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Sunday News – All Hallow’s Eve Edition


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.


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 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.


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.

Sunday News And Other Mythologies

Good Day Conflucians!!

The myth that we have two different political parties would be funny to watch if it didn’t have such serious consequences. Whichever party is in charge does the bidding of their corporatist bosses while the out party pretends to be opposed to what they’re doing. They each make lots of noise and get people riled up. One side calls the other heartless crazy right wing nazi’s and the other screams evil big spending communists. They make enough noise and faux opposition speeches that each election cycle people are ready to throw one side out and install the other. And when the next group gets in power, they do the bidding of the very same corporatist bosses. And the cycle continues. The reason people are so confused about political and economic and social labels is because they’re used incorrectly by both sides and the media for their own theatrical purposes.

Our faux two party system benefits the backers and the two parties and the media. It’s a mutually beneficial dance that allows corporatist interests to continue to gain power and money while the country slides further and further down to 3rd world status. You can also see a parallel with many of the wars we enter. They are often mutually beneficial to both sides of the conflicts. Certainly not to the troops involved or the citizens of either side, but for the power leaders and the power institutions (these days mega corporations) behind them it’s a win-win. Will there ever be a breaking point? Will we all be brought down to such a low level there is no more blood to be extracted? The puppet masters certainly hope not. But even if there is a breaking point, they will likely have escape plans and well fortified castles to hid in. Just like the bad guys in all the Bond movies. Unfortunately unlike in the movies, there isn’t a hero what will swoop in and save us.

Even great writers that try to get at the truth of who we are and what society is about, have a hard time following through with the inevitable conclusion. Case in point is “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. In the story Golding deals with a lot of issues of how fragile society is and what’s beneath the surface. But he chickens out in the end and has the boys rescued by the big adults. The hero swoops in and rescues them from themselves. Some would say religions themselves have a built in problem like this with a belief that a big man in the sky is going to swoop in and make everything better, or at least resolves the injustices later. And as we saw in the presidential primaries and general election, the backers of one of the candidates were filled with hope for change. The problem with Golding’s story, with religions, and with the followers of Obama is the magic man doesn’t swoop in and save you in real life. Instead you need to understand reality and all the possibilities, and make judgements based on best estimates and practical solutions and reasoning through the problem and possible solutions and based on track records of what people really do not what they say. But that’s not in the interest of either political party or the media. Even if a better and more reasoned approach would not only make life better for most, but even for them, they would still be afraid of not being in control.

So we’re in a world of mythology in the middle east where women have to wear tents and can’t smoke, and we’re in a world of mythology in the US where an incompetent, self absorbed, person who’s never had a job and who’d never accomplished anything is someone to lead us out of our current mess. We’re in a would of mythology where after the current corporatist party, Dems, have let our resources and our very soul be sucked out of us by the likes of Goldman Sachs and BP, we’re supposed to be excited as the other corporatist party, Repubs, will start moving back into power to continue the cycle. Sadly as we fall further into third world status, the likelihood of people seeing through mythologies fades. The tradeoff though is that we’ll enter a period of more volatility and likely revolutionary reactions. History is full of such things. But our faux leaders are prepared for that, because anything that looks like that is terrorism, and we’ve already gotten ride of habeas corpus, and have rendition and torture as routine. They have done their homework well. What will Americans do now? Will they just sit and wait for a hero to rescue them, or a big man in the sky to balance things out? Or will they wake up.

Now that I’ve had a bit of a say, let’s see what’s going on in the news.

Obama is, you guessed it, on vacation:

BAR HARBOR, MAINE — President Obama and his family aren’t just getting outside the Beltway on their brief vacation here — they’re getting outside, period.

Since their arrival Friday afternoon, the Obamas have been biking, hiking and boating their way around Mount Desert Island, the third-largest island on the Eastern Seaboard and home to the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park.

The first stop Friday was a 90-minute bike ride on the lushly wooded trails around Witch Hole Pond at the northern end of the island. Then came a family hike on Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet the highest peak on the East Coast.

And while they’re he’s continuing his tired message that it’s all the Republican’s fault. Funnily enough, it was their fault when Dems had a supermajority, and now with only 59 votes, it’s somehow still their fault:

Moving into campaign mode, President Obama on Saturday cast the Republicans as an obstructionist force bent on impeding the nation’s economic recovery for political purposes.

Obama used his weekly radio address to deliver a message that Senate Republicans are also blocking an extension of jobless benefits to millions of unemployed Americans suffering in a tough economy.

And of course, while Obama is vacationing in Maine (nearly as far from the gulf as you can get I might add), the real leader is in Pakistan working:

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, will arrive in Islamabad for a two-day visit that will focus on economic aid and Pakistan’s role in the war in Afghanistan.

Clinton will arrive on Sunday and attend at least one public event in Islamabad. Her talks on Monday will include several senior Pakistani officials, including Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister.

The US delegation is expected to press Pakistan to escalate its war against armed groups in the country’s northwest – particularly the so-called “Haqqani network” – supposedly the deadliest group operating in Afghanistan whose fighters often take sanctuary in Pakistan.

Clinton will also likely press Pakistan on its role in “reconciliation” talks between anti-government fighters and the Afghan government. Some US officials suspect that Pakistan will encourage fighters with links to al-Qaeda to join the government.

“For the United States, it is key that the Afghan government, and those Taliban elements who may join it, have no links to al-Qaeda, and that Afghanistan does not again become a base for al-Qaeda,” Teresita Schaffer, an analyst at the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

And on the war front, we’ve got women being newly targeted by the Taliban:

U.S. intelligence officials say they have intercepted new orders from the Taliban’s spiritual leader that call on insurgents to target women and Afghan civilians helping American-led forces.

One year after issuing a detailed code of conduct that called on Taliban fighters to protect Afghan civilians, NATO officials say, Mullah Omar has issued new directives to his commanders that appear to represent a tougher stance.

Release of the directives comes as Afghan and U.S.-led forces are preparing for a looming new military confrontation with insurgents in the Taliban’s spiritual heartland of Kandahar province.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed the report as American propaganda and some Afghan analysts expressed doubts that the Taliban leader would specifically single out Afghan women as targets.

“This sounds weird, but possible,” said Sami Kovanen, senior Information Analyst for Indicium Consulting, a Kabul-based research analyst firm. “I have not heard anything like this before and have not seen incidents like this.”

And NATO soldiers are killed by homemade bombs in Afghanistan:

Five NATO soldiers were killed in southern and eastern Afghanistan amid reports of new fighting in Nuristan, a remote northeastern province of Afghanistan, officials said Saturday.

Four of the soldiers, including two British servicemen, were killed in southern Afghanistan. The fifth was killed in the eastern part of the country. All of the fatalities were caused by homemade bombs that exploded while the soldiers were on patrol. Bombs and small-arms fire are the main causes of death in Afghanistan. So far this year 57 percent of all deaths have been caused by improvised explosive devices, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Americans and the British have focused their increased forces on southern Afghanistan this summer in an effort to improve local governments and set the stage for a military campaign in the fall.

Meanwhile Gibbs-gate is still a story, where Gibbs said Repubs would probably win the house:

As White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs utters thousands of words in public every week as he promotes and defends President Obama. But it was just 16 words on a talk show last Sunday that consumed the days that followed — and that by week’s end Republicans were gleefully dubbing “Gibbs-gate.”

What was so scandalous that it would spark a flurry of competing e-mail statements, set the blogosphere ablaze, eat up endless cable and radio airtime and cause heartburn for Democrats around Washington? On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Gibbs was asked if Democrats could lose the House in the fall mid-term elections. “There’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control,” Mr. Gibbs answered.

Goldman Sachs got hit with a fine for destroying the world as we know it, but it was a close vote from the SEC:

The Securities and Exchange Commission split in its decision to settle its landmark lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, The Wall Street Journal has learned, in a dispute over the agency’s move to levy a $550 million fine even after diluting its fraud allegations against the giant bank.

The 3-2 decision on party lines Thursday came after a 30-minute closed-door session where the SEC’s two Republican commissioners voted against settling, said people familiar with the matter. Mary Schapiro, the SEC chairman appointed by President Obama, cast the deciding vote, the people said.

Thursday’s settlement—in which Goldman agreed to pay a $550 million fine, but didn’t have to admit it committed fraud—capped one of the most closely watched cases in the SEC’s 76-year history. The agency had charged Goldman with intentionally duping clients by selling a mortgage-security product that secretly was designed by another Goldman client betting that the housing market would crash.

Next up, the SEC is going to look at more exotic financial products:

The new Securities and Exchange Commission unit that obtained a $550 million settlement from Goldman Sachs in a fraud suit is pressing ahead with investigations into wrongdoing during the financial crisis by big banks, but is also turning its attention to exotic financial products that might be used to harm average investors, officials said.

The Structured and New Products Unit, one of several specialty groups in the agency’s enforcement division, filed the landmark suit against Goldman and later negotiated with the powerful Wall Street bank’s lawyers on a settlement. A source familiar with the unit’s work, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while it is looking at wrongdoing by other big firms, it’s unclear whether the Goldman case will be replicated with other Wall Street firms.

Hope springs eternal. But remember what we said above. How many guesses that there will be fall guys and way to small punishments while the real powers behind the scenes either get to keep doing what they’ve been doing, or get to move on to another interesting way to screw everyone.

In other upbeat news, the housing market is worse than we thought:

The housing market took another step back in June as construction and purchases dropped, and a gauge of the outlook for growth signaled the expansion will lose steam, economists said before reports this week.

Builders began work on 580,000 houses last month at an annual rate, down 2.2 percent from May and the slowest pace this year, according to the median estimate of 61 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before Commerce Department data due July 20. Other reports may show sales of existing homes decreased for a second month and the index of leading indicators declined for the first time in more than a year.

The expiration of a buyer tax credit has caused housing to retreat, showing the industry that precipitated the recession cannot sustain a recovery absent job growth. The financial turmoil caused by the European debt crisis has shaken confidence in the world’s largest economy, raising the risk that spending and employment will cool.

“At a minimum, we’re headed for a soft patch and possibly an extended period of slow growth,” said Julia Coronado, a senior economist at BNP Paribas in New York. “There is a lot of uncertainty about where housing goes from here. Now that we’re in the world ex-tax credits, it’s not clear how deep the pool of demand is for housing.”

VP, scary big teeth, Biden apparently owes some money from his ill gotten campaigning:

The Biden for President campaign committee owes the Treasury more than $219,000 because it accepted excessive campaign contributions and understated the value of a trip taken on a private plane in the 2008 campaign, the Federal Election Commission said in a new report.

Auditors from the agency found numerous violations of campaign finance rules by the committee that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. used in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Elizabeth Alexander, said Saturday that he would pay the amount owed.

The report paints a picture of sloppy bookkeeping by Mr. Biden’s campaign. But aides to the vice president said the errors were relatively minor. The excess contributions were less than 1 percent of the total raised by the campaign, they said.

I seem to remember someone saying if you can’t keep your own house in order, how can you govern…

So on the opposing pretend political party, Sarah Palin is out ahead in the polls:

It’s more than two years away and we’re all enjoying summer – even the Obamas up in Maine – so what better time to talk about the Republican nominee for President in 2012?

Are you crazy??” we hear you asking. But here at The Vote, we look for any excuse to riff on campaign politics, especially when it involves Republicans acting like Democrats – taking shots at one another and jostling for position.

The Gallup polling organization has just released its latest on likely presidential candidates’ popularity within the GOP. Not surprisingly, Sarah Palin leads all the guys with presidential aspirations (Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Bobby Jindal) … not counting everybody in the US Senate, all of whom believe themselves to be presidential timber.

Palin’s at 76 percent “favorable” among Republicans – at least 10 percentage points higher than any of the guys.

And here’s a really good one to show you how politics and money and power rots everything. Even among marijuana growers. As pot growing and selling (for medical purposes of course) is becoming a big business, things are getting nasty:

A proposal to create four large-scale marijuana factories in Oakland has touched off a turf war in the lucrative market for medicinal marijuana. Established local merchants are trying to hold their ground against entrepreneurs who are seeking to gain a foothold in the rapidly evolving industry.

Under the proposal, which will be debated by the City Council on Tuesday, Oakland would issue four permits to operate the factories, which are currently not limited in size or scale. One would-be applicant is planning a 7.4-acre complex that could produce over 21,000 pounds of marijuana a year.

Based on current prices, such a factory would generate about $60 million in annual revenue, more than twice the gross receipts for Oakland’s four medical marijuana dispensaries last year.

Taxes on cannabis cultivation and sales could generate millions of dollars for Oakland, once the program is up and running, and create hundreds of jobs, according to supporters. The ordinance — written by Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who is also a mayoral candidate, and Councilman Larry Reid — would also require the factories to pay a $211,000 “regulatory fee.”

The proposal is creating discord between businesses seeking to preserve the status quo and others who are trying to carve out new businesses in advance of Proposition 19, a November ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in California.

“It’s big business; you’re talking about manufacturing gold,” said Jeff Jones, a longtime marijuana activist working with the legalization effort. “There’s going to be stakeholders, different opinions and different approaches, which lead to bickering like in any other marketplace.”

That’s a bit of a rant, and a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with your thoughts and mythologies and other news.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Let’s get right to it on this late midweek morning. It looks like BP is delaying the tests from their new cap:

BP PLC remains in a holding pattern on a crucial pressure test of a new containment system over its leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico while pursuing other options to capture the gushing crude, the company said Wednesday.

And just when you thought it was safe to sail in the oily seas, some people are looking at possible mass extinction (including us) scenarios from the Gulf:

Ominous reports are leaking past the BP Gulf salvage operation news blackout that the disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico may be about to reach biblical proportions.

251 million years ago a mammoth undersea methane bubble caused massive explosions, poisoned the atmosphere and destroyed more than 96 percent of all life on Earth. Experts agree that what is known as the Permian extinction event was the greatest mass extinction event in the history of the world.

Those subterranean seas of methane virtually reshaped the planet when they explosively blew from deep beneath the waters of what is today called the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, worried scientists are increasingly concerned the same series of catastrophic events that led to worldwide death back then may be happening again-and no known technology can stop it.

The bottom line: BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling operation may have triggered an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years.

The oil giant drilled down miles into a geologically unstable region and may have set the stage for the eventual premature release of a methane mega-bubble.

I for one welcome our new apocalyptic methane mega-bubble overlord.

WaPo has an article on Obama trying to reconnect with voters. First they talk about the good old days, then:

Nearly 17 months later, Gibbs is once again talking about the president’s travels around the country to pitch his economic policies. But this time, it probably doesn’t feel so much like the good old days.

In a series of polls, the public has expressed deep skepticism about the economic direction Obama began taking in early 2009. A clear majority now say they disapprove of his handling of the issue.

That has put the White House on the defensive as the midterm elections approach this fall. For two straight days, Gibbs has been repeatedly asked versions of the same question: What happened between then and now?

“I think there is, rightly so, a great frustration in this country with where we are economically, and understanding the depths of the numbers of jobs that were lost, the length of this recession, what it has meant for people on Main Street,” Gibbs explained to reporters Tuesday.

In related news, the Pennsylvania Senate race is in a dead heat:

Pennsylvania’s Senate race is dead even, with Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey both drawing 43% of support in a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

At this point in the race, momentum appears to be on Sestak’s side. He was down 2 percentage points in May and 8 percentage points in an April survey by Quinnipiac.

The NAACP passed a resolution saying the Tea Party was a bunch of racists:

The NAACP has passed a resolution that condemns what it feels is rampant racism in the Tea Party movement. Members passed the measure on Tuesday at the organization’s 101st annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

Tea Party activists have swiftly denounced the action as unfounded and unfair.

The resolution pits the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, with its storied history of wins on behalf of racial justice, against a grassroots conservative movement that has won some recent political races and is flexing its muscle in Republican circles.

“We take no issue with the Tea Party. We believe in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in a democracy,” Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement.

“We take issue with the Tea Party’s continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements. The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no space for racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their movement,” Jealous said.

There are certainly some crazy nutjobs in that group as we’ve seen from some members and their signs. And the Tea Party leaders have been inconsistent in how they react to that. Then again, the Tea Party seems a little less organized and controlled than they’d like to admit. So the question is, is this a good idea? Sara Palin commented on the matter:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came to the defense of the Tea Party on Tuesday night, saying that the NAACP was wrong to pass a resolution condemning what it says are racist elements of the conservative movement.

“I am saddened by the NAACP’s claim that patriotic Americans who stand up for the United States of America’s Constitutional rights are somehow ‘racists,'” Palin wrote in a Facebook note. “The charge that Tea Party Americans judge people by the color of their skin is false, appalling, and is a regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject at hand.”

Palin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee who is now seen as a leader of the Tea Party movement, quoted conservative icon Ronald Reagan, who called America’s past racism “a legacy of evil.” She said that with the election of the first black president, the United States has become “a new ‘post-racial’ society.”

“We, as a united people, applauded that sentiment. We were proud of that progress,” Palin said. “That’s why it is so sad to see that 18 months later, the NAACP is once again using the divisive language of the past to unfairly accuse the Tea Party movement of harboring ‘racist elements.'”

It sure looks like given this and some other recent activities that some political players want a race war of sorts. It’s a tried and true tactic of course to raise a bunch of overblown issues and get people emotional and angry  in order to have them mobilized on your side while at the same time distracting them from issues that would likely keep them from your side. That’s not to say there aren’t real issues worth having a dialog about. But passing a resolution instead of trying to have a dialog ensures a permanent rift.

Back to Katrina news, what you say, it looks like four cops involved in gunning down civilians in the Katrina aftermath may face the death penalty:

Four police officers, charged with shooting and killing two unarmed civilians on a bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina, could face the death penalty.

Those four officers and two others are accused of gunning down citizens and trying to cover it up. Five other former police officers have already pleaded guilty to helping cover up the killings, bringing the total to 11 charged so far. The entire New Orleans police department is under investigation, stemming from allegations of misconduct.

“We will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are sworn to protect the public,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in New Orleans Tuesday to announce the charges in the civil rights investigation. “This will not stand.”

And finally, Bill Clinton is joining with others at WH for job creation meeting:

The White House is seeking help from former President Bill Clinton in its efforts to create jobs.

Clinton will join President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday for a meeting with business leaders. The White House says the meeting will focus on new ways to create jobs in the private sector. The leaders will also discuss ways to increase new investments in the clean energy industry.

Kind of late in the day isn’t it? Perhaps they should have thought about stimulus plans that actually created jobs, oh I don’t know, maybe 18 months ago.

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