Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bath Salts: Sen. Charles Schumer Looks to Impose Nationwide Ban

Proposed Bill Would Make Ban Synthetic Drugs That Can Create 'Legal Highs'

The synthetic drugs sold online, in convenience stores and in smoke shops can affect the body in ways similar to cocaine and methamphetamines.

"The longer we wait to ban the substance, the greater risk we put our kids in," Schumer said. "These so-called bath salts are dangerous drugs masquerading as a harmless product. They offer a cheap and deadly high, and we need to move immediately to get them off the shelves."

Schumer has also asked New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah to ban the chemicals statewide. Other states, such as Idaho, are following suit. The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Israel have already banned the chemicals.

The recent flurry of legislation stems from mounting reports of bath salts, plant food and incense made with methylenedioxypyrovalerone and mephedrone causing hallucinations, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, even some deaths.

By almost any measure, Jarrod Moody had gotten his life together. By the middle of last year, Moody, 29, had successfully kicked an addiction to the prescription painkiller Dilaudid, gotten a steady job and had prepared to move in to a new place. In August 2010, his last random drug test came back negative.

Then in September, it was as if someone "flipped a switch," said his father, John. Jarrod complained of insomnia and, when he could sleep, horrible nightmares. He began talking to himself and would have "bursts of superhuman energy" minutes after complaining of crippling stomach pains. In less than two weeks he'd be dead.

"I said, 'This looks like drug use all over again,' but we didn't see any track marks on his arm and we didn't find anything," said John. A concerned friend of Jarrod's told his dad he was using a new street drug called "Ivory Wave."

When Jarrod showed up at the house looking more gaunt and haunted than he ever did on painkillers, his father urged his son to get counseling. "I said let me take you for help," John tells ABC News, choking back tears. "He sat there for a minute and said, 'I love you, Dad,' and walked out the door."

In the early hours of the following morning Jarrod Moody shot himself in the head with a pistol he'd taken from a friend. He died almost instantly. The hospital's toxicology report came back clean -- no illegal drugs were in his system.

In the weeks that followed, John would discover that Ivory Wave, the drug that had been causing his son such mental and physical turmoil, is legally sold as bath salts. The drug is part of a new trend of phony products -- usually bath salts, plant food and insect repellant -- designed with the express purpose of giving a cheap, legal high.

In 2010 there were 233 reports calls to U.S. poison centers for the ingestion of the chemicals most commonly found in these products, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

In the first ten days of 2011, that number had already hit 69.

"It's truly scary," said Mark Ryan of Louisiana Poison Control. "This stuff has literally consumed my work days since the middle of October. We need to do something. It's out of hand."

The fake products are usually manufactured in parts of Europe, China and India and sold in individual bags -- about $20 for a 2-gram pouch -- on the Internet, in convenience stores and on the street. They come branded with names like Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge +, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove, Cloud-9 and White Dove.

The powders cause intense cravings for more even though they can trigger extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, hypertension and, as in the case of Jarrod Moody, suicidal thoughts, said Ryan. "Guys are showing up with bizarre symptoms," he tells ABC News.

"Anxiety off the charts, blood pressure high enough to blow an aorta," he said. "Some were combative, some were extremely paranoid -- monsters and demons and talking to God and aliens coming to get their family. But the cravings are similar to crack, so they keep doing it."

The long-term effects of the drug are still unknown -- no testing has ever been done on humans -- but unlike cocaine or even chrystal meth, these phony bath salts do not metabolize in just a few hours. "It truly looks like a psychotic break," said Ryan.

Last week six chemicals most commonly found in the products were outlawed by emergency order in Louisiana, where the majority of the cases are ocurring. Anyone convicted of selling them will face penalties equivalent to the selling of heroin, said Gov. Bobby Jindal in an announcement.

But knockoff stimulants such as these are only the latest problem to vex authorities. In November the Drug Enforcement Agency published a notice of intent to outlaw five chemicals most commonly found in a range of "synthetic marijuana blends," or synthetic cannabinoids. The outlaw has not yet taken effect nationally, but 16 states have so far banned the drugs.

Cleverly marketed as incense (with product names like K2, Spice, K4 Cush, Mr. Nice Guy and others), these drug gained popularity recently as an alternative to marijuana that does not show up in tests. It may also cause anxiety, vomiting or seizures. In all of 2009 there were 14 cases of synthetic marijuana reported to U.S. poison centers. In 2010 that number was 2,863.

"It's like a game of Russian Roulette. You don't know how people are going to react to it," said Tony Scalzo of the Missouri Poison Center, who remains wary of the DEA's plan to ban five chemicals most common drug. "There are hundreds of different canabinoids. So the DEA bans five of them, there are 50 of them that they could replace them with."

Indeed, savvy pushers and chemists are often able to stay one step ahead of the law, said Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the DEA. By altering the molecular structure of a banned chemical, they can create a new compound that does more or less the same thing and isn't covered by a ban.

"We are aware that there are other chemicals that do similar things. We picked five because we don't have the resources to study 200. This is a first step," said Carreno. "There is a mindset that if something is legal, it's safe. It's not."

But not everyone agrees that the outright banning of these new drugs is the best way to proceed. If anything, the proliferation of these quasi-legal drugs is proof to some that the federal drug laws are failing.

"I would not recommend that anyone be taking Spice or K2, but one of the primary reasons people take this stuff is because they don't want to be caught in a drug test," said Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit that works to change federal drug laws.

"People aren't taking it because it gives a better high than marijuana," he said. "Does banning it make it more unavailable? This is a failure to think through the consequences of criminalization of marijuana rather than rely on sensible regulation and education."

Education seems to be what the DEA has in mind for now, at the risk of creating new demand. "It's better, I feel, for the information that's out there to be accurate," said Carreno.

The Moodys couldn't agree more.

"If we can keep someone from having to go through this, we're happy to talk about it," said Jarrod's father John. "If it saves even one person, we feel like we owed it to Jarrod to tell people about it."

Sports books eke out a win on Super Bowl

A tight Super Bowl went to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. And after further review, Nevada's sports books also won a close decision.

The state's wagering handle of $87.5 million represented a 5.5 percent increase from last year's game, and the books held slightly more than $724,000 for a win percentage of 0.83, according to figures released Tuesday by the Gaming Control Board.

After the Packers' 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, several Las Vegas sports book directors reported a loss on the game.

"Both figures were surprising to me," Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said. "I wasn't expecting that much of an increase after what we heard from around the town. But it was nice to see. It was a very positive number.

"It's also surprising because almost everybody I talked to was on the short end of it."

The Super Bowl handle includes NFL futures wagers, said Mike Lawton, a senior research analyst for the control board.

"I think we were really worried about it being a loss. It could have been worse," said Lawton, adding that no casinos "lost anything mind-blowing" on the Super Bowl.

The state's books showed a win for the 15th time in 16 years, but it was the smallest win since 1998.

The only recent Super Bowl loss for the state was in 2008, when the New York Giants upset New England, 17-14. The Giants closed as 12-point underdogs. That matchup drew $92 million in wagers, and the books lost $2.6 million (2.8 percent).

A total of $82.7 million in Super Bowl bets rolled in last year, when New Orleans defeated Indianapolis, 31-17. The economy took a downturn after a state-record $94.5 million was wagered on the game in 2006.

"We're finally coming out of the doldrums," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky's sports books. "I think that's good news.

"I thought it would be a small loser, but obviously somebody won more than I thought. We were one bet away from getting even on the game. It's really just a guess if you're a small winner or a small loser. It's hard to get that finite."

Mike Colbert, the M Resort sports book director for Cantor Gaming, reported a win on the game. Sources said the South Point was also a winner.

An overwhelming number of parlays linking Green Bay, which was a 2½-point favorite, and over the total of 45 did the most damage to the books' bottom lines.

"Our ticket count was outrageous. We had about 4,000 more tickets than last year, which is about 7 percent more," Kornegay said. "The tickets were about 50-50 on the Packers and Steelers.

"But most of the tickets on the Packers also had the over, and I think the same betting trend was clear everywhere."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

A summary of performances by Nevada sports books for the past 10 Super Bowls:
Year Wagers Win/(Loss) Win Pct. Score
2011 $87,491,098 $724,176 0.83 Packers 31, Steelers 25
2010 $82,726,367 $6,857,101 8.3 Saints 31, Colts 17
2009 $81,514,748 $6,678,044 8.2 Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
2008 $92,055,833 $(2,573,103) (2.8) Giants 17, Patriots 14
2007 $93,067,358 $12,930,175 13.9 Colts 29, Bears 17
2006 $94,534,372 $8,828,431 9.3 Steelers 21, Seahawks 10
2005 $90,759,236 $15,430,138 17.0 Patriots 24, Eagles 21
2004 $81,242,191 $12,440,698 15.3 Patriots 32, Panthers 29
2003 $71,693,032 $ 5,264,963 7.3 Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
2002 $71,513,304 $ 2,331,607 3.3 Patriots 20, Rams 17

SOURCE: Nevada Gaming Control Board

Venezuela: 48 Homicides for Every 100,000 People

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan authorities say they recorded 48 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants last year, making it one of the most dangerous places in South America.

Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami didn't report the actual number of slayings during a debate in the National Assembly on Tuesday. But he said the average was above the norm for the region, and called it "a very high rate."

A report for the United Nations last year put the homicide rate for South America as a whole around 20 per 100,000 people.

President Hugo Chavez's government has not released comprehensive statistics for five years, but officials said previously there were more than 12,000 murders in the first 11 months of 2010.

Venezuela has a population of 28 million.

Michelle Obama's unfolding legacy

In the first and second weeks of January, Michelle Obama gathered her senior staff in her office for a series of three-hour planning meetings that would kick off her third - and busiest - year in the East Wing.

What she saw was a staff in transition and remade at the top levels, a shuffling that mirrored the changes just down the hall in the West Wing.

Susan Sher, her mentor and outgoing chief of staff, sat in on the meetings, but she was heading back to Chicago and handing off her duties to Tina Tchen, another Windy City pal, who had been a top Obama campaign fundraiser in 2008.

Kristina Schake, new to the White House but not to politics, had been on the job for a little over a month, taking over as communications director. The East Wing, she was finding, was inundated with requests and coming off of a two-year run of glossy magazine covers that solidified Michelle the brand.

Over the past two years, Michelle Obama has seen more staff shuffling at the top levels than previous first ladies - three chiefs of staff, two communications directors and the search is on for social secretary No. 3.

It's a smaller operation, so the changes in the East Wing aren't on the scale of those in the West Wing, and they don't reflect the repositioning and campaign preparation that is going on there. But the personnel moves reflect a first lady grappling with inevitable departures from jobs that require long hours and political steel. The moves also reveal a first lady who is upgrading and tweaking her role, and making moot that perennial question - is she more like Hillary or Laura?

'New to the table'

Two years ago, Michelle Obama moved into the White House with less experience at being a political wife than her most recent predecessors but with higher expectations.

She told her staff then that there was little room for mistakes.

Two years later, observers are hard-pressed to find any major flubs, and the first lady has staffed up for Michelle Obama 2.0.

Her message to her newly assembled senior staff has been simple: Keep building and expanding on her signature programs with an eye toward leaving a legacy that would exist across the government and the nation, long after she leaves the White House.

The first lady will have to craft that legacy with a team still finding its way, albeit a team of stronger ties and more open dialogue with the West Wing, often a flash point in any White House.

Asked in a Tuesday interview what the next two years will look like, Obama said, "more."

More politics, to be sure, but her travel schedule, which will take her on campaign trips and foreign visits, is far from being mapped out. "I'll be pushing it off as much as I can," she said of her electioneering. Her own goals appear to be more clear: "I have a pretty big agenda over the next couple of years," she said at a luncheon with reporters in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House.

As for her new top staffers, who are getting used to Obama's early morning e-mails and her lawyerly ways in staff meetings, the first lady said that "each transition has brought something new to the table in a good way."

"I need people who know me, but people who don't know me and will push me and push me to think differently and say, 'Oh, that doesn't make sense,' and 'You've been talking about that for a year, but have you thought about it this way?' " she said. "They just look at you in a different way, look at things that you've been doing, and that's always energizing."

She is marking the one-year anniversary of her anti-childhood-obesity campaign, Let's Move, with a media blitz, and she is set to roll out a public-service announcement and travel to Atlanta on Wednesday for a major speech on parental involvement.

On March 1, Obama will unveil a more focused campaign around military families, an issue that she first took up during her husband's campaign for the White House. Over the last two years, she has been working on the issue with the vice president's wife, Jill Biden, as they met with families and advocacy groups on bases and in military hospitals.

"She has become an issues expert," Schake said. "She knows who the leading voices are, knows what the priorities are, and is very well versed."

In Schake, she has a new communications director, who is herself from a military family, as well as an outsider - she spent the last four years doing media relations for California's former first lady, Maria Shriver. Schake's challenge will be to ramp up a communications staff that already has Oprah Winfrey on speed dial but must craft new approaches to getting out Obama's message. Last year the first lady received some rare criticism, when former Alaska governor Sarah Palin used the first lady's anti-obesity program as an example of government overreach and the nanny state run amok.

"I don't think about her in this initiative," Obama said, brushing off Palin's criticism and focusing instead on GOP supporters of her initiative. "Mike Huckabee took the lead on this issue when he was the governor of Arkansas. I mean, he had one of the most forward-thinking programs out of any state on obesity because he lived it."

Along with bipartisan backing, Obama has managed to get some corporate buy-in for her program as well, announcing last month with Wal-Mart that the super-grocer would offer lower priced fruits and vegetables and healthier food choices to its millions of shoppers.

West Wing connection

In tapping Tchen, who is from the first lady's circle of Chicagoans and remains a good friend of presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, Obama has added someone steeped in the West Wing, with close ties to Bill Daley, the president's new chief of staff.

The East Wing's initial chief of staff, Jackie Norris, was a campaign carry-over, and after her short stint, Obama brought in Sher, a former hospital administrator boss with whom the future first lady had shared many lunch breaks and family stories over the years.

Connecting the East and West wings was Sher's charge, and she admitted there was more work to be done.

"I felt that I made a lot of progress," Sher said. "But I think Tina's going to make more, I think, because everyone is so focused on the need for it and Bill [Daley] wants to make sure it happens." Where Rahm Emanuel seemed to tiptoe around the first lady, one of the first calls Daley made after accepting the job was directly to her, aides said. (By the way, Obama is still a Chicago voter and wouldn't say whether she planned to vote for her husband's former chief of staff in the city's mayoral race.)

Tchen, who had been the director of the Office of Public Engagement, was a ready fit for the East Wing, Obama said, and will make continued integration with the West Wing that much easier.

"I mean, she knows all the players. They know her. She's been in all the meetings. So now she's there with a different role. It makes it easier," Obama said. "So I always say that there are two things new staffers have to do: They have to adjust to the job, and then they have to adjust to the White House." The first lady noted the pace of the place is just faster for outsiders. "So it takes a second just to breathe normally in this environment. . . . You've got to give people a second. Since we didn't have a second - it's nice that Tina . . . knows how to breathe at this altitude."

Wide cultural space

As for her own "breathing" in the fishbowl that can be the White House, Obama said that she, along with her husband, two daughters and mother, had to answer for themselves that question of "How do we breathe in this space?"

Her marriage, which was tested by her husband's political ambitions, she said, remains strong, held together in part by laughter.

"I think in our house we don't take ourselves too seriously, and laughter is the best form of unity I think in a marriage," she said. "So we still find ways to have fun together, and a lot of it is private and personal. But we keep each other smiling, and that's good."

(The president also hasn't touched a cigarette in almost a year, finally making good on his promise to quit, said the first lady, adding: "I'm very proud of him.")

Socially, she has maintained a tight-knit group of friends, some of whom have moved to Washington and work in the administration, and some of whom she has reconnected with since moving here. In November, mixing her social life with politics, she invited a group of 50 women, many from the nonprofit and advocacy world, to a screening of Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls," where they snacked on popcorn and juice and traded hugs and business cards.

"I've never heard of the first lady who almost every day invites people from our community to the White House," said E. Faye Williams, head of the National Congress of Black Women.

Last month, the first lady marked the two-year anniversary of her husband's inauguration by greeting unsuspecting visitors at the White House. It was one part gag, one part ceremonial greeting, the type of Vanna White-style role-playing that every first lady must grin through.

Yet, the guests' reactions suggested that the cultural space Obama occupies is wide indeed.

One man asked her for directions to Ben's Chili Bowl, as if she were just a local, while two black women wept at the very sight of her.

On the fashion front, she continues to draw attention and headlines for every outfit, no matter the circumstance - New York Magazine's Web site ran an item titled "Michelle Obama Observed a Moment of Silence in Narciso Rodriguez" when she donned a blue overcoat in the wake of the Tucson shootings. And her choice of a floor-length Alexander McQueen gown for the state dinner honoring China drew scrutiny from conservatives for its color (red), and some in the fashion industry balked that she went with a British design house. She denied reports that she has changed her stylist, Ikram Goldman.

"I like to patronize American designers, and the vast majority of the clothes that I wear are. But there are a lot of other designers that have cute stuff, too. So I don't think that I'm any different from any other woman other than the fact that people see what I wear and then they talk about it," she said.

"But my decisions aren't so complex. It's really just sort of: 'How cold is it? Do I have to stand outside?' and 'What am I going to use to cover my arms if I'm freezing so I'm not shivering while I have to give a speech?' It's really stuff like that."

Obama said that, midway through her husband's term, she has found her stride.

"We've just been here for two years. The first year, everything is new, everything is unknown, everything is unclear. Now I have better clarity about what my role is going to be. Our agenda is clearer," she said. "We know who we are, we know where we're going."

William Kristol: Beck Is "Marginalizing Himself"

William Kristol: Beck Is "Marginalizing Himself" With His "Hysteria" Over Egypt

As Media Matters has documented, Glenn Beck has offered wild speculation and conspiracy theories in response to the protests in Egypt.
In a column for The Weekly Standard, editor and Fox News contributor William Kristol criticizes Beck for his "hysteria" and attacks other conservatives for being "so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the democrats."

From Kristol's column:

Now, people are more than entitled to their own opinions of how best to accomplish that democratic end. And it's a sign of health that a political and intellectual movement does not respond to a complicated set of developments with one voice.

But hysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.

Nor is it a sign of health when other American conservatives are so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the democrats. Rather, it's a sign of fearfulness unworthy of Americans, of short-sightedness uncharacteristic of conservatives, of excuse-making for thuggery unworthy of the American conservative tradition.

Janet Jackson opens up about body issues, relationship with father

Janet Jackson, discusses her family life with Meredith Viera on TODAY on Friday.

In an exclusive interview with TODAY's Meredith Vieira, Janet Jackson reveals that her struggles with her body image were once so severe, "I would literally bang my head up against the wall because I didn't feel attractive. ... There was a lot of pain in my life. But I did. I felt very unattractive," Jackson said.

The singer/actress writes about the incident in her new book "True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself," saying that she's better off now than when she was in her 20s, and "Rhythm Nation" was topping the charts. "I still have issues with it. I don't bang my head up against the wall, but I still have those moments. And I think it'll probably continue but at least I know how to deal with it now. And I'm in a much better space," she told Vieira.

The issues Jackson had might stem back to how she was treated by her brothers, including Michael, who had nicknames for her like "Horse, pig, cow, slaughter-hog," she said."

"It makes you laugh, it really does. It makes you laugh. I guess some people could say, 'Oh that's, you know, brothers and sisters joking, it's all affection, it's all, you know, it's in a loving way.' But not everybody can brush it off, and I was one of those," she said.

In the interview, Jackson also opens up about her father Joe, saying she wasn't to ever call him dad.

"He said, 'I'm Joseph to you. You do not call me dad.' That affects you as a kid ... I know my father loves me. He just has a very, very different way of showing it."

Egypt protests: Hosni Mubarak's concessions rejected

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square for the latest protest calling for Hosni Mubarak's government to step down.

Correspondents say it is the biggest demonstration since the protests began on 25 January.

It comes despite the government's announcement of its plans for a peaceful transfer of power.

President Mubarak has said he will stay until elections in September.

In Tahrir Square, attempts by the army to check the identity cards of those joining the demonstration were abandoned because of the sheer weight of numbers.

Our correspondent says the message to the authorities is simple - there is huge support from all walks of Egyptian life for the protests, and the government's concessions are not enough.

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive was detained and blindfolded by state security forces for 12 days, was feted by the crowds as he entered Tahrir Square.

The determination of people queuing to get into Tahrir Square in the late afternoon sun has not been dented by officials' announcements of a series of concessions.

"We don't care what they are promising. Our demand is the same: Mubarak must leave," says Mariam defiantly.

A man standing behind her says the authorities have ignored the views of young people for too long. "I am 55 years old, I have tolerated this president for 30 years. This young generation is braver than mine. They have motivated us," he insists.

Some demonstrators concede that plans to make constitutional changes - which the opposition has long called for - were a positive step. They say release of the Google executive and blogger, Wael Ghonim, was another boost. Now the hope is that more can be achieved by keeping up large numbers in the heart of Cairo.
He is credited with setting up the page on the Facebook social network that helped galvanise protesters.

"We will not abandon our demand and that is the departure of the regime," Mr Ghonim told protesters in the square, to cheers and applause.

Referring to the protesters who have died in clashes with the security forces, he said: "I'm not a hero but those who were martyred are the heroes."

This latest demonstration in Cairo, as the protests enter their third week, came as large crowds demonstrated in the second city, Alexandria, and other Egyptian towns and cities.

The protesters are continuing to call for Mr Mubarak to leave office immediately, and say they are sceptical about any transition managed by the government.

In his response to the protests, President Mubarak has set up a committee to propose constitutional changes, and another is being formed to carry the changes out.

The real test of the revolution's success or failure is whether it changes Egypt permanently - that does not mean changing the face at the top to preserve the system, it means democracy”

Egypt's unfinished revolution
Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who announced the formation of the new committees, said he had briefed Mr Mubarak on recent talks with the opposition, and the president had welcomed the process of "dialogue" and "national reconciliation".

"The president also underlined the importance of continuing [the process] and moving from guidelines to a clear map with a definite timetable" for a "peaceful and organised" transfer of power, he said.

Among the key expected changes are a relaxation of presidential eligibility rules, and the setting of a limit for presidential terms.

A third committee, expected to begin its work in the next few days, would investigate clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak groups last week and refer its findings to the prosecutor-general, Mr Suleiman said.

He also said President Mubarak had issued directives to stop repressive measures against the opposition.

Meanwhile, US Vice-President Joe Biden urged Mr Suleiman to make an orderly transition of power in Egypt that is "prompt, meaningful, peaceful and legitimate", the White House said.

During a telephone call, Mr Biden also urged the immediate lifting of Egypt's emergency laws.

The BBC's Yolande Knell reports that some of the protesters in Tahrir Square concede that plans to make constitutional changes - which the opposition has long called for - are a positive step, but others are sceptical about Mr Suleiman's intentions.

Wael Ghonim (left) is credited with setting up a Facebook page that helped galvanise protesters "We don't trust them any more," Ahmed, one young Egyptian queuing to get into the square, told the BBC. "How can Suleiman guarantee there'll be no more violence around the election after all the attacks we've seen on young people."

A middle-aged protester, Mustafa, said: "We are asking why there is no committee for young people. He has to ask the young people what they want -this is all about the young people."

The unrest over the last two weeks has seen fierce clashes with police, and pitched battles between protesters and Mubarak supporters.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers say they have confirmed the deaths of 297 people since 28 January, based on a count from seven hospitals in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. No comprehensive death toll has been given by the Egyptian government.

Some economic activity has resumed, but authorities have delayed reopening the stock exchange until Sunday. On Friday it was estimated that the paralysis resulting from the unrest had been costing the economy an average of $310m (£193m) a day.

The number of those on Tahrir Square has been swelling each day and dropping back overnight.

Meanwhile, leaked US diplomatic cables carried on the Wikileaks website have revealed that Mr Suleiman was named as Israel's preferred candidate for the job after discussions with American officials in 2008.

As Egypt's intelligence chief, he is said to have spoken daily to the Israeli government on issues surrounding the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via a secret "hotline".


Keith Olbermann Takes Charge of Current TV

The ex-MSNBC anchor announced Tuesday he’s launching a nightly show on Al Gore’s Current TV—and will control the channel’s news and opinion programming. Howard Kurtz on Olbermann’s gamble. Plus, the 13 biggest media quakes.

Keith Olbermann isn’t just joining Current TV and launching a prime-time show in late spring—he’s going to serve as its “chief news officer.”

After years of passionately defending liberal Democrats during his controversial career at MSNBC, Olbermann is going to work for one. Less than three weeks after a war with NBC management led to his abrupt departure from Countdown, he announced Tuesday that he is joining the channel co-founded by Al Gore—and getting an equity stake in the process.

Over the course of 48 minutes, Olbermann walked a fine line between trashing his former employer—both sides had agreed not to disparage each other for a limited period—and singing the praises of his new one. He described the forthcoming program as “an improved and we hope amplified and stronger version of the show I just did.” He said he wanted to do “news produced independent from corporate interference,” but when pressed on whether he had been restrained at MSNBC, Olbermann retreated slightly. “I don’t want to imply there were massive repressive forces against individual stories,” he said, adding that he wanted to work “in a much more pristine environment.”

Stay tuned, however: “I fully intend to talk about NBC in the immediate future, but this isn’t the day to do that.”

The former vice president heaped praise on his new star, lauding his “independent voice” and “thought-provoking commentary.” Asked whether Olbermann’s appointment as the top news officer means Current is now branding itself a liberal channel, Gore didn’t deny it: “I find myself in substantial agreement with the views I’ve heard Keith Olbermann express,” he said, and democracy “benefits greatly from having Keith Olbermann’s voice heard.”

It wasn’t entirely clear what Olbermann would do as chief news officer—other than get a cool hat with the title inscribed, he joked—but Gore said he would help develop ideas for other shows and provide “editorial guidance” for all news and commentary on the channel.

On one level, this is a step down for the man who almost single-handedly revived MSNBC’s prime-time schedule and was a constant irritant to Fox News. Current TV is a low-rated operation (averaging 23,000 viewers in prime time) that reaches 60 million American homes and generates little attention, featuring as it does such programs as Bar Karma and Kill It, Cook It, Eat It. But Gore noted that Current is available in slightly more U.S. households than MSNBC was when Olbermann launched Countdown in 2003.

In a sense, Current is doing with Olbermann what AOL did Monday with Arianna Huffington, a frequent Olbermann guest, in buying her website for $315 million: Making him the public face of the six-year-old company and the man responsible for running the editorial side. Gore remains a key figure, but he rarely appears on the air, on his channel or elsewhere, as a Current spokesman.

Olbermann, a prolific tweeter, can use the platform as a base to build his brand. He has a fervent following—along with plenty of detractors—as a liberal champion who delighted in bashing Republicans, and many fans were disappointed at his departure midway through a $30-million contract. MSNBC suspended Olbermann for making donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, and the backstage sniping that followed—including Olbermann’s threat to go public with his grievances and the cable channel’s threat to fire him—irreparably ruptured the relationship. He left just before Comcast, whose executives were expected to take a harder line against his heated rhetoric, took control of NBC.

What will the new show look like? Will there be a segment called “Worst Persons in the World”?

“There may be a segment that resembles that, both in structure and in tone, but it won’t be called ‘Worst Persons,’” said Olbermann, who believes the deliberately overstated title was sometimes misinterpreted. But “calling people out,” he said, “well, it’s part of my DNA.”

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief

Less than Half Think Obama Will Win Re-Election

Roughly 51 percent of Americans expect President Obama to lose his 2012 re-election bid, a new CNN/ Opinion Research Corporation poll has found. Fewer -- 46 percent -- said they expect the president to win re-election.

While that seems like bad news, it's important to consider this bit of context: When the same question was asked in 1995, 65 percent of Americans expected President Bill Clinton to lose his re-election bid, and just 24 percent said he would win. Mr. Clinton, of course, went on to win a second term.

The new poll finds that 26 percent of registered voters will definitely vote for Mr. Obama in the 2012 election, and another 23 percent will probably vote for him. Thirty-five percent said they will not vote for him, and 16 percent they will probably not.

Republicans and Republican-leaning voters surveyed were also asked in the poll about who will represent their party in the presidential race. Interestingly, there was some deviation between which candidate voters would like to see as the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and which candidate voters expect to see as the nominee.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee topped the list of preferred candidates at 21 percent, with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin following at 19 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was close behind with support from 18 percent of Republicans, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was backed by 10 percent of Republicans.

Yet just 13 percent expect Huckabee to win the GOP nomination. A quarter of Republican voters expect Romney to win, while 24 percent expect Palin to win.

Ideological purity was not these voters' top concern: Nearly seven out of 10 said they would prefer a nominee who could beat Mr. Obama over a candidate in line with all of their political beliefs.

Shooting in Mexico Kills 3 Teens, 2 from Texas ( Fun Place!)

Mexican Prosecutors Have No Witnesses, Leads on Suspects, Motive; Unclear if Any of Victims Were U.S. Citizens

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - Three teenage boys were shot to death in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, and at least two of them had been high school students in Texas, authorities said Monday.

The boys were killed at a car dealership in the city across the border from El Paso, Texas, Chihuahua prosecutors' spokesman Arturo Sandoval said.

He said there were no witnesses and no leads on suspects or a motive. At least 60 bullet casings were found at the scene.

One of the boys, Carlos Mario Gonzalez Bermodez, 16, was a sophomore at Cathedral High School in El Paso, said Nick Gonzalez, the Roman Catholic brother who is the principal. Another victim, Juan Carlos Echeverri, 15, had been a freshman at the private all-boys Catholic school last year but left to study in Ciudad Juarez, Gonzalez said.

The third teenager was identified as Cesar Yalin Miramontes Jimenez, 17.

It was unclear if any of the boys were U.S. citizens. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said he had no immediate information on the case.

The school principal said Gonzalez Bermodez mainly lived in Ciudad Juarez and commuted each day across the border. He said 20 percent of the 485 students enrolled at Cathedral are from Ciudad Juarez.

Gonzalez said the school's sophomore class had a prayer service Monday and officials planned a rosary service for the entire school later in the week.

"It's a lot of pain, a lot of sorrow, a lot of tears, a lot of coming together as a community to try to hold each other up and to try and make sense today," Gonzalez said. "How do you make sense of this meaningless tragedy? Hopefully this can really empower us to make a positive change in the border community because their deaths will have no meaning otherwise."

Many Ciudad Juarez residents travel across the border on a daily basis for work or study. Some Mexicans live in El Paso for safety reasons and commute to Ciudad Juarez.

Ciudad Juarez city has become one of the world's most dangerous cities amid a fierce turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels. More than 3,000 people were killed last year in the city of 1.3 million residents.

Gonzalez said students at the school have had a number of relatives killed in the violence in Ciudad Juarez. A graduate of the school was killed last fall, he said.

"Our Juarez kids knew all three" of the teenagers killed over the weekend, he said. "It's a very tight knit community. A lot of them car pool; that's how they know each other."

Michelle Obama: Barack Has Quit Smoking

After a Highly-Publicized Battle with Nicotine Addiction.

The first lady says her husband has not smoked in almost a year. She said it is a personal challenge for him and she is very proud.

Michelle Obama made the comments in an interview with reporters at the White House on Tuesday. She said the president has always wanted to quit.

The president himself has discussed his struggles with nicotine addiction, acknowledging in June 2009 that he still sneaked the occasional puff. The White House last addressed the topic in December, when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he hadn't seen Obama smoke in niO'Donnell Claims She Was Obama's Top Opponentne months but stopped short of asserting that he had quit.

"It was a commitment that I think he made to himself at the end of the health care and with his two daughters in mind," Gibbs said on CNN's "State of the Union."

In 2007, Michelle Obama insisted that her husband quit smoking as a precondition for a White House run. The senator agreed.

By his own admission, Obama slipped repeatedly in 2008 and 2009. It seems 2010 was the year he finally got his habit under control

On Health Care, Justice Will Prevail

THE lawsuits challenging the individual mandate in the health care law, including one in which a federal district judge last week called the law unconstitutional, will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court, and pundits are already making bets on how the justices will vote.

But the predictions of a partisan 5-4 split rest on a misunderstanding of the court and the Constitution. The constitutionality of the health care law is not one of those novel, one-off issues, like the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, that have at times created the impression of Supreme Court justices as political actors rather than legal analysts.

Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This includes authority over not just goods moving across state lines, but also the economic choices of individuals within states that have significant effects on interstate markets. By that standard, this law’s constitutionality is open and shut. Does anyone doubt that the multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry is an interstate market that Congress has the power to regulate?

Many new provisions in the law, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, are also undeniably permissible. But they would be undermined if healthy or risk-prone individuals could opt out of insurance, which could lead to unacceptably high premiums for those remaining in the pool. For the system to work, all individuals — healthy and sick, risk-prone and risk-averse — must participate to the extent of their economic ability.

In this regard, the health care law is little different from Social Security. The court unanimously recognized in 1982 that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to maintain the financial soundness of a Social Security system from which people could opt out. The same analysis holds here: by restricting certain economic choices of individuals, we ensure the vitality of a regulatory regime clearly within Congress’s power to establish.

The justices aren’t likely to be misled by the reasoning that prompted two of the four federal courts that have ruled on this legislation to invalidate it on the theory that Congress is entitled to regulate only economic “activity,” not “inactivity,” like the decision not to purchase insurance. This distinction is illusory. Individuals who don’t purchase insurance they can afford have made a choice to take a free ride on the health care system. They know that if they need emergency-room care that they can’t pay for, the public will pick up the tab. This conscious choice carries serious economic consequences for the national health care market, which makes it a proper subject for federal regulation.

Even if the interstate commerce clause did not suffice to uphold mandatory insurance, the even broader power of Congress to impose taxes would surely do so. After all, the individual mandate is enforced through taxation, even if supporters have been reluctant to point that out.

Given the clear case for the law’s constitutionality, it’s distressing that many assume its fate will be decided by a partisan, closely divided Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, whom some count as a certain vote against the law, upheld in 2005 Congress’s power to punish those growing marijuana for their own medical use; a ban on homegrown marijuana, he reasoned, might be deemed “necessary and proper” to effectively enforce broader federal regulation of nationwide drug markets. To imagine Justice Scalia would abandon that fundamental understanding of the Constitution’s necessary and proper clause because he was appointed by a Republican president is to insult both his intellect and his integrity.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many unfairly caricature as the “swing vote,” deserves better as well. Yes, his opinion in the 5-4 decision invalidating the federal ban on possession of guns near schools is frequently cited by opponents of the health care law. But that decision in 1995 drew a bright line between commercial choices, all of which Congress has presumptive power to regulate, and conduct like gun possession that is not in itself “commercial” or “economic,” however likely it might be to set off a cascade of economic effects. The decision about how to pay for health care is a quintessentially commercial choice in itself, not merely a decision that might have economic consequences.

Only a crude prediction that justices will vote based on politics rather than principle would lead anybody to imagine that Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito would agree with the judges in Florida and Virginia who have ruled against the health care law. Those judges made the confused assertion that what is at stake here is a matter of personal liberty — the right not to purchase what one wishes not to purchase — rather than the reach of national legislative power in a world where no man is an island.

It would be asking a lot to expect conservative jurists to smuggle into the commerce clause an unenumerated federal “right” to opt out of the social contract. If Justice Clarence Thomas can be counted a nearly sure vote against the health care law, the only reason is that he alone has publicly and repeatedly stressed his principled disagreement with the whole line of post-1937 cases that interpret Congress’s commerce power broadly.

There is every reason to believe that a strong, nonpartisan majority of justices will do their constitutional duty, set aside how they might have voted had they been members of Congress and treat this constitutional challenge for what it is — a political objection in legal garb.

Laurence H. Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, is the author of “The Invisible Constitution.”

Sarah Palin forgets to sign trademark application YES! she's ready to be President!?

The applications to trademark the names of Sarah Palin and Bristol Palin have been rejected by the federal government because the former Alaska governor forgot to sign the forms, according to news reports.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is trying to trademark her name. CAPTIONBy Brandi Simons, APThe 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and her daughter, who was a finalist on Dancing with the Stars, have indicated they will resubmit the forms -- this time with signatures.

Fox Business News reports this from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:

"Registration is refused because the applied-for mark, SARAH PALIN, consists of a name identifying a particular living individual whose consent to register the mark is not of record."

AOL's Politics Daily first reported last week that Palin, who is thinking of running for president, and her daughter filed applications to protect their names -- and their brands.

Palin has reportedly earned millions for writing two best-selling books. Bristol Palin, 20, was a finalist last year on ABC's popular dance competition program.

GOP Mitch Daniels proposes a deal on health care

This op-ed by Gov. Mitch Daniels includes an introductory critique of the Affordable Care Act that's so overstated that it borders on comedy.
(I mean, "all claims made for it were false"? Really? Every single one?) But once you get past that, it's exactly what I've been hoping to see from a major member of the Republican Party: It's a list of changes that Congress could make to the Affordable Care Act in order to make it acceptable to Republicans, or at least to Mitch Daniels.

• We are given the flexibility to decide which insurers are permitted to offer their products.

• All the law's expensive benefit mandates are waived, so that our citizens aren't forced to buy benefits they don't need and have a range of choice that includes more affordable plans.

• The law's provisions discriminating against consumer-driven plans, such as health savings accounts, are waived.

• We are given the freedom to move Medicaid beneficiaries into the exchange, or to utilize new approaches to the traditional program, instead of herding hundreds of thousands more people into today's broken Medicaid system.

• Our state is reimbursed the true, full cost of the administrative burden to be imposed upon us, based on the estimate of an auditor independent of HHS.

• A trustworthy projection is commissioned, by a research organization independent of the department, of how many people are likely to wind up in the exchange, given the large incentives for employers to save money by off-loading their workers.

According to Daniels, these changes would transform the program from an "impending disaster" into a system where "customer choice would be dramatically enhanced" and "health care would be much more affordable."
I don't agree on the impending disaster part, but the rest of it is true, though with a few big catches: There'd be more choices because there'd be fewer standards, and there'd be cheaper coverage options because insurers would be allowed to offer extremely limited products.

Most of the list is composed of small tweaks. Daniels doesn't think the bill sufficiently reimburses the states for administrative costs, or worries the legislation is insufficiently welcoming to high-deductible plans, or wants another estimate of take-up in the exchanges? Fair enough. Those concerns should be addressed.

The bigger-ticket items are Medicaid and the mandates. I don't see anything wrong with allowing states to move Medicaid-eligible populations into the exchanges -- at least so long as they're committed to giving them access to high-quality insurance once they're in there (remember, Medicaid is much cheaper than equivalent private insurance products). This is actually a compromise I mentioned explicitly in my piece envisioning the health-care system in 2030.

But I wonder what Daniels really means when he calls for "all the law's expensive benefit mandates [to be] waived." Does he mean the categories of care that the bill directs insurers to cover? Does he mean that the bill should throw out protections from preexisting conditions and limits on annual caps? I'm on the side of more, not less, flexibility in this area, but that's not the same as getting rid of standards entirely.

That said, this is a worthwhile debate to be having. Whether the law excludes innovative insurance products that could help bend the cost curve is a much more productive debate to be having than whether we should be making a major move to cover our citizens and bend the cost curve at all. And there's no doubt that the legislation's actual implementation would benefit from the buy-in of conservative governors like Mitch Daniels.

Daniels, of course, doesn't have a vote in Congress, and it's not even clear he has many friends there. But I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss the deals he offers. Back in September, Daniels called for a second stimulus centered around a payroll tax cut and full expensing for business and investment. Both were part of the deal that congressional Republicans struck with the administration a few months later.

Ezra Klein Washington Post

Electronic Flaws Did Not Cause Toyota Problems

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration's investigation into Toyota safety problems has found no electronic flaws to account for reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration and other safety problems. Government investigators said Tuesday the only known cause of the problems are mechanical defects that have been addressed by previous recalls.

The Transportation Department, which was assisted by engineers with NASA, said its 10-month study of Toyota vehicles concluded there was no electronic cause of unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. The study, which was launched at the request of Congress, responded to consumer complaints that flawed electronics could be the culprit behind Toyota's spate of recalls.

"We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota's electronics systems and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended acceleration in Toyotas," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 to address sticking accelerator pedals, gas pedals that became trapped in floor mats, and other safety issues. The recalls have posed a major challenge for the world's No. 1 automaker, which has scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability.

Toyota paid the U.S. government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of three recalls. The company has said it has not found any flaws in its electronic throttle control systems and said the previously announced recalls have addressed the safety concerns.

LaHood said NASA engineers "rigorously examined" nine Toyotas driven by consumers who complained of unintended acceleration. NASA reviewed 280,000 lines of software code to look for flaws that could cause the acceleration. Investigators tested mechanical components in Toyotas that could lead to the problem and bombarded vehicles with electro-magnetic radiation to see whether it could make the electronics cause the cars to speed up.

A preliminary part of the study, released last August, failed to find any electronic flaws based on a review of event data recorders, or vehicle black boxes.

Despite its findings, LaHood said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was considering new regulations to improve safety. They include requiring brake override systems on all vehicles, standardizing keyless ignition systems and requiring event data recorders, or vehicle black boxes, on all new vehicles.

Transportation officials said they would also consider conducting more research on electronic control systems and review the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Toyota reported a 39 percent slide in quarterly profit but raised its full-year forecasts for earnings and car sales. It is a mixed picture for the automaker, which is enjoying booming sales in high-growth markets in Asia, Africa and South America, while facing lingering worries about quality lapses in the U.S.

In addition to the recalls, Toyota began installing brake override systems on new vehicles. The systems automatically cut the throttle when the brake and gas pedals are applied at the same time. The company also created engineering teams to examine vehicles that are the subject of consumer complaints and appointed a chief quality officer for North America amid complaints its U.S. division did not play a large enough role in making safety decisions.

Consumer advocates and safety groups raised concerns that flawed electronics could be causing unwanted acceleration in the Toyotas. They have questioned the reliability of the event data recorders studied by the government, saying they could be faulty or fail to tell the whole story of the individual crashes.

Toyota's safety issues received broad attention from the government after four people were killed in a high-speed crash involving a Lexus near San Diego in August 2009.

NHTSA has received about 3,000 reports of sudden acceleration incidents involving Toyota vehicles during the past decade, including allegations of 93 deaths. NHTSA, however, has confirmed just five of them.

Congress considered sweeping safety legislation last year that would have required brake override systems, raised penalties on auto companies that evade safety recalls and given the government the power to quickly recall vehicles. But the bills failed to win enough support, and it remains unclear if Congress will pursue similar legislation before the 2012 elections.

The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a separate study of unintended acceleration in cars and trucks across the auto industry. The panel is expected to release its findings this fall.

Reagan Kids Reject GOP Heirs to Father's Conservative Legacy

Would Ronald Reagan Support the Tea Party? His Children Disagree

Channeling Ronald Reagan has become an obsession of the nation's leading conservative political figures, including many who are likely candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, compares his Pennsylvania roots to Reagan's in Tampico, Ill. And, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, among others, credits Reagan as an inspiration to "fight for conservative causes."

But ask the 40th president's three surviving children -- Michael and Ron Reagan and Patti Davis -- whether any of their father's potential Republican successors could claim the Reagan mantle, and they say no way.

Is Sarah Palin the next Ronald Reagan?

"You've got to be kidding me," Patti Davis said in an interview with ABC News' "This Week."

"Sarah Palin has nothing in common with my father," said Ron Reagan, Davis' younger brother and a political liberal. "Sarah Palin is a soap opera."

Where does Gingrich stand?

"In some dank little basement somewhere or some fantasy world in his own head," he added.

"You must be kidding me," Davis said of the comparison of Gingrich to her father. "No!"

Michael Reagan, a Republican strategist, said simply that no one matches up.

"I'm not going to down that road because I don't see anyone in Ronald Reagan's image," he said. "He was one of a kind."

While the Reagan children have found the comparisons -- and the extent to which politicians will go to make them -- highly amusing, they say they are intrinsically contrary to Reagan's personal philosophy.

"I remember when I was a kid, my father saw an ad somewhere for 'real simulated diamonds' and he was chuckling and laughing about this. He thought it was so funny that they would put together those two words, real and simulated. And I remember him saying: 'You think people are stupid? Do they think people don't know what the word simulated means?'" Davis said. "I think he would have had the same reaction to people trying to imitate him."

Reagan's three children say the infatuation with their father's legacy is perhaps most reflective of the Republican Party's search for a unifying figure, a leader to chart a path forward.

"Everybody's trying to out-Reagan themselves," said Michael Reagan, an adopted son of the late president. "They're quoting my father, which is wonderful. But they've got to find their own voice and who they are. And I think a mistake that we make as conservatives is by looking for the next Ronald Reagan.

"We may very well walk right past the next great leader of our movement," he said.

Michael Reagan said he believes that next leader may emerge from the Tea Party, which he said is the best current example of his father's vision in action.

"My dad would be supportive of grassroots America rising up and saying we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," he said.

Ron Reagan and Patti Davis sharply disagree, calling the Tea Party's message "extreme" and contrary to their father's principles.

"My brother is, perhaps, more comfortable speaking for him [Ronald Reagan] than I am," Ron Reagan said. "The vitriol that's directed at the White House from some sectors now, I think would really disquiet him. He would think that was unworthy of this country and he would find it disturbing."

But even on the Tea Party, the Reagan children find ground to agree: Their father's brand of politics was different from the all-or-nothing, uncompromising partisanship that exists today.

They say President Reagan knew how to reach across the aisle and form real bonds and lasting partnerships with Democrats, like House Speaker Tip O'Neill, who rushed to the hospital when the president was shot.

"O'Neill somehow manages to get himself into the hospital room ... and my father is asleep at the time, and he goes and kneels by the bed, apparently, and begins to recite the Lord's Prayer," Ron Reagan said. "My father wakes up and hears him and sees him there and begins reciting it with him. And before O'Neill leaves, he takes my father's hand and kisses it and he says, 'God bless you, Mr. President.' Now can you imagine John Boehner doing that with Barack Obama? I can't. And I think that's a sad thing."