Daily Archive: 09/24/2012

Sep 24 2012

US Authorizes Terrorism

The Obama administration has now taken an even lower road the Bush/Cheney regime when it comes to terrorism and terrorist organizations. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is expected to inform Congress that she will be removing Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) from the department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). MEK was designated a terrorist organization in 1997 during the Clinton administration and was one of the reasons for the justification of the Bush invasion of Iraq. MEK has also has been linked to the assassinations of several of Iran’s nuclear scientists.

The decision was driven by a steady flow of funds to members of Congress, lobbying firms and former officials in support of Iranian group:

The campaign to bury the MEK’s bloody history of bombings and assassinations that killed American businessmen, Iranian politicians and thousands of civilians, and to portray it as a loyal US ally against the Islamic government in Tehran has seen large sums of money directed at three principal targets: members of Congress, Washington lobby groups and influential former officials.

There is a long list of MEK supporters from both sides of the aisle: Democrats Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Lee Hamilton;

Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Fran Townsend, Tom Ridge, Michael Mukasey, ex-FBI director Louis Freeh, Newt Gingrich and Andrew Card. Current Republican Congress members Ted Poe, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee,; Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee;  Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the foreign affairs committee’s oversight subcommittee

Lobbyist groups: DLA Piper; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and DiGenova & Toensing;

Government outsiders and journalists: Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Eli Wiesel; pro-Israel supporter Alan Deschowitz; The Washington Post‘s Carl Bernstein and the Chicago Tribune‘s Clarence Page. Townsend and Rendell are both cable news contributors.

Glenn Greenwald, writing at The Guardian, has five lessons to be learned about :the rot and corruption at the heart of America’s DC-based political culture”:

Lesson One: There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans.

The past decade has seen numerous “material support” prosecutions of US Muslims for the most trivial and incidental contacts with designated terror groups. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that any Muslim who gets within sneezing distance of such a group is subject to prosecution. Indeed, as I documented last week, many of them have been prosecuted even for core First Amendment activities: political advocacy deemed supportive of such groups. [..]

In sum, there are numerous American Muslims sitting in prison for years for far less substantial interactions with terror groups than this bipartisan group of former officials gave to MEK. This is what New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal meant when he wrote back in March that the 9/11 attacks have “led to what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims“. The converse is equally true: America’s political elites can engage in the most egregious offenses – torture, illegal eavesdropping, money-driven material support for a terror group – with complete impunity.

Lesson Two: The US government is not opposed to terrorism; it favors it.

The history of the US list of designated terrorist organizations, and its close cousin list of state sponsors of terrorism, is simple: a country or group goes on the list when they use violence to impede US interests, and they are then taken off the list when they start to use exactly the same violence to advance US interests. The terrorist list is not a list of terrorists; it’s a list of states and groups which use their power to defy US dictates rather than adhere to them.

Lesson Three: “Terrorism” remains the most meaningless, and thus the most manipulated, term in political discourse.

Terrorism, at least in its applied sense, means little other than: violence used by enemies of the US and its allies. Violence used by the US and its allies (including stateless groups) can never be terrorism, no matter how heinous and criminal.

Lesson Four: Legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC.

MEK achieved its goal by doing more than merely changing the beneficiaries of its actions from Saddam to the US and Israel. It also found a way – how it did so remains a mystery – to funnel millions of dollars into the bank accounts of key ex-officials from both parties, a bipartisan list of DC lobbyist firms, and several key journalists. In other words, it achieved its policy aims the same way most groups in DC do: by buying influence within both parties, and paying influence-peddlers who parlay their political celebrity into personal riches.

Lesson Five: there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it’s generally not from Iran.

Over the last decade, the US has had Iran almost entirely encircled, thanks in part – only in part – to large-scale ground invasions of the nations on its eastern and western borders. Some combination of Israel and the US have launched cyberwarfare at the Iranians, murdered their civilian scientists, and caused explosions on its soil. The American president and the Israeli government continuously and publicly threaten to use force against them.

Remember Osama bin Laden and how well that went.

Where is the protest from the so-called progressive left who were so opposed to the right wing Republican fetish with a war with Iran? ‘It’s OK if you’re Obama” should not be acceptable.

Sep 24 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: The Optimism Cure

Mitt Romney is optimistic about optimism. In fact, it’s pretty much all he’s got. And that fact should make you very pessimistic about his chances of leading an economic recovery.

As many people have noticed, Mr. Romney’s five-point “economic plan” is very nearly substance-free. It vaguely suggests that he will pursue the same goals Republicans always pursue – weaker environmental protection, lower taxes on the wealthy. But it offers neither specifics nor any indication why returning to George W. Bush’s policies would cure a slump that began on Mr. Bush’s watch.

In his Boca Raton meeting with donors, however, Mr. Romney revealed his real plan, which is to rely on magic. “My own view is,” he declared, “if we win on November 6, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back, and we’ll see – without actually doing anything – we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.”

Are you feeling reassured?

Robert Kuttner: Filling Geithner’s (Small) Shoes

Timothy Geithner has said that he’ll step down as Treasury Secretary at the end of Obama’s first term. Assuming that Mitt Romney keeps self-destructing and Obama wins a second term, who should succeed him?

Just as Obama’s choice in 2008 of an economic team led by Larry Summers and Tim Geithner told you a lot about what kind of president he’d be (and not be), Obama will signal a lot in his selection of Geithner’s replacement. [..]

This is a key appointment, folks. Should not be left to the usual suspects. Progressive community should be paying attention, big time.

Neta C. Crawford: ‘Targeted’ Drones Strikes and Magical Thinking

As we enter year twelve of the “war on terror,” drones are arguably the coolest tool in the American military arsenal. There is a breathless tone in describing these machines that loiter for hours, then fire Hellfire missiles at remote targets. But just below the gee-wiz is a simmering debate over the secrecy and legality of their strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. [..]

It took years for the U.S. to acknowledge that civilian casualties were not only a grave concern to Afghans and Iraqis, but were also hurting the U.S. war efforts. Generals admitted that for every civilian killed, a number of insurgents were born and attacks on U.S. soldiers grew. It is time that the U.S. apply these lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq to the not-so-secret, not-so-legal, and probably not-so-precise drone war.

Robert Reich: What Mitt Romney Really Represents

It’s not just his giant income or the low tax rates he pays on it. And it’s not just the videotape of him berating almost half of America, or his endless gaffes, or his regressive budget policies.

It’s something that unites all of this, and connects it to the biggest underlying problem America faces – the unprecedented concentration of wealth and power at the very top that’s undermining our economy and destroying our democracy. [..]

So much wealth and power have accumulated at the top of America that our economy and our democracy are seriously threatened. Romney not only represents this problem. He is the living embodiment of it.

Ari Melber: Republicans Are Fact-Checked at Twice the Rate of Democrats

A tabulation of recent rulings from PolitiFact, a prominent but increasingly controversial website devoted to fact-checking candidates’ claims, found that “statements by Mitt Romney and other Republicans” were rated false “twice as often as statements by President Obama and other Democrats.” That’s a lot more false statements by Republicans, which makes it harder to cling to the false equivalency that “both sides do it.”

Or maybe not.

A snap poll of conservative reactions shows that the study of Politifact, from George Mason’s Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), proves the conservative theory that the fact-checkers are out to get Republicans. [..]

And the Romney campaign is entitled to that view. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, though, it doesn’t matter what he thinks of the facts-what matters is what the facts think of him.

Framk Bruni: A New Inning, Late in the Game

THE way Kevin McClatchy figured it, he had to choose. He could indulge his dream of presiding over a big-time professional sports team, or he could be open about his sexuality. The two paths didn’t dovetail.

He went with sports, and in February 1996, at the age of 33, became the youngest owner in major league baseball when he led a group of investors who bought the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the next 11 years, he was the team’s managing general partner and chief executive officer, not to mention its public face. And for all of that time, he took pains not to let his players, the owners of other teams or anyone beyond a tiny circle of family and close friends learn that he was gay.

Sep 24 2012

Election 2012: Congress

Despite the Obama administration’s poor performance, it appears that President Obama is on his way to a second term. It also appears that the Senate will continue to remain in the hands of the Democrats and now there is speculation that favors the Democrats taking back the House of Representatives.

What has changed? Up with Chris Hayes host Chris Hayes and The Nation‘s Washington correspondent, John Nichols discuss the status of heavily contested U.S. House and Senate races across the country, and the polls that show a potential uptick for Democrats.

At the New York Times, Nate Silver, who writes Five Thirty Eight, gives his analysis on key Senate races and what has gone wrong for GOP Candidates:

Since we published our initial Senate forecast on Tuesday, Republicans have seen an additional decline in their standing in two major races.

Two polls of Virginia published on Wednesday gave the Democrat, the former Gov. Tim Kaine, leads of 4 and 7 percentage points over the Republican, the former Senator George Allen. [..]

The other problematic state for Republicans is Wisconsin, where their candidate, the former Gov. Tommy Thompson, had once appeared to hold the advantage.

Mr. Thompson’s Democratic opponent, Representative Tammy Baldwin, had published an internal poll earlier this week showing her pulling into the lead. [..]

Wednesday also brought bad news for Republicans in Massachusetts, where a fourth consecutive poll showed the Democrat Elizabeth Warren ahead of Senator Scott Brown; in Connecticut, where a poll gave the Democrat Chris Murphy a slight advantage over their candidate, Linda McMahon; and in Florida, where a Fox News poll gave the Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson a 14-point lead.

The Democrats’ chances of controlling the Senate have increased to 79 percent in the forecast, up from 70 percent on Tuesday.

Nate has two theories on what has effected the downturn for the GOP:

Theory No. 1: Is Romney a Downballot Drag?

Mr. Romney has not dictated much in the way of detailed programs in these areas, and some of the policy stances that he has articulated are unpopular.

Mr. Romney has also been less able to campaign effectively against an unpopular Democratic initiative, the Democrats’ health care bill, because he passed a similar bill as governor of Massachusetts.

Finally, some voters who disapprove of Mr. Obama, but who also have lukewarm feelings toward Mr. Romney, might lean toward voting Democrat for Senate in effort to ensure divided government, especially since Republicans also have control of the House.

Theory No. 2: G.O.P. Conservatism Is Hurting

An alternative hypothesis is that the shift has to do with overall perceptions of the Republican platform.

Nate’s last comment in the article was that if this trend continues with the Senate races leaning to Democrats just how vulnerable is the GOP to losing the House? Well here are a couple of articles that discuss just that possibility:

Breaking blue? Will Romney-Ryan troubles give Dems shot at House Majority?]

by Michael John Spinelli

(As) Romney-Ryan lose steam just when they’re supposed to be gaining on the White House, Republicans, including House Ohio Congressman and House Speaker John Boehner, show by actions they took last week that maintaining control of the people’s chamber may not be the slam dunk they once thought.

Reports surfaced late last week that House Republicans are throwing in $3.2 million to save their majority. Speaker John Boehner, one report said, is in “all-out panic mode,” manifested by his initiative to ask his Republican Members to put up $3.2 million from their coffers to save their shaky House majority.

If the Senate can stay in Democratic control, as many pollsters believe it can, and the House gavel leaves Boehner’s grip to be wielded by California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi again, President Obama’s second term will turn on a dime from being four years of more GOP obstruction to his every policy recommendation, to a term he can double down on, learning from the battlefield of missed first-term opportunities. [..]

Democrats are currently leading in national “generic ballot polls that ask people which party they prefer for House races (without naming candidates), Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog writes, about the fact that has led a forecasters like Princeton’s Sam Wang to conclude that, based on past elections, Democrats are favored to retake the House. Wang puts the odds of that occurring at 74 percent.

The article by Mr. Wang that is cited above is from August. This is Mr. Wang’s latest analysis of the Democrat’s change of taking back the House:

Conditions through August showed a 2% lead on the generic Congressional ballot for Democrats. As of September 20th, in the wake of the Democratic convention, the lead has widened to 4.0 +/- 2.0%. Although it has yet to be appreciated by pundits, this could well translate to a November loss of the House of Representatives by Republicans. Based on the generic Congressional ballot, the probability of a Democratic takeover is 74% with a median 16-seat majority. Whichever party is in control, the seat margin is headed for being narrower than the current Congress. Like any probability in the 20-80% range, this is a knife-edge situation. This picture may change over the coming six weeks as more information, especially district-level polls, becomes available. [..]

Predicting the House outcome is challenging. First, there is the basic problem that we have to estimate how far opinion will move between now and November. On top of that, there is uncertainty in knowing how the polling measurement – generic Congressional ballot preference – translates to a seat outcome.

Another approach would be to use district-by-district polls and ratings. An estimate like that can be seen from our data partner, Pollster.com. Their House outlook shows retained GOP control, and RealClearPolitics implies the same. However, many of those polls are weeks or months old. My estimate today suggests that in the coming weeks, we might look for district polls to move in the Democrats’ direction. This is also an opportunity for a detailed analytical approach, as taken elsewhere, to shine.

Regardless of which party controls the Executive Branch, it is the Congress that can dictate the direction of policies. We will be following these races and trends closely.

Sep 24 2012

Campaigning

Stump Speeches (3:40)

Ads and Slogans (2:44)

Spin Doctors (2:43)

Campaigning in the Digital Age (2:54)

Picking a Running Mate (2:54)

Sep 24 2012

On This Day In History September 24

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

On this day on 1789, The Judiciary Act of 1789 is passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement. That day, President Washington nominated John Jay to preside as chief justice, and John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson to be associate justices. On September 26, all six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Supreme Court was established by Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution granted the Supreme Court ultimate jurisdiction over all laws, especially those in which their constitutionality was at issue. The high court was also designated to oversee cases concerning treaties of the United States, foreign diplomats, admiralty practice, and maritime jurisdiction. On February 1, 1790, the first session of the U.S. Supreme Court was held in New York City’s Royal Exchange Building.

Sep 24 2012

Pique the Geek 20120923: Neon, as Inert as Elements Come

Last time we talked about fluorine, the very most reactive chemical element.  Now we add a single proton to the fluorine nucleus and come to Element 10, the LEAST reactive chemical element.  What a difference a charge can make!

Actually, neon is quite common in the cosmos but quite rare on earth.  It is fifth, after the elements that we have already discussed, because it is mostly a light even/even nucleus.  But that is not what makes it outstanding.

There are three stable isotopes of neon, 20Ne, at almost 91% natural abundance on earth, 21Ne, at about a quarter on one per cent, and 22Ne, the remainder.  This gets important later.