Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Good Morning!!

The images in this post are from the blog, Reading and Art. I don’t have any central theme this morning, just a mixed bag of news stories. beginning with damaging explosions in Tianjin, China.

CNN reports, Tianjin blasts: Dozens dead; areas of Chinese port city devastated.

You can see the devastation everywhere: in the hollowed out shells of barely-standing buildings, in the anguished faces of relatives waiting for news of loved ones, in the parade of scorched cars.

But what was it that set off the terrifying blasts that ripped through warehouses housing hazardous chemical materials, sending fireballs shooting across the sky and shaking tall buildings more than 2 miles away?

Hours later, amid the destruction in this northern Chinese port city of more than 13 million, the exact cause remained unclear.

A thick chemical odor hung in the air. Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off. And the grim toll kept mounting.

At least 44 people are confirmed dead, 12 firefighters among them, officials said Thursday. More than 500 are hospitalized, 52 with severe injuries. Dozens of firefighters are missing.

Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the “dangerous goods” stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

CNN has dramatic photos at the link. A few more stories on the disaster:

Vice News: Video Emerges of Horrific Tianjin Explosion as Death Toll Rises.

USA Today, 12 firefighters among 50 dead in Chinese port city explosions.

This is a developing story, and it sounds like the death toll is likely to rise.

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

You’ve probably heard by now that Jimmy Carter has cancer that has spread from his liver to other organs.

Washington Post, Former president Jimmy Carter, 90, announces that he has cancer.

Former president Jimmy Carter announced Wednesday that he has cancer and will be undergoing treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

Carter, 90, said the disease was discovered during recent liver surgery to remove “a small mass” and that the cancer “is now in other parts of my body.”

“I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare,” Carter said in a statement on the Carter Center Web site. “A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

In a statement, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama wished Carter “a full and fast recovery.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with [wife] Rosalynn and the entire Carter family as they face this challenge with the same grace and determination that they have shown so many times before,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Jimmy, you’re as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.”

The president also spoke with Carter on Wednesday evening to wish him “full and speedy recovery” and extended best wishes on behalf of himself and first lady Michelle Obama, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

According to NBC News, Carter said “a more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sweden has dropped some of its charges against Julian Assange.

Wall Street Journal, Sweden Runs Out of Time on Parts of Assange Probe.

STOCKHOLM—Swedish prosecutors on Thursday ran out of time to pursue two of four investigations into allegations of sexual assault against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Prosecutors said that probes into suspected unlawful coercion and sexual molestation would be dropped as the five-year limit that Swedish law allows for such charges to be brought has come to an end.

The five-year deadline for a second count of sexual molestation will be reached Aug. 18, prosecutors said. If the statute of limitation on that allegation also comes into effect, Mr. Assange would be left facing a single, more serious accusation of rape, over which prosecutors have until 2020 to question him….

Mr. Assange was accused of the crimes by two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. Prosecutors requested Mr. Assange return to Sweden from the U.K to face questioning.

The WikiLeaks founder, who denies the crimes, refused to return to Sweden, saying he feared he would extradited from Sweden to the U.S. where he could face trial over the publication by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents.

Assange says he is disappointed, according to BBC News.

The Wikileaks founder said he was “extremely disappointed” and said the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story….

He sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the US for questioning about the activities of Wikileaks.

Under Swedish law, charges cannot be laid without interviewing the suspect.

Mr Assange said he was innocent and claimed prosecutors had refused to visit him at the embassy.

They also refused to promise not to send him to the US if he were to go to Sweden, he said.

Mr Assange said: “I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable.”

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

In clown car news, Mike Huckabee said some more insane things about Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Talking Points Memo, Huckabee: DOJ Should ‘Criminally Prosecute Planned Parenthood.’

“I would also invoke the 15th and Fourteenth Amendments,” he said on Wednesday. “This is the power that we have to stop this incredible, barbaric scourge of abortion. Not just stop funding Planned Parenthood, but we need to invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendment. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process for every person. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for every person.”

Huckabee said that he believes that unborn children are people, guaranteeing them Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

“I would take that position. I would act on behalf of those unborn children, and I would let those who want to slaughter babies, those who want to sell their body parts, let them sue me,” he said.

In response, Melissa McEwan writes:

Again, this is less like chipping away at Roe and more like taking a bulldozer to it.

I have said many times (for instance) that fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them, that the potential life of every fetus is more important than the actual life of a pregnant person. Never has this been more clear.

If Mike Huckabee, or any of his fellow Republican candidates, had their way, fetuses would have not equivalent rights, but more rights than any pregnant person.

Protip, Huckabee: “Slaughtering babies” is already against the law.

The country school, by Winslow Homer

The country school, by Winslow Homer

CNN reports on a study showing that kids in elementary school are getting crushing amounts of homework.

Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?

The study, published Wednesday in The American Journal of Family Therapy, found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

The standard, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, is the so-called “10-minute rule” — 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. The NEA and the National PTA do not endorse homework for kindergarten….

Parents reported first-graders were spending 28 minutes on homework each night versus the recommended 10 minutes. For second-graders, the homework time was nearly 29 minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes recommended.

And kindergartners, their parents said, spent 25 minutes a night on after-school assignments, according to the study carried out by researchers from Brown University, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, Dean College, the Children’s National Medial Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Homer, Winslow 6

That is ridiculous and harmful. Children at younger ages learn far more from play and interacting with other kids than from regimented school assignments.

“It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all … are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get,” said Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

“Anybody who’s tried to keep a 5-year-old at a table doing homework for 25 minutes after school knows what that’s like. I mean children don’t want to be doing, they want to be out playing, they want to be interacting and that’s what they should be doing. That’s what’s really important.”

The Pope is coming to the U.S., and one of his stops will be at a jail in Philadelphia.

Reuters: At drab Philadelphia jail, anxious times precede papal visit.

One of 17 stops on the pope’s first U.S. tour, the visit to the inner-city jail is a reminder of the emphasis the Argentine pontiff has placed on social justice issues since being named head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.

The pope’s stop at the Philadelphia facility will be the latest in a series of prison visits by Francis, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and lengthy prison terms. He has counseled teenagers in juvenile detention in Brazil. In Bolivia, he kissed inmates in the country’s most violent prison.

His visit also comes at a time when a growing number of Democrats and Republicans are questioning tough criminal sentencing policies that have left the United States with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. Barack Obama, who last month became the first sitting U.S. president to tour a federal penitentiary, has called for legislation overhauling sentencing rules.

Advocates for prisoner rights say they are pleased the pope has decided to put the issue on his agenda during the U.S. tour, which will include attending a conference on family life in Philadelphia, plus stops in Washington and New York.

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

I was going to write about Hillary and the media’s obsession with her emails, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, here’s an inspirational piece from Peter Daou and Tom Watson at #HillaryMen.

Hillary’s Path to History Will Get Much Rougher and She’s Ready.

There is a manic urge among the media, the GOP and the elite commentariat to Stop Hillary – to block a woman from reaching the pinnacle of American political leadership.

Each poll, news story or issue that appears to harm her is seized upon with a strange combination of desperation and glee. It’s an unsavory process but Hillary knew what she was in for when she decided to seek the presidency a second time.

As #HillaryMen, we’re undaunted by the negative stories, unwavering in our support for Hillary and unyielding in our commitment to help smash the ultimate gender barrier.

Ending a 44-0 shutout that has lasted nearly a quarter millennium was never going to be easy. There is no cakewalk to the White House. And certainly not for a woman.

We’ve worked in politics and media for nearly two decades. Peter is a veteran of two presidential campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run. We’ve seen every permutation of every attack, every rise and fall in the polls, every gaffe and every zinger, every debate moment and debate aftermath, every nervous election night and every election surprise.

We know what lies ahead for Hillary’s campaign and we realize there will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable. They are not.

For all practical purposes, the 2016 race is just getting underway. As the first summer of the campaign winds down, the rhetoric heats up and political prognostications start climbing in pitch. The fall frenzy begins in a matter of weeks.

I plan to head over to #HillaryMen every time I get angry and/or anxious about something written or said about her in the media. In case you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to “The Facts about Hillary Clinton’s Emails” at her campaign website.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread, and enjoy your Thursday.

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Wednesday Reads: Send in the clowns…

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Good Morning!

As I write this post, the numbers from the Iowa Caucus are still coming in. We had a live blog going last night, so if you missed the news coverage, check it out.

Former President Jimmy Carter had some advice for Obama yesterday.

Former President Jimmy Carter has some advice for Barack Obama as he gears up for the 2012 election: Don’t alienate voters with controversial positions.

The Georgia Democrat told The Associated Press on Tuesday that just about everything he did alienated voters, from sealing a treaty to hand over the Panama Canal to establishing diplomatic ties with China.

Carter said: “If your main goal is to get re-elected, avoid a controversial subject as much as you can in the first term.”

Hmmm…I wonder if throwing the Constitution under the proverbial Obama bus is something Carter would consider alienating to voters.

The Taliban are opening an office in Qatar to discuss peace.

Giving a first major public sign that they may be ready for formal talks with the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Taliban announced Tuesday that they had struck a deal to open a political office in Qatar that could allow for direct negotiations over the endgame in the Afghan war.

The step was a reversal of the Taliban’s longstanding public denials that they were involved in, or even willing to consider, talks related to their insurgency, and it had the potential to revive a reconciliation effort that stalled in September, with the assassination of the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council.

It was unclear, however, whether the Taliban were interested in working toward a comprehensive peace settlement or mainly in ensuring that NATO ends its operations in Afghanistan as scheduled in 2014, which would remove a major obstacle to the Taliban’s return to power in all or part of the country.

I wonder if this move will result in the Obama Administration setting up arms sales to the “peaceful” Taliban. (I am very tired, so my snark may not be quite up to speed…)

GOP Steve King admitted that the Tea Party Republicans are using hostage tactics. (No shit!) From Greg Sargent…

… King is candidly admitting that the House Tea Party wing has been employing the threat of a government shutdown as nothing more than a deliberate hostage strategy designed to wring maximum concessions from Democrats.

King made the concession in an interview with Laura Ingraham. Dems are highlighting the interview because King bashes House Speaker John Boehner for his weak leadership, but the bolded portion below is the real news here:

INGRAHAM: You think that would have helped the Republican Party and you guys would be in a better position today if the government had been shut down?

KING: The shutdown isn’t the point so much as, I don’t want the shutdown either. But if you are afraid of the shutdown you can’t have the confrontation and you lose every negotiation along the way.

And there you have it! During each impasse — the first government shutdown fight; the debt ceiling debacle; the payroll tax cut showdown — we keep being told that Tea Partyers really are crazy enough to allow the worst to happen. During the government shutdown fight, we were even told that Tea Partyers viewed that outcome as a positive. Their willingness to take us over a cliff is why Dems simply must make the concessions they’re demanding.

But now a top Tea Party leaders has given away the game, admitting that not even Tea Partyers want a shutdown. Creating the impression that they’re willing to let it happen is only about winning maximum concessions in negotiations. Let’s hope Dems keep this in mind the next dozen times this happens.

Since the Iowa counting is still ongoing, here are some science links to finish up this post.

Fly parasite turns honeybees into zombies. So on the TV show The Walking Dead, would those zombie bees be called buzzers?

If deadly viruses and fungi weren’t enough, honeybees in North America now must also deal with a fly parasite that causes them to leave their hive and die after wandering about in a zombie-like stupor, a new study shows.Scientists previously found that the parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis, infects and ultimately kills bumblebees and paper wasps, while the “decapitating fly,” an insect in the same genus, implants its eggs in ants, whose heads then pop off after the fly larvae devour the ants’ brains and dissolve their connective tissues. Now researchers have discovered honeybees parasitized by A. borealis in 24 of 31 sites across the San Francisco Bay area, as well as other commercial hives in California and South Dakota.

I know it is a serious problem, but the thought of zombie bees, make me think of making a movie in the style of the classic The Fly. With little bees hollering feed me…feed me…

The female A. borealis flies will inject their eggs into a honeybee’s abdomen soon after coming into contact with the bee, the researchers saw in their laboratory. About seven days later, up to 25 mature fly larvae emerge from the area between the bee’s head and thorax. In the wild, no more than 13 larvae were observed busting from a single honeybee.The researchers found that parasitized bees in the wild abandon their hives and congregate near light sources, where they begin to behave strangely. A bee near death typically will sit in one place and curl up, but these infected bees walked around in circles, appearing disoriented and with little equilibrium, often not being able to stand up.“They kept stretching [their legs] out and then falling over,” Andrew Core, biology graduate student at San Francisco State University and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “It really painted a picture ofsomething like a zombie.”Core and his colleagues found that the honeybees most likely to become infected by the parasite were the ones that left their hives to forage at night, rather than the daytime foragers. The researchers also discovered fly pupae near dead bees at the bottom of their laboratory hive, suggesting that A. borealis can multiply within a hive and potentially infect a pregnant queen bee.

A lost world has been found around the dark hot hydrothermal vents in the seafloor near Antarctica.

Communities of species previously unknown to science have been discovered on the seafloor near Antarctica, clustered in the hot, dark environment surrounding hydrothermal vents.

The discoveries, made by teams led by the University of Oxford, University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre, and British Antarctic Survey, include new species of yeti crab, starfish, barnacles, and sea anemones, and even an octopus probably new to science.
For the first time researchers, using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), have been able to explore the East Scotia Ridge deep beneath the Southern Ocean where hydrothermal vents, including ‘black smokers’ reaching temperatures of up to 382 degrees Celsius, create a unique environment lacking sunlight but rich in certain chemicals.
The team report their findings in this week’s PLoS Biology.
‘Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet that get their energy not from the Sun but from breaking down chemicals, such as hydrogen sulphide,’ said Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, who led the research. ‘The first survey of these particular vents, in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, has revealed a hot, dark, ‘lost world’ in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive.’

And in Australia, scientist have found the first Hybrid shark.

Scientists said on Tuesday that they had discovered the world’s first hybrid sharks in Australian waters, a potential sign the predators were adapting to cope with climate change.

The mating of the local Australian black-tip shark with its global counterpart, the common black-tip, was an unprecedented discovery with implications for the entire shark world, said lead researcher Jess Morgan.

“It’s very surprising because no one’s ever seen shark hybrids before, this is not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination,” Morgan, from the University of Queensland, said.

“This is evolution in action.”

Just like climate change has caused Polar bears to bread with Grizzlies…some of you may remember these bears that were shot by Inuit hunters a few years back. The polar bear grizzly hybrids are called grolar bears.

An extremely rare “grolar bear“—a polar-grizzly bear hybrid—was shot and killed by an Inuit hunter in Canada’s Northwest Territories last month.Global warming has reportedly been driving grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) farther north in search of food, bringing them into polar bear (U. maritimus) territory. Polar bears, meanwhile, are finding themselves stranded on land instead of their usual sea ice, bringing them into contact with the grizzlies.This is only the second time that a grolar bear has been encountered in the wild and confirmed, but even with its rarity, it is more distinctive than expected. DNA tests released by the N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Department reveal that this was actually a second-generation grolar bear—meaning one of its parents (its mother) was already a polar-grizzly hybrid. The father was a purebred grizzly, the tests found.

Climate Change? Move along, nothing to see here!

Let’s end this with an amazing touchdown flip…those of you familiar with gymnastics, check it out.

Wasn’t that awesome? Damn! What an athlete…

 

 

 


Making Bad

Experiencing a little buyer’s remorse villagers?

 

“Barack Obama feels more and more like a president from the Jimmy Carter tradition: well meaning but ineffectual”.

Peter Oborne from  ‘In this grave crisis, the world’s
leaders are terrifyingly out of their depth’.

“IN contrast, when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze.”

Drew Westen from  “What Happened to Obama?”

“Obama has suffered, in part, from a clarity gap. Even his own supporters aren’t always sure what he’s willing to fight for.

“He needs to plant a flag somewhere,” complained William A. Galston, a former top aide to then-President Clinton. “I don’t care what color it is. But periodically planting a flag and then lowering it is no way to inspire confidence.”

The president took a clear position on only one issue in the debt ceiling negotiations: He said any deal had to be “balanced,” meaning it had to include new tax revenue as well as spending cuts. But in the face of Republican opposition, he backed off even that one demand.

Obama’s negotiating victories in the final deal weren’t on matters of substance, like tax revenue. They were on matters of process: on making sure another debt-ceiling vote doesn’t happen until 2013 and making sure the mechanism for choosing further spending cuts isn’t tilted in the Republicans‘ favor. Try selling those to voters as a victory for the beleaguered middle class.”

Doyle McManus from “Obama’s clarity gap

“The one thing I might say is that we shouldn’t really wonder what happened to Obama — he is who he always was. If you paid attention to what he actually said during the primary and the election, he was always a very conventional centrist. Progressives who flocked to his campaign basically deluded themselves, mistaking style for substance. I got huge flack for saying that at the time, but it was true, and events have borne it out.”

Paul Krugman from “Stuck in the Middle”

“I think that – I don’t – I’m not sure that that’s true. I – I think that it is working. I think that people still, you know, in my interactions with the American people, they liked the guy a lot. They respect him a lot. They don’t feel that he’s in touch with their lives, and his calculation is this, that as this goes on – and – you know, he will be the least damaged of all the various parties.

And that’s what we’ve seen. His standing in – standing in the polls have gone down, but the Republicans’ standing in the polls has plummeted. And so, you know, he’s got to be feeling not terrific at this point, but not too bad politically either, because sooner or later the Republicans have to choose some candidate to oppose him and that candidate is going to have to make a calculation about how close to the Tea Party – which does remain a minority of a minority – how close to the Tea Party does the Republican presidential nominee want to be?

And so, I think the president is bemused by all of this and kind of horrified by the nonsense he’s – you know, that he’s had to deal with. He’s made concessions, unlike – as Arianna was saying – unlike anything we’ve ever seen a Democratic president make before. He proposed raising the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67.

I’m not sure I’m in favor of that.”

Joe Klein on on Global Public Square

The signs were all there in 2008.  It’s just so many people chose to ignore them.  Now, well,  now, we are so f’d.  Go ahead and add to the list.  The Sunday talk shows are full of pithy quotes.


Thursday Reads: Fallen Idols, President Pushover, Worsening Weather, Rogue Federal Agency, and More

Good Morning!! I’ve got a variety of interesting reads for you today, so let’s get right to it. Imagine the guy who wrote these words:

“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.”

Now imagine that he admired Ronald Reagan.

John Lennon, the long-haired British peacenik who was investigated by the FBI in 1972 after he allegedly contributed $75,000 to a group suspected of planning to disrupt the Republican National Convention later was a closet conservative….Fred Seaman, who was Lennon’s personal assistant from 1979 until the singer’s assassination in 1980, claims the former Beatle and anti-war activist favored Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter and would have voted for the Gipper if he could have.

“John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on Jimmy Carter,” Seaman told Seth Swirsky, who is making a film about the Fab Four.

Seaman said the guitarist “met Reagan back, I think, in the ’70s at some sporting event.”

“Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young [peace] demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that,” Seaman told Swirsky in excerpts published in the Toronto Sun. “He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.”

I don’t even know how to respond to this stunning news. Lennon was apparently a Reagan Democrat. If he’d lived he probably would have been an Obot too….

NYT: Violent Clashes in the Streets of Athens

Confrontations between the police and protesters reached a violent climax here on Wednesday as armored riot officers beat back demonstrators and fired volleys of tear gas into the crowds who had gathered outside Parliament. Inside, lawmakers approved a package of austerity measures aimed at helping Greece avoid a default.

On the second day of a two-day general strike called by unions, rogue protesters also attacked the Finance Ministry on Syntagma Square across from Parliament and set fire to a post office in the ground floor of the building. The King George Palace, a luxury hotel that faces the square, was evacuated in the afternoon.

A police spokeswoman said that 31 police officers were injured and that 30 people had been detained, leading to 11 arrests. Local news media reported that dozens of protesters were hospitalized, and video clips showed the police striking people with their batons.

Amnesty International released a statement on Wednesday condemning the “repeated use of excessive force by police in recent demonstrations, including the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other chemicals against largely peaceful protesters.”

Is this what’s coming for the U.S.? At a press conference today President Obama warned Republicans to wake up and smell the tax increases (aside: I’m not holding my breath for Obama to follow through).

President Obama pressured Republicans on Wednesday to accept higher taxes as part of any plan to pare down the federal deficit, bluntly telling lawmakers that they “need to do their job” and strike a deal before the United States risks defaulting on its debt.

Declaring that an agreement is not possible without painful steps on both sides, Mr. Obama said that his party had already accepted the need for substantial spending cuts in programs it had long championed, and that Republicans must agree to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, hedge funds and other corporate interests.

In a 67-minute news conference, Mr. Obama cast the budget battle as a tug of war between the interests of the rich — like owners of corporate jets, who he said get generous tax breaks — and those of the middle class, the elderly and children.

But Obama himself offered at best very weak tea:

Mr. Obama, under assault from Republicans on the campaign trail for an unemployment rate that remains above 9 percent, asked voters to understand that the economic recovery would take time but said that Washington, even in its current financial straits, could still do more to help. He expressed support for extending a reduction in payroll taxes for an extra year, providing loans for road and bridge-building and approving trade pacts that could help spur exports.

Big whoop. Why didn’t he fight to end the Bush tax cuts then?

Ezra Klein explains “How you know the negotiations have truly failed.”

The best advice I’ve gotten for assessing the debt-ceiling negotiations was to “watch for the day when the White House goes public.” As long as the Obama administration was refusing to attack Republicans publicly, my source said, they believed they could cut a deal. And that held true. They were quiet when the negotiations were going on. They were restrained after Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl walked out last week. Press Secretary Jay Carney simply said, “We are confident that we can continue to seek common ground and that we will achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction.” But today they went public. The negotiations have failed.

“The primary goal of President Obama’s presser, which just wrapped up, was obvious,” writes Greg Sargent. “He was clearly out to pick a major public fight with Republicans over tax cuts for the rich.” That’s exactly right. But he didn’t want this fight. He wanted a deal. And he wasn’t able to get one that the White House considered even minimally acceptable. After putting more than $2 trillion of spending cuts on the table, they weren’t even able to get $400 billion — about a sixth of the total — in tax increases.

The conventional wisdom is that now this fight moves to the people. I’d put it differently. Now this fight moves to the consequences. Neither side is going to give in the face of purely rhetorical salvos. The White House is expecting Republicans to accuse them of wanting to raise taxes. The Republicans are expecting the White House to accuse them of putting the interests of large corporations and wealthy donors in front of the needs of seniors, children and the poor. Both parties have seen the poll numbers behind their positions. If a few news conferences were going to be sufficient to end this, it would never have started.

Climate experts warn that “epic weather” will continue because of climate change

Epic floods, massive wildfires, drought and the deadliest tornado season in 60 years are ravaging the United States, with scientists warning that climate change will bring even more extreme weather.

The human and economic toll over just the past few months has been staggering: hundreds of people have died, and thousands of homes and millions of acres have been lost at a cost estimated at more than $20 billion.

And the United States has not even entered peak hurricane season.

“This spring was one of the most extreme springs that we’ve seen in the last century since we’ve had good records,” said Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While it’s not possible to tie a specific weather event or pattern to climate change, Arndt said this spring’s extreme weather is in line with what is forecast for the future.

The Boston Globe reveals that fishermen in Gloucester, MA and up and down the Atlantic coast were the victims of abuse of power by NOAA.

About a decade ago, the Commerce Department’s fish police started a fight with Larry Ciulla, who owns and operates the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction with three other family members. Claiming that the auction had exceeded the day’s catch limit by one 60-pound fish, the regulators levied a $120,000 fine and ordered a 90-day shutdown.

Outraged, Ciulla challenged the penalty. He turned to Gloucester lawyer Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who is now a state representative and whose grandfather, father, and uncle were fishermen. Together, they decided to take on the agency known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In need of political backup, they went to US Representative John Tierney, whose district covers Gloucester. Eventually, their grass-roots effort drew in the mayors of Gloucester and New Bedford, the Bay State congressional delegation, and a bipartisan string of lawmakers from Maine to the Carolinas.

This year, federal officials finally acknowledged their own regulators had gone rogue. They were guilty of overzealous, abusive, and targeted enforcement, a series of independent investigations revealed. Regulators were levying crippling fines for invented or inflated offenses, as they relentlessly bullied an entire industry. They were using the fishermen’s money to finance a fleet of cars, a luxury boat, and assorted foreign junkets.

Please read the whole sordid story.

Twitter has released fascinating data on the number of tweets and direct messages during and after the Japan earthquake.

“On Twitter, we saw a 500% increase in Tweets from Japan as people reached out to friends, family and loved ones in the moments after the March 2011 earthquake,” said the company on its blog.

Kirstin Powers interviewed Michele Bachmann, and learned that the Tea Party queen is no feminist.

Unlike Sarah Palin, who has brandished the feminist moniker and spoken of an “emerging conservative feminist identity,” Bachmann told me in an interview Tuesday that she wouldn’t call herself a feminist—instead, she simply described herself as “pro-woman and pro-man.” When I pressed her on the matter, the Minnesota congresswoman said she sees herself as an “empowered American.”

Bachmann seemed loath to engage in the kind of girl-power rhetoric utilized by Palin and Hillary Clinton, who both invoked the perennial—and so far unbreakable—presidential glass ceiling.

Said Bachmann: “I’m a woman comfortable in her own skin. I grew up with three brothers. My parents didn’t see us [as] limited [by gender]. I would mow the lawn and take out the trash; I was making my own fishing lures. I went along with everything the boys did.”

Bachmann is still doing everything the boys do, but as a female candidate she endures indignities that are foreign to your average male pol. Yet she takes it all in stride.

Don’t you just love it when smarmy, self-righteous people are brought low? I know I do. Despite the fact that I loathe pedophiles, I’ve always been turned off by Chris Hansen and his obnoxious TV show “To Catch a Predator.” Now Hansen himself has been caught on “candid camera.”

Chris Hansen has found himself on the receiving end of his own hidden camera tactics, after the married NBC anchor was secretly filmed on an illicit date with a blonde television reporter 20 years his junior.

Hansen, 51, has allegedly been having an affair with Kristyn Caddell, a 30-year-old Florida journalist, for the last four months.

ROFLOL!

Secret cameras filmed the couple as they arrived at the hotel for dinner and then drove back to her apartment – where the pair left, carrying luggage, at 8am the following day.
Hansen lives in Connecticut with his wife Mary, 53, but he has been spending more and more time in South Florida investigating the disappearance of James ‘Jimmy T’ Trindade – and allegedly sleeping with Miss Caddell.

The cameras belonged to The National Enquirer. Fortunately for Hansen, Miss Caddell is slightly beyond the age of consent.

"Agony," by Bert Adams

Finally, here’s a nice summery story to get you ready for the upcoming long weekend: Work’s a Day at the Beach for Sand-Castle Consultants

CANNON BEACH, Ore.—On a recent weekend, sand creatures were sprawled across this Pacific Coast beach. There were sea horses by a giant squid, with an “Attackin’ Kraken” sea monster nearby, along with several pigs, some giant mice and an amputee octopus.

Many of the sand sculptures had the same point of origin: They had been built by people who at one time or another were advised by Bert Adams, one of the nation’s handful of professional sand-castle consultants.

“They did well,” said Mr. Adams, a 51-year-old former electrical engineer, as he surveyed the array of creations made by his onetime students at Cannon Beach’s 47th annual sand sculpting tournament.

“He’s a great mentor,” says Amos Callender, an Olympia, Wash., architect who took a course—Sand 101—that Mr. Adams taught two years ago. Mr. Callender and his team took first place at Cannon Beach last year, while this year they built a sand sculpture depicting “the good life”—a wine lover sporting a beret; a mouse tucking into a giant wheel of cheese—that finished second.

What a great idea. Now if only I could find a niche that would pay me big bucks for something I love doing!

So what are you reading and blogging about today? Hit me with it!


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Well, we dodged a bullet yesterday when Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced that he won’t be running for president in 2012. Whew! I really didn’t want a president who would decorate the Oval Office with Confederate Civil War memorabilia, did you? Newsweek, January 2010:

The Republican governor of Mississippi keeps a large portrait of the University Greys, the Confederate rifle company that suffered 100 percent casualties at Gettysburg, on a wall not far from a Stars and Bars Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis.

Not to mention a guy who praised the segregationist Southern “citizens councils” in an interview with the Weekly Standard. And the fact that Barbour talks like he has a mouthful of marbles doesn’t help either.

We won't have him to kick around anymore

Politico has an analysis of why Barbour “pulled the plug,” which basically boils down to he really didn’t want to go through the aggravation. The story ends this way:

There were also nagging concerns among GOP insiders about the prospect of nominating a deep-South governor with an accent matching his Delta roots to take on the country’s first black president.

Barry Wynn, a former South Carolina Republican chairman, put it politely after hearing Barbour speak in the state earlier this month: “There’s a perception that he might be more of a regional candidate.”

Gee, no kidding. Like I said, we dodged a bullet. But there are plenty of other creepy Republicans out there to take his place. In fact Ron Paul is getting ready to announce another campaign for president.

Speaking of creepy Republicans, Donald Trump claimed today that President Obama’s birth certificate is “missing.”

When asked from whom he received the information, Trump said he didn’t want to say and that he feels bad about the situation.

“I’d love for him to produce his birth certificate so that you can fight one-on-one,” Trump said in an interview set to air Monday. “If you look at what he’s doing to fuel prices, you can do a great fight one-on-one, you don’t need this issue.”

CNN’s Gary Tuchman also interviewed the former director of the Hawaii Department of Health, who said she has seen the original birth certificate in the vault at the Department of Health.

Trump supporter Franklin Graham, son of Billy, is also on the birther bandwagon.

{sigh….}

Meanwhile, multiple media outlets are talking about Trump’s generous campaign contributions–to Democrats. In fact, Trump recently donated $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s campaign for Chicago Mayor. From CNN:

Shortly before announcing interest in pursuing the GOP presidential bid, Republican Donald Trump gave $50,000, his largest campaign contribution in Illinois, to Democrat Rahm Emanuel, who was running for mayor, in December 2010….

Rahm’s brother Ari, who is co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, represents a majority of Hollywood’s celebrity elite, including Trump….

Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show that Trump has made various sizable donations to Democratic causes in Illinois.

From Salon’s War Room:

When [Ed] Rendell entered Pennsylvania’s 2002 gubernatorial race, Trump committed himself to the former Democratic National Committee chairman’s cause. Between December 2001 and Election Day ’02, Trump personally gave $27,000 to Ed Rendell’s gubernatorial campaign. He also chipped in $5,000 more at the end of 2003, when Rendell was finishing up his first year in office.

Mind you, Rendell’s victory in 2002 was by no means a foregone conclusion. He faced a serious threat in the May Democratic primary from Robert Casey, then the state’s treasurer and the son of a former governor. The sharpest ideological difference between the two men may have been on abortion: Rendell was pro-choice, while Casey was pro-life (like his father, who was denied a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic convention in part because of it). During the primary campaign, Trump provided Rendell with $6,000. Rendell ended up beating Casey by 13 points.

Trump is supposedly the one of the biggest contributors to Charlie Rangel ever, yet he is supposedly running as a Republican.

And then we have our current president, who is a Republican who ran as a Democrat in 2008. I posted this in comments on the morning thread yesterday, but I can resist doing it again. It’s so funny to see former Obama supporter (why?) Eric Alterman comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter.

Stylistically speaking, Barack Obama could hardly be further from Jimmy Carter if he really had been born in Kenya. Carter was a born-again Baptist who was raised on his father’s peanut plantation and supported George Wallace on the road to the Georgia state house. Barack Obama—well, you know the story. But the two men have a great deal in common in their approach to the presidency, and not one of these similarities is good news for the Democrats or even for America. Both men rule without regard to the concerns of the base of their party. Both held themselves to be above politics when it came to making tough decisions. Both were possessed with superhuman self-confidence when it came to their own political judgment mixed with contempt for what they understood to be the petty concerns of pundits and party leaders. And worst of all, one fears, neither one appeared willing to change course no matter how many storm clouds loomed on the horizon.

Ask yourself if the following story does not sound like another president we could name The gregarious Massachusetts pol, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, could hardly have been more eager to work with a Democratic president after eight years of Nixon and Ford. But when they first met, and O’Neill attempted to advise Carter about which members of Congress might need some special pleading, or even the assorted political favor or two with regard to certain issues, to O’Neill’s open-jawed amazement, Carter replied, “No, I’ll describe the problem in a rational way to the American people. I’m sure they’ll realize I’m right.” The red-nosed Irishman later said he “could have slugged” Carter over this lethal combination of arrogance and naivety, but it would soon become Carter’s calling card.

In some bad news for the radical right, the Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to Obamacare before it wends its way through the federal courts.

And in some good news for football fans, a district court has decided that

The NFL’s lockout is harming players and fans and is not in the public interest, District Judge Susan Nelson said in a ruling on Monday that granted the players’ request for an injunction to halt the work stoppage.

Nelson’s order to end the six-week lockout, imposed last month after a breakdown in talks over a new collective deal, is to be appealed by the NFL.

In an 89-page statement, the judge also accepted that the players dissolution of their union was valid and allowed them to act as individuals rather than be constricted by labor bargaining rules.

The Minnesota judge said in the absence of a collective bargaining process, which ended on March 11, antitrust policies come to the fore.

The plaintiffs in the case, led quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, argued they were suffering harm as a result of a lockout that stops them from reporting to work.

Here’s some more analysis of the decision at USA Today. I realize that I’m one of the few sports fans here at Sky Dancing, so I won’t burden you unduly. But I just want to say that the Red Sox have won five games in a row and are now only one game under .500–after starting the season with a string of pathetic losses. I know at least Pat Johnson will join me in cheering that news.

Daknikat wrote yesterday about the terrible flooding that was expected in Missouri. Well, it’s happening.

Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday in response to the flooding of the Black River near Poplar Bluff, Mo. The executive order came just three days after the governor declared a state of emergency from the tornado that tore through St. Louis last Friday.

“Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner has mobilized 200 citizen soldiers and airmen to report initially to the Poplar Bluff area to assist with flood relief there,” said Maj. Tammy Spicer, public affairs officer for the Missouri National Guard.

More from the Houston Chronicle: Residents flee as river overflows Missouri levee.

Thunder roared and tornado warning sirens blared, and all emergency workers in the southeast Missouri town of Poplar Bluff could do Monday was hope the saturated levee holding back the Black River would survive yet another downpour.

Murky water flowed over the levee at more than three dozen spots and crept toward homes in the flood plain. Some had already flooded. If the levee broke — and forecasters said it was in imminent danger of doing so — some 7,000 residents in and around Poplar Bluff would be displaced.

One thousand homes were evacuated earlier in the day. Sandbagging wasn’t an option, Police Chief Danny Whitely said. There were too many trouble spots, and it was too dangerous to put people on the levee. Police went door-to-door encouraging people to get out. Some scurried to collect belongings, others chose to stay. Two men had to be rescued by boat.

“Basically all we can do now is wait, just wait,” Whitely said.

A Roosevelt would probably have created jobs by having people repair the nation’s rotting infrastructure. But, instead we got Barack “Hoover” Obama and the levees keep on failing.

Things are getting worse and worse in Syria, where there has been a brutal crackdown on protesters over the past several days. From CNN: Deadly attack on protesters raises questions about Syria’s stability

With reports emerging Monday that at least one high-ranking Syrian military commander refused to participate in a bloody, predawn raid that left dozens dead in the southern border city of Daraa — the heart of Syria’s weekslong civil unrest, questions are being raised about possible cracks in President Bashar al-Assad’s hold over the military.

The crackdown on anti-government protesters by Syrian forces escalated in recent days as demonstrators, emboldened by weeks of protests, called for the ouster of al-Assad. The crackdown culminated with the raid in Daraa where thousands of troops reportedly stormed the city and opened fire on demonstrators. It was an attack reminiscent of the brutal rule of al-Assad’s father, who once ordered the military to crush a revolt that resulted in the deaths of thousands.

“I think he’s clearly going toward the security solution, which is where he could be following in the steps of his father,” said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

I’ve been hearing all day that Yemen’s president Saleh was renigging on his promise to step down soon, but Al Jazeera reports that there is an agreement between the government and opposition forces.

Yemen’s opposition has agreed to take part in a transitional government under a Gulf-negotiated peace plan for embattled leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside in a month in exchange for immunity for him and his family.

A spokesman for an opposition coalition said on Monday that his group had received assurances in order to accept the deal.

“We have given our final accord to the [Gulf] initiative after having received assurances from our brothers and American and European friends on our objections to certain clauses in the plan,” Mohammed Qahtan said.

But not all protesters are going along.

many pro-democracy protesters, who are not members of the coalition that agreed to the peace talks, appear to be unconvinced by the Gulf-proposed deal and have called for fresh demonstrations, as security forces continued their crackdown.

In Libya, the fighting continues to be centered in the city of Misurata.

The battle for Misurata, which has claimed hundreds of lives in the past two months, has become the focal point of the armed rebellion against Gaddafi since fighting elsewhere is deadlocked.

Images of civilians being killed and wounded by Gaddafi’s heavy weapons, have spurred calls for more forceful international intervention to stop the bloodshed.

NATO’s mandate from the UN is to try to protect civilians in Libya, split into a rebel-run east and a western area that remains largely under Gaddafi’s control.

While the international coalition’s air attacks have delivered heavy blows to his army, they have not halted attacks on Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, with a population of 300,000.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by insects. I loved to read books about ants, spiders, and other such creepy-crawly critters. Truthfully, I still find them interesting. Here’s a story about fire ants and how they cooperate to protect the group in an emergency.

When flood waters threaten their underground nests, fire ants order an immediate evacuation. They make their way to the surface and grab hold of one another, making a living raft that can sail for months.

The extraordinary survival tactic, which can involve entire colonies of more than a hundred thousand ants, has been captured on film by US engineers who used the footage to help unravel how the insects co-operate to overcome nature’s dangers.

Time-lapse film of the ants in action reveals that pockets of air get trapped between them and around their bodies, helping them breathe if the raft is pushed under the water.

In normal circumstances the ants lock legs, and sometimes mandibles, to form a floating mat that sits on top of the water through a combination of surface tension and buoyancy.

“Even the ones at the bottom remain dry and able to breath because they are not actually under the water,” said Nathan Mlot, a PhD student at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

If only we humans would get together and cooperate like that!


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


Tuesday Reads

Oh no! Not another giant snowstorm!

Good Morning!!

Have you heard about the gigantic winter storm that is affecting 29 states?

From the Washington Post:

National Weather Service advisories and warnings are in effect in more than 20 states as a powerful storm gets organized in the Midwest. A blizzard warning is in effect for Chicago, where 12 to 20 inches of snow is possible. Other cities which may experience blizzard conditions include Tulsa, Wichita, Kansas City, and Detroit. Snow is expected to begin tonight and tomorrow from southwest to northeast and continue into early Wednesday.

The Chicago Tribune’s Weather Center cautions: “Snowfall totals in excess of 12 inches coupled with winds of 25 to 40 mph will make long distance travel extremely dangerous if not impossible.”

Wednesday morning into Thursday, the heavy snow moves through central New York, northern Massachusetts,southern Vermont, New Hampshire and southeast Maine.

Weather.com says the storm may be historic, due to the areal coverage of snow forecast – with upwards of 1 foot likely across a “2100-mile long swath from the Southern Plains to coastal New England.”

We’re supposed to get 18 inches in the Boston area, plus it will be mixed with ice pellets on Wednesday. I can’t take it anymore!!!!! All this snow is really getting to me.

In other news, the Republicans are all a-twitter over some guy named Jon Huntsman who is probably going to run for President. I admit I never heard of him and couldn’t care less what he does, but it seems to be the talk of the Village. To top it off, this guy has been working for Obama. Does he have any Democrats working for him?

Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China, sent a resignation letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, the White House said. Huntsman now is likely to explore a Republican presidential bid, according to supporters.

In a letter hand-delivered to the White House, the former Utah governor said that he wants to return to the United States by May. The letter thanks Obama for the opportunity to serve the country and praises the U.S. embassy staff in Beijing.

If Huntsman won the GOP nomination, he would be challenging the reelection of his former boss. White House officials are furious at what they consider an audacious betrayal, but know that any public criticism would be likely to benefit Huntsman if he enters the primaries.

Huntsman boasts the most foreign policy experience of any of the likely GOP candidates, and would be a formidable entry to the unformed GOP field. He had a fiscally conservative record as governor, opposes abortion and is a strong supporter of gun owners’ rights.

Yep, sounds like Obama’s type.

If you haven’t read Joseph Cannon’s latest, you should rush right over and do so. He has a fascinating, well-researched post up about Ali Abdul Saoud, a.k.a. Ali A. Mohammed, a muslim double agent who worked for both the CIA and al Qaeda and may have been involved (along with Omar Suleiman?) in the assassination of Anwar Sadat.

It’s a fascinating read, and I’m not just saying that because Cannon linked to my post on Suleiman.

This is a frightening story out of Egypt: Google Executive Missing in Wake of Egypt Protests.

An executive for Google Inc. is missing in the wake of Egypt’s tumultuous protests, according to his brother. Wael Ghonim, whose LinkedIn profile says he is head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa at Google, hasn’t been heard from since Friday at 6 p.m., his brother Hazem said.

[….]

Wael Ghonim’s web postings suggest a deepening engagement with politics. His Facebook page lists opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei as a person he admires, along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs. In mid-January he tweeted that he was traveling to Qatar to participate at an Internet freedom forum hosted by network Al Jazeera.

Later, he sent a tweet that said he was going to join the Egyptian protests despite “all the warnings I got from my relative and friends.”

[….]

On Friday, he tweeted: “Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die.”

I think a lot more people are probably dead and missing in Egypt than we are being told. I hope Ghonim will be found.

The Christian Science Monitor asks, “Did Jimmy Carter just throw Obama under the bus?”

Commenting on the week’s tumultuous events in Egypt from the Maranatha Baptist Church near his home in Plains, Ga., the former president who brokered the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel gave a candid personal assessment of Egypt’s embattled leader and said his “guess is Mubarak will have to go.”

President Mubarak has “become more politically corrupt” in recent years and has “perpetuated himself in office,” he told a Sunday school class of 300, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Assessing the popular uprisings sweeping across the region, he said: “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office” more than 30 years ago.

I sure hope it’s a different bus than the one we’re under, because I don’t want Obama down here with us.

Speaking of throwing people under the bus, Tom Brokaw made a critical reference to Keith Olbermann in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Here’s Huffpo’s gossipy take on it.

He told the Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal that NBC was better placed than its rivals because of MSNBC.

“Where it got sticky is when our commentators were anchoring political coverage,” he said, in a clear reference to Olbermann. Brokaw was widely known to have complained about Olbermann’s anchoring of campaign coverage during the 2008 race. “Those are, in some ways, incompatible roles,” Brokaw continued. “We worked our way through that.”

Rosenthal then asked Brokaw what he thought of Olbermann’s exit. “You’re not going to get me to go there,” Brokaw said. But when pushed, he said that MSNBC will weather the storm.

He went there.

Did you hear that Mayor Bloomberg arranged for an undercover investigation of the recent Arizona gun show? The New York Times has the skinny.

The investigation, part of an effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration to crack down on illegal gun sales nationwide, took place Jan. 23 at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Phoenix, officials said.

“The background check system failed in Arizona, it failed in Virginia and it fails in states around the country,” said John Feinblatt, an adviser to Mr. Bloomberg. “If we don’t fix it now, the question is not whether another massacre will occur, but when.”

Private, unlicensed sellers are not required to run federal background checks, but it is a violation of federal law to sell guns to people if sellers suspect they are felons or mentally ill or are otherwise prohibited from buying. In the case of Jared L. Loughner, who is accused of opening fire on the crowd in Tucson on Jan. 8, the gun used in the shootings was bought at a licensed gun dealer, and he passed a background check, the authorities said.

In two instances, the New York undercover officers specifically said before buying a gun, “I probably couldn’t pass a background check,” but were still sold guns, city officials said.

Finally, here’s a fluffy story to go along with the white stuff that a lot of us will be seeing outside our windows today and tomorrow: How Meditation May Change the Brain

…researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

I’m not particularly surprised, but the woman who wrote the article is. Check it out.

Sooooo…. What are you reading and blogging about this morning? Please share!


What happens when a country elects a President with no ideology or core values?

We’re seeing what happens. People voted for “the audacity of hope” and “change we can believe in” — empty slogans with no real meaning. Now our country is in desperate straits, and the man who was elected to lead us has no idea what to do. He can’t even work himself up to make an inspiring speech to encourage us to have a little hope for the future.

Last Tuesday, we saw the Democratic Party experience an epic beating in the midterm elections, and what is our President’s reaction? He gives an interview to Steve Kroft of CBS’ 60 Minutes and, to quote Peter Daou, “apologizes for being a Democrat.” And then he leaves the country before the interview airs. And he goes to a country that, fairly or unfairly, symbolizes the outsourcing of American jobs.

Peter Daou really lets Obama have it for once:

The aftermath of the GOP’s midterm triumph perfectly illustrates this problem: Obama is falling over himself seeking compromise with Republicans, ceding to their frames, while Republican leaders say they will stick to their principles and try to destroy his presidency and legacy. Here’s how I put it a couple of days ago: If one side offers “compromise” and the other claims to stand firmly on principle, which one appears more principled to voters?

Astonishingly, in a 60 Minutes piece that just aired, Obama goes one step further. During the course of the entire interview he only once mentions having the courage of one’s convictions. And he attributes it not to himself or Democrats, but to Tom Coburn, a staunch conservative!

“There are some sincere Republicans in the Senate like Tom Coburn, Oklahoma, who is about as conservative as they come, but a real friend of mine and somebody who has always had the courage of his convictions and not, you know, bringing pork projects back to Oklahoma. And it may be that that’s an example of where, on a bipartisan basis, we can work together to change practices in Washington that generate a lot of the distrust of government.”

How can anyone claim that Obama is a Democrat? At the Atlantic, Derek Thompson asks “Why Did Obama Do the 60 Mintues Interview? Good question! He sure didn’t do it to advance the goals of the party he pretends to belong to and, yes, lead. Thompson:

Five days after a demoralizing midterm election, President Obama appeared on 60 Minutes to make the case that … wait, why did the president appear on 60 Minutes, exactly?

He told Americans that the economy might never fully recover. He said the White House is discouraged about the election and the economy. He admitted that he made mistakes, knowingly committed an unforced political error in health care reform, and got too heated with his rhetoric during the midterm campaign. He prepared Americans for the “hard, long slog” ahead. That the president is his own harshest critic is admirable, but CBS interviews aren’t required at the halfway point like a midterm exam. The president sat down in that chair to make a point. So what was the point?

Beats the hell out me.

Back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave a famous speech that is often referred to as “the malaise speech,” even though it didn’t contain the word “malaise.” That speech is often seen as Carter’s Waterloo. And yet Carter’s speech was inspiring and upbeat in comparison to the Obama’s whiny, sad sack performance on 60 Minutes.

This man sold himself as a transformational leader–an agent of change who would inspire all of us to be all we can be and to work together to accomplish great things. But what has he done since January 2009 to transform government or inspire Americans to reach for greatness? Zippo, as far as I can see.

Yesterday, the Washington Post highlighted this cheery bit from the 60 Minutes interview:

“What is a danger is that we stay stuck in a new normal where unemployment rates stay high,” he said in an interview aired Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “People who have jobs see their incomes go up. Businesses make big profits. But they’ve learned to do more with less. And so they don’t hire. And as a consequence, we keep on seeing growth that is just too slow to bring back the 8 million jobs that were lost.”

[….]

He lamented his inability to make more headway in creating jobs, conceding that “I do get discouraged.”

“I thought the economy would have gotten better by now,” he said. “One of the things I think you understand as president is you’re held responsible for everything. But you don’t always have control of everything.”

[….]

“Some of this is going to be just a matter of the economy healing,” he said. “Especially an economy this big, there are limited tools to encourage the kind of job growth that we need.

Will someone please get Obama to sit down and watch a PBS special on FDR’s responses to the Great Depression? He sounds too down in the dumps to read a book. Has this man never heard of the WPA or the CCC?

Roosevelt created the CCC with an executive order. He didn’t wait around for Congress to do something about unemployment–he went way out on a limb and did it himself. And it worked. Obama won’t do anything but wait around for Congress to act so he doesn’t have to take any responsibility.

Some of us expected this based on his history of “voting present.” But a hell of a lot of people fell for his con game, and now we’re stuck with him for at least two more years. Somehow we have to light a fire under this guy, but how?

At Huffpo, Katherine Reardon compares our predicament to “Waiting for Godot.”

Perhaps we are like Samuel Beckett’s characters Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot. These men wait for a man they admit to hardly knowing but nonetheless someone they expect to change their lives. They anticipate he will sort out their problems. Yet as they wait and wait, they decide that when he arrives he will do “nothing very definite.” Still, they wait.

I waited last night for the confident Democratic President of the United States to appear on 60 Minutes but he never quite arrived. In fact, the president who did arrive said when asked by Steve Croft about his promise to change Washington:

“That’s one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you’re campaigning, you, I think you’re liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.'”

What? Nah! He didn’t say that, did he?

Yes, Katherine, he did. This is the “lightworker” that all the “progressives” foisted on us. More from Reardon’s piece:

Croft later asked about Social Security and Medicare — “things that the American people really think are important.” In his response, the president actually referred to “entitlements,” which the Republicans — who love that word by the way — are going to have to “confront in a serious way.” Excuse me?

Why not say:

Republicans like to talk about earning what you get. That’s exactly what people do every every pay period when they contribute to Social Security. That’s their money. They earned it. That’s their nest egg and while I’m president nobody is going to steal it from them.

Or,

Let’s be very clear. Diminishing social security in any way is income redistribution. Yes, that’s what I said — exactly what the Republicans say they hate. It’s distributing hard-working Americans’ income to the rich by way of tax cuts for the wealthy.

And of course you know what our great leader had to say about tax cuts for the wealthy: he’s open to compromising with the Republicans on that. Yes, once again, our President has capitulated before the bargaining even begins.

We’ve got to get through two more years with this guy in charge. Does anyone have any ideas about how we can either get him to act like an old-style FDR Democrat or else put someone in charge who can?