Monday, June 30, 2008

'Clark Stands By Comments About McCain'

Article here.

Wesley Clark is not backing down from the controversy created by his statements about John McCain on Sunday.

In a statement released tonight to reporters, Clark reiterates that he respects McCain's war record, but sticks to his main point that McCain's record does not qualify as the sort of judgment needed to be president:

There are many important issues in this Presidential election, clearly one of the most important issues is national security and keeping the American people safe. In my opinion, protecting the American people is the most important duty of our next President. I have made comments in the past about John McCain's service and I want to reiterate them in order be crystal clear. As I have said before I honor John McCain's service as a prisoner of war and a Vietnam Veteran. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. I would never dishonor the service of someone who chose to wear the uniform for our nation.

John McCain is running his campaign on his experience and how his experience would benefit him and our nation as President. That experience shows courage and commitment to our country - but it doesn't include executive experience wrestling with national policy or go-to-war decisions. And in this area his judgment has been flawed - he not only supported going into a war we didn't have to fight in Iraq, but has time and again undervalued other, non-military elements of national power that must be used effectively to protect America. But as an American and former military officer I will not back down if I believe someone doesn't have sound judgment when it comes to our nation's most critical issues.

. . .

Gen. Wes Clark on McCain's fitness to be Commander-in-Chief

'A very big pet'

Sent by a friend.

Posted using ShareThis

Lucy R.I.P.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lucy

She's out on the terrace now, enjoying the balmy weather. I'm pretty sure she's stopped eating (and possibly drinking water). Today I thought she was going to pass away (and she might tonight). Tomorrow I'm taking her to the vet (dead or alive). It would be cruel of me to leave her here in the apartment while I go off to work, considering the deteriorating condition she's in. I think the only way she survived the weekend is that she knew I was here and was looking after her.

I could stay home from work but don't see what purpose that would serve, since Lucy is only getting worse and is obviously suffering now. She can barely walk. Now she dreads my going off to work (she had begun sitting on the bathroom rug while I'm showering and getting ready), since she gets no attention during the day (B. had given her lots of attention).

What I'm saying is that she'll probably be put to sleep tomorrow. I think it's the best thing. We've been together for 14 years. It will be a huge loss for me but I think it's best for her.

'The Itch'

Fascinating article, here.

[Irish philosopher George] Berkeley [1685-1753] had recognized some serious flaws in the direct-perception theory—in the notion that when we see, hear, or feel we are just taking in the sights, sounds, and textures of the world. For one thing, it cannot explain how we experience things that seem physically real but aren’t: sensations of itching that arise from nothing more than itchy thoughts; dreams that can seem indistinguishable from reality; phantom sensations that amputees have in their missing limbs. And, the more we examine the actual nerve transmissions we receive from the world outside, the more inadequate they seem.

Our assumption had been that the sensory data we receive from our eyes, ears, nose, fingers, and so on contain all the information that we need for perception, and that perception must work something like a radio. It’s hard to conceive that a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is in a radio wave. But it is. So you might think that it’s the same with the signals we receive—that if you hooked up someone’s nerves to a monitor you could watch what the person is experiencing as if it were a television show.

Yet, as scientists set about analyzing the signals, they found them to be radically impoverished. Suppose someone is viewing a tree in a clearing. Given simply the transmissions along the optic nerve from the light entering the eye, one would not be able to reconstruct the three-dimensionality, or the distance, or the detail of the bark—attributes that we perceive instantly. . . .

The images in our mind are extraordinarily rich. We can tell if something is liquid or solid, heavy or light, dead or alive. But the information we work from is poor—a distorted, two-dimensional transmission with entire spots missing. So the mind fills in most of the picture. You can get a sense of this from brain-anatomy studies. If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals. When Oaklander theorized that M.’s itch was endogenous, rather than generated by peripheral nerve signals, she was onto something important.

The fallacy of reducing perception to reception is especially clear when it comes to phantom limbs. Doctors have often explained such sensations as a matter of inflamed or frayed nerve endings in the stump sending aberrant signals to the brain. But this explanation should long ago have been suspect. Efforts by surgeons to cut back on the nerve typically produce the same results that M. [the itcher] had when they cut the sensory nerve to her forehead: a brief period of relief followed by a return of the sensation. . . .

The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. . . .

The theory—and a theory is all it is right now—has begun to make sense of some bewildering phenomena. Among them is an experiment that Ramachandran performed with volunteers who had phantom pain in an amputated arm. They put their surviving arm through a hole in the side of a box with a mirror inside, so that, peering through the open top, they would see their arm and its mirror image, as if they had two arms. Ramachandran then asked them to move both their intact arm and, in their mind, their phantom arm—to pretend that they were conducting an orchestra, say. The patients had the sense that they had two arms again. Even though they knew it was an illusion, it provided immediate relief. People who for years had been unable to unclench their phantom fist suddenly felt their hand open; phantom arms in painfully contorted positions could relax. With daily use of the mirror box over weeks, patients sensed their phantom limbs actually shrink into their stumps and, in several instances, completely vanish. Researchers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recently published the results of a randomized trial of mirror therapy for soldiers with phantom-limb pain, showing dramatic success.

A lot about this phenomenon remains murky, but here’s what the new theory suggests is going on: when your arm is amputated, nerve transmissions are shut off, and the brain’s best guess often seems to be that the arm is still there, but paralyzed, or clenched, or beginning to cramp up. Things can stay like this for years. The mirror box, however, provides the brain with new visual input—however illusory—suggesting motion in the absent arm. The brain has to incorporate the new information into its sensory map of what’s happening. Therefore, it guesses again, and the pain goes away. . . .

'A Thoughtful Look at the Death Penalty'

Post is here.

Here's a thought:

It's the job of the government to be thoughtful and rational in dealing with criminals.

An editorial in The Des Moines Register chastises both presidential candidates for criticizing the Supreme Court's decision prohibiting execution as punishment for sex crimes that do not cause death.

Wednesday's ruling is a victory because it further narrows the reach of the death penalty, an uncivilized practice in 21st-century America. ... Killing criminals, whether murderers or rapists, accomplishes nothing. The Supreme Court - and the country - should be working toward abolishing the death penalty, not finding new opportunities to apply it.

'Men's Paris fashions blur gender boundaries'

Article here. Suzy Menkes (shown below) has 48 photos here. More from International Herald Tribune here.

Jun 29th, 2008 PARIS -- The French menswear collections ended on Sunday in a sea of sequins, silk and all things pink, challenging the adage that boys will be boys.

Fine fabrics like silk, gazar and crepe de Chine crept into the male wardrobe for spring-summer 2009 as Paris designers increasingly blurred gender boundaries.

"The most striking thing is the amount of crossover from women's collections that seems to be happening," Michael Roberts, fashion director of Vanity Fair magazine, told The Associated Press.


"A little bit of that goes a long way as far as I'm concerned. I just find it a little bit annoying that I'm supposed to be here for a week watching men's shows, and I keep having to pinch myself to remind myself that I'm not in the women's pret-a-porter," he added. . . .

'US Freezes Solar Projects to Study Environmental Impact of Collecting Sunshine in the Desert'

You know what the Bush administration is up to. Article here.

The NY Times story on this latest absurdity from the Department of Interior plays the headline pretty straight: Citing Need for Assessments, US Freezes Solar Energy Projects. And here are the lead paragraphs:

Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

. . .

It's another spiteful move by the administration designed to slow down the development of alternative energy projects. Some of the best solar resources in the country fall on public land, and fledgling solar companies were left frustrated and angry.

Yet just last week, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne saw fit to stand next to President Bush in the Rose Garden when he called on Congress to allow development of oil shale on public lands in the Green River Basin which straddles Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The moment is commemorated on the Department of Interior web site in both a photo and a video.

Bush complained that Congress has blocked the leasing of federal lands for oil shale development, even though here's what needs to happen to recover the oil embeded in shale deposits:

Extracting oil from shale involves heating the stone to 900 degrees F. This used to be done after mining hundreds of tons of shale. Now companies are experimenting with heating it in place, creating a horizontal river of boiling oil deep below the ground. A 2005 study by the RAND Corporation estimates it would require a 1200-megawatt power plant just to unlock 100,000 barrels of shale oil a day (less than 1 percent of our total oil demand). Large enough to serve half a million people, the power plant alone would burn 5 million tons of coal each year and release 10 million tons of global warming pollution.

Moreover, each barrel of shale oil produced by the conventional mining method consumes between 2.1 and 5.2 barrels of water, a commodity already scarce in the region. Runoff from mine tailings – 150,000 tons a day; 55 million tons a year – would threaten water supplies used by cities, farms, and wildlife.

. . .

'Scientists to test if cancer cure can work in humans'

"American researchers will soon start a human trial to determine whether a treatment that can eradicate cancer in mice will do the same in people." Story here, video here.

The treatment will transfuse specific white blood cells, called granulocytes, into patients with advanced forms of cancer. The granulocytes will come from healthy young people with immune systems that produce cells that have high levels of anti-cancer activity.

In the animal studies, white blood cells from cancer-resistant mice cured all lab mice who had malignant tumours. The cells have also been able to kill cervical, prostate and breast cancer tumour cells in Petri dish tests.

"All the mice we treated were 100 per cent cured," lead researcher Dr. Zheng Cui told CTV News. "So that was very surprising for us."

Cui, an associate professor of pathology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, will announce the study Saturday at the Understanding Aging conference in Los Angeles.

Granulocytes account for about 60 per cent of all white blood cells in the human body. The scientists already know, via a small study of human volunteers, that granulocytes from people under the age of 50 are most effective at killing cancer cells.

The study will begin with 22 cancer patients for whom conventional treatment has been unsuccessful. The researchers say that they will know within three months if the treatment will work in humans.

Cancer researchers worldwide will be watching the tests closely. . . .

Lucy Report

No response to catnip. Not good.

Saturday Night

Started emptying out the kitchen cabinets today in anticipation of Wednesday's demolition. The glassware and dishes went into B's empty dresser. Most everything else is going into Glad ForceFlex bags (the kind you can stuff a wrecked piano into).

Had a nice long talk with my friend "Sean" in Canada. The reception over the Magic Jack appeared to be fine, so I'll cancel the Vonage tomorrow.

Also called my father upstate and gave him the new Magic Jack phone number. I'd tried to call him on Father's Day but didn't reach him. He had received my card. He said his wife had been in the hospital for 12 days recently but was back home. He said the doctors don't know what's wrong. (I didn't delve into details but am aware of the problems). I told him Lucy wasn't well and that B. and I were no longer together, but that the kitchen project was coming along.

I cancelled my dentist appointment for Monday morning and emailed the vet that I'd be taking Lucy in first thing.

I also did laundry, rotated the mattress, and changed the sheets. So I kept busy today. I also managed to have coffee and read a magazine at Starbucks, then have dinner at Flanigan's and walk to the store.

Tired.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Unity

Leave Bill alone

Make a Point at Current.com

Joan Walsh's column here.

View from Germany: 'McCain Sides with Big Oil'

"An Environmental Flip-Flop." Spiegel story here.

A heated debate has erupted in the United States over oil drilling in coastal waters and Alaska. To the delight of business and the chagrin of environmentalists, President Bush and candidate John McCain are pushing to have a 26-year-old ban lifted -- and fallaciously promising that the move would lower energy and gasoline prices.

John McCain has discovered the environment. The Republican candidate for president is suddenly a friend of the environment and a proponent of climate protection. Donning his new green mantle, he has taken to tramping through giant rainforests in the northwestern United States, inspecting wind farms and portraying himself as one of the first politicians to have "sounded the alarm about global warming."

Hardly a day goes by without McCain proclaiming some new idea to protect the environment, from strict greenhouse gas emission limits to new automobile technologies. From one day to the next, he touts the benefits of nuclear energy, wind energy, solar cells, biodiesel and even coal. At times he lumps everything together, as he did recently when he rattled off a motley staccato of proposals as part of his "great national campaign to achieve energy security for America."

But with his latest idea, McCain is hoping to reduce his opponent Barack Obama's lead in the polls. It amounts to a single word: oil.

Or rather: more oil, and not just from the Middle East, but also from domestic production.

To achieve this new goal, McCain wants to lift a 26-year-old ban that protects the continental shelf off the US coastline against oil exploration. According to McCain: "We have enormous energy reserves of our own. And we are gaining the means to use these resources in cleaner, more responsible ways."

It sounds logical and consistent enough at first glance, but in truth it is an about-face fraught with consequences, because it completely thwarts McCain's new eco-offensive. . . .

Lucy not eating

But she seems to be content sitting here at my feet. I bought some baby food tonight and she sniffed it and seemed interested, but didn't eat it. I tried dabbing some on her mouth and she ate it, but she wouldn't eat it off the plate even if I put it up to her mouth. Nor did she drink any evaporated milk (which she had been drinking). Nor some Carl Buddig turkey (which she used to like). Of course I don't know whether she eats anything when I'm not here; I can't tell that.

She still walks around, however. She went out on the terrace tonight when I got home from work and has been moving around from place to place, albeit slowly and at times a little unsteadily.

Bootsy seems to be attuned to the situation and is behaving himself accordingly (at least when I'm here). He's a good cat.

'The only link you'll ever need'

A friend sent this.

Bill Gates cleans out desk at Microsoft

Humorous video here, with lots of celebs. Story here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

'The hits and misses of Microsoft'

The hits: Leaving Harvard, striking a deal with IBM, XBox and XBox Live, a computer on every desk in every home.

The misses: No more spam, the Internet, Windows security, innovation, antagonism to open source.

BBC article here (videos included).

'Fit, Not Frail: Exercise as a Tonic for Aging'

Keep going to that gym. Story here.

Miriam E. Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston and lead author of the new recommendations, observed last fall in The Journal on Active Aging that “with every increasing decade of age, people become less and less active.”

“But,” Dr. Nelson said, “the evidence shows that with every increasing decade, exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life, independence and having a full life. So as of now, Americans are not on the right path.” . . .

Contrary to what many active adults seem to believe, physical fitness does not end with aerobics. Strength training has long been advocated by the National Institute on Aging, and the heart association has finally recognized the added value of muscle strength to reduce stress on joints, bones and soft tissues; enhance stability and reduce the risk of falls; and increase the ability to meet the demands of daily life, like rising from a chair, climbing stairs and opening jars. . . .

The new recommendations add flexibility and balance to the mix. Improving balance and reducing the risk of falls is critical as you age — if you fall, break your hip and die of pneumonia, aerobic capacity will not save you. Ten minutes a day stretching legs, arms, shoulders, hips and trunk can help assure continued mobility, and daily exercises like standing on one foot and then the other, walking heel to toe or practicing tai chi can improve balance.

The recommendations, issued last August, are geared to healthy adults 18 to 64, with a companion set for those 65 and older or those 50 to 64 who have chronic health problems or physical limitations. Details can be found at www.acsm.org. Under “Influence,” click on Physical Activity Guidelines From ACSM and AHA.

The experts who made these recommendations urge all adults to adopt them now. As C. Jessie Jones, co-director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University, Fullerton, said, “People can’t wait until they’re in residential or long-term care to get started.”

'The Federal Marriage Amendment is back — with Vitter’s and Craig’s support'

Can you believe these people?! Post is here.

Just this week, a group of Republican senators re-introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution, which, as we know, would ban gay marriage. . . .

This isn’t especially surprising. Republicans are looking at the political landscape, and they’re feeling awfully discouraged. The polls look bad, the base looks depressed, and fundraising looks iffy. Rallying the far-right troops with an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution — even though it has no chance at even getting so much as a hearing — might be helpful to the conservative movement.

But the funny part is looking over the list of the 10 original sponsors. Most of the names are predictable — Brownback and Inhofe, for example — but there are two others whose names stand out: Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

Yes, two of the principal sponsors of a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage include one far-right Republican who hired prostitutes and another far-right Republican who was arrested for soliciting gay sex an airport men’s room.

As my friend Kyle put it, these two are "not exactly the poster boys of the family values crowd or particularly upstanding examples of the supposed sanctity of the 'union of a man and a woman.'"

'HIV Rate Up 12 Percent Among Young Gay Men'

"Steepest Rise Is in Black Males Ages 13 to 24." Story here.

The number of young homosexual men being newly diagnosed with HIV infection is rising by 12 percent a year, with the steepest upward trend in young black men, according to a new report.

The double-digit increase in young gay men is about 10 times higher than in the homosexual community overall, where the number of new infections is going up about 1.5 percent a year.

The report, released yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears to confirm impressions that a "second-wave" AIDS epidemic is underway in gay America.

"These men represent a new generation that has not been personally affected by AIDS in the same way that their older peers were," said Richard Wolitski, acting director of HIV-AIDS prevention at CDC.

The new data cover 33 states. Whether they reflect the entire country is unknown, although the states include New York, Florida, New Jersey and Texas, all of which have large numbers of HIV-infected people.

The study found that homosexual men were the only risk group in which the number of new infections rose annually from 2001 through 2006. (Epidemiologists prefer the term "men who have sex with men," or MSM, because many of them do not identify themselves as homosexual or gay.) In contrast, injecting-drug users, homosexual men who injected drugs, and heterosexuals each showed declines in new infections over that period.

In the 13-to-24-year-old group, the average annual increase was 12 percent, compared with a 1 percent decline in 25-to-44-year-olds, and a 3 percent rise in gay men 45 and older.

In the youngest age bracket, the yearly rise averaged 8 percent among Hispanics, 9 percent among whites and 15 percent among blacks.

Previous studies have found that gay black men on average have fewer sex partners, are less likely to use drugs and are no more likely to have unprotected intercourse than gay white men. Consequently, their higher rate of infection does not appear to arise from riskier behavior.

Instead, it reflects the higher prevalence of HIV -- as well as syphilis and gonorrhea, which increase a person's susceptibility to HIV -- in the black population. . . .

Thursday, June 26, 2008

20 Internet Acronyms All Parents Should Know

Slide show here.

WTF: DMV Learns Acronyms

(Post here.)

The Division of Motor Vehicles in North Carolina issued 10,000 license plates that began with WTF before someone spoiled the fun by complaining.

DMV officials got word of the plates last July when a 60-year-old technology teacher from Fayetteville complained about the plate after her teenage grandchildren clued her in.

The DMV actually featured a WTF license plate on its website. According to the linked story, "[o]fficials are trying to remove the plate from the site." Trying? Maybe DMV should call the technology teacher's grandkids to ask for help.

Now that the DMV has been clued in, it's offering all WTF plate recipients a chance to trade in their plates for a less expressive combination of letters. It's also inviting "anyone who has an issue with their plate" to "contact their local DMV office to request a new one." (The linked story helpfully links to a slideshow of 20 internet acronyms someone thinks parents should know.)

Kitchen update

They're coming to tear out the old cabinets next Wednesday between 9 and 11 a.m. My next chore is to empty the cabinets and put the contents somewhere I know not yet where. Most of it will go in heavy-duty garbage bags.

When the cabinets are out, we'll know what's underneath them. We may have to lay some more tile or do something else to level the floor. Also we'll also have to patch holes in the wall, etc. When this work is done, I'll schedule the installation of the new cabinets.

Lucy

I talked to the vet today about Lucy (who is sitting here at my feet). The vet had wanted me to keep her posted. The vet doesn't want Lucy to suffer (and neither do I). She said that if Lucy were suffering, she would hide and not eat. I told her that Lucy is still walking around, goes out onto the terrace when I get home from work, etc. I told her she was drinking water and maybe eating something. (She no longer eats when I put a plate in front of her, but there's food everywhere now.) I guess if it gets to the point where Lucy is no longer able to get around, it's her time to go.

Meanwhile Bootsy is more robust than ever, with all the good eats sitting around. And he was so sick around Mother's Day that he could barely walk across the room. (He recovered quickly.) Maybe he ate a centipede, or something. How they get into the apartment, I don't know.

Jerusalem gay pride march

See photo gallery here.

'Arnold: Offshore drilling backers lie'

From Salon. The climate summit was being held in the building next door to where I work. See here.

Make no mistake about it California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger strongly opposes John McCain's call for off-shore drilling to help ease peoples' pain at the pump.

Schwarzenegger is one of McCain's most prominent supporters in his bid for the White House.

On the final day of the Global Climate Summit ... Schwarzenegger said that advocates who claim off -shore drilling is a solution to lowering gas prices are just "blowing smoke." McCain, who embraced the idea in recent weeks, has made off-shore drilling a major component of his energy plan.

"America is so addicted to oil it will take us years to wean ourselves from it," Schwarzenegger said after being introduced by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. "To look for new ways to feed our addiction is not the answer."

The Florida governor, who also is supporting McCain, followed his lead on off-shore drilling.

Obama remains a mystery

See "What's The Big Idea" here.

Still, sixteen months after announcing his candidacy, and after twenty-six Presidential debates and thousands of public-speaking engagements, Obama remains a puzzle to many voters. Almost as dedicated a policy wonk as Hillary Clinton and arguably more centrist in his economic beliefs, he offers plenty of specifics about what needs to be done. But his captivating eloquence and his slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—have seemed to lift him dangerously high above the concrete. He has proved his steadiness of purpose without clearly defining his priorities. What, above all, does he intend to accomplish if he is elected President? . . .

The general consistency of Obama’s policy views—with an occasional bald deviation, as on the public funding of his campaign—is a contrast to John McCain’s erratic shape-shifting. McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts as skewed toward the rich, and unsustainable; now he wants to extend them forever. He co-sponsored a relatively humane immigration bill; now he disowns it. He deplored the torture of detainees at Guantánamo; now he attacks the Supreme Court’s decision granting them the constitutional right to challenge in federal court their continued detention as “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” . . .

Obama promises to tell voters what they need to know and not what they want to know. It’s a risky strategy, and one he doesn’t always follow, but when he put it into effect in April, by attacking McCain’s proposed summer gasoline-tax holiday, he helped his campaign more than he hurt it. Last week, he denounced McCain’s latest reversal, on offshore drilling. But he needs to go further. A year ago, he likened “the tyranny of oil” to that of Fascism and Communism, saying, “The very resource that has fueled our way of life over the last hundred years now threatens to destroy it if our generation does not act now and act boldly.” This is the kind of unequivocal message that Obama needs to develop. By telling just such inconvenient truths, Al Gore has inspired a worldwide movement to arrest climate change. The next President could be its most powerful leader. Obama will not rouse voters by getting lost in a tussle with McCain over the virtues of cellulosic ethanol. He can, however, make voters part of the solution by helping them understand that the greedy oil companies, the failing auto industry, and the craven Congress will not redeem themselves until consumers demand that they do so by making some inconvenient changes of their own. A little more audacity will yield a lot more hope.

'S. Florida home prices down, sales up in May'


Miami Herald story here.

South Florida home prices took another 20 percent beat down in May, as bargain hunters, with tens of thousands of properties at their disposal, scooped up foreclosures and bank-owned property offered on the cheap.

Sales were up from April, a sign that intuitive buyers may be sensing the market is close to bottoming and that more sellers -- including lenders -- are finally pricing right, some real estate agents said.

In Miami-Dade, sales rose 20 percent between April and May, according to figures from the Florida Association of Realtors released Thursday.

Broward sales volume increased 2 percent. Inventory, or the number of homes on the market, remained roughly stagnant in both counties, putting downward pressure on pricing going forward, analyst said.

Compared to last year, however, the picture remained decidedly grim in Miami-Dade, where sales were down 31 percent. In Broward, they dropped 8 percent.

In Miami-Dade, the median price of a single-family home fell 20 percent in May to $320,900 from $401,100 a year ago. In Broward, prices dropped 19 percent to $296,800, from $367,700 a year ago.

On the condominium front, in Miami-Dade, the median-priced unit rose 3 percent to $280,700 in May from $272,000 the same month a year ago. Sales were down 30 percent from last year. Broward condo prices plunged 31 percent to $138,900 from $202,600 last year on sales volume that dipped 2 percent. . . .

In a market saturated with foreclosures and bank-owned homes, other homeowners must price to compete with lenders that deeply cut prices to move properties off their books quickly. . . .

On Miami Beach, Chris Vane, an agent with Douglas Elliman Florida, said foreclosures were sparking bidding wars among cash buyers from out of state and Europe.

''Within one week of listing, we usually have multiple contracts. It's been crazy,'' Vane said.

An example: a one-bedroom, fully renovated unit in the Roney Palace Oceanfront Condominium on Collins Avenue, last purchased for $460,000, was listed at $165,000. The foreclosure, attached to the Hotel Gansevoort, drew multiple offers and will sell above the asking price to an all cash buyer from out of state, Vane predicted.

Florida as a whole saw sales rise 8.7 percent from April, for a total of 12,175 existing single-family homes sold in May, compared to 11,200 in April. Condo sales statewide rose 3 percent, with 4,018 sales in May, compared with 3,900 in April.

The median existing home prices also rose slightly by 2.2 percent to $203,300. Condos prices ticked up 1.5 percent to $181,800.

Nationwide, home sales rose 2 percent to 4.99 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median price fell 6.3 percent from last May to $208,600, a fall of 6.3 percent from a year ago.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Amen

See here.

'An honor Bush deserves'

Another from The Left Coaster here.

Sometimes the stories write themselves:

Reagan has his highways. Lincoln has his memorial. Washington has the capital (and a state, too). But President Bush may soon be the sole president to have a memorial named after him that you can contribute to from the bathroom.

From the Department of Damned-With-Faint-Praise, a group going by the regal-sounding name of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, is planning to ask voters here to change the name of a prize-winning water treatment plant on the shoreline to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. . . .

'McCain Doesn’t Even Have a Base'

Left Coaster post here.

Although the LA Times and Newsweek bring happy news to the Obama campaign with strapping double-digit leads, the LA Times also spells out disaster for McCain in another polling element: McCain is performing disastrously among Republicans, his own base. Compared to 2004, McCain is 26% behind Bush among Republicans at this time in the cycle. (h/t Liberal Oasis)

Another demographic disaster is shaping up for McCain among evangelicals, formerly the most fiercely loyal Republican voters ever to be found. James Dobson, the choleric Christian leader of evangelicals, issued a statement in February that he would not vote for McCain and would stay at home if Obama were the nominee. Apparently that message sunk in very well and an amazing 40% of evangelicals polled are seriously considering Obama.

If adopting Christian values to embrace liberal change in preserving the environment, fighting poverty, and ending war is part of the New Politics of Senator Obama’s campaign, well, that is some change I can believe in, god damn right.

If elected John McCain would become the oldest person ever to become president, another huge issue to the electorate, no matter how desperately our media try to ignore it. . . .

Bush waves, they don't wave back

Lieberman must go

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

See Lucy run


Was glad to be home today with the cats. While I was waiting on the cabinets, Lucy hung out a lot in the adjacent bathroom (a few feet away from where I sit at the computer). She seemed very interested in the toilet. She loves water (but screams bloody murder when I try to bathe her).

When the cabinet delivery guys came, she ran like crazy to a safe space under the futon behind me. (Didn't get a shot of that, however.) She was her old scaredy-cat self. It takes her a while to come out to strangers, whereas Bootsy pays them no mind or else goes up and sniffs them.

'Huge deal to save Everglades reached'

This is terribly important for our area. NBC News story here (I just saw it on TV).

U.S. Sugar Corp would sell 300 square miles for wetlands restoration

In one of the biggest conservation deals in U.S. history, the nation's largest producer of cane sugar reached a tentative agreement Tuesday to get out of the business and sell its nearly 300 square miles in the Everglades to the state of Florida for $1.75 billion.

The deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. results from a convergence of interests: The state is trying to restore the Everglades and clean up pollution caused by Big Sugar and other growers, while the American sugar industry is being squeezed by low-price imports.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist declared the agreement "as monumental as the creation of our nation's first national park, Yellowstone."

Under the deal, the state would buy U.S. Sugar's holdings in the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, including its cane fields, mill and railroad line. U.S. Sugar would be allowed to farm the 187,000 acres for six more years, after which it would go out of business.

Wetlands restoration enhanced
The state would then protect the land from development, which has been encroaching on the Everglades for decades.

State officials would also build a network of reservoirs and marshes to filter water flowing into the Everglades and help restore the River of Grass to a cleaner, more natural state. For generations, farming and development have blocked the natural flow of water and allowed fertilizers and other pollutants to spill into the wetlands. . . .

The deal would not end sugar production in the Everglades. Some 300,000 acres of land, or close to 500 square miles, used by other companies would remain in production.

"But it makes it a lot more manageable," said Ken Ammon, deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency overseeing restoration efforts. "It totally changes the face of Everglades restoration ... No one ever thought that a whole corporation like U.S. Sugar would up and potentially leave the Everglades." . . .

Cabinets are here

The cabinet delivery guys were here a little after 2:00. They had to take one of the cabinets out of the box and bring it in, since the box wouldn't fit through the doorway. That's the bottom corner cabinet (see kitchen corner in distance, directly above the cabinet in foreground). It has a bi-fold door. I was going to put lazy susans in there but opted for more shelf area instead. (There are bells and whistles in the other cabinets.) I'm not supposed to touch anything. The cats seem unfazed by all the boxes.

Now I have to box up everything in the kitchen before they come to tear out the old cabinets. I'll talk to the kitchen specialist at Home Depot about the schedule (she wasn't at work today).

I started a blog, which I'll link to, which will contain photos of the remodeling as it proceeds.

After the cabinets were delivered, I walked over to the Chicken Kitchen for lunch. I was hungry. Then I had a cup of coffee at Starbucks and read a story. It was a good one.

'Government Accountability Office Contradicts McCain, Concludes The Surge Has Failed'

Firedoglake post here.

While agreeing with the administration that violence [in Iraq] has decreased sharply, a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office concluded that many other goals Bush outlined a year and a half ago in the "New Way Forward" strategy remain unmet.

The report, after a bleak GAO assessment last summer, cited little improvement in the ability of the Iraqi security forces to act independently of the U.S. military, and noted that key legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament had not been implemented while other crucial laws had not been passed. The report also judged that key Iraqi ministries spent less of their allocated budgets last year than in previous years, and said that oil and electricity production had repeatedly not met U.S. targets.

Republicans love to preen themselves in their moral clarity -- how the world is black and white, right and wrong. But mention Iraq and they start desperately scrambling around for shades of gray.

It's pretty simple. The surge, as defined by Bush in January 2007, has either succeeded or failed. And it's clear it's failed. . . .

'Report Sees Illegal Hiring Practices at Justice Dept.'

No surprise here. More here ("One Harvard Law School graduate said that when he applied for the honors program a few years ago he was warned by professors and fellow students to remove any liberal affiliations from his résumé.")

Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used “political or ideological” factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.

The blistering report, prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general, is the first in what will be a series of investigations growing out of last year’s scandal over the firings of nine United States attorneys. It appeared to confirm for the first time in an official examination many of the allegations from critics who charged that the Justice Department had become overly politicized during the Bush administration.

“Many qualified candidates” were rejected for the department’s honors program because of what was perceived as a liberal bias, the report found. Those practices, the report concluded, “constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations.”

The shift began in 2002, when advisers to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft restructured the honors program in response to what some officials saw as a liberal tilt in recruiting young lawyers from elite law schools like Harvard and Yale. While the recruitment was once controlled largely by career officials in each section who would review applications, political officials in the department began to assume more control, rejecting candidates with liberal or Democratic affiliations “at a significantly higher rate” than those with Republican or conservative credentials, the report said.

The shift appeared to accelerate in 2006, under then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with two aides on the screening committee — Michael Elston and Esther Slater McDonald — singled out for particular criticism. The blocking of applicants with liberal credentials appeared to be a particular problem in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which has seen an exodus of career employees in recent years as the department has pursued a more conservative agenda in deciding what types of cases to bring.

Applications that contained what were seen as “leftist commentary” or “buzz words” like environmental and social justice were often grounds for rejecting applicants, according to e-mails reviewed by the inspector general’s office. Membership in liberal organizations like the American Constitution Society, Greenpeace, or the Poverty and Race Research Action Council were also seen as negative marks.

Affiliation with the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative group, was viewed positively. . . .

Tim Russert post mortem

I was shocked that a person of such prominence, who no doubt enjoyed "gold-plated" medical care (to quote George Bush), should suddenly pass away from a heart attack at his age. Story here.

Mr. Russert’s fate underlines some painful truths. A doctor’s care is not a protective bubble, and cardiology is not the exact science that many people wish it to be. A person’s risk of a heart attack can only be estimated, and although drugs, diet and exercise may lower that risk, they cannot eliminate it entirely. True, the death rate from heart disease has declined, but it is still the leading cause of death in the United States, killing 650,000 people a year. About 300,000 die suddenly, and about half, like Mr. Russert, have no symptoms. . . .

What killed Mr. Russert was a plaque rupture. A fatty, pimplelike lesion in a coronary artery burst, and a blood clot formed that closed the vessel and cut off circulation to part of the heart muscle. It was a typical heart attack, or myocardial infarction, an event that occurs 1.2 million times a year in the United States, killing 456,000 people.

In Mr. Russert’s case, the heart attack led to a second catastrophe, an abnormal heart rhythm that caused cardiac arrest and quickly killed him. An electric shock from a defibrillator might have restarted his heart if it had been given promptly when he collapsed at his desk. But it was apparently delayed. . . .

Mr. Russert’s heart disease was a mixed picture. Some factors looked favorable. There was no family history of heart attacks. Though he had high blood pressure, drugs lowered it pretty well, said his internist, Dr. Michael A. Newman. His total cholesterol was not high, nor was his LDL, the bad type of cholesterol, or his C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation that is thought to contribute to plaque rupture. He did not smoke. At his last physical, in April, he passed a stress test, and his heart function was good. Dr. Newman estimated his risk of a heart attack in the next 10 years at 5 percent, based on a widely used calculator.

On the negative side, Mr. Russert had low HDL, the protective cholesterol, and high triglycerides. He was quite overweight; a waist more than 40 inches in men increases heart risk. A CT scan of his coronary arteries in 1998 gave a calcium score of 210, indicating artery disease — healthy arteries do not have calcium deposits — and a moderate to high risk of a heart attack. An echocardiogram in April found that the main heart pumping chamber had thickened, his ability to exercise had decreased slightly, and his blood pressure had increased a bit. Dr. Newman and his cardiologist, Dr. George Bren, changed his blood pressure medicines, and the pressure lowered to 120/80, Dr. Newman said. . . .

An autopsy found, in addition to the plaque rupture, extensive disease in Mr. Russert’s coronary arteries, enough to surprise his doctors, they said. Had they found it before, Dr Newman said, a bypass would have been recommended. Dr. Bren differed, saying many cardiologists would still not have advised surgery. . . .

“You want to be sure your blood pressure and lipids are controlled, that you’re not smoking, and you have the right waist circumference,” Dr. Smith said. . . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday Report

I'm taking tomorrow off as a vacation day to wait up for the delivery of the kitchen cabinets. They're supposed to be here between noon and 4:00. If the time frame had been different, I might have gone to work for a few hours, but this eats a hole into the day. No big deal. I have the time off to spend. Works knows about this project and that I won't be trying to take a vacation this year. (There will be more days off for this project.)

I've cleared a space in the living room in which to store the cabinets (which come boxed). Next I have to schedule a date for the removal of my old cabinets, and then empty their contents into boxes and set them somewhere. This place will be chaos soon.

This morning before I left for work, Lucy was sitting on the throw rug here by the computer. So I left her food there. When I got home, however, she was back in her basket in my bedroom closet and looked awful. (I should have put her food back there, since that is her "safe space".) I felt bad. The food by the computer hadn't been touched.

Eventually she came out, however, and ate a little and then went out onto the terrace. Tonight I'll make sure she has some of the Fancy Feast by her basket.

She's looking very frail. I'm glad I have tomorrow off to commune with the cats. Booty needs (and gets) attention too, and he appears to be dealing with the situation as best he can. I just hope I won't have to have Lucy put to sleep (as I did with Yasmin). That tore me up but it was the best thing for Yas.

MagicJack: Save BIG money on phone bills

Check it out. I got mine in the mail today. Installation was a breeze. Made calls, received calls. Everything works. If it continues working (and I see no reason why it shouldn't), I'll get rid of Vonage, which I've been very pleased with.

George Carlin

Way back when.

George Carlin R.I.P.

I always liked him when I used to see him on TV, but haven't really kept up with his work through the years. See this post at TalkLeft. New York Times obituary here.

Lucy Report

Out on the terrace at midnight. I have a variety of food sitting out on paper plates all around the apartment now, and she's been eating. Earlier today, however, she was unable to jump up onto the futon behind me. (That's where she was sitting when I came home from work on Friday.) If she keeps eating, she'll get her strength back. It's up to her, I guess, unless she's fighting cancer (or something).

Tomorrow I have to go back to work and she'll be here by herself while I'm gone. (All this weekend, she's been sitting at my feet a lot.) I'll be sure to put out fresh food near her basket in the closet. Tonight after I went to the gym, I got another disposable cat litter tray (with litter) and put that in my bedroom for her convenience.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

'Pastor: Haggard has left "restoration program"'

Story here.

The evangelist forced out of his job after being caught up in a sex scandal involving a male prostitute has left a "spiritual restoration program" and no longer has any ties to the megachurch he founded, the congregation's new pastor said Sunday. . . .

He was fired in 2006 as pastor of the 14,000-member church he established, after a former male prostitute alleged they had a cash-for-sex relationship. The man also said he saw Haggard use methamphetamine. . . .

Haggard then moved to Phoenix with his family to begin what church leaders called a spiritual restoration program, which was expected to include counseling and prayer and last five years or longer. Boyd said Haggard asked to released from the restoration program in January and is no longer connected with New Life.

Haggard and church officials clashed last summer after Haggard sent an e-mail to a Colorado Springs television station outlining his plans to work as a counselor at a Christian-run halfway house in Phoenix. The e-mail also solicited financial support.

A four-pastor team of overseers said that those plans were unacceptable and that Haggard would seek secular employment instead. . . .

Looking good with HIV

"A fitness and nutrition plan can help diminish some of those unsightly gains that the virus, meds, and a little age can bring on." Story here.

He bought clothes just to cover it up. He was constantly monitoring his posture, hoping to minimize its appearance. But he wasn’t able to hide it for long. Someone approached Andy Ansell in his church, pointed at his protruding midsection, and asked, “Are you trying to put on weight?”

HIV-positive for more than two decades, the 42-year-old Minneapolis resident was no stranger to the effects of lipo-dystrophy, a side effect of certain antiretroviral medications and of the virus itself—not to mention the effects of aging as the HIVer population lives longer—in which fat is redistributed throughout the body.

Ansell had experienced pronounced veins on his legs and arms for years. Then, a long convalescence after a cycling accident two years ago left him out of shape and overweight. Twenty extra pounds on his 5-foot-4 frame sank right to his midsection, giving him the distended look that some call “Crix belly,” so called after one of the medications, Crixivan, in the protease inhibitor class, that can be major culprits for “lipo” side effects.

“I was, like, I’m healthy, but I still have that outward, visible appearance of somebody that has HIV,” he says. “While there’s nothing wrong with that, it still makes you feel—no matter how healthy you are—like there’s something wrong with you.”

Ansell’s doctor told him that no magic pill or procedure could do away with his unwanted belly. The best hope lay in diet and exercise, although there would be no guarantees. At the time, Ansell’s commitment to physical fitness was sporadic. Meals were also “hit or miss,” he says, with sugar playing a large role in his diet. He decided to make a change. . . .

The current HIV Plus magazine also reports on a once-a-month injectable treatment, and 149 new antiretrovirals in development.

'Weight-Loss Surgery Cuts Cancer Risk'

Article here.

A new study by researchers in Montreal shows that obese adults who undergo weight-loss surgery can dramatically reduce their cancer risks, Reuters reports.

Scientists at McGill University tracked 1,035 overweight patients who underwent bariatric surgery as well as nearly 5,800 adults who matched the surgery group in age, sex, and weight but did not undergo the stomach-shrinking surgery. They found that those who underwent the operation cut their cancer risks by 80% compared to their peers who did not have bariatric surgery.

Breast cancer risk showed the biggest decline, dropping a whopping 85%. . . .

Risks dropped markedly for breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, uterine cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to the study. . . .

10 ideas that changed the course of history

See here.

Interview with Obama's grandmother and half-sister in Kenya

Video here.

'Gay Cubans Mark their Territory Outside of Havana'

From TowleRoad here.

Gay Cubans certainly have more to be hopeful about this year than in year's past, with last month's massive gay rights rally and the news that this month Cuba's parliament is expected to consider a gay rights bill.

Outside Havana over the weekend, a sort of ceremonial gay pride gathering and party was held at the beach where a flag was planted.(via reuters)

Interama: The theme park in North Miami that was never built

Herald article here. Watch the video. Photo gallery of renderings here. Historical Museum info here. (The Interama site is just down the street from here.)

They called their dream Interama -- a Disney World for South Florida, a futuristic theme park, a permanent, groundbreaking World's Fair by the bay in North Miami.

From 1951 to 1975, Interama's promise as a gateway for the Americas captured the imagination of local planners, famous architects, five U.S. presidents and one powerful cheerleader -- iconic Claude Pepper, who represented Florida in Congress for decades.

Interama instead morphed into a massive boondoggle that drained millions in public money. At the end, all that materialized was cleared land prepped for construction.

Now the ups and downs of the famously failed project has become the newest exhibit at downtown Miami's Historical Museum of Southern Florida.

''Interama -- Miami and the Pan-American Dream'' brings the project back to life 40 years after its first scheduled opening date: July 4, 1968.

The exhibit, which opened Saturday and runs through Jan. 25, was prompted by two University of Miami architectural professors' unexpected discovery.

Allan Shulman and Jean-Francois Lejeune were researching a book at the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee, Shulman said, when they uncovered boxes of untouched Interama paperwork, photographs, models and plans, renderings, brochures, pamphlets and other memorabilia. . . .

Cat situation

I think it's very sad for the cats that their lives have changed so much since B. left. Bootsy, B's cat, appears to have adjusted, while Lucy, my cat, is having a harder time. (B. gave her a lot of attention while I was at work.)

Or maybe it's the "thing" (to quote the vet) in Lucy's abdomen, which the vet had originally thought was an enlarged kidney. A subsequent blood test determined that Lucy's kidney function was normal. Now the vet doesn't know what "the thing" is.

Tonight I bought two boxes of Fancy Feast cat food. Maybe that will help. Both cats no longer eat much of the dry food they've been fed for years, which was always supplemented by a can of wet food.

Sasha Andreev

Cute guy on HGTV. I hope we'll see more of him.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cuban TV shows first glimpse of Castro in five months

Watch video here.

'Australian Bellies Bulge Past America's'

Story here.

The astonishing speed with which Australians are adding weight has enabled the country to clam an unsavory title: fattest country among the world's major economies.

Quietly but surely, more than a quarter of the Australian adult population, 26% of its 15.1 million, has become obese, compared with 25% in the United States, according to a comprehensive survey, titled "Australia’s Future Fat Bomb," released Friday by the Melbourne-based Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. That would put Australia, a nation associated in the popular imagination with sports and outdoor activity, ahead of America as the world's fattest major country.

The percentage translates into almost 4 million people. Add another 5.4 million Australians who are overweight, and nearly 62% of the Australian adult population is above the threshold of a desirable weight range, a staggering figure. . . .

Movie reviews

'Is McCain Losing His Base?'

MyDD post here.

Is the media turning on John McCain? I wrote on Wednesday about Dana Bash's CNN piece that just ripped McCain for his many flip flops, a sentiment that was shared by CNN's Jack Cafferty in one of his excellent rants, which began like this.

If John McCain doesn't stop changing his position on the issues, he threatens to make John Kerry look like an amateur.

But today's AP "analysis" of the McCain campaign's "growing pains" is harsher still, even getting sarcastic. I didn't know The AP knew how to be sarcastic. . . .

Found this at Hullabaloo

'Car hits NYC pedestrians for 3rd time in 2 days'

Was it the same car each time, one might ask? Story here.

More art


From Font-de-Gaume (14,000 years old).

Saturday




Got a very good night's sleep. Stayed in bed till almost 1:00. I needed the rest--it's been so crazy around here lately and I haven't been able to nap. I went to the gym last night, exhausted as I was--and upset that Lucy didn't seem to be getting better--but I felt fine afterwards, and the rest of the night went well.

This afternoon I ate surf 'n' turf at Flanigan's while reading my magazine. Finished up an article on crazy Keith Olberman, then walked up to Starbucks for a coffee (and after that a Jamba Juice). I sat at a table outside, under the roof (vs. an umbrella), reading an article on prehistoric cave art (not available online). Fortunately it had cooled off by then as the storm clouds rolled in, and I was expecting it to storm any minute but it never did and hasn't since.

We all know about the caves at Lascaux, but actually a good number caves in the region contain prehistoric art. Chauvet was discovered in 1994 and contains the oldest cave art that we know of -- at least 32,000 years old.* Moreover, it's considered to be just as sophisticated as later cave art.

What emerged with that revelation was an image of Paleolithic artists transmitting their techniques from generation to generation for twenty-five millennia with almost no innovation or revolt. A profound conservatism in art, Curtis notes, is one of the hallmarks of a "classical civilization." For the conventions of cave painting to have endured four times as long as recorded history, the culture it served, he concludes, must have been "deeply satisfying"--and stable to a degree it is hard for modern humans to imagine.

The top drawing is from Chauvet and the others from Niaux. What the paintings "mean," if anything, is the subject of much speculation.

The bearded horses have been reintroduced into French animal parks from Central Asia.

_______________________
*The art at Lascaux is 14,000-17,000 years old and was discovered in 1940.

Joan Walsh: 'McCain's offshore oil-drilling flip-flop'

Column here. (Joan needs to read Paul Krugman's "Driller Instinct" column, below.)

I don't understand John McCain's presidential campaign. I know I'm not his target demographic. But at a time when most people believe he should be distancing himself from the least popular president in modern history, he finds a way to draw closer to George Bush. This week it was his bewildering flip-flop on offshore oil-drilling.

My first job out of college was at a Santa Barbara paper in the early 1980s, where politics was still dominated by a coalition of Democrats and enlightened Republicans horrified by the nightmare of the 1969 oil spill off the coast more than a decade earlier. I came of age believing environmentalism was a bipartisan concern.

That's become harder to believe, of course, but McCain was one of the comparative good guys. On Monday night Al Gore praised him as a rare GOP supporter on climate change issues, while endorsing Barack Obama. Now McCain has sold his soul for the alleged 18 billion barrels of oil we'd have access to if every single inch of coastal oil resources were plundered. That's roughly two years' worth of American oil consumption, and we probably wouldn't have access to most of it during McCain's (increasingly unlikely) presidency. So I don't understand what he's doing, but it's not the first time. (Other flip-flops I don't get: embracing the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy, saying he now wouldn't vote for his own immigration reform bill, and sucking up to former "agents of intolerance" on the Christian right. In case anyone in the McCain camp cares.) My weekly Current video explores the topic in more depth . . . .

But while I'm talking about disappointing political moves by a presidential candidate, I'd be remiss if I ignored Barack Obama's decision to support the tragic House FISA compromise. Obama's promise to work to strike telecom immunity isn't much comfort, as Glenn Greenwald explains here; those forces won't have the votes to strip that language from the bill. The only hope (a forlorn one, I admit) was blocking it. Call me politically unsophisticated, but I was actually surprised by Obama's decision. We'll have more on the issue in the days to come.

Make a Point at Current.com

Paul Krugman: 'Fiscal Poison Pill'

Column here.

Exhibit A of the poison pill in action is the sad case of John McCain, part of whose lingering image as a maverick rests on his early opposition to the Bush tax cuts, which he declared excessive and too tilted toward the rich.

Since then the budget surpluses of the Clinton years have given way to persistent deficits, and income inequality has risen to new heights, vindicating his opposition.

But instead of pointing this out, Mr. McCain now promises to make those tax cuts permanent — and proposes further cuts that are, if anything, tilted even more toward the wealthy. And how is the loss of revenue to be made up? Mr. McCain hasn’t offered a realistic answer.

You can explain though not excuse Mr. McCain’s behavior by his need to shore up relations with the Republican base, which suspects him of being a closet moderate. But he’s not the only one seemingly trapped by the Bush fiscal legacy.

Barack Obama’s tax plan is more responsible than Mr. McCain’s: relative to current policy, the Tax Policy Center estimates, the Obama plan would raise revenue by $700 billion over the next decade, compared with a $600 billion loss for Mr. McCain.

The Obama plan is also far more progressive, sharply reducing after-tax incomes for the richest 1 percent of Americans while raising incomes for the bottom 80 percent.

But while $700 billion may sound like a lot of money, it’s probably not enough to pay for universal health care, which was supposed to be the overriding progressive priority in this election.

Why doesn’t Mr. Obama propose raising more money? Blame the Bush poison pill.

First of all, Mr. Obama — like, to be fair, his main rivals for the Democratic nomination — isn’t willing to challenge the Bush tax cuts as a whole. He only proposes rolling back tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year.

Second, Mr. Obama proposes giving back a substantial part of the revenue raised by this partial tax-cut rollback in the form of new tax cuts.

These tax cuts would mainly benefit lower- and-middle-income families, although this can’t be said of Mr. Obama’s plan to eliminate income taxes on seniors with incomes under $50,000: since most seniors already pay no income taxes, this would do nothing for those most in need. And one wonders why we should create the precedent of exempting particular demographic groups from taxes.

But the big question is, are these tax cuts, however appealing, a top priority? The most expensive proposal, under the title Making Work Pay, would give most workers $500 in tax credits, at a 10-year cost of more than $700 billion. Isn’t it more important that workers be assured of health care?

The problem, I believe, is that even Democrats have bought into the underlying premise of the Bush years — that the best thing you can do for American families, or at least the only thing that can win their votes, is to give them a tax break. . . .

[L]ooking at the tax proposals of the two presidential candidates, it’s remarkable and disheartening to see how effective President Bush’s fiscal poison pill has been in restricting the terms of debate.

Progressives, in particular, have to hope that Mr. Obama will be more willing to challenge the Bush legacy in office than he has been in the campaign.

Paul Krugman: 'Driller Instinct'

Column here. (Emphasis added.)

Blaming environmentalists for high energy prices, never mind the evidence, has been a hallmark of the Bush administration. . . .

[T]he administration has spent the last eight years trying to convince Congress that the key to America’s energy security is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling — even though estimates from the Energy Information Administration suggest that drilling in the refuge would make very little difference to the energy outlook, and the oil companies themselves aren’t especially interested in punching holes in the tundra.

But it still comes as a surprise and a disappointment to see John McCain joining that unfortunate tradition.

I’ve never taken Mr. McCain’s media reputation as a maverick seriously, because on most issues, he’s a thoroughly conventional conservative. On energy policy, however, he has in the past seemed to show some independence. Most notably, he voted against the really terrible, special-interest-driven 2005 energy bill, which was backed by the Bush administration — and by Barack Obama.

But that was then.

In his Monday speech on energy, Mr. McCain tried to touch all the bases. . . .

The item that made news, however, was Mr. McCain’s call for more offshore drilling. On Tuesday, he made this more explicit, calling for exploration and development of the currently protected outer continental shelf. This was a reversal of his previous position, and it went a long way toward aligning his energy policy with that of the Bush administration. . . .

As many reports have noted, the McCain/Bush policy on offshore drilling doesn’t make sense as a response to $4-a-gallon gas: the White House’s own Energy Information Administration says that exploiting the outer shelf wouldn’t yield noticeable amounts of oil until the 2020s, and even at peak production its impact on oil prices would be “insignificant.”

But what I haven’t seen emphasized is the broader picture: Mr. McCain has now aligned himself with an administration that, even aside from its blame-the-environmental-movement tendencies, has established an extensive track record as the gang that couldn’t think straight about energy policy.

Remember, they didn’t just insist that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators; on the eve of the Iraq war, administration officials were also adamant that regime change in Iraq would add millions of barrels a day to the world oil supply, driving oil prices way down. (In fact, Iraq’s oil output took five years just to recover to preinvasion levels.)

So why would Mr. McCain associate himself with these characters? The answer, presumably, is that it’s a cynical political calculation.

I’m reasonably sure that Mr. McCain’s advisers realize that offshore drilling would do nothing for current gas prices. But they may believe that the public can be conned. A Rasmussen poll taken before Mr. McCain’s announcement suggests that the public favors expanded offshore drilling, and believes (wrongly) that this would lower gasoline prices.

And Mr. McCain may also hope to shore up his still fragile relations with the Republican base. As anyone who has read what’s in his inbox after publishing an article on oil prices can testify, there are many people on the right who believe that all our energy problems have been caused by sanctimonious tree-huggers. Mr. McCain has just thrown that constituency some red meat.

But I very much doubt that Mr. McCain’s gambit will work. In fact, it’s almost certainly self-destructive.

To have a chance in November, Mr. McCain has to convince voters that he isn’t just Bush, continued. Energy policy is one of the areas where he could best have made that case.

Instead, he has ceded the high ground on energy to Mr. Obama, and linked himself firmly to the most unpopular president on record.

Lucy report

I'm glad it's the weekend and I can devote lots of time to the cats. I know that Lucy especially misses the attention she used to get while B. was here and I was at work. She's hanging in there, however.

Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (one of the Bills of Rights)

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers [including now e-mails], and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

This is the law of the land. And our president swears to abide by the law when taking office. (IT people don't have to swear this.)

Left blogosphere's reaction to FISA legislation

My take on it is: abuses happened but they should be prevented in the future. I've read nothing showing that the telecoms' breaking the law for President Bush made us safer. There are legal (and expeditious) means of gathering intelligence that do not in any way compromise its effectiveness. We don't need a police state. Frankly I don't care whether the telecoms get retroactive immunity or not--they were being coerced by the lying Bush Administration at the time. Now all the lies have been exposed. (More on Sista Soljah here.)

Digby writes:

Sistah Soljah'd ?

There's lots of blogospheric angst today, and for good reason, around this FISA legislation. Senator Obama's commitment to support the "compromise,"(while promising to "work" to remove the offensive telcom immunity) is a big disappointment to many.

I am tempted to say this is a Sistah Soljah moment, wherein Barack makes it clear to the Villagers that he is not one of the DFH's [dirty fucking hippies], despite all their ardent support. Nothing is more associated with us than this issue. It may even make sense on some sort of abstract level. He's obviously decided that he has to run to the right pretty hard to counteract that "most liberal Senator" label.

But, I actually have no idea what his motivation is any more than the rest of the Democrats, who seem stuck in some 2004 time warp, fighting the battle of Fallujah with Don Rumsfeld. He may genuinely think the legislation is good or just be afraid that the Republicans will use it against him. (I don't think that's going to help frankly --- he voted against it last time and that's all they need for the scare ads.) He does say that if he wins, he promises not to abuse the power it gives him, so I guess we should feel good about that.

I do know this: they would not have made this "compromise" and then brought this to the floor without his ok, and probably without his direction. He is the leader of the Democratic Party now, in the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign. If he didn't come to them and say to get this thing done before the fall, then they came to him and asked his permission. That's just a fact. They aren't going to do anything he doesn't want them to do.

So, it's not really a capitulation. It's a strategy.

Update: Jack Balkin says Obama just wants the power as president. He may be right. That would also be a good reason to keep him from having it.