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Monday, May 11, 2009

Lessons from London

Ken Kerr Bio

It seems our cousins across the Atlantic still have a thing or two to show us. Last Tuesday, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, published the names of 16 of 22 people who have been banned by the British government. “I think it's important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here, the fact that it's a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won't be welcome in this country," Smith explained.

There was Fred Phelps of the infamous “” Westboro Baptist Church. There was KKK grand wizard, Stephen Donald Black. There was neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe. And, oh yeah, American talk show host Michael Savage. A proud member of our local WFMD radio evening line-up.

It seems what passes for free speech here gets you on the equivalent of a UK-No-Fly list.

Savage and the Usual Suspects of Right-Wing Radio get away with their extremist the speech in the USA for a multitude of reasons. These reasons don’t always make sense. The cornerstone of their defense is the First Amendment guarantee of “free speech.” However, on that very same point, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States in 1919, stated, ”The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

At the very least, Savage et al. are hinting that the theater is in imminent danger of being set on fire by left leaning socialists, and anyone who holds a dissenting opinion to whatever they happened to be ranting about that day.

There once was a time in the USA that the Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It required anyone holding a broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance; however, they must to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. One would think that the Fairness Doctrine was aptly named and a responsible approach to keeping the public informed and engaged.

The Fairness Doctrine was officially introduced in 1949. All was well for a time. The doctrine remained a matter of general policy until 1967 at which time some provisions of the doctrine were incorporated into FCC regulations. For the most part, important, yet controversial, social issues of the day were presented with equal time and rigor to the listening and viewing public.

Then, one day, Mark S. Fowler was named FCC Chairman by (wait for it . . .) Ronald Reagan. Fowler, was a communications attorney and served Ronald Reagan during his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1976.

Successful in his second try, the commission, under Reagan, began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine. By 1985, Reagan decided the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. How’s that for irony? In 1987, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine.

By August 1, 1988, little known Sacramento Radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, moved to New York City and began his national radio show. The rest, as they say, is history. With the Fairness Doctrine gone, right-wing demagogues were free to flourish without fear of fairness or defense of dialogue. There began a steep slide to partisan rancor, deep division, and the death of bi-partisanship. The final nail was put in that coffin in 1994 with the Contract with America, the rise of Newt Gingrich, and the fall of civil discourse. Despite recent progress toward reconciliation in Washington and across the nation, the identity-challenged GOP seems locked in neurotic patterns of familiar dysfunctional behavior. They still control the AM airwaves, and the strong voices of Savage, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Ingraham, give what is left of the right-wing a false sense that they have widespread support.

If only Home Secretary Smith had been around in 1988—well, she was, but she was only 26—we could have gotten a handle on this.

By “banned” Smith means these people are not permitted to enter the UK. "If people have so clearly overstepped the mark in terms of the way not just that they are talking but the sort of attitudes that they are expressing to the extent that we think that this is likely to cause or have the potential to cause violence or inter-community tension in this country, then actually I think the right thing is not to let them into the country in the first place.”

Anyway, it’s a start. I can suggest a few more names.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Ken Kerr Bio

The couple, who bought the winning ticket at the Giant on Alabama Avenue in Southeast DC, and won the April 8th $142 million jackpot, will not be claiming the prize. Instead, the lump sum of $79.6 million will be claimed by their lawyer. That is probably the best decision in a string of decisions facing them as they deal with the life-changing windfall. They seem to be determined to avoid joining the long trail of sad tales of foolishness, hit men, greedy relatives, and dashed dreams as they come to terms with their new-found wealth.

So far, at least, they seem to be taking the advice Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner in Palm Beach, Fla., and founder of the Sudden Money Institute, gives. To avoid some bad early decision-making, and the inevitable parade of requests from friends, relatives, and strangers, Bradley recommends lottery winners start by setting up a DFZ, or decision-free zone. She advises winners to set up a system where they cannot get access to the money for a period of time—months— while they think rationally about what tens-of-millions-of-dollars means.

Most people do not win so big.

Say someone wins $1 million. What that means is he has won $50,000 a year for 20 years. Yet, many people win, and they think they're millionaires. "They go out and buy houses and cars and before they know it, they're in way over their heads," says Craig Wallace, a senior funding officer for a company that buys lottery annuity payments in exchange for lump sums.

If they couldn't afford these things on their U.S. average annual household income—which is about $50,000—what makes them think they can afford these things on lottery winnings of $50,000 a year? And many quit their jobs preferring to do what they want when they want rather than dragging themselves to work each morning. They then realize that their work gave their lives meaning—now that's gone and the money soon is too.

Perhaps the best-known lottery winner is Jack Whittaker who now says that he regrets winning the lottery. He woke up on Christmas morning in 2002, to find he had won the Powerball lottery jackpot—a huge $315 million. He had the best of intentions: building churches and helping other.

"Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed," he said. "I think if you have something, there's always someone else that wants it. I wish I'd torn that ticket up."

He formed the Jack Whittaker Foundation. "There were so many letters that they wouldn't even deliver the mail. It was nothing for us to sit for 10 hours just opening envelopes," said Jill—the clerk who sold him the ticket and later went to work for the foundation. Even she asked that her last name be kept private. Jill says the foundation received all kinds of requests, such as, "people wanting new carpet, people wanting entertainment systems, people wanting Hummers, people wanting houses -- just absolutely bizarre things."

Whittaker has spent at least $3 million dollars fending off lawsuits. His only joy was his granddaughter upon whom he piled lavish gifts. It made him happy. She ended up dead, wrapped in a plastic tarp in one of the luxury cars he bought her.

As Sophocles writes in Antigone, "Nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without a curse," Whittaker believes the vast sum of money has cursed him and those he loves.

One-third of people in the United States think winning the lottery is the only way to become financially secure in life. Ray Otero is one of them. For the past three years, he's spent $500 to $700 a week playing the lottery—about $30,000-a-year. He's hit a couple of times for $1,000 and $2,000 but not the jackpot he seeks.

If Otero had put this $30,000 a year into a savings account at 3%, he'd have about $164,000 after five years. He'd have over $350,000 after ten years. This would be more than enough for him to fulfill his dream of moving back to Puerto Rico.

The odds are against you:

You are 6 to 45 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than to win the lottery.

Then there is the flesh eating bacteria, with odds at about 1 million to 1. Yet, you are 18 to 120 times more likely to die this way than to win the lottery.

You are 180 to 1,200 times more likely to die from a snake bite or bee sting, at about 100,000 to 1, than to win the lottery.

You are also 30,000% to 200,000% more likely to be legal executed than to win the lottery.

You are also 450,000 to 3,000,000 times more likely to die in an asteroid collision in the year 2029 than to win the lottery, according to

Finally, the 10 mile drive to purchase a lottery ticket is three-to-twenty times more likely to kill you than to win you the jackpot.

The Southeast DC couple is at least taking the right first step to avoid the fate of 82% of people who win the lottery and are financially worse off in 18 months, according to Smart Money Daily.

They are keeping it a secret.


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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fish Guilt

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

I love sushi. It's not just a good treat now and again - it's a way of life for me. Ever since I tried my first sushi when I was a summer intern during law school (when someone else was paying for it), I became addicted to the tasty combination of rice, seaweed wrap, raw fish and wasabi.

Lately, when I read about the ever-increasing predictions for massive extinction of fish species in just a few decades, my guilt makes me wonder whether my act of purchasing sushi simply speeds up the machine of extinction. Should I stop eating fish?

Just this week it was announced that more than 80 types of fish are now extinct or have gone missing from Malaysian waters. A well-publicized study finished a few years ago stunningly predicted that all commercial fish stocks might be extinct by 2050.

The predictions are dire not only for seafood lovers, but also for the consequences to the entire ecosystem. It's easy to see how such significant species loss could ripple across the global ecosystem because of the interdependency of all marine species. Although ecosystems with a diversity of species can survive overfishing and other threats, once biodiversity is lost the extinction of species across the entire system increases exponentially.

Who's to blame? Many scientists believe a variety factors are in play, such as overfishing and global warming and its effects on water temperature and currents. According to a newly released report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 52% of commercial marine fish stocks are fully exploited and 8% are depleted. Another recent study predicts that by 2050 significant numbers of marine species will migrate from warm, tropical seas to cooler waters near the Arctic and Southern Ocean, which in itself could lead to the extinction of many marine species in tropical waters.

How should this knowledge affect what we eat? Luckily, there are many resources that provide updates about the most endangered species of fish so that you can avoid them at the restaurant. Monterey Bay Aquarium has an incredible variety of "Seafood Watch" pocket guides on their website, organized by geographic region that you can print out and carry with you when you go out to eat. These guides list "best choices,""good alternatives" and fish to "avoid." The good news for me is that there's a sushi guide; the bad news is that my favorite types of sushi are not on the "Best Choices" list.

I guess it's time for me to expand my horizons, at least while there is still the option.


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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Obama Weekly Address 5-2-2009

George Wenschhof Bio

President Obama discusses the government response to the H1N1 Flu outbreak. He continues to ask Americans to use common sense by washing hands frequently, covering their mouth when coughing and staying home if sick. He explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have asked schools and child care facilities to close for 14 days if they have a confirmed case of the Flu.

download .mp3 or .mp4 (46.9 Mb) also available here read transcript


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Week in Review and Sunday Morning "Talking Heads" Guests for 5-3-2009

George Wenschhof Bio

Week in Review:

The H1N1 Flu outbreak reached the U.S. and one fatality was reported. The World Health Organization raised the threat level from a 3 to a 5 by the end of the week with a 6 being a full pandemic. Vice President Joe Biden created some angst when he said he would not travel on subways or planes. This statement was quickly reputed by the White House who said their recommendations were to wash your hands frequently, use common sense, stay home if sick and see a doctor if you have flu symptoms.

Chrysler began the week with news they had reached agreement with United Auto worker Union on concessions and were hopeful for the merger with Fiat to be completed. They ended the week by filing for bankruptcy.

Cries for an independent investigation on torture of detainees under the George W. Bush administration continued with Democratic Senators Carl Levin (Mich.) and Pat Leahy (Vt.) leading the way.

President Obama unveiled his housing aid program to help reduce payments on second mortgages.

Congress passed Obama's 3.5 trillion budget blueprint on his 100th day in office. This means of passage also allows the Obama administration through a parliamentary procedure, to avoid a possible filibuster in the Senate when they move to approve the specifics of their health care program. Republicans continued to vote "No", a questionable strategy for future success of their political party.

Obama's 100 day press conference was a hit as he continued to portray confidence and a calm demeanor. He summed up what had been a whirlwind of actions in both the domestic and international political arenas.

The President's Cabinet finally was complete as the Senate voted to confirm Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. On Friday, the president has his first full cabinet meeting at the White House.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter switched political parties and became a Democrat, moving Democrats closer to the magic filibuster proof 60 in the Senate.

The House passed credit cardholder's bill of rights legislation aimed at protecting consumers against unfair and high hidden fees and interest rates. The Senate is expected to pass their version next week, so expect this to become law.

The Federal Reserve delayed releasing their bank stress test results after the banks disagreed with their data and their fear the reports could adversely impact their stockholders.

At the end of the week, Justice David Souter announced he was retiring from the Supreme Court. Appointed by President George H. W. Bush, he has been an ally with the three other liberal justices on the court. This will mark the first Supreme Court nomination by President Obama, who stated he planned to announce his nominee by October of this year. The White House should expect strong lobbying from Women and Hispanic representatives.

While no U.S. ship captains were captured and held for ransom by Pirates and N. Korea did not launch another ballistic missile last week, foreign policy issues remain aplenty. Especially of concern at the present is the stability of the Pakistan government. The nuclear armed country continues to battle Islamic militants.

The Sunday Morning "Talking Heads" and their scheduled Guests are listed below. As always, remember to check your local listings for time and channel.

NBC "Meet The Press" - Host David Gregory focuses on the flu outbreak with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Centers for disease and Controls and prevention acting Director Richard Besser. Also appearing is new Democratic Senator Arlen Specter (Pa.).

ABC "This Week" - The H1N1 Flu outbreak continues to get the attention as all three; Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius and Richard Besser all also appear with George Stephanopoulos. Also appearing are Senators Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.).

The roundtable discussion will include George Will, Gwen Ifill, Paul Krugman and Gerald Seib.

CBS "Face The Nation" - Sebelius, Napolitano and Besser make it three in a row as they appear with Bob Schieffer. It is evident the Obama administration is working overtime to inform the public on the status of the flu outbreak and the fact the are doing so underscores the seriousness of the flu threat to the health of Americans.

Also appearing, is Democratic Senator Arlen Specter (Pa.)

Fox News Sunday - Chris Wallace makes it the fourth program this morning to have Besser, Napolitano and Sebelius as guests on their show. Also appearing will be senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.)

CNN "State of The Union" - John King makes it a clean sweep as Napolitano, Sebelius and Besser appear on his show as well to discuss the flu outbreak.


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Friday, May 1, 2009

Democratic News 5-1-2009

George Wenschhof Bio

This morning, President Barack Obama will meet with his Cabinet at the White House - this is the first meeting since all of the Cabinet Secretaries have been confirmed by the senate. This afternoon, he will attend with Vice President Joe Biden, the swearing in ceremonies of Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services and Gary Locke for Commerce. has more here.


Souter's retirement to give Obama first nomination to Supreme Court - Justice David Souter surprised many by announcing yesterday he is retiring by the end of June. While he was appointed by former Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1990, he has voted with the other three liberals on the court. The NY Times is reporting possible replacements include Elana Kagan who was recently named Solicitor General by President Obama and federal appeals court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Dianne Pamela Wood. The NY Times has more here.


Federal Reserve and Banks disagree over stress test release - the 19 Banks who received "stress test" reports from the Federal Reserve hold two-thirds of the nation's assets and hold one-half of the loans in the U.S. One concern is how stockholders will react. the reports were due to be made public today but have now been delayed. has more here.


H1N1 Flu Update - otherwise known as the swine flu, the outbreak has now reached 11 countries according to the World Health Organization - Mexico, where the outbreak is suspected of beginning, remains the hardest hit with the flu. In the U.S. there are now 109 confirmed cases and one death. has more here.


House passes Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights - yesterday, in a 357-70 vote, the bill was passed to protect consumers from hidden fees and high interest rate jumps. has more here. The Senate is expected to vote on their version of the bill next week. This is a long overdo bill as consumers have experienced automatic raises in credit limits, only to discover later interest rates had risen to unreasonable high rates in the 18-23% range.


Anita Dunn to become White House Communications Director - she will replace Ellen Moran who will be leaving to become the chief of staff for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Dunn worked as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign and is a well known democratic strategist. has more here.


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