Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011 [Best Of Lifehacker 2011]

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 20112011 saw Firefox race ahead with a new version with lots of improvements?speed being chief among them?and lots more features and add-ons to fully customize your web browsing. here are our most popular Firefox extensions and posts from the past year.

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Why I've Switched From Chrome to Firefox 4

You've probably heard a lot about Firefox 4's new interface, speed, and feature improvements, but many of you have already left it for Chrome. Here's why Firefox's newest version is worth another look, even if you're a diehard Chrome user. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Browser Speed Tests: Firefox 7, Chrome 14, Internet Explorer 9, and Opera 11.51

Firefox 7 is set to be released today, and with a big focus on performance, we thought it time for another round of browser speed test. We pitted the four most popular Windows browsers against each other in a battle of startup times, tab-loading times, JavaScript powers, and memory usage. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

How to Fix Annoyances with Firefox 4's New Look

Firefox 4 has a lot going for it, but many of you (and us) mentioned that its UI has a few quirks that are a little annoying. Here's how to fix some of the worst offenders. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

What's New and Awesome in Firefox 4

Windows/Mac/Linux: Firefox 4 is officially out, and it's got a lot going for it, including a more minimalistic interface, synchronization, and a serious speed increase. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Fix Gmail's Newest Annoyances with These Userstyles and Userscripts

Now that Gmail's rolled out its new look and you've learned your way around the changes, it's time to fix the little quirks and annoyances that remain. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

First Glimpse at Firefox 5's New Looks and Features

Mozilla's user experience team is doing their nit-pick-y work on Firefox 5 in public?yes, before Firefox 4 is actually shipped. Check out what they're thinking of changing up, including webapp improvements, session restore, menu fixing, and other small but nice improvements. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

How To Perform Nearly Any Task From Your Browser's Address Bar

We use a lot of great webapps, but it takes a few clicks to perform even a simple task, like adding an event to your calendar. Here's how to collapse those step-by-step clicks into single commands for nearly any web application. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Google+Facebook Extension Integrates Facebook Viewing and Updating on Google+

Chrome/Firefox/Internet Explorer: If you're loving Google+ but finding it to be virtual ghost town while your friends slowly trickle in, the Google+Facebook browser extension incorporates your Facebook feed to your Google+ stream. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

What "Do Not Track" Is and Why It's Important

What's so bad about ad tracking on the web, a.k.a. behavioral targeting? Nothing, if you don't mind being a living stereotype. No, seriously?that's what much of the fuss over "Do Not Track" browser options and opt-out options is about. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Find Out Which Add-Ons Are Slowing Down Firefox

We've always known that installing a lot of add-ons can slow down your browser, but Mozilla's now telling us just how much. Here's a look at, generally, how much an add-on will slow you down, and some of the worst offenders. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Move Firefox and Chrome's Cache to a RAM Disk for Faster Browsing

We've previously shown you how to move your Firefox cache to system memory, but a dedicated RAM disk might be a better solution for serious browsing speed. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Eight Is a Stylish, Windows 8-Inspired Start Page for Your Browser

If your browser's default start page is feeling a little ugly and boring, DeviantART user flatmo1 has created a great-looking start page inspired by Windows 8's tiled interface, ready to get you to your favorite sites with just a click. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Aurora Is a More Stable, Bleeding Edge Dev Channel for Firefox

Windows/Mac/Linux: Mozilla today launched Aurora, a semi-stable dev build of Firefox that represents Mozilla's move toward a new, rapid-release cycle aimed at "giv[ing] users more opportunities to participate in building Firefox." More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

The Always Up-to-Date Power User's Guide to Firefox

Now that Firefox is on a rapid release cycle, we're getting a new version of Firefox every three months-and each time, it becomes more tricked out than ever with new customization options, shortcuts, and convenient features hidden away in its menus. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Home Dash Makes Firefox a (Useful) Full Screen Browser

Firefox 4 (and betas) only: Most browsers offer a "Fullscreen Mode," but still rely on the same address bar, tabs, and other mechanisms to get you around. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

AdBlock Video Kills Ads in Hulu and Other Online Video Players

Firefox: AdBlock Video is a simple Firefox extension that'll play your videos commercial-free. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

DeskSMS Is the Best Phone-to-Desktop SMS Solution We've Seen Yet

Android: If you don't want to use Google Voice to manage your SMS messages on the desktop, DeskSMS will let you manage them from Gmail, GTalk, a speedy web interface, and even a Chrome extension?no number porting required. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Start Faster Halves Firefox's Startup Time on Windows

Firefox 4 on Windows: One of the longest-running complaints among the anti-Firefox crowd is that it's slow. One Mozilla developer has set out to fix part of this problem by making Firefox start up twice as fast in Windows with a simple add-on. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

How to Make Firefox Look and Feel More Like Chrome

Firefox has a lot going for it, but its interface feels a little dated next to sleek browsers like Chrome. Here's how to make Firefox look and feel more like Google Chrome without giving up your favorite aspects of Firefox. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Which Version of Chrome or Firefox Should I Use?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm a big Chrome user and saw that there's yet another "channel" (Canary) out for us Mac users to try. I've always been a little bit unsure about which one of these I should be running. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

DeSopa for Firefox Bypasses SOPA DNS Blocking

Firefox: DeSopa is the latest Firefox add-on that can counter the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)'s DNS blocking if the bill passes. The extension gets you through sites censored by DNS and lets you browse them by IP address. More ?

Most Popular Firefox Extensions and Posts of 2011

Simplify and Automate Private Browsing Mode with These Browser Extensions

If you're sick of manually opening links in private browsing mode, Firefox and Chrome extensions will get you in with some quick shortcuts. More ?

And there you have it. It was a big year for Firefox, what with the release of a big new version, multiple chanenels, a rapid release system, and tons more great extensions that make your life easier. If you have a favorite Firefox extension or how-to that didn't make the list, share it with us in the comments below. And, for more Firefox goodness, check out our best Firefox posts of 2010 and 2009, too.


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No one hurt after camera falls at Insight Bowl

The back judge moves an overhead video camera after it fell on the field during the second half of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game between Oklahoma and Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. Oklahoma won 31-14. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The back judge moves an overhead video camera after it fell on the field during the second half of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game between Oklahoma and Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. Oklahoma won 31-14. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The back judge kicks aside an overhead video camera after it fell on the field during the second half of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game between Oklahoma and Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. Oklahoma won 31-14. (AP Photo/Matt York)

An official moves an overhead video camera after it fell on the field during the second half of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game between Oklahoma and Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. Oklahoma won 31-14. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt (7) reacts after being hit by an overhead video camera that fell during the second half of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. Oklahoma won 31-14. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Umpire Tim Schroeder, right, keeps players away as back judge William Robinson kicks a network overhead television camera after it crashed to the field during the fourth quarter in the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. Oklahoma defeated Iowa 31-14.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP) ? Flying cameras have been providing unique perspectives on everything from golf to college and professional football for more than a decade, becoming so commonplace that fans rarely notice the whizzing remote-controlled devices.

At the Insight Bowl on Friday night, no one could miss the overhead camera when it came crashing down to the field late in the fourth quarter, nearly taking out one of the players.

The ESPN camera narrowly missed Iowa receiver Martin McNutt Jr., who became entangled in the guide wire but wasn't hurt.

"First, I looked: What is it that fell from the sky?'" McNutt said after Iowa's 31-14 loss to No. 19 Oklahoma. "The next thing I know, the camera kind of scratched me a little bit. It was just pulling me and I knew I didn't want to keep going with it."

ESPN has consistently used the cameras for football coverage, making it a staple of "Monday Night Football." The cameras also have been used occasionally in the NBA, NHL, NASCAR, NCAA basketball, baseball and at the island-green 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass during The Players Championship.

The cameras, despite flying over the playing field, have rarely interfered with the action.

In 2007, a cable camera was forced to make a controlled decent during an NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks from what was called human error.

At the 2009 Las Vegas bowl between BYU and Oregon State, the overhead camera reportedly had to be taken down due to wind gusts of around 40 mph.

The incident at the Insight Bowl occurred with Iowa State trying to rally from a 10-point deficit in the closing minutes.

While lining up for a play near the 20-yard line at the south end of Sun Devil Stadium, two Hawkeyes had to jump out of the way when the camera fell when the wire appeared to snap with 2:22 left.

McNutt dodged the camera as it fell behind him, but became entangled in the guide wire after it thudded to the ground. McNutt suffered only a minor scratch, but the game was delayed for about five minutes as crews dragged the camera off the field and made sure the wire was out of the way.

McNutt was able to joke about the incident.

"I fell like somebody was trying to kill me on their (Oklahoma's) staff," he said. "If you are looking, I'm looking for you. No. It was lucky it didn't hit me."

Associated Press


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Friday, December 30, 2011

Toledo holds off Air Force 42-41 in Military Bowl

Washington ? Even the youngest head coach in the country knows not to expect the conventional from Air Force. After all, the Falcons had already scored three fourth-down touchdowns, including the one that had just tied the Military Bowl with 52 seconds to play.

So 32-year-old Matt Campbell, with Toledo leading for the first time, wasn?t surprised when Air Force lined up to kick the extra point and then ran a fake, going for two to win the game instead of sending it to overtime.

The Rockets were ready.

Holder David Baska got bottled up trying to run the option. The ball squirted toward kicker Parker Herrington, who chased it until it went out of bounds in the end zone, and Toledo started celebrating its 42-41 victory Wednesday night at RFK Stadium.

"We talked about it, first and foremost, because they fake some extra points and fake some field goals," said Campbell, the Toledo offensive coordinator who was promoted this month to the head job after Tim Beckman left for Illinois. "Ironically, we were in the same situation last year in our bowl game. I give credit to our staff. We got ourselves into a defensive call. We were not in a ?block? look."

Toledo succeeded in taking a one-point lead with a 2-point conversion near the end of last year?s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but the Rockets lost the game to Florida International on a field goal on the game?s final play.

This time, the wild ending to a wild game went their way in the school?s first bowl win since 2005.

Bernard Reedy?s third touchdown of the game ? a 37-yard catch, spin and run on a pass from Terrance Owens ? gave Toledo a 42-35 lead with 5:01 remaining and put the Rockets (9-4) over the 40-point mark for a sixth straight game.

Story continues below

"We have 1,000 playmakers on our team," said Reedy, who had a career-high 126 yards receiving on four catches and was named the game?s MVP. "You never know who?s going to step up. It?s fun to watch everybody catch and run with it."

The game matched two of the top 25 scoring teams in the country, and they wasted little time living up to their reputations. It was Mid-American Conference member Toledo?s spread offense against Mountain West Air Force?s triple option, and the idea of a huddle seemed a quaint, antiquated concept.

Back and forth they went. A kickoff return for 87 yards. A pitch around the left end for 60. Touchdown passes for 49 and 37 yards. A pair of botched onside kicks.

And that was just the first half.

Toledo?s Adonis Thomas finished with 108 yards on 22 carries. Paul Hornung Award finalist Eric Page caught 13 passes for 59 yards, but his biggest play was an 87-yard kickoff return in the first half.

Owens, getting most of the work at quarterback, completed 19 of 24 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Owens got the nod over Austin Dantin, who started the first 10 games of the season before sitting out the last two with a concussion.

Tim Jefferson, the first quarterback in service academy history to lead his team to four consecutive bowl games, completed 13 of 22 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Air Force (7-6). Jonathan Warzeka had a career-best 60-yard run to set up one touchdown, and his 37-yard reception on fourth-and-3 tied the game 28-all heading into halftime.

There was even room for a defensive score: Toledo safety Jermaine Robinson?s 37-yard interception runback after he corralled a tipped pass deep in the secondary.

Next Page ?


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Rick Perry: Obama Should Have Held a Parade For US Troops Returning From Iraq

British troops are celebrated in London after returning from Iraq. (Daily Mail)

Governor Rick Perry told supporters today that President Obama should have held a parade for US troops returning from Iraq.
National Journal reported, via FOX Nation:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry opened a new line of criticism against President Obama today, saying that the president hadn?t shown the proper courtesy in welcoming troops returning home from the war in Iraq.

?It really disturbs me that after nine years of war in Iraq, this president wouldn?t welcome our many heroes home with a simple parade in their honor,? Perry said during a meet-and-greet with the West Side Conservative Club here. Perry speculated that there was no parade because of the war?s unpopularity among Democrats. ??I don?t know,? he said. ?But, Mr. President, our soldiers come first, and it comes before party politics.?

Obama gave a speech at Fort Bragg, N.C., earlier this month to mark the end of the war and honor the troops.

Barack Obama won?t even use the words ?victory? and ?war? in the same sentence.
He wasn?t about to give the troops a parade that they deserve.



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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hecklerspray On... Pets | Hecklerspray

What kind of monster empathises with animals? Is it because they?ve got the same colour blood as us? In fact, there?s people out there who have more sympathy for animals than they do people from different cultures.

Humans are stupid and this is proven by the need for them to have animals as pets.

Think about it. There?s people in this awful world that like nothing more than staring at silent fish in a tank. There?s people out there who like to dress their dogs up like little humans. There?s even people who think that cats are anything other than selfish, greedy snobs who only cohabit with humans to get an easy feed.

If aliens came to Earth, they?d almost certainly ask about our need to live with other species and not eat them. We spend years fattening these creatures up and then, somehow, we end up letting them lick us in our mouths and sleep on our beds while we leave the radio on for them so they don?t feel lonely while we?re at work.

Like animals have the clout to feel ?loneliness?. The only thing they?re sufficiently able to do is produce waste-products from all that food we?ve given them.

And for what? A short life span which sees them absolutely dying before we do, leaving us to be thoroughly upset about something that never showed true kindness to us. It was an imagined kindness. We put human emotions on them because we?ve become unable to deal with our own. We?re too filled with fear to mix with other communities or people of different ages, divided by social spheres and musical tastes, and so, we transpose what we would like to see in people onto them.

This is how an actual conversation with your cat goes like:

Owner: Oh, hello Snookins! I?ve had an awful day. *puts plethora of bags down*

Snookins: FEED ME

Owner: Oooh! You are adorable! Have you missed me?

Snookins: FEED ME.

Owner: Just a second Snookins! Just let me pour myself a glass of wine.


Owner: Aw, you! You?re the only person I need! You understand me don?t you? Oh Snookins, I don?t know what I?d do without you.


Owner: Oh, you are the most handsome cat in the whole world Snookins! Don?t you want letting out?


Owner: Go on. Out you go Snookins. I?m not alone as long as I?ve got you.


Owner: I love you Snookins.


And that?s the truth of the matter. With dogs, they simply want feeding constantly. They won?t even show behaviour what looks like malice, unless you count the mindless violent they perform on postmen around the world.

It?s this inherent failing and loneliness in humans that has been our downfall. While animals get on with surviving, we?ve developed empathy which, in turns, enables the heartless to exploit us all one-by-one until all we have left is passive-aggressive status updates on various social networking sites.

And pets are entirely to blame.

This post was sponsored by Dos Equis


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rabbi?s rounds include visits with college kids

Rabbi Cliff Kulwin prepares to set out on another one of his college circuits.+ enlarge image

Rabbi Cliff Kulwin prepares to set out on another one of his college circuits.

+ more images

Aliza Roth ? left, with a friend and Bucky, the University of Wisconsin mascot ? said the visits from Rabbi Cliff Kulwin made her feel at home while still on campus.

Every year, David Spiro, a senior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, looks forward to having dinner there with Rabbi Clifford Kulwin of Temple B?nai Abraham in Livingston, where Spiro grew up and celebrated becoming a bar mitzva.

?We always go the Cottage Inn, and he goes around the table and asks each individual, ?What are you doing in school?? and then we talk about contemporary news events,? said Spiro. ?He always tries to get a gauge on the campus and?how the younger generation perceives what?s going on in the world.?

Spiro and his fellow Wolverines aren?t the only college kids to get a visit from the rabbi. Every year, Kulwin visits children of temple members at colleges with a critical mass of Jewish kids, including Indiana University, University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, Penn State, Syracuse, Bucknell, Rutgers, and Princeton.

This year, he will visit the University of Maryland and University of Delaware for the first time.

He also went to the University of California-Berkeley this year ? and for just one student. Congregants forgave the exception: he visited his own son.

Kulwin said he embarks on his travels to maintain ties with students at an age where they are often not engaging with the Jewish world.

?Because I?m able to maintain ties over the course of the year, there?s a different dynamic,? he said in a phone interview shortly after returning from a Midwest jaunt that included the University of Wisconsin in Madison. ?Students often e-mail me about paper topics in Jewish studies or for different kinds of advice. I can think of a couple of situations where a kid was going through something particularly challenging and turned to me in a way they otherwise might not have. And I get to spend time encouraging students to go on Birthright Israel and study abroad in Israel.?

He said, ?The mere fact that I?m there is Jewish reinforcement.?

He finds the conversations with students ?fascinating.?

?What?s happening on campus is not part of my day-to-day life, though it is important to the Jewish community and our families,? said Kulwin. ?I?m interested in the political issues that present themselves to our kids and what concerns they have, from a Jewish point of view or any other.?

Some schools can be more politically charged than others around issues like Israel. Michigan, with its large Arab-American population from the Detroit suburbs, for example, has a long history of political engagement.

Kulwin logs 6,000-8,000 driving and flying miles each year in visits to about a dozen schools. The cost comes from the synagogue?s annual budget.

?All his children?

Parents are thrilled by his visits.

Susy Spiro, David?s mother, said, ?What rabbi goes to colleges and takes kids out to dinner? It just shows the kids what a close community we have, and they know the rabbi cares enough to take time from his busy schedule to spend time with them.?

Lori Schlanger of Short Hills was at first shocked to learn about the visits and her children?s interest (she has three, the youngest two at the University of Michigan, the eldest a recent graduate).

?We weren?t all that involved ? we are the kind of Jews who only went for the High Holy Days,? she said. ?But my kids jumped at the chance to have dinner with the rabbi. Now my kids feel very close to him. And I love the fact they are connecting with somebody Jewish.?

?It?s so important for our kids during these years that they are not so in touch with the temple and with Judaism; this keeps them in touch,? said Nurit Gans, whose son, Asaf, attends Penn State.

Aliza Roth, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, had dinner with Kulwin on his recent trip. Her mother, Ginny, also appreciates what it does for the parents. ?It means the world to us and to our kids. At a time when parents are not that involved in synagogue life, he e-mails them about his visit to their children, and it keeps them connected.?

Students like the visits from home.

Mara Schlanger, a University of Michigan student, said she didn?t know what to expect the first time she joined Kulwin at the Cottage Inn. She didn?t know many of the other TBA kids attending the school and hadn?t spent much time with the rabbi recently. ?Dinner turned out to be a comforting taste of home,? she said. ?I got the same sense of relief seeing him as I would my parents, friends, or anyone I was close with in New Jersey. It was comforting knowing that I was in the presence of someone that I?ve had a relationship with since childhood.?

She also described how the rabbi manages to put the students at ease, in part by telling the waitress, ?to bring us anything we wanted, because we were ?all his children,?? she said. ?Other diners must have thought we were celebrating a birthday because of the high levels of spirit and energy at the table,? said Schlanger. ?It was amazing how interested Rabbi Kulwin was in all of our lives ? conversations ranged from dorm life, to classes, to academic organizations, to the social scene, sports, food, friends ? you name it.

?Of course, our relationship to Judaism on campus was brought up, but Rabbi Kulwin never made the conversation about what we should or shouldn?t be doing, rather how or if we were integrating it into our college life.?

Aliza Roth acknowledged the lasting impact of the visits.

?At this age, being in college, away from the temple and religion as a whole, it?s sometimes hard to want to go back to services,? she said. ?But when he comes, it?s a little reminder, and maybe I?ll stop by when I come home.?

The whole endeavor came about through happenstance, when Kulwin?s father moved from Florida to Ann Arbor to be with Kulwin?s sister. When the rabbi visited the first time about 13 years ago, he took a group of TBA kids out to dinner. After a few years of such visits, he said, ?I thought, ?Gee I really ought to do this at other schools, too.??

He gets as much as he gives, he said. Born and raised in Champaign, Ill., he misses the fabric of a university town.

?You?re just exposed to things there that you aren?t elsewhere.? And, he added, ?It?s fun.?

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Likely 2012 UGA Football Schedule, If Alabama And South Carolina Moves Happen

It's been murmured for some time now that the Georgia Bulldogs will both duck the Alabama Crimson Tide for the Missouri Tigers and get the South Carolina Gamecocks game budged to October, all of which should delight any Dawgs fan, trouble South Carolina fans and annoy just about everybody else. After winning the SEC East with one of the easiest schedules any SEC Championship Game participant has ever put together, UGA could have an even easier slate in 2012.

Nothing's official yet, as conference schedules may be delayed yet another day, but Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph puts it all together, and comes up with a very plausible 2012 schedule:

  • Sept. 1: Buffalo
  • Sept. 8: at Missouri
  • Sept. 15: Florida Atlantic
  • Sept. 22: Vanderbilt
  • Sept. 29: Tennessee
  • Oct. 6: at South Carolina
  • Oct. 13: at Kentucky
  • Oct. 20: Open
  • Oct. 27: vs. Florida in Jacksonville
  • Nov. 3: Ole Miss
  • Nov. 10: at Auburn
  • Nov. 17: Georgia Southern
  • Nov. 24: Georgia Tech

Considering the Auburn Tigers' losses, count as Georgia's toughest opponents Mizzou, Vandy, South Carolina likely minus Alshon Jeffery, the Florida Gators with who-knows-who at offensive coordinator, and a Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team that will be preceded by a nearly identical warmup team. Masterful.

For more on the Georgia Bulldogs be sure to check out Dawg Sports. For more on Alabama and Missouri, check out Roll Bama Roll and Rock M Nation.


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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fianna F?il on course to pay off ?500k in debt

Fianna F?il on course to pay off ?500k in debt

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

FIANNA Fail is due to pay ?500,000 off its debt by year?s end, party leader Miche?l Martin has said.

As recently reported by the Irish Examiner, the party is ?2.2 million in debt. But a significant slice of the money will be repaid by the end of this month, Mr Martin has confirmed.

"We?re due to pay back half a million by the end of Christmas on the debt," he said in an interview with this newspaper. Asked if the party would manage to make the repayment, he replied: "Yes."

It is understood the bulk of the money will come from the party?s annual superdraw, which took place on December 21.

The draw ? with a first prize of a Nissan Juke ? is thought to have raised over ?500,000, much of which will go towards debt repayment. Mr Martin said he had been "very open" about party finances with members, in contrast with years past, when the issue had been treated like the "Third Secret of Fatima".

The party had to move beyond accepting corporate donations, as they had had a "corrosive" effect on Fianna F?il?s reputation.

Mr Martin said the party would instead prioritise a small number of large-scale fundraising events, such as the superdraw.

"Every [other] party has been raising funds through corporate donations and still does. We haven?t been since the election. It damaged Fianna F?il in the past ? fundraising damaged us. It gave us a bad name, had a corrosive impact on the image of the party. So we have to change behaviour."

He also said he would not prejudge the Mahon Tribunal report, which is expected to be published in January and arrive at conclusions about former taoiseach Bertie Ahern?s personal finances.

While Mr Martin would not speculate about the likely contents of the report, he said the party would "respond up-front in a robust way, and take on board the conclusions and recommendations of Mahon".

Political rivals in Leinster House believe Mr Martin will seek to distance Fianna F?il from Mr Ahern when the report is published.

Mr Martin described Mr Ahern as a "colleague in government" rather than a personal friend.

"In politics, we all tend to do our job, go to the cabinet meeting, but you don?t have lasting friendships of a social kind as we would probably understand the word friendship," he said.

"Bertie kept himself aloof a lot as a leader, he had a particular style, and particularly his last six years were very presidential... After the 2002 election, I think there was a change in style. From 1997 to 2002 it was much more collegial; 2002 onwards, it became more presidential, almost Blair-like, Clinton-like."

He said he found Mr Ahern "very accessible" and could always "have a chat with him", but "Bertie wasn?t a guy you were going to have a pint with or pour out your troubles to. It was business, it was politics."

a d v e r t i s e m e n t



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Sony agrees to end LCD venture with Samsung: source

TOKYO/SEOUL: Sony Corp has agreed to end its LCD joint venture with Samsung Electronics and will sell its stake to the South Korean company, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The decision comes after Sony in November warned of a fourth straight year of losses, with its television unit alone set to lose $2.2 billion on tumbling demand and a surging yen.


The Japanese TV maker at that time said it would revamp LCD panel procurement, but declined to comment on reports that it would end the panel joint venture with Samsung.


A Samsung spokesman said on Monday the two companies would make an announcement regarding the joint venture at O630 GMT, without elaborating.


Sony holds a nearly 50 percent stake in liquid-crystal display (LCD) joint venture S-LCD, which was established in April 2004 to secure stable supplies of the component.


Shares in Sony were up 1.75 percent and Samsung Electronics shares traded flat as of 0535 GMT.


Global TV manufacturers are restructuring their businesses and outsourcing production as cutthroat competition and weak demand squeeze margins.


Samsung is the world's No. 1 TV maker, while Sony vies for the No.2 title with South Korea's LG Electronics Inc.


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Monday, December 26, 2011

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Smartphones Taking Bite Out of Point-and-Shoot Market (NewsFactor)

People will spend less coin on digital cameras this holiday season as they increasingly rely on smartphone cameras to capture both spontaneous moments and vacation shots, a survey from the research firm NPD Group suggests.

While the results should not surprise, given the higher quality cameras increasingly built into popular phones -- the iPhone 4S packs an 8-megapixel model, up from 5 on the iPhone 4 -- the survey offers a quantified look at how much the smartphone market is eating into the low-end camera market.

Who Needs A Camcorder?

The percentage of photos taken with a smartphone by a sample group answering online questions rose from 17 last year to 27, while the share of photos taken by camera dropped from 52 percent to 44 percent.

In separate findings, NPD's Retail Tracking Service found that so-called "point-and-shoot" camera sales fell 17 percent in units and 18 percent in dollars for the first 11 months of 2011. The drop in pocket camcorder sales was slightly lower, 13 percent in units, but steeper in dollars, 27 percent, while flash camcorders declined 8 percent in units and 10 percent in dollars.

Just over 30 percent of respondents said they now use phones for taking photos while on vacation, and just over 50 percent said they use phones for casual photos. The numbers were similar for video, with a higher number, about 55 percent, using their handy smartphones to capture spontaneous moments for posterity (or YouTube).

"Thanks to mobile phones, more pictures are being taken than ever before," said Liz Cutting, executive director and senior imaging analyst at NPD, in releasing the results. "Consumers who use their mobile phones to take pictures and video were more likely to do so instead of their camera when capturing spontaneous moments, but for important events, single purpose cameras or camcorders are still largely the device of choice."

The survey was taken Nov. 11-21 from a sample of adults over 18 and teens ages 13-17.

Big Potential

Manufacturers and carriers are increasingly seeing the value of good cameras as a selling point and differentiator. In June, HTC and T-Mobile released the MyTouch 4G, with an 8-megapixel camera, promising no shutter lag -- a big drawback of many digital cameras. With its fast data speed, the MyTouch is a good option for taking good pictures and sharing them quickly, T-Mobile said at the time.

"Smartphone cameras are getting good enough that people will only buy a digital camera if it is much better," said analyst Gerry Purdy of MobileTrax. The benefits of a dedicated, higher-end camera over a phone, he said are optical zoom, available only on select phones, large lens capture and better digital image capture chips.

"It's a trade-off of fidelity vs. convenience," Purdy said. "People want to have a really good camera for a wedding, but convenience is going to drive the popularity of camera phones, which are good enough for most situations."


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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Former South Korean first lady to go North to mark Kim's death (Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) ? South Korea said on Saturday a former first lady and the chairwoman of the giant Hyundai business conglomerate will be permitted to cross into North Korea next week to join ceremonies marking the death the North's leader, Kim Jong-il.

A spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry said Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung, will lead a 13-member delegation for a two-day trip from Monday. Kim died a week ago.

The ministry also said Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, the wife of the business group's former chairman Chung Mong-hun, will lead another five-member delegation to Pyongyang.

The South Korean government has said it will allow the two delegations to make the trip to the communist North because Pyongyang sent groups to Seoul to mark the deaths Kim Dae-jung and Chung.

However the delegations will not attend Kim Jong-il's funeral, scheduled for Wednesday, and no government officials, politicians or other prominent figures will accompany them.

Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009, reopened ties while he was in office from 1998 to 2003, culminating in a historic meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2000. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Chung was the fifth son of the Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung, who established Hyundai Asan Corp. in 1999, a major investor in North Korea's Mt. Kumgang tourist resort business.

The business has been suspended since the fatal shooting in 2008 of a South Korean tourist at the resort.

Hyundai Asan is also involved in the Kaesong Industrial Park project in the North, one of the impoverished North's main sources of foreign cash.

Seoul sent a message of sympathy to the North Korean people after Kim Jong-il's death, although the North denounced South Korea for not extending official condolences.

North and South Korea are technically still at war, with the 1950-53 ending in a ceasefire rather than a formal armistice.

(Reporting by Sung-won Shim; Editing by Paul Tait)


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Robert Creamer: Why GOP Collapse on the Payroll Tax Could be a Turning Point Moment

In recent American politics, every major shift in political momentum has resulted from an iconic battle.

In 1995 the tide of the 1994 "Republican Revolution" was reversed when Speaker Newt Gingrich and his new Republican House majority shut down the government in a battle over their attempts to cut Medicare to give tax breaks to the rich (sound familiar). The shutdown ended with - what pundits universally scored -- as a victory for President Clinton. That legislative victory began Clinton's march to overwhelming re-election victory in 1996.

In 2010, Democrats passed President Obama's landmark health care reform. But they lost the battle for public opinion - and base motivation. That turned the political tide that had propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and ultimately led to the drubbing Democrats took in the 2010 mid terms.

The Republican leadership's collapse in the battle over extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits could also be a turning point moment that shifts the political momentum just as we enter the pivotal 2012 election year.

Here's why:

1). Since the President launched his campaign for the American Jobs Act, he has driven Congressional Republicans into a political box canyon with very few avenues of escape. The jobs campaign has made it clearer and clearer to the voters that the "do nothing Republican Congress" bears responsibility for preventing the President from taking steps that would create jobs.

Until the payroll tax/unemployment victory, the President had failed to persuade the Republican dominated Congress to pass any provision of the bill - save one aimed at helping veterans. But the polling shows that the public has become more and more disgusted by Congressional intransigence. Since 64% of Americans believe that Congress is run entirely by the Republicans (and from the stand point of stopping legislation it is managed entirely by Republicans), the overall unhappiness with Congress has translated into distain for the "do nothing Republican Congress".

Congress now has lower approval ratings (11% in the latest poll) than at any time in modern history. Senator Michael Bennett presented data on the Senate floor that showed that Congress is less popular than BP during the gulf oil spill. It is way less popular than Nixon during Watergate. About the same number of Americans have a positive view of Congress as support America becoming a Communist nation. That makes it the worst time imaginable for House Republicans to throw a political tantrum that threatened to increase the tax burden of everyday Americans by $40 per paycheck -- $1,000 next year - right after Christmas.

Last weekend, the Senate Republican Leader thought he had blazed a path for Republicans that led out of that political box canyon - at least in so far as the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment. The bi-partisan agreement to temporarily extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance seemed to give Republicans a face saving option that - at least temporarily -- took them off the political hook. But Tea Party stalwarts in the House threatened to mutiny if Boehner went along - and all week - there the House Republicans sat, at the bottom of that canyon with no escape.

House Republicans bet that the President and Democrats were desperate enough to extend the payroll tax and unemployment that they could hold those provisions hostage the way they had held hostage the debt ceiling in August. In an act of unfathomable political ineptitude, they failed to appreciate that this time, Democrats occupied vastly higher political ground.

Failure to continue the payroll tax holiday would have immediately decreased the take home pay of 160 million Americans. By refusing to agree to the compromise that had passed the Senate with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, House Republicans made it certain that they would have been held responsible.

They might as well have hung out a huge flashing sign in Times Square that said: "Republicans are responsible for cutting your take home pay and eliminating your unemployment benefits."

Even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called on them to throw in the towel.

Democrats had every incentive to hang tough. In the end by refusing to take the escape hatch opened for them by McConnell, the nation watched House Republicans dragged kicking and screaming to support the President's popular payroll and unemployment extensions.

The outcome of the battle was unambiguous. No one could doubt who stood up for the economic interests of the middle class and who did not. And no one could doubt who won and who lost.

National Journal reported that:

House Republicans on Thursday crumpled under the weight of White House and public pressure and have agreed to pass a two-month extension of the 2 percent payroll-tax cut, Republican and Democratic sources told National Journal.

In the end, Republican intransigence transformed a moment that would have been a modest win for President Obama into an iconic victory.

2). Strength and victory are enormous political assets. Going into the New Year, they now belong to the President and the Democrats.

One of the reasons why the debt ceiling battle inflicted political damage on President Obama is that it made him appear ineffectual - a powerful figure who had been ensnared and held hostage by the Lilliputian pettiness of hundreds of swarming Tea Party ideological zealots.

In the last few months -- as he campaigned for the American Jobs Act -- he has shaken free of those bonds. Now voters have just watched James Bond or Indiana Jones escape and turn the tables on his adversary.

Great stories are about a protagonist who meets and overcomes a challenge and is victorious. The capitulation of the House Tea Party Republicans is so important because it feels like the beginning of that kind of heroic narrative.

Even today most Americans believe that George Bush and the big Wall Street Banks - not by President Obama -- caused the economic crisis. Swing voters have never lost their fondness for the President and don't doubt his sincerity. But they had begun to doubt his effectiveness. They have had increasing doubts that Obama was up to the challenge of leading them back to economic prosperity.

The narrative set in motion by the events of the last several weeks could be a turning point in voter perception. It could well begin to convince skeptical voters that Obama is precisely the kind of leader they thought he was back in 2008 - a guy with the ability to lead them out of adversity - a leader with the strength, patience, skill, will and resoluteness to lead them to victory.

That now contrasts with the sheer political incompetence of the House Republican Leadership that allowed themselves to be cornered and now find themselves in political disarray. And it certainly contrasts with the political circus we have been watching in the Republican Presidential primary campaign.

3). This victory will inspire the dispirited Democratic base.

Inspiration is the feeling of empowerment - the feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself and can personally play a significant role in achieving that goal. It comes from feeling that together you can overcome challenges and win.

Nothing will do more to inspire committed Democrats than the sight of their leader -- President Obama - out maneuvering the House Republicans and forcing them into complete capitulation.

The events of the last several weeks will send a jolt of electricity through the Progressive community.

The right is counting on Progressives to be demoralized and dispirited in the coming election. The President's victory on the payroll tax and unemployment will make it ever more likely that they will be wrong.

4). When you have them on the run, that's the time to chase them.

The most important thing about the outcome of the battle over the payroll tax and unemployment is that it shifts the political momentum at a critical time. Momentum is an independent variable in any competitive activity - including politics.

In a football or basketball game you can feel the momentum shift. The tide of battle is all about momentum. The same is true in politics. And in politics it is even more important because the "spectators" are also the players - the voters.

People follow - and vote -- for winners. The bandwagon effect is enormously important in political decision-making. Human beings like to travel in packs. They like to be at the center of the mainstream. Momentum shifts affect their perceptions of the mainstream.

For the last two years, the right wing has been on the offensive. Its Tea Party shock troops took the battle to Democratic Members of Congress. In the Mid-Terms Democrats were routed in district after district.

Now the tide has turned. And when the tide turns -when you have them on the run - that's the time to chase them.

We won't know for sure until next November whether this moment will take on the same iconic importance as Clinton's battle with Gingrich in 1995. But there is no doubt that the political wind has shifted. It's up to Progressives to make the most of it.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.




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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snowbound Arizona student survived on two candy bars over 9 days

Arizona State University student Lauren Weinberg was found by the US Forest Service. She survived on melted snow and candy bars after her car got stuck on a remote Arizona road.

A college student stranded by heavy snow in her car for nine days on a barren Arizona road has been rescued after living on candy bars and melted snow, authorities said on Thursday.

Skip to next paragraph

Arizona State University student Lauren Weinberg, 23, was found Wednesday by two U.S. Forest Service employees patrolling on snowmobiles, Coconino County Sheriff's Office patrol Lieutenant Jim Coffey said.

Weinberg, who was found about 46 miles from the town of Winslow in northern Arizona, was reported missing after she was last seen in Phoenix on Dec. 11, the sheriff's office said.

IN PICTURES: Going Nowhere: Stranded by weather

Weinberg was driving her sedan on Dec. 12 with no specific destination in mind when her car got stuck in over 18 inches of snow, Coffey said.

She was taken by patrol car to Flagstaff Medical Center to make sure she wasn't suffering from frostbite and dehydration, before being released.

"I am so thankful to be alive and warm," Weinberg said in a statement released by the hospital. "Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers, because they worked. There were times I was afraid but mostly I had faith I would be found," she said.

Weinberg survived on two candy bars and a clear plastic bottle she filled with snow that melted in the sun, the sheriff's office said.

She had a cellphone with her but the battery had died.

(Editing by David Bailey)

IN PICTURES: Going Nowhere: Stranded by weather


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Islander with terminal cancer wins significant asbestos suit

Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter
December 20, 2011 ? Updated 1:08 PM?

Islander Roger Hammett has spent his career on the water. For decades Hammett, 84, worked as a deckhand aboard naval boats, commercial ships and ferries throughout the Puget Sound. He even met his wife as a deckhand on the north end ferry.

About a year ago Hammett learned that it was his maritime career that would ultimately cause his death.

In August of 2010, Hammett was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal lung cancer that resulted from his exposure to asbestos on ships. Hammett was in good health before the cancer, and now doctors say he can expect to die in the next year.

Last week, however, there was a bright spot in what Hammett says has been a ?psychological disaster? since he learned his fate.

On Thursday Hammett and his wife Anita, 64, won a lawsuit against Sea-Land, the owner of a boat Hammett worked on for just 67 days in 1966. They were awarded $1.45 million for pain, suffering disability and loss of enjoyment in life.

?I was elated,? Hammett said of the win. ?Now I know my wife will be taken care of, and my grandchildren.?

A few months ago Hammett also won a smaller, undisclosed amount when he settled out of court with Washington State Ferries, where he worked for 28 years and was also exposed to asbestos.

Matthew Bergman, Hammett?s attorney, said that although Hammett was exposed to asbestos on several of the ships he spent time on, his exposure was most intense on the SS Seattle, owned by Sea-Land Service, Inc., now Residual Holdings.

A jury determined that Sea-Land didn?t take proper safety precautions regarding asbestos ? which was used as insulation on ships until the 1970s ? and was 70 percent responsible for Hammett?s disease.

Bergman, whose Seattle-based law firm files around 50 asbestos-related cases a year, said that it?s a common misconception that the risks of asbestos weren?t known until recently. On the contrary, he said, asbestos? harmful properties have been known since the 1930s, and Sea-Land was in violation of government health regulations regarding the material.

?Whether (Sea-Land) knew, it should have known, because there was a wealth of information available,? Bergman said.

Mesothelioma symptoms usually don?t appear until 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Bergman said there is now a generation of elderly people who have developed the terminal disease after being exposed to asbestos decades ago on ships, as well as at aluminum smelters and paper mills. In fact, Bergman said, Washington now has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the country because those industries were prevalent in the state.

?So many people worked in one of those industries,? Bergman said.

Hammett began having trouble breathing nearly 20 years ago, a symptom he attributed at the time to asthma. He learned his condition was much worse after he fell in his garden last year, couldn?t breathe and was rushed to the hospital.

Though a surgery Hammett had helps prevent his lungs from filling with liquid, he said the disease has caused him much pain and many sleepless nights.

?It?s a slow, painful death. It?s not like a heart attack,? Hammett said on Sunday as he sat with his wife in their home on Monument Road, where the two have lived for more than 30 years.

Hammett, who is friendly with a dry sense of humor, says he still tries to garden ? his favorite hobby ? but it?s becoming more and more difficult.

?I use a shovel as a walking stick, and I do OK,? he said.

According to Bergman, most people die within a year of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Roger says he?s thankful to have made it past that mark, but still feels as if he?s been robbed of life.

Statistics used in court showed that on average a man Hammett?s age will live seven more years.

?That?s what he was looking forward to before he got diagnosed,? Bergman said.

Before going to court, Sea-Land offered the Hammetts a $5,000 settlement, which Roger Hammett called ?chicken feed.?

Hammett praised Bergman for his work on the case and said he is glad that his large award will cover hospice care so he can eventually die at home. He also hopes to finish remodeling his house and to build a music room for his wife, who plans to stay on in their home for as long as she can. He?ll leave the rest to his wife, five children and six grandchildren.

Anita Hammett, who is warm and soft spoken, said the ordeal has been difficult for her as well.

?I love Roger deeply, and I wish he didn?t have this disease,? she said. ?We just don?t know what the next day is going to bring forth.?


Contact Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter Natalie Johnson at or 206-463-9195.


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Friday, December 23, 2011

Cowell backs Amaro to win 'The X Factor' (AP)

LOS ANGELES ? "The X Factor" judges didn't want to stop listening to Melanie Amaro.

The powerful 19-year-old vocalist from Sunrise, Fla., wowed the Fox talent competition's panel with her soaring rendition of Beyonce's "Listen" during Wednesday's final performance round, prompting head judge Simon Cowell to declare that Amaro should win the show's grand prize: a $5 million recording contract and a starring role in a Pepsi commercial.

"That wasn't a $5 million performance," declared judge L.A. Reid. "That was a $50 million performance."

The panel also poured praise on the other two finalists: soulful 30-year-old single father Josh Krajcik of Wooster, Ohio, and 28-year-old singer-rapper Chris Rene of Santa Cruz, Calif. Krajcik accompanied himself on guitar for his final performance of "At Last," while Rene delivered his original tune "Young Homie" with a group of dancers and singers.

"You make everyone fall in love with you," judge Paula Abdul told Rene.

Before the final showdown, each singer awkwardly dueted with established artists. Krajcik was joined by Alanis Morissette on "Uninvited," Rene teamed up with Avril Lavigne for "Complicated," and Amaro partnered with R. Kelly on "I Believe I Can Fly," which marked the first time that the R&B star performed his motivational anthem with another singer.

The winner, which will be decided by viewer votes, will be announced on Thursday's show.

The contest thus far hasn't achieved the same success as "American Idol," which Cowell left last year to import "X Factor" from the U.K. to the U.S. Last Wednesday's performance episode drew 10.79 million viewers, less than half of the average "Idol" audience.

Unlike "Idol," the competition is open to solo singers and groups and has a lower minimum age of 12 and no upper age limit. The judges also serve as mentors: Cowell represented female vocalists, including Amaro; Reid headed male singers, including Rene; Nicole Scherzinger was in charge of over-30 singers, including Krajcik; and Abdul helmed the groups.


Fox is owned by News Corp.


AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang can be reached at




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Murdoch media pays 7 more phone hacking victims (AP)

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Romney May Have Weaknesses Against Obama on Four Issues (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | The Republican convention isn't until August, but presidential contenders have been competing for dollars, endorsers, airtime, and supporters for nearly nine months. They've participated in 18 of 29 scheduled debates. As competitors take turns leading the polls, Mitt Romney's support remains relatively steady.

Romney's economic plan reflects standard Republican positions -- reducing taxes and spending, and forcing the states to address massive national problems.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is running on his record of achievements, including stabilizing unemployment and the economy, reforming Wall Street oversight and consumer protection, ending the Iraq war, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and making college and health care more affordable.

Incumbent presidents always have an advantage, but four domestic issues illustrate their fundamental differences and Romney's weaknesses, and they could pose problems with middle-class voters.

Jobs and the Economy

Obama's American Jobs Act will create millions of jobs restoring our dangerously crumbling infrastructure, thus promoting more private investment and expansion. His policies invest in American workers and American-made products, while extending retraining and unemployment benefits to workers whose employers shipped their jobs overseas.

Romney has no specific jobs plan, but emphasizes increasing trade, cutting corporate taxes, eliminating health, safety, and financial regulations, restricting organized labor while expanding organized corporate sovereignty, further limiting aid to the poor and unemployed, and capping federal spending.

Education and Training

Obama's programs raised education standards and invested in school buildings, teachers, scholarships, and the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Now veterans and working and middle-class students can access a college education. His $2 billion investment in community colleges raised completion rates and created new programs for a modern workforce. He granted relief to states from Republican No Child Left Behind mandates, allowing more local solutions to education issues.

Romney would consolidate multiple federal job-retraining programs for unemployed workers whose skills are obsolete. He doesn't address traditional education at all.

Health Insurance Reform

Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act doesn't reform health care. It reforms the way Americans pay for it. PPACA extends health insurance to 32 million Americans, including young adults dependent on their parents, patients with pre-existing conditions, and families with unemployed breadwinners. Now, insurance companies can't cancel coverage when patients get sick. By 2013, 88 million Americans will have access to more preventive care. It will reduce the deficit by $127 billion in 10 years.

Romney wants to repeal PPACA and replace it with "market-based reforms." He wants to expand Health Savings Accounts and limit legal damage awards to victims of negligent doctors.


Regulations don't appear from nowhere. Laws require government agencies to create them in order to apply the law for daily use. All are listed in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. The strict regulatory procedure includes opportunity for public input.

Obama's Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act prevents future government bailouts of unscrupulous banks and investment firms and protects consumers from dishonest financial practices. His administration established new health and safety regulations for offshore oil drilling and chemical emissions from power plants, increased fuel economy for motor vehicles, and more state and local options under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Romney promises to eliminate Wall Street financial activity and environmental protection rules and to "review and eliminate Obama-era regulations."

The first three of these topics affect the daily lives of voters and are the kind of "kitchen table" issues that decide elections. The fourth is important because most voters aren't familiar with regulatory procedures, but they know when "there oughta be a law."


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Monday, December 19, 2011

Gringrich and science (

The busy mind of Newt Gingrich has been much in the news lately. He's the man of grand ideas -- a thinker, a theorist, the big brain in a GOP field of bureaucrats and simpletons. Don't believe it? Don't worry, Gingrich himself will tell you.

Gingrich's mind indeed does churn. The problem is, he approaches ideas the way a gluttonous gourmand approaches food -- with a rich, complex and subtle appetite, but also a hopeless weakness for corn dogs and Twinkies. If it's edible -- or, in his case, imaginable -- he's interested. This can be awkward, particularly when he steps outside of his comfort zone of history and public policy and starts to muck around with science. (Watch "10 Questions for Newt Gingrich.")

Much has been made of some of Gingrich's wackier ideas in the past few weeks, beginning with his oft-repeated worry that a rogue state with a nuclear weapon could shut down the U.S. power grid. To give Gingrich his due, there's a grain of truth in his fears. Scientists agree -- theoretically at least -- that a missile detonated at the right altitude could trigger what's known as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could fry the circuits of whatever country lay below. The one experiential data point that supports this idea occurred in 1962, when an atmospheric test of an American atomic weapon caused street lights in Hawaii to go temporarily dark.

Of course, it's a big step from there to shutting down an entire country, especially when the bad actors Gingrich imagines blacking out America are the Iranians and North Koreans, who have nowhere near the missile technology or targeting know-how to pull off such a stunt -- at least without being detected -- and in the case of Iran, don't even have a bomb yet. What's more, if either country did want to launch a strike, it would be a whole lot easier to go the point-and-shoot route -- pick a city and try to take it out directly. Yet Gingrich has continued to sound the EMP alarm, arguing that preparing for an attack should be an important part of the country's defense posture.

"In theory, a relatively small device detonated over Omaha would knock out about half the electricity generated in the United States," he warned in Iowa last week, according to the New York Times.

Gingrich's advocacy of space mirrors -- albeit years ago, in a 1984 book -- has provoked eye rolling too. The thinking is that scientists could position giant mirrors in space that would point toward Earth, reflecting sunlight downward and creating as much illumination as several full moons. This would eliminate the need for nighttime lighting on highways and brighten shadowy neighborhoods as a deterrent to crime. (Read "Newt Gingrich: Potential President, or Skilled Showman?")

Put aside what this would also do to the day-night cycle under which all life on Earth is accustomed to operating; put aside what it would do to the simple business of looking up and trying to see a star. The technical obstacles are dizzying. The U.S. has already orbited one whopping big mirror -- a slab of polished glass inside the Hubble Space telescope that measures close to 8 ft. (2.4 m) in diameter. But reflective space mirrors would have to be far bigger, perhaps the size of a football field. Even the massive International Space Station, which measures 357 ft. (109 m) across, appears to be little more than a moving star at the lowest point of its orbit, 234 mi. (376 km) above ground. To provide permanent illumination to a target area, you'd have to position your mirrors a whole lot farther away -- in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 mi. (37,786 km) above sea level, so that their rate of revolution matches the rotation of the globe.

The weight problem alone makes this impossible -- at least if you were trying to fly a giant mirror made of glass, like the Hubble's. While University of Arizona engineers have developed mirror material only .04 in (1 mm) thick, this doesn't address other problems like the cost of launching and maintaining the mirrors, not to mention keeping so big a target safe from meteors and other space debris. All of this seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to for an illumination problem that highway lights and porch lamps already solve rather neatly.

It's Gingrich's advocacy of moon mining, however, that is getting the most attention -- and drawing the most derision -- partly because this is a drum he doesn't seem willing to quit banging. For the most part, the moon is a pretty prosaic mix of very familiar materials -- including silicon, iron, calcium, aluminum, potassium and phosphorous. There is, however, also helium-3. A light isotope of common helium, helium-3 streams toward Earth all the time as part of the storm of charged particles coming from the sun, but our planet's magnetic field deflects most of it. This is not so on the moon, which has a magnetic field far weaker than Earth's. What makes this important is that helium-3 also turns out to be a cracker jack fuel for fusion reactors -- far more efficient than the deuterium currently used. But it's not just a matter of going to the moon, scooping up what you need and powering the world on it. (Watch TIME's video "Earth Is Running Out of Helium.")

First of all, a practical fusion reactor has not yet been invented and there's no realistic projection for when it might be -- though scientists have been trying for decades. What's more, the moon's helium-3 is not just there for the taking. Apollo samples revealed that the isotope is present in lunar soil in concentrations no greater than 30 parts per billion. Harrison Schmitt, the lunar module pilot on Apollo 17 and the only geologist to walk on the moon, estimates that it would take 220 lbs (100 kg) of helium-3 to power one city the size of Dallas for one year, and to collect that much you'd have to dig a trench three quarters of a mile square by 9 ft. deep (1.9 sq km by 2.7 m).

That's a lot of digging, and it doesn't even touch the cost of getting the stuff home. Even aboard cheap rockets like the Russian Proton, it costs $2,200 to launch a pound of payload to low Earth orbit. The shuttle, nobody's idea of a bargain ship, cost $8,100 per lb. Things are a lot cheaper on the moon, where lower gravity means everything weighs less, but that doesn't mean every ounce doesn't cost -- a lot. There's a reason the skin of the Apollo lunar module was no thicker than three sheets of aluminum foil and that its windows were triangular, a shape that shaved a few ounces off of the framing and sealant that would have been needed for round windows of approximately the same size.

In the last presidential debate, Gingrich responded to Mitt Romney's criticism of the moon mining concept by not responding. "I'm happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way," he said -- which most people agree with and which is not what Romney was questioning at all.

Answering evasively, of course, is what politicians do, as is dreaming big dreams of New Frontiers and Great Societies and shining cities on hills. But dreams aren't science -- and politicians, for the most part, aren't scientists. Newt Gingrich may play one on TV, but that doesn't mean anyone is required to listen.

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