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Wednesday News

Good Day Conflucians!!

I’m definitely getting a late start today. Let’s grab a few headlines to get the ball rolling.

In some good news, the Senate unanimously passed the Leahy-Sessions bill that protects US citizens from foreign libel suits:

The US Senate on Monday passed a bill to shield US journalists, authors, and publishers from “libel tourists” who file suit in countries where they expect to get the most favorable ruling.

The popular legislation headed to the House of Representatives, which was expected to approve it and send the measure to US President Barack Obama to sign into law despite misgivings from key US allies.

Backers of the bill have cited England, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore as places where weak libel safeguards attract lawsuits that unfairly harm US journalists, writers and publishers.

The Senate approved the measure in a “unanimous consent” voice vote.

The bill’s supporters have said that “libel tourism” undermines free speech rights under the US Constitution’s cherished first amendment, and so erode accountability of powerful figures in a healthy democracy.

The measure would prevent US federal courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the first amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

It would bar foreign parties in such cases from targeting the US assets of an American author, journalist, or publisher as part of any damages.

Astronomers have discovered a star that shatters all previous records for size:

Astronomers have discovered the most massive stars known, including one at more than 300 times the mass of our sun – double the size that scientists thought heavyweight stars could reach.

These colossal stars are millions of times brighter than the sun and shed mass through very powerful winds.

The stellar discovery, which represents the first time that these hulking stars were individually identified, could help astronomers understand the behavior of massive stars, and how large they can be at birth.

In a fascinating article over at the Oil Drum, our favorite go to place for analysis of the oil gusher in the gulf, one of the guest writers dives into the topic of a new direction for nuclear power plants, namely going smaller:

Pick up almost any book about nuclear energy and you will find that the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive. This assumption is widely accepted, but, if its roots are understood, it can be effectively challenged.

Recently, however, a growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing. The resulting systems are a welcome addition to the nuclear power plant menu, which has previously been limited to one size – extra large.

It is possible for engineers to make incredibly complex calculations without a single math error that still come up with a wrong answer if they use a model based on incorrect assumptions. That appears to be the case with the “bigger is better” model used by nuclear plant designers and marketers.

Though the “economy of scale” did not work for the first nuclear age, there is some evidence that a different economic rule did apply. That rule is what is often referred to as the experience curve. According to several detailed studies, it appears that when similar plants were built by the same organization, the follow-on plants cost less to build. According to a RAND Corporation study, “a doubling in the number of reactors [built by an architect-engineer] results in a 5 percent reduction in both construction time and capital cost.”

This idea is significant. It tells us that nuclear power is no different conceptually than hundreds of other new technologies.

Read more for a fascinating analysis and very good arguments for this new approach.

In the world of publishing, a major milestone has been reached. Amazon now sells more e-books than hardback books:

Amazon.com Inc. said it reached a milestone, selling more e-books than hardbacks over the past three months.

But publishers said it is still too early to gauge for the entire industry whether the growth of e-books is cannibalizing sales of paperback books, a huge and crucial market.

In a statement Monday, Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also countered the perception that sales of the company’s Kindle e-reading device had suffered due to competition from other devices, such as Apple Inc.’s iPad.

He said the growth rate of Kindle device sales had “reached a tipping point,” having tripled since the company lowered its price to $189 from $259 last month, following a similar move by competitor Barnes & Noble Inc. to cut the price on its Nook e-reader.

Just like with digital downloads of music vs. CD’s, I supposed the same is inevitable with books and movies. I for one still like to have the real thing in hand for the things I want to keep long term. But I love having those things on my iPad and iPhone for reading, watching, or listening at a moments notice. One place where they still aren’t competing is paperbacks. I love going through cheap paperbacks that I then sell or trade at the book swap. That 1 or 2 or 3 dollar book is hard to beat. Both in terms of price and usability. But I’m sure they’re working on that.

Obama signs the financial overhaul bill:

Declaring that “the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” President Obama on Wednesday signed landmark legislation providing the most sweeping overhaul of financial rules since the Great Depression.

The new law reverses decades of deregulation, aiming to provide greater government protection for consumers and reduce risky practices at financial institutions to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis.

Its controversial centerpiece is a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which will have broad authority to write new rules for mortgages, credit cards, payday loans and other consumer products and make sure firms are adhering to them.

The White House is now asking for a review of yesterday’s firing:

The White House intervened late Tuesday night in a racially-tinged dispute that prompted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fire a black civil servant, and Mr. Vilsack is now reconsidering his decision.

“I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner,” Mr. Vilsack said in an e-mail statement sent at about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

A White House official confirmed that advisers to President Obama spoke to officials at the Department of Agriculture “and we agreed that the issue should be reviewed.” The official, speaking anonymously to reveal internal discussions, said Mr. Vilsack was amenable.

“There was a convergence there, but we did initiate the conversation,” the official said.

Apparently there is drama with Obama.

SoS Clinton announces sanctions for North Korea:

Top US policy-makers did a diplomatic dance with their South Korean counterparts on Wednesday in a display of solidarity intended to calm South Korean concerns about the American commitment.

In the highlight of highly publicized visit to Seoul by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary Clinton announced what she said were new US North Korea sanctions. The sanctions, she said would “increase our ability” to halt North Korea’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction along with other “illicit activities that helped fund their weapons programs.”

Oakland, CA OK’s pot factories:

Reporting from Oakland — Oakland’s City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that could make it the first city in the state to permit industrial marijuana production, a path-breaking decision that could spur the commercialization of a crop largely grown in hidden gardens.

The plan would authorize four potentially enormous pot factories, but makes no provision for the hundreds of growers who now supply Oakland’s four dispensaries, which sold $28 million in marijuana last year. The council, however, promised it would develop a plan for these growers before permits are awarded next year for the four large-scale marijuana operations.

“This is a monumental step forward,” said Dale Gieringer, an Oakland resident and the longtime head of California NORML, which backs the legalization of marijuana. “It really means moving into the era of industrial-scale operations and Oakland means to do it big.”

And just when you thought it was safe to be poor and unemployed again, Repubs delay the jobless benefits:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday delayed action to restore U.S. unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work the longest, prolonging a partisan standoff even though the measure is certain to pass.

Some 2.5 million jobless Americans have seen their benefits lapse since the end of May as the Senate has deadlocked over how to cover the $34 billion cost of extending them through November.

Congress is all but certain to restore those benefits by the end of the week after Democrats broke a Republican procedural hurdle on Tuesday afternoon. But Republicans appeared to be running out the legislative clock, delaying a final vote until as late as 9 p.m. on Wednesday (0100 GMT Thursday).

“Perhaps the overwhelming majority of Republicans think that since they’ve turned their backs on the unemployed for so many months, what’s another few days?” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said. “Perhaps they think that when unemployment goes up, their poll numbers do too.”

And finally, a plurality of Americans now say that McCain would have been better than Obama. Warning, this is from John Fund, but it’s based on a Quinnipiac poll:

Democrats will be gulping this morning at the Quinnipiac Poll’s latest results. For the first time in the survey’s history, Americans believe by a 48% to 40% margin that President Obama doesn’t deserve re-election. Almost as stinging, a plurality believe the country would have been better off if John McCain had beaten Mr. Obama in 2008.

The Quinnipiac Poll is pored over by political observers because it has a good predictive record and because its large sample size of nearly 2200 people implies a much smaller margin of error than most surveys — around 2 percentage points.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating continues to slide, and is dragging his party down. While last July Mr. Obama had a 57% positive rating, Quinnipiac now pegs him at just 44% approval — a number below President Bill Clinton’s approval rating just before his party lost control of Congress in 1994. When asked which party they plan to vote for this November, likely voters in the Quinnipiac survey picked Republicans by 43% to 38%. This was despite an expressed lack of confidence in the ability of Republican leaders in Congress to tackle the nation’s problems.

That’s a bit of what’s out there. Chime in with updates and new things you’re finding.

My $0.02 on Shirley Sherrod

At the time this story first started buzzing in the morning, I reserved comment. I wanted to get Sherrod’s side of the story first and the larger context of her remarks. From the soundbyte I had seen — which was the footage that first went viral after conservative media put it out there– Sherrod’s tone and the context clues indicated to me that she was trying to express the opposite of what was being alleged against her in conservative media and elsewhere. But, I wasn’t 100% sure so I waited.

The facts have come to light and not only was Sherrod trying to say something profound about everyone overcoming their biases and helping all people in need, but what Sherrod “admitted” to was from 24 years ago (which she was relating as an experience that taught her that lesson about overcoming biases and helping everyone.) She was not even talking about something she did while working for the federal government.

By now, I’m sure a lot of you have heard that the NAACP has apologized to Sherrod.

Sherrod did not fall on a sword, let alone a sword of her own making. She was forced onto a sword manufactured by:

*lack of professionalism on the part of the NAACP in vetting the charge before reacting
*a wimpy and/or self-serving White House, in a hypercharged and poisoned political environment.

It is a sad thing what happened to Shirley Sherrod. It is also a domino effect that is rooted in our nation’s history of racism and other forms of discrimination as well as in the poisoning that resulted from that history when race-baiting was done during the Democratic primaries for the purpose of getting Obama-the-closet-conservative elected– the same Obama whose WH now subsequently jumps whenever Fox says jump!!! (Boycott Glenn Beck, Glenn Beck goes on a commie witchhunt — instead of the WH fighting it, it’s Buh bye Van Jones. Sarah Palin’s facebook says death panels? Senate Finance cmte. says Buh bye to the end-of-life-counseling provision!)

It’s so opportunistic and upside-down. Not only are the real victims of racism often getting ignored or overshadowed or told to shut up because of the so-called “post-racial” era of Obama, while the wrong people are getting called racist to deflect from scrutiny of Obama, but it also does such a huge disservice to true advocates who work so hard to responsibly and thoughtfully fight discrimination and help minorities, women, the working class, etc.

The only reason Sherrod should have not had said what she said is the practical reason: her job is not safe in a political environment like this. Plus she’s a woman and a minority. She’s not as likely to keep her job as Joe “Obama is so clean and articulate” Biden and Harry “light skinned and optional Negro dialect” Reid. Nope, it is not safe to say what she said in today’s ugly political environment… but not because she’s wrong to have said it. What she said was brave.

The charge of racism has been both diluted and perverted: The race-baiters will only use race to prop up sacred cows, be it through the means of the vile Southern Strategy or by using the charge of racism opportunistically to shut down legitimate dissent.

All the rest of us who aren’t sacred cows are here under the bus. We’re called racists even though we’re not. We’re the victims of racism and other forms of discrimination while the gatekeepers of what is civil and okay to say look the other way. (I was sickened and distrubed to see supposed “progressives” on progressive blogs commenting as if Nikki Haley “deserved” the raghead slur against her and the sexual/slut innuendo and bogus affair allegations, saying she deserved everything she was getting because of the conservative company she keeps. As an Indian American liberal woman, it absolutely broke my heart.)

The NAACP opened up this can of worms by passing that “resolution” calling the Tea Party racist. IMHO not a good plan. Not well thought out. For one thing, it further alienates disaffected voters who this tactic no longer works on but could still be won back to the Democrats if only they would behave like Democrats and pass a real Democratic agenda. Moreover, it OBVIOUS the right-wing haterade would go on a witchhunt in response to this resolution tactic. I saw it coming 10,000 miles away. This is what the inhabitants of Glenn Beckistan do. It’s their pattern. It’s counterproductive and ineffective to fight them with “boycotts” and “resolutions” that will never actually shut them up. You boycott MSNBC or something, you might actually get an apology once in awhile. You won’t get one from the rightwingers, you’ll get an angry army trying to do tit for tat. So even more importantly if you’re going to persist in doing these boycotts and resolutions, you have to be effing prepared for going into the battle that comes with that territory. You don’t blink at the first sign of backlash and force Shirley Sherrod to resign when Breitbart and Fox tell you she has to go! Especially without even watching the video of Sherrod’s remarks in its entirety, as the NAACP now claims it didn’t in its apology to Sherrod.

To protect ourselves from being the subject of racism or falsely called racist, we must hold back on honest, mature, real, studied, and illuminating discourse on race or have the thick rhinoceros hide and/or economic stability to be unpopular and say the unpopular things.

The race-baiters have diluted and perverted the charge of racism so much that Sherrod was forced to resign when really it is the NAACP, Fox News, Breitbart, Vilsack/WH, and the USDA who all “acted stupidly” and owe Shirley Sherrod a huge apology. She deserves her job back.

Full video of Sherrod’s remarks posted by the NAACP: