Saturday, April 3, 2010

jihad jane denounces terroism with an act of terrorism

Profile: 'Jihad Jane' from Main Street

Colleen LaRose pictured in 1997
Colleen LaRose believed her looks would allow her to blend in
The blonde middle-aged woman apparently raised no concerns with her boyfriend or her neighbours on Main Street, Pennsburg, near Philadelphia.
But online she had allegedly agreed to kill in the name of holy war, believing her European looks would allow her to blend in among Swedes as she homed in on her target.
Colleen LaRose, according to a US court indictment, posted messages online under the name Jihad Jane, expressing her desire to participate in jihad, or holy war.
Arrested in October 2009, Ms LaRose had exchanged emails over 15 months to recruit fighters for "violent jihad".
Her activities apparently came as a surprise to her boyfriend Kurt Gorman, whom she met in 2005.
Mr Gorman told Associated Press: "She was a good-hearted person. She pretty much stayed around the house."
'Pleasure to die for'
She looked after his father until his death in August 2009, but left their residence a day after the father's funeral, taking Mr Gorman's passport with her, allegedly to give to a contact in South Asia she had agreed to marry.
"I came home and she was gone. It doesn't make any sense," he said.
Having left the US in August, by the end of September, she had allegedly written online that it would be "an honour & great pleasure to die or kill for" her intended spouse, the indictment said.
Colleen LaRose in a photo taken from a website she maintained
Ms LaRose's boyfriend said he never saw her display any interest in the Muslim veil
"Only death will stop me here that I am so close to the target!" she is accused of writing.
A Department of Justice statement said Ms LaRose and five others "recruited men on the internet to wage violent jihad in South Asia and Europe, and recruited women on the internet who had passports and the ability to travel to and around Europe in support of violent jihad".
Ms LaRose, a US citizen born in 1963, is charged with "conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to a government official and attempted identity theft."
She was apparently approached by others after she posted a video on YouTube in June 2008, saying she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" ease the suffering of Muslims, the indictment said.
Web images show her wearing a Muslim headscarf, but Mr Gorman said he never saw anything like that at their home, nor did she attend any religious services.
Unknown to him, she had allegedly agreed to travel to Sweden and kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had angered Muslims by drawing the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
She denies soliciting funds for terrorist groups and of being the Jihad Jane of online postings, the indictment said.
Very few women have been charged with terrorism in the US, the Justice Department said.

Suicide bombers again strike in Russia, killing 12

Suicide bombers again strike in Russia, killing 12

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MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- A Chechen militant claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks on the Moscow subway in an Internet message posted Wednesday, hours after two more Suicide bombers struck southern Russia in brazen defiance of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Doku Umarov, who leads Islamic militants in Chechnya and other regions in Russia's North Caucasus, said in a video posted on a pro-rebel Web site that Monday's twin Suicide Attacks were revenge for the killing of civilians by Russian...

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Friday, April 2, 2010


March 31, 2010

On the "Today" show this Tuesday, President Obama claimed the massive government takeover of health care the Democrats passed without a single Republican vote was a "middle of the road" bill that incorporated many Republican ideas.

One Republican idea allegedly incorporated into the Democrats' health care monstrosity is "medical malpractice reform." Needless to say, the Democrats' idea of malpractice reform is less than nothing. Until trial lawyers are screaming bloody murder, there has been no medical malpractice reform.

The Democrats' "malpractice" section merely encourages the states to set up commissions to "study" tort reform, in the sense that frustrated mothers "encourage" their kids not to slouch. By "study," the Democrats mean "ignore."

So we get more taxpayer-funded government workers under the Democrats' "medical malpractice reform," but not one tittle of actual reform.

Democrats manifestly do not care about helping Americans get quality health care. If they did, they could not continue to support trial lawyers like John Edwards making $50 million by bringing junk lawsuits against doctors who are saving people's lives. (At least Edwards has not done anything else to publicly disgrace himself since then.)

At a minimum, any health care bill that purports to improve Americans' health, rather than trial lawyers' bank accounts, must include a loser-pays rule and a restriction on damages to actual losses -- as opposed to punitive damages, which mostly serve to enrich the John Edwardses of the world, and their mistresses.

The Democrats also lyingly claim their health care reform includes the Republican ideas of competition across state lines.

I know they're lying because -- well, first because I read the bill -- but also because Democrats are genetically incapable of understanding the free market. You might say it's a pre-existing condition with them.

True, you can buy insurance across state lines under the new health insurance law -- but only after the Democrats have created a national commission telling all insurance companies what they are required to cover.

That's not as bad as the current patchwork of state mandates -- it's worse!

At least before the passage of ObamaCare you could move to states such as Idaho or Kentucky, where all insurance plans aren't required to cover fertility treatment, restless leg syndrome and social anxiety disorder.

Under federal mandates, there will be no escape.

That's right, a single, one-size-fits-all, jammed-down-your-throat national plan is what the Democrats mean when they say their plan includes "competition across state lines."

How much do you want to bet that the national commission in Washington will mandate coverage for every form of shopping addiction treatment, body image therapy and sex-change operations with mandatory mental health counseling, but not injuries from hunting accidents or smoking-related illnesses?

The Democrats compare their new health care bill to entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. But those are welfare, not health care. They may go to deserving welfare recipients, but they are a government-enforced gift from the young to the old (Medicare), and from the middle class to the poor (Medicaid).

There's no reason why most Americans shouldn't be able to buy our own medical insurance the same way we buy our own cell phones, hair care and cars.

And just incidentally, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to go bankrupt slightly before the United States of America is projected to go bankrupt. So turning all of health care into a larger Medicare program may need a little more thinking through.

These programs will have to be reconfigured at some point, but how society takes care of the old and the poor should be put in a separate box from how the non-elderly and non-poor should obtain health care.

Democrats want to turn the entire citizenry into welfare recipients.

A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an editorial noting the amazing fact that, by the middle of this year, there will be an estimated 6.8 billion people on Earth -- and 5 billion will have cell phones! (Even more astounding, at least one of them is seated directly behind me every time I go to the movies.)

How did that happen without a Democrat president and Congress using bribes, parliamentary tricks and arcane non-voting maneuvers to pass a massive, hugely expensive National Cell Phone Reform Act?

How did that happen without Barney Frank and Henry Waxman personally designing the 3-foot-long, 26-pound, ugly green $4,000 cell phone we all have to use?

How did that happen without Obama signing the National Cell Phone Reform bill, as a poor 10-year-old black kid who couldn't afford to text-message his friends looked on?

The reason nearly everyone in the universe has a cell phone is that President Reagan did to telephones the exact opposite of what the Democrats have just done with health care.

Before Reagan came into office, we had one phone company, ridiculously expensive rates and one phone model. Reagan split up AT&T, deregulated phone service and gave America a competitive market in phones. The rest is history.

If you can grasp how inexpensive cell phones in a rainbow of colors and wonders like the iPhone could never have been created under a National Cell Phone Reform Act, you can understand what a disaster ObamaCare is going to be for health care in America.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Google-as-Topeka tops Web's April Fool's gags

Google-as-Topeka tops Web's April Fool's gags

By Doug Gross, CNN
April 1, 2010 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Looking up something on the Web today? Just "Topeka" it.
Looking up something on the Web today? Just "Topeka" it.
  • Google announces April Fool's name change to "Topeka"
  • Gag plays off of city's change to "Google," a stunt to lure Google's broadband project
  • ThinkGeek offers iCade, an arcade game console for iPad
  • Reddit let everyone be an administrator; chaos ensued
  • Internet
  • Google Inc.
  • Apple iPad
(CNN) -- Want to read this story later, but afraid you'll forget where you saw it?
Just Topeka it.
Google led a wave of technology-related April Fool's Day gags Thursday morning, announcing on its homepage that the search-engine giant had changed its name to that of the Kansas town.
The announcement, along with the word "Topeka" replacing "Google" in the site's multicolored logo, is a riff on the city "renaming" itself Google for a month.
The stunt was part of the city's bid to be picked for Google's "Fiber for Communities" program, which Google says will provide Internet access 100 times faster than normal.
"We didn't reach this decision lightly; after all, we had a fair amount of brand equity tied up in our old name," Google ... er ... Topeka CEO Eric Schmidt said in a blog post. "But the more we surfed around (the former) Topeka's municipal website, the more kinship we felt with this fine city at the edge of the Great Plains."
The blog even gave a list of proper and improper usage of the new name. "Before our blind date, I did a Topeka search on him" got the green light, while "Before our blind date, I topeka'd him with AltaVista" did not.
The post did point out that the "honor" didn't mean Topeka has a leg up in Google's broadband plan.
YouTube saves a buck or two
Forget high-definition. It's time for text-only video.
YouTube said Thursday that new bandwidth-sucking video technology is cutting into its profits, so it's now offering TEXTp, a low-tech, text-only mode that looks like a grainy cross between "The Matrix" and when satellite interference is screwing up your TV reception.
Users could switch to the joke mode on at least some videos by clicking on 480, the default bandwidth, and scrolling up to TEXTp.
"By using text-only mode, you are saving YouTube $1 a second in bandwidth costs," read a message that appears when viewing in TEXTp. "Click here to go back to regular YouTube and happy April Fools Day!"
New use for the iPad
ThinkGeek, that purveyor of the latest in awesome tech-nerd gizmos and gadgets, was offering an add-on for the highly anticipated iPad: the iCade.
The fictional iCade looks just like a miniature version of an old-school arcade game, and a photo features two of them: one with a docked iPad showing a basic screen and the other appearing to run the classic game Donkey Kong.
The site's "sales pitch" makes fun of the Apple-fanatic furor over the iPad, which hits stores Saturday.
"After the glow of the initial announcement wore off, many of us came to the conclusion that the iPad was actually pretty useless," it read. " 'It's a giant iPhone!' some said. Others exclaimed, 'WTF, no Flash!?' Still, we knew that most Apple fanbots (us included) would have to have one anyway."
The page links to other "suggested items" for sale, including the Screaming Knife and Tell Me Your Secrets Bear.
Other favorites:
• Electronics maker Toshiba got into the act with the TubeTop, an inflatable laptop with an internal inner tube.
• On news-sharing site Reddit, everyone is an administrator. The result was regular users banning each other and using their unlimited voting power to move stories to the top of the site. No. 1 as of this writing? "Reddit, here's a picture I just drew ... " followed by "Quick! Use your new admin powers to upvote the crap out of this puppy dog."
• Instead of latitude and longitude coordinates, smartphone users who type "Where am I?" into Google's search field get answers such as "Neptune," "Mordor" and "Entrance to Hogwarts."
• Google Maps is offering users who pan down to Street View a new option: 3-D. Of course, if you don't have a set of 3-D glasses handy, tough luck.
• Wikipedia's main page offered an interesting array of articles, from a featured piece on the cherished custom of wife-selling to a headline about how Sony had accidentally used a time machine to zap some of its customers back to 1999.

Canada, U.S. to team up to restrict tailpipe emissions

Canada, U.S. to team up to restrict tailpipe emissions

CTV News Video

CTV News Channel: Aldyen Donnelly, WDA Consulting
An expected announcement that Canada and the U.S. has agreed on one standard for fuel efficiency and emissions standards is a good idea, and the Canadian standard may finally become legally binding instead of voluntary.
Canada AM: Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife
The U.S. and Canada are expected to announce a deal Thursday to harmonize auto emission standards, the tougher rules are expected to lead to fuel savings in the long run despite early costs.
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Traffic travels slowly into downtown along the Gardiner Expressway, early Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. News Staff
Date: Thu. Apr. 1 2010 8:24 AM ET
The federal government will announce today that Canada will harmonize its auto emissions standards with the United States, CTV News has learned. The move will impose drastic fuel-efficiency improvements.
In a deal worked out with the Obama administration, restrictions will be tightened beginning with models released next year. By 2016, new vehicles will be required to have tailpipe emissions levels 25 per cent lower than 2008 models, said CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife.
"What this means is that beginning next year, there will be tougher fuel requirement for cars and trucks in the U.S. and Canada, so by 2016, cars and trucks will be required to burn fuel at a rate of 35.5 miles per gallon," Fife told CTV's Canada AM Thursday morning.
That's an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current U.S. standards. Converted to metric, this would mean a standard of six litres of gas for every 100 kilometres travelled.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday he looked forward to the tough new standards.
"After decades in which we have done little to increase auto efficiency, those new standards will be completed, which will reduce our dependence on oil while helping folks spend a little less at the pump," he said while making an announcement on offshore drilling.
The announcements will be made at midday in both Washington and Ottawa. At the Canadian announcement, Environment Minister Jim Prentice will unveil the plan at an Ottawa Ford dealership.
In addition, there will be restrictions on tailpipe emissions, such as nitrous oxide and methane, as well as new rules calling for annual reporting, said Fife.
"They're going to require auto companies to put out mandatory reporting every year on how these emission standards are working," he said.
The new fuel standards are expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil -- the equivalent of taking 58 million cars off the road in a single year.
But the new restriction could also boost the average cost of a vehicle by about US$1,100 by 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates. However, the agency has also estimated that consumers will save several thousand dollars in fuel costs over the life of a car built in 2016. It said it would likely take three years to pay off that investment in the U.S., where gas prices are typically lower than in Canada.
The EPA will be charged with setting the new emissions standard, the first time it has ever set rules for vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. Standards have usually been set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It's expected Canada will have an easier time meeting the standards, since Canada's vehicle fleet is already heavily weighted toward more fuel-efficient vehicles than the U.S. fleet. That's because of higher gas prices here and lower disposable incomes. As well, the most popular segment of the Canadian market is compact cars, while in the U.S., it's mid-sized cars.
California is credited with leading the push for tougher tailpipe emissions standards, and the U.S. national standards follow that state's example.
When California wanted more aggressive reductions more quickly, it got into a tug-of-war with the former Bush government, which eventually decided to enact its own regulations, later adopted by several northeastern U.S. states.
Obama, however, scrapped the Bush plan and began negotiating with California last year. The result will be harmonized U.S. and Canadian regulations.
Quebec has already sought to mirror California's guidelines, with new regulations that came into effect in January. But Prentice criticized Quebec's imitative in a speech on Feb. 1, calling it "folly" because Ottawa was still negotiating its own federal regulations.
Prentice first announced the government's plan last April. The draft regulations were released last December to allow for early consultations with provinces, territories and other stakeholders.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How much should you exercise?

How much should you exercise?

By Madison Park, CNN
March 30, 2010 8:36 a.m. EDT
Recent exercise findings have confused some people on whether they need to work out harder for a shorter amount of time or moderately for a longer period of time.
Recent exercise findings have confused some people on whether they need to work out harder for a shorter amount of time or moderately for a longer period of time.
  • Exercise studies in March have conflicting results: 20 minutes versus one hour
  • Experts say the most important message is to be active regardless of latest studies
  • Average person should look to public health guidelines from HHS
(CNN) -- The headlines sounded promising -- 20 minutes of interval exercise can provide the same benefits as many hours of conventional workouts. But soon after came another study, this one suggesting that women should work out an hour every day just to maintain their weight.
"It does get confusing," Janice Bissex, mother of two and regular exerciser, said after the studies were released in the past two weeks.
The contradictory information can be disconcerting, said Stephen Ball, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. "It makes it look bad -- like physical activity scientists, we're changing what we're saying all the time. We're really not."
Exercise experts say the most important message is to be active, regardless of the latest studies. How much one should exercise depends on personal fitness goals, they said.
But experts recommend that an average person stick to existing public health guidelines, which recommend that children and teenagers exercise one hour every day and adults get a weekly minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking, dancing, gardening) or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging, aerobic dancing and jumping rope).
The key to exercise is that "some is better than none. More is better than some. Too much is difficult to get," Ball said.
The two seemingly conflicting studies (20 minutes versus an hour of exercise) examined different populations: young men versus middle-aged women.
A study published in the March edition of the Journal of Physiology found that short periods of high-interval training was just as effective as long durations of endurance training, based on the results from seven young, healthy men.
Some is better than none. More is better than some. Too much is difficult to get.
--Stephen Ball, associate professor about how much to exercise
Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, had the seven subjects pedal for one minute on a stationary bike at the highest intensity they could muster.
This one-minute burst was followed by about a minute of rest, another minute of intense exercise, and so on, until participants reached 20 minutes total -- 10 exercising, 10 resting.
Working out harder for less time effective
The study suggested that quick, high-interval training "may represent an alternative to endurance training to improve metabolic health and reduce the risk for chronic diseases."
But, interval training isn't easy. It cuts down on time, but many people find the intense bursts of vigorous exercise difficult.
"It's uncomfortable exercise. It's high intensity, so it hurts," said Martin Gibala, lead author of the study.
While interval training might be attractive for athletes or time-crunched, twentysomethings who already work out, it may be daunting for others.
"It's tough to get people [in their 50s] to do moderate exercises," Ball said. "For intense exercises, it hurts. People don't like to do it."
Gibala, chair of the kinesiology department at McMaster, said the results of his research are not intended to replace existing guidelines.
"We're certainly not suggesting this is the optimal approach to fitness," he said. "Public health guidelines are based on very good science, so the recommendations are very sound. But we also know the number one barrier for exercise is the lack of time. It's incumbent on scientists to look at other potential ways that we can get many of the same benefits in a time-efficient manner."
Another research getting attention was a March article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that women who exercised an hour every day were better able to stave off weight gain.
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School studied 34,000 women, with the average age of 54.
Keeping weight down means more than a few minutes of activity a day
Over a 13-year period, the women gained an average of 5.7 pounds. The women who successfully maintained their weight (13 percent) exercised an hour a day at moderate intensity.
Hearing that left some women feeling discouraged.
"To say that most women need an hour a day, it puts it into the category of an unattainable goal," said Bissex, a working mother and a dietitian in Melrose, Massachusetts. "That's frustrating. Getting that hour of exercise, while being a successful career woman, while taking care of kids, a partner or spouse, and parents, we're going to all end up getting two hours of sleep."
That reaction is fairly common.
"When I see studies that say one hour of exercise a day, people freak out and say, 'I don't have that kind of time,' " Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise.
"We can argue about vigorous, moderate intensity and time. The fact is if you don't do anything, you're going to significantly increase risks for disease and other things that can take years off your life."
How much should a person exercise?
When looking for basic guidelines, exercise specialists recommend the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A committee of doctors and scientists reviewed the scientific literature to develop the recommendations.
The amount of time a person should exercise depends on his or her fitness goals, whether it's for weight loss, health maintenance or performance training. And that person also needs to fit diet and nutrition into the equation.
"If you take in lots of calories, it doesn't matter how much you exercise," Ball said. "It takes a lot of exercise if you don't watch what you eat."


Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming

Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming

The debate over global warming has created predictable adversaries, pitting environmentalists against industry and coal-state Democrats against coastal liberals.
But it has also created tensions between two groups that might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters.
Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns.
Joe Bastardi, for example, a senior forecaster and meteorologist with AccuWeather, maintains that it is more likely that the planet is cooling, and he distrusts the data put forward by climate scientists as evidence for rising global temperatures.
“There is a great deal of consternation among a lot of us over the readjustment of data that is going on and some of the portrayals that we are seeing,” Mr. Bastardi said in a video segment posted recently on AccuWeather’s Web site.
Such skepticism appears to be widespread among TV forecasters, about half of whom have a degree in meteorology. A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.”
More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found.
The split between climate scientists and meteorologists is gaining attention in political and academic circles because polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters — especially those on television — dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming far more than they trusted other news media or public figures like former Vice President Al Gore or Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate.
The George Mason-Texas survey found that about half of the weathercasters said they had discussed global warming on their broadcasts during chats with anchors, and nearly 90 percent said they had talked about climate change at live appearances at Kiwanis Club-type events.
Several well-known forecasters — including John Coleman in San Diego and Anthony Watts, a retired Chico, Calif., weatherman who now has a popular blog — have been vociferous in their critiques of global warming.
The dissent has been heightened by recent challenges to climate science, including the discovery of errors in the 2007 report by the United NationsIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the unauthorized release of e-mail messages from a British climate research center last fall that skeptics say show that climate scientists had tried to suppress data.
“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups.
Mr. Henson added, “And the level of tension has really spiked in recent months.”
The reasons behind the divergence in views are complex. The American Meteorological Society, which confers its coveted seal of approval on qualified weather forecasters, has affirmed the conclusion of the United Nations’ climate panel that warming is occurring and that human activities are very likely the cause. In a statement sent to Congress in 2009, the meteorological society warned that the buildup of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to “major negative consequences.”
Yet, climate scientists use very different scientific methods from the meteorologists. Heidi Cullen, a climatologist who straddled the two worlds when she worked at the Weather Channel, noted that meteorologists used models that were intensely sensitive to small changes in the atmosphere but had little accuracy more than seven days out. Dr. Cullen said meteorologists are often dubious about the work of climate scientists, who use complex models to estimate the effects of climate trends decades in the future.
But the cynicism, said Dr. Cullen, who now works for Climate Central, a nonprofit group that works to bring the science of climate change to the public, is in her opinion unwarranted.
“They are not trying to predict the weather for 2050, just generally say that it will be hotter,” Dr. Cullen said of climatologists. “And just like I can predict August will be warmer than January, I can predict that.”
Three years ago, Dr. Cullen found herself in a dispute with meteorologists after she posted a note on the Weather Channel’s Web site suggesting that meteorologists should perhaps not receive certification from the meteorological society if they “can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change.”
Resentment may also play a role in the divide. Climatologists are almost always affiliated with universities or research institutions where a doctoral degree is required. Most meteorologists, however, can get jobs as weather forecasters with a college degree.
“There is a little bit of elitist-versus-populist tensions,” Mr. Henson said. “There are meteorologists who feel, ‘Just because I have a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on.’ ”
Whatever the reasons, meteorologists are far more likely to question the underlying science of climate change. A study published in the January 2009 newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, the professional association of earth scientists, found that while nearly 90 percent of some 3,000 climatologists who responded agreed that there was evidence of human-driven climate change, 80 percent of all earth scientists and 64 percent of meteorologists agreed with the statement. Only economic geologists who specialized in industrial uses of materials like oil and coal were more skeptical.
Seeing danger in the divide between climate scientists and meteorologists, a variety of groups concerned with educating the public on climate change — including the National Environmental Education Foundation, a federally financed nonprofit, and Yale — are working to close the gap with research and educational forums. In 2008, Yale began holding seminars with weathercasters who are unsure about the climate issue and scientists who are leading experts in the field. The Columbia Journalism Review explored the reasons for the split in an article this year.
Conversely, the Heartland Institute, a free-market research organization skeptical about the causes and severity of climate change, is also making efforts to reach out. At its annual conference to be held in May in Chicago, the institute tried without success to put on a special session for the weather predictors.
“What we’ve recognized is that the everyday person doesn’t come across climatologists, but they do come across meteorologists,” said Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Meteorologists do need to understand more about climate because the public confuses this so much. That is why you see efforts in this turning up.”

State Debt Woes Grow Too Big to Camouflage

Payback Time

State Debt Woes Grow Too Big to Camouflage

California, New York and other states are showing many of the same signs of debt overload that recently took Greece to the brink — budgets that will not balance, accounting that masks debt, the use of derivatives to plug holes, and armies of retired public workers who are counting on benefits that are proving harder and harder to pay.

Payback Time

Articles in this series will examine the consequences of, and attempts to deal with, growing public and private debts.
 The Takeaway With Louise Story
And states are responding in sometimes desperate ways, raising concerns that they, too, could face a debt crisis.
New Hampshire was recently ordered by its State Supreme Court to put back $110 million that it took from a medical malpractice insurance pool to balance its budget. Colorado tried, so far unsuccessfully, to grab a $500 million surplus from Pinnacol Assurance, a state workers’ compensation insurer that was privatized in 2002. It wanted the money for its university system and seems likely to get a lesser amount, perhaps $200 million.
Connecticut has tried to issue its own accounting rules. Hawaii has inaugurated a four-day school week. California accelerated its corporate income tax this year, making companies pay 70 percent of their 2010 taxes by June 15. And many states have balanced their budgets with federal health care dollars that Congress has not yet appropriated.
Some economists fear the states have a potentially bigger problem than their recession-induced budget woes. If investors become reluctant to buy the states’ debt, the result could be a credit squeeze, not entirely different from the financial strains in Europe, where markets were reluctant to refinance billions in Greek debt.
“If we ran into a situation where one state got into trouble, they’d be bailed out six ways from Tuesday,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard and a former research director of the International Monetary Fund. “But if we have a situation where there’s slow growth, and a bunch of cities and states are on the edge, like in Europe, we will have trouble.”
California’s stated debt — the value of all its bonds outstanding — looks manageable, at just 8 percent of its total economy. But California has big unstated debts, too. If the fair value of the shortfall in California’s big pension fund is counted, for instance, the state’s debt burden more than quadruples, to 37 percent of its economic output, according to one calculation.
The state’s economy will also be weighed down by the ballooning federal debt, though California does not have to worry about those payments as much as its taxpaying citizens and businesses do.
Unstated debts pose a bigger problem to states with smaller economies. If Rhode Island were a country, the fair value of its pension debt would push it outside the maximum permitted by the euro zone, which tries to limit government debt to 60 percent of gross domestic product, according to Andrew Biggs, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute who has been analyzing state debt. Alaska would not qualify either.
State officials say a Greece-style financial crisis is a complete nonissue for them, and the bond markets so far seem to agree. All 50 states have investment-grade credit ratings, with California the lowest, and even California is still considered “average,” according to Moody’s Investors Service. The last state that defaulted on its bonds, Arkansas, did so during the Great Depression.
Goldman Sachs, in a research report last week, acknowledged the pension issue but concluded the states were very unlikely to default on their debt and noted the states had 30 years to close pension shortfalls.
Even though about $5 billion of municipal bonds are in default today, the vast majority were issued by small local authorities in boom-and-bust locations like Florida, said Matt Fabian, managing director of Municipal Market Advisors, an independent consulting firm. The issuers raised money to pay for projects like sewer connections and new roads in subdivisions that collapsed in the subprime mortgage disaster.
The states, he said, are different. They learned a lesson from New York City, which got into trouble in the 1970s by financing its operations with short-term debt that had to be rolled over again and again. When investors suddenly lost confidence, New York was left empty-handed. To keep that from happening again, Mr. Fabian said, most states require short-term debt to be fully repaid the same year it is issued.
Some states have taken even more forceful measures to build creditor confidence. New York State has a trustee that intercepts tax revenues and makes some bond payments before the state can get to the money. California has a “continuous appropriation” for debt payments, so bondholders know they will get their interest even when the budget is hamstrung.
The states can also take refuge in America’s federalist system. Thus, if California were to get into hot water, it could seek assistance in Washington, and probably come away with some funds. Already, the federal government is spending hundreds of millions helping the states issue their bonds.
Professor Rogoff, who has spent most of his career studying global debt crises, has combed through several centuries’ worth of records with a fellow economist, Carmen M. Reinhart of the University of Maryland, looking for signs that a country was about to default.
One finding was that countries “can default on stunningly small amounts of debt,” he said, perhaps just one-fourth of what stopped Greece in its tracks. “The fact that the states’ debts aren’t as big as Greece’s doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
Also, officials and their lenders often refused to admit they had a debt problem until too late.

(Page 2 of 2)
“When an accident is waiting to happen, it eventually does,” the two economists wrote in their book, titled “This Time Is Different” — the words often on the lips of policy makers just before a debt bomb exploded. “But the exact timing can be very difficult to guess, and a crisis that seems imminent can sometimes take years to ignite.”

Payback Time

Articles in this series will examine the consequences of, and attempts to deal with, growing public and private debts.
 The Takeaway With Louise Story
In Greece, a newly elected prime minister may have struck the match last fall, when he announced that his predecessor had left a budget deficit three times as big as disclosed.
Greece’s creditors might have taken the news in stride, but in their weakened condition, they did not want to shoulder any more risk from Greece. They refused to refinance its maturing $54 billion euros ($72 billion) of debt this year unless it adopted painful austerity measures.
Could that happen here?
In January, incoming Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey announced that his predecessor, Jon S. Corzine, had concealed a much bigger deficit than anyone knew. Mr. Corzine denied it.
So far, the bond markets have been unfazed.
Moody’s currently rates New Jersey’s debt “very strong,” though a notch below the median for states. Moody’s has also given the state a negative outlook, meaning its rating is likely to decline over the medium term. Merrill Lynch said on Monday that New Jersey’s debt should be downgraded to reflect the cost of paying its retiree pensions and health care.
In fact, New Jersey and other states have used a whole bagful of tricks and gimmicks to make their budgets look balanced and to push debts into the future.
One ploy reminiscent of Greece has been the use of derivatives. While Greece used a type of foreign-exchange trade to hide debt, the derivatives popular with states and cities have been interest-rate swaps, contracts to hedge against changing rates.
The states issued variable-rate bonds and used the swaps in an attempt to lock in the low rates associated with variable-rate debt. The swaps would indeed have saved money had interest rates gone up. But to get this protection, the states had to agree to pay extra if interest rates went down. And in the years since these swaps came into vogue, interest rates have mostly fallen.
Swaps were often pitched to governments with some form of upfront cash payment — perhaps an amount just big enough to close a budget deficit. That gave the illusion that the house was in order, but in fact, such deals just added hidden debt, which has to be paid back over the life of the swaps, often 30 years.
Some economists think the last straw for states and cities will be debt hidden in their pension obligations.
Pensions are debts, too, after all, paid over time just like bonds. But states do not disclose how much they owe retirees when they disclose their bonded debt, and state officials steadfastly oppose valuing their pensions at market rates.
Joshua Rauh, an economist at Northwestern University, and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago, recently recalculated the value of the 50 states’ pension obligations the way the bond markets value debt. They put the number at $5.17 trillion.
After the $1.94 trillion set aside in state pension funds was subtracted, there was a gap of $3.23 trillion — more than three times the amount the states owe their bondholders.
“When you see that, you recognize that states are in trouble even more than we recognize,” Mr. Rauh said.
With bond payments and pension contributions consuming big chunks of state budgets, Mr. Rauh said, some states were already falling behind on unsecured debts, like bills from vendors. “Those are debts, too,” he said.
In Illinois, the state comptroller recently said the state was nearly $9 billion behind on its bills to vendors, which he called an “ongoing fiscal disaster.” On Monday, Fitch Ratings downgraded several categories of Illinois’s debt, citing the state’s accounts payable backlog. California had to pay its vendors with i.o.u.’s last year.
“These are the things that can precipitate a crisis,” Mr. Rauh said.


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