Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Supreme Court Upholds Tobacco Award

Supreme Court Upholds Tobacco Award

Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 31, 2009

The Supreme Court today dealt a blow to Philip Morris, saying it would not decide the cigarette maker's challenge of a punitive damages award brought by the widow of a longtime smoker that now is worth nearly $150 million.

The court's decision, announced in a one-sentence order, was a surprising and anticlimactic ending to a case that has bounded back and forth through the judicial system for nearly a decade. When an Oregon jury awarded Mayola Williams nearly $80 million following the death of her husband, Jesse, it was the largest award of its kind.

Even though the justices have strongly implied that the award was too large and twice sent the case back west, the Oregon Supreme Court found reasons to leave it as it was. After the Oregon justices declined to change the decision for a second time, attorneys for Philip Morris petitioned the high court to "vindicate" its authority.

Instead, the court today said it should not have accepted the case for a third time, and in the language of the court, dismissed the case as "improvidently granted."

Because the case was argued in early December and the court issued its decision only today, it suggests the justices had trouble coming together on how to solve the legal issues raised.

When it last considered the case, the court ruled 5 to 4 that the Oregon court had applied the wrong constitutional standard in reviewing the award. It strongly suggested the figure was too high and told the state court to make sure the jury had not awarded such heavy punitive damages -- which are aimed at discouraging companies from reprehensible behavior -- because of harm the cigarette maker might have done to others, rather than to Williams.

Instead, the Oregon justices rejected Philip Morris's challenge on the grounds of state law, saying the company's proposed jury instructions nearly 10 years prior had been insufficient. The Oregon court said it did not need to get to the question of the court's constitutional standards in order to uphold the award.

At oral arguments, Philip Morris lawyer Stephen M. Shapiro told the justices that the case had returned "because the Oregon court failed to follow this court's directions."

But the justices said that maybe the Oregon court had a point, after all.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who wrote the court's 2007 decision in the case, said he thought at first that Oregon was giving the court the "runaround." But after studying the case more closely, he said, "I'm not sure that I think that now."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had suggested during the arguments that the court use the case to finally decide the question of whether there should be a cap on punitive damages.

The justices had declined to accept that issue when they took Philip Morris's petition, and doing so would likely have required additional briefing and more arguments.

It would have greatly raised the stakes of the case, and settled a question that big business and trial lawyers have battled over for years. The issue of whether large punitive damages awards are unconstitutional is one that has split the court in a way different from its ideological divide.

Because of interest that the company must pay, it is unclear exactly what the award is currently worth, but it was set at $143 million last June. Under Oregon law, it is to be split between the state and Mayola Williams.

Murray Garnick, a senior vice president at Altria, which owns Philip Morris, said while the company "had hoped for a different outcome," the court's decision today does not end a dispute over whether damages must be paid to Oregon. Philip Morris is seeking a ruling from an Oregon court to keep the state from collecting punitive damages in this case.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

HEALTH CARE CHEATS!

Out-of-network insurance practices face scrutiny
By ERICA WERNER
Associated Press Writer
Ever wonder how that bill was calculated if you had to pay to see a doctor outside your insurance network?

Might be a scam, says a senator investigating the issue.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, wants answers at a hearing Tuesday from the chief executives of UnitedHealth Group Inc. and its subsidiary Ingenix Inc., a claims database used by insurers nationwide to calculate out-of-network rates.

The inquiry follows lawsuits and an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo alleging that UnitedHealth and Ingenix manipulated rate data so insurers had to pay less and patients more for out-of-network services.

"They're lowballing deliberately. They deliberately cut the numbers so the consumer has to pay more of the cost," Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

"It's scamming. It's fraud," he said.

In January, UnitedHealth agreed to pay $350 million to settle a suit by the American Medical Association and others over the issue. UnitedHealth did not admit wrongdoing. But, under pressure from Cuomo, the company agreed to pay $50 million toward creation of an independent claims database and eventually close down the Ingenix databases.

Cuomo has secured similar agreements from other major insurers, including WellPoint Inc., Aetna Inc., and Cigna Corp. The AMA is pursuing suits against those companies, too.

"Our view is that we've reached a resolution on this matter and we're moving forward," UnitedHealth spokesman Tyler Mason said in a voicemail message Friday. "We think it's positive that this information will continue to be made available in the health care marketplace so that people can make informed decisions."

A spokeswoman for Ingenix referred calls to UnitedHealth.

Rockefeller and other lawmakers, along with doctors and consumer groups, view the matter as far from over. They say more accountability and transparency is needed in how insurance companies determine out-of-network rates, and that patients need to understand how it's done to avoid sticker shock when they get their medical bills.

One such patient is Mary Jerome of Yonkers, N.Y. She went out of network to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006. When she began getting her bills she discovered that Memorial Sloan-Kettering was not being reimbursed by her insurer anywhere near as much as the center was charging and that she was responsible for paying the rest.

"I had to battle cancer — and I am still battling it — and I had to battle my insurance company to try and get fair coverage," Jerome told Rockefeller's committee in written testimony.

More than 70 percent of workers who get health care through their employers are enrolled in plans that allow them to go out of network, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Typically, those plans will pay a set percentage, say 70 percent, for an out-of-network visit.

But unknown to many consumers, when patients go out of network, their plan doesn't actually pay 70 percent of the doctor's visit cost. It pays 70 percent of what it determines is the "usual, customary and reasonable" cost for the procedure or doctor's visit in question.

Insurance companies determine that cost themselves or use figures from a database of their choosing, and there's scant regulation or oversight of how they do it.

In the case of UnitedHealth and Ingenix, they were allegedly manipulating claims data so that the "usual, customary and reasonable" costs they used were lower than they should have been, leaving patients to pay more. Cuomo's office said Ingenix was understating the market rate for doctor's visits across New York state by 10 percent to 28 percent.

A spokesman for the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans blamed doctors for high out-of-network bills.

"Consumers would be shocked if they knew the exorbitant rates that some nonparticipating providers charge," Robert Zirkelbach said. He declined to respond to allegations that insurance companies knowingly under-reimburse, citing the pending litigation.

Even with the UnitedHealth settlement, lawmakers and others want bigger changes in the system so rate calculations are fairer and better understood. Rockefeller said federal legislation might be needed.

"You ask me how are their 'usual and customary' rates being determined?" Rockefeller said. "I don't know."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Media Matters Reports

Pay no attention to the GOP "power grab" behind the curtain

This week, conservative media figures bombarded the media landscape with accusations that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's proposal to allow the government to take over nonbank financial institutions amounted to a massive White House "power grab." A chilling accusation to be sure, especially when one considers the unprecedented abuses of power that occurred on President Bush's watch. In the words of Fox News' Sean Hannity, Geithner's plan is "the single biggest power grab and move toward socialism in the history of the country."

Others in the media uncritically cited such conservative claims, including House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) charge that Geithner's proposal constitutes "an unprecedented grab of power," despite the fact that the budget blueprint released by House Republicans, including Boehner, contained a call for "a process to address insolvent institutions that stops throwing good money after bad into failing institutions and places insolvent ones into temporary receivership." The GOP's proposal raises the question of whether the media, which reported ad nauseam on the charge that Geithner and the White House are engaging in a "power grab" by asking Congress for this authority, will now note that the same House Republican caucus that made the charge has now proposed giving the federal government similar authority. Hypocrisy, anyone?

Of course, the central question remains: How can it possibly be a power "grab" if the Obama administration is seeking this authority from Congress -- a coequal branch of government?

Where's W? The disappearing of a president

Like last week, much of the coverage this week of the AIG executive bonuses was devoid of any mention of the Bush administration's role in the controversy. A USA Today/Gallup poll question about who was to blame for the AIG bonuses conveniently left out the Bush administration as a possible response, despite the administration's decision to give AIG billions in aid without requiring that the company withhold the bonuses. Similarly, a Wall Street Journal article about Geithner and his aides' involvement in decisions about AIG's bonus payments did not note that it was the Bush administration that negotiated a November 2008 stock purchase agreement with AIG through which the Bush Treasury Department injected $40 billion into the company without requiring that the bonus contracts be nullified.

Worse yet, the conservative Washington Times took things a step further, reporting GOP criticism of Democrats over the AIG bonus issue and quoting a Republican strategist asserting: "This is not something [Democrats] can point to George Bush. ... They own the issue of giving bonuses to the AIG executives." Glaringly absent was any mention that the $53 million in AIG bonuses that the article mentioned were reportedly paid out under the Bush administration or that a Bush-appointed special inspector general for TARP has stated that the Bush Treasury Department knew about the AIG bonus contracts and did not insist on their cancellation as a condition of AIG's receiving bailout money.

For the media, laughter is not the best medicine

Media Matters for America this week released a compelling online video, titled "Infectious Laughter: The Epidemiology of a Smear," that demonstrates in detail how the conservative echo chamber operates, using President Obama's interview with Steve Kroft on CBS' 60 Minutes from last weekend as a case study. Echoing a March 22 Politico article, discussion of Obama's laughter was hyped by the Drudge Report. Additionally, the March 23 editions of several morning news shows featured segments on Obama's laughter during the interview. The segments, which aired on NBC's Today, MSNBC's Morning Joe, MSNBC Live, and Fox News' Fox & Friends, are reminiscent of the media's echoing of the Drudge Report, among others, in seizing on Hillary Clinton's laugh as a new subject of attention in September 2007 following Clinton's appearance on all five Sunday political talk shows. Whereas commentators speculated whether Clinton's laughter -- which some described as a "cackle" -- was evidence of her "calculating" nature, according to the Politico article, Obama's "awkward laughter highlighted an issue Obama has faced dating back to the campaign, a sense that he sometimes is too 'cool' and detached to fully grasp the public anxiety over mounting job losses and economic worries." Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, however, challenged her co-hosts' fixation on the topic, stating, "I don't care who's laughing. ... I want to look at the plan and really assess it fairly. Tone is one thing; we'll see what the action is."

Reading from Limbaugh's teleprompter

Almost daily over the past several weeks, conservative leader Rush Limbaugh has been fixated on Obama's use of a teleprompter. Despite the fact that such a device has commonly been used by media figures and past presidents of both political parties, Limbaugh presses on, day-after-day, taking every opportunity to lambaste what he refers to as "TOTUS," or the "teleprompter of the United States."

Apparently reading directly from Limbaugh's own personal teleprompter, several conservative media figures -- including Matt Drudge and Sean Hannity -- uncritically highlighted a March 18 SkyNews.com report that a "teleprompt blunder has led to Barack Obama thanking himself in a speech at the White House in a St Patrick's Day celebration." But as Toby Harnden, U.S. editor for the U.K.'s Telegraph, noted, the pool report of Obama's March 17 event with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen indicates that in saying, "First, I'd like to say thank you to President Obama," Obama was, in Harnden's words, making "a good-natured and well-received joke" at the expense of Cowen, who earlier in the event had mistakenly read from the teleprompter displaying Obama's speech. Indeed, as early as March 18, Fox News anchor Bret Baier reported that Obama had "jokingly" made the comments in question.

The ghost of George Will's presence

Last month, The Washington Post's George Will faced intense, widespread criticism for dubious global warming claims he made in two separate columns. It now appears The New York Times Magazine has been possessed by Will's science-denying spirit, as it is slated to run a profile of physicist and global warming skeptic Freeman Dyson this weekend.

The profile quotes without challenge Dyson's false suggestion that there was a scientific consensus in the 1970s that the earth was cooling. Unlike the current consensus that global warming exists, there was no consensus in the 1970s that the earth was cooling. A September 2008 article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (a peer-reviewed publication) investigated the "pervasive myth" that "there was a consensus among climate scientists of the 1970s that either global cooling or a full-fledged ice age was imminent." The article found:

A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. The myth's basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.

Additionally, The New York Times Magazine sent Nicholas Dawidoff, whom Brad Johnson refers to as a "baseball writer" and who has not previously written about science for the Times, to profile Dyson. Dawidoff has published four books -- The Fly Swatter, a biography of his grandfather Alexander Gerschenkron; In the Country of Country, a collection of biographies of country musicians; The Catcher Was A Spy: The Mysterious Life Of Moe Berg; and The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness and Baseball -- and began his career covering baseball for Sports Illustrated. Dawidoff not only allowed Dyson to advance the previously mentioned falsehood about global cooling, he also quoted Dyson accusing Al Gore of being global warming's "chief propagandist" and "an opportunist" and accusing scientist James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, of "consistently exaggerat[ing] all the dangers" of global warming.

Be sure to check out these lists of Dawidoff's previous articles for The New York Times Magazine and The New York Times.

Clearing up Kudlow's intentions

As Washington Post Co. blogger Greg Sargent noted this week, Media Matters has launched Financial Media Matters, a website dedicated to holding accountable those who report on the financial industry, as well as those who report on labor, the economy, and other fiscal matters. The new website will focus extensively on ensuring that outlets such as CNBC, Fox Business Network, and The Wall Street Journal are held accountable.

Also, following CNBC host Larry Kudlow's expression of interest in running for U.S. Senate in Connecticut, Media Matters President Eric Burns wrote an open letter last week to CNBC President Mark Hoffman that stated, in part, that Kudlow "is either a journalist or a candidate; he cannot be both. ... As a private citizen, [he] has a right to explore a run for public office, but using his platform as a CNBC host to further his political ambitions jeopardizes the integrity of your network." This week, Kudlow announced that he will not run for Senate, as The New York Times and the Hartford Courant, among others, noted.

This week's media columns

Media Matters Senior Fellows Eric Boehlert, Jamison Foser, and Karl Frisch look at Jeff Zucker and the CNBC straw man, deficient budget coverage, and the right's toxic assets, respectively.

assisted-suicide

Different assisted-suicide groups, one goal
The Times wrongly sees a difference between the Final Exit Network and the assisted-suicide laws promoted by organizations such as Compassion and Choices.
By Stanton J. Price

March 27, 2009

The recent arrests of four members of the Final Exit Network in Georgia have drawn more national attention to the issue of assisted suicide. According to The Times' March 23 editorial, "Sense and suicide," the organization has been involved in about 200 deaths across the country. This group has advised, consulted and even allegedly had its counselors facilitate suicides using helium tanks and plastic bags. Investigations in many of the cases have led authorities to question just how involved officials of the Final Exit Network were in the deaths of its members.

The Times says that the Final Exit Network does harm to the kind of physician-assisted suicide currently legal in Oregon and Washington. Such laws were heavily promoted by the group Compassion and Choices, a national organization that works for assisted-suicide legalization. It was a key player in the legalization efforts in Washington and Oregon as well as in failed attempts elsewhere around the country, including California.

While the groups may have different tactics, the goals of the Final Exit Network and Compassion and Choices are practically the same. Both want to see assisted suicide expanded to anyone who perceives himself to be suffering, and the relationship between the two groups goes beyond their shared cause. According to the timeline on Compassion and Choices’ web site, the group formed in 1980 as the Hemlock Society; it later merged with another organization to become what we now know as Compassion and Choices. Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry is a member of the Final Exit Network's advisory board and author of the book, "Final Exit," first published in 1991. Both Compassion and Choices and the Final Exit Network are active members of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies. The only real difference between the two groups is the way they seek to expand assisted suicide.

Both Compassion and Choices and the Final Exit Network take the definition of "intolerable suffering" beyond terminal illness. They believe that a person suffering from a condition that he or she believes is unbearable (rightly or wrongly) should legally be allowed assistance in ending their own life, whether by inhaling helium from a tank or overdosing on barbiturates. This is a frightening prospect for people with disabilities, particularly those who think they may be burdens on their family and for those of us fighting for disability rights.

If, as The Times writes, there may be growing societal tolerance of expanding this practice, it is not an intellectual stretch to argue that people perceived by themselves or someone else to be undergoing "intolerable suffering" should have access to assisted suicide. Given our current economic climate, the lack of adequate healthcare for many and the stigma placed on those with chronic disease or disability, I do not share the faith in society or in our politicians such laws require. This dubious fight waged by the Final Exit Network and Compassion and Choices equates to dangerous public policy and places far too many vulnerable people in harm's way.

For The Times to write about the Final Exit Network, "Society is unlikely ever to condone the kind of ethically questionable 'help' such groups offer," is naive. When this issue was before the California Senate's Judiciary Committee two years ago, then-state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) voted against the bill and said that he "could not resolve the risk that the power of money will ultimately define [assisted suicide's] parameters." To me, Dunn has a more realistic view of society than The Times.

Stanton J. Price is a health lawyer and member of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.'s Bioethics Committee, which he recently co-chaired.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Market Mystique PAUL KRUGMAN

On Monday, Lawrence Summers, the head of the National Economic Council, responded to criticisms of the Obama administration’s plan to subsidize private purchases of toxic assets. “I don’t know of any economist,” he declared, “who doesn’t believe that better functioning capital markets in which assets can be traded are a good idea.”

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether a market in which buyers have to be bribed to participate can really be described as “better functioning.” Even so, Mr. Summers needs to get out more. Quite a few economists have reconsidered their favorable opinion of capital markets and asset trading in the light of the current crisis.

But it has become increasingly clear over the past few days that top officials in the Obama administration are still in the grip of the market mystique. They still believe in the magic of the financial marketplace and in the prowess of the wizards who perform that magic.

The market mystique didn’t always rule financial policy. America emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated banking system, which made finance a staid, even boring business. Banks attracted depositors by providing convenient branch locations and maybe a free toaster or two; they used the money thus attracted to make loans, and that was that.

And the financial system wasn’t just boring. It was also, by today’s standards, small. Even during the “go-go years,” the bull market of the 1960s, finance and insurance together accounted for less than 4 percent of G.D.P. The relative unimportance of finance was reflected in the list of stocks making up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which until 1982 contained not a single financial company.

It all sounds primitive by today’s standards. Yet that boring, primitive financial system serviced an economy that doubled living standards over the course of a generation.

After 1980, of course, a very different financial system emerged. In the deregulation-minded Reagan era, old-fashioned banking was increasingly replaced by wheeling and dealing on a grand scale. The new system was much bigger than the old regime: On the eve of the current crisis, finance and insurance accounted for 8 percent of G.D.P., more than twice their share in the 1960s. By early last year, the Dow contained five financial companies — giants like A.I.G., Citigroup and Bank of America.

And finance became anything but boring. It attracted many of our sharpest minds and made a select few immensely rich.

Underlying the glamorous new world of finance was the process of securitization. Loans no longer stayed with the lender. Instead, they were sold on to others, who sliced, diced and pureed individual debts to synthesize new assets. Subprime mortgages, credit card debts, car loans — all went into the financial system’s juicer. Out the other end, supposedly, came sweet-tasting AAA investments. And financial wizards were lavishly rewarded for overseeing the process.

But the wizards were frauds, whether they knew it or not, and their magic turned out to be no more than a collection of cheap stage tricks. Above all, the key promise of securitization — that it would make the financial system more robust by spreading risk more widely — turned out to be a lie. Banks used securitization to increase their risk, not reduce it, and in the process they made the economy more, not less, vulnerable to financial disruption.

Sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong, and eventually they did. Bear Stearns failed; Lehman failed; but most of all, securitization failed.

Which brings us back to the Obama administration’s approach to the financial crisis.

Much discussion of the toxic-asset plan has focused on the details and the arithmetic, and rightly so. Beyond that, however, what’s striking is the vision expressed both in the content of the financial plan and in statements by administration officials. In essence, the administration seems to believe that once investors calm down, securitization — and the business of finance — can resume where it left off a year or two ago.

To be fair, officials are calling for more regulation. Indeed, on Thursday Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, laid out plans for enhanced regulation that would have been considered radical not long ago.

But the underlying vision remains that of a financial system more or less the same as it was two years ago, albeit somewhat tamed by new rules.

As you can guess, I don’t share that vision. I don’t think this is just a financial panic; I believe that it represents the failure of a whole model of banking, of an overgrown financial sector that did more harm than good. I don’t think the Obama administration can bring securitization back to life, and I don’t believe it should try.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A NATION OF IDIOTS!

Dear A.I.G., I Quit!
The following is a letter sent on Tuesday by Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of the American International Group’s financial products unit, to Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of A.I.G.

DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

You and I have never met or spoken to each other, so I’d like to tell you about myself. I was raised by schoolteachers working multiple jobs in a world of closing steel mills. My hard work earned me acceptance to M.I.T., and the institute’s generous financial aid enabled me to attend. I had fulfilled my American dream.

I started at this company in 1998 as an equity trader, became the head of equity and commodity trading and, a couple of years before A.I.G.’s meltdown last September, was named the head of business development for commodities. Over this period the equity and commodity units were consistently profitable — in most years generating net profits of well over $100 million. Most recently, during the dismantling of A.I.G.-F.P., I was an integral player in the pending sale of its well-regarded commodity index business to UBS. As you know, business unit sales like this are crucial to A.I.G.’s effort to repay the American taxpayer.

The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers.

I have the utmost respect for the civic duty that you are now performing at A.I.G. You are as blameless for these credit default swap losses as I am. You answered your country’s call and you are taking a tremendous beating for it.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees.

That may be why you decided to accelerate by three months more than a quarter of the amounts due under the contracts. That action signified to us your support, and was hardly something that one would do if he truly found the contracts “distasteful.”

That may also be why you authorized the balance of the payments on March 13.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It’s now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds.

You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to “name and shame,” and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.

So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.

On March 16 I received a payment from A.I.G. amounting to $742,006.40, after taxes. In light of the uncertainty over the ultimate taxation and legal status of this payment, the actual amount I donate may be less — in fact, it may end up being far less if the recent House bill raising the tax on the retention payments to 90 percent stands. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

This choice is right for me. I wish others at A.I.G.-F.P. luck finding peace with their difficult decision, and only hope their judgment is not clouded by fear.

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

Sincerely,

Jake DeSantis

OTC BIRTH CONTROL

In Defense of OTC Birth Control
Posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009 12:55 PM | By Kerry Howley


Emily and Torie, my grasp of the regulatory issues is imperfect, but it’s my understanding that a drug company would have to apply for over-the-counter status through the FDA. (I've never heard a single plausible medical justification for keeping birth control prescription-only.) There are various reasons why drug companies would not want to attempt this; the most obvious being that pharmaceutical companies can charge much higher prices for prescription drugs covered by insurance. Companies would also see resistance from gynecologists, who rely on their prescription powers to keep women coming back for annual appointments.

Torie, I understand your concern about insurance refusing to pay for OTC drugs, but it seems to me that your logic applies to every single drug that has gone over-the-counter, from Prilosec to Nicoderm. Keeping birth control prescription-only actually raises the cost for the poorest women—those without insurance who must pay retail at that the pharmacy counter and pay out of pocket for the doctor’s appointment required to get the prescription. When drugs go OTC the price plummets, so the cost to the consumer without insurance falls. Here's a blurb from a 2006 survey by the Pharmacy Access Partnership, a group that advocates for wider emergency contraception access:

Women said convenience, simplicity and affordability were their highest considerations when choosing their current contraceptive. Fifty-four percent of women also chose their method because it did not require a prescription. African-Americans (65%) were more likely to choose a method because it did not need a prescription, compared to Caucasians (51%) and Latinas (54%). Importantly, 20% of women said the cost of a visit to the doctor was an obstacle in obtaining a prescription contraceptive. Overall, 28% of women have had problems with obtaining a prescription for contraception, filling the prescription or getting to their supplies when they needed them. Women who had fewer resources to manage an unintended pregnancy (uninsured women, single women and younger women) were more likely to have experienced problems with obtaining a prescription for contraception.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

RUSH is a big fat a..hole!

Media Matters

Limbaugh
This hour of the Limbaugh Wire brought to you by Barack Ogabe
By Simon Maloy

To kick off the final hour, Rush noted a Reuters article headlined, "Resistance grows to Obama's bigger government," and encouraged us all to look at the bigger picture. Rush took us back to January 15, asking us to imagine where the country would be if, between now and then, there had been no resistance to Obama's "assault" on capitalism.

Limbaugh defense of AIG bonuses follows attacks on "insane benefits" of UAW sending Big Three "down the tubes"

Limbaugh joined by other conservatives standing up for AIG against "mob rule"
Related
Limbaugh defends AIG from "lynch mob"

Latest Limbaugh items
County Fair: Limbaugh refers to "Barack Ogabe," drawing comparison between Obama and Robert Mugabe
County Fair: Limbaugh says ACORN "got three and a half billion dollars from the stimulus bill"
County Fair: Limbaugh on Obama administration: "They are focused on the destruction of the private sector. This is an all-out assault on capitalism"
County Fair: Limbaugh on Obama: "He's a bad guy. He's one angry guy. His wife is angry as well."
Boehlert: Jeff Zucker and the CNBC straw man
County Fair: Limbaugh guest host Steyn on Wall Street bankers: "They're not fat cats. They're emaciated, cadaverous cats. They've got ... that cat version of AIDS that the cats get -- the feline immunodeficiency virus."
County Fair: Burnett claims bailout recipient bonus tax "to some echo[es] the Russian and French Revolutions," asks: "[I]s America starting to look like Venezuela?"
County Fair: Tim Graham is never satisfied
Media Matters: Media Matters Week-in-Review
County Fair: Limbaugh says Obama wants I-bankers "to be hated," asks, "You don't think this guy has a bug up his dress ... chip on his shoulder about wealthy people?"
County Fair: Addressing listeners who disagree with him on AIG, Limbaugh calls them "mobsters," says they've been whipped into "frenzy of totalitarian hatred"
County Fair: CNBC's Francis channels Limbaugh on response to AIG bonuses: "This feels like mob rule"
County Fair: Limbaugh on response to AIG: "We now have mob rule the way it started in Nazi Germany"
County Fair: Limbaugh: Obama "has a chip on his shoulder, and his wife does too, and they are some angry people"
An AIG of conservative enlightenment? Hardly.

Obama News Conference CNN's Ed Henry question?

Ed Henry was out of line on AIG!
That issue is over and the President didn’t do anything wrong.
He just didn’t act as Ed wanted him to act.
I like the calm manner in which the Prez acted instead of
the mob media hounds!
Short order cooks get three months when they start cooking
hamburgers. The President and his people have done a very good job
in most difficult time. Wait for results!
The GOP is totally lost. I can predict on anything BO does they either
say NO or it’s a BAD idea!
No one (as I told my ex wife) can be so perfect they are
wrong all the time. The GOP should try to help BO fix the problems
and not hope nothing works so they can reclaim power!!

LEGAL DRUGS & VIOLENCE DEBATE

Jeffrey A. Miron is senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University.

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Over the past two years, drug violence in Mexico has become a fixture of the daily news. Some of this violence pits drug cartels against one another; some involves confrontations between law enforcement and traffickers.

Recent estimates suggest thousands have lost their lives in this "war on drugs."

The U.S. and Mexican responses to this violence have been predictable: more troops and police, greater border controls and expanded enforcement of every kind. Escalation is the wrong response, however; drug prohibition is the cause of the violence.

Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead.

Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after.

Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones. Violence is routine when prostitution is banned but not when it's permitted. Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question.

The only way to reduce violence, therefore, is to legalize drugs. Fortuitously, legalization is the right policy for a slew of other reasons.

Prohibition of drugs corrupts politicians and law enforcement by putting police, prosecutors, judges and politicians in the position to threaten the profits of an illicit trade. This is why bribery, threats and kidnapping are common for prohibited industries but rare otherwise. Mexico's recent history illustrates this dramatically.

Prohibition erodes protections against unreasonable search and seizure because neither party to a drug transaction has an incentive to report the activity to the police. Thus, enforcement requires intrusive tactics such as warrantless searches or undercover buys. The victimless nature of this so-called crime also encourages police to engage in racial profiling.

Prohibition has disastrous implications for national security. By eradicating coca plants in Colombia or poppy fields in Afghanistan, prohibition breeds resentment of the United States. By enriching those who produce and supply drugs, prohibition supports terrorists who sell protection services to drug traffickers.

Prohibition harms the public health. Patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other conditions cannot use marijuana under the laws of most states or the federal government despite abundant evidence of its efficacy. Terminally ill patients cannot always get adequate pain medication because doctors may fear prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Drug users face restrictions on clean syringes that cause them to share contaminated needles, thereby spreading HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases.

Prohibitions breed disrespect for the law because despite draconian penalties and extensive enforcement, huge numbers of people still violate prohibition. This means those who break the law, and those who do not, learn that obeying laws is for suckers.

Prohibition is a drain on the public purse. Federal, state and local governments spend roughly $44 billion per year to enforce drug prohibition. These same governments forego roughly $33 billion per year in tax revenue they could collect from legalized drugs, assuming these were taxed at rates similar to those on alcohol and tobacco. Under prohibition, these revenues accrue to traffickers as increased profits.

The right policy, therefore, is to legalize drugs while using regulation and taxation to dampen irresponsible behavior related to drug use, such as driving under the influence. This makes more sense than prohibition because it avoids creation of a black market. This approach also allows those who believe they benefit from drug use to do so, as long as they do not harm others.

Legalization is desirable for all drugs, not just marijuana. The health risks of marijuana are lower than those of many other drugs, but that is not the crucial issue. Much of the traffic from Mexico or Colombia is for cocaine, heroin and other drugs, while marijuana production is increasingly domestic. Legalizing only marijuana would therefore fail to achieve many benefits of broader legalization.

It is impossible to reconcile respect for individual liberty with drug prohibition. The U.S. has been at the forefront of this puritanical policy for almost a century, with disastrous consequences at home and abroad.

The U.S. repealed Prohibition of alcohol at the height of the Great Depression, in part because of increasing violence and in part because of diminishing tax revenues. Similar concerns apply today, and Attorney General Eric Holder's recent announcement that the Drug Enforcement Administration will not raid medical marijuana distributors in California suggests an openness in the Obama administration to rethinking current practice.

Perhaps history will repeat itself, and the U.S. will abandon one of its most disastrous policy experiments.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Miron

Monday, March 23, 2009

TOXIC ASSET SOLUTION DETAIL

Asset Purchase Program Details
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS March 23,2009

The Obama administration's plan to finance purchases of as much as $1 trillion in toxic assets from banks will include programs supported by the Treasury Department's bailout fund, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Here is a look at how they will operate.

--Public-Private Investment Program: The umbrella organization that will support the effort to entice private investors to join with the government to purchase troubled assets. The administration plans to commit $75 billion to $100 billion from the government's $700 billion bailout program to support $500 billion in troubled asset purchases initially with the potential to expand to $1 trillion over time.

--Troubled Mortgage Loans: The FDIC, the agency that insures deposits at the nation's banks, would operate auctions of troubled mortgage loans and then provide financing to the winning bidders. Under an example provided by the administration, the FDIC loan would cover 86 percent of the purchase price of the troubled mortgages with the Treasury's bailout fund contributing 7 percent and the winning private investor bidder contributing the remaining 7 percent.

--Troubled Asset-Backed Securities: The Treasury and the Federal Reserve announced they were expanding the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, beyond its goal of boosting consumer debt in the area of credit cards, auto loans and student loans. The facility, which has the capacity of supporting $1 trillion in loans, will be expanded to cover securities backed by residential and commercial real estate and other types of asset-backed mortgages. Five asset managers will be chosen by Treasury to compete for purchases of troubled asset-backed securities with financial backing provided by Treasury and the TALF. The assets would be held in public-private investment funds.

OBAMA continues doing it right!

The Obama plan to solve the `toxic’ assets (?) of banks that has frozen the leading
of banks is a winner! It let’s the market value the toxics and take care of this problem which is a major piece in the overall finance problem.

The DOW jumped almost 500 (497.48) points on March 23/09 is first POSITIVE reaction proof. Plus there are other signs that the very complex steps taken by Obama administration are working in the record!

The GOP is consistent that NOTHING Obama is doing is right.
Again this problem is faled according to the GOP. How predictable!
They are wrong again! I wouldn't what to be these dummies when it WORKS!!
Like in 1993 when BILL CLINTON solved the deficit problem of another BUSH!

Some weird folks are reaction to BO laughing on `60 Minutes’ night.
I’v no problem withe Prez - What would be better sack cloth and ashes?
Program noy live and subject to CBS TV edit out of context!

Two weeks ago people were upset because BO was to sober!?
Forget the nit wits, who have a dammed if you do and dammed
if you don’t silliness!

AIG BONUS – The media, congress, and the people don’t get it!
The bonus was paid (155 million) to people who got rid of over a trillion and half dollars in bad business for AIG!!!
This makes the company less likely to fail and it’s bad ripple effect.

March 23 2009 HIGHLIGHTS

E.J. Dionne, Jr.Washington Post 9-23-09
A deep narrative is taking root in the political class, and it goes something like this: Obama is biting off way more than he can chew, "overloading" the system and dealing with all sorts of "side issues," when he should be focusing solely on the broken economy. He is said to be asking Congress to do too much.
Note that anyone who makes an argument of this sort is freed from responsibility to mention any of the specific problems Obama is proposing to take on. Insisting the economy trumps everything means you don't have to say a thing about health-care reform, energy, education and taxes.

Meizhu Lui Washington Post 9-23-09
Every three years, the Federal Reserve, in its Survey of Consumer Finances, takes a look at how U.S. households are doing and reports on our assets and liabilities. The euphoria of our gambling spree is over. In the harsh glare of morning, the hangover is tough. And the latest data are from 2007, so they don't even capture the worst of the decline.
The net worth of the average American family is less than it was in 2001. We borrowed more for that trip to Vegas than we brought home. Everyone knows this now.
But here's something being talked about much less: The gap between the wealth of white Americans and African Americans has grown. According to the Fed, for every dollar of wealth held by the typical white family, the African American family has only one dime. In 2004, it had 12 cents.

Obama Plan announced March 23-09 NYTimes
At the core of the financing package will be $75 billion to $100 billion in capital from the existing financial bailout known as TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, along with the share provided by private investors, which the government hopes will come to 5 percent or more. By leveraging this program through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Reserve, huge amounts of bad loans can be acquired.
The private investors would be subsidized but could stand to lose their investments, while the taxpayers could share in prospective profits as the assets are eventually sold, the Treasury said. The administration said that it expected participation from pension funds to insurance companies and other long-term investors.
The plan calls for the government to put up most of the money for buying up troubled assets, and it would give private investors a clearly advantageous deal. In one program, the Treasury would match one-for-one every dollar of equity that private investors invest of their own money in each “Public Private Investment Fund.”
On top of that the F.D.I.C. — tapping its own credit lines with the Treasury — would lend six dollars for each dollar invested by the Treasury and private investors. If the mortgage pool turns bad and runs big losses, the private investors would be able to walk away from their F.D.I.C. loans and leave the government holding the soured mortgages and the bulk of the losses.
The Treasury Department offered this illustrative example of how the program would work: A pool of bad residential mortgage loans with a face value of, say, $100 is auctioned by the F.D.I.C. Private investors would submit bids. In the example, the top bidder, an investor offering $84, would win and purchase the pool. The F.D.I.C. would guarantee loans for $72 of that purchase price. The Treasury would then invest in half the $12 equity, with funds coming from the $700 billion bailout program; the private investor would contribute the remaining $6.
For a relatively small equity exposure, the private investor thus stands to make a considerable return if prices recover. The government will make a gain as well. In the worst case, the bulk of the risk would fall on the government. The presumption, of course, is that the auction will lead to realistic purchase prices.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS & MYTHS

Chris Mooney
March 21, 2009

A recent controversy over claims about climate science by Post op-ed columnist George F. Will raises a critical question: Can we ever know, on any contentious or politicized topic, how to recognize the real conclusions of science and how to distinguish them from scientific-sounding spin or misinformation?

Congress will soon consider global-warming legislation, and the debate comes as contradictory claims about climate science abound. Partisans of this issue often wield vastly different facts and sometimes seem to even live in different realities.

In this context, finding common ground will be very difficult. Perhaps the only hope involves taking a stand for a breed of journalism and commentary that is not permitted to simply say anything; that is constrained by standards of evidence, rigor and reproducibility that are similar to the canons of modern science itself.

Consider a few of Will's claims from his Feb. 15 column, "Dark Green Doomsayers": In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth. Just last year, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a peer-reviewed study examining media coverage at the time and the contemporary scientific literature. While some media accounts did hype a cooling scare, others suggested more reasons to be concerned about warming. As for the published science? Reviewing studies between 1965 and 1979, the authors found that "emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then."

Yet there's a bigger issue: It's misleading to draw a parallel between "global cooling" concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming -- through the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific academies of various nations (including our own), and leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

Will wrote that "according to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979." It turns out to be a relatively meaningless comparison, though the Arctic Climate Research Center has clarified that global sea ice extent was "1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979." Again, though, there's a bigger issue: Will's focus on "global" sea ice at two arbitrarily selected points of time is a distraction. Scientists pay heed to long-term trends in sea ice, not snapshots in a noisy system. And while they expect global warming to reduce summer Arctic sea ice, the global picture is a more complicated matter; it's not as clear what ought to happen in the Southern Hemisphere. But summer Arctic sea ice is indeed trending downward, in line with climatologists' expectations -- according to the Arctic Climate Research Center.

Will also wrote that "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is one of many respected scientific institutions that support the consensus that humans are driving global warming. Will probably meant that since 1998 was the warmest year on record according to the WMO -- NASA, in contrast, believes that that honor goes to 2005 -- we haven't had any global warming since. Yet such sleight of hand would lead to the conclusion that "global cooling" sets in immediately after every new record temperature year, no matter how frequently those hot years arrive or the hotness of the years surrounding them. Climate scientists, knowing that any single year may trend warmer or cooler for a variety of reasons -- 1998, for instance, featured an extremely strong El NiƱo -- study globally averaged temperatures over time. To them, it's far more relevant that out of the 10 warmest years on record, at least seven have occurred in the 2000s -- again, according to the WMO.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists -- following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It's also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be -- now more than ever.

Chris Mooney is the author of "The Republican War on Science" and co-author of the forthcoming "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future."

Friday, March 20, 2009

PERVERSE COSMIC MYOPIA - David Brooks

March 19,2009

You’d think if some tiger were lunging at your neck, your attention would be riveted on the tiger. But that’s apparently not how it works in the age of global A.D.D. As a tiger sinks its teeth into the world’s neck, we focus on the dust bunnies under the bed and the floorboards that need replacing on the deck. We live in the world of Perverse Cosmic Myopia, an inability to focus attention on the most perilous matter at hand.
The tiger, of course, is the collapsing world financial system. Americans actually have a falsely mild view of this crisis because the economy is worse abroad. The U.N.’s International Labor Organization projects between 30 million and 50 million job losses worldwide. Central European countries are teetering; Japan’s economy is horrifying; and the Chinese job creation machine is losing the race against its demographic pressures.
There have been riots in Greece and China as well as huge protest rallies in Dublin, Paris, London and beyond. So far, the protesters express anger without an agenda, but if the global economy continues to slide through 2010, they’ll discover one. A predictable result is a series of beggar-thy-neighbor exchange-rate policies, followed by rising trade barriers and the degradation of the entire global system.
In times like these, you’d expect prudent leaders to prepare for the worst. After all, the pessimists have recently been vindicated by events. But that’s apparently too painful to think about. In normal times, leaders like to focus on the short term at the expense of the long term. But now the short term is really confusing, so leaders take refuge in projects that are years or decades away.
The president of the United States has decided to address this crisis while simultaneously tackling the four most complicated problems facing the nation: health care, energy, immigration and education. Why he has not also decided to spend his evenings mastering quantum mechanics and discovering the origins of consciousness is beyond me.
The results of this overload are evident on Capitol Hill. The banking plan is incomplete, and there is zero political will to pay for it. The president’s budget is being nibbled to death. The revenue ideas are dying one by one, while the spending ideas expand. By the latest estimate, the health care approach will cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years and the national debt will at least double, while the Chinese publicly complain about picking up the tab.
The Obama administration is at least distracted by important things. The Washington political class has spent the past week going into made-for-TV hysterics over $165 million in A.I.G. bonuses. We’re in the middle of a multitrillion-dollar crisis, and our political masters — always willing to throw themselves into any issue that is understandable on cable television — have decided to risk destroying the entire bank-rescue plan because of bonuses that account for 0.001 percent of the annual G.D.P.
Even this is not the most idiotic of the distractions. For that, you have to look abroad.
This is a global crisis, and a core lesson of the Great Depression is that a global crisis calls for a global response. As such, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are preparing for the upcoming G-20 summit with an agenda that has the merit of actually addressing the problem at hand: coordinate global stimulus, strengthen the International Monetary Fund, preserve open trade.
But the G-20 process is heading toward global impotence because the Europeans are dismissing this approach. Instead, they want to spend this moment of peril working on a long-term architecture to regulate global finance. The world is in flames and they want directorates and multilateral symposia and vague plans for a powerless “college of supervisors.” This is what Marie Antoinette would be for if she were an annual Davos attendee.
Why are they taking this position? First, many European leaders think the answer to every problem is more global architecture. They’ve got Jean Monnet on the brain. Second, they prefer to free-ride on the stimulus packages that the Americans and Chinese are already paying for. Third, the fiscally responsible European countries can’t commit to a policy that their debt-ridden partners can’t live up to. Fourth, some reject the idea of using fiscal policy to end recessions.
Some of these reasons have merit, especially the last one. But one thing is for sure: The American agenda might work to ease the immediate crisis, but efforts to build a long-range global architecture certainly will not. After all the pious talk about post-Bush international cooperation, the current approach will lead to a big multilateral zero.
Many people used to wonder how the world’s leaders could be so myopic at various points in history — like during the Versailles Treaty or the turmoil of the 1930s. We don’t have to wonder any more. We get to watch the cosmic myopia replay itself in our own times.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

H I V epidemic is USA Capital

Tue Mar 17, 2009
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "Who's next for testing?" Nathalie Boittin asked on Tuesday in a crowded waiting room at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in northwest Washington.
A young black man rose and Boittin, a community health educator, led him to get tested for the AIDS virus.
Testing has spiked at this clinic and others in the U.S. capital since an official report this week showed that 3 percent of the city's residents are infected with HIV. Officials believe the true figure is even higher.
"There are a lot of people who don't know they are HIV positive because they don't want to know or are afraid to know," said Edward Harris, a 55-year-old man who gets care at the clinic.
With a large poor and minority population, the District of Columbia has struggled with HIV for decades. Its report on Monday showed the number of people with HIV infections rose 22 percent from 2006 to 2007.
"I think the true prevalence rate could be 30 to 50 percent higher," Dr. Shannon Hader, the city's HIV/AIDS Administration director, said in a telephone interview. Many people are likely infected without knowing it.
The report showed that 6.5 percent of the city's black men were infected. Overall, there were 15,120 HIV-infected people. Blacks make up 53 percent of the population of just over half a million people, but account for 76 percent of infections.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Washington has one of the most severe epidemics in the nation.
"It's an epidemic across all aspects of District life," Whitman-Walker Clinic CEO Donald Blanchon said. "It's not an epidemic of one group. It's not just gay or black."
COMPLEX EPIDEMIC
Blanchon said people are being infected in three different ways, making it harder to target those at highest risk.
While sex between men was the top cause, accounting for 37 percent of cases, heterosexual sex led to 28 percent of cases and injection drug use to 18 percent, according to the report.
Hader said the city is stepping up its efforts. The city said it raised the number of people in its AIDS drug assistance program by 50 percent from 2007 to 2008, while the number of young people getting HIV tests doubled in the same period.
The city said it is one of two in the nation with a major condom distribution program, distributing 1.5 million in 2008.
"We want to make condoms widely available for free at a lot of easy-access points around the city," Hader said, including beauty parlors, barber shops, liquor stores and bars.
In 2007, the U.S. Congress, which under a special arrangement can control some of the district's operations, lifted a ban on a needle-exchange program, now under way.
"There's not a lack of qualified service providers or interesting or good programs in the city. But clearly it wasn't all coming together to satisfy the scale and the complexity of our needs here," Hader said.
The city also released survey data highlighting the fact that many heterosexuals do not use condoms and have multiple, overlapping sexual partners.
"At the end of the day, there's the need for individual responsibility. It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, where you come from, what your (sexual) orientation is," Blanchon said. "You need to practice safe sex."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

FUSION ENERGY - real or fiction?

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
San Francisco
If you hang around the renewable-energy business for long, you’ll hear a lot of tall tales. You’ll hear about someone who’s invented a process to convert coal into vegetable oil in his garage and someone else who has a duck in his basement that paddles a wheel, blows up a balloon, turns a turbine and creates enough electricity to power his doghouse.
Hang around long enough and you’ll even hear that in another 10 or 20 years hydrogen-powered cars or fusion energy will be a commercial reality. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard one of those stories, I could buy my own space shuttle. No wonder cynics often say that viable fusion energy or hydrogen-powered cars are “20 years away and always will be.”
But what if this time is different? What if a laser-powered fusion energy power plant that would have all the reliability of coal, without the carbon dioxide, all the cleanliness of wind and solar, without having to worry about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, and all the scale of nuclear, without all the waste, was indeed just 10 years away or less? That would be a holy cow game-changer.
Are we there?
That is the tantalizing question I was left with after visiting the recently completed National Ignition Facility, or N.I.F., at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 50 miles east of San Francisco. The government-funded N.I.F. consists of 192 giant lasers — which can deliver 50 times more energy than any previous fusion laser system. They’re all housed in a 10-story building the size of three football fields — the rather dull cover to a vast internal steel forest of laser beams that must be what the engine room of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise space ship looked like.
I began my tour there with the N.I.F. director, Edward Moses. He was holding up a tiny gold can the size of a Tylenol tablet, and inside it was plastic pellet, the size of a single peppercorn, that would be filled with frozen hydrogen.
The way the N.I.F. works is that all 192 lasers pour their energy into a target chamber, which looks like a giant, spherical, steel bathysphere that you would normally use for deep-sea exploration. At the center of this target chamber is that gold can with its frozen hydrogen pellet. Once one of those pellets is heated and compressed by the lasers, it reaches temperatures over 800 million degrees Fahrenheit, “far greater than exists at the center of our sun,” said Moses.
More importantly, each crushed pellet gives off a burst of energy that can then be harnessed to heat up liquid salt and produce massive amounts of steam to drive a turbine and create electricity for your home — just like coal does today. Only this energy would be carbon-free, globally available, safe and secure and could be integrated seamlessly into our current electric grid.
Last Monday at 3 a.m., for the first time, all 192 lasers were fired at high energy precisely at once — no small feat — at the target chamber’s empty core. That was a major step toward “ignition” — turning that hydrogen pellet into a miniature sun on earth. The next step — which the N.I.F. expects to achieve some time in the next two to three years — is to prove that it can, under lab conditions, repeatedly fire its 192 lasers at multiple hydrogen pellets and produce more energy from the pellets than the laser energy that is injected. That’s called “energy gain.”
“That,” explained Moses, “is what Einstein meant when he declared that E=mc2. By using lasers, we can unleash tremendous amounts of energy from tiny amounts of mass.”
Once the lab proves that it can get energy gain from this laser-driven process, the next step (if it can secure government and private funding) would be to set up a pilot fusion energy power plant that would prove that any local power utility could have its own miniature sun — on a commercial basis. A pilot would cost about $10 billion — the same as a new nuclear power plant.
I don’t know if they can pull this off; some scientists are skeptical. Laboratory-scale nuclear fusion and energy gain is really hard. But here’s what I do know: President Obama’s stimulus package has given a terrific boost to renewable energy. It will pay lasting benefits. And we need to keep working on all forms of solar, geothermal and wind power. They work. And the more they get deployed, the more their costs will go down.
But, in addition, we need to make a few big bets on potential game-changers. I am talking about systems that could give us abundant, clean, reliable electrons and drive massive innovation in big lasers, materials science, nuclear physics and chemistry that would benefit, energize and renew many U.S. industries.
At the pace we’re going with the technologies we have, without some game-changers, climate change is going to have its way with us. Yes, we’ll still need coal for some time. But let’s make sure that we aren’t just chasing the fantasy that we can “clean up” coal, when our real future depends on birthing new technologies that can replace it.

JUST MET SEX!

from "Redbook" Magazine
By Jennifer Benjamin
Miss that erotic charge you had when your love was brand-new? Reboot in the bedroom with these tips for turning up the heat on your old flame.
Long-term love brings all sorts of advantages: a shared history with the guy you love most, a partner who you know will always have your back, and a warm, satisfying sexual connection that can only come from years of intimacy. Still, as great as it is to know each other so well in bed, how could you not miss that crackle and spark you had when you and he first started having sex? Thing is, it doesn't take a lot of work to recapture that "just-met" excitement. Step back, reminisce, enjoy security and butterflies — and congratulate yourselves on really, truly having it all.
Create a Little Distance
Best friends, partners, soul mates — it's what many couples strive to be. But while that kind of emotional melding feels warm and secure, it's not always sexy. "The very things that love thrives on — familiarity, stability, and security — can kill passion and lust in a relationship," explains couples therapist Esther Perel, Ph.D., author of Mating in Captivity. "For desire to thrive, you need to maintain some of the elusiveness and independence you had when you were first together — if you're too available to your partner, too open with each other, you lose that edge."
That's why, for the sake of your sex life, it's a good idea to make some space. "A little bit of distance and separation, both physical and emotional, can actually fuel sexual excitement because it sets up a thrill-of-the-chase kind of dynamic, similar to what you had when you were first dating," says Los Angeles-based sex coach Patti Britton, Ph.D., co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sensual Massage. "When you perceive a gap between you and your partner, you subconsciously feel challenged. And that perceived 'obstacle' can actually increase your desire for each other."
Maryanne, 31, an educator in Phoenix, travels a lot for work, as does her husband. While the time apart can be tough, they find that it winds up doing great things for their sex life. "After being gone for a while, it's like we can't get enough of each other," Maryanne says. "It really builds up the anticipation, so when we are together again, it's exciting and steamy and new." No business trip required: A regular girls' night out (and guys' night for him), a weekend away with your girlfriends every so often — all can create the kind of space you need to recharge those naughty feelings.
Another benefit of time apart is that it allows you to make a life for yourself outside of your relationship. "It's important to have an identity as an individual, to be involved in activities that take you away from the home and each other and give you something of your own," says Sharna L. Striar, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist and relationship counselor in private practice in New York City. Try revisiting some of the activities and personal passions you used to pursue before you two started dating but maybe haven't had time for since. It could be yoga, running, photography, or even just Thursday happy hours with friends. By feeding your soul this way, Striar adds, "you're likely to discover a few new things about yourself — things that your partner can then discover as well."
It's also okay — even good — to keep some corners of your life and mind all to yourself. "Many couples feel like the only way to bond is by sharing everything with each other," says Perel. "But it's mystery that really fuels desire and draws your partner to you. You might think that if you've been together for years, it's impossible, but the mystery is always there, if you allow it."
Rediscover Each Other

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that sex with a new partner is thrilling largely because it's, well, new. "What makes just-met sex so exciting is that sense of the unknown and the anticipation of what might happen," says Georgia-based sex therapist Gloria Brame, Ph.D. "You're still discovering each other's bodies, finding new ways to turn each other on, and testing new waters." So in order to recapture that just-met sizzle, you have to snap out of the same-old sex routine.
A classic way to reboot your sexual relationship is to go away together — for a week, a few days, even just a night. Or send the kids on a sleepover and turn off the phones so you can have total alone time in your own home. "Call it a sex vacation," says Britton. "It's an opportunity to go back to the beginning, when you didn't have babies, shared bills, or a mortgage, and your relationship was just about the two of you, having fun."
Even if you can't get away, taking a trip down memory lane can bring back some of that new-relationship excitement. Consider reenacting your first meeting or date, maybe even returning to the scene of the crime. "Reliving that first introduction can give you both emotional and sexual recall," says Brame. "It can transport you to that moment — those butterfly feelings, the sexual buzz." And the sense that you're "strangers" can make the encounter feel illicit and naughty as well.
Take it a step further by tapping into some of your first sexual experiences with each other. "Think about what turned you on then and use that in your sex life now," Brame adds. Was it his smell? Having sex in the middle of the day? Showering together? Getting it on in the car? Although you may have been there, done that five years ago, re-creating those same naughty encounters will bring you back to the beginning. And focus on sexual activities that help you rediscover each other's bodies, making them new again. One suggestion: Blindfold yourselves and take turns lightly kissing each other's bodies or stroking your partner's skin with your fingertips. You may be surprised by how much you might have been missing all this time.
Shock Your System
Ah, the first flush of new love. The perma-smile plastered on your face, that tingling below the belt, the goose bumps you got when he touched you. Thank you, hormones! "The novelty and excitement of a new sexual partner triggers the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that are responsible for that love high," explains Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and author of Why We Love. "They also boost testosterone in your system, increasing your sex drive." As the newness wears off, though, all of those chemicals start to decline, making you less amped up romantically and sexually.
Shock Your System continued...
Here's the good news: You can actually trick your hormones into giving you that new-love glow again. Any kind of adrenaline-boosting activity, in the bedroom or out, drives up dopamine levels in the brain, bringing back some of that same heady excitement you had when you first met, says Fisher. So try something daring together, whether it's mountain biking, kickboxing, dancing, even seeing a thriller or horror movie. A high-octane endeavor is in itself an aphrodisiac, and it can help you rekindle some of that nervous excitement and stomach flip-flopping that you may have felt on your first few dates together.
Doing daring things in bed is another way to plug into that fear factor. Consider exploring something unexpected and a little scary for you sexually, whether it's hanging out around the house naked, getting into doggy-style position with the lights on, or being more vocal during sex. "Stepping out of your comfort zone will give you a rush of I can't believe I'm doing this, which can be equally as adrenaline-boosting as rock climbing," says Brame.
Another way to fire up that tear-each-other's-clothes-off desire: Put some feeling into it. "The reason make-up sex is often so intense is that anger and tension are sexually energizing emotions — they spark desire and excitement," says Britton. Just ask Anna, 41, a therapist in Oakland, CA: "My husband and I like to play fight. We'll spank each other, we'll wrestle, I'll teasingly pin him down during sex. After being together for eight years, we don't have as many emotional highs and lows, so getting aggressive, even in a playful way, brings some excitement to the surface. We get a rush from it, like a flashback to the fun, passionate intensity we felt when we first started dating."
Tune in to Your Sexy Side
When was the last time you did something purely for the sake of feeling sexy? "When you're dating, your appearance and sexual self-confidence are often a priority," says Britton. "But once you're married and have other things going on in your life, you don't always put as much focus into your sexuality." Think back to the times in your life when you've felt your sexiest — including when you and your guy first met. What did you wear? How did you walk, talk, act? What music did you like? What food did you crave? What did you do to pamper yourself? Can you re-create any of those sensations now?
Once you've connected with your sexiest self, think about how you used to express that sensuality with your guy and try those moves now — whether that means wearing low-cut tops, running your hand over his forearm, or giving him a sweet smile. When you let your inner sexiness shine out, he can't help but respond to that energy. "Forget that you've been together for years and get back to that place you were at in the beginning," says Striar. "You're stepping outside of the wife/mother role you're used to and tapping into that flirty, more sexually focused version of yourself that you both remember from your early days."
Take Sex Off the Table
Maybe you had a three-date rule or a one-month rule, or maybe you waited until you were committed or married. In any event, when you first got together, sex wasn't necessarily assumed. As a result, you probably spent a lot of time exploring all of the other ways to have fun without intercourse. And because that was all you were doing, it made the kissing and groping and fondling that much hotter. You can get back that urgency by instituting a temporary sex ban for a week, two weeks, a month — whatever feels like a long wait to you.
Of course, you'll have to get your partner on board. "Tell him that you want to have fun with all that making out and foreplay you did so much of back in the day. But, in order to do so, you have to take oral sex and intercourse off the table for a little while," says Brame. "Explain that the act of not having sex will make the sex even more intense and passionate when you finally do have it again." Plus, you'll be finding creative new ways to please each other. You can heighten the sexual anticipation by sending each other saucy emails or text messages, or talking about all the things you can't wait to do once the sex ban is lifted.
"My husband and I have a great sex life, but recently, I felt like we weren't spending enough time on foreplay," says Sloane, 33, a human resources manager from Boston. "So I told him I wanted to bring back the whole idea of having make-out sessions — just lying on the couch or in bed, kissing and touching each other, but without it leading to actual sex. At first he kind of balked, but once we started trying it, we both remembered how hot it was to tease each other like that." Not only does holding back actually increase your desire for sex, but it also re-creates those early days of your sexual relationship — when all you two could think about was finally, finally getting each other into bed. YOUR COMMENTS Please.

RULES you could use!

Do's and Dont's of 2009
Health:
1. Drink plenty of water.
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.
5. Make time to practice meditation, yoga, and prayer.
6. Play more games.
7. Read more books than you did in 2008.
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
9. Sleep for 7 hours.
10. Take a 10-30 minutes walk every day. And while you walk,smile.
Personality:

11. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
12. Don't have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
13. Don't over do. Keep your limits.
14. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
15. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip.
16. Dream more while you are awake.
17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
18. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past.That will ruin your recent happiness.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others.
20. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.
21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
23. Smile and laugh more.
24. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
Society:

25. Call your family often.
26. Each day give something good to others.
27. Forgive everyone for everything.
28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6.
29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
30. What other people think of you is none of your business.
31. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.


Life:
32. Do the right thing!
33. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
34. GOD heals everything.
35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
37. The best is yet to come.
38. When you awake alive in the morning, thank GOD for it.
39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

BILL GATES says

Should be posted in all schools and work places:

Love him or hate him, he sure hits the nail on the head with this! Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good,politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.


Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If you agree, pass it on.
If you can read this - Thank a teacher!
If you can read this in English Thank a soldier!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

THOMAS FRIEDMAN

This Is Not a Test. This Is Not a Test.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
It’s always great to see the stock market come back from the dead. But I am deeply worried that our political system doesn’t grasp how much our financial crisis can still undermine everything we want to be as a country. Friends, this is not a test. Economically, this is the big one. This is August 1914. This is the morning after Pearl Harbor. This is 9/12. Yet, in too many ways, we seem to be playing politics as usual.

Our country has congestive heart failure. Our heart, our banking system that pumps blood to our industrial muscles, is clogged and functioning far below capacity. Nothing else remotely compares in importance to the urgent need to heal our banks.

Yet I read that we’re actually holding up dozens of key appointments at the Treasury Department because we are worried whether someone paid Social Security taxes on a nanny hired 20 years ago at $5 an hour. That’s insane. It’s as if our financial house is burning down but we won’t let the Fire Department open the hydrant until it assures us that there isn’t too much chlorine in the water. Hello?

Meanwhile, the Republican Party behaves as if it would rather see the country fail than Barack Obama succeed. Rush Limbaugh, the de facto G.O.P. boss, said so explicitly, prompting John McCain to declare about President Obama to Politico: “I don’t want him to fail in his mission of restoring our economy.” The G.O.P. is actually debating whether it wants our president to fail. Rather than help the president make the hard calls, the G.O.P. has opted for cat calls. It would be as if on the morning after 9/11, Democrats said they wanted no part of any war against Al Qaeda — “George Bush, you’re on your own.”

As for President Obama, I like his coolness under fire, yet sometimes it feels as if he is deliberately keeping his distance from the banking crisis, while pressing ahead on other popular initiatives. I understand that he doesn’t want his presidency to be held hostage to the ups and downs of bank stocks, but a hostage he is. We all are.

Great and difficult crises are what produce great presidents, so one thing we know for sure: Mr. Obama’s going to have his shot at greatness. This crisis is uniquely difficult in four respects.

First, to get out of a crisis like this you need to let markets clear. You need to let failed companies, or homeowners, go bankrupt, unlock their dead capital and reapply it to thriving entities. That is how the dot-com bust ended, and out of that carnage emerged a whole new set of companies. The problem with this crisis is that A.I.G., Citigroup and General Motors — and your neighbor’s subprime mortgage — are not Dogfood.com. You let the market clear them away, and we could all be wiped out with them. Therefore, the president has to find a way to punish bad financial actors without setting off another Lehman Brothers domino effect.

Second, we need to get a market going that would bring fair value and clarity to the “toxic mortgages” crippling the balance sheets of our major banks. This will likely require some degree of government subsidy to private equity groups and hedge funds to get them to make the first bids for these toxic assets by guaranteeing they will not lose. This could make great policy sense, but be a nightmare to sell politically. It will strike many as another unfair giveaway to Wall Street.

Unfortunately, the president may have to look the American people in the eye and explain that “fairness is not on the menu anymore.” All that’s on the menu now is whether or not we avoid a system meltdown — and this will require rewarding some new investors.

Third, the president may have to make some trillion-dollar decisions — like nationalizing major banks or doubling the economic stimulus — with no real precedent and without knowing all the long-term ramifications.

Finally, to do all this, the president has to make us realize how dangerous a moment we’re in, without creating a panic that will prompt Americans to put every dime in their mattresses and undermine the economy even more.

All this will require leadership of the highest order — bold decisions, persistence and persuasion. There is a huge amount of money on the sidelines eager to bet again on America. But right now, there is too much uncertainty; no one knows what will be the new rules governing investments in our biggest financial institutions. If President Obama can produce and sell that plan, private investors, big and small, will give us a stimulus like you’ve never seen.

Which is why I wake up every morning hoping to read this story: “President Obama announced today that he had invited the country’s 20 leading bankers, 20 leading industrialists, 20 top market economists and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to join him and his team at Camp David. ‘We will not come down from the mountain until we have forged a common, transparent strategy for getting us out of this banking crisis,’ the president said, as he boarded his helicopter.”

Monday, March 09, 2009

Voting Rights STOPPED by GWB Court!

Court Refuses to Expand Minority Voting Rights
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 3:47 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a part of the Voting Rights Act aimed at helping minorities elect their preferred candidates only applies in electoral districts where minorities make up more than half the population.

The decision could make it harder for some minority candidates to win election and for southern Democrats, in particular, to draw friendly electoral boundaries after the 2010 Census.

The 5-4 decision, with the court's conservatives in the majority, came in the case of a North Carolina plan that sought to preserve the influence of African-American voters even though they made up just 39 percent of the population in a state legislative district.

While not a majority, the black voters were numerous enough to effectively determine the outcome of elections, the state argued in urging the court to extend the civil rights law's provision to the district. The case dealt with the section of the law that bars states from reducing the chance for minorities to ''elect representatives of their choice.''

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, announcing the court's judgment, said the court would not extend the law to those so-called crossover districts. The 50 percent ''rule draws clear lines for courts and legislatures alike,'' Kennedy said in striking down a North Carolina legislative district.

In 2007, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the district, saying the Voting Rights Act applies only to districts with a numerical majority of minority voters. The district also violated a provision of the state constitution keeping district boundaries from crossing county lines, the court said.

Kennedy said that, absent prohibitions like North Carolina's rule against crossing county lines, ''states that wish to draw crossover districts are free to do so.'' But they are not required, he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito signed onto Kennedy's opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed with the outcome of the case.

The four liberal justices dissented. A district like the one in North Carolina should be protected by federal law ''so long as a cohesive minority population is large enough to elect its chosen candidate when combined with a reliable number of crossover voters from an otherwise polarized majority,'' Justice David Souter wrote for himself and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens.

Ginsburg also suggested that Congress could amend the law to cover districts like the one in North Carolina.

Civil rights groups that urged the court to uphold the North Carolina plan said such districts help to diminish racially polarized voting over time because the candidate who is the choice of black or Hispanic voters must draw some white support to win election.

In April, the court will hear a more significant challenge to another provision of the Voting Rights Act, requiring all or parts of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination to get approval before implementing any changes in how elections are held.

The court's familiar ideological split in this case strongly suggests that Kennedy could hold the key to the outcome in the April case as well, said Nathaniel Persily, an election law expert at Columbia University.

In another election-related case, the court let stand an appeals court decision that invalidated state laws regulating the ways independent presidential candidates can get on state ballots.

Arizona, joined by 13 other states, asked the court to hear its challenge to a ruling throwing out its residency requirement for petition circulators and a June deadline for submitting signatures for independent candidates in the November presidential elections.

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader sued and won a favorable ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

People Kill People?

Court Turns Down NYC Case Against Gun Industry
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 2:09 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has turned away pleas by New York City and gun violence victims to hold the firearms industry responsible for selling guns that could end up in illegal markets.

The justices' decision Monday ends lawsuits first filed in 2000. Federal appeals courts in New York and Washington threw out the complaints after Congress passed a law in 2005 giving the gun industry broad immunity against such lawsuits.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was examining whether it had other legal options. ''It was one tool. It was one part of our strategy to fight against illegal guns,'' he said.

The city's lawsuit asked for no monetary damages. It had sought a court order for gun makers to more closely monitor those dealers who frequently sell guns later used to commit crimes.

But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal law provides the gun industry with broad immunity from lawsuits brought by crime victims and violence-plagued cities. The Supreme Court refused to reconsider that decision.

The lawsuit was first brought in June 2000 while Rudy Giuliani was New York mayor. It was delayed due to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and because of similar litigation in the state courts.

The city refiled the lawsuit in January 2004, saying manufacturers let handguns reach illegal markets at gun shows in which non-licensed people can sell to other private citizens; through private sales in which background checks are not required; by oversupplying markets where gun regulations are lax, and by having poor overall security.

The city said a state nuisance law makes it a crime to knowingly or recklessly create a condition endangering the safety or health of a considerable number of people. But the appeals court said New York's law does not qualify as an exception to federal law. It agreed with U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2005, is constitutional.