Archive for March 14th, 2010

14
Mar
10

Inside the Beltway

NEWS
Inside the Beltway

Monday, March 15, 2010

MISS ME YET?

“Public cynicism that the federal government operates in an atmosphere of secrecy is as strong as ever, despite President Obama‘s promises to make government information more easily available to the public,” says research from the American Society of News Editors, Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University released Monday.

Certain realities of the world persist, apparently: The new survey of 1,001 adults found that 70 percent believe that the federal government is either “very secretive” or “somewhat secretive.” The largest portion of respondents, 44 percent, said it is “very secretive.” That finding “matches the worst rating the federal government received during the final year of George W. Bush‘s presidency,” the consortium says. (See more findings in “Poll du Jour.”)

NAKED TRUTH

It’s been 28 years. But no one is really quite over then-Senator-to-be Scott Brown‘s 1982 appearance as a nude male centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine, including the Massachusetts Republican himself. During an annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston, the “overwhelmingly Democratic” Massachusetts political establishment got a laugh when state Treasurer Timothy Cahill presented Gov. Deval Patrick with a blowup of Mr. Brown’s languorous, reclining pose – with the governor’s head digitally placed over Mr. Brown’s.

But there was a greater guffaw when Mr. Brown himself showed up to present his former State Senate colleague Jack Hart with yet another blow-up of the same old photo, with Mr. Hart’s head in place this time, advising the crowd that this was truly “Jackie Heartthrob” – and adding just a wee symbol o’ the season, according to one august news organization.

“It had Hart’s face in place of Brown’s – and a shamrock over the crotch,” the Associated Press observed.

A DOSE OF REPUBLICAN

The hard-wired, hard-charging habits of Democratic heavyweights could damage President Obama‘s image, some say.

“If President Obama is ever going to regain the ground he’s lost as a bipartisan healer determined to transcend ideological divisions, he’ll need to have Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Majority Leader Harry Reid or both shunted back to the minority. For Obama, a Republican Congress could be a counterintuitive political boon,” says Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review.

“Congressional leaders generally don’t make appealing national figures. They rule over an unwieldy (and often unseemly) institution and rise to prominence based on their appeal to their fellow members, not their stage presence or post-partisan personas. At the health-care summit a few weeks ago, Pelosi and Reid characteristically jangled as Obama soothed. He’d have been better off without them,” Mr. Lowry continues.

But the Grand Old Party could have palliative effects.

“A Republican Congress would give him a handy foil and force him, right in time for his re-election campaign, into strategic bipartisanship. … Obama probably doesn’t consider a Republican Congress in his interest. But with all he’s done to bring one about, who knows?” Mr. Lowry asks.

JUST SO YOU KNOW

A terse missive from Friend-of-Beltway and Ronald Reagan historian Craig Shirley: “Maybe you heard. Newt Gingrich asked me to write his political biography. The working title is ‘Citizen Newt.’ What do you think?”

Sounds good, Mr. Shirley.

GET MORE GITMO

Why fix what ain’t broke? House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio dismissed suggestions that Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba be shuttered and that 9/11 suspects transferred to a fancy “supermax” prison stateside.

“They want $500 million from this Congress to rehabilitate this prison in northwest Illinois. I want to see who the members are who are going to vote for this. I wouldn’t vote for this if you put a gun to my head,” Mr. Boehner told CNN on Sunday.

“We have a world-class facility at Guantanamo. I think it’s the appropriate place to hold these prisoners. And they can do the tribunals right there at Guantanamo,” he continued. “There is no reason to bring these terrorists into the United States. No reason to increase the threat level here because they’re here. Their friends may want to come. It makes no sense to me. And I don’t think the Congress will appropriate one dime to move those prisoners from Guantanamo to the U.S.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 60 percent of Americans say their local government is “somewhat or very” open.

• 36 percent say it is somewhat or very secretive.

• 47 percent say their state government is somewhat or very open.

• 48 percent say its is somewhat or very secretive.

• 38 percent say the level of secrecy is “the same” as it was under previous administrations.

• 34 percent say it is less secretive; 22 percent say it is more secretive.

Source: A Scripps Howard Survey Center at Ohio University poll of 1,001 adults conducted Feb. 3 to 9

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14
Mar
10

Chris Dodd: Wall Street reform ‘cannot wait’

NEWS
Chris Dodd: Wall Street reform ‘cannot wait’

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd will unveil a revised financial reform bill Monday that seeks to find a middle ground between the skeptical Republicans he left at the negotiating table last week and the unhappy left-wing of the Democratic caucus.
Neither side will be satisfied by what Dodd’s offering, and particularly the left.

Two Republican ideas expected to make Dodd’s final cut are creating a consumer-protection agency inside the Federal Reserve and giving a veto on the agency’s rule-making to an outside body – a far cry from President Barack Obama’s original vision for a muscular stand-alone agency, several sources said Sunday.

Still, Dodd defended his bill against the expected criticism from the left.

“At the end of the day if this is nothing more than sort of competing press conferences as to who can be more punitive to the financial services sector… we’re not legislating here. I’ve been around for 30 years, legislating.… And I have a pretty good feel of where I think the tipping points are and tolerance levels are. And unlike maybe other members [whose] only interest is whether or not they can be on the quote ‘right side of the issue,’ I’ve got to produce a product. And this is a hard product to produce.”

He also took on Republicans who are calling for more time to consider the bill.

By his calculation there are roughly 60 legislative days left in the calendar, “so getting this done cannot wait,” Dodd said. “Besides, we have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on this subject matter. So I need to move.”

Moreover, he said “major portions” of the bill he will unveil Monday reflect the widespread consensus of committee members, including areas regarding the end of too-big-too-fail firms and the creation of a mechanism for dealing with failing financial behemoths without taxpayer money.

Dodd’s bill is sure to anger some Democrats, who say Dodd should put forth the toughest bill possible –and then effectively dare the GOP to vote against cracking down on Wall Street.

“The Republicans won’t want to face the voters in November without having lifted a finger to rein in Wall Street excesses that almost ruined the country,” said one Senate Democratic aide. House Republicans voted unanimously against the financial reform legislation there.

That line of thinking believes that the politics of the Wall Street issue are so strongly on the Democrats’ side that it’s a win-win situation. Either moderate Republicans – say, Olympia Snowe of Maine or George Voinovich of Ohio – cross the aisle and support the Democratic bill, or Democrats would accuse Republicans of being Wall Street lapdogs during the 2010 campaign.

Other members of the Democratic caucus disagree that a partisan fight will help them in November, believing instead they need to show voters they can use their majorities to govern and that an effective reform bill is possible with Republican support.

Either way, Dodd’s bill shows where he comes down on the question, committed to finding some bipartisan support for a package of reforms aimed at curtailing the practices that led to the global financial meltdown in 2008. Putting the consumer agency in the Fed, for instance, is a compromise Dodd worked out with Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who had taken the lead in bipartisan talks in recent weeks, and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top-ranking GOP member on the banking committee.

Dodd abruptly decided last week to finish the draft he will unveil Monday without his Republican negotiating partners, but the legislation is nonetheless expected to contain several key concessions Dodd made to the GOP.

“This is still reasonably middle of the ground stuff,” said one industry lobbyist of the description of the bill making the rounds Sunday.

A senior administration official says formal reaction will come from the White House after Dodd releases his plan Monday, but “I think it will be very positive.” As for the chances of final passage of this measure, the official said, “I think chances are pretty solid, but we aren’t even to the seventh inning stretch.”

The bill includes some sweeteners for Democrats, too.

Dodd’s bill is expected to allow states to enact consumer protection laws that go beyond federal statute – language similar to that in the House bill. That’s a win for the White House, liberal Democrats and consumer advocates; a Dodd-Corker bill had been headed toward an almost-complete ban on tougher state laws, according to Corker. In this draft, Dodd would allow the state rules to be challenged in court.

Dodd’s draft will also contain corporate governance provisions authored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), according to a Senate aide, including one that would allow shareholders to nominate their own candidates using proxy ballots. Corker had said the provision wasn’t acceptable to Republicans, and industry lobbyists have fought against it. The bill will also include Schumer’s provision to give shareholders a nonbinding vote on executive compensation. Both measures will appeal to consumer advocates.

While the details could still change, Dodd’s draft also is expected to include:

– The Fed would retain supervision of big banks and bank holding companies with more than $50 billion in assets, about 40 institutions, industry sources said. That’s a big change from Dodd’s original draft in November, in which he stripped the Fed of all bank supervision.

– Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley that became bank holding companies during the crisis would be blocked from reverting to their old status to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

– The bill would create a new systemic risk council comprising of a presidentially appointed chairperson and seven other existing regulators, including the Treasury secretary, Fed chairman and the director of the consumer watchdog.

– The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision would be merged into a new regulator for national banks with less than $50 billion in assets.

But it’s the Consumer Financial Protection Agency provision that particularly rankles Democrats, including some members of the banking committee. Many liberals feel like the Fed abandoned consumers during the global meltdown by refusing to rein in predatory lending.

The bill also would set up a veto-process over the rules the consumer body could write, by empowering the systemic risk council to take a vote on any rule that raises concerns. But Dodd’s bill would require a two-third votes to overturn a rule, rather than the majority vote proposed by Republicans.

The combination of Fed location and veto mechanism amounts to a “faux” consumer protection agency, said John Taylor, CEO and president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“If you’re an agency that has the mandate to protect consumers from financial abuse if you do not have ultimate the decision making, somebody else does, you’re not a very powerful agency,” said Taylor.

Eighty-two percent of Americans believe that “recent events have shown that Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulation,” according to a March 11 Harris poll that is bolstering a get-tough mood among Democrats. Other polls, however, indicate that Republican arguments against creating unnecessary new bureaucracies are persuasive with voters, too.

Some analysts are starting to wonder if the Obama administration would prefer to have Republicans oppose a bill so they can take full advantage of the issue for the campaign. Having broad bipartisan support for a bill in the Senate – the goal Dodd had been aiming for – would make it harder for Democrats to make a powerful political weapon out of the issue.

“[I]t is increasingly unclear whether the White House prefers a bill or a mid-term election fight with Republicans,” Hamilton Place Strategies’ Tony Fratto and Taylor Griffin, former Bush administration officials, wrote in a recent client note. “We had previously supposed that if health care was off the table, Democrats would need financial regulatory reform to avoid facing voters in November without a major legislative accomplishment. If the West Wing and Congressional leaders believe that they are going to jam a health care bill through reconciliation, then perhaps the pendulum swings the other way.”

Meanwhile, all 10 Republicans on the Banking Committee urged Dodd to give them more time to consider his bill, and not go to a committee mark-up the week of March 22.

“While we remain open to finding common ground and to working diligently toward the passage of bipartisan legislation, we believe a markup scheduled in haste would certainly prevent us from achieving that goal,” the GOP senators wrote to Dodd Friday.

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14
Mar
10

YouTube video could bring charges in black sea bass incident at Newport Beach

NEWS
YouTube video could bring charges in black sea bass incident at Newport Beach

Monday, February 1, 2010
Last modification: Sunday, March 14, 2010

Earth

••• What initially appeared to be a case of a good Samaritan rescuing a huge black sea bass in Newport Beach could now result in criminal charges against the man for allegedly failing to help the animal, authorities said.

The controversy stems from a Jan. 3 incident during which a fisherman in a boat accidentally caught the fish, which is a protected species in California.


As the boat – sea bass in tow – pulled near shore, an unidentified man swam into the water and pulled the fish onto the sand. At the time, officials with the state Department of Fish and Game believed that the man had tried to rescue the floundering fish.

“They thought he made a reasonable effort to return the fish unharmed to the water,” department spokesman Harry Morse said Monday.


But a video posted on YouTube shows the man apparently pulling the fish onto the sand as a throng of people surround the animal, shouting and cheering.


After that video and others were posted on the Internet, Fish and Game officials reversed course and forwarded the case to the Orange County district attorney for possible prosecution.

“We’re reviewing it to determine what, if any, crime occurred,” said Farrah Emami, a district attorney’s spokeswoman.


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14
Mar
10

Ceton InfiniTV 4 Quad-Tuner Card

NEWS
Ceton InfiniTV 4 Quad-Tuner Card

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

••• The Ceton InfiniTV 4 Quad-Tuner Card is the world’s first multi-tuner PC card for watching digital cable TV on the PC, including support for premium cable channels. It enables Media Center PCs to play or record up to four live channels of HDTV at once, and stream live HD channels or recordings to multiple HDTVs throughout the home, all from a single cable connection and a single CableCARD™. Replace your cable set-top boxes and their costly monthly rental fees and enjoy premium cable TV throughout the home, all from a single PC. With the Ceton InfiniTV 4 Quad-Tuner Card your Media Center PC becomes a complete entertainment platform for all your media, including premium cable TV.

Rasputin-like, the CableCard refuses to die, despite the best intentions of cable companies everywhere. TiVo still supports the device, and many home theater PCs would be hindered without it, but this alternative to a set-top box has never caught on, to mildly understate things.

Nonetheless, those attached to their Windows 7 Media Center desktops in the living room should take refuge in a new CableCard tuner from Ceton. Called the InfiniTV 4 and now available for pre-order, this PCI Express x1 card lets your PC record up to four HD shows at the same time, which doubles the capabilities of my current cable set-top box. Better still, it will stream HD broadcasts to other HDTVs around your home via Media Center Extenders (of which the Xbox 360 is the most popular). Unlike earlier incarnations of CableCard, the latest models can access premium channels, so you should be able to record Spartacus on Showtime Starz while watching The Ricky Gervais Show on HBO. According to Engadget, the InifiniTV 4 doesn’t include a fan, so it should keep noise levels down from your HTPC.

The Ceton Digital Cable Quad-Tuner Card will be available for sale by May 31, 2010 for $399. See Ceton Corp. for more information.
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