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Texas: From saved to doomed in just 6 hours!

Friday, March 27, 2009

By Phil Plait
Bad Astronomy Blog @ Discovery Magazine

Well, that was fast.

Texas Board of Education creationist Barbara Cargill today proposed an amendment to the science standards saying that teachers have to tell their students there are different estimates for the age of the Universe. This is not even a veiled attempt to attack the Big Bang model of the Universe, which clearly, and through multiple lines of evidence, indicates the Universe is 13.7 +/- 0.12 billion years old.

So Ms. Cargill is right, if she means that "different estimates" range from 13.58 to 13.82 (given one standard deviation) billion years old.

But she doesn’t mean that at all, does she? If you read her website, you’ll see she’s an out-and-out creationist. She has a large number of, um, factual errors on her site that are clearly right out of the Creationist Obscurational Handbook.

Anyway, her antiscience amendment passed 11 - 3.

So tomorrow that will go to the final vote on whether it will be added to the standards or not. With such a majority voting to pass it along, it looks like it will pass, and Texas students will get their chance to learn that the Universe is 6000 years old, and when they try to get a job or do anything later in life, they will be routinely laughed at.

That’s great, Texas! Keep on keepin’ on.

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Ugly Loans

By Hilzoy
Washington Monthly

When I read blog posts or comments complaining about people who should have known better than to sign up for mortgages they couldn't afford, I'm always of two minds. On the one hand, I'm quite sure that there are a decent number of people who knowingly gambled on the proposition that housing prices would go up forever. I am not inclined to be particularly sympathetic to such people, especially if they had other options. (People who took this gamble because it was their only way to get a roof over their heads are a different story.)

On the other hand, some people who make these complaints seem to me to underestimate just how complicated and ghastly some of the loans written during the last five years were. Those loans made it very, very hard for borrowers to see exactly what they were getting into. And I can't think of a better way to illustrate this point than to link to this explanation of negative amortization option ARMs by the late Tanta at Calculated Risk.

It's very long: I pasted it into Word and it clocks in at 15 pages and over 3500 words. But there's not a lot that's superfluous: Tanta was a very clear writer and thinker, and I think she explained this about as well as possible. But option ARMs are very complicated. And if you're tempted to discount the possibility that people could have truly not understood what they were signing up for, I'd encourage you to really try to work through it, the way you might if it were a mortgage you were actually considering taking out.

Tough, isn't it? I note a couple of points. First, the payments, and for that matter the entire structure of the loan, can change unpredictably. There are no tables of payments with this type of loan; it would be difficult to work out what was going to happen to the payments, and when, unless you not only knew how much you would choose to pay every month, but had a copy of the loan document, a pretty serious calculator, decent math skills, and a fair amount of time on your hands.

Second, it's hard to imagine a person for whom this would be a good type of loan. You'd need to be strapped for cash for the first few months, but thereafter able to pay considerably more than you would have had you taken out a different sort of mortgage. Maybe this would be a good idea if you knew you'd win the lottery six months from now, or were the sole heir of a millionaire who was at death's door. Otherwise, this mortgage might have been designed to get people into a lot of trouble very fast. It's a sort of equity-extracting machine, and it's ugly....(Click for remainder).


Paranoid Dingbat Who Thinks Female Grammar School Teachers Are “Fascists” Warns of Widespread Paranoia

By Thers

Jonah Goldberg thinks liberals are fascists bent on totalitarianism. Also, he thinks they're paranoid conspiracy theorists. Shazam!
But I just have a hard time listening to liberals grow suddenly high-brow and Ivy League serious about the paranoid style of the American Right. Where were these people for the last eight years when abject paranoid hysteria consumed the left flank of liberalism and threatened to capsize the entire enterprise?
Which is a good point; for eight long years, liberals were all like "wars based on bullshit are stupid," "Bush is going to wreck the economy," "torture is bad," "global warming is real" -- all of which was just plain wacky.

Goldberg is of course being a moron here; for one thing, he's going after this George Packer article because "the liberal establishment, starting with Hofstadter and Adorno, have perfected the art of proclaiming paranoia or populism they don't like as 'right-wing' when — often, but not always — there's nothing right-wing about it." Which mostly goes to show that Goldberg was as usual too bovine to manage reading to the end of the article, where Packer reminds us that during the Depression FDR was worried about populism from the (drumroll) Left (d'oh! Nice thesis, Jonah) in the person of Huey Long, and that nowadays "The popular passions that nearly made Long a dictator, though, are still with us, and they could whip left, right, or both simultaneously." Goldberg, what a maroon.

But there's a wider issue with this Goldbergian crap, one which Jesse gets to, making the key point that since "conservatism" is so utterly vapid, paranoia is the conservative's default state: "Having such a reactionary, formless ideology makes you inherently paranoid, and drastically more so than the left." Hehindeed.

Predictably enough, Jonah obligingly proves this in his very silly follow-up, where he does one of his favorite stupid Jonah tricks and complains that wicked, confused liberals "nitpick my examples" (i.e., "refute my evidence") and so he's going to come up with more! more! more! wacky fun examples of liberal "conspiracies." And the best part here is that all of his new examples are moronic (as they're not "conspiracies," but at worst name-calling), trivial, or... paranoid. My favorite of these is one that achieves the trifecta, namely the charge that, most wickedly, Michael Moore (who is fat) "sat in Jimmy Carter's box at the 2004 Democratic Convention." Which is a standard Grave and Serious Charge of the right blogosphere, one that has the virtue of being both highly misleading (see here) and also hilarious, insofar as Jonah Goldberg denouncing Michael Moore, or anyone, really, for being a dishonest ideologue is quite the edifying spectacle (or not). What, Jonah thinks he's people now?...(Click for remainder).


The Republican "Budget"

By Hilzoy
Washington Monthly

I've been trying to figure out what to say about the House Republicans' new "budget". I think it's pretty neat that they decided to use those cute bubbles instead of numbers. Maybe next week they'll present their budget using interpretive dance or little animated jelly beans.

I also like the way they say serious-sounding things like this:
"Republicans believe that future generations should not be burdened by mountains of debt for the misguided choices made by Democrats today. Instead, working families should be able to keep more of what they earn and pass those savings to future generations." (p. 10)
-- and then go on to propose a whole raft of new tax cuts and only one specific spending cut, "ending the bailouts". The whole thing has a sort of Dada quality to it that's almost endearing. But I wasn't sure what level of ridicule could possibly be adequate to it.

Luckily, Nate Silver has the answer:

Via John Cole, a Fark thread has some interesting suggestions:

There are lots more where that came from. Enjoy!

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Progressives Are To Blame For Progressive Irrelevance

By Chris Bowers
Open Left

As David already discussed earlier today, President Obama has not yet met with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, even though he has met with every other group in Congress (Blue Dogs, New Dems, House Republicans, etc). Some Progressive (capitalized because it signifies a member of the caucus, rather than just anyone who calls him or herself a progressive) are feeling slighted by this. I am going to chime in and agree with the general sentiment in the comments to David's post: rather than feeling slighted, Progressives need to start throwing more weight around so that such a meeting is required, rather than an act of politeness.

There are lots of ways that Progressives could be throwing their weight around, but are not. The most obvious current misuse of Progressive strength is the inability to maximize their, and our, strength among small donors. Progressives have enormous potential fundraising ability that can match the large donor and corporate PAC money other ideological caucuses and networks can provide to their members. This fundraising is a major reason why candidates join these groups, and progressives can do the same thing. Unfortunately, we don't use our networks as well as we should.

The blogosphere gets pretty angry at Blue Dogs and New Democrats on a regular basis. This isn't surprising since, according to the best information I have seen (some of which is not public) about 80% of the people who read progressive blogs and / or who are members of progressive email list organizations self-identify as either "liberal" or "progressive." However, from 2004-2008, and even in the excitement over the NY-20 special election next Tuesday where the Democrat has already declared himself to be a Blue Dog, I'd wager that a similar proportion of netroots congressional donations have gone to electing Blue Dogs and New Democrats (specific numbers are not available right now because the current caucus membership lists are not available). It is kind of a perverse cycle: we give huge amounts of money to Blue Dog and New Democratic candidates, and then we spend a huge amount of our time complaining about Blue Dog and New Democratic members of the House. We are funding our own complaints....(Click for remainder).


Russian Obama Ice Cream Ad Offends World

A Russian ad showing an image resembling the US President Barack Obama to promote a vanilla-and-chocolate ice cream has stirred anger.

By Press TV

With the financial tsunami hitting the world today, selling new products is a risky undertaking. Companies try to use optimistic marketing messages in a bid to fight the gloomy atmosphere. And Obama rings bells - a famous figure promoting Hope for Change.

A Russian advertising agency has used an ad with a figure resembling the US President Barack Obama in front of the White House to promote a new vanilla-and-chocolate ice cream from Yekaterinburg, a major city in central Russia.

The slogan of the chocolate-in-vanilla ice cream, known as “Duet” says: “The Flavor of the Week! Black in White!” The image of a black man standing in front of Capitol Hill could be considered racist.

The advertisement drew serious criticism from human rights groups who said it was vulgar.

A spokesperson for a Moscow-based human rights organization told Sky News that the image could spark racist sentiments even if it was not carrying any aggressive message in it.

Andrei Gubaidullin, the originator of the advertisement, told AFP that his campaign did not intend to carry any racist message. He explained that Russia, unlike the West, had a different point of view about ethnicity.

“This is not racism for Russia. It's just fun,” the creative director of the advertising agency said....(Click for remainder).


Myanmar Junta Open To Talks After U.S. Diplomat Visit

By Aung Hla Tun

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta is open to talks with the United States, its information minister said after a rare visit by a top U.S. diplomat amid a review of Washington's policy toward the regime.

"President Obama has pledged to make changes. I think that visit was just the beginning of the change," Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan told local reporters summoned to the new capital for Friday's annual Armed Forces Day parade.

Washington insisted this week's visit by Stephen Blake, director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department, did not reflect any shift in policy toward a regime the former Bush administration labeled an "outpost of tyranny."

For its part, the junta has often blasted a "certain superpower" for meddling in its internal affairs.

"Our relations were strained, but not because we did not want to deal with them," Kyaw Hsan said.

Blake met with Foreign Minister Nyan Win, representatives of ethnic minority groups and members of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party during his visit, part of a five-country tour of the region.

The trip, which U.S. officials confirmed after it was reported by Myanmar's state-run newspaper, came a month after Hillary Clinton announced the policy review during her first tour of Asia as U.S. Secretary of State.

Over the years Washington has tightened sanctions on the military, which has ruled for more than four decades, to try to force a political rapprochement with Nobel laureate Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD)....(Click for remainder).


Gibbs Mocks House GOP 'Budget': More Windmill Pictures Than Numbers


Blackwell Blames The Left For The Right's Woes

By Kyle
Right Wing Watch

For several years now, there has been a tension in the Republican Party between the economic conservatives and the social conservatives that has only become more pronounced in the wake of their string of electoral losses. 

When the GOP was winning elections, these differences were easily papered over but now that the movement finds itself in the wilderness, these differences are coming more to the forefront as both wings try to remake the GOP in its preferred image and potential for disaster has sparked efforts like the one Newt Gingrich has launched to bring both groups together under a common banner.

The reasons for this tension are myriad and complex, but Ken Blackwell doesn't see it that way.  In fact, he's got a rather simple explanation - it all the left's fault:
Part of this divide between conservatives is due to the sanitizing of the public square of references to God. Not many years ago, there was no dispute between conservatives over basic talk about faith. People were not necessarily more religious. There was just a comfort level with general expressions of common faith, such as prayer, signs of the Ten Commandments, or referring to school vacation in December as Christmas Break, instead of Winter Break.

But years of enforced and increasing secularism has left people of faith to their faith, but non-religious conservatives to become increasingly squeamish over even basic expressions of faith. All conservatives believe in the primacy of the individual, but such conservatism must also be rooted in the truth that the individual does not live for the state, and does not receive what is most important from the state.

Blaise Pascal once said that everyone has a God-shaped hole in them. Human beings are designed with a void that only the Creator can fill. Without the Creator, people seek out things in their lives in which to put their truth and to which to give their reverence and adoration. While many secular conservatives do not agree with religious conservatives as to the nature or character of the source of our rights, they all agree that the source is not government. And it’s essential that they recognize there are those on the left seeking to drive a wedge between them.
Apparently, everything was fine with the various factions of the GOP's base until the left started driving a wedge between them by making "non-religious conservatives ... increasingly squeamish over even basic expressions of faith."...(Click for remainder).


DNC Responds to Karl Rove Calling President Obama "Arrogant" in New Web Ad


Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) Officially Registered as a Moron

By Kevin Grandia
The Huffington Post

My search for a suitable place to recognize the hard work of Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) has finally come to an end. I just found out there's an official Moron Registry!

At Yesterday's hearing on climate change adaptation before the House Energy & Commerce Committee Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) made all sorts of ridiculous claims about global warming, the most idiotic being a suggestion that us humans will deal with the issue by finding some shade.

Such a ludicrous and ill-informed claim leads me to two possible conclusions, either Barton has completely lost it, or the $2.5 million he received in donations over the years from the oil, gas and utility lobby is doing its magic.

I suspect it's a bit of both.

What makes Barton look even more ridiculous is that his claims appear to be based on evidence provided to him by a gentleman named Christopher Monckton who he cites in his statement. Monckton is not a climate scientist, has never published any scientific research and is in fact a journalist by training....(Click for remainder).


The Market Mystique

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

On Monday, Lawrence Summers, the head of the National Economic Council, responded to criticisms of the Obama administration’s plan to subsidize private purchases of toxic assets. “I don’t know of any economist,” he declared, “who doesn’t believe that better functioning capital markets in which assets can be traded are a good idea.”

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether a market in which buyers have to be bribed to participate can really be described as “better functioning.” Even so, Mr. Summers needs to get out more. Quite a few economists have reconsidered their favorable opinion of capital markets and asset trading in the light of the current crisis.

But it has become increasingly clear over the past few days that top officials in the Obama administration are still in the grip of the market mystique. They still believe in the magic of the financial marketplace and in the prowess of the wizards who perform that magic.

The market mystique didn’t always rule financial policy. America emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated banking system, which made finance a staid, even boring business. Banks attracted depositors by providing convenient branch locations and maybe a free toaster or two; they used the money thus attracted to make loans, and that was that....(Click for remainder).


Newest Neocon Outfit Hosting Afghanistan Forum With Sen. McCain And Rep. Harman

By Sam Stein
The Huffington Post

Largely under the radar, some of the major neoconservative figures who fashioned the rationale for the Iraq war have set up a shop for shaping future trends in American foreign policy.

And while the Foreign Policy Initiative does not have friends within the White House to whom it can push its agenda, it is not lacking for pull among senior elected officials, including Democrats.

FPI, whose founders and principals include Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol, and Dan Senor, will host a summit next Tuesday titled "Afghanistan: Planning for Success." Billed as a "half-day conference" to "discuss how the United States and our allies can succeed in Afghanistan," the event will feature appearances and discussion from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) -- ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee -- and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who chairs of the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee.

"I know these people and recognize where they're coming from," the Congresswoman said of her appearance at the event. "I'm coming from a different place and want to be sure that point of view is heard. My point of view will be extremely sympathetic to the Obama Administration position on Af/Pak."

Tuesday's affair is designed, per the group's website, to provide an open and frank discussion on the problems confronting the Obama administration in Afghanistan. And with the president expressing a policy to that war that has been received approvingly by the neo-con community, including McCain himself, it seems likely that the agenda will be as much analytical as aspirational.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to note just where "Washington's newest think tank" is coming from. Kagan and Kristol were both directors at the Project for the New American Century, one of the key organizational catalysts persuading George W. Bush to launch preemptive military action in Iraq....(Click for remainder).


A Harvard dean gets call from Washington

By Stephen Smith
The Boston Globe

President Obama last night nominated Dr. Howard Koh, an associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health and former Massachusetts public health commissioner, to a top health position in his administration.

If confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary for health, Koh would be responsible for establishing the nation's public health agenda, handling a vast portfolio that includes the US surgeon general and programs that coordinate vaccines, AIDS policy, minority health, and blood safety.

"We at Harvard School of Public Health feel proud that a member of our community has been entrusted with this important mission," said the school's dean, Dr. Julio Frenk.

Koh is the second member of his family to be nominated to a top Obama administration post this week: On Monday his brother, Yale Law School dean Harold Koh, was picked to be the State Department's legal adviser, a post also requiring Senate approval.

Howard Koh served as the public health commissioner in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2003, first being appointed by Governor William Weld and continuing in the office through the administrations of Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift before resigning in the early days of the Mitt Romney administration....(Click for remainder).


Contessa Brewer rips Republicans' phony 'alternative' budget proposal: 'old wine in new bottles'

By John Amato
Crooks and Liars

The House Republicans made a big deal about their new budget proposal today on the hill. They held a full press conference at the same time President Obama was answering questions during a live streaming web chat format. Rep, John Boehner was holding an 18 page pamphlet in his hands and calling it "The Recovery Road to Recovery. He was accompanied by "Britney" Cantor and pretty boy Paul Ryan to do the honors of getting down to the business of conservative ideas instead of being the "just say no to Obama" party. Well, their plan is not a plan. It has no information in it. The only person that made out today was the printer they used to copy this up. Contessa Brewer got a bit bothered by their ponzi press conference as much as I did. After their presser she ended the segment with this:
Brewer: But again, so far in this news conference, we're not hearing specifics on how the are planning to accomplish that. We'll keep listening. If we find out there are some new details out of this news conference we'll bring them to you.
Later on in the show, NBC's Mike Viqueira joined her to give us the low down on the Republican plan to save us all. It was hilarious....(Click for remainder).


Taking the Pro-Pot Position (Because Somebody Has To)

By Dan Sweeney
The Huffington Post

When Barack Obama was first elected, he immediately began his straight-to-the-people, end-run-around-the-press style of Q&A by encouraging people to ask questions at One's fellow citizens could then vote throughout Nov. and the first part of Dec. 2008 on their favorite questions, and Obama's people would answer the most popular. When the dust settled and the votes were counted, among the most popular was this question:
"Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"
The incoming Obama administration offered well-reasoned, thought-out answers to a whole host of questions, including controversial ones such as "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"

But when it came time to tackle the oh-so-controversial topic of marijuana legalization, the response was a mere one sentence: "President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana."

No rationale, no justification. Just a blanket statement redolent of a parent smirking, "Because I said so."...(Click for remainder).


To Push or to Pull, That is the (G-20) Trillion Dollar Question

By Stirling Newberry

Americans are, naturally, focused on the domestic policies and domestic economy. However, the world is round, and we all live on it. Globalization is a reality, because many of the most important resources, such as oil, and many of the most important problems, such as carbon driven climate change, are global in nature. Even if economies want to go back to nationally focused units, the flow of people, money, resources, and problems, as well as security threats such as terrorism and war, mean that the planet has gotten too small to hold purely self-interested nations, and the problems have gotten too large to ignore.

Next week will mark a global meeting of the 20 largest economies, the "G-20" London Summit. In advance of this, Barack Obama penned an op-ed. It received a good deal of coverage, without receiving enough attention. Money's view was rather cursory, more or less a summary. In the face of open divisions between the EU and the US over it's contents, this is as curious as the protests are quaint, it is not free trade, but the lack of it, that has created this crisis. It is America's insistence on opening some work for competition, while keeping a store of protected industries for itself: defense, housing, bulk agriculture, and health care, that has made this crisis. It is not some distant group of capitalists who are the threat, but our own appetites, and unwillingness to sate them in any way but with oil and the products made with it. Richard Baldwin is closer to the mark: the developing world made the crisis, but everyone is afflicted by falling demand, whether developed Japan or developing China. Global GDP is projected to fall this year, for the first time since World War II. CDS and CDO have accomplished with USSR and PRC could not: denting the march towards global development.

There are small stories of the G-20, such as bloggers being present, but the larger story is simple, and the subject of today's Bernard L. Schwartz symposium at the New America Foundation. The question is what will replace the US consumer as the engine of global growth? This is one of the roots of what is called the problem of global imbalances.

Traditional macro-economists, such as Paul Krugman and Ben Bernanke take the view that there is a "savings glut," that is, insufficient demand in certain areas of the globe, plus fears of instability leading to a high liquidity preference in emerging nations. Basically, high savings nations fear currency crisis, and so accumulate more dollars than they really need, they then want to save these dollars someplace while having them readily accessible in case of a currency crisis. However, Dooley, Folkerts-Landau, and Garber, found that interest rates did not reflect a global savings glut. Dooley and Garber argue that it was insufficient regulation, and insufficient moral hazard not savings glut or capital imbalances, that were the source of the crisis. This argument: was it lenders too willing to lend, or borrowers too eager to borrow, is, in fact, hollow. The savings glut hypothesis and the fraud hypothesis do not divide the world between them....(Click for remainder).


Calling Doctor Obama (How America Can Commit National Suicide)

By Frank Schaeffer
The Huffington Post

You're dying of an aneurysm. Minutes count. One reason that you are in such trouble is that for the last 8 years you have been going to a quack and getting horrible care. Now, at last, you have a great new doctor! But there is something odd going on here: your life is magically linked to everyone you know. You die, and they die too. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Luckily the ballooning blood vessel about to burst in your brain, has shown up on a scan -- just in time. (Your old and lousy doctor didn't believe in scans. He said he "knew Jesus" and that that was good enough.) Your new doctor is a first-class young, black, kind, trustworthy and talented neurosurgeon. He is methodically prepping the operating room to save your life. Things are looking up!

Then you do something strange, strange that is for anyone who wants to survive: you make it impossible for your surgeon to work! Thus you put yourself -- and all those linked to you -- at terminal risk.

While your doctor is quietly and reassuringly telling you what his plan is you yell: "You're going to fail!" "Your plan for saving my life sucks!" "Do it my way, or no way!" "I'm smarter than you!" and even; "I want you to fail so I'll be proved right about what an idiot you are!"

The surgeon has hired the best surgical team ever assembled, but none of them are good enough for you. You insist that he fires them all and finds a team more to your liking, made up of people just like you: loud, ideologically driven, impatient and with the attention span of a flea.

Meanwhile you invite a lot of friends and acquaintances into the OR to make sure that while you're anesthetized (and your doctor is trying to save you) that they will scream abuse throughout the operation and, "keep this guy in line!" as you put it....(Click for remainder).


Corporate Sponsors Won't Stand for O'Reilly's Ambush Journalism

By ZP Heller
Open Left

The O'Reilly Harassment Machine keeps spinning.  Last night on The Factor, O'Reilly called Think Progress "insects," said Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta was "driving the hate industry," and that blogger Amanda Terkel was "harming a rape victim and her family."   Let's deconstruct these idiotic insults.

For starters, Think Progress clearly aren't powerless insects, but they have gotten under O'Reilly's skin.  They have launched a campaign to compel O'Reilly's leading corporate sponsors (including AT&T, Johnson&Johnson, Capital One, UPS, Audi, Sharp, Hyundai, P&G, Chrysler, Mercedes Benz, Ford, and Bayer) to end his ambush journalism.  And as I wrote yesterday, they've got a list chronicling 40 instances of this deplorable practice.  This campaign has already been effective; a Ford spokesman agreed with the criticism of O'Reilly, whom he called "hopelessly pig-headed," and Capital One also expressed regret and claimed they don't endorse O'Reilly's views.  This is fantastic pressure that hopefully will curb O'Reilly's  "gotcha" journalism that he plays off as accurate investigative reporting.

Ironically, after calling Think Progress insects, O'Reilly got annoyed with Dick Morris for failing to make the connection between Think Progress, NBC, and GE--perhaps because there is no connection!   Terkel merely appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann because O'Reilly hasn't allowed her to come on his show.  Instead, O'Reilly just replays the ambush video of FOX producer Jesse Watters stalking Terkel on vacation, then uses it to support of whatever crackpot conspiracy theory he can conjure....(Click for remainder).


Bayh and the Blue Dogs 'Have No Agenda'

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) has noticed some of the progressive pushback to his new working group, compromised of "centrist" Democrats, who want to water down make President Obama's popular domestic policy agenda more palatable to a small Republican minority. Apparently, he's not happy about it.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is also unhappy with the friendly fire. Bayh announced last week that a group of centrist Democrats had come together to negotiate as a bloc with the White House and party leaders on major legislation. He promptly found himself targeted by an ad accusing him of "standing in the way of President Obama's reforms."

"We literally have no agenda," Bayh shot back. "How can they be threatened by a group that has taken no policy positions?"
I don't know, senator, why would you create a working group and host a series of closed-door meetings if you "literally have no agenda"?

The problem, of course, is that people feel "threatened" because Bayh and the Blue Dogs do have an agenda, and we've already seen some of their policy positions. The Wall Street Journal noted this morning that the working group's stated goal is to "protect business interests."...(Click for remainder).


Credit Union Collapse Signals Depth of Financial Crisis

Geithner's Toxic Asset Plan Not Specifically Designed for Credit Unions

By Mary Kane
The Washington Independent

In a sign of how widespread the nation’s financial crisis has become, even the credit unions are getting creamed.

Problems in the credit union system, once considered a largely mom-and-pop operation immune to turmoil, came to light last week, when their regulator seized two of the nation’s largest credit unions, U.S. Central Credit Union in Lenexa, Kanss, and Western Corp. Federal Credit Union in San Dimas, Calif. The two, with combined assets of $57 billion, are in trouble over the same investments in toxic mortgage backed securities that have felled global banks and led to the credit crunch.

Cracks in the credit union system are showing the breadth of the crisis - and raising the possibility of another institution looking to the government for help. In a mirror of the dilemma facing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, the insurance fund for credit unions has been depleted by the seizure. Smaller credit unions may have to pony up big fees to replenish it - at the same time economy is hitting them hard, causing depositors to pull out their savings for living expenses. All of it is creating a liquidity squeeze that only threatens to become more severe, said Gerald Hanweck, a finance professor at George Mason University who follows the credit union industry.

“A lot of their membership is becoming unemployed,” Hanweck said. “If the recession keeps getting worse, it’s going to cause a lot of problems for them. More and more credit unions are going to fail.”

The failure of the two large corporate credit unions, which handle investments and other services for the 7,800 traditional retail credit unions, may become a turning point, proving that the industry needs more oversight, Hanweck and others said. The system includes 26 other corporate credit unions, as well as the two that were seized. Yet the credit union industry remains overseen by its own, individual regulator - the National Credit Union Administration, an independent federal agency considered by many as mostly as a cheerleader for the credit union movement, Hanweck said....(Click for remainder).


Sen. Sanders: Let's Stop Wall Street Loan-Sharking

By Senator Bernie Sanders
After Downing Street

The “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street – through their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior – have plunged this country into a deep recession causing millions of Americans to lose their jobs, their homes, their savings and their hope for the future.  In order to fully understand the cause of this fiasco, I have introduced legislation calling for a thorough investigation of the financial meltdown and the prosecution of those CEOs who broke the law.  The culture of greed, fraud and excessive speculation must come to an end.
In the midst of this financial disaster, one of the great frustrations that I hear from my constituents is that while taxpayers are spending hundreds of billions bailing out major financial institutions, and while these big banks are getting near-zero interest rate loans from the Fed, these very same financial institutions are now charging Americans 20 percent or 30 percent interest rates on their credit cards.  In fact, one-third of all credit card holders in this country are now paying interest rates above 20 percent and as high as 41 percent – more than double what they paid in interest in 1990.  Recently, some major institutions such as Bank of America have informed responsible cardholders that their interest rates would be doubled to as high as 28 percent, without explaining why the increase was taking place.

Let’s be clear.  At a time when many Americans in the collapsing middle class use credit cards for groceries, gas and college expenses, what Wall Street and credit card companies are doing is not much different from what gangsters and loan sharks do when they make predatory loans.    While the bankers wear three-piece suits and don’t break the knee caps of those who can’t pay back, they are still destroying people's lives.

The Bible has a term for this practice.  It’s called usury.  And in The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, there was a special place reserved in the Seventh Circle of Hell for sinners who charged people usurious interest rates.

Today, we don’t need the hellfire and pitch forks, we don’t need the rivers of boiling blood, but we do need a national usury law.

We need a national law because state laws no longer work. States used to protect consumers from predatory lenders, but strong state usury laws were obliterated by a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision.  Justices allowed national banks to charge whatever interest rate they wanted if they moved to a state without an interest rate cap like South Dakota or Delaware.
That is why I have introduced legislation to require any lender in this country to cap all interest rates on consumer loans at 15 percent, including credit cards.  Why did I select 15 percent as the appropriate rate to deal with the usury which is going on in this country? The reason is that 15 percent is the maximum that Congress imposed on credit union loans almost 30 years ago when it amended the Federal Credit Union Act.  And that approach has worked!  Under current law, credit unions are allowed to charge higher interest rates only if their regulator, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), determines that it is necessary to maintain the safety and soundness of these institutions.  Right now, while most credit unions charge lower rates, the NCUA allows credit unions to charge an interest rate as high as 18 percent.

Unlike their counterparts at the big banks, credit unions are not lining up for hundreds of billions in bailouts. In fact, they're doing quite well. As Chris Collver, legislative and regulatory analyst for the California Credit Union League recently stated; “It hasn’t been an issue.  Credit unions are still able to thrive.”  In my view, if these rules have worked well for credit unions for decades they can work for all financial institutions.

In 1991 former Senator Al D’Amato offered an amendment to cap credit card interest rates at 14 percent.  The amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 74-19, but never became law.  Now is the time to return to that debate.

Incredible as it may seem, over the last decade the financial sector has invested more than $5 billion in political influence purchasing in Washington.  This includes funding some 3,000 lobbyists and huge amounts in campaign contributions.

The American people are thoroughly disgusted with the behavior of Wall Street and they want their elected officials to respond to the greed of major financial institutions.  A cap on interest rates would be a good start.  Do we have the courage?

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'I'm having a very good crisis,' says Soros as hedge fund managers make billions off recession

This definitely deserves a big WTF?  I guess someone's got to make money off the crisis, and it's better that it's a lefty and not some right-wing, mouth-breather.  It's important to keep in mind that this article is from the conservative Daily Mail, so I'm sure there's quite a bit of bias here.  Keep that in mind whilst reading.

By Mail Foreign Service

A hedge fund manager who predicted the global credit crunch has said the financial crisis has been 'stimulating' and the culmination of his life's work.

George Soros, who predicted the global financial crisis twice before, was one of the few people to anticipate and prepare for the current economic collapse.

Mr Soros said his prediction meant he was better able to brace his Quantum investment fund against the gloabal storm.

But other investors failed to take notice of his prediction and his decision to come out of retirement in 2007 to manage the fund made him $US2.9 billion.

And while the financial crisis continued to deepen across the globe, the 78-year-old still managed to make $1.1 billion last year.

'It is, in a way, the culminating point of my life’s work,' he told national newspaper The Australian.

Soros is one of 25, top hedge fund managers from across Wall Street who have defied the credit crunch crisis to reap a total of $11.6billion (£7.9bn) last year.

The managers made their profit by trading above the pain in the markets, according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha Magazine.

Former maths professor James H. Simons, who has made billions in  hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, earned $2.5 billion running computer-driven trading strategies.

And John A. Paulson, who made his fortune by betting against the housing market, came in second earning $2 billion....(Click for remainder).


Obama 'to increase Afghan force'

Damn it!  Why the hell are they doing this?  There's a reason that Afghanistan is known as 'The Graveyard of Empires.'  Throughout the history of humankind, this part of the world as NEVER been conquered or dominated.  Genghis Khan couldn't do it.  Alexander the Great couldn't do it.  The United Kingdom couldn't do it.  The Soviet Union couldn't do it.  What make Obama et. al. think that they're going to be able to?  This is a very, very, VERY, bad idea.  We should withdraw completely.  Engage Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and India.  And allow the power brokers in the region to "fix" the problems.  This American hegemony has got to stop!

US President Barack Obama plans to send an extra 4,000 US troops to Afghanistan to help train the Afghan security forces, US officials say.

By BBC World News

They will reportedly be deployed later this year and come in addition to 17,000 troops already due to reinforce the 38,000 on the ground.

US Senator Carl Levin said the latest extra troops could be deployed in June.

Mr Obama is expected to announce the extra commitment on Friday when he outlines his new Afghanistan strategy.

Mr Levin was speaking outside the Senate after senators were briefed about Mr Obama's new strategy.

"There is a significant additional training group that will be going I think in June," he told reporters.

Asked if the number of American trainers was 4,000, he replied: "I won't disagree with that."

Mr Obama has also briefed Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the new strategy by telephone.

The Afghan leader has been defending himself against allegations that corruption is widespread within his government and is fuelling the country's instability.

Mr Karzai said on Thursday that such charges were exaggerated and politically motivated....(Click for remainder).


Cheney War Crimes: Just Look at the Statute

By Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive

President Obama needs to tell Attorney General Eric Holder to indict Dick Cheney, right now, for war crimes.

Just look at the statute, Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, Section 2441. It says that someone is guilty of a war crime if he or she commits a “grave breach of common Article 3” of the Geneva Conventions. And then it defines what a grave breach would be.

One such breach is torture, or the conspiracy to commit torture, which Cheney was clearly in on, as when he repeatedly defended waterboarding and talked about the need to go to the “dark side” Here’s the language from the statute: “The act of a person who commits, or conspires to commit, an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering . . . upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.”

Another grave breach is “cruel or inhuman treatment,” or the conspiracy to inflict such treatment. Again, Cheney was supervising such treatment in the White House, which would qualify as committing this crime. One time, it got so ghoulish that Attorney General John Ashcroft asked the other principals, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”...(Click for remainder).


Obama fields 'marijuana as cash crop' question at town hall meeting

Ok.  When are the leaders in the this country going to realize that marijuana is NOT the evil drug that it has been made out to be?  I don't understand how President Obama can dismiss the idea of legalization out-of-hand.  I'm not a pot smoker, never have been, but I can certainly see the benefits of legalization.

By David Edwards and Ron Brynaert
The Raw Story

Many submitted online questions focused on marijuana; Obama jokes, 'I don't know what that says about the online audience'

"The White House is open for questions," according to

The AP reports, "Call it Round Two of the news conference, with a big Internet twist. President Barack Obama took questions from the White House press corps on Tuesday in a prime-time, East Room session that represented the most formal and time-honored of president-and-reporter interactions. On Thursday, he is taking to that same room for another public grilling — this time by regular folks armed with questions submitted via the Internet and in person, as part of a political strategy to engage Americans directly."

"By 9 a.m. Thursday, the White House Web site had already logged more than 100,000 questions," the AP adds. The president later said that 3.5 million people voted.

ABC News observed that "submitted questions are grouped by topic, including education, home ownership, health care reform and the budget."

"Many of the questions, however, focused on marijuana," the ABC News article continues. "The top vote getters in several categories, including financial stability, green jobs and budget, were whether it is time to decriminalize marijuana."

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would end federal drug enforcement raids of medical marijuana dispensaries....(Click for remainder).


Obama Cybersecurity Team Consults Rights Groups

Wait just a second?  You mean that the President of the United States should think about the civil liberties of the public, and not just make decisions by executive fiat?  Stop the presses! Someone needs to point this out to Bush/Cheney!  Ok, enough with the bad sarcasm.  It is refreshing to see an administration who at least makes the appearance of caring about the Presidential Oath of Office.

Civil liberties, privacy, education, and public-private partnerships are at the forefront of the government's cybersecurity initiatives.

By J. Nicholas Hoover

President Obama's cybersecurity team is working closely with civil liberties and privacy groups to make sure steps to secure the nation's computer infrastructure don't overstep the bounds of individual rights, two members of the House of Representatives said today.

In a press conference after meeting with Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security Councils, Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., and Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., said that they expected Hathaway to complete her 60-day review of the nation's cybersecurity within a month.

"Working with civil liberties groups will be at the forefront of how we do cybersecurity going forward," Langevin said. "It's a forethought rather than an afterthought, because we're going to have to have buy-in from the public." He added that he was pleased to hear Hathaway say that there needs to be a public education portion of any major cybersecurity initiative.

It's unclear exactly what kinds of recommendations Hathaway's report will make, but Langevin said he expects cybersecurity will be a multibillion-dollar effort going forward, and that there may be an increase in Office of Management and Budget staffing to manage oversight of the country's cybersecurity budget....(Click for remainder).


Ed Stein: What to Watch



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