Friday, April 29, 2011

OPINION - Unofficial Republican "Primaries" 2011

"The “Great White Hope” Republican primary" by Dennis G., Balloon Juice 4/27/2011

In the run for the White House there are always the “Primaries” before the first official Caucuses and Primaries. There is the “Money Primary”, the “DC Beltway Insider Primary”, the “Press Primary”, etc., etc.

The different Parties also have unofficial “Primaries” to build support with key voting blocks. In 2008 Democratic candidates worked hard to win the Netroots, Unions, Environmentalists and the various other groups that make up the “Base” of the Party. Now it is the Republican’s turn.

At this stage in the election cycle, announce, unannounced and poser Republican candidates are trying to win the traditional “unofficial GOP Primaries” by pandering to Right-wing Christians, Glibertain fan boys, deep pocketed Oligarchs, TeaBaggers and the like. And ever since the Neo-Confederates began to take over the Republican Party in the 1960s all GOP Presidential candidates have also taken part in a shadow Primary to appeal to white supremacists. Mostly this GOP “Whites Only” primary has been conducted with codes words, plausible deniability and dirty tricks in the shadows of American politics. Not anymore.

Since a black man was elected President in 2008 the active catering to racism, white fear and appeals to white supremacy have moved more and more into the open. Republicans of almost every stripe has become trapped in cycles of more and more extreme rhetoric. From time to time the racism and fear just explodes. It was a major factor in the 2010 midterms and proved to be the most effective organizing tool the Modern Conservative movement had in their bag of tricks. White anxiety and the fear of a brown planet has led many a fool to join the Tea Party and vote Republican. It has also attracted many grifters to exploit these very gullible people.

And that brings us to Donald Trump.

He may or may not be a racist, but that hardly matters. He is a grifter who uses racism for profit. He exploits the fear of a brown planet and whites becoming a powerless minority. To save the white race, Trump offers himself up as “The Great White Hope”. It is a powerful appeal to fear, racism and the desire for control.

More than any other recent Republican candidate (or pretend Republican candidate), The Donald has brought the racism of the GOP’s “Whites Only” pre-primary into the light of day. It is stunning to watch folks try to push it back into the shadows, but Trump will not let it go. He is forcing the rest of the Republican Party to actively compete with him in a “The Great White Hope” primary. He is pushing the effort to win the support of white racists into the open and making appeals to racism a Republican litmus test.

Trump has added a new unofficial “Primary” on the road to the Republican Presidential Nomination: The “Who can save us from that uppity nigger” primary.

He should be condemned, but it will not happen. Instead he will laugh all the way to the bank. And on the way the rest of Wingnutopia will embrace this racist bullshit even more.

It has been ugly, but it will get worse.

So it goes.


First, an apology for the use of the "N" word, but that's not mine. Having said that, it is appropriate in this context.

I too see that the much of the opposition to President Obama, since his nomination, has been actually racist. There are still people in America who do not like a black man as President, or a woman for that matter.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Angry Birds, Addictive Gaming

"Sleep Can Wait. The Birds Are Angry." by RICK MARIN, New York Times 4/28/2011

YOU didn’t play Donkey Kong with your dad.

Mine wouldn’t have known what it was. And even if he did, it would have felt like a transgression of the respect/dignity boundary that used to separate men from boys.

The iPad has changed all that. It’s the ultimate generational equalizer. Take Angry Birds. The game phenomenon from the Finnish company Rovio, with 40 million active users, 75 million paid and ad-supported downloads and 2 million plush dolls sold, has become among the man-boys in our house a furious competition for power, points and digital “Achievement,” a word that flashes rewardingly on the Angry Birds screen.

The game’s principles are simple: you slingshot red, yellow or whatever birds at smug green pigs who in the game’s narrative have stolen the birds’ eggs. Hence their anger. The goal is to kill the pigs and destroy as much of their protective housing as possible with as few birds as possible.

The birds chirp and squawk. The pigs grunt and snicker as the game’s Tchaikovsky-lite musical stings insinuate their way into your brain.

Like everyone else, I was sucked in by the easy early levels, challenged by the later, trickier ones, then driven mad by Level “It’s 2 a.m. and I’m Wasting My Life.”

My wife now falls asleep to the sound of glass breaking, TNT exploding and digital farm animals meeting their violent demise, mystified by the simpleton she now finds herself married to.

And mother to. Because our two boys have joined their role model into this mind-numbing insanity.

“What level are you on?” became shorthand around the apartment. Diego, my older boy, soon eclipsed me with his 6-year-old reflexes. Meaning I had to stay up till all hours to catch up. And if I surpassed him, he freaked out.

“Don’t play Angry Birds,” he’d admonish me before going to bed.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I’d say, in reassuring tones.

Then, of course, I did.

So now Angry Birds was making me lie to my own children. Pitting father against son, as we tried to yank the iPad out of one another’s hands. It’s like the world’s cheapest crack.

I found my older spawn under the covers of his Ikea bunk bed with my iPad, sneaking in late-night Angry-Birding of his own.

His younger brother, Kingsley, fights bitterly for Angry Bird time, too, then plays the game in a completely noncompetitive way. He just likes shooting the birds.

When I wasn’t around, the little addicts talked their clueless mom into blurting out my iTunes password, allowing them to buy the Mighty Eagle, a giant bird that, when activated, wipes out all the pigs.

The Eagle is a cheat. I refuse to use it on principle. Just like I wouldn’t watch the YouTube or Bing hints.

My friend Chris fell into that. Because he has girls. With no one to compete against at home, he had to make the game his enemy. It wasn’t enough to clear every level; he craved the Golden Eggs.

At one point, the sound went out on the game, a glitch that the diabolical Finns at Rovio claim to be working on. I immediately lost interest in playing. Turned out I was playing for the sound effects. Then, “for the children,” I went online and found out how to get the sound back. And sure enough, the monkey (or the Mighty Eagle) was on my back again.

There’s no Cold Turkey in the Angry Birds aviary. Addicts are on their own. My friend Jonathan forced himself to remove the game from his iPad. Like my college roommate who could stop watching TV only if he stuck it in his closet.

I’ve never had that kind of addictive personality. Which is why it mystifies me now, being trapped in these fugue states of pig-killing — porcicide. I get the attraction for the boys. What’s in it for me? Blowing stuff up? Mastering “levels”? Just having a mindless activity to shut down my brain at the end of the day?

Then I realized this is what my father did in the Spanish Civil War. When he joined the Republican army against Franco’s fascists, they assigned him to the artillery because he could calculate the trigonometric arc to fire a shell into the air and have it hit a target several hundred meters away. Which is exactly the skill required to slingshot those vengeance-bent birds at those fat (dare I say fascist?) pigs.

So I could claim it’s in my genes. But that doesn’t quite explain the death match I’m locked in with my boys over a 99-cent game. I’m talking about physically yanking the iPad out of their hands.

When Diego was ordering me not to sneak in any Angry Birds after bedtime, I asked why he cared if I got ahead of him. “I’m proud of you when you do something I can’t,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he had to explain to his slow-witted old man. “But I’m not proud when you do it.”

That this elemental Oedipal dramedy had to be explained to me by someone four feet tall is proof that not only is he better at Angry Birds than I — he may be smarter. And for that I bought him the $11.95 yellow-bird plush toy. And for his brother, the “bomb.”

My father died 15 years ago. He never knew his grandsons. But as I watch them execute their own trigonometric calculations to skillfully, passionately combat their foes, that word lights up on my screen, too.


MIDDLE EAST - United Palestinian Government, Not Hardly

"Fatah and Hamas Announce Outline of Deal" by ETHAN BRONNER and ISABEL KERSHNER, New York Times 4/27/2011


The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, announced Wednesday that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry to create an interim unity government and hold elections within a year, a surprise move that promised to reshape the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East.

The deal, brokered in secret talks by the caretaker Egyptian government, was announced at a news conference in Cairo where the two negotiators referred to each side as brothers and declared a new chapter in the Palestinian struggle for independence, hobbled in recent years by the split between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza.

It was the first tangible sign that the upheaval across the Arab world, especially the Egyptian revolution, was having an impact on the Palestinians, who have been losing faith in American-sponsored peace negotiations with Israel and seem now to be turning more to fellow Arabs. But the years of bitterness will not be easily overcome, and both sides warned of potential obstacles ahead.

Israel, feeling increasingly surrounded by unfriendly forces, denounced the unity deal as dooming future peace talks since Hamas seeks its destruction. “The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in a televised statement. The Obama administration warned that Hamas was a terrorist organization unfit for peacemaking.

The deal brings with it the risk of alienating the Western support that the Palestinian Authority has enjoyed. Azzam al-Ahmad, the Fatah negotiator, said that Salam Fayyad, the prime minister in the West Bank who is despised by Hamas, would not be part of the interim government. It is partly because of Mr. Fayyad, and the trust he inspires in Washington, that hundreds of millions of dollars are provided annually to the Palestinian Authority by Congress. Without that aid, the Palestinian Authority would face great difficulties.


"Palestinian Factions Give Differing Views of Unity Pact" by ETHAN BRONNER, New York Times 4/28/2011


A day after the two main Palestinian factions announced surprise plans for a unity government, the challenge of bringing together two rival parties with distinct ideologies burst into view, with each side presenting a different picture of what the accord means and what produced it.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, said Thursday that because he was also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization he remained in charge of peace efforts with Israel. The future unity government, he said, will have only two functions, to rebuild Gaza and set up elections within a year.

“The new government and peace talks are two different things,” Mr. Abbas told a group of Israelis who signed what they called the Israeli Peace Initiative this month and were invited to his headquarters for lunch. He said no activists of either his party, Fatah, or of the Islamists of Hamas would serve in the new government.

He added that negotiations with Israel were his preferred path to statehood rather than recognition from the United Nations, which he is also pursuing. But he repeated that for negotiations to begin, he needed a moratorium in Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, a condition that Israel rejects.
Hamas figures presented a different picture of what led to the accord. They focused on Mr. Abbas’s frustrations with Israel and the United States in failed peace efforts and said that Fatah was therefore heading more in the direction of Hamas.

“There are no negotiations now, so let’s not speak about illusions that may or may not happen,” Taher al-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman, said when told of Mr. Abbas’s comments. “The Israeli government has nothing to offer to the Palestinians. It even refused to freeze settlements.” But he said that Hamas would abide by any P.L.O. negotiations and that it expected the P.L.O. to be reconfigured after elections in a year.

Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader who was in Cairo for the Egyptian-brokered Palestinian negotiations, said he saw no place for peace talks with Israel under the new arrangement.

“Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it,” Mr. Zahar told Reuters. “It will not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel.”

Ahmed Youssef, a former deputy foreign minister of Hamas who now serves as a consultant to it in Gaza, said by telephone that Palestinians were “really disappointed in the Obama administration” and what they had originally been led to believe was a new American vision for the region. He added that the warmth of the new leadership in Egypt allowed it to place its confidence in its good offices.

In Gaza, people received the news of the accord with a mixture of skepticism and cautious optimism.

“I’m happy for the reconciliation but unhappy about the reasons that led to this agreement,” said Khalil Ghabin, 48, a grocer. “The changes in the region forced them to reconcile, and they did this because they were afraid that the flames of change would burn them. If there was no upheaval, they would not have agreed.”

The bottom line for the rest of the world? The Israel vs Palestine conflict will continue.

As I've said many, many times before, this conflict will continue until the CITIZENS of both states (and I consider Palestine a state even if not recognized by the UN) demand their governments stop fighting. If they do not, this will continue until our Sun dies.

AMERICA - Worst Outbreak of Tornadoes in Nearly 40yrs

"Birmingham Police Chief: Alabamians in Shock, Despair After Major Storm"
PBS Newshour 4/28/2011

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

"South Assesses the Toll After a Deadly Barrage of Tornadoes" by CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and KIM SEVERSON, New York Times 4/28/2011


A day after enduring a terrifying bombardment of storms that killed hundreds across the South and spawned tornadoes that razed neighborhoods and even entire towns, people from Texas to Virginia to Georgia searched through rubble for survivors on Thursday and tried to reclaim their own lives.

At least 285 people across six states died in the storms, with more than half — 195 people — in Alabama. This college town, the home of the University of Alabama, has in some places been shorn to the slab, and accounts for at least 36 of those deaths.

Thousands have been injured, and untold more have been left homeless, hauling their belongings in garbage bags or rooting through disgorged piles of wood and siding to find anything salvageable.

While Alabama was hit the hardest, the storm spared few states across the South. Thirty-four people were reported dead in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 15 in Georgia, 7 in Virginia and one in Kentucky. With search and rescue crews still climbing through debris and making their way down tree-strewn country roads, the toll is expected to rise.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

OPINION - President Obama Lays Trap

"Cagey Obama Sets an Election Trap for Paul Ryan and the Koch Brothers" by Adele M. Stan, Truthout 4/27/2011

Republicans are far from figuring out who will be their next presidential candidate, but Barack Obama has already decided who he's running against: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a guy who isn't even in the running -- at least not yet.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, it was Ryan who put forth the draconian budget onto which nearly all House Republicans signed -- a budget that would effectively end Medicare through a privatization scheme. The reasons why Republicans joined their names to such a politically risky proposition are several, but not least among them is the fact that Ryan is a favorite of David Koch and Americans For Prosperity. So, in his campaign against the Ryan plan, Obama has found his proxy for taking on the Koch machine.

By baiting Ryan to present his budget plan before the administration unveiled its own, Obama deftly played Ryan's own star-pupil, parent-pleasing nature against the eager Wisconsinite. When the president unveiled his own budget plan at a televised speech two weeks ago in Washington, he invited Ryan as his guest, and then issued a broadside against Ryan's plan, saying it was "less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America."

"There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," Obama continued, as Ryan looked helpless on. "And I don't think there's anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know."

The Republican was clearly taken aback. "When the president reached out to ask us to attend his speech, we were expecting an olive branch," Ryan told McClatchy Newspapers. "Instead, his speech was excessively partisan, dramatically inaccurate, and hopelessly inadequate to address our fiscal crisis. What we heard today was not fiscal leadership from our commander-in-chief; we heard a political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief."

Since then, Obama has continued to hammer away at Ryan. On the campaign trail in California, Obama used the words "fairly radical" to describe the Ryan plan. "I wouldn't call it particularly courageous," Obama said. And a CBS News open mic caught Obama, the day after the president's budget speech, going after Ryan personally. McClatchy's Steve Thomma reported Obama's remarks this way:

"When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, you know, he's just being America's accountant …," Obama said in remarks taped through an open microphone by CBS reporter Mark Knoller, "this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill -- but wasn't paid for. So it's not on the level. And we've got to keep on, you know, keep on shining a light on that."

Thomma writes that, while making those remarks, Obama assumed he was off the record. Me, I'm not so sure. Strikes me as the sound of a gauntlet hitting the ground.

While playing against Ryan, who comes off as likeable earnest, is not without its risks, issue polling is playing in Obama's favor, even if his personal approval numbers sink in the face of rising gas prices. Ryan's plan, for instance, extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while a spate of recent polls show the public is ready to hike taxes on those who are doing more than all right while the rest of the country struggles. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 72 percent of Americans support tax hikes for the wealthy -- with even a majority of Republicans in agreement. From the Washington Post:

At this point, 72 percent support raising taxes along those lines, with 54 percent strongly backing this approach. The proposal enjoys the support of majorities of Democrats (91 percent), independents (68 percent) and Republicans (54 percent). Only among people with annual incomes greater than $100,000 does less than a majority "strongly support" such tax increases.

That may account for why Ryan found himself booed at a town-hall meeting (VIDEO) in his congressional district when he told a constituent that such tax hikes would be redistributionist because "we do tax the top."

The same poll also found 78 percent opposed to "cutting spending on Medicare" in order to reduce the deficit, and a McClatchy poll drew similar results. (A New York Times/CBS News poll with a different ordering of questions found 45 percent opposed, but that's still a significant number.)

While Ryan's extreme budget plan makes him a perfect poster boy for the GOP agenda in a Democratic campaign, his supporting attributes render him even more perfect as Obama plays not only to independents, but also to the Democratic base on which he will depend for turning out the vote in November 2012. Ryan, is from Wisconsin, and a beneficiary of the Koch political machine responsible for the election of the deeply unpopular Gov. Scott Walker, and Walker's union-busting budget bill.

For progressives and the Democratic base, Wisconsin has become a powerful symbol of a greater national political battle -- a battle described as one drawn between the billionaire Koch brothers and their sycophants on one side, and regular Americans on the other. In 2008, Paul Ryan was celebrated by the Wisconsin Chapter of the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, which is chaired by David Koch, as a "Defender of the American Dream," in a ceremony emceed by Scott Walker. Obama has little to lose in running against the Kochs, even if in the guise of Paul Ryan, because the Kochs were never likely to go after the president with anything less than full force, especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which allows virtually unlimited participation by corporations in electoral politics.

However, in singling out Ryan for his ire, Obama has elevated the profile of the Wisconsin axman -- so much so that word is he just might run for president in 2012. Should Ryan, in the unlikely scenario that he decides to run, win the Republican presidential nomination, the stage will be set for a nearly direct confrontation between the Koch brothers and all the forces that oppose them. But even if Ryan stays out of the fray, Obama's signal to his base will no doubt be heard.

POLITICS - See, President Obama Was Born in America

"With Birth Certificate Release, Obama Urges Shift in National Dialogue"
PBS Newshour 4/27/2011

Lets hope this closes the issue, though I doubt it. Birthers are "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (link opens in new page) after all.

ECONOMY - Fed Holds 1st Scheduled News Conference in 98yr History

"Bernanke Spotlights Political, Economic Challenges in Historic News Conference" PBS Newshour Transcript 4/27/2011 (includes video)


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And we turn to the Federal Reserve on an unusual day of both substance and appearances. (link opens in new page)

BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve Chairman: Good afternoon.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was a standard greeting but hardly a standard setting, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke held the first regularly scheduled news conference in the central bank's 98-year history.

The Fed has long been seen as a secretive, even mysterious institution, pulling the levers of the economy Wizard of Oz-like from behind a magic curtain.

Bernanke said he hopes to change that.

BEN BERNANKE: I personally have always been a big believer in providing as much information as you can to help the public understand what you're doing, to help the markets understand what you're doing, and to be accountable to the public for what you're doing.

Now, of course, the Fed didn't do this for a long time, and I think the counterargument has always been that if -- there was a risk that the chairman speaking might create unnecessary volatility in financial markets or may not be necessary, given all the other sources of -- of information that come out of the Federal Reserve.

It was our judgment after thinking about this for some time that, at this point, the additional benefits from more information, more transparency, meeting the press directly, outweighed some of these -- some of these risks.

I welcome the new openness. Having said that, we need to realize that the Fed does NOT have a magic wand. There are things in our economy that they cannot have much, or any, effect on.

In my opinion jobs is something the Fed cannot directly effect. That is to say, we should NOT be looking to the Fed for increasing jobs.

AMERICA - South West Looks at New Water Source

(click for better view)

"Why Californians Will Soon Be Drinking Water from Mexico's Ocean" by Ben Jervey, Good 4/26/2011

(links within article text will open in new page)

Yesterday, the Department of the Interior released a pretty scary report about the impacts of climate change on water in the Southwest. The report (PDF) ("Reclamation, Managing Water in the West"), which "represents the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major Reclamation river basins," paints a frightening picture of an already arid region that undergoing a long, painful desertification.

In the past, we've looked at the desalination of seawater as an option for providing drinking water in regions that lack freshwater, like Australia and the American Southwest. While I wish there were ways to keep demand for freshwater within the means supplied by natural systems, I'm of the opinion that desal isn't just going to be an option, but a necessity for some areas by mid-century.

So it was fascinating to read Rob Davis's feature on how lax regulation in Mexico could make it easier and cheaper to build desalination plants off the Baja coast, and how those could soon be supplying water to Southern Californians.

Desalination offers the promise of being a drought-proof local supply in an arid region that imports most of its water from hundreds of miles away. But it is highly regulated in California because of its environmental impacts, such as massive pumps that suck in and kill fish larvae and other marine life...

"They don't ask as many questions" in Mexico, said Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, the state agency that regulates coastal development. "They don't protect the environment like we do in California."

Right now, authorities are talking about building one desal plant in Mexico. There's another planned in the San Diego area, that's a similar size. But those aren't going to get us very far. On his blog, John Fleck digs into these numbers a bit:

But what struck me about this project, as Rob describes it, is how small it really is. 50 million gallons per day is about 56,000 acre feet per year. The average Lake Mead shortfall during the ’00s was 1.2 million acre feet per year. That’s the supply-demand imbalance we’re talking about. That would mean 20-plus desal plants just to close the current gap.

Conservation measures are, of course, essential, but I simply don't see any way that Southern California will be able to sate its thirst for drinking water without these massive, energy-sucking plants. We'd better figure out how to build and operate them without totally ruining the coastal ecosystems, and without using so much carbon-spewing energy that will just worsen the freshwater shortages in region.

"Mexico's Ocean Could Become U.S.'s Drinking Water" by Rob Davis, Voice of San Diego 4/24/2011


Just before the toll road stretching south from Tijuana enters Rosarito Beach, it veers inland, away from beautiful blue-water views, swinging wide around an industrial power plant complex, all filled with metal smokestacks and white fuel tanks, a major source of Baja California's electricity.

There, water suppliers from across the Southwest are studying what would be the first project of its kind: tapping Mexico's ocean as a source of the United States' drinking water.

This idea has been a long time coming. I can see that Environmentalist will have concerns, like what effect the "debrine" being returned to the ocean will have, but that does NOT mean this is not a good idea. It just needs to be well designed.

SECURITY - Cybercrime With World-Wide Impact

This is about more than PlayStation users. The information gleaned by this crime is a threat to any personal information on your personal computers (directly for PlayStation users, indirectly for others) or by way of any online business you deal with.

"Sony PlayStation System Hacking Incident Highlights Web-Security Gaps" PBS Newshour Transcript 4/27/2011 (includes video)


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The latest episode involved millions of people around the world who use Sony's PlayStation video game system and who may have had their credit card information stolen in a hacking incident.

The intrusion caused the company to shut down PlayStation's Internet network a week ago. It provides access to online gaming, music, movies, sports and TV shows. Seventy-seven million user accounts were disconnected worldwide. But it wasn't until yesterday that Sony disclosed a hacker obtained information, including players' names, addresses, birth dates, email addresses, passwords and log-in names.

And on the company's blog, Sony spokesman Patrick Seybold said, "While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility."

Near Sony headquarters in Tokyo, some said the breach may stop them from using PlayStation.

KAZUNORI SANO, resident of Tokyo (through translator): I will be afraid of playing with the game machine after hearing of this. I don't want my credit card information to be leaked out somewhere else in the world.

RAY SUAREZ: And in Australia, police urged PlayStation users to be vigilant.

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDENT COL DYSON, New South Wales State Police Force: It would appear that the risk in relation to credit cards may be low. But if people have concerns, they should be talking to their banks and watching for unauthorized usage of the cards.

RAY SUAREZ: Some industry experts say the scale of the breach could cost the company billions of dollars.

THOMAS PUHA, "Pelaaja": This is going to have a very negative impact on a business that they have built up, because I think a lot of -- obviously, a lot of consumers will really be very wary of putting their credit card information back online or even buying anything.

RAY SUAREZ: Sony said it expects the PlayStation Network to be restored in a week. In the meantime, an outside security firm has been hired to investigate what Sony deems the malicious intrusion.

For a closer look at all this, we turn to Kevin Poulsen, senior editor at A former hacker himself, he's also author of a new book, "Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground."

And, Kevin, for those people who aren't gamers, why would you have to load personal information into a game console in the first place?

KEVIN POULSEN, Well, a lot of gaming takes place now online. You have multiplayer games where you could play with or against opponents live in real time.

And, of course, a game console isn't just a game console anymore. You want to be able to download movies and other content. And all -- you pay for all of that, which means you have to give up this information.

RAY SUAREZ: Sony says it has no direct evidence that credit card numbers were taken, but it says -- quote -- "We cannot rule out the possibility."

When you have had a breach, when someone has been rifling around in your files electronically, can you tell what they have seen and what they haven't?

KEVIN POULSEN: There are usually -- there's usually some kind of trail left, yes. But if the hacker is good and took steps to cover his or her tracks, then it could -- it could take a while to extract that.

I imagine that's why Sony took so long to announce this. They were probably hoping to find better news. They were probably hoping to find evidence that the -- that information wasn't accessed. Now that they have brought in an outside company, I expect they will know a lot more than they do now, eventually. Of course, they -- they may know more than they're telling us now.

RAY SUAREZ: The PlayStation system has been down for over week, disappointing a lot of people who are frequent users.

Does that long-term shutdown tell you something about the seriousness of the breach, that they're not patching it, but rebuilding the whole network?

KEVIN POULSEN: Absolutely.

It's a really radical measure to take. And it's surely going to cost them a lot of money and a lot of fan loyalty. There are people that aren't even going care about the breach itself who are just going to be extremely angry that they were denied access to the PlayStation Network for so long. So, it's bad news all around.

If this had just been a casual intruder, a recreational intruder, some kid working from his bedroom, I doubt they would have taken this measure. So, they probably have some indication that this was a serious, focused attack.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, as we reported earlier, they got user names, passwords, various other kinds of personal information. What's the risk to account holders at this point?

KEVIN POULSEN: You know, the biggest risk is probably with the personal information, especially the passwords, because a lot of people use the same passwords everywhere.

So, that, coupled with your email address and your real name and your date of birth, the hackers will, if this was done for profit, then, all of that could wind up being sold on the black market, probably for a nice sum of money.

And then, whoever buys it, other computer intruders could use the information to try and hack into other accounts held by these PlayStation Network users. It could be anything from Facebook to online banking. You could use it to stage scams targeting the users in other ways.

So, it could be -- it could wind up that this becomes the first stage in a lingering problem that haunts users for a long time, if, in fact, that that was the nature of the breach.

Stress this quote, "You know, the biggest risk is probably with the personal information, especially the passwords, because a lot of people use the same passwords everywhere."

HINT, do not use the same password for all your online accounts.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BOOK - The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

I usually do not recommend things to buy on this blog. Well, here's an exception.

"A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea" by Joel Achenbach

It was a technological crisis in an alien realm: a blown-out oil well in mile-deep water in the Gulf of Mexico. For the engineers who had to kill the well, this was like Apollo 13, a crisis no one saw coming, and one of untold danger and challenge.

A suspense story, a mystery, a technological thriller: This is Joel Achenbach’s groundbreaking account of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and what came after. The tragic explosion on the huge drilling rig in April 2010 killed eleven men and triggered an environmental disaster. As a gusher of crude surged into the Gulf’s waters, BP engineers and government scientists—awkwardly teamed in Houston—raced to devise ways to plug the Macondo well.

Achenbach, a veteran reporter for The Washington Post and acclaimed science writer for National Geographic, moves beyond the blame game to tell the gripping story of what it was like, behind the scenes, moment by moment, in the struggle to kill Macondo. Here are the controversies, the miscalculations, the frustrations, and ultimately the technical triumphs of men and women who worked out of sight and around the clock for months to find a way to plug the well.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was an environmental 9/11. The government did not have the means to solve the problem; only the private sector had the tools, and it didn’t have the right ones as the country became haunted by Macondo’s black plume, which was omnipresent on TV and the Internet. Remotely operated vehicles, the spaceships of the deep, had to perform the challenging technical maneuvers on the seafloor. Engineers choreographed this robotic ballet and crammed years of innovation into a single summer. As he describes the drama in Houston, Achenbach probes the government investigation into what went wrong in the deep sea. This was a confounding mystery, an engineering whodunit. The lessons of this tragedy can be applied broadly to all complex enterprises and should make us look more closely at the highly engineered society that surrounds us.

Achenbach has written a cautionary tale that doubles as a technological thriller.

I have the Kindle (PC) version that I'm reading now and I fully agree, it IS a technological thriller. Worth reading.

AMERICA - Budget Cutting, Which Big-4 to Cut and How

"An Insurance Company With An Army" by Paul Krugman, New York Times 4/27/2011

A general reminder whenever budget issues are discussed: the U.S. government is — this isn’t original — best thought of as a giant insurance company with an army. When you talk about federal spending, you’re overwhelmingly talking about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and defense. And the bulk of the insurance — all of Social Security and Medicare, about 2/3 of Medicaid — is for the elderly and disabled.

This is important both for assessing projections about future spending — yes, spending is projected to rise, but how could it not given the aging of the population? — and for assessing claims about the need to shrink the government.

Put it this way: Whenever someone talks about making government smaller, he should be asked which of these big four he proposes cutting, and how. If he responds with generalities, he’s faking it.

Amen brother.

Of course; Republican moral-code when it comes to the poor, elderly, and disabled, dictates that money is much more important than protecting these citizens. Throw them out on the streets, after all, "Are there no Poor Houses?"

The rich Republican donators do not have to worry about the issues address by the big-4 of course.

OPINION - What Republican Voters Discover

"Republican voters discover bold and courageous cuts in school funding means less money is sent to their schools" by Kay, Balloon Juice 4/25/2011

The angry crowds are back, but this time they aren’t wearing silly hats:

Battered by angry crowds at suburban school district meetings in recent days, House Republican lawmakers will offer up changes Thursday limiting the budgetary pain inflicted on schools by Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal.

House Finance Chair Ron Amstutz said many changes to the $120 billion, all-funds budget proposed by Kasich are coming, including tweaks to a controversial blueprint for funding schools over the next two years authored by the Republican governor. “We are looking to take the edge off of this problem across the spectrum of school districts—not just for the upper” property wealth districts, said Amstutz, a Wooster Republican shepherding the budget through the GOP-controlled House.

Many changes. Many. That austerity budget was really less a budget and more a road map, turns out. I also love how he issues a preemptive denial that he’s planning to restore funding only to these well-off suburban districts. NOT just for the upper property wealth districts. Did anyone suggest that’s what he was going to do? Well, he’s not. In case anyone was thinking that.

Taxpayers from those districts, many in traditional Republican territory, are also concerned—and downright angry. Hundreds of them have been giving GOP lawmakers an earful at recent community meetings.

How fast can Republicans in the legislature run from former FOX News personality Governor Kasich? Should be fun to watch the stampede.

POLITICS - Republican Party’s Brightest Opting-Out 2012?

"Why Republicans May Be Skipping 2012 Presidential Run" by MICHAEL D. SHEAR, New York Times 4/26/2011

Haley Barbour’s decision to forgo a run for the presidency in 2012 puts him in the company of a half-dozen top Republicans who have considered — and rejected — a challenge to President Obama next year.

The question is: why?

In a statement that surprised much of official Washington, Mr. Barbour indicated that he does not have “absolute fire in the belly” to mount a campaign that, if he wins, could consume the next 10 years of his life.

“I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required,” he said.

Others have offered different reasons. Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said he considered himself “best positioned to fight for America’s future here in the trenches of the United States Senate.” Representative Mike Pence of Indiana hinted that he might run for governor instead, saying that he and his family “choose Indiana.”

Among those who have turned down the chance to run in 2012: Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey; Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida; and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Mr. Christie said that he could win but that “I’ve got to believe I’m ready to be president, and I don’t.”

An additional half-dozen potential 2012 hopefuls remain on the fence about whether to run, leaving just a handful of major candidates who appear certain to take the plunge.

But the publicly stated reasons often mask other considerations as politicians consider whether to run for president. Here are five reasons why some of the Republican Party’s brightest stars might be opting for the sidelines this year.
  1. Biden. If Mr. Obama wins re-election, there is almost zero chance that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would run for the presidency in 2016, when he would turn 74 years old. That puts him in the same place where Vice President Dick Cheney was in 2008. That means that Republicans who can afford to wait until 2016 can assure themselves not only that they will not face an incumbent Democratic president, but also that they won’t face a sitting vice president.

  2. The economy. Mr. Obama’s approval ratings have dipped below 50 percent, but he remains personally popular and by many calculations the economy appears to be improving — if slowly. Even Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and one of the handful of very likely candidates, said last September that Mr. Obama would be “difficult to beat” if the economy continued improving, which he predicted it would. (He later changed his tune and said Republicans should focus on the economy if they wanted to win.)

  3. Money. Mr. Obama is expected in some quarters to raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign, and he has no serious primary opposition, which means he will be free to aim that firepower at his Republican adversaries. For a potential challenger, that raises the stakes for fund-raising at a time when more outside groups are competing for the same dollars, many of which, even on the Republican side, would go to congressional races.

  4. The Tea Party. The emergence of the Tea Party movement as a force inside the Republican Party requires potential presidential candidates to pick sides in an intraparty philosophical struggle. The risks are clear for some Republicans who may have to alter or modify earlier positions to get through a contentious primary. Less clear are the benefits of having that support during a general election, especially if it means alienating independents in the process. Some of the most high-profile Tea Party candidates in 2010 did not fare so well in the general election.

  5. The media glare. Candidates for president have always had to contend with scrutiny from the press. But the intense, Internet-driven political environment in 2011, when everyone has a camera phone and every offhand comment can be recorded, is enough to scare away even the most hearty of politicians. Mr. Barbour’s family apparently hated the idea of his running for president (though reports suggest that they had made peace with the idea, were he to have run). Candidates who have been on the fence about making a run often consider the consequences to their privacy if they do.

JAPAN - Nuclear Plant and Safety Cover-up

"Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant" by NORIMITSU ONISHI and KEN BELSON, New York Times 4/26/2011


Given the fierce insularity of Japan’s nuclear industry, it was perhaps fitting that an outsider exposed the most serious safety cover-up in the history of Japanese nuclear power. It took place at Fukushima Daiichi, the plant that Japan has been struggling to get under control since last month’s earthquake and tsunami.

In 2000, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American nuclear inspector who had done work for General Electric at Daiichi, told Japan’s main nuclear regulator about a cracked steam dryer that he believed was being concealed. If exposed, the revelations could have forced the operator, Tokyo Electric Power, to do what utilities least want to do: undertake costly repairs.

What happened next was an example, critics have since said, of the collusive ties that bind the nation’s nuclear power companies, regulators and politicians.

Despite a new law shielding whistle-blowers, the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, divulged Mr. Sugaoka’s identity to Tokyo Electric, effectively blackballing him from the industry. Instead of immediately deploying its own investigators to Daiichi, the agency instructed the company to inspect its own reactors. Regulators allowed the company to keep operating its reactors for the next two years even though, an investigation ultimately revealed, its executives had actually hidden other, far more serious problems, including cracks in the shrouds that cover reactor cores.

Investigators may take months or years to decide to what extent safety problems or weak regulation contributed to the disaster at Daiichi, the worst of its kind since Chernobyl. But as troubles at the plant and fears over radiation continue to rattle the nation, the Japanese are increasingly raising the possibility that a culture of complicity made the plant especially vulnerable to the natural disaster that struck the country on March 11.

Already, many Japanese and Western experts argue that inconsistent, nonexistent or unenforced regulations played a role in the accident — especially the low seawalls that failed to protect the plant against the tsunami and the decision to place backup diesel generators that power the reactors’ cooling system at ground level, which made them highly susceptible to flooding.

A 10-year extension for the oldest of Daiichi’s reactors suggests that the regulatory system was allowed to remain lax by politicians, bureaucrats and industry executives single-mindedly focused on expanding nuclear power. Regulators approved the extension beyond the reactor’s 40-year statutory limit just weeks before the tsunami despite warnings about its safety and subsequent admissions by Tokyo Electric, often called Tepco, that it had failed to carry out proper inspections of critical equipment.

The mild punishment meted out for past safety infractions has reinforced the belief that nuclear power’s main players are more interested in protecting their interests than increasing safety. In 2002, after Tepco’s cover-ups finally became public, its chairman and president resigned, only to be given advisory posts at the company. Other executives were demoted, but later took jobs at companies that do business with Tepco. Still others received tiny pay cuts for their role in the cover-up. And after a temporary shutdown and repairs at Daiichi, Tepco resumed operating the plant.

We in America should take heed. Lax regulation, putting the country at risk, in the pursuit of company interests (aka profits). Anti-regulation Republicans should pay close attention, although I doubt they will.

AMERICA - Severe Weather in Midwest 4/2011

"Deadly Storms Pummel Midwest, Spawning Floods, Tornadoes"
PBS Newshour 4/26/2011

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

This is just the latest in a series of severe storms this month throughout middle-America.

SYRIA - Government Crackdown on Protesters Intensifies

"Syrian Protesters Defiant in Face of Escalating Security Crackdown"
PBS Newshour 4/26/2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

YEMAN - President Saleh Weights Exit

"Upheaval, Uncertainty in Yemen as Saleh Weighs Exit"
PBS Newshour 4/25/2011

Excerpt from transcript

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): So, Ambassador Bodine, do you agree the group that sent us the Christmas Day bomber has more freedom to operate now, at the very least?

BARBARA BODINE, Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen: Yes. Yes.

I mean, what -- what's been created is just a larger vacuum. The security forces are distracted by these demonstrations and their own internal divisions. And the government is. And so this is -- this has just taken the pressure off of AQAP. And that is obviously a worry to us, the Saudis, and to a host of others, and I think number of people in Yemen as well.

POLITICS - Déjà vu, Republican Game Plan for 2012

"The GOP's 2012 Campaign Plan: Disqualify Eligible Voters" by Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet 4/25/2011

Across the country, Republican lawmakers are resurrecting one of their party's favorite but most cowardly tactics to quote, win elections. They are seeking to create new barriers to voting by passing stricter voter ID laws intended to prevent the very electoral segments who helped to elect President Obama in 2008 from receiving ballots in 2012, particularly the young, poor and elderly, according to voting rights groups.

"Touted under the guise of addressing so-called 'voter fraud,' the proposals are part of a quiet but coordinated effort to reduce the voting strength of minority voters who saw greater turnout in 2008," reads the Advancement Project's new report, "What's Wrong With This Picture: New Voter ID Proposals Part of a National Push to Turn back the Clock on Voting Rights." (opens in new page) "The 2008 elections saw record turnout by black and brown voters, offering a glimpse of what a more equitable voter participation might look like. The photo ID proposals are part of a concerted effort to turn back the clock on voting rights."

The Advancement Project, a non-profit voting right law firm, said there were bills or new laws in 32 states requiring voters to present specific forms of government-issued photo IDs to get a ballot. Most states now require voters to show ID to vote, but those can range from driver's license to bank statements to utility bills. In contrast, the proposed or just-passed bills--in Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Minnesota and Ohio -- would only accept non-expired photo IDs from the federal government or state in which they vote.

"These photo ID proposals stand to create second-class citizenship for classes of voters, particularly racial minorities, senior citizens, young voters, people with disabilities, immigrants, the working poor and students, who are disproportionately less likely to have current state ID or face substantial hurdles to getting one, who stand to be turned away or denied a regular ballot," the Advancement Project report said.

"Studies show that approximately 11 percent of Americans, about 21 million people, lack a current government photo ID, disproportionately racial minorities, senior citizens, young voters, the working poor and people with disabilities - including: 25 percent of African American voting age citizens -- more than 5.5 million people; 15 percent of those earning less than $35,000 a year; 18 percent of those age 65 and above--more than 6 million voters; [and] 20 percent of young voters 18-29."

Republican Fears

These strident state legislators and governors would rather keep untold thousands of eligible citizens from voting on the merits of issues and candidates than have public debates and high-turnout elections where the best ideas win.

Their political rhetoric has been to claim there is a big problem with so-called voter fraud: people pretending to be someone else on Election Day and fraudulently casting more than one ballot. This belief--that Democrats are engaging in broad voter fraud--is an article of faith among die-hard Republicans, even prompting George W. Bush's Justice Department to fire career federal prosecutors who could not find real voter fraud cases to pursue and instead focused on actual, not imaginary, crimes.

Moreover, where voter fraud cases have occurred, they are exceptionally rare and almost always involve lone actors -- usually a relative of a local candidate trying to help them to win not swaths of partisan, let alone Democratic conspirators. States have prosecuted violators from both parties, and the penalties have been severe including jail.

Indeed, what the country's latest voter fraud crusaders are seeking to do is precisely the inverse of what they are accusing others of doing: instead of inflating vote totals, they are seeking to disenfranchise whole sectors of the electorate to better their odds of winning. To seek new laws prohibiting hundreds or thousands of eligible voters in state after state from casting ballots is not a response to the actions of a few lawbreakers who almost always get caught. It is a calculated and brazen move to game the outcome of those elections by disqualifying people who they presume will support their critics.

This is hardly occurring in a vacuum. The 2012 election will see presidential swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri lose U.S. House seats to other key states such as Texas, Florida, Georgia and Georgia. This shift favors the GOP and will make it harder for Democrats to retake the House and to re-elect Obama through the Electoral College. Nationwide, Republicans are aware that the only strategy Democrats might deploy in response is motivating millions who did not vote in 2010 to vote in 2012.

On the state level, GOP legislators also are seeking to prevent many constituencies who will feel the effect of GOP-led budget cuts from voting after these same legislators have refused to raise taxes on the wealthy. Who are those constituents? Many of the same sectors that elected Obama in 2008: students, the poor, and minorities, among others.

It is hard for many middle-class educated people to imagine that sizeable numbers of people in America do not have government photo IDs. But it is true, as many academics and the Advancement Project reported. Not everyone drives a car. Not everyone is aware they can go to a motor vehicle department to get a state ID card. Most people are unaware of pre-Election Day voter registration deadlines in their states; they get swept up in the emotion of the final days of a campaign and want to vote -- as eligible citizens. They present whatever paperwork they have to establish their credentials; often it is not a current federal government or state government-issued photo ID card.

The right-wing reply, historically, is that voting is a privilege and a responsibility, and if eligible individuals want to vote they should do what is required to participate: including getting the proper form of voter ID. That explanation blurs election law and their politics. Voting is a civil right, not a privilege. Eligibility in every state's voter registration statutes is based on one's age, state residency, citizenship, mental fitness and lack of a felony conviction. Eligible voters do not need new complicating barriers to the ballot.

Indeed, in one state where the photo ID bill died--Iowa--it was because local election officials forcefully stated that stricter voter ID laws did nothing to assist them to validate information on voter registration applications, which is where election officials weed out incomplete or erroneous registration applications. Instead, they said the stricter standard would cause lines and delays at the polls on Election Day, leading to angry individuals who were otherwise legal voters but were being denied a ballot due to their form of ID.

But that is exactly what the GOP is doing--removing rights--and it is not just with eligible or legal voters. Their efforts to silence state public employee unions in some of the same states now seeing voter ID legislation is based on the same premise. These partisans want to silence opponents and disenfranchise critics. They do not want fair elections or fair negotiations based on debate, varying views and voting. They want unopposed power.

Election Day Vigilantes

The biggest worry is less who will or will not have the right form of ID to register to vote or to obtain a ballot -- because any competent campaign by GOP's opponents, including by many political independents, presumably will address those nuts and bolts in 2012. The real worry is upping the climate of fear and intimidation surrounding voting.

For example, at a recent national gathering of Tea Party groups in Houston, Texas, the King Street Patriots said they would try to recruit one million poll watchers for a "True the Vote" campaign in 2012. Already, there are other Web sites by these anti-democratic political neophytes, such as "Election Integrity Watch" in Minnesota -- one of the most transparent states when it comes to elections -- telling people that votes were fabricated in 2010 because that state has Election Day registration.

The country does not need political vigilantes policing voters on Election Day. Just as the government does not need self-appointed posses patrolling the border, the typical elderly poll worker in Ohio or Pennsylvania does not need Tea Partiers interrogating voters who appear young, black, brown, elderly or some other presumed Democratic metric.

The best remedy for electoral dirty tricks is having candidates who inspire high-turnout elections -- exactly what Obama did in 2008 and the Democrats failed to do in 2010. No amount of partisan voter suppression will amount to much in a year when 132 million Americans or more vote, as they did in 2008. In 2010, in contrast, when the politicians now pushing the restrictive voter ID bills were elected, 44 million fewer people voted nationwide.

The GOP's voter suppression should be seen for what it is. Advancement Project called it "the largest legislative effort to scale back ballot access since the post-Reconstruction era, reversing a century-long trend of opening the ballot booth to groups that have been legally disenfranchised throughout our nation's history."

Do not be fooled by the posturing about ballot security and voter fraud. The democratic process is based on real debate and on an electorate voting. More people voting mean a greater consensus for governing. The heart of this matter is not why do eligible voters lack specific government-issued IDs; it is why the GOP does not want them to vote, or their votes to count in upcoming presidential, congressional, state and local elections.

Republicans, at it again. Same old game, same old ethics.

OPINION - On Republicans, From the South

"GOP leadership: 'Robin Hood in reverse'" (Letter) by William Hambaugh, Knoxville News Sentinel 4/25/2011

Here's how some of the newly elected Republicans are saying they are balancing the budget.

Wisconsin state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and his brother Jeff, speaker of the state Assembly, just had their father Stephen appointed to head the state patrol with no experience at that level. He lost a run for sheriff by 2 to 1. He got a huge pay raise over the previous head.

Also in Wisconsin, state Sen. Randy Hopper hired his girlfriend for a state job at $12,000 higher than the previous state employee.

Gov. Scott Walker said the state is "broke," therefore he had to take away rights of state employees to bargain. He gave the wealthy and businesses that contributed to his campaign $140 million in tax breaks, adding to the deficit.

Ohio: $10 million tax break for petroleum companies and between $200 and $833 million tax break for wealthy making the deficit bigger.

New Jersey: $200 million tax break for wealthy adding to deficit.

Michigan: $1.8 billion tax cut for wealthy.

Florida: $1.5 billion tax cut for wealthy.

South Carolina: Cutting Medicaid.

Arizona: Cutting benefits for poor.

Georgia: Raising taxes on groceries. Ending a tax break for blind people.

These politicians are not deficit hawks. They are giving away their state treasuries to their crony millionaires. It is Robin Hood in reverse.

Slight reformat for consistency

Monday, April 25, 2011

POLITICS - Easing the Senate Confirmation Logjam

"Lawmakers Seek to Unclog Road to Confirmation" by CARL HULSE, New York Times 4/24/2011


Hoping to unclog the Senate and spare scores of presidential appointees from what is often a grueling confirmation process, leading lawmakers in both parties are moving to cut the number of administration posts that are subject to Senate approval.

The proposal to end Senate review of about 200 executive branch positions would be the most serious effort in recent years to pare the chamber’s constitutional power of advice and consent. It amounts to a rare voluntary surrender of Congressional clout, and it has high-caliber, bipartisan support with the endorsement of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“We are losing very good people because the process has become so onerous, so lengthy and so duplicative,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and a leading advocate of the bill. “Why should there be a full F.B.I background check back to age 18 for an individual serving on a part-time board?”

Ever since the Senate rejected President George Bush’s selection of John G. Tower as secretary of defense in 1989, Senate confirmations have become bruising public affairs that delve deep into a nominee’s background. President Obama’s initial picks for several cabinet posts withdrew their nominations after the process turned up embarrassing details.

Several presidents, frustrated by delays, have sought to bypass the process by making so-called recess appointments while Congress is not in session. Mr. Obama used that tactic last summer to install the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Backers of the confirmation measure say they want to ease what they call an arduous chore for midlevel nominees trying to navigate the Senate in a supercharged partisan era. While it would not affect senior positions, the legislation, and a related proposal to expedite filling about 250 part-time positions, is intended to reverse an explosion in confirmable posts from about 280 when President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961 to 1,400 today.


Then again, are politics-before-governance types going to actually give up this tool to bash an Administration in the hands of the "other" side?

I, for one, would like to see this happen.

WAR ON TERROR - Guantánamo Detainees

"Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees" by CHARLIE SAVAGE, WILLIAM GLABERSON, and ANDREW W. LEHREN; New York Times 4/24/2011


A trove of more than 700 classified military documents provides new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there.

Military intelligence officials, in assessments of detainees written between February 2002 and January 2009, evaluated their histories and provided glimpses of the tensions between captors and captives. What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal.

The documents meticulously record the detainees’ “pocket litter” when they were captured: a bus ticket to Kabul, a fake passport and forged student ID, a restaurant receipt, even a poem. They list the prisoners’ illnesses — hepatitis, gout, tuberculosis, depression. They note their serial interrogations, enumerating — even after six or more years of relentless questioning — remaining “areas of potential exploitation.” They describe inmates’ infractions — punching guards, tearing apart shower shoes, shouting across cellblocks. And, as analysts try to bolster the case for continued incarceration, they record years of detainees’ comments about one another.

The secret documents, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, reveal that most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a “high risk” of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision. But they also show that an even larger number of the prisoners who have left Cuba — about a third of the 600 already transferred to other countries — were also designated “high risk” before they were freed or passed to the custody of other governments.

The documents are largely silent about the use of the harsh interrogation tactics at Guantánamo — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — that drew global condemnation. Several prisoners, though, are portrayed as making up false stories about being subjected to abuse.

The government’s basic allegations against many detainees have long been public, and have often been challenged by prisoners and their lawyers. But the dossiers, prepared under the Bush administration, provide a deeper look at the frightening, if flawed, intelligence that has persuaded the Obama administration, too, that the prison cannot readily be closed.

Prisoners who especially worried counterterrorism officials included some accused of being assassins for Al Qaeda, operatives for a canceled suicide mission and detainees who vowed to their interrogators that they would wreak revenge against America.

The question we should be asking, "Are these people dangerous enough to ignore our own commitment to our Constitution, rule of law, and Human Rights?"

Are we selling out our nation's moral standing because of fear?

"'Extraordinary' Guantanamo Documents Shed New Light on Detainees"
PBS Newshour 4/25/2011

SYRIA - Collective Identy?

"For Syrians, a Sense of Collective Identity Emerges Amid Battle for Reform"
PBS Newshour 4/22/2011


"Syrian Crisis Tests the Mettle of Its Autocratic Ruler" by ROBERT F. WORTH, New York Times 4/24/2011


For years, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has nourished a reputation as a youthful and forward-looking leader in a region full of aging autocrats, a man who might yet reform the repressive police state he inherited from his father, given time and opportunity.

His country’s worsening crisis — a bloody battle between the police and protesters that is being closely watched around the world — would seem to be a chance to stave off the violence with restraint or even bold reforms, a path his father never took. But as the death toll mounts, and the ominous disappearances of dissident figures increase, his time appears to be running out. International pressure is growing, and so is the outrage his violent crackdown has inspired.

Mr. Assad could still succeed in quelling the unrest, diplomats and analysts say. But to do so he would have to realize the hopes once placed in him when he inherited power from his father 11 years ago and confront his own family, which controls Syria’s thuggish security apparatus and appears to be pushing hard for a continued crackdown. At least 120 people have been killed since Friday, the bloodiest day of the five-week-old uprising.

Friday, April 22, 2011

ON THE LITE SIDE - Humor Times 4/2011

(click for better view)

"Seasonal Asset Disorder" by Kate Morrison, Faux News 3/25/2011

Seasonal Asset Disorder (SAD), also known as tax depression or tax blues, is a mood disorder in which people with abundant financial security experience feelings of scarcity and financial insecurity. The disorder is often brought on or exacerbated by tax season.

Although not considered a mental disease, SAD is classified as a mental disorder. Sufferers begin to feel what they have may not be enough, and then begin to be resentful regarding paying their share of taxes. Those with SAD often have trouble discerning wants from needs and the disorder can lead to extremely delusional thinking regarding what is enough.

Most people who get SAD just get SADDER and SADDER.

The disorder affects approximately 20% of the US population and can be severe for those making $300K per year or more. It effects an inordinate amount of sports stars, entertainers and congressmen. It is estimated that SAD costs the US billions of dollars each year in lost tax revenue.

Symptoms vary widely but often include a burning desire to establish trusts and foundations, a need to establish family vacation property as ranch property, or wanting to designate large family estates as agricultural land. SAD people move money to offshore accounts, believe pets are dependent children, and even claim charitable donations they have not made.

Most people with the disorder own more than one home and have several vehicles. Over half of the people with SAD have never worked at job other than managing the family trust.

If left completely untreated, many SAD people flock to the Republican and Tea Parties.

To severe sufferers, things like tax cuts for the rich, eliminating programs for senior citizens and even denying access to basic health care to individuals less fortunate can seem reasonable and responsible. "Crazy ideas can appear like good fundamental ideas to SAD people" said one clinical expert on the disorder.

It is important for those with Seasonal Asset Disorder to seek help from a professional. Unfortunately, most who do seek treatment look to tax accountants and tax attorneys only to find they too are SAD.

The Internal Revenue Service has set up calling centers and is standing by to get help quickly to those identified with SAD.

SATIRE - Romney Haunted

"Mitt Romney Haunted By Past Of Trying To Help Uninsured Sick People" The Onion, America's Finest News Source 4/21/2011

(tong-in-cheek satire)

Though Mitt Romney is considered to be a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the national spotlight has forced him to repeatedly confront a major skeleton in his political closet: that as governor of Massachusetts he once tried to help poor, uninsured sick people.

Romney, who signed the state's 2006 health care reform act, has said he "deeply regrets" giving people in poor physical and mental health the opportunity to seek medical attention, admitting that helping very sick people get better remains a dark cloud hovering over his political career, and his biggest obstacle to becoming president of the United States of America.

"Every day I am haunted by the fact that I gave impoverished Massachusetts citizens a chance to receive health care," Romney told reporters Wednesday, adding that he feels ashamed whenever he looks back at how he forged bipartisan support to help uninsured Americans afford medicine to cure their illnesses. "I'm only human, and I've made mistakes. None bigger, of course, than helping cancer patients receive chemotherapy treatments and making sure that those suffering from pediatric AIDS could obtain medications, but that's my cross to bear."

"My hope is that Republican voters will one day forgive me for making it easier for sick people—especially low-income sick people—to go to the hospital and see a doctor," Romney added. "It was wrong, and I'm sorry."

According to Romney, if he could do things over again, he would do everything he could to make certain that uninsured individuals got sicker and sicker until they died. Promising his days of trying to provide medical coverage to the gravely ill are behind him, Romney said that if elected president, he would never even think about increasing anyone's quality of life or trying to lower the infant mortality rate.

In addition, Romney repeatedly apologized for wanting to help people suffering from diabetes, Crohn's disease, and anemia.

"I don't know what got into me back then," Romney said. "Wanting to make sure people were able to have health insurance if they left their job. Providing a federally funded website so individuals could compare the costs of insurance providers. Making certain that somebody who earns less than 150 percent of the poverty level can receive the same health care coverage as me or any government official. All I can say is that I was young and immature, and I am not that person anymore."

"The only solace I can take is in the hope that some of the folks I helped were terminally ill patients who eventually withered away and died," Romney added.

Though Romney has apologized profusely, Beltway insiders said he would need to distance himself from his I-tried-to-help-sickpeople image. Sources noted that Romney's current promise to take away health care from anyone who can't afford it is a step in the right direction, but might not be enough.

"The major strike against Mitt Romney is that he not only tried to help people get medical care, he actually did help people get medical care," conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg said. "No other Republican in the field has that type of baggage. And in the end, in order to defeat President Obama, the GOP needs someone who has a track record of never wanting to help sick people."

Thus far, Romney is polling strongly in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, but Republican strategists and voters agree that even in a general election, his sordid past would continue to dog him.

"I don't think I can vote for someone like that," Pennsylvania Republican Eric Tolbert said. "He says he's sorry, but how do I know that's the real Mitt Romney? What happens if he gets elected and tries to help sick people again?"

"I like Michele Bachmann now," Tolbert added. "Because what this country needs is a president who doesn't give a fuck about helping people."

POLITICS - Ryan Not Doing Well in Milton Wisconsin

"Rep. Paul Ryan booed at town hall meeting" by DOUG THOMPSON, Capitol Hill Blue 4/22/2011

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, architect of the GOP budget that preserves tax breaks for the wealthy and phases out Medicare, took his message to a series of town hall meetings in his Congressional district this week.

He didn’t play well.

Ryan was booed at a town hall meeting in Milton when a constituent questioned him on his budget proposals and Ryan tried to claim that the GOP is taxing the rich.

Those at the meeting didn’t buy the claim.

“We do tax the top,” Ryan claimed. That remark brought boos.

Polls show Ryan’s extreme budget proposals aren’t playing well with the mainstream, including Republicans who disagree with the changes to Medicare or the tax breaks for the rich.

A Washington Post-ABC news poll says 72 percent of Americans want taxes raised on wealthy Americans who make more than $250,000 a year.

But Ryan and his Republican followers in Congress want to preserve tax breaks for the wealthy. It’s not the first time Republicans have overreached and those who supported him are now suffering from buyer’s remorse.

"Paul Ryan defends tax breaks for the rich and gets booed at town hall" by David Edwards, RawReplay 4/20/11

Constituents in Wisconsin are letting Rep. Paul Ryan (R) know that they aren’t happy with his plan to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

An audience at a town hall in Milton, Wisconsin booed the congressman when he tried to defend his proposal.

“The middle class is disappearing right now,” one constituent at the town hall explained. “During this time of prosperity, the top one percent was taking about ten percent of the total annual income, but yet today we are fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire?”

“You have to lower spending. But it’s a matter of there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down,” another constituent added.

“We do tax the top,” Ryan explained as the audience booed.

“Let’s remember, most of our jobs come from successful small businesses. Two-thirds of our jobs do. You got to remember, businesses pay taxes individually. So when you raise their tax rates to 44.8 percent, which is what the president is proposing, I would just fundamentally disagree. That is going to hurt job creation.”

Ryan is just another Republican down on his knees worshiping the rich.

AMERICA - Ebenezer Baptist Church

"At Ebenezer Baptist Church, a Glorious Rebirth" by KIM SEVERSON, New York Times 4/21/2011

Each of the 90 federal historic sites in the United States has its appeal. But for all their cultural value, the sites don’t change much. A studious tour given by a park ranger. A plaque to read. Another note in a travel journal.

But this week, one of the sites held the sort of electric charge usually not found among dusty period chairs and explanatory dioramas.

Inside the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (opens in new page) — the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was both baptized and eulogized — a new, meticulous renovation underscored the weight of one of the most significant social movements in modern America.

The power, according to some of the record 20,000 people who visited the church this week, is in the personal nature of such recent history contained in the small Gothic Revival building on the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street.

“We lived the segregated South,” said Lily Townsend, 77, who walked through Thursday with her husband, Ronald, a member of the Pensacola, Fla., City Council.

“There’s an emotion when you come here,” she said. “A tear comes to your eye for all that started here.”

The doors to the church opened Friday after four years and $8 million of detailed work to make it look exactly as it did during the 1960s, when Dr. King and his father stood on the pulpit and preached.

Restoration teams analyzed paint chips to recreate the exact soft peach color of the walls and uncovered the tall, painted-glass windows.

They studied old photographs of the fellowship hall in the basement, setting period green and white tile so the floor looked like it did when Dr. King held meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group he formed in 1957.

A visitor can walk within an arm’s reach of the pulpit where Dr. King gave his famous "Drum Major Instinct” speech, in which he delivered his own eulogy. Two months later, April 9, 1968, his real eulogy would be delivered from the same pulpit.

There is the microphone that carried his words, and a communion tray he passed.

Although the Ebenezer congregation moved to a larger, more modern church across the street in 1999, they held a special service Thursday night. It was to honor their 125th year.

There won’t be many such services at the church in the future. The National Park Service keeps the doors open seven days a week.

Groups that want to use the church will have to request a special permit, said Judy Forte, the superintendent.

A recording of Dr. King’s voice loops through the sound system, and the mood changes with each group that enters.

Schoolchildren laugh. Foreign tourists crowd for photographs in front of the pulpit.

But when the church is empty, save for a few people in quiet reflection, there is a feeling that something more than history might have happened here.

“From here, he found the power to just spread his wings,” said Patsy Cherry, 66, a retired schoolteacher visiting from Chesapeake, Va. “I came to feel that.”

MEDICARE - Ryan vs Obama Plans on Cost

What I particularly like about this discussion is how Judy Woodruff splits the subject by cost to the government and cost to consumers.

"Obama vs. Ryan Plans: What Medicare Costs Are Saved, Shifted?"
PBS Newshour 4/21/2011

Excerpt from transcript

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Let me just quickly move on to two other things. One is how do the plans differ in terms of the number of seniors covered? Would every senior, presumably, Gail Wilensky, be able to get coverage under both the Ryan plan and the Obama plan?

GAIL WILENSKY, Project HOPE: Absolutely. They're going to get an amount of money. They're going to have private plans be available to them. The private plans will have to meet certain criteria.

The notion that people will have money, which, by the way, will increase as people get older and if they are sicker, and those who are low-income would receive additional amounts -- people who are 55 and older now would just continue on the original Medicare plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, there's no question that the private insurer would be available to everyone, Chris Jennings?

CHRIS JENNINGS, health policy consultant: Yes, it would be available. The question, would it be affordable, and more importantly for seniors, what would be their out-of-pocket costs?

Remember, it's not just what the insurer pays. It's what you pay out of pocket through premiums and cost-sharing. And the big concern, again, is if you double the exposure of out-of-pocket costs for seniors, when -- at a time when they have very limited incomes, you will just be finding that many of them may not even get the care that they need because they can't afford it.

Now, as my regular readers may surmise, I don't enjoy saying this; Ryan's plan for Medicare does not sound as bad as I thought. EXCEPT the "can seniors afford the out-of-pocket cost" issue.

President Obama is correct is saying that "Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way." But in actually Republicans ALWAYS have.

Republican actions now, and in the past, speak that they do not see government (especially federal government) as having a moral responsibility to U.S. citizens. A moral responsibility that includes seeing that EVERY citizen gets healthcare, which includes affordability.

The Republican Party is the party that wants to interfere in your bedroom, who you marry, with a woman's womb, your religious practice, and more; your human and Constitutional Rights. But heaven forbid interference (in any form) with making money, especially if you are already rich or a big business. Aha, feel much better now that I've vented.