Monday Reads

sun

Good Morning!

I’ve found a few things to keep you interested this morning.  Some are depressing as usual and some are intriguing.   The Sun is going to reverse polarity soon.  This evidently happens every 11 years and causes some interesting space weather.

The sun switches its polarity, flipping its magnetic north and south, once every eleven years through an internal mechanism about which little is understood.

The swap could however cause intergalactic weather fronts such as geomagnetic storms, which can interfere with satellites and cause radio blackouts.

Nasa said in August that the change would happen in three to four months time, but it is impossible to give a more specific date. Scientist won’t know for around another three weeks whether the flip is complete.

The impact of the transfer will be widespread as the sun’s magnetic field exerts influence well beyond Pluto, past Nasa’s Voyager probes positioned near the edge of interstellar space.

The event will be watched closely by researchers at Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory, which monitors the sun’s magnetic field on a daily basis.

Todd Hoeksema, director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory, said the polarity change is built up throughout the eleven year cycle through areas of intense magnetic activity known as sunspots which gradually move towards the poles, eroding the existing opposite polarity.

Eventually, the magnetic field reduces to zero, before rebounding with the opposite polarity. “It’s kind of like a tide coming in or going out,” Hoeksema said. “Each little wave brings a little more water in, and eventually you get to the full reversal.”

One of the most noticeable effect on Earth will be a boost in the occurrence, range and visibility of auroras – the Northern Lights. “It’s not a catastrophic event, it’s a large scale event that has some real implications, but its not something we need to worry about,” added Hoeksema.

rover-flagOne more space story.  The Chinese Flag is now on the moon.  They landed a rover there last weekend.

Shanghaist reports China has photographed its flag on the moon for the first time in history.

China landed a rover on the moon last weekend, becoming the third country after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to do so. No vehicle has touched the moon since 1976. China launched its first lunar orbiter in 2007.

 I’ve been really upset by the news coming out of Syria recently even though our press has done a horrible job covering the country’s 

20131214_map504squalid conditions resulting from of all the violence  It’s been a harsh winter and the people are starving.  There are also human rights violations even though the chemical weapons usage has ceased. Here is some information on a Syrian activists as well as foreign journalists who have been imprisoned by the brutal regiem and others.

THE Syrian regime has long enjoyed locking up activists. Mazen Darwish, who since 2004 has run the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression, has been in jail since February last year. Others have spent years behind bars. Sadly, some of the opponents to Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, have started to do the same. In the latest episode, on December 10th Razan Zeitouneh (pictured above), a lawyer who won several prizes last year for her dedication to peaceful activism, was taken along with three colleagues from their office in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

Ms Zeitouneh and her colleagues ran the Violations Documentation Centre, a local organisation that since the start of Syria’s uprising-turned-war has tracked the death toll of both the opposition and regime fighters. She has been in hiding since 2011. She was taken along with her husband Wael Hamada and Sameera Khalil, the wife of Yassin Haj Saleh, a famed Syrian writer who left the country just two months ago as civil society activists and free speakers became targeted as much by extremist groups as the regime. He wrote movingly about his experience.

The suspected culprit in the latest abduction is the Army of Islam, a Damascus-based umbrella group believed to receive funds from Saudi Arabia. Most of the kidnappings are carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaeda linked group which aims to create a borderless caliphate and considers both non-Muslims and liberal Muslims as heretics. On the same day as Ms Zeitouneh was kidnapped, El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, announced that its Middle East reporter Javier Espinosa and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova have been held by ISIS since September 18th. Another 30 or so foreigners, a mixture of journalists and aid workers, are also being held, including Italian priest Paolo Dall’Oglio who spent three decades in Syria.

I would like you all to know that there is a war on Festivus and Fox News is the aggressor.

A fake holiday popularized by Seinfeld has become the symbol of secular pushback against religious dominion over American public life. Or something like that.

The Wisconsin and Florida state capitols currently have Festivus poles on display. To the uninitiated, the Festivus pole is a key component in the celebration of Festivus, a bizarre and agonizing December 23 holiday made famous by “The Strike,” a 1997 episode of the beloved NBC sitcom Seinfeld. Since the episode aired, the holiday has taken on a life of its own. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has thrown Festivus fundraisers, for example. And at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Wednesday, self-proclaimed “militant atheist” activist Chaz Stevens erected a 6-foot Festivus pole made out of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans in the state house rotunda in protest of the privately funded nativity scene at the capitol.

Harry Mihet, of the “religious liberty” law firm Liberty Counsel, called Stevens’ views “extreme” and his display offensive. “Is this how PC we’ve gotten in our society, really?” Fox News host Gretchen Carlson said on Tuesday. “I am so outraged by this. Why do I have to drive around with my kids to look for nativity scenes and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, kids, look. There’s Baby Jesus behind the Festivus pole made out of beer cans!”

festivus pole Oh Noes!!!  Plastic Baby Jesus is hidden behind a Festivus pole!   And a public airing of the Grievances!  Right in front of that Plastic Nativity Scene!!!

“This whole thing is just a serious feat of … ridiculousness,” says Chaz Stevens, who marched into the Capitol building on Wednesday morning clutching a case of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans and a 6-foot pole made of PVC pipe. It’s a nod to the unadorned aluminum pole that is part of the secular Festivus holiday invented by George Costanza’s dad on Seinfeld.

The celebration also includes an “airing of grievances” during the family meal, in which each person describes disappointments experienced over the course of the year.

Stevens says when he heard about the Capitol Nativity scene, it was just too much. So he applied to the state to install his own display: a pole covered in beer cans.

“This is about separation of church and state,” Stevens says. “The government shouldn’t be in this business of allowing the mixture of church and state.”

The displays are allowed inside Florida’s Capitol building because the state has designated the rotunda as “a public forum.” Howard Simon of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the state had no choice.

“They’re not going to be allowed to discriminate. It’s going to be a public forum for all forms of speech and expression and displays,” Simon says.

Professional Public Asshole, Paul Ryan, has decided that the debt ceiling will be the next hostage target.  I guess he wasn’t satisfied with the blood of the unemployed.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) signaled that Republicans would not raise the debt ceiling next year without some sort of concessions from Democrats, saying lawmakers were still crafting their strategy.

“We, as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit,” Mr. Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. “We don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”

The U.S. government spends more money than it brings in through taxes, which means the Treasury Department has to borrow money by issuing debt. The government can only borrow money up to a certain level -called the debt ceiling – which is set by Congress. In October, lawmakers agreed to “suspend” the debt limit until Feb. 7, 2014. The White House has said it will no longer negotiate with Republicans on conditions for raising the debt limit, but many Republicans have said they will only vote to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for budget changes like spending cuts.

The Republican party continues to be in complete denial about all things related to Real GDP and the debt and deficit in real terms.  Size is relative to both real GDP and to whatever has happened in inflation over the years.  You can’t arbitrarily look at a number without understanding the changes in prices and the overall size of an economy and its taxable assets.  Is it just me or is Paul Ryan one of the least serious people on the hill?

Oh, wait.  There’s also Darrell Issa.  One of the most fun things I’ve seen recently is that the HHS Department has refused to turn information over to Issa because they believe he will violate the privacy of millions of Americans.

Rep. Darrell Issa has issued a subpoena to MITRE, a government contractor, to turn over documents on healthcare.gov security testing. HHS says Issa has already seen the documents he is seeking.

Politico: HHS To Darrell Issa: We Don’t Trust You
The Health and Human Services Department told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa that it won’t turn over documents related to the security of the Healthcare.gov website because it can’t trust him to keep secret information that could give hackers a roadmap to wreak havoc on the system. Issa has issued a subpoena to MITRE, a government contractor, to turn over unredacted copies of security-testing documents by noon Friday. … Already, Issa has been given access to the documents he seeks “in camera” — meaning committee staff were able to review them in a room but not keep them — but he is seeking physical copies (Allen, 12/12).

Roll Call: HHS To Issa: You Can’t Be Trusted With Obamacare Documents
The HHS assistant secretary for legislation, Jim R. Esquea, signaled that HHS was blocking MITRE from turning over the documents, which have been subpoenaed, over concerns that Issa would — as he has done in the past — leak the documents to the public, potentially giving hackers a road map to the “potential vulnerabilities in the cyber defenses” (Fuller, 12/12).

Issa is having a hissy fit.

So, that’s my little bit of this and that this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Nightmare on Capitol Hill

Nightmare on Capitol Hill Dave Granlund

Good Morning!!

Yes, it’s real–too real. We’re approaching the deadline for raising the debt ceiling–it’s Thursday–and Congress is still dithering. But it looks like they may figure out a way to kick the can down the road again, as long as Ted Cruz doesn’t decide to have another tantrum.

According to the Hill this morning, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are close to agreeing on “a deal” to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for a few more months. The two Senate leaders huddled for hours yesterday trying to put together some kind of package that would satisfy House Republicans and convince them not to bring down the U.S. Government and the global economy.

An emerging deal to reopen the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling until February gathered political momentum Monday evening after Senate Republicans signaled they would likely support it.

Lawmakers and aides said the legislation would fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the nation’s borrowing authority until February but leave ObamaCare largely untouched.

The agreement would also set up another “supercommittee” to try to deal with the next round of automatic sequester cuts. The committee would have until December 13 to report to Congress. Anyone who thinks they’ll agree on anything, please raise your hand.

The big question is whether a package to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling can pass muster in the House.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was briefed on the deal Monday, and members of his conference were taking a wait and see attitude.

“When we see it, we’ll know what it is. Do you know what it is yet?” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, asked reporters as he left Boehner’s office.

“As soon as we see something in writing, then we can understand how we can thoughtfully understand what we’ll do with it,” Sessions said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wouldn’t comment on the emerging Senate deal, but he told reporters House Republicans will meet Tuesday morning “to discuss a way forward.” “Possible consideration of legislation related to the debt limit” was added to Cantor’s daily House schedule for Tuesday.

Ted Cruz Onward Michael Ramirez

Of course the biggest potential fly in the ointment is Texas junior Senator Ted Cruz and his gang of Tea Party House members. Cruz wouldn’t say whether he’s planning another fake filibuster or some other effort to kill the Affordable Care Act. However, Cruz did hold a secret meeting with House Republicans last night, according to Roll Call.

Sen. Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.

The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering. The Texas Republican senator and many of the House Republicans in attendance had insisted on including amendments aimed at dismantling Obamacare in the continuing resolution that was intended to avert the current shutdown.

Sources said the House Republicans meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast with Cruz were some of the most conservative in the House: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Steve Southerland II of Florida, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Justin Amash of Michigan.

The group is a collection of members who have often given leadership headaches in recent years by opposing both compromise measures as well as packages crafted by fellow Republicans….While the emerging deal to reopen the government and hike the debt ceiling increase may have been a hot topic, it was not immediately clear what the group actually discussed. But the fact that such a group met with Cruz at all could give House GOP leaders even more heartburn as they consider themselves what to do if the Senate passes the measure.

If Cruz and his buddies decide to cause more trouble, they could bring about a default by dragging the fight out until after Thursday. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew could probably keep the U.S. afloat for a few more days, but it would be touch and go. Joshua Green wrote yesterday at Bloomberg Businessweek that “Ted Cruz Could Force a Debt Default All by Himself.”

How could this happen? Because the Senate can move quickly when necessary, but only by unanimous consent. Let’s say Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strike a deal today (that’s looking unlikely). Cruz surely won’t like it and has said repeatedly, “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare.” If he’s true to his word, he could drag out the proceedings past Thursday and possibly well beyond. “If a determined band of nut jobs wants to take down the global economy, they could do it,” says Jim Manley, a former top staffer for Reid. “Under Senate rules, we are past the point of no return—there’s not anything Reid or McConnell could do about it.”

If Cruz is truly determined to block or delay any deal that does not touch Obamacare, here’s how he’d do it: The hypothetical Reid/McConnell bill would probably be introduced as an amendment to the “clean” debt-ceiling raise that Democrats introduced—and Republicans defeated—last week. Reid voted against cloture on the motion to proceed to that bill, a procedural tactic that allows him to reconsider the bill later on. Let’s say he does so by 5 p.m. Monday. There would need to be a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Cruz would dissent, but he wouldn’t be able to round up 41 votes for a filibuster….

The real killer is that Senate rules stipulate there must be 30 hours of post-cloture debate, unless senators agree unanimously to waive it. Reid and McConnell would want unanimous consent to move quickly, but Cruz could refuse, thereby forcing 30 hours of debate. This would drag things out until Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. Then there would be a vote on the motion to proceed (requiring a simple majority), followed by an intervening day, assuming Cruz withheld his consent to vote earlier. So now we’re looking at a Thursday cloture vote on the bill itself, followed by another 30 hours of post-cloture debate that would blow right past the Treasury deadline.

Ted Cruz Jesus

Let’s hope even Cruz isn’t that delusional and foolhardy. Booman also points out that the Senate can change the rules and limit post-cloture debate for this one vote. That takes 67 votes.

At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green calls what Cruz and other Tea Party Republicans are doing “backdoor impeachment.”

The dance over the debt ceiling and the fight over the government shutdown are nothing less than impeachment on the cheap: a chance to negate the will of the majority by ostensibly placating the letter of the law. Unable to win the last two presidential elections or to persuade a Supreme Court majority that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, House Republicans have arrived at a point where default and closure are the next best things. This combustible brew of race, class, and economic anxieties bubbles all too closely to the surface.

These days, the GOP comes across as hating Obamacare more than loving their countrymen, and the nation is returning that ire (PDF). Less than a quarter of Americans view the Republicans favorably, and a majority dislikes them, three-in-10 intensely. The GOP’s goal of recapturing the Senate in 2014 is now looking more like a dream than a reality, as Republicans are “forced to explain why they are not to blame and why Americans should trust them to govern both houses of Congress when the one they do run is in such disarray.” Indeed.

Unfortunately, the calamity of a potential default has tempered neither judgment nor passion. On Saturday, Ted Cruz—the man who lit the match, won the Values Voters Straw Poll with 42 percent of the vote. Channeling her inner Glenn Beck, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) concluded that the President “committed impeachable offenses.” Bachmann also proclaimed that civil disobedience was a potential response to Obama’s “thuggery,” and compared the Obama presidency to Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood.

I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.

Ted Cruz is stealing the right wing nut show for now, but in the House Paul Ryan raised his ugly head over the weekend to complain about the ACA’s individual mandate and requirement that women have access to birth control. From HuffPo:

Sources told the Post that, in a private meeting with House Republicans, Ryan said that by kicking the can down the road, the GOP would lose “leverage” in their fight against Obamacare.

Ryan’s main concern appears to be delaying the health care law’s individual mandate, but ThinkProgress points out that Ryan also emphasized the need to give employers the ability to deny birth control coverage based on moral or religious reasons.

Meanwhile most people around the country and even on Wall Street don’t seem all that concerned about what’s happening in Washington DC. I guess that after multiple emergencies in which political leaders “cried wolf,” everyone just assumes that Congress will find some way to keep the country going. Still, is this any way to run a country? Shouldn’t citizens be up in arms? Will Durst has a wacky column about this at Cagle Post called “Fukushima Sushi.”

Which is harder to believe? The ludicrous shenanigans going down in Washington or the fact that nobody seems particularly interested in doing anything about them? Good neighbors — it looks like we got ourselves one heck of a bumper crop of official dysfunction this year. Near as high as Manute Bol’s eye.

You’d think with national parks closed, veteran’s benefits being withheld and a possible catastrophic debt ceiling crisis looming, folks would be atwitter like chicken inspectors on a rotisserie spit during a power surge. And you’d be as wrong as a Bergman film on Comedy Central.

What the country seems to be seeking here is a little something called political responsibility. Which, in these dark days, is a wee bit of a tad of a total and complete oxymoron. Real similar to saying Fukushima sushi. Or elegant squalor. Comfortable rock.

Driving the point home: Weird normality. Spherical edge. Iron kite. Freedom shackle. Fresh detritus. Flammable sleet. Placid hammer. Colossal shrimp. Diminutive giant. Formal jeans. Sensitive linebacker. Salable autonomy. Veteran rookie. Vegetarian butcher. Pork tartare. Reality TV.

Keeping it real: Precarious certainty. Serene devastation. Bitter honey. Catholic condom. Heaven’s basement. Gelatinous needle. Sadistic lover. Banker’s compassion. Macabre solace. Chaste indiscretion. Temporary tax. Restorative annihilation. Healthy fries. Unhungry shark.

Lots more oxymoron’s at the link. How he came up with so many, I’ll never know.

Now what stories are you focusing on today? Please share your links on any topic in the comments.


Friday Reads: The Ides of March

Eid_Mar Ah! The Ides of March and today’s political men with that lean and hungry look are upon us!  Let’s check out what Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan are up to.  All of them have that creepy angular look that makes my skin crawl. I always wonder if their supporters are as odd looking and grinch-like?

Ryan “looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes” and is trying to ride the same old budget that the voters soundly rejected in November.

Ryan’s budget is a retread of his previous offerings, the same ideas that were rejected by voters in the 2012 election. Like the old Bourbon kings, he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Once more he doubles down on the failed ideas of the past, and once more he brazenly seeks credit for making hard choices while refusing to tell us what those choices are. The cowardice and lack of candor reflect just how unpopular these ideas are.

The basic strategy is the same; the only new packaging is the pretense of balancing the budget in 10 years. Ryan does that by adopting the $600 billion in “fiscal cliff” taxes that Republicans voted against, the Medicare tax hikes that were part of the Obamacare that Ryan proposes to repeal, and, most brazenly, the infamous $716 billion in “Medicare cuts” that Ryan and Romney and legions of Republicans have railed against over the last two election cycles.

Ryan’s basic strategy is unchanged. He would lower rates on income and corporate taxes. He does this despite studies showing that lowering rates over the last decades have produced more inequality, but not more growth. With the top 1 percent capturing a staggering 121 percent of the income growth coming out of the Great Recession, and corporate profits at record highs as a percentage of the economy, Ryan still argues that if they just had more money, they would start investing here at home.

The lower tax rates, Ryan claims, will be paid for by closing loopholes and eliminating “tax expenditures” — only he reveals none of Romney 2012those that he would close. Studies show millionaires could give up all their tax deductions and still pocket a big tax break from the Ryan plan. By definition, middle class families will end up paying more — and will face the loss of tax deductions for mortgages, for employer-based health care, for state and local taxes and more. No wonder Ryan doesn’t want to reveal what’s behind the curtain.

Ryan then calls for cutting $4.6 trillion in spending over 10 years from projected levels. $2.5 trillion of that comes from repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid. That will leave, according to estimates of the Urban League and the Congressional Budget Office, 40 to 50 million more poor and middle-income Americans uninsured, even as the wealthy and multinationals pocket their tax breaks. In addition, Ryan promises to dismember Medicare 10 years from now, turning it into a voucher that will push more and more costs on seniors over time.

Ryan would cancel the “sequestration cuts” for the military over the next decade while cutting even more from domestic services. All domestic services — education, border patrol, workplace safety, food and drug monitoring, research and development, Head Start, infant nutrition, etc. — would be cut to levels not seen in modern times. Naturally, Ryan does not identify what would be cut.

His budget is expected to pass the House yet again even though there is no chance in the Senate and no chance that “Obamacare” will be repealed.   Yet, he’s consistent which is more than we can say about Eric Cantor recently.  You know Cantoe. ” Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort s if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit that could be moved to smile at any thing.”

Cantor seems newly pained by his reputation as an ideological roadblock. In Virginia, his favorable rating is twenty-seven per cent, a fact that makes a statewide run for office in the near future a dim prospect. Cantor explained why he argued at the retreat against using the debt ceiling as political leverage. He had been hearing from donors on Wall Street and in the business community about the potential impact on the markets. “Most people would say incurring debt at this point is allowing money for bills that you already incurred,” he said. “It’s to pay the bills.” Eight days earlier, at a press conference, Obama had made the same argument.

Besides, there were better fights to come. Conceding the debt-ceiling vote was a simple way for House Republicans to prevent the 110803_eric_cantor_ap_328U.S. government from going into default, which would be disastrous for the economy here and abroad. It also meant they could save their leverage for the coming fight over the automatic spending cuts in the sequester. “We’re not trying to sit here and just obstruct,” Cantor said. “We’re trying to solve the problem, and we’ve been put in this position, I guess, perception-wise, that all we want to do is obstruct. So this is an attempt for us to get on firmer ground.”

To win over the right, House leaders promised three things. They would demand that the Democratic-controlled Senate write a formal budget, which Senate Democrats have avoided doing for several years; if the senators didn’t pass a budget, they wouldn’t get paid. Second, they promised conservatives that the cuts in the sequester would be kept intact or replaced with something equivalent. The final promise was far more daunting: Paul Ryan would write a budget that balanced within ten years. “Big goal,” Cantor said, and he sounded relieved that it wouldn’t be his job; Ryan’s last budget, which included severe spending cuts, didn’t promise to come into balance until the late twenty-thirties. “People were concerned that it took too long to balance,” Ryan said. To make the budget balance in a decade, the level of cuts will have to be extreme. Cantor may have led his colleagues out of the debt-ceiling canyon only to get them trapped in another one.

I pointed out that, because the fiscal-cliff deal included more than six hundred billion dollars in higher taxes over the next ten years, Ryan’s job might be a little easier. Cantor flashed a mischievous grin. “Irony!” he said.

Then, there is Bobby Jindal who is plotting to push the most regressive tax plan ever through the state of Louisiana. jindal  He’s got the ALEC plan for wrecking the state down pat. “He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

Jan Moller with the Louisiana Budget Project said he fears a financial blow to the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

“At a bare minimum, a tax overhaul should not be an excuse to make the state’s poorest citizens pay more, and they would suffer the most from the governor’s proposal to raise sales taxes,” Moller said in a prepared statement.

Barfield said something will be proposed to offset any increase for low- and lower-middle-classes.

“They would be in no worse position than they are today,” Barfield said.

Barfield said the administration wants to encourage job creation and economic growth, which help elevate the poor.

One has to wonder how the national ambitions of these men jibe with voters given their agendas benefit very few people.  I suppose the idea is to appease the big donors and hope that every one else just votes based on name recognition and glossy mailers.  Still, Jindal’s popularity sits at 37%.  As mentioned above,  Cantor’s popularity sits at 27%.  Ryan’s last poll was the election.

So, here are a few other reads that you might want to check out.  I’d say all of this is good news for rationale people and bad news for our Republican deniers of reality.
BBC News reports that “LHC cements Higgs boson identification”.  Yes, despite the agenda to stamp out the progress of scientists in the US, science and discovery happens in other countries.

“This is the start of a new story of physics,” said Tony Weidberg, Oxford University physicist and a collaborator on the Atlas experiment.

“Physics has changed since July the 4th – the vague question we had before was to see if there was anything there,” he told BBC News.

“Now we’ve got more precise questions: is this particle a Higgs boson, and if so, is it one compatible with the Standard Model?”

The results reported at the conference – based on the entire data sets from 2011 and 2012 – much more strongly suggest that the new particle’s “spin” is zero – consistent with any of the theoretical varieties of Higgs.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela.

As is often the case in particle physics, a fuller analysis of data will be required to establish beyond doubt that the particle is a Higgs of any kind. But Dr Weidberg said that even these early hints were compelling.

“This is very exciting because if the spin-zero determination is confirmed, it would be the first elementary particle to have zero spin,” he said.

“So this is really different to anything we have seen before.”

Even more data will be required to explore the question of more “exotic” Higgs particles.

This HuffPo article suggest that there will even be fewer Americans for those Republicans to fool in the future as religion in America hits  new low!!

The number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is the highest it has ever been since data on the subject started being collected in the 1930s, new research has found.

Sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University analyzed results from the General Social Survey and found that the number of people who do not consider themselves part of an organized religion has jumped dramatically in recent years.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the number of “nones” — those who said they were religiously unaffiliated — hovered around 5 percent, Claude Fischer, one of the researchers with UC Berkeley, told The Huffington Post. That number had risen to only 8 percent by 1990.

But since then, the number of people who don’t consider themselves part of a religion has increased to 20 percent.

No wonder Republicans want to tank public education.  I’d say there’s a bit of intelligent life left here!

Finally, the Mars Rover “Curiosity” finds some astonishing things on Mars.

marvinThe verdict is in: Mars’s Gale Crater was habitable in its distant past, perhaps during the same period in which microbial life was establishing itself on Earth between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago.

That is the conclusion scientists have reached after NASA‘s Mars rover Curiosity analyzed the first sample ever culled from deep in a rock on another planet. Curiosity used a first-of-its-kind drill to extract the sample.

Now, only seven months into its mission – a period set aside primarily for testing the rover’s various instruments – Curiosity has already given researchers the answer to the broad, basic question they set out to answer: Did Mars ever host environments suitable for life?

The issue of habitability is “in the bag,” said John Grotzinger, a planetary geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the mission’s lead scientist, during a press briefing announcing the results on Tuesday.

The minerals in the tiny, gray, ground-rock sample exposed by Curiosity’s drill speak of abundant standing water, conditions neither too acidic or too alkaline for life, and the minerals that would have provided a ready energy source for microbes, if any had been there.

Wonder what Pat Robertson will say about this?

and what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Paul Ryan Makes Major Freudian Slip

Hilarious! While introducing his budget plan today, Paul Ryan unconsciously revealed his true purpose.

From The Hill:

During the unveiling of his new budget proposal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made a slip of the tongue while railing against President Obama’s healthcare law.

“This is something we will not give up on because we are not going to give up on destroying the healthcare system for the American people,” Ryan accidentally said.

Here’s the clip, courtesy of DailyKos:

Bwwwwwwaaaaaahahahahahahaha!!!

That put me in mind of another great Freudian slip by the master of Freudian slips, George W. Bush.

This is psychoanalytic open thread. Just kidding–it’s wide open. What are you hearing?


Delusional Paul Ryan Bases New Budget on Repealing Obamacare

WallaceRyan

Oh man, this is too much!

Paul Ryan appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace today and admitted to that the new “Ryan Plan” budget is based on the assumption that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed along with the planned Medicaid expansion.

Here’s the transcript of the interview.

Ryan explains that he plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program and Medicaid, food stamps, and “49 different job training programs spread across nine different government agencies” into block grants and let the states decide what to do with the money. Wallace had some questions.

Let me ask you about a couple of the specific cuts that you made last year, and tell me if they’re not in the new budget — I assume that they are. You cut Medicaid by $770 billion, over the next 10 years. You cut $134 billion from food stamps. You cut $166 billion from education, training and social services.

….

WALLACE: Can you honestly say by turning Medicaid into a block grant and giving it to the states that you can cut $770 billion –

RYAN: Yes.

WALLACE: — out of that program, over the next 10 years, and that’s going to have no impact on legitimate recipients?

RYAN: These are increases that have not come yet. So, by repealing Obamacare, and the Medicaid expansions which haven’t occurred yet, we are basically preventing an explosion of a program that is already failing.

So, we’re saying don’t grow this program through Obamacare because it doesn’t work. Prevent that growth from going because it’s not going to work, it’s going to hurt people who are trying to help, it’s going to hurt hospitals and states and, give the states the tools that they are asking for.

I’m kind of surprised Wallace didn’t do a Ricky Ricardo-type double take after that.

WALLACE: I’m going to pick up on this because I must say I didn’t understand it. Are you saying that as part of your budget, you would repeal, you assume the repeal of Obamacare?

RYAN: Yes.

WALLACE: Well, that’s not going to happen.

RYAN: Well, we believe it should. That’s the point. That’s what’s — but this is what budgeting is all about, Chris. It’s about making tough choices to fix our country’s problems.

And here’s the really crazy part. Wallace points out that, you know, Obama won the election and Medicare was a huge issue during the campaign and the voters rejected the Romney/Ryan plan.

Ryan doesn’t buy it:

I would argue against your premise that we lost this issue in the campaign. We won the senior vote. I did dozens of Medicare town hall meetings in states like Florida, explaining how these are the best reforms to save the shrinking Medicare program and we are confidently this is the way to go. It has bipartisan support. It’s an idea that came from Democrats in the first place.

Wha– ?! Has this guy gone around the bend or what? Haven’t the House Republicans already tried to repeal Obamacare more than 30 times?

Here’s the video from Think Progress:

 

This is a completely wacko, insane, what-is-he-smoking open thread!


Good Night, Good Luck: Thoughts on Murrow, Journalism and Responsibility

murrow

Good Afternoon

Thursday night I watched the film Good Night and Good Luck, with David Strathairn and George Clooney. I am sure that many of you saw this film when it came out eight years ago. (Yes, that is 8 years…)

I saw it too back then, but I had not seen it in years…and I never saw the short featurette interviews with the real people portrayed in the film.  Joe and Shirley Wershba, Milo Radulovich, Ed Murrow’s son and Fred Friendly’s son discuss Murrow and give some thoughts on the use of television media during the time of the McCarthy hearings. I say television because Ed Murrow was concerned about how viewing the image or picture being broadcast on the screen would change the news story he was telling.

It is fortunate that I found this featurette on the web, it is only 15 minutes but if you can, watch it before you read the rest of my post.

Good Night, And Good Luck – Featurette | SPIKE

Fred Friendly’s widow states that Ed Murrow was, “dubious” about the change from his radio show, “Hear It Now” to the television version “See It Now.”  It was Murrow’s belief that the camera changed the story, that people processed visual information and news differently than they did when just listening to the words being said.  According to Murrow’s son, the camera invaded the news story, especially in those early days of news broadcast, with the lights and large equipment needed to air the programs, it changed the dynamics of the story in a real big way.

It was during this time the news took on an editorial flavor; there aren’t always two sides to a story. McCarthyism was destroying the country. Murrow got this message out to his viewers, knowing what was at stake.  It was personal and it was risky…

The Murrow team had been collecting film on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy where ever he went…and used it when they got the evidence they needed. Murrow got to the truth of the story by taking McCarthy’s own words and actions and putting them on the air.

Joe Wershba says that Murrow knew the tremendous power of television media…he describes the agonizing question of whether Murrow had the right to use this power against McCarthy. Think about it…Here you have McCarthy, trampling the rights and civil liberties given by the Constitution, and yet McCarthy got all this power because of the very rights he was running over.

This is where Milo Radulovich comes in. Radulovich,

…was an American citizen (born in Detroit) of Serbian descent and former reserve Air Force lieutenant who was accused of being a security risk for maintaining a “close and continuing relationship”[1] with his father and sister, in violation of Air Force regulation 35-62.[2] His case was publicized nationally by Edward Murrow on October 20, 1953, on Murrow’s program, See It Now:

That [Air Force regulation 35-62] is a regulation which states that ‘A man may be regarded as a security risk if he has close and continuing associations with communists or people believed to have communist sympathies.’ Lieutenant Radulovich was asked to resign in August. He declined. A board was called and heard his case. At the end, it was recommended that he be severed from the Air Force. Although it was also stated that there was no question whatever as to the Lieutenant’s loyalty.—Edward R. Murrow[3][4]

Murrow used Radulovich’s personal story to get the point across. And when the Air Force finally reinstated Radulovich, people realized just how powerful television journalism was, and Murrow felt the consequences would be great.

On the featurette, Fred Friendly’s son says that “overall climate of television news” today is frightening…and that his father would be horrified by it.

Well, this horrifying evolution of television news can be primarily shouldered by the corporations…specifically the advertising money these corporations brought in…the airwaves were originally thought of as the people’s airways…that the news had to be given to the public straight. But then the news programs became a money-maker, news stories became entertainment. And with this entertainment, the trust people had in broadcasters like Murrow disappeared.

Friendly’s son says in the interview up top, television was making more money doing its worst…than it did doing its best. (Ain’t that the truth!)

Shirley Wershba states how important it was to get the truth to the stories, they used McCarthy own words in their reports, pointing out the hypocrisies and the craziness of McCarthyism. They researched and were very careful with what they reported on the news. It is not like that today. We have seen too many times the mistakes, blatant ones at that, made by the press…they are careless with the facts.

Responsibility. It is something that both MSM broadcast news and the people watching it must take seriously.  Responsibility is vitally necessary to get the facts down right. George Clooney says at the end of the featurette he hopes the film Good Night and Good Luck will bring the issue of responsibility to the discussion and I agree with him; we need to talk about responsibility.

I guess my point with all this is just how important it is to question things.

Maybe that is why people like Jon Stewart, sites like Wikileaks, and those who blog and pick apart news reports are popular with folks who look for the big picture, the ones who don’t accept the cropped version as the final word. It is our responsibility to dig deeper than what we see, hear and read in news broadcast…and in journalism media today. I think too many people are not doing their homework. They take whatever bits and pieces they get from MSM and leave it at that. It is a shame, because this lack of attention is causing present day extremist the likes of McCarthy to flourish in our government and politics.

It is ironic, the very rights these extremist are out to destroy… are the ones that allow them to carry out their agenda. The difference between now and Murrow’s time comes down to this…us.

We…the public.

Were our standards were higher? Eh, I don’t know, but I do feel however that responsibility is key.

It seems that there are less Murrows and Friendlys out there who feel responsible to the people, and more importantly…it seems to me the public has become full of people who don’t feel responsible to truth. We get fed the news and opinions the corporations and sponsors want us to eat…but few question it.

I wish news outlets weren’t controlled by the money companies pay to advertise on their shows, websites or blogs. It makes me think about Murrow’s anxiety about the power of television. Think about how the internet has changed the news narrative. The internet is just another powerful technology…like television was in its day….only the web is instantaneous. It is distracting and full of things that manipulate our opinions.  But…the internet is also a tool we can use to be responsible to the truth, if we use it responsibly.

I wish people would question, research and look for truth behind every news report being told. I worry that there is no longer a responsible collective voice standing up for what is right or true….unlike the era of McCarthy, we do not have that voice…the sense of duty or obligation to stand up to the money men behind the corporations, politicians and the advertising and lobbying dollars they use to get what they want.  And, they have the ambitious McCarthys of today, to do the job for them.

The batshit crazy. It’s been going on for so many years…and my fear is it will keep on going.

Will it ever stop?

Keeping all this in mind, take a look at a few of these links:

Last week Glenn Greenwald had an article about Bob Woodward…you can read it here: Bob Woodward embodies US political culture in a single outburst

I want to bring this part of Greenwald’s post to your attention…where he mentions an essay written by Lewis Lapham back in 2008:

Bob Woodward fulfills an important function. Just as Tim Russert was long held up as the scary bulldog questioner who proved the existence of an adversarial TV press while the reality was that, as Harper’s [sic] Lewis Lapham famously put it, he maintained “the on-air persona of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter”, the decades-old Woodward lore plays a critical role in maintaining the fiction of a watchdog press corps even though he is one of the most faithful servants of the war machine and the national security and surveillance states. Every once and awhile, the mask falls, and it’s a good thing when it does.

This last paragraph stuck with me, and when I watched Good Night, and Good Luck last night…particularly the featurette, I went back to the Greenwald post and dug a little bit deeper.

Greenwald links to this Gawker post from Aug. 2008, A Careful Evisceration Of Tim Russert. Which I will highlight this statement:

…Lapham, sometimes slammed as insufferable bore, has spun a compelling essay out of his rough initial pronouncement that “1,000 people came to [Russert’s] memorial service because essentially he was a shill for the government.”

This is little nugget from New York Magazine in July of 2008, again in reference to Lapham’s essay: Lewis Lapham Unhappy With Political Journalism, Including Tim Russert

Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Well, here is the actual essay Greenwald is refering to: [Notebook] | Elegy for a Rubber Stamp, by Lewis Lapham | Harper’s Magazine

Please read the entire essay, but I just want to point out a few paragraphs to look out for:

Many people loved Russert, and I don’t doubt that they had reason to do so. I’m sure that most of what was said about him on camera was true: that he was a devoted father, a devout Catholic, and a faithful friend, generous in spirit and a joyful noise unto the Lord. I mean no disrespect to his widow or to his son, but if I have no reason to doubt his virtues as a man, neither do I have any reason to credit the miracle of Russert as a journalist eager to speak truth to power. In his professional as opposed to his personal character, his on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity, his modus operandi the same one that pointed Rameau’s obliging nephew to the roast pheasant and the coupe aux marrons in eighteenth-century Paris: “Butter people up, good God, butter them up.”

With the butter Russert was a master craftsman, his specialty the mixing of it with just the right drizzle of salt. The weekend videotapes, presumably intended to display Russert at the top of his game, deconstructed the recipe. To an important personage Russert asked one or two faintly impertinent questions, usually about a subject of little or no concern to anybody outside the rope lines around official Washington; sometimes he discovered a contradiction between a recently issued press release and one that was distributed by the same politician some months or years previously. No matter with which spoon Rus sert stirred the butter, the reply was of no interest to him, not worth his notice or further comment. He had sprinkled his trademark salt, his work was done. The important personage was free to choose from a menu offering three forms of response—silence, spin, rancid lie. If silence, Russert moved on to another topic; if spin, he nodded wisely; if rancid lie, he swallowed it.

A couple more:

The attitude doesn’t lead to the digging up of much news that might be of interest to the American people, but it endeared Russert to his patrons and clients. Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton Administration, expressed her gratitude to Olbermann: “Tim was amazing because I can tell you that, as a public official, it was really, first of all, a treat to get on the show.” Two days later, over at NBC, Mary Matalin (former CBS and CNN talk-show host, former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney) seconded the motion, attributing Russert’s profound knowledge of national politics to his superb qualities as a rubber stamp. “He respected politicians,” Matalin said. “He knew that they got blamed for everything, got credit for nothing. He knew how much they meant. He never treated them with the cynicism that attends some of these interviews. So they had a place to be loved.” Remembering Russert on ABC, Sam Donaldson explained why too much salt in the butter makes it harder to spread: “He [Russert] understood as well as anyone, maybe better than almost anyone, that the reason political reporters are there is not to speak truth to power . . . but to make those who say we have the truth—politicians—explain it.”

Speaking truth to power doesn’t make successful Sunday-morning television, leads to “jealousy, upsets, persecution,” doesn’t draw a salary of $5 million a year. The notion that journalists were once in the habit of doing so we borrow from the medium of print, from writers in the tradition of Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair,

H. L. Mencken, I. F. Stone, Hunter Thompson, and Walter Karp, who assumed that what was once known as “the press” received its accreditation as a fourth estate on the theory that it represented the interests of the citizenry as opposed to those of the government. Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.

On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.

Indeed, it all comes down to the idea of truth in journalism according to the corporate sponsors…batshit crazy is now becoming symbolic of the myth that there is a “free press” in this country….when the obvious conclusion seems to me centered on one thing…the lack of responsibility from both the media journalist…and their viewing and reading public.

Batshit crazy…Will it ever stop?

In all honesty, the answer to my question above is simple.

No, it will never stop as long as we, the people, fail to hold our “free press” accountable to the responsibility of journalism.

It’s a very sorry sad situation…and it’s a damn shame.


Thursday Reads: Flu Epidemic, Obama’s Boy’s Club, and Other News

Dracula_cast_reads

Good Morning!!

I have a nasty cold, so if I don’t make a lot of sense this morning, please try to make allowances. I just hope I don’t get the flu. Mayor Menino declared a public health emergency in Boston yesterday because there have been 700 confirmed cases of flu in the city. This morning The Daily Beast reports that there is a “major influenza epidemic taking hold across the country.”

New York City and much of the U.S. are a week or two into a major influenza epidemic. Boston declared a public-health emergency Wednesday after reporting four deaths, and North Carolina is seeing its biggest number of cases in a decade. To place the problem into graphic, corporate terms, the charts sent around to compare this year’s activity against that of other years have required re-scaling to accommodate the scary red line going up and up.

Public health officials are telling people it’s not too late to get a flu shot, but according to this article, this year’s vaccine may not be working so well.

One alarming possibility is that this year’s vaccine against influenza is not well-matched to the current disease-causing strains. This exposes a significant problem in the modus operandi of influenza vaccine production—it’s mired in techniques and approaches developed before World War II; in fact soldiers from that war were among the first to get this brand of vaccine. Here’s how it works: each year, around February, world experts select from a menu of dozens just three influenza strains—two of flu A andone of flu B—to place into the coming season’s vaccine. More than three would require a shot with too large a volume and might blunt the body’s immune response. Once selected, the three viruses are grown painstakingly, on hen’s eggs (what year is this?) then, after a big enough crop has been raised, the virus is killed and stabilized and sent around for injections—all on the hope that the experts guessed right.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found strong agreement between the vaccine strains and the current clinical strains, suggesting the vaccine ought to work just fine. But some clinicians have their doubts. This much activity, is the thinking, can only be due to extremely limited protection from vaccine. For some, it feels like 2009 all over again, when the novel flu strain, so-called because it had never previously been seen in people or animals, appeared. That was the year that spring-break revelers from Queens who had gone south of the border brought back an altogether new strain. Because of its novelty, no vaccine was active against it (at least at the start), so we saw the unchecked spread of influenza zipping across the country in no time flat.

So is that happening again? We won’t know until there is more testing of this year’s strains.

President Obama is getting a lot of criticism for turning his “inner circle” into a “boy’s club.” From Tuesday’s NYT:

In an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 29, 11 of President Obama’s top advisers stood before him discussing the heated fiscal negotiations. The 10 visible in a White House photo are men.

In the days since, Mr. Obama has put together a national security team dominated by men, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the secretary of state, Chuck Hagel chosen to be the defense secretary and John O. Brennan nominated as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama’s inner circle will continue to be dominated by men well into his second term.

From the White House down the ranks, the Obama administration has compiled a broad appointment record that has significantly exceeded the Bush administration in appointing women but has done no better than the Clinton administration, according to an analysis of personnel data by The New York Times. About 43 percent of Mr. Obama’s appointees have been women, about the same proportion as in the Clinton administration, but up from the roughly one-third appointed by George W. Bush.

The skew was widespread: male appointees under Mr. Obama outnumbered female appointees at 11 of the 15 federal departments, for instance. In some cases, the skew was also deep. At the Departments of Justice, Defense, Veterans Affairs and Energy, male appointees outnumbered female appointees by about two to one.

At Salon, Irin Carmon writes:

Diversity in any sense is something that doesn’t really happen unless you try, and if the Obama administration is trying with its top-level appointments, other priorities have clearly trumped it. This doesn’t have to be because of a conspiracy: A lifetime of seeing almost exclusively white men as authority figures has a way of perpetuating itself, and without much self-examination or effort, people tend to go with a certain comfortable framework. (This is true despite the president being a black man; as anyone who has worked for a woman or a person of color who was the first to stake out a spot on hostile turf can tell you, racism and sexism aren’t exclusively white male phenomena.) But it’s still a problem that needs to be talked about, over and over again, until something changes.

Carmon concludes her post with some excellent questions:

…leadership matters, and here we are with this top-level lineup of too-familiar faces. Hillary Clinton is gone, and we don’t have Sheila Bair, Michele Flournoy or Susan Rice (a pretty good selection given that “pipeline problem”) and another white man is expected to succeed Jack Lew as chief of staff should be become the treasury secretary. The numbers look even worse now that Hilda Solis, a Latina woman, has resigned as secretary of labor.

So here are some follow-up questions: Will John Kerry carry on the legacy of Hillary Clinton in encouraging female leadership and entrepreneurship around the world? Will Chuck Hagel, if confirmed as secretary of defense, fully and fairly implement the progressive changes in the military the administration supports, including the partial expansion of abortion access for service-members and dependents, despite his past opposition? How independent will Lew be from the Wall Street boys’ club’s values and logic? And how will the administration do better on this stuff next time, if it does indeed care about it?

At least Eric Holder’s announcement that he is staying on at Attorney General will keep Obama’s cabinet from being made up of only white men.

Obama is also getting hammered for choosing an anti-gay preacher, Rev. Louis Giglio, to give the benediction at the inauguration. From Think Progress, via Alternet:

The Presidential Inauguration Committee announced Tuesday that the President Obama has selected Pastor Louie Giglio of the Georgia-based Passion City Church to deliver the benediction for his second inauguration. In a mid-1990s sermon identified as Giglio’s, available online on a Christian training Web site, he preached rabidly anti-LGBT views. The 54-minute sermon, entitled “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” advocates for dangerous “ex-gay” therapy for gay and lesbian people, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impels Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society.

Read quotes from Giglio’s sermon at the Alternet link.

Buzzfeed notes that the White House hasn’t yet responded to the criticism of the Gigio choice.

The White House on Wednesday was refusing to address comments critical of gay and lesbian people made by Rev. Louie Giglio, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to deliver the benediction prayer at the Jan. 21 inaugural ceremony….

The inaugural invitation is not Giglio’s first interaction with Obama. He also was one of the president’s guests at the White House’s 2012 Easter prayer breakfast, according to the White House pool report from the April 4, 2012 event.

This past November, Giglio served as the convocation speaker at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University. Although he did not address homosexuality in the speech, he did strongly urge visiting high-school students to attend the college known for its strict policies against homosexual behavior and spoke about the positive influence Falwell has had on his life.

While Giglio did not talk about gay issues directly, he did reference gender roles in a striking way, speaking of a time he started crying very hard. He explained, “I started bawling, I mean, sobbing. Not crying like men cry. I started crying like women cry.” Continuing, he explained what he called the unwritten rules for men who cry, telling the students, “A man never looks at another man that’s crying. That’s the rule.”

If you’ve been watching the Rachel Maddow show recently, you’ve heard about the Shell Oil rig that went aground in Alaska last week. Connie from Orlando sent me a couple of links on Rachel’s interview with Rep. Ed Markey last night on Shell’s lies. From the Maddow Blog: One man’s near miss ecological disaster is another man’s swells. Watch the video here.

Paul Ryan is up to his old tricks. From Laura Bassett at HuffPo: Paul Ryan Cosponsors New Fetal Personhood Bill.

Despite the deep unpopularity of fetal personhood bills in 2012, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has again decided to cosponsor the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a bill that gives full legal rights to human zygotes from the moment of fertilization.

Ryan, who reportedly has 2016 presidential ambitions, had to de-emphasize his opposition to abortion without exceptions during the 2012 election to align his position with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But this year, Ryan has been tapped as a keynote speaker for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s sixth annual Campaign for Life Gala, and he is re-upping his support for the most extreme anti-abortion legislation in the country.

The personhood bill, first introduced in 2011 by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and reintroduced by Broun last week, specifies that a “one-celled human embryo,” even before it implants in the uterus to create a pregnancy, should be granted “all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” Similar legislation has been rejected by voters in multiple states, including the socially conservative Mississippi, because legal experts have pointed out that it could outlaw some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization as well as criminalize abortion at all stages.

Broun said in a statement that a zygote’s right to life should be “defended vigorously and at all costs.”

“As a physician, I know that human life begins with fertilization, and I remain committed to ending abortion in all stages of pregnancy,” he said. “I will continue to fight this atrocity on behalf of the unborn, and I hope my colleagues will support me in doing so.”

Of course Republican governors are still trying to limit access to abortion, and the Center for Reproductive Rights has designed a “monitoring tool” that can be downloaded to track what’s happening in the states.

The tool outlines State obligations under international and regional human rights law on a range of reproductive rights issues—freedom from discrimination, contraceptive information and services, safe pregnancy and childbirth, abortion and post-abortion care, comprehensive sexuality education, freedom from violence against women, and HIV/AIDS. The tool then identifies key questions that human rights experts, monitoring bodies, and civil society can use to assess to what extent a State is in compliance with its obligations.

I want to end with something more positive from Emily Esfahani-Smith at The Atlantic about the differences between the pursuit of happiness and the search for meaning: There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. It’s about Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. I highly recommend it.

And here’s something nice: and unreleased track from Jimi Hendrix, recorded in the late 1960s.

Have a great day, and please share your recommended reads in the comments!