"United States Going Away From Gun Control"?

So says US News & World Report:

United States Going Away From Gun Control
May 14, 2009 10:39 AM ET | Paul Bedard | Permanent Link | Print
By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Maybe it's the 9/11 hangover or those anti-Obama bumper stickers sold at gun shops, but the country is edging away from gun control. "Attitudes toward gun control have become more conservative, people not wanting gun control," says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll. The number of people who say they want "more strict" gun control measures is dropping, he says. "So the NRA actually is in a pretty good position now, public-opinion-wise."


One government regulation that will make markets more volatile

Few seem to understand how speculation smoothes market swings. If you think that prices will rise, you make money by buying the asset now. If it falls, you lose money.

The WSJ has a discussion of the new regulations here.

Federal regulators outlined plans to regulate the giant market for derivatives, a move aimed at avoiding a repeat of the turmoil created last year by certain financial institutions whose risk-taking in exotic financial instruments went largely unchecked.

Under a proposed raft of reforms, regulators could be given authority to force many standard over-the-counter derivatives to be traded on regulated exchanges and electronic-trading platforms. That would make it easier to see prices and make markets more transparent.

Firms with large derivative exposures or that trade more-complex derivatives would be subject to new reporting requirements. The proposal also calls for all standardized derivatives to go through clearinghouses that will guarantee trades and help cushion the impact of a collapse of a large financial institution. . . . .

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Is Obama the New Nixon?

Wasn't it Nixon who imposed wage and price controls? Well, with Obama wanting to regulate the wages of employees in the financial industry, what is different? We have interest rate regulations. Is Obama different from Nixon in just a matter of degree?

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Fraud in the Stimulus Program

The Washington Times had this:

President Obama promised Americans they would be able to track "every dime" of the $787 billion stimulus package. He couldn't find it all today if he had a magic wand.

Earl Devaney, chairman of the newly created Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, said last week that, "If I could wave a magic wand, I would want to follow a dollar from cradle to grave." Alas, no magic wand is available, so money can simply disappear in a puff of smoke.

Mr. Devaney testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 19 that, "If the government wants to ensure meaningful accountability, then we must have transparency at every level of transaction." Such thorough transparency doesn't exist because the current rules were not set up to be that precise.

The explanation for the disarray is simple. Federal and state agencies are receiving so much stimulus money so fast that bureaucrats are overwhelmed in their attempts to keep track of it all. It doesn't help that it's unclear what the reporting requirements are in the first place.

Gene L. Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the United States, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last month that states are "uncertain about their reporting responsibilities," that there are doubts about "the capacity of reporting systems within their states," and the states question whether their "systems will be capable of aggregating data" the way that the federal government wants it reported. . . . .

How about this for not keeping track of money.

Dead People Get Stimulus
Updated: Thursday, 14 May 2009, 10:30 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 14 May 2009, 5:28 PM EDT

MYFOXNY.COM - This week, thousands of people are getting stimulus checks in the mail. The problem is that a lot of them are dead. A Long Island woman was shocked when she checked the mail and received a letter from the U.S. Treasury -- but it wasn't for her.


Antoniette Santopadre of Valley Stream was expecting a $250 stimulus check. But when her son finally opened it, they saw that the check was made out to her father, Romolo Romonini, who died in Italy 34 years ago. He'd been a U.S. citizen when he left for Italy in 1933, but only returned to the United Stated for a seven-month visit in 1969.

The Santopadres are not alone. The Social Security Administration, which sent out 52 million checks, says that some of those checks mistakenly went to dead people because the agency had no record of their death. That amounts to between 8,000 and 10,000 checks for millions of dollars.

The feds blame a rushed schedule, because all the checks have to be cut by June. The strange this is, some of the checks were made out to people -- like Romonini -- who were never even part of the Social Security. . . . .

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Federal aid is top revenue for states: This will make States much more dependent on the Federal Government

USA Today has this:

In a historic first, Uncle Sam has supplanted sales, property and income taxes as the biggest source of revenue for state and local governments.

The shift shows how deeply the recession is cutting. Federal stimulus money aimed at reviving the economy and a sharp drop in tax collections have altered, at least temporarily, the traditional balance of how states, cities, counties and schools pay for their operations.

The sales tax had been the No. 1 source of state and local revenue since the mid-1970s, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Before that, property taxes were the primary source. That changed in the first three months of 2009.

Federal grants — early stimulus money plus conventional federal aid — soared 15% in the first quarter to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $437 billion, eclipsing sales taxes, which fell 2%.

The dominance of federal money is set to expand dramatically this year because tax collections are sinking while the bulk of federal stimulus aid is just starting to arrive. "This money isn't manna from heaven. It comes with a price," says Indiana state Sen. Jim Buck, a Republican. He worries that the federal money will leave states under greater federal control and burden future generations with debt. . . . . .

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Yard sign

Thanks to Steve Kelly for the picture.


Obama claims that the deficits that he is creating "unsustainable"

This is rich.

President Barack Obama, calling current deficit spending “unsustainable,” warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries. . . . . .

His spending proposals for next year's budget is over $300 billion more than what Bush had proposed in 2008.

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Making lower income people pay for the new health care program

Remember Obama's promise:

"I can make a firm pledge," he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."

Now we are told:

If you make big bucks — or enjoy alcohol, cigarettes and Coke — the government might hit you up to pay for fixing the nation’s health care system.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee peeked into vending machines and liquor stores, company payrolls and health savings accounts, looking for a mix of tax increases and spending cuts as a way to pay for a health overhaul — which could cost more than $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Experts thought the big debate might be public plan vs. no public plan. But that may well pale in comparison to the difficulty of settling on a way to finance health care reform. . . . .

Still, it’s easy to see why the bad-habits tax was so tempting: Taxing tobacco, junk foods and alcohol could raise $600 billion over 10 years. . . . .

These taxes aren't going to be paid by those under $250,000? As the AP has already noted about the earlier tobacco taxes already increased earlier this year.

One of President Barack Obama's campaign pledges on taxes went up in puffs of smoke Wednesday.
The largest increase in tobacco taxes took effect despite Obama's promise not to raise taxes of any kind on families earning under $250,000 or individuals under $200,000.

This is one tax that disproportionately affects the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich. . . . . .

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EU Levies Record $1.45 Billion fine in Intel Monopoly Case

My own belief is that this is the European way of taxing American firms.

European regulators hit Intel Corp. with a $1.45 billion fine -- the largest ever assessed there for a case involving monopoly abuse -- and called for changes in the way the U.S. company sells the microprocessors at the heart of most of the world's PCs.

The decision, which Intel vowed to appeal, underscored the European Union's willingness to challenge the business practices of dominant U.S. technology companies like Intel, Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. Though there are new signs the Obama administration will get tougher on antitrust abuses, rules enforced by European regulators are already having a big effect on Silicon Valley companies and leaders of other industries. . . . .

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The cost of regulating credit

Regulating interest rates and terms and conditions for credit cards is a real disaster. This piece in the Washington Times is correct that while some high risk borrowers will benefit, everyone else will end up paying higher interest rates.

No credit is worse than costly credit. That's a lesson American consumers will learn soon when Congress regulates credit cards.

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill to set a ceiling on credit-card interest rates. The Senate's Banking Committee reached agreement on a similar measure this past week. Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who got below-market mortgage rates from Countrywide, promises "strict new rules." The Senate is likely to vote this week.

While tapped out credit-card holders might welcome some relief, we invite them as well as their senators to think about the long-term effects of price controls. If barred from charging high interest rates, prudent credit-card issuers will try to cut their losses by denying credit to high-risk groups. The result? Fewer people will have access to consumer credit. As for the rest of us, expect credit card companies to boost interest rates up to the legal maximum.

Don't blame greed. The credit-card issuers won't have a choice. They too have investors looking for a fair return. Planning to lose money is not a good career move for any executive. . . . . .

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Out-of-Wedlock Birthrates Are Soaring

The New York Times has this:

Unmarried mothers gave birth to 4 out of every 10 babies born in the United States in 2007, a share that is increasing rapidly both here and abroad, according to government figures released Wednesday.

Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared — rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34. In 2007, women in their 20s had 60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.

Much of the increase in unmarried births has occurred among parents who are living together but are not married, cohabitation arrangements that tend to be less stable than marriages, studies show.

The pattern has been particularly pronounced among Hispanic women, climbing 20 percent from 2002 to 2006, the most recent year for which racial breakdowns are available. Eleven percent of unmarried Hispanic women had a baby in 2006, compared with 7 percent of unmarried black women and 3 percent of unmarried white women, according to government data drawn from birth certificates. . . . .

The report from the CDC is available here.


Mercury Poisoning in the production of fluorescent light bulbs

From the London Times:

WHEN British consumers are compelled to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs from 2012, they will save up to 5m tons of carbon dioxide a year from being pumped into the atmosphere. In China, however, a heavy environmental price is being paid for the production of “green” lightbulbs in cost-cutting factories.

Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs. A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment.

Doctors, regulators, lawyers and courts in China - which supplies two thirds of the compact fluorescent bulbs sold in Britain - are increasingly alert to the potential impacts on public health of an industry that promotes itself as a friend of the earth but depends on highly toxic mercury.

Making the bulbs requires workers to handle mercury in either solid or liquid form because a small amount of the metal is put into each bulb to start the chemical reaction that creates light. . . .

In one case, Foshan city officials intervened to order medical tests on workers at the Nanhai Feiyang lighting factory after receiving a petition alleging dangerous conditions, according to a report in the Nanfang Daily newspaper. The tests found 68 out of 72 workers were so badly poisoned they required hospitalisation.

A specialist medical journal, published by the health ministry, describes another compact fluorescent lightbulb factory in Jinzhou, in central China, where 121 out of 123 employees had excessive mercury levels. One man’s level was 150 times the accepted standard.

The same journal identified a compact fluorescent lightbulb factory in Anyang, eastern China, where 35% of workers suffered mercury poisoning, . . . .

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Policy change at the EPA

The WSJ has this. It certainly seems like a big policy change to me. It looks to me that they are going after health care instead of global warming.

WASHINGTON -- The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday a finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a public health danger won't necessarily lead to government regulation of emissions, an apparent about-face for the Obama administration.

The comments follow revelations of an administration document warning the EPA of potential economically harmful consequences from an agency finding last month that proposes declaring greenhouse gases a danger to the public. The document represents comments from various federal agencies, prepared by the Office of Management and Budget for EPA rule-making.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson previously has said that such a decision "will indeed trigger the beginning of regulation of CO2," echoing similar remarks by White House climate czar Carol Browner.

But speaking before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Ms. Jackson said Tuesday: "The endangerment finding is a scientific finding mandated by law...It does not mean regulation."

EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy later said Jackson was referring to the proposal, and not a final endangerment designation. "No news here," Ms. Adora said, adding: "The proposed finding does not mean instant regulations." . . . .

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Government to set executive salaries

The WSJ has this:

The Obama administration has begun serious talks about how it can change compensation practices across the financial-services industry, including at companies that didn't receive federal bailout money, according to people familiar with the matter.

The initiative, which is in its early stages, is part of an ambitious and likely controversial effort to broadly address the way financial companies pay employees and executives, including an attempt to more closely align pay with long-term performance. . . . .

Is this serious? Who is more likely to figure out the interests of the shareholders? The government or the shareholders? Who is more likely to figure out what the right way to motivate workers is? The government that runs the post office or shareholders?

Now we learn in the Washington Times that a top Treasury nominee is going to get compensation from his company while working for the government.

President Obama's nominee for the Treasury Department's top legal job still can receive almost $3 million in pay over the next three years from one of the nation's largest financial-services companies under a compensation plan approved by government ethics lawyers.

If confirmed as the department's next general counsel, George W. Madison would earn a government salary of $153,200 and get an additional $955,000 next year from his previous employer, TIAA-CREF, as a participant in the New York-based company's "long-term compensation plan," according to a government ethics filing. . . . . .

Note that the Bush Administration once tried merit pay for government workers, but that the Obama Administration is getting rid of it (though he supports it for teachers).

Bush Aims to Expand System of Merit Pay
Unions Criticize Plan Based on DHS Model
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; Page A02

The administration wants to abolish the General Schedule pay system by 2010 and require that at least part of every pay raise for the government's 1.8 million civilian employees hinge on an annual performance evaluation, President Bush's top management guru said yesterday.

Clay Johnson III, a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, laid out a proposal to expand government-wide the kind of pay-for-performance systems being implemented at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security as part of the recent restructuring of civil service rules at those agencies.

"The federal government, as a rule, is pretty bad about managing people," said Clay Johnson III, a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. (By Lauren Victoria Burke For The Washington Post)

"The federal government, as a rule, is pretty bad about managing people," Johnson said yesterday in a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors. "We tend to treat people and manage our people as if they are bureaucrats. 'They are all the same, let's treat them all the same.' The goal is to treat them, and to think of them, as professional public servants, not as bureaucrats. . . . Until we can tie some small portion of pay to it, it will never happen."

The administration's draft bill, which it is circulating on Capitol Hill, was criticized by federal employee unions. They have complained that the changes at DHS and Defense undermine employee rights and strengthen the hand of political appointees. . . .

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Government Running Chrysler's Advertising

Amateurs running a car company:

DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Chrysler wanted to spend $134 million in advertising over the nine weeks it's expected to be in bankruptcy -- the U.S. Treasury's auto-industry task force gave it half that.

So if GM, which is wrestling with the possibility of a Chapter 11 filing itself, is wondering how much influence the task force will have over marketing, the answer is: plenty. However, transcripts from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Southern District of New York, where the Chrysler case is being heard, proved for the first time that the task force at least understands that advertising is a necessary expense -- even if it doesn't think Chrysler needs $134 million for nine weeks of car ads.

Robert Manzo, executive director of Capstone Advisory Group and a consultant to Chrysler, testified at a May 4 hearing that the task force "believed that it was not feasible to not spend anything on marketing and advertising for fear of eroding the image of the brand," during the company's planned nine weeks in bankruptcy. However, Mr. Manzo also testified that this "hotly discussed" matter resulted in the task force basically slashing in half the amount Chrysler wanted for advertising in the period.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Arthur Gonzalez then asked the witness: "Idle plants, why market?" referring to Chrysler's shutdown of its factories for nine weeks. "The belief on all sides was that it was essential for Chrysler not to lose its brand image in the marketplace," Mr. Manzo testified. "Advertising and marketing dollars are critical to make sure the right message is out there about Chrysler, what's happening to Chrysler during this interim period and why Chrysler will be a brand going forward that is one that a consumer should continue to look at as one of their purchase opportunities."

Indeed, that's what the automaker is attempting with a national TV campaign from BBDO, Detroit, that's running in prime time on ABC, NBC and Fox to try to calm consumers' fears about the future of its Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles. The first of two 30-second spots is dubbed "Bright Future," and it refers to Chrysler's reorganization and alliance with Fiat that will build a "meaner and leaner" company for the future. The push is a departure for Chrysler, which earlier this year cut network broadcast out of its budget in favor of more inexpensively priced local TV.

Steven Landry, Chrysler exec VP-sales and marketing, said in a statement that the effort "gives us the opportunity to reinforce that it's business as usual and demonstrate a bright future ahead for Chrysler." That sentiment, however, struck a discordant note with some Ad Age readers after a story on the campaign was published on AdAge.com. "Business as usual? Isn't that what got American car companies in trouble in the first place? Business as usual gave us cars no one wanted to buy, zero innovation, outdated labor practices and a lot of taxpayer money thrown in to keep a sinking ship from going under," commented Jeff from Boston. "How about some unusual business -- like a successful American car company?" . . . .

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This is how Obama is going to pay for his program to keep guns from supposedly going to Mexico

The OC Register has this:

President Barack Obama's plan to redirect federal funds to the southwest border could mean Orange County stands to lose nearly $6.5 million in funds to house illegal immigrants with criminal convictions – while the state could lose $110 million.
Local and state officials have joined members of Congress who are up in arms about Obama's announcement last week to kill a program that has provided about half a billion dollars in federal funds to states and local municipalities for the incarceration of illegal immigrants with criminal records. . . .

About $400 million will still go to communities in fiscal year 2009 for the jailing of illegal immigrants who have been convicted of at least one felony or two misdemeanors. However, the $950 million authorized for fiscal year 2010 was scrapped by Obama's budget. . . . .

Something from IBD:

One of the "ornaments" plucked from the budget tree is the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). In the current budget year it cost $400 million, making it one of the largest nondefense discretionary items. Its purpose is to help defray the cost for states of incarcerating convicts and pretrial detainees who are illegally in the U.S.
It is intended to cover the salaries of guards and correctional officers who hold illegal aliens who are apprehended and found to have at least one felony and two misdemeanor convictions already on their record.
The quarrel the Obama administration has with the program is that the money is used for other purposes.
"The evidence suggests that the funds are often used in a variety of ways that are tangential to the direct costs associated with imprisoning unauthorized immigrants," said Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.
"That may be so," said Politico's Josh Gerson. "However, the cost of keeping illegal aliens in jail is clearly higher than what the federal government pays. California is getting $118 million through the program this year, but estimates it spends about $1 billion on jailing 'undocumented persons.' ". . . . .

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Continued falling home listing is claimed to be positive news?

These listings have been falling for months but somehow now it is viewed as a positive sign.

The number of homes listed for sale in many U.S. cities continued to fall in April in what some analysts see as a sign that the market may be nearing a bottom. But the picture is clouded by uncertainty over how many foreclosed properties will hit the market.

The supply of homes for sale in 29 major metropolitan areas at the end of April was down 3.6% from a month earlier, according to figures compiled by ZipRealty Inc., a real-estate brokerage firm based in Emeryville, Calif. The ZipRealty data cover all single-family homes, condominiums and town houses listed on local multiple-listing services in metro areas where the firm operates.

On a national basis, inventories typically increase in April as for-sale signs bloom for the spring home-shopping season. Since 1982, the average increase in April from the prior month has been 4.8%, according to Zelman & Associates, a research firm.

Compared with the year-earlier month, the April inventory in the 29 metro areas was down 21%. . . . .

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Texas state House appears poised to pass bill letting concealed handguns on college campuses

From the Austin American-Statesman: With 75 House sponsors of the concealed carry on campus bill out of 150 House members, the legislation seems certain to pass in the state House. The article notes that the UT chancellor appears to oppose allowing concealed handguns on campus, but won't be explicit. It also noted:

The Texas A&M University System does not have a position on the proposal, said Rod Davis, a spokesman. Elsa Murano, president of the College Station campus, said in a statement that strong arguments can be made for and against the legislation. . . .

Thanks to Scott Davis for this link.

The Missouri state Senate committee held hearings on the same type of bill.

JEFFERSON CITY - Only supporters made their voices heard at a Senate hearing on a bill that would allow guns on college campuses.

Five people defended a measure which would allow for college students to carry and conceal firearms on the state's college campuses.

Originally, House Bill 668 was a measure to lower the age for a gun permit to 21 from 23. But then the legislative process ran it course, which led to an additional amendment to allow for concealed handguns on college campuses.

The University of Missouri System and Missouri State University each opposed the measure when the conceal and carry provision was added. . . . .

Senate Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Jack Goodman, R - Mt. Vernon, offered several opportunities for anyone to voice their opposition but no one did. . . . .

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Real damage being done to credit markets

From the WSJ:

That conclusion would upend a longstanding tradition concerning rights in a bankruptcy: Senior secured lenders usually get paid in full before lower-priority creditors get anything. Not this time.

The White House's role in restructuring Chrysler has sent a shudder through the community of lawyers and lenders in the field of bankruptcy and corporate workouts. Critics complain that the administration has violated a bedrock principle of American capitalism and unfairly demonized financial firms that are vital to the functioning of the economy and its eventual recovery. . . . .

What do you think that this will do to the willingness of people to lend?


Federal auditors can't yet track the transportation money

The AP has this:

Federal auditors acknowledge they can't yet track the transportation money that is leaving Washington and there is no single list of the thousands of projects planned in each state. For its analysis, the AP used lists of projects approved through March by the Transportation Department and collected lists of stimulus projects that have been announced in 49 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Federal officials have approved 2,800 projects. The remaining projects on the AP list represent the states' official plans for the money. Only Virginia, which has not announced its plan, is not included. . . . . .


Arming sailors

From a piece that I wrote for the Washington Times:

Somali pirates attacked a U.S. vessel and captured a Dutch ship on Thursday. These raids could be prevented if merchant mariners had guns and could defend their ships.

Richard Phillips, the heroic captain of the crew that fought off pirates on the Maersk Alabama a month ago, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 30 that armed crews "should be part of the overall debate about how to defend ourselves against criminals on the seas."

Capt. Phillips noted that protecting U.S.-flagged ships is the "responsibility of the U.S. government," but that he understands the limits of what even the U.S. Navy can do to protect all the commercial traffic spread across vast oceans. Just as police arrive on the scene after crimes on land have occurred, the Navy cannot be everywhere all the time. More than 25,000 ships travel off the Horn of Africa every year. That's a target-rich environment.

Whether it is on land or sea, gun-free zones are magnets for criminals and terrorists. . . . .

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Chewing more makes you eat less

I understand the statement that if you had tougher food to eat that required more chewing, you would eat less. If something is more costly to eat, it simple to explain why you should eat less. It is no different than increasing the price of food. A brief discussion making this claim is here.

Chew More, Weigh Less?
Next time you grab a handful of nuts to snack on, count to 40.

A recent study revealed that when people ate a small serving of almonds, 40 chews quelled hunger better than 10 or even 25 crunches of the same amount of nuts.

The Magic Number
Not only did the extra chews help curb hunger best, but also the feelings of fullness lasted longest when people gave the nuts the extra chews. And the practice may work with other foods, too, because researchers suspect it may simply be the mere act of chewing that switches on your brain’s satiety center.


Gingrich weighs in Pelosi's changing stories about interrogation techniques

From Fox News Sunday today:

WALLACE: House Speaker Pelosi continues to deny that she was ever briefed on the enhanced interrogation techniques that were actually used against Al Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah.
But a newly released list of congressional briefings -- and let’s put it up -- says that Pelosi received, quote, “a description of the particular EITs,” or enhanced interrogation techniques, “that had been employed,” this just a month after Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times. How do you explain the discrepancy?

GINGRICH: Well, I think she has a lot of explaining to do. I don’t. She clearly -- she’s now changed her story again and said well, she’d been reassured they were all legal. So initially she didn’t know about it, had not been briefed. Then she had been briefed, but it wasn’t clear. Now she’d been briefed and, in fact, had been told it was all legal so she didn’t worry about it.

I think she has, you know, a lot of explaining to do. I think on national security matters, she has an obligation either to say nothing or to tell the truth. And it’s pretty clear in this case she’s not telling the truth. . . .

WALLACE: I want to ask you about one other aspect of this. Pelosi says even if she was briefed on this that there was nothing she could do because these were classified briefings. She and the Republican chairman of the committee got this information. There’s nothing they could do. You as House speaker received these kinds of briefings back in the ‘90s. If you objected to a secret operation, was there something you could do?

GINGRICH: Sure. I mean, the first thing you do is call the president and tell him you will feel compelled to pass a law cutting off the money. I mean, there are lots of things you can do if you want to do it. The Congress is pretty powerful if it wants to be.

And second, you know, they’ve had control since January of 2007. They haven’t passed a law making waterboarding illegal. They haven’t gone into any of these things and changed law. In fact, they’ve had several -- they -- recently, you find that Attorney General Holder’s own Justice Department is saying, “Well, you know, some of these memos are actually right. They’re not wrong.”

So this is -- what we’re seeing now in a very sad way is as bitter a partisan attack on the Bush people as we’ve seen since the McCarthy era. The degree that they’re putting specific people at risk for criminal prosecution is unprecedented in modern America. . . . .

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Death Toll Rises in Iraq

The Obama policy in Iraq is yielding results.

Violence is on the rise in Iraq as American troops withdraw. A ground-level look at the handover provides one explanation: The Iraqi government is neglecting many of the successful counterinsurgency initiatives it is inheriting from the U.S. military. . . . .

With Iraq's oil selling for about $40 a barrel, Iraqi finance officials have slashed this year's budget from $80 billion to less than $60 billion. They project a $30 billion deficit. U.S. aid, which still pays for a sizeable chunk of Iraq's security forces, is also decreasing. . . . . .

The budget woes come as American withdrawal plans kick into high gear. U.S. commanders are required to pull out entirely from Iraqi cities by June 30, though some will stay in Baghdad and Mosul with Iraqi permission.

Meanwhile, violence is increasing. In January, 275 civilians died, followed by 343 in February, 408 in March and 485 in April, according to Iraq Body Count, an independent group that tracks civilian casualties via media reports.

Fatalities are still down sharply from May 2006 to August 2007, when between 2,000 and 3,000 civilians died each month. U.S. and Iraqi officials are encouraged that recent attacks haven't been followed by sectarian reprisals, as they often were in the past. . . . . .

Brookings claims that the number of civilian deaths has been flat this year. Yet, given their past problems with these types of numbers, I am dubious.


Germany to ban paintball

This makes a lot of sense.

The German government is planning to ban paintball and laser shooting games in reaction to the recent school massacre in which 15 people died.

Under legislation agreed by the ruling coalition of the chancellor, Angela Merkel, using air rifles to shoot paint-filled pellets at opponents is likely to be made illegal, and would be punishable with fines of up to €5,000 (£4,480).

The decision, which is expected to be fast-tracked through the Bundestag before the summer recess, comes two months after 17-year-old Tim Kretschmar shot dead 15 people at his former school in Winnenden, south-west Germany, with a weapon he had taken from his father's bedroom. Kretschmar's love of paintball as well as violent video and computer games was widely publicised. . . . .