Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ON THE LITE SIDE - Iraq Pullout and More

Humor Times

(click for better view)

"Banks to Join With Wall Street to Purchase New Government" Faux News 7/20/2010

Old one causing 'buyer's remorse,' say CEOs

Humor Times Special Report

NEW YORK - CEO's from the nation's top banks and Wall Street financial firms confirmed rumors today that they plan to purchase a "brand new government" to replace the old one.

"We recognize that things just get old and break down after a while," said Goldman Sachs CEO Gerald Corrigan, "and rather than continue to poor hundreds of millions into a bad product, we're business savvy enough to know that we need to roll out a brand new model."

The plan is to design a "low maintenance brand" that will streamline the process of creating laws that are "good for business and for persons - corporate persons, that is," according to the new "Contract on America" the group has published, the title a play on the old 1994 Republican "Contract with America" promoted by Newt Gingrich.

"We know Americans are impatient with this Congress and this president," Corrigan said, "and for good reason. The Democrat party can't do anything, even with their big majority, always complaining about filibusters and such." With the "shiny new, and very small" government, he said, there won't be any need for "time-wasting congressmen" - CEO's will just draft laws themselves and implement them, thereby "cutting out the middlemen."

"We've been running former CEOs for all the top posts, like governors, etc," he said, "but it's a messy process that is taking too long. We need action now. Americans trust business, and they'll be happy with the new arrangement - I guarantee it. If a few unpatriotic types make any trouble, well, they'll find out what 'maintaining the peace' means, when they meet our new government security apparatus, made up of private companies like Xe [formerly Blackwater], which will replace the army and police."

POLITICS - GOP Blockage NOT Helping Small Business

"Obama to Senate GOP: Stop blockading Small Business Relief Bill" Rightardia 8/30/2010

President Obama is accusing Senate Republicans of harming the U.S. economy by blocking a bill to aid small business. He said the measure should be the Senate's "first order of business" when it returns Sept. 13 from its summer recess.

President Obama:

Here’s what’s happening: Up until a few months ago, SBA was able to waive the fees for SBA loan borrowers. This allowed small business owners to put more money back into their business. . .

At the same time, we were able to increase the government guarantee on SBA loans, to encourage more banks and credit unions to go ahead and make SBA loans to good, creditworthy small businesses.

This worked. SBA lenders approved about 70,000 SBA Recovery loans for small businesses since the Recovery Act passed, nearly $30 billion in total. And, we brought more than 1,300 lenders back to making SBA loans at a time when other banks were cutting back their small business lending.

Unfortunately, the funding for these popular enhancements ran out at the end of May . . .With support in Congress for extending these successful loan enhancements, we started the Recovery Loan Queue, a stand-by list just like at the airport.

Today, that list is at nearly 1,000 small businesses long . . . With the passage of the Small Business Jobs Act, SBA will be able to fund these loans. Additionally, among other programs, the Act will create the Small Business Lending Fund to provide additional capital to small, community banks so they can boost their lending to small businesses locally.

Some Republicans objected to the loan fund. Some supported the bill but objected to limits that Democrats put on amendments.

How typical. The party that chants about "small business" blocking a program that helps those very businesses, for political gain.

EDUCATION - Home-Town View, SDSU

"Why They Chose SDSU Over UCSD" by CLAIRE TRAGESER, Voice of San Diego 8/31/2010


Kelly Doran faced a choice: Work as a professor at the U.S. News & World Report's 35th best university in the country or the 183rd.

It was easy. She chose the 183rd.

Doran joined the faculty of San Diego State University three years ago after completing her doctorate and postdoctoral work in biology at school No. 35, the University of California, San Diego. Although she holds an adjunct faculty position at UCSD and could work there if she wanted to, she teaches and does her research at SDSU.

"I could do high-powered research at UCSD, but I really like that interaction with students, to help develop their love of science and their future careers," she said. "It's more work, but there's more of a reward."

Like many who choose to work and study at SDSU, Doran likes the school's close-knit environment and its emphasis on teaching. She is also part of a growing group at the school who do not think their careers or the quality of their research are sacrificed because they work or study at a less prestigious school with fewer graduate students and resources like lab space and equipment.

This attitude likely would not have been possible 10 or even five years ago, but SDSU has transformed in recent years to a university that produces significant research. The school pulled in $150 million in grants and contracts last year -- a funding level only about 100 universities in the country reach. SDSU has been ranked as the most productive small research university in the country for four years in a row.

SDSU faculty said their school's increased research funding -- up by more than $15 million from two years ago -- and growing emphasis on research allows them to produce significant scientific work. And students said they benefit from both these quality research opportunities and hands-on teaching.

But there is a trade-off.

SDSU is growing, but its transformation into a serious research university is not yet complete. The school still has less money and fewer resources to support its science than is available at larger schools (for example, UCSD brought in $1 billion in funding last year).

And it is still struggling to ditch its reputation as just another Cal State school that takes second billing to the powerhouse UCSD. Until that reputation is shed completely, students and professors at SDSU still have to contend with occasional scientific snobbery and questions over whether their careers will be limited by the school they attended.

Monday, August 30, 2010

POLITICS - Opinion on the Republicans

"The Party of Crazy" by AzBlueMeanie, Arizona.com 8/27/2010


Republicans aren't just wrong this year, they've gone crazy. The inmates have taken over the asylum at the GOP, and there is no responsible adult supervision.

Once again, "This is not your father's GOP." Traditional Republicans and traditional conservatives have fled the party or have been thrown out by its far-right fringe of John Birch Society, states rights nullification theory "Tenthers," anti-government sedition and secessionists, Anti-Constitution radicals who want to "reinterpret" the Constitution or to repeal it, Christian Reconstructionists who want to impose a theocracy, and the usual smattering of religious bigots, xenophobic nativists, and unrepentant racist segregationists.

I have said before I believe what we are witnessing is the implosion of the Republican Party as we have known it, comparable to the final days of the Whig Party and the Know Nothing Party in the 1850s which gave rise to the Republican Party -- and the Civil War.

What is emerging from the wreckage of the GOP is something dark and alien to our long-cherished American values and principles, the Constitution and even American history itself. The far-right fringe should not be permitted the use of the Republican Party label -- the far-right fringe is hijacking this name brand to give themselves legitimacy, but they are not legitimate nor are they the rightful heirs to the traditions and values of the Republican Party that these parasites have hollowed out. Extremism should bear a new name.

I totally agree. This is why I left the GOP in 2000, they are NOT what I thought they were and have only become more fascist of late.

If the American electorate puts Republicans back in charge (which we have the right to do) this mid-term, I would normally say "so be it." Except I, and America in general, will be hurt.

It is the Republicans who dug the economic-hole our nation is in today, but they are very good at propaganda on making the American electorate forget that FACT. They are very good at directing blame to someone else.

Also the American electorate seems NOT to realize that an 8yr economic-hole cannot be filled in just 2yrs.

POLITICS - Civil Rights, Simpleton vs Leader

"The civil rights simpleton and the the civil rights leader"
Rightardia 8/30/2010

On August 28th, I will stand with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a just, diverse and equal society. I do not stand with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their attempt to destroy and distort King’s vision.

Beck seems to think he is also presidential material.

“I don't know what Sarah's doing, [but] I have no desire to be president of the United States — zero desire,” Beck said.

Read more: Politco.com

ON THE LITE SIDE - Palin Borgs

Welcome to the Palin Republican Borg Collective

PAKISTAN - Politics of the Non-Elite

"Upstarts Chip Away at Power of Pakistani Elite" by SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times 8/28/2010


In Pakistan, where politics has long been a matter of pedigree, Jamshed Dasti is a mongrel. The scrappy son of an amateur wrestler, Mr. Dasti has clawed his way into Pakistan’s Parliament, beating the wealthy, landed families who have ruled here.

In elite circles, Mr. Dasti is reviled as a thug, a small-time hustler with a fake college degree who represents the worst of Pakistan today. But here, he is hailed as a hero, living proof that in Pakistan, a poor man can get a seat at the rich men’s table.

Mr. Dasti’s rise is part of a broad shift in political power in Pakistan. For generations, politics took place in the parlors of a handful of rich families, a Westernized elite that owned large tracts of land and sometimes even the people who worked it. But Pakistan is urbanizing fast, and powerful forces of change are chipping away at the landed aristocracy, known in Pakistan as the feudal class.

The result is a changing political landscape more representative of Pakistani society, but far less predictable for the United States.

AFGHANISTAN - More on Graft and Corruption

"Graft-Fighting Prosecutor Fired in Afghanistan" by DEXTER FILKINS & ALISSA J. RUBIN, New York Times 8/28/2010


One of the country’s most senior prosecutors said Saturday that President Hamid Karzai fired him last week after he repeatedly refused to block corruption investigations at the highest levels of Mr. Karzai’s government.

Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar, the former deputy attorney general, said investigations of more than two dozen senior Afghan officials — including cabinet ministers, ambassadors and provincial governors — were being held up or blocked outright by Mr. Karzai, Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko and others.

Mr. Faqiryar’s account of the troubles plaguing the anticorruption investigations, which Mr. Karzai’s office disputed, has been largely corroborated in interviews with five Western officials familiar with the cases. They say Mr. Karzai and others in his government have repeatedly thwarted prosecutions against senior Afghan government figures.

An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Afghan prosecutors had prepared several cases against officials suspected of corruption, but that Mr. Karzai was “stalling and stalling and stalling.”

“We propose investigations, detentions and prosecutions of high government officials, but we cannot resist him,” Mr. Faqiryar said of Mr. Karzai. “He won’t sign anything. We have great, honest and professional prosecutors here, but we need support.”

This month, Mr. Karzai intervened to stop the prosecution of one of his closest aides, Mohammed Zia Salehi, who investigators say had been wiretapped demanding a bribe from another Afghan seeking his help in scuttling a corruption investigation.

Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff disputed Mr. Faqiryar’s characterization of the president’s involvement, saying that the president had instructed the prosecutors to move cases forward “appropriately.”

“I strongly deny that the president has been in any way obstructing the investigations of these cases,” said the chief of staff, Umer Daudzai. “On the contrary, he has done his bit in all these cases, and it is his job to make sure that the justice is not politicized. And, unfortunately we see in some of these cases that it is politicized.”

Mr. Aloko did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday. Mr. Salehi could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Faqiryar made his accusations amid a growing sense of alarm in the Obama administration and in Congress over Mr. Karzai’s failure to take action against officials suspected of corruption, but also as the administration debates whether pushing too hard on corruption will alienate a government whose cooperation it needs to wage war.

Awash in American and NATO money, Mr. Karzai’s government is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt in the world. American officials believe that the corruption drives Afghans into the arms of the Taliban.

I am no expert historian on Afghanistan, but from what little I have read on the history of Afghanistan, they have a centuries-old tradition based on tribal warlords. From what I see they operate similarly to the old Sicilian Mafia in that paying the warlord, or his lieutenants, is what is done. I could be wrong of course. IF I am correct, then this prepositions the Afghan culture for modern graft as we see it today. That does NOT mean Afghans like it.

If any of my readers are better informed on Afghan history on this point, please comment.

Friday, August 27, 2010

POLITICS - GOP Islamaphobia

"The GOP Swaps Gay Bashing for Islamaphobia" by Sarah Jones, PoliticusUSA 8/26/2010


Republicans Walking Back Anti-Gay Stance in Favor of Anti-Muslim Stance

Keeping up with Republican hate is tough. It reminds me of the time-honored strategy of the “popular kids” in high school. You never know whom they’re going to pick on next. And when they finally relent on one group, they take the group they just spit on and entice them to sell their souls for the privilege of being acknowledged. The carrot dangles, “We’ll stop hating you if you’ll hate these other people.” Sort of a Republican hazing process. In other words, in GOP land, gay is OK now so long as you hate Muslims.

Has been for a few months.

Muslim is bad now. Also, too, any kind of brown skin especially from south of the border. That is super bad. But gay is OK. Republicans are easing up on their gay hate and more and more “conservatives” are “revealing” (aka, doing their puppetly duties) that they have secretly supported gay marriage or are, in fact, gay.

OIL SPILL - BP's Troubled Safety Record

"Panel Presses BP on Its Safety Record" by ROBBIE BROWN, New York Times 8/26/2010

Federal investigators pressed senior BP officials on Thursday about whether the company had a troubled record of safety problems even before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.

Taking a step back for perspective, a government panel exploring the rig explosion raised pointed questions about what lessons had been learned from several previous emergencies in 2002 and 2005. Time after time, BP appeared to have gambled with safety, said a chairman of the panel, Capt. Hung Nguyen of the Coast Guard.

“One dot is a point, two dots is a line, and three dots is a trend,” Captain Nguyen said. “There’s a trend there about the safety culture of BP. These things keep happening.”

The observation emerged as the panel of Coast Guard and Interior Department representatives received testimony from three senior BP officials. Since the hearings began in May, the focus has gradually shifted from low-level rig workers to shore-based managers for the companies involved in drilling the well.

The previous situations cited by the board included two little-known near-blowouts on oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico in 2002, the near-capsizing of a rig in 2005 and a major explosion at a Texas refinery in 2005. In response to each, BP conducted investigations and took necessary action, including spending $1.4 billion after the explosion in Texas, said Kent Wells, the company’s senior vice president for exploration and production.

But the panel called on Mr. Wells to read aloud from a 2003 letter from the federal Minerals Management Service that rebuked BP after the 2002 incidents.

“The circumstances surrounding these incidents have raised questions about the ability of BP to safely conduct drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico,” the letter states.

Another senior BP official, David Sims, the drilling and completions operations manager, faced more than six hours of questioning about his role during the final weeks of the Deepwater Horizon. He was pressed by investigators and lawyers about decisions not to conduct certain safety tests and to select riskier equipment for the well.

Pressed on whether workers called it “the well from hell,” Mr. Sims would say only, “It was a well that had a number of problems.”

OIL SPILL - Update, Behind the Scenes

"Behind Scenes of Gulf Oil Spill, Acrimony and Stress" by CLIFFORD KRAUSS, HENRY FOUNTAIN, JOHN M. BRODER; New York Times 8/26/2010


The official death of the now-notorious Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico is expected after Labor Day, with the completion of a relief well. Whether the four-month effort to kill it was a remarkable feat of engineering performed under near-impossible circumstances or a stumbling exercise in trial and error that took longer than it should have will be debated for some time.

But interviews with BP engineers and technicians, contractors and Obama administration officials who, with the eyes of the world upon them, worked to stop the flow of oil, suggest that the process was also far more stressful, hair-raising and acrimonious than the public was aware of.

There were close calls, the details of which were not released to the public, like the panic over the rising dome. Sleep-deprived men and women neglected family birthdays and watched long-planned summer vacations vanish. Inside the command center here and at the well site, 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, tempers flared — in one heated argument, a senior engineer on a ship threatened to throw another senior engineer overboard — and blood pressures rose.

The dome was only the first public debacle. As failure followed failure, the relationship between BP executives and administration officials deteriorated, resulting in disputes that some oil industry experts say delayed the killing of the well.

Looking back, administration officials said that they became concerned that BP could not handle the crisis and that at crucial junctures the company made serious errors of judgment. “There was an arc of loss of confidence,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “I was not comfortable they knew what they were doing.”

Those on the industry side saw it differently. “The only benefit I see is they actually challenged us to a level of detail and communication,” Mark Mazzella, BP’s top well-control expert, said of the government scientists who stepped in to supervise the effort. “They didn’t offer anything that changed anything we actually did.”

HEALTH - Iowans and Egg Recall

"Iowa Town Is Tense as U.S. Ties Farm to Salmonella" by MONICA DAVEY, New York Times 8/26/2010


The scrambled eggs, as always, were hissing in a skillet on a recent morning at a coffee shop here, in an egg-producing county that has suddenly found itself at the center of the nation’s egg recall over salmonella. But the conversation at the weekly gathering of local ladies turned uncharacteristically tense.

One woman suggested that the company at the focus of the recall of hundreds of millions of eggs, with huge facilities here, had done more harm than good locally. A second resident jumped in to defend the operation and the DeCoster family, which runs it, sternly announcing that any troubles ought not be discussed aloud.

Federal authorities announced Thursday that they had found samples of salmonella matching the strain of the recent outbreak in the feed and barns of Wright County Egg, the DeCosters’ operation.

The authorities said nearly 1,500 illnesses since May might be tied to tainted eggs, making this the largest outbreak associated with this type of bacteria, Salmonella enteritidis, since the federal government began closely tracking foodborne disease in 1973.

The intense scrutiny that the DeCosters and another producer, Hillandale Farms, have come under has reopened a fault line in central Iowa, with its endless fields of corn and soybeans and row after row of identical low-slung buildings full of egg-laying hens: on one side, those who detest enormous industrial-size farms and say the risk of a widespread salmonella outbreak is one more reason to fear them; on the other, those who see such farming as the economic savior of these wide open spaces.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

AMERICA - Special Comment, Ground Zero Mosque

Keith Olbermann, MSNBC 8/16/2010

Visit MSNBC.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

POLITICS - Framing Lies and Anti-Self-Interest

"8 years: Clinton added 22.7 million jobs …" Under the Mountain Bunker & Coffee Shop 8/24/2010


Clinton added 22.7 million jobs in 8 years. Bush cut taxes and only added 1.1 million jobs in 8 years. The GOP is framing the ‘phasing out’ of Bush’s tax cuts (for the rich) as a tax increase — counting on their Base to not self-educate or investigate beyond the Fox News sound bites, knowing that will ensure they’ll vote against their own self-interests one more time.

"Mitch McConnell's tax cut lies" by Joan Walsh, Salon 8/24/2010

CONSTITUTION - Military Evangelicals

This is more deviance of Evangelical Christian fundamentalists want America to become a Christian theocracy, which would mean "kiss your religious freedom good by."

This is the Christian fundamentalist equivalent to the goal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and what Iran is today, a suppressive Muslim theocracy.

Note that NOT ALL Christians believe as these fundamentalist do.

"U.S. Soldiers Punished for Not Attending Christian Concert" by Chris Rodda, Huffington Post 8/26/2010

For the past several years, two U.S. Army posts in Virginia, Fort Eustis and Fort Lee, have been putting on a series of what are called Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concerts. As I've written in a number of other posts, "spiritual fitness" is just the military's new term for promoting religion, particularly evangelical Christianity. And this concert series is no different.

On May 13, 2010, about eighty soldiers, stationed at Fort Eustis while attending a training course, were punished for opting out of attending one of these Christian concerts. The headliner at this concert was a Christian rock band called BarlowGirl, a band that describes itself as taking "an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God."

Any doubt that this was an evangelical Christian event was cleared up by the Army post's newspaper, the Fort Eustis Wheel, which ran an article after the concert that began:

Following the Apostle Paul's message to the Ephesians in the Bible, Christian rock music's edgy, all-girl band BarlowGirl brought the armor of God to the warriors and families of Fort Eustis during another installment of the Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert Series May 13 at Jacobs Theater.

The father of the three Barlow sisters who make up the band was also quoted in the article, saying, "We really believe that to be a Christian in today's world, you have to be a warrior, and we feel very blessed and privileged that God has given us the tool to deliver His message and arm His army."

A few days later, some of the soldiers punished for choosing not to attend this concert contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The following is from the account sent by one of those soldiers to MRFF, detailing what transpired that night.

The week prior to the event the [unit name and NCO's name withheld] informed us of a Christian rock event that was about to take place on Thursday the 13th.

"On Thursday 13th at 1730 we were informed that instead of being dismissed for the day, the entire company (about 250 soldiers) would march as a whole to the event. Not only that, but to make sure that everyone is present we were prohibited from going back to the barracks (to eliminate the off chance that some might "hide" in their rooms and not come back down).

We were marched as a whole to chow and were instructed to reform outside the dining facility. A number of soldiers were disappointed and restless. Several of us were of different faith or belief. A couple were particularly offended (being of Muslim faith) and started considering to disobey the order.

From the dining facility we were marched back to the company area. There was a rumor circulating that we may be given a choice later on to fall out or attend. Though it was only a rumor it was also a small hope enough to allow us to follow along a little longer before choosing to become disobedient. We were marched back to the company area. To our dismay there was still no sign of us having a choice.

We started marching to the theater. At that point two Muslim soldiers fell out of formation on their own. Student leadership tried to convince them to fall back in and that a choice will be presented to us once we reach the theater.

At the theater we were instructed to split in two groups; those that want to attend versus those that don't. At that point what crossed my mind is the fact that being given an option so late in the game implies that the leadership is attempting to make a point about its intention. The "body language" was suggesting that "we marched you here as a group to give you a clue that we really want you to attend (we tilt the table and expect you to roll in our direction), now we give you the choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us." A number of soldiers seemed to notice these clues and sullenly volunteered for the concert in fear of possible consequences.

Those of us that chose not to attend (about 80, or a little less that half) were marched back to the company area. At that point the NCO issued us a punishment. We were to be on lock-down in the company (not released from duty), could not go anywhere on post (no PX, no library, etc). We were to go to strictly to the barracks and contact maintenance. If we were caught sitting in our rooms, in our beds, or having/handling electronics (cell phones, laptops, games) and doing anything other than maintenance, we would further have our weekend passes revoked and continue barracks maintenance for the entirety of the weekend. At that point the implied message was clear in my mind "we gave you a choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us. Since you chose to disappoint us you will now have your freedoms suspended and contact chores while the rest of your buddies are enjoying a concert."

At that evening, nine of us chose to pursue an EO complaint. I was surprised to find out that a couple of the most offended soldiers were actually Christian themselves (Catholic). One of them was grown as a child in Cuba and this incident enraged him particularly as it brought memories of oppression.

The account of another soldier who did not attend the concert, which relates the same sequence of events and punishment that occurred, also adds that some of the soldiers who did decide to attend only did so due to pressure from their superiors and fear of repercussions.

At the theater is the first time our options were presented to us. And they were presented to us in a way that seemed harmless, we could either go to the show, or go to the barracks. But at that point, I felt pressured. As a person, I know that I can't be pressured into anything, I'm much stronger than that. But I also know that a lot of people aren't that strong, and that pressure was present. I could hear people saying, "I don't know about going back to the barracks, that sounds suspicious, I'm going to go ahead and go to the show" and many things that sounded a lot like that. Now, like I said, I don't get pressured into things, but I also don't think that anybody should have to feel that kind of pressure. Making somebody feel that pressure is a violation of human rights, we are allowed to think what we want about religion and not have to feel pressured into doing things, and at that moment there was definitely pressure to go to that concert simply because people don't want to have their free time taken away.

The Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert Series was the brainchild of Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers, who, according to an article on the Army.mil website, "was reborn as a Christian" at the age of sixteen. According to the article, Chambers held the first concert at Fort Lee within a month of becoming the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee in June 2008. But he had already started the series at Fort Eustis, as the previous commanding general there. The concerts have continued at Fort Eustis under the new commanding general, as well as spreading to Fort Lee under Maj. Gen. Chambers. The concerts are also promoted to the airmen on Langley Air Force Base, which is now part of Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

In the Army.mil article, Maj. Gen. Chambers was quoted as saying, "The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion. It's to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds." But there has been no "mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds" at these concerts. Every one of them has had evangelical Christian performers, who typically not only perform their music but give their Christian testimony and read from the Bible in between songs.

Another problem with these concerts, besides the issues like soldiers being punished for choosing not to attend them, is that they are run by the commanders, and not the chaplains' offices. It is absolutely permissible for a chaplain's office to put on a Christian concert. It is not permissible for the command to put on a Christian concert, or any other religious event. Having a religious concert series that is actually called and promoted as a Commanding General's Concert Series is completely over the top.

And then there's the cost. These concerts aren't just small events with local Christian bands. We're talking about the top, nationally-known, award-winning Christian artists, with headline acts costing anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, and even many of the opening acts being in the $10,000 range.

The cost of these concerts led MRFF's research department to start looking at some of the DoD contracts for other "spiritual fitness" events and programs, and what we found was astounding. One contract, for example, awarded to an outside consulting firm to provide "spiritual fitness" services, was for $3.5 million.

MRFF was already aware that exorbitant amounts of DoD funding were going to the hiring of civilian religious employees by military installations, the expenses of religious (almost exclusively evangelical Christian) programs, and extravagant religious facilities, but the extent of this spending goes far beyond what we had initially thought it amounted to. Therefore, MRFF has decided to launch an investigation into exactly how much the military is spending on promoting religion.

Do the recently announced plans of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to trim defense spending include any trimming of the military's outrageous spending on the promoting of religion and evangelizing of our troops? This alone could save the DoD untold millions every year, and go a long way towards upholding our Constitution at the same time.

ECONOMY - Car Race For a Prize

"'Revolutionary' Ultra Light Car Aims for an X Prize"
PBS Newshour 8/25/2010

IRAQ - General Odierno on His Soon-to-End Tenure

"Odierno: Iraqis Will Be Able to Handle Security"
PBS Newshour 8/25/2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

ECONOMY - Doom & Gloomers WRONG Again

"Job Losses Over Drilling Ban Fail to Materialize" by JOHN M. BRODER & CLIFFORD KRAUSS, New York Times 8/24/2010


When the Obama administration called a halt to virtually all deepwater drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon blowout and fire in April, oil executives, economists and local officials complained that the six-month moratorium would cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Oil supply firms went to court to have the moratorium overturned, calling it illegal and warning that it would exacerbate the nation’s economic woes, lead to oil shortages and cause an exodus of drilling rigs from the gulf to other fields around the world. Two federal courts agreed.

Yet the worst of those forecasts has failed to materialize, as companies wait to see how long the moratorium will last before making critical decisions on spending cuts and layoffs. Unemployment claims related to the oil industry along the Gulf Coast have been in the hundreds, not the thousands, and while oil production from the gulf is down because of the drilling halt, supplies from the region are expected to rebound in future years. Only 2 of the 33 deepwater rigs operating in the gulf before the BP rig exploded have left for other fields.

While it is too early to gauge the long-term environmental or economic effects of the release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf, it now appears that the direst predictions about the moratorium will not be borne out. Even the government’s estimate of the impact of the drilling pause — 23,000 lost jobs and $10.2 billion in economic damage — is proving to be too pessimistic.

Obama correct AGAIN!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

POLITICS - Sarcasm Full ON, Letter From "Pure" Girl

"The American Whitopian Dream" Rightardia 8/23/2010

My parents are very conservative and we live in a gated community in the 'burbs.

I was 'home schooled' since I was 12 because my parents were concerned about the liberal education I was getting and didn't want me exposed to the “coloreds' in my school.

I was confirmed at Landover Baptist church when I was 13 and took the Golden Pledge. I wear my chastity ring proudly, but lately I have been very horny and have already worn out one vibrator.

I asked Pastor Fred if it was OK for my white friend , Sarah, and I to experiment. Pastor Fred said 'no way' because that was against the teachings in the Bible. When I asked him for chapter and verse, he said that the Bible had no loopholes and and it was written in such a way that you could always interpret it to ban any sort of offensive behavior.

Pastor Fred also said that my parents would be ashamed of me if I grew up to be a lesbian. I told pastor Fred that I didn't know what a lesbian was, but I didn't think I was one of them.

Pastor Fred said ' good' and invited me to watch the militant Christian band the BarlowGirls at Landover Baptist church. He said as long as I kept coming to church, the sexual demons that were tormenting me would leave.

My parents explained that believing in Jesus is what is important because Jesus will always take care of me. If more people understood this, they wouldn't be seduced by the mammon of Social Security and Medicare.

Dad said, that I will be in paradise when I die so the GOP health care plan 'to die quickly' makes perfect sense. Dad said that what is going on here on earth is not that important. Its your eternal salvation in heaven that I needed to worry about.

When I graduate from 'home school' my parents said they would send me to Bob Jones University or Oral Roberts University to get a good Christian college education. After a year I will able to join a Christian sorority which will train me for a leadership position in the Republican party.

My dad said the Greek fraternity and sorority system are true Ivory Bastions. I will also be able to find a young conservative person like myself and get married. Mom suggested that I do not have children immediately. She said I should try dogs first.

Once I find the husband of my dreams and make enough money, we will be able to move into a gated community, too. This is the dream of all American Whitopians.

While many will find this bit of sarcasm offensive, what I find offensive is the forceful invasion of fundamentalist religion into our political debate. In effect, trying to make fundamentalist religious belief the law of our land, like California's Prop 8.

SCIENCE - Electronic Vehicles in Your Garage

Bloomberg: the future of electric vehicles

NEW ORLEANS - The New "Fortifications"

"New Orleans Levees Nearly Ready, but Mistrusted" by JOHN SCHWARTZ, New York Times 8/23/2010


The great wall of Lake Borgne is a monster. Nearly two miles long and 26 feet high, it spans a corner of the lake, 12 miles east of New Orleans. On Aug. 29, 2005, that corner funneled Hurricane Katrina’s surge into New Orleans, causing some of the city’s most violent flooding. Now the corner is being blocked.

Nearly five years after Katrina and the devastating failures of the levee system, New Orleans is well on its way to getting the protection system Congress ordered: a ring of 350 miles of linked levees, flood walls, gates and pumps that surrounds the city and should defend it against the kind of flooding that in any given year has a 1 percent chance of occurring.

The scale of the nearly $15 billion project, which is not due to be completed until the beginning of next year’s hurricane season, brings to mind an earlier age when the nation built huge works like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Hoover Dam and the Interstate highway system.

The city’s reinforced defenses are already stronger than they were before Katrina. But even after 2011, experts argue, they will still provide less protection than New Orleans needs to avoid serious flooding in massive storms.

For a region devastated by a storm and by a loss of faith in the government’s ability to safeguard it, the new system is a test of more than the prowess of the Army Corps of Engineers. Some residents say they may never fully get over the failure of the Katrina response. “Do I trust them?” asked Beverly Crais, a Jefferson Parish resident. “No. How can I trust somebody who makes that big of an error?”

That could be part of the reason that the top of the Lake Borgne wall is crenelated like the fortifications of a castle. The indentations, the engineers say, will weaken waves that splash against the top. But they will also send a clear visual message to anyone who sees them: there is safety behind this wall.

The patchwork of walls and levees that fell apart after Katrina were, in the words of the corps’ own report on the disaster, “a system in name only.” But projects like the wall — vast but largely unseen, because they take the first line of defense away from the center of New Orleans — are knitted into a single barrier.

“It’s a comprehensive-system approach,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, a civilian engineer responsible for work on what is now known as the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. “We’re not even in the same universe anymore.”

Does this mean that the people of New Orleans can relax? I doubt it. Mother Nature has a habit of slapping us on the side of the head to remind us we are not "The Powerful."

Monday, August 23, 2010

CONSTITUTION - Example, Freedom of Protest

Message to Supreme Court...

Target Ain't People

POLITICS - Libertarian Lesson Guide

"Steve Kangas' Short FAQ: liberalism and libertarianism" Rightardia 8/22/2010


Libertarians believe in little or no government, with individuals possessing strong or even sovereign property rights, along with the freedom to trade property as they wish on the free market.

By contrast, liberals promote extensive government support of the free market and the taxation of property. Yet these are not the only reasons why liberals object to libertarianism.

First, anarchy has historically led to violence, survival of the fittest, and eventual concentrations of power.

Second, there are no working examples of libertarianism in history, so the system remains untested in modern times, and probably for good reason.

Third, such a system would make landlords and business owners the dictators over their property, upon which tenants must live and workers must labor.

Fourth, the voluntary contracts that would supposedly protect tenants and workers presupposes that there is no such thing as market failure or contract failure, in face of widespread evidence that there is.

Only two per cent of Americans consider themselves to be libertarian. Many of these people are on the lunatic fringe and want to ban IRS.

Some libertarians advocate no government and others a minimal government.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

POLITICS - The GOP's Chicken Little

"GOP Using Fear Of Sharia To Win" Times Record 8/23/2010

Chicken Little has apparently taken over the Republican Party. Republican politicians are actually promoting the insanely paranoid idea that America is in danger of being ruled by Sharia law, which is Islamic law as derived from the Koran.

Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is considered a likely presidential candidate. He is also often an invited guest on respected news talk programs. In a recent speech, Gingrich warned: "I believe Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States." Gingrich said that the "fight against Sharia" is so important that he intends to propose a new law "that no court anywhere in the United States will be allowed to substitute Sharia for American law."

Such a ridiculous idea deserves condemnation, but some Republican members of Congress have even parroted his idea. Either Mr. Gingrich does not understand the meaning of the First Amendment to our Constitution or he is simply drumming up votes through the politics of fear.

The newest member of the Supreme Court is Elena Kagan, who is Jewish. While she was dean of Harvard Law School, she established a program to study Islamic finance so students could better understand dealing with Islamic countries and businesses in a global economy. The main difference between our financial system and theirs is that they don't charge interest. Sen. Jeff Sessions and others tried to block her nomination based on their agreement with right-wing pundit Frank Gaffney that Kagan was actually part of a "concerted and ominous campaign under way to bring Sharia to America."

Other Republican lawmakers have made unsubstantiated claims that Muslim interns on Capitol Hill are actually spies "conspiring to Islamize America." In all these instances, the unfounded auspiciousness and the delusions of persecution would support a prognosis of paranoia.

The GOP, as usual, is TOTALLY WRONG. The REAL danger to America is being ruled by Fundamentalist Biblical law.

POLITICS - Another Reminder on Freedom of Religion

"Obama a Muslim! Lincoln a Catholic! FDR a Jew! Why Americans Don't Like Their President's God" by Bruce Feiler, Huffington Post 8/21/2010

In 1860, in the midst of tensions surrounding the Civil War, it was widely believed in the United States that Abraham Lincoln was Catholic. Coming on the heels of decades of anti-Catholic sentiment, the rumors seem to have had two roots: The first was the ambiguous nature of Lincoln's upbringing in Illinois, where Jesuits were very active, leading to the notion that Lincoln had been baptized a Catholic; the other was that Lincoln represented a prominent critic of the Church. The rumors were widely repeated by Lincoln's political opponents.

In 1940, in the midst of tensions surrounding World War II as well as economic hardship from the Great Depression, it was widely believed in the United States that Franklin Roosevelt was Jewish. Coming on the heels of decades of anti-Jewish sentiment, the rumors seem to have had several roots: The first was the ambiguous origins of Roosevelt's earliest American ancestors, who came from Holland in the 17th century; the second was the abundance of Jewish appointees to Roosevelt's administrations in New York and Washington. The rumors were widely repeated by Roosevelt's political opponents.

In 2010, in the midst of tensions surrounding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as economic hardship from the Great Recession, it is widely believed in the United States that Barack Obama is Muslim. Coming on the heels of decades of anti-Muslim sentiment, the rumors seem to have had several roots: The first is the ambiguous nature of Obama's upbringing, in which his father was a Muslim and he spent formative time as a child in a Muslim country; the second is Obama's vocal outreach to the Muslim world and his support of the rights of Muslim Americans. The rumors have been widely repeated by Obama's political opponents.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the news this week that 1 in 5 Americans believes that Barack Obama is Muslim is that so many people greeted the news as a surprise. Americans taking out their discrimination toward minority religions on the president of the United States is as American as apple pie; the custom has been going on as long as there has been a presidency. George Washington was the subject of widespread grumbling that he was a more loyal Mason than he was a Christian.

The entire debate about the "Ground Zero mosque" and the even-wider campaign against Islam in general that's been waged across the United States this summer misses a larger point: These kinds of campaigns have been waged in the United States since our founding. It's the nature of how we conflate political frustration, economic anxiety, and concern about the changing fabric of our identity. In a country where our national character has been tied up with God since our founding, it's hardly surprising that we tar our political opponents with worshiping a different god than we do. After all, a politician who subscribes to our religious values would never have gotten us into this mess, now would he?

But as reliably as Americans have adopted these views, they've also moved past them. In every case of religious discrimination in the United States, whether it was Methodists in the eighteenth century, Catholics in the nineteenth century, or Jews in the twentieth century, the once reviled and ostracized "outsider" religion in America eventually makes it into the inner circle.

And odds are the pattern will repeat itself with Muslims in the twenty-first century.


"Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Wonders Why" by SIMON ROMERO, New York Times 8/22/2010


Some here joke that they might be safer if they lived in Baghdad. The numbers bear them out.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Venezuelans have absorbed such grim statistics for years. Those with means have hidden their homes behind walls and hired foreign security experts to advise them on how to avoid kidnappings and killings. And rich and poor alike have resigned themselves to living with a murder rate that the opposition says remains low on the list of the government’s priorities.

Then a front-page photograph in a leading independent newspaper — and the government’s reaction — shocked the nation, and rekindled public debate over violent crime.

The photo in the paper, El Nacional, is unquestionably gory. It shows a dozen homicide victims strewn about the city’s largest morgue, just a sample of an unusually anarchic two-day stretch in this already perilous place.

While many Venezuelans saw the picture as a sober reminder of their vulnerability and a chance to effect change, the government took a different stand.

A court ordered the paper to stop publishing images of violence, as if that would quiet growing questions about why the government — despite proclaiming a revolution that heralds socialist values — has been unable to close the dangerous gap between rich and poor and make the country’s streets safer.

ECONOMY - Small Investors Stop Gambling

"In Striking Shift, Small Investors Flee Stock Market" by GRAHAM BOWLEY, New York Times 8/21/2010


Renewed economic uncertainty is testing Americans’ generation-long love affair with the stock market.

Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry trade group. Now many are choosing investments they deem safer, like bonds.

If that pace continues, more money will be pulled out of these mutual funds in 2010 than in any year since the 1980s, with the exception of 2008, when the global financial crisis peaked.

Small investors are “losing their appetite for risk,” a Credit Suisse analyst, Doug Cliggott, said in a report to investors on Friday.

One of the phenomena of the last several decades has been the rise of the individual investor. As Americans have become more responsible for their own retirement, they have poured money into stocks with such faith that half of the country’s households now own shares directly or through mutual funds, which are by far the most popular way Americans invest in stocks. So the turnabout is striking.

So is the timing. After past recessions, ordinary investors have typically regained their enthusiasm for stocks, hoping to profit as the economy recovered. This time, even as corporate earnings have improved, Americans have become more guarded with their investments.

“At this stage in the economic cycle, $10 to $20 billion would normally be flowing into domestic equity funds” rather than the billions that are flowing out, said Brian K. Reid, chief economist of the investment institute. He added, “This is very unusual.”

The notion that stocks tend to be safe and profitable investments over time seems to have been dented in much the same way that a decline in home values and in job stability the last few years has altered Americans’ sense of financial security.

“Losing their appetite for risk,” finally! Wall Street is one of the world's biggest gambling casinos, and just like Las Vegas, it is rigged for the "house." Wall Street bets that a company, or other financial instrument (no matter how complex, like Derivatives), will always make a profit which is NOT true.

Professional gamblers tell us, "if you cannot afford to loose, don't gamble." The Gambling Addict is one who continues to bet even when he/she cannot afford it. There is NO "safe bet."

HEALTH - Health Appliance Industry Putting YOU at Risk

"U.S. Inaction Lets Look-Alike Tubes Kill Patients" by GARDINER HARRIS, New York Times 8/20/2010


Thirty-five weeks pregnant, Robin Rodgers was vomiting and losing weight, so her doctor hospitalized her and ordered that she be fed through a tube until the birth of her daughter.

But in a mistake that stemmed from years of lax federal oversight of medical devices, the hospital mixed up the tubes. Instead of snaking a tube through Ms. Rodgers’s nose and into her stomach, the nurse instead coupled the liquid-food bag to a tube that entered a vein.

Putting such food directly into the bloodstream is like pouring concrete down a drain. Ms. Rodgers was soon in agony.

“When I walked into her hospital room, she said, ‘Mom, I’m so scared,’ ” her mother, Glenda Rodgers, recalled. They soon learned that the baby had died.

“And she said, ‘Oh, Mom, she’s dead.’ And I said, ‘I know, but now we have to take care of you,’ ” the mother recalled. And then Robin Rodgers — 24 years old and already the mother of a 3-year-old boy — died on July 18, 2006, as well. (She lived in a small Kansas town, but because of a legal settlement with the hospital, her mother would not identify it.)

Their deaths were among hundreds of deaths or serious injuries that researchers have traced to tube mix-ups. But no one knows the real toll, because this kind of mistake, like medication errors in general, is rarely reported. A 2006 survey of hospitals found that 16 percent had experienced a feeding tube mix-up.

Experts and standards groups have advocated since 1996 that tubes for different functions be made incompatible — just as different nozzles at gas stations prevent drivers from using the wrong fuel.

But action has been delayed by resistance from the medical-device industry and an approval process at the Food and Drug Administration that can discourage safety-related changes.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

How typical. Industry putting their interests (short-term profits) above the safety of patients. They would rather pay for law suits from this type of mistake than take very simple preventative action. They should NOT be waiting federal regulators to do the humane thing.

This is just like the automobile industry's opposition to seat belts in the past.

MIDDLE EAST - Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

"Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: What Will Help, Hinder?"
PBS Newshour 8/20/2010

POLITICS - Obama's Mosque Comments

"Shields and Gerson on Obama's Campaign Role, Mosque Debate" PBS Newshour Transcript 8/20/2010


JIM LEHRER (Newshour): Mark, what about Michael raised the point in his original thing that the mosque controversy and what the president the New York mosque controversy and what the president said about that is an example of the kind of thing that a recent example of what he is talking about.

How do you see this, the way the president has handled it?

MARK SHIELDS (syndicated columnist): The way the president I think, first of all, the president had a responsibility to speak to the issue. The issue was...

JIM LEHRER: In other words, he had to say something?

MARK SHIELDS: It was going beyond New York. It had become a national issue, thanks in large part to talk radio, but to distinguished American Republican leaders, including Governor Palin and former Speaker Gingrich, who has redefined irresponsibility in this debate.

So, the president had a responsibility to speak. Did he choose the right venue, a Ramadan dinner at the White House? No. It was it could even look like he was saying something to please the crowd, instead of doing it to a national conference of Christians and Jews or something, to an interfaith meeting.

Saturday, when he qualified his unqualified endorsement of Friday night, was that helpful? No. But I think there was a responsibility to speak. And I think he spoke to values that are eternal with Americans.

And, Jim, he had to speak because of what had been going on, on the other side. I mean, for for Newt Gingrich to say that this is part of a conspiracy, to equate as he's done in his statements, to equate Islam with al-Qaida, Islam is not al-Qaida.

As Michael's former employer (G.W. Bush) put it so well, we were not attacked by the Muslim religion on 9/11. We were attacked by al-Qaida terrorists. And that had become such an irresponsible and provocative...

JIM LEHRER: So, he had to...

MARK SHIELDS: ... and, I think I think, incendiary debate, that he had to address it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree he had to address it?

MICHAEL GERSON (Washington Post columnist): I fundamentally agree with that. I and I agree about the Gingrich approach on these things.

The argument that, somehow, Islam is fundamentally incompatible with American pluralism is a deeply dangerous argument. It's divisive at home. It undermines, in my view I spent some time in the West Wing it undermines the war on terror, because you have to work with Muslim allies all across the world in order to conduct this war.

So, the president of the United States, when he faces these issues, he's not a commentator, you know, who says concerned about the funding of a mosque here or the zoning rules there. You know, he has a duty. He has a duty to Muslim citizens. He has a duty to our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan who are fighting radicals at our side.

And he can't tell them that your house of worship, your holy place is somehow a desecration of Lower Manhattan. I don't think that is possible. The president faced a choice between silence or doing something similar to what he did, OK, in my view.
MARK SHIELDS: These people, Jim, invoking invoking Islam and just ascribing the acts of al-Qaida and these terrorist to Islam, the rebuttal and the retort is just from is from American history, the Ku Klux Klan.

The Ku Klux Klan, as they burnt people to death, as they flogged people to death who weren't white, native, Protestant Americans that was their sin, and particularly African-Americans they did it with a burning cross. They did it while quoting Scripture, and saying they would do it in a Christian now, I mean, do we ascribe to Christianity those crimes, that odious and pernicious behavior? No, and any more than we would 9/11 to Islam.

Friday, August 20, 2010

TERRORISM - Opinion on Trials

"Kennedy favors civilian courts in terrorism cases" AP 8/20/2010

KAANAPALI, Hawaii – Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said Thursday that most terrorism cases should be tried in civilian courts.

Kennedy addressed participants in the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference on Maui, where a panel discussion earlier this week reached a consensus in favor of using civilian courts instead of military commissions in most terrorism cases.

"Article III courts are quite capable of trying these terrorist cases," Kennedy said, agreeing with the conclusion.

Kennedy also praised the hundreds of attorneys attending the four-day conference at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa for taking up "one of the most crucial, dangerous and disturbing issues of our time — terrorism."

It was clear, he said, that an "attack on the rule of law has failed," referring to the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects, often before panels in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The justice is often considered the swing vote on the ideologically divided high court. During a question-and-answer session, Kennedy was asked how new Justice Elena Kagan would bring change to the high court.

"It will be a different court," Kennedy said, without elaborating.

The 9th Circuit includes federal trial, appeals and bankruptcy courts, as well as district courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Nearly 400 judges preside in 9th Circuit courts.

IRAQ - A Professional's View

"In Iraq War, Soldiers Say They Had a Job to Do" by STEVEN LEE MYERS, New York Times 8/19/2010


Staff Sgt. Lucas C. Trammell, a tank gunner with the Third Infantry Division, fought his way into Baghdad in 2003. He was back in 2005, abandoning the tank for foot patrols in a very unsafe Ramadi, and again in 2007 as bodyguard for a battalion commander in Baghdad.

He has killed the enemy and lost friends. He has sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. (“The Army’s gotten a lot better about letting you put your hand up,” he explained.)

He is back in Iraq for a fourth time, part of a force of only 50,000 no longer engaged in combat as of Aug. 31. He is one of thousands of soldiers and officers for whom the legacy of Iraq, like Afghanistan, has been a recalibration of what it means to be an American at war today.

The Third Infantry Division has spent more than four years in all in a war that has lasted seven and a half — and may not yet be over. These soldiers, far more than any other Americans, bear the personal and professional burdens of a conflict that has lost what popular support it had at home.

To those fighting it, the war in Iraq is not a glorious cause or, as the old advertisement put it, an adventure.

These days it is no longer even a divisive national argument like Vietnam. It is a job.

Even with the formal cessation of combat operations this month, it is a job that remains unfinished — tens of thousands of troops will stay here for at least another year — and one that, like many jobs, inspires great emotion only among those who do it.

“A lot of people at home are tired of this,” said Staff Sgt. Trevino D. Lewis, sitting outside a gym at Camp Liberty, the dusty rubble-strewn base near Baghdad’s airport and coming to a point many soldiers made. The people back home can tune out; they cannot.

“The way I look at it, it’s my job,” he said, recounting and dismissing the shifting rationales for the war, from the weapons of mass destruction that did not exist to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to the establishment of democracy in the Arab world. “It’s my career.”

The sense of duty among those who serve here, still strong, is nonetheless tempered by the fact that the war is winding down slowly — or, as one officer put it, petering out — with mixed results.

ECONOMY - Rational Optimist's View

"Author Says Modern Life is Good Despite Recession"
PBS Newshour 8/19/2010

OIL SPILL - Update, New Questions

"Oil Plume Study Raises New Questions on Spill"
PBS Newshour 8/19/2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

HEALTH - Egg Alert!

"Egg Recall Expands; CDC Expects More Illnesses" by Daniel J. DeNoon, WebMD 8/19/2010


As the nationwide egg recall expands, the FDA has activated its emergency command center to direct its "extensive" investigation.

So far, some 380 million eggs have been recalled -- a number that is "evolving," Sherri McGarry, emergency coordinator for the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said today at a joint FDA/CDC news teleconference.

"We would certainly characterize this as one of the largest shell egg recalls in recent history," McGarry said.

Through July 17, the CDC has received some 2,000 reports of illness due to Salmonella Enteritidis, the bacteria causing the outbreak. That’s nearly three times more salmonella illness than is usually seen in late summer, says Christopher R. Braden, MD, acting director of the CDC division responsible for food-borne illness.

"I think we will see more illnesses reported," Braden said at the teleconference.

And reported illnesses represent only a fraction of true infections. In 2004 , the CDC estimated that there were 193,463 Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses with 2,004 hospitalizations and 60 deaths.

This strain of salmonella is extremely common. It accounts for about a fifth of all salmonella infections. In 2000 there were 50 outbreaks, but since 2002 there have been 26 to 35 outbreaks a year.

Shell eggs are by far the most common source of Salmonella Enteritidis illness in the U.S. Of the 47 billion shell eggs Americans eat as table eggs each year, the USDA estimates that 2.3 million are contaminated with this salmonella strain.

The FDA investigation is centered on five plants operated by the Iowa firm Wright County Egg. The firm distributes the eggs nationwide. Eggs included in the recall include a number of prominent brands. Those brands are listed below, but some of the eggs may have been repackaged and sold under different brand names.

BORDERS - California's National Guard

"State's Guard troops headed to border duty will have focused mission" by Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times 8/19/2010


The 224 California National Guard members are to act as "a visible deterrent … and additional eyes and ears" in the San Diego area, says a spokeswoman. They are part of Obama's effort to bolster security on the border with Mexico.

The contingent of National Guard troops scheduled for deployment next month at the California- Mexico border will be smaller and more narrowly focused than past missions, aiming at front-line deterrence rather than building fences and roads, according to federal officials.

The 224 California National Guard members are part of President Obama's move to bolster enforcement efforts along the entire U.S-Mexico border, first announced in May. Most of the 1,200 National Guard troops heading to the frontier, about 550, are going to Arizona, the major illegal immigration corridor into the U.S.

The California contingent will be posted at strategic areas across San Diego County and will drive U.S. Border Patrol vehicles, using binoculars and night-vision goggles to spot incursions and report them to federal agents, according to Kim Holman, a National Guard spokeswoman.

They will also scan the ocean from coastal outposts to help stem a recent surge of immigrant-laden boats trying to land on area beaches. The troops will be armed, but won't be making arrests of illegal immigrants, she said.

"They're a visible deterrent … and additional eyes and ears in the field," Holman said.

SCIENCE - Oldest Fossils on Earth

"Scientists find oldest record of animal life on Earth" by Brad Lendon, CNN 8/18/2010

Fossils from Australia show animal life on Earth began at least 650 million years ago, 70 million years earlier than previous estimates, Princeton University scientists report.

Princeton geosciences professor Adam Maloof and graduate student Catherine Rose came upon the fossils while researching a massive ice age, known as the “snowball effect,” that left much of the planet covered in ice 635 million years ago. Scientists had thought animal life could not have survived that ice age. But as they inspected a glacial deposit in south Australia, they found the fossils of the sponge-like ocean reef animals.

“No one was expecting that we would find animals that lived before the ice age, and since animals probably did not evolve twice, we are suddenly confronted with the question of how some relative of these reef-dwelling animals survived the 'snowball Earth,’" Maloof said.

"We were accustomed to finding rocks with embedded mud chips, and at first this is what we thought we were seeing," Maloof said. "But then we noticed these repeated shapes that we were finding everywhere - wishbones, rings, perforated slabs and anvils. … we realized we had stumbled upon some sort of organism.”

The researchers call the animals sponge-like because the fossil record shows them to have a network of internal canals, likely for filtering food from seawater as sponges do. The earliest fossilized record of sponges had been 520 million years ago. The earliest fossils of hard-bodies animals date to 550 million years ago.

The scientists published their findings in the August 17 issue of the journal Nature Geosciences. Their research was sponsored by National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences.

POLITICS - Reminder From FDR

"Fireside Chat of Franklin D. Roosevelt on creating discord" Rightardia 8/19/2010

On National Defense May 26, 1940, 9:30 PM, EST

But there is an added technique for weakening a nation at its very roots, for disrupting the entire pattern of life of a people. And it is important that we understand it.

The method is simple. It is, first, discord, a dissemination of discord. A group --not too large -- a group that may be sectional or racial or political -- is encouraged to exploit (their) its prejudices through false slogans and emotional appeals.

The aim of those who deliberately egg on these groups is to create confusion of counsel, public indecision, political paralysis and eventually, a state of panic.

Sound national policies come to be viewed with a new and unreasoning skepticism, not through the wholesome (political) debates of honest and free men, but through the clever schemes of foreign agents.

Sound familiar: this is exactly what the rebrand of the GOP is doing. Most people call these people, who are demographically identical to Plain Old Republicans, the Tea Party. The GOP was so embarrassed by GWB, they had to change their name.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Conservative Horror Movie

Activist judges are out to get you!

AMERICA - S.E.C. vs New Jersey

"Pension Fraud by New Jersey Is Cited by S.E.C." by MARY WILLIAMS WALSH, New York Times 8/18/2010


Federal regulators accused the State of New Jersey of securities fraud on Wednesday for claiming it had been properly funding public workers’ pensions when it was not.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said the action was its first ever against a state, and only its second against any government over the handling of a public pension fund. The first was the city of San Diego. More may be in store; the agency announced in January that it had a special unit looking into public pension disclosures. The S.E.C. has been trying to assume more authority over municipal securities.

IRAQ - Post 9/2011 Outlook

"Civilians to Take U.S. Lead After Military Leaves Iraq" by MICHAEL R. GORDON, New York Times 8/18/2010


As the United States military prepares to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the Obama administration is planning a remarkable civilian effort, buttressed by a small army of contractors, to fill the void.

By October 2011, the State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police, a task that will largely be carried out by contractors. With no American soldiers to defuse sectarian tensions in northern Iraq, it will be up to American diplomats in two new $100 million outposts to head off potential confrontations between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish pesh merga forces.

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to as many as 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to aid civilians in distress, the officials said.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

ECONOMY - If True, China vs United States

"CIA Fact Book challenge to US conservatives" Rightardia 8/17/2010

Michel Chossudovsky from the Center for Research of Globalization in Canada argues that GDP is not representative of the actual strength of an economy, which could mean that China's economy is already the biggest in the world. China officially bypassed Japan as the number two economy in the world.

United States

Government type: Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition

Economy - overview:

The US has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $46,400. In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace.

US business firms enjoy greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products. At the same time, they face higher barriers to enter their rivals' home markets than foreign firms face entering US markets.

US firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in computers and in medical, aerospace, and military equipment; their advantage has narrowed since the end of World War II.

The onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a "two-tier labor market" in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.


Government type: Communist state

Economy - overview:

China's economy during the past 30 years has changed from a centrally planned system that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy.

Reforms started in the late 1970s with the phasing out of collectivized agriculture, and expanded to include the gradual liberalization of prices, fiscal decentralization, increased autonomy for state enterprises, the foundation of a diversified banking system, the development of stock markets, the rapid growth of the non-state sector, and the opening to foreign trade and investment.

Annual inflows of foreign direct investment rose to nearly $108 billion in 2008. China has generally implemented reforms in a gradualist or piecemeal fashion.

In recent years, China has re-invigorated its support for leading state-owned enterprises in sectors it considers important to "economic security," explicitly looking to foster globally competitive national champions. After keeping its currency tightly linked to the US dollar for years, China in July 2005 revalued its currency by 2.1% against the US dollar and moved to an exchange rate system that references a basket of currencies.

Cumulative appreciation of the renminbi against the US dollar since the end of the dollar peg was more than 20% by late 2008, but the exchange rate has remained virtually pegged since the onset of the global financial crisis.

The restructuring of the economy and resulting efficiency gains have contributed to a more than tenfold increase in GDP since 1978. Measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis that adjusts for price differences, China in 2009 stood as the second-largest economy in the world after the US, although in per capita terms the country is still lower middle-income.

Assignment to alt.politics Usenet conservatives:
  1. Explain how the economic system of China, a communist country, has been able to surpass the economy of the US.

  2. Explain this development using Supply side economic theory of Arthur Laffer.

source: CIA Fact Book

Bold-blue emphasis mine

Part of the answer is China's population = larger world-market share.

IRAQ - Israeli Drunk Driving

"Why Not to Bomb Iran" by ROBERT WRIGHT, New York Times 8/17/2010


Has the Atlantic magazine become a propaganda tool — “a de facto party to the neoconservative and Israeli campaign to initiate a global war with Iran”? That question was being discussed last week on The Atlantic’s own Web site, among other places, after the magazine unveiled a cover story saying that Israel is likely to bomb Iran within a year.

The article wasn’t an argument for bombing, just a report on Israel’s state of mind. So why all the outrage — why, for example, did Glenn Greenwald of Salon title his slashing assessment of the Atlantic article “How Propaganda Works: Exhibit A”?

In part because the author of the article is Jeffrey Goldberg, who has previously been accused of pushing a pro-war agenda via ostensibly reportorial journalism. His 2002 New Yorker piece claiming to have found evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda is remembered on the left as a monument to consequential wrongness. And suspicions of Goldberg’s motivations only grow when he writes about Israel. He served in the Israeli army, and he has more than once been accused of channeling Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

There is certainly a bit of channeling in Goldberg’s Atlantic piece. For example: “Netanyahu’s belief is that Iran is not Israel’s problem alone; it is the world’s problem, and the world, led by the United States, is duty-bound to grapple with it.” Still, the piece is no simple propaganda exercise. Indeed, what’s striking is that, for all the space given to the views of hawkish Israeli officials, they don’t wind up looking very good, and neither does their case for bombing Iran. The overall impression is that, as Paul Pillar, a former C.I.A. official, put it after reading Goldberg’s piece, Israel’s inclination to attack Iran is “more a matter of the amygdala and emotion than of the cortex and thought.”

Example of Israel driving their Iraq policies while drunk.

ECONOMY - Future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

"Are Fundamental Changes for Mortgage Giants Fannie, Freddie Ahead?"
PBS Newshour 8/17/2010

IRAQ - Not Going Well

"2 Bombings in Iraq Kill, Injure Scores as Security Concerns Persist" PBS Newshour Transcript 8/17/2010


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): So, is there a pretty clear understanding or suspicion that there's a connection between this violence and this upcoming change in ownership of this war?

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour, on the ground in Baghdad): Yes, Gwen. And, also, people here are making the connection between the violence and the lack of a new government here. As you know, elections were held five months ago. The two top vote-getting parties and other parties have still not been able to come up with a coalition or power-sharing arrangement. And what I have heard from people, shop people, shoppers, mothers, young mothers that we have spoken to today, and in fact a couple of young army officers whom I spoke to off-camera, is that this lack of a government is also another invitation to those who would try to exploit the still considerable weakness of this Iraqi state that is trying to stand itself up.

So, I would say both the -- the political transition that has not yet been completed, as well as the military one, is -- is making people nervous here.

GWEN IFILL: So, where does the political transition stand now, Margaret? Are we still in a standoff position there?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes. And, in fact, Gwen, yesterday the standoff became more of a -- more of one. The current prime minister or acting caretaker prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, received -- his party received 89 seats. Ayad Allawi, head of another fairly secular-minded coalition, received 91 seats.

They have been trying to do a deal, but Maliki has also been trying to do a deal with a coalition of other Shiite parties. Yesterday, the two main factions basically broke off talks. Allawi took umbrage at something Maliki had said in an interview, when he dismissed Allawi's coalition as nothing but a -- quote -- "Sunni bloc."

Allawi just said: I have had it for now.

And he's walked. Now I do know that negotiations still continue fast and furious. I don't think that has stopped today. I have no indication it has. So, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. But, certainly, they are not close to a resolution, from what I understand.

Bold-blue emphasis mine


"Iraqi Leaders Fear for Future After Their Past Missteps" by ANTHONY SHADID, New York Times 8/17/2010


Iraq’s political elite, empowered by the American invasion and entrusted with the country’s future, has begun to deliver a damning critique of itself, a grim harbinger for a country rife with fears of more crises, conflicts and even coups as the American military withdraws.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

CONSTITUTION - Another Warning About Religious Freedom

"In Bold Display, Taliban Order Stoning Deaths" by ROD NORDLAND, New York Times 8/16/2010


The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped, according to Afghan officials and a witness.

The punishment was carried out by hundreds of the victims’ neighbors in a village in northern Kunduz Province, according to Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by telephone. Even family members were involved, both in the stoning and in tricking the couple into returning after they had fled.

Mr. Khan said that as a Taliban mullah prepared to read the judgment of a religious court, the lovers, a 25-year-old man named Khayyam and a 19-year-old woman named Siddiqa, defiantly confessed in public to their relationship. “They said, ‘We love each other no matter what happens,’ ” Mr. Khan said.

The executions were the latest in a series of cases where the Taliban have imposed their harsh version of Shariah law for social crimes, reminiscent of their behavior during their decade of ruling the country. In recent years, Taliban officials have sought to play down their bloody punishments of the past, as they concentrated on building up popular support.

WARNING: This is what America COULD become IF Christian Zealots impose Christianity as a National Religion, directly or indirectly, by passage of religious-based laws (like California's Prop 8).