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Dispatches from Boulder the Damned
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are getting hit amid increasing fears among investors that the government will have to step in to rescue the companies. Shares of the two government-sponsored mortgage giants continued to plummet yesterday as many predict the companies will be forced to raise more capital by issuing additional shares. The WSJ says shares for both companies are down more than 80 percent from last year. The NYT says the Bush administration is considering whether the government should take over one or both companies, which would make their shares essentially worthless and would mean taxpayers would have to foot the bill for any losses on mortgages they own or guarantee.

It's highly unlikely that the government would allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fail. The NYT puts this in the starkest terms by noting that if the mortgage giants are unable to borrow money ("their lifeblood for buying mortgages"), it would effectively freeze the U.S. housing market and could lead to widespread damage in economies around the world. Still, the WSJ makes clear that a government takeover would be "an extreme situation," and there are other things that could be done to help investors gain confidence in the companies, including a long-term loan from the Federal Reserve. The government could also explicitly state that it stands behind the companies, which is what most assume now anyway. But, as the NYT notes, offering "an explicit government guarantee on the $5 trillion of debt owned or guaranteed by the companies … would effectively double the size of the public debt." Some, however, are decidedly more optimistic and say current fears are overblown. No, they are not.

John McCain was quick to say that Fannie and Freddie "will not fail, we will not allow them to fail," based on his admittedly insufficeint economic knowledge. But McCain had to deal with problems of his own on the economic front. After spending the week trying to convince voters that he understands their pain during the current downturn, he got no help from one of his top economic advisers, who said that the country is only in a "mental recession." In an interview, former Senator and Presidential candidate Phil Gramm of Texas said the United States had become a "nation of whiners." True enought, actually. Though the presumptive nominee was quick to say he doesn't agree with Gramm, it marked yet another obstacle for the candidate who has been struggling to get away from comments in which he admitted that the economy is not his strong suit.

At one point McCain was asked whether Gramm might become treasury secretary in his administration. "I think Senator Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus," McCain answered, "although I'm not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome that." This, to shore up his foreign policy experience, one supposes.

The LAT has a decidedly unflattering look at McCain's divorce from his first wife and how it caused a permanent rift in his relationship with the Reagans. McCain has said that he had already separated from his first wife, Carol Shepp, before he began dating Cindy Hensley. But court documents reveal that he was supposedly living with his wife "for the first nine months of his relationship with Hensley," the LAT notes. The paper goes on to point out that despite McCain's suggestions that months passed between his divorce and remarriage, the truth is that he married Hensley five weeks after the divorce became official. When McCain filed for divorce, it came as a shock to those the couple was close to, including the Reagans, who didn't even realize they were having problems. Meanwhile, some of McCain's friends thought he was already separated. McCain doesn't talk much about that part of his past, but in his autobiography he wrote that the "marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity."

Neither candidate has done a good job of keeping their list of top bundlers up to date, even though they've long been critics of the role money plays in politics. When the NYT contacted Obama about it, his campaign scrambled to update its list and added 181 names. McCain's campaign said its list would be updated "in the next week or so." Meanwhile, Obama's once-formidable fundraising operation appears to be having some trouble. Of course, it could just be a summer lull, but the WSJ notes that Obama's June total is likely to be around $30 million, which the paper describes as "an underwhelming haul." For his part, McCain raised $22 million in June, a record for his campaign. The Post notes that Obama's campaign seems to recognize that it needs to expand its efforts with big donors if it hopes to reach the goal of raising more than $450 million by November. Read that again.  What a nauseating amount of money.

Clinton donors are essential to Obama's stepped-up fundraising efforts, but those who might have been looking for signs that Obama cares about helping the former first lady pay off her campaign debt were certainly not reassured on Wednesday night. The LAT notes that Obama forgot to mention the debt in his speech. After walking offstage, he seems to have realized his oversight and went back a minute later. "Sen. Clinton still has some debt," he said as the audience laughed. "That is part of the process of making sure that we're unified. … All right, turn on the music again. Let's keep on partying." There's that arrogance again.

The number of immigrants who were born in Mexico and became U.S. citizens increased by nearly 50 percent last year. A Government report cited the media campaign in Spanish-language outlets encouraging immigrants to apply for citizenship, along with a general desire to avoid being hit by a fee increase, as important reasons for this step up. The number of people who filed for citizenship doubled to 1.4 million in 2007.

Americans living abroad are likely to face problems if they want to vote in the November elections. Several states are holding late primaries, which will delay the mailing of absentee ballots, and there hasn't been much progress in expanding electronic voting due to privacy concerns. "It's going to be a harder year for our soldiers and military personnel and others who are overseas," Minnesota's secretary of state said.

The WP says the White House has decided not to do anything about greenhouse gas emissions before President Bush leaves office. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether greenhouse gases are a hazard and senior federal officials believe it's time to act, the administration is essentially going back to square one. The EPA will announce today that it is reopening the period for comments on the threats posed by global warming, even though the vast majority of experts have already moved beyond such a basic question. Some senior officials in the White House have used all sorts of maneuvers to prevent the EPA from stating that global warming harms humans because it would automatically translate into more regulations. "They argued that this increase in regulation should be on the next president's record," said one person who participated in the discussions.

Sorry, but about time. The NYT reveals that Rep. Charles Rangel, the powerful New York lawmaker, enjoys the use of four rent-controlled apartments. Landlords have been criticized for aggressively trying to evict tenants in rent-stabilized apartments, and it's unclear how Rangel got four—one of which he uses as a campaign office—to begin with when they
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran test-fired nine missiles yesterday, including at least one capable of striking Israel. "Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch," a top Iranian military leader said with the juvenile bragadicio we've come to associate with George Bush. U.S. officials tried to downplay the move, saying it demonstrates that Iran's missiles pose a real threat but essentially dismissing the tests as simple saber-rattling.

The WSJ says the Iran missile tests "appeared to be a response" to Israel's not-so-subtle military exercise last month, which was widely seen as a trial run for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Although the tests could be seen as a simple show of strength, it's far from clear what message Iran wanted to send about new talks with the West that are expected to resume this month, particularly since U.S. officials had recently been more publicly optimistic about the negotiations.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation about the tests in the WP is that some think the missile that could hit Israel—as well as U.S. troops in Iraq—and is clearly being refined to carry nuclear weapons. "If they are not developing nuclear weapon for this missile, why are they continuing to test it?" one expert said. "It is worthless otherwise." But some also said the missiles tested might not be as powerful as Iran claims, and the tests could have simply been a high-profile way for Iran to get rid of some old weapons. For its part, Israel was muted in its response, and the government's spokesman merely said that Jerusalem "does not desire hostility and conflict with Iran."

Nobody should, including us, but with Bush, who knows?  Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the Pentagon will reopen bidding on the troubled contract to replace the Air Force's aging aerial refueling tankers. The move followed last month's report by the Government Accountability Office that found the process by which the Air Force selected Northrop Grumman for the project over Boeing was flawed. In what was yet another very public rebuke of the Air Force, having previously fired the AFS and ranking General, Gates announced his office would oversee the process and select the winner. He said he wants a new contract to be in place by the end of the year, but many predict the whole process could take much longer.

The presidential candidates, of course, were quick to respond to Iran's actions. While they both emphasized that the move demonstrated how Iran remains a threat, the candidates used the opportunity to highlight their differences. Obama called for the United States and its allies to pursue "direct, aggressive, and sustained diplomacy." McCain said the tests demonstrate the need for missile-defense systems and criticized Obama for saying that he would be willing to negotiate with Iran without preconditions. Obama responded by saying that just because he would be willing to start talks with hostile nations, it doesn't mean that the discussions would be at the presidential level.

The Senate overwhelmingly, and unsurprisingly, approving a bill that expands the government's surveillance powers and effectively grants immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the National Security Agency's post-Sept. 11 spying efforts. By a 69-28 vote, senators approved "the biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years." As was widely expected, Sen. Barack Obama, who had earlier spoken up against any immunity provision for the phone companies, voted for the measure. Sen. Hillary Clinton voted against the bill. This is sending the one dimensionals and one issue MoveOn types into catatonia.

The WP's Dan Balz notes that Obama's vote in favor of the new intelligence surveillance bill put him at odds with leaders of his party, and was the latest example of the presumptive nominee's much-talked-about move to the center. While Obama's ability to "confound both left and right" might be a sign of a good politician, "it has left unanswered important questions about his core principles and his presidential priorities." So far, Obama hasn't picked up a signature issue that could help explain what his core political philosophy consists of and might help define the candidate. That's a bogus charge, no one has core values. They're politicians, and should be allowed to evolve. Some Democrats say Obama has to be clear about his priorities in order to avoid problems once he gets to the White House.

This wrangling over Obama's shift to the center....does it really matter to Democratic voters? Some who follow the minutiae of the daily campaign might care, but the LAT says that most Democrats are too focused on the bigger picture to give it much thought. "When I hear people complaining," one Democratic strategist explained, "I tell them I have one thing to say: 'President John McCain. Three Supreme Court appointments.' That's all I need to say." Of course, some are definitely troubled by the shift (Obama says anyone who thinks he's changed positions hasn't been paying attention), but most are still more interested in just making sure that a Democrat is in the White House next year. The shift does give an opportunity for Republicans to say that Obama is just like any other politician who panders to win votes, but the truth is that McCain is more than a little vulnerable to "charges of flip-flopping," notes the LAT.

The electorate, so far, agrees. USAT's latest poll shows Obama leading McCain, 48 percent to 42 percent. Although that margin might seem slim, the paper digs a little deeper and sorts the electorate into six groups of voters to demonstrate that Obama leads among those who are more enthusiastic about the election and are firm in their decision on whom they want in the Oval Office. The "enthusiasm gap" clearly provides a challenge to McCain, but the good news for him is that his supporters tend to be those who reliably vote. On the other hand, a big chunk of Obama's supporters are people who historically have been less likely to show up on Election Day. And too much enthusiasm carries its own risks because "all that energy sometimes is fragile if you make a big mistake," Democratic strategist Joe Trippi said.

USA Today leads with an analysis of census data that shows some cities in the Midwest saw a modest growth in population last year. The data suggest that problems in the housing market have "disrupted a long-term migration by Americans to the Sun Belt," notes USAT.

The NYT gets word that there's recently been a spike in the number of foreign fighters who are traveling to Pakistan's tribal areas. Although the numbers aren't clear, American intelligence officials say that Pakistan and Afghanistan have now become the destination of choice for foreign fighters, who once flocked to Iraq. It should come as no surprise that U.S. officials see a correlation between the new Pakistani government's move to cut down on security operations in the country's tribal areas and this increase in foreign fighters. "We're trying to impress upon the Pakistanis how bad things are," one senior administration official said. Whereas before the White House could just call up President Pervez Musharraf, things aren't as easy now because he's lost much of his power.

The Post fronts a look at how insurgents in Iraq have begun using rocket-propelled bombs against U.S. troops. Some call these bombs "flying IEDs," as a reference to the roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices. The U.S. military officially knows these "propane tanks packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and powered by 107mm rockets" as Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions. They are often fired remotely
Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."  Oh, and not get killed for it, but George Orwell got the major point.

Henry Waxman doesn't get enough credit or love from the Democrats, or from the nation at large. He's threatening the Attorney General with contempt of Congress.

The Group of Eight, our leading industrialized nations, have pointlessly agreed on a goal of halving greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. It marked the first time President Bush has backed a plan that calls for a specific goal to combat global warming. The declaration made it clear that developing nations must also commit to "meaningful" cuts, a position this White House has long advocated, because they were getting uppity. Developing countries and environmentalists were quick to criticize the declaration as essentially meaningless because its language was too vague, as all Bush-Rice diplomacy is.

The group of developing countries that was also meeting in Japan agreed that combating global warming is important but failed to endorse the target that was put forward by the Group of Eight, not surprisingly. This means that negotiations will have to continue as leaders hope to reach a U.N.-sponsored binding agreement by the end of 2009. Critics said the declaration doesn't mean much because the leaders failed to set a midterm goal for reducing greenhouse gases, and also didn't make clear whether the reductions would be measured from current levels or would take up a 1990 baseline, as the Europeans would prefer. South Africa's environmental minister said the Group of Eight had done nothing except issue an "empty slogan" and take up "the lowest common denominator" as its goal. Even though the declaration was seen as a sign of how much Bush has changed on the issue since he first came into office, everyone agrees that any meaningful commitment will have to wait for the next president.

Actually, unless either body addresses overpopulation, it's meaningless anyway.

And they pile up. While Bush was discussing global warming with world leaders, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason Burnett stood with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., at a news conference where she criticized the White House's efforts to hide the consequences of global warming. "History will judge this Bush administration harshly," Boxer said. Burnett, a longtime contributor to the Democratic Party, wrote in a letter that Cheney's office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality "were seeking deletions" to congressional testimony prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specifically, the White House wanted "to remove … any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change." The fact that the testimony had been changed before it was delivered had already been widely reported.

Another example of that Bush-Rice skill outside her photo ops. It simply doesn't get any worse. The White House had to profusely apologize to Silvio Berlusconi yesterday after it handed out a biography of the Italian prime minister that described him as "a political dilettante who gained high office only through use of his considerable influence on the national media." The WP's Al Kamen notes that the administration even managed to offend "all of Italy" by describing Berlusconi as "one of the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for governmental corruption and vice." How did this happen? A cut-and-paste problem, of course. Turns out the bio was copied directly from a Web site and, apparently, the White House doesn't proofread.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke indicates the current economic turmoil could extend well into 2009 (only 2009?) as he outlined a series of major changes the central bank will consider in the coming months to ease the pain. The Fed will be releasing new policies next week that will prohibit some of the lending practices that led to the current mortgage crisis. In addition, Bernanke said the Fed might extend its unprecedented lending program to the largest investment banks into next year. In order to prevent future instability, the Fed's chairman also urged lawmakers to increase the central bank's regulatory powers, but it's unlikely that Congress will have time to pass such legislation before next year. Investors reacted positively to Bernanke's words and, helped along by the second straight day of decreasing crude oil prices, pushed stocks higher.

USA Today leads with, and everyone covers, a new report by congressional investigators that found that Medicare paid as much as $92 million over a period of seven years for fraudulent claims that were submitted under the names of dead doctors. Although the problem had been identified in 2001, the government failed to institute proper measures to make sure it didn't happen again. "These scam artists have treated Medicare like an ATM machine," Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said. Right, and Coleman, running against Al Franken, has been in office long enough to have done something about it.

John McCain is trying to woo Latinos by taking the "risky step" of touting his work for immigration reform. Although McCain spent much of the primary campaign assuring Republicans that his priority in immigration policy would center on securing the border with Mexico, he's now singing a different tune. Mindful of the growing importance of the Latino vote in swing states, as well as the fact that Barack Obama has a strong lead with that group of voters, McCain is now espousing "a message that gives equal weight to helping employers and immigrant workers and their families," says the LAT. In new ads, McCain says that dealing with the needs of immigrants is "as important" as securing the border. Although he never comes out and says he wants to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, "his subtle language matches that of legalization advocates," notes the LAT.

McCain wasn't alone in trying to appeal to Latino voters yesterday.  Obama also addressed Latino voters yesterday and said they shouldn't believe the words coming out of McCain's mouth. "We need a president who isn't going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular," Obama said.

Obama's top donors haven't been eager to answer the presumptive nominee's call to help Sen. Hillary Clinton pay off her debt. So far, they've given less than $100,000, which one Clinton official described as "a paltry sum." The former rivals will hold their first joint fundraisers this week, which will benefit Obama's campaign, but Clinton donors said they hope his supporters will be more willing to part with their money after the events. Still, Clinton supporters say they can't understand why Obama has refused to reach out to his entire list of donors for help, even if it's with small dollar mounts. All this is helping to increase the level of bitterness as some Clinton supporters are convinced Obama's campaign really isn't that interested in helping the former first lady. I was a Clinton supporter, but I don't want Obama concerned with any of that now, it's her problem.

In a front-page piece, the WP notes that the U.S. superiority in all things related to space may be slowly but surely coming to an end. "We've been living off the fruit of that purchase for 40 years and have not ... chosen to invest at a level that would preserve that commanding lead," NASA administrator Michael Griffin said. Meanwhile, other countries, including China and India, are investing and making
Monday, July 07, 2008

Well, this could provide the end to the summer, and hopefully that's all it ends. Slate has put together the Ten Worst Scenarios that could happen at the Beijing Olympics, and they're pretty damned scary.

But they left one thing out: bird flu.  If the Olympics proves to be the match to world wide pandemic, it will be awful beyond ken.  Albeit: in the harsh light of human existence, a population reduction would be good for the planet and species.  Sorry, but it is true.

Christopher Hitchens is again high my estimation today as he drop kicks that shit that was Jesse Helms all over the map.  A disgusting human, far worse than Strom Thurmond, who was a tortured soul in flux.  There was no waffling with Helms. He was an inferior person, an inferior mind, whose goal in life was to append himself to patriotism to be a fascist thug.

The top agenda item for lawmakers this week will be to try to figure out what to do about the 10.6 percent cut in doctors' Medicare fees that automatically went into effect earlier this month. The American Medical Association ran a series of advertisements targeting 10 Republican senators, most of whom are up for re-election, to pressure them to pass legislation that would prevent the cuts.

Despite a veto threat from President Bush, the House passed a bill to prevent the cut in doctors' Medicare fees by a wide margin before the Fourth of July recess. But Senate Republicans—who, like Bush, oppose the bill because it would cut payments to some private insurers—blocked consideration of the measure. The issue affects more than just the millions of Medicare beneficiaries, because many health plans, including the government program that covers military personnel, use the Medicare fee schedules to set their payment rates.

While there's wrangling in Washington, the NYT notes that many doctors across the country have stopped taking on new Medicare patients because of the low fees. But we're not a money based system, though.  The GOP assures of that.

Many pension funds are winning big returns on investments in oil and other commodities. This means that the funds that millions of Americans are counting on for retirement are doing well despite drops in the stock market. But the move into the commodity markets is hardly without controversy, as many people are accusing financial investors of artificially inflating prices. Others say pension funds shouldn't be getting involved in such a risky and volatile market in the first place. No kidding.  This is why we have boring old Social Security. Because the greed and the stupidity of most people leaves them on the dole or, at least, far worse off.

The Wall Street Journal is, of course, concerned that the Group of Eight will be able to agree on any of the big-ticket items on the agenda today.  World leaders are in Japan for the annual summit of major industrialized nations. They'll probably come to an agreement on international food reserves to help poor countries deal with the soaring prices, but progress on other items on the agenda, including greenhouse-gas limits, appears unlikely. The WSJ notes the G-8 countries are under increasing pressure to revamp the group's membership in order "to reflect new global realities" since the founding countries to alter global policy no longer have the clout they once did. But as more countries begin to participate in the meetings, it has also become harder for the group to reach agreements on fundamental issues.

G-8 leaders are likely to agree on a plan this week to track whether countries fulfill their promises of assistance to African countries. Nonprofit groups have often accused the industrialized countries of making big, flashy promises of aid that get lots of publicity even when the money often doesn't arrive. This, like any story on Africa, gets the cold shoulder.

Typically, one of the first things Bush did when he arrived in Japan yesterday was to defend his decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics. He said that skipping the ceremony would amount to an "affront to the Chinese people" and would make it "more difficult to be able to speak frankly with the Chinese leadership." True.

Meanwhile, the continued gains in Iraq are leading many to believe that further troop withdrawals are almost inevitable. The last of the five brigades sent as part of the surge is scheduled to withdraw this month, leaving about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The WP says that after a few relatively quiet days, violence once again rocked Baghdad yesterday. One day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared that "we defeated" the terrorists in Iraq, 16 people were killed in and around the capital. You'd think these dramatic announcements would be a clue.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates vowed to forgive at least $4 billion of Iraq's debt. The move is seen as a significant step in the efforts of Iraq's Shiite-led government to improve relations with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

More Bush feel good tales, this time from Afghanistan's capital where a suicide car bomb exploded outside the Indian Embassy, killed 40. It was the deadliest attack in Kabul this year. In other news out of Afghanistan,  local officials said that a U.S. airstrike killed 27 civilians who were taking part in a wedding ceremony, including the bride. This marks the second time in three days that there's been an uproar over an American airstrike. The Afghan president had already ordered an investigation into a helicopter strike on Friday that allegedly killed 22 civilians in the eastern part of the country.

Obama is having trouble courting "dozens" of Sen. Hillary Clinton's top fundraisers, many of whom continue to be angry at what they see as the media's sexist treatment of the former first lady. While true, that was in general and the media and not Obama's fault. Although they don't directly blame Obama for this treatment, they say that he, and other Democrats, should have done more to stop it. Well, yes, but that would be having it just a little too good. Some of these supporters are starting groups to pressure Obama on issues and to push him to give Clinton a starring role in the campaign. Although this could be discounted as yet another story about bitter Clinton supporters, there is basis. While 115 people who had given at least $1,000 to Clinton donated to Obama in May, the same number of individuals who supported the former first lady also made their first big contributions to Sen. John McCain that month. Approximately two dozen big Clinton fundraisers will apparently be meeting with McCain's campaign soon as part of the Republican's efforts to benefit from their disenchantment. I don't think real Democrats would support McCain.

McCain is facing some real challenges from within his own party. The Post fronts a look at how conservative activists are already gearing up for a fight over the Republican Party's platform. Although the presumptive Republican nominee hasn't made any statements about how he plans to change the party's official declaration of principles, many are worried that McCain will want to include some of his views on issues such as global warming and campaign finance that aren't popular with the party's base. Many are trying to discount the idea that there will be a big platform fight at the convention, but some activists see it as unavoidable, particularly if McCain wants to get into more controversial issues such as immigration.

California had it so good for so long, and now they're going to pay. Many states are suffering from financial shortfalls due to the decline in the economy and federa
Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ah, hah!  Businesses are banding together to fight new state-level illegal immigrant employment measures, a clue as to where the guilty parties are. Frustrated by Congress' inability to pass sweeping immigration legislation, many states are looking to instead punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, says the NYT. Now business owners are fighting back, banding together to make the case for more temporary work visas and other programs they say are necessary to keep their companies fully staffed.

The Los Angeles Times has a series of bleak predictions for GOP candidates in Senate races this fall. Senate seats that have gone to Republicans for a quarter century or more are in play for the Democrats. The paper says that even National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., feels his party will be doing well if it loses only three or four seats. The paper ascribes the electoral shift to a combination of GOP scandals and unexpected retirements (of dubious types), along with the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., which is expected to boost turnout among Democrats.

McCain's troubles with public speaking are now a national issue. Following the embarrassament that was George Bush, the nation appreciates a President who values words and their meaning. McCain, freely admits he feels more comfortable speaking off the cuff than reading from a teleprompter, but he isn't much better. The paper reports that this can lead to some awkward moments when McCain is reading a prepared speech. The campaign's response to this is three-pronged. First, play up town-hall meetings and other unscripted appearances; second, coach him to develop a more natural speaking style when reading prepared material; and last, frequently compliment Obama's speaking style in a way that downplays the importance of eloquence.

Hot weather journalism.  The WP covers Obama talking religion on the campaign trail. Obama is trying to appeal to religious voters by playing up his own faith in a way that McCain does not. Obama says he doesn't necessary expect to win a majority of evangelical voters, but hopes to make a dent in what has traditionally been a conservative leaning voter bloc.

And new on Christian religion: the NYT fronts a piece on an ancient stone tablet that may shed light on pre-Christian attitudes about the role of the Messiah. The tablet, which was painted with lines from an apocalyptic vision sometime in the decades leading up to the birth of Jesus, may say that Messiah will die and be raised from the dead. Or maybe it doesn't say that—the paper admits very late in the piece that much of the text is hard to decipher, and there is some debate about what key passages really mean. So, what the......?

Washington, D.C. efforts to limit the number of cars commuters bring into the city is an example of a community trying to deal with transportation issues that many cities face. The WP covers it, but the style section piece on thieves stealing gas right out of other people's cars is more interestingg.

For-profit fundraising organizations are eating more and more of the dollars they collect for various charities says the LAT. Some organizations lose more than 90 percent of funds raised to professional cash finders. The paper's Web site includes a database of charities and the percentage of each dollar raised they get to keep.

An explosion of autism diagnoses has insurers, parents, and schools arguing over who is responsible for providing autistic children with behavioral therapy, according to the LAT. The paper says the therapy, while not a cure, can help autistic kids reach a higher level of independence and sociability.

Would you pay $100,000 a year to possibly add few more months to your life? The NYT discusses the ethical dilemmas posed by the most expensive cancer drugs.

In history, this day in 1415, the now largely forgotten Jan Hus was burned at the stake for various heresies by the Council of Constance. Among other things, Hus had incited the citizens of Prague to protest against antipope John XXIII and his policy of granting indulgences.

In 1483, the enigmatic King Richard III of England was crowned.

In 1535, a man for all seasons, Sir Thomas More, an English politician, was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. King Henry VIII takes pity on him and changes the sentence to beheading. Said head is hung on display from London Bridge before being rescued by his daughter a month later. More was Catholic, I recall.

Here we go.  This day in 1699, Captain William Kidd, a pirate or privateer, was captured in Boston, and deported back to England. He'd be hanged there.

In 1885, Louis Pasteur successfully tested his anti-rabies vaccine. The child used in the test later became the director of the Pasteur Institute.

Seeking solace from the war, in 1944 a fire broke out in the main tent of the Ringling Brother, Barnum and Bailey Circus. 169 people died, injuring an additional 250. The main tent had been waterproofed with wax thinned by gasoline, not unlike the Hindenberg. Said one of the Flying Wallendas, "I can never look down at a crowd again without smelling the flames and the burning flesh."

The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation OVERCAST this day a year later.  It was intended to "exploit ... chosen rare minds whose continuing intellectual productivity we wish to use." The directive authorized the immigration of up to 350 German and Austrian specialists, primarily experts in rocketry. Operation OVERCAST was later renamed Project PAPERCLIP.

Another heroine forgot as the two Williams sisters fought for the Wimbleton title.  It was in 1957 that Althea Gibson won the Wimbledon women’s singles tennis title, the first black athlete to win the event. Not everyone was gracious.

This day in 1988, 167 North Sea oil workers were killed by explosions and fires that destroyed the Piper Alpha drilling platform. The workers were faced with the choice of choking on smoke, being burned to death or leaping 150 feet into 57-degree water. That same day, several popular beaches were closed in New York City due to medical waste and other debris began washing up on the seashores, Mafia garbage disposal.

Here in Colorado in 1994, on Storm King Mountain, 14 firefighters were killed contesting a several-day-old fire when wind pushed it uphill.  My very idea of hell.  Peace to their souls.

A year to the day later, another disaster when the prosecution rested at the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Been nice (and hot and humid) and I'm taking it easy for a while.  Probably no more till Sunday or even Monday.  

Here in Boulder the Damned, we are now faced with the afterglow of an incident in which NIST released plutonium into the environment, specifically into the environment of about twenty lab specialists working with it.  Oh, and also, it's in the drains.  Plutonium is dubiously harmful in these small amounts unless somehow ingested, at which point you're dead or next to it.

Without hesitation, the professional fear mongers and responsible nuclear hesitants are all over this, and we are again left with no clear idea how dangerous this might be.  The Feds shut down Boulder's ability to used plutonium, and nobody can really say if we're at risk.  Of course, we'll never know for years, when possible cancer upswings catch the attention of media and health professionals. It's very irritating in its predictability.  

This is scary. At the LAT, the paper reports that it will be cutting 150 jobs from the newsroom by Labor Day and will publish 15 percent fewer pages each week. The editorial downsizing, which amounts to about 17 percent of the total newsroom, is part of the latest cost-cutting effort that aims to reduce the total Times staff by 250 positions. Yes, a bloated creature in need of expense cutting, but it points out that objective news, however defined and however successful, costs money, and nobody has figured out a model that will pay for it in the new Internet world.  We take this for granted as in so much, and once it's gone......I don't see how it'll come back.

The Colombia military's movielike rescue operation that freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. defense contractors, and 11 Colombian soldiers and policemen who were being held hostage in the jungle by leftist rebels is getting the hot weather treatment by the media. The daring raid was years in the making as Colombian forces apparently managed to infiltrate the upper echelons of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and convinced guards to group the high-profile hostages in one location to be picked up by what were supposed to be rebel-friendly helicopters. "The operation was impeccable," Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002, said at a news conference. Betancourt described how the hostages had no idea what was going on until the rescue helicopter was in the air and an undercover officer turned to them and said: "We're the Colombian army. You have been liberated."

The Colombian rescue couldn't have come at a better time for President Alvaro Uribe, who lately has been engulfed in a bribery scandal. It may also be kicking sand in the biodegradation of FARC, the violent but increasingly incompetent and lax crew that let this happen.  The tale does not speak to sharp people.

It's also a tad convenient, however good for us.   The huge success of the mission is a finger in the eye for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who had tried to position himself as the only leader able to negotiate for the release of the hostages. The rescue mission took place on the same day as Sen. John McCain was visiting the country, supposedly pure coincidence, but it seems Uribe and his aides had briefed McCain about the operation. Curious how the operation worked? The WSJ has a blow-by-blow in a separate story.

U.S. officials took pains to emphasize that the rescue mission was a Colombian-led operation, but everyone notes the United States helped with the planning and provided critical intelligence. All of which references timing, and there's the McCain aspect again. The three American citizens who were released yesterday were flown directly to San Antonio, Texas. The Northrop Grumman employees had been in captivity since 2003, when their surveillance plane crashed. I'm real glad about this, but it's a Bush Op, and there's always something serving especially in the very few that are successful.

The FARC is believed to be holding about 700 hostages, but Betancourt, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship, was by far the most valuable. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had made her release a priority since he took office, and more than 1,000 cities and towns around the world have made her an honorary citizen. Interestingly enough, the NYT is alone in noting that Betancourt seemed healthy, a contrast to how she looked in a photograph that was widely circulated late last year.

It's a huge setback for the FARC, a group that has been fighting the government for more than 40 years but has suffered some crippling blows lately. Three of the group's top officials have died recently, hundreds are deserting every month, and one top level commander who surrendered in May said the FARC was "crumbling." The "apparent disintegration" of the FARC has led some to compare it to the Shining Path, a group that once inspired terror but now is made up of a few hundred militants involved in drug trafficking. An editorial in Colombia's El Tiempo describes yesterday's raid as the most shattering setback for the FARC and one that "inflicts an unprecedented moral blow."

A House committee has reached the conclusion that Bush administration officials knew about Hunt Oil's plan to sign an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and didn't object. American policy is to warn companies not to sign separate deals until Iraq passes a national oil law. In fact, the State Department had publicly said it was concerned the deal would undermine the Iraqi central government. But e-mail messages and other documents reveal that State and Commerce department officials not only knew about the impending deal and didn't object, but in some instances even seemed to welcome it. The chief executive of Hunt Oil is a major backer of President Bush and a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. No!  Who'd have thought?

McCain has made changes in the top levels of his campaign staff in what was the second personnel shakeup in a year. Yesterday, McCain put senior strategist Steve Scmidt, who once worked with Karl Rove, in charge of most day-to-day operations and diminished the role of Rick Davis, his campaign manager. The move came after weeks of handwringing by Republicans who have been complaining that McCain seems to lack a clear message to sell his candidacy to voters. Many say McCain is jumping around from issue to issue without a clear strategy and point to his three-day trip to Colombia and Mexico as a prime example of how his campaign lacks focus. The NYT notes the move is the latest sign that many who worked with Rove are gaining influence in the campaign.

Even the WSJ covers how McCain backers are finding ways to get around the campaign-finance law, which the presumptive Republican nominee helped to write, in order to catch up to Sen. Barack Obama in the money race. Stifling hypocrisy on McCain's part, and SOP for the GOP and Dems alike, but I  The paper mostly focuses on how the Republican Governors Association is recruiting big-money donors by telling them that anything they contribute will help McCain in key swing states. These types of groups are forbidden from pledging that they'll help a federal candidate with their money, but those who work at the association are telling donors that helping elect Republican governors will also be good for McCain in November. Republicans are trying to raise $120 million on McCain's behalf through the national and state parties and 527 organizations, including t
Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Another tasteful religious observance from the Catholic Church. It's Feast of the Most Precious Blood, celebrating the blood shed during Christ's Passion and reassumed into His body at Resurrection. Boy, surprised Hallmark hasn't vectored in on that, and the restaurant industry.

John McCain's experience as a fighter pilot and POW do NOT qualify him for any elected post.  He's qualified by what he'd done since, but Wesley Clark is absolutely correct.  Trying to make it sound like a slam against Obama's patiotism doesn't really work, and McCain's handling of it was bozo.

Too perfect. "In a bit of irony, one of McCain's defenders was retired Col. George 'Bud' Day, a fellow prisoner of war who appeared in the Swift boat ads that disparaged the military service of 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry. Democrats accused McCain and Day of hypocrisy; Day defended himself and the ads. 'The Swift boat, quote, attacks were simply a revelation of the truth. The similarity doesn't exist,' he said. 'One was about laying out the truth. This one is about attempting to cast another shadow.' "

Obama laid out his take on patriotism in an attempt to tackle head-on the persistent rumors that he is unpatriotic from the sorts who fly the Confederate flag, the symbol of treason and the source of our worst and most deadly war.

The LAT has a critical look at John McCain and his record on energy issues, saying "the Arizona senator has swerved from one position to another over the years, taking often contradictory stances on the federal government's role in energy policy." Among McCain's energy flip-flops: he used to oppose subsidies for nuclear power and now supports them; he has supported forcing automakers to build cars that run on alternative fuels while opposing the same sort of requirements for local utilities; and at times has supported offshore drilling for oil while at other times opposed it. "There is a very sporadic pattern here," said an official from the League of Conservation Voters.

McCain has gotten about $70,000 from the men behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whom he called "dishonest and dishonorable" when they attacked John Kerry four years ago, USA Today reports.

The New York Times leads with the sad state of wounded Iraqi veterans. Think the soldiers in Walter Reed medical center have it bad? Talk to Nubras Jabar Muhammad, an Iraqi soldier who had to spend $2,100 of his own money on medical care after getting shot on checkpoint duty last year. He lost a kidney and part of his liver, and doctors ordered him to not stand for long periods, but his superiors put him back on checkpoint duty. "They told me if I keep complaining, they'll kick me out of the army," he told the Times. There are few official figures on the number of wounded Iraqi veterans (the NYT estimates it could be more than 60,000), and the officials interviewed by the paper argued that veterans were treated well. But other veterans say they've been drummed out of the military, denied pensions, and forced to use public hospitals, which are often run by rival sectarian militias. Predictable.

The Wall Street Journal covers the opening of eight Iraqi oil and natural gas fields to foreign companies, including those from the United States, Europe, Japan, Russia and China. Iraq's announcement of the opening of several oil contracts to foreign companies naturally erupted in controversy. "I do not believe that the companies should sign contracts in such a fragile political situation and confusing security situation," one Iraqi member of parliament told the Post. "America has come over here to Iraq in order to first control the oil wealth and, second, the entire economical wealth." Probably true.

Of course, the LAT notes that the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq has already signed its own agreements, and that those companies were barred from the contracts in the rest of Iraq. The NYT, which yesterday broke the story that the State Department helped the Iraqi government draw up separate no-bid contracts that went to five Western oil companies, mentions that the announcement of those contracts, expected yesterday, was delayed. The State Department yesterday denied the NYT story, a fact the Post mentions but the NYT ignores. Where is Condi allowing photo shoots now?

"Hoping to show cohesion and progress … the Iraqi oil ministry may have accomplished the opposite. The announcement out of Baghdad was so hard to parse that a number of big foreign oil companies peppered advisers in Washington with questions trying to grasp what was being floated." From the WSJ.

A clue. Algeria's nationalist insurgency has revitalized itself by rebranding as part of al-Qaida, the NYT reports, in a 3,500-word story with an interview with the rebel group's leader. The Bush-Rice brilliance flares again.

The stock market, which has lost $2.1 trillion this year, $1.4 trillion in June alone, is not looking good and is on the verge of a bear market—a drop of 20 percent in the Dow Jones average, the 33rd such drop since 1900.

And, bringing up the rear, Africa yet again. Zimbabwe's neighbors may finally be getting tough on Robert Mugabe as the African Union summit opens in Egypt, the Post reports, while the United States is looking at U.N. sanctions.

In history, this day in 1847, our Post Office issued its first adhesive stamps.

Under cover of civil war, the conspiracy struck!  Well, in 1862, Congress established the Bureau of Internal Revenue. A year to the day later, the first day's fighting at Gettysburg began. Buford held off the Rebs, Reynolds was killed, the Feds got the high ground.

On this day in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders" waged a victorious assault on San Juan Hill in Cuba. Well, Kettle Hill. It's hard not to sympathize with the Spaniards.

In 1905, the USDA Forest Service was created within the Department of Agriculture. The agency was given the mission to sustain healthy, diverse, and productive forests and grasslands for present and future generations. TR.  Credit to the man, he saw that clearly.

Big day for war and vicious battles.  In 1916, the massive, stupid, and bloody Allied offensive known as the Battle of the Somme began in France. The battle was the first to use tanks and killed hundreds of thousands to no known purpose.

In 1943, the U.S. Government began automatically withholding federal income tax from paychecks. That probably saved us from becoming France.

The Bikini atoll was thrilled to host the explosion of a 20-kiloton atomic bomb this day in 1946.

In 1960, this day, Somalia gained its independence from Britain through the unification of Somaliland with Italian Somalia.

In 1966, Medicare federal insurance program went into effect.

This day in 1968, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was signed by 60 countries. It limited the spreading of nuclear material for military purposes. On May 11, 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely.

In 1979, Sony introduced the Walkman. Yes, a big change.

This day in 1989, the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, went into effect. It limited the production of ozone-destroying chemicals.

On the day in 1991the Warsaw Pact dissolved, Court TV began airing, corrupting the judicial process further.

A few years after doing a movie shoot at the Boulder Theater, Margaux Hemingway was found dead in her apartment in 1996. It was concluded that she had committed suicide, apparently having overdosed on Phenobarbital. Runs in the family.

In 1997, the sovereignty over Hong Kong was transferred from Great Britain to China. Britain controlled Hong Kong as a colony
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