Republicans Face Mutiny in the Ranks
It’s been a tough week for Republicans, and it may get tougher. Hard on the heels of a Patriot Act vote that left House Republican leaders red-faced, budget cut hard-liners are digging in their heels over Republican proposals they say don’t go far enough. House Republicans will unveil their plan to finance the government through Sept. 30 on Thursday, reports the New York Times. They hope to slash $40 billion from the budget by eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and AmeriCorps (among 58 other programs) and by making deep cuts in funding for the EPA, energy conservation programs, and high-speed rail investments. But at a closed-door meeting Wednesday night, some Republicans argued that the party needed to deliver on its promise to decrease the budget by $100 billion. “We said we would do it, and so we should,” said Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. Not all Republicans were thrilled with the idea. Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, said deeper cuts would mean laying off police officers, air traffic controllers and have severe impacts on education and the Food and Drug Administration. House Speaker John Boehner’s attempts to placate his recalcitrant pack of Republicans may make it even more tricky to compromise with Democrats, who have vowed to oppose the Republican plan.
Source: The New York Times
Fetal Spine Surgery Helps Children Walk
Fetal surgery has long been seen as a risky procedure of last resort. Now, doctors say the benefits of operating on children with spina bifida before birth can outweigh the risks, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. “This is a huge game-changer for fetal surgery,” said the lead author of the study published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. “This study shows it can be done pretty safely, and it will open the door for other patients and other diseases. It really does validate the original hypothesis, 30 years ago, that you could improve the outcomes for these children if you operated on them before birth.” The study found that children who underwent the surgery while in the womb were twice as likely to be able to toddle around by themselves and avoided the worst neurological effects of the birth defect. Researchers hypothesize that an earlier surgery heads off the majority of the damage from the disorder, which occurs near the end of a pregnancy.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Is Twitter Worth $10 Billion?
Buyers hungry to cash in on the latest tech craze are valuing Twitter at $8-10 billion, reports the Wall Street Journal. Facebook, Google and others have approached Twitter to discuss buying the 140-character messaging service, say sources, although so far nothing has come of the talks. Still, the multi-billion dollar valuations coming out of the discussions are impressive, given that Twitter’s 2010 revenue was $45 million. “Are these prices justifiable based on financial multiples? No,” said an analyst from Bessemer Venture Partners. Still, Twitter and social services like it collect lots of information about their users, and “the market is valuing that mightily right now.” In December, Twitter value hovered at $3.7 billion, but now that Facebook has skyrocketed to a valuation of $50 billion, Twitter execs are biding their time in the hopes of recruiting even more Tweeters and increasing ad sales. They figure $10 billion isn’t cool. $100 billion is.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
L.A. Seeks to Force Condoms on Porn Industry
Boogie nights are about to get rubbery. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council moved to force porn actors to use condoms, reports the New York Times. City legislators voted to draft the trailblazing ordinance after a health clinic that served the multibillion-dollar industry closed in December. “We can’t keep our heads in the sand any longer,” said a city councilman. “These people should be using condoms. Period.” Until now, the San Fernando Valley’s thriving smut factory has been allowed to operate without government safety standards. The nonprofit clinic that tested performers for HIV helped stave off regulation, and porn impresarios said the self-regulation system was working. But the L.A. Department of Public Health reports that sexually transmitted disease runs rampant in the adult entertainment community. AIDS activists say it’s time for the government to regulate the industry. “Testing just acts as a fig leaf for producers, who suggest that it is a reasonable substitute for condoms, which it is not,” said the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Still, the city worries it doesn’t have the money to enforce condom use, and producers, who say only unprotected sex sells, are dead set against it. “I tried many years ago to get everybody to go to condoms,” said a talent agent for sex-film performers. “Quite a few companies did, but sales fell severely. The switch would be very difficult.”
Source: The New York Times
Activision Unplugs Guitar Hero
In 2005, Guitar Hero burst onto the scene to become one of the most popular music-based video games of all time. Five years later, the game has met its Yoko Ono. After two years of plummeting sales, Activision Blizzard announced Wednesday that it would disband the Guitar Hero franchise and fire 500 employees, reports Reuters. No one is entirely sure why the game faded after rising to such staggering heights of popularity. “Maybe it was a passing fad like slap bracelets, pogs and Hypercolor T-shirts,” writes the San Jose Mercury News. Perhaps people had just grown tired of rhythmically mashing buttons while blazing down note highway. Whatever the case, Activision could no longer sustain the expense of licensing songs and churning out plastic instruments. Instead, the company will turn its focus to first person shooter blockbuster Call of Duty: Black Ops while continuing to lean on ever-dependable cash cow World of Warcraft. Aerosmith may come and go, but Azeroth is forever.
Afghan War Doubles In Intensity Under Petraeus
Gen. David Petraeus is not messing around. In the seven months since Petraeus took command of the war in Afghanistan, the number of air attacks on Taliban positions has doubled, American special forces have stepped up their operations, and the occasional booby-trapped village has been completely leveled. According to Wired, NATO planes have flown 3,620 “weapons sorties” during the last six months. Under Petraeus’ predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, “there were just 1,813 during a similar stretch.” Petraeus “swears” his tactics are “brutalizing Taliban networks, while barely scraping the civilians around them.” But Wired points out that “2,421 Afghan civilians and 711 coalition troops were killed in 2010, both record numbers.” And both NATO forces and the Taliban are expected to step up attacks in Afghanistan in 2011.
Iowa Republicans: Obama Is a Muslim
After President Obama’s pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly Sunday, about half the members of an Iowa Republican focus group apparently shocked their host by asserting that they believe the president is a Koran-carrying member of the Muslim faith. Never mind that the biggest headache of Obama’s presidential campagin was his (Christian) pastor, and his staff won’t let him be photographed with anything resembling a turban on his head. Several focus group participants were convinced Obama was a Muslim, and his faith was informing his policies on the Egyptian uprising. National Review editor Rich Lowry was surprised (“Wow”), while Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum was surprised Lowry was surprised (“Has Lowry watched Fox?”). But the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf gets it: “Lowry, who hangs out with a bunch of other media types “is esconced in a subculture of conservatives who don’t take that stuff seriously,” but the average Fox viewer has no idea that media-savvy conservatives think Glenn Beck is a joke. And Friedersdorf believes Lowry and others are doing a disservice to their credulous readers by not calling out the right’s most outrageous voices. Conservative are “suffering,” he says “because too many voices who know better are complicit in the fiction that populist right-wing entertainers are trustworthy.”
Source: The Atlantic
WikiLeaks: Saudi Arabia is Overstating Oil Production
Unrest in the Middle East has caused oil prices to jump above $100 a barrel in recent weeks, but a new WikiLeaks report could have even more damning implications for the cost of oil. According to newly released documents, U.S. officials believe that Saudi Arabia is overstating its oil reserves by more 300 billion barrels, or roughly 40 percent. The Guardian reports that in late 2007, a former official at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco met with U.S. representatives in Riyadh “and told the US diplomat that Aramco’s 12.5m barrel-a-day capacity needed to keep a lid on prices could not be reached.” Sadad al-Husseini said that while the demand could be met in ten years, oil prices would certainly spike before then. U.S. officials have never publicly acknowledged oil production concerns before, the Guardian writes, but with much of the world still dependent on oil, a shortage could send costs skyrocketing and potentially trigger wider economic problems. “Our mission now questions how much the Saudis can now substantively influence the crude markets over the long term,” a U.S. cable read. “Clearly they can drive prices up, but we question whether they any longer have the power to drive prices down for a prolonged period.”
Source: The Guardian
Superpower Poll: Most People Want to Read Minds
If Americans could have any superpower they wanted, a highly scientific new Marist poll finds that most would want to read minds. Or time travel. Twenty-eight percent of people polled elected those as their top choices, while 16 percent said they’d want to fly, and 11 percent wished they could teleport. Finally, ten percent said they’d choose the power of invisibility while a remaining 8 percent—likely those most in need of superhero rescuing—were unable to make up their minds.
Source: Poughkeepsie Journal