Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brave New Obamaian World

Car Makers' Boom Years Now Look Like a Bubble


DETROIT -- This decade has already seen burst bubbles in tech stocks, homes and credit. Now, it seems, another segment has fallen victim to irrational exuberance: the U.S. auto market.

Like investors who sent dot-com stocks or house prices to unsustainable levels, auto manufacturers in the U.S. have pushed their sales volumes to new peaks over the past decade. They invited customers to buy cars at employee prices, extended no-interest loans for up to six years and sold unprecedented numbers of vehicles to rental fleets -- all strategies that some analysts say drove U.S. auto sales to artificial highs.

Through most of the 1990s, auto makers sold a little over 15 million cars and light trucks a year in the U.S. market. That changed in the late 1990s: With gasoline prices low and many U.S. consumers feeling flush from the tech-stock boom, auto sales surged. Sales peaked at 17.4 million in 2000 and remained near 17 million for another five years. Heads of General Motors Corp. and Toyota said the U.S. was entering a golden age of the automobile. In 2003, Toyota's head of North American sales predicted the industry would soon be selling 20 million vehicles a year.

They were wrong. Sales started falling in 2006 and this year are expected to be right back where they were in the 1990s, at just over 15 million.

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A few moments of ZENN

A ZENN car

Automotive writer Dan Neil and Kai Ryssdal go for a quiet spin around downtown L.A. in one of the newest electric automobiles, the ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise).

KAI RYSSDAL: We have stepped outside the friendly confines of the Frank Stanton Studio to the Marketplace automotive test proving ground, otherwise known as the garage here at 261 S. Figueroa for another chat with our once and future car guy Dan Neil from the Los Angeles Times. Dan, good to see ya.

DAN NEIL: Hi, Kai.

RYSSDAL: We were going to start this segment with you pulling up in some great car, squealing the tires and revving the engine but we couldn't do that because of this thing you brought us today.

NEIL: Yeah, this is the ZENN electric car. And it doesn't squeal tires. In fact, ZENN stands for Zero Emission No Noise.

RYSSDAL: Uh, when I drive this home I plug it into the outlet in the garage?

NEIL: Absolutely. It's a 110 household outlet.

RYSSDAL: You know what's great, by the way .... The manufacturer's sticker, miles-per-gallon-city: 245.

NEIL: It's about one penny per mile to operate. But this goes only 25 mph, and it's limited to streets with only 35 mph speed limits.

RYSSDAL: Why buy this at $15,000 now when it can only do 25 or 30 mph, when I can wait maybe, what, two, three years, spend 15 grand and get something that can go 50 and get me on the highways going to work instead of having to take surface streets and have some of the limitations that this has?

NEIL: I think gasoline is going to be $5 and $6 and, inevitably, $10 a gallon in the next 20 years. I think that Americans are going to have to accept a different modality when it comes to transportation. And people buy these cars to declare their greenness, their willingness to change, their coolness. Now, that isn't to say that's in bad faith or that they're not saving money. But this is really a forward looking kind of fashion statement.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, and on that point, actually, it's worth noting that in 2 1/2-inch-high letters in neon green on the side of this car it says: Electric.

NEIL: Oh, yeah.

RYSSDAL: And then you open it up and it's fairly bare. I mean, it's uh...

NEIL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, it only weighs 1,280 pounds. This is what you get when you ask for a 1,280-pound car.

RYSSDAL: So, the seats are, I mean, you can see them sitting there on the little aluminum tubing. There's none of this . . .you know, upholstery. Well, there's upholstery but there's none of this sophisticated stuff.

NEIL: That's right. The glove box in a Mercedes Benz S Class is more substantial.

RYSSDAL: Let's go for a ride.

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Report: EPA head reversed stand on greenhouse gas


WASHINGTON (AP) - The head of the Environmental Protection Agency initially supported giving California and other states full or partial permission to limit tailpipe emissions - but reversed himself after hearing from the White House, a report said Monday.

The report by the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee cites interviews and depositions with high-level EPA officials. It amounts to the first solid evidence of the political interference alleged by Democrats and environmentalists since Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California's waiver request in December.

Johnson's decision also blocked more than a dozen other states that wanted to follow California's lead and regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. It was applauded by the auto industry and supported by the White House, which has opposed mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Johnson, a 27-year career veteran of the EPA, frequently has denied that his decisions are being directed by the White House. ``I am the decision maker,'' Johnson said Monday, meeting with reporters at the Platt's Energy Podium newsmaker session, before the California waiver report surfaced.

A White House spokeswoman denied interference.

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Mexican donkey jailed for ornery behavior

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico - A donkey is doing time in southern Mexico for assault and battery.

The animal was locked up at a local jail that normally holds people for public drunkenness and other disturbances after it bit and kicked two men near a ranch in Chiapas state, police said Monday.

Officer Sinar Gomez said the donkey will remain behind bars until its owner agrees to pay the men's medical bills.

"Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed," Gomez said — "no matter who they are."

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Mom forced to live in car with dogs

By Thelma Gutierrez and Wayne Drash

SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- Barbara Harvey climbs into the back of her small Honda sport utility vehicle and snuggles with her two golden retrievers, her head nestled on a pillow propped against the driver's seat.

art.sleeping.cnn.jpgCalifornian Barbara Harvey says she is forced to sleep in her car with her dogs after losing her job earlier this year.

A former loan processor, the 67-year-old mother of three grown children said she never thought she'd spend her golden years sleeping in her car in a parking lot.

"This is my bed, my dogs," she said. "This is my life in this car right now."

Harvey was forced into homelessness this year after being laid off. She said that three-quarters of her income went to paying rent in Santa Barbara, where the median house in the scenic oceanfront city costs more than $1 million. She lost her condo two months ago and had little savings as backup.

"It went to hell in a handbasket," she said. "I didn't think this would happen to me. It's just something that I don't think that people think is going to happen to them, is what it amounts to. It happens very quickly, too."

Harvey now works part time for $8 an hour, and she draws Social Security to help make ends meet. But she still cannot afford an apartment, and so every night she pulls into a gated parking lot to sleep in her car, along with other women who find themselves in a similar predicament. Video Watch women who live in their cars »

There are 12 parking lots across Santa Barbara that have been set up to accommodate the growing middle-class homelessness. These lots are believed to be part of the first program of its kind in the United States, according to organizers.

The lots open at 7 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. and are run by New Beginnings Counseling Center, a homeless outreach organization.

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16% of US science teachers are creationists

by Bob Holmes

Despite a court-ordered ban on the teaching of creationism in US schools, about one in eight high-school biology teachers still teach it as valid science, a survey reveals. And, although almost all teachers also taught evolution, those with less training in science – and especially evolutionary biology – tend to devote less class time to Darwinian principles.

US courts have repeatedly decreed that creationism and intelligent design are religion, not science, and have no place in school science classrooms. But no matter what courts and school boards decree, it is up to teachers to put the curriculum into practice.

"Ultimately, they are the ones who carry it out," says Michael Berkman, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

But what teachers actually teach about evolution and creationism in their classrooms is a bit of a grey area, so Berkman and his colleagues decided to conduct the first-ever national survey on the subject.

'Not shocking'

The researchers polled a random sample of nearly 2000 high-school science teachers across the US in 2007. Of the 939 who responded, 2% said they did not cover evolution at all, with the majority spending between 3 and 10 classroom hours on the subject.

However, a quarter of the teachers also reported spending at least some time teaching about creationism or intelligent design. Of these, 48% – about 12.5% of the total survey – said they taught it as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species".

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Britain obstructs global ban on use of cluster bombs

By Kim Sengupta


Ali Jouma, 12, whose thumb and finger were blown off by a cluster bomb in Lebanon

The British Government is accused of being the chief obstacle to the signing of a treaty to ban cluster bombs, which have maimed and killed thousands of civilians worldwide.

Countries that have suffered the impact of the bombs, humanitarian groups and former commanders of British forces have called for the UK to drop its insistence on retaining cluster munitions, a stance, they say, that is likely to scupper hopes of securing an agreement at an international conference starting in Dublin today.

More than 100 countries are taking part in the talks. Delegates will point out that the vast majority of cluster bomb victims are non-combatants. Opponents of the weapon received the backing yesterday of Pope Benedict XVI, who called for a "strong and credible" treaty to end their use.

The two sets of weapons at the heart of the argument are the M85 and the M73, munitions fired, respectively, by artillery and rockets. British officials claim these are "smart" weapons which minimise the risk of "collateral damage" and are essential for military operations. The M85 is meant to self destruct and not pose a lingering threat to civilians. However, according to the United Nations, 300 civilians were killed or injured in Lebanon, where Israel used the weapons in 2006.

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Wise Up!



By David Bruce
Athens NEWS Contributor
May 19, 2008

• In early 2008, truck drivers protested $4-per-gallon diesel fuel costs by slowing down or blocking freeway traffic. For example, on the New Jersey Turnpike, trucks crawled along at 20 miles per hour. Near Chicago, they drove with three trucks side by side by side to block traffic, and then they slowed down — way down. Similar slow-downs occurred elsewhere in the United States. Many of these activists are owner-operators who can't make a profit when diesel fuel costs $4 per gallon. Some of them can't make the payments on their trucks, which are foreclosed by the banks.

Maine trucker Donald Hayden lost three trucks when Daimler-Chrysler repossessed them. To make a point, he surrendered the trucks publicly so that other people would know what is happening: He parked them in front of the statehouse in Augusta, Maine, because as he points out, "Repossession is something people don't usually see." The Daimler-Chrysler representative repossessing the trucks said, "I don't see why you couldn't make the payments."  Mr. Hayden replied, "See, I have to pay for fuel and food, and I've eaten too many meals in my life to give that up."

Author Barbara Ehrenreich thinks that making repossession public is a good idea, as it makes people aware of what is going on. In her blog, she writes, "Suppose homeowners were to start making their foreclosures into public events — inviting the neighbors and the press, at least getting someone to camcord the children sitting disconsolately on the steps and the furniture spread out on the lawn. Maybe, for a nice dramatic touch, have the neighbors shower the bankers, when they arrive, with dollar bills and loose change, since those bankers never can seem to get enough."

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The Cleveland of Asia: A Journey Through China’s Rust Belt

by P. J. O'Rourke

Welcome Olympians

For years I've been active in Freedom House, the oldest of the private organizations advocating for international freedom and democracy. We've seen progress, especially since 1989. We've seen backsliding. And we've seen stasis, notably 1.3-billion-persons'-worth of stasis in China. Freedom House rates China as "Not Free." On a scale of 1 to 7—where 1 is as free as human nature allows and 7 is completely otherwise—China scores 6 on civil liberties and 7 on political rights.

Yet we at Freedom House cannot be exactly right. A mere increase in China's prosperity must mean that more Chinese have greater wherewithal to exercise some aspects of free will. Certainly the Chinese are more free now than they were during the Great Leap Forward, when millions were constrained by starving to death. And the Chinese are freer to go about their business than they were during the Cultural Revolution, when there was no business to go about.

Freedom and democracy are abstract. Daily life is concrete. This is not to denigrate the importance of the abstract. God himself is abstract, until he strikes us with a bolt of lightning. The monks and nuns of political science may be overwhelmed by abstraction, as are the victims of such abstractions as Mao Thought. But, mercifully, quotidian existence is conducted mostly in the world of things and stuff.

I went to China for a month in 2006 and ended up taking a tour of the world of things and stuff. I didn't mean to. I was just sightseeing. I'd only been to the mainland once and then only to Shanghai. I wanted to visit the Three Gorges before the new dam turned the Yangtze into a cesspool. I wanted a look at the Terracotta Warriors. And that sort of thing.

I was traveling with old friends from Hong Kong, whom I'll call Tom and Mai. Tom has spent decades in the mining and metallurgy business. He was breaking ground on an ore-processing plant in Nanjing. He seems to know everyone in China who has anything to do with iron, steel, coal, or beer. And Mai and her brothers owned a company in Hong Kong that brokered textile machinery. When China initiated its "Open Door" economic policy, Mai would take mainland clients to Europe (where they'd encounter their first fork) and arrange for the purchase of used spinning and weaving equipment.

I took a lot of notes, with Mai doing most of the translating. But I didn't know what to do with the notes when I came back. It took me almost two years to realize that what I have is a survey of "the tacit consent of the governed." Not that the Chinese I talked to were taciturn. They were forthcoming enough about their government, but they didn't care much about the political theory of it. Tom said, "Their attitude is, 'Shhh, politics is sleeping, don't wake it up.'"

I talked to people who worked in private enterprise and people who worked in government and people who worked on furthering cooperation between the two. That is, I talked to the kind of people who are necessary to the advocating of freedom and democracy but who, so far, aren't advocating it. We need to listen to what they don't say. Here is a record of what Chinese think of politics when politics isn't what they're thinking of.

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by Jim Hightower

To understand today's current mortgage crisis and spreading recession, look to an internal memo from Wall Street banking giant, JPMorgan Chase. For something that ended up so badly, the memo begins with a fun title: "Zippy Cheats & Tricks."

The Cheats & Tricks document, written on corporate letterhead, is addressed to the broad network of mortgage brokers associated with Morgan. The memo tells these brokers how to get risky, sub-prime loans okayed by "Zippy," which is the bank's in-house automated loan-approval system. In the days of the housing boom, Morgan executives clamored for brokers to bring in more of these loans, because they could be packaged and sold at high profits to wealthy investors.

However, many of the homebuyers being hustled to take those sub-prime loans had low incomes, no assets, and little prospect of being able to keep up their payments. Normally, the Zippy approval system would reject their applications – unless cheats & tricks were brought into play. The memo tells brokers to falsify the income numbers on the borrower's application: "Inch it up $500 [per month] to see if you can get the findings you want," the memo gaily urges. Since it was bank policy not to bother verifying the income and asset information, these bad loans zipped right through Zippy, brokers collected their fees, Morgan made millions in sub-prime profits, and all was right with the world – until financially-strapped borrowers began to default in droves.

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Spain to run America's 1st superhighway?

$12.8 billion deal would turn over control of Pennsylvania Turnpike

Stretching through the rural countryside with limited access and no speed limit in 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was built to resemble Germany's autobahn. Now thanks to a $12.8 billion dollar offer, it may soon become Spain's.

According to a report in the Philadelphia Daily News, Gov. Ed Rendell has announced that Abertis Infraestructuras of Barcelona has offered the top dollar bid to the state of Pennsylvania for the rights to manage the toll road under a 75-year lease.

The highway could become just the latest in a string of U.S. infrastructure landmarks to be operated by foreign companies.

In 2004, management of the Chicago Skyway, a stretch of elevated road connecting I-90 and I-94, was granted to Cintra, another Spanish operation that outbid Abertis at $1.83 billion. Abertis lost out to Cintra again when the Indiana Toll Road was taken over in 2006 for $3.8 billion.

This time, Abertis beat out Cintra and other firms, hoping to add the Pennsylvania Turnpike to its list of operations including toll roads in Spain, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. Abertis also operates airports, including the airports in Orlando, Fla.; Burbank, Calif.; and one concourse of the Atlanta airport.

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The Economy: Another Casualty of War

by Rep. Ron Paul

This week, as the American economy continued to suffer the effects of big government, the House attempted to pass two multi-billion dollar "emergency" spending bills, one for continued spending on the war in Iraq , and one increasing spending on domestic and international welfare programs. The plan was to pass these two bills and then send them to the president as one package. Even though the House failed to pass the war spending bill, opponents of the war should not be fooled into believing this vote signals a long-term change in policy. At the end of the day, those favoring continued military occupation of Iraq will receive every penny they are requesting and more as long as they agree to dramatically increase domestic and international welfare spending as well.

The continued war in Iraq and the constant state of emergency has allowed Congress to use these so-called "emergency" bills as a vehicle to dramatically increase spending across the board – including spending that does not meet even the most generous definition of emergency. For example, the spending proposals currently being considered by Congress provide $210 million to the Census Bureau and $4 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. $4.6 billion is requested for the closing of military bases, but not any of the more than 700 bases overseas – bases here at home! Another $387 million would go to various international organizations and $850 million more just in international food aid – all this when food prices are skyrocketing here and American families are having a hard time making ends meet. Because this spending will be part of "emergency" measures, it will not count against debt ceilings, or any spending limits set by congressional budget resolutions, and does not have to be offset in any way.

Explosive growth of government is just another tragedy of this war. The "bipartisan" compromises made in Washington are at the expense of the taxpayer, not in the interest of fiscal responsibility or peace. The taxpayer loses, and government grows.

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Clive Stafford Smith: US Holding 27,000 in Secret Overseas Prisons

Transporting Prisoners to Iraqi Jails to Avoid Media & Legal Scrutiny

"There is a huge number of [secret prisoners] being held in Iraq, and one of the intriguing aspects of this that doesn't get much reporting is that the US is bringing people into Iraq from elsewhere to hold them there, simply because that keeps [the media and lawyers] away from the prisoners so they can't get any sort of legal rights," reports British attorney Clive Stafford Smith.

Guest: Clive Stafford Smith, British born lawyer for over fifty detainees in Guantanamo Bay. He is the legal director of the UK charity Reprieve and has defended prisoners on death row for over twenty years. He is the author of Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay.

AMY GOODMAN: A military judge has postponed the first war crimes tribunal at Guantanamo to allow a Supreme Court ruling to be made on the right of prisoners to challenge their detention in civil courts. The trial against Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was scheduled to start on June 2nd. Navy Captain Keith Allred ruled on Friday the trial should be delayed seven weeks, until July 21st, in case the Supreme Court ruling affects his case.

The court is considering a challenge to a provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that denies Guantanamo prisoners the right to file petition of habeas corpus. It marks the third time the Supreme Court has examined the rights of prisoners held at Guantanamo. A ruling is expected June 30th.

In a separate ruling, the judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Hamdan to determine if he is competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist hired by his lawyers found he suffers from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and can't participate in his defense. The military says he has no signs of any problems.

The US holds about 270 prisoners at Guantanamo now and has said it plans to bring about eighty before the tribunals, the first to be held by the United States since World War II.

Clive Stafford Smith is a British attorney who represents more than fifty of the prisoners at Guantanamo, legal director of the UK charity Reprieve and author of Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay. He is testifying on Tuesday before the House Committee on Foreign Relations about Guantanamo Bay. He joins from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now! again, Clive Stafford Smith.

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, thank you very much for having me again.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of the Hamdan case?

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, of course, the Hamdan case has dragged on and on and on, and it's, I think, highlighted the mess that Guantanamo Bay is in down there. And really, the most eloquent spokesperson on that is not me; it's Colonel Morris Davis, who was the chief prosecutor of the process until he resigned recently, the chief military prosecutor in Guantanamo Bay.

And he had three criticisms, and he recently testified in Guantanamo about his criticisms. One is that the process is rigged. He said that he been told by a senior Bush administration official that there would be and there could be no acquittals in Guantanamo. In other words, everyone has to be convicted. He also said that there was intense politicization of the process. And indeed, Judge—the judge, Captain Allred, prohibited some of the senior offices, including Brigadier General Hartmann, from having any more role in the process, because they were basically telling everyone what to do. And I think the third one is the most important, which is that Colonel Davis said we really ought to ban the use of evidence that's been extracted through abuse and torture, such as waterboarding, from Guantanamo trials, because it's still being used down there. And then, indeed, one of my clients, Benyam Mohammed, it's all they have got on him, is evidence that they extracted from him after taking him to Morocco and torturing him with a razor blade to his genitals. So this is just a—it's a farce.

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100 Explosions on the Moon

by Dr. Tony Phillips

May 21, 2008: Not so long ago, anyone claiming to see flashes of light on the Moon would be viewed with deep suspicion by professional astronomers. Such reports were filed under "L" … for lunatic.

Not anymore. Over the past two and a half years, NASA astronomers have observed the Moon flashing at them not just once but one hundred times.

"They're explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the Moon," explains Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). "A typical blast is about as powerful as a few hundred pounds of TNT and can be photographed easily using a backyard telescope."

As an example, he offers this video of an impact near crater Gauss on January 4, 2008:

Above: A lunar impact on Jan. 4, 2008. This is number 86 on the list of 100 impacts recorded by the MEO team since their survey began in 2005. Larger movies: 0.8 MB gif, 5.9 MB avi.

The impactor was a tiny fragment of extinct comet 2003 EH1. Every year in early January, the Earth-Moon system passes through a stream of debris from that comet, producing the well-known Quadrantid meteor shower. Here on Earth, Quadrantids disintegrate as flashes of light in the atmosphere; on the airless Moon they hit the ground and explode.

"We started our monitoring program in late 2005 after NASA announced plans to return astronauts to the Moon," says team leader Rob Suggs of the MSFC. If people were going to be walking around up there, "it seemed like a good idea to measure how often the Moon was getting hit."

"Almost immediately, we detected a flash."

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Sit down, shut up, breathe

Can meditation make you a calmer, more compassionate person? Does the goddess sing in the shower?

I'm not exactly clear on how they did it. Something about taking Group No. 1 over here and hooking them up to a nifty array of happyfun electrodes and letting them begin their deep and experienced meditation practice, and then at some point suddenly blasting the sound of a woman screaming in distress right into their prefrontal lobes like a swell little icepick of terror.

And then the researchers simply observed which the parts of the meditators' brains lit up, and noted that it was the hunks related to empathy and compassion and also the parts that say, hey gosh, that screaming can't be good and I think I shall get up right now and go help that poor woman because I am training myself to feel more compassionate and empathetic and helpful all thanks to my deep and calming meditation practice.

Then they did a similar thing with Group No. 2, only minus most of the experienced meditation part, and when this group heard the same woman screaming in distress, their brains also lit up, only this time it was those parts that said huh, chick screaming in distress, how very curious, let us now reach for the remote control and turn up the volume on this delightful episode of "How I Met Your Mother" to drown out that obnoxious sound because, you know, how annoying.

I might be oversimplifying a bit. Or exaggerating. No matter, because the fact remains it is was one of those nice and delightfully foregone studies that deigns to reveal a helpful factoid which millions of people and thousands of teachers and gurus and healers have known for roughly ten thousand years.

It is this: deep meditation, the regular, habitual act of stilling yourself and intentionally calming the mind and working with the breath and maybe reciting a mantra or clearing your chakras or running a nice bolt of golden energy up and down your spine like a swell erotic tongue bath from Shiva, can actually have a positive effect on your worldview, can inject some divine love-juice into your core and make you more sympathetic, kinder, more apt to feel a natural inclination toward generosity and compassion and helping people who might be, you know, screaming.

I know. Totally shocking.

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Did McCain Create an HDTV Monster?

The technology he helped bring to market could kill his candidacy.

John McCain. Click image to expand.Marie Curie died from exposure to radium, her greatest discovery. Jim Fixx, who sold Americans on the health benefits of running, was killed by a heart attack at 52. To this roster of ironic demise we may soon add John McCain, the Senate's pre-eminent champion of high-definition TV.

As Senate commerce committee chairman in 1998, and later as the committee's highest-ranking Republican in 2002, McCain excoriated broadcasters for transitioning too slowly to the digital spectrum after the government had given away billions of dollars in HDTV-ready frequencies. (High-definition signals are available only via the digital spectrum. For a fuller explanation of the difference between "digital" and "HDTV," two terms often used interchangeably, click here.) In 2007, McCain complained that a congressionally mandated deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, to abandon the old analog spectrum was "too late" and introduced legislation to yank that spectrum from broadcasters and turn it over to police, medical, and other public-safety personnel. If it weren't for McCain's ceaseless agitating on this issue, HDTV probably wouldn't have anywhere near its present estimated penetration of roughly 11 percent of all U.S. households. High-definition TVs are not yet a mass-market consumer product, but they've become sufficiently ubiquitous in sports bars, offices, malls, and other public spaces that most Americans have likely had a gander at the new technology. Prices have dropped below $1,000, and if your analog TV happens to get fried during an electrical storm (as happened to me last year), you may find that your local electronics store now sells digital only. This is great news for McCain the consumer champion but terrible news for McCain the presidential candidate.

Last year, when McCain's candidacy appeared to be in serious trouble, you heard a lot about how awful he looked. He'd gotten old, his face was scarred from melanoma surgery; no wonder his presidential run was headed south. Then McCain started racking up primary victories, and his telegenic deficit was forgotten. I don't watch TV news much—with two kids, who has the time?—and what news clips I see tend to be off the Web. On cable-news sites and YouTube, McCain looked fine to me.

Then, this past weekend, I watched Saturday Night Live with my kids. McCain appeared in close-up in a mildly amusing skit whose purpose (at least from McCain's perspective) was to remove the age issue from voters' minds by turning it into a joke. It worked for Ronald Reagan in 1984; why shouldn't it work for McCain in 2008? With me, though, it had the exact opposite effect. As someone who'd pooh-poohed the age issue, I found myself gasping at McCain's mug as transmitted in glorious HDTV. Wrinkles, blotches, liver spots, scary tissue—none of these were hidden by McCain's makeup. As McCain cracked wise ("What do we want in our next president? Certainly someone who is very, very, very old."), I found myself thinking, Jeez, he doesn't look like a guy who'll turn 72 this August. He looks like a guy who'll turn 82. (Note to reader: The link I provide to the SNL skit won't give you any sense of what I'm talking about, because the clip isn't high-definition.)

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Leave Hitler Out of It

The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end.

Adolf Hitler"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals. … We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' "—George W. Bush, May 2008

"Moreover, in our time, these threats are not diminishing … [and] in these new threats, as during the time of the Third Reich, are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world."—Vladimir Putin, May 2007

No, by citing these two quotations, I am not drawing comparisons between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, two vastly different men. Nevertheless, it is clear from the above that Bush and Putin, despite their vast differences, do share a common ailment: They both suffer from the inexplicable need to inject the Nazis into current political debate whether they belong there or not.

True, it seems that Nazi analogies can be used with almost infinite flexibility. Bush—in what was widely interpreted as an attack on Barack Obama last week—was making a point about politicians who talk to "terrorists and radicals," comparing them to those who appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Putin, in what was widely interpreted as an attack on the Bush administration last year, was comparing the Nazis to contemporary regimes with "contempt for human life" and "claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world"—in other words, the United States.

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The anti-plastic backlash

Concerns about toxins are bringing glass jars back into style

The Mason jar rules Dana Driesman's kitchen. In a quest to live without potentially dangerous plastics, the Mississauga mother stocks her fridge and freezer with jars filled with food and drinks. She even sends her three-year-old daughter to daycare with her lunch packed in mini-Mason jars.

"A lot of people think it's such a hassle, such a bother," she says of portioning out and repackaging her food. "It takes 10 minutes out of my day. But if that's the most safe thing, let's do it."

With Health Canada set to ban polycarbonate baby bottles, which contain the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol A, many Canadians are seeing all the plastics around them in a newly unflattering light and scrambling for alternatives.

Early adopters of a plastic-free existence are only too happy to move from the fringe to the mainstream.

Glass Houses


HOUSE # 1:

A 20-room mansion (not including 8 bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guest house all heated by gas. In ONE MONTH ALONE this mansion consumes more energy than the average American household in an ENTIRE YEAR. The average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2,400.00 per month. In natural gas alone (which last time we checked was a fossil fuel), this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not in a northern or Midwestern "snow belt," either. It's in the South.

HOUSE # 2:

Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university, this house incorporates every "green" feature current home construction can provide. The house contains only 4,000 square feet (4 bedrooms) and is nestled on arid high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal heat pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F.) heats the house in winter and cools it in summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas, and it consumes 25% of the electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Flowers and shrubs native to the area blend the property into the surrounding rural landscape.

HOUSE # 1 (20 room energy guzzling mansion) is outside of Nashville, Tennessee. It is the abode of that renowned environmentalist (and filmmaker) Al Gore.

HOUSE # 2 (model eco-friendly house) is on a ranch near Crawford, Texas. Also known as "the Texas White House," it is the private residence of the President of the United States, George W. Bush.
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Interview with Congressman Dennis Kucinich by Hooshang Amirahmadi

Dennis Kucinich (DK)
Hooshang Amirahmadi (HA)

Office of the Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat-Ohio), Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, Wednesday May 14, 2008.

HA: Congressman Kucinich thank you for this interview on US-Iran relations. Please feel free to answer or not answer any question or speak as short or as long as you want.

DK: My pleasure!

HA: My first question is a personal one; you are a democratic super delegate in this election; who are you supporting?

DK- I have not made up my mind yet.

HA: My next question is a broader one. The US and Iran have been in hostile terms for almost thirty years. Has the time come for the relations to be normalized?

DK: Yes, relations should be normalized between the US and Iran. It's quite unfortunate that the United States has not made diplomatic initiatives or has ignored diplomatic initiatives that were made by Iran in the last four years. The people of Iran have had a longstanding respect for and love for the American people. And the people of Iran have been forgiving of America's illegal interventions in the internal affairs of Iran going back to the days of Mossadegh when the CIA helped overthrow his government. So people have a capacity for forgiveness even though they don't forget it. We have to understand that we have much in common with Iran. Our people have aspirations of freedom. Our people have a desire for economic progress. Our people have aspirations for security and peaceful relations with neighbors. Iran can be a very important partner with the United States in creating a new peace in the Middle East.

HA: Then why have they not been able to achieve normalization? Who is against this relationship in the US -- any groups, political parties?

DK: Well, the initial push to undermine the sovereignty of Iran fifty five years ago came from the US oil companies. So many of our political decisions are now being driven by the desire for oil. There is a masking of our political motives and intentions but oil has a significant role to play. There is also a certain element that makes money off of war and selling weapons.

HA: But the oil companies should be for US-Iran relations because they benefit from it, right?

DK: No! Consider the situation in Iraq where the United States illegally attacked the country, and at this point is trying to force the privatization of Iraq's oil on behalf of US oil interests. Look at the high price of oil in the United States; people are paying upwards of four dollars a gallon for gasoline in the United States. This is devastating to our economy. They could not do that if the oil companies did not have the amount of control that they do. And so, what I advocate is for the Iraqi people controlling their oil. If that is established, it is established for the entire region.

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Whose War?


Cindy Sheehan
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Cindy Sheehan

"I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."
- William Tecumseh Sherman

Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the US Constitution says that Congress has the enumerated power of "declaring war" and clause 12 says that Congress has the enumerated power to "raise and support armies." Some argue that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars because Congress did not declare war in either case, but calling something a "war" or an "illegal occupation" is merely an exercise in semantics, because people are dying just like it's a war.

Why, after all these years and all the proof that these military excursions were based on deliberately false information, does the US still have troops on the ground in the Middle East? Where does the responsibility lie in bringing our troops home? Which federal agency or branch of the government is now covered in the most gore? And whose war is it anyway?

Frankly, the why part of the question seems obvious. There is still money to be made by the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Cheney's company Halliburton and the Oil-garchy are realizing enormous profits while ordinary citizens are paying a heavy price at the pump and for other consumer goods that rely on petroleum to be delivered to the stores. Oh, is that everything? I think it is. Blood is being poured into the bank accounts of the ruling elite while it is being drained out of our soldiers, families and communities.

There is no indication from the arrogantly evil Executive Branch (that has now been co-opted by the most corrupt and criminal administration in US history) that they are seeking an end to the obscene occupations. Their buddies are profiting, and that's good enough for them. While the Bush Crime Family planned a wedding for May, many families, not of the Bush economic stratosphere or legendary ignominy, are planning funerals.

Instead of working overtime to see which party can exploit US troops better and harder than the other, (their pretend opposition and political playacting is exactly like watching pretend wrestling on TV where two "foes" spit epithets at each other and then fake-wrestle for a faker prize) Pelosi, et al, should be burning the midnight oil to craft a humane solution to what has become the Democrats' as much as the Republicans' problem. Instead of putting provisions for extended "timelines" or tying "guns and butter" (the very phrase makes me want to vomit at the sheer callousness), Speaker Nancy Pelosi must use her enumerated power to end these illegal occupations. It would be a lot less work to tell BushCo to use the money that has already been borrowed from China to start bringing our troops home (not redeploy to Iran or Pakistan), and if BushCo does not, and then it is truly a Republican conflict.

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The Conservative Movement: From Failure to Threat

By Paul Craig Roberts

U.C. Berkeley tenured law professor John Yoo epitomizes the failure of the conservative movement in America. Known as "the torture professor," Yoo penned the Department of Justice (sic) memos that gave a blank check to sadistic Americans to torture detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. The human rights violations that John Yoo sanctioned destroyed America's reputation and exposed the Bush regime as more inhumane than the Muslim terrorists. The acts that Yoo justified are felonies under U.S. law and war crimes under the Nuremberg standard.

Yoo's torture memos are so devoid of legal basis that his close friend and fellow conservative member of the Federalist Society, Jack Goldsmith, rescinded the memos when he was appointed head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Yoo's extremely shoddy legal work and the fervor with which he served the evil intentions of the Bush regime have led to calls from distinguished legal scholars for Yoo's dismissal from Berkeley's Boalt Hall.

I sympathize with the calls for Yoo's dismissal. In the new edition of The Tyranny of Good Intentions, my coauthor and I write: "Liberty has no future in America if law schools provide legitimacy to those who would subvert the U.S. Constitution."

However, John Yoo is but the tip of the iceberg. Scapegoating Yoo diverts attention from a neoconservative movement that has become the greatest enemy of the U.S. Constitution.

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What to do with all Those Cadbury Creme Eggs

by "GrrlScientist"

This streaming video shows a Rube Goldberg machine that is used to squish a Cadbury Creme Egg. It is an entry in Cadbury's "Unleash The Goo" competition, in which entrants must find the most creative way to break a creme egg. By the way, a keen eye will notice that the egg unravels out of its foil wrapping before it is smashed. The music is by the Jews Brothers Band. [2:35].

Boehner Wants Protection From Illegal Wiretapping - But Only For Himself

Posted by Tim Jones

Chris Frates at the Politico reveals how Republican Leader John Boehner is seeking wiretap protection for himself, but not for ordinary Americans:

When a federal judge ordered Rep. Jim McDermott to pay House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and his attorneys more than $1 million in damages and legal fees for leaking an illegally taped phone call to the media, Boehner said he pursued the case because "no one — including members of Congress — is above the law."

Why, then, is the Ohio Republican trying to squash similar lawsuits against telecommunications companies who cooperated with the government in warrantless electronic surveillance, ask the attorneys behind the class action suits.

The blatant hypocrisy on display here is stunning.

When ordinary Americans were being wiretapped, Boehner's attacked them and their right to privacy, claiming "I believe (phone companies) deserve immunity" from the law. But when Boehner himself was being wiretapped, he had no hesitation to claim his own right to privacy, claiming "no one is above the law."

When ordinary Americans are victimized, Boehner's taken every opportunity to caricature their representatives at EFF and ACLU as "unscrupulous trial lawyers" who are "trying to find a way to get into the pockets of the American companies." But when Boehner himself is the victim, suddenly defense attorneys don't seem so unscrupulous to him, and he has no problem employing his own litigators to receive a $1.1 million reward.

Related Issues: NSA SpyingPrivacy


Online game: balance the US budget


Brad Robideau says:

budget-hero.jpg American Public Media recently launched Budget Hero—our newest interactive game that lets people explore the major issues of the election by changing the federal budget to match their stands on issues and their values

Budget Hero tries to bring a level of clarity and simplicity to the federal budget. It is bound to be controversial since the game puts numbers against issues like bringing home troops from Iraq soon or gradually or not at all and providing options on taxes, Social Security and Medicare. American Public Media worked closely with the Congressional Budget Office, GAO and others on the data and devoted months of reporter and researcher time to creating the game.


Hippies might have something going with that incense crap

by Steve Higgins

steve_icon_medium.jpg Actually, I'll let you read the press release first and then we'll decide if 'religious leaders' and the damn hippies know something we don't ;)



Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. In a new study appearing online in The FASEB Journal (, an international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity," said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study's co-authors. "We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning."

To determine incense's psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs. Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.

"Perhaps Marx wasn't too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana, and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another religious ceremony." said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "Studies of how those psychoactive drugs work have helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion--burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!"

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