Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Congress dodges shutdown after disaster aid fight

In agreeing to an emergency spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, Congress achieved the bare minimum while finessing a fight over whether emergency disaster aid ought to be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Democrats who spent weeks demanding additional disaster aid claimed victory even though the final deal — $2.7 billion in disaster relief assistance in a one-week bill — provided $1 billion less than approved by tea party Republicans. The cost of that additional $1 billion in disaster assistance was too high for Democrats because it would have been offset by cuts in an energy-related program they also favor.

"We rejected the idea that we should be forced to choose between American jobs and disaster relief," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said late Monday after the Senate voted 79-12 to keep the government running until mid-November.

The brinkmanship had pushed a bitterly divided and poll-battered Congress into another fight that threatened to shut down the government, a step certain to draw the wrath of a frustrated public. At issue was how to replenish Federal Emergency Management Agency coffers and assist Americans battered by Hurricane Irene, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

Republicans wanted to offset the most urgently needed money — for the last few days of the 2011 budget year ending on Friday — with $1 billion cuts in Energy Department loan programs for automobile manufacturers credited with creating jobs. Democrats opposed the idea. Searching for a way out of the impasse, Senate Democratic leaders sought assurances from the administration that the disaster aid program wouldn't run out of money this week; once obtained, Senate leaders jettisoned the disputed money and passed two bare-bones bills to avert a shutdown.

The House, on recess this week, appears likely to endorse that plan in two steps: with a voice vote Thursday on a one-week stopgap measure and a recorded vote next week to keep the government running through Nov. 18. The recorded vote would allow conservatives to register their opposition
to the spending rates in the stopgap measure.

The White House, in a letter sent to congressional offices Tuesday, said the $2.7 billion for FEMA would be sufficient to last until at least mid-November. More than $400 million worth of longer-term rebuilding projects that had been put on hold last month can be funded, clearing the way to ease a backlog of needed repairs to roads, parks and public buildings dating to Hurricane Katrina.

The lowest-common-denominator solution came after Republicans stymied efforts by Senate Democrats for a $6.9 billion disaster aid package. House Republicans instead insisted on a $3.7 billion measure — including the $1 billion in most urgently needed money "paid for" with cuts to clean energy programs important to Democrats.

After pushing for weeks for a higher disaster aid figure, Senate Democrats instead fought their last battle to make sure the energy programs emerged uncut. But the casualty was $1 billion in disaster relief supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.

The breakthrough of sorts came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated Monday it had enough money for disaster relief efforts through Friday. That disclosure allowed both sides to save face.

There was no immediate comment from House GOP leaders, although their approval for the measure seemed a mere formality after the party's Senate leader agreed to it.

The disaster aid debate will be revisited when Congress passes a massive spending bill later this year. Under the terms of last month's budget pact, up to $11.3 billion in disaster aid could be added to the budget without having to be offset with spending cuts.

Top Republicans on the House and Senate Appropriations committees have endorsed funding disaster aid as an add-on that comes on top of the annual budget "cap" for day-to-day operations of federal agencies. But top House leaders like Speaker John Boehner of Ohio have yet to explicitly endorse the idea, which seems likely to run into opposition from tea party conservatives

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans had stood against Democratic efforts to use deficit spending to pay for the disaster aid.

While it was unclear precisely how long FEMA's remaining funds would last, one official said the agency began conserving funds last month as Hurricane Irene approached the U.S. mainland, prioritizing its aid to help individual disaster victims and pay states and local governments for immediate needs, such as removing debris and building sandbag barricades.

Funding of $450 million has been put on hold for longer-term needs such as reconstruction of damaged roads, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly. In addition, the agency has been able to reclaim unused money from past disasters, the official said.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Imagine simply exhaling into a tube instead of taking a blood test.

How the Breathalyzer Is Poised to Revolutionize Medical Diagnostics:

We all know about the Breathalyzer, a handheld device used by police officers to determine one’s blood alcohol level on the spot. But recent research has discovered some other interesting applications for the digital tool.
Breath alcohol testing devices were first developed in the 1940s, and in 1954, Dr. Robert Borkenstein of the Indiana State Police invented the patented Breathalyzer.
Since then, researchers have advanced the science behind breathalyzers to make the tool even more useful — it can indicate the presence of disease, according to Professor Perena Gouma, director of Stony Brook University’s Center for Nanomaterials and Sensor Development. Gouma and several other research teams around the world are making great strides in breath analysis and have high hopes for the application of the technology, since you can “monitor breath content for disease or metabolic malfunction.”
“I think breath analysis is the new frontier and the future of medical testing,” says Dr. Raed Dweik, professor of medicine and director of the breath analysis program at the Cleveland Clinic. Gouma concurs, citing it as a “disruptive technology” that could change the way people think about diagnostics.

Medical Testing

We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide — but there’s much more in our breath than that. Science has advanced, and Dweik says we can detect byproducts of lots of things in one breath — our own metabolism, metabolisms of diseases that we have, and gases that entered us from the outside environment. “There’s a rich matrix of compounds that can tell a lot about the state of our health and what diseases we’re suffering from,” he says.
Breathalyzers are able to measure these gases and compounds even in very low concentrations — in the parts per million or even billion. Since all of our blood circulates through our lungs and the air we exhale comes from the lungs, one single breath contains a lot of information about what’s going on in our blood and in our bodies, helping doctors diagnose and monitor certain conditions.
Dr. Gouma’s team’s nanosensors utilize resistive semiconducting technology — they make for a scientific yet economic tool (roughly $20 per breathalyzer) that allow her to test for particular chemicals. “We have over 300 different gases in our breath, and we know some of them to be markers of disease,” says Gouma. For example, acetone is a marker that indicates blood sugar levels, so you can monitor diabetes with an exhale and avoid having to draw blood, and still know whether you should take medication. The possibility of exhaling instead of having to prick oneself to take blood samples every day could lead to improved compliance for blood sugar monitoring, and lead to an overall improvement in a diabetic patient’s quality of life.
The advantage of breath analysis is two-fold: It’s non-invasive and non-intrusive. A blood test and even urine tests are somewhat intrusive, but a breath test can be conducted almost anywhere, anytime. It can also be done repeatedly without adverse effects, unlike X-rays, which can lead to damage from radiation exposure.
The key to identifying disease is to develop a sensor for a gas that is only present in the breath of those who are infected. Once researchers can detect more gases and determine that a certain gas is exclusive to a disease, breath analysis will have even more applications for other ailments.


In addition to testing for the presence and levels of certain gases, there’s also breathprint analysis — examining the big picture of the thousands of gases in the breath and seeing how one’s breathprint is different from another’s. This could be useful to compare the breath of someone with the flu and someone without it, and the same goes for kidney or liver disease and eventually, many other diseases.
Dweik’s research has shown that breathprints can be quite different between lung cancer patients. Dweik uses an “electronic nose” with 32 sensors — each sensor reacts differently to different compounds in your breath. “When you breathe over these sensors, they change in different ways and create a smellprint that is quite distinct between people who have cancer and people who do not, with 85% accuracy.” Of course, medicine isn’t perfect, and the drawback to the electronic nose is that Dweik’s team doesn’t yet know what compounds in breath give that smell signature — they could say if there is lung cancer or not, but can’t currently indicatewhy or which gas indicates cancer. Dweik admits that the smellprint shows proof of concept, but is lacking the link to the biology of the cancer. It’s a promising field, and smellprints and breathalyzer sensors will need to be used symbiotically to help doctors develop the technology even further. Breathprints should help doctors figure out what gases and compounds are indicative of what diseases, and then attune sensors to detect those compounds.
For now, the lung cancer smellprint is a big step. Lung cancer typically presents itself late — a patient might cough up blood, then have a biopsy done, but by that point, the cancer has advanced. Unlike breast cancer, which can be detected and treated early with annual mammograms, there isn’t a screening test for lung cancer, which means that this breath analysis technology could go a long way toward saving lives.

Implications for the Future

“This is going to change medical diagnosis work,” says Gouma. An inexpensive, portable handheld breathalyzer can empower individuals to take care of their health. “And that means a lot of better health and welfare, for employers, for insurance, for physicians … I think it’s going to have a great impact, and very soon.”
Dweik says the diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes, lung cancer, and kidney and liver disease are the “low-hanging fruit” in this field, and that researchers are looking to get more sensitive sensors to broaden the scope of what a Breathalyzer can detect, including asthma, heart failure and hypertension. “Now the search is on for the next molecule — we’re in the process of discovery, trying to sift through and see which of those compounds are useful and which can be used in medical tests.”
“Almost any disease could be detected 40 years down the line,” Dweik says. “This is really a whole new field that has huge potential to revolutionize the way we do medical testing and monitoring.” And it has profound potential for global health.

U.S. Economy Drops To Fifth Most Competitive

The U.S. has tumbled further down a global ranking of the world's most competitive economies, landing at fifth place because of its huge deficits and declining public faith in government, a global economic group said Wednesday.
The announcement by the World Economic Forum was the latest bad news for the Obama administration, which has been struggling to boost the sinking U.S. economy and lower an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent.
Switzerland held onto the top spot for the third consecutive year in the annual ranking by the Geneva-based forum, which is best known for its exclusive meeting of luminaries in Davos, Switzerland, each January.
Singapore moved up to second place, bumping Sweden down to third. Finland moved up to fourth place, from seventh last year. The U.S. was in fourth place last year, after falling from No. 1 in 2008.
The rankings, which the forum has issued for more than three decades, are based on economic data and a survey of 15,000 business executives.
The forum praised the U.S. for its productivity, highly sophisticated and innovative companies, excellent universities and flexible labor market. But it also cited "a number of escalating weaknesses" such as rising government debt and declining public faith in political leaders and corporate ethics.
The results of a survey of 142 nations comes a day before Obama is preparing to tackle jobs issues in a speech to the U.S. Congress, and just as U.S. polls show a clear majority of those surveyed say they disapprove of the way Obama is handling the economy.
Switzerland held onto its top ranking, the forum said, because of "continuing strong performance across the board" with innovation, technological readiness, even-handed regulation and having one of the world's most stable economic environments.
Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, was sixth, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark. Japan came in ninth, and Britain was 10th. France was 18th, and Greece, saddled with debt, fell to 90th.
The report looked at broader trends: While the U.S. slipped, emerging markets gained traction. China took 26th place, highest among major emerging economies; Brazil was 53rd; India was 56th; and Russia was 66th.
"Fiscal imbalances that have been building up around the world are really a danger to future competitiveness, in terms of the ability of countries to invest in those things that will be very important for competitiveness going forward, things like education, infrastructure and so on," said Jennifer Blanke, an economist with the forum.

Google Bids High For Hulu

Hulu’s corporate owners are currently mulling bids from three would-be buyers: Amazon, Yahoo, and the Dish Network. And then there’s Google.

 The search giant has also made an offer for the video site, but it seems to be playing a different sport than the rest of its peers: Rather than bid on what Hulu’s owners have offered for sale, Google has proposed a different acquisition, on a larger scale, say people familiar with the sales process. I don’t have details on the Google offer. And there’s some debate about whether Google has actually made a formal bid yet, or has simply indicated that it’s still willing to spend a lot of money. But by looking at what Google’s competitors are offering, you can get a sense of what’s in play.

 As the Financial Times reported this weekend, Yahoo, Amazon and Dish are all expected to offer between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for Hulu, in exchange for the free video site, its subscription service and the rights to exclusive content for at least two years. Google seems to want something much more than that, and is willing to pay much more to get it. If you want to speculate, you could imagine Google asking for access to more content, for a longer period of time, and perhaps offering up a couple billion dollars more. Since that’s not what Hulu’s owners have put on the table, “normally we would have thrown people out if they’d said that,” says an executive familiar with the sales process. But Google “indicated that there’s enough money” involved so that Hulu’s owners are at least thinking about continuing the discussion.

 One big problem with the Google proposal: Hulu was created in large part as the TV networks’ response to YouTube, and their fear that Google would swallow up the Web video ecosystem. And in large part, Google has. YouTube is by far the biggest video site in the world, and the one part where it’s struggled is in landing long-form premium content that Hulu owns. So are the networks any more willing to hand over their most valuable programming today? On the other hand, you can see how an over-the-top bid would appeal to Google CEO Larry Page, who has been making some sweeping moves since he stepped into office in April.

 Google executives made a point of saying that their $12.5 billion deal for Motorola wouldn’t stop them from making other big acquisitions. And since any big-ticket buy Google proposes is going to get heavy government scrutiny anyway, why not make it worth Google’s while? Still, Hulu’s owners don’t seem entirely convinced that they want to sell the site at all. Disney CEO Bob Iger told reporters earlier this summer that he intended to sell the site, but News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey has floated the notion Hulu’s owners will hang on to it. (News Corp. also owns this Web site). We may hear more soon: Hulu’s owners are scheduled to discuss the array of bids later this week.

Peter Kafka - All Things D

Did Beyonce Fake Her Baby Bump?! Say What

Did Beyonce fake her baby bump? According to a report byMediaTakeOut.com, the answer is yes!

According to an industry insider, the buzz behind the scenes at the 2011 MTV VMAs, where Beyonce revealed a growing baby bump and announced her pregnancy, was that Beyonce was wearing a prosthetic pregnant belly!

MediaTakeOut's source claims that while Beyonce is, in fact, pregnant, she is not in her second trimester as previous reports stated, and as the size of her stomach may have suggested. Allegedly Beyonce is only a little more than eight-weeks pregnant.

The website provides before-and-after photos of Beyonce at the VMAs, and images snapped by the paparazzi just a week before, featuring B barely showing any signs of a protruding pregnant belly.

The insider claimed, "She wanted the announcement to be dramatic, so she made sure she had a baby bump."

Get More: 2011 VMA, Music, Beyoncé
 by Contessa Gayles- AOL Music

Yahoo CEO Fired : Bye Bye, Bartz

According to sources at the company, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz is no longer CEO of Yahoo. CFO Tim Morse has been named interim CEO.
The situation around the departure is unclear, but Bartz has had a very rocky tenure in her 30 months at the company.
[UPDATE: Yahoo confirmed the departure of Bartz, but gave no further details.]

Bartz also sent a stunning email to staff, saying she had been ousted:
To all,
I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.
Several sources said the board, specifically Chairman Roy Bostock and Co-founder and director Jerry Yang, seems to have acted today, informing Bartz of the need to make a change.
What the next steps will be are unclear, but Yahoo needs desperately to explore a range of changes to bring it back to its former glory.
Sources said Morse held a call with Yahoo’s senior staff this afternoon, telling them Bartz was out and that a search for a permanent CEO is commencing.
Why Yahoo’s board did not name a new leader immediately is curious and might indicate a larger deal around Yahoo is in the offing.
As I wrote earlier today, when the company announced on January 13, 2009, that it had hiredlongtime Silicon Valley tech veteran — who was well-regarded for her tenure at running Autodesk — to replace outgoing CEO and co-founder Yang and turn around the company, there was much hope.
At the time, she presented a take-no-prisoners image and was touted as someone with a reputation as a professional manager who could clean up the place.
Not so, as it has turned out.
While Bartz has streamlined certain areas and made some strong management hires, her performance has been decidedly bumpy and mostly downhill.
The share price has settled in at about $12.50 (just about where it was when Bartz took over), Yahoo’s recent financial results have been weak, its key advertising business is struggling, its attrition rate among engineers and others is startlingly high and its product innovation cycle seems stopped up.
Add to that: Weak relationships with key Asian partners, a pricey but failed marketing effort and a proclivity for embarrassing verbal gaffes by Bartz.
Still, given that Yahoo’s Internet traffic, top media sites and brand remain huge, the going-sideways situation has again caused some investors — including powerful private equity firms and other monied investors — to pull out their spreadsheets about a variety of scenarios related to Yahoo.
The players who have sniffed around of late are powerful, sources said, including Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, former News Corp. exec Peter Chernin and Providence Equity Partners, among others. Also in the Wall Street rumor mill recently are large companies: AT&T, News Corp. and Verizon.
All the schemes are different — ranging from taking it private to making a large investment to splitting it into parts — although they all seem to require cooperation with Yahoo to get done.
And while there is no serious effort afoot as yet, there have been increasing signs of late that Yahoo’s board is ready to listen to any serious offers, said multiple sources, especially as the company has continued to drift under the leadership of Bartz.
While board chairman Bostock has publicly backed Bartz — after all, he was her biggest champion at the time of her hiring — multiple sources said he had started to become more involved at looking at the management issues at the company and its challenges.
Yang — still a key figure at Yahoo — has also become more active, said sources, and tensions between him and Bartz have increased over the last few months.
The increasing pressure on the directors of the company from its major shareholders to act has gained in recent months, said sources.
Thus, Bartz is gone and the next chapter in Yahoo’s corporate drama begins.

By Kara Swisher

Friday, September 2, 2011

Eric Schmidt On Why Google Is Buying Motorola

Chairman Eric Schmidt said his company’s planned $12.5 billion purchase of smartphone maker Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. was aimed at acquiring products, and not merely patents.
“We did it for more than just patents,” Schmidt said in a conversation with Salesforce.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff. “The Motorola team has some amazing products.” 

The deal was aimed at helping Mountain View, California- based Google expand in smartphones in a rivalry with Apple Inc. (AAPL), maker of the iPhone. The deal brings more than 17,000 patents Google can use to protect its Android operating system. 

Schmidt also praised former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who stepped down last week, and said that he’s “proud” of his stint as an Apple director.
“It’s certainly the best performance of a CEO in 50 years,” Schmidt said of Jobs. “We’ve all benefited from the tremendous innovation at Apple. And I say this as a very proud former board member at Apple.” 

Schmidt was on Apple’s board while he was CEO of Google. He exited in August 2009 as rivalry between the two companies accelerated. Google’s expansion into computer and mobile-phone software yielded direct competitors to Apple’s products, including the iPhone, which was introduced in 2007. 


Thursday, September 1, 2011

DOJ's Lawsuit Blocking AT&T-T-Mobile Merger Welcome News for People of Color

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to block the $39 billion merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. This is great news for communities of color, who disproportionately rely on wireless service to make phone calls and access the Internet.
The DoJ concluded the merger would lead to "higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products" for millions of wireless users.
Even though AT&T has vowed to fight today's decision in court, the announcement is welcome news for our community, which has been devastated by the nation's economic crisis.
"Blocking this merger is a major victory for communities of color, rural communities and America's poor," said amalia deloney, grassroots policy director for the Center for Media Justice. "The Justice Department has taken seriously our real concerns about higher prices, fewer choices and massive job loss."
The proposed merger would result in AT&T and Verizon controlling nearly 80 percent of the wireless market. It would also likely lead to higher wireless prices, making it that much more difficult to close the digital divide. The high cost of Internet access is a primary reason why so many people of color remain disconnected.
Of the four national carriers, AT&T offers the most expensive plans while T-Mobile's plans are the most affordable. So it is no surprise that nearly half of T-Mobile's customers are people of color.
And the merger would result in major job losses for communities of color. AT&T is expected to cut up to 20,000 T-Mobile workers, and people of color make up 48 percent of T-Mobile's workforce.
The Justice Department's decision comes as a relief for many who believed it would rubberstamp the merger -- bowing to one of the most powerful corporations in the country and its army of high-priced lobbyists -- rather than protect consumers by enforcing antitrust laws.
"As Americans struggle in today's economy, the Department took an important step to ensure that consumers have continued access to affordable mobile services and new technologies," said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. "The action will protect American consumers and American jobs, the very purpose of our antitrust laws."
We recently learned that AT&T's main argument for seeking approval of the merger -- that it could not build out its 4G network to 97 percent of the population without acquiring T-Mobile -- was a lie.
AT&T's true motives for pursuing the merger were disclosed earlier this month when the company mistakenly released unredacted confidential documents it filed with the FCC. The information revealed the company rejected a plan to build out its 4G network to 97 percent of the population at a cost of $3.8 billion. The company decided it wouldn't be profitable to do so. Instead, AT&T decided it was better business to spend $39 billion -- 10 times as much -- to take out a competitor.
In lobbying for support of the merger, AT&T misled dozens of lawmakers and civil rights groups, including the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Urban League, all of whom called on the DoJ and the FCC to approve this deal on the basis of the carrier's (false) claims.
Hopefully, lawmakers and civil rights groups will reexamine their positions and rescind their support of a merger that is clearly not only bad for our communities but bad for our country.
By Joe Torres
Follow Joe Torres on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FreePress

'Dancing With the Stars' 2011: Season 13 Cast

Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke were on hand Monday night to announce which celebs have signed up to samba on Season 13 of the ABC reality show. The live announcement, which took place during ABC's summer hit 'Bachelor Pad,' brought us several surprises.

Aside from the usual sports stars, soap stars and reality stars, 'DWTS' strayed from the formula a bit. For one, there's nary a Disney starlet in sight. Who's this season's Chelsea Kane? Could former 'Hills' troublemaker Kristin Cavallari have hidden dance talent we never saw? And in a move that could be controversial to some, Cher's son Chaz Bono, who was born a woman, will paso doble with a female 'DWTS' pro during Season 13.

Samsung Reveals HUGE Phone

At the IFA technology extravaganza in Berlin, Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Note, a phone with a whopping 5.3'' HD Super AMOLED display that Samsung says is "the largest screen size with smartphone portability." The iPhone 4's display screen is also smaller than the Note's at 3.5 inches, but then, if Samsung is correct, all smartphones' display screens are smaller than the Note's.

The Note will also come with a stylus (remember those?) called the "S Pen." Samsung boasts it will "introduce a new type of user experience" and allow Note owners to "freely capture and create ideas on the go." Though a stylus may not necessarily be a "new type of user experience," the fact that Samsung has included apps specially designed with the pen in mind is nice: The S Pen "has been deeply integrated into the GALAXY Note’s native applications," including the ability to send doodles and hand-drawn notes via text and email. (Samsung has made a neat infographic highlighting the utility of the S Pen which you can view here.)

Besides the old-school built-in stylus, the Note has a 1.4 gHz dual-core processor, the toned-down Android Gingerbread 2.3 operating system and both a rear camera (8 megapixels) and front-facing camera (2 megapixels). Compare all of this with the iPhone 4's specs: A 1.0 gHz single coreprocessor, iOS 4 (for now) and a rear and front facing camera boasting 5 megapixel and less-than-a-megapixel VGA hardware, respectively.

Samsung has also announced a new, small tablet called the Galaxy Tab 7.7. Samsung is billing it as the world's first tablet to feature the Super AMOLED Plus display, but the real difference-maker here is the size: A bit bigger than the hold-with-one-hand Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0, the Tab 7.7 weighs 12 ounces and is 7.7 inches by 5.2 inches by 7.9 mm. It will apparently fill that void for tablet shoppers who found the screen size of the Tab 7.0 too tiny and the Tab 10.1 too large. There's no comparison with the iPad here: The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is a different, smaller class of tablet, one intended to fit in (your perhaps very large) pocket.