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Monday, June 16, 2008

"Your Eminence, you're looking good." Our President to Pope Benedict XVI, who apparently took it in stride. I'd thought a Pope was above a mere Eminence, but I don't really care.

Flood-devastated Iowa, which Boulder would do well to study (although our's will be far more swift and shorter lasting) allows the media to segue into the disaster's impact on crops. As flood waters rolled, they are taking a major toll on the area's farms just weeks after the seeds have gone into the ground. With food prices at record highs, it's the last time a farmer would want to lose a crop. More than 1 million acres have been washed out. "In the lean years, we had beautiful crops but they weren't worth much," one farmer says. "Now, with commodity prices sky high, mother nature is throwing us all these curve balls."  

Water runs downhill, and as it does, it will find the Mississippi River, which is expected to crest in the middle of next week. The calamity sent food commodity prices even higher.

The WP looks at an effort in Congress to preserve 2 million acres of wilderness, an amount equal to what it has saved over the last five years. A confluence of factors—Democratic control of Congress, communities' increasing recognition that they actually need environments in which to live, and environmentalists' recognition that they must offer concessions to move forward—mean that 2 million acres could be protected under federal control.

"It may not seem like it on most issues, but in this one arena Congress is getting things across the goal line," Mike Matz, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for America's Wilderness, tells the Post. "Nobody gets everything they want, but by coming together, talking with age-old adversaries and seeking common ground, wilderness protection is finding Main Street support and becoming motherhood-and-apple-pie." Good.  Now, population control.

Lawmakers and environmentalists are also raising President Bush's record of opening wilderness to extraction

In USAT, coverage of nationwide increases in electric bills, the result of climbing coal and natural gas prices. Why coal prices? The paper says coal has doubled in the last year largely due to surging demand in India and China, but those two countries certainly haven't doubled their energy usage in a year, and China is crawling in coal. Either way, bills are expected to rise by as much as 29 percent. Price gouging.

The Los Angeles Times has a feature on the opportunities presented to state Republicans by California's disastrous financial situation. In reality, a profile in bipartisan cowardice. Lawmakers have missed the constitutionally mandated June 1 deadline to enact a budget. Democrats are offering a range of new taxes but not specifying what they want to tax, and Republicans are offering a bunch of spending cuts but not specifying what they want to cut. The state GOP is instead using the opportunity to press its legislative agenda: In order to pass the budget, Democrats may need to repeal environmental and labor laws normally addressed outside the spending bill.

Worse, the Wall Street Journal gleefully announces Big Oil plans to ask Congress to allow more drilling in the United States. Democrats may have struck on an ingenious way to deflect it: Drill what you have. WSJ reports that the amount of available and leased land in production has declined in the last few years and is down to 27 percent. Big Oil says that Congress doesn't understand how the industry works and that it takes time to get land under production.

The Journal notes, however, that Wall Street tends to value oil companies based on reserves, rather than production, providing an incentive for a company to drag its corporate feet. Meanwhile, portraying Big Oil as a collection of greedy scoundrels may not prove politically difficult. The industry is still sending three-quarters of its campaign contributions in the 2008 election cycle to the GOP. In Congress, you often get what you pay for, public calls for more drilling notwithstanding.

Two Bear Stearns managers may be facing indictments, says the WSJ. THAT could provide good testimony.

The euphemistic-phrase-of-the-year award has a strong candidate in a New York Times Page One piece on Obama's executive management skills. It's important to gauge how he runs a large operation, notes the Times, "as the country absorbs the lessons of President Bush's tenure in the Oval Office." ("Absorbs the lessons" is certainly one way of putting it. Struggle to understand, won't you?) Obama, say Zeleny and Rutenberg, "is personally even-keeled, but can be prickly when small things go wrong." No kidding. They call him "a concerned but not obsessive manager" who routinely communicates by BlackBerry—what happens if the president loses his?—and delegates many decisions and most tasks to a core group of staffers. Unlike the current White House tenant, Obama is a night owl, sending messages into the morning hours.

Obama also allows himself to be overruled on issues he doesn't find to be crucial. He apparently disliked the slogan "Change We Can Believe In" and thought his blue and white logo was too corporate and polished-looking.

The LAT addresses the human cost of sugar ethanol and finds it quite steep. Low pay, long hours, and exposure to toxic chemicals make for the foundations of a rotten workday. In much of Brazil, sugarcane is still harvested manually, much as it was by slave labor more than a century ago.

The piece includes the requisite protest-too-much quote from an industry hack. "If there is an industry that has bettered the situation of the worker, it is the sugar cane industry," said Rodolfo Tavares of Brazil's National Confederation of Agriculture, a trade group. "It's an example for the world." No doubt it is.

In history, on June 16, 1750 BC, lawgiver King Hammurabi died in Babylon, now Iraq, and was succeeded by his son Samsu-iluna.

In 455 CE, Rome was sacked by the Vandal army.

Finally, in 1487, the War of the Roses ended with the Battle of Stoke.

It was on this day in 1858, in a speech in Springfield, Illinois, U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln said the slavery issue had to be resolved. He declared, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

In 1952, "Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl" was published in the United States.

This day in 1958, Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy was hanged for treason. He had been the prime minister during the 1956 uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks. In 1989, Nagy was reburied. The funeral brought at least a quarter of a million people to the streets of Budapest.

On June 16, 1959, while entertaining friends at his home, George Reeves - in the original Superman TV series he played the hero - committed suicide with a 9mm German Luger.

A year to the day later, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho opened in New York. And scared the bejesus out of people, without a doubt.In 1961, the remarkable Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union while in Paris, traveling with the Leningrad Kirov Ballet.

In 1976, this day, thousands of school children revolted against the South African government's plan to enforce Afrikaans as the language for instruction in black schools. Later, they fought for it.

In 1978, U.S. President Carter and Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos ratified the Panama Canal treaties. And we were out of there.

In 1987, a jury in New York acquitted Bernhard Goetz of attempted murder in the subway shooting of four young blacks he said were going to rob him. He was convicted of illegal possession of a weapon. In 1996 a civil jury ordered Goetz to pay $43 million to one of the people he shot.

In 1996, Russian voters had their first independent presidential election. Boris Yeltsin was the winner after a run-off.

In 2000, U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson reported that an employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico had discovered that two computer hard drives were missing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"There is not a liberal in this country worthy of kissing Bush's rear end, but the weakest members of the herd run from Bush. Compared to the lickspittles denying and attacking him, Bush is a moral giant." So says Ann Coulter, the wet dream of the repressed few heterosexual Republicans left, and who isn't worthy of anything.
A U.N. arms inspector's report that an international ring of smugglers obtained blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon and may have shared them with a number of rogue states, is terrifying the planet today. Of course, the problem is the industrial might to manufacture it. Also?  It sounds like a Bush plant, although they're incompetent enough to make it true.

The plans could significantly aid nations like Iran and North Korea in adding nuclear elements to their ballistic weaponry. If true.  

The nuclear blueprints were discovered on a computer belonging to rogue Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan but that investigators "have not been able to determine whether they were sold to Iran or the smuggling ring's other customers." The Times also curiously reports that some of the blueprint's details appear in the Sunday Washington Post, but the WP's "details" are few and far between. The WP divulges only that the plans included both instructions for building a "compact nuclear device" that could be fitted to the sort of ballistic missile used by Iran and for a second, more complex nuclear weapon.

The New York Times has a 1974 foreign policy essay written for the National War College by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. The essay, which discusses the reasons some American prisoners succumbed to enemy pressure during the Vietnam War, including himself, reveals a long-standing irritation with the American government for failing to educate the public about crucial aspects of foreign policy.

McCain wrote, as summarized by the paper, that "Americans captured after 1968 had proven to be more susceptible to North Vietnamese pressure, because they had been exposed to the divisive forces which had come into focus as a result of the antiwar movement in the United States." McCain recommended more education to ensure that soldiers thoroughly understood and supported U.S. policy—an approach that, while certain to draw criticism, might solidify a soldier's resolve in crucial encounters with enemy forces. The essay also sheds light on other aspects of McCain's political psyche, including his habit of averting conflict by making peace with former enemies. Reporter David D. Kirkpatrick backs up his lengthy piece with gripping details from McCain's war history, interspersed with commentary from the senator himself.

The Los Angeles Times fronts, at least online, some gay couples' doubts about rushing to the courthouse for a marriage license when they become available in California this week. The NYT focuses on the four years since Massachusetts legalized homosexual marriage in 2004, noting that the number of marriages has dropped every year, which in aggregate sort of shoots down the gay fronts claims of mass numbers of gays. Some have ended in divorce, while others, facing the new world of dilemmas that legal marriage presents, are hesitant to take vows in the first place. The LAT notices similar cold feet in California, except this time it's before the ruling even takes effect (marriage licenses for same-sex couples are officially available in the Golden State on Tuesday).

A front-page WP story charts the rapid rise of single-gender public-school classrooms, an experiment that many believe will help eliminate some of the chronic problems facing public education. "The approach is based on the much-debated yet increasingly popular notion that girls and boys are hard-wired to learn differently and that they will be more successful if classes are designed for their particular needs," the story explains. Since most public schools trying gender segregation are still in experimental phase, there is little hard evidence to suggest that the approach will be as revolutionary as some educators hope; parents, however, seem to be overwhelmingly receptive to the idea.

More on the credit crisis, using the stories of multiple players in the subprime mortgage saga to chronicle its rise and fall. Part 1 in the WP (the others will follow Monday and Tuesday) deals in timelines and back story, delivering more narrative than analysis. The nutshell: The housing bubble that began in the mid-'90s was "a way to harness the inventiveness of the capitalist system to give low-income families, minorities and immigrants a chance to own their homes. But it also is a classic story of boom, excess and bust, of homeowners, speculators and Wall Street dealmakers happy to ride the wave of easy money even though many knew a crash was inevitable."

An op-ed by former Clinton speechwriter Ted Widmer in the LAT insists that "America isn't over," responding to announcements that we live in a "post-American world." Widmer notes the array of popular books trumpeting the rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China and argues that "to just throw in the towel, as so many of these new books seem to do, seems a little un-American. It also ignores a mother lode of history that points to the opposite conclusion."

In history, this day in 1215, King John of England put his seal on the Magna Carta and his doom.  In 1381, the English peasant revolt was crushed in London as the peasants tried to unite crown and people against the nobility.

It was this day in 1389 that the Ottoman Turks crushed Serbia in the Battle of Kosovo, for which blood is still shed.

On June 15, 1405, Petros Philargos was elected Pope Alexander V by the Council of Pisa. There already was a Pope in Rome, Gregory XII, and another in Avignon, Benedict XII. Ultimately, none of the three was willing to step down, leading the Chuch into a double schism. Fun.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin experimented by flying a kite during a thunderstorm. The result was a little spark that showed the relationship between lightning and electricity.

It was this day in 1904 that the steamboat General Slocum erupted in fire killing more than 1,000 in New York City's East River.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced its position on abortion by striking down state and local restriction on abortions.

In 1992, U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle instructed a student to spell "potato" with an "e" on the end during a spelling bee. He had relied on a faulty flash card that had been written by the student's teacher. Um.  So?

On June 15, 1993, the Washington Times reported that at least 1,416 Boy Scout leaders had been expelled for molestation since 1973. Of course, those were only the ones who actually got caught.The true incompetence of the Simpson prosecution, which should have been a slam dunk, came this day in 1995.  O.J. was asked to put on a pair of gloves. The gloves were said to have been worn by the killer on the night of the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. The gloves appeared not to fit. Because, predictably, they shrunk.  D'oh!
Saturday, June 14, 2008

With the rather embarrassing and over the top eulogies for Tim Russert on NBC yesterday, I'd like to mention that Harry Smith on CBS did the most moving and effective sendoff: respectful, personal, true, and heartfelt. Further, at the end of the show, CBS had no hesitation of showing a photo of Russert with the NBC logo behind it.  "He was in that chair for us.  And we were damned glad he was," said Smith. Take a minute and a half for "Tim Russert's Legacy." Worth it.  How it's done right.

Smith is a long under-appreciated gem, and CBS made a bad error going with Couric as opposed to him. I'd also like to say it's time to put Tom Brocaw out to pasture.  He isn't Walter Cronkite, and his increasingly unseemly smirk was remarkably out of place in his sendoff. It's undoubted he and Russert were close, and his thoughts at such times may lead to smiles, but Brocaw never was 'all that' and NBC looks foolish pretending he was.

The WP's Howard Kurtz credits Tim Russert with revolutionizing Sunday morning television, which is way over the top.  "Meet the Press" actually owes everything to Lawrence Spivak, it's first host who thought of it in the 1940's.  Spivak was well thought of by H. L. Mencken, despite the fact he was Jewish, a supposed Mencken no-no.  Back then, it was a really boring show absent real interest, but a break: it was the 1950's, and nobody knew what the medium would be like, or what its audience would stand. In any case, Spivak deserves the credit, here.

Still, Kurtz reports that news of Russert's death swept the capital like a shock wave and that cable news treated the event like the death of a head of state. The LAT print-edition headline calls Russert the "Everyman of TV politics." The NYT says he played an "increasingly outsize role in the news media's coverage of politics."

Russert died while recording an introduction for Meet the Press in an NBC sound booth.

Saudi Arabia is planning to increase its oil production by a half-million barrels a day. And? That they want to do so is a sign that the world's largest oil exporter is nervous about the worldwide political and economic consequences of high oil prices, says the NYT. Not fear of Bush. The high prices could eventually lead to reduced demand as alternative fuels threaten the oil-based economy. The Times obtained this information with anonymous analysts who asked not to be identified. The White House welcomed the news, but some of the secret analysts are skeptical that Saudi Arabia even has the capacity to increase production.

The Washington Post leads locally with a three-clicker on a power failure that severely disrupted downtown D.C. yesterday morning, exposing the vulnerability of the city's infrastructure.

The WP's top national spot goes to key Iraqi leaders' delivering setbacks to the United States, with the prime minister rejecting long-term plans for a U.S. troop presence and an opposition leader calling for renewed resistance. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, during a trip to Jordan, said that negotiations had reached a "dead end" between U.S. and Iraqi politicians for a continued U.S. presence in the country. And Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, beckoned his followers to begin a new offensive against U.S. troops. A Sadr spokesman says the plan is to reorganize Sadr's Mahdi Army from a militia into a peaceful organization with a single secretive wing devoted to attacking American forces. Both developments represent major setbacks to the Bush administration, says the WP.

The Los Angeles Times leads with the weakening political clout of the National Rifle Association, which may have become a victim of its own success because Democratic politicians are weary of and voters are bored with gun issues.

The Wall Street Journal and NYT say that voters in Ireland rejected a plan to strengthen the European Union. Therefore, they continue dubiously, Europe is in turmoil.  Ireland squashed a treaty that would have given the European Union its first president, created an EU diplomatic service, and made it easier for the bloc to make decisions. All 26 member nations need to ratify the treaty for it to pass. Irish folks rejected the plan for a number of reasons, including fears that it might force the country to raise its low corporate taxes or bring cheap imports that would hurt local agriculture.

Sightings of unidentified flying objects above a town in Texas have utterly taken it over. The wife of a trucking company owner begged her husband not to tell anybody that he thought he'd seen strange lights one night, but the man immediately called newspapers the next morning and discovered he was not alone. During the ensuing media frenzy, a Japanese film crew promulgated the theory that aliens were buzzing the town because they love milk and the town has lots of cows. Soon, there were T-shirts. But nobody claims to have seen little green men.

Record flooding in Iowa has forced massive evacuations and destroyed crops. The Times emphasizes that the entire Midwest region is suffering from extreme weather, while the Post focuses more closely on Iowa. Both papers compare the current situation to the massive flooding that occurred in 1993.

I love this. The NYT fronts a piece on information overload—too much e-mail, in other words—at tech firms, "the very companies that helped create the flood."

It was this day in history, the year being 1381, that the Peasant’s Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, climaxed when rebels marched on London. They plundered, burned and captured the Tower of London and killed the Archbishop of Canterbury. The revolt was in response to a statute intended to hold down wages during a labor shortage. The ancestors the great Lord Salisbury killed Tyler and put it all to bed.  Eventually.

On June 14, 1648, midwife Margaret Jones was hanged in Boston for witchcraft. It is the first such execution for the Massachusetts colony, but not the first in the colonies. Hardly the first.

In 1775, the Continental Army was founded by the Continental Congress for purposes of common defense. This event is considered to be the birth of the United States Army. The next day, George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief.

In 1789, the remarkably competent Captain William Bligh of the HMS Bounty arrived in Timor in a small boat, having sailed a huge distance.

The year 1846 saw a group of U.S. settlers in Sonoma proclaim the Republic of California.

In 1864, Alois Alzheimer was born. He was a psychiatrist/pathologist, and in 1907 he wrote an article describing the disease that is named for him.

In 1944, sixty U.S. B-29s attacked an iron and steel works factory on Honshu Island. It was the first U.S. raid against mainland Japan. A year to the day later, Burma was liberated by Britain.

This day in 1951, "Univac I" was unveiled. It was a computer designed for the U.S. Census Bureau and billed as the world's first commercial computer.

A year after that, the Nautilus was dedicated. It was the first nuclear powered submarine.

It was in 1954 that Eisenhower signed an order adding the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

On June 14, 1966, the Vatican announced the abolition of its Index librorum prohibitum (Index of Prohibited Books), originally instituted in 1557 by Pope Paul IV.  Cutting edge, the Vatican.In 1982, Argentine forces surrendered to British troops on the Falkland Islands, ending that fiasco.

This was the day in 1995 that Chechen rebels took 2,000 people hostage in a hospital in Russia.

Friday, June 13, 2008

It's Friday the 13th, and nobody even notices anymore. That's good. Well, maybe in Iowa, where the floods are godawful, and exactly what Boulder is looking at someday.  Someday soon.

On the door of my apartment building is a note saying there was a mountain lion seen 'in this area', by which they mean the parking lot yesterday morning.  That gets and holds my attention.  Along with the fact they misspelled sighting as siting.

But, here in Boulder the Damned, the wind is gone, which is a break.  It's been strong and annoying for a couple of days, and these are strong winds up to 60 knots or so.  In Kansas, my wind beef is pfft.  Testimonies from some of the 93 Boy Scouts who had gathered in western Iowa for a week of leadership training when a tornado struck their camp on Wednesday are pretty scary, as a tornado at night would be. Four Scouts died, and dozens of people were badly injured by the tornado that seemed to come from nowhere. After the tornado passed, the scouts rushed to assist the injured before help arrived. "There were some real heroes at this Scout camp," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said.

Still, our weather for the last few days in Boulder has been both annoying and somewhat eerie, given that we have no normal summer days with strong, hot winds.  The Chinooks in the spring, yeah, but this was quite odd.  It's usually always a nice day, afternoon thunderstorms, clear evening, repeat ad infinatum till Labor Day when the thunderstorms leave and life is heaven: kids in school, the weather great.  Spring is second best, normally.  

This was odd, though. I am, of course, global warming sensitive.  Paranoid, even.  But this was odd.

Speaking of which, the Supreme Court ruling that prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions before a civilian judge apparently came as a shock to anyone not familiar with the spirit of the Constitution and, really, America itself. Bushies and neo-cons and fascists and monarchists.  Those types.  

The 5-4 decision marked the third time that the Supreme Court has rejected the Bush administration's handling of foreign prisoners at the base in Cuba. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that "few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary" as the basic constitutional right to appear before a judge, and the majority rejected the view that American courts have no jurisdiction over Guantanamo. The WP notes that the majority of justices are "clearly impatient that some prisoners have been held for six years without a hearing." Dear Christ, one would sure hope.

The ruling was an important victory for detainees, but still leaves several important questions unanswered, "making it likely that the controversy will continue into the next presidential administration," says the LAT. Notably, the justices didn't say how much evidence the government has to present in order to justify a continued detention in Guantanamo, how classified evidence should be handled, or even whether enemy combatants can be held for as long as the government thinks is necessary. Ultimately though, the ruling will allow detainees "to challenge their detentions before civilian judges, potentially forcing the government to present evidence against them and giving them the chance to call their own witnesses," says the WP.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote his predictable melodramatic and inaccurate dissent that the decision will bring about "disastrous consequences" and "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." Horseshit. He went on to write that "the nation will live to regret what the court has done today." Chief Justice John Roberts accused the majority of "overreaching" in a decision that left the high court vulnerable to "charges of judicial activism." Bogus. For his part, President Bush made it clear he's not happy with the ruling. "We'll abide by the court's decision," he said. "That doesn't mean I have to agree with it."

The best observations again are from Slate and Dahlia Lithwick. "Six years of no trials, in the eyes of the dissenters, is more than justifiable in the hopes of dozens more years of no trials.  And it's precisely that sense of time passing without consequence that so infuriates the majority."

Others note the decision undercut the main rationale behind holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush administration was once convinced American courts couldn't reach. There now "appears to be little legal reason to keep it open," says the LAT. But the NYT notes that the decision didn't "change some realities that have long made it easier to say that the Guantánamo detention center should be closed than to figure out how." Attorneys for most of the 270 detainees in Guantanamo are likely to inundate the courts with petitions that will force the government to present evidence justifying their detention. The difficulty of defending so many cases at once is likely to step up efforts to return many of the detainees who are considered less dangerous back to their home countries.

The WP says even some Republicans agree the White House has only itself to blame for its current predicament after failing to come up with a detention policy that dealt with the concerns of those who have expressed interest in the legal rights of detainees. Its job, after all.  A little competence, Dubya.

Obama and McCain have both called for closing the detention center in Guantamo, but disagreed on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling. Obama praised the decision, calling it an "important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law." McCain said he's concerned about granting too many rights to the detainees, saying that "these are unlawful combatants, they are not American citizens," but he also emphasized that the Supreme Court has spoken and "we need to move forward." Also, we used to hold certain rights self evident and universal.

Most editorial boards praise the ruling. The one predictable exception is the WSJ, always pandering to fear and bigotry, which takes up Scalia's message: "We can say with confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result" of the decision. USAT recognizes that Americans may immediately think "the prisoners are getting better treatment than they deserve" and "perhaps they are. But the ruling also sends a powerful message about U.S. justice." Would have been powerful if done earlier.  Now it looks merely expedient. The LAT stupidly says it's time for the Bush administration to "enlist Congress' cooperation in improving the flawed Military Commissions Act and cooperate in expedited judicial hearings for inmates." That cannot happen, and would be worthless with less than a year to go. The WP agrees that "sooner or later, lawmakers must fix this mess" and emphasizes that it's "time that Congress absorb the lesson that the Supreme Court has repeatedly imparted: The war on terrorism cannot invalidate the rule of law." The NYT points out that the divided decision is "a reminder that the composition of the court could depend on the outcome of this year's presidential election." We know, thanks.

Earmarks appear to be making a comeback on Capitol Hill. Shocking. Of course, earmarks never really went away, but lawmakers did vow to cut down on their use after the funding of pet projects came under fire from critics who see it as another way that members of Congress use their influence to raise campaign contributions. The number of earmarks quickly dropped last year, but now lawmakers are packing the Pentagon authorization budget with a variety of earmarks. In the House's bill, earmarks soared 29 percent to $9.9 billion, and the Senate has also seen an increase. "Both parties talk a good game on cutting earmarks, but at first opportunity, the House larded up," said the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, "This is just another broken promise."

Authorities in Zimbabwe cesspit detained the opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai twice yesterday, disrupting a day that was supposed to be filled with campaign events two weeks before the presidential runoff election. In addition, the opposition party's No. 2 official was arrested and will be charged with treason, which could carry the death penalty.

The LAT has an unnamed reporter in Burma, who describes how he had to rely on the help of boatmen who risked arrest in order to get a fuller picture of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The reporter had to hide in the "cramped space beneath the top deck" of the boats in order to avoid detection. In the remote villages hardest hit by the cyclone, government authorities were usually nowhere in sight, but the reporter describes several close calls. "Over the last 16 years, I have reported on famine, massive earthquakes and a tsunami," writes the reporter. "Cyclone Nargis is the first natural disaster that required working undercover to write about the hungry, sick and homeless."

In history, this day in 1415, the enlightened Henry the Navigator, the prince of Portugal, embarked on an expedition to Africa.

In 1777, the young Marquis de Lafayette arrived in the American colonies to help with their rebellion against the British. Two years later, ice cream was served to General George Washington by Mrs. Alexander Hamilton.

This day in 1866, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. Congress. It was ratified on July 9, 1868. The amendment was designed to grant citizenship to and protect the civil liberties of recently freed slaves. It did this by prohibiting states from denying or abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, depriving any person of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or denying to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Twenty years to the day later, King Ludwig II of Bavaria drowned in Lake Starnberg. Unimportant except for the debt he left and another example provided of the decline of the House of Hapsburg. The bodies of Bavaria's mad King, along with that of his physician, Dr. Gudden, were discovered floating face-down. The recently-deposed monarch had been under house arrest ever since his uncle, Prince Luitpold von Bayern, staged a coup a few days earlier.

It wasn't until 1920 that the U.S. Post Office Department ruled that children may not be sent by parcel post.

Not since the incompetent translators in our own Indian Wars led to much horror has something this silly occured.  In 1934, this day and two months before becoming Fuhrer, Hitler met Mussolini in Venice. Unfortunately, Mussolini refuses to have an interpreter and his German is not good, so neither man can understand the other well. Unimpressed, Mussolini gathers a general impression of the German as "a silly little monkey."

In 1943, this day, German spies landed on Long Island, New York. They were soon captured because their leader was an anti-fascist.  When the FBI noted that his true story conflicted with the image of their false one, he alone was sentenced to death.

A year later, Germany launched 10 of its new V1 rockets against Britain from a position near the Channel coast. Of the 10 rockets only 5 landed in Britain and only one managed to kill (6 people in London). Still, quite terrifying, and 9000 more arrived.

It was this day in 1966 that the landmark "Miranda vs. Arizona" decision was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision ruled that criminal suspects had to be informed of their constitutional rights before being questioned by police.

The Pentagon Papers began running this day in 1971 in the New York Times. The articles were a secret study of America's involvement in Vietnam.

In 1983, the unmanned U.S. space probe Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to leave the solar system. It was launched in March 1972. The first up-close images of the planet Jupiter were provided by Pioneer 10.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Every Republican I know looks at the Bush administration as a total failure." This from Matt Towery, a friend of Newt Gingrich.  Raising the question: what do you know now you couldn't have known in 2000?  The guy never succeeds at anything.  The worst thing about the Bush presidency is that it was almost entirely predicted by his opponents, and you can start with Molly Ivins, who saw Shrub clear through.

Here, though, our more or less own Jared Polis seems to have put his foot in it again for no particular reason and at the same time given Jay Marvin a huge amount of publicity. There was no huge upside for Polis, a radio interview is, at best, treading water.  But he managed to try to get a drive time in depth interview, which wasn't going to happen, and then nagged about it.  And then had a dismal performance this AM.  No particular fan of talk radio or Marvin myself, this was really stupid on Polis' part.  Absent new, shocking info, he lost the race today, because this will sag anything else he does or says, because he looks and sounded like a spoiled brat with talking points.    

Here in Boulder the Damned, the CU Foundation - that font of giggles, incompetence, and drowning in cash - has announced that is on the road to a record year.  Good, and all, but I'd be curious why the newspaper is not following up on the promises the foundation made, and may actually have kept.  This atop the surprising lack of interest into whether the football camps are being run at Bookkeeping 101 level.  And of course, the old favorite: who is paying for those nifty new cars that our football scholarship players get to use, perhaps own?  I've not seen this year.  Since this is a violation of NCAA and, I think, state law and, of course, the numerous promises being made left and right, you'd think the media would be all over it.

No, not really.  They depend in these harsh times more than ever or the advertising of the football program and the money it generates.  The question is, why is the public letting this normally nothing issue go by when the hypocrisy reeks?

Again, U.S. forces launched a series of intense air strikes that killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers along the Afghan border.  The attack immediately raised tensions between the American and Pakistani governments. Details are still sketchy, and no one really knows what exactly happened on Tuesday night, but what is clear is that the attack threatened the already fragile relations between the United States and one of its key allies in the region. Early yesterday the Pakistani military said the airstrikes were "unprovoked and cowardly" while the Pentagon characterized it as "a legitimate strike in self-defense."

The air strikes came at a particularly sensitive time, as the U.S. government is trying to improve relations with Pakistan's newly elected government, which itself has been attempting to negotiate a series of peace pacts with tribal leaders in the hills. U.S. officials contend the Pakistani government is looking the other way as Taliban fighters take refuge in the country's tribal areas, which is true given they couldn't do much about it anyway. Nobody wants this to become bigger than it is," a senior official tells the LAT. "It is just a bad time for this to happen." By late yesterday, the Pakistani government had softened its rhetoric, and its ambassador to Washington said the air strikes shouldn't "cause us to reconsider our partnership but rather to find ways of improving that partnership." Of course, the WSJ says "the incident could prove to be a turning point," a safe bet since anything could be so considered.  Pakistan losing US support is at sea, though.

The NYT says the events that took place on Tuesday night illustrate the "faulty communications" that exist between U.S., Pakistani, and Afghan forces in the area. American officials underscored this idea and said the deaths illustrate how the United States needs to work to improve relations with Pakistan's paramilitary force, which has pretty much taken over security of the border region and didn't start receiving financing from the American military until recently. But the Post points out that U.S. officials are also raising doubts about whether the paramilitary soldiers known as the Frontier Corps even have the proper training to handle Taliban fighters. Without knowing any of the parties, I can safely say "no", they cannot.  They're a creation from the title down of our contractor military.

Fluffed big news. James Johnson is resigning from Sen. Barack Obama's vice-presidential search committee amid criticism over his business activities and loans he received from Countrywide Financial. Both the NYT and WP describe Johnson, who had been selected by Obama to head his search for a vice president, as a "consummate Washington insider." He had been part of two previous vice-presidential search committees, and Obama was quickly criticized for picking someone from inside the Beltway.

That criticism grew after revelations that the man who led Fannie Mae for seven years appeared to have received favorable treatment from Countrywide. The WSJ says Johnson received more than $5 million in loans from Countrywide "that were arranged outside its normal underwriting process." The controversy only got worse as it became known that he received millions of dollars in compensation from Fannie Mae and was part of corporate boards that approved huge pay packages for executives, a practice that Obama has frequently criticized. "His resignation highlights the difficulties for Mr. Obama's campaign in trying to live up to his promises to remain independent of the Washington establishment," notes the NYT.

Republicans immediately seized on the resignation to criticize Obama's judgment and question whether the presumptive nominee really means it when he says that he'll bring change to Washington. The Obama campaign shot back and highlighted the number of people with special interests who are tied to Sen. John McCain's campaign. Still, it's more serious than this: "Talk about unnecessary disasters," writes the NYT's Gail Collins. "It's like having your career ruined because you invited the wrong person to host a party in honor of your nephew's godparents." It's more like the person you hired to find you a best friend and advisor.

The NYT notes that Obama is also facing criticism from labor union leaders who don't like the fact that the presumptive nominee hired Jason Furman as his economic policy director. Furman is closely associated with Robert Rubin, who was President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary and is seen as sympathetic to corporations. The unions are particularly worried because Rubin has traditionally been a strong supporter of free trade. Furman dismissed the complaints, saying that his own personal views "are irrelevant" since his job involves talking to economists with a wide variety of opinions.

The chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Alex Kozinski, has suspended an obscenity trial over which he was presiding when the media revealed that he kept sexually explicit materials on a publicly accessibly Web site. I have enjoyed porn myself, but I don't think I'd ever be so stupid as to keep it on a public computer, much less have a web site for it under my own name, especially if I were a judge and all.  Although, my tastes vary from his. The material in question included a picture of a naked woman painted to look like a cow and a short video of a man with a sexually excited farm animal, among others.

Judge Kozinski, the head of the federal appeals court in California, has frequently been praised for his sharp legal mind and has been on short lists of candidates for the Supreme Court. At first he admitted to posting the sexual content on his site, some of which he described as "funny," but then later shifted some of the responsibility to his son. Oh. Not good. Among the photos he defended as funny was one of a man "bent over in a chair and performing fellatio on himself." But the amount of material on was apparently extensive and included images of masturbation, public sex, and a slide show of a transsexual performing a striptease. No one is really sure what will happen now because, as the WP points out, "the code of conduct on Internet postings by federal judges is far from clear." But the LAT says the pornographic images aren't his only source of concern since music tracks that were also on the site could raise questions about copyright violations.

USA Today goes across the top with a look at how the continuing bad weather could turn a bad situation worse in Iowa and across the Midwest in the next few days. Thousands have already been evacuated in Iowa due to record flooding that is also threatening to destroy a variety of crops, which could further raise food prices. "This could be a 500-year type of event," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said. "We're dealing with something that's historic in proportion."

Rising tensions between Democrats and Sen. Joe Lieberman are getting hot. The independent senator from Connecticut caucuses with the Democrats but is supporting McCain and has even offered to speak at the GOP convention. Republicans are obviously happy to have his support, particularly since the senator could help McCain gain Jewish voters, who could be critical in November. So far, everyone is playing nice since the Democrats depend on him for their razor-thin majority. But if the Democrats manage to gain seats in November, they could very well decide to strip him of his committee chairmanship as punishment. I'd hope.  Still, Lieberman was pushed that way by the foolish work of MoveOn and the DailyKos when they campaigned for a Democrat, Ned Lamont, who has less claim to Democratic values than Lieberman.  He was always a conservative Dem.  No surprises there.

The American ambassador to Zimbabwe contends that authorities in that country confiscated a truck filled with 20 tons of U.S. food aid meant for poor children and sent it to supporters of the president at a political rally. "This government will stop at nothing … to realize their political ambitions," the ambassador said. The truck was confiscated on Friday after it was forced to park overnight at a police station in Bambazonke when it suffered a mechanical breakdown. When asked about the allegations, the spokesman for Zimbabwe's national police responded by saying that there's no place named Bambazonke in the country.

Despite the economic downturn, mega-mansions are still incredibly popular in places like Beverly Hills. One builder says there are at least 20 homes being built in Los Angeles County with 20,000 square feet or more. So, why do people feel they need so much space? According to one real-estate agent, no one really sets out to build such a huge home—it's something that just sort of happens. "You keep adding the rooms you think you need. The ballroom. The screening room. Masters with his and hers and a beauty salon and a massage room," the agent said. "I can't explain why someone needs a gift-wrapping room or a florist room. That is a question of culture."

In history, this day in 1667, the first human blood transfusion was administered by Dr. Jean Baptiste. He successfully transfused the blood of a sheep to a 15-year old boy.

This day in 1812, Napoleon's bad idea began, and he invaded Russia.

Supposedly, this day in 1839, Abner Doubleday created the game of baseball.  Evidence has surfaced that indicates that the game of baseball was played before 1800. In any case, a small variation of cricket.

In 1900, this day, the Reichstag approved a second law that would allow the expansion of the German navy. This guaranteed it would be used, and it was, and that was the 20th Century.

It was this day in 1923 that Harry Houdini, while suspended upside down 40 feet above the ground, escaped from a strait jacket. Wowsers.

Happy Birthday Anne Frank!  Born in Germany, this day in 1929. She wrote a diary about growing up in occupied Amsterdam during World War II, and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, aged 16.

In 1931, Al Capone and 68 of his henchmen were indicted for violating U.S. Prohibition laws.

The Chaco War was ended with a truce this day in 1935. Bolivia and Paraguay had been fighting since 1932.

In 1937, the Soviet Union executed eight popular and competent army leaders feared by Stalin, who paid the price when the Nazis invaded.

In 1963, and I recall this, "Cleopatra" - starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, and Richard Burton -  premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City. Time Magazine essentially said "Oh, go see it. You're going to anyway."  It cost the then monumental amount of - gasp! - $12 million.  Later that night, Civil rights lawyer Medgar Evers was shot dead in the driveway of his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The assassin, a Klansman named Byron De La Beckwith, dodged prison when two all-white juries returned hung verdicts.  The killer was a war hero Marine, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and was finally convicted of the crime in 1994.

And then, in 1967, state laws which prohibited interracial marriages were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1987, Central African Republic's former emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa was sentenced to death for crimes he had committed during his 13-year rule.

"Tear down this wall!"  It was this day in 1987 that Reagan publicly challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. He did, and three years later the parliament of the Russian Federation formally declared its sovereignty. A year after that, Russians went to the election polls and elected Boris N. Yeltsin as the president of their republic.

Times almost immediately changed.  In 1992, in a letter to the U.S. Senate, Russian Boris Yeltsin stated that in the early 1950's the Soviet Union had shot down nine U.S. planes and held 12 American survivors.

It was this day in 1994 that Nicole Brown Simpson and her male friend Ronald Goldman were murdered in front of Simpson's condominium complex in Brentwood, California. The most plausible suspect remains Nicole's estranged husband O.J., who was arrested for the crime a month later. After a remarkably inept prosecution, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the killings, but he was held liable in a civil suit.

This day in 1997, the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled a new $50 bill meant to be more counterfeit-resistant.

In 1999, NATO peacekeeping forces entered the province of Kosovo in Yugoslavia.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The rising tensions between Iraqi and U.S. officials has been way up during the negotiations over the future of American troops in Iraq. The debate has become increasingly heated as Iraqi politicians accuse the United States of attempting to keep almost 58 permanent bases in the country. Some are even publicly wondering whether Iraqis even need American troops on their soil to maintain security.

Again: Iraq is a geographic notion.  Nobody, anywhere, owes first allegiance to something called Iraq.  Family, gang, militia first.

President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had both set a deadline of July 31 to finalize the agreement on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq to replace the U.N. mandate that expires at the end of the year.....and Bush's term. Although officials insist they're working with that deadline in mind, the two countries don't seem to be any closer to agreeing on a document. In addition to the 58 bases, Iraqis say the United States wants immunity for troops and contractors, control over Iraq's airspace, authority to detain Iraqis and not turn them over to the judicial system, and permission to conduct military operations without the approval of the government. But these demands could soon change as the Post reports that President Bush has instructed negotiators to be more flexible.

It's difficult to get a full picture of the situation since American officials aren't talking on the record about the negotiations, so most of the information comes from the Iraqi side. And while calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops can be interpreted as an easy way for politicians to get popular support by appearing to stand up to the Americans, the papers note it's particularly significant that the sentiment is being expressed even by some members of Maliki's government. The LAT notes that some Iraqi politicians who were initially in favor of continued U.S. presence in their country have been gradually switching sides when confronted with what they see as unrealistic demands. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore,' " one Shiite politician said. If no agreement is reached, and Iraqis don't ask for an expansion of the U.N. mandate, "U.S. troops would have no legal basis to remain in Iraq," reports the Post.

Republicans are preparing for what they expect will be huge losses in November. Analysts predict Republicans could lose 10 to 20 seats in the House and four or five in the Senate. News out of the campaign trail, where John McCain and Barack Obama clashed over their sharply different proposals to revive the U.S. economy, supports their fears. "The substantive contrast between the candidates is deep and stark, arguably sharper than between contenders in the last two presidential elections," one political analyst tells the Post. But the truth is that none of their main arguments or proposals is really new. The NYT highlights how, at least with respect to the economy, two candidates who never tire of telling voters that they're a break from the past are offering plans that are little more than "a classic clash" between Republican and Democratic ideals. There's really no mystery here as McCain favors tax cuts and a smaller government with a side order of populism, while Obama wants to generally redistribute income by raising taxes for the wealthy while cutting them for those who earn less. The one unique aspect about this debate is that since the economy keeps getting worse, the presumptive nominees are trying to signal that they would be open to tweaking their plans to adapt to changes.

Conservatives are starting to direct more criticism toward Michelle Obama. So far, the criticism mostly centers on a February remark when Obama said that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." She immediately faced criticism for the remark, and "the issue has shown no signs of going away," says the LAT. (Obama's campaign quickly clarified that she merely meant to say she's particularly proud now because of all the new voters.) Of course, criticizing a candidate's wife is hardly new but many, including some Republicans, warn that this type of sustained criticism could quickly backfire.

Any electronic devices they take to the Summer Olympics will likely be hacked into by Chinese agents. Several national security agencies say visitors, particularly those who work for the government or technology companies, should simply expect that the Chinese will try to steal secrets or plant bugs in their laptops, PDAs, and smartphones.

The New York Times leads with a dispatch from South Korea, where President Lee Myung Bak is struggling to hold on to power in the face of demonstrations that started more than a month ago after his government agreed to allow American beef into the country despite fears of mad cow disease. The complaints against Lee quickly broadened, and at least 100,000 people protested against the president in Seoul yesterday.

To illustrate just how sick most religions - and especially the patriarchal Muslims - are, the NYT reports that an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe are undergoing surgery to restore their hymen before walking down the aisle. There are really no data to back up the claim, since most of the operations are done quietly, but gynecologists say more Muslim women have been asking them for "certificates of virginity" to show to family members before they get married. The debate over the practice has been particularly heated in France, where a man asked for an annulment (and immediately put most wedding-day horror stories to shame) after he "left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied."

Madeleine Albright writes that the failure of the international community to pressure the Burmese government after Cyclone Nargis not only illustrates how totalitarian regimes are "alive and well" but that they're also unlikely to face pressure from neighbors to change their ways. There used to be a generally accepted belief that while sovereignty is important, there were certain moments when other countries could intervene to save lives. But after the invasion of Iraq, "[g]overnments, especially in the developing world, are now determined to preserve the principle of sovereignty," writes Albright. "Even when the human costs of doing so are high."

In history, this day in 1488, James III of Scotland was murdered after his defeat at the Battle of Sauchieburn, Stirling. He was succeeded by his son James IV.

Today in 1509, King Henry VIII married his first of six wives, Catherine of Aragon.

Captain James Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia when he ran aground 1770.  

It was this day in 1847 that Sir John Franklin died in Canada while attempting to discover the Northwest Passage. Franklin was an English naval officer and an Arctic explorer. His expedition was a monumental disaster.

On June 11, 1881, a phantom vessel - a mirage - appeared in the sky to the passengers and crew of the ship Bacchante, including Price Albert Victor and Prince George, both sons of the Prince of Wales.

On this day in 1910, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born. He was the French underwater explorer that invented the Aqua-Lung diving apparatus.

My ex-wife's great uncle, William Beebe, in 1930 dove to a record-setting depth of 1,426 feet off the coast of Bermuda. He used a diving chamber called a bathysphere.

In 1955, 80 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when three cars crashed on the Le Mans racetrack. The cars had ploughed into the spectator's grandstand.

It started. On June 11, 1963, protesting the lack of religious freedom in South Vietnam under President Ngo Dinh Diem., Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death with gasoline in a busy Saigon intersection. Cover of every paper in the world.

This day in 1979, John Wayne died of lung cancer.

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted. The eruption of ash and gas could be seen for more than 60 miles.

Where we still are.  In 1998, Pakistan announced a moratorium on nuclear testing and offered to talk with India over disputed Kashmir.

In 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed by the U.S. federal government for his role in the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently." The Herb Tarleck network - announced by and dedicated to the fourth rate men among us - tries to imply out of ignorance (kindest interpretation), stupidity (almost a contender), or simple fear mongering that a fist bump between Barack and Michele Obama is a danger.  This from Fox News' E.D. Hill.  

Here in Colorado the Clueless, nobody is drawing conclusions about illegal immigration with our newest #1 stat, beloved by social climbing Boulder the Damned.  We now have the biggest rise in poverty ridden children in the nation.

I'm getting this from Slate, now.  It's shaping up to be a bad year for global harvests. At a time when many are counting on increased output from farms around the world to alleviate the global food shortage, all signs are pointing to the likely outcome that this year's harvests "will be average at best."  It's a screaming issue that we have a predictable harvest around the world?  Although, to meet the soaring demand for food (er....and ethanol....), farmers have been busy trying to increase output by devoting additional land to crops and planting more frequently. But the weather hasn't been helping, as many American farmers are seeing their production depleted by too much rain while Australia continues to suffer from droughts, to name just two examples.

In other parts of the world, farmers simply haven't been able to keep up with the skyrocketing prices of certain key commodities, such as fertilizer and fuel. "The planting has gotten off to a poor start," said a grains analyst. "The anxiety level is increasing." The NYT notes it's still too early to draw any conclusions about how this year's harvests will shape up, and the outlook could improve. But, by the same token, things could also get worse. "I don't know if this is the worst year we've ever had, but it's moving up the list pretty quick," one Indiana farmer said.

Trying to install the idea that it has been competent - it hasn't - the Bush administration has ordered all federal contractors to begin using a government system to check whether their employees are legally allowed to work in the United States. Thousands of companies will now have to use the system known as E-Verify to compare the immigration status of new employees to a Social Security database. Now.

President Bush's executive order mandating use of E-Verify marks the first time that the once-voluntary system will become mandatory for a large group of employers. But the system has been criticized in the past because the Social Security database it relies on is plagued with errors that could result in complications for legal residents. Some are wondering how the government will enforce that all of its contractors are using the system, particularly considering that their numbers have greatly increased since Bush became president. "It's a very large number and very difficult to track," Paul Light, a federal contracting guru, said. "Who is responsible for making sure the sub-sub-sub-contractor is using E-Verify?" Easy, to me.  The guy who signs a federal contract.

A preliminary FBI report that was released yesterday and reveals violent crime in the United States dropped last year after two years of steady increases. But a closer look at the data reveals that crime continued to increase in certain regions and neighborhoods, particularly in low-income urban areas, which is somehow not shocking.

The decidedly Yuppie Washington Post looks at how people are changing their habits in response to high gasoline prices. Who would believe that 1.)many are driving less, or 2.)changing general aspects of their lives with the full expectation that prices won't be coming down in the near future? Analysts say there are signs that people are thinking long term about reducing their gas consumption instead of simply waiting for the prices to drop.USA Today leads with a specific example of these changes and reports that some police departments are encouraging officers to get out of their cars and walk more in their neighborhoods. Some say these cost-saving measures decrease security because cops are less visible and may take longer to reach the scene of a crime.

Filling up the tank these days might lead people to curse gas-station owners, as many think the retailers are making a fortune with the high prices. But nothing could be further from the truth, reports the LAT. Some gas-station owners are closing shop because they can't keep up with the rising prices and lower demand while those that are staying open say they're being stretched to the limit.

Motorists aren't the only ones suffering. The WSJ says that on certain routes airlines have to spend more than half the cost of the average ticket to pay for fuel. The rising cost of gas is part of the reason why airlines are imposing new fees for certain services, such as checking a bag.

Verizon, Sprint, and Time Warner Cable have reached an agreement with New York's attorney general to block access to Internet newsgroups and Web sites that contain child pornography. The agreement won't just affect people in New York because the companies provide Internet access to millions of Americans. The attorney general hopes to soon reach agreements with other service providers, many of whom have long resisted efforts that would cause them to police what their customers do online. Officials recognize the move won't completely cut off access to all child pornography, but it should at least make it more difficult to find. Strangely enough, the NYT doesn't include a single voice of dissent from anyone who might think this is not the best idea. Of course, it's likely that no one wants to be seen as publicly defending child pornography, but TP finds it difficult to believe that there aren't people worried about where this could lead if the government begins to ask service providers to block more and more sites that are seen as undesirable.

The WP shows how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development played a hand in the proliferation of subprime mortgages. HUD officials wanted those with a lower income to be able to own their own homes and so ordered the mortgage finance firms Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to purchase more of these so-called "affordable" loans. Now many of these lower-income and minority buyers that HUD was supposed to help are expected to lose their homes because they can't afford the payments. "For HUD to be indifferent as to whether these loans were hurting people or helping them is really an abject failure to regulate," a law professor said.

As the presidential candidates continue to criticize the influence of lobbyists in Washington, some lobbyists are feeling offended that they're all being thrown in the same bag, notes the WP. McCain and Obama make no distinction between a lobbyist for a big oil company and others who push more socially conscious messages. There are even those who actually lobby to increase transparency in government. But to the campaigns, anyone who is registered to lobby has become persona non grata. "[T]here are many lobbyists who do remarkable work for the public good," the president of the Humane Society of the United States said.

If you're looking for an easy way to reduce the risk from a cornucopia of diseases, you might as well spend a little more time in the sun, reports the LAT. A new study released today reveals that men who don't have enough vitamin D in their bodies have more than double the normal risk of suffering a heart attack. This is the latest finding that seems to suggest a little sunshine (or, of course, a little pill) could go a long way to promoting good health. Not everyone is convinced, and scientists emphasize the relationship between vitamin D and disease prevention hasn't been proved yet, but as one scientist put it, "what's wrong with keeping an adequate level of vitamin D in the blood in case it is?"

In history, this day 1692, Bridget Bishop was hanged at Gallows Hill near Salem, Massachusetts, and this after having been convicted of "certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcraft & Sorceries." Bishop was just the first casualty of what will come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials.In 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to write a Declaration of Independence.

This day in 1793, the Jardin des Plantes zoo opened in Paris, the world's first public zoo.

In 1801, the North African State of Tripoli declared war on the U.S. The dispute was over merchant vessels being able to travel safely through the Mediterranean.

It was this day in 1909 that the SOS distress signal was used for the first time. The Cunard liner SS Slavonia used the signal when it wrecked off the Azores.

In 1942, the Gestapo massacred 173 male residents of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, in retaliation for the killing of Reinhard Heydrich, the seriously deranged Nazi official and favorite of Hitler, the only high Nazi the Allies tried hard to assassinate.  Liditz (alt.) was liquidated by the Nazis as penalty, every adult male killed, women sent to the camps, and the entire town bulldozed.

In 1967, this day, Israel and Syria agreed to a cease-fire that ended the Six-Day War.

This day in 1993, it was announced that genetic material was extracted from an insect that lived when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Shit to the end, in 1997 Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot killed his defense chief Son Sen and 11 members of his family. He then fled his northern stronghold. The news did not emerge for three days.

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