Thursday, December 30, 2010

SPACE - Two For Science

"'Zombie' satellite returns to life" by Denise Chow, 12/29/2010


A "zombie satellite" that spent months sending out signals while it was adrift in orbit has sprung back to life, resetting itself after its unexplained breakdown in space earlier this year.

"The most critical phases of Galaxy 15's recovery have been successfully completed," officials at Intelsat, the communications provider that owns the satellite, said of the newly responsive satellite.

The Galaxy 15 communications satellite lost contact with its flight control center in April. But in an unexpected twist, the stricken satellite's telecommunications broadcast package remained in operation. With Intelsat operators unable to control the solar-powered satellite, Galaxy 15 continued to transmit signals, posing a risk of interfering with the signals of neighboring satellites.

In the months that followed, Intelsat worked closely with the operators of other broadcast satellites to ensure that their communications services — which included television broadcasts — would not be affected when Galaxy 15 drifted by.

But that drama in space has ended.

On Dec. 23, the battery on Galaxy 15 — which relied on solar panels pointed at the sun to generate power — became completely drained, Intelsat officials said. Once that happened, the satellite reset itself as designed and began accepting commands from Intelsat's control center.

"We have placed Galaxy 15 in safe mode, and at this time, we are pleased to report it no longer poses any threat of satellite interference to either neighboring satellites or customer services," Intelsat officials announced.

"Universe's most massive black holes got huge early" by Staff 12/29/2010


The first rapid growth spurt of the universe's most massive black holes occurred much earlier than astronomers previously thought, and are still growing fast, a new study finds.

A team of astronomers from Tel Aviv University in Israel determined that the first period of fast growth of the most massive black holes occurred when the universe was only about 1.2 billion years old not 2 to 4 billion years old, as had been thought. Astronomers estimate the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.

In the study, astronomers also determined that the universe's oldest and most massive black holes are also growing at a very fast rate. The findings will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal. [ Photos: Black Holes of the Universe ]

Black hole giants

Most galaxies in the universe, including our own Milky Way, harbor supermassive black holes at their center. These black holes vary in mass from about one million to about 10 billion times the mass of the sun.

To detect these giants, astronomers look for the enormous amount of radiation emitted by the gas that falls into the black holes when they are actively accreting matter. This gas pouring into massive black holes is thought to be the means by which they grow.

INDIA - vs China 2010

"India Digs In Its Heels as China Flexes Its Muscles" by JIM YARDLEY, New York Times 12/29/2010


It has been the season of geopolitical hugs in India — with one noticeable exception. One after the other, the leaders of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have descended on India, accompanied by delegations of business leaders, seeking closer ties with this rising South Asian giant. The Indian media, basking in the high-level attention, have nicknamed them the “P-5.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain got a warm reception last summer. Then President Obama wowed a skeptical Indian establishment during his November visit. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France signed nuclear deals in early December, while President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia departed last week with a fistful of defense contracts after winning praise for Moscow as a “special partner.”

The exception to the cheery mood was the mid-December visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China. Mr. Wen did secure business deals, announce new trade goals and offer reassurances of friendly Chinese intentions. But the trip also underscored that many points of tension between the Asian giants — trade imbalances, their disputed border and the status of Kashmir — are growing worse. And the Indian foreign policy establishment, once reluctant to challenge China, is taking a harder line.

“The Wen visit has widened the gap publicly between India and China,” said Ranjit Gupta, a retired Indian diplomat and one of many vocal analysts pushing a more hawkish line toward China. “And it represents for the first time a greater realism in the Indian establishment’s approach to China.”

India aspires to membership on the United Nations Security Council, and China is now the only permanent member nation that has not explicitly endorsed such a move. But what has rattled Indian leaders even more is their contention that China is being deliberately provocative in Kashmir as it grows closer to Pakistan, China’s longtime ally and India’s nemesis. China has also been expanding its diplomatic and economic influence around South Asia, stepping up its involvement in the affairs of Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

POLITICS - Who DOES Speak for Republicans

"Who speaks for the Republicans?" by Ezra Klein, Washington Post 12/29/2010

When the inevitable showdown between the revived Republican Party and the Obama White House occurs, who will speak for the Republicans? In 1994, they had Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich, both of whom were nationally credible leaders, at least at the time. But looking through Gallup's "most admired" poll, Republicans haven't coalesced around any similarly serious names -- or really anyone at all.

The most admired man in America, by a wide margin, is Barack Obama. Three of the four most-admired women in America are associated with either the Obama campaign or the Obama presidency (Hillary Clinton clocks in at No. 1, and Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama take the third and fourth slots).

The closest thing the GOP has to a Dole or a Gingrich is Sarah Palin, whose interests and messages frequently diverge from those of the Republican Party and who polls very poorly among the broader populace.

Perhaps the idea that you need a leader to deliver your message is outdated in an age when Fox News and other outlets that are willing to create and push the message on their own. But I rather doubt it, particularly as Obama's brand remains surprisingly strong and the Republican brand surprisingly weak despite the results of the 2010 election. One reason for that strength, I think, is the absence of a viable alternative.

It's sort of a shame for the GOP that Mitt Romney turned out to be such an unlikable and untrustworthy candidate. His business experience and executive accomplishments would've made him a good standard-bearer in this political climate. And you could certainly imagine a world in which John McCain had run a different campaign in 2008 and, though he'd lost, remained broadly admired among the public. Add in some savvy positioning during the last two years, and people might have begun wondering whether they'd made the right choice. But in the world we're in, he doesn't even register on the Republican side of the poll.

ECONOMY - Don't Watch What Republicans Do

"GOP on the Deficit: Do as I Say, Don’t Watch What I Do" by Stan Collender, Wall Street Pit 12/28/2010

There is now no doubt that all of the GOP talk during the campaign about reducing the deficit was nothing more than a ploy to get elected and that Republicans have no plans to do anything but make the federal government’s red ink larger than it already is and would otherwise be.

The proof? Take a look at this outstanding report by Bob Greenstein and Jim Horney of The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — two of the most respected federal budget analysts anywhere — published just before Christmas about how House Republicans are about to put in place new budget procedures that make it likely the deficit will be increased rather than decreased.

The first is a change in the pay-as-you-go rules that will no longer require proposed tax cuts to include offsets so that there’s no increase in the deficit. Under the new GOP rules, that would only apply to proposed increased in mandatory spending. In addition, proposed mandatory spending increases could only be offset with reductions in other mandatory spending. The previous PAYGO rule that allowed the offset to be either spending cuts or revenue increases would be eliminated.

The second change is that the reconciliation procedures in the congressional budget process would be changed so that they could be used to increase the deficit if the increase was the result of a tax cut (The House democratic leadership several years ago revised the reconciliation rules so that it could be used only to reduce the deficit).

Finally, as the CBPP report says, the new rules would allow a number of potentially huge deficit increasing policies to be adopted without offsets:
  1. Extending or making permanent the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts (including the tax cuts for the highest-income taxpayers) and relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax

  2. Extending or making permanent the hollowing out of the estate tax included in the just-enacted tax-cut compromise legislation

  3. Legislation to provide a major, costly new tax cut — a deduction equal to 20 percent of gross income for “small businesses,” which Republican lawmakers typically have defined very expansively so the term covers a vast swath of firms and wealthy individuals that do not resemble what most Americans think of as a “small business”

In the wake of the GOP’s insistence in the lame duck session on the tax deal option that would increase the deficit the most, it has become obvious that all of the deficit reduction talk Republicans used during the 2010 election had nothing to do with what the party was really about or what it plans to do over the next two years.

Based on the record in the 10 weeks or so since the election, it seems clear that the GOP rhetoric about reducing the deficit will remain but that, instead of proposing things that will reduce it, Republican-proposed legislation will increase the deficit and federal borrowing substantially.

This should be of extreme interest to the bond market, which has already been influenced by the larger deficits of the tax deal.

Bold emphasis mine

Hint. Republicans LIE!

POLITICS - Republican Demonstration of Budget "Cutting"

"NASA's Ares rocket dead, but Congress lets you pay $500 million more for it" by Mark K. Matthews, Orlando Sentinel 12/26/2010


Thanks to congressional inaction, NASA must continue to fund its defunct Ares I rocket program until March — a requirement that will cost the agency nearly $500 million at a time when NASA is struggling with the expensive task of replacing the space shuttle.

About one-third that money — $165 million — will go to Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, which has a $2 billion contract to build the solid-rocket first stage for the Ares I, the rocket that was supposed to fill the shuttle's role of transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.

But under a new NASA plan signed into law by President Barack Obama in October, there's no guarantee that the new rocket required by that plan will use solid-fuel propulsion. And, in fact, many in the agency say a liquid-fueled rocket would be cheaper, more powerful — and safer.

The money to ATK is part of the $1.2 billion NASA will spend on its canceled Constellation program from Oct. 1 through March. Most of the rest will go to Lockheed Martin, which is building the Orion capsule intended to take astronauts into space aboard whatever rocket NASA selects. That program was largely spared by the new NASA plan.

What's more, constraints on NASA spending resulting from congressional budget gridlock will delay the scheduled start this year of a program to modernize aging facilities at Kennedy Space Center to transform it into a "21st-century spaceport." It's now not clear when the program will begin.

The odd scenario, in which NASA is throwing money at a canceled rocket program but can't fund a modernization program, is because of several twists in the legislative process that started a year ago and came to a head this month.

At the root of the problem is a 70-word sentence inserted into the 2010 budget — by lawmakers seeking to protect Ares I jobs in their home states — that bars NASA from shutting down the program until Congress passed a new budget a year later.

That should have happened before the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year.

But Congress never passed a 2011 budget and instead voted this month to extend the 2010 budget until March — so NASA still must abide by the 2010 language.

That means NASA and its contractors are required to keep building Ares I, even though Obama effectively killed it when he signed the new NASA plan that canceled the Constellation moon program begun under President George W. Bush.

"It would be nice if Congress did its work," said John Logsdon, space expert at George Washington University. "I would not be surprised if there was a combination of frustration and anger [at NASA]. They want to get on carrying out a good space program."

According to NASA, the agency has been spending an average of $95 million a month on Ares I. At that rate, it will spend about $475 million from Oct. 1 to March 4 — the period covered by the current budget extension.

The language that keeps Constellation going was inserted into the 2010 budget last year by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who sought to protect the program and Ares jobs at Marshall Space Flight Center in his home state.

Bold emphasis mine

Way to go Sen. Shelby! Really show Americans how to cut federal government spending/budget (unless it's Republican pork).

ECONOMY - Multifamily Households

"‘Doubling Up’ in Recession-Strained Quarters" by MICHAEL LUO, New York Times 12/28/2010


Of the myriad ways the Great Recession has altered the country’s social fabric, the surge in households ......, where relatives and friends have moved in together as a last resort, is one of the most concrete, yet underexplored, demographic shifts.

Census Bureau data released in September showed that the number of multifamily households jumped 11.7 percent from 2008 to 2010, reaching 15.5 million, or 13.2 percent of all households. It is the highest proportion since at least 1968, accounting for 54 million people.

Even that figure, however, is undoubtedly an undercount of the phenomenon social service providers call “doubling up,” which has ballooned in the recession and anemic recovery. The census’ multifamily household figures, for example, do not include such situations as when a single brother and a single sister move in together, or when a childless adult goes to live with his or her parents.

For many, the arrangements represent their last best option, the only way to stave off entering a homeless shelter or sleeping in their cars. In fact, nearly half of the people in shelters in 2009 who had not previously been homeless had been staying with family members or friends, according to a recent report, making clear that the arrangements are frequently a final way station on the way to homelessness.

WAR ON TERROR - Dangerous Cooperation

"Insurgents Set Aside Rivalries on Afghan Border" by THOM SHANKER, New York Times 12/28/2010


Rival militant organizations on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have increasingly been teaming up in deadly raids, in what military and intelligence officials say is the insurgents’ latest attempt to regain the initiative after months of withering attacks from American and allied forces.

New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like “a syndicate,” joining forces in ways not seen before. After one recent attack on a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, a check of the dead insurgents found evidence that the fighters were from three different factions, military officials said.

In the past, these insurgent groups have been seen as sharing ideology and inspiration, but less often plans for specific missions.

Now the intelligence assessments offer evidence of a worrisome new trend in which extremist commanders and their insurgent organizations are coordinating attacks and even combining their foot soldiers into patchwork patrols sent to carry out specific raids.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

AMERICA - Most Admired 2010, Gallup Poll

"Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton Are 2010's Most Admired" by Lydia Saad, Gallup 12/27/2010


President Barack Obama is Americans' Most Admired Man of 2010, substantially ahead of the former presidents, iconic religious leaders, and others who fill out the top 10 list. Obama first became Americans' Most Admired Man in 2008, shortly after his election as the nation's 44th president, and has held the title since then.

(click each for better view)

SUPREME COURT - Fresh Air on the Supreme Court

"Sotomayor, Kagan shift Supreme Court debates to the left" by David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times 12/26/2010


The liberal wing is no longer drowned out by Scalia and his fellow conservatives during oral arguments.

For most of the last two decades, Supreme Court conservatives led by Justice Antonin Scalia dominated the debates during oral arguments. They greeted advocates for liberal causes with sharp and sometimes caustic questions, putting them on the defensive from the opening minute.

But the tenor of the debate has changed in recent months, now that President Obama's two appointees to the court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have joined the fray and re-energized the liberal wing.

Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.

"They're clearly on a roll," said Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who has argued regularly before the high court. "They are engaged and really active. It just feels like a different place."

That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.

The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.

But Sotomayor soon cut him off.

"Slow down from the rhetoric," she said, launching into a withering discussion of the state's 20-year history of severe prison overcrowding and "the needless deaths" from poor medical care.

Kagan picked up the theme, contending that the state had spent years fighting with the judges but not solving the problem. It's too late now for "us to re-find the facts," Kagan said. The California judges had delved into the details for 20 years, and it was time now to decide whether the remedy was right, she said.

Five years ago, then- President George W. Bush strengthened the court's conservative wing when he named Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the court. Smart and capable, they had an immediate effect by combining with the senior conservatives to shift the law to the right on several fronts, most notably on widening the flow of money into politics.

Obama almost certainly had a similar goal in mind, but from the opposite political perspective.

Since October, the court seems to have shifted subtly, judging by the arguments, during which the justices grill the lawyers in an attempt to resolve their own doubts or win over an undecided vote.

Veteran Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined Sotomayor and Kagan in sharply questioning California's lawyer in the prison overcrowding case. Ginsburg wanted to know how he could call the order premature.

"How much longer do we have to wait?" she asked. "Another 20 years?"

Breyer said he studied photos from the prison, and they "are pretty horrendous."

The outcome in close cases these days almost always turns on Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and in the California case, he voiced apparent agreement with the liberal critique of the overcrowded prisons. It was "a perfectly reasonable decision," he said, for the three-judge panel to say, "It's now time for a remedy."

Sotomayor and Kagan represent a new generation of Democrats on the courts. Both are single women who grew up in New York City, went to Princeton in the first years that women were admitted there, and excelled at top Ivy League law schools. Early on, they were seen as legal stars who were potential Supreme Court justices.

A breath of fresh air on the Supreme Court.

POLITICS - The Extraordinary Lame-Duck Session

"Obama bested GOP in extraordinary lame duck session" by Greg Sargent, Washington Post 12/22/2010


So this afternoon, the Senate voted to ratify New START after months of partisan wrangling and passed the bill giving health benefits to 9/11 heroes after, well, years of partisan wrangling. This, on the same day that Obama signed the repeal of don't ask don't tell, a civil rights milestone. All in all, a pretty productive day.

It's obvious enough that Obama's rebound was remarkable, in that he has defied expectations of gridlock to rack up a fusillade of major accomplishments that have placed him in a stronger position than many expected. But there's more: It turns out he will also emerge from the session with far more kudos from the public than Republicans have earned.

So finds a new CNN poll (PDF), which seems to confirm that Obama "won" the session hands down. It finds that voters approve of his handling of the session, 56-41. By contrast, only 42 percent of Americans approve of the GOP's handling of it, versus 53 percent who disapprove.

The poll has more. It finds that Americans think that Obama has done enough to compromise with Republicans, 59-37. By contrast, a big majority, 68 percent, thinks Republicans have not done enough to compromise with Obama, while only 28 percent think they've done enough.

In other words, Obama may be getting much of the credit for the compromising that made the lame duck session a success. Since the public strongly supported the tax cut compromise, it seems likely these bad numbers from Republicans flow from their opposition to the New START treaty and to repealing don't ask don't tell, both of which have strong public support. This would seem to confirm Adam Serwer's theory that Republicans made the session even more of a win for Obama by holding out against the remaining items on his agenda, in defiance of public opinion.

POLITICS - In the Center Ring, the 111th Congress

"No Congress Since '60s Makes as Much Law as 111th Affecting Most Americans" by Lisa Lerer and Laura Litvan, Bloomberg 12/22/2010


However history judges the 535 men and women in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate the past two years, one thing is certain: The 111th Congress made more law affecting more Americans since the “Great Society” legislation of the 1960s.

For the first time since President Theodore Roosevelt began the quest for a national health-care system more than 100 years ago, the Democrat-led House and Senate took the biggest step toward achieving that goal by giving 32 million Americans access to insurance. Congress rewrote the rules for Wall Street in the most comprehensive way since the Great Depression. It spent more than $1.67 trillion to revive an economy on the verge of a depression, including tax cuts for most Americans, jobs for more than 3 million, construction of roads and bridges and investment in alternative energy; ended an almost two-decade ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military, and today ratified a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Before adjournment today, Congress approved legislation to help rescuers and clean-up crews suffering from illnesses linked to the wreckage caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The Senate approved it on a voice vote, the House by a vote of 206-60. New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in a statement, called it a “Christmas miracle.”

For all of its ambitious achievement, the 111th Congress, which may adjourn this week, also witnessed a voter-backlash driven by a 9.6 percent unemployment rate that cost Democrats control of the House and diminished their Senate majority.

“This is probably the most productive session of Congress since at least the ‘60s,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at New York’s Columbia University. “It’s all the more impressive given how polarized the Congress has been.”

Whatever your political leanings, not to acknowledge what the 111th Congress has done would be living with blinders on.

As for me, I am proud to be an American at this time. I am proud of, and thankful for, the 111th Congress.

I am sure that super-conservative Republicans do not agree. They, after all, are the party of (in reality) no government. They are (in effect) fascists, government by big-business and the rich and we peons should bow-down and kiss their feet.

PRIVACY - Tracking Your Online Browsing

"Should the Government Control Who Tracks You Online?"
PBS Newshour 12/27/2010

HEALTHCARE - Doctor's Advice and Your Consent

"Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times 12/25/2010


When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats’ bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.

The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive,” stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves.

This is a very personal issue. My sister, who died in 2007 of cancer, made a "ADVANCED HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE" with the advice of her doctors (note the plural), and consulting her husband and other family members. This was done at a meeting that included all her doctors and family members. Fortunately Kaiser HMO includes this in their plan so there is no cost issue.

I have my own "ADVANCED HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE" in my health record.

An "ADVANCED HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE" allows YOU to decide on how YOU want to die when you have a terminal illness, with the advice of your doctors and family members.

As usual, the Republican scum used the term "death panels" to scare people into thinking that the proposal had to do with government intervention, when in truth it was ONLY about paying YOUR doctors for the consultation if you don't have a healthcare plan that includes it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

POLITICS - ....of the Census Come 2011

"New Census Data to Shape Future Elections"
PBS Newshour 12/21/2010

HEALTHCARE - The Cuban Way

"Cuba's Emphasis on Preventive Medicine"
PBS Newshour 12/21/2010

Excerpt from transcript

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): One of Cuba's greatest prides is its health care system. Cuba's government promotes the country's free and universal medical care from the moment a baby is born as the cornerstone of its communist state.

And, according to the World Health Organization, the country has much to boast about. The average Cuban lives to the age of 78. That's slightly longer than the life span of the average American. The cost of health care in Cuba is less than $400 a year per person. In the U.S., the annual tab is almost 20 times higher.

And there are twice as many doctors per person in Cuba than in the United States. In fact, it's the highest doctor-patient ratio in the world.

How can one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere provide free care and achieve such impressive health outcomes?

GAIL REED, editor, "MEDICC Review": Prevention, prevention and more prevention.

POLITICS - More Hints of Bipartisanship?

"Shift in Support for Nuke Treaty Marks Policy Win for Obama" PBS Newshour Transcript 12/21/2010 (includes video)


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): And it is kind of striking that, in a couple of weeks, when we saw a tax cut bill go through that the Republicans didn't stay lockstep on, don't ask, don't tell, and now this, one wonders whether this is the new face of bipartisanship or whether I would be getting carried away to say that.

NAFTALI BENDAVID, The Wall Street Journal: Well, the White House is certainly pushing the idea that we do have a new era of bipartisanship, that the president is reaching out more, and that Republicans, now that their presence in the Capitol is growing, realize that they have to take some responsibility for governing.

Personally, I would take a wait-and-see attitude. I'm not convinced that, from now on, we're in this new golden era. But it is kind of remarkable that the president -- the president's party really took a beating in the last election, just a few weeks ago, and, since then, he's kind of rolled up one success after another.

There was the tax cut bill that you mentioned. There was the food safety bill. There was the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. Now it looks like we're going to have this treaty ratified tomorrow. So, really, it's a very unusual political moment, where somehow the president was able to take a real defeat at the polls and turn it into political success.

And, by the way, that's something that wasn't lost on the Republicans. It started creeping into their statements, that they were very aware of the fact that approving this treaty was going to give the president a political victory.

GWEN IFILL: Do they also think that approving this treaty was more about U.S. credibility abroad than about this president? Was that persuasive as well?

NAFTALI BENDAVID: Well, I think that, certainly in their comments, in their statements, they were not talking about how it was going to affect the president. They were talking about national security.

They -- a lot of them, you know, said that, in fact, they didn't want to let Russia push them around, you know, that Russia had made some take-it-or-leave-it kinds of statements that they didn't want to respond to simply by adopting the treaty.

I think it was more of an unspoken argument that this could affect U.S. credibility abroad. I think that there's no question that it does so and it strengthened President Obama's hands when he talks to foreign leaders. But that was a topic that was left more or less undiscussed during the debate itself.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

I certainly hope this leads to more bipartisanship.

But I look at the Republican strategy of holding hostage issues (examples; tax-cuts, START) that are good for America and our people, and I am pessimistic. I doubt Republican skunks will really change, they'll still stink.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

POLITICS - What it Means to be a House Republican

"GOP shuts down bill to prevent child marriage" by Daniel Tencer, Raw Story 12/20/2010


Preventing child marriage may seem like the most non-partisan of non-partisan issues, but to Republicans scrambling to deny political victories to a lame-duck Democratic House, it seems to be yet another political football.

House Republicans are being criticized for "bringing shame to Capitol Hill" after voting against a bill to prevent child marriage in developing countries.

In voting against the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act last Thursday, Republicans said they could not abide by the cost of the bill and voiced fears that it would result in the US government supporting abortions for women in the developing world.

But the bill's supporters say there is no mention of abortion in the bill, and the bill itself -- which asks that the president focus on efforts to prevent child marriage -- requires no new funding.

They note that the bill sailed through the Senate unanimously earlier this month, before becoming the target of what they say is a smear campaign in the House.

POLITICS - Equal Rights for Gays, Viewpoint

"After Fall of ‘Don’t Ask,’ Pushing for ‘I Do’" by SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, New York Times 12/20/2010


The Republican senator from North Carolina was blunt. “Because she’s a damn lesbian,” Jesse Helms snapped, explaining to The Washington Times why he would vote against Roberta Achtenberg, President Bill Clinton’s nominee for assistant housing secretary. Later, he clarified, calling her “a militant, activist, mean lesbian.”

That was in 1993. On Saturday, another North Carolina Republican, Richard M. Burr, stood on the Senate floor and surprised gay rights advocates by voting to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Mr. Burr said repeal was “generationally right” given that most Americans have grown up in a time where “they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do.”

The two votes, 17 years apart, would suggest a kind of “We’ve come a long way baby” moment. But while public opinion has changed in favor of gay rights over the past two decades, those attitudes are often not reflected in public policy, because the views of lawmakers, polls suggest, lag behind the public, and not just among social conservatives who have long opposed elements of the gay rights agenda on moral grounds.

Polls show the public is broadly supportive of equal rights for gay men and lesbians on several issues — with the exception of the right to marry. The vast majority of Americans, nearly 90 percent, favor equality of opportunity in the workplace. More than 60 percent favored overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell” — a figure that has stood steady at least since 2005, according to the Gallup Organization, which tracks public sentiment on gay rights.

Yet the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, first proposed in the Clinton years, remains stuck on Capitol Hill, in part because lawmakers are squeamish about language in it that would protect transgender employees. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill nearly died the week before it was passed.

Same-sex marriage is even trickier for politicians. Fewer than half of all Americans support it, which puts even supporters of gay rights, like President Obama, in a political bind. Mr. Obama supports civil unions but has opposed same-sex marriage, although he recently said that “attitudes evolve, including mine” — a hint that he might change his position.

“There have been enormous and important shifts in public attitudes, and those are a hopeful sign,” said Tobias B. Wolff, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who advises the Obama White House on gay rights issues. But Mr. Wolff speaks of a “political gay panic,” saying, “Even when the public is so strongly behind equality, so strongly behind the right thing, politicians are hyper-cautious.”

NOT allowing gay marriage OR Civil Unions IS discrimination AND violates civil and human rights, and equal treatment under the law.

While ALLOWING Civil Unions but not gay marriage is a matter of semantics (the meaning of the word "marriage") and does not violate civil/human rights.

In my view is the anti-gay marriage laws are a violation of the freedom of religion. It is the imposition of religious-based beliefs on everyone by using the law-of-the-land, and unconstitutional. No one has the right to impose/force their religious beliefs on any other citizen.

OIL SPILL - Human Interest Side

"After Oil Spill Crisis, a Protector Keeps Watch" by DAN BARRY, New York Times 12/20/2010


A daughter of Plaquemines Parish, her camouflage outfit the color of the forest, checks the oil. She checks the steering, the coolant, the gas. She makes sure that everything is tied down or stored away, so that nothing loose will fly into the fanlike propeller at the rear of her airboat. “Maintenance,” she says. “Maintenance.”

Then off she roars, a singular woman named Albertine Marie Kimble, guiding her airboat across the grass and into the precious marsh waters, where she is most at home. An honor guard of green-winged teal ducks rises to greet her, the only resident of this southeastern Louisiana spot called Carlisle.

“Wow!” she shouts. “Whee-e-e-e!”

The BP oil spill of 2010 has come and gone, mostly. The cleanup armies have been reduced to platoons, the oil company’s public-relations blitz has lost its apologetic urgency, and you have to know where to look to find any remnants of the catastrophe. But Albertine Kimble, protector of these waters, is still here; she has neither forgotten nor forgiven.

She is not an oil rigger, or an oysterman, or a shrimper. She is the coastal program manager for Plaquemines Parish, tending to its wounded banks. She is also the parish itself, rooted generations-deep in its soft soil, an outdoorswoman living in a remote mobile home raised nine feet off the ground by creosote poles and galvanized girders.


"F.C.C. Is Set to Regulate Net Access" by BRIAN STELTER, New York Times 12/20/2010


The Federal Communications Commission appears poised to pass a controversial set of rules that broadly create two classes of Internet access, one for fixed-line providers and the other for the wireless Net.

The proposed rules of the online road would prevent fixed-line broadband providers like Comcast and Qwest from blocking access to sites and applications. The rules, however, would allow wireless companies more latitude in putting limits on access to services and applications.

Before a vote set for Tuesday, two Democratic commissioners said Monday that they would back the rules proposed by the F.C.C. chairman, Julius Genachowski, which try to satisfy both sides in the protracted debate over so-called network neutrality. But analysts said the debate would soon resume in the courts, as challenges to the rules are expected in the months to come.

Net neutrality, broadly speaking, is an effort to ensure equal access to Web sites and cutting-edge online services. Mr. Genachowski said these proposed rules aimed to both encourage Internet innovation and protect consumers from abuses.

“These rules fulfill a promise to the future — to companies that don’t yet exist, and the entrepreneurs that haven’t yet started work in their dorm rooms or garages,” Mr. Genachowski said in remarks prepared for the commission’s meeting on Tuesday in Washington. At present, there are no enforceable rules “to protect basic Internet values,” he added.

Many Internet providers, developers and venture capitalists have indicated that they would accept the proposal by Mr. Genachowski, which Rebecca Arbogast, a regulatory analyst for Stifel Nicolaus, a financial services firm, said “is by definition a compromise.”

Since I'm a Computer Systems Specialist & IT Technician this issue is of interest to me, but it should be of interest to anyone who uses the Internet (World Wide Web) via a laptop/desktop computer using cable/wire OR there iPhone, iPad, etc.

"Fixed-line broadband providers" are the one providing access to your wired systems. "Wireless companies" provide connection to your iPhone/iPad/etc. The overlap MAY be broadband wireless access (via a special broadband card) to your laptop.

Personally I think wireless providers should use the same rules as wired. They should NOT be able to control to WHAT you have access to. Wireless providers only want this rule for profit motives. I am a believer in FULL NET Neutrality.


"F.C.C. Approves Net Rules and Braces for Fight" by BRIAN STELTER, New York Times 12/21/2010


Want to watch hours of YouTube videos or sort through Facebook photos on the computer? Your Internet providers would be forbidden from blocking you under rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. But if you want to do the same on your cellphone, you may not have the same protections.

The debate over the rules, intended to preserve open access to the Internet, seems to have resulted in a classic Washington solution — the kind that pleases no one on either side of the issue. Verizon and other service providers would prefer no government involvement. Public interest advocates think the rules stop far short of ensuring free speech.

Monday, December 20, 2010

POLITICS - Who Me, Work? GOP

"House GOP blocks out plenty of time off" by DALE McFEATTERS, Nashua Telegraph 12/19/2010

One thing is clear about the House under Republican control: No one is going to die from overwork.

The incoming House Republican leader, Eric Cantor, has released the chamber’s calendar for 2011. It calls for the House to be in session for 123 days over 32 weeks. The number of weeks is a decrease of 11 percent over previous years. In 2007, for example, the House was in session for 152 days, and in 2009 for 148.

The calendar is blocked out with short workweeks of two to four days, intended to give members the maximum time off. There are only two five-day workweeks scheduled, one in July, the other in November.

Unlike the current Congress, which can’t seem to finish its work and leave town, Cantor plans for the House’s first session of the 112th Congress to quit for the year on Dec. 5. And there is the usual generous August recess.

After putting in a four-day week, the House will be gone from the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 5, to the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 7. Its busiest month will be March, when it is scheduled to be in session for 14 days.

Cantor has promised that there will be no votes after 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on the 17 Fridays the House is in session, no votes after 3 p.m., the better to allow members to catch planes back to their districts.

Cantor says the shortened schedule will increase efficiency, create certainty for lawmakers, emphasize quality over quantity and leave ample time for meaningful oversight.

He says there will be no more congratulatory resolutions for individuals, groups and sports teams, which do indeed consume a lot of floor time. And he pledged that legislation would be available for review three days before a committee does its final draft and three days before floor consideration, a good rule if the lawmakers can stick to it.

While there is much talk about creating family time for members, the GOP leadership wants to protect its new majority by giving newly elected Republicans ample time to return to their districts and begin campaigning for re-election.

Maybe this leisurely schedule will work out for the Republicans, but the vagaries of the legislative process have a way of wrecking the best-laid plans.

But then, the current Congress, which never succeeded in passing a budget or any of the 12 mandatory spending bills, has set a low threshold for success.

After all, the poor GOP needs more time to take their carpetbags to lobbyists and other paymasters.

POLITICS - Congressional Trips and Advocacy

"Private Links in Lawmaker’s Trip Abroad" by ERIC LIPTON, New York Times 12/19/2010


When Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, visited Honduras early this year to congratulate the newly elected president, the congressman showed up with an unusual delegation.

There at his side was not just the typical collection of Washington foreign policy aides, but also a group of California real estate investors and businessmen, including a dealer in rare coins, and top executives from a fledgling San Diego biofuels company run by a friend of the congressman’s wife.

Using his status as a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Rohrabacher cheered his hosts in Honduras by openly challenging the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda there, then arranged a series of meetings with top Honduran officials, including the president, during which the congressman “enthusiastically promoted” the biofuel company’s plans to perhaps set up operations in Honduras, says a State Department summary of the meetings included in the files obtained by WikiLeaks.

The country was eager to accommodate the congressman — who said in an interview that his actions were entirely appropriate and reflected his activist approach to foreign policy — given that the previous Honduran president had been forced out of office and into exile, and the new government was angling for United States support.

Mr. Rohrabacher’s three-day trip to Tegucigalpa and his advocacy for SG Biofuels, a small company run by a family friend, stood out from the dozens of written reports detailing summaries of official visits by members of Congress to foreign nations that were included in the vast trove of State Department documents obtained by the WikiLeaks group and reviewed by The New York Times.

These memos — written by State Department officials who often sit in on lawmakers’ meetings with foreign leaders — show that Congressional trips are often much more than simply fact-finding missions. Members of Congress at times push their own foreign policy agendas, even if they conflict with those of the administration in office.

OK. Aside from the family-interest link in the example above, since when is it wrong (as implied) for an elected official to champion his/her state's economic interests? This is what I would EXPECT an elected official from my state to do (minus any family-link), which makes these visits cost effective (worth my taxes).

POLITICS - More Republican Hostage Taking, Nuclear Pact

"Democrats Scramble to Save Votes to Ratify Nuclear Pact" by PETER BAKER, New York Times 12/19/2010


The top two Senate Republicans declared Sunday that they would vote against President Obama’s nuclear treaty with Russia as the bipartisan spirit of last week’s tax-cut deal devolved into a sharp battle over national security in the waning days of the session.

With some prominent Republicans angry over passage of legislation ending the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, the mood in the Senate turned increasingly divisive and Mr. Obama and Democratic lawmakers scrambled to hold together a coalition to approve the treaty.

How typically Republican.

Hold a new Nuclear Pact hostage because some didn't like the passage of ending the ban on gays in the military. REMINDER: START was bipartisan in the past.


"Senate Support Builds for Pact on Arms Control" by PETER BAKER, New York Times 12/20/2010


The Senate moved closer on Monday to approving a new arms control treaty with Russia over the opposition of Republican leaders as lawmakers worked on a side deal to assure skeptics that the arms pact would not inhibit American plans to build missile defense systems.

A Republican senator announced that he would vote for the treaty and two others said they were leaning toward it after a closed-door session on classified aspects of the pact. At the same time, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, produced separate legislation that could reassure fellow Republicans worried about the treaty’s impact on missile defense.

By the end of another tumultuous day, treaty backers said they could count more than the two-thirds majority required for approval in votes that could begin as early as Tuesday. The Senate mustered as many as 64 votes in defeating Republican amendments on Monday, just two short of what supporters need for final approval, and three senators who supported one of the amendments have already said they will vote for the treaty in the end.

POLITICS - Era of Compromise and True Governance?

"With New Tax Bill, a Turning Point for the President" by PETER BAKER, New York Times 12/17/2010


With the stroke of a pen, President Obama on Friday enacted the largest tax cut in nearly a decade and, in the process, took a big step toward reinventing himself as a champion of compromise in a politically fractured capital.

When he first struck the deal two weeks ago, a sour Mr. Obama announced it by himself, lamented his own agreement and testily denounced his Republican partners as “hostage takers” and his liberal critics as “sanctimonious.” By the time he signed it into law on Friday, little more than six weeks after an electoral debacle for him and his party, he stood with the Senate Republican leader and celebrated the package as a hallmark of cooperation.

“The final product proves when we can put aside the partisanship and the political games, when we can put aside what’s good for some of us in favor of what’s good for all of us, we can get a lot done,” Mr. Obama said buoyantly at a bill-signing ceremony in the White House complex. “I’m also hopeful that we might refresh the American people’s faith in the capability of their leaders to govern in challenging times.”

While I personally find the compromise hard to swallow (as did President Obama) IF we are to have actual governance, compromise is a MUST.

I agree with Obama that Republicans DID hold hostage tax-cuts for 98% of Americans to tax-cuts for the top 2% of Americans.

IRAQ - Finally, New Government?

"Parliament Vote Puts Iraq Closer to a New Government" by JACK HEALY, New York Times 12/18/2010


Iraq moved one step closer to finally forming a government on Saturday as lawmakers overturned a contentious decision barring three prominent Sunni Arabs from national politics.

The vote in Parliament helped to resolve a furor that erupted nearly a year ago, after an Iraqi panel sought to disqualify hundreds of Sunni candidates from elections because of their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

The disqualifications set off angry demonstrations and accusations that threatened to further marginalize Iraq’s Sunni minority and undermine efforts to form a government that folded in all of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian factions.

Lifting the ban will allow the three Sunni politicians to hold office, and should help to cement the participation of a large Sunni-backed political alliance in Iraq’s fragile unity government.

It also clears the way for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to name his cabinet, potentially ending nine months of feuding and political drift that has followed inconclusive national elections in March.

Mr. Maliki’s allies said he could announce a new government as early as Monday, five days before he is required to do so under a constitutionally mandated deadline.

But on Saturday evening, lawmakers still appeared to be jockeying for control over important ministries that control Iraq’s security forces, oil and public services, as well as other high-ranking positions. It was unclear whether they could iron out their disputes over the next 24 hours.

Humm... Jockeying for POLITICAL power? Sound familiar (Republicans vs Democrats)?

IRAQ - Iraq Politics 2011 and American Troops

"Politics in Iraq Casts Doubt on a U.S. Presence After 2011" by STEVEN LEE MYERS, THOM SHANKER and JACK HEALY; New York Times 12/18/2010


The protracted political turmoil that saw the resurgence of a fiercely anti-American political bloc here is casting new doubt on establishing any enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops are scheduled to withdraw in the next 12 months, military and administration officials say.

Given Iraq’s military shortcomings, especially in air power, intelligence coordination and logistics, American and Iraqi officials had long expected that some American military presence, even if only in an advisory role, would continue beyond 2011. That is the deadline for a troop withdrawal negotiated under President George W. Bush more than three years ago and adhered to, so far, by President Obama.

Even as contingency planning for any lasting American mission has quietly continued in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, however, the shifting political landscape in both countries has made it increasingly possible that the 2011 withdrawal could truly be total, the officials said. Both Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and Mr. Obama, struggling to retain the support of their political bases, have repeated their public vows to adhere to the deadline.

The military and administration officials emphasized in interviews that the White House had made no final decision on whether any troops might remain beyond the scheduled withdrawal — and that it would not even consider one unless asked by Mr. Maliki’s government.

The question is so politically delicate — here and in Washington — that officials would speak only on condition of anonymity. Further, they say the topic has not been broached in detail even in recent private meetings between senior Iraqi and American officials, including one in Baghdad last week between Mr. Maliki and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

“Maliki can’t start asking right now for a large, extended American footprint,” a senior administration official said. “First of all, there is no Maliki government. And second, it would introduce a hugely controversial issue just when he doesn’t need it.”

It could remain so for many more months, even after Mr. Maliki completes his cabinet of ministers and submits it to the new Parliament, now scheduled to happen within a week. That has raised anxieties among American officials and military commanders presiding over what the Obama administration calls a “responsible drawdown” to end the American war here.

POLITICS - A Win for Equal Rights in the Military

"Senate Repeals Ban Against Openly Gay Military Personnel" by CARL HULSE, New York Times 12/18/2010


The Senate on Saturday struck down the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, bringing to a close a 17-year struggle over a policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and caused others to keep secret their sexual orientation.

By a vote of 65 to 31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats, the Senate approved and sent to President Obama a repeal of the Clinton-era law, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy critics said amounted to government-sanctioned discrimination that treated gay and lesbian troops as second-class citizens.

Mr. Obama hailed the action, which fulfills his pledge to reverse the ban. “As commander in chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known,” Mr. Obama said in a statement after the Senate, on a 63-33 vote, beat back Republican efforts to block a final vote on the repeal bill.

The vote marked a historic moment that some equated with the end of racial segregation in the military.

It followed a comprehensive review by the Pentagon that found a low risk to military effectiveness despite greater concerns among some combat units and the Marine Corps. The review also found that Pentagon officials supported Congressional repeal as a better alternative than an court-ordered end.

Supporters of the repeal said it was long past time to end what they saw as an ill-advised practice that cost valuable personnel and forced troops to lie to serve their country.

“We righted a wrong,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut who led the effort to end the ban. “Today we’ve done justice.”

PAKISTAN - The Havens Issue

"Pakistan's Extremist Havens: What Options Does U.S. Have?"
PBS Newshour 12/17/2010

POLITICS - Tax-Cut Compromise & Earmarks

"Shields, Brooks on Tax-Cut Compromise, Holbrooke, Earmark Wrangling" PBS Newshour Transcript 12/17/2010 (includes video)


JIM LEHRER (Editor, Newshour): The tax cut law -- or the tax cut deal is now the law of the land. And is all well in America as a result?

MARK SHIELDS (syndicated columnist): Jim, I think you can already feel harmony and tranquility is griping the continent.


MARK SHIELDS: A couple of things.

I mean, victory legislatively and all that -- not the toughest vote in the world, Jim to stand up and say, I'm going to ask you one thing, Jim Lehrer. Could you cast a vote to cut everybody's taxes?

Mr. President, only because it's in the good interest of the country will I do it. I know it's my patriotic duty.

I mean, we haven't reached the point where a president has asked us to cut anybody's spending or to raise anybody's taxes. But, that said, I thought that the best analysis was made by Peter Welch, the Democratic congressman from Vermont, who said, too much debt, too few jobs.

And I think we all hope that it is going to generate economic activity. But I think there is an overlay of skepticism among many Democrats.

JIM LEHRER: David, President Obama, speaking of Democrats, is getting most of the credit for this having been passed. Does he deserve it?

DAVID BROOKS (New York Times columnist): He deserves some. I mean, it is an easy thing to spend, tax cuts. But you have got to crawl before you can walk. I mean, we haven't seen a lot of signing ceremonies with Mitch McConnell standing there with President Obama. So...

JIM LEHRER: This, in fact, may be the first.

DAVID BROOKS: That is a good point. I hadn't thought of it. Yes, it could be.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes, yes, in the two years of the Obama administration.

MARK SHIELDS: Kentucky Derby week, I think.

DAVID BROOKS: Kentucky Derby week, yes, yes.


DAVID BROOKS: Yes. So, no, I think, you know, think about what the tone would be like if this hadn't -- if they hadn't been able to reach this deal, if we have a Republican Congress, very aggressive, very confrontational coming in.

I think this has changed the tone a little. I think it has at least opened the crack for future compromise. As to the substance, I don't think it's going to be a big stimulus. But I think, if we had raised taxes -- it might have averted something.

Now, frankly, I'm -- I think is a good deal. It is probably good for the economy. It will probably create a little boost. I have spent a lot of the week in New York with business and financial people. And maybe they are living in a bubble, but the mood there is way more confident about the economy -- or optimistic -- than the mood here.

JIM LEHRER: What do they say?

DAVID BROOKS: That things are opening up, that the Christmas season has started out pretty well. They are suddenly saying, we have had this period of contraction. Everything is tamped down. But now they have a feeling of release.

And, if that's true -- I hope it's true -- then this will look like a mistimed stimulus. But we can't be confident of that. I think the projections are still slow growth. But maybe they are right. But I was really struck by the complete difference in tone between Washington conventional wisdom about the economy and New York conventional wisdom.

MARK SHIELDS: Could I just make one dampener on that?

JIM LEHRER: You may.

MARK SHIELDS: And that is that, Jim, the law, if it was allowed to go forward, would have resulted in taxes being raised, especially on the wealthiest. There was no way that taxes were going to be raised on middle-income people.

And, if two years away from an election, there wasn't the will or the backbone to do that, can you imagine seriously, on election year 2012, when this expires, that, when the Republicans are in control of the House, that you are going to stand up and say, now's the time to increase taxes?

I mean, that's the fear, that these tax cuts have been made permanent.


MARK SHIELDS: And what we're talking about is, in the short space of five years, that the interest on the national debt will be -- the interest will be larger than the defense budget is today. I mean, that is a -- that is such a sobering and really scary prospect. And I think that's part of the...

DAVID BROOKS: That's why -- I mean, my hope is that it will all be subsumed in a larger, a much larger, debate, a big tax reform debate, a big spending debate.

And to have that debate, you have to build up some areas of trust. And I think, as the administration is looking forward, especially to the State of the Union, they are thinking, we are going to have fights about repeal of health care, but how can we build a fence? How can we build a fence against some issues where we think we can do -- and I think the administration is pretty far advanced.

I'm thinking about corporate rate reform, maybe some individual. I think the president would like to do some Social Security reform. So, they are trying to think of areas where they can work together and sort of build on at least the spirit of what has been done here.

JIM LEHRER: And then fight about everything else.

DAVID BROOKS: Of course, but that is politics. That's normal.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Sure. Sure.

Speaking of fighting, the earmarks problem -- of course, it's in this new spending bill, and people were saying it was $8 billion out of a -- what, is it a $1.2 trillion spending bill.


JIM LEHRER: Is this something to get worried about?

DAVID BROOKS: No, not particularly.

Earmarks have become the symbol of Washington insider dealing and corruption. And I understand why that is. I think, if you started when the Republicans took the majority, there were like 2,000 earmarks a year in the big budgets. And then that ramped up in those years to 14,000. And that was probably a problem.

But a lot of that is just the grease you need to get things done. And a lot of very good programs are funded by earmarks. And if you are looking at the total budget situation, it's trivial. What matters is Medicare. Nobody wants to talk about Medicare, so they get tough on earmarks.

And so what's happened is a complete change in standards. What was acceptable three years ago when it comes to earmarks is now completely unacceptable. But we should remember it's symbolic. If you want to be serious about deficits, you have got to be serious about entitlements and taxes, the big things.

MARK SHIELDS: Part of it is the most rank of all political character defects. That is hypocrisy. It is a little bit like the chairman of the Citizens for Decent Literature just getting caught coming out of a pornographic movie theater.

You had, in rather a magic moment in the Senate press gallery, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a potential presidential candidate, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, also mentioned as a presidential candidate, standing up there, talking about this terrible bill, this omnibus bill that the Democrats have came up with, $1.2 trillion, to fund the government, and being asked about the earmarks they have put in it, 25 in Thune's case, 46 in Cornyn's case, specific earmarks.

And they -- Thune -- Senator Thune said, he was for projects, but he was against the bill. So, the Republicans have made earmarks a big issue. I happen to come down on the side of Bob Bennett, the retiring senator from Utah, who pointed out, look, if you give up all earmarks, the Congress does, you're transferring enormous power to any president, the administration.

They're going to make all the spending decisions. And, yes, so, Congress -- I mean, people talk about constitutional powers and checks and balances. They are just giving enormous -- I mean, the idea of making them transparent and accountable and not for profit, I think, is legitimate, that people have to stand up and say, yes, I put that in there, and this why I did it.

But I think it really is in excess.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

Friday, December 17, 2010

POLITICS - Dumbing Down of America

Flack jackets on.....

"Study Confirms That Fox News Makes You Stupid" by Mark Howard, AlterNet 12/15/2010

A new survey of American voters shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources.

Yet another study has been released proving that watching Fox News is detrimental to your intelligence. World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey (PDF) of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation.

So the more you watch, the less you know. Or to be precise, the more you think you know that is actually false. This study corroborates a previous PIPA study that focused on the Iraq war with similar results. And there was an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that demonstrated the break with reality on the part of Fox viewers with regard to health care. The body of evidence that Fox News is nothing but a propaganda machine dedicated to lies is growing by the day.

In eight of the nine questions below, Fox News placed first in the percentage of those who were misinformed (they placed second in the question on TARP). That’s a pretty high batting average for journalistic fraud. Here is a list of what Fox News viewers believe that just ain't so:
  • 91 percent believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs

  • 72 percent believe the health reform law will increase the deficit

  • 72 percent believe the economy is getting worse

  • 60 percent believe climate change is not occurring

  • 49 percent believe income taxes have gone up

  • 63 percent believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts

  • 56 percent believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout

  • 38 percent believe that most Republicans opposed TARP

  • 63 percent believe Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear)

The conclusion is inescapable. Fox News is deliberately misinforming its viewers and it is doing so for a reason. Every issue above is one in which the Republican Party had a vested interest. The GOP benefited from the ignorance that Fox News helped to proliferate. The results were apparent in the election last month as voters based their decisions on demonstrably false information fed to them by Fox News.

By the way, the rest of the media was not blameless. CNN and the broadcast network news operations fared only slightly better in many cases. Even MSNBC, which had the best record of accurately informing viewers, has a ways to go before it can brag about it.

The conclusions in this study need to be disseminated as broadly as possible. Fox’s competitors need to report these results and produce ad campaigns featuring them. Newspapers and magazines need to publish the study across the country. This is big news and it is critical that the nation be advised that a major news enterprise is poisoning their minds.

This is not an isolated review of Fox’s performance. It has been corroborated time and time again. The fact that Fox News is so blatantly dishonest, and the effects of that dishonesty have become ingrained in an electorate that has been been purposefully deceived, needs to be made known to every American. Our democracy cannot function if voters are making choices based on lies. We have the evidence that Fox is tilting the scales and we must now make certain its corporate owners do not get away with it.

AFGHANISTAN - Unveiling of Assessment

"Gen. Keane: Pakistani Government, Military 'Willingly Support' Taliban"
PBS Newshour 12/16/2010

Contrast this with previous Gloomy Review post (opens in new page)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

SCIENCE - Space Shuttle Exhibit

"Exhibit plans shared for retired space shuttles" by Robert Z. Pearlman, collectSPACE 12/16/2010

Plans are moving forward for the display of two of NASA's soon-to-be-retired space shuttles at the Smithsonian and Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Although NASA has yet to announce where its orbiters will be dispatched once they cease flying missions next year, recent actions have helped remove obstacles and clarify the logistics for the Washington, D.C. institution and the Cape Canaveral, Fla. spaceport to receive shuttles.

In the case of the Smithsonian, it was long thought to be the future home of shuttle Discovery, NASA's oldest flying orbiter. Recently, budget constraints called that plan into question.

As first reported by collectSPACE last month, NASA was not prepared to cover the estimated $28.8 million needed to prepare and transport the shuttle to the institution.

Now Congress is passing legislation to make NASA do just that.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex wouldn't incur the costs to fly a shuttle to its facility it would simply need to roll the orbiter down the road. But up until now, the tourist attraction has trailed many of the other 20 shuttle suitors releasing their display plan s for an orbiter, assuming they were granted one.

On Wednesday, the visitor complex revealed its intentions to build a $100 million exhibit to showcase a shuttle.

No or nominal cost

When NASA first said it was reserving Discovery for the Smithsonian in 2008, the agency made it clear that the custodian of the National Collection would still need to cover the then-estimated $42 million to ready and deliver the shuttle.

The cost, which lowered to $28.8 million at the beginning of this year, was still said to be beyond the Smithsonian's reach, according to sources close to the National Air and Space Museum who spoke with collectSPACE.

The Smithsonian refused interview requests, but public documents showed that the National Air and Space Museum's total annual budget including the National Mall building; its Chantilly, Virginia-based annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; and the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility located in Suitland, Maryland was about equal to the $28.8 million required by NASA.

As a result, for the first time since the discussion began about where the orbiters would go, Discovery seemed like it might be up for grabs. That is, until Congress decided to get involved.

On the evening of Dec. 8, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a yearlong continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government. The bill included a budget for NASA and "an interesting shuttle provision," as described by Jeff Foust writing on his blog

"The CR devotes nearly a page to issues associated with the disposition of shuttle orbiters... in particular cutting a special deal for the Smithsonian," Foust reported.

The spending bill excuses the Smithsonian from bearing the costs for transportation and preparing a retired orbiter for display.

"Should the Administrator determine that the Smithsonian Institution is an appropriate venue for an orbiter, such orbiter shall be made available to the Smithsonian at no or nominal cost," the resolution reads.

The Senate has yet to take up its own version, but a draft of the omnibus appropriations bill released on Wednesday included the same language.

Assuming it passes with that provision intact, Discovery should be Smithsonian-bound.

If so, then the Smithsonian's plan is to replace the prototype shuttle Enterprise, now on display in the McDonnell Space Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center, with the flown-in-space orbiter.

AMERICA - Demolition Derby Atlanta Style

"Ice storm chaos: How Atlanta commute turned into a demolition derby" by Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor 12/16/2010


Southerners are used to demolition derbies, but a mass of commuters surprised by an early winter ice storm found themselves on a giant hockey rink Wednesday.

The Atlanta metro area alone saw more than 1,000 accidents as motorists slid off roads, crashed into each other, and, in many cases, simply abandoned their cars and checked into motels literally miles from their homes. Few serious injuries were reported.

Georgia's state climatologist, David Stooksbury, came to the defense of the drivers involved in the great 2010 ice storm mashup. "I've seen drivers in the Midwest driving on ice, and they can't do it, either, so I don't want to hear it from them," says Mr. Stooksbury, who works at the University of Georgia.But he conceded that "part of it is just not knowing how to react, and I think Wednesday was a prime example of that where [Southerners] didn't quite understand that when it's this cold and it starts to rain that you really do need to slow down. And the people with the four-wheel drives, yeah, it may help you drive faster, but we don't have a thing called four-wheeled stop."

Lead-footed commuters collided and skidded off roads as the commute got bogged down with numerous road closings, including several ramps to the famed Spaghetti Junction at the intersection of I-85 and I-285. A leaf-thin sheet of black ice coated roads just as dusk fell on the height of rush hour.

POLITICS - GOP Earmarks News Conference

"Those Pesky GOP Earmarks" by Jamie Dupree, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 12/15/2010

While Republicans denounced the 1,924 page Omnibus budget bill that was unveiled by Senate Democrats yesterday, their arguments against earmarks ran into some trouble during a news conference today.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) joined Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in the Senate Radio-TV Gallery in what was billed as a news conference to blast the move by Democrats to bring up this $1.1 trillion Omnibus in the waning days of this session of Congress.

"There is no reason other than political expediency to try to jam this bill through," said Cornyn, accusing top Democrats of ignoring the message sent by voters in November, that they wanted less spending, not a bill filled with home-state budget earmarks.

But if advisers to the Senators thought the opening statements of Cornyn and Thune would set the theme for this news conference, they were wrong, because the fine print of the Omnibus showed many Republican Senators at the pork barrel trough as well.

My review found 45 earmarks for Cornyn and another 26 for Thune. Those examples didn't get ignored by reporters.

"The bill contains many earmarks that you requested," said one reporter, starting the Q&A.

"Pardon me?" said Cornyn.

"I intend to vote against those earmarks because the American people sent a message on November 2nd," said the Texas Republican.

"Senator Thune, I was just looking at the list of earmark requests that you requested this year and it adds up to over a hundred million dollars," said another reporter, asking the South Dakota Republican - who has been talked about as a Presidential hopeful - if he would strike those earmarks.

"I support those projects, but I don't support this bill," Thune answered.

Time for another question.

"Going through this bill, there is earmark after earmark from the both of you, millions of dollars in earmarks," asked another scribe with a jab.

"Why do you have any credibility on this?"

"Because we're going to vote against the bill," answered Cornyn.

"It appears like you're saying one thing and doing another," another reporter pressed.

"Not at all," said Cornyn, as Thune also stepped in to defend their stance on the Omnibus.

"We've got to leave it there - we've got to get going," a GOP aide said, trying to end the press conference and quickly get the Senators out the door.

"Were you wrong when you put these earmarks in?" asked one reporter, ignoring the staffer.

"You're missing the story if you think it's just about earmarks," Cornyn protested, trying to turn the focus back to Democratic leaders bringing this huge bill to the floor with little time for review.

"Thank you guys. Thank you very much," the same staffer quickly interjected as Cornyn finished his answer, trying again to end the news conference.

"Is that an acknowledgment that it was wrong to put the earmarks in in the first place?" a reporter asked.

"You've asked the question about five times and I've tried to answer it to the best of my ability," said a somewhat irked Cornyn, who then zipped out the door.

Hee, Hee. Maybe Cornyn needs to learn to ACTUALLY read bills he votes against or for.

No, wait, I know what happened. There is a Democratic Mole on his staff that set him up for this gaff.

ECONOMY - Tax Deal Update 12/15/2010

"House Set to Follow Senate in Approving Tax Deal" by DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times 12/15/2010


The Senate on Wednesday approved the $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders, and House Democrats said they expected to pass the bill on Thursday after a final, and seemingly futile, effort to change a provision that benefits wealthy estates.

The Senate vote was 81 to 19 as Democrats yielded in their long push to end the Bush-era lowered tax rates for high-income taxpayers. Republicans agreed to back a huge economic stimulus package, including an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a one-year payroll-tax cut for most workers, with the entire cost added to the federal deficit.

It was the first concrete product of a new era of divided government and acid compromise.

In the House, Democratic leaders said they would bring the bill to the floor on Thursday along with an amendment to tax more estates at a higher rate. Democrats predicted privately that the amendment would be rejected and the package approved, but the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was not ready to concede.

“We will make our point,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday evening, in which she repeated her opposition, shared by many Democrats, to the provision granting a tax exemption to estates of up to $5 million per person, or $10 million per couple. Republicans have said they will not accept any change.

Other Democrats predicted the tax plan would be passed as is on Thursday, making clear that their initial fury at the prospect of extending Bush-era tax rates even on the highest incomes had given way to acceptance that the White House, its leverage weakened by midterm election losses, had negotiated the best compromise it could. President Obama urged Congress again on Wednesday to pass the bill unchanged and without delay.

AFGHANISTAN - Gloomy Review

"Intel Agencies Offer Gloomy View of Afghan War" PBS Newshour Transcript 12/15/2010 (includes video)


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Tomorrow, the White House presents its long-awaited review of how much progress has been made in the Afghan war since the president's surge of U.S. forces there.

Today, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times reported on two classified national intelligence assessments, one of Afghanistan, one on Pakistan, that have gone into that review. The NIEs represent the collective view of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. They were said to offer a gloomy view of the state of play, especially when it comes to Pakistan's unwillingness to take out Afghan militant sanctuaries on its territory.

For more, we go to Elisabeth Bumiller, a Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. And, Elisabeth, welcome back.

Now, there have been a lot of intelligence assessments all along this -- the process of this war. What makes these special?

ELISABETH BUMILLER, The New York Times: These -- well, because they're current, or relatively current, and because one is focused on Afghanistan, one is focused on Pakistan, and because, right now, it's the moment for viewing Afghanistan.

And they're important because, again, they represent all the views of all these intelligence agencies, with, I would say, a very heavy input from the CIA and from the Defense Intelligence Agency. They're the main drafting agencies.
MARGARET WARNER: And that takes us back to what role Pakistan is and will play. So, tell us a little bit more about what these NIEs at least say about Pakistan's role, how extensively they're assisting the Afghan Taliban and other insurgents who are in the border area and cross over and attack U.S. and Afghan forces.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: Well, actually, I don't think it's just the NIEs. I think it's -- the entire Obama administration right now acknowledges what is a big problem this is, is that the Pakistani intelligence service is using these proxy insurgent groups on the border to -- to -- they go right across the border.

Commanders were saying that last week in the eastern part of Afghanistan, that they go right across the border. They plant homemade bombs. They attack American forces, and then they go right back across to Pakistan for rest.

MARGARET WARNER: For rest and relaxation.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: Resupply, refitting. And so -- and we're only at war officially in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: So, do these reports or at least what you know about them say whether the Pakistani military at the highest levels is just allowing this to happen, or were -- there are rogue elements that are assisting them, or whether, in fact, the Pakistani military at the highest levels is engaged in this?

ELISABETH BUMILLER: I can't answer that question. They certainly say that there are rogue elements within the Pakistani intelligence service.

They also say that there's been basically lip service paid by General Kayani, who's the head of the military in Pakistan. You know, General Petraeus just last week praised Kayani for saying, yes, we acknowledge this is a problem.

But that's basically what the Pakistanis have said for two or three years.


"Afghan Report Sees July Troop Pullouts Despite Perils" by HELENE COOPER, New York Times 12/16/2010


A review of President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan concludes that American forces can begin withdrawing on schedule in July, despite finding uneven signs of progress in the year since the president announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops, according to a summary made public Thursday.

The summary said the United States continues to kill leaders of Al Qaeda and diminish its capacity to launch terrorist attacks from the region. It cited some signs that the United States and its allies have halted or reversed inroads by the Taliban in Afghanistan and strengthened the ability of Afghan forces to secure their country, but acknowledged that the gains are fragile and could be easily undone unless more progress is made towards hunting down insurgents operating from havens in neighboring Pakistan.

The report is the first full-scale assessment of Mr. Obama’s strategy, and was once portrayed by the administration as critical to decisions about the course of the conflict and the pace of the exit by the United States from Afghanistan. But the White House has been playing down the report’s importance for months, even as it continues to balance pressure from the military for time to allow the troop surge to work and pressure from many Democrats — some inside the administration — to start showing next year that Mr. Obama is serious about winding down the nine-year conflict.

The summary shed little light on the scale of any troop withdrawal next year, which the administration says will be determined by conditions on the ground.

The five-page unclassified overview of the review describes both progress and challenges only in general and restrained terms, avoiding outright criticism of Pakistan for failure to do more to confront extremists on its soil and the Afghan government for corruption and inconsistent support for American efforts to secure key areas of the country.

(both links open new page) New York Times Summary - Original Document PDF