Friday, August 31, 2012

LOS ANGELES - 'Yes Alice, There Is a Blue Moon'

"Blue moon: Two chances to see this rare event" Rene Lynch, Christian Science Monitor 8/31/2012

The saying “once in a blue moon” refers to something that’s exceedingly rare. But in Los Angeles you’ll have two chances to see this lunar occurrence Friday, when a so-called blue moon comes into view.

The first opportunity will be Friday morning — yes, the morning — as the blue moon is setting for the day, said Anthony Cook, astronomical observer at Griffith Observatory. Look for the early-morning blue moon between 6:30 and 7 a.m. PDT, he said.

Later in the day, you’ll get a second chance to see the blue moon, when it rises at 7:13 p.m. PDT.

So what is a blue moon? It’s the second full moon within one calendar month.

The moon isn’t actually blue. And it might even take on an orange hue as it starts to rise in the sky, Cook said. If anything, the Friday night moon will most likely appear an especially brilliant white.

“There’s nothing unusual really about the moon itself,” Cook said. “It will look like the usual moon.”

The genesis of the term “blue moon” is unclear.

“It’s not really certain” where it came from, Cook said. “Why ‘blue’ was chosen isn’t really known for sure.”

There are, on some occasions, atmospheric conditions that could produce a blue-looking moon, he said. And it’s believed that such conditions sometimes took place at the same time as the second full moon, perhaps leading to the moniker.

A blue moon occurs because the average lunar cycle is 28 to 29 days long. That’s why most months see just a single full moon.

The average month, however, is about 30 days long. “As a result, the lunar cycle gets out of phase with the calendar,” Cook said. “If you have a full moon right at the beginning of the month, you can get one at the end of the month.”

The last time a blue moon occurred was December 2009. “The next time will be on July 31, 2015,” Cook said.

He added that there is another definition of “blue moon,” one that comes from the Farmer’s Almanac. When four full moons occur during the course of a single season, the third of those is referred to as the blue moon, Cook said.

“That kind of full moon is just as rare as a second full moon in a month,” Cook said. “It also occurs every two or roughly three years.” The next seasonal blue moon will occur in August 2013.

NASA - Millions of Black Holes Discovered

"NASA's WISE Telescope Discovers Millions of Black Holes" by Stephanie Mlot, PC Magazine 8/30/2012

Living up to its name, NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) telescope has uncovered millions of black holes and extreme galaxies across the universe.

Recently released images from the telescope reveal millions of dusty black hole candidates, as well as about 1,000 even dustier objects, which scientists believe are among the brightest galaxies ever discovered, and which have appropriately been nicknamed "hot DOGs," or dust-obscured galaxies.

"WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects," WISE program scientist Hashima Hasan said in a statement. "We've found an asteroid dancing ahead of Earth in its orbit, the coldest star-like orbs known and now, supermassive black hole galaxies hiding behind cloaks of dust."

Last year, the telescope put on its night-vision goggles to twice scan the entire sky with infrared light, capturing millions of images that allowed scientists to dig around for new discoveries.

Black holes had better watch their backs, said Daniel Stern, lead author of the WISE black hole study and member of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. By combining projects, the WISE telescope can find the monstrous black holes, while the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) provides a new look at their high-energy X-ray light, Stern said.

NASA launched the black-hole hunting NuSTAR in mid-June, which sported a telescope that can see the hottest, densest, most energetic objects, Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology, said in June.

In one case, NASA's device helped astronomers identify about 2.5 million actively feeding supermassive black holes, reaching more than 10 billion light-years away, the space association said in a news release. Generally, dust blocks the objects' visible light, NASA said, but WISE sees their warm dust glowing in infrared light.

One of the main goals of the WISE mission was met when scientists reported finding what they believed were among the brightest galaxies ever known. Despite emitting more than 100 trillion times as much light as the sun, NASA said the DOGs are so dusty that they appear only in the longest wavelengths of infrared captured by WISE.

In this case, the galaxies' eggs may have come before the chickens, WISE project scientist at JPL Peter Eisenhardt said. The lead author of a paper on the first of the DOGs, Eisenhardt said there may be evidence to prove that the galaxies formed their black holes before most of their stars.

"We may be seeing a new, rare phase in the evolution of galaxies," JPL's Jingwen Wu said in a statement.

All three published technical journal articles can be found online.

More than 100 of the objects located by WISE have been confirmed with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, as well as the Gemini Observatory in Chile, Palomar's Hale telescope near San Diego, and the Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory near Tucson, Ariz., according to NASA.

For more, see the NASA video below, which simulates billions of years of evolution, which created the millions of black holes that WISE helped to discover.

HOME TOWN - Bus Drivers Unknowingly on 'Pot'

"San Diego bus drivers may have eaten pot brownies" by AP, Mercury News 8/31/2012

Officials say three San Diego County bus drivers who may have eaten marijuana-laced brownies acted properly by pulling off the road.

Metropolitan Transit System spokesman Rob Schupp says three drivers—not four as previously reported—became ill Sunday while on their routes, possibly after eating pot-laced brownies distributed by another employee.

Replacement drivers were called in.

The employees were placed on administrative leave and given drug tests.

KGTV-TV (bit.ly/QGv5WF) reports that the brownies were baked by an employee's roommate and the worker apparently didn't know they contained pot.

City News Service says the transit agency investigated and determined that all of the employees involved acted appropriately.

MTS chief Paul Jablonski says the drivers followed procedures to the letter and supervisors acted quickly to protect the public.

OPINION - Obama Swing Voters

"The Morning Plum: Why are Obama swing voters sticking with him?" by Greg Sargent, Washington Post 8/31/2012

Excerpt

As I’ve noted before, Republicans often seem conflicted about which version of President Obama they should be attacking. Mitt Romney’s original theory was that he could paint Obama (the Good Obama) as a nice family man who’s in over his head on the economy; Romney’s aura of competence would be enough to persuade voters to pick him as an alternative. But Obama held a persistent lead in the face of months of criticism on the economy. So Romney shifted into a harsher resentment-based message to appeal to blue collar whites and maximize his white vote share, suggesting Obama (the Bad Obama) disdains their hard work and wants to redistribute what’s rightfully theirs downward to others.

The problem with an overly negative approach is that it risks a backlash among voters who like the President. And so, as Jim Rutenberg reports this morning in a must read, Romney strategists are well aware of the difficult balance they need to strike, and are working to get it just right in the home stretch. Romney’s brain trust thinks voters are reluctant to break from Obama because his initial victory felt historically transformative, and that they need to give voters a way to feel emotionally okay about ending their relationship with him:

The sort of visceral attacks that conservative talk show hosts are calling for risk sending them into a defense posture on behalf of Mr. Obama and, more to the point, of their own decisions four years ago.

Rather, strategists say, it requires providing a path that gives them permission to make a break. They need to be told that it is O.K. to remain proud of their initial support for Mr. Obama, but that they can be equally at peace with a decision to change their minds now.

“There is no need to make people feel bad about what they’ve done to feel good about what they’re going to do,” said Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney.

Romney’s speech tried to strike this balance; there were some red meat attacks on the Bad Obama but also testimonials to the historic nature of his victory and the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger suggestion that we’ve shown enough patience for Obama and it’s okay to turn the page now.

What’s particularly striking is the Romney camp’s view of this in such overly emotional terms, as if the undecided voter is like your high school daughter you’re trying to persuade to break up with a decent local guy who just isn’t going places. Romney advisers seem incapable of imagining that there are substantive reasons these voters might be sticking (at least for now) with Obama over him.

And this goes to a fundamental distinction that’s central to this race: The question of whether undecided and persuadable voters think Obama failed, or whether they are merely disappointed with the pace of the recovery but find it understandable, given the circumstances, that he has been unable to improve things faster. Judging by Rutenberg’s story, the Romney camp operates from the assumption that voters have concluded Obama is an abject failure but don’t want to part ways with him because it would make them feel guilty. This assumption is what has led Romney to adopt a strategy of being as vague as possible in hopes of making the race a referendum on the president; surely voters who have decided Obama has failed just need time to get used to the idea of dumping him, and won’t be too picky about the alternative Romney is offering

But persuadable voters may be taking a more nuanced view of the economy and this presidency. Perhaps they are no longer sure how much a president can do to fix the economy; they understand the depth of the crisis and of our underlying problems; they disapprove of the pace of the recovery but understand Obama faced relentless partisan opposition and haven’t concluded Obama’s approach is discredited. They actually agree with his basic priorities and governing goals in key areas, and they are open to the argument that Romney’s approach is not the solution to their problems. The simplistic Obama-as-abject-failure formulation may be a misreading of voter perceptions and of why some are remaining with Obama, and may hamper the Romney camp’s ability to make a stronger affirmative case for his alternative.

OPINION - The RNC Plan to Pulverize America

"Pulverize the Poor -- Minimize the Middle -- Voucherize and Privatize - the Republican Plan for the Future" by Cliff Wilson, Cliff's Notes 8/30/2012

We were a nation that was the strongest in the world because it had the largest and strongest middle class and therefore no class warfare leading to violence. We were a nation that declared war on poverty in 1965 and within fifteen years had reduced the number of children living in poverty by half. We were a nation that measured its middle class in three sub-classes: upper, middle and lower. We have become a nation of the poor (including working poor) and the rich (including super rich). There is now a smaller middle class that struggles to send their children to college and keep up with the Joneses in such a way that many have drifted into the working poor. They work and earn a salary so they don’t qualify for the revised social safety net programs that the Republicans in the past quarter century have left in place. But their wages which did not increase in real dollars in those same years are insufficient to make ends meet.

Now the radical right wing tea party Republicans in the name of Hooverian individualism would create a two class society of the super rich and everyone else. They would voucherize Medicare - a successful national health insurance policy for the elderly. They would privatize social security so our senior citizens would be dependent totally upon 401K’s and other private pensions (with public employee pensions further restricted and private pensions unregulated). They would in effect pulverize the poor whose numbers would increase and we would surrender in the war against poverty condemning generations of young people yet unborn to the lowly peasant like status that was their lot in the 19th century world. The radical right wing tea party republican ideas would minimize further the size of the middle class. I cannot predict whether we’re looking at ultimately a 10% middle class but likely not larger. And that middle class would really be working poor holding their heads above water. They would be trapped in houses if they were lucky enough to own them - trapped because there would be no buyers and the dollars they could get for those properties would be insufficient for them to buy anything else. So we can expect a poor and a middle class of renters. Of course that’s fine by the right wing radical tea party republicans who represent the corporate landlords.

The liberal progressive idea was to lift the poor (like boats) as the tide of prosperity rose. Even the great conservative President of the twentieth century Ronald Reagan, a child of the lower middle class, saw that when he introduced the earned income credit which gave money to the working poor to help them maintain a lower middle class life style. The consensus reached in America by the 1980's was that the government would provide health insurance and social security and disability insurance and unemployment insurance and the working people of America would contribute into those programs from their paychecks in some cases matched by their employers. Now that thoughtful and successful approach, which also allowed the reach to invest and make money (they’ve certainly done well in the past quarter century) is under attack by a bevy of right wing fanatics who spout outmoded clich├ęs from Adam Smith (18th century) and Herbert Hoover and advocate the long discredited “trickle down theory”.

America veered off the right track toward the future when the republican dominated Supreme Court helped George Bush steal the Presidential election in 2000 (remember by the way he was not the choice of the American voters). And now they cry that we are on the wrong track. Yet their approach since President Obama was elected is better we should crash and jump the track than we should resume our journey toward a land of progress. And while most of their leaders have benefited personally from federal government programs and largesse now they would balance the federal budgets on the backs of those who still need those programs.

The poor may always be with us. But so will there be those who believe that it is the obligation of others in society to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and tend the sick. And there will be those who strive to build an America where the top 5% are balanced by a bottom 5% with the 90% in between in a successful middle class, assisted when assistance is needed, insured when insurance is needed.

The Republicans call for a second great American century. Let it be a century that restores the middle class and rebuilds an America for all. Not a second century where the few enjoy the luxuries and live off the labor of the many.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

ELECTIONS - Social Media, Twitter's Political Index

"In Twitter's Political Index, More Tweets Mean Good News for Candidates" by News Desk, PBS Newshour 8/29/2012

NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan interviewed Twitter's Adam Sharp on Tuesday about what the so-called "Twitter Political Index" says about the candidates.

The index tracks Twitter users' attitudes about the candidates, and how they've changed over time. On this particular Tuesday during the Republican National Convention, President Obama ranked 28 and GOP presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney scored 40.

The numbers show where the average tweet about the candidates falls on the spectrum of the conversation on Twitter, said Sharp. "Right now, the conversation about the campaign overall is slightly negative. Both candidates are below 50," he said.

The index doesn't replace polling, it makes it stronger, he added.

ELECTION 2012 - Political Cartoons

"Political Cartoonists Face Off in Drawing Duel at the RNC" by Katelyn Polantz and Saskia de Melker, PBS Newshour 8/29/2012

Newspaper editorial cartoonists Rob Rogers and Scott Stantis spent a lot of time Monday drawing themselves and each other.

There wasn't much fodder yet at the Republican National Convention, which was delayed a day due to the encroaching Hurricane Isaac. Most delegates who were in town were out celebrating and fundraising at invitation-only parties.

So Rogers and Stantis, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Tribune, respectively, allowed us to engage them in a "draw off." We gave them a general topic: the spectacle of the convention in Tampa, where more than 10,000 media descended to cover a highly choreographed three-night political television event.

The friends, part of a cohort of about 40 full-time editorial cartoonists working in the United States, have expanded their craft from traditional newsprint to blogs and social media over the past few years.

Stantis frequently appears on talk radio -- at one point he hosted a drive-time show -- and regularly runs caption contests. Rogers plans to produce a documentary film from his trip to the conventions, which he funded through a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo.

They also happen to sit on opposite sides of the spectrum -- Rogers a liberal and Stantis a conservative. They function for their hometowns and in national politics as visual columnists, who can analyze and opine about politics as well as traditional writers.

At one point in our conversation, they talked about the importance of GOP presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney demonstrating his appeal this week -- Stantis calling it one of the most essential conventions of any campaign.

Their tactics include working with metaphors, embracing exaggeration, and finding a great pun. Sometimes slightly off-color topics find their way in, too.

We'll plan to host a second draw-off during the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, N.C.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SAN DIEGO ZOO - Field Projects, Pocket Mice


"Pocket Mice Arrive" by Debra Shier, San Diego Zoo 8/28/2012

They’re here! On July 20, we transferred the first critically endangered pocket mice to the new Pacific Pocket Mouse Conservation Breeding Facility, located in an off-exhibit area at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The first group of 10 was taken in June from the Dana Point Headlands and had been in quarantine for 30 days in the Safari Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Center.

They are doing quite well so far. While in quarantine, all of the 10 gained weight and looked bright eyed. On Friday, after being transferred to their new cages, these Dana Point animals were extremely active, sand bathing and getting to know their new neighbors by standing right against the divider to the adjacent cage and digging.

We have them housed in what I call “social cages,” which are multiple individual mouse cages in one larger housing. There are dividers that are clear and slotted to allow the mice to be able to see and smell each other. We house them in this way because they are solitary in the wild and are aggressive with each other unless they are breeding, but this socialization reduces aggression and keeps females reproductive.

The 10 founders from the Santa Margarita population were in quarantine at our veterinary center and were transferred to the pocket mouse facility on August 3. Meanwhile, Maryke and Rachel are out in the field each night trying to trap founders from the last extant population in San Mateo South.

SAN DIEGO ZOO - Bears, Summer Intern's View

"Summer Intern Enjoys Opportunities" by Michael Forney, San Diego Zoo 8/28/2012

As a kid, I used to visit the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park every summer with my grandmother, so you can imagine my excitement when I was told I would be conducting research here as a summer fellow through the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research! Before arriving in June, I was contacted by my soon-to-be mentors, Russ Van Horn and Megan Owen, who outlined the details of the project I would be working on: collecting behavioral data from video footage of Andean bears.

Like many people, I had never heard about Andean, or spectacled, bears prior to this summer. So before traveling down to San Diego—I recently graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno—I made sure to read up on this often overlooked bear species. I didn’t find as much as you’d think. Surprisingly, relatively little is known about Andean bears, especially in the wild where it is often difficult to see them in the lush cloud forests they call home. Hence, the purpose of my project.

The video clips that I’ve inventoried and collected data from this summer were taken from a field site in Peru located in one of the few remaining tropical dry forests. The landscape allows for unparalleled viewing of the elusive bears and the chance to gain greater insight into Andean bears’ daily activity patterns, mother/cub interactions, and other behaviors. For further information on this project, see The Bear Necessities in Peru.

In addition to being involved with an amazing project that is drawing attention to the conservation of this threatened species—the Andean bear is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List—I have had a chance to witness the tremendous conservation, research, and animal-care efforts put forth by the entire staff here. Some of my experiences include:
  • Watering over 10,000 native grass seedlings at the Skinner Reserve in Temecula (I can’t tell you how many watering cans I refilled and carried over two days.)
  • Monitoring Bai-Yun and her new cub in the video room (The cub is definitely cuter than it was a few weeks ago if you haven’t seen it yet.)
  • Visiting the Zoo’s Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine while the veterinarians and technicians treated Houdini, the Zoo’s female Andean bear.
  • Feeding a giraffe on the Park’s Caravan Safari (If you haven’t seen their tongues, they are incredibly long and quite slobbery)
This summer has provided me with so many unique and wonderful opportunities and experiences. I would recommend interning with the San Diego Zoo to anyone interested, especially with regard to the summer research fellowship opportunities. All you have to do is check out the San Diego Zoo job search site around the beginning of January when they post the applications for the Institute fellowships. In a few weeks I will be leaving for Ecuador to volunteer teaching English, but I know I will always remember this summer. I hope to share some of the information I’ve learned about the bears with the children I meet, since they are fortunate enough to have Andean bears in their country, and perhaps volunteer with local conservation groups. While I’m down there, if I’m lucky I might just be able to catch a glimpse of an Andean bear!

SAN DIEGO ZOO - Pandas, Bai Yun's Newest 'Cuteness'

"Panda Cub: 704 Grams" by Megan Owen, San Diego Zoo 8/23/2012

All is well!

This morning, at about 7:15, we had our first opportunity to examine Bai Yun’s newest cub. For the past week or so, Bai Yun has developed a regular habit of leaving the den to get breakfast in her sun room. Today, we took advantage of Bai Yun’s breakfast outing to get our first real look at the cub. The exam lasted only 3 minutes, but in that time our veterinarians were able to determine that the 25-day-old cub is healthy and weighs in at a robust 704 grams (24.8 ounces or 1.55 pounds). For comparison, Yun Zi weighed 1,259 grams (2.8 pounds) at 29 days (see Baby’s First Exam), Zhen Zhen weighed 1,020 grams or 2.2 pounds at 26 days, and Su Lin was 618 grams (22 ounces) at 22 days. The cub was quiet at the outset of the exam, but soon enough gave us a great display of its strong lungs!

Veterinarians were able to do a quick, yet thorough, exam of the cub’s limbs, mouth, ears, and more, and we’re happy to report that everything looks good! While it may be a few more weeks before we know what the cub’s sex is, or whether or not it has webbed toes or a spot on its tail, today was an important step in confirming that this cub has the most important quality that a panda cub can have: good health!

Bai Yun also showed us her best maternal behavior. She began eating her breakfast away from the cub, in the sun room, as usual, when the cub emitted a loud squawk during the exam. Bai Yun made it clear that she wanted to return to the den to be with the cub, so the exam was halted. Her maternal behavior continues to be exemplary and, clearly, she is doing a great job taking care of her latest cub. We are all so lucky to see this amazing mother in action!

First Exam

SAN DIEGO ZOO - Cats, Lions Life

M'Bari

"Lions: The Good Life" by Jacob Shanks, San Diego Zoo 8/24/2012

We’ve had a lot of interest in an update on the San Diego Zoo’s largest field pair, and since we just passed the three-year anniversary for the two lions here, it seemed like an appropriate time. When I think about the last few years for M’Bari and Etosha, the phrase “smooth sailing” comes to mind (see The Pride of Elephant Odyssey). The last three years with these two have been pretty tranquil. More than anyone, I think that the lions have enjoyed the quiet constants in their lives. At nearly nine years old, much of the playful behaviors of their days at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Lion Camp have been replaced with more mature endeavors.

M’Bari is a guy who appreciates his routine. As a creature of habit myself, I often feel a kinship with his way of life. His time spent on exhibit involves copious amounts of sleep broken up by the occasional need to eat, drink, or remind all of his adoring fans that he is big and you are in his house. During Nighttime Zoo, our guests get a special treat as he wakes from his slumber to enjoy his evening stroll. His evening routine includes patrolling his territory, calling loudly, and scent marking anything (or anyone) unlucky enough to get in his path.

M’Bari is maintaining much of the great husbandry behaviors he learned as a little guy through daily training sessions. He recently received his necessary vaccinations through a voluntary process in which he places his hip up against the fence to accept an injection. M’Bari is a great student…as long as you remember that he is the KING.

Etosha is definitely my choice for Miss Congeniality. This girl is as sweet as pie! Etosha is always happy to see her keepers, and she is always happy to see food. Her daily training sessions are met with great enthusiasm as she works to get the treats from the bucket to her mouth as quickly as possible. Etosha is also a champion sleeper, but she does take the opportunity to get a rise out of M’Bari from time to time. Particularly just following morning feedings, we see her rambunctious side come out. She stalks slowly toward M’Bari, creeping around the rockwork, and as quickly as her legs will take her, she rushes in and jumps on his back. M’Bari, feeling way too dignified for this kind of play, shuts these sessions down quickly by moving away and giving a little growl.

After three years working with Etosha, I am still amazed at just how well she can read her long-time mate. I often tell guests that we can read M’Bari pretty well, but Etosha can read him like a book. She always knows just how much she can get away with. Whether it be jumping on his back, choosing to lie down right in his spot, or pushing him aside to get to treats, she knows what he will tolerate and when she should lay low.

I would like to invite you all to come by and spend some time with M’Bari and Etosha. Whether you catch a feeding, a quick play session, or silent slumber, you will surely take away a sense of awe and maybe even a reminder to enjoy the quiet constants in your own life.

HEALTH - Eradication of the Guinea Worm

"Goodbye Guinea Worm: Humanity’s Greatest Accomplishment This Week" by Mark Leon Goldberg, UN Dispatch 8/29/2012

Every once in a while it is important to take a step back from the day-to-day drumbeat of news and consider something from a more world historical perspective. Such is the case with word from the World Health Organization that Guinea Worm is slated for global eradication.

Guinea Worm, also known as Dracunculiasis, is a parasitic disease spread when people injest water tainted with a certain kind of flea that contains larvae. The larvae are hatched within the person’s digestive tract, and they grow into worms — sometimes as long as one meter — that live inside the body and protrude through the skin. It is a painful, debilitating and sometimes deadly. There are no-vaccines or medicines that you can take to cure or prevent Guinea Worm Disease. The most people can do is take appropriate precautions when drinking from stagnant water sources.

In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Last year, there were just 1,100 cases. So far this year, there are fewer than 400 cases, in but 4 countries: Mali, Ethiopia, Chad and South Sudan (the latter of which accounts for 99% of the cases). Humanity is very, very close to defeating this crippling disease once and for all.

The Carter Center, along with UNICEF and the World Health Organization helped rally the world around this eradication drive. Much of the credit goes to these organizations.

Small Pox was the first disease to face global eradication thanks to the concerted efforts of NGOs and the UN. Guinea worm may be next. After that–it’s polio.

It probably won’t make the front page of the New York Times. But the fact that we are on the cusp of eliminating a disease that has devastated humanity for centuries is a much bigger deal for more people around the world than anything else that’s happening in the world this week.

WARNING some content may be unpleasant

POLITICS - Republican Platform on UN

"An Annotated Explanation of the GOP’s UN Platform" by Mark Leon Goldberg , UN Dispatch 8/28/2012

Ahead of today’s Republican National Convention in Florida, the Republican National Committee has prepared its official party platform. The document was posted to the Politico website, and is expected to be officially released later today.

Most of the platform deals with domestic issues. However, in the foreign policy section (titled “American Exceptionalism”) there’s a five paragraph statement on the UN and international treaties.

Here is an annotated explanation of the GOP’s platform on the UN. Intense parsing to follow!

Sovereign American Leadership at International Organizations

Since the end of World War II, the United States, through the founding of the United Nations and NATO, has participated in a wide range of international organizations which can, but sometimes do not, serve the cause of peace and prosperity. While acting through them our country must always reserve the right to go on its own. There can be no substitute for principled American leadership.

The United Nations remains in dire need of reform, starting with full transparency in the financial operations of its overpaid bureaucrats. As long as the scandal-ridden management continues, as long as some of the world’s worst tyrants hold seats on its Human Rights Council, as long as Israel is treated as a pariah state the U.N. cannot expect the full support of the American people. 1

The United Nations Population Fund has a shameful record of collaboration with China’s program of compulsory abortion. 2 We affirm the Republican Party’s long-held position known as the Mexico City Policy, first announced by President Reagan in 1984 which prohibits granting of federal monies to non-governmental organizations that provide or promote abortion. 3

Under our Constitution, treaties become the law of the land. So it is all the more important that the Congress — the Senate through its ratifying power and the House through its appropriating power — shall reject the agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include the UN Convention on Women’s Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, and the UN Arms Trade Treaty as well as various declarations from the UN Conference on Environment and Development. 4. Because of our concern for American sovereignty, domestic management of our fisheries, and our countries long-term energy needs, we have deep reservations about the regulatory, legal, and tax regimes inherent in the Law of the Sea Treaty and congratulate Senate Republicans for blocking its ratification. 5 We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty,6 and we oppose any form of UN Global Tax. 7 We oppose any diplomatic efforts that could result in giving the United Nations unprecedented control over the Internet. International regulatory control over the open and free internet would have a disastrous consequence for the United States and the world.8

To shield members of our Armed Forces and others in service to America from ideological persecutions overseas, the Republican Party does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. We support statutory protection for US personnel and officers as they act abroad to meet our global security requirements.9

1. The UN Human Rights Council replaced the old, discredited UN Commission on Human Rights in 2005. The Bush administration, however, believed that the criteria for membership was not stringent enough so it remained on the sidelines. The Obama administration sought and won membership to the Council, which was among the earliest and most visible signs that Obama was starting a new era of engagement at the UN.

In the past four years, the Council has a number of important accomplishments: it has approved a human rights special rapporteur for Iran; it has reversed the harmful practice of commingling defamation of religions with freedom of speech; it passed a first-ever resolution on the protection of LGBT persons; and backed a landmark resolution that says people have a right to freedom of expression on the Internet. All the while, the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to make sure that particularly egregious human rights offenders are kept off the council. This includes building a coalition that blocked Iranian membership and swiftly booted Libya off the council as Gaddhafi’s intentions became clear. There is virtually no chance Sudan will gain membership.

2. This is a particularly egregious mistruth, the consequences of which could imperil the lives of millions of women around the world.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supports maternal and reproductive health in the developing world. It emphatically does not support either abortion or China’s one child policy. In 2002, as the Bush administration weighed cutting American contributions to UNFPA, it sent a State Department fact-finding mission to investigate. The report, which was signed by Colin Powell, says explicitly: “We found no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC.” That should have settled it, but the George W. Bush administration nonetheless used the charge as a pretext to block funding. When Obama restored funding to UNFPA, Congress was still not swayed by Colin Powell’s report and enacted legislation that requires the USA to automatically deduct from its payments to UNFPA what UNFPA spends promoting maternal health in China.

Beyond China, the steering document that drives the entire work of UNFPA very clearly states ”In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.” This should be intuitive to anyone who knows how the UN works: the UNFPA is membership organization and there are several countries in the world in which abortion is illegal. It would be institutional suicide to support abortion services.

Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In many countries complications from childbirth and pregnancy is the leading cause of reproductive aged women. Messing with the UN Population Fund, particularly over false accusations that it supports abortion, is dangerous and irresponsible.

3. The Mexico City Policy (sometimes called the Global Gag Rule by opponents) is a political football that gets dismissed with Democratic administrations and implemented with Republican administrations. It stipulates that federal dollars cannot be directed towards NGOs that even mention abortion. It has the practical effect of dissuading charities and NGOs from working in the family planning sector, for fear they may lose precious American support. The thing is, there is a set of superseding laws passed by congress that prevents US dollars from supporting any organization or entity that offers abortions–even in cases of women raped in war. This has not changed under the Obama administration.

4. There’s no such entity called the ”UN Convention on Women’s Rights.” I have to assume that the framers are referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, better known as CEDAW. Along with the USA, Iran Somalia and Sudan are also non-members. On the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the USA has but one country as company as a non-member: Somalia. The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities is a newer treaty, which aims to “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

Some Republicans believe that these three treaties would somehow influence American family or, in some instances subject things like homeschooling laws or domestic rules about abortion to international scrutiny.

The Arms Trade Treaty is being negotiated at the United Nations and seeks to regulate the legal transfer of arms and armaments to reduce the chances that guns and the like end up in the hands of child soldiers, terrorists, or would be human rights abusers. It has absolutely nothing to do with the second amendment or with domestic firearms regulations. It deals exclusively with the international legal arms trade. That’s all, but it has been demagogued to death by groups like the National Rifle Association, who call it a “UN Gun Grab.”

The UN Conference on Environment and Development is the outcome of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. It gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol and efforts to create an internationally binding treaty to climate change. No surprise here that it’s being rejected by the GOP.

5. As you can tell from the text, the GOP platform does not reject the Convention on the Law of the Sea quite as adamantly as the other treaties. That may be because it has many Republican supporters (including George W. Bush). The military establishment is also strongly supportive of the Law of the Sea, as is the US Chamber of Commerce and the mineral extractive industry, which is typically part of the GOP’s constituency. These industries support the Law of the Sea because it provides standardized rules of the road for things like underwater mining rights, and shipping lanes. Businesses (and the military) very much like this clarity. Incidentally, environmental groups also support Law of the Sea for its marine life protections.

6. Agenda 21 is sort of like the boogey man hiding in the closet of Americans frightened by the UN. It is not a treaty or anything of the sort. Rather, it is an anodyne declaration of support for principals of environmental sustainability signed by heads of state (including George H.W Bush) at the 1992 Earth Summit. As the Tea Party movement gained traction, Agenda 21 has been resurrected in very local debates over things like bike lanes and smart meters as a way to scare opponents into believing sustainable development is a foreign idea.

7. I don’t know where this idea of a “UN Global Tax” comes from. It’s something that you read about on right wing outlets on occasion, but it is a total myth. The UN has no ability to impose taxes on countries or individuals.

8. This idea of the UN trying to control your Internet is the newest canard being floated around certain quarters. The kernel of truth here is that there is an entity called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the ITU will update its charter at a meeting of member states in December this year. A couple of outlier member states have suggested that they want the ITU to have more control over the Internet. The ITU emphatically does not want this, and neither do the most of the important member states. The Obama administration has been very clear that it supports the current “multi-stakeholder model” of Internet governance. The irony here is that the best way to ensure that the ITU does not accept any Internet governance responsibilities is by having the USA remain deeply engaged in the negotiations over the ITU’s new charter. More engagement means more American influence over the direction of the ITU.

9. The American Service Members Protection Act was a piece of legislation championed by the late Senator Jesse Helms which stipulates that American federal agencies cannot cooperate with the International Criminal Court in anyway without the expressed consent of the President. The thing is, when the rubber hit the road, the previous Republican administration happened to find the ICC to be a useful foreign policy tool. In 2005, the Bush administration let a resolution pass at the Security Council giving the ICC jurisdiction to pursue the people who committed the genocide in Darfur. The Obama administration has been similarly supportive of the ICC as foreign policy tool. Most notably, it supported a Security Council resolution to give the ICC jurisdiction to indict the late Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi and his inner circle.

There is a strong American impulse to want justice for victims of genocide or mass atrocity, which crosses party lines. When a crisis arises, setting up new courts to deal with these cases on an ad hoc basis is expensive and ultimately unnecessary because the ICC is a ready-made for the job. Even though his party’s platform specifically rejects it, I suspect a President Romney would still consider the ICC as a potentially useful foreign policy tool.

ELECTION 2012 - Super PAC "Liberty for All"

"Super PAC Founder: Keep Government Out of 'Bedroom and Bank Account'" by News Desk, PBS Newshour 8/28/2012

John Ramsey, the 22-year-old founder of the "Liberty for All" Super PAC, tells NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan his inspiration came from trying to get beyond "politics as usual" and "keeping government out of the bedroom and the bank account."

"Both parties are uniquely the same it seems like -- different rhetoric, of course -- but they both intrinsically grow the size of government, and that's against our values," Ramsey said Monday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The candidates his organization supports are more in tune with Texas Republican and presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, and he wants to remind people they have a choice besides the two mainstream parties.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's pick for a running mate, gets a lot of attention for his budget plan, said Ramsey, but it wouldn't do enough to cut government spending.

"We're $16 trillion in debt now," he said. "We've got to send people to D.C. who are serious about cutting and serious about the debt problem."

NOTE: "The devil is in the details," so what does this PAC actually MEAN by "out of Bedroom and Bank Account?" Also, there is the exaggerated claim of 'the American people want' as if this PAC speaks for all of us, which it does not.

ELECTION 2012 - $Party$ Time in Tampa

"Rain or Shine, the After-Hour Parties Go On in Tampa" by Mike Fritz, PBS Newshour 8/28/2012

Despite a rain-soaked Monday that delayed and cancelled official events across the city of Tampa Bay, there were plenty of after-hour parties Monday at the Republican National Convention that went ahead seemingly without a hitch.

The NewsHour tagged along with Keenan Steiner and Liz Bartolomeo of the Sunlight Foundation -- a non-profit that advocates for government transparency which is tracking fundraising endeavors at both the GOP and Democratic conventions.

The parties included appearances by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney's oldest son. Two trapeze artists performed overhead at the Honey Pot, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bar in Tampa's Ybor City.

A full list of after-hour parties can be found on the Sunlight Foundation's website.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MEMORIAL - Two for Neil Armstrong Dead at 82

Yes, I'm a bit late on this....

Neil Armstrong, as photographed by Buzz Aldrin,
working near the Eagle lunar module after the landing on July 20, 1969



"Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dies at 82" by JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, New York Times 8/25.2012

Neil Armstrong, who made the “giant leap for mankind” as the first human to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. He was 82.

His family said in a statement that the cause was “complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.” He had undergone heart bypass surgery this month in Cincinnati, near where he lived. His recovery had been going well, according to those who spoke with him after the surgery, and his death came as a surprise to many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts. The family did not say where he died.

A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation “to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” It was done with more than five months to spare.

On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they made it.

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control. “The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger, Tranquillity,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

The same could have been said for hundreds of millions of people around the world watching on television.

A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether he said “man” or an indistinct “a man.”)

Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return. In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between then and the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The Apollo 11 mission capped a tumultuous and consequential decade. The ’60s in America had started with such promise, with the election of a youthful president, mixed with the ever-present anxieties of the cold war. Then it touched greatness in the civil rights movement, only to implode in the years of assassinations and burning city streets and campus riots. But before it ended, human beings had reached that longtime symbol of the unreachable.

The moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, long enough to let the astronauts test their footing in the fine and powdery surface — Mr. Armstrong noted that his boot print was less than an inch deep — and set up a television camera and scientific instruments and collect rock samples.

After news of Mr. Armstrong’s death was reported, President Obama, in a statement from the White House, said, “Neil was among the greatest of American heroes.”

“And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time,” the president added, “he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”

Charles F. Bolden Jr., the current NASA administrator, said, “As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

Mr. Bolden also noted that in the years after the moonwalk, Mr. Armstrong “carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all.” The historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Mr. Armstrong for a NASA oral history, described him as “our nation’s most bashful Galahad.” His family called him “a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”

Indeed, some space officials have cited these characteristics, as well as his engineering skills and experience piloting X-15 rocket planes, as reasons that Mr. Armstrong stood out in the astronaut corps. After the post-flight parades and a world tour for the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Mr. Armstrong gradually withdrew from the public eye. He was not reclusive, but as much as possible he sought to lead a private life, first as an associate administrator in the space program, then as a university professor and director of a number of corporations.

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen Armstrong and the former Viola Louise Engel. His father was a state auditor, which meant the family moved every few years to a new Ohio town while Neil was growing up. At the age of 6, Neil and his father took a ride in a Ford Trimotor airplane, known as the Tin Goose. It must have made an impression, for by the time he was 15, he had learned to fly, even before he got his driver’s license.

Neil became an Eagle Scout when the family later moved back to Wapakoneta, where he finished high school. (The town now has a museum named for Mr. Armstrong.) From there, he went to Purdue University as an engineering student on a Navy scholarship. His college years were interrupted by the Korean War, in which Mr. Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions, one in which he was forced to eject after the plane lost one of its ailerons, the hinged flight-control panels on the wings.

In “First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong,” James R. Hansen wrote that in Mr. Armstrong’s first year at Purdue, Charles E. Yeager broke the sound barrier in the rocket-powered Bell X-1. It was exciting but bittersweet for the young student. He thought aviation history had already passed him by.

“All in all, for someone who was immersed in, fascinated by, and dedicated to flight,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer, “I was disappointed by the wrinkle in history that had brought me along one generation late. I had missed all the great times and adventures in flight.”

During the Korean War, Mr. Armstrong was in the unit that the author James A. Michener wrote of in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” Back at Purdue after the Navy, Mr. Armstrong plunged more earnestly into aeronautical engineering studies, his grades rising and a career in sight.

By this time, he had also met Janet Elizabeth Shearon, a student in home economics from Evanston, Ill. Soon after his graduation, they were married, in January 1956.

They had two sons, Eric and Mark, who survive. A daughter, Karen, died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1962. The couple were divorced in 1994; Janet Armstrong lives in Utah. In 1999, Mr. Armstrong married Carol Knight, a widow 15 years his junior; she also survives. They lived in Indian Hill, a suburb of Cincinnati.

Other survivors include a stepson and stepdaughter; a brother, Dean; a sister, June Armstrong Hoffman, and 10 grandchildren.

After his first marriage, the newlyweds moved to California, where Mr. Armstrong had been hired as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Edwards Air Force Base. His first flight in a rocket plane was in the Bell X-1B, a successor to the plane Mr. Yeager had first flown faster than the speed of sound.

Mr. Armstrong impressed his peers. Milt Thompson, one of the test pilots, said he was “the most technically capable of the early X-15 pilots.” Another colleague, Bill Dana, said he “had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge and a memory that remembered them like a photograph.” He made seven X-15 flights at 4,000 miles per hour, reaching the edge of space, and piloted many more of the most innovative and dangerous aircraft ever developed.

In 1958, Mr. Armstrong was chosen as a consultant for a military space plane project, the X-20 Dyna-Soar, and was later named one of the pilots. But the young test pilot was attracted by another opportunity. NASA was receiving applications for the second group of astronauts, after the Mercury Seven. His reputation after seven years at the NASA flight center at Edwards had preceded him, and so he was tapped for the astronaut corps.

“I thought the attractions of being an astronaut were actually, not so much the Moon, but flying in a completely new medium,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer.

At Houston, the new astronaut began training for flights in the two-person Gemini spacecraft, the successor to the smaller Mercury capsules and forerunner to the three-person Apollos. Mr. Armstrong became the first American civilian astronaut to fly in space, as commander of Gemini 8. He and his co-pilot, David R. Scott, were launched on March 16, 1966. They performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space, their Gemini linking with an unmanned Agena in an essential test for later operations on lunar flights.

Once docked, however, the joined spacecraft began to roll. Attempts to steady the vehicle were unavailing. On instructions from Mission Control, Mr. Armstrong separated Gemini from the Agena, but the rolling only increased, to the point that the astronauts were in danger of passing out. The problem was evidently in the Gemini itself. The astronauts turned the control thrusters off, switching to the re-entry control system. Stability was restored, but once the re-entry propulsion was activated, the crew was told to prepare to come home before the end of their only day in orbit.

Next, Mr. Armstrong was the backup commander for Apollo 8, the first flight to circumnavigate the Moon, doing so at Christmastime in 1968. It was the mission that put Apollo back on track after a cockpit fire during a launching pad rehearsal had killed three astronauts in January 1967. And it put Mr. Armstrong in position to command Apollo 11.

If everything went well with the lunar module test on Apollo 9 and with a shakedown flight to lunar orbit on Apollo 10, then Mr. Armstrong was in line to land on the Moon with Buzz Aldrin and with Michael Collins as the command module pilot. As the commander, NASA officials decided, Mr. Armstrong would be the first to walk on the Moon.

About six and a half hours after the landing, Mr. Armstrong opened the hatch of the four-legged lunar module and slowly made his way down the ladder to the lunar surface. A television camera followed his every step for all the world to see. A crater near the landing site is named in Mr. Armstrong’s honor.

Mr. Armstrong and Colonel Aldrin left a plaque on the Moon that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

After leaving the space program, Mr. Armstrong was careful to do nothing to tarnish that image or achievement. Though he traveled and gave speeches — as he did in October 2007, when he dedicated the new Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering at Purdue — he rarely gave interviews and avoided the spotlight.

In the biography “First Man,” Dr. Hansen noted, “Everyone gives Neil the greatest credit for not trying to take advantage of his fame, not like other astronauts have done.” To which Janet Armstrong responded: “Yes, but look what it’s done to him inside. He feels guilty that he got all the acclaim for an effort of tens of thousands of people.” Then she added: “He’s certainly led an interesting life. But he took it too seriously to heart.”

For a time, he was an associate NASA administrator for aeronautics, but he tired of a Washington desk job. Ignoring many high-level offers in business and academia, he returned to Ohio as a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati and bought a farm near Lebanon, Ohio. He also served as a director for several corporations.

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits,” his family said in the statement.

Mr. Armstrong re-entered the public spotlight a couple of years ago to voice sharp disagreement with President Obama for canceling NASA’s program to send astronauts back to the Moon. Later, he testified to a Senate committee, expressing skepticism that the approach of relying on commercial companies would succeed.

Last September, Mr. Armstrong testified to a House committee that NASA “must find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate work force.”

Almost as soon as the news of his death was announced, there was an outpouring of well wishes and fond memorials on Web sites and social media, a reflection of the extraordinary public acclaim that came to a very private man.

“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life,” his family said. “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”


"San Rafael boy gets letter from Neil Armstrong shortly before astronaut's death" by Janis Mara, Marin Independent Journal 8/28/2012

As the world mourns Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon, an 11-year-old San Rafael boy has a special reason to miss him -- and a message from the astronaut he will always treasure.

"Sometimes when I look up at the moon, I wonder if my mom and dad are watching me," wrote Max Boddington, whose mother died in 2005 and his father in 2008. He ended his essay, written two years before Armstrong's death on Saturday: "My dream is to meet Neil Armstrong, the world's Number One space hero."

The boy's adoptive mother, Janet Boddington, kept the essay and submitted it to the 2012 Marin County Fair. After it won best of class in the junior creative writing/short essay category, Boddington tracked down Armstrong online and sent him the essay. On Aug. 1 the astronaut, who commanded the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, emailed her back:

"Thanks for sharing Max's essay with me," Armstrong wrote. "It is very poignant and surprisingly erudite for an 11-year-old. ... Tell Max I send him my very best wishes for good luck and success."

When his mom showed him the email, "I jumped up and down. I was excited," said Max, a fifth-grader at Sun Valley Elementary School in San Rafael. "It made me happy."

Only 24 days after Armstrong sent the email, the former astronaut died of complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He had had heart surgery weeks earlier.

Max wrote the piece in 2010 as part of an essay contest for alumni of Camp Erin, a network of 38 camps in the United States and one in Canada for children ages 6 to 17 grieving a significant person in their lives, typically a parent.

"He was getting counseling at Hospice by the Bay in Larkspur and that organization supports Camp Erin," Janet Boddington said. "They suggested that he attend the camp. We felt it would be a good place for him to see other children having the same feelings."

When Max was 4 years old, his mother died unexpectedly, and three years later his father also died unexpectedly of health problems, leaving Max an orphan at the age of 7.

"He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder," said Simon Boddington, Max's adoptive father. "He's dealing with it pretty well. He is a tough little guy and that is to his advantage." Max came to live with the couple as a foster child in June 2009 and was formally adopted in February 2010.

The Boddingtons say they are lucky to have Max, and it's clear that it goes both ways. He has joined a blended family that includes Janet's two children from a previous marriage, Willie Burke, 20, and Coleman Burke, 23, as well as Simon's children, Sophie Boddington, 28, Sarah Boddington, 33, and Tiffany Boddington Yonts, 30. Max is the only child living at home with Janet and Simon.

Max, who was doing his math homework Monday afternoon but graciously consented to an interview, doesn't know what he wants to do when he grows up, though he hasn't ruled out being an astronaut. He's also thinking about becoming an engineer, he said.

"We were all just overwhelmed that Mr. Armstrong would take time to answer a little boy's letter and just so touched that he did that," said Janet Boddington. "Yesterday, Max told me, 'Mom, you're my hero for sending him my essay.'"

NASA - First Song From Mars "will.i.am"

"will.i.am, NASA team up for first song from Mars" by David Clark Scott, Christian Science Monitor 8/28/2012

Bruno Mars move over. will.i.am has got a new single coming direct from Mars, the first-ever song to debut on another planet.

The Mars Curiosity mission has something for everyone: Cool pix, lasers blasting rocks, and now the music of the spheres.

"Reaching for the Stars" will be broadcast from the red planet at 4 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

The broadcast will be part of a NASA educational event for students at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

According to NASA, members of the team that successfully landed the rover on Mars earlier this month will explain to students the mission and the technology behind the song's interplanetary transmission. will.i.am will then premiere "Reach for the Stars," a new composition about the singer's passion for science, technology, and space exploration.

will.i.am's i.am.angel Foundation, in partnership with Discovery Education of Silver Spring, Md., a provider of digital resources to kindergarten through grade 12 classrooms, will announce a new science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics initiative featuring NASA assets such as the Mars Curiosity Rover.

The event will be streamed on the agency's website and broadcast on NASA TV.

will.i.am is a big NASA fan and has appeared in a NASA promotional video explaining how NASA technologies have helped increase production of clean water, provide remote medical care and solar electricity for refrigeration, and keep food fresh during its trip from field to market.

While will.i.am has the first song, the honor of the first human voice to be broadcast from another planet was reserved for NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

Here's Mr. Bolden's message:

Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.

Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life…new possibilities just beyond the horizon. I want to congratulate the men and women of our NASA family as well as our commercial and government partners around the world, for taking us a step beyond, to Mars.

This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy – others have tried – only America has fully succeeded. The investment we are making…the knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you.

ISRAEL - Rachel Corrie's Death an Accident

"Israeli court rules U.S. activist Rachel Corrie's death an accident" by Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times 8/28/2012

Nine years after their daughter was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip, the parents of American activist Rachel Corrie on Tuesday lost their legal bid to hold Israel responsible for her death and force authorities to reopen their investigation into the matter.

A Haifa judge rejected the case by Corrie's parents, calling the death a unfortunate accident that the victim brought on herself.

"I am hurt," Corrie's mother, Cindy, was quoted telling journalists after the verdict was announced.

The court rejected the family's request for a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses.

For the members of the Corrie family, who live in Olympia, Wash., it's been an expensive and emotional process, requiring them to travel frequently to Israel for sporadic hearings over the last two years and listen to graphic testimony about how Rachel Corrie, then 23, was run over by a slow-moving bulldozer near the Rafah border of Gaza.

Corrie, a college student, traveled to Gaza with the activist group International Solidarity Movement to act as a human shield to prevent Israeli soldiers from demolishing Palestinian homes and farms.

During the trial, the Israeli bulldozer driver, who was never identified, said he did not see Corrie standing in front of his vehicle. He ran over the young women, then backed up and drove over her a second time, witnesses said.

Activists testified that the driver must have seen Corrie, wearing a fluorescent orange vest. They said it appeared Corrie became trapped in the dirt and debris and was unable to escape.

An Israeli military investigation blamed Corrie and other activists for putting themselves in harm's way. The inquiry suggested that the bulldozer was not directly responsible for her death and that she might have been fatally injured after falling into concrete and other debris.

No charges or disciplinary actions were brought against anyone involved. U.S. officials raised questions about whether the inquiry was credible.

The family argued in court that the military should have suspended the bulldozing operations until the civilian protesters had been removed from the area.

LOUISIANA - Isaac, New Orleans Expected to Be Spared

"New Orleans Expects to Be Spared the Worst of Tropical Storm Isaac" by CHRISTINA NG, ABC News 8/27/2012

Anxiety is high in New Orleans as the city braces for Tropical Storm Isaac exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina, but officials believe the city will be spared the brunt of the storm.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Craig Fugate urged storm watchers to focus on other areas that face the prospect of more damage, like Alabama and Mississippi, instead of New Orleans.

"I know that Katrina is first and foremost on everybody's mind because the anniversary is coming up... but I think people need to understand this is not a New Orleans storm. This is a Gulf Coast storm," Fugate said.

Fugate said he was confident that New Orleans is prepared for Isaac with numerous safety precautions in place and improved levees after a multi-billion dollar effort to rebuild and strengthen the system post-Katrina.

"It's a much more robust system than what it was when Katrina came ashore," he said.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, a flawed levee system failed, causing flooding that caused mass devastation. About 1,800 people were killed and 80 percent of the city was destroyed.

This time, officials insist the city is ready.

"I feel the anxiety," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference on Sunday. "All of us, you can kind of feel it and you think, 'Oh my goodness. Could this possibly happen again?' The answer is, of course it can. Is it likely that it's going to happen again? Who knows? That's not the point. It's absolutely true that we are better prepared."

"All pumps are operational," he said of the levees. "We are well prepared to go."

New Orleans has not put mandatory evacuations in place, but some surrounding parishes have urged people to leave. About 53,000 residents of St. Charles Parish outside of New Orleans were told to leave before the storm.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency in the state, and Landrieu said that "now is the time" for residents to prepare for the storm. He urged people to pick up medicine prescriptions, batteries and bottled water. He said residents should clear gutters and storm drains, move cars to designated areas of higher land and board up windows.

"The timing of this storm coming on--as fate would have it, the anniversary of Katrina--has everyone in a [heightened] sense of alertness and that is a good thing," Landrieu said. "It's important to be on high alert. It's also important to just stay prepared because of the uncertainty of this storm."

The storm is expected to cross New Orleans late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning as a Category 1 hurricane.

Landrieu stressed that the airport, Superdome and convention center in New Orleans would not serve as emergency shelters like they did during Hurricane Katrina.

The Gulf Coast has not been hit since 2008 when hurricanes Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck.

"We are much, much better prepared structurally than we were before and I do think that we have been through a number of other very difficult instances so I think the citizens are much more prepared and much more sophisticated," Landrieu siad. "But, at the end of the day, what it has to equal is when the sound goes off everybody has to know where they're going and what they're doing and this time we're much better at knowing what that is."

"The best part of wisdom is to prepare for the worst and to hope for the best," Landrieu said.

MARS - Curiosity's Amazing Photos and Voice From Mars

"Mars rover sends amazing photos, 1st human voice from red planet" by Mike Wall, Fox News 8/28/2012

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has beamed home the first human voice ever sent from another planet, as well as some spectacular new images of its Martian environs.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover broadcast a pre-loaded greeting from NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, who congratulated the mission team for getting the huge robot to Mars safely. While the significance of the audio accomplishment is largely symbolic, NASA officials hope it presages a more substantial human presence on the Red Planet down the road.

"With this, we have another small step that's being taken in extending the human presence beyond Earth, and actually bringing that experience of exploring the planets back a little closer to all of us," said Curiosity program executive Dave Lavery, invoking the famous line late astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered from the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

"As Curiosity continues her mission, we hope the words of the administrator will be an inspiration to someone who's alive today, who will become the first to stand upon the surface of the planet Mars," Lavery told reporters Monday. "Like the great Neil Armstrong, they'll be able to speak aloud — in first person at that point — of the next giant leap in human exploration."

The mission team also unveiled today a stunning 360-degree panorama of Curiosity's Gale Crater landing site, showing in crisp detail some of the landforms scientists want the six-wheeled robot to explore. [Video: Curiosity's Martian Panorama]

Searching for habitable environments

Curiosity touched down inside Mars' huge Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5, tasked with determining whether the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life.

For the next two years, Curiosity is slated to explore Gale and the crater's 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) central peak, the mysterious Mount Sharp. The $2.5 billion rover is outfitted with 10 different science instruments to aid its quest, including a rock-zapping laser and gear that can identify organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

Curiosity's ultimate destination is the base of Mount Sharp, where Mars-orbiting spacecraft have spotted signs of long-ago exposure to liquid water. These interesting deposits lie about 6 miles (10 km) from the rover's landing site as the crow flies.

The new 360-degree panorama, which is composed of 140 images snapped by Curiosity on Aug. 8 and Aug. 18, shows Mount Sharp's many-layered foothills, as well as its upper reaches stretching into a brown-tinged Martian sky. [Gallery: Photos from Curiosity's 4th Week on Mars]

The mosaic has Curiosity's scientists licking their chops.

"I think when those of us on the science team looked at this image for the first time, you get the feeling, 'That's what I'm talking about,'" said Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at Caltech in Pasadena. "That is why we picked this landing site."

While researchers are most excited about the potential discoveries that await them on Mount Sharp's flanks, the scenic beauty captured in the panorama got their hearts racing, too, Grotzinger said.

The terrain "looks like it was something that comes out of a John Ford movie," he said.

A year away?

Though Curiosity took its first short test drive last week, it still hasn't strayed far from its landing site, which the mission team dubbed "Bradbury Landing" in honor of the late scifi author Ray Bradbury.

The rover should be ready to head out in a few days, Grotzinger said — but Curiosity won't be going straight to Mount Sharp. Rather, the first stop is Glenelg, a site 1,300 feet (400 meters) away where three different types of terrain come together in one place.

It'll likely take the rover a month or two to reach Glenelg, where it will spend another large chunk of time performing science operations. Curiosity could be ready to turn its wheels toward Mount Sharp by the end of the year, Grotzinger has said.

But it'll take Curiosity a while to reach the mountain. The rover will probably cover a maximum of about 330 feet (100 m) per day after it's fully checked out, researchers have said. And it may stop along the way to Mount Sharp to study interesting landforms.

"It'll probably take us a year to get there," Grotzinger said.

Also today, Curiosity scientists announced that tests of the rover's onboard chemistry laboratory, SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars), are going well. SAM can detect organics in Martian soil, and it will sniff the Red Planet's atmosphere for methane, which may be a sign of life as organisms here on Earth are known to generate the gas.

The SAM tests are part of an ongoing checkout of Curiosity and its science instruments, which has proceeded very smoothly so far.

"Curiosity, as you've gathered by now, is a very complicated beast with lots of parts, and the project's being very systematic about testing things out," said SAM principal investigator Paul Mahaffy, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"We think of ourselves a little bit as the nose of Curiosity, and we're getting ready to start sniffing," Mahaffy added.

POLITICS - An Election 2012 Quiz

"Where Do You Fit? Introducing The Pew/NewsHour Political Party Quiz" by Christina Bellantoni, PBS Newshour 8/24/2012
Pew Research Center and the NewsHour have teamed up to establish the Political Party ID Quiz.

Twelve simple questions will calculate your partisan status, and you can see how you compare with others based on your age, gender, religion and marital status.

Take it here and tell your friends where you rank, and stay tuned to the NewsHour's 24-hour convention livestream to see how delegates and movers-and-shakers at each convention fit on the scale.

This quiz is a joint effort between the Pew Research Center and PBS Newshour.

Link to 2012 Quiz

CALIFORNIA - Proposition 30 Tax Initiative Debate

"Backers, foes call Calif. tax push necessary" by Matthew T. Hall, Union-Tribune San Diego 8/27/2012

Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to persuade anyone willing to listen and able to vote in November that raising taxes by $6 billion a year, mostly for state education spending, is crucial.

Good luck with that.

Backers and detractors are finding some common ground, though: Both say the push is badly needed.

Supporters view Brown’s income- and sales-tax increase as an investment in public schools and the state’s future. Opponents see it as a path to budget reform — once the measure fails.

“Reforms come when they have to, and not before,” taxpayer advocate Richard Rider told me last week.

I turned to Rider and Murtaza Baxamusa, an advocate for unions and the middle class, to dissect and discuss Proposition 30, Brown’s tax proposal, after the governor promoted it while in town Monday.

Rider and Baxamusa are go-to guys on a range of economic issues. You’ve probably heard of them. Maybe you even heard them on KPBS the day Brown touted his tax measure at San Diego City College.

Their conversation (video below) was an enlightening and entertaining 15 minutes — so much so that I decided to have them engage in this space, too.

That day, Baxamusa said the revenue from Brown’s tax increase would be “our investment in our future to maintain our education and our quality of life. That’s what makes California great.”

Rider’s reply? “If we give more money to the state, reform will not come. We’ve seen this over and over on the local level and on the state level. If we want reform, we first have to say, ‘No mas.’”

Brown’s tax proposal would increase the state’s sales tax by a quarter-cent for five years and income taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year for seven years.

With it, school spending would not suffer — to use Brown’s word — and the state would guarantee a certain amount of money to counties for assuming responsibility for more state prisoners and parolees.

Without it, there would be automatic budget cuts of $5 billion in K-12 schools and $1 billion in higher education and other programs. Under that scenario, school calendars could shrink by three weeks, forcing many parents to stay home or pay more for day care.

San Diegans have heard sky-is-falling warnings before. Just two years ago, Mayor Jerry Sanders joined a number of city officials in vowing that voter rejection of a temporary sales-tax increase would trigger massive cuts to police and fire budgets.

Everyone knows now that neither the increase nor the cuts happened.

This time around, though, Rider agreed with Baxamusa that the state’s threat is not so idle.

“It’s going to be a one-year disruption followed by hopefully some meaningful reforms,” Rider said. “Using the kids as hostages will not sell a second year, so they’re going to have to do something. ... Yes, you may have to take one for the team as a parent, but that’s the price we have to pay to bring it back in line.”

Said Baxamusa: “This is going to be an eye-opener should there be any consequences mid-year. ... This is not a game of chicken. This is really about the centerpiece of the budget in California.”

Critics said more responsible decision-making and fiscal oversight would halt years of California budget shortfalls. They’re using recent revelations of secret state surpluses and questionable accounting in the state parks department to make their case.

Backers said Brown’s proposal depends on how well he and others argue for it. Even with California in the bottom third of per-pupil school spending nationally, there’s no question they have a tough sell.

Baxamusa, for one, said the measure’s chances rest with Brown.

“This is a contract with Californians,” Baxamusa said. “It’s really at the end of the day about leadership.”

Baxamusa wouldn’t make a prediction when I asked him how the simple-majority vote may go at the end of that day — Nov. 6 — but Rider isn’t reluctant at all. He guessed the measure would lose with 53 percent of voters opposed and 47 percent in support.

Expect the predictions to increase with the rhetoric this fall.

This is just the start.


IMO: Education is very important to our state (yes I'm a Californian from San Diego) and our nation as a whole. This is way I've supported increased taxes for education, and school bonds, even though I have no children.

Monday, August 27, 2012

POLITICS - Election 2012, the Unknown Romney

"Shields, Brooks Discuss Convention 'Bounce,' Mitt Romney's Reticence" PBS Newshour 8/24/2012

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): So, Mark, you know, whatever Romney's task is, do you agree with David that the race is tight? Romney has picked up a little bit.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Yes, I will say this as a formulation of this race, that if President Obama is reelected on November 6, it will be primarily because he ran against Mitt Romney.

If he were running unopposed, 2012 would be a very tough fight for him. I mean, I think David's right. The race is close. I think that tells you how vulnerable the president is, when only 43 percent of voters think he deserves reelection. By a 2-1 margin, people think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

But Romney has essentially wasted the four months he had from the time he became the de facto nominee. He has not filled in -- there are two things that people want to know. What kind of a guy is he? Who is he? He has not revealed himself.

And he has a special problem because he only had one term in public office, during which he was pro-choice on abortion, he was pro-gun control, he was pro-environment, a greenie, and, in addition, he offered the mandatory health insurance that everybody had to buy with a public subsidy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When he was governor of Massachusetts.

MARK SHIELDS: When he was governor of Massachusetts.

But that -- that is his only public record, and he's totally moved away from that.

Now, people don't know who he is. And they don't have a -- they want to have a sense of what kind of a guy he is, what kind of a person he is, and what he's going to do. He hasn't filled that in at all and he's let the Obama campaign fill in a lot of it and he's let the Obama campaign fill it in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist: I was doing a Google search looking for some information, and I came across a column I wrote in 2007. Of course, I reread what I wrote.

And it was this. It was like, how come he doesn't tell us who he is? And so that was 2007. And it's been five years since then.

JUDY WOODRUFF: About Romney.

DAVID BROOKS: And he still hasn't done that. So maybe there is nobody in the house. But I don't know. We will see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, why is he doing so well then if he hasn't told us who he is?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it's, quite honestly, because the president is in a tough situation.

The president has a ceiling -- you have to believe those polls -- about 48. And the president hasn't broken through to 50, 51. And, you know, Judy, I mean, the country is headed in the wrong direction. People don't -- are not optimistic about the future. They don't have confidence.

I mean, two out of three voters do not have confidence that the president's policies and plans will move us economically.

Three out of four people don't have confidence -- this is a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll -- that Romney's plans will. So, I mean, you know, the challenger has a special responsibility to say, this is where we're going. This is how we're going to get there. And he has not done that.

SPORTS - 'Finical Bulling' Forces Lance Armstrong to Drop Legal Fight

IMO this is green-monster-of-envy, lead by France, of Armstrong's record in his sport. 'They' have been after him for years and it's my belief that it is ONLY because of his years of success in the Tour de France. If he had not been so successful we would not have this issue. The result comes about because of finical-bulling (cost of legal defense) NOT proven guilt.

"Lance Armstrong Drops Fight Against Doping Probe, Calling It 'Unconstitutional'" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 8/24/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): "There comes a time in every man's life when he has to say, enough is enough. For me, that time is now."

Those are the words of cycling legend Lance Armstrong in a statement announcing he will no longer fight charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong achieved what no cyclist in history had ever done, winning the grueling Tour de France, his sport's premier event, seven straight times, from 1999 to 2005. And he did all that after beating stage-three testicular cancer and forming his foundation, with its popular LIVESTRONG bracelets.

It all made him one of the most famous and most followed athletes in the world. But for more than a decade, Armstrong has also been shadowed by accusations that he'd used drugs to give him a competitive advantage, charges he repeatedly denied.

LANCE ARMSTRONG: We have nothing to hide. We have nothing to run from.

JEFFREY BROWN: In June, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, or USADA, formally charged Armstrong with using banned substances and conspiring with teammates in a systematic doping scheme.

The agency said it had at least 10 former teammates and colleagues of Armstrong ready to testify to that effect.

In a statement issued last night, Armstrong maintained his innocence in what he called -- quote -- "unconstitutional probe" and said "I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair."

But John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, made clear how he read Armstrong's statement.

JOHN FAHEY, World Anti-Doping Agency: His failure to rebut the -- the charges, those very serious charges, mean that he's effectively acknowledging that they had substance.

JEFFREY BROWN: And USADA chief Travis Tygart, calling it a -- quote -- "sad day," said, "This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition."

Armstrong now faces a lifelong ban on competing, and being stripped of past awards, including his seven Tour titles and a bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympic Games.


"In Refusing to Cooperate, Armstrong Faces Cycling Ban, Financial Consequences" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 8/24/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursued examination of Lance Armstrong after a federal inquiry ended, citing testimony and blood tests. Not admitting guilt, the cyclist decided to stop fighting the charges. Jeffrey Brown discusses consequences for the sport as well as Armstrong's reputation with David Epstein of Sports Illustrated.

POLITICS - Election 2012, Republican Regressive Economic Priorities

"Tax Cuts, Deregulation Among Republican Economic Priorities for 2012 Election" PBS Newshour 8/24/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Ahead of the Republican National Convention, Paul Solman goes to Tampa, Fla., to talk to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, as well as some conservative business owners about their economic priorities going into the 2012 Election, which include tax cuts and deregulation.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now to a question: How might Mitt Romney's policies impact the economy?

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, went to the city hosting next week's GOP Convention to find out.

It's part of Paul's ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): At the Tampa Bay Times forum this week, lights, cameras, and lots of action, as workers put the finishing touches on the set for next week's Republican Convention.

John McCain's economic adviser four years ago, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, agreed to fly to Tampa to explain this election's agenda.