Thursday Reads: the Winter Solstice, the Mayan Calendar, “the Kamikazes,” and More

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Good Morning!!

I have a mix of news links for you this morning, but nothing too terribly depressing. As I told you Tuesday, I’ve got a bit of Christmas overload, plus I’ve had a flu bug for a few days. So lets’ start out on a positive note.

Today at 12:30AM ET was the Winter Solstice, and therefore today is the shortest day of the year. That means in a few weeks, it will get dark in the Boston area around 4:30PM instead of 4:00. Right now, twilight begins about 3:30PM. I am so looking forward to longer days. From the WaPo:

If you pay attention to these things, you’ll notice a lag of a few weeks between the time the sun begins to set later in the day and the time it rises earlier. But the 22nd is, nonetheless, in the northern hemisphere, our shortest day, and the one in which the sun hoists itself the most miserly distance above the horizon. To top it off, the daily rate at which the sun sinks lower in the sky has been slowing, until it stops. Hence the word solstice, which means that the sun “stands still.”

It’s only for a theoretical instant, of course, but it can often seem, during these days of dark and cold, as if life itself has ground to a halt. Gardening can take place in the jewel boxes of our cold frames and greenhouses, but with growth so slow that there is little for you to do. The hibernation practiced by some creatures starts to seem like a great idea, and the southern migration of others a possible plan.

Not surprisingly, the human celebrations held in this season are full of light, whether it’s from Hanukkah candles, bonfires or sparkly tinsel draped over trees. You can almost understand why people light up their lawns with electrified reindeer. The longer the nights and the greater the inactivity they foster, the more we need our spirits lifted.

The LA Times has a story about Wiccan celebrations of the Soltice.

“People are celebrating the solstice more than ever in recent memory,” said Selena Fox, who isn’t just any Wiccan priestess. She’s a psychotherapist and the founder of Wisconsin’s Circle Sanctuary, a nonprofit Wiccan church and, according to its website, a 200-acre nature preserve….

Solstice is “widely celebrated today by Wiccans, druids, heathens and other pagans; by indigenous peoples practicing traditional ways in Africa, Asia, Polynesia, Australia, Europe and the Americas; by environmentalists and astronomers; by secular humanists and Freethinkers; by eco-Christians and those of other religions and philosophies,” Fox told The Times in an interview Wednesday….

Humankind has been “observing solstices for thousands of years,” Fox said, but the celestial events have become even more of the moment. Why? Because this is an “age of climate change and a need to have sustainability on the planet,” she said, so it makes sense that a holiday that has “connecting with the cycles of nature” at its core would become popular.

And of course that is why the mythic birth of Jesus was set on December 25, to symbolize rebirth and light coming back to the world. In pagan terms, the birth of the new sun. Here’s a video of the Solstice celebration at Stonehenge in 2009.

One year from now, the 2012 Winter Solstice will mark the end of the Mayan calendar, and we’ll probably have to deal with all kinds of apocalyptic prediction about what is going to happen next. NASA has a page debunking the idea that the end of the world is coming on December 22, 2012. Of course the maniacs in Washington DC might do something that would cause the end of the world as we know it. Let’s hope not.

Yesterday, Dakinikat had a post on John Boehner’s payroll tax fiasco. First Boehner said the House would agree to a 2-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits, as passed by the Senate. Then suddenly Boehner announced that Republicans wouldn’t vote for the compromise bill–now they wanted a year’s extension or nothing. WTF?!

At the Daily Beast, Patricia Murphy claims to provide the inside story on what happened.

What happened between Boehner’s agreement to follow the Senate’s lead and his tacit admission that his own caucus had overruled him? Aides and House members describe a now-infamous caucus conference call Saturday morning, when rank-and-file members blasted the Boehner-blessed deal, which they felt gave in on too many of their demands and delivered too little in return.

A closed door meeting Monday night revealed more doubts from conservatives over whether Boehner had pushed for the best deal they could have gotten and fueled Democratic frustration that Boehner, who they believe negotiated in good faith, simply cannot speak for his caucus anymore. The debacle capped a tumultuous year for the speaker, reigniting questions about how much longer he can lead the unwieldy GOP coalition, many of whose members clearly have no interest in following him where he wants to go.

Publicly, Boehner and House Republicans presented a united front this week, blaming President Obama for shortening a tax cut they say they have wanted to pass all along. But Democrats blamed a group of Republicans they’ve dubbed “the kamikazes,” the GOP freshmen who arrived in January on a wave of Tea Party anger and have shown time and again that they are willing to blow up their careers and everything around them in service to their cause.

The kamikazes’ casualty list this year is long. They blew up the debt-ceiling vote this summer, sparking a downgrade in the nation’s credit rating. They blew up the appropriations process so thoroughly that routine spending votes morphed into philosophical standoffs that nearly locked down the federal government three times and required seven temporary funding patches just to keep the lights on. And this week, they managed to blow up not just a tax cut that nearly everyone in Washington agrees is a good idea, but also their party’s hard-earned reputation for cutting taxes and, quite possibly, their chances at a long-term majority in the House and future control of the Senate.

Talk about self-immolation! In the meantime, questions are being asked about Boehner’s leadership.

At ABC’s The Note, Jonathan Karl is predicting the Republicans will fold. We’ll see. President Obama is really good at finding ways to give in to the Congressional terrorists. Maybe someone can distract him long enough to let this play out without his intervention.

Also at the the Daily Beast, there’s a creepy, yet semi-humorous story about local cops being militarized by the Department of Homeland Security, this time in my birthplace, the quiet little city of Fargo, North Dakota.

Nestled amid plains so flat the locals joke you can watch your dog run away for miles, Fargo treasures its placid lifestyle, seldom pierced by the mayhem and violence common in other urban communities. North Dakota’s largest city has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there’s not been a single international terrorism prosecution in the last decade.

But that hasn’t stopped authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county from going on an $8 million buying spree to arm police officers with the sort of gear once reserved only for soldiers fighting foreign wars.

Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.

“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” says Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”

Read it and weep. If Fargo has that much military hardware, imagine what they’ve got in NYC, Chicago, and LA! Police State Amerika is here.

At the NYT, Charlie Savage reports on the Justice Department settlement with Bank of America over discrimination in mortgage lending by Countrywide.

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced the largest residential fair-lending settlement in history, saying that Bank of America had agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that its Countrywide Financial unit discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom.

A department investigation concluded that Countrywide loan officers and brokers charged higher fees and rates to more than 200,000 minority borrowers across the country than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Countrywide also steered more than 10,000 minority borrowers into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received regular loans, it found.

Now how about putting some banksters in jail for bringing down the economy? Not holding my breath, but at least BOA has to cough up some bucks.

Newt Gingrich has been accused of illegally profiting from his presidential campaign.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich became the target on Monday of a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint filed by the non-profit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which accused the Georgia Republican of illegally profiting off his campaign.

The complaint is based on a revelation by The Washington Post‘s Dan Eggen, who discovered that Gingrich had personally sold a mailing list to his campaign and profited to the tune of $47,005, then failed to report the transaction on a key FEC document. That’s count one, according to CREW.

That mailing list did not belong to Gingrich personally, CREW said. It instead belonged to Gingrich Productions, Inc., a private business that sells Gingrich’s books. Since he paid himself instead of Gingrich Productions, CREW alleged that a second count of using campaign money for personal expenses is called for as well. The treasurer who signed off on the deal is also accused of violating campaign finance laws.

CREW explained in their complaint (PDF) that Gingrich Productions often stages events at the same time as Newt 2012, Inc., his non-profit group and principal campaign committee, which could constitute improper corporate contributions to a political campaign in that the campaign directly benefits from Gingrich Productions’ events.

It goes on to note that the mailing list Gingrich moved from his book company to his campaign was actually a list of people who were waiting at Gingrich events to have their books signed, showing even further how Gingrich Productions and Newt 2012 work in tandem to help each other.

Whoopsie! Everybody’s out to get Newt these days. I’d love to see him end up in jail along with some banksters, but again–not holding my breath.

As you’ve all heard, Ron Paul stalked off the set of an interview at CNN yesterday after he was asked about some racist passages in newsletters he published years ago. But USA today has caught Paul in a serious contradiction about those writings.

Rep. Ron Paul has tried since 2001 to disavow racist and incendiary language published in Texas newsletters that bore his name, denying he wrote them and even walking out of an interview on CNN Wednesday. But he vouched for the accuracy of the writings and admitted writing at least some of the passages when first asked about them in an interview in 1996.

Some issues of the newsletters included racist, anti-Israel or anti-gay comments, including a 1992 newsletter in which he said 95% of black men in Washington “are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”

Paul told TheDallas Morning News in 1996 that the contents of his newsletters were accurate but needed to be taken in context. Wednesday, he told CNN he didn’t write the newsletters and didn’t know what was in them.

Hmmmm…. I guess Mitt Romney isn’t the only flip-flopper in the Republican presidential race.

Speaking of Romney, that guy has really gone off the deep end in his efforts to court Iowa Tea Party voters. Steve Benen suggests that Romney has “lost his mind.”

Mitt Romney unveiled a brand-new stump speech in New Hampshire last night, reading a carefully-crafted, poll-tested text from two teleprompters. Confident that his Republican primarily rivals simply won’t (or can’t) catch him, the former one-term governor ignored the other GOP candidates in his speech, and focused exclusively on attacking President Obama.

Wow! Two telepromters? Now why does that sound familiar? Anyway, the point is that Romney has been reduced to following the Tea Party meme that Obama is a commie socialist. From the speech:

“Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.

“In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing — the government.

“The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards, but virtually everyone will be worse off.”

ROFLOL! Benen writes:

It stands to reason that Romney, who’s completed the transition from “progressive” views to far-right hysterics, would present a worldview different from the center-left president’s. But this speech was written in a twisted fantasy land, and it ascribes views to Obama that are simply made up. It’s just madness.

And get this: Romney wants Obama’s uncle deported!

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a Boston talk radio host on Wednesday that he supports the deportation of President Obama’s Kenyan-born uncle who was arrested this fall on drunken driving charges in Massachusetts.

When asked by Boston radio personality Howie Carr whether the president’s relative, Onyango Obama, should be deported, Romney said, “the answer is ‘yes.’”

“Well, if the laws of the United States say he should be deported, and I presume they do, then of course we should follow those laws,” Romney said. “And the answer is ‘yes.’”

And last week, Romney told Sean Hannity that Obama is deliberately and knowingly hurting America for political reasons.

Hannity: The president has been using class warfare as we know. He says Republicans want dirty air, dirty water. Says Republicans want old people, kids with autism and Down’s syndrome to fend for themselves. Pretty outrageous charges.

Romney: Shameful. It’s really shameful.

Hannity: Explain, and how do you counter that if you get this nomination?

Romney: You know, I think the president has gone from being a failed presidency, a guy over his head, to someone who is now so desperate to get re-election that he’s doing things that are very much counter to the interest of the country and he knows it. In the past I think he was just misguided. Now I think he really knows that his decision in Afghanistan to pull the troops out a couple of months earlier than commanders suggested. That was not a wise, not a wise thing for the country. The Keystone pipeline, he knows we need that oil, he knows the consequences.

If Romney is this nuts now, imagine what he’ll be like in the thick of the primaries. Folks, Romney is not the “reasonable” candidate. There is no reasonable candidate on the Republican side. It’s going to be a completely insane candidate vs. a fascist pretending to be a Democrat. Followed by the end of the Mayan calendar. If we’re lucky, the world will end before the next president is inaugurated. Just kidding, I think.

I’ll end with this embarrassing for him, amusing for us, bit of gossip about Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), known for his cantankerous ways and for not speaking to media unless it’s his idea, was overheard at the Delta Crown lounge at Reagan National Airport today talking on his cellphone about an incident he said occurred three weeks ago while at an Episcopal church auction. Please note, a church auction.

Our source, a Democratic operative who heard the whole thing, said he was “very loud”. Sensenbrenner was overheard saying that after buying all their “crap” (his word) a woman approached him and praised first lady Michelle Obama. He told the woman that Michelle should practice what she preaches — “she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.”

The operative said it sounded like he was on the phone with a staffer who was telling him that someone in the media would likely write about his comments (concerning something) to which he said it was heresy and just liberal media bias to print gossip. But “he stands by his remarks.”

Sensenbrenner is on the pudgy side. Someone should tell him that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. What are you reading and blogging about?


US Claims “National Security” to Cover Up Embarrassing Deal with Con Man

According to the politicians running things in our country these days, paying fair salaries to teachers, social workers, and firefighters is irresponsible because it runs up the deficit. Paying Social Security to old folks is driving the country into bankruptcy. But when the feds pour millions of dollars down the drain because they get duped by a con man, that’s a national security secret.

Dennis Montgomery, Con Man

From The New York Times:

For eight years, government officials turned to Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, for eye-popping technology that he said could catch terrorists. Now, federal officials want nothing to do with him and are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his dealings with Washington stay secret.

In fact, the Justice Department has argued in court that if they had to reveal the embarrassing details of what happened, it would damage national security. That could be true if revealing how dumb our public officials and “intelligence” experts are puts our country in danger….

Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.

Get this, Montgomery convinced U.S. intelligence wizards that he had designed some software that could detect secret Al Qaeda messages concealed in Al Jazeera broadcasts! ROFLOL! That’s reminds me of the days when religious nuts used to claim they could detect Satanic messages in rock ‘n’ roll music by playing it backwards.

Montgomery also told the CIA that his magic software could “identify terrorists from Predator drone videos” and pick up sounds from submarines. And the CIA geniuses bought Montgomery’s tale hook, line, and sinker. As a result of the government’s involvement with this grifter, there was

…an international false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airliners to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean in 2003.

The software led to dead ends in connection with a 2006 terrorism plot in Britain. And they were used by counterterrorism officials to respond to a bogus Somali terrorism plot on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, according to previously undisclosed documents.

OMG, my sides are splitting from laughter! And on top of all that,

C.I.A. officials…came to believe that Mr. Montgomery’s technology was fake in 2003, but their conclusions apparently were not relayed to the military’s Special Operations Command, which had contracted with his firm. In 2006, F.B.I. investigators were told by co-workers of Mr. Montgomery that he had repeatedly doctored test results at presentations for government officials. But Mr. Montgomery still landed more business.

In 2009, the Air Force approved a $3 million deal for his technology, even though a contracting officer acknowledged that other agencies were skeptical about the software, according to e-mails obtained by The New York Times.

Angelo Mozilo, Fraudster

Hold onto your wallets, I think President Obama is going to have to ask us “small people” to “sacrifice” some more to make up the difference. Meanwhile, Mr. Montgomery will very likely get away with his fraud, just like Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo, formerly of Countrywide, and every other fraudster and bankster who comes down the pike. Don’t worry, though, “sacrifice” is good for you, your parents, and your children and grandchildren.