30 September 2009

T. Rex Killed By Parasite

Throat infection may have brought down T. rex

Wolff thinks the parasite, a protozoan named Trichomonas gallinae, settled in the back of Sue's throat, and in nine other Tyrannosaurs he studied with similar holes. The parasite caused inflammation that eventually damaged the jawbone, he theorized.

As the infection worsened, the throat swelled to a point that "the esophagus gets narrower and narrower," Wolff said. "Death is by starvation.""People have speculated in the past about the holes in the jaw," said Mark Goodwin, a paleontologist at UC Berkeley. "The strength of this paper is that it presents a hypothesis and tests it."

The Canary In The Coal Mine: Don't You Find It Interesting When Politicians Are Surrounded By The Criminal And Corrupt?

Democratic Donor Gets 24-Year Term

A federal judge Tuesday sentenced Democratic fund-raiser Norman Hsu to more than 24 years in prison for illegally funneling money to U.S. political candidates and for defrauding investors in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Mr. Hsu rose from being a relatively unknown businessman in California to a prominent fund-raiser who pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hillary Clinton and some other Democratic politicians. A Wall Street Journal article in August 2007 raised questions about the legality of some of those donations. Later that year, Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign agreed to return $850,000 in funds raised through Mr. Hsu.

Mr. Hsu, a legal U.S. immigrant from Hong Kong, was known among acquaintances as a gregarious man who enjoyed the access to the political elite that his fund-raising successes afforded him.

Time to Stop Voting Against Your Better Judgment

Rotterdan Windmill: Guest Post: Two-Party Paradox by Damon Eris of Poli-Tea Party. Just a few excerpts below -- read the whole thing.

One of the more perplexing paradoxes engendered by the politics of the two-party system is the lack of all proportion between the number of independents among the people of the United States and the number of independents among our elected representatives. A significant plurality of Americans consistently identify themselves as independents, rather than Republicans or Democrats, when queried as to their party affiliation.

Nationwide, almost 40% of Americans consider themselves to be independents, according to recent polls. In government, however, almost 99% of elected officials are beholden to the Democratic and Republican Parties. If millions of voters nationwide do not identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, or with the Republican and Democratic Parties, with their means, their ends, or both, why are we only represented by officials who do?

Ironically, among the illusions that sustain the two-party system is the illusion that we have a two-party system.

At the local, state, and federal level, polities across the country are effectively dominated by a one-party system of government in which the Republican or Democratic Party has a virtual monopoly on seats for elected office.

Recognizing that the Democratic and Republican Parties are no longer effective vehicles for political representation, but have rather become obstacles to effective political representation, many people say they would consider voting for a "viable" third party or independent candidate for office.

If we only consider Republicans and Democrats to be viable candidates for office, then there will be no viable independent or third party candidates for office.

The true measure of an independent is not whether he or she sometimes votes for Republicans and sometimes votes for Democrats, as partisans of the duopoly parties and their enablers in the media would have us believe, but rather, whether they vote for independent and third party candidates for office.

The people can impose term limits on Democrats and Republicans any time we like: we must simply cease voting for them against our better judgment.

Public Option Rejected, For Now

The Hill: Finance panel rejects public option

The Senate Finance Committee rejected two attempts by Democrats to attach a government-run health insurance plan to the panel’s healthcare bill, delivering a blow to liberals who say it is essential to reform.

The votes underscored the deep divide among Democrats over the most controversial aspect of healthcare reform, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative.

But the two votes hardly end the debate on the provision. Liberals are expected to push for more votes on the Senate floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is insisting the House bill include a public option and GOP centrist Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) is floating the idea of “triggering” a public option if the insurance industry fails to meet certain requirements.

Republicanism and the Whig Canon

Republicanism was the distinctive political consciousness of the entire Revolutionary generation.

The Whig canon and the neo-Harringtonians, John Milton, James Harrington and Sidney, Trenchard, Gordon and Bolingbroke, together with the Greek, Roman, and Renaissance masters of the tradition as far as Montesquieu, formed the authoritative literature of this culture; and its values and concepts were those with which we have grown familiar:

a civic and patriot ideal in which the personality was founded in property, perfected in citizenship but perpetually threatened by corruption;

government figuring paradoxically as the principal source of corruption and operating through such means as patronage, faction, standing armies (opposed to the ideal of the militia), established churches (opposed to the Puritan and deist modes of American religion) and the promotion of a monied interest ... .

A neoclassical politics provided both the ethos of the elites and the rhetoric of the upwardly mobile, and accounts for the singular cultural and intellectual homogeneity of the Founding Fathers and their generation.

-- J.G.A. Pocock

Income Gap Widens

The problem of wage and wealth gap has been a concern of mine here. It indicates the problems our economy and society have in allowing upward mobility and educational and economic opportunity.

A large gap between rich and poor is detrimental not just to individuals, but to our society as a whole and is deadly to our politics. Our republic relies on a broad middle class, imbibed with the virtues of civic involvement, self-reliance, moderation, and opposition to corruption and dependency. That this middle class is under pressure is not a welcome development.

And as is typical, this issue is not even on the radar of our political elite. To the contrary, both parties have consistently pursued polities that have contributed to this gap in wealth and income.

Income gap widens as poor take hit in recession
Census: Income falls for all groups, but those at bottom feel worst effect

The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — those making more than $138,000 each year — earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Household income declined across all groups, but at sharper percentage levels for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade's worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997.

"No one should be surprised at the increased disparity," said Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University. "Unemployment hurts normal workers who do not have the golden parachutes the folks at the top have."

It's unclear whether income inequality will continue to worsen in major cities, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Many Americans are staying put for now in traditional cities to look for jobs and because of frozen lines of credit.

"During the years of the housing bubble, there was middle-class movement from unaffordable metros with high-income inequality," Frey said. "Now that the bubble burst, more of the population may be headed back to the high-inequality areas, stemming their middle-class losses."

Among other findings:

Income at the top 5 percent of households — those making $180,000 or more — was 3.58 times the median income, the highest since 2006.

Between 2007 and 2008, income at the 50th percentile (median) and the 10th percentile fell by 3.6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, compared with a 2.1 percent decline at the 90th percentile.

Between 1999 and 2008, income at the 50th and 10th percentiles decreased 4.3 percent and 9 percent, respectively, while income at the 90th percentile was statistically unchanged.

Previous posts on this topic:

11Sep09: Study Shows Wealth Inequality Greatest Since 1928

11Apr09: Republicans and Democrats Engage in Silly Debates, While the Modern Whigs Propose Real Solution to Inequality

29Oct08: Spreading Opportunity

11May08: In Praise of Competition

U.S. Intelligence Analysis on Iran Questioned

A nuclear debate: Is Iran designing warheads?
Behind a show of unity, American, European and Israeli spies disagree

The debate, in essence, is a mirror image of the intelligence dispute on the eve of the Iraq war.

This time, United States spy agencies are delivering more cautious assessments about Iran’s clandestine programs than their Western European counterparts.

The Israelis, who have delivered veiled threats of a military strike, say they believe that Iran has restarted these “weaponization” efforts, which would mark a final step in building a nuclear weapon.

The Germans say they believe that the weapons work was never halted.

The French have strongly suggested that independent international inspectors have more information about the weapons work than they have made public.

Meanwhile, in closed-door discussions, American spy agencies have stood firm in their conclusion that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted work on weapons design in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort — a judgment first made public in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

There are questions about the accuracy and bias in that 2007 Estimate.

Proposed Bill Calls for Carbon Dioxide Emission Reduction

Senate climate bill calls for a 20% cut in CO2

The bill calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, compared with the 17 percent reduction called for in a version sponsored in the House by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

President Barack Obama had called for a 14 percent cut by 2020. The other targets, including the 83 percent reduction by 2050, are the same in both Senate and House versions.

As expected, the draft, which is being sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), did not allocate allowances that companies need to acquire to cover their emissions. Those details will be left to a markup later in October. The Senate Finance Committee will also address that issue, sometime after it’s done with healthcare reform.

You Go, Girl

Kashmir girl fights off militants
A teenage girl says she killed a militant with his own gun after insurgents attacked their home in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Three militants stormed into Rukhsana Kauser's home in a remote village in Jammu region on Monday and started beating her parents in front of her.

Ms Kauser, 18, and her brother turned on the gunmen, killing one and injuring two more. Police praised their courage.

One of the militants wanted to marry Ms Kauser against her will, police said.

The militants escaped and are now being sought by police who are using their blood trails as clues.

Who Makes Healthcare Decisions?

Why do some keep saying they want to protect an "Individuals ability to make healthcare decisions" and that they "Don't want anyone between them and their doctor?"

First, most employers make the health insurance decisions for you. I have never been free to choose my health insurance and have had my insurance company changed during treatment, requiring me to change doctors. Wouldn't a system that removes the employer from the decision and allows the individual to pick a plan be better than what we have now? And what about those on Medicare and Medicaid? Wouldn't allowing them to buy subsidized private insurance reduce the role of the government?

Second, don't insurance companies get between you and your doctor already? What are they talking about?

I know the Republicans think that this rhetoric is a winner, but seeking to preserve the status quo doesn't seem like a winner to me.

The fact is, the health insurance system can be changed for the better. But neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are currently on the right track.

29 September 2009

Hollywood Celebrates Roman Polanski, Rapist

A good explanation of the Roman Polanski legal situation over at Slate.

Note to Hollywood: directing Chinatown, does not excuse drugging and raping a 13 year old girl, and them becoming a fugitive from justice. Besides, the crappyness of Bitter Moon cancels that out anyway.

So get those misplaced silly romantic thoughts out of your muddled heads. Those of clearer mind hope he gets what is coming to him.

This Week's Statement of the Obvious Award Goes To ...

CareerBuilder.com for commissioning a study in order to make these brilliant statements of obviousness:

Scrambling to make ends meet is an exercise all too familiar in many homes.

Because workers' paychecks are often spent before they even hit the bank, saving is often not an option.

Take out taxes and other deductions like Social Security and Medicare, and that take-home pay is even less.

Now subtract money spent on food, clothing, rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation, healthcare, education and other services for day-to-day living and there's often not a lot left over.

We're glad you are here to tell us these things.

Is fiscal responsibility catching on?

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said the government will introduce a new fiscal responsibility law aimed at reducing the country's budget deficit steadily in coming years.

"We will introduce a new Fiscal Responsibility Act to require that the government reduces the budget deficit year-on-year, ensuring that the national debt remains sustainable in the medium term," Darling said in his speech to the Labour party annual conference.

It's a novel concept.

I Would Like For Us To Be Able To Surround Something

I guess we can't really expect a lot of support at the Daily Kos, but just about any publicity is good publicity at this point. Thanks to Whigs in Virginia.

Daily Kos: The Whigs are coming! The Whigs are coming!

This last paragraph made me laugh:
I have no idea how much of an impact the new Whigs will have if any, but I just wanted to alert the DKOS community that they exist and to be on the lookout for them. I wouldn't want us to wake up some morning and find ourselves surrounded by The Modern Whig Party.

Opening The Debate on Drug Policy

The Economist: El Paso's small step

Reform advocates want an honest and open debate on drug policy

This week the University of Texas at El Paso held a conference on the costs and consequences of America’s drug policy. Speakers pointed to the carnage in Mexico and the corruption and graft funded by a huge black market. They mentioned the hundreds of thousands of Americans in jail on minor drug offences, and the millions of children with at least one parent somehow yoked to the criminal-justice system. They spoke of the cost of enforcement, and the courts gummed up with trivial possession cases.

“To just deny that and say it’s all working—it’s morally wrong, it’s politically wrong, and some day it’s going to come back to haunt us,” said Howard Campbell, an anthropologist at the university. On the first day of the conference there were eight murders across the bridge in Juárez, including one beheading.

Around the country, various noises are suggesting that Americans are tiring of their 40-year war on drugs. In particular, people are becoming more critical of marijuana prohibition. A Zogby poll found in May that a narrow majority of Americans agreed it would be sensible to legalise marijuana so that it can be taxed and regulated.

That is not a surprising result. The drug is widely available and mostly benign. Yet it is a highly profitable crop for the cartels, and in 2008 there were more than 750,000 arrests for simple possession.

GOP Driving Out All Signs Of Moderation

LGF: Social Con Extremists Tightening Their Hold on the GOP

At the “How to Take Back America” conference last week, attended by Republican leaders including Mike Huckabee, Steve King, and Michele Bachmann, speakers railed against the “Marxist and/or Nazi dictatorship” of President Obama, and promoted a full raft of far right conspiracy theories.

Following the Values Voters Summit the previous week (run by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, a man with ties to white supremacists such as David Duke and the Council of Conservative Citizens), this conference was another step in the religious far right’s move to tighten its hold over the GOP by driving out all signs of moderation and inflaming the most extreme elements of the right wing base.

And then there is this:
Sharing the stage with Bachmann will be Janet Porter of the religious right group Faith2Action. Her latest fear is that the Obama administration will force H1N1 vaccinations on citizens, carting off those who refuse to internment camps. She’s made friends within the “birther” movement for her frequent articles calling for an investigation of President Obama because she doesn’t think he’s a citizen.

Warnings From World Bank President

Zoellick: Muzzle the Fed

Give more power to the Federal Reserve to oversee the American banking system? Are you kidding? No, these are not the words of Rep. Ron Paul nor the swelling ranks of small-government crusaders. It is the blunt observation of World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

In a speech to be given later today, the Wall Street Journal reports, Zoellick will come down hard on central bankers, saying "central banks around the world fell down as regulators—and that the Treasury, which is more accountable to Congress, should be given the authority to regulate big financial institutions, not the Fed." Zoellick, who worked for the U.S. Treasury from 1983-1995, believes handing the Fed more power is a bad idea mainly because it's such an unaccountable authority.

Zoellick also will warn of the "next upheaval" in the financial markets, and it will involve the flimsy U.S. dollar, Bloomberg reports. The dollar is being battered by foreign currencies, down 11 percent since President Obama took office, leaving its long-held status as the global reserve currency in doubt in some circles.

Zoellick warns it could be the end of an era. "The United States would be mistaken to take for granted the dollar’s place as the world’s predominant reserve currency," according to excerpts of the speech released by the World Bank over the weekend.

Median House Price in Detroit -- $7,100. Why?

WSJ: In One Home, a Mighty City's Rise and Fall
DETROIT -- On a grassy lot on a quiet block on a graceful boulevard stands the answer to a perplexing question: Why does the typical house in Detroit sell for $7,100?
If you think politics doesn't matter, read the article. The short answer is that disastrous policies destroyed a city.

Don't think it can't happen to us as a whole.

It reminds me that at the time of independence, Texas was a poor backwater compared to wealthy Mexico. Why the shift? Laws, policies, and politics, played out over time.

Reduce Oil Dependency, Reduce World Crazies

A Loyal Opposition

Listening to the three lunatic speeches at the U.N., we are reminded that oil or cash reserves or both allow Ahmadinejad, Chávez, and Gaddafi to be what they are, and Russia and China to snub efforts to stop proliferation.

Recent oil discoveries in Alaska, California, the Gulf, and the Dakotas remind us we can do a lot to help lower the world oil price, and save money by using our own resources to augment much needed conservation and alternative energy.

Saving money, balancing our budget, and curbing borrowing from abroad would help as well, and give us far more leverage with those who intend us no good.

You Dirty Lawbreaker, You

This way, you can be arrested whenever you do something "they" don't like.

WSJ: You Commit Three Felonies a Day
Laws have become too vague and the concept of intent has disappeared.

Mr. Silverglate describes several cases in which prosecutors didn't understand or didn't want to understand technology. This problem is compounded by a trend that has accelerated since the 1980s for prosecutors to abandon the principle that there can't be a crime without criminal intent.

Mr. Silverglate, a liberal who wrote a previous book taking the conservative position against political correctness on campuses, is a persistent, principled critic of overbroad statutes. This is a common problem in securities laws, which Congress leaves intentionally vague, encouraging regulators and prosecutors to try people even when the law is unclear.

These miscarriages are avoidable. Under the English common law we inherited, a crime requires intent. This protection is disappearing in the U.S.

As Mr. Silverglate writes, "Since the New Deal era, Congress has delegated to various administrative agencies the task of writing the regulations," even as "Congress has demonstrated a growing dysfunction in crafting legislation that can in fact be understood."

Prosecutors identify defendants to go after instead of finding a law that was broken and figuring out who did it.

Expect more such prosecutions as Washington adds regulations.

Despite Failures and Opposition, The Fed Expands Powers

The Economist: While Congress fiddles, the Fed is expanding its reach

28 September 2009

The Same Topic, Over and Over

I had a lot of driving to do today, and I spent some of the time in the car listening to radio talk shows.

They went on about it all day. Every one. All day!

I can't believe I am defending Obama, but I saw that interview and didn't think anything of it. Obama is not a military man. Military-wise, he wouldn't know what he is talking about. Let him leave the generals alone and let them run the war. The last thing I want is for Obama to start giving direct orders to generals.

Let him spend his time on matters to which he is better suited. Like wooing eurotrash.

Swine Flu Hits Septimus Household

Younger Daughter has got the swine fly, poor thing. It is going around her school, and now she's got it. High fever and a headache so far. I hope she gets well soon.

Since I catch everything the kids bring home, I have that to look forward to.

Two Thoughts About Healthcare

First, the reason I support healthcare reform is to eliminate the problem of "free riders." Every hospital bill and insurance premium you and I pay includes a substantial portion to cover the bills of those who don't pay. So if you think you are not paying to cover the uninsured already, you are fooling yourself.

At least with a individual requirement to pay, everyone will be paying their own way. But at the same time, we as a society, can assist those who are less fortunate, buy subsidizing the coverage for the poor. But at least we would be aware of what we were spending to do that, and it would be under our control, instead of being hidden in hospital charges as it is now.

Ah, but what of limited government? I have opined here that I believe in limited government. I don't necessarily support a weaker government, but one that is restrained from interfering in certain areas. But at the same time, if we want everyone to be covered, and that is coupled with requiring individuals to be responsible for their own coverage, then I am for it. Requiring everyone to purchase coverage, ensuring minimal coverage, and ensuring competition in the health insurance industry, can be accomplished by a low level of federal involvement, and little more regulation that now exists on the state level.

Further, such a requirement, along with subsidized coverage, could replace the current government-run Medicare/Medicaid with private insurance, thereby actually reducing government involvement in the healthcare industry.

We will have to make a decision, as a nation, as to whether we should ensure that everyone have access to a minimum level of medical care. I think we should.

Second, another issue that has arisen with healthcare reform is that of illegal immigration. How exactly would we deny coverage to illegal immigrants? When they show up at the hospital, do we just watch them die?

You and I both know that is as unlikely to happen in the future as it does in the present day. Illegals immigrants will receive health care. The question is, do we make them pay for it? One of the advantages of having the requirement to purchase healthcare is that they can face the same penalties if they fail to buy coverage. But they would not be eligible for subsidized health care.

My concern, again, is eliminating free riders. Everyone has to pay. If you accept that the main problem with the current system is that some do not pay (are irresponsible) and that the rest of us pay (are responsible), then the solution is forcing the irresponsible to be responsible. This is preferable, I think, than the current system, in which my employer chooses my insurer, and through my premiums, pay for the irresponsible.

Hugo Chavez Hates Brian Griffin

Venezuela bans Family Guy cartoon

Authorities in Venezuela say they will punish TV stations if they continue to broadcast episodes of cult US animation Family Guy. Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami says the show should be banned because it promotes the use of marijuana.

He took exception to a recent episode in which one character - Brian, a talking dog - started a campaign to legalise the drug.

Cable stations which refuse to dump the show would be fined, El Aissami said.

It is not the first time the government of President Hugo Chavez has reacted badly to a cartoon. Last year, The Simpsons was deemed unsuitable for children after officials decided it flouted regulations prohibiting "messages that go against the whole education of boys, girls and adolescents".

Televen avoided the fine by pulling the show and replacing it with Baywatch.

German Election Results

FDP Poised To Make Comeback

The victory of a center-right alliance in German elections on Sunday marks the likely return to government for the small, pro-business Free Democratic Party after more than a decade in opposition.

The FDP's strong showing puts its leader, Guido Westerwelle, in position to become vice chancellor in a cabinet led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The FDP is also expected to win the post of foreign minister and push for a key economic position, such as finance minister or economy minister, to push its tax-cutting agenda.

On Sunday night, Mr. Westerwelle told cheering supporters at a rally in Berlin that he would push for "a fair tax system," with radically simpler tax laws as well as lower income-tax rates. Mr. Westerwelle has also stressed the need for a strong social safety net, showing that he is sensitive to Germans' social protections.

The Failure of the Bailout

The Bailout That's Failing
The federal rescue may have saved the banking sector, but it hasn't fixed the housing market.

Last October, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Congress deployed every weapon in their arsenal, and invented some new ones, to stanch the financial panic: loans, subsidies, direct bailouts, free money, the TARP.

In so doing, they exposed taxpayers to massive immediate and potential liabilities.

This year's deficit is projected to be $1.58 trillion. The Federal Reserve's balance sheet has swelled from about $880 billion pre-crisis to $2.1 trillion today. Add in the stimulus and all the other measures, concludes Nomi Prins, a former Goldman Sachs managing director and author of the bailout critique It Takes a Pillage, and the public could be on the hook for up to $19.3 trillion.

The Fed's portfolio of mortgage-backed securities has risen from zero last year to $685 billion today. If they go bad, guess who pays? And while many subprime lenders have gone out of business, the federal government is now issuing huge numbers of subprime loans.

Now that the government has shown the lengths it will go to save bankers from their own mistakes, they'll have faith that it will do so again in the future. "The subsidy is now permanently in place," he says. "There's a sense in which we're not going to be able to exit from any sector completely."

Dullness As A Warning?

Dave does dull: Storm warnings on the Petraeus-ometer

In the decade or so that I've been keeping an eye on Gen. David Petraeus, I've noticed that the more worried he gets, the more boring his public pronouncements become.

If I'm right, his mind-numbing appearance yesterday at a Marine Corps conference on counterinsurgency is a leading indicator that he is profoundly worried. One reporter told me after the event that she fell asleep during it. I am guessing Petraeus is fretting primarily about President Obama's public dithering on Afghanistan strategy, but perhaps also about some weird vibes inside the U.S. official establishment in Baghdad.

27 September 2009

Climate Change Bill To Be Delayed

Climate change bill may drift
A wary Senate might not decide measure’s fate until next year

Top Democratic leaders who set the Senate schedule have signaled that other legislation deserves higher priority, including a financial regulatory overhaul, the health care measure and must-pass government spending bills. That could push climate change legislation into next year.

With all of the obstacles, it is increasingly likely the Obama administration will not have a new climate change law — or even a preliminary version passed by the Senate — to bring to international negotiations on a global warming pact this December in Copenhagen.

Bleak Job Prospects

U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Openings by Record Ratio
Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000. According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed.

Two Parties Divided Against Themselves

An illustration of the problems caused by the internal inconsistency of the two main parties. When you have only two, these kinds of things happen over and over. The result? Problems fester as nothing gets done, and the public can't hold anyone accountable.

Democrats deeply split over how to overhaul health care

Before President Barack Obama can sign health care legislation, his biggest sales challenge will be persuading his fellow Democrats in Congress to enact his plan.

The party is badly, even bitterly, divided over a host of hard-to-resolve issues - including the scale of government involvement, cost and abortion - making it impossible to predict whether Obama can muster the 218 House of Representatives and 60 Senate votes he needs to enact a bill.

Party leaders say that the turmoil is typical.

For Some Republicans, Their Party’s Seal of Approval Doesn’t Impress

In New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and other states, the push by Washington Republicans to identify preferred Senate candidates has stirred resentment and prompted competition from those not impressed by the Washington seal of approval.

“When folks in Washington say, ‘This is our candidate, get in line,’ I think people are going to want to take a look first,” said Jim Merrill, an adviser to Mr. Lamontagne, who won the state’s Republican primary for governor in 1996 in an upset over a favored Republican before losing the general election.

Democrats have their own problems when it comes to Senate races, with potentially divisive primaries looming in Pennsylvania, Colorado and elsewhere. And the Obama administration discovered the perils of meddling in state politics when its efforts to sideline Gov. David A. Paterson of New York set off a backlash in recent days.

But the pushback on national Republicans is striking because it comes at a time when many in the party believe the political environment is rapidly improving for them and after party strategists were initially keen on the early effort to single out Senate choices.

Yet in Florida, the former House speaker, Marco Rubio, has refused to abandon his quest for the Republican Senate nomination despite the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s quick blessing of the candidacy of Gov. Charlie Crist.

The perception that the national party was going to meddle in the Colorado primary on behalf of Jane Norton, the former lieutenant governor, upset people there.

In Illinois, Representative Mark Steven Kirk, a man party leaders wanted in the race, is seeing his conservative credentials challenged. Republican contenders in Missouri, Ohio and California who are seen as the establishment choice have also encountered turbulence.

To some, the resistance is an extension of the grass-roots distrust of the government that was on vivid display during town-hall-style meetings this summer and at the recent conservative protest on the National Mall. Though much of the antipathy was aimed at Democrats, there is unhappiness with Republicans at the national level as well, with home-grown conservatives citing them as part of the overall problem.

David Paterson is running blind

This, despite pressure from the White House to stand down in the 2010 New York governor's race.

And good for him. I think Obama has enough to occupy him right now without worrying about the New York governor's race.

Since when does it matter who The One wants to be the governor of New York anyway? I thought the people of New York were to elect a governor. The same goes for widows choosing second string senators from Massachusetts. This place looks more like an aristocracy every day!

Sympathy With A German Political Party, the FDP

It's election day in Germany. There is a political party there, the Free Democrats, that seem close to some of the ideas supported by Whigs. Here are some of their positions:

I found part of their site in English that explains their positions.

We want:
• more net income from gross income for more growth, more jobs and more
• more freedom through stronger civil rights
• more education for better prospects for the future
• more competition and lesser ideology in environmental policy for more
• more confidence built through international dialogue

We aim for simple, low and equitable taxes: in order to realise more net income from gross income.

The state needs to concentrate on its core responsibilities.

We cannot play one generation off against the other. We do not want to burden our children with a mountain of debt.

It is necessary that both our citizens and our industries have confidence in the financial system. But at present this confidence has been shaken. We aim to restore it. For this, we need not more regulations for the financial market but better and more effective ones. The supervision of banks, both at the national and international levels, must be more effective and professional. Those responsible must bear both personal and financial liability for any risks.

We want a policy that respects your most fundamental individual rights. Freedom forms the basis of individual initiative and the development of personality. This also includes freedom of choice in one’s life plan. The citizens of a country should not be degraded into becoming patronized clients of the state.

Education provides opportunities, facilitates social mobility and is the best investment for the future.

We want:
• equal educational opportunities at the outset
• greater freedom and self-determination for educational institutions, from
kindergarten to university
• a permeable system of education that assures opportunities for upward
• no one to be deprived of higher education for financial reasons, which is why
we demand that a scholarship system be put in place.

Education and research are the pre-requisites for new products and future-oriented jobs. We aim for medical and technical progress through free, open research, unhampered by restrictions on freedom of thought.

Energy and environmental policy for an enhanced quality of life. The FDP stands for an intelligent environmental and energy policy. The contest of ideas leads to new solutions for addressing our future. Technical progress ensures that environmental protection, mobility and energy are no longer luxuries.

In the medium term, nuclear energy as a transitional form of energy production remains indispensable both for ecological and economic reasons.

26 September 2009

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies: The World Gets A Step Closer To Perfect

Peanut butter cookies are my favorite. Add bacon. Share.

From Joy The Baker: Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

Bacon and peanut butter!? Peanut Butter and Bacon! Yes. Yes yes yes!

So how do these cookies taste? So amazingly good! The cookie itself is a more delicate, crumbly peanut butter cookie due to the absence of butter and flour. Yup! Gluten free! The peanut butter taste is front and center. The bacon blends incredibly well with the sweetness of the cookie, adding an alluring salty, smoky, chewy bite.

Hot dang! I will make these cookies again and again and again. Flourless. Butterless. Only five ingredients and one of those ingredients is bacon.

The world just got a step closer to perfect.

Image is from Joy The Baker.

Iranian Military Planes Crashes in Annual Parade

Iran's sole Simorgh AWACS aircraft was lost during a military parade Sept. 22, one of two Iranian military aircraft that crashed in Tehran while participating in a display to mark the anniversary of the start of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force operated a single Simorgh, a former Iraqi Air Force Adnan. The Adnan AWACS was in turn a modification of a Soviet-built Ilyushin Il-76 transport.

The Simorgh collided with one of the Air Force's Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighters over the area of the Imam Khomeyni Shrine, southern Tehran. According to eyewitnesses, the crash occurred immediately after the parade. Apparently, no mayday call was issued.
Both aircraft crashed in flames. Initial reports indicate that seven crew members were killed in the crash.

The exact status of the Iranian Simorgh and its on board systems was long uncertain. However, photographs suggest that the aircraft was equipped with a newly fitted functioning radar suite.

This is sure to be a bitter loss to Iran.

DEBKAfile's military sources say the disaster was a serious blow to the Iranian Air Force not long after its first and only AWACS went into service in April 2008. It was a renovated version of the Russian Ilyushin 76, part of Saddam Hussein's air force before it was transferred to Iran in 1991 during the first Gulf War.

Tehran hired Russian technicians to carry out renovations and install up-to-date radar. At the launching ceremony of the upgraded AWACS, Air Force commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Miqani boasted its new radar systems were made in Iran and able to spot any airplane or missile at a distance of 1,000 kilometers from Iran's borders.

The loss of this airborne control system has left Iran's air force and air and missile defenses without "electronic eyes" for surveillance of the skies around its borders.

I'm surprised this incident only got sparse coverage on the net, and none that I've seen on TV.

Rock and Roll Hall nominations recognize ABBA's excellence

The nominations for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum were announced this week.

Among the twelve nominees are: Genesis, KISS, LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and of course, ABBA.

ABBA should have their own museum!

Loophole in Texas Ethics Law Big Enough To Drive A Truck With Your Spouse In It Through

Texas Watchdog: Gaping loophole in Texas ethics law: Officials’ spouses left off financial disclosures

Houston City Councilman Peter Brown’s wife is an heiress to an oilfield services fortune. State Sen. Glenn Hegar’s wife is an attorney.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the financial disclosures filed by the two politicians, whose lawmaking has sometimes collided with the interests of their wives.
The omissions are perfectly legal under a loophole in state law that requires the listing of politicians’ wives and husbands only if the politician had “actual control” over the spouse’s financial activity. And it doesn’t matter if the spouses’ businesses might benefit from votes made by their significant others; those businesses can still be left off the forms.

The law was designed to balance the public’s right to know with the politicians’ families right to privacy, said conservative blogger Darrell Hancock.

“The problem with letting them off the hook is that we have to trust them to determine what actual control means, and a clever officeholder can drive trucks through that exception,” Hancock said.

The public official must disclose the spouse’s financial activity if he “had actual control over that activity for the preceding calendar year.”

The term “actual control” is not defined in state law, said Tim Sorrells, a spokesman for the Texas Ethics Commission.

The rule is open to officials’ own interpretations.

Click here to see the list of lawmakers who reportedly have spouses but did not list them on their forms, according to Texas Watchdog research.

He Wanted to Hear the Blast

In 2 bomb cases, FBI let sting operation play out

Smadi, a Jordanian who lives in Texas, is accused of trying to blow up the 60-story Fountain Place office tower.

Michael C. Finton, a 29-year-old American who went by the name Talib Islam and idolized John Walker Lindh — the American-born Taliban fighter — allegedly used a cell phone to try to detonate what he believed were explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse in Springfield, Ill.

Both are charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction and face up to life in prison if convicted. Finton is also charged with attempting to murder federal employees.

As Hosam Maher Husein Smadi prepared to remotely detonate what he believed was a powerful bomb underneath a Dallas skyscraper, his comrade-in-arms, who was actually an undercover FBI agent, offered him earplugs, authorities say.

Smadi declined. He said he wanted to hear the blast, according to investigators.

Quote of the Day

Maybe someday a majority of the public will learn to hit themselves in the ass with both hands and also learn how to protest both major parties at the same time. -- Brad Hostetter

Latest Video From The Onion: Bat Loose in Congress


God Hates Pandas

And if you saw March Of The Penguins, you know God hates penguins too.

But seriously, the penguins have adapted to their cursed life and they have survived. Pandas are a species that, "Of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac," BBC's Chris Packham told Radio Times magazine.

Packham thinks conservationists should "pull the plug" on giant pandas and let them die out.

"It's not a strong species. Unfortunately it's big and cute and we pour millions of pounds into panda conservation," he added. "I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity ..."

Giant pandas are confined to forest areas high in the mountains of southwestern China and have to consume large quantities of bamboo to survive.

They number around 1,600 and are threatened by agriculture, logging and China's increasing human population.

He makes a good point. Why couldn't it be mosquitoes that were a threatened species?

Georgia Modern Whigs in the News

Some excerpts from the Marietta Daily Journal: Modern Whig Party recruiting in Cobb

There's a new political party in town. The Georgia Modern Whig Party was established six months ago, and its state party leader, a Cobb resident, is recruiting members among disaffected voters in the county.

Robert Madayag III of Marietta, an intellectual property lawyer in Atlanta, is the party's state chairman. The party has fewer than 100 members statewide, but he is organizing seminars to attract new members. The first will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at Mountain View library at 3320 Sandy Plains Road in northeast Cobb. Nationally, the Modern Whig Party has about 30,000 members, said Madayag, 37.

"The Modern Whig Party - we understand some people have opinions on the far left and far right," Madayag said. "It's basically a group of people that have opinions that vary across the political spectrum, but 80 percent of our opinions are pretty close to being in the center."

Madayag said he is a former Republican who voted for George W. Bush and John McCain in the last two presidential elections. But, he said he started growing uncomfortable several years ago with the extreme right direction the party was taking. He considers himself economically conservative and socially progressive.

"After two presidential elections in which I voted against somebody, rather than for somebody, I said 'Now it's time to start putting your money where your mouth is and do something,'" Madayag said. "And I founded the (Georgia) Modern Whig Party."

The Modern Whigs see themselves as a continuation of the Whig Party that existed in the early 1800s. They strongly believe in states rights. Former Whig Party members include Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln.

Andrew Scholtens, 24, of Marietta, grew up in Cobb and was a member of the College Republicans at Georgia Tech. He is now vice chairman of the Georgia Modern Whigs.

"We will get a great response, I have no doubt about it. The question is one of innovation. Cobb is Republican because it has two choices, left or right," Scholtens said."

(The) Whig Leadership group will develop, post, improve and eventually endorse solutions and plans for the fixing of the defined problem. When everything is said and done, we will have the best solution to a problem, not an ideological stance. We are, internally to the party, replicating a working republic, which is what the Founders had intended all along.

"Nevertheless, the Modern Whigs have their work cut out for them.

After speaking at a recent Gwinnett Rotary Club meeting, former Gov. Roy Barnes - a Democratic candidate for governor - reportedly lamented about politics at the state capitol, saying, "I'm fed up with both the Democrats and the Republicans. I'd be a Bull Moose or a Whig if they still had a party."

More information about the Georgia Modern Whig Party can be found online at www.gawhigs.org.

Patriot Act Up For Renewal

The Patriot Act has been used more for criminal prosecutions rather than terrorism investigations. Therefore, it should not be renewed.

Patriot Act: Obama mum on civil liberties safeguards

Congress began hearings this week on the fate of the Patriot Act, which will officially expire Dec. 31. The subject of great controversy since its introduction in 2001, it might be renamed the Justice Act and lose a few of its less contentious provisions – but it appears likely to remain for a long time to come.

When still a senator from Illinois, President Barack Obama had criticized the law, which the Bush administration extolled as one of its great counterterrorism measures.

But now the Obama administration has asked the House and Senate to extend three of the act's provisions, calling them useful tools. Liberal congressional Democrats are not pleased.

More here: Talking Transparency Isn't the Same as Seeing It Through
President Obama campaigned on a promise to restore transparency to government. But now the time has come to renew the USA Patriot Act, the bete noire of civil libertarians. When the Obama administration's point man on the legislation came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, he sounded very much like his predecessors in the Bush administration.

25 September 2009

No Deeds, Wimpy Words on Iran from G-20

I was taking a look at the remarks made by President Obama, French President Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister Brown regarding the public disclosure of a new nuclear enrichment site in Iran.

The media has presented this as a firm stand against the Iranians.

But if you will look at what was actually said, it doesn't seem very firm at all:

We expect the IAEA to immediately investigate this disturbing information, and to report to the IAEA Board of Governors.

Iran must be prepared to cooperate fully and comprehensively with the IAEA to take concrete steps to create confidence and transparency in its nuclear program and to demonstrate that it is committed to establishing its peaceful intentions through meaningful dialogue and concrete actions.

We have offered Iran a clear path toward greater international integration if it lives up to its obligations, and that offer stands.

If by December there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken.

On October the 1st, Iran must now engage with the international community and join the international community as a partner. If it does not do so, it will be further isolated.

After reading this, do you think the Iranians are quaking in their boots?

U.N. Full Of Tyrants

Who Will Stand Up for Tyrants at the U.N.?

Of course, it is hard to get hearty applause for a denunciation of tyranny from any crowd containing not just Colonel Qaddafi, but also presidents like Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and some American pundits have called the United Nations a refuge of scoundrels for years.

The muted endorsement of Mr. Obama’s remarks forced The Lede to wonder: How many delegates at the General Assembly do, in fact, represent tyrants?

Looking at the two studies together, somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of the audience at the General Assembly in New York on Wednesday might have had good reason to refrain from cheering when Mr. Obama essentially denounced the way their countries are run.

Islamic Fanatics Plot Against U.S.

The Feds need to stop worrying about imagined, potential domestic terrorism from returning veterans and Tea Party protesters and start worrying about realm, actual terrorism from domestic Islamic fanatics.

Dallas Morning News: FBI: Bomb plot targeting Dallas skyscraper foiled

An undercover FBI agent monitoring an online extremist Web site discovered Hosam Maher Husein Smadi espousing jihad against the U.S. more than six months ago.

As more undercover Arabic-speaking agents engaged him, Smadi, living illegally in the U.S. in the small town of Italy, about 45 miles south of Dallas, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and expressed a desire to kill Americans, authorities said.

In conversations with agents posing as members of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, Smadi said he came to the U.S. to wage jihad, or holy war. He told agents he wanted to target military recruitment centers, but eventually settled on financial institutions.

"I want to destroy ... targets ... everything that helps America on its war on Arabs will be targeted," he told undercover agents in May.

CS Monitor: What's behind string of terror plots

Arrests in separate terror plots in Springfield, Ill., and Dallas Thursday followed the indictment of Najibullah Zazi for plotting an attack in New York. Experts say the cases highlight the danger of domestic terrorism.

In less than a week, six men in five states have been charged with terrorist plots to blow up federal buildings, attack Americans, and bring about the sort of mass destruction not seen here since 9/11.

The alleged plots are separated by geography and scale, but the suspects appear to share a belief in radical jihad and be influenced by Al Qaeda in their desire to strike against the West, in particular, the US.

Efforts To Post All Legislation Online Before Votes

Democrats Join Push to Post Bills Online

Two House Democrats are trying to force a vote on a bill that would require all legislation to be posted online for three days before being considered on the floor, lending their voices to a key Republican lament.

Now, using a procedural measure called a discharge petition, a bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes to bypass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who controls which bills actually make it to the floor for a vote. They argue that lawmakers routinely do not have time to read bills before voting, especially on critical pieces of hallmark legislation.

But in leading the charge, Representative Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington, could face repercussions for stepping out of line because party leaders have denounced the idea as a Republican delay tactic.

“This to me has nothing to do with which party is in power,” Mr. Baird said, citing the Republicans’ Medicare Part D push in 2003. “Both parties have abused this in the past and both parties ought to join together to correct the problem. It’s things like this that lower our esteem in the public, and rightfully so.”

The Sunlight Foundation and other government watchdog organizations have been longtime champions of the legislation, which Mr. Baird has introduced twice before, though it has never made it to the floor.

It Is Sad That This Is News. In 2009.

Saudi Arabia’s new university to let women unveil and study with men

24 September 2009

Message from Modern Whig Candidate Gene Baldassari

I came across this letter from Modern Whig candidate Gene Baldassari's website:

It’s great to see an increasing number of Citizen lobbyists banging down the doors of various politicians. We need to keep adding to the forces of freedom lovers and keep up the pressure. Even though Citizen lobbying is extremely important, it is not enough.

We need a viable third party.

It must be viable and it must be in addition to our current endeavors (not a replacement.)
Two years ago, about several thousand Iraq/Afgahn vets formed the Modern Whig Party. Since then, thousands of people have joined the mailing list; making it the fastest growing Citizen based Party today. The theme of a common sense government based on fiscal responsibility, and rational thinking ahead of party bickering, is one that will put the movement on the map.

This party can work. We are developing “guerilla” marketing techniques that will allow us to reach voters at a much lower cost than the major parties need to win. The use of these techniques is the only way that we can succeed in taking back America. We can convert this new party into a weapon that will eventually destroy the monopolistic stronghold that is destroying America.

I am bringing the Modern Whig Party to New Jersey this year as the only Modern Whig candidate running in 2009. With a lifetime of business experience, cost accounting (cost cutting) experience, the author of a consumer book on litigation reform, and an activist (since 1980) to eliminate the income tax, I am the most qualified candidate in my District. In addition, I am one of the few freedom candidates running this year anywhere. I have the backing of the National party in Washington and have received positive letters of support from around the country.

I urge everyone within driving distance of the Trenton/Princeton area to volunteer to help put this Party on the map. We need your help ASAP because the campaign is now underway. If we win this election, the Modern Whig movement will reverberate throughout America. We will have a chance to elect a Congressional candidate next year. This is one time when you will be able to see the positive impact of your volunteer activity.

Folks, after more than 40 years of frustration trying to help the Republican Party to become a Citizen Party, I have decided that there needs to be additional techniques to take back our country. We only have one party in America. Don’t let it get too late to bring about an alternative.

Please join me in this endeavor. You can phone me, email me, or sign up at the web site.

Volunteer URL:
The NJ Modern Whig campaign site is located at:

Gene L. Baldassari
Candidate for NJ Assembly

Failure of TARP

Treasury Official: TARP Vital To Recovery

The U.S. Treasury Department came under sharp fire from senators and government watchdog groups for its handling of the $700 billion financial rescue program and the potential extension of the program into next year.

Herbert Allison Jr., the Treasury's assistant secretary for financial stability, was put on the defensive by lawmakers critical of the department's efforts to stem foreclosures, the failure to deal with the toxic assets still sitting on bank balance sheets, and a general reluctance to answer some questions.

"This hearing so far has not been very useful," a frustrated Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said to Allison.

"Ending the financial crisis is not primarily about helping banks, but about restoring the flow of credit to consumers and businesses and alleviating the real hardships that Americans face every day," Allison said.

But Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that oversees TARP, said it's not clear that the Treasury has really achieved the goal of helping everyday citizens because of its narrow focus on stabilizing the largest financial institutions.

"Families are still feeling the pain of rising unemployment, rampant foreclosures, higher bank fees, and limited access to credit," Warren said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said not enough has been done to help normal taxpayers as opposed to the big banks that have been propped up by government largesse.

"We're seeing little action on these common sense approaches to pay attention to the plight of the American family," Merkley said.

TARP was sold as a method of stabilizing the financial system, which would assist in a recovery. But the number of foreclosures continues to rise, althought the media doesn't cover it as they did at first.

Reason Online: Corpse of a Thousand Houses

A record 7.58 percent of U.S. homeowners with mortgages were at least 30 days late on payments in August, says Equifax, up from 7.32 percent in July. Delinquencies are not only rising from month to month, but rising at a faster pace. More than 41 percent of subprime mortgages are delinquent.

About 1.2 million loans out there are in limbo: The borrower is in serious default yet the bank has not started the foreclosure process. Another 1.5 million are in early stages of the foreclosure process but the bank hasn't yet taken possession of the home. Counting these and loans that are highly likely to end up in default, one analyst estimates three million to four million foreclosed homes will come on the market over the next few years. And don't believe the freshwater economists when they tell you there's no such thing as a free lunch: Some 217,000 Americans have not made a mortgage payment in one full calendar year, but their lenders have yet to begin the foreclosure process.

Put it all together, and throw in mainstream media outlets that as recently as June were calling for mortgage haircuts specifically to allow people to keep borrowing against their houses, and you've got the mother of all perfect storms mixed with the crack cocaine of third rails on steroids. The foreclosure wave may seem all tired and 2008, but it's hotter than ever.

With the number of foreclosures continuing to increase, isn't the financial system still prone to collapse? Isn't this still causing problems with the banks? Not to mention that despite all the talk, nothing has really been done to provide relief to families. So, despite all the money we have spent, the real estate bubble continues to deflate and the business cycle continues.

If this is the case, then to what ultimate purpose did all that money go? The answer from Washington/Wall Street would be stabilization. But how can there be a stable footing if foreclosures continue to increase? The answer is what you have suspected all along. The billions and billions taken from you and me simply went to cover private sector losses for a class of citizen that has captured the federal decision-making process.

Skyrocketing Debt Chart

Americans Angry, Say Neither Party Has Understanding

Rasmussen Poll: 66% Angry at Government Policies, 60% Say Neither Party Has Answers

Sixty-six percent (66%) of voters nationwide say they’re at least somewhat angry about the current policies of the federal government. That figure includes 36% who are Very Angry.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 30% are not angry about the government's policies, including 10% who are Not at All Angry.

Adding to the voter frustration is the fact that 60% believe neither Republican nor Democratic political leaders have an understanding of what is needed today.

Among those who are Very Angry about government policies, 80% say that neither political party’s leaders have the answers.

This unhappiness with government policies and leaders is reflected in numerous other Rasmussen Reports surveys. Americans, for example, now view being a member of Congress as the least respected job one can hold.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters have an unfavorable opinion of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and they express similar negative views, not quite as strongly, about the other top Democratic and GOP congressional leaders.

After a modest bounce following his recent health care speech to Congress, Obama's approval ratings continue to track in negative territory in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Opposition to the health care plan proposed by the president and congressional Democrats has now hit a new high.

Voters continue to oppose the government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, and opposition has grown to the president's plan for greater government regulation of the financial sector.

Arguments for Human Cloning

Via Instapundit, this article that is for eventual human cloning: Embrace Human Cloning
Still, human cloning should not be out of the question. In vitro fertilization was once seen as depraved God-playing and is now embraced, even by many of the devoutly religious. Cloning could be a blessing for the infertile, who otherwise could not experience biological parenthood. And, of course, it would be a blessing for the clone itself. Suppose a clone is later asked, "Are you glad you exist even though you are physically quite similar to someone else, or do you wish you had never existed?" We all know what the answer would be.

I am not sure I fully understand the opposition to cloning. It would just produce a baby that is an identical twin to the original. It would not be like on sci-fi shows, with a fully formed adult with memories, who is inevitably evil.

With the differences in environment, age, and upbringing, it is likely that you wouldn't even recognize it as a clone of the parent. Due to expense and difficulty, it is likely to be used only as a last resort for someone who otherwise would not have a child. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

Don't Worry Your Pretty Little Head About It

Democrats nix putting pre-vote health bill online

Senate Finance Committee Democrats have rejected a GOP amendment that would have required a health overhaul bill to be available online for 72 hours before the committee votes.

Republicans argued that transparency is an Obama administration goal. They also noted that their constituents are demanding that they read bills before voting.

Yeah, we don't need to know what they are up to. It's all too sophisticimated for our wee little brains.
I guess we should all go into the kitchen and whip up a little snack for them.

Lagging Behind Reality

The Obama Administration out of sync with the national moood? The proposals and policies seem better designed for our economic situation of a couple of years ago.

This may not be too surprising for a man and a team that last lived in the real world about two years ago. Since then, they have been in perpetual campaign mode. The economic situation not just of the country, but of regular people, has shifted.

Two years ago, the economy was booming, seemingly forever. Real estate was rising. Employment was high. Income was rising. People felt financially secure. That may have been a good time to start new entitlements and government spending, and to burden the economy with regulation of all kinds.

Now, everyone either is unemployed, knows someone unemployed, or is worried about being unemployed. Consumer spending has slowed. People are saving money. Loans are harder to get. Real estate values have crumbled. 401(k)s were damaged. People are uncertain.

Unemployment of 10% isn't just a statistic, it's people's lives. I mean, 10% unemployment for the next year? What are people going to do?

Instead of focusing "like a laser beam" on jobs and economic expansion, the Administration is off on a binge to fulfill a wish list that sounds more suited to the progressive concerns of a year or two ago.

Who do you know has, as their driving concern, healthcare for everyone? Or do they just want to keep what they have? What about replacing the Kyoto Protocol? Has that come up lately at lunch? Or is it more likely that the topic is the chance of layoffs and desperate job searches?

The concerns of the White House seem a bit out of sync lately.

GOP May Not Be Fixable

Inside the Beltway: Veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone thinks that a third political party could emerge from the newfound vibrancy of citizen protest.

"The damage to the Republican Party inflicted by George W. Bush and Karl Rove may not be fixable. We are no longer viewed as the party of fiscal conservatives. We have no natural leaders. The party must solve these problems or perish as a viable political force," Mr. Stone says.

Afghanistan and Developmental Aid Following the Same Pattern as in Africa

Is Afghanistan the New Africa?
U.S. dollars and a shiny new airport are not signs of success.

In Afghanistan, aid efforts since the invasion have some success stories. They include improvements in health care for Afghans, especially at the clinic level. But the lack of coordination and focus among aid efforts has hurt. So has the United States' military-led insistence on pouring aid into the Taliban-saturated south, to the neglect of central and northern regions that could have more easily been made a bulwark for an Afghan government. Agriculture and other crucial sectors have gotten short shrift.

Some people looking at how to make progress in Afghanistan insist "development must spend more money," said Nigel Pont, a former country director for Mercy Corps in Afghanistan and now a fellow for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. In fact, however, "we must spend less money, and spend it more sensibly," Pont said.

For Africa, Zambian-born economist and former Goldman Sachs banker Dambisa Moyo, author of the best-selling Dead Aid, is leading a call to cut off aid to the Africa, punishing all those still in need there for the cupidity and stupidity of past donors. For Afghanistan, adherents of the "we broke it, we'll walk away from it" school express their shock, shock, shock at the squandering of development money, and call for Western leaders to wash their hands and consciences of Afghanistan.

Absent smarter handling of all the money while it's still flowing, we may soon be abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban and other armed factions -- no beer factories, but plenty of opium -- and leaving Afghans, as it were, by the side of the road, selling rat-on-a-stick.

23 September 2009

Empty Threats Get Emptier

Iran loses its only AWACS as Ahmadinejad threatens the world

Up above a big military parade in Tehran on Tuesday, Sept. 22, as Iranian president declared Iran's armed forces would "chop off the hands" of any power daring to attack his country, two air force jets collided in mid-air.

One was Iran's only airborne warning and control system (AWACS) for coordinating long-distance aerial operations, DEBKAfile's military and Iranian sources disclose.

The disaster was a serious blow for Iran, leaving its air force and air and missile defenses without "electronic eyes" for surveillance of the skies around its borders.

Why Would Anyone Want That Job?

Meg Whitman Declares for California Governor


NY Times: How Using Imam in Terror Inquiry Backfired on Police

A decision to enlist a Queens imam in an effort to develop information about the man at the center of a long-running cross-country terrorism investigation backfired earlier this month.

In fact, federal prosecutors have now charged the imam, a onetime source of information for the New York Police Department, contending that he betrayed the police by warning the suspect and then lied about it, and maybe even coached him on what to say if he was questioned.

Several law enforcement officials have said the imam’s disclosures went a long way toward forcing their hand in an extremely sensitive investigation of a possible Qaeda plot. The situation left them scrambling to conduct raids and arrest the suspect sooner than they might have otherwise, a development that they said could make it harder to identify others involved and develop evidence against them.

Social Security To Fail Faster Than Anticipated

Social Security is failing faster that previously thought. The estimate below may even be too optimistic.

Take into account the liabilities for public employee pensions, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, private pension guaranty funds, guarantees made as part of the Bailout, liabilities incurred from the auto and financial industry takeover, and the accounting tricks the Feds always use to cover up how bad it really is, and we are in a real mess. We are in a deep, deep hole. And it is getting worse.

Not to mention a declining industrial base, a failing educational system, trade imbalances, growing competition from China, our fading technological edge, needed infrastructure repairs, needed expansion of our electrical supply, and the ending of the dollar as a reserve currency, and it looks even worse.

The cherry on top is the failure of our politics to address any of this in a meaningful way. Instead we engage in distracting, repetitive and never ending debates over racism, social issues, and witch hunts of political enemies. While our media fixates on dead celebrities.

But the bottom line is that the people we hire to manage and solve these problems seem hell bent on making things worse in exchange for short term power.

Our politics has got to move in a new direction. Obama talked a good game, but actions speak louder than words, and what is coming out of Washington does not address the erosion of our financial future. Instead, the erosion is being accelerated. We are rapidly running out of time.

From Hot Air: CBO predicts Social Security cash deficits in 2010-11

Just last year, the CBO — under the direction of Peter Orszag, now budget director in the Obama administration — claimed that the first cash deficits in Social Security would not come until 2019.

Now, however, the CBO has determined that Social Security will run cash deficits next year and in 2011, and by 2016 will be more or less in permanent deficit mode. Hot Air has exclusively obtained the summer 2009 CBO report sent to legislators on Capitol Hill but not yet made public, which shows that outgo will exceed income for the first time since the 1983 fix on an annual basis in 2010.

The situation at Social Security is much worse than this administration and Democrats in Congress want to admit. They want to continue busting the deficit and creating new entitlements while the existing ones careen towards collapse. The new data shows that time has almost run out for reform. Seniors will still get their checks, but those will increasingly rely on injections from the general fund and not revenues from Social Security payments. At this point, one has to wonder when SSA becomes a flat-out Ponzi scheme, and who the suckers will be when it blows up.

Social Security is already a Ponzi scheme. (Or a Madoff scheme.)

And the suckers when is all blows up will be you and me.

Our Shameful Policy on Honduras

Could It Get Worse? Yes!

So the Obama team is insisting on the return of the man no institution in this democratic country supports–and that position only emboldened that same unpopular figure to return. Nice work.

And now that he has returned, will the Obama administration give up its bizarrely stubborn position that no new election can be recognized because that same unpopular figure isn’t back in power? And he isn’t in power, you will recall, because the supreme court and legislature, with the backing of the military, acted in defense of their constitution.

This is Alice-in-Wonderland “diplomacy”–making things worse and more difficult for a U.S. ally while bolstering Hugo Chavez’s ally.

What our state department is up to in Honduras makes absolutely no sense to me at all. They are behaving very badly, and for no reason, other than to kiss up to Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. No sense at all.

The Perverse Incentives of the Federal Government

When Work Doesn't Pay For The Middle Class

Work isn't the only middle-class virtue that is getting punished. The system penalizes savings, too--not just through taxes, but also through programs that reward debtors, the profligate and college families that show up at the financial aid office with empty pockets. Yet another series of tax and benefit rules penalizes marriage.

"This is a big social experiment. We really don't know what the long-term effect of all these incentives is going to be," Steuerle says.

Built into the earned income credit and some other tax benefits are marriage penalties, whereby couples lose some advantage they'd get separately.

As tax grab-backs have grown, so, too, have nontax benefits middle-class folks can lose as their incomes rise. These benefit phaseouts act and quack like taxes.

"It's economics 101," says MIT professor James Poterba, president of the National Bureau of Economic Research. "Look at what happens to my family resources if I earn another dollar: I pay more in taxes and I lose some benefits. It places a combined burden."

To Your Health!

'Booze therapy' for brain injury

A dose of alcohol may be a good treatment for people with head injuries, emergency doctors suggest.

Their basis for this is the discovery that people appear less likely to die following brain trauma if they have alcohol in their bloodstream.

It could be that alcohol dampens the body's inflammatory response to injury, the US team told Archives of Surgery.

Experts cautioned people should not interpret the findings as an excuse to drink more alcohol.

You know, that is exactly what I am going to do.

22 September 2009

And The Fat Tax Will Follow....

The California lawmaker who spearheaded a high-profile anti-obesity effort across the country's most populous state is now training his sights on sugar-sweetened drinks.

Sen. Alex Padilla, who led a campaign requiring big restaurant chains to disclose calories in meals, said on Thursday he planned to hold hearings in November on the link between soda consumption and obesity.

The announcement from Padilla -- who chairs the California Senate's Select Committee on Obesity and Diabetes -- coincides with the release of a study that shows nearly two-thirds of children aged 12 to 17 gulp down at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily.

You better make room for more Coke along side your cache of light bulbs and flavored cigarettes, buddy. I'm sure Padilla's re-election campaign will talk about his crusade to save the children from Pepsi.

And You Thought You Didn't Like Tim Geithner

F.D.I.C. May Borrow Funds From Banks

The agency that guarantees bank deposits will borrow money from the same banks whose deposits they guarantee. What the ...?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which oversees the fund, is said to be reluctant to use its authority to borrow from the Treasury.

Under the law, the F.D.I.C. would not need permission from the Treasury to tap into a credit line of up to $100 billion. But such a step is said to be unpalatable to Sheila C. Bair, the agency chairwoman whose relations with the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, have been strained.

“Sheila Bair would take bamboo shoots under her nails before going to Tim Geithner and the Treasury for help,” said Camden R. Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers.

Well, there you go.

Constitutionality of Health Insurance Purchase Mandate

A ongoing discussion at The Volokh Conspiracy about the constitutionality of an insurance mandate. That is, can the Federal government require individuals to purchase insurance?

They examine the applicability of the Commerce Clause to the issue. To make a long discussion short, the Supreme Court would likely allow it.

One of the reasons I prefer the Swiss healthcare model is because the requirement to purchase health insurance would come from the states, thus avoiding this question.

Democratic Fundraising Scandal

Ah, money and campaigns. They go together like fire and gunpowder.

Grand Jury Indicts Fund-Raiser for Democrats

A federal grand jury charged Hassan Nemazee, a New York businessman who has ties to prominent politicians, with defrauding banks of $292 million in part to benefit the Democratic Party.

Mr. Nemazee, 59 years old, used the proceeds of his scheme to donate to campaigns and political-action committees, according to an indictment made public Monday, though the amount allegedly spent on these efforts wasn't specified. The donations helped him rise to become finance chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, among other major roles.

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said the DNC, Obama for America, and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which organized President Barack Obama's inaugural festivities, would donate to charity $61,700 of contributions Mr. Nemazee made during the 2008-09 election cycle.

Mr. Nemazee allegedly used fake documents showing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of collateral to defraud three major banks since 1998, the indictment states. In August he owed $142 million to Bank of America and about $75 million to Citibank. After federal authorities confronted him about the alleged Citibank fraud before his arrest last month, he repaid the Citibank loan using loans from HSBC Bank, which he also obtained by lying about his finances, the indictment states.

Mr. Nemzaee, who has long ties to former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as other party leaders, also allegedly used illegally obtained money to donate to charities and buy a yacht and property in Italy, according to the indictment.

Mortgage Delinquencies Set Record High

Mortgage delinquencies at a record high
7.58 were more than 30 days behind in Aug. as unemployment increases

High U.S. unemployment keeps pushing up the rate of mortgage delinquencies, which could in turn drive personal bankruptcies and home foreclosures, monthly data from the Equifax Inc credit bureau showed on Monday.

Among U.S. homeowners with mortgages, a record 7.58 percent were at least 30 days late on payments in August, up from 7.32 percent in July, according to the data obtained exclusively by Reuters.

The rate of subprime mortgage delinquencies now tops 41 percent, up from about 39 percent in each of the prior five months.

The results, which correlate with consumer bankruptcy filings, suggest U.S. homeowners remain under financial stress despite signs of improving sentiment and fundamentals in the U.S. housing market.

August bankruptcy filings were up 32 percent from a year earlier, compared with a 35 percent year-over-year increase in July.

Fill in the Blank, They Suck

In one of the courthouse bathrooms I frequent, I noticed that someone carved the phrase "Bush Sucks" into the wood several years ago.

Yesterday, I noticed that someone had carved over it so it now reads "Obama Sucks"

It doesn't matter who it is, I guess.

Candidates sure go to a lot of trouble just to be told they suck.

Plus ca change...

Foreign Policy: Think Again: International Law

Governments respect international law only when it suits their national interests. Don't expect that to change any time soon.

George W. Bush did not brush aside international law as casually as his critics claimed, and President Barack Obama's approach is likely to be surprisingly similar. The United States -- under the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties -- has taken a fairly consistent approach to international law over the decades, one that involves building legal regimes that serve U.S. interests and tearing down those that do not.

Where Glen Beck Gets His Inspiration

Salon: Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck's life
Cleon Skousen was a right-wing crank whom even conservatives despised. Then Beck discovered him.

Beck has created a massive meet-up for the disaffected, paranoid Palin-ite "death panel" wing of the GOP, those ideologues most susceptible to conspiracy theories and prone to latch on to eccentric distortions of fact in the name of opposing "socialism." In that, they are true disciples of the late W. Cleon Skousen, Beck's favorite writer and the author of the bible of the 9/12 movement, "The 5,000 Year Leap."

A once-famous anti-communist "historian," Skousen was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience.

In the late '50s, America's far right began to bubble with organizations peddling stories about the true state of the Red Menace. Groups like the Church League of America and the John Birch Society organized to channel, feed and satisfy Cold War paranoia.

When he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen had authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy. It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck's bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center.

It also suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.