Sunday News – All Hallow’s Eve Edition

Boo!!

Happy Halloween Conflucians!! What are you dressing as today and tonight? I hope you all have a great Halloween.

Other than bats in the belfry, let’s see what else is spooky out there. Some fun yesterday was the Steward/Colbert rally yesterday. I quite liked Jon’s sentiment at the end. He basically echoed what we’ve been saying for a long time. Namely that all this crap and mud slinging and race baiting and nastiness on both sides is causing great harm. He called progressives out as much as he called wingers out. Which was such a change where we tend to only ever see wingers called out and hardly ever progressives called out except here and a few other places. More of that please. It was also nice to see his message of hope about how real Americans are out there working together and get things done, unlike people in washington or in the MSM. I liked it. Here’s a bit of the Miami Herald’s take:

“This is not . . . to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do,” Stewart said as he turned serious in his closing remarks. “But we live now in hard times, not end times. We can have animus and not be enemies.”

He lambasted the cable TV news mentality that amplifies outrageous statements, stokes fear and seeks out confrontation, singling out the left-wing media for equating tea partyers with racists and the right-wing media for “the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims.”

“The press can hold its magnifying class up to our problems,” he said. “Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire. . . . The press is our immune system. If they overreact to everything we get sicker.”

The message struck a chord with the large throng of people; the National Park Service no longer provides official estimates of crowds, but the National Mall was densely packed with many tens of thousands of people.

“It’s the first time a message like this has resonated with me,” said Jonathan Dugan, 37, a product engineer who flew from San Francisco to stand on the mall on a sunny fall afternoon. “We need to get people to talk to each other in a meaningful way.”

So as you’d expect, politics is in much of the news. WaPo has a bit about Obama’s “closing arguments” for the election:

Obama laid out a sharp contrast between his party’s agenda and the GOP, saying that Republicans have done little but play politics as his party has made hard choices to revive the economy, change the health-care system and regulate the finanical industry.

“We don’t want to relive the past. We’ve tried what their selling and we’re not buying,” he said. “We’re not going back.”

While Obama told supporters that the election two years ago wasn’t about him, Democrats are betting that his lingering appeal among first time voters, African-Americans and Hispanics will boost turnout – in Philadelphia volunteers handed out leaflets with a picture of Obama and his wife on one side and a plug for Rep. Joe Sestak, running for the Senate, and Dan Onorato, who is running for governor, on the other side. Polls show Onorato trailing behind Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, and Sestak gaining ground on former Republican congressman Pat Toomey.

But the best part, and why I didn’t think of this before, he’s now out talking about, wait for it, party unity after the election, sort of:

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s election, it’s time to put aside partisanship, President Obama is telling Democrats and Republicans.

Yet his appeal for unity includes a jab at GOP leaders in the House and Senate for comments that the president said were troubling.

House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio “actually said that ‘this is not the time for compromise,’ ’’ Obama said yesterday in his weekly radio and Internet address. The president added that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky “said his main goal after this election is simply to win the next one.’’

The address was released shortly before Obama left Washington for a day of campaigning in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Conn., and Chicago. The three states have competitive House and Senate races, as does Ohio, where the president was slated to hold a rally today in Cleveland.

In the weekly Republican address, Boehner said Obama has failed to deliver the change he promised. The man who probably would become House speaker if Republicans win control of the chamber also promoted party pledges to cut spending and keep taxes at current levels.

Meanwhile Bill Clinton is out campaigning his ass off. He was in Youngstown yesterday:

Clinton spoke to a crowd of 1,800 to 2,000 people, most of whom stood rather than sit during his speech, at Mr. Anthony’s.

The former president urged the audience to vote and urge others to do the same for the Democratic slate, particularly Gov. Ted Strickland.

“Where’s the enthusiasm gap? Where is it?” yelled Yvette McGee Brown, the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee. “You guys do us proud. We are winning on Tuesday because of you! I just want to tell you, this has been a long year. There are people who counted us out just like people counted out the Valley.”

National polls have shown that those most likely to vote lean Republican.

But Strickland said momentum is swinging in favor of Democrats at the right time.

Republicans “won this race in August,” he said. “We’re going to win this race in November, when it really counts.”

And Bill is returning to Orlando to help Meeks again in his campaign. You know, the guy the media lied about and said Bill pushed out of the race, even though everyone disagreed before they ran those stories. The Miami Herald article includes some of that:

Clinton will join Meek and the state’s other major Democratic Party candidates at a last-minute voter rally Monday night in Orlando, the Democratic Senate candidate’s campaign said Saturday.

The announcement comes after two days of media reports over whether Clinton privately asked Meek to step aside and endorse Crist, who left the Republican party to run as an independent. Meek and Clinton have denied those reports, even those confirmed by Clinton’s spokesman.

Both Meek and Crist trail Rubio, the tea party-backed Republican. To win, Crist would need at least some of the Democrats who plan to vote for Meek.

Meek has accused Crist of starting the rumors about Clinton and says Crist directly asked him to withdraw.

“I think he’s a nice guy, but I don’t think that that plays a role and I think it’s wrong to try to paint me into the corner and say that I’m the reason why he’s not winning,” Meek told reporters at Wilton Manors city hall, where he and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were courting early voters. “I don’t blame the position of my campaign at any time on any other opponent.”

It was Meek’s only public event Saturday. He was resting up for 24 hours of nonstop campaigning across much of the state, beginning Sunday night in Tampa.

Meek said the rumors about him possibly dropping out of the three-way race have energized his supporters.

“What some meant for bad ended up being for good. People are now awakened of their responsibility to get out to vote,” he said. “Because now the ant bed has been kicked. Folks are highly disappointed.”

The other big news of the day was the apparent terrorist plot to blow up some synagogues in the Chicago area. It’s now being reported that Yemen has made some arrests:

Yemen has arrested a female student suspected of mailing the explosive parcels from the country to the US that sparked a global security alert, sources say.

The arrest took place on Saturday in the capital, Sanaa, after security forces surrounded a house where the suspect was hiding.

The woman’s lawyer said she was a “quiet student” with no known links of religious or political groups. Her mother was also detained, but was not a prime suspect, the lawyer said.

A Yemeni security official said the woman, a medical student in her 20s, had been traced through a telephone number she left with a cargo company.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, confirmed her arrest, saying: “Yemen is determined to fight terror but will not allow anyone to intervene in its affairs.”

Security officials have been on high alert since the UK and the United Arab Emirates intercepted two packages containing explosive material that were being shipped by air from Yemen to synagogues in Chicago.

Who’s to know if that person really had anything to do with anything. They need an arrest and need it now. I’m not sure the truth really matters. But we’ll watch the events unfold. BBC has a list of Sunday papers with stories on this issue.

In other news of the world, Brazil is having elections, and with all the economic problems, the main race is about which candidate is the crazier religious wacko:

The pocketbook is battling the pulpit in Brazil’s presidential elections Sunday, as government candidate Dilma Rousseff faces opposition leader Jose Serra in a runoff election to lead this burgeoning economic power of 190 million people.

Issues that most Brazilians thought didn’t belong in national politics — in particular, abortion — have taken center stage, and both candidates are catering to the concerns of evangelical and Roman Catholic voters.

By abandoning her previous public stance on liberalizing the country’s anti-abortion laws, and attending church before the television cameras, Rousseff, a former atheist, appears to have outmaneuvered Serra. A national poll Thursday night gave her a 13-point advantage over the former governor of Sao Paulo state.

That’s some crazy shit. And I thought my congressional race was bad.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news. Chime in with what you’re doing for Halloween and what else you’re finding in the news.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

We start off the morning with a real stunner. Virginia Thomas called up Anita Hill and left a message that it’d be just find and dandy if Anita would admit she’s a liar and apologize:

A spokesman for the university confirmed that Hill turned the message over Monday to the school’s Department of Public Safety.

“And they in turn informed the FBI,” said Andrew Gully, senior vice president of communications and external affairs. “They felt it was appropriate thing to do.”

At the university, Hill is a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies. Hill became a household name and the subject of a national conversation about sexual harassment after her explosive testimony at Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings in 1991. On Tuesday, Hill said she had nothing to apologize for.

“I certainly thought the call was inappropriate,” Hill said in a statement. “I have no intention of apologizing because I testified truthfully about my experience and I stand by that testimony.”

Thomas’ message was first reported by ABC News, which obtained a transcript:

“Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”

Virginia Thomas confirmed the message.

“The offer still stands,” she told ABC News in a statement.

Apparently WTF week continues. What nerve. That sadly brings back all those memories of the intense sexism and misogyny surrounding that incident and how shocking it was that most in the media and government sided with the sex offender, now justice Thomas. I bet Harry Reid likes him too. Maybe he’s one of his pets as well.

As mentioned by myiq last night, the big story being pushed of late is O’Donnell’s disbelief that the separation of church and state can be found in the First Amendment. You could interpret that to mean she was asking if that particular phrase was in there, of course it’s not, or if the discussion were more broad. O’Donnell now is of course siding with just the particular phrase. Here’s more:

During Tuesday’s debate, O’Donnell and Coons were arguing over the teaching-of-Creationism thing when Coons said that one of the “indispensable principles” of the Founding Fathers was “separation of church of state.”

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” said O’Donnell in reply, drawing gasps from a crowd composed largely of law students and professors.

A few minutes later, Coons returned to the subject, saying the First Amendment establishes the separation between church and state.

“The First Amendment does?” said O’Donnell. “You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”

After the debate, O’Donnell did not respond to reporters asking her to clarify her remarks. Her campaign manager, Matt Moran, later issued a statement saying that she was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state. “She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution,” Mr. Moran said.

We report, you decide. OK, couldn’t resist that. To me it looks like she didn’t mean that exact phrase but instead thinks the state can impose religion, hence being for teaching creationism. Here’s a bit more:

O’Donnell is not the only conservative Republican Senate candidate with “tea party” support who has raised the issue of what the First Amendment means. In Nevada, Sharron Angle has taken a point of view similar to that of her Delaware compatriot.

In an interview earlier this year, Ms. Angle said that Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father credited with originating the phrase “separation of church and state,” has been misunderstood on this matter.

“Thomas Jefferson was actually addressing a church and telling them through his address that there had been a wall of separation put up between the church and the state precisely to protect the church from being taken over by a state religion,” said Angle to Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston. “That’s what they meant by that. They didn’t mean we couldn’t bring our values to the political forum.”

It sounds like some of the justifications that make their way around the circuit for teaching creationism and for pushing religion on us through the government.

Because of the recent ruling that DADT is unconstitutional, the military is now forced to consider openly gay recruits. Of course Obama is moving fast to stop this as we all know:

The military is accepting openly gay recruits for the first time in the nation’s history.

The historic move follows a series of decisions by US District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, who ruled last month that the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ law targeting openly gay service members violates their equal protection and First Amendment rights. Yesterday, Phillips rejected the government’s effort to delay her order that halted enforcement of the 17-year policy.

Government lawyers are expected to appeal her decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.

In the meantime, the Defense Department has said it will comply with Phillips’s order and had frozen discharge cases. Cynthia Smith, Pentagon spokeswoman, said recruiters had been given top-level guidance to accept applicants who say they are gay.

At least two service members discharged for being gay began the process to reenlist after the Pentagon’s announcement yesterday.

Recruiters also have been told to inform potential recruits that the moratorium on enforcement of the policy could be reversed at any time, if the ruling is appealed or the court grants a stay, she said.

Still, supporters of gay rights hailed the military’s decision.

“Gay people have been fighting for equality in the military since the 1960s,’’ said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays and the military at the University of California Santa Barbara. “It took a lot to get to this day.’’

The White House has insisted its actions in court do not diminish President Obama’s efforts to repeal the ban. In their request for a stay, government lawyers argue Phillips’s order would be disruptive to troops serving at a time of war.

They say the military needs time to prepare new regulations and train and educate service members about the change.

Phillips has said her order does not prohibit the Pentagon from implementing those measures.

So on the one hand, it’s great that the judge ruled that way and for the most part it appears the military will comply. But it’s very sad that Obama is working to overturn the ruling. Of course it’s not at all surprising Obama would want to do this given the people he has surrounded himself with for many years, esp. religious leaders, but also senior staff and advisors who think it’s only a lifestyle choice.

It appears we have some interesting activity between the FED and the banks, and perhaps the recent stock market drop has to do with some of that:

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has joined a group of investors demanding that Bank of America buy back billions of dollars worth of mortgage securities that are plagued with shoddy documentation and lending standards, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some of the most powerful investment groups in the country as well as the New York arm of the central bank are accusing one of Bank of America’s major mortgage divisions of cutting corners when it was issuing mortgages during the housing boom and as it has been foreclosing on struggling borrowers during the bust.

If Bank of America refuses to comply, these investors could end up suing, a person familiar with the matter said.

The demand from the New York Fed and other investors sets up an unusual and high-stakes confrontation, pitting an arm of the federal government against the country’s biggest bank. It also illustrates conflicting policy priorities, because it could put the Fed at odds with a bank the Treasury Department has been helping through the financial crisis over the past two years.

With this new confrontation, the government finds itself in the awkward position of being an unhappy private investor pressing for its rights to be enforced. The New York Fed holds roughly $16 billion of mortgage securities that it acquired after it bailed out American International Group.

On Tuesday, Bank of America dismissed concerns that investors will drag the bank into court for years with costly lawsuits.

“We don’t see the issues that people [are] worried about, quite frankly,” chief executive Brian Moynihan said in a conference call Tuesday as the bank reported a $7.3 billion third-quarter loss.

Sure, nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here. Go about your business. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Business Week has some coverage of this as well:

The action follows a foreclosure freeze that drove bank stocks lower this month as shareholders reconsidered the risks of home loans sold before the housing crash. The New York Fed acquired mortgage debt through its 2008 rescues of Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc., and the Fed’s participation may raise the odds of prevailing against Bank of America, said Scott Buchta of Braver Stern Securities LLC.

“Individual investors have been trying for years to get these big banks to buy back loans at par, and haven’t had a lot of luck,” said Buchta, head of investment strategy for the New York-based securities firm. The New York Fed “in your corner, that adds weight and might give you a better chance for success.”

Buckle your seat belts, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

And speaking of a bumpy ride, the undeniable story about how much better for candidates Big Dawg is than Oprecious is still being told:

Former President Bill Clinton is more effective than President Obama at motivating both Democrats and Independents, a new Gallup Poll indicates.

Both President Obama and former President Clinton have been traveling the country campaigning to prevent a Republican landslide in November’s elections. Clinton has headlined more than 80 events for hard-pressed Democratic candidates, and some observers think he could complete 100 appearances by election day.

In a poll conducted October 14-17, Gallup asked registered voters whether having Clinton or Obama campaign for a candidate would be a plus, minus, or make no difference. From those responses, Gallup calculated a “net impact” by subtracting the percentage who said campaigning would make them less likely to vote for a candidate from the percentage who said it would make them more likely to vote for a candidate.

“Clinton does modestly better than Obama among Democrats,” writes Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport. The net positive impact of Clinton’s campaigning among Democrats is 48 percent, while for Obama it is 42 percent.

Where the former president dramatically outshines Obama is with independent voters. Among independents, “Clinton’s impact breaks about even,” Mr. Newport writes. Some 21 percent of independents are more likely to support a candidate if Mr. Clinton works for them, while 23 percent are less likely, leaving the net result at a negative 2 percent.

But independents in the poll react in a much more negative fashion to Obama. While 12 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a person Obama supports on the stump, a whopping 39 percent say they would be less likely. That produces a net impact from Obama campaign appearances of a negative 27 percent among independents. Since independent voters are often the key to winning elections, that negative impact is a major problem for Democrats.

Unfortunately for the world, the analysis then proceeded to give an opinion as to why this might be. And of course we hear the usual mythologies and Obama pampering:

Why the gap in campaign performance? Gallup’s Mr. Newport argues that it “almost certainly reflects the fact that Clinton has been out of office for 10 years, and thus has become a more benign figure to those who are independent or who identify with the Republican Party.” Obama, he argues, as sitting president is “more likely to generate strong feelings at this point in his career.”

Another likely factor in the poll results is that Bill Clinton is a gifted campaigner, whatever one thinks of his politics. Politico columnist Annie Groer aptly refers to the former president as a man “who never saw a rope line he didn’t want to work.” At an event in New Mexico, the former president said he planned to do “about one stop for everybody that helped Hillary run for president.”

Yes, we see yet again the myth that Clinton is only popular now because he’s been out of office for so long and we’ve forgotten how much we hated him when he just left office. Never mind the facts and what those numbers were. We can’t have facts getting in the way of our mythologies. Notice they also can’t help by pushing the “whatever one things of his politics” bit. Really, you guys are going there. I think most Americans quite like his politics, it’s inside DC that they don’t like it. Nothing changes. WaPo has a related story, but hold your nose, there’s some heavy spinning there as well. But even with their spin, what’s obvious in these contrasts comes through. (In the voice of Dana Carvey doing an impression of HW Bush) Clinton good, Obama bad.

Esquire has an interesting article pointing out that given that Obama is mostly an echo of MA Gov. Patrick, watching the governors race now might be a good indication of how Obama’s will be. And perhaps that’s it’s a bit of a referendum of Obama as well. I think there’s something to that. Definitely a race to watch for a number of reasons.

Let’s change gears here and look at a few things going on in the privacy world. The first item is about how the US Gov. is watching you on Facebook, and in some cases is pushing being “Friends” with some to even more closely monitor your activity:

According to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the U.S. government is busily tracking social networks in a number of ways, including using sites like Facebook to monitor people who are applying for U.S. citizenship.

According to a May 2008 memo by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of “friends” link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don’t even know. This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS [Office of Fraud Detection and National Security] to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities.”

In other words, social networking sites give the government an opportunity to reveal potential fraud by friending people who are applying for citizenship, then monitoring their activity to see if they are being deceptive about their relationships. “In essence,” says the memo, “using MySpace and other like sites is akin to doing an unannounced cyber “site-visit” on a petitioner and beneficiaries.”

The other item is about traffic and street cameras monitoring citizens. This story has a twist in that some of these cameras are being opened up to the public, so anyone can watch, and also monitor the police as well:

Back in 1996, writer and scientist David Brin wrote “The Transparent Society,” a tale of two fundamentally similar yet very different 21st-century cities. Both were littered with security cameras monitoring every inch of public space, but in one city the police did the watching, while in the other the citizens monitored the feeds to keep an eye on each other (and the police). These days, many UK police forces monitor their city streets with cameras mounted on every corner. Now, for a fee, a private company is crowdsourcing security surveillance to any citizen willing to watch, fulfilling Brin’s prophecy in a sense.

Devon-based Internet Eyes offers businesses a surveillance service in which private citizens eager to earn cash rewards can log on and view video streams remotely, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. If a viewer spots a shoplifter, a text is sent to two mobile numbers of the owner’s choosing, alerting store personnel of the matter. The viewer can earn rewards of up to 1,000 British pounds if the tip turns out to be accurate (that’s roughly $1,600). The business pays 75 pounds per month for the service.

If it sounds a bit Orwellian, it is and it isn’t. After all, it’s not the actual government accessing the feeds but regular civilians with no law enforcement power. And steps are taken to keep things secure; the feeds swap every 20 minutes and are completely anonymous, so a viewer doesn’t know the location of the camera. If a viewer does report a crime, the feed switches immediately afterward. In short, any kind of voyeuristic fun you might want to have via the service is seriously limited.

And one last update as we’re going to press. The DADT Judge refuses to stay her decision:

The federal judge who declared “don’t ask, don’t tell” unconstitutional denied the Obama administration’s request Tuesday to let military authorities resume discharging openly gay and lesbian troops while the government appeals her ruling.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of Riverside rejected Justice Department arguments that she should suspend her decision to prevent disruption to military operations during the appeal.

In fact, she said, courtroom testimony showed that halting the “don’t ask” policy would help the armed forces by retaining service members, including many with exceptional skills.

The trial showed that the law “harms military readiness and unit cohesion, and irreparably injures service members by violating their fundamental rights,” Phillips wrote.

The administration, which has appealed her ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, has said it would immediately ask that court for a stay if Phillips refused to issue one.

A stay would remain in effect at least until a hearing, which might not be before next spring.

Phillips’ order “brings us one step closer toward ending once and for all this unconstitutional policy, which President Obama and Congress seem incapable or unwilling to end themselves,” said Dan Woods, lawyer for the Log Cabin Republicans, a 19,000-member gay rights group that sued to overturn the law in 2004.

And so it goes. Chime in with what you’re reading and seeing.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Let’s dive right in, so to speak. It looks like the deep water drilling band is lifted:

The U.S. is back in the deep water oil-drilling business. The question now is when work will resume. The Obama administration, under heavy pressure from the oil industry and Gulf states and with elections nearing, lifted the moratorium that it imposed last April in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill.

The ban had been scheduled to expire Nov. 30, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday he was moving up the date because new rules imposed after the spill had reduced the risk of another catastrophic blowout. Industry leaders warily waited for details of those rules, saying the moratorium wouldn’t be truly lifted until then.

“The policy position that we are articulating today is that we are open for business,” Salazar declared.

The reality is more complicated. While the temporary ban on exploratory oil and gas drilling is lifted immediately, drilling is unlikely to resume for several weeks at least as oil and gas companies struggle to meet a host of new safety regulations. For example, the CEO of a company responsible for a well would have to certify it had complied with all regulations. That could make the person at the top liable for any future accidents.

“Operators who play by the rules and clear the higher bar can be allowed to resume,” Salazar said.

And as we heard yesterday, a judge ordered the Pentagon to put a stop to DADT:

US District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in California issued the injunction a month after she ruled that requiring gays in the military to keep their sexual orientation secret is unconstitutional.

The ruling permanently bars the Department of Defense from enforcing the law and goes a step further by compelling Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to suspend any ongoing investigations or discharge proceedings.

The injunction may be appealed within 60 days. If the Obama administration decides to appeal, it would be in the uncomfortable position of defending a law it has opposed. An appeal, however, might allow the administration and the Pentagon to implement a repeal of the policy in a more orderly manner.

Alternatively, the administration could decide to let Phillips’s ruling become law, acknowledging that the court was able to accomplish what the policy’s opponents in Congress and the administration have yet to do.

The Justice Department said yesterday that it had not yet decided how to respond. “We’re reviewing the ruling,’’ Tracy Schmaler, a department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Several legal observers, however, predicted the Obama administration would seek a stay of the judge’s order from the US Court of Appeals, a request they said would probably be approved as that court reviews the case.

So next is a simple test of the Obama administration. They could either stand by their word and campaign promise and let the ruling stand and allow it to become law, or they can go back on their word and do the stay or worse, appeal, so that they can proceed in a “more orderly manner”. You know, most every time we’ve pushed for more equality in our rights, we’ve been told to slow down and do things in a more orderly manner. We will soon see in the most clear way possible what Obama is made of. What kind of character the man has. I will give him praise and be happy if he does the right thing here. We’ll see.

As of this writing, the miners in Chile are being pulled out. Sometime later in the morning they will hopefully be all out. Here’s a write up as it started to happen:

The first of 33 gold and copper miners entombed half a mile below ground for more than two months were hauled into the frigid Chilean desert air early Wednesday morning, emerging from a cramped, life-saving haven and into the embrace of family members once forced to confront the likelihood of their deaths.

Foreman Florencio Avalos, 31, was the first of the miners to ride up the shaft that rescuers hope will serve as the lifeline for all. Wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes from aboveground lights, Avalos squeezed into a specially fitted, bullet-shaped capsule only a shade smaller than the 28-inch diameter of the tunnel and was winched to the surface over 14 agonizing minutes.

As myiq posted last night, the last debate between Brown and Whitman leaves some looking for third party candidates:

One of the most aggressive segments of the hour-long debate began with Brown responding to moderator and former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw’s question about a Brown campaign staffer caught on voice mail calling Whitman a “whore.”

Brown apologized to Whitman for the first time and called the remark “unfortunate,” but also chafed at Brokaw’s suggestion that to women the word is as offensive as the “n-word” is to African Americans.

“Women know exactly what’s going on here,” retorted Whitman, calling the word a “slur.”

That’s right Jerry, as we all know, bigotry towards women doesn’t count as much as bigotry towards most any other group. I mean come on, it’s only women. What a let down. But wait, there’s more:

On the Brown staffer’s use of the word “whore,” Whitman went on the offensive, saying that “slurs and personal attacks are … not what California is about.”

Brown retorted that “we’ve heard no outrage from you” regarding her campaign chairman former Gov. Pete Wilson’s use of the term “whores” to describe public employees unions.

Whitman’s comeback: “You know better than that Jerry, that’s a completely different thing.”

That’s pretty lame from Jerry. Just own up to it and apologize without that crap. What’s sad is Jerry is ahead by a bit, and if he just did something reasonable here, he’d move ahead. But he’s scared and feels the need to go this path. And what’s particularly tough with the path Jerry is on, is he’s opening unhealed wounds of misogyny within the Democratic party. From a state that chose to rise above misogyny in 2008.

But not to worry, he’s bringing out Obama to take care of that. Sigh.

Speaking of complete idiots out of touch, Paladino finally got word that he may have stepped in it, and now apologizes:

Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino apologized to the gay community Tuesday for what he called his “poorly chosen words” over the weekend as he sought to steer his troubled campaign back to the tax issues that won him the GOP nomination in September.

“I am neither perfect, nor a career politician,” Paladino said in an e-mail distributed by his flagging campaign. “I have made mistakes in this campaign — I have made mistakes all my life — as we all have. I am what I am — a simple man who works hard, trusts others, and loves his family and fears for the future of our state.”

He apologized and said he should have edited more of the phrasing out of a speech he gave to Orthodox Jewish leaders on Sunday. His speech did include opposition to what he said was schools’ “brainwashing” of students into thinking the gay lifestyle is just another choice. He also said being gay is “not the way God created us” and the gay lifestyle is “not the example that we should be showing our children.”

Ah yes, the old poorly chosen words excuse. So was he lying then or is he lying now? You decide. Hey, he’s a horribly hateful bigot, maybe he can write for the Washington Post (see yesterday’s post by BB).

OK, now for a bit of comedy relief. Turns out Obama and Palin and Limbaugh are related. Somehow I’m not surprised:

President Barack Obama is distantly related to two of his most outspoken critics — Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin and talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh — as well as to former President George W. Bush, according to a genealogy website.

Family trees revealed Obama and Palin, the former Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, are 10th cousins through common ancestor John Smith, according to Ancestry.com Inc. Smith was Obama’s and Palin’s 12th-great- grandfather. Smith, a Protestant pastor, was an early settler in Massachusetts and was criticized by the ecclesiastical community for supporting Quakers, said Anastasia Tyler, a genealogist for the website.

Obama and Limbaugh are 10th cousins once removed through shared connections to Richmond Terrell, a Virginia settler who came to America in the mid-1600s, Tyler said.

Palin and Obama have ties to Bush, both through links to Samuel Hinckley. Maybe leadership “runs in the family,” the website said, because Hinckley’s son, Thomas, became the governor of Plymouth Colony before it united with Massachusetts.

“Despite political differences, they do have similarities,” Tyler said. “We are all tied together; we are all part of America.”

OK, I’ll admit it. That’s a very nice sentiment at the end. They got me on that one.

WaPo’s trail mix has a round up of a few political goings on:

Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle announced Tuesday that she raised $14.3 million in the third quarter of the year – apparently a record amount for a Senate candidate who is not self-funding.

With three weeks to go until Election Day, Democrats have canceled all of their ad reservations in at least six districts where their odds of winning appear to be shrinking.

Christine O’Donnell turned heads with her “I’m not a witch” ad. But that attention hasn’t translated into votes for Delaware’s Republican Senate nominee: A new Monmouth University poll shows her Democratic opponent, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, leading 57 percent to 38 percent among likely voters in the race for Vice President Biden’s former Senate seat.

As recently as several months ago, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) thought he’d have no trouble winning a fourth term. But recent polls have shown the incumbent facing a surprisingly tough challenge from millionaire businessman Ron Johnson (R). The latest survey, conducted by Reuters/Ipsos, shows Johnson now leading among likely voters 51 percent to 44 percent.

Nice run down of a few items. Looks like O’Donnell is going nowhere fast. Good. And sadly Feingold isn’t either. Not good. But neither are surprising.

Now for some more fun news. First, because some folks seem to have an irrational obsession with the Palins, even young Palins, Bristol managed to survive another week on DWTS. Turns out “The Situation” wasn’t so lucky.

And in sports news, the Giants and the Phillies will be playing in the National League Championship Series. It looks to be a great pitcher matchup:

In the year of the pitcher, what else should dominate the National League Championship Series, which begins in Philadelphia on Saturday?

Much of the national chatter has the Phillies with an edge because of their experience, as it should be. They have won the last two NL pennants. Also, in sweeping Cincinnati in their Division Series, Philadelphia’s Big Three starters choked off a Reds lineup that produced the league’s best offensive numbers during the regular season.

However, anyone who predicts another Philly massacre in the NLCS must consider how well the postseason novices on the Giants’ staff pitched against the Braves.

The Giants’ modus operandi in the best-of-seven series will not be a state secret: They must keep the games low-scoring and hope to get one or two good pitches to hit, a mistake here or there, and convert them into the decisive runs.

Hopefully it will be a good one. And of course hopefully the Giants will win. Your mileage may vary of course.

And finally, the Nobel prize for physics went to some scientists that came up with Graphene:

Two Russian-born scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, won the 2010 Nobel Physics Prize Tuesday for pioneering work on graphene, touted as the wonder material of the 21st century.

Both laureates began their careers as physicists in Russia but now work at the University of Manchester in Britain. Geim holds Dutch nationality and Novoselov is both a British and Russian national.

The Swedish Academy of Sciences hailed graphene — “the perfect atomic lattice” — for its glittering potential in computers, home gadgets and transport.

It lauded Geim, 51, and Novoselov, 36, for having “shown that carbon in such a flat form has exceptional properties that originate from the remarkable world of quantum physics.”

The prize honors a breakthrough that paved the way to graphene, a form of carbon touted as the next-generation super-material.

Just one atom thick, it is the world’s thinnest and strongest nano-material, almost transparent and able to conduct electricity and heat.

As a result, graphene is described as the candidate material to replace silicon semi-conductors.

It’s a big thing. A really big thing. Though small. It’s nice to know, amongst all the corrupt politics and mega corporate control, some cool things keep going on, and progress can still happen.

That’s a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

It has been the strangest week or two of propaganda campaign efforts from the zombie obot armies including: 1) You Dems are lazy, good for nothing, ungrateful for all the wonderful things, bums, get your enthusiasm going again, idiots, 2) What, you don’t think Hillary would have been as horrible as Obama has turned out to be, of course she would. And you know she’s an evil Republican anyway, 3) Look over there, it’s a witch, and 4) Did we mention Hillary is evil. There have been a few other fun memes but you get the idea. They’re losing, they’re desperate, and frankly they’re pathetic. I’d feel sorry for them if they hadn’t destroyed the Democratic party, if not more. But that’s neither here nor there, because there’s some news.

Let’s start on a good note, Steven Chu announces the WH installs some solar panels. Sure a bit gimmicky and symbolic, but it’s a good thing:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House Council on Environmental Quality chair Nancy Sutley announced Tuesday morning that the administration will install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House residence as part of a broader DOE solar demonstration project.

“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home,” Chu said at the GreenGov symposium. “Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

The move comes in the wake of a grassroots campaign led by 350.org founder Bill McKibben to get Obama to reinstall solar panels then-President Jimmy Carter put on the White House in 1979. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan removed the panels and let federal renewable energy subsidies expire; several of the panels were donated to Unity College in the 1990s. McKibben brought some of the old panels down to the District last month as part of his group’s “10/10/10 Global Work Party” on climate change, but at the time, the White House remained noncommittal on the matter.

Of course the effort wasn’t perfect. They stumbled even on such a no brainer move (emphasis mine):

In September, the writer and climate change crusader Bill McKibben sent a jolt of dismay through the environmental community after recounting a distressing trip to the White House. McKibben and some young activists had come up with what they thought was a great idea. They had located one of the solar panels that President Jimmy Carter had installed on the roof of the White House (later removed by Ronald Reagan) and they decided to bring it back to Washington for a triumphant reinstallation.

They made it into the White House, but then got stonewalled. When the college-age activists accompanying McKibben asked why the administration wouldn’t do the “obvious thing” and put solar panels on the White House, they couldn’t get a straight answer.

The Obama administration’s reluctance to put a Carter-era solar panel on the White House roof was understandable, even if repulsively pusillanimous. The last thing the White House wanted to do was to give the right another talking point comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter. You can see the wheels turning — Carter put solar panels on the White House, and ended up a one-term president mocked for decades by Republicans…. run away!!!

But now, a few weeks later, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announces that the White House will install solar panels on the roof and a solar water heater. Bill McKibben applauds, but would be well within his rights to ask, what took you so long?

When McKibben and his cohorts arrived at the White House, the “bureaucrats” could have politely told them that, while it didn’t make sense to install some 30-year-old technology on the premises, they did nonetheless intend to make a big solar push. There would still be a hit from the right-wing news cycle, but, more important, Obama would have given his own supporters a reason to feel good.

Instead, the White House managed to bum environmentalists out, and then, a few weeks later, go ahead and invite the Carter-Obama comparison anyway. That’s just bungled political management.

Well, I still like it. But as usual, they’re kind of incompetent about it all. Who’s running things at the WH anyway?

This will make you feel better. Some on the right are having troubles. Meg Whitman running against my fav, moonbeam, has had a rather bad week(emphasis mine):

Like a lot of California Democrats, I’ve been waiting for Jerry Brown to start his campaign for governor. Sure, he began running ads last month — terrible ads, in my opinion, featuring Brown as a talking head, that mostly serve to remind people he was already governor, a long, long time ago, whatever his accomplishments.

I’ve always assumed Brown would win anyway, though, because he’s got one key asset: He’s not Meg Whitman. And during Saturday’s Univision debate, I spotted another Brown asset: He knows how to make a moral and emotional appeal to our sense of justice, that California used to be a better place, and can be one again.

Whoever is behind the sudden emergence of Whitman’s former maid, Nicky Diaz — the woman the former eBay CEO says deceived her about having legal immigration status, going so far as to steal a letter from the federal government notifying Whitman about her illegal status (that turned out not to be true), but whom Whitman fired immediately upon “learning” the truth — it’s a defining story for Whitman, and not in a good way. I am sensitive to all the ways women are held to a different and higher standard than men in politics, and I search for descriptors that capture Whitman that are not somehow stereotypical.

Yes, I’m quoting Joan Walsh. I held my nose, so it’s OK. Notice the bold bit. Yea, me too. We’ll resume after we all stop laughing. OK, stop laughing now. Well, anyway, Meg has some troubles, fair or not, and Jerry’s benefiting.

A new poll about the Tea Party members shows half of them to be religious conservatives. Well duh:

A new poll shows that half of those who consider themselves part of the tea party movement also identify as part of the religious right, reflecting the complex – and sometimes contradictory – blend of bedfellows in the American conservative movement.

The poll released Tuesday, by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute, comes as the tea party’s composition and potential impact is still under hot debate. Experts disagreed about what the poll meant, with some saying it reveals serious fissures between social and fiscal conservatives and others saying the two movements can find common ground on subjects such as limiting public funding for abortion.

The Tea Party are not our friends. But then again, neither are the new Democrats. All we can do is have popcorn and watch the fireworks. And maybe cry a bit too.

And speaking of the insanity coming from the alleged left, here’s a sad one:

The Christine O’Donnell witch doll hits the market — and gives all the people who dressed like Sarah Palin in recent years some easy Halloween costume inspiration.

Clearly they’re trying their hardest to get O’Donnell elected. Either that or they’re complete idiots. Could it be both?

Some of us have been brave enough to watch the first couple of episodes of Parker red light Spitzer’s show on CNN. It’s bad. Really bad. Apparently we’re not the only ones who think so:

CNN’s primetime talk show anchored by disgraced ex-New York governor Eliot Spitzer and journalist Kathleen Parker debuted to low viewership and scathing reviews, with comments on Tuesday ranging from “unbearable” to “icky” and “obnoxious”.

Spitzer, a Democrat who was forced to resign in 2008 for hiring high-priced prostitutes, and Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative Washington Post columnist, were hired by CNN in a bid to add some fireworks to its struggling evening line-up.

But barely a good word could be found on Tuesday for the new “Parker Spitzer” show, which debuted one night earlier as a daily discussion about politics and other hot button issues.

Monday’s debut also drew disappointing ratings, attracting an audience of 454,000, the Nielsen company said. The figure put CNN in fourth place in the time-slot, well below “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News (3.1 million), and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC (1.1 million).

The New York Times said the Spitzer scandal “cast an awkward shadow” over the pair’s chemistry and gave the show an “ickiness factor” that was hard to watch.

ime magazine’s James Poniewozik also felt uncomfortable, saying the show struggled to find its tone, and he called the closing “round-table” section “just vapid”.

The New York Post headlined its review “Freak show unbearable to watch”, while the Baltimore Sun summed up the first show as “a load of obnoxious, self-important noise.”

I had to double check because at first I thought they were talking about Obama and the new Democratic coalition. But no, just that crappy show. These creeps apparently spend most of their time saying how bad, or stupid, or witchy people like Palin are. If people like that don’t like you, isn’t that a complement?

Speaking of the enthusiasm gap, Obama is going to MTV:

In a final push to excite his party’s base before the Nov. 2 elections, President Obama is reaching out (and reaching out and reaching out) to young voters, a group that helped elect him two years ago. Democrats fear that many of them will sit out the midterms – part of the “enthusiasm gap” identified in surveys – so Obama has taken on the role of campaign scold to urge them to the polls.

MTV announced Tuesday morning in a news release, which was tweeted immediately by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, that Obama will host a “youth town hall” on Oct. 14.

“A Conversation With President Obama,” as the hour-long afternoon event is being called, will air on MTV, MTVu, BET, Centric, TR3s and CMT at 4 p.m. It will also stream live on MTV.com, BET.com and CMT.com.

Yawn.

But not to worry, Latino’s still support Democrats. They just won’t be voting for them this time around:

There is good news and bad news for Democrats in a new poll ahead of the 2010 elections – Latinos support the party, but about half of those questioned say they might not show up at the polls on Nov. 2.

The gap between support and motivation provides an opening for Republicans, who have had an up-and-down relationship with Latinos over the last few years: George W. Bush made inroads, but John McCain then lost ground to Barack Obama. Recently, the GOP has done little to court these voters on issues such as education, immigration and health-care legislation.

But Republicans hold one big advantage over Democrats in key races this cycle that could matter more than any one issue – they have more high-profile Latino candidates running for statewide offices.

Where else are you going to go? How about the couch with some popcorn? How about a third party candidate? Et cetera.

Out on the campaign trail, Obama is also talking about some other issues, including how the evil Republicans will cut education funding. What?, cut it even more than Democrats? I think that might be another 2% less evil argument they’re so fond of:

Obama framed the fate of community colleges as a matter of global economic competition. Speaking weeks before crucial midterm elections, Obama said the signature Republican Pledge to America would cut education funding by one-fifth to fund tax relief for the wealthy, at a time when other nations are padding their investments.

“Think about it: China is not slashing education by 20 percent right now,” he said. He likened the GOP proposal to “unilaterally disarming our troops right as they head to the front lines.”

Republican leaders responded that their pledge rolls back nonsecurity discretionary spending to 2008 levels but does not require cuts to any particular program. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), chairman of the pledge, said in a statement his party seeks to undo a “reckless spending spree” by the Obama administration.

Community colleges represent the largest and most affordable sector of higher education. Obama said he expects them to take a lead role in his American Graduation Initiative. America has fallen from first to ninth in a single decade, he said, in its share of young people holding college degrees.

“As far as I’m concerned, America doesn’t play for second place,” he said, “and it certainly doesn’t play for ninth.”

So apparently the movie “Dumb and Dumber” wasn’t just a movie, it was a picture of our future political landscape.

There have been some banking policy changes in Japan lately:

Japanese stocks rose for a second day after U.S. service companies expanded faster than forecast and speculation grew that the Federal Reserve will join the Bank of Japan’s efforts to spur economic growth.

Fanuc Ltd., Japan’s largest maker of industrial robots, rose 1.2 percent. Mitsubishi Corp., Japan’s largest commodities trader, increased 2.1 percent after crude and metals prices gained yesterday. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., the country’s largest lender, advanced 1.8 percent. Mitsubishi Estate Co., Japan’s second-biggest developer, gained 1.9 percent. Japan’s central bank pledged yesterday to keep its benchmark interest rate at “virtually zero” and to purchase more assets including real estate investment trusts.

“The Bank of Japan’s action may accelerate movements towards monetary easing globally,” said Fumiyuki Nakanishi, a strategist at Tokyo-based SMBC Friend Securities Co. “Confidence grew that the global economy is on a recovery track, and investors will likely put money back into risk assets.”

The Supremes, yea, I called them that, will be hearing a case about those creepy people that protest military funerals tomorrow:

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a legal battle that pits the privacy rights of grieving families and the free speech rights of demonstrators.

In 2006, members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested 300 feet from a funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Maryland, carrying signs reading “God hates you” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Among the teachings of the Topeka, Kansas-based fundamentalist church founded by pastor Fred Phelps is the belief that the deaths of U.S. soldiers is God’s punishment for “the sin of homosexuality.”

Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, said his son was not gay and the protesters should not have been at the funeral.

Of course we want free speech. But what if protestors are nuts and make no sense?

I hope Nancy is serious and up to something reasonable here. She wants to have an inquiry on mortgage lenders. Ha, what am I thinking, they were part of all this. Most likely smoke and mirrors. What, me cynical (emphasis mine):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the Justice Department on Tuesday to investigate the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, and Maryland joined a growing list of states seeking to halt foreclosures while they probe claims of fraudulent filings.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Pelosi (Calif.) and dozens of other Democrats accused the nation’s biggest banks of making it difficult for struggling borrowers to get foreclosure relief while the firms routinely evicted them with flawed court papers.

The group said that recent reports of lenders initiating hundreds of thousands of questionable foreclosures “amplify our concerns that systemic problems exist.”

The request from Democrats puts pressure on the Obama administration to get more involved in a matter that it so far has said little about publicly. The move is also likely to stoke cries for a broad moratorium on foreclosures across the country.

Yea, the bold part is another laugh out loud moment. And people say government isn’t funny.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this gem. Are test tube babies the work of God or some human error:

Do you think a baby conceived in test tube is still a child in the eyes — or mind or hands, depending on your theology/philosophy — of God? Does the science behind this merit the Nobel Prize for Medicine or condemnation in the realm of faith and ethics?

I’m starting out with the questions today because the impact of the Nobel Prize for Medicine going to the doctor who developed in vitro fertilization is still rumbling around the world.

The Vatican has already denounced the prize going to British scientist Robert Edwards, for work that led to the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, 32 years ago.

Bad science, bad. Yea, snark. So there’s a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with what you’re finding.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Let’s see what’s in the news today. You’ll never guess, more stuff about O’Donnell. No way. Yes way. Here’s a bit from ABC:

Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell broke her nearly week-long silence in the national news media Tuesday night in an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity.”

But “mama grizzly” O’Donnell, who has faced growing scrutiny over her personal finances and past statements on sexual and social values, said future network interviews were entirely “off the table.”

“I’m not going to do any more national media because Delaware is my focus and local media are my focus,” she said.

By personal finances of course they mean she had trouble keeping up with her mortgage. Meaning, government is no place for someone who’s, you know, like the “little people”.

She told Sean Hannity that many of her provocative past statements which have resurfaced in recent days do not reflect her current outlook and are intended as a distraction for her campaign.

O’Donnell explained her 1999 comment on Bill Maher’s show “Politically Incorrect” that she had “dabbled in witchcraft” during high school as an act of “teenage rebellion.”

“Some people dabble in drugs to rebel. That’s how I rebelled,” she said. “Who didn’t do some questionable things in high school?”

O’Donnell said her controversial comments on homosexuality, masturbation and condom use, some of which were made during television appearances in the 1990s, were personal views and wouldn’t play a role in her decision making process.

“What those statements are about is in my 20’s I had newfound faith and I looked at going on those shows as a ministry,” she said of her television appearances. “My faith has matured and now it’s the Constitution that will determine how I decide on what crosses my desk.”

There’s more about mortgage, campaign financing issues, etc. And no, Castle still isn’t endorsing her, and much of the GOP is still on the attack. As has been reported here before, we’re liberal and we’re not for her. But it’s amazingly tone deaf for the opposition to go after the things they’re going after. On that note, let’s see what CBS has to say on the topic:

Yesterday, Hotsheet reported that Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s past remarks that she “dabbled into witchcraft” offended Wiccans, who said O’Donnell’s comments misrepresented their religion. Today, a Satanist from New York City is taking issue with the Tea Party candidate.

Some Wiccan leaders complained that witches do not believe in Satan. Diane Vera, the founder of a group called “NYC Satanists, Luciferians, Dark Pagans, and LHP Occultists” added today that O’Donnell’s anecdote also misrepresents Satanists.

“As far as I am aware, no serious practitioner of any variant of either Wicca or Satanism would have a picnic on one’s altar,” Vera said in a press release.

I guess they’re implying that some stupid kids in high school dabbling with things like that might not have been serious practitioners.  OMG! Say it ain’t so. And I guess someone like O’Donnell hasn’t read up on what those religions are really about. No way.

Yea, keep at this level of stuff and the idiots in the media are sure to get her elected. Idiots.

OK, enough of the stupid news. Let’s see what else is going on. In a move that couldn’t possibly surprise anyone, the GOP blocks DADT repeal slipped into the defense budget bill:

Senate Republicans dealt a stinging setback yesterday to efforts to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy for gay soldiers, defeating attempts by Democratic leaders to take up a major military bill that includes the issue.

Democrats fell four votes shy of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster — which included Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts — that prevented consideration of the overall bill.

The defeat is expected to push any efforts to repeal “don’t ask’’ past mid-term elections. For gay-rights advocates and Democratic leaders, this means that a lame-duck session could represent a last stand for a repeal, because election gains expected for Republicans could extinguish any chances in a new Congress.

“Today’s Senate vote was a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law,’’ said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which provides legal assistance to service members ousted through the ban. “Time is the enemy here. We now have no choice but to look to the lame-duck session, where we’ll have a slim shot.’’

And sadly the GOP can cite as their main reason for voting against it Obama himself. Remember Obama got the Pentagon to investigate the impact of DADT before he wanted to do anything about it. Well, they haven’t finished investigating yet. So this failure was preordained. And as we all know, Obama could have made this happen from day one with the stroke of a pen. Clearly this was always the plan. And now Dems can say, well, we tried. Right. You tried really hard. I’ll try just as hard to vote for you.

As we heard yesterday, Summers is heading for the door. Of course we and most of the world are hoping Timmeh is going to follow him soon. In the mean time, Reuters has a fun list of some economists mentioned as possible replacements. Have a look. That and what else might happen there should be a fun post for Dak later.

Speaking of rumbles behind closed doors at the WH, Bob Woodward has a new book called “Obama Wars” depicting lots of in fighting among other things. Some choice bits include:

Beyond the internal battles, the book offers fresh disclosures on the nation’s continuing battle with terrorists. It reports that the C.I.A. has a 3,000-man “covert army” in Afghanistan called the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, or C.T.P.T., mostly Afghans who capture and kill Taliban fighters and seek support in tribal areas. Past news accounts have reported that the C.I.A. has a number of militias, including one trained on one of its compounds, but not the size of the covert army.

The book also reports that the United States has intelligence showing that manic-depression has been diagnosed in President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and that he was on medication, but adds no details. Mr. Karzai’s mood swings have been a challenge for the Obama administration.

As for Mr. Obama himself, the book describes a professorial president who assigned “homework” to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military commanders’ attempts to force him into a decision he was not yet comfortable with. Even after he agreed to send another 30,000 troops last winter, the Pentagon asked for another 4,500 “enablers” to support them.

The president lost his poise, according to the book. “I’m done doing this!” he erupted.

To ensure that the Pentagon did not reinterpret his decision, Mr. Obama dictated a six-page, single-space “terms sheet” explicitly laying out his troop order and its objectives, a document included in the book’s appendix.

Mr. Obama’s struggle with the decision comes through in a conversation with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who asked if his deadline to begin withdrawal in July 2011 was firm. “I have to say that,” Mr. Obama replied. “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

This presidency is even more of a train wreck than I thought it would be. Seriously, that guy shouldn’t be a dog catcher.

In what is probably a smart move, Michelle Obama will hit the campaign trail:

Advisers said Mrs. Obama has no plans to bring sharp-edged rhetoric to the campaign trail. They said the First Lady will not attack Republicans directly or accuse them of driving the country into a ditch.

“She’s campaigning to advocate, to rally voters behind specific candidates based on what we can do together to build a better future,” said Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president for special projects. “She comes to this as a mom, and that’s the lens through which she sees the world and that’s her test for every issue—what it means for her daughters and all of our kids.”

White House officials have built a schedule for the First Lady that focuses on a handful of candidates for the U.S. Senate and events for the Democratic National Committee’s women’s leadership forum.

She will start in Wisconsin and Illinois, travel to Colorado, Washington state and California. Among the candidates to receive her help: Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado; Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin; Alexi Giannoulias who is running for the Senate in Illinois, and Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Patty Murray of Washington.

Most of the events will be fundraisers – including one for the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi — though aides said there will likely be some other public events added to the schedule in the coming days.

In news related to Michelle raising more money, the GOP seems to be short of it. Gosh, other than 8 years of a failed presidency, and then attacking the popular candidates and their supporters just as the Dems are doing, I can’t imagine what the problem might be:

In Iowa, Republicans finished August with just $34,819 in the bank, less than one-tenth what the Democrats there have. In Florida, Republicans have one-third less to spend. And in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, where Republicans could be poised to win multiple races for Congress and the race for governor, the party is well behind its Democratic rivals.

At this point in previous campaign cycles, a large check has usually been in the mail from the Republican National Committee to help pay for the ground game. But this year, the party cannot afford to execute a robust voter turnout program, which could make a difference in tight races where Democrats hold a financial and organizational advantage.

“Will we be on par with Democrats on money?” said Matt Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. “Probably not, because we don’t control the White House. But will we have enough to get our voters out? I hope so.”

For the first time in at least a decade, the Republican National Committee has reduced the scale of its turnout and targeting programs, which have long been seen as critical ways to identify independent voters. A distinct state-by-state plan has become more of a one-size-fits-all regional effort, which is cheaper but may not be tailored to find voters in states where people do not register by political party.

Hey Republicans, if you were for, you know, your members having jobs, you might get some more money. Don’t laugh Democrats, like you’re any better.

Given that the money for both parties mostly comes from the same sources, namely pro monopoly corporatists, perhaps the plan was to keep Dems in power this cycle. That would be funny because I think the “little people” are a bit angry and given no viable alternative, may just switch who runs the house.

Continue reading

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

The fall political season is now in full swing since we’re past the “end of summer”. That is, we’ve just past Labor Day. Of course it’s still summer, but who’s counting. Ha, apparently still not Democrats. Couldn’t resist that one. Ah Democrats, the party that despises democracy most of all. So what’s the political landscape look like. As if we didn’t know. We’ve had a number of posts on the subject, so it doesn’t take too much looking around to see the news keeps getting worse and worse for the anti-democracy party. Gosh, there are a whole lot of former movers and shakers in the old party who’d love to help, but we were thrown away. How’s that working out for you? Yea, that’s what I thought.

So let’s see what we find this fine morning. Obama is set to discuss what to do about Bush’s tax cuts later today:

President Obama will argue personally Wednesday against extending the Bush-era income tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest families even for a year or two, White House officials said Tuesday – a message aimed at wavering Democrats who have been swayed by arguments that the economy is too weak to raise anyone’s taxes.

In a speech scheduled for delivery Wednesday afternoon in Cleveland, Obama will restate his long-held position that the nation cannot afford to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of families, White House officials said.

That sounds pretty good. I’m sure like with most things, he’ll stand firm, keep to what he promises. Not be swayed by those bully Republicans. Oh wait, what’s this? The very next paragraph in the story (emphasis mine):

The officials added that Obama would not threaten to veto any compromise which extends the upper-bracket cuts, a position that has gained ground in recent weeks among moderates in both the House and Senate. But congressional sources said they were told to expect the president to try to stiffen Democratic spines in expectation of a showdown over income tax rates before the November midterm elections.

Ah, there you have it. In the next breath they make it clear Obama won’t veto a bill that extends the Bush tax cuts. That might be the shortest “pretend to stand firm” time ever for a president. Well, we were told he was historic. You know, since he’s pretty much always on vacation, and he’s always flip-flopping like this, how about he just only wear flip-flops from now until the end of his one and only term. Is that too much to ask?

In addition, from the same article, Obama has one more thing up his sleeve:

In addition to restating his position on the tax cuts, Obama plans Wednesday to officially unveil more than $180 billion in fresh spending and business tax breaks – aimed at boosting both the nation’s economic recovery and the political prospects of congressional Democrats facing the wrath of recession-weary voters in November.

What, business tax cuts you say, likely more tax cuts for the rich effectively you say? At this point, what else do you expect. Also from the article:

Economists, business groups and tax lobbyists said they are not enthusiastic about the job-creating potential of expanding an existing tax credit for domestic research and permitting firms to write off 100 percent of spending on new plants and equipment in 2011.

Of course they don’t. But then, they just don’t have enough hope. Let’s see what the official chief of spin the crap has to say:

Politically, the provisions could be equally ineffective, some Democrats said. Because the details are sketchy, vulnerable Democrats may find it difficult to campaign on them. Meanwhile, some Democrats questioned whether voters would be able to distinguish between the new proposals – which the White House vows will not increase the nation’s soaring budget deficit – and last year’s $814 billion stimulus package, which voters tend to think increased deficits without improving the economy.

“It depends on how it’s spun,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), whose state is a critical bellwether this year, with a governor’s race, a high-profile Senate race and a dozen competitive House races that will help determine whether Democrats retain control of Congress.

“The president has to attempt to attack this problem and attack it now,” Rendell said. “Is this a little too sophisticated for the voters to get? I’m not sure. But it’s better than nothing.”

There you have it. And how could it be otherwise. If we the little people don’t get it, or have issues with it, then perhaps we’re just not sophisticated enough to get it. That’s the new Democratic party in a nutshell right there. I leave it to the reader as an exercise to map out their line of reasoning to your nearest toilet. Remember, after you throw up, brush your teeth and gargle well.

Over at CBS, they have a nice story on the obvious result of the practices we’ve been seeing in the new Democratic party:

More Republicans voted in this year’s statewide primary elections than Democrats, according to a new study, marking the first time GOP turnout has exceeded Democratic turnout in midterm primaries since 1930.

Republican turnout exceeded Democratic turnout in the primaries held through August 28 by more than four million votes, according to Curtis Gans, director of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate. While the average percentage of eligible citizens who voted in the GOP statewide primaries was the highest since 1970, the average percentage of eligible citizens who voted in Democratic primaries reached an 80-year low.

Yes, you read that right. Lowest in 80 years. Since 1930. Wonder what was happening back then? Hey new Democrats, how’s that new coalition and all hope, no experience approach working out for you? Are you getting it yet? No? Can’t still face it yet? Well, I can understand how hard it would be to admit that you kind of messed this one up. Well, I was being kind, you may have actually destroyed the whole country. But never mind. You’ve got hope.

But here’s the really interesting part:

“These figures speak to the falling away of an ever larger slice of the population from active political participation and the continuing decline in public involvement with the major political parties, reducing their ability to serve as forces of cohesion within the American polity,” Gans said.

Yea, that’s not good. That’s people noticing that both parties are owned and full of crap. Got hope?

So that’s happening.

Let’s see if we can find something less, oh, I don’t know, despair inducing. This is interesting, Murkowski in Alaska may find a way to still run:

The Alaska Libertarian Party’s Senate candidate said Tuesday that after meeting with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both he and the recently defeated Republican senator are considering whether she should continue her run by becoming the party’s new nominee.

Libertarian Party nominee David Haase told POLITICO he met with Murkowski at the home of a private citizen Tuesday morning in Anchorage, where they discussed whether she was in interested in replacing Haase as the party’s nominee on the ticket this November.

“My answer was that I was considering it and I wanted her to come up with some reasons why, and she’s considering that,” said Haase.

Murkowski appeared to be leaving the race for good just a week ago, telling supporters in her concession speech last Tuesday that she was ready to come “back home” after this year after a stunning GOP primary loss to Sarah Palin-backed attorney Joe Miller.

But now it appears the senator is weighing her options to stay in the race, which include running as a write-in candidate or becoming a third-party candidate. Not only has Murkowski met with Haase, but the state Libertarian Party chairman also confirmed Monday that the senator’s top aides reached out to him about meeting to discuss whether Murkowski could run on their ticket.

Murkowski spokesman Steve Wackowski did not immediately return a request for comment, but the senator told The Associated Press Tuesday that she is “still in this game.” Murkowski said she’s been flooded with calls from supporters asking her to say in the race, so she is looking at her choices.

Very interesting. I’d rather see her than the Tea Party replacement. But then again, whatever.

In economic news, oh yea, we’re going there, here’s an interesting story about vast numbers of banks still to go bust soon:

Even if the US and European economies manage to avoid a double dip, it will still feel like a recession, while more than half of the 800-plus US banks on the “critical list” are likely to go bust, according to renowned economist Nouriel Roubini of Roubini Global Economics.

The second half of the year will remain weak as tailwinds become headwinds, Roubini told CNBC on the shores of Lake Como, Italy at the Ambrosetti Forum economics conference.

“In the second half, fiscal policy becomes a headwind, no more cash for clunkers,” Roubini said. “The positive scenario is that growth will be below par.”

Roubini recently said the chance of a double-dip recession in the US was now more than 40 percent.

“The big risk is that there will be a downturn in markets that could impact the bond, the equity and the credit markets,” he said.

“Job losses have been higher, the US jobs number will show that. There is no private sector jobs growth,” he said. “Consumption is weak, exports are weak and housing is weak.”

“If there is no final sales and no final demand, companies will not invest,” he added.

He goes on to say even more depressing stuff. And speaking of, it looks like the recent flash crash is spurring stock fund withdraws:

Retail investors have yanked money out of stock mutual funds for 17 straight weeks. And the still unexplained May 6 “flash crash” — when the Dow Jones industrials plunged more than 600 points in minutes before recovering — is increasingly being cited as a key reason the public has been selling.

In a speech Tuesday, Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the SEC was informed by retail brokers that the Main Street investors they cater to “have pulled back” from the stock market since the flash crash.

To buttress her point, Schapiro noted that stock funds have suffered net outflows every week since the flash crash. In contrast, in all 11 weeks leading up to the mayhem of May 6, net inflows were positive, with retail investors pouring roughly $26.6 billion into stock funds, Ned Davis Research says.

While there are many other factors to explain why investors have been fleeing stocks since the flash crash — the European debt crisis, nearly double-digit unemployment and recent fears that the economy may slip back into recession — many experts cite the flash crash as the selling catalyst.

“I don’t want to argue that all the selling is due to the ‘flash crash,’ ” Ned Davis noted in a recent client report. “I just think that was the trigger.”

Since the start of 2008, investors have been fleeing stock funds in favor of bond funds, which are viewed as safer. Still, there’s no question that seeing the Dow fall so far so fast with so little warning took a big bite out of confidence, says Michael Farr of investment firm Farr Miller & Washington. “It made the individual investor more certain in their suspicion that the (stock investing game) is fixed,” he says. The fact that regulators have yet to explain why it happened and whether it can happen again, he adds, is an overhang on the market. Still, Farr says it has faded from his clients’ minds: “I haven’t heard a peep about the flash crash in months.”

So that’s happening.

Let’s see what else. There are a lot of neat things happening in science. I usually go there for solace in times like these. Here’s a kind of interesting and kind of funny one. There’s some research about how men dance and more importantly how it’s judged by women as a test of health and mating potential. I’ll call it, the peacock news segment:

The researchers say that movements associated with good dancing may be indicative of good health and reproductive potential.

Their findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

“When you go out to clubs people have an intuitive understanding of what makes a good and bad dancer,” said co-author Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University, UK.

“What we’ve done for the very first time is put those things together with a biometric analysis so we can actually calculate very precisely the kinds of movements people focus on and associate them with women’s ratings of male dancers.”

“We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding.”

Movements that went down terribly were twitchy and repetitive – so called “Dad dancing”.

Dr Neave’s aim was to establish whether young men exhibited the same courtship movement rituals in night clubs as animals do in the wild. In the case of animals, these movements give information about their health, age, their reproductive potential and their hormone status.

There is a video interview at the site, and a video of good and bad dance examples. So what kind of dancing do you do?

On that lighter note, we’ll wrap it up. What are you reading? Add anything that tickles your fancy or raises your BP. Or just chew the fat as we say.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

The big news we’re watching closely is hurricane Earl. Right now it has been downgraded to a category 3 and it seems to be sticking to a more outside path with no landfall in the US projected. Definitely good news. But we need to keep a close watch as it can still cause damage to many coastal areas. Discovery has a nice geeks guide to how hurricanes are tracked.

A couple of bits of big news from yesterday are worth repeating. First Murkowski conceded in her bid for Senate reelection in Alaska:

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska conceded late Tuesday in her Republican primary race against Joe Miller, a lawyer from Fairbanks who was backed by Tea Party activists, Sarah Palin and other conservatives.

Mr. Miller shocked the political establishment here and in Washington last week when he emerged with a narrow lead, 1,668 votes, after the primary vote, on Aug. 24. His victory makes him the presumed favorite to win the Senate seat from this heavily Republican state.

Mr. Miller, who has proposed drastic cuts in federal spending, had trailed badly in local polls in the weeks before the election but benefited from a last-minute flood of advertisements, mailings and automated calls casting Ms. Murkowski as a Democrat in disguise. An abortion-related ballot measure also brought conservatives to the polls.

“Now is the time for all Alaskans to come together and reach out with our core message of taking power from the federal government and bringing it back home to the people,” Mr. Miller said in a written statement. “ If we continue to allow the federal government to live beyond its means, we will all soon have to live below ours.”

That’s pretty bad. The Tea Party candidates as we’ve seen are either loony or play one on TV. And of course that means we’ve lost another of the too few women’s voices in the Senate. The other aspect of this is the influence of Sarah Palin of course.

The other big news from yesterday was Obama’s speech basically announcing “Mission Accomplished.” The only thing missing from his bland speech in his newly renovated bland hotel room looking oval office was the flight suit. And maybe the inclusion of GWB in his own flight suite and perhaps a Mel Brooks choreographed song and dance number. The withdraw and its timetable was mostly planned by the previous administration:

President Obama marked the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq on Tuesday by declaring that after more than seven years, vast expenditures and thousands of casualties, the nation must focus its shrunken resources on rebuilding the ailing domestic economy.

Addressing the nation for only the second time from the Oval Office, the president appealed for support from a country impatient for progress on unemployment and other economic woes and increasingly weary of wars, including the one in Afghanistan, which Obama has chosen to escalate.

As he has done several times recently, Obama made note of his campaign pledge to wind down the war in Iraq, which he opposed from the outset. “That is what we have done,” he said. “We have removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.”

Of course in the fine print they don’t mention is the fact that we still have around 100,000 combat troops in the form of Blackwater, around 50,000 US troops with many combat troops among them, and many, many thousands of black ops combat troops all still there. They also don’t mention that many of those withdrawn troops will be recycled into Afghanistan as part of the serge efforts there. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

In economic news, the month of August was a bit of a loser with the Feds showing increasing worries in the latest meeting:

The stock market ended its worst August since 2001 with meager gains Tuesday after minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting showed officials’ increasing concern about the economy.

Stock indexes gave up most of their gains in midafternoon after the release of minutes from the Aug. 10 meeting. Fed officials recognized the economy might need further stimulus beyond the purchases of government debt the central bank announced that day. Some acknowledged the economy had softened more than they had anticipated.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended with a gain of 5 points, having been up 64 after a reading on consumer confidence in August came in stronger than expected. Stocks fell sharply for much of August after a series of reports suggested the recovery has weakened.

The Standard & Poor’s 500, the measure used most by stock-market professionals, finished August with a loss of 4.7 percent. It was the index’s worst showing for the month since August 2001, when it lost 6.4 percent as the dot-com bubble collapsed. Year-to-date, the S&P 500 is down 5.9 percent.

Some traders said there was disappointment the Fed wasn’t pessimistic enough to consider quicker steps to stimulate that economy.

According to the meeting’s minutes, released Tuesday, Federal Reserve officials were divided over whether they should resume purchases of Treasury bonds and what impact the move could have on the nation’s economy.

In the end, the policymaking committee elected to reinvest money from maturing mortgage securities in government bonds by a 9-1 vote.

But the minutes show there was wider disagreement behind closed doors than that final tally may suggest.

Most members of the Federal Open Market Committee thought it unwise to allow the Fed’s balance sheet to contract, which would have happened were it not for their action, because that would tighten monetary policy when the economic outlook was weakening, according to the minutes.

However, other members “noted that the magnitude of the tightening was uncertain, and a few thought that the economic effects of reinvesting principal … likely would be quite small.”

We’re all holding on by fingernails out here. And things aren’t really looking up. Maybe they’ll all come to their senses and do an actual job creating stimulus plan. Yea, right.

Which brings us to the looping political storm brewing. It’s not looking good for Democrats:

The Gallup organization dropped a bomb on the political world this week. In shorthand, the pollsters said Monday that if the midterm elections were held now, Republicans would take control of the House – and probably by a comfortable margin.

On Tuesday, James Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Buffalo, weighed in with a prediction based on his modeling of the political climate. He said that Republicans are poised to gain 51 or 52 House seats, at least 11 more than needed to depose the Democrats.

Election Day is still two months away, but the twin findings added to the fear among Democrats that their House majority – and possibly their Senate majority as well – is in jeopardy.

Any bets? What are everyone’s predictions? I’m guessing around 50 seats change parties in the house unless something big changes the landscape. Maybe 5 in the senate.

Here’s a bit more from that article:

This week’s survey produced the largest lead for the Republicans in the history of asking that question: 51 percent to 41 percent. Ninety-six percent of Republicans said they would vote for the GOP candidate, while 88 percent of Democrats said they would support the Democrat. Independents, who helped power Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008, split 48 percent to 31 percent for Republicans.

This measurement (known as the generic ballot question) has sometimes been considered an imperfect or misleading indicator of House election results. Gallup begs to differ. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup poll, said that Gallup’s final survey of likely voters before Election Day has been an accurate predictor of the two parties’ share of the national vote in House elections. The national vote, in turn, he added, is an excellent predictor of seats won or lost.

Four years ago, when Democrats won control of the House, the final Gallup survey of likely voters gave Democrats an advantage of seven percentage points over Republicans. Their actual share of the national two-party vote was eight points more.

In 1994, when Republicans won the House and Senate, Gallup showed the GOP with a seven-point advantage in its final survey – exactly the margin between the two parties on Election Day.

That’s bad. That’s actually stunningly bad. First the gap is wider than in those two previous big turn over elections. And the fact that Repubs are above 50% is really bad too. Well, it’s not like we’re surprised. You install a non leader, no experienced, empty suit as the head of your party and surprise, he doesn’t work out so well. And what’s worse, he’s a frack’en Bush II clone who is passing Repub policies even they couldn’t have passed. Really Dems, that was your big political move? With friends like these, who needs enemies.

Speaking of great policies and their results (that was snark), we are seeing the obvious results of bailing out the too big to fail:

U.S. banks are making money again, although a split picture of the industry has emerged since the financial crisis.

The largest banks are thriving, mostly because they can borrow on the cheap and have rid themselves of bad debt. Yet smaller banks lack those advantages and are failing at the fastest pace in years.

Overall, banks made $21.6 billion in net income in the April-to-June quarter, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said. It was the highest quarterly level since 2007.

Banks with more than $10 billion in assets — only 1.3 percent of the industry — accounted for $19.9 billion of the total earnings.

At the same time, the number of banks on the FDIC’s confidential “problem” list increased by 54 in the quarter — growing to 829 from 775 in the first quarter. That’s a little more than 10 percent of the 7,830 federally insured U.S. banks.

Most of the biggest banks have recovered with help from federal bailout money, record-low borrowing rates from the Federal Reserve and the ability to earn big profits from fees on banking services and investment fees. They also have been able to cut back on lending in troubled parts of the country, such as Florida and Nevada.

Smaller and regional banks, however, have less flexibility. They depend heavily on making loans for commercial property and development. Those sectors have suffered huge losses. Companies have shut down in the recession, vacating shopping malls and office buildings financed by the loans.

All of the 118 banks that have failed this year have been smaller or regional banks. Last year 140 banks shuttered, most of them small institutions.

What? You’re not making big profits hand over fist? Sucker. But there is the potential for things getting better and some “good signs” in that the big banks are doing better:

The decline in bank lending stemming from the financial crisis showed signs of leveling off, the data show. Total lending declined by $107.5 billion, or 1.4 percent from the first quarter. It posted the steepest drop since World War II — 7.5 percent — in 2009 from the year before.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said banks’ lending standards are beginning to ease for some types of credit.

“But lending will not pick up until businesses and consumers gain the confidence they need to hire and spend,” Bair said.

She said the economic recovery is starting to be reflected in banks’ higher earnings and the improved quality of loans, with fewer defaults and delinquencies.

So if you businesses and consumers can just get some confidence already, we’ll be fine. You lazy bastards. (Yes, snark again.)

In some interesting ethics news, there are more congressmen being investigated for ethics violations:

A congressional ethics watchdog has asked for a further probe of campaign fundraising appeals to Wall Street firms by Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) and two other House members before lawmakers voted on financial regulatory overhaul legislation.

Campbell confirmed the Office of Congressional Ethics’ referral to the House Ethics Committee but denied wrongdoing.

“I am perplexed by OCE’s decision, as they have presented no evidence that would suggest wrongdoing,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

The action, two months before the November midterm election, comes as fellow Southern Californian Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles) and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) face rare ethics trials. Both have denied wrongdoing.

The Office of Congressional Ethics also asked the committee to further investigate Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Tom Price (R-Ga.).

Campbell, Crowley and Price all held fundraisers in December, around the time of crucial House votes on the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system since the Great Depression. President Obama signed it into law in July.

Both Republicans opposed the legislation, which strengthened oversight of the financial industry and consumer protections. Crowley, the Democrat, opposed some amendments that would have toughened the measure but backed the final bill.

In startling news, the next edition to be published, the third edition, of the Oxford English Dictionary may be published in electronic form only:

The head of Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, recently caused a stir by openly considering the possibility that the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary might be published in electronic form only. What prompted those thoughts was the success of the online version of the O.E.D., as it is usually called, and the limited sales of the printed 20-volume edition.

No decision has been reached, nor is one likely soon, since the third edition will not be ready to publish in full for another decade or so. And who is to say what publishing will look like a decade from now?

For Oxford, the decision to go online-only would make a great deal of economic sense. Current subscribers to the online edition pay $295 a year for access. The print edition is selling for $995. Which is the better deal for you depends on how you value shelving and the cost of leaving your desk to look up a word.

But the difference in price also represents linguistic currency. The online edition includes updates. The printed one contains what it contained in 1989, when the second edition was published: all of the words then in the language, their historical uses, etymology and pronunciation. Language is a living organism, and the O.E.D.’s help in understanding how we speak this instant is important. But even our spoken language is overwhelmingly historical in nature. That is the O.E.D.’s greatest value — as a guide to our spoken and written history.

I like having my hardback edition (well, the shorter two volume version at least). But it is a bit unwieldy and having a digital version is better for something like that. But as the article goes on to say, what about when the lights go out?

Speaking of trends and things we don’t want, the pentagon is funding companies to make flying humvees. You just can’t make this stuff up:

The race to build the world’s first flying military jeep just moved a step closer to the finish line. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected two companies to proceed with the next stage of its Transformer, known as TX—a fully automated four-person vehicle that can drive like a car and then take off and fly like an aircraft to avoid roadside bombs. Lockheed Martin and AAI Corp., a unit of Textron Systems, are currently in negotiations with DARPA for the first stage of the Transformer project, several industry sources told Popular Mechanics at a robotics conference here in Denver. DARPA has not announced the official winners yet.

It’s unclear how many companies competed for the DARPA project, but the competition brought together an unusual mix of large defense companies with smaller aviation firms vying to build the vertical takeoff and landing craft. Perhaps most surprising—and for some competitors galling— is that DARPA selected a rotor-based aircraft for one of the two winning submissions. At an industry day held earlier this year, DARPA officials had initially said they weren’t interested in a traditional rotary-wing aircraft, though they might consider a vehicle if the rotor was shrouded.

The only question I have is, will they have fricken lasers on top?

Which inevitably brings us to five ways humankind might be wiped out:

The Universe looks like a pretty tranquil place to live, doesn’t it? During the day the sun shines steadily, and at night the heavens are reassuring and unchanging.

Dream on. The Universe is filled to the brim with dangerous, nasty things, all jostling for position to be the one to wipe us off the face of the planet. Happily for us, they’re all pretty unlikely—how many people do you know who have died by proton disintegration?—but if you wait long enough, one of them is bound to get us.

But which one?

The first one is my favorite, death by asteroid:

Of all the ways we might meet our untimely demise, getting wiped out by an asteroid is the most likely. Why? Because we sit in a cosmic shooting gallery, with 100 tons of material hitting us every day. The problem, though, occurs every few centuries when something big this way comes. If you could ask a dinosaur, I’d imagine they’d tell you to take this seriously.

And we do. The B612 Foundation is a collection of scientists dedicated to making sure we don’t end up with our bones in some future museum. Their advice: no nukes! Instead, slam a spacecraft head-on into a dangerous rock to move it in a hurry, then fine-tune it with another spacecraft by using its gravity to pull the rock into a safe path. It sounds like sci-fi, but models show this is in fact our best bet to save the Earth.

Read on for more fun.

And finally, let’s look at a nice product comparison to test whether WD-40 really is a wonder product:

Conventional wisdom credits WD-40 with thousands of uses as a penetrating oil and lubricant. But is that really the case? We put the red-capped classic to the test in five common tasks to see how it held up against other lubes—and now think twice about our WD-40 overuse.

One of the more dispiriting facts of consumer life is that panaceas don’t routinely live up to their promises. Sure, sometimes you get penicillin, a product that needs no introduction, but other times you get Dr. Ebeneezer Sibley’s Reanimating Solar Tincture, an elixir alleged to restore life in the event of sudden death.

And then there’s WD-40, a putative fix-all that boasts uses ranging from driving moisture from a flooded motor to killing roaches to breaking in baseball gloves to reviving drowned cellphones. Such is its pop-cultural ubiquity that it even co-stars in a well-known handyman apothegm: “If it moves and it shouldn’t, you need duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, you need WD-40.”

But is WD-40 really toolbox penicillin? Or is it the snake oil of lubricants?

Read on for the details and products they compared. But I’ll give you the punch line. Nope, there are better products for most every use. Sad isn’t it. But not that surprising.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news today. Chime in with what you’re seeing.

Wednesday News

Good Day Conflucians!!!

The big news of the day are the election results from yesterdays primaries. So let’s look at a few of those first.

A big upset in the making seems to be Murkowski’s senate seat in Alaska:

A political newcomer with the backing of Sarah Palin has put Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in unexpected danger today, threatening to make her the seventh incumbent to lose a seat in this year’s primary elections.

Joe Miller, a Gulf War veteran, won 51% of the vote, according to unofficial returns this morning. Murkowski, who is in her second term, had 49% of the vote. With 98% of polling places accounted for, the two candidates were separated by 1,960 votes.

Miller told the Anchorage Daily News that Palin’s endorsement was “pivotal.”

Alaskan election officials say they had received 7,600 absentee ballots by Monday – and that number is likely to grow. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by election day, but can be received 10 days after the election. Officials say they plan to begin counting those ballots on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

“Our country does not need another Democrat in the Senate voting for the Obama agenda which is bankrupting us,” Palin, referring to Murkowski, wrote on her Facebook page this week. “Alaska deserves a senator who will not talk one way in the Last Frontier and then vote the opposite way in the Beltway. “

Part of the mix of that election is that Palin beat Murkowski’s father in her governors race in ’06, so there’s a bit of history. I’m sure the faux progressive bloggers will be blowing a gasket; trying to decide if Palin is completely irrelevant somehow anyway, or the most evil human ever in the universe. The general news from many of the elections on the right is that the party regulars are in trouble. Tea Party members are winning. Or more generally, anti-establishment candidates are winning. There’s a big lesson there for the MSM and the established old farts in both parties to not get. LATimes has more on the story as well. The election is not finalized yet, so anything can happen.

Another big race to watch has been the GOP governors race in FL. Here the established candidate, Bill McCollum, lost to the anti-establishment guy Rick Scott. As an example of the feelings out there, McCollum conceded the race but hasn’t endorsed Scott:

Bill McCollum conceded his loss in the Republican governor’s primary early Wednesday morning without endorsing the victor, millionaire Rick Scott.

“The votes today have been tallied and I accept the voters’ decision,” McCollum said. “This race was one for the ages. No one could have anticipated the entrance of a multimillionaire with a questionable past who shattered campaign spending records and spent more in four months than has ever been spent in a primary race here in Florida.

“While I was disappointed with the negative tone of the race, I couldn’t be more proud of our campaign and our supporters for fighting back against false and misleading advertising when we were down by double-digits.”

McCollum’s spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, said Wednesday morning that McCollum had not spoken to Scott. When asked if he planned to endorse Scott in his race against Democrat Alex Sink, Campbell said that McCollum is focused on helping other Republicans, such as Marco Rubio who is running for U.S. Senate.

“He and Mr. Scott have not talked,” she said.

Poor baby.

And over in Arizona, McCain handily won his primary after Palin’s endorsement:

Conscious of the danger posed by the Tea Party, McCain fought hard to ensure his political survival. Although Hayworth was a weak candidate, McCain took no chances, spending $20m (£13m), much of it on advertising blitzes, to beat him.

There was a political cost to McCain, as he had to shift repeatedly to the right, renouncing previous policy positions, not least immigration reform, which he once championed with the late Democratic senator Ted Kennedy. He even denied he had once taken pride in his label as a “maverick”.

The $20m is an extraordinary amount to spend on a primary in a state with a relatively small population, and Hayworth could not compete, claiming he had been outspent 10 to one.

McCain was helped, too, by a public appearance on his behalf by Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential running mate in 2008. A Tea Party favourite, her support for McCain saw some of Hayworth’s supporters peel away. Some Tea Party activists had been ambivalent about Hayworth anyway, sceptical about his rightwing credentials and his past political performances.

He managed to narrow the polls earlier this year, threatening an upset, but the poll gap was well into double digits on the eve of the primary. In spite of that, Hayworth insisted he was “poised to pull one of the greatest upsets in political history”.

The Arizona battle was the highlight of a night that also saw Republican and Democratic primaries fought in Florida, Alaska, Oklahoma and Vermont. The last of the primaries will be on 14 September.

This was indeed an interesting race. On the one hand McCain was an established candidate and not with the Tea Party movement, on the other hand he got an endorsement and support from Palin. And of course he spent a lot of money. I’m not sure what to take away from this one. McCain clearly moves all over the map when it comes to needing to get elected. It’s like he’s a politician or something. But who is the real John McCain?

In completely irrelevant election news, Meeks wins the Democratic primary for Florida’s open senate seat:

Representative Kendrick Meek won Florida’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday and will square off against Governor Charlie Crist and conservative Republican Marco Rubio in the closely watched Nov. 2 election.

As you can see by the quote above, the reason this is irrelevant is because the real race will be between the formerly Republican now Independent candidate Crist and Republican candidate Rubio. That will be an interesting race to watch. Republican’s will be pulling out all the stops to help Rubio win. Interestingly, many Democrats and typically Democratic affiliated organizations are backing Crist:

Democrat Kendrick Meek has the support of Florida’s AFL-CIO and SEIU, but independent Charlie Crist is rolling out a labor endorsement of his own today, from a coalition of Florida Teamsers locals.

In other election news, a transgender candidate for a GOP house seat got 22% of the GOP vote:

As Senate and gubernatorial races dominated political headlines Tuesday night, here’s a result that was easy to overlook: transgender candidate Donna Milo received 22 percent of the vote in her Republican primary for Florida’s 20th congressional district.

Milo placed third in a three-way race, finishing behind winner Karen Harrington (40 percent) and runner-up Robert Lowry (38 percent). Milo received over 4,100 votes out of more than 18,400 cast.

The district, which surrounds Ft. Lauderdale, is strongly Democratic. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a deputy Democratic whip, currently represents it.

Sadly she’s the typical pro life, anti gay marriage very conservative Republican. But the better than expected showing is worth note.

In non election news, the housing market looks pretty bad

The annualized rate of new homes sales fell 12.4% in July to a seasonally adjusted rate of 276,600 a year, the US Commerce Department said.

That makes it the slowest rate since records began in 1963.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors also reported a sharp drop in sales of existing homes.

Analysts fear the data could reflect the weakness in the US economy.

The annualized rate represents what the total number of sales would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months.

Although most analysts had expected a fall in sales, the number was even weaker than expected.

“There is nothing good you can say about the number,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities in New York.

“The odds of the dreaded double-dip [recession] are increasing.”

NYTimes has a more in depth article on the subject and also includes some about durable goods bad news:

The Commerce Department report said that orders to American factories for durable goods rose 0.3 percent last month, much less than the 3 percent growth that was forecast. Excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders dropped 3.8 percent. Orders for machinery dropped 15 percent, while those for capital goods dropped 8 percent.

“July’s durable goods report adds to the recent evidence from numerous activity surveys that the manufacturing recovery has lost nearly all of the considerable momentum it had,” economists from Capital Economics in a research note said.

“The rebound in manufacturing was one of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing recovery, the research note said. “Take it away, throw in a renewed collapse in housing, and you don’t have much left.”

But the important news of the day is that Obama is “having a good time” on his vacation. Yep, another vacation:

On Day 6 of President Obama’s summer sojourn on Martha’s Vineyard, it is Day 4 of wind-whipped rain here. So what if the clouds have followed him here, metaphorically and figuratively? The First Vacationer says he is a happy camper.

“I’m having a great time – doing a lot of reading,” a smiling Mr. Obama told reporters waiting outside the popular restaurant where he had a leisurely dinner on Tuesday night, near the farm property he is renting.

With the president were his wife, Michelle; his Chicago friends Valerie Jarrett, who is a senior White House adviser, and Eric and Cheryl Whitaker; and the Washington establishment figures Vernon and Ann Jordan, longtime summer visitors to the island who frequently socialized with President Clinton during his seven vacations here in the 1990s but did not see the Obamas during their stay last year. Mrs. Jordan and Ms. Jarrett are cousins; Mrs. Jordan’s mother and Ms. Jarrett’s grandfather were siblings.

The group spent almost three hours inside the State Road restaurant. Reporters outside knew the president and his party were finally leaving by the sound of cheers and clapping and the flash of cameras from the other diners inside.

So that’s some of what’s happening today. What are you seeing today in the news? Chime in with any other news.

Wednesday News

Good Afternoon Conflucians!!!

Let’s scavenge the news and see what’s happening on this fine overcast rainy day (big improvement over 100+ temperatures).

The Pirate Party strikes a deal with Wikileaks to host them:

After releasing more than 90,000 government documents last month related to the war in Afghanistan, Wikileaks was labeled a serious threat by the U.S. Government. With more leaks coming up, Wikileaks can use all the support it can get, especially from political movements around the globe.

One of the political parties that has shown interest in helping Wikileaks is the Swedish Pirate Party. Two weeks ago they offered to host the whistleblower site, and during a visit to Sweden Wikileaks’ Julian Assange accepted this offer and signed a deal.

“I’m delighted that we’re able to help WikiLeaks,” Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge told TorrentFreak in a response to the news that was made public today.

For Wikileaks, support from the Swedish Pirate Party is a significant win. If the Party is voted into Parliament next month it could use Parliamentary immunity to run the site from inside the Swedish Government, making it impossible to take it offline through legal procedures.

“We welcome the help provided by the Pirate Party,” Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange said commenting on the agreement. “Our organisations share many values and I am looking forward to future ways we can help each other improve the world.”

As we discussed yesterday, Rod Blagojavich was found guilty of only one of the counts with the jury deadlocked on the others. Now we find out from the jury how close the vote was. In a few of the verdicts including the main one of selling the Senate seat, the jury was 11 to 1 for conviction:

A lone juror may have saved former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from a conviction on the most serious corruption charge of conspiring to trade or sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, according to a juror in the case.

Juror Erik Sarnello, 21, of Itasca, Ill., told “Good Morning America” that a female juror would not be swayed by the overwhelming majority and kept the jury deadlocked at 11-1 on three key counts related to the Senate seat — conspiracy to commit extortion, attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery.

“There were major, fundamental different ideas and views on what we were seeing in the evidence,” Sarnello said. “We would play a phone call and one side would say, that supports, right there, he’s guilty, and the other side would say, that means he’s not guilty.”

Sarnello said the holdout “wanted to see that clear cut evidence that we knew just wasn’t there for her.”

That certainly sounds like a good reason for a retrial if the prosecution thinks that was an anomaly and not likely to be repeated. The prosecution is pushing for a retrial, so this circus will likely continue.

The Pakistan flood disaster continues with a continued lack of basic supplies:

With disastrous flooding threatening to spread, the United Nations acknowledged Wednesday that the shortage of the most basic supplies — shelter, food and drinking water — presented the biggest challenge for aid workers in Pakistan.

The assessment came after reports of looting and protests over food on Tuesday, deepening the sense of desperation across Punjab Province, the country’s most populous region and its agricultural hub.

In the absence of help from outsiders or the government, flood survivors told stories of taking the search for aid upon themselves, swimming to dry areas to find food for people still marooned and waiting for rescue.

As many as 8.5 million people in Punjab have been affected, and property damage is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the province’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, told reporters. Punjab’s provincial cabinet met Tuesday and ordered development funds to be used for emergency aid.

Things are extremely bad, and the aid just isn’t coming as it should. Obviously if you can help, please do. Even a few pennies can made a difference.

And sadly with these sorts of disasters, desperation as well as just less authority and control is leading to violence:

Desperation erupted into violence Tuesday in flood-ravaged Pakistan, as survivors who have yet to receive aid scrambled to put food in their empty bellies.

People in Sindh province blocked a highway to protest the slowness of aid delivery and clashed with police, the United Nations said. In a hard-hit district of Punjab, hungry mobs unloaded two aid trucks headed to a warehouse. Local aid agencies reported other incidents of looting.

An aid agency worker said distributions were hampered because of the crowds stopping the convoys and because large numbers of people were living along the road.

About 20 million people have been affected by the relentless monsoon rains that began falling three weeks ago, leading to massive flooding from the mountainous regions in the north to the river plains of the south.

About one-fifth of Pakistan is submerged, and entire families waded through filthy water, pleading for help.

More than 1,400 people have died. Health officials fear a second wave of fatalities from waterborne diseases, including cholera, which is endemic in Pakistan and now threatening to become a major outbreak.

Up to 3.5 million children are at high risk of cholera and other deadly diseases such as typhoid and dysentery, said Maurizio Giuliano of the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs office. About 900,000 homes have been damaged, and the monsoon season is only about halfway over.

You may remember the school spying case a few months past. This was where a school installed spyware in small children’s laptops and spied on them in their homes, in their bedrooms, late at night. Who knows what they watched, what they recorded, what has been uploaded or sold to child porn sites. Maybe nothing. Maybe they magically knew when the children should have been on their laptops doing homework and only watched then. Who knows. But the Feds have decided not to pursue this case:

Federal prosecutors will not file charges against a school district or its employees over the use of software to remotely monitor students.

U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger says investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent by Lower Merion School District employees who activated tracking software that took thousands of webcam and screenshot images on school-provided laptops.

A student and his family sued the district in February, claiming officials invaded his privacy by activating the software. That case continues.

The district has acknowledged capturing 56,000 screen shots and webcam images so it could locate missing laptops.

In unrelated creepy news, Laura Schlessinger is calling it quits with her radio show:

A week after igniting controversy with racially charged comments on her nationally syndicated radio show, advice guru Laura Schlessinger went on “Larry King Live” Tuesday evening to announce that she plans to leave the program when her contract runs out at the end of the year.

“I want my 1st Amendment rights back, which I can’t have on radio without the threat of attack on my advertisers and stations,” Schlessinger said.

She emphasized that she is not retiring. “I will be stronger and freer to say my mind through my books, my YouTube Channel, my blog and my website,” she said.

I have to admit I didn’t follow this latest adventure. Frankly Dr. Laura makes me ill. Her horrible hatred and violence inciting rhetoric towards gays was all I needed to know about here many years ago. Good riddance I say.

Fannie and Freddie are apparently done, at least no longer operating as they used to:

For the first time in almost two years, some actual news came out of Washington about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The crib notes are thus: The Fannie-Freddie model of housing-finance is kaput — it will die and their legacy portfolios will be wound down; the new system will almost certainly include (explicit) guarantees on certain types of residential mortgage-backed securities to help middle-class borrowers; low-income borrowers will be incentivized to rent until they can afford to buy.

Wow.

These are the kinds of things that have vaguely been suggested by the power set in Washington and the bankers on Wall Street for the past couple years of uncertainty. But now they’ve nearly been said explicitly, and with the molasses-like speed of Capitol Hill progress, that’s saying a lot.

“This is a test for Washington,” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. “The stakes are high.”

Most of the official news on policy came from reading between the lines of Geithner’s speech. In the new niche industry of speech analysis, consider the following nuggets. The Treasury Secretary cited “designing an elegant funeral for Fannie and Freddie,” the “planned wind down of the GSEs’ portfolios” (which had never before been announced) and said “I believe there is a strong case to be made for a carefully designed guarantee.”

Let’s change gears and take a look at what’s happening in the scientific and technology worlds.

In news close to my heart, Scottish scientist have figured out how to make biofuel from whisky:

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “one for the road”. Whisky, the spirit that powers the Scottish economy, is being used to develop a new biofuel which could be available at petrol pumps in a few years.

Using samples from the Glenkinchie Distillery in East Lothian, researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have developed a method of producing biofuel from two main by-products of the whisky distilling process – “pot ale”, the liquid from the copper stills, and “draff”, the spent grains.

Copious quantities of both waste products are produced by the £4bn whisky industry each year, and the scientists say there is real potential for the biofuel, to be available at local garage forecourts alongside traditional fuels. It can be used in conventional cars without adapting their engines. The team also said it could be used to fuel planes and as the basis for chemicals such as acetone, an important solvent.

That story scared me at first because I thought they would be using whisky for biofuel instead of for drinking. Blaspheme. But no, they’re just using some of the by-products. So we’re all safe. Whew.

Here’s a nice bit of work, turning bicycle power into, well, power:

A team of students from MIT’s SENSEable Cities Lab have just won the American round of the 2010 James Dyson Award for inventing the Copenhagen Wheel. This simple contraption transforms a regular peddle bicycle into a hybrid electric bike.

The wheel (PDF) employs a method used in Formula 1 race cars known has Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). Normally when a car brakes, energy is created in the form of heat on the rotors and pads. In vehicles with KERS, that energy is captured and reused by the motor during acceleration.

The Copenhagen Wheel works on the same principal. Energy from the braking is captured an electric motor, which generates a current that is stored on a battery. Later, when the rider is going uphill or needs extra speed, she can tap into that stored energy.

And when you attach your smart phone, the bike can be even more helpful. It has sensors and a Bluetooth connection that links to the user’s iPhone. The sensors monitor the bicycle’s speed, direction and distance and provides information about traffic and pollution levels.

Scientists can now control the pace of a heart with light, which could radically change pace maker technology for the better:

For the first time, researchers have controlled the pace of an embryonic heart using pulses of light. The new method is a leap forward for cardiologists and developmental biologists, who hope it will help yield a better understanding of heart development and congenital heart disease. They also hope the development could eventually lead to new types of optical pacemakers.

Artificial pacemakers normally use electrodes to deliver regular, “paced” electrical impulses to the heart muscle to keep its beats consistent. While the devices are safe in the short term, they can cause damage to the muscle if used over decades. The technique’s intrusive methods–which require contact with the heart –also limit its capabilities as a research tool.

“If you’re trying to use an electrode to touch the heart and stimulate it, the contacts could disrupt potential observation of the heartbeat,” says Ed Boyden, a professor of biological engineering at MIT. Boyden was not involved in the research. “A noninvasive methodology for pulsing the heart is important for science. Potentially, this could open up a lot of experiments.”

A million children may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD:

Nearly 1 million children in the United States are potentially misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder simply because they are the youngest — and most immature — in their kindergarten class, according to new research by a Michigan State University economist.

These children are significantly more likely than their older classmates to be prescribed behavior-modifying stimulants such as Ritalin, said Todd Elder, whose study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

Such inappropriate treatment is particularly worrisome because of the unknown impacts of long-term stimulant use on children’s health, Elder said. It also wastes an estimated $320 million-$500 million a year on unnecessary medication — some $80 million-$90 million of it paid by Medicaid, he said.

Elder said the “smoking gun” of the study is that ADHD diagnoses depend on a child’s age relative to classmates and the teacher’s perceptions of whether the child has symptoms.

“If a child is behaving poorly, if he’s inattentive, if he can’t sit still, it may simply be because he’s 5 and the other kids are 6,” said Elder, assistant professor of economics. “There’s a big difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old, and teachers and medical practitioners need to take that into account when evaluating whether children have ADHD.”

That’s very disturbing to say the least. That’s not to take away from the real issues and needs of many children of course. But the possible long term ramifications of such misdiagnosis are upsetting. More science, less fad medicine please.

In another misdiagnosis news, or rather new discovery of a similar disorder news, it looks like head trauma can be similar in symptoms and effects as Lou Gehrig’s disease:

Repeated head trauma from playing sports such as football and rugby is linked to the development of a new neurological disorder similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to U.S. researchers.

Scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs made the discovery after examining the brains and spinal cords of 12 athletes. The findings will be published in the September edition of the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.

Three of the 12 athletes, including former professional football players Wally Hilgenberg and Eric Scoggins, developed motor neuron disease later in life. While the three were diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, they probably had a similar illness never before described in medical literature, the researchers wrote. Lou Gehrig himself may have had this disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalomyopathy, they said.

“We’re hopeful that this new work may shed light on potentially exciting new possibilities for biomarker and therapy development,” said Steve Perrin, chief executive officer of the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The new illness, dubbed CTEM, is distinct from ALS, which causes muscle tissue to waste away. CTEM is likely caused by repetitive head trauma such as that experienced by athletes in contact sports, the researchers said.

And one more item in medical news, teens are loosing their hearing:

As many as 20 percent of U.S. adolescents have some amount of hearing loss, and the problem has worsened in recent years, according to a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Teenagers really underestimate how much noise they are exposed to,” said Dr. Josef Shargorodsky of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the study’s lead researcher.

“Often the individual won’t notice it, but even slight hearing loss may lead to differences in language development and learning,” said Shargorodsky during an interview with the Associated Press (AP).

Some experts have suggested that listening to loud music with earbuds may be behind the rise in teen hearing loss in recent years, and warn that even slight hearing loss can set the stage for problems later in life.

“Our hope is we can encourage people to be careful,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Gary Curhan, also of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Turn down that loud music. Wear hearing protection when using loud equipment. And be especially careful with ear phones and plugs.

Finally here’s a fun story about how the internet is changing our language:

‘To Google’ has become a universally understood verb and many countries are developing their own internet slang. But is the web changing language and is everyone up to speed?

In April 2010 the informal online banter of the internet-savvy collided with the traditional and austere language of the court room.

Christopher Poole, founder of anarchic image message board 4Chan, had been called to testify during the trial of the man accused of hacking into US politician Sarah Palin’s e-mail account.

During the questioning he was asked to define a catalogue of internet slang that would be familiar to many online, but which was seemingly lost on the lawyers.

At one point during the exchange, Mr Poole was asked to define “rickrolling”.

“Rickroll is a meme or internet kind of trend that started on 4chan where users – it’s basically a bait and switch. Users link you to a video of Rick Astley performing Never Gonna Give You Up,” said Mr Poole.

“And the term “rickroll” – you said it tries to make people go to a site where they think it is going be one thing, but it is a video of Rick Astley, right?,” asked the lawyer.

“Yes.”

“He was some kind of singer?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a joke?”

“Yes.”

The internet prank was just one of several terms including “lurker”, “troll” and “caps” that Mr Poole was asked to explain to a seemingly baffled court.

Read on for more fun language examples including abbreviations and slag developed from texting, tweeting, etc. My favorite examples from the Ukraine are:

“Computer slang is developing pretty fast in Ukraine,” she said.

The Mac and Linux communities even have their own word for people who prefer Microsoft Windows – віндузятники (vinduzyatnyky literally means “Windowers” but the “nyky” ending makes it derogatory).

“There are some original words with an unmistakably Ukrainian flavour,” said Ms Pyrkalo.

The dreaded force-quit process of pressing ‘Control, Alt, Delete’ is known as Дуля (dulya).

“A dulya is an old-fashioned Ukrainian gesture using two fingers and a thumb – something similar to giving a finger in Anglo-Saxon cultures,” she said.

“And you need three fingers to press the buttons. So it’s like telling somebody (a computer in this case) to get lost.”

That’s a bit of what’s happening today. Chime in with anything fun you’re finding.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

A tragic story toping the news seems to be the mass murder in Connecticut yesterday (the deadliest shooting in that state’s history):

As police investigate the deadly shooting spree at Hartford Distributors and prepare to identify its victims, the company will meet Wednesday with employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 30 years.

“They want to meet in private, an opportunity for people to grieve and to come together and to address the remainder of their family members, meaning their employees,” said James Battaglio, a spokesman for the family that owns the business.

Omar Thornton, 34, walked into a room early Tuesday at the beverage distributorship where he worked in Manchester, Connecticut. Company and union officials played a video. He calmly watched images that purportedly showed him stealing from a truck.

An employee of Hartford Distributors for two years and a driver for one, Thornton was given a choice of resigning or being fired, union and company officials said.

He signed a resignation paper, was escorted out of the room and toward the door. He asked for a drink of water, company CEO Ross Hollander told CNN. Then, Thornton pulled out a handgun and began firing, officials said.

The family of the killer claims there were racial issues involved, despite the video of him stealing from the company:

Omar Thornton sat calmly in a meeting with union representative and his supervisors as they showed a video of him stealing beer from the distributor where he worked.

Busted, he didn’t put up a fight, company officials said. He quietly signed a letter of resignation and was headed for the door when he pulled out a gun and started firing — “cold as ice,” as one survivor described it.

In the end, Thornton killed eight people, injured two, then turned the gun on himself in a rampage Tuesday at Hartford Distributors that union and company officials said they would not have anticipated from someone with no history of complaints or disciplinary problems.

Yet relatives say Thornton, 34, finally cracked after suffering racial harassment in a company where he said he was singled out for being black in a predominantly white work force.

“Everybody’s got a breaking point,” said Joanne Hannah, the mother of Thornton’s longtime girlfriend.

After shooting his co-workers, Thornton hid as police moved in. He called his mother, who tried for 10 minutes to talk him out of killing himself, his uncle Will Holliday told reporters.

“He said, ‘I killed the five racists that was there that was bothering me,’” Holliday said. “He said, ‘The cops are going to come in so I am going to take care of myself.’”

CNN ran with that part of the story last night and implied that perhaps the mass murder was justified and the killer was the real victim. They seem to be pulling back from that now. And MSNBC is running with that meme still. Of course there are intense, disgusting levels of racism in some work places, and that may have been the case here, but to entertain even for a minute that going postal is justifiable is stunning and irresponsible to the extreme.

In gulf news, the “static kill” procedure may be working, but there is a lot more to do:

The blown-out Macondo well has reached a “static condition,” oil giant BP said early Wednesday, meaning that pressure inside the well has been brought under control through a mud-pumping process that began Tuesday afternoon.

BP called the achievement “a significant milestone” and said it stopped pumping mud into the well after about eight hours because the effort had been successful.

“The well is now being monitored, per the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static,” the company said in a statement. “Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring.”

At least that’s the word from BP and their servants from the US government. But here’s the real piece of propaganda for you later in the article:

Meanwhile, the government is set to announce Wednesday that about 75 percent of the oil spilled from the well has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated, the New York Times reported. The newspaper said a government study, to be released Wednesday, will say that the remaining oil is breaking down rapidly and seems unlikely to pose significant additional harm.

There you have it, all done, nothing to see here, no more harm. We’re all good. It’s nothing to worry your pretty little head about. Why am I not surprised this would be their tactic. And of course the MSM will go right along with it. In fact, here’s another breaking update, yep, 3/4 of the oil is already magically gone. So apparently there is supernatural magic going on in the world. Who knew.

You know, as more and more of the country retreats into 3rd world status or suffers under various disasters, I can see this same pretending it’s not there by the government and the media. Pretty soon the only parts of the country we”ll ever seen on the news will be certain country clubs. And I thought all of those Escape from [add your city here] movies were silly.

Of course apparently the most important news of the day is that a teenager and her boyfriend broke up. Yep, big news outlets with so much going on are focused on such things. I’m talking about Bristol Palin of course. There’s something about Sarah to be sure. Amazing. Nothing interesting to quote here. And who cares. Apparently everyone but us. Of course the other big important news of the day is about who taught Chelsea Clinton how to dance. I shit you not.

Some shake up seems to be happening in the publishing and book selling world. Barnes and Noble is up for sale:

Shares in Barnes & Noble, the largest US bookstore chain, have jumped 20% after it said late on Tuesday it was considering putting itself up for sale.

The chain said it believed its shares were “significantly undervalued”.

Founder Leonard Riggio said he might make a bid for the struggling retailer, as part of a wider investor group.

The chain struggled during the downturn as consumers looked to discount bookstores.

Future prospects are also complicated by the emergence of digital books, or so-called e-readers.

The company said it was confident its “iconic brand and unique competitive advantages” would ensure its future success.

But the board said it intends to “evaluate strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of the company, in order to increase stockholder value”.

Apparently Billy Nungesser down in New Orleans is causing some trouble and discomfort for both the WH and BP, so it’s time we made him out to be the enemy:

It’s 8 a.m. inside the third-floor war room of the government building in Plaquemines Parish, ground zero in the three-month battle against BP’s mess.

At one end of the crowded room: a wall lit by a live storm-tracking map.

At the other end, his collar open, sleeves up, filling every inch of a padded chair like some bayou potentate: Billy Nungesser, parish president and public enemy of anybody who can’t get something done.

When outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward doubted that oil plumes were drifting through the waters off Plaquemines Parish, Nungesser responded on national TV that he’d “like to take him offshore and stick him 10 feet under the water and pull him up with that black all over his face and ask him what that is.”

He called retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen “an embarrassment” and “a cartoon character,” then pronounced him “not the right man for the job.”

He told President Obama the first time the two met, “There’s been a failure of leadership at all levels. Who in the hell is in charge?”

He has an umpire’s skill of calling balls and strikes — he calls it the way he sees it. He’s able to go after BP and the Obama administration with equal fury. People are counting on him to be the last uncompromised man in Louisiana.”

In soil as corruption-rich as this state’s, a word like “uncompromised” can be relative. After all, this is where convicted felon Edwin Edwards ran successfully against a Klansman for governor by appealing to voters’ better natures with the slogan “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”

And while Nungesser has been battling big oil and bureaucratic inaction the last three months, he’s also running for re-election in a parish known for its eye-gouging political style.

So opponents — and he has a few — have tagged him as everything from a tyrant and a hypocrite to an opportunist and a lawbreaker. His relationship with the parish council is described by a fellow Republican member as “war.”

He’s been accused of taking BP money when the oil company renovated a marina for the recovery effort in which he has an ownership share.

In June, a legislative audit alleged four possible legal and ethical violations of the parish charter and local law.

Read more for some details of the hits coming his way. Of course it’s silly to assume he’s any different than a lot of politicians with ambition, but I’m not surprised that he’ll likely be taken down for the sin he committed: going against the partnership of the WH and BP.

In some oops news, Michelle Obama shows up in Spain just as the US says the spanish are all racists:

Michelle Obama and her youngest daughter, Sasha, seven, have arrived in Spain for a short holiday as US officials scrambled to defuse embarassing allegations of institutional racism against their host country.

Hours before the first African-American first lady of the US and her daughter were settling into the luxurious Villa Padierna hotel on the outskirts of Marbella, the US state department removed a warning about police racism in Spain from one of its websites.

“We have received isolated reports that racial prejudice may have contributed to the arrest or detention of some African-Americans travelling in Spain,” the bureau of consular affairs had warned on its travel advice website.

“Recently, two African-American US government employees were questioned by police in Barcelona for no apparent reason. One was detained and suffered physical injuries in the process.”

The warning disappeared yesterday, but was still accessible in the page’s internet cache.

They shouldn’t worry. After all we’ve learned from Obama and his early and continuing campaign that everyone is a racist. The Spanish shouldn’t take it so hard. We’re all getting used to it.

Time has an interesting story about what is perhaps another inevitable war in the middle east between Israel and Lebanon:

A new report based on extensive conversations with regional decisionmakers, released Monday, Aug. 2, by the International Crisis Group, the respected mediation organization of former diplomats, warns of the possibility of war. “The situation in the Levant is … exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason,” the Crisis Group warns. “The buildup in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, are effectively deterring all sides.” But while Hizballah and its regional backers, Syria and Iran, believe that the buildup in the Shi’ite militia’s arsenal and capabilities is deterring Israel from launching attacks on any of them, Israel views the acquisition by Hizballah of a missile arsenal capable of raining destruction on Israeli cities as an intolerable threat. “As Hizballah’s firepower grows,” the Crisis Group notes, “so too does Israel’s desire to tackle the problem before it is too late … What is holding the current architecture in place is also what could rapidly bring it down.”

Should a new war break out, Israel is determined to strike a devastating blow more quickly than it did during the last conflict, in which it failed in its objective of destroying Hizballah. It has publicly warned that it would destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure and that Syria, as Hizballah’s armorer, would not be off-limits. But Hizballah believes its capacity to fire missiles into Tel Aviv is key to restraining Israel from returning to finish off the Shi’ite militia. And, of course, amid regional tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, members of the self-styled “axis of resistance” — Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah — have deepened their alliance, raising the possibility of any one of those groups joining the fray should any of the others come under attack from Israel or the U.S.

It looks like Timmeh will be the point man in the political offensive against the GOP on fiscal policy:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is  emerging as the point man in the administration’s pre-election offensive for its economic policies. In a speech on Wednesday, he will assail the Republicans’ record, and in particular their effort to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which are set to expire.

“Borrowing to finance tax cuts for the top 2 percent would be a $700 billion fiscal mistake,” Mr. Geithner will say, according to excerpts of his speech released by the Treasury on Wednesday morning. “It’s not the prescription the economy needs right now, and the country can’t afford it.”

Mr. Geithner will call the administration’s tax policies “pro-growth,” co-opting the Republicans’ favorite adjective of recent decades for their tax-cutting policies.

All of the income-tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 are scheduled to expire after this year. The law was written that way to hold down the estimates of the measures’ impact on future annual budget deficits.

Time to get out the popcorn. I think if the Dems cave on the tax cuts, we’re hosed big time. Any bets on Dems caving in on anything? Oh yea, why do I even ask. Of course they will.

That’s a small cut at all the things going on. Chime in with what you’re seeing today.

UPDATE:

California Federal Judge Vaughn Walker stuck down the ban, prop 8, on same sex marriage:

A San Francisco federal judge today struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, concluding that it tramples on the equal rights of gay and lesbian couples and setting the stage for an appeal that appears destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 136-page ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker sided with two same-sex couples that challenged voter-approved Proposition 8, which embedded a ban on gay marriage in the California constitution and wiped out a prior California Supreme Court ruling that briefly legalized same-sex nuptials across the state. Walker ordered that Proposition 8 should be immediately voided, and same-sex couples be given the chance marry across California.

“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians,” the judge wrote. “The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples.

That’s great news! I’m sure the crackpots will be appealing and trying various tactics to stop the inevitable.

Prop. 8 defenders have already vowed to ask an appeals court to immediately stay Walker’s order.

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