Sunday Reads: Who will toss my salad?

Good Morning

84126145As Boston Boomer mentioned in yesterday’s post, the news is just too depressing to even mention. So aside from the stupid immature humorous pictures of both real and made up book titles that I’ve got featured in this morning’s thread, we are going to have a quick look at the “shitty” news…and then get to some interesting fun stuff.

Geez ——> Looks like she is about to toss her own salad….doesn’t it?

(BTW- the pictures come from this website: ebaumsworld.com and most are from this one post:  The 19 Worst Children’s Book Titles Ever! – Gallery)

There was some horror in the latest Ebola outbreak in Africa. This is some frightening news, because from what I understand, one person who was infected with the disease managed to escape medical custody in a major city.

84126147First Ebola victim in Sierra Leone capital on the run | Reuters

Sierra Leone officials appealed for help on Friday to trace the first known resident in the capital with Ebola whose family forcibly removed her from a Freetown hospital after testing positive for the deadly disease.

Radio stations in Freetown, a city of around 1 million inhabitants, broadcast the appeal on Friday to locate a woman who tested positive for the disease that has killed 660 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since an outbreak was first identified in February.

“Saudatu Koroma of 25 Old Railway Line, Brima Lane, Wellington,” the announcement said. “She is a positive case and her being out there is a risk to all. We need the public to help us locate her.”

84126162Koroma, 32, a resident of the densely populated Wellington neighborhood, had been admitted to an isolation ward while blood samples were tested for the virus, Health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis. The results came back on Thursday.

“The family of the patient stormed the hospital and forcefully removed her and took her away,” Tunis said. “We are searching for her.”

And then there is this distressing story:

Nigeria on high alert after man dies of Ebola at Lagos airport | Al Jazeera America

Nigerian officials said Saturday that they are screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for symptoms of Ebola, following the death of an infected traveler from Liberia who died after collapsing at the airport in Lagos, Africa’s largest city with a population of 21 million.

Unni Krishnan, the head of disaster response for the international advocacy group Plan International, warned that an Ebola outbreak in Lagos could be disastrous. There is no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious virus.

Across the West African countries of GuineaLiberia and Sierra Leone, at least 660 people have died from the illness since February, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), placing great strain on the health systems of some of Africa’s poorest countries. Sierra Leone now has the highest number of cases, at 454, surpassing neighboring Guinea, where the outbreak originated.

84126157More here: First case of ebola reported in Africa’s most populous city Lagos | World news | The Guardian

The pathogen is passed through contact with bodily fluids of infected patients, and has no known cure, although chances of survival improve dramatically with early detection and treatment.

But weak health systems and frequent cross-border travel have hampered efforts to contain the virus in a region which has never before experienced an outbreak.

Lagos state authorities said they had requested the flight’s manifest to contact the other passengers, and began distributing protective clothing to health workers, state health advisor Yewande Adeshina said. Sawyer flew from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, with a brief flight stopover in nearby Togo. His sister is believed to have died of ebola in the last month, a Liberian official told the Guardian.

Rumours about the virus – which causes a painful fever that degenerates into internal and external bleeding – were met with scepticism from residents in the crowded business district where Sawyer was treated. “I cannot believe it is true,” said trader Segun Kosoko, who said he had seen two traders donning face masks.

Experts have also been alarmed by the disease’s wide geographical spread, from Guinea’s remote interior forest region, where it originated, to densely populated coastal regions.

Ghana has had several unconfirmed scares, while Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown recorded its first confirmed case this week. Authorities there were forced to launch a public appeal after the victim slipped out of hospital. Her family forcibly removed her – as many have done, either fearing they would catch the disease while in quarantine, or doubting its existence.

Radio stations in Freetown, a city of about 1 million people, broadcast the appeal to locate the woman, named as Saudatu Koroma. “She is a positive case and her being out there is a risk to all. We need the public to help us locate her,” the appeal stated.

83922528Also in Liberia, news that an American doctor has become sick: Fort Worth doctor in Africa tests positive for Ebola virus | wfaa.com Dallas – Fort Worth

A Fort Worth doctor working with Ebola patients in Liberia has tested positve for the virus, according to Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief agency.

Dr. Kent Brantly is medical director at the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia.

The relief group says the 33-year-old physician with a private practice in Fort Worth is undergoing treatement in an isolation center at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.

Samaritan’s Purse says Brantly is married and has two children, and that the agency is committed to doing everything possible to assist him.

He has worked with the agency in Liberia since last October. Before that, he was a family practice doctor in Fort Worth, where he finished his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital.

I can’t imagine what his family must be going through.

That is scary as hell…but here is something on par with Gozilla scary: Japanese monkeys’ abnormal blood linked to Fukushima disaster – study | Environment | theguardian.com

82796140Wild monkeys in the Fukushima region of Japan have blood abnormalities linked to the radioactive fall-out from the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster, according to a new scientific study that may help increase the understanding of radiation on human health.

The Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) were found to have low white and red blood cell levels and low haemoglobin, which the researchers say could make them more prone to infectious diseases.

Okay, I know I was exaggerating but still…

The scientists compared 61 monkeys living 70km (44 miles) from the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with 31 monkeys from the Shimokita Penisula, over 400km (249 miles) from Fukushima. The Fukushima monkeys had low blood counts and radioactive caesium in their bodies, related to caesium levels in the soils where they lived. No caesium was detected in the Shimokita troop.

Professor Shin-ichi Hayama, at the Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo, told the Guardian that during Japan’s snowy winters the monkeys feed on tree buds and bark, where caesium has been shown to accumulate at high concentrations.84126153

“This first data from non-human primates — the closest taxonomic relatives of humans — should make a notable contribution to future research on the health effects of radiation exposure in humans,” he said. The work, which ruled out disease or malnutrition as a cause of the low blood counts, is published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

White blood cell counts were lowest for immature monkeys with the highest caesium concentrations, suggesting younger monkeys may be more vulnerable to radioactive contamination. Hayama noted: “Abnormalities such as a decreased blood cell count in people living in contaminated areas have been reported from Chernobyl as a long-term effect of low-dose radiation exposure.” But other blood measures did not correlate with caesium levels, which vary with the seasons.

Meanwhile:

Rockets hit Israel as Hamas rejects longer cease-fire – CNN.com

And…

U.S. Embassy in Libya closes, staff evacuates amid militia fighting – LA Times

Ugh…enough already!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now for the easy reads, after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Tuesday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

I’m tired of Republican Party Dysfunction. Let’s switch to the Democratic Party Brand for awhile.  This year’s State of the Union address will be interesting.  Will it turn out to be the first major Obama campaign speech of 2102?

Mr. Obama plans, in part, to deliver a “vision” speech. He told campaign supporters over the weekend that he’ll use his speech to discuss “the central mission we have as a country, and my central focus as president.”

“And that’s rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded – and an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules,” he said.

If that sound familiar, it’s a refrain of remarks Mr. Obama delivered December 6th in Osawatomie, Kansas. Both the president and aides characterize the State of the Union as a “bookend” to the Kansas speech. It was a delineation of the political philosophy Mr. Obama brings to the job and is willing to defend against whichever Republican ends up as his rival later in the year.

Economic programs and objectives will dominate his speech. “I’m going to lay out a blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last,” said the president in a video email Saturday to campaign supporters. And Mr. Obama will cite the “four pillars” on which his blueprint for America will rest: manufacturing, engineering, worker skills and American values.

  • MANUFACTURING: According to “talking points” sent by the White House to its political defenders and surrogates, the president will call for “a new era of American manufacturing with more good jobs and more products stamped Made in the USA.
  • ENERGY: He will propose “a new era” for energy in the US – “fueled by homegrown & alternative energy sources.
  • WORKER SKILLS: He’ll put forward “new ideas” for education and training to take on “jobs of today and tomorrow.”
  • AMERICAN VALUES: The president will call for “a return to American Values of fairness for all and responsibility from all.”

We’ll be live blogging the SOTU tonight.  I’m suggesting we pitch nerf balls at the TV for every Teddy Roosevelt reference and drink on references to Republican belligerence.  What say you?

Here’s some pretty good indications of why the economy has been so slow and pokey recently.   Check out The New Yorker and “The Obama Memos”. It’s getting more pundit play than Suskind’s “Confidence Men”.  Pay close attention to the whacked advice from Larry Summers who suggested Obama not go very big on the first stimulus because they could just do more later.  Let’s just hope a rumored World Bank Presidency stays just that.  Imagine this man turned on the developing world.  However, there’s a lot more tidbits in there worth chewing on.  Like this one.

Neera Tanden was the policy director for Clinton’s campaign. When Clinton lost the Democratic race, Tanden became the director of domestic policy for Obama’s general-election campaign, and then a senior official working on health care in his Administration. She is now the president of the liberal Center for American Progress, perhaps the most important institution in Democratic politics. “It was a character attack,” Tanden said recently, speaking about the Obama campaign against Clinton. “I went over to Obama, I’m a big supporter of the President, but their campaign was entirely a character attack on Hillary as a liar and untrustworthy. It wasn’t an ‘issue contrast,’ it was entirely personal.” And, of course, it worked.

But back to La La Summers.

There was an obvious tension between the warning about the extent of the financial crisis, which would require large-scale spending, and the warning about the looming federal budget deficits, which would require fiscal restraint. The tension reflected the competing concerns of two of Obama’s advisers. Christina Romer, the incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, drafted the stimulus material. A Berkeley economist, she was new to government. She believed that she had persuaded Summers to raise the stimulus recommendation above the initial estimate, six hundred billion dollars, to something closer to eight hundred billion dollars, but she was frustrated that she wasn’t allowed to present an even larger option. When she had done so in earlier meetings, the incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, asked her, “What are you smoking?” She was warned that her credibility as an adviser would be damaged if she pushed beyond the consensus recommendation.

Peter Orszag, the incoming budget director, was a relentless advocate of fiscal restraint. He was well known in Washington policy circles as a deficit hawk. Orszag insisted that there were mechanical limits to how much money the government could spend effectively in two years. In the Summers memo, he contributed sections about historic deficits and the need to scale back campaign promises. The Romer-Orszag divide was the start of a rift inside the Administration that continued for the next two years.

Since 2009, some economists have insisted that the stimulus was too small. White House defenders have responded that a larger stimulus would not have moved through Congress. But the Summers memo barely mentioned Congress, noting only that his recommendation of a stimulus above six hundred billion dollars was “an economic judgment that would need to be combined with political judgments about what is feasible.”

He offered the President four illustrative stimulus plans: $550 billion, $665 billion, $810 billion, and $890 billion. Obama was never offered the option of a stimulus package commensurate with the size of the hole in the economy––known by economists as the “output gap”––which was estimated at two trillion dollars during 2009 and 2010. Summers advised the President that a larger stimulus could actually make things worse. “An excessive recovery package could spook markets or the public and be counterproductive,” he wrote, and added that none of his recommendations “returns the unemployment rate to its normal, pre-recession level. To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions—which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on markets.”

Paul Krugman, a Times columnist and a Nobel Prize-winning economist who persistently supported a larger stimulus, told me that Summers’s assertion about market fears was a “bang my head on the table” argument. “He’s invoking the invisible bond vigilantes, basically saying that investors would be scared and drive up interest rates. That’s a major economic misjudgment.” Since the beginning of the crisis, the U.S. has borrowed more than five trillion dollars, and the interest rate on the ten-year Treasury bills is under two per cent. The markets that Summers warned Obama about have been calm.

I know this is an add source for me, but the AEI has “Eleven stunning revelations from Larry Summers” has a list of quotes from the actual memo.  That’s what I’m going to use here. First, stimulus projects were not picked based on their impact on the economy but on their ability to fulfill campaign promises.

The short-run economic imperative was to identify as many campaign promises or high priority items that would spend out quickly and be inherently temporary. …  The stimulus package is a key tool for advancing clean energy goals and fulfilling a number of campaign commitments.

Another stunner was this quote which blames banking regulators.  I suppose Wall Street was an innocent in all of this?

A significant cause of the current crisis lies in the failure of regulators to exercise vigorously the authority they already have.

Krugman had this to say about the memo in a post called “Larry and the Invisibles”.

The key thing I took away from the memo is that it does not read at all like the current story the administration gives for the inadequate size of the stimulus, which is that they knew it should be larger but had to face political reality.

Instead, the memo argues that a bigger stimulus would be counterproductive in economic terms, because of the “market reaction”. That is, Summers et al were afraid of the invisible bond vigilantes.

And to the extent that there is a political judgment, it’s all in the opposite direction: if the stimulus is too big, we’ll have trouble scaling it back, but if it’s too small, we can always go back to Congress for more. That was deeply naive — and I said so in real time.

Now, you can still argue that politics made a bigger stimulus impossible. But that’s not at all the argument being made internally within the administration at the time.

At this point, the shrill one goes all mushy and says that Obama has “toughened” up since then.  I guess we’ll see.

Right now, I’d say the country is between a Barrack and a hard right place.  What’s a voter to do with such a Hobson’s choice?

So, that’s what I’ve got to offer this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Huhn?

There seems to be a set of “progressive” bloggers who are arguing that democratic voters need to sort and rank their values and decide which ones to “overlook”.  There’s also this accusation of hypocrisy and selling out.   The discussion started with Matt Stoller and Glenn Greenwald and started expanding from there.  They argue that Ron Paul is way more “progressive” than Obama. They argue that liberals sell out all kinds of things to support him.  They supposedly do this without endorsing Paul.  It’s just to point out liberal hypocrisy.  It’s also to further some imaginary conversation in the media happening because of Paul’s bottom line on the war and certain civil liberties. (I’m still trying to find any links to that.)  I first stepped into it when I posted this Ian Welsh blog post with the comment that Welsh had decided women’s rights, autonomy, privacy, and moral personhood weren’t as important as middle east war issues (i.e. abortion vs dead Pakistani wedding guests).   I was accused of being a single issue voter who didn’t care about dead brown people.  Check out the exchange in the comments on this post.

To me, it’s deeper than that.  It’s saying that all kinds of other things aren’t as important as their specific pet prog issues.  It’s also saying that it makes no difference how you morally or conceptually arrive at those positions.  This just doesn’t pass the smell test for me.  So, I’m stepping in it again fully aware of the stank.

Our Quixote already noted that women’s rights–and I might add the rights of minorities in general–were never on any of these guys’ radars.    Cannonfire took up the argument against admiring any Paul position today based on the incoherence of how those positions developed and what the underlying arguments represent.   I do not have to be an insufferable Obot to figure out that Ron Paul’s rationale for ending US military adventurism abroad and stopping certain civil liberty violations domestically come under the heading of two old cautionary tales.   One is the blind squirrel who trips across a nut now and then.  The other one is about the stopped clock being right two times a day. The deal is that the same intellectual concepts that bring him to not supporting the 1964 civil rights act are the same arguments that he makes against presidential overstep.  His reasoning leads to far more bad positions than good and the reasoning should be morally objectionable to progressives, liberals, or for that matter empathetic, caring people. There’s more to a joke than the punch line.

I’d like to say a few things about all these folks suddenly looking at Ron Paul with less than jaundiced eyes. First, they are all white males.  Second, what they suggest every one downgrade to not important (e.g. abortion, civil rights, the entire new deal agenda) aren’t things they need to care about. It certainly is easy to scold others about being single issue voters or being concerned about unimportant things when you have no dog in the hunt.

Stoller’s latest and Sirota’s opportunistic foray into the discussion today makes me realize how much I really hate the “progressive” moniker.  I’ve always thought these guys were poseurs of some kind.  Get this thesis from Sirota.

At the same time, though, when it comes to war, surveillance, police power, bank bailouts, cutting the defense budget, eliminating corporate welfare and civil liberties, Paul is more in line with progressive goals than any candidate running in 2012 (or almost any Democrat who has held a federal office in the last 30 years). This, too, is indisputable.

Evidently, how you arrive at those positions intellectually and conceptually are less important than just having a similar goal.  Again, note the appalling oversight of civil rights which tends to be an easy thing to overlook when you’re young, straight, white and sport that extra, dangly appendage of privilege. Stoller demonizes liberals as being the grease of  the war machine.  I’d like to note that Stoller does in fact share the same bizarre notions about the Federal Reserve Bank held by Ron Paul.  I admit to getting the creeps every time I read him. It’s the same creeps I get when Ron Paul says “We’re all Austrians now” and waves the Von Mises Institute Flag.   Stoller snidely suggests liberal sell out to the war machine while holding up the idea of selling out everything else to stop the war machine.  Sirota jumps on the band wagon to take it to the point where it becomes a multiple choice question.  Which of your deeply held values do you believe is worthy frittering away to a fascist to achieve one or two policies in the agenda that I really care about?

In seeing Paul’s economic views, positions on a woman’s right to choose, regulatory ideas and ties to racist newsletters as disqualifying factors for their electoral support, many self-identified liberal Obama supporters are essentially deciding that, for purposes of voting, those set of issues are simply more important to them than the issues of war, foreign policy, militarism, Wall Street bailouts, surveillance, police power and civil liberties — that is, issues in which Paul is far more progressive than the sitting president.

There’s certainly a logic to that position, and that logic fits within the conventionally accepted rubric of progressivism. But let’s not pretend here: Holding this position about what is and is not a disqualifying factor is a clear statement of priorities — more specifically, a statement that Paul’s odious economics, regulatory ideas, position on reproductive rights and ties to bigotry should be more electorally disqualifying than President Obama’s odious escalation of wars, drone killing of innocents, due-process-free assassinations, expansion of surveillance, increases in the defense budget, massive ongoing bank bailouts and continuation of the racist drug war.

By contrast, Paul’s progressive-minded supporters are simply taking the other position — they are basically saying that, for purposes of voting, President Obama’s record on militarism, civil liberties, foreign policy, defense budgets and bailouts are more disqualifying than Paul’s newsletter, economics, abortion and regulatory positions. Again, there’s an obvious logic to this position — one that also fits well within the conventional definition of progressivism. And just as Obama supporters shouldn’t pretend they aren’t expressing their preferences, Paul’s supporters shouldn’t do that either. Their support of the Republican congressman is a statement of personal priorities within the larger progressive agenda.

Hence, we reach one of those impossible questions: From a progressive perspective, which is a more legitimate camp to be in?

Again, I’d just like to toss that “progressive” label out with the rest of the trash just because people like the intellectually incoherent Sirota overuse it.  I’ve never seen it applied to any one with a cohesive set of values.  I’ve started associating it with facile vapidity.   It’s like those folks that scream they are conservative will trying to pass some of the most radical laws the country’s ever seen.   Oh, like Ron Paul.  Political labels have become a meaningless blob of mushiness which is why I can’t figure out how none of these folks challenge how Paul got THESE positions instead of where they fit.   Paul came to his positions through the back door of Fascism.  He’s heir to arguments made by Von Mises, Pinochet, Mussolini and Jefferson Davis. 

Which brings me to ask why do they keep prolonging this conversation?  Why is this flirtation with the neoconfederate Paul coming from reformed Obots?  I know, they’re all saying they’re not endorsing him. But, isn’t this all just an intellectual exercise to get people to make some kind of Hobson’s choice based on their criteria  and/or beat themselves for not prioritizing the prog list correctly? These guys remind me of the anti-war protestors that quit protesting the war the minute the draft ended.  I keep smelling self interest in all of this which is the same smell that comes off of Ron Paul and his libertarians.  If it doesn’t directly benefit them, they don’t want to pay for it, die for it, fiddle with it.   I think how you arrive at a position is as important as the position itself.  I think your motivation for a position is as important as the position itself.  I think that’s just another door into the hypocrite’s club.  They are accusing every one of selling out without fully exploring the implications of how Ron Paul arrives at is positions. It is just an appalling ego exercise.

It reminds me of the Von Mises apologia for Mussolini and Hitler.  They saved European civilization since they blocked the spread of “communism”. Ignore everything else.

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.

Who cares about everything else?  The trains ran on time in Italy and the hyperinflation created by the Weimar Republican ended.  Right?    And GEE, we’re getting so many conversations on CNN and FOX News about the horrors of war and the patriot act, what’s a little snuggle with Ron Paul?


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?


A Tale of Two Speeches, A Tale of Two Men

On Tuesday, Barack Obama delivered a speech in Kansas.  Osawatomie, Kansas to be exact.  With little subtlety, this was an attempt to conjure up the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, the TRex of the early 20th Century, the scrappy yet privileged pugilist, who pitted himself against monopolies, rabid financiers and proudly defended the American ‘square deal.’  In truth, TR was no saint.  But he was a man of conviction.  And action.

Barack Obama has proven himself a weak sister by any comparison.  Yet, he and his handlers, his ever-present speechwriters saw fit to mirror Roosevelt’s words.  We’re to believe that Obama is a populist at heart, a Roosevelt clone, calling on the Nation to embrace progress over privilege.  The square deal becomes the fair chance.  The review of abuses and lawlessness that TR was not afraid to call destructive become a wrong.  Legislative solutions and regulatory oversight that TR specifically cites are mentioned in passing or given more credit than they’re actually due, eg., the stripped down Dodd-Frank bill.  Notice there was no mention of reinstating Glass-Steagall, something that wouldn’t solve the entire mess we find ourselves in but would be an important first step in the reform process.

Let’s get real.  Barack Obama has no intention of reforming anything.  Unlike TR who said:

“Words count for nothing except in so far as they represent acts.”

And Barack Obama?   He’s countered with words leading nowhere.

He was against the Iraq War, only there’s no record of his opposition.  His ‘just words’ speech—a steal from an earlier Deval Patrick oratory—said everything the man has proven himself to be, an empty talker.  Where is the evidence that Barack Obama is or ever was a defender of the ‘ordinary man and woman?”  Oh yes, he was a community organizer.  And what exactly were his accomplishments?  He was a State Senator.  Accomplishments, please [beyond representing the interests of slum landlords].  And as a US senator?  Accomplishments?

Nada.

Let’s line this up against a few of Teddy Roosevelt words made flesh:

  • Successfully prosecuted the Northern Securities Co. for the merger of the Northern Pacific, The Great Northern and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincey railroads under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
  • Restored public confidence in the government’s ability to hold the country’s most powerful men accountable to the law.
  • Frequently warned conservative critics that revolutionary upheaval was likely to be inspired by an ‘attitude of arrogance on the part of property owners and their unwillingness to recognize their duty to the public.’
  • Pushed through Congress legislation establishing the Department of Commerce and Labor and within that Department the Bureau of Corporations, authorized to investigate and publicize suspect corporate activities.
  • Challenged the corporate view that business records be kept in secrecy and that employers had a right to deal with employees as they saw fit [one need only review the deplorable working conditions and wages of the era to understand the need for reform] with no interference from the Government.
  • Brokered a peace between Russia and Japan, for which he earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

There’s more, of course—the good, the bad and the ugly.  TR was not perfect but unlike the present occupant of the White House, he had a vision that was his and his alone.  He was the public face and voice of the American Progressive Movement that would eventually lead to improved working conditions, a woman’s right to vote, union legitimacy and new attitudes regarding our environment–conserving our national, natural treasures for the future–among other things.

Teddy Roosevelt was a man of the moment and a man with a legacy.

Now think of Barack Obama, the lack of vision, the broken promises, the man in search of an identity:  JFK, FDR, Abraham Lincoln.  And now Teddy Roosevelt.  This is the blank slate upon whom everything has been written but nothing has stuck.  Oh yes, we have the healthcare reform bill, a legislative mystery written behind closed doors then sealed with secret insurance industry deals and wet kisses to Big Pharma.  We also have wars continued and financed, record unemployment [jobs which will not be replaced by pretty words],  nearly 46 million Americans receiving food stamps [1 in 7], houses still underwater with few promised modifications and/or relief and 20+% of our children classified as ‘food insecure.’

This is not a vision.  It’s a disaster.  I’ll leave you with Teddy Roosevelt’s words, from his own Kansas speech:

I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the games, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.

And,

The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so far as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens.

And,

One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests. I believe that every national officer, elected or appointed, should be forbidden to perform any service or receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, from interstate corporations; and a similar provision could not fail to be useful within the States.

These are words most of us can believe in, spoken August 31, 1910.  I’d encourage readers to take a few moments and read TR’s words in their entirety.

Then read Obama’s speech.

Two speeches.  Two men.

If President Obama wants to slip on the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt, become a born-again populist in 2012, he’ll need action to prove his words.

Why?

Because the days of blind faith are over.