Obama Picks Up Ground on Health Care


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President Obama’s job approval rating stands at 52 percent in a new poll, but more importantly for him is that his supporters are becoming more united around his key policy initiative — health care reform.

 

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California Campuses Plan Walkouts over Budget Cuts


This post is by Frances Tobin from Politics Daily


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It’s no secret that California has been slowly suffocating in a lethal amalgam of fixed spending requirements and catastrophic revenue losses. Among the public institutions hit hardest by the lack of funds is higher education. Students and faculty are so upset by looming fee hikes and budget cuts that they’ve organized campus walkouts Thursday.

Flaws in the state’s fiscal footing run deep. Among the problems (and this is not an exhaustive list): a two-thirds legislative majority is needed to pass the budget or any other spending measure; the wacky initiatives process introduces, on average, ten new ballot propositions each year; and an increasingly disappointing body of politicians continue to defer tough choices and kick the crisis can down the road. As New York Times columnist David Brooks recently put it, “Californians have voted to tax themselves like libertarians and subsidize themselves like socialists.”

 

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@House Republicans Dominating Twitter


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Republican members of Congress may not run Capitol Hill, but they do dominate the virtual world of Twitter, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service. After years of being out-hustled by Democrats on blogs and in online fundraising, the GOP’s success in using social media, including Twitter, marks an important reversal of fortunes for the formerly tech-phobic GOP.

 

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Obama to U.N.: Don’t Expect America to Fix It All


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President Obama delivered a stern message in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, urging the rest of the world to join the United States in “a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” He emphasized the “magnitude” of the world’s problems, and reminded foreign leaders of their responsibility to participate in the solutions.

“Make no mistake: This cannot solely be America’s endeavor,” Obama said. “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Obama acknowledged that the world has fallen short in its efforts to deal with problems like nuclear proliferation and climate change, and drew applause when he said his administration banned torture as soon as he took office.

 

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‘Portrait’ of Obamas’ Marriage Lacks New, or Compelling, Details


This post is by Lynn Sweet from Politics Daily


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Administration, NEA Back Away from Controversial Conference Call


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A day after the conservative Web site Big Hollywood posted audio and a transcript of a conference call that seemed to show the National Endowment for the Arts requesting that artists use their work to support President Obama’s agenda, the administration and the NEA are distancing themselves from the call.

“We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “We are fully committed to the NEA’s historic mission, and we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment.”

 

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Sarah Palin Slams Bailouts in Hong Kong Speech


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Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin reemerged onto the world stage yesterday as she gave her first paid speech since resigning from the governor’s office in July.

Palin spoke to a meeting of investment fund managers in Hong Kong. Although the event was closed to the media, Bloomberg News obtained a tape of the speech and reported that Palin discussed the role of the Federal Reserve, U.S.-China relations and her objections to the bailouts of banks and other industries by the government.

On the bailouts, she said, “It sends the message that the bigger that you are, the more problems that you get yourself into, the more likely the government is to bail you out.” She added, “Of course the little guys are left out then. We’re left holding the bag, all the moms and pops all over America.”

Palin also criticized the role of the Federal Reserve in overseeing financial markets. “How can we think that setting up the Fed as monitor of systemic risk in the financial sector will result in meaningful reform?” she said. “The words ‘fox’ and ‘henhouse’ come to mind.”

Bloomberg also quoted her as taking China to task for its record on human rights, but also saying that it could be a valuable trading partner. “We need China to improve the rule of law and protect intellectual property,” she said. “In the end, though, our economic relationship will truly thrive when Chinese citizens and foreign corporations can hold the Chinese government accountable when their actions are unjust.”

One attendee left the speech early, saying Palin was “boring,” but others found her “well spoken.”

Twitter feeds from those who said they heard the speech offered additional details:

#Palin pushing “common sense conservatism — a respect for history and tradition and common sense.”

#Palin ties her lineage to Asia by saying todd is part eskimo.

#”nukular”!!!

Several of Palin’s 900,000 supporters on Facebook weighed in on her speech. Dwayne K. Parsons wrote, “I’m just one more voice, Sarah. We need you. You’ve got the moral fiber so currently lacking in our government. May God bless you and carry you.”

 

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Obamacare: What College Students Should Know


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The health care wars raged on last Thursday as President Obama made an appearance at the University of Maryland in College Park to rally support for his reform plan. It was a typical campaign-style speech, almost 40 minutes long, in which Obama talked about student loan reform and Pell Grants (to roaring applause) before diving into the health care debate.

 

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IRS Gives Suspected UBS Tax Cheats More Time to Confess


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Today was supposed to have been the drop-dead date for Americans with hidden offshore bank accounts to come clean with the IRS. Just days before the Sept. 23 deadline, however, the IRS gave these account holders, some of whom have hidden their accounts for decades, until Oct. 15 to report them.
There are many reasons to grant the extension. Apparently, there are so many tax cheats coming forward that the tax lawyers are overwhelmed and are unable to file the paperwork before the deadline.
Yet, the extension comes with a certain distasteful feeling. U.S. account holders have been given plenty of time to report their holdings, and they have had plenty of time to learn the rules. On its Web site, the IRS provides all the information that offshore account holders need to know to comply with U.S. law. In particular, taxpayers must report the existence of any foreign account with an aggregate value of more than $10,000 at any time during the year. And, as everyone who earns income outside of the United States — whether through employment abroad or through a mutual fund that owns foreign shares — should know, the U.S. asserts its tax jurisdiction on all income, wherever earned.
Perhaps a bit of leniency will go a long way. IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman is intent to track down not only tax evaders but the tax promoters who help them hide their wealth offshore. In his March 31 testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, Shulman said, “It is outrageous that wealthy individuals are hiding assets overseas and unlawfully avoiding U.S. tax.”
To encourage compliance, Shulman made it clear that those who come in voluntarily will be treated with greater leniency than those the IRS uncovers on its own. If a taxpayer comes to the IRS and admits to previous errors, he or she will pay back-taxes and interest for six years, plus either an accuracy or a delinquency penalty on all six years. The taxpayer also will pay a penalty of 20 percent of the amount in the foreign bank accounts in the year with the highest aggregate account or asset value. (Without the special voluntary compliance initiative, account holders could face a penalty of up to 50 percent of the highest annual balance in each account for each of the past three years.)
The IRS reduces to 5 percent the penalty for account holders who may have inherited these offshore accounts but never made additional deposits and paid all taxes due on the account.
The commissioner warned that those who “continue to hide their head in the sand” will face the full civil and criminal penalties available. These include the maximum penalty for the willful failure to file the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account (known as an FBAR), and the fraud penalty.
There are clear benefits of voluntary compliance. As the IRS shows on its Web site, a taxpayer who voluntarily reports the existence of a previously hidden account with $1 million, and that earned $50,000 interest each year, will pay a total penalty and fine of $380,000. By contrast, if the IRS finds out about the account, the account holder faces $2,306,000 in various penalties and the possibility of criminal prosecution. The criminal penalties are not trivial. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to 10 years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000.
The IRS is to be commended for encouraging tax cheats to come forward. The program appears to be working, with more than 3,000 taxpayers coming forward so far this year, compared with fewer than 100 for all of 2008.
Though the compliance initiative is aimed at all U.S. taxpayers, account holders with the Swiss banking giant UBS are the main focus. In June 2008, UBS’s Bradley Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to helping a U.S. client evade his tax liability, and the case provided information on the bank’s internal practices to American officials. In February of this year, UBS admitted that it had violated U.S. securities law and had helped its American clients hide their income from tax authorities. It agreed to pay $780 million in penalties and unpaid taxes in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice. Simultaneously, the IRS and Justice pursued a related civil case (known as the John Doe summons) concerning the names of up to 52,000 account holders with the Swiss bank.
In August, UBS reached a settlement agreement regarding that case and, as part of the deal, agreed to turn over the names of approximately 4,450 UBS account holders suspected of using their Swiss accounts to evade taxes. According to the IRS, these accounts held more than $18 billion at one point. UBS will give the names to Swiss tax officials, who will then determine whether to turn them over to U.S. tax authorities. The agreement, which contains details regarding how the Swiss government will make its determinations, remains sealed for now. The IRS has said that it will unseal the document by Nov. 17.
The arrangement has left some 47,000 UBS account holders in a quandary.
Investors with undeclared Swiss bank accounts face an unpleasant choice. They could play a form of Russian roulette and continue to hide their accounts on the gamble that the Swiss will not turn over their information to U.S. authorities. But the IRS has made it clear it will show no mercy to account holders who continue to violate U.S. law. As Commissioner Shulman emphasized, taxpayers lose the opportunity to participate in the Voluntary Compliance Initiative if the IRS already knows the accounts exist. Moreover, the IRS makes it clear that information about the account can come from many sources — the Swiss government, Swiss banks, informants or even whistle-blowers. (Those who use Swiss account to hide assets from their ex-wives may be particularly worried about this point.)
The second option is, of course, for the account holders to own up to their offshore holdings.
On Sept. 10, UBS began notifying some U.S. account holders that their accounts appear to be “within the scope of the IRS treaty request” – a reference to the U.S.-Switzerland Double Taxation Treaty. UBS also said that it would give Swiss authorities all of the names on a rolling basis over the next nine months. According to Reuters, the bank transferred the first 500 files on Sept. 11.
The next step is for the Swiss government to decide whether to disclose this information to the IRS. If the government agrees that the account holders look like tax evaders, those names will be provided. Account holders can appeal to Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court before the data is turned over to the U.S. The Swiss government will hire up to five additional administrative judges to accommodate the expected increase in filings.
Filing an appeal, however, may not be a wise strategy. As UBS spelled out in its notification letter, anyone doing so must notify the U.S. Attorney General of this legal step. Thus, unless they choose to violate the notification law, filing an appeal in itself reveals to the U.S. government the existence of their account.
Therefore, the decision facing certain UBS account holders appears obvious. For some 47,000 people, Swiss banking secrecy no longer provides the cover it once did. It’s better to come forward now than wait for the IRS to come get you.

 

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French Fashion Spreads to Come with Warning Labels?


This post is by Ria Misra from Politics Daily


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Just how dangerous to your health is that trip to the magazine kiosk? French politician Valerie Boyer has proposed stamping digitally altered photos with a warning label, telling Reuters that Photoshopped fashion photos create unrealistic beauty standards and could promote eating disorders.

But slapping a health warning on the side of Vogue — the same as on a cigarette package — is unlikely to have much of an effect. For starters, the link between fashion photos and poor self-image — while not insignificant — isn’t quite as clear as the link between smoking and lung cancer. But even more importantly, I think most women are well aware that the images they see in magazines have been altered, just as they’re aware that some women have achieved their looks only with the help of plastic surgeons, crash diets and an army of stylists.

The problem isn’t that women don’t know these images are, to some degree, fake; it’s that there are not enough real images being published. When Glamour published a single small picture of a model with a slight belly, there was enough resulting clamor to prompt a spot on the “Today” show — rather unusual for a three-inch photo published near the back of the magazine.

If the French proposal goes into effect, however, the mandate to label fake photos could cause some consternation — and just not in fashion. Boyer has promised that the law will cover political campaigns and press photos in the same way it covers advertising and fashion photos. While models and movie stars might own up to getting a little extra help after the fact, politicians would probably find it an entirely unattractive prospect.

 

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Corzine Can’t Gain Much Ground on Christie in N.J. Gov’s Race


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New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine does not appear to be gaining ground in his race against Republican Chris Christie, with the latter ahead by 48 percent to 41 percent in a new Rasmussen Reports poll, just one point less than his lead was earlier this month.

 

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Blunt and Carnahan Are Tied in Missouri Governor’s Race


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The Missouri governor’s race is shaping up as a tight one, with Democrat Robin Carnahan and Republican Roy Blunt tied at 46 percent each with 5 percent undecided, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Sept. 21.

 

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Who Will Save Obama’s Backside on Afghanistan? David Petraeus?


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Did you hear about Bill Clinton and Sophia Loren’s breasts? I’ll get to that in a moment. First, Afghanistan.

The war was there in the news cycle — for what seemed a few nanoseconds on Monday — after The Washington Post published an unclassified version of the assessment of the war submitted to the Pentagon by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces there. As I’ve noted elsewhere, though McChrystal claims victory remains possible in Afghanistan — if a new strategy is adopted, additional troops and civilian resources are deployed, and the Afghan government and military can be made operational — his review is rather bleak. It shows how the spending of more than $400 billion and the sacrifice of over 800 U.S. service members have brought the United States little in this war. (Thank you, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.) To his credit, McChrystal is candid about the challenges faced in Afghanistan. His task, however, is to come up with a plan for success — even if the odds are long and even as he depicts the mission as profoundly daunting. Consequently, McChrystal is teeing up a big dilemma for the commander in chief.

 

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The Smart President Has a Brain Problem


This post is by Adam Hanft from Politics Daily


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Special interests, lobbyists, politics as usual, partisan spectacles.

President Obama reels off the familiar rogues’ gallery of enemies to health care reform in every appearance he makes. But his biggest threat – and one that his recent media marathon pushes right up against – is none of those.

 

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Glenn Beck Loves Judaism to Pieces!


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Poor Glenn Beck. The pitchfork pundit from FOX News is used to getting into trouble for talking about what he hates. But now he’s even getting hammered for what he loves — in this case, Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur falls on Monday, Sept. 28, and it marks the end of the High Holy Days that began at sundown Sept. 18, last Friday, with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

On Yom Kippur, Jews across the globe (even many who wouldn’t normally darken the temple door) spend the day in fasting and prayer at synagogue. The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are the most sacred period on the Jewish calendar, the “Days of Awe” during which, by tradition, God writes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life and then “seals” the book on Yom Kippur itself. Hence the focus on repentance and seeking forgiveness for sins against God and neighbors.

Certainly not a bad idea any time, and perhaps this year more than most.

Beck, who is a convert to Mormonism, clearly likes the idea and last Saturday sent out a Tweet to his 132,906 (at last check) followers to that effect:

 

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Yellow Tape, Part 3 of ‘What’s Going On: A Political Fiction’


This post is by James Grady from Politics Daily


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Previously: Dante Jones and his wife Rhea lose their night out when a shooting in the Liss Gardens area of their Washington, D.C. hometown shatters a street war truce ex-con Dante helped forge between rival groups in the Gardens who live under the web of a criminal spider named Luther. Surprising Dante outside his home, Luther blames Dante for failing to create police-free peace.
You’re alone.
Driving through the city night.
Car wheels rumble over potholes that weren’t in somebody’s budget.
You can do this.
Gotta!
This isn’t about you.
Push the gas pedal harder.
How many dead?
‘Trey: How bad is he jammed up?
Leave blocks of homes lit with happiness and hard work, random luck and regulated electricity. Merge onto the commuter strip lined by neon dreams that won government-backed small business loans.
A parked car.
Inside, she’s smiling and turning in the passenger seat to meet the guy behind the steering wheel who’s turning toward her and they lean in with closing eyes, parted lips.
Remember that kiss.
Traffic light flashes RED. Stop on the road’s white line.
Pale twin eyes light your driver’s side mirror.
A white car tattooed with red & blue scrawls pulls beside you.
Cops.
Driver. Shotgun rider.
Two machines chugging at a stoplight in the city night.
Shotgun Cop lets his face swing your way.
For a look! That’s all! Not `the’ look, `a’ look, it’s OK! You’re straight now! Like Luther said, a stone citizen. Off Paper Outta The Life.
Show a whiff of nervousness like a regular American.
Don’t stop me. Don’t pull me over.
Phone in your shirt pocket buzzes: ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME!
Shotgun Cop licks you with his eyes. Our windows are down. What can he hear? Does he care as the cell phone vibrates ANSWER ME!
Can’t! Gotta! ‘Law says no cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Can’t take the bust, the hassle, the delay!
Shirt pocket over your heart stops vibrating.
Traffic light flashes GREEN.
Let the cops glide away first, going, gone.
Don’t let anybody shoot them tonight.
Don’t let them shoot anybody tonight.
Radio broadcasts: “Metro just announced delays on the Red Line. Investigation of an incident has trains running one track of alternating routes. Spokesmen expect no delays in tomorrow’s morning commute.”
Liss Gardens.
But what’s important is tomorrow morning’s commute.
News is what people want to know.
Dante’s silver car flew like an arrow in the night toward the glistening ivory dome of Congress’ lair, turned right to careen around a park named for a Secretary of War who barricaded himself in his office until the president who’d fired him was gelded by impeachment.
Go north like that mouse in the kids’ story.
This ain’t no story.
You ain’t no kid.
We are not mice.
Invisible dollar signs on the passing townhouses shrank with each block the silver car sped north until it turned left on a road dotted by stores still boarded up from assassination riots Dante’d missed while stalking through Asian jungles in a war no one could tell him how to win.
Up ahead, by Metro’s bridge of above-ground subway tracks: spinning red & blue lights.
A police cruiser blocks the road.
Park.
Got no jacket on – good.
Get out slowly. Keep your hands in plain sight.
Watchers huddled in shadows and doorways wait to whisper.
Walk past the first cop cruiser – it’s empty. More cruisers block traffic beyond the bridge that supports an empty subway train whose windows glow like golden scales on a snake.
Smoke swirls from hissing flares.
A heart-high line cuts the night in front of you: yellow tape.
Yellow tape that cages somebody else’s pain.
Yellow tape that defines the life you’ve chosen.
Uniformed cops work inside the yellow tape. Shimmers from flares, headlights and emergency flashers reveal a white chalk outline of somebody on the pavement. The sidewalk by the bridge displays another chalk artwork.
“Dante! Over here!”
‘Trey’s voice, he’s —
“Who the ___ told you to talk?”
Rebuke from a skinny guy in a black suit: Murder Police. Ten steps further into the yellow taped turf, his bulldog partner looks up from taking notes to lock his eyes on Dante.
Leaned against an unmarked cop car: 22-year-old ‘Trey, muscled like a linebacker, his face regaining concrete Dante’d started chiseling away eight months earlier.
‘Trey’s hands bent behind his back.
They’ve hooked him up!
Stand on the citizen side of the yellow tape.
Spread your hands out empty and wide like Jesus.
Yell: “Officer! Can I come over to help?”
Skinny Cop puts the eyes on Mister who the ___ : “Sure.”
Duck under the yellow tape.
“Officer, my name is Dante Jones, I’m from the Coalition of Committed Citizens.” Tell it and sell it. “Sorry you had to come out here for something terrible, but I’m glad to see you.”
“Really.” Skinny Cop’s smile could slice steel.
“Yes sir.” Give him respect. Even if the ____ ‘s cuffed ‘Trey. “The community needs all the help we can get.”
Now reel it back: “Has my man ‘Trey there been able to help?”
Smells: Flare smoke. Singed air from hot lights. Sweaty clothes off the cops and ‘Trey. And you. Ghosts of gunpowder. Something like meat.
“Your man?” says Skinny Cop, detective eyes, Murder Police soul. “Your man’s On Paper.”
“Absolutely. His Parole Officer hooked us up.”
After we asked, but never mind the cause, now is about effect.
“‘His P.O. know’ he’s on my crime scene interfering with a police officer and causing a public disturbance?”
“We’re all disturbed. But I’m surprised: he’s too street smart and re-directed to interfere with a police officer.”
‘Trey yells: “I came ’cause ‘word was six people shot and I needed to know to chill it, Dante, tha’s all!”
Give ‘Trey the four magic words/shut the ___ up glare.
Give Skinny Cop silence to fill.
But his partner Bulldog calls out: “Hey, I know about these guys!”
“Me, too,” says Skinny Cop. “I used to read the newspapers.”
Meet him there: “They don’t write it right about us, do they.”
Let that bond settle.
Go for it: “I figure ‘Trey over-stepped trying to get the truce working – if this ain’t some domestic or stick-up.”
“These are beef killings. I know that even if we got a night full of NSN’s.”
“Nobody Saw Nothing,” said Bulldog Cop.
Flat out tell them: “We can’t help you with that.”
Skinny Cop says: “Then what good are you?”
“We want to work it so you won’t have to come out like this again.”
Bulldog Cop told his partner: “Come on. They ain’t the bad guys. ‘Least not on our case.”
Self-interest is the sweetest appeal. “Do you really want to do all the paperwork for locking my man up?”
Do?” said Skinny Cop. “I don’t want to do death notifications, meet more ripped up Moms with two sons never comin’ home ‘n’ three other kids racking up hospital bills. I don’t want to do a day of reports spelling out not what I do know, but what some lawyer can’t rip me up for. I do not want to knock on doors for more NSN’s. I do not want to squeeze here, squeeze there until somebody who needs me to squeeze them out of a jam realizes how maybe we can do for each other.”
Skinny Cop jerked his thumb toward the train parked on the bridge.
Subway car — one brightly lit window centered by a starburst hole.
Skinny Cop said: “I got the subway police arguing with my bosses about statistics, who’s got jurisdiction, whose budget is going to pay for backing the train up to where it got shot ‘n’ panicked a hundred riding-home voters even if none of them caught that stray bullet. I got bosses pushing me to close my numbers here so City Council won’t make the Chief `re-organize’ us Murder Police just to show they’re doing something about crime, and I got your Mister On Parole For Armed Robbery ‘Trey here doing his thing, getting in my face and him I can do!”
From the bridge came the clunk of steel as the train moved.
Validate him. “You’re right.”
Shine a light into his night. “You sent the train home. What good will it do to lock up ‘Trey?”
Ten heartbeats later, ‘Trey got un-cuffed.
Make ‘Trey shake hand with both Murder Police.
Shake their hands, too.
Don’t let it look like anything more than that to eyes watching from beyond the yellow tape.
Walking away with ‘Trey, hear the Skinny Cop yell: “Now you do!”
‘Trey says: “Sorry, man! I know I was supposed to stay away, but -“
“If you’re sorry, use that.” Dante strode toward his silver car.
Cops pull the yellow tape so POP! it burst in front of Dante and ‘Trey to flood its caged time & place into this city night.
‘Trey whispered: “Bad ____, Dante. We lost Mrs. Williams.”
Tomorrow – Episode Four: Sirens
What’s Going On is fiction. All characters and incidents, except for historic references, are purely fictitious. Copyright: James Grad.

Related: ‘What’s Going On:’ Facts Inside the Fiction

 

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‘What’s Going On’: Facts Inside the Fiction


This post is by James Grady from Politics Daily


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While “What’s Going On” and its “Coalition of Committed Citizens” are fictions, citizen groups organized to counter violence, crime and related social issues are a growing force across America. Many of these groups are powered by ex-offenders — former criminals who’ve served prison sentences and now “take to the streets” to find solutions to “beefs” (rivalries and grudges) that often result in bullets flying through our cities.

One of the most prominent gang-intervention groups is Washington, D.C.’s Alliance of Concerned Men, joined on our capital’s streets now by the more recently formed Peaceoholics.

Several American cities besides Washington have experience with anti-gang citizen groups, including Kansas City, Mo. and Los Angeles.

Most of these groups are non-profit organizations that rely on donations, foundation grants and contracts with government agencies to provide a variety of services that include GED training, life skills classes, mentoring programs for juvenile offenders and training seminars for gang-intervention workers. While many groups are independent, they usually ally with government and other community groups.

Gang-intervention groups are not without controversy and problems, but many such programs have been praised by police chiefs and corrections officials.

 

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Health Reform Bill Starts a Perilous, Partisan Journey Through the Senate


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You can’t beat the marbled, high-ceilinged “Central Hearing Facility” in the Hart Senate Office Building as a showcase for deep national divides. The chasms illuminated during Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings in July ranged from age and gender to ethnicity, geography and philosophy. This week, sharp partisanship and irreconcilable ideologies are on display as the Senate Finance Committee works its way through 564 amendments to what could become a landmark health bill.

 

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Obama Faces Public Unease on Afghanistan and Health Care


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President Obama faces significant doubts among Americans when it comes to issues that are on his front burner, Afghanistan and health care reform, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted Sept. 17-20.

 

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Dancing Tom DeLay on Infighting in the ‘Leaderless’ GOP: ‘Even Rush and Hannity Are Doing It’


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LOS ANGELES — Walking out of a restaurant in Los Angeles last week, the former House Majority Leader was stopped by a stranger.

“Aren’t you Tom DeLay?” the man asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“I am so glad you are out of politics,” the man crowed.

“Well, so am I,” he replied; who says common ground is hard to find?

After 27 years in the Texas legislature and U.S. Congress, DeLay is no longer in elected office, and the only votes he’s looking for are for himself and his “Dancing With the Stars” cha-cha partner Cheryl Burke. But during a break
from his last rehearsal before Monday’s show, he iced his injured foot and talked health care reform, Ronnie Earle and the “leaderless” G.O.P. outside a small dance studio in a seedy strip mall overlooking fast food restaurants.

Starting with the biggest issue in Washington now, health care reform, DeLay predicted that the House and Senate will pass a bill, and the president will sign it before the end of the year.

The two chambers are still unresolved on what legislation they will put to a full vote, so I asked him how he could be so sure. He said, “The Democrats will do exactly what we always did, rewrite the bill over and over until they give all the members what they need to get to 218 votes. The Senate will do the same thing.” It will, he predicts, be a straight party-line vote,
and “maybe a few Republicans voting for it, but not many.”

What does he think about the newest Senate version of reform, which does not contain a public health insurance option to compete with private companies? “This new bill is just providing political cover for the Democrats to vote for health care reform.” He insisted that it “still has public insurance in it, just in other terms like the public won’t recognize.” Even in Lala land, the very idea of health care riled him.

“What they are doing to health care — it’s unconstitutional.” How so? “The federal government doesn’t have the authority to mandate small businesses,” he said, referring to employer-funded health care.

DeLay originally ran for office out of frustration with regulations on his small extermination business. Way before he was known as the “Hammer,” his nickname was “Dereg” — short for deregulation — and that’s still part of his e-mail address.

“The only way any of this health care could be constitutional would be if the government allowed interstate choice so people could choose health care policies from any of the 50 states,” he said. “So living in Texas, I could, say, choose a California health care policy if it was better than what I got at home.” But, he added, “this will never happen; there’s too much bureaucracy with state insurance agencies and boards to change that system.”

Turning to the political landscape, I asked his predictions for House seats in 2010. “Republicans will pick up some seats in the House, maybe 20, but not enough to take back control.”

Shaking his head with frustration, he added, “The Republican Party doesn’t have the organization or leadership to take advantage of this dire political situation that Obama is in now.
We have these grassroots sprouting up, but not the party organization to use them.”

Republicans are leaderless,” he went on, “so we’re just fighting each other instead of Obama’s radical policies. There’s no political leader of the party taking control. So, Republicans are just attacking each other for being too far right or too far left. Even Rush and Hannity are doing it.”

So who does DeLay see as the GOP’s up-and-comers? “No one,” he replied in exasperation. “It’s all the same old guys who were in leadership with me, and those old guys aren’t the leaders the party needs.”

He couldn’t name one viable leader for the Republicans, saying that the party has no chance, “barring a miracle,” of regaining the House or Senate next year.

On the economy, he blames the Obama administration’s policies for high unemployment, and scoffs at the every idea of “government coming in to save the day. Government can’t save the economy; businesses save it.”

Pointing at a fast food restaurant across the parking lot in the seedy little strip mall where he’d been practicing, DeLay said, “Take the owner of that Wendy’s over there. He’s not hiring. He’s not making anything new. Because he doesn’t know what the future holds with the government in his business. He’s scared, so he’s doing nothing, so the economy is stuck in the recession.”

As for the Obama economic stimulus package passed last February, DeLay feels “all that money has been wasted.”

And the Bush administration’s bailout of Wall Street? “That was a big mistake done out of panic,” DeLay said of his own party. “They never should have done that. The markets would have stabilized in a few months if they had just stayed out of it.”

His home state Texas has a hot governor’s race on for next year, though “it’s tough beating an incumbent governor in a primary.” He said his old friend Rick Perry “has to worry” about the challenge posed by his fellow Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison.“I like him a lot. You know we served in the state house together, we go way back.”

There was one more thing I needed to know, and with the ice pack under his foot melting and his professional dance partner waiting to get back to rehearsing, he himself cut to the chase: “D
on’t you want to ask me about Ronnie Earle?” Of course, he was referring to the D.A. who got a Texas grand jury to indict him four years ago, on campaign finance laws; Earle has yet to bring the case to trial, and DeLay has always called the case politically motivated.

So, what is going on with the case? “Well, I can’t get my day in court, that’s what’s going on…Now it’s been four years, one appeal after another, but it’s still hanging out there. All Ronnie Earle ever wanted to do was indict me.”

Meanwhile, Earle has said he’s considering running for governor, and “What do I say to Ronnie Earle? Run, baby, run. Run, baby run. And I will be at every campaign stop to tell my story.”

Finally, I asked him about the Justice Department investigation related to the Jack Abramoff case, which has been going on even longer: “It’s been five years. Five years. Those lawyers have everything of mine — every paper, every e-mail – and still they have found nothing.” We both stared into the distance for a moment, then DeLay turned to me smiling: “OK then, enough about politics, I gotta go practice my waltz.”

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