Thursday, June 30, 2011

EDUCATION - Making Science More Appealing to Kids

"Can DIY Movement Fix a Crisis in U.S. Science Education?"
PBS Newshour 6/29/2011

AFGHANISTAN - Brazen Hotel Attack

"Brazen Attack on Kabul Hotel Raises New Questions on Afghan Security"
PBS Newshour 6/29/2011

POLITICS - More Fiddle-playing While Economy Burns

"Debt Battle Growing More Urgent, but GOP, Democrats Not Budging Yet"
PBS Newshour 6/29/2011

OPINION - Republicans Wrong...... Again

"GOP gets it wrong on tax increases" by Mark Mellman, The Hill 6/28/2011

America has both a spending problem and a revenue problem — too much of the former and too little of the latter. Every serious student of the federal budget, right, left and center, agrees that any realistic solution requires a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Democrats and Republicans on the Simpson-Bowles Commission knew that both revenue increases and spending cuts were necessary to deal effectively with our deficit problem.

N. Gregory Mankiw, the chairman of George Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, knows both tax increases and spending cuts are required. Indeed, Mankiw argues, “The distinction between spending and taxation is often murky and sometimes meaningless.” Explaining that giving snipe hunters a tax break for every fake animal they hunt down is no different from setting up a program to pay snipe hunters for each pelt they bring in, Mankiw implicitly criticizes Republicans’ unwillingness to end oil-company subsidies and explicitly advocates broadening the tax base and reducing rates to increase revenue.

President Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, knows raising revenue must be an essential component of any fiscal cure. “It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes,” says Stockman, one of the biggest budget cutters of all time.

Conservative stalwarts like Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and, most famously, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) all recognized the need to raise revenue in order to balance the budget.

Voters also know reducing the deficit requires a balanced approach that both raises revenue and cuts spending. A recent Ipsos poll for Reuters found 61 percent of Americans preferring to reduce the deficit by raising taxes and cutting spending or by just raising taxes. Only 27 percent want to balance the budget through spending cuts alone. (A balky 10 percent wanted to do neither.) Republicans failed to muster a majority of their own partisans for reducing the deficit by cutting alone, with 46 percent of GOPers opting for that course. Swing independents looked like the nation as a whole.

A recent ABC/Washington Post poll buttressed the Ipsos findings, with a similar 59 percent opting for a combination of increased taxes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit. Just a third wanted to achieve that objective through spending cuts alone.

Americans not only support tax increases to reduce the deficit in general, but voters express support for several specific tax hikes as well. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) favor “raising taxes on Americans with incomes over $250,000 a year.” Gallup found 59 percent saying next year’s federal budget “should … include higher taxes for families with household incomes of $250,000 and above.” Support for ending tax subsidies to oil companies is far greater.

So everybody from distinguished Republican economists to leading economic lights of the Reagan and Bush administrations to Republican senators and the business community, not to mention the American people, all understand we have both a spending and a revenue problem that must be addressed simultaneously if we are to restore sanity to our fiscal house.

Everybody understands this except House Republicans, who sanctimoniously and inaccurately claim to speak in the name of the American people, rejecting any revenue increase of any kind.

Their uncompromising extremism makes a mockery of the very word compromise. Their version: “Give us everything we want — and don’t even talk about your views and vision — or we will get up from the table and burn down the nation’s economic house.”

Such irresponsible behavior is sadly reinforced by political calculation. Republicans reason that if the nation’s economy goes down in the flames of default, the Democratic president will suffer most.

They might be right, but that is no way to help run a country.

The problem is Republicans are NOT interested in running our country. Their ONLY interest is defeating President Obama even if it means our economy goes down in flames.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

SCIENCE - Ever Wonder What Black Holes Are?

For those who have a curious mind.....

"What Is a Black Hole, and How Are They Formed?" by JENNY MARDER, PBS Newshour 6/16/2011

It's been a big week for black holes. One study this week detected ancient black holes growing vigorously at the centers of their galaxies. Another found powerful gamma ray flashes from a giant black hole consuming a star.

A good time, we thought, for some basics on black holes. A black hole is an object that has collapsed under its own weight to a point, creating an object that is fantastically small, yet enormously dense. It sucks in everything it can absorb, and once formed, nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational pull.

"They are the most voracious eaters in the universe," said Kevin Schawinski, a Yale university astrophysicist. "You can only go inside, and you can never come back out."

There are two main types of black holes. There are black holes born from the death of stars, which are roughly a few times the mass of our sun. These stars end their lives when the hydrogen fuel that makes up the star's interior burns off, causing the star to collapse.

Then, there are supermassive black holes, which range in mass from a few hundred thousand times the mass of our sun to a few billion times that mass, and exist at the center of galaxies. The black hole that lives at the center of the Milky Way is four million times the mass of our sun.

There are two schools of thought on how these supermassive black holes form. It's possible that they are seeded from the death of the earliest stars of the universe, which were massively large.

Another, recent theory involves discs of gas that swirl and funnel like a tornado. The early universe was filled with gas and radiation. In some spots, gravity caused gas to fall into halos of dark matter and form into gas discs, Priya Natarajan, a theoretical astrophysicist explained. Instabilities in these discs caused the swirling effect, in which the gas begins to funnel from the outside in.

The funneling can be likened to tornado formation. "The flow is like a tornado vortex," Natarajan said. "Very rapid, dramatic and violent. And it can happen quickly."

Scientists this week announced the discovery of a population of hyperactive, baby black holes growing with their host galaxies. They represent the oldest black holes ever found, and are possibly caused by this funneling phenomenon, said Natarajan, also one of the authors of the study. The black holes date back to 800 million years after the Big Bang -- that's 12.7 billion years ago.

This is extremely young in cosmic time. To put it in perspective, our universe is now 13.7 billion years old -- these black holes existed in its infancy.

The black holes are of the supermassive variety, though they haven't yet reached full mass. And data indicates that they are closely linked to the formation of their galaxies.

"We believe that the growth of black holes and the growth of galaxies are symbiotically linked," said Schawinski, also a study author. "We're pushing all the way to the very, very beginning of the universe and asking questions about how this relationship works and how it began."

The finding, released this week in the journal, Nature, is based on computer models using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Scientists pointed Chandra at the exact patch of sky where the Hubble Space Telescope had spotted baby galaxies, and observed it for 45 days.

They searched for X-ray emissions as markers to detect active, or feeding, black holes. As matter falls into dark holes, it emits energetic X-rays. Schawinski calls them "the final death scream."

It turns out more than 30 percent of distant galaxies contained black holes, but it took years to find them, because they were shrouded in cosmic dust. "It took seven years to detect the first signatures of growing supermassive black holes," said Ezequiel Treister, the study's lead author.

This is the first time that we're pinpointing when these black holes were forming and growing, and "we're also getting the first clues as to how these black holes grew," said Mitchell Begelman of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who was not involved in the study, but participated in a June 15 NASA presser on the subject.

Still in question, though, is how these black holes formed. Was it from massive discs of gas collapsing under their own gravity straight down into a black hole, or was it from the death of the first generation of stars, believed to be much more massive than the typical star?

The hope, scientists say, is to use Hubble and Chandra to push even farther back into the past to answer these questions, and figure out how these things formed.

This finding is not going to make anybody's life better, but it's important for human discovery and curiosity, Natarajan said. Cosmologists, she said, are the armchair explorers of our generation. And it's fun work, she added.

"I can't imagine doing anything else," she said. "I really can't imagine doing anything else."

COMMENT: You may have heard the term "Event Horizon" (there is a movie with the same title). It is "the point of no return" around a Black Hole, a spherical boarder. That is where the x-rays are given off.

TECHNOLOGY - Self-Learning Robots, Computers

"Can Robots Learn to Learn?"
PBS Newshour 6/24/2011

Then there's Watson, "Smartest Machine on Earth" NOVA, PBS (full episode) 2/9/2011

Watson is a self-learning computer that won on a live Jeopardy! show.

AFRICA - The Sudan Split, Update

"Violence Erupts in Sudan as National Split Nears"
PBS Newshour 6/28/2011

HEALTH - Gee-Whiz Technology, Bionics

"Minds, Machines Merge to Offer New Hope for Overcoming Impairments"
PBS Newshour 6/28/2011

COMMENT: There is another movie link in this piece, The Matrix. The heroes have jacks on their heads that they use to plug-in to the Matrix AI computer.

POLITICS - Republican Holding America Hostage, Again

"Republicans never demanded spending cuts to raise the debt ceiling under Bush" by Ryan Witt, 6/28/2011

Congressional Republicans are currently taking a hardline stance with the White House and Democratic leaders in the negotiations over the debt ceiling. The United States has already hit the statutory debt limit, but the Treasury Department is keeping the United States out of default through a number of “extraordinary measures.” Sometime in August those “extraordinary measures” will be exhausted, and the result could be an “economic catastrophe” according to economists. Republicans are insisting on significant deal to cut trillions in spending before they agree to raise the debt limit, but a look back in history shows the GOP was not always so demanding.

As Think Progress documents, the Republicans in Congress voted 19 times to increase the debt limit under the presidency of George W. Bush. The debt limit was increased by over $4 trillion during the Bush years, and the Republicans required no offsetting spending cuts or tax increases in order to raise the debt ceiling. The current “big four” Republicans leaders (Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Whip Jon Ky) all voted “yea” for well over $3 trillion in debt limit increases without any demands for spending cuts.

Some might argue that the Democrats controlled the Congress for some of the Bush presidency, and while that is partially true, from 2002 to 2006 the Republicans had control of both chambers of Congress, and they voted for three massive debt limit increases in that time with no demands for spending cuts.

However, in 2011 Republicans are not only making demands before a debt ceiling increase, but also being very uncompromising according to some reports. The White House and congressional Democrats have reportedly agreed to $2 trillion in painful spending cuts that Republicans requested. Democrats then wanted to start talking about raising $400 billion by raising revenue, mostly through the closing of corporate tax loopholes. When the discussion turned to revenue risers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked out of the negotiations. Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they will accept absolutely no revenue raisers in the debt ceiling deal.

Conservatives attempt to justify the change of stance by saying they have now come to realize the serious debt situation the country is in. However, for Democrats the Republicans’ changed ways wreak of hypocrisy.

Republicans, willing to put the credit worthiness of the U.S., AND our economic recovery, at risk for political gain. (It's not us, it's all Obama's fault!)

POLITICS - The Republican Gaff Queen Announces

"Bachmann’s Waterloo" by Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Wendy Zhao, and Dave Bloom; 6/28/2011


The GOP lawmaker's presidential campaign starts with a slew of off-base claims.


Rep. Michele Bachmann officially joined the presidential campaign trail, but made a flurry of false and misleading claims along the way.

The Minnesota Republican appeared on two Sunday talk shows the day before giving her formal announcement speech in Waterloo, Iowa. On the shows, she made false statements about income from her family farm and government subsidies to her husband's business. She also made misstatements regarding earmarks, federal pay, government-owned "limousines" and health care:
  • Bachmann falsely claimed that she and her husband "have never gotten a penny" from a family farm that received federal subsidies. But she reported income from the farm in 2006, 2008 and 2009 — the most recent year available — on her congressional financial disclosure statements.

  • She claimed she had been "faithful" to her pledge not to request federal earmarks. But she requested $40 million in transportation earmarks in the 2009 fiscal year budget after taking the pledge, later claiming such projects should not be subjected to her promise. She withdrew her requests after the House Republicans took a party position in 2010 not to seek earmarks.

  • Bachmann wrongly blamed President Obama for increasing the number of federal transportation workers who earn more than $170,000 from one to 1,690 during the recession. At least two-thirds of those employees were receiving more than $170,000 before Obama took office.

  • She criticized the president for a 73 percent increase in government "limousines." But one department accounted for the increase, and it had a long-term plan, pre-dating Obama, to add armored vehicles. The term "limousine" includes armored vehicles and sedans, not just actual limos.

  • She claimed government money received by her husband's counseling clinics did not benefit the business, because the funds paid for employee training. It's true the clinics received $24,041 for training, but the business received thousands more in government funds, including money for treating crime victims.

  • The three-term congresswoman repeated — on two Sunday shows — the false claim that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the federal health care law will "cost the economy 800,000 jobs." The CBO never said that. It said there will be a "small" impact on jobs.

When she got to Waterloo to deliver her first official campaign speech, Bachmann made her now viral gaffe in saying that tough-guy actor John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. The Duke was born in Winterset, Iowa, and was raised in California. It was John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, who was from Waterloo.

The full article has detailed analysis (with quotes) and sources list.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ON THE LITE SIDE - A Heart Warming Story, 9/11 Teens

"Justin Bieber's Pal President Obama Introduces Him To 9/11 Teens" by Billy Johnson Jr, YaHoo Music Blogs 6/27/2011

Justin Bieber is right. It's best to keep an optimistic outlook and to "never say never."

Justin fan Payton Wall's dream came true last week when she met the teen idol, the result of a favor from President Barack Obama who promised to facilitate an introduction to the pop star after receiving a 1,500-word email from the teen, whose father died on 9/11.

Payton said Justin's documentary "Never Say Never" helped her cope with the loss of her dad, Glen James Wall, who was a Cantor Fitzgerald executive who worked in the twin towers. Payton, her sister Ashley, and her friend Madison Robertson -- whose father Donny Robertson also worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died on 9/11 -- met Justin last week during the pop star's stop at Macy's in New York's Herald Square to promote his new fragrance, Someday.

"It was so cool. I couldn't even believe it," Payton told the New York Post. "He said, 'Hi.' He was asking us about the perfume and if we were wearing it."

"He was really nice and is so cute," Ashley said. "He didn't even look real."

Payton was surprised when Obama replied to her email. "I never thought he'd respond," she told the Post in May. "I was so shocked when the White House called! It was all a dream come true." Payton had previously sent a message to Justin via Twitter and also letters to Hollywood executives to no avail.

Payton said Justin's life story, as chronicled in "Never Say Never," made her want to share her own hardships. "We were so amazed by his story and how he never said never," she said. "It inspired us to believe in ourselves and share our story to encourage others."

Obama received Payton's letter the day after Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Moved by Payton's personal story, Obama invited the teen, her mother, and sister to the Ground Zero ceremony in May.

When meeting Obama in person, Payton again inquired about meeting Justin, and the president said he would help.

Payton said she didn't just write the letter in hopes of meeting the "Baby" singer. "I did it to honor my father," she said. "My father is the reason that we all came together today. I miss and love him and don't go a day without thinking about him."

SUPREME COURT - California Video Game Law

"Citing Violence in Fairy Tales, Justices Strike Down Calif. Video Game Law" PBS Newshour Transcript 6/27/2011


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): The Supreme Court ended its term today with a pair of major decisions that turned on the constitutional right to free speech. By 7-2, they agreed to throw out a California statute that banned the sale and rental of violent video games to minors. Supporters of the law argued that the games allow children to simulate grotesque acts of violence.

But the video game industry said the games should be treated like any other form of entertainment. The court also struck down a provision of Arizona's campaign finance system that provides extra money to publicly funded candidates when they face well-funded rivals.

Joining us now to discuss the court's final rulings of the session is NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal."

Marcia, starting with this California statute that was tossed out, give us the genesis of this.

MARCIA COYLE, "The National Law Journal": OK.

California passed the law 2005 that prohibited the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone under the age of 18. And a violent video game, they defined, was one that gave the player the option of killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting a human image.

It also lacked -- would lack any serious literacy, artistic, political, or scientific value and would appeal to a minor's morbid or deviant interests.

GWEN IFILL: Well, how do all of those things -- that sounds pretty awful.


GWEN IFILL: How does killing, maiming, dismembering, and sexual assault fit under the rubric of free speech protection?

MARCIA COYLE: Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for a 7-2 majority today.

And he said, basically, California was asking the court to create a new category of unprotected speech. The court has found unprotected speech in only a handful of cases, things like obscenity, fighting words. He said that there was no long history or tradition in this country of prescribing minors' access to violent content.

And he gave as an example Grimm's fairy tales, which he said were grim indeed. And he said, for example, Cinderella's three evil step-sisters had their eyes plucked out by doves. Hansel and Gretel got rid of their captor by baking her in an oven.

GWEN IFILL: But the reader of those books didn't actually pick up a virtual gun and pluck out the eyes of Cinderella's sisters. So -- so, you -- what's in these games that we're talking about. They're very -- probably, anybody with a teenager at home is familiar with them.

MARCIA COYLE: Right. Right.

What's in the -- exactly in the games?

GWEN IFILL: Yes. I mean, what, shooting, running blood?

MARCIA COYLE: There is everything. There's shooting. There's killing. There's rape. There's urinating on women or children.

The next step for Justice Scalia, though, was to say, OK, California, you have this law. In order to pass scrutiny under the First Amendment, there has to be a compelling reason for the law. And the law also has to be narrowly drawn to achieve that interest.

California argued that there were studies showing that you could -- you could link the playing of these violent video games to increased aggression in minors. Justice Scalia said the studies weren't sufficient, that they were conflicting. They were inconclusive.

So there was -- the compelling interest wasn't there. He also said it wasn't narrowly drawn. For example, it was underinclusive. It only singled out violent video games, not violent books, not violent movies. And it was overinclusive. There are actually some minors whose parents don't care if their children have these violent video games. But they were swept in to the prohibition as well.

GWEN IFILL: So, there -- it was 7-2. So there were two dissents.


GWEN IFILL: Who dissented and why?

MARCIA COYLE: The real dissents were by Justice Thomas and Justice Breyer.

Justice Thomas has long believed that the drafters of the First Amendment never envisioned minors having First Amendment rights or access to speech except through parents or guardians. That ended it for him. This law was constitutional.

Justice Breyer felt that there was sufficient evidence here that the court should defer to the legislature's judgment in California, that this law should be upheld. He asked, for example, does it make sense, under the court's precedents, that you can prohibit the sale of a magazine showing nude women to a 13-year-old boy, and yet you're going to protect the sale of a video game in which that same 13-year-old, acting virtually, bind, gag and kill a woman?

There is one inaccurate measure used by Justice Scalia (if the report is accurate), parents who allow their child to have violent video games are NOT effected by the California law. Parents can still buy the game for their child, the law just prohibits sale directly to children.

ENERGY - What is Your Home's Biggest Energy Hog?

"Atop TV Sets, a Power Drain That Runs Nonstop" by ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, New York Times 6/25/2011


Those little boxes that usher cable signals and digital recording capacity into televisions have become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, with some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.

There are 160 million so-called set-top boxes in the United States, one for every two people, and that number is rising. Many homes now have one or more basic cable boxes as well as add-on DVRs, or digital video recorders, which use 40 percent more power than the set-top box.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

“People in the energy efficiency community worry a lot about these boxes, since they will make it more difficult to lower home energy use,” said John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation. “Companies say it can’t be done or it’s too expensive. But in my experience, neither one is true. It can be done, and it often doesn’t cost much, if anything.”

The perpetually “powered on” state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, which are related to the way cable networks function in the United States. Fixes exist, but they are not currently being mandated or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Similar devices in some European countries, for example, can automatically go into standby mode when not in use, cutting power drawn by half. They can also go into an optional “deep sleep,” which can reduce energy consumption by about 95 percent compared with when the machine is active.

Another example of "it can be done better" from outside of the U.S.

One note from this techie: Your cable box SHOULD be on all the time to allow firmware (in the box) to be updated without disturbing your viewing, but this can still be done if there was a Standby Mode, the update would simply wakeup the box. Being on all the time also takes care of area outages, allows resetting of your box even if you're not home.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Homophobic Conservatives LOOSE Big-Time

"New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law" by NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and MICHAEL BARBARO, New York Times 6/24/2011


Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”

Senate approval was the final hurdle for the same-sex marriage legislation, which was approved last week by the Assembly. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the measure at 11:55 p.m., and the law will go into effect in 30 days, meaning that same-sex couples could begin marrying in New York by late July.

Passage of same-sex marriage here followed a daunting run of defeats in other states where voters barred same-sex marriage by legislative action, constitutional amendment or referendum. Just five states currently permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

At around 10:30 p.m., moments after the vote was announced, Mr. Cuomo strode onto the Senate floor to wave at cheering supporters who had crowded into the galleries to watch. Trailed by two of his daughters, the governor greeted lawmakers, and paused to single out those Republicans who had defied the majority of their party to support the marriage bill.

“How do you feel?” he asked Senator James S. Alesi, a suburban Rochester Republican who voted against the measure in 2009 and was the first to break party ranks this year. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

The approval of same-sex marriage represented a reversal of fortune for gay-rights advocates, who just two years ago suffered a humiliating defeat when a same-sex marriage bill was easily rejected by the Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats. This year, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, the odds against passage of same-sex marriage appeared long.

"Behind N.Y. Gay Marriage, an Unlikely Mix of Forces" by MICHAEL BARBARO, New York Times 6/25/2011


In the 35th-floor conference room of a Manhattan high-rise, two of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most trusted advisers held a secret meeting a few weeks ago with a group of super-rich Republican donors.

Over tuna and turkey sandwiches, the advisers explained that New York’s Democratic governor was determined to legalize same-sex marriage and would deliver every possible Senate vote from his own party.

Would the donors win over the deciding Senate Republicans? It sounded improbable: top Republican moneymen helping a Democratic rival with one of his biggest legislative goals.

But the donors in the room — the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.

Within days, the wealthy Republicans sent back word: They were on board. Each of them cut six-figure checks to the lobbying campaign that eventually totaled more than $1 million.

Steve Cohen, the No. 2 in Mr. Cuomo’s office and a participant in the meeting, began to see a path to victory, telling a colleague, “This might actually happen.”

The story of how same-sex marriage became legal in New York is about shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed.

But, behind the scenes, it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition.

And it was about a Democratic governor, himself a Catholic, who used the force of his personality and relentlessly strategic mind to persuade conflicted lawmakers to take a historic leap.

“I can help you,” Mr. Cuomo assured them in dozens of telephone calls and meetings, at times pledging to deploy his record-high popularity across the state to protect them in their districts. “I am more of an asset than the vote will be a liability.”

The remainder of the NYT article contains the details of the "closed-door meetings and tactical decisions that led to approval of same-sex marriage."

"After N.Y. Passes Same-Sex Marriage Law, What's Next for Proponents, Foes?"
PBS Newshour 6/27/2011

A blow FOR Human Rights, equal treatment under the law (Constitutional Right), and AGAINST the homophobic conservative movement.

There is no more sacred Human Right than the relationship between consenting adults.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

HEALTH - Glen Campbell, Alzheimer's

"Glen Campbell and Alzheimer's disease" Los Angeles Times Editorial 6/24/2011


The Grammy Award-winning singer Glen Campbell announced this week that he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. And then he said he'd be going on the road for a farewell tour.

It's not unusual for a public figure to reveal a diagnosis of the insidious disease. Former President Reagan told the world of his battle with Alzheimer's in a poignant letter in 1994. Actor Charlton Heston disclosed, via a taped statement, that he was suffering from symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's. Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver's 2003 diagnosis was also announced. Although Heston and Shriver later made occasional appearances — and the "Ben Hur" star gave an interview — those prominent men essentially exited the public stage. Or to quote Heston quoting Shakespeare in his statement, they bade farewell and "melted into air, into thin air."

What's extraordinary about the 75-year-old Campbell, who revealed his illness in an interview with People magazine, is his intention to stay in the spotlight — and ask his fans' indulgence. That decision, if he can carry it out, is a milestone in the fight against Alzheimer's, a disease that currently has no cure, afflicts 5 million Americans and will only strike more as baby boomers age.

Campbell's tour is an opportunity to show not only how widespread this disease is but that life goes on even after one is diagnosed with it. Like Michael J. Fox, who has put a working actor's face on living with Parkinson's disease, Campbell — the singer known for such country pop classics as "Wichita Lineman" and "Rhinestone Cowboy" — can put a face on living with Alzheimer's.

I have intimate family experience, my sister had Alzheimer's.

NEWSHOUR - Shilds and Brooks 6/24/2011

"Shields, Brooks on GOP Tax Divide, Obama's Troop Drawdown, Debt Ceiling Debate"
PBS Newshour 6/24/2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

POLITICS - Ryan Health Plan the Worse

"Poll: Ryan Health Plan Would be Worse, 57%-34%" by Heidi Przybyla, Bloomberg 6/22/2011

Representative Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who has become a star in the Republican Party with his plan to overhaul Medicare, is emerging as a polarizing figure among Americans.

Twenty-six percent of people view the Wisconsin lawmaker unfavorably while 23 percent see him favorably, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted June 17-20.

The only public figures in the survey with higher net unfavorable ratings than Ryan, who six months ago was known chiefly to his southeast Wisconsin constituents and health- policy experts, were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“I don’t like the focus he’s made, and I don’t like the programs he’s playing with,” says poll respondent Jason Young, 37, a video game producer from Novato, California, and an independent. “Ryan’s plan is too Draconian, and I think the cuts on Medicare he’s proposing are unfair and unrealistic.”

Even so, Young and other respondents credit Ryan for proposing a plan to balance the federal budget, echoing praise from Republican leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner.

“It takes some intestinal fortitude to actually step forward with a plan when nobody else has,” says Ted Olsen, 44, a Lutheran minister from Kiel, Wisconsin, and an independent.

Election Issue

By a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent, poll respondents say they would be worse off if Ryan’s plan to convert Medicare to a system of subsidized private health coverage were adopted. Fifty-eight percent of independents, a critical voting bloc in recent elections, say they would be worse off.

That’s likely to encourage Democrats to bank their success in next year’s presidential and congressional races on tying Republicans to the Medicare plan, which was passed by the Republican-controlled House on April 15.

Ryan’s proposal for the federal health-insurance plan that serves seniors was approved with no Democratic support and all but four Republicans voting in favor. The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected it last month.

President Barack Obama’s new health-care law gets a more favorable reaction. The poll of 1,000 adults found that 51 percent of all Americans say that while the law may need modification, it shouldn’t be repealed, and another 11 percent say it should be left alone. That compares with 35 percent who want the new law overturned.

Partisan Rift

There is a strong partisan divide over whether the law should be repealed, with Democrats more unified than Republicans. Eighty-nine percent of Democrats say the law should stay in place, though most prefer some changes, while 64 percent of Republicans say it should be repealed. Sixty-one percent of independents support the plan, with most wanting modifications, while 35 percent oppose it.

“Health care is a basic human right,” said Edward Feikes, a 78-year-old retired school teacher from New Carlisle, Indiana. “Government has to be more involved than private insurance.”

Republicans have attacked the Obama plan, signed into law last year, as too costly and say its mandate that all Americans either obtain insurance or pay a fine is unconstitutional.

More Americans disapprove than approve of Obama’s overall handling of health care, by a 50 percent to 45 percent margin.

Political Divide

Americans are also divided by politics over the Ryan plan, which calls for converting the traditional Medicare program to a system of subsidized private coverage starting with people who turn 65 in 2022.

Forty-seven percent of Republicans say they’d be better off under the plan, while 46 percent say they would be worse off, according to the poll. Just 29 percent of Democrats say they would be better off. Forty-six percent of Americans under 35 say they would be better off under the proposal, while 61 percent of those 35 and older say they’d be worse off. Sixty-three percent of those 55 and older say they would be worse off, while 26 percent say it would be better for them.

Under the plan, new Medicare beneficiaries could select from a list of guaranteed coverage options, and the government would provide money to subsidize the cost of that plan.

Rachel McCulley, a 22-year-old employment consultant for the disabled and a Democrat, said many Americans would probably fare better under Ryan’s plan because they would have a broader array of health-care options.

“Consumer choice is very important,” she said. Still, McCulley, who lives in Bear, Delaware, has concerns about the financial impact on seniors if the program is privatized.

‘Why Medicare Exists’

“That’s why Medicare exists, for the people who can’t afford health care,” she says.

Ryan argues that his budget blueprint would allow the government to control the rate of growth of Medicare, one of the biggest drivers of the long-term U.S. deficit. Democrats say it would saddle the elderly with skyrocketing medical bills and limit their access to health care while doing little to control the underlying costs of the system.

Respondents say they trust Obama’s party, the Democrats, more than Republicans to do a better job of dealing with Medicare, by 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent not sure. Independents give Democrats a 14-percentage-point advantage over Republicans when it comes to handling Medicare.

Embracing Some Parts

While Americans fear they would do worse under Ryan’s Medicare proposal, they embrace some of its provisions. About two-thirds of respondents from both parties say Congress and the president should implement means-testing, or reduce Medicare benefits for wealthy Americans, to shore up the program’s finances.

Public sentiment splits about evenly when it comes to placing new limits on medical services covered by Medicare, one of three options for adjusting the current system presented to survey respondents. Republicans are slightly more supportive of this measure, at 54 percent, compared with 46 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents.

The most unpopular of the three options is raising payroll taxes on employees and employers to help shore up Medicare, with 56 percent of Americans in opposition, compared with 41 percent favoring this option. A majority of Democrats, 53 percent, support this idea, while a strong majority of Republicans, 73 percent, are opposed.

The poll was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa- based firm. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Now "means-testing" is an idea I like, as long as "they" can come up with a fair test. As for the rich, why should they get Medicare at all? They can afford to directly pay for their own health care.

ECONOMY - State Pension Plans, Safe?

"Is Your Pension Safe? States Struggle With Pricey Challenges" PBS Newshour Transcript 6/22/2011 (includes video)


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Cities and states around the country are pushing to overhaul or make changes to pension plans. This week alone, there are big votes in Atlanta and New Jersey.

Tonight, in his third story from Rhode Island, economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at the debate over how to calculate investment returns for that state's troubled pension fund.

It's part of his ongoing reporting effort, Making Sense of financial news.

GINA RAIMONDO, Rhode Island treasurer: I would like to call the meeting to order and ask Frank to call the roll.

MAN: Thank you, treasurer.

PAUL SOLMAN: Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, presiding over the board that runs the state's $7 billion pension fund.

GINA RAIMONDO: We're still about a billion dollar off of where we were before the market crashed, when we were at $8.4 billion.

PAUL SOLMAN: The fund is now billions in the hole, in part because of past investment assumptions that proved too bullish.

JOSEPH NEWTON, actuary: What we're trying to do is set kind of the most probable scenario that we believe will come to play based on the data that we have today.

PAUL SOLMAN: The question here is one confronting states across the country. What's a realistic rate-of-return assumption? The answer could mean higher taxes, lower pensions, bitter politics.

GINA RAIMONDO: I'm going to ask you to please put the politics aside. I know there are pressures. I feel these pressures myself.

PAUL SOLMAN: Like most states, Rhode Island invests about 60 percent in stocks. But, over the past decade, the market has barely budged.

Consultant Allan Emkin:

ALLAN EMKIN, Pension Consulting Alliance: The 2001 tech bubble, the credit bubble in 2007-2008, over those two periods, you had a 70 percent cumulative loss, and, effectively, over the whole period, the equity market generated zero. You had a lost decade.

PAUL SOLMAN: Since most of the other 40 percent is invested in low- paying bonds, the hired experts told Rhode Island: Get real. Drop your assumed rate of return from the current 8.25 percent per year to 7.5.

The problem is, the lower the assumed rate of return, the greater the official underfunding of the retirement plan, the more that taxpayers or workers must contribute to make up the shortfall that would arise from a more sober assumption.

Public employees, who make up almost half the board, were unhappy.

Said retired engineer Michael Boyce:

MICHAEL BOYCE, state retiree: Quite frankly, I'm not going to vote for 7.5.

PAUL SOLMAN: That's because dropping the rate to 7.5 percent would force the state to come up with some $300 million more every year to replenish the fund, a huge hit to angry taxpayers, or their new scapegoats, state employees.

So, board lawyer Michael Robinson, pushing to cut the rate assumption, targeted workers like Boyce.

MICHAEL ROBINSON, board lawyer: To act contrary to the recommendations of your expert without a sound and considered basis in fact would really constitute a breach of your fiduciary obligations.

MICHAEL BOYCE: If I follow Mike's rationale, I would guess that we shouldn't even have to be here, because, if the actuary says 7.8, do 7.8.

MICHAEL ROBINSON: No, no, not at all, Mike.

MICHAEL BOYCE: I have the floor, please. I'm taking offense at almost being told that I better vote to what exactly he said.

PAUL SOLMAN: Richard Licht, state director of administration, sided with the experts.

RICHARD LICHT, Rhode Island director of administration: While reasonable people can differ, past experience shows we should be a little more on the cautious side. That's all. And I will vote yes.

PAUL SOLMAN: But some prominent economists say even a 7.5 percent target is far too high.

ZVI BODIE, Boston University: They should be using something like 4.5 percent, because, over any time period, there is no guarantee whatsoever that that portfolio of stocks and bonds is going to produce enough to pay the promised benefits.

PAUL SOLMAN: Finance Professor Zvi Bodie says that, to earn more, pension funds have to make risky investments that could fail, in order to pay for benefits that are guaranteed.

So, why not invest all the money in safe U.S. Treasuries, which have been paying about 4-4.5 percent lately? That way, the pension fund earnings will also be guaranteed?

ZVI BODIE: Those are long-term obligations which are going to be paid for sure. Pension benefits are just like that.

PAUL SOLMAN: By contrast, Bodie points out, stocks are subject to all sorts of risks. Imagine the reaction to, say, an act of nuclear terrorism, a tsunami that floods New York, a meteor barrage that signals the attack of a killer asteroid? OK, Hollywood scare films may seem a bit extreme for pension planning.

But, says Bodie, back in 1989, when the Japanese stock market peaked, the disaster there since would also have been utterly implausible.

ZVI BODIE: You and I both remember in the 1980s how everyone you talked to thought the Japanese economy was overtaking the U.S. economy. Twenty-two years have gone by since then, and the market in the U.S. is up. The Japanese, who were supposed to outperform us, the market is now roughly a quarter of what it was.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, what about a Japan-like catastrophe? We asked Pension Consultant Emkin.

ALLAN EMKIN: Could it happen? Yes. Is it likely? In my opinion, no. Do you plan for the worst possible event, or do you plan for the most likely event, or do you plan for an average?

DEAN BAKER, Center for Economic and Policy Research: We can't plan our lives as though we're going have a complete economic disaster.

PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Dean Baker echoes the consultants, and makes the case that you hear from unions, too -- 7.5 percent is the least a state should assume, because its pension fund is eternal.

DEAN BAKER: Governments are in a different situation from individuals. We, as individuals, are all going have finite lives. The market has its ups and downs, so it might just be the case we plan to retire in three years, and it turns out, bad news for us, the market just fell 20 percent. State and local governments are going be there indefinitely.

PAUL SOLMAN: Moreover, says Baker, if you play it too safe, you're probably investing more conservatively than taxpayers or pensioners would want you to.

DEAN BAKER: Most people, in their own investments, certainly anyone who has a 401(k), they are willing to take some risk. And it's a little perverse if we say, here, you could have an individual taking risks with the stock market, individuals knowing that things happen, that you're going to have to retire at a certain point in time, and, on the other hand, we have the government that's going to be there, in principle, forever, and they can't take the risk. That would seem very perverse to me.

PAUL SOLMAN: But the government entity is taking a risk with its taxpayers' money.

DEAN BAKER: There's no way to avoid that. We'd be asking people, do you want to pay higher taxes in order to avoid taking the risk in the stock market? I think most people would say no to that.

ZVI BODIE: The stock market has been misbehaving.

PAUL SOLMAN: But Professor Bodie says that, if pension funds don't make their assumed rates of return, the taxpayers will be in for a shock and higher taxes at that point.

ZVI BODIE: If things don't work out, taxes are going to have to be higher on the next generation of taxpayers to pay the current generation's pension benefits.

Now, I say that's fine, as long as everybody knows that is the risk that is being taken. But, of course, nobody knows that, right?

PAUL SOLMAN: Treasurer Raimondo is trying to steer a middle course on risk. At a women's shelter she helped build, she explained that cautious investing is expensive. Taxes rise. Services, like this one, get cut.

But, at the other extreme, over-optimism could mean failure and an empty till when retirees are due their money.

GINA RAIMONDO: Because I care about state employees, I want to make sure their pension is there for them. And because I care about all of Rhode Island, including the women who are here, I want to make sure the state can afford and have enough money left for all the other services that we need.

PAUL SOLMAN: Back at the retirement board meeting, the vote on lowering the assumed rate of return.

MAN: Treasurer Raimondo.


MAN: Richard Licht.


MAN: Roger Boudreau.

MAN: No.

MAN: Michael Boyce.


PAUL SOLMAN: By 9-6, the board cut the assumption to 7.5 percent, low compared to other states.

GINA RAIMONDO: On the basis of what we have heard from our financial advisers, it was prudent to assume 7.5 percent. Having said that, if we keep benefits the same and the investment return comes down, the taxpayer will pay more.

PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, the board has since voted to hike taxpayer pension contributions by 50 percent. The lower rate of return and the higher contributions go into effect next year. Raimondo says the fund is still in crisis, however, while it continues to place most of its bets on stocks, like pretty much every state in the union.

Note that the problem of Rhode Island's pensions is because it's based on the Stock Market (like many retirement programs). Now consider that this same scheme is what Republicans propose for Social Security "Privatization" (making it dependent on the Stock Market).

AFGHANISTAN - President Obama's Speech 6/22/2011

"Obama Picks Pace of Drawdown From Afghanistan, America's Longest War"
PBS Newshour 6/22/2011

"President Obama on the Way Forward in Afghanistan"
Speech to the Nation 6/22/2011

"How Will Drawdown Affect U.S. Mission in Afghanistan?"
PBS Newshour 6/22/2011

MEDIA - Contradictionary, "Randdate"

Countdown Contradictionary
Rand-date (n)
new words and phrases for a new political age

The "Contradictionary" is a Countdown OnLine feature.

AMERICA - Do We Stand Up For Freedom?

"The New Isolationism - Right and Left Unite" by Cliff Wilson, Cliff's Notes 6/22/2011


Today’s new isolationism is an amalgamation of two distinct philosophical viewpoints. The radical right wing Republicans are now opposed to the Afghan war and the Libyan action for two reasons 1)Obama is now Commander in Chief and 2)they see no reason why America should help other people gain freedom or retain freedom. Since they see no role for government in helping people here maintain their rights or their livelihood why should we expect them to care about other people in far away nations. The liberals, who have found their voice in opposition to Libya (they have been reticent about Afghanistan because the commander in chief is now their leader), come from a tradition of non-military intervention. They support freedom for Libya, they oppose genocide in Darfur and Al Qaeda control in Yemen but “no boots on the ground” has become their non-interventionist mantra.

So now the right wing Republicans have returned to their isolationist roots and the liberals to their anti-militarist underpinnings to join in opposing the Libyan action; just as the Republicans opposed Clinton’s use of air power with NATO to stop the genocide in Kosovo.

History clearly shows that economic sanctions, moral suasion, or diplomatic pressure rarely impacts on a well armed dictatorial regime. And, while air and naval power without ground forces has not proven an effective quick way to take out a dictator there is some evidence that it may work. It is certainly worth trying as an alternative to losing thousands of lives sending in troops.

The larger question before Americans is this: are we to give up a role as the world symbol of democracy and freedom? Does the Statue of Liberty stand for the 20th century only? Are we going to become Fortress America or an island unto ourselves? There was a time in our country when our leaders and our people believed that freedom denied anyone anywhere denied freedom to everyone everywhere. There was a time in our country when committed to a better life for all Americans we were willing to likewise do what we could to help all peoples.

So, "ARE we to give up a role as the world symbol of democracy and freedom?" My answer, no. We have a moral duty to stand up for freedom, everywhere, IF we are the America I love.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

AFGHANISTAN - Countdown Special Comment 6/21/2011

Special Comment: Why We Must Leave Afghanistan. Now.
Countdown with Keith Olbermann

AFGHANISTAN - President Obama's Speech, Opinion

"First Thoughts: Declaring success" by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg; NBC News 6/22/2011


*** Declaring success: When President Obama announced his troop surge in Afghanistan back in Dec. 2009, he said that the “overarching goal” was to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The president went on to say, “To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives… We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government, so they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.” In his 8:00 pm ET speech tonight on Afghanistan, Obama is expected to essentially respond to that paragraph from 2009 and say that progress has been achieved on all three fronts. And he might even say publicly what officials have been privately touting: that al Qaeda has been operationally defeated and essentially destroyed in the Af-Pak region, with the bin Laden kill being the symbolic exclamation point.

*** Obama’s political cover: The troop withdrawal that the president will announce concerns the 30,000 surge troops, not the total force in Afghanistan. There is no doubt that high-ranking officials in the U.S. military, including Gen. David Petraeus, want those surge troops to stay a bit longer there. But politically, Obama has more leeway than he’s ever had before. Just listen to what Mitt Romney said about Afghanistan in last week’s GOP debate. And listen to what Jon Huntsman said on “TODAY” this morning: “We can probably be a little more aggressive [on withdrawal] over the next year… What we need now is a healthy dose of nation-building at home.” One additional point: Tonight’s speech probably buys Obama a little more space on Libya. Why? Because, for another day or two, it puts THAT conflict on A4, and that's all the U.S. wants now is time as they continue to believe they are this close to forcing Khadaffy out.

*** But still a challenge for the president: Yet even though Obama can declare success regarding al Qaeda, and even though he has more GOP political cover on withdrawal, Afghanistan remains a challenge for him. As the Washington Post notes, “His prime-time address must remind a skeptical electorate and a concerned Congress that the country’s longest war remains worth fighting — and funding — for several more years.” The New York Times adds, “[B]ehind his words will be an acute awareness of what $1.3 trillion in spending on two wars in the past decade has meant at home: a ballooning budget deficit and a soaring national debt at a time when the economy is still struggling to get back on its feet.”

ENVIRONMENT - Gore on President Obama's Climate Policies

"Gore Criticizes Obama on Climate" by JOHN M. BRODER, New York Times 6/22/2011


Former Vice President Al Gore harshly criticizes President Obama for lack of leadership on climate change in a magazine essay published online Wednesday, saying that he had barely moved American policy on global warming since assuming the presidency from George W. Bush.

In the 7,000-word article in Rolling Stone, Mr. Gore says that Mr. Obama clearly understands the threat to the planet posed by global warming and that he has appointed a number of qualified and committed advocates to key positions.

But Mr. Gore charges that in the face of well-financed attacks from fossil fuel industries and denial and delay from Republicans in Congress, Mr. Obama has failed to act decisively to alter the nation’s policies on climate change and energy.

Addressing climate change on a national and international level will require forceful American leadership, Mr. Gore says.

“Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis,” Mr. Gore writes. “He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.”

The White House had no immediate official response to Mr. Gore’s comments, but one aide noted that much of the article was devoted to criticism of the media and the Congress and that it was not solely aimed at Mr. Obama.

SCIENCE - Crash of 4 Galaxy Clusters?

"Strange Galaxy Cluster Born From Huge Cosmic Crash" by Staff, 6/22/2011


A distant galaxy cluster was spawned by a huge cosmic smash-up of four different clusters, which lasted hundreds of millions of years, a new study suggests.

A team of scientists pieced together the violent history of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, also known as Pandora's Cluster, using several different telescopes in space and on the ground. Abell 2744 seems to be the result of a merger of four separate clusters that took place over a period of 350 million years, researchers said.

"We nicknamed it Pandora’s Cluster because so many different and strange phenomena were unleashed by the collision," said study author Renato Dupke, of the University of Michigan, in a statement. "Some of these phenomena had never been seen before."

A huge, distant cluster

Galaxy clusters — groupings of hundreds of individual galaxies — are the largest structures in the universe bound together by gravity. Abell 2744 is located a little more than 3 billion light-years away from our own Milky Way.

WAR ON TERROR - Yemen, Not Good News

"Islamic militants escape from Yemeni prison" by Mohammed al-Qadhi and Debbi Wilgoren, Washington Post 6/22/2011


More than 60 suspected al-Qaeda militants escaped from a jail in southern Yemen on Wednesday through a tunnel, authorities said, the latest sign that insurgents are capitalizing on the political unrest that has rocked the country for months.

The inmates dug the 50-yard-long tunnel themselves, said one official at the jail, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details of the escape.

They attacked a guard with daggers, snatched his gun and fired it as they were making their escape, the official told The Washington Post. One guard was fatally shot, and another was wounded.

The Associated Press reported that bands of gunmen attacked the prison from the outside just as the prisoners were escaping, opening fire on guards to divert their attention from the escape.

NASA - Closeup Look at Discovery

"Space Shuttle Discovery Smithsonian preparations: Get closer than ever with NASA up close behind the scenes tour"
By Grayson Kamm, 10 News WTSP

Excerpt from transcript

Before sending Space Shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian, NASA let our cameras into the shuttle's hangar to get you closer than ever before.

A dwindling but dedicated team of Floridians has been preparing space shuttles for launch at Kennedy Space Center for decades.

Now, they're getting the flagship of the fleet -- Discovery -- ready for its final stop, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Photo Gallery: An up close look at Space Shuttle Discovery

ECONOMY - President Clinton's 14 Good Suggestions

Highly suggested reading. Details of President Clinton's very good suggestions in full article, only key points listed here.

"It’s Still the Economy, Stupid" by Bill Clinton, Newsweek 6/19/2011


Fourteen million Americans remain out of work, a waste of our greatest resource. The 42nd president has more than a dozen ideas on how to attack the jobs crisis.


Next week in Chicago, the Clinton Global Initiative will focus on America for the first time, inviting business and political leaders to make specific commitments in support of the former president’s jobs blueprint, which he details below.



  4. COPY THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING (had to detail this one as an example)

    Just look at the Empire State Building—I can see it from my office window. Our climate-change people worked on their retrofit project. They cleared off a whole floor for a small factory to change the heating and air conditioning, put in new lighting and insulation, and cut energy-efficient glass for the windows. Johnson Controls, the energy-service company overseeing the project, guaranteed the building owners their electricity usage would go down 38 percent—a massive saving, which will enable the costs of the retrofits to be recovered through lower utility bills in less than five years. Meanwhile, the project created hundreds of jobs and cut greenhouse-gas emissions substantially. We could put a million people to work retrofitting buildings all over America.




  8. PAINT ’EM WHITE (rooftops)


  10. TRAIN ON THE JOB (like high school or union apprentice programs)





POLITICS - Republican Zombies and Dead Ideas

"The GOP: Where dead economic ideas live on" by DAVID MILSTEAD, The Globe and Mail 6/22/2011

Zombies: Always popular. Like in the spoof “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Or the television series “The Walking Dead.” Or the smelly, rotten theory that a government can actually increase its revenue by cutting its tax rates, an idea that simply won’t die.

It’s hard to find an economist, even amongst the ideologically conservative, that believes this. Yet it seems to be an article of faith among the Republican candidates for president.

Listen to Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, as quoted this month by David Weigel in Slate: “So as people look back to the historical examples, there's been other chapters where tax cuts have been enacted, and almost always they raise revenues if you just isolate the effect of the tax cuts.”

And, he added: “When Ronald Reagan cut taxes in a significant way, revenues actually increased by almost 100 per cent during his eight years as president. So this idea that significant, big tax cuts necessarily result in lower revenues -- history does not [bear] that out.”

Mr. Pawlenty, who is, scarily, supposed to be one of the bright, rational candidates in the GOP field, forgets that Mr. Reagan engaged in some significant tax-raising in his eight-year presidency, notably the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982.

More importantly, he disregards basic economics. This is nothing new for his party, however, as its major figures have gone on disregarding the evidence for years.

The matter was believed to be settled in 2003. Advocates of supply-side economic theory had criticized the government agencies charged with advising Congress on the implications of tax policy because they used “static” analysis that assumed budget decisions had no impact on growth.

So, early in the first George W. Bush administration, economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin took over the Congressional Budget Office and brought “dynamic” scoring to the evaluation process of the administration’s tax cuts. As Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray reported in April of 2003, “in no case does Mr. Bush's tax cut come close to paying for itself over the next 10 years.”

Well, we know now how that turned out. But the idea that tax cuts increase revenue continued to be part of the Republican Party’s talking points. (Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in February, 2006: “Many people in Washington have long known a dirty little secret about tax-cut measures: When done right, they actually result in more money for the government.”

To be precise: Tax cuts create economic growth, so a planned reduction of $1 in government revenue through a tax cut will actually be less than $1 because of the offsetting impact of the growth. On this, economists agree.

That is different, very different, from saying a planned reduction of $1 in government revenue through a tax cut will be eliminated, and actually turn to a positive, because of the impact of the growth.

“While serious economists are divided on the question of whether and under what circumstances tax cuts are good for the economy, there is no such debate on the question of whether tax cuts pay for themselves,” the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in 2006. “Economists from across the political spectrum reject the latter assertion.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities was able to cite statements from Gregory Mankiw and Glenn Hubbard, two of the chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Bush administration, rejecting the theory.

Quotes the Center: In Dr. Mankiw’s 1998 textbook “Principles of Economics,” he said there is “no credible evidence” that “tax revenues … rise in the face of lower tax rates” and compared those who say that tax cuts can pay for themselves to a “snake oil salesman trying to sell a miracle cure.”

A perfect description, sadly, of economic policy on the campaign trail.

OPINION - On Republican Threat

"Republicans: The Single Greatest Threat to America" by Sandy Goodman, Huffington Post 6/21/2011

The single greatest threat to the United States is not joblessness, foreclosures, another recession or skyrocketing debt or health care costs. Nor is it terrorism, China or declining influence abroad. No, the single greatest threat to our country is today's Republican Party.

That's because the GOP is relentlessly pursuing a policy of the American public be damned, so that next year Republicans can regain the national political dominance they held from 2001 to 2006. Their sole, selfish aim is to complete the transformation of the U.S. to a government of, by and for the rich and the far-right.

Veteran reporter Robert Parry, a retired correspondent for the Associated Press and Newsweek, accurately summed up that policy this way:

Modern Republicans have a simple approach to politics when they are not in the White House: Make America as ungovernable as possible by using any means available... Control as much as possible what the population gets to see and hear; create chaos for your opponent's government, economically and politically; blame it for the mess; and establish in the minds of the voters that their only way out is to submit, that the pain will stop once your side is back in power...

Republicans and the Right... are well positioned to roll the U.S. economy off the cliff and blame the catastrophe on Obama. Indeed, that may be their best hope for winning Election 2012.

George W. Bush's presidency, with Congressional Republicans in lockstep behind him, made an excellent start on the destructive transformation of this country: two unpaid-for wars (one based on lies); failure to prevent the worst terrorist attack on the homeland or punish its instigators; waste of tens of thousands of U.S. and foreign lives, and worldwide diplomatic failure.

At home, approval of torture, warrantless wiretapping and ineptness and indifference in the face of Hurricane Katrina created a permanent stain. Economically, Republican tax cuts created few jobs and increased the national debt by 75 percent. What the Washington Post dubbed "executive grandeur" made income inequality the worst since the 1930s Depression. Finally, the GOP's failed stewardship of the economy resulted in a crisis that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified was even worse than the Depression.

When national revulsion against Republican misrule drove Democrats into power in 2008, the GOP resorted to today's strategy. It became evident even before the new Democratic president took office when the Republican Party's de facto leader, Rush Limbaugh, declared: "I hope Obama fails." And since the inauguration, Republicans have done everything in their power to assure that failure, although it's meant misery for millions of Americans.

"I wish we had been able to obstruct more," says Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell who succeeded brilliantly in keeping his members in line in opposing every important measure that's good for this country including presidential initiatives for health care, financial regulation, economic stimulus and a dozen executive appointments and even more judicial ones needed to keep government functioning.

Given the frightening record of business and financial deception and fraud that led to the economic crisis, who in their right mind could possibly oppose increased regulation of business and enhanced protection for consumers? The answer: almost all Republicans. Elizabeth Warren is too committed to consumer protection to win the votes of Senate Republicans acting for their paymasters at the chambers of commerce.

President Obama's new law extending health insurance to 30 million more people is too good for working Americans. Beaten in their attempt to vote it down, Republicans are now suing to kill it. Remember the GOP plan? It proposed health insurance for one-tenth as many people. Is it any wonder that people in all other industrial countries, where health care is a right, laugh at us.

American business hates government -- except when it needs government help. Which is just about all the time. And it's just fine with Republicans whenever business goes to the government for help. In fact, GOPers are almost always corporate-friendly, as opposed to people-friendly. And they have a right-wing Supreme Court majority that helps them buy legislation by equating money with speech and corporations with human beings.

But heaven forbid the average citizen should try to get a government benefit, or a job or more unemployment insurance or aid in taking back a home seized (often illegally) by the bank, or getting health care for a gravely ill child with a pre-existing condition. Republicans are happy to vote overwhelmingly against him, ignoring the Constitutional command that government "promote the general welfare."

Ronald Reagan, a president with rich friends and poor instincts, did this country an unforgivable disservice by encouraging Americans to hate and distrust their government. Remember when he declared: "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem," and joked that: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Contrast that with Reagan's almost religious reverence for "the magic of the marketplace."

But my own life experience, like that of millions of Americans, tells me that in important ways the government is more reliable than the marketplace. I spent a good part of my career working for one of the largest, most triumphant examples of American capitalism: General Electric. When I retired late in 1997, GE shares were selling for $68.56; when GE CEO Jack Welch, the greatest corporate genius of them all, quit 11 months later, those shares had dropped to $39.66. In 2009, under his successor genius, they fell as low as $6.66. And they closed the other day at $18.49 -- only about a quarter of what they were when I retired. Needless to say, those shares formed a large part of my now badly-depleted retirement assets. Fortunately for me, GE was one of a declining number of companies that still provided an additional defined benefit pension plan for employes like me -- something the company is now proposing to drop for new union hires.

In contrast to my GE stock disaster, Social Security hasn't missed a monthly payment to me for more than 13 years, or to my wife in nine (imagine the value of our Social Security stock portfolios if Republicans had succeeded in their privatization scheme). Medicare enabled me to have spinal surgery, a hip replacement, cataract operations in both eyes and radiation that cured my prostate cancer; and my wife to have a hip and knee replaced, without breaking us financially.

Maybe that's why I call Reagan a liar and a fool for his denunciations of those benefits from our government to me and millions of others. And you should, too. But Republicans regard him almost as a saint. And those same Republicans just voted almost unanimously in Congress to kill Medicare and replace it with Rep. Ryan's pathetic plan to replace single payer with cut-rate vouchers for money-hungry private insurers.

The Republican Bush administration destroyed our standing abroad and our economy at home, and killed and maimed thousands of our young men and women for no good reason. Since 2009, Democrats have done their best to clean up the Republican mess -- something that unfortunately takes time. Republicans have fought those national cleanup efforts -- and the vast majority of the American people -- every day. And they say they're proud of their obstruction. As for solutions, they offer none, except for tax cuts like those that created record-low jobs under Bush, and spending cuts that would cripple the government.

These policies failed before and would inevitably fail again, and might well drive us into a real Depression. That's why the Republican Party is the single greatest threat to the United States of America. It cannot be allowed to win in 2012.

100% totally agree.

POLITICS - "What, Me Worry" Republicans Without a Jobs Plan

"Awaiting a ‘Jobs First’ agenda" by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly 6/20/2011

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday, host Bob Schieffer asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday, “Do Republicans have any plans to do anything on the unemployment front or are you just going to let things take their course?” It seemed like a good question.

McConnell replied, “No, I — I think — what — what we’re doing is encouraging the president to — to quit doing what he’s doing.”

The Senate Minority Leader has clearly given job policy considerable thought. And to think I doubted him.

Jay Bookman did a nice job fact-checking McConnell’s other remarks — it’s as if the senator has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to the economy — but the key takeaway here is the realization that McConnell doesn’t even think a jobs agenda is necessary. If he and his party simply stand in the way of the White House’s agenda — an agenda, by the way, that vastly improved the economy — everything will be fine.

In theory, this should create an opportunity for Democrats. Congressional Republicans not only don’t have a plan to create jobs; they don’t even see the need for one. There’s some talk that Senate Dems are at least looking in the right direction.

("Democrats eye new jobs agenda" opens in new page)

Fearing the economy may be getting worse, Democrats plan to soon unveil what they’ll call a “Jobs First” agenda — and the stakes are high. A bleak economic outlook, like the May jobs report, could cost Democrats their thin Senate majority and even the White House if they can’t make a strong case to an anxious electorate that their policies will create jobs. […]

Sen. Mark Begich has enlisted business officials to present senators with their ideas for bolstering job creation, and the Alaska Democrat wants his party to unveil a package full of proposals — like a boost in infrastructure spending and changes to visas to boost tourism — that one by one could be brought to the floor over the next several weeks.

All kinds of ideas are apparently on the table. The best possible idea — an ambitious stimulus that ignores deficit concerns — won’t generate any consideration, but modest measures, including a payroll tax holiday, are still being bandied about.

Even former President Clinton is weighing in, writing a piece for Newsweek (highly recommended reading, opens in new page) with several credible ideas for job creation.

I’m not especially optimistic about “Jobs First.” Getting Dems to agree to a meaningful plan will be like herding cats, and getting the GOP-led House to pass it will be impossible.

But I’m at least mildly encouraged by the shifting discussion. Instead of an all-deficit-all-the-time debate, Democrats are talking about what can be done to create jobs, while Republican deliberately ignore the issue. Here’s hoping Dems aim high and don’t let up.