What’s Up: November 23, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

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· EGYPT BROTHERHOOD LEADER BLASTS PEACE WITH ISRAEL – CAIRO (AP) — The top leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced peace efforts with Israel and urged holy war to liberate Palestinian territories on Thursday – one day after the country’s president, who hails from the movement, mediated a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians to end eight days of fierce fighting.

“The enemy knows nothing but the language of force,” said Mohammed Badei. “Be aware of the game of grand deception with which they depict peace accords,” he said in a statement carried on the group’s website and emailed to reporters.

His statement was a sharp deviation from the role played by President Mohammed Morsi in the last week. Egypt’s role in brokering the deal has been hailed by U.S. officials.

The Brotherhood sometimes delivers conflicting messages, depending on its audience. There are also ideological and generational divisions within the movement, with older leaders like Badie often seen as more conservative.

The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t recognize Israel and – at least officially – its members refuse to hold direct talks with Israeli officials. But Morsi has said that he will abide by the terms of Egypt’s 1979 treaty with Israel, and many members say they are in little hurry to enter into armed conflict with the Jewish state.

Badei declared that “jihad is obligatory” for Muslims. But he also said that taking up arms would be the “last stage,” only after Muslims achieved unity. “The use of force and arms while the group is fragmented and disconnected, unorganized, weak in conviction, with faint faith – this will be destined for death.”

In the meantime, he called on Muslims to “back your brothers in Palestine. Supply them with what they need, seek victory for them in all international arenas.” Badei’s title — General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood — also implies a leadership role in the Islamist group’s sister movements across the world.

Under the deal, Gaza’s ruling Hamas is to stop rocket fire into Israel while Israel is to cease attacks and allow the opening of the strip’s long-blockaded borders.

The Hamas-Israel fighting was the first major international test for Morsi, who was caught between either supporting Hamas, one of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s sister movements, and Cairo’s regional and international commitments. Story Continued:

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· Complaints About Turkey Attacks On The Rise In Brookline – Neighbors are on the offensive in Brookline after what some residents are describing as aggressive turkeys.

“They were attacking the vehicle,” Karen Halvorson said outside her home in the Aspinwall Hill neighborhood.

After getting in her truck, a neighbor came and ran the birds off but it didn’t stop there.

“Then, the turkeys came and started attacking my front door,” she said.

A second run-in came a few weeks ago as she walked nearby.

“I looked back and three of them charged me,” she explained.

She moved to the center of the street to avoid the animals, but it wasn’t enough.

“The turkey flew in my face and scratched my neck,” she said.

Halvorson refuses to give up her walks so she has taken precautions.

“I went down to the hiking store and I got a hiking stick with a big ball on top of it. I walk with it all the time and now I never go without my phone,” she said.

At different spots near the Halvorson house, Karen’s husband cut piles of sticks. Those, too, are for protection.

“At least we can throw a stick at them and run into the house,” said Halvorson.

Complaints to Brookline Police about wild turkeys have doubled in the past two months.

“Some people going to work and they’ve been chased by turkeys,” said Brookline Animal Control Officer Pierre Verrier.

He spends nearly every morning trying to keep the animals away from students at Brookline High School.

“Sometimes I even take a tennis racket to try and shoo them out,” he said.

Verrier says there are basic things you can do to protect yourself. If you see a turkey, move to the other side of the street. Make noise or spray the turkey with water.

Whatever you do, don’t feed them or try to take a picture.

“There was a gentleman who took a picture with a flash and they flew right into his face.”

There are two turkey hunting seasons a year in Massachusetts. But in metropolitan areas, with firearm restrictions, that doesn’t help.

A frustrated Karen Halvorson is now working with Brookline town leaders to organize a meeting about the problem. Neighbors need guidance and an opportunity to vent, she said.

“I can’t believe we’re living this way,” she said. Town Selectman Nancy Daly is helping coordinate the gathering which she said will likely be held December 6. She wants anyone who has had a run-in with a turkey to attend and tell their story. Story Continued:

· EGYPT’S MORSI GRANTS HIMSELF FAR-REACHING POWERS – Egypt’s president on Thursday issued constitutional amendments granting himself far-reaching powers and ordering the retrial of leaders of Hosni Mubarak’s regime for the killing of protesters in last year’s uprising.

Mohammed Morsi decreed immunity for the panel drafting a new constitution from any possible court decisions to dissolve it. He granted the same protection to the upper chamber of parliament, which is largely toothless. Both bodies are dominated by Morsi’s Islamist allies.

Several courts are currently looking into cases demanding the dissolution of both bodies. Parliament’s lower chamber, also dominated by Islamists, was dissolved in June by a court decision on the grounds that the rules governing its election were illegal.

The Egyptian leader also decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted are not subject to appeal in court or by any other authority, a move that places Morsi above oversight of any kind. He already has legislative powers after the powerful lower chamber was dissolved days before he took office June 30.

The decree for retrials appeared aimed at launching a new prosecution of Mubarak. It says those who held “political or executive” positions in the former regime would be affected. Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.

Morsi’s decrees came as thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Cairo for the fourth day running to protest against Morsi’s policies and criticize the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group from which the Egyptian leader hails. They come one day after he won lavish praise from U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whose parent group is the Brotherhood.

Morsi also on Thursday fired the country’s top prosecutor by decreeing with immediate effect that he could only stay in office for four years. Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud has been in the job for close to a decade. Morsi fired Mahmoud for the first time in October, but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so.

Mahmoud, a Mubarak-era appointee, has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against dozens of police officers who were tried and acquitted on charges of killing protesters during the uprising.

Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali. Story Continued:

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· Sandy-Ravaged New Jersey Families Face $6,933 Tax Hike in Fiscal Cliff Stalemate – Families in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged New Jersey will face the highest tax increase as a percentage of their income – 6.82% or about $6,933 more in taxes — if Congress does not reach an agreement on the fiscal cliff tax issues during the lame-duck session, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation.

In its study of how the fiscal cliff would affect typical families in each state, the Tax Foundation reports that if the numerous tax provisions that are due to expire on Dec. 31 are not changed, a four-person family in New Jersey with a median income of $101,682 will see its taxes go up at a rate 6.82 percent of its income, which translates into about $6,933.

The tax issues in question are the expiration of the Bush tax rates, which also include the elimination of the 10 percent tax bracket and the reduced deduction for married filers; ending the 2 percent cut to employee-side Social Security taxes; and the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Maryland was ranked second by the Tax Foundation because a four-person family there, with a median income of $106,707, would see its taxes go up 6.74 percent as a percentage of income, or about $7,194.

Connecticut, ranked third, would see taxes for a family of four go up by 6.62 percent, or $6,653.

All five states with the top tax increases are “blue states,” which President Obama won in the 2012 presidential election. But so are four out of the bottom five states with the exception of Kansas.

Top Five Tax Increases Tax Increases as % of Income

#1 – New Jersey $6,933 6.82%

#2 – Maryland $7,194 6.74%

#3 – Connecticut $6,653 6.62%

#4 – Massachusetts $6,632 6.53%

#5 – New Hampshire $5,660 5.81%

Forty states would see tax increases between $3,000 and $3,999. Six states would see an increase between $4,000 and $4,999 and three would see increases between $6,000 and $6,999.

New Hampshire would be the only state to see a tax increase between $5,000 and $5,999 and Maryland would be the only state to see a tax increase over $7,000.

Bottom Five Tax Increases Tax Increases as % of Income

#50 – Washington $3,362 4.12%

#49 – Hawaii $3,453 4.16%

#48 – Colorado $3,646 4.29%

#47 – Kansas $3,227 4.31%

#46 – Illinois $3,417 4.32%

The potential for tax increases on millions of U.S. taxpayers is still possible, the Tax Foundation explains, and would be especially devastating for lower-income families because of the changes to the child tax credit; the elimination of the 10 percent bracket, which would go back to 15 percent; and the reduced standard deduction for married filers — all of which are provisions in the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. Story Continued:

· Obama’s Southeast Asia Trip All Style, No Substance – Diplomacy: So amid all the colorful and flirty photos from President Obama’s first tour of Southeast Asia, what did he actually accomplish? As usual, he served himself politically in what was largely a Potemkin mission abroad.

It was obvious enough from the rube-like gaffes that the president hasn’t been particularly interested or attentive to the affairs of Thailand, Burma or Cambodia as he made his first trip since his re-election. It was pretty much all style over substance.

In his tour of Burma, billed as an historic first visit since Burma’s 2007 move to democracy, it was clear he was in way over his head, even on small things. Obama repeatedly referred to the country’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader Aung San Suu Kyi as Aung Yan Suu Kyi, an astonishing error given her global fame.

He also bungled the norms of Burmese polite address, calling Thein Sein, the nation’s leader “President Sein,” an error comparable to addressing Cambodia’s Pol Pot as Mr. Pot.

But he also undermined his supposed democracy mission, first by telling the Burmese leaders that he too wished he could govern without opposition, calling into question whether he himself believed in the representative government he was advocating.

It didn’t help that he ignored the real heroes who helped push Burma toward a more open system — President and Mrs. Bush, as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Sens. John McCain and Mitch McConnell, seeming to take credit for it himself.

That emptiness of purpose left showy photo-ops in all three countries, with the president flirting around with Thailand’s photogenic Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and visiting the Buddha statues, effectively trivializing Thailand as a tourist trap instead of a major trading partner and the U.S.’s oldest ally in Asia.

Neither trade nor military matters were addressed substantively. Obama’s lecture to Thailand about its democracy needing “improvement” was a fairly strong signal that he had no intention of restoring free-trade talks with the Thais, who lost their access to that a few years ago after a military coup that has since restored democracy.

The other cornerstone of the U.S.-Thai relationship — the military — wasn’t advanced either, given Obama’s efforts to cut the U.S. Navy to 1918 levels even as he talks of a “strategic pivot” to Asia.

No substance, no influence. Nothing underlined this quite like the lack of crowds greeting Obama in all three nations. When a leader’s visit is cause for hope and a catalyst for change — think Pope John Paul II’s 1978 Poland visit — crowds turn out. Obama, supposedly representing the greatest nation on earth, couldn’t draw so much as an Occupy-sized crowd. Nor did he draw respect.

On his trip to Cambodia, a country he claimed didn’t deserve a visit due to its strongman government, first lady Bun Rany greeted Obama with a traditional “sampeah” pressed-hands greeting reserved for servants, a little dig that was probably lost on him but not to Asians.

So what is really Obama’s tour about? Apparently a get-out-of-town photo-op all about himself as a means of avoiding pressing problems back home. The Asians deserve better — and so do the Americans. Story Continued:

– This article baffles me.  Why does someone think that our current president has substance.  Obama has always been about his public image and how the mainstream media treats him.  PdC

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· NSA Refuses To Release Secret Obama Directive On Cybersecurity – Order may allow military takeover of internet.

The National Security Agency has refused to release details of a secret presidential directive which experts believe could allow the military and intelligence agencies to operate on the networks of private companies, such as Google and Facebook.

As we reported last week, an article in the Washington Post, cited several US officials saying that Obama signed off on the secret cybersecurity order, believed to widely expand NSA’s spying authorities, in mid-October.

“The new directive is the most extensive White House effort to date to wrestle with what constitutes an “offensive” and a “defensive” action in the rapidly evolving world of cyberwar and cyberterrorism.” the report states.

In response to the move, lawyers with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (PDF) demanding that the Obama administration make public the text of the directive.

The NSA responded to the FOIA request this week with a statement arguing that it does not have to release the document because it is a confidential presidential communication and it is classified.

“Disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” the NSA response reads.

“Because the document is currently and properly classified, it is exempt from disclosure,” the statement notes.

Attorneys for EPIC say they plan to appeal and force the text of the secret directive to be publicly disclosed.

“We believe that the public hasn’t been able to involve themselves in the cybersecurity debate, and the reason they can’t involve themselves is because they don’t have the right amount of information,” EPIC attorney Amie Stepanovich said.

In an official statement to Congress earlier this year, EPIC explained that the NSA was a “black hole for public information about cybersecurity.”

EPIC is also involved in ongoing lawsuits involving the secret nature of the NSA’s relationship with search engine giant Google, and a similar secretive presidential directive issued in 2008 regarding the NSA’s cybersecurity authority.

As we have also noted, the latest secret directive appears to also legally enable the US military and the NSA to use newly created computer viruses to attack any organisation or country deemed to be a cyber-threat. Obama has already shown the willingness to carry out such attacks, as new details surrounding the 2010 stuxnet attack revealed earlier this year. Story Continued:

– It is obvious that this writer thinks that he has access to American Top Classified documents.  The silly boy lives in denial or thinks that he is more important than he really is.  PdC

· Two fired after pic near Tomb of the Unknowns sparks outrage – The woman photographed clowning around near the Tomb of the Unknowns, and her co-worker who took the picture, have been fired, their employer announced Tuesday evening.

Outrage ensued after Lindsey Stone’s co-worker snapped a picture of Stone raising her middle finger and apparently shouting near an Arlington National Cemetery sign that asked for “Silence and Respect.”

The two took the photo during a paid trip from LIFE, a non-profit organization that provides housing for people with disabilities in the Cape Cod area.

“We wish to announce that the two employees recently involved in the Arlington Cemetery incident are no longer employees of LIFE,” a statement posted to LIFE’s Facebook page said. “Again, we deeply regret any disrespect to members of the military and their families. The incident and publicity has been very upsetting to the learning disabled population we serve.”

Stone’s picture received attention after she posted it on Facebook, reports NBC News Washington’ Erika Gonzalez. More than 12,000 people supported a “Fire Lindsey Stone” Facebook page before it was removed from the social network.

Earlier: Arlington Cemetery pic sparks outrage, calls for woman’s firing

Stone posted an apology to her Facebook page before she lost her job.

“OBVIOUSLY we meant NO disrespect to people that serve or have served our country,” she wrote, according to Gawker. “This is just us, being the d—- that we are, challenging authority in general.”

The Old Guard, the U.S. Army Infantry regiment that guards the Tomb of the Unknowns told NBC Washington’s Gonzales that Stone is entitled to her freedom of speech. It had no further comment about the picture. Story Continued:

· White House To Boehner: Obamacare Not Part Of Fiscal Cliff Deal

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The White House and congressional Democrats are balking at the idea, floated by House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday that changes to the president’s signature health care law should be on the table during lame-duck talks over taxes and the deficit.

An administration official told The Huffington Post that the president would oppose involving the Affordable Care Act in the negotiations taking place to stave off the so-called “fiscal cliff.” A top Senate Democratic aide called the idea “absolutely” a non-starter.

“And they know that, so it’s counterproductive to even offer it,” the aide added.

Another Senate Democratic aide did concede that some changes to the Affordable Care Act could be made as part of a grand-bargain deal that would replace the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and the $1 trillion in spending cuts included in the sequester. But those changes would not alter the purpose and reach of the law “in any meaningful way.”

The comments came in response to an op-ed, written by Boehner for the Cincinnati Enquirer, in which he declared that the Affordable Care Act “has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge.”

The speaker has made this point before, holding 33 votes during the past two years to wipe the law from the books. His appetite for this specific fight seemed to wane a bit after the 2012 elections, when he told ABC News that Obamacare was now the law of the land. But he quickly walked back that remark, and his op-ed ends the talk, for the time being, that House Republicans have given up on the idea of full repeal.

Still, it’s difficult to see Boehner and company making much progress on this front. For starters, he held more leverage in prior showdowns with the White House than he does now. And while he was able to secure minor changes to the law before it was passed, he swung and missed on the bigger items, like the individual mandate.

Boehner’s office declined to provide specific information about his plans beyond what he wrote in the Enquirer, but he could make another play at that provision during the lame-duck talks. He could end up targeting another subject of Republican griping: the independent advisory board assembled to keep Medicare costs low. But it seems more likely that he will aim for lower-hanging fruit, such as Medicaid spending or insurance tax credits.

The speaker may find those elements of the law easier to change, but the politics won’t be simple. As the first Senate Democratic aide emailed: “Pushing this will just show that Republicans are ignoring the writing on the wall and are profoundly un-serious about getting a deal to avert the cliff.” Story Continued:

· John Boehner Says Obamacare Is The Law Of The Land, But Still Favors Repealing Legislation

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In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the president’s Affordable Care Act was now the “law of the land.”

The comments were immediately trumpeted as a turning point in the year-long debate surrounding the president’s signature law, which has long been the target of repeal among House Republicans. But in a clarifying statement to The Huffington Post shortly after the first excerpts of the interview aired, Boehner’s office made it clear that he still favored changing the legislation, if not eliminating it entirely.

“While Obamacare is the law of the land, it is costing us jobs and threatening our health care,” said Boehner’s spokesman Kevin Smith. “Speaker Boehner and House Republicans remain committed to repealing the law, and he said in the interview it would be on the table.”

The full transcript of the ABC interview, as provided by Smith, makes it clear that Boehner never really embraced the Affordable Care Act as a fait accompli following the 2012 elections.

DIANE SAWYER: A couple of other questions about the agenda now. You have said next year that you would repeal the health care vote. That’s still your mission?

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think the election changes that. It’s pretty clear that the president was reelected, Obamacare — is the law of the land. I think there are parts — of — the healthcare law that — are going to be very difficult to implement. And very expensive. And as — the time when we’re trying to find a way to create a path — toward a balanced budget — everything has to be on the table.

DIANE SAWYER: But you won’t be spending the time next year trying to repeal Obamacare?

JOHN BOEHNER: There certainly may be parts of it that we believe — need to be changed. We may do that. No decisions at this point.

The first ABC News excerpt only had Boehner saying that there were some parts of the Affordable Care Act that could be targeted in the context of debt-reduction negotiations.

Still, the rhetoric seems softened a bit. House Republicans, after all, have attempted to take down Obama’s health care law 33 times. Their last vote to repeal Obamacare came just two weeks after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling to uphold the law in June and, according to a report, put the GOP repeal efforts at a total cost of $50 million.

Eddie Vale, a spokesperson for the pro-health care reform group Protect Your Care, called Boehner’s initially-reported remarks “welcome news” but stressed that Republicans should stop trying to repeal any of the law’s elements.

“It’s welcome news that Boehner has finally gotten the message and will stop having the House waste time trying to repeal Obamacare,” Vale told The Huffington Post. “But, if they want to fully accept reality, they also need to stop trying to repeal or defund any of its elements, including in the fiscal cliff negotiations.”

On his Twitter account on Friday, Boehner reiterated that he does not support the legislation. “Our goal remains full repeal,” he wrote. Story Continued:

· Denialists, Whiners, and Wackjobs – Nov 18, 2012 10:00 PM EST. There’s more than one way to be a Republican.

I used to think Republicans were a monochromatic monolith specializing in Group Think, though without the Think part. The Republicans’ reaction to the reelection of Barack Obama, however, has shown a surprising diversity in GOP thought. At least five distinct -approaches have emerged.

The Vince Lombardi Republicans. Political parties exist to win, this group says. If you don’t win, you can’t enact your agenda, can’t protect your values, can’t advance your cause. The Lombardi Republicans are pragmatic. They saw President Obama win 72 percent of the Latino vote—the fastest-growing segment of the -electorate—and they had a “Ven a Jesús” moment. Right-wing radio and TV personality Sean Hannity, who used to assail even the modest DREAM Act as “amnesty,” now supports a more comprehensive—and dare I say, -liberal—immigration policy. Since the election, Speaker John Boehner has looked with favor on passing immigration reform, and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is reportedly working with N.Y. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer to fashion an immigration compromise.

Same with taxes. Bill Kristol, the influential conservative intellectual who served in the Bush 41 White House and runs The Weekly Standard, took to the airwaves days after the Obama victory and said, “It won’t kill the country if Republicans raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.”

This pragmatic strain is in keeping with the finest traditions of Republicanism. As you can see in Steven Spielberg’s masterful Lincoln, the Great Emancipator was also a great pragmatist. And none other than Ronald Reagan, the alpha and the omega of modern conservatism, signed both a progressive immigration-reform law and numerous tax increases.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal seems to be a Vince Lombardi type. He has bluntly said the GOP must “stop being the stupid party” and went on to decry the current Republicans’ fetishistic worship of big money, telling Politico, “We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”

I happen to think the Vince Lombardi types are right. But, let’s face it, they’re outnumbered by less admirable Republicans.

The Sour Grapes Republicans. For a movement that aspires to macho stoicism, there sure are a lot of whiny wusses in the GOP these days. I hate whiners. I coach my kids in baseball and basketball, and I have two inviolable rules when they lose: don’t blame the other team and don’t complain about the officials. Sour Grapes Republicans do both. Donald Trump, the village idiot of a city of 8 million, took to Twitter to call President Obama’s reelection “a total sham and a travesty,” to propose a “revolution in this country,” and to allege (falsely) that Obama had lost the popular vote. Clearly, Trump is living proof that hair spray causes brain damage.

Conservative media critic Brent Bozell is another Sour Grapes Republican, but his focus is on the press. “The media,” he writes, “lauded Obama no matter how horrendous his record, and they savaged Obama’s Republican contenders as ridiculous pretenders.” Umm, Brett, Herman Cain. Michele Bachmann. Rick “Oops” Perry. They actually are ridiculous pretenders.

The Flat-Earthers. When you listen to Flat Earth Republicans, you’d think they actually won. Karl Rove, the legendary Republican bogeyman, led groups that spent $300 million in opposition to the president and congressional Democrats. Ninety-four percent of that money was spent supporting candidates who lost. Rove’s analysis after the election: “We did good things this year.” Really? It’s not like they spent the money trying to do something truly good, like artificially inseminating zoo pandas or inventing untraceable email so Army generals can make love as well as war. No, Rove spent hundreds of millions and lost bad. That’s an abysmal year. But you wouldn’t know it listening to Flat Earth Karl.

Paul Ryan is another denialist. The president’s victory, he said, surprised him because the Democrats -really turned out their vote in the urban areas. Really? Of course the Obama-Biden campaign ran up the score in the cities—that’s a century-old pattern for the Democrats and could not have been a surprise. What Ryan ignores is that President Obama carried plenty of rural and suburban counties—and that he even won Rock County, Wis., whose biggest town, Janesville, is the home of one Paul Ryan. Won it big, too: 61-39 percent. If Paul Ryan wants to see a person responsible for Mitt Romney’s defeat, he needn’t travel to America’s urban areas; he just needs to look at the cocky, callous Ayn Rand disciple posing in those embarrassing workout photos. Story Continued:

· Elmo Around Until 2014He’s not going anywhere just yet. Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash may have resigned earlier this week after a sex scandal, but his voice is sticking around, because he has already taped Sesame Street episodes to air through 2014. But the controversy continues. Clash’s latest accuser, who is suing Clash for $5 million, claimed the puppeteer tried to keep his day job a secret. “It was essential to him that I not find out who he actually was,” he said. Meanwhile, Elmo is still appearing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, though a different puppeteer will be on duty. Story Continued:

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