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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.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ah, yes.  They forgot to mention this.

The tender credentials of Obama unnerve the Democrats, even those firmly in his camp based upon sheer intellect and force of personality.  Nonetheless, they blurt out their insecurities. "If Barack Obama had been born ten years earlier and had been a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1992, neither I nor Bill Clinton would have defeated him," said Bob Kerrey.  Certainly Kerry would not, but it's a stretch about Clinton.

Where is the national coverage on this?  Where, for that matter, is the local?  Bob Shaffer has a lot of explaining to do. He was on the Board of Directors of a crook's corporation, guilty of defrauding the Federal Government, which is you and me.  This is different from the solid Jack Abramoff connections.

Recession?  If the fuel crisis is as feared, and continues, talk about Depression.  Analysts will be keeping a close eye on this week's economic reports for hints about the state of the U.S. economy after Friday's news of surging oil prices and unemployment sent stocks tumbling. Investors will be looking at the reports—including ones that will reveal data on the real-estate market, inflation, and consumer confidence—to try to figure out how worried they should be about the future. "It shouldn't be a surprise that the economy is weak," one economist said. "The question now is whether it's accelerating to the downside." On top of all this, the national average price of gasoline hit the $4 mark for the first time yesterday.

While high gas prices are causing economic strain in household budgets across the country, those living in rural areas, natch, are being affected most by the increases. There, people usually drive longer distances in vehicles that eat up more gas while making less money, which means gasoline is taking up a bigger chunk of the family budget and is competing with other necessities such as food and housing.

Wall Street investors had been acting on hopes that the U.S. economy would rebound in the second half of the year. But after Friday's double dose of bad news, investors began to fear that their predictions had been too optimistic and sent the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling almost 400 points. There are fears that "a vicious circle is underway," as the LAT puts it, because negative economic reports lead to a weaker dollar and higher commodity prices, as investors look for refuge in economies abroad. These higher oil prices then lead to less consumer spending, which drives even more investors away from the dollar.

Although consumers often fret about high gas prices, so far the increases haven't caused as much widespread pain as the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s. That's mostly because Americans spend, on average, a mere 4 percent of their after-tax income on fuel for transportation. But in some rural counties, that figure is now higher than 13 percent and it's wreaking havoc on local economies as people are drastically decreasing their consumption in order to keep up.

The surging price of gas is only one part of a flurry of bad economic news that has hit Americans recently and is raising doubts about the future. USAT fronts results from a new poll showing that a slim majority of Americans believe their standard of living is no better now than it was five years ago. In addition, a mere 45 percent of Americans think their children will have a better standard of living than they do. "So is the American Dream dead? Well, it's at least wounded," says USAT.

The new leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is announced to fear and trembling. When the man known as Alfonso Cano, "a bookish communist intellectual," took over the leadership of the FARC after the recent death of its founder, he inherited an organization struggling to survive amid a military crackdown and mass desertions. Some think the next few weeks will see a surge in violent activity by the FARC in an effort to show that it's still relevant. But that won't change the fact that many military commanders are predicting that the revolutionary movement could soon be defeated or, at least, pushed into peace talks.

Clinton dropping out of the presidential race and throwing her support to Sen. Barack Obama is the still Big story, and nobody really knows what it means to the overall summer campaign, given the various silly stories out about how Clinton Democrats would seriously vote for McCain. With this ongoing concern about their economic future, it's little wonder that the economy continues to rank as the No. 1 issue in the minds of voters. And "The issue provides one of the starkest contrasts" between the presumptive presidential nominees, says the WSJ. Obama will highlight these differences in a two-week campaign tour that will focus on the economy and include stops in some of several key swing states. While Democrats want to keep talking about the economy, McCain is pushing his foreign-policy experience as the main rationale behind his candidacy. In his first general-election TV ad, the Republican reminds voters that he has seen the consequences of war up close and says he's "running for president to keep the country I love safe."

As the general election officially gets underway, McCain doesn't just have to counter Obama's claims that electing the Republican is akin to giving President Bush a third term; he also has to unify social conservatives, many of whom are still reluctant to get behind his candidacy even still. Lori Viars, an activist who spent months campaigning for Bush in 2004, is illustrated - for some reason - by separate media for a story  but so far is waiting to hear more from McCain before deciding whether to volunteer.

In Ohio, some Republicans are openly fretting about the fact that McCain has been slow in mobilizing the base of voters who were critical to Bush's crucial victory in that state in 2004. The NYT says McCain's campaign knows it has lagged behind on courting evangelicals, and over the past month it has quietly stepped up efforts to gain their support. But it's a tricky proposition because McCain also wants to appeal to independent voters who might turn their backs on the Republican if he begins espousing too many socially conservative views.

In Burma, the WSJ reports that despite the government's pledge to allow foreign-aid workers inside the country's borders, "little has changed for relief staff here." A few aid groups can now access the worst-hit region, but many workers are still being denied access to the Irrawaddy River delta and the country as a whole. The government continues to deny visa applications from aid workers and has been restricting access to some areas previously open to outsiders.

Lord.  At some fast arriving point, the media and general public are going to have to come to terms with the supposed superior taste in art of the gay community.  Because it surely eludes me.  The NYT reports that Brokeback Mountain will become an opera.  In some ways that's fitting.  In others, given - at base - its pedestrian story absent the gay element there's little there.  Also, it's going back to the short story and not the movie, so it's going to have to be, as it were, fluffed out. It is scheduled for a 2013 premiere. Coming right after the opera version of An Inconvenient Truth, this could be a period of artistic horror.

In history, this day in 68 AD, rather than suffer a Senate-imposed death by flogging, Nero implored his secretary Epaphroditus to slit his throat. The freedman complies, giving the condemned emperor a quick death, just as centurions arrive at the villa to haul him away. He deserved, by most counts, worse.

In 1534, Jacques Cartier became the first to sail into the river he named the Saint Lawrence.

In 1860, "Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter," by Mrs. Ann Stevens, was offered for sale for a dime. It was the first published "dime novel."

In 1931, Robert H. Goddard patented a rocket-fueled aircraft design, something Werner von Braun noted carefully. The V-2 is almost a rip off.

A star was born, this day in 1934 when Donald Duck made his debut in the Silly Symphonies cartoon "The Wise Little Hen."

On this day in 1945, Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki declared that Japan would fight to the last rather than accept unconditional surrender.

In far eastern Massachusetts, where I lived that day in 1953, a tornado struck Worcester, killing about 100 people.

In 1959, the first ballistic missile carrying submarine, the USS George Washington, was launched.

Much as God had changed his mind about polygamy, conveniently allowing statehood, in 1978 the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints struck down a 148-year-old policy of excluding black men from the Mormon priesthood. Not that they were prejudiced, or anything like that.  Or hypocrites, or anything like that.

In was this day in 1980, in the midst of a cocaine binge, comedian Richard Pryor attempted suicide. He doused himself with rum and sett it ablaze. The self-immolation attempt goes haywire when the flaming man leaps from his apartment window and runs down the street, screaming in agony. Pryor barely survived, and only after six weeks of intensive care and three skin graft surgeries. Soon enough, he was back on stage mimicking himself with the lighter.....

In 1986, the Rogers Commission released a report on the Challenger disaster. The report explained that the spacecraft blew up as a result of a failure in a solid rocket booster joint. Something known and curable, just like with Columbia in 2003.

In 1998, this day, three white men in Jasper, Texas were charged in the dragging death of African-American James Byrd Jr.

In 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal gift and estate taxes. The bill called for the taxes to be phased out over 10 years.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Here in Boulder the Damned, the storms have broken, and we have a beautiful day abuilding.  Bout time. My mood instantly better.

And better yet, the wanna be Yippies have split the Recreate 68 grouping.  Normally good news for the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer, but the Convention is having money trouble, sorta.

After years of the Bush administration failing to hold ANYone accountable, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the Air Force's top two officials for failing to adequately secure the nation's nuclear arsenal. Good, and about time. It marked the first time that a defense secretary ousted both the military and civilian leaders of a service simultaneously. The stated reason for requesting the resignations of Michael Wynne, the Air Force secretary, and the service's chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, was the recent disclosure that the Air Force mistakenly sent nuclear warhead fuses to Taiwan, this after flying nuclear bombs across the United States by mistake. An inquiry into the incident found a "pattern of poor performance" and "an overall decline in nuclear weapons stewardship."

The Taiwan incident was merely the last stroke. Gates had long been frustrated with the Air Force leadership because of other mishaps, including the revelation that a bomber had flown over the United States while carrying armed nuclear missiles as well as controversy over a $50 million contract that went to a company with close ties to senior Air Force officials. But it was also clear that Gates also differed with the Air Force leaders on strategy, particularly their insistence on continuing to purchase expensive F-22 fighter jets even though the defense secretary has said the planes are of no use for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "In the end, what it came down to is the feeling of the secretary of the Defense that the Air Force just wasn't on the policy page he was on," a defense analyst tells the LAT.

Gates made it clear that he sees the lack of oversight of the country's nuclear arsenal as a deep problem and appointed a former defense secretary, James Schlesinger, to head a task force to look into the issue. The firings once again emphasized the difference between Gates and his predecessor, who was often criticized for failing to hold senior officials accountable. Democratic lawmakers praised the move. "Gates' focus on accountability is essential and had been absent from the office of the secretary of Defense for too long," said Sen. Carl Levin, head of the Senate armed services committee.

In Florida, John McCain emphasized that he's not trying to distance himself from President Bush and instead just wants to "point out my own record and my own plan of action." McCain also said he'll try to win votes by contrasting his experience with Barack Obama's. The Republican described his opponent as a rookie politician who believes in "big government" and "doesn't understand."

Unfortunately for McCain, his vacillations and devotion to something other than consistency bites him. The NYT fronts a letter written by a top adviser to McCain that says the Republican supports warrantless wiretapping to monitor Americans' international communications. Although his campaign insists McCain's views on the matters of surveillance and executive power haven't changed, he seemed to sing a different tune six months ago in an interview. This marks the latest example of how McCain has taken up important Republican issues now that he's the presumptive nominee and is working to unify his party's base. But he'll have to lie to do it.

For his part, Obama was in Virginia yesterday launching a tour about economic issues that will take him to several of the states that Clinton won as part of his efforts to get white, working-class voters on his side. The Democrat also said he would launch an "Apollo-style program" to develop new energy sources and he's "almost certain" that he'll go to Iraq before the election.

While Obama was campaigning in Virginia, a move designed to show how he intends to compete in several Republican-leaning states, Hillary Clinton tried to distance herself from an effort to force Obama to pick her as his running mate. The two Democrats met late yesterday at the Washington, D.C., home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but no one has any information on what they talked about at the unexpected encounter. Meanwhile, Obama moved to take control over the Democratic National Committee and sent one of his top campaign operatives to oversee party operations. The presumptive nominee also said that his campaign's ban on receiving money from political action committees or federal lobbyists would also apply to the DNC.

Christ.  Poor, poor Africa.  Nobody deserves the slugs who wield power there.  In the latest from Zimbabwe,  the government has ordered that all aid groups suspend their activities. Officials warned that the move could have tragic consequences in a country where more than 80 percent of the people are unemployed. Also yesterday, police detained American and British diplomats who were attacked by a group of loyalists to Zimbabwe's president. The diplomats were investigating political violence outside of the capital and were detained after a six-mile car chase. Officials say this was all part of an effort to hide the violence that is only expected to increase before the presidential runoff this month that President Robert Mugabe is determined to win at any cost. The Hague for Thug Bob.

Meanwhile, over in Uganda, the WP's Michael Gerson writes about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army and "the most carnivorous killer since Idi Amin." After spreading terror in northern Uganda for 10 years he was pushed into the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo but now appears to be staging a comeback. "If this is not a cause for horror—and a justified cause for international action—it is difficult to imagine what would be."

In history, this day in 1752, a devastating fire destroyed a third of Moscow, including 18,000 homes. Two other large-scale fires had already struck the city in the previous mere 13 days.This day in 1813, our second idiotic invasion of Canada was halted at Stony Creek, Ontario, in 1813.

In 1882, a cyclone in the Arabian Sea presented huge waves into Bombay harbor, drowning at least and probably far more than 100,000 inhabitants.  

This day in 1942, Yamamoto and the IJN retreated in the World War II Battle of Midway, having lost four large carriers and their air crews, irreplaceable in time to stem the industrial giant of the US. The battle had begun on June 4.

Two years to the day later, the D-Day invasion of Europe took place on the beaches of Normandy, France. 400,000 Allied American, British and Canadian troops were involved. We never faced more than 15% of the German Army, though.  The Soviets absorbed the rest.

In 1968, early in the morning, Senator Robert F. Kennedy died at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. The Democratic lawmaker had been campaigning for his party's Presidential nomination when he was shot three times by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Kennedy had been shot the evening before while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In India on June 6, 1981, a passenger train traveling between Mansi and Saharsa jumped the tracks at a bridge crossing, submerging 11 compartments beneath the Bagmati river. Although the government placed the official death toll at 268 plus another 300 missing, the actual figure is more like 1,000 killed.

In 1982, this day, Israel invaded southern Lebanon in an effort to drive PLO guerrillas out of Beirut.

Authorities in Embu, Brazil exhumed the grave of one Wolfgang Gerhard this day in 1985 in order to determine  true identity. The remains are later proven to be those of Dr. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's notorious "Angel of Death." Mengele is thought to have drowned while swimming in the ocean in February, 1979.

In 1989, during the Tehran funeral of the Ayatollah Khomeini, frenzied mourners tip his corpse out of its coffin and onto the ground. Three million horrified followers bear witness to the desecration, although many rip the corpse apart for holy relics, just like Christians.

In 1992, idiot US district court judge Jose Gonzalez ruled that the rap album As Nasty As They Wanna Be by 2 Live Crew violated Florida's obscenity law. Gonzalez declared that the predominant subject matter of the record is "directed to the 'dirty' thoughts and the loins, not to the intellect and the mind." Repeat: 1992.

Not to be outdone, in 2005 the United States Supreme Court ruled federal authorities could prosecute sick people who smoked marijuana on doctor's orders. The ruling concluded that state medical marijuana laws did not protect uses from the federal ban on the drug.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Christmas.  Literally.  Rain and SNOW in the Colorado forecast today, and we must have, finally, a surplus of water here in Boulder proper.  Huge hail yesterday afternoon and the flora is British Green even in the overcast.  Tomorrow supposed to be back to our three months of beautiful morning, thunderheads by 3PM, rain, clear evening.  Nice, let me tell you, and far preferable to the smell of approaching brush fires all summer.

I was reluctant at first, but while too late for impeachment, it's not for prison. If this isn't treason - lying to get the nation into war that coincidently or not enriched your holdings (Cheney) - nothing is.  Disgusting.  Shameful.  McClatchey papers has it, but these are the big ones, well known but still denied:

    *  Claims by President Bush that Iraq and al Qaida had a partnership "were not substantiated by the intelligence."

    * The president and vice president misrepresented what was known about Iraq’s chemical weapons capabiliies.

    * Rumsfeld misrepresented what the intelligence community knew when he said Iraq's weapons productions facilities were buried deeply underground.

    * Cheney's claim that the intelligence community had confirmed that lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 was not true.

No more entries, we have winner in this century's Worst Shitheads contest already.  No surprise, the Burmese military junta, the bedecked with medals generals who have never fought a war except against their own people, took it hands down.  In the adoring words of our Admiral Timothy Keating, commenting on US Navy ships leaving Myanmar after trying for three weeks to deliver aid: "We have made at least 15 attempts to convince the Burmese government to allow our ships, helicopters and landing craft to provide additional disaster relief for the people of Burma, but they have refused us each and every time." Really.  A new category and class.  Hell awaits, you bastards, and I'm an atheist.

The Phoenix Lander has been given its job description and told to start digging.  Pretty damned exciting if you ask me which, I note, you have not.  Still.  What if they find recognizable life? Or a silicate variety?  My God, what an exciting prospect.  

USA Today covers lawmakers' concerns a group of unknown foreign investors might be making a move to take control of one of the country's largest railroads. Although, it begs the question of who'd buy our railroads. A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the Treasury secretary asking for an investigation of the Children's Investment Fund, a London-based group that is trying to win five seats in the 12-member board of the CSX rail line. Very little is known about the fund because it refuses to release the names of its investors, but TCI insists it's not trying to engineer a takeover of CSX and characterized the request for an investigation as a "scare-mongering tactic." Well, knowledge is good.  Selling what should be viewed as a utility is not.

Hillary Clinton will end her campaign on Saturday and endorse Barack Obama. Clinton made her decision after a day of talking to supporters and Democratic leaders who urged her to back down for the sake of party unity. Even some of her strongest backers expressed frustration at Clinton's stated desire to wait before making a decision on how to proceed. "We pledged to support her to the end," Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, who has been a staunch supporter of Clinton, said. "Our problem is not being able to determine when the hell the end is." Meanwhile, some prominent Clinton supporters, apparently with her backing, have begun a campaign to urge Obama to pick the former first lady as his running mate. I don't like that: it's a step down for her from a powerful Senate seat plus it's a bad idea to have a VP as powerful and popular, or nearly so, as the President.  Cheney was wrong in every sense for the job.

Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, announced yesterday that he is starting a so-called "dream ticket" campaign to urge party leaders to pressure Obama to pick Clinton as his running mate. Johnson said Clinton is "absolutely ready" to talk to Obama about it. Of course, that's being done in the name of party unity as well. But most, thank God, are skeptical about the possibility. The WSJ says Obama's aides are suggesting that "an Obama-Clinton ticket is highly unlikely," while the WP says that inside the Obama campaign "there is a distinct coolness to the idea." Why? Two words: Bill Clinton. Sure, selecting Clinton as a running mate could dilute Obama's message of bringing change to Washington, but figuring out what role the former president would play seems to be the biggest obstacle.

The LAT says Clinton now "has several options." She could release all her delegates to Obama and drop out entirely or simply choose to suspend her candidacy and keep control of her delegates, "maintaining her political leverage until the Democratic National Convention in August." The NYT and WP make it seem as though the decision has already been made and state that Clinton will suspend her candidacy, which, as the NYT helpfully explains, would allow her to keep on raising money to pay off the huge debt she has amassed in the past few months. Technicalities aside, everyone makes clear that Clinton was left with little choice yesterday as the few voices who urged Democrats to be patient were drowned out by party leaders who sent not-so-subtle signals that it's time to move on. I hope they know stuff I don't.  It's a huge leap of faith with Obama, brilliant though he be.

Obama tried to move on from all this "dream ticket" talk by announcing his three-member vice-presidential search committee, which will include Caroline Kennedy. But all the pressure heaped on Clinton to drop out, plus all the vice-presidential talk, meant that "the day after Obama sealed his victory felt like many before it," with pundits wondering when Clinton would drop out, notes the LAT. The NYT reports that due to all this talk about Clinton, aides said Obama would "move slowly" in his search for a running mate. But the WP talks to supporters who say he needs to be more aggressive to take the spotlight away from Clinton by leaking the names of some prospects and perhaps even holding a meeting with a few of the people he's considering for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

In another example of how Obama spent the day mostly reacting to news rather than making it, John McCain "put his opponent on the spot" (WP) by formally proposing that the two candidates hold a series of town-hall meetings this summer. Obama's campaign responded favorably to the idea, although it emphasized that the presumptive Democratic nominee would prefer "a less structured" format than what McCain has proposed.

Obama's big event yesterday was an appearance before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but even there he had to share the stage with Clinton. In her remarks before members of the prominent Jewish lobby group, Clinton didn't acknowledge Obama's victory but praised the senator from Illinois and assured the audience that Obama "will be a good friend to Israel." The NYT highlights that in his speech at AIPAC, Obama moved a bit "to the right" and "described a far tougher series of sanctions he would be willing to impose on Iran than he had outlined heretofore." Obama received numerous standing ovations, but the WSJ points out that McCain enjoyed a similar response when he addressed the group.

The WP's Dana Milbank says "a mere 12 hours" after claiming the nomination the senator from Illinois had "changed himself into an Israel hard-liner." The change, which was "mostly in tone, but occasionally in substance," is part of Obama's effort to get Jewish-Americans, a key constituency, on his side. "As a pandering performance, it was the full Monty by a candidate who, during the primary, had positioned himself to Hillary Clinton's left on matters such as Iran."

Antoin Rezko, a longtime fundraiser of the senator from Illinois, was convicted of 16 corruption-related charges, including fraud and bribery. There's no evidence that Obama was involved in any wrongdoing, but Republican operatives made it clear yesterday they plan to bring up the conviction during the campaign in order to raise questions about his judgment. Fine.  They lose.

During the King Phillip's War, in 1637, settlers in New England massacred a Pequot Indian village.

Ben and Me.  In 1752, this day, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite for the first time to demonstrate that lightning was a form of electricity.

In 1794, the U.S. Congress prohibited citizens from serving in any foreign armed forces. Today, US citizens serve in Israel.

This day in 1851, Harriet Beecher Stow published the first installment of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in "The National Era."

In 1884, General William T. Sherman refused the Republican presidential nomination, saying, "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected." This confused the GOP.

In 1944, the first B-29 bombing raid hit the Japanese rail line in Bangkok, Thailand. Those planes were a nasty surprise to the Japanese, who couldn't imagine such range and load.

Dean Atkinson was the fueling engine, but in 1947 - because  U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave the speech at Harvard University in which he outlined a path to European recovery - it was called the Marshall Plan.

On the day in 1956 when Premier Nikita Khrushchev denounced Josef Stalin to the Soviet Communist Party, Elvis Presley appeared on Milton Berle's TV show. His undulating hip movements during the song "Hound Dog" caused something of a controversy.

This day in 1967, the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan began. Israel kicked butt.

In 1968, seconds after Senator Robert F. Kennedy is shot by Sirhan Sirhan in a Los Angeles hotel, witnesses wrestled the Palestinian to the ground and grabbed his smoking .22-caliber revolver. Sirhan later claims to have been acting unconsciously, possibly the result of hypnotic brainwashing. Kennedy died the next morning.

Finally.  In 1975, Egypt reopened the Suez Canal to international shipping, eight years after it was closed because of the 1967 war with Israel.

It was this day in 1981 that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that five men in Los Angeles were suffering from a rare pneumonia found in patients with weakened immune systems. They were the first recognized cases of what came to be known as AIDS.  Twenty seven years. Six years to the day later, Ted Koppel and guests discussed the topic of AIDS for four hours on ABC-TV’s "Nightline".

In 1998, Volkswagen AG won approval to buy Rolls-Royce Motor Cars for $700 million, outbidding BMW's $554 million offer. Wonder how quick they regretted it.

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