a Pavlovian response in lefties, like nuclear energy, pharma and anyone with “Clinton” following their first name. If you have a reflexive response to those words, you may not feel comfortable here.

From the first day this blog started, the goal has been to challenge consensus reality and to give those of us with contrary opinions a place to voice our dissent. It was badly needed. But it can be jarring and leave readers dizzy. Readers are advised to expect the unexpected. We present ideas and try to connect the dots. So far, we have a pretty good track record of being right. Just because it is all the rage to rail against “bullying” on websites doesn’t mean we are in any way responsible for some commenters sense of victimization. We aren’t forcing anyone to read us. That doesn’t mean we want to alienate any readers but you should know what you are signing up for. We don’t ban nearly as many people as other blogs and most of you usually get to say whatever the hell you want. I’ve read a lot of complaints today that myiq is “attacking” some of you and I’ve read the threads in question. I don’t see it.

Our credo is in the tabs at the top of the page. I advise commenters to read it. The front pagers of this blog pretty much subscribe to those principles. One thing i would like to emphasize is our right to be unpopular if necessary. It’s one of the reasons we don’t have ads plastering our pages or beg you for money. If we did that, we might pull our punches in the future and not have the nerve to tell you to fuck off if we have to. But we are not into group think and we do occasionally disagree with each other. If we don’t have a problem with that, why should you? And if you do have a problem with it, there is a perfectly good solution…

Get your own blog.

The Cult of Assange


Michael Lind at Salon:

An invisible, stateless, global Panopticon, manned by hidden zealots subjecting everyone in every country to potential surveillance and public humiliation, is a Foucaultian nightmare. Here is the creepy message sent to Wired magazine before a wave of criminal cyber-attacks launched by supporters of Assange:

We are the clear logic used to unveil wrongdoing. The general public, clouded by misleading information mostly by the media with a political agenda, fails to see and understand this wrongdoing. Because of this, those who do the wrongdoing escape unpunished. Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it.

The masked vigilante Batman could not have put it better, in a note to the citizens of Gotham City. This juvenile posturing is worthy of the Symbionese Liberation Army or Subcommandante Marcos or the Unabomber. Or Julian Assange in his online anarcho-libertarian manifesto, according to which all public and private organizations are authoritarian conspiracies — except, of course, for his own organization.

Like other illiberal sects, the cult of Assange rationalizes its contempt for law and ordinary politics by dismissing the “general public” as passive fools brainwashed by the “media with a political agenda.” So much for democracy.

As in other forms of anti-liberal thought, like anarchism and fascism and Marxism-Leninism and radical Islamism, the central idea of cyber-anarchism is that society must be saved by a self-appointed vanguard of vigilantes who themselves are above the law and whose motives are beyond question: “Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it.” So much for liberalism, which dreads arbitrary power, fears hero worship and assumes that charismatic rebels as well as bureaucratic authorities are likely to be fallible, biased and corrupt.

Cult-like political and intellectual movements can be identified by their nonfalsifiability. Cultists deflect criticism by defaming critics. If you criticize Freudianism, you must be sexually repressed. If you criticize Marxism, you must be bourgeois or brainwashed by the bourgeoisie. If you criticize WikiLeaks, as I have done, you must be an agent of the authoritarian “national security state” or its brainwashed dupe. According to Assange himself, Mastercard, PayPal and Visa, which have refused to process money for WikiLeaks, are “instruments of U.S. foreign policy.” By the logic of the cult, the two Swedish women who have accused Julian Assange of sexual abuse can only be part of a global conspiracy at the highest levels to bring him down. The Birthers and Birchers and Truthers now have company.

I’m not going to add anything. Res ipsa loquitur. Let me just repeat this one sentence:

If you criticize WikiLeaks, as I have done, you must be an agent of the authoritarian “national security state” or its brainwashed dupe.


Confidence Men


It’s no secret I’m skeptical of WikiLeaks. It really seems to piss some people off that I don’t think the organization is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sorry, but I’m a foliehatt and don’t trust anyone.

Neither does this guy:


Wikileaks: a Big Dangerous US Government Con Job

The story on the surface makes for a script for a new Oliver Stone Hollywood thriller. However, a closer look at the details of what has so far been carefully leaked by the most ultra-establishment of international media such as the New York Times reveals a clear agenda. That agenda coincidentally serves to buttress the agenda of US geopolitics around the world from Iran to North Korea. The Wikileaks is a big and dangerous US intelligence Con Job which will likely be used to police the Internet.

[…]

Then the plot thickens. The 250,000 pages end up at the desk of Julian Assange, the 39-year-old Australian founder of a supposedly anti-establishment website with the cute name Wikileaks. Assange decides to selectively choose several of the world’s most ultra-establishment news media to exclusively handle the leaking job for him as he seems to be on the run from Interpol, not for leaking classified information, but for allegedly having consensual sex with two Swedish women who later decided it was rape.

He selects as exclusive newspapers to decide what is to be leaked the New York Times which did such service in promoting faked propaganda against Saddam that led to the Iraqi war, the London Guardian and Der Spiegel. Assange claims he had no time to sift through so many pages so handed them to the trusted editors of the establishment media for them to decide what should be released. Very “anti-establishment” that.

The New York Times even assigned one of its top people, David E. Sanger, to control the release of the Wikileaks material. Sanger is no establishment outsider. He sits as a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations as well as the Aspen Institute Strategy Group together with the likes of Condi Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former CIA head John Deutch, former State Department Deputy Secretary and now World Bank head Robert Zoellick among others.

[…]

The latest sensational Wikileaks documents allegedly from the US State Department embassies around the world to Washington are definitely not as Hillary Clinton claimed “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests that have endangered innocent people.” And they do not amount to what the Italian foreign minister, called the “September 11 of world diplomacy.” The British government calls them a threat to national security and an aide to Canada’s Prime Minister calls on the CIA to assassinate Assange, as does kooky would-be US Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin.

Most important, the 250,000 cables are not “top secret” as we might have thought. Between two and three million US Government employees are cleared to see this level of “secret” document, [1] and some 500,000 people around the world have access to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRnet) where the cables were stored. SIPRnet is not recommended for distribution of top-secret information. Only 6% or 15,000 pages of the documents have been classified as even secret, a level below top-secret. Another 40% were the lowest level, “confidential”, while the rest were unclassified. In brief, it was not all that secret. [2]

Most of the revelations so far have been unspectacular. In Germany the revelations led to the removal of a prominent young FDP politician close to Guido Westerwelle who apparently liked to talk too much to his counterpart at the US Embassy. The revelations about Russian politics, that a US Embassy official refers to Putin and Medvedev as “Batman and Robin,” tells more about the cultural level of current US State Department personnel than it does about internal Russian politics.

But for anyone who has studied the craft of intelligence and of disinformation, a clear pattern emerges in the Wikileaks drama. The focus is put on select US geopolitical targets, appearing as Hillary Clinton put it “to justify US sanctions against Iran.” They claim North Korea with China’s granting of free passage to Korean ships despite US State Department pleas, send dangerous missiles to Iran. Saudi Arabia’s ailing King Abdullah reportedly called Iran’s President a Hitler.

[…]

What is emerging from all the sound and Wikileaks fury in Washington is that the entire scandal is serving to advance a long-standing Obama and Bush agenda of policing the until-now free Internet. Already the US Government has shut the Wikileaks server in the United States though no identifiable US law has been broken.

The process of policing the Web was well underway before the current leaks scandal. In 2009 Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773). IIt would give the President unlimited power to disconnect private-sector computers from the internet. The bill “would allow the president to ’declare a cyber-security emergency’ relating to ’non-governmental’ computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat.” We can expect that now this controversial piece of legislation will get top priority when a new Republican House and the Senate convene in January.

(No! WikiLeaks is GOOD!)

Think I’m crazy? More than a few people have noticed that so far WikiLeaks is helping the neocon case for a war with Iran. On the other hand, what big secrets have they revealed? Oh sure, they’ve released a few things that were previously unknown, but they haven’t upset any big apple carts, now have they?

The term “con job” comes from the term “confidence men” which is an old-timey term for scam artists. A good con man lures you in by giving you a taste of riches, then once they have your confidence they clean out your life savings.

Imagine this – WikiLeaks releases a document that reveals the identities of C.I.A. agents, operatives and/or sources inside Iran. These people are then promptly arrested and executed as spies.

Not only would that discredit liberals and help gin-up a war with Iran, but it would be used to justify new government controls and oversight of the internet. Hello, Big Brother.

Oopsie!

That’s not exactly the rosy scenario that WikiLeaks supporters are dreaming of, is it?

(Oh, myiq, why won’t you drink the WikiLeaks Kool-aid? Are you some kind of authoritarian?)

Why should I trust WikiLeaks? I don’t even know who they are. Do you?

Seriously, who are they?

According to Wikipedia:

WikiLeaks is an international new media non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources and news leaks. Its website, launched in 2006 and run by The Sunshine Press,[3] claimed a database of more than 1.2 million documents within a year of its launch.[7] The organisation describes its founders as a mix of Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.[3] Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its director.[8] WikiLeaks was originally launched as a user-editable wiki site, but has progressively moved towards a more traditional publication model, and no longer accepts either user comments or edits.

[…]

The wikileaks.org domain name was registered on 4 October 2006.[4] The website was unveiled, and published its first document in December 2006.[31][32] The site claims to have been “founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and start-up company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa”.[3]

The creators of WikiLeaks have not been formally identified.[33] It has been represented in public since January 2007 by Julian Assange and others. Assange describes himself as a member of WikiLeaks’ advisory board.[34] News reports in The Australian have called Assange the “founder of WikiLeaks”.[35] According to Wired magazine, a volunteer said that Assange described himself in a private conversation as “the heart and soul of this organisation, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organiser, financier, and all the rest”.[36] As of June 2009[update], the site had over 1,200 registered volunteers[3] and listed an advisory board comprising Assange, Phillip Adams, Wang Dan, C. J. Hinke, Ben Laurie, Tashi Namgyal Khamsitsang, Xiao Qiang, Chico Whitaker and Wang Youcai.[37] Despite appearing on the list Khamsitsang said that while he received an e-mail from WikiLeaks, he had never agreed to be an advisor.[38] Adams said he’d also never met Assange or been asked for any advice and suggested that other members of the board hadn’t either.[37]


Do you know any of those people? I sure don’t. That’s the “advisory board.” But who actually runs WikiLeaks?

Not Julian Assange, not lately anyway. He’s too busy playing the International Man of Mystery. So who runs Wikileaks? Where are their loyalties and what are their goals?

More importantly, where are the leaks coming from?

Whistleblowers are like criminal informants. Most of them are bad people with ulterior motives. Their consciences kick in and they start ratting about the same time they get fired or screwed over by the people they rat on.

I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy or the Great Pumpkin (okay, maybe the Great Pumpkin.) That’s magical thinking.

WikiLeaks is magical thinking.

This organization of people we don’t know much about will use sources we don’t know anything about and via the awesome power of the internet the world will be transformed into a paradise filled with fluffy bunnies. Riiiiight.

Remember the Progressive Blogosphere 1.0? They were going to use the awesome power of the internet to transform politics and turn America into a Liberal paradise filled with fluffy bunnies.

How did that work out?

(But WikiLeaks hasn’t broken any laws!)

Maybe not. But even if it isn’t against the law to publish classified and/or stolen information on the web now, it will be soon. Bet on it.

But there are some other laws involved here. Like the Law of Unintended Consequences and Newton’s Third Law:

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Oh, you thought that law just applied to physics? Silly you.

One last point – I think it’s funny how WikiLeak supporters are outraged that the banks are cutting ties to WikiLeaks. Glenzilla mentions in yesterday’s post. Some people think the government is forcing the banks to do that. Hello?

That’s the tail wagging the dog.

Did it ever occur to anyone that the banks are distancing themselves from WikiLeaks so that when the fit hits the Shan they won’t be anywhere in the vicinity?

Who will be in the vicinity?

Progressive bloggers. Michael Moore. Liberals.

There are no shortcuts. Confidence men offer “get rich quick” schemes. WikiLeaks offers a “get government reform quick” scheme. Don’t trust either one.

Government needs to be reformed, but WikiLeaks isn’t the answer. There are no magic wands to wave and fix everything. Just hard work.



UPDATE:

CIA launches task force to assess impact of U.S. cables’ exposure by WikiLeaks

[…]

The irreverence is perhaps understandable for an agency that has been relatively unscathed by WikiLeaks. Only a handful of CIA files have surfaced on the WikiLeaks Web site, and records from other agencies posted online reveal remarkably little about CIA employees or operations.

If WikiLeaks is a CIA plot then they wouldn’t be hurt by its disclosures, now would they?

Where’s my foliehatt?


Wednesday News – Net (Non)Neutrality Edition

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Big news this week is the FCC ruling on net neutrality or in this case, the lack of net neutrality. Yet another case of Obama handing over what is the people’s to the few rich and powerful. But before we get to that, another cowardly Obama move deserves notice. Namely how the administration is preparing for their own indefinite dentition order for “terrorists”:

The Obama administration is preparing an executive order that would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but allow those detainees and their lawyers to challenge the basis for continued incarceration, U.S. officials said.

The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.

“We have a plan to close Guantanamo, and this detainee review process is one element,” said an administration official who discussed the order on the condition of anonymity because it has yet to reach the president.

So nice of them to add that bit about they can still “challenge” their continued incarceration. That doesn’t mean those don’t get put into the “circular file” of course. Another bit of information from the same article relates to what was in the defense authorization bill:

Provisions in the defense authorization bill, which has passed the House and is before the Senate, would effectively ban the transfer of any detainee to the United States for any purpose. That rules out civilian trials for all Guantanamo detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His potential prosecution had remained possible even though the administration had balked in the face of political opposition to a trial in New York.

The defense bill, if it passes the Senate, would effectively force the administration to conduct only military commissions and at Guantanamo Bay, which would also have to remain open to house those held indefinitely. The bill would also create new requirements before the administration could repatriate or resettle detainees who were cleared for release by the interagency task force.

So much kabuki theater. Notice that this is still a large majority Democratic congress doing this. And notice Guantanamo never closed. But I’m sure the president will be really disappointed in all this. As it turned out the bill didn’t pass (see below on the stop gap bill for even worse news).


OK, so back to possibly loosing the ability to watch Netflix online. What everyone not on the side of the big telco’s and cable companies wanted was a pretty simple net neutrality ruling that basically said you can’t discriminate network traffic based on its starting point or its end point. Clean, simple, and to the point. But that’s not what we got. What we got instead was a watered down “we really don’t think you should do that”, mostly. And some big loopholes you could drive a truck through. And on top of that, big exceptions. Really big exceptions. Basically the future of all internet, wireless, has no limitations whatsoever. So telco’s running wireless services are now free to charge different rates depending on where traffic is coming from or where it’s going. That is what Obama did today.

Let’s see some of the coverage. First from ars technica:

The Federal Communications Commission is releasing the details of its new net neutrality Order in stages. Although the FCC’s new ban on “unreasonable discrimination” for wired ISPs allows certain kinds of traffic discrimination (not all bits need be equal), the agency made clear after today’s meeting that “paid prioritization” deals with Internet companies are unlikely to be allowed. Critics had worried that the new Order would only affect outright website blocking, leaving paid prioritization untouched (or even implicitly sanctioned).

“Pay for Priority Unlikely to Satisfy ‘No Unreasonable Discrimination’ Rule,” advises one subheading of the new net neutrality rules. Ed Whitacre’s dream of directly charging Google and Yahoo to “use his pipes”—a key event in starting the entire net neutrality debate—appears to be dashed.

[…]

As we’ve reported, the FCC’s new rules forbid Internet providers from blocking lawful content and they require transparency from ISPs. They also require that network management and packet discrimination to be “reasonable,” but that only applies to wireline broadband. Wireless operators gets a free pass on rationality; they’re limited only to the transparency and blocking provisions.

[…]

“Specialized services” like IPTV (think AT&T”s U-Verse) will also be allowed over the last-mile broadband connection, although the FCC insists it will watch their deployment for anti-competitive behavior. But the Order rather strongly suggests that priority deals are “unlikely” to fit into this “reasonable” framework.

Let’s look at some of that closer. First there is some attempt to say it’s bad in normal, reasonable situations to have priority deals for either end of the internet connection. That is, it would be bad in normal situations to charge a starting point like a department store or netflix or a blogger different rates for different bit rate or quality of service priorities. And similarly in normal, reasonable situations it would be bad to charge end users or even low level ISPs different rates for different levels of priority traffic. OK. So what does normal and reasonable mean?

Well, it turns out they say some things aren’t normal and reasonable, and that includes things like video. So Netflix or Youtube or similar starting points can be charged more than others. And you as a user can be charged more to receive those. Don’t confuse that with prioritizing based on the type of data or “packet” which could reasonably say video is a bit lower priority (because it’s so big). Those types of rules are reasonable and effect data of certain shapes regardless of what video, who’s sending it, and who’s receiving it. In this case they don’t say that, they say that’s a special case and you can let, say, Comcast charge Netflix more to send data or you more more to receive Netflix data.

And look what else they say, they say wireless, e.g., cell, is exempt for the most part. They do say they should play nice, and they’ll be watching. You know, kind of like how the administration watched BP in the gulf. And remember, when you hear that about cell, keep in mind that’s very possibly the future of the internet as we move to 4G and then 5G cell systems; those will be faster than the alternatives. And by this ruling, those will already have unfair practices well in place. And you know how hard that is to get mega corporations to give up something. Kind of like how hard it will be to get any administration and congress to give up sucking 100M a year from social security and medicare after Obama pushed through that tax bill. So through your cell service, be prepared to pay different rates based on who you are and what you receive.

Two days ago, over on huff and puff, Al Franken had a column about the issue. Here’s a snippet from that:

This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called “net neutrality” — and it’s under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don’t do that at all. They’re worse than nothing.

And sadly, we learned they did worse than nothing indeed. Here’s a follow up article at huff and puff on what eventually passed (emphasis mine):

Late Monday, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners indicated that they’re going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.

According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow’s FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.

The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.

For the first time in history of telecommunications law the FCC has given its stamp of approval to online discrimination.

Instead of a rule to protect Internet users’ freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola – letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

[…]

Internet users deserve far better, and we thought we were going to get it from a president who promised to “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality.” Watch now as he and his FCC chairman try to spin tomorrow’s betrayal as another “mission accomplished.”

Don’t believe it. This bogus victory has become all too familiar to those watching the Obama administration and its appointees squander opportunities for real change. The reality is that reform is just a rhetorical front for industry compromises that reward the biggest players and K-Street lobbyists while giving the public nothing.

Say it with me everyone: we told you so. He’s a stooge for the mega pro monopoly corporations. What else do you have to see to finally not say he failed, because he did exactly what he wanted to do, and finally not say, well he’s intelligent and he means well, because he does exactly what he means. What more needs to happen people. Well, at least they’re noticing he’s not on their side. Mostly. Got hope?


And speaking of faux messiahs like Obama or Assange on the left or similar ones on the right, why is it that some percentage of people on both sides of the political spectrum will follow someone like that? Here’s a nice quote from a early socialist and labor leader, Eugene Debs:

I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, somebody else would lead you out.

I wish people could keep that in mind when they mostly blindly follow a leader.


Let’s see what else is in the news. Oh yes, after a year or so of skyrocketing health insurance premium costs (mine when up nearly 100%, and that’s with no doctor visits as an excuse even), the Obama administration is looking into it. It looks like they’ll be writing some really stern letters again (emphasis mine):

Moving to restrain skyrocketing health insurance premiums, the Obama administration is proposing rules requiring insurers to justify increases of more than 10% a year in 2011.

At the same time, administration officials plan to step up federal review of premiums if state regulators cannot adequately protect consumers, a move cheered by many leading consumer advocates.

The increased oversight comes as consumers nationwide struggle with rate hikes that have exceeded 30% in some places, even as insurance industry profits have swelled.

In the lead-up to passage of the new law, the soaring rates fueled calls to give state and federal regulators more power to scrutinize premiums and even deny increases that appear unjustified. Only some states currently have such authority.

The draft regulations unveiled Tuesday would not give state or federal officials the ability to deny rate hikes. Instead, the administration is relying on state regulators to scrutinize proposed hikes and to assess if they are justified by increases in the cost of care or other factors.

Yep, mission accomplished again.


Oh yea, the large majority of Democrats in congress couldn’t get together on a spending bill, so they punted for a stop gap until March when the Repubs, sill a minority in the senate, will of course be in complete control and will demand massive cuts:

Congress passed a stopgap funding bill last night to keep the government open into March, when Republicans will have greater power to cut federal spending.

On a 193-to-165 vote, the House backed a stripped-down measure that would freeze pay for federal employees, provide $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and head off cuts in Pell grants for college tuition. The Senate approved the bill hours earlier, 79-16.

[…]

The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress — in an unprecedented breakdown of the budget process — has failed to pass a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.

It’s a feature not a bug as a certain klown likes to say. Let’s start placing bets on what will be cut next year.


The other big news of late was the results of the census showing some shifts in congressional seats. Two states lost two seats each, New York and Ohio. And a number of states, mostly in the northeast lost one seat each. And a number of states in the south and west gained seats. Here’s some general coverage at Bloomberg, local coverages at the NYTimes and the Miami Herald for some sampling of results.

That’s a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with what you’re seeing.

She’s a real Betty


Betty White voted AP entertainer of the year

What Betty White did in 2010 doesn’t usually happen: an 88-year-old actress with more than six decades in Hollywood suddenly became the object of adulation of the Facebook-connected masses, which campaigned for her to host “Saturday Night Live,” boosting the show’s ratings and helping her set ratings records for her own show.

After a year remarkable for a star of any age, White has been voted the Entertainer of the Year by members of The Associated Press.

“It’s ridiculous,” White says of the honor, in an interview from her home in Los Angeles. “They haven’t caught on to me, and I hope they never do.”

But more than acclaim, her unlikely, age-defying success resonated deeply with people who saw in her a spirited, hilarious aberration, a woman not dimmed by age but enhanced by it: The genuine article in a pop culture awash in imitators.

There were 102 ballots submitted from U.S. news organizations that make up the AP’s membership. Voters were asked to cast their ballots for who had the most influence on the entertainment world and culture in 2010. Previous winners include Taylor Swift, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.

The final tally was close: White’s 20 votes beat the cast of “Glee,” Fox’s hit musical, by only two votes. Tied for third with 13 votes were Conan O’Brien, James Cameron and Apple’s iPad. Jon Stewart closely followed with a dozen votes.

Jeez, Betty White was old when I was a kid. Okay, she was only in her 40’s and 50’s but that sure seemed old to me back then.

My favorite Betty White role was the crazy old lady in Lake Placid