Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Political Digest for October 6, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree (or disagree) with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

Red Herring Politics by Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: In an election year, this is the time for an "October surprise"-- some sensational, and usually irrelevant, revelation to distract the voters from serious issues. This year, there are October surprises from coast to coast. There are a lot of incumbents who don't want to discuss serious issues-- especially their own track records. This year's October surprise that is getting the biggest play in the media is the revelation that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman once employed a housekeeper-- at $23 an hour -- who turned out to be an illegal immigrant. It is great political theater, with activist lawyer Gloria Allred putting her arm protectively around the unhappy-looking woman. But why anyone should be unhappy at getting $23 an hour for housekeeping is by no means clear. Maybe she is unhappy because Meg Whitman fired her when she learned that her housekeeper was an illegal immigrant, despite false documents that indicated she was legal when she was hired. What is Meg Whitman supposed to be guilty of? Not being able to tell false documents from real ones? Is that what voters are supposed to use to determine who to vote for as governor of California? A far more important question is whether voters can tell false issues from real ones. October surprises are especially phony when they are used on behalf of someone with a long track record in government, like Jerry Brown, who has held government jobs ranging from state attorney general to mayor of Oakland to governor of the state. What did Jerry Brown do the last time he was governor? That ought to tell us a lot more than whether Meg Whitman is a document expert. She is not running for a job as a document expert. One appointment by Governor Jerry Brown ought to tell us a lot about his ideology. His most famous-- or infamous-- appointment was making Rose Bird chief justice of the California supreme court. She over-ruled 64 consecutive death penalty verdicts and upheld none. Apparently no judge or jury could ever give a murderer a trial perfect enough to suit Rose Bird.

$69 million in California welfare money drawn out of state
Excerpt: More than $69 million in California welfare money, meant to help the needy pay their rent and clothe their children, has been spent or withdrawn outside the state in recent years, including millions in Las Vegas, hundreds of thousands in Hawaii and thousands on cruise ships sailing from Miami. State-issued aid cards have been used at hotels, shops, restaurants, ATMs and other places in 49 other states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, according to data obtained by The Times from the California Department of Social Services. Las Vegas drew $11.8 million of the cash benefits, far more than any other destination. The money was accessed from January 2007 through May 2010. (Your tax dollars at play. ~Bob.)

Will ballooning state budgets be the next systemic financial crisis?
Excerpt: In recent history, the United States has survived at least three major financial debacles: the Savings & Loan crisis around 1990, the bursting of Internet bubble around 2000, the collapse of the real estate bubble that began in 2007. What's next? When I was writing "Boomergeddon" earlier this year, I expected the next traumatic financial event to be the default by the United States and other sovereign nations on their debt. But I didn't see the U.S. hitting the skids until the mid-2020s. Meredith Whitney, the superstar financial analyst who first warned how the real estate crash would create a disaster for U.S. banks, now warns of a looming sovereign debt crisis -- but the sovereigns she refers to are not Greece, Ireland or Portugal. They are California, New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio. In a new 600-page report (which I am trying to lay hands on), she argues that the next systemic risk in U.S. finance is state and municipal government. In an interview with CNBC, she said she sees scary parallels between the fiscal condition of states/municipalities and the banks, including widespread off balance-sheet borrowing and a lack of transparency. Indeed, no one -- including the bond-rating geniuses at Moody's, Standard Poor's and Fitch, I might add -- had compiled all the information she believes is necessary to truly understand the risk. So, she set the staff of her boutique firm onto the job. "The Tragedy of the Commons" is the result. Fortune Magazine has the best reportage on the report. Whitney rates the condition of the nation's largest 15 states (as measured by GDP) on four criteria: their economy, fiscal health, housing and taxes. Only two states -- Texas and Virginia -- get positive ratings. The states with the worst ratings are, in order of awfulness: California, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio (3-way tie), Michigan, Georgia, New York, Florida. (Gee, I wonder why California is in bad shape? ~Bob.)

More Companies Abandon the Sinking Ship, California
Excerpt: Computer software giant Adobe, computer game monster EA Games, and Internet auction king ebay are abandoning California to set up shop in Utah. Why? California’s horrid business climate and high taxes... These companies fleeing California’s horrid business climate are not alone. There has been a steady flow of businesses out of California for the better part of a decade. As California’s political morass worsens, as its budget woes increase, and as her politicians are proven incapable of making the hard budgetary decisions to take power from unions and chop unnecessarily lavish social programs, the state’s jobs are bleeding out. California is in a freefall the end of which is still unseen. Here is a partial list of the large and medium-sized companies that have either moved parts of their business or have left the “land of milk and honey” for brighter prospects altogether:

States face crisis when fed funds dry up
Excerpt: Meredith Whitney isn't exactly a household name, but she's as famous as Cassandra on Wall Street. That's because in 2007, Whitney was one of the first to note that Citigroup and other high-flying banks were on the verge of collapse. Now the same woman who predicted the Wall Street meltdown is warning about another calamity -- our state governments are going broke, with possibly disastrous consequences. "I see a lack of transparency and an abundance of complacency on the part of investors and politicians, just as we saw before the banks imploded," she recently told Fortune. Whitney has released a 600-page report on states' fiscal woes, warning of $192 billion in state budget shortfalls, which comes to 27 percent of all combined state budgets for the 2010 fiscal year. States have been borrowing heavily from health care and public pension funds, which are now underfunded by $1 trillion, to cover their debts. What happens when states can't pay the bills? The next step is a collapse in the municipal bond market, because American cities and towns get about a third of their revenue from states. When the states run out of money, cities around the country could default. For example, Pennsylvania recently bailed out the city of Harrisburg, whose debt- service payments currently exceed its annual budget. What happens if multiple cities follow this path at once, and the states lack resources for multiple city bailouts? This possibility is not remote: A handful of California towns with serious budget problems have either filed for or are exploring Chapter 9 bankruptcy. More may follow if the economy remains in the ditch, precipitating an even worse disaster. A glut of municipal defaults could force cities everywhere to pay exorbitant interest rates to borrow in the future, creating a need for much higher state and local taxes just to maintain current government services. Whitney's report pinpoints the reason municipal bond markets are so precarious right now: State and local governments have been using federal funds to live beyond their means. The stimulus bill, for example, is covering $60 billion of the states' shortfall this year, but that money won't be around next year. The feds, already in the hole by $14 trillion, cannot keep up the state bailouts indefinitely. We face dire economic consequences if we don't end the fiscal hegemony of the federal government. The question is, will anyone listen to Whitney?

Democrats gain in poll but GOP still leads as midterm elections near
Excerpt: Less than a month before the midterm elections, the political landscape remains strongly tilted toward Republicans, although Democrats have made modest improvements with voters since their late-summer low point, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Democrats have cut in half the GOP's early-September advantage on the question of which party's candidates voters say they will support on Nov. 2. They have also made small gains on the question of which party people trust to handle big issues, such as the economy and health care. Voters give Democrats a significant edge as the party that would do a better job in helping the middle class, which has been a key campaign message from the White House in recent weeks. (Voters tend to “come home” as the election nears, one of the reasons independent candidates often fade from early numbers. ~Bob.)

Defense panels approve $300M for wounded troops care
Excerpt: Congressional defense committees have given the Pentagon the green light to spend $300 million on medical equipment and research projects to treat wounded troops. The congressional nod came at the last minute because Maryland and Virginia lawmakers had hoped to use the funds to avert congested traffic in Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia. The Pentagon had worked with the two state delegations in that effort, but it had also asked for approval to spend the funds on medical equipment and research projects if the Maryland-Virginia effort failed. That approval was granted Sept. 30 after efforts to include the Maryland and Virginia lawmakers’ provision in a continuing resolution funding the government was unsuccessful. Sept. 30 was the last day the Pentagon could have reallocated the money. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, and even though the government is funded at fiscal year 2010 levels, it is considered a new year and the Pentagon could no longer reallocate the money for other uses without permission from Congress. (If you wonder what’s wrong with Congress, read the above. ~Bob.)

K Street shops eye vulnerable Dems as potential recruits
Excerpt: K Street is scouring the ranks of lawmakers facing tough reelection races or retirement, looking to snag top-tier lobbyists. With Republicans set to notch major gains in the midterm elections, possibly enough to retake control of Congress, a flood of former Democratic lawmakers may be looking for new jobs, and many may turn to K Street. There will be a lot of interest from K Street in hiring former members,” said Ivan Adler, of the McCormick Group Inc. “I’ve already had inquiries from law, lobbying firms asking, ‘Can I help them set up meetings with particular members if they lose?’ ” More than 150 former lawmakers were registered lobbyists in 2009; others work in law or consulting fields closely related to lobbying. At least 156 more former members registered to lobby in 2009, according to, including 127 former representatives, 15 former senators and 14 who served in both chambers. Seventy-five were Democrats, and 81 Republicans. (If you wonder what’s wrong with Congress, read the above. And in the “lame duck” session, will they vote with their constituents—or their new employers? ~Bob.)

Vulnerable House Democrats run away from their party’s record
Excerpt: House Democrats in tough races are running away from their party’s legislative record as they face an electorate that's skeptical of what the party has accomplished over the past two years and rates Congress at historic lows. A Gallup tracking poll from the end of September shows that only 18 percent of voters approve of the job Congress is doing while landmark legislation like healthcare reform and the stimulus remains unpopular. The abysmal approval numbers come against the backdrop of a Congress that is able to boast more major legislative achievements than any Congress in decades. It's a legacy House Democrats are wrestling with ahead of Election Day and, more often than not, repudiating in close contests. "It's not everyone's cup of tea," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is a Republican target this fall. "Moderates and Blue Dogs in our caucus have grown increasingly antsy about that agenda and whether it was or is overly ambitious." Connolly voted in favor of healthcare reform, the stimulus and Wall Street reform, but over the past two months the Virginia Democrat has emerged as one of the loudest Democratic voices urging the leadership to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts, even for the wealthiest Americans.

Report: HHS's Sebelius has missed seven health reform deadlines
Excerpt: Six months after health reform's enactment, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has missed seven deadlines mandated by the new law, according to the Congressional Research Service. The CRS memorandum was requested by Republican senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Cornyn (Texas). It was sent to them on Friday. "Future months are unlikely to see HHS improve its record of compliance," Coburn writes on his Web site. "The Department failed to meet one-third of 22 deadlines in six months, yet now the Department has less than three months to meet another 29 requirements required by law." Many of the missed deadlines concern just a few days or relatively obscure provisions, although several states failed to have their high-risk pools in place for two months. HHS raised some issues with the report. An administration official pointed out that the reconciliation act, enacted March 31, pushed back the deadline for Medicare drug discounts. And the federal government's federal high-risk pool was established on July 1.

Midterm Elections: The Five Themes to Watch;contentBody
Excerpt: The midterm elections are less than a month away. Here are the five themes that could determine whether Democrats or Republican emerge from them with control of the House and Senate in the next Congress. It's hard to believe that President Obama has been in the White House for less than two years. In that time, the promise of hope and change from 2008 has for many given way to fear and loathing. People don't feel better about the direction of the country and are scared for the future. That anger has turned into a palpable frustration with all things government - and it's not just aimed at Democrats. People from across the political spectrum are disillusioned.

President Obama, uniter (of Republicans)
Excerpt: Just eight percent of Republicans approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing in office, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News national poll, a stark indication of the hyper-partisan climate heading into the Nov. 2 election. Obama is only the second president to hit single-digit job approval with the opposition party in the history of Post/ABC polling. (It will come as no surprise to political junkies to learn that George W. Bush was the first.) Ninety percent of self identified Republicans disapprove of how he is handling his office; roughly three quarters of all self identified GOPers "strongly" disapprove. Despite that near-unified opposition from Republicans, a majority -- 50 percent -- of voters overall approve of the jobs Obama is doing, numbers buoyed by some gains among independents (49 percent approve/49 percent disapprove) since the last Post/ABC survey. (Eight in ten Democrats approve of the job Obama is doing.) The story is the same when voters are asked about Obama's handling of the economy. A meager seven percent of Republicans offered their approval while a whopping 79 percent (!) strongly disapproved. Much of the enthusiasm gap that Republicans still enjoy with four weeks left before the midterms can be ascribed to this unified distaste for the sitting president. In that regard, the 2010 election is beginning to look just like the 2006 midterms when Democrats were united in their disapproval of Bush's presidency and determined to send the president a message.

The Regulation Tax Keeps Growing
Excerpt: The annual cost of federal regulations in the United States increased to more than $1.75 trillion in 2008, a 3% real increase over five years, to about 14% of U.S. national income. This cost is in addition to the federal tax burden of 21%, for a combined cost of 35% of national income. One out of every three dollars earned in the U.S. goes to pay for or comply with federal laws and regulations, and new policies enacted in 2010 for health care and financial services will increase this burden. Attempts have been made to estimate the costs of these laws and regulations, but the calculations are incomplete. In March, for example, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost and subsequent effect of health-care legislation on the federal budget deficit. These estimates did not consider the full compliance cost on businesses. The Regulatory Right to Know Act requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to submit a cost-benefit analysis of federal rules and paperwork "to the extent feasible." So-called "non-major" rules are excluded in their 2009 report, however, as are rules adopted more than 10 years ago. This means that thousands of costly federal mandates are not included in OMB's tally. Discouragingly, OMB ignored the distribution of the regulatory burden, which is uneven. In a report released last week for the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration, we find that small businesses bear a disproportionately large share of regulatory costs. The portion of these costs that falls initially on businesses overall was $8,086 per employee in 2008. But these costs are not borne equally by businesses of all sizes. Larger firms benefit from economies of scale in compliance; small businesses do not have that advantage.

No Chickening Out on Trade Retaliation
Excerpt: Trade relations between the U.S. and China are heating up, with both countries bringing antidumping charges against the other — some in retaliation for earlier actions. With the House of Representatives primed to take up a bill allowing the U.S. to levy tariffs on Chinese imports to protest China’s currency intervention, China announced it was slapping a huge tariff on imports of U.S. poultry. This would up the chicken tariff to a minimum of 50.3 percent and a maximum of 105.4 percent on chicken products imported from the U.S. — an escalation from an earlier tariff tacked on by China in retaliation for the U.S. slapping a higher tariff on Chinese tires last year. Last Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved H.R. 2378, the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act. (Note to readers: whenever “fair trade” is used instead of “free trade,” it’s almost always supporting a protectionist policy.) Almost immediately on September 26 — though apparently not connected — China’s ministry of commerce announced that it had concluded a year-long antidumping investigation of U.S. poultry imports and concluded that the chickens were being sold to China at lower than production costs. This was followed quickly by a September 27 announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce that the People’s Republic of China and Mexico were unfairly dumping seamless refined copper pipe and tube, and the U.S. would be imposing dumping duties on those imports pending a thorough investigation by the International Trade Commission. (Trade restrictions kill an economy. See “The Great Depression” and “Smoot-Hawley.” But they never learn. ~Bob.)

Curb Medicare Spending The Ryan Way
Excerpt: The problem appears intractable. Congress has enacted modest cuts, yet everyone from Medicare's chief actuary to the Congressional Budget Office to the International Monetary Fund declares even those cuts to be politically implausible. Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) "Roadmap for America's Future" proposes even tighter limits on Medicare's growth, leading columnist Bruce Bartlett to opine, "the Medicare actuaries have shown the absurdity of the Ryan plan by denying that Medicare cuts already enacted into law are even worthy of projecting into the future." On the contrary, experience and public choice theory suggest that the Ryan plan has a better shot at reducing future Medicare outlays than past efforts, because the Roadmap would change the lobbying game that fuels Medicare's growth.

Gay Saudi prince beat servant to death
Excerpt: A gay Saudi prince killed his servant in a murder of "ferocity" which had a "sexual element", a court heard today. Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud had previously subjected Bandar Abdulaziz to physical assaults and mistreatment, the Old Bailey was told. The 32-year-old victim was found beaten and strangled in bed at the London hotel room he was sharing with the prince on February 15. A series of injuries including bite marks to Mr Abdulaziz's cheeks revealed the "ferocity of the attack to which he had been subjected", a jury was told. The prince at first claimed his aide had been robbed and attacked in Edgware Road three weeks before his death, the Old Bailey heard. But CCTV footage from a lift at the Landmark hotel in Marylebone where they were staying showed the victim had been subjected to a "really nasty assault" by the defendant himself on January 22, said Jonathan Laidlaw QC, prosecuting. It became clear to police that he had been killed "in the privacy of the room he had shared with the defendant and when alone with him", the court heard.

America Isn't Prepared for Another Big Disaster
Excerpt: "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers." So concluded the Hart-Rudman Commission in a report issued Sept. 15, 1999 -- two years before the 9/11 attacks. The commission also predicted that "all borders will be more porous; some will bend and some will break." Given conditions on the U.S.-Mexican border today and the deepening cycle of cross-border violence fueled by transnational criminal cartels, that finding seems mighty prophetic as well. But the Hart-Rudman Commission didn't just forecast these future threats. It also argued that the nation should prepare to deal with them. One recommendation called for establishing a single federal agency "with responsibility for planning, coordinating, and integrating various government activities involved in homeland security." The commission also declared that the Department of Defense ought to be prepared to play a role in responding to the massive destruction that might be caused by nuclear and biological attacks. Not much attention was paid to this "chicken-little" report. But that started to change when planes began crashing into buildings, anthrax arrived in the mail, and a British air traveler tried to set his shoes on fire. (See my take on this, including my 1998 column predicting 9/11: The Next Terrorist Attack on America

Not in Our Name: The ‘One Nation’ March — Today’s Trade Unions and the Left
Excerpt: Writing on, Rich Trzupek accurately observes how “Saturday’s ‘One Nation’ rally in Washington demonstrated just how far out of step the Left is with America.” Having once sought to condemn Tea Partiers as racist and anarchists, now “they’re telling America that Tea Partiers are corporate shills.” MSNBC’s talking head, the repulsive and little watched Ed Schultz, told the small crowd that “this march is about the power to the people. It is about the people standing up to the corporations. The conservative voices of America, they are holding you down. They don’t believe in your freedom. They want the concentration of wealth. They’ve shipped your job overseas.” As Schultz saw things, it was the corporations that were holding down “the working man of America.” They want to ship American jobs overseas, he argued, and keep all the profit and money for themselves. It did not occur to Schultz, evidently, that protectionist trade policies would only decrease jobs at home, spur a trade war, increase prices, and even more quickly produce a new economic downturn — with a result of even less jobs at home. As Trzupek points out, however, the conservative opponents of Obama do not shill for the corporations. They not only “distrust corporate America,” but “understand that businesses large and small must be held accountable for their actions and that government should do its best to maintain a level playing field. The Left’s wild assertion that conservatives — and it should be noted that twice as many Americans associate themselves with the right than they do the Left — favor unchecked corporate greed over their own well-being is patently ridiculous. Those same Americans are stockholders in corporations, their retirement accounts depend on the continued profitability of those corporations and their jobs, to a large extent, depend on maintaining a free market economy that allows corporations large and small to thrive.” Like the old union leaders, they know that a market economy is their friend — not their enemy.

Campaign watchdogs want IRS to probe Rove's American Crossroads
Excerpt: Two campaign finance watchdogs have asked the IRS to investigate a conservative group backed by Karl Rove. Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center argue Crossroads GPS, a conservative group spending heavily in this year's campaign races, is violating tax laws meant to limit political activity by non-profit groups. In a letter to the IRS, the groups said Crossroads GPS and its sister group American Crossroads is using its tax-exempt status to improperly keep its donor list private. (Want to bet these “watchdogs” aren’t interested in ACORN voter fraud or any other leftist group? ~Bob.)

Frames and Narrative in Climate Science
Excerpt: There is much angst in the climate community over effective public communication of climate science. Strategies such as framing, messaging and narrative are receiving increasing attention by the climate establishment. The current ideas seem to be focused on “climate disruption” and framing the problem in terms of human health impacts. I can only hope that an uncertainty frame is ascendant. In my opinion, the communication challenge is a symptom of the main problem, which is the framing and narrative of the overall scientific argument (the IPCC assessment reports) and how the evidence and arguments are presented. The problems in making the overall the argument aren’t associated with any particular incompetence on the part of climate scientists, but rather arise from the complexity of the climate system. It is this extraordinary complexity that makes reasoning about the climate problem extremely difficult. The second monster in my narrative is the complexity monster. Whereas the uncertainty monster causes the greatest confusion and discomfort at the science-policy interface, the complexity monster bedevils the scientists themselves. Attuned to reductionist approaches in science and statistical reasoning, scientists with a heritage in physics, chemistry and biology often resist the idea that such approaches can be inadequate for understanding a complex system. Complexity and a systems approach is becoming a necessary way of understanding natural systems. A complex system exhibits behavior not obvious from the properties of its individual components, whereby larger scales of organization influence smaller ones and structure at all scales is influenced by feedback loops among the structures. Complex systems are studied using information theory and computer simulation models. The epistemology of computer simulations of complex systems is a new and active area research among scientists, philosophers, and the artificial intelligence community. How to reason about the complex climate system and its computer simulations is not simple or obvious.

21,000 Iowans to lose Medicare plans
Excerpt: About 21,000 Iowans received notice last week that their insurers would no longer provide their Medicare Advantage plans in 2011, a state agency said. With Medicare Advantage, Iowa seniors get their health care insurance through a private company, instead of directly through the government Medicare program. The plans often provide coverage, such as prescription drugs, in addition to medical and hospital coverage. Insurers were required to notify members by Saturday that they will no longer contract with Medicare to provide plans, said Iowa's Senior Health Insurance Information Program.

Trucks Encircle ABC, CBS, NBC, Challenge ‘Liberal’ Media to ‘Tell The Truth’
Excerpt: Four billboard trucks bearing the message “Stop the Liberal Bias, Tell the Truth!” began circling the Manhattan headquarters of ABC, CBS, NBC, and the New York Times on Friday. The trucks will do so for eight hours every weekday for the next four weeks as part of a campaign run by the Media Research Center, a watchdog group that analyzes the media for liberal bias. Similar trucks also are operating in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, passing the offices of the broadcast networks, the Washington Post, CNN, the Newseum, the National Press Club and Politico, and ads about the campaign are running on numerous Web sites and on conservative talk radio programs.

The Unraveling of a Political Party
Excerpt: It is impossible to overstate the importance of cable television news, particularly Fox News, and the alternative media. In the absence of these information sources, many stories that are now part of the political equation for the November elections would have remained hidden beneath an impenetrable cloak of secrecy. Limited to the news discretion of the mainstream media, voters would now be completely ignorant of the implosion and unraveling of the Democrat Party. One example of the current state of mind of rank-and-file Democrats is an unsigned newspaper article sent to me by my rabid Democrat sister in Missouri, with whom I’ve had an undeclared political truce for several years. The article rehashed all of the old tired and worn out charges against George W. Bush that Democrats concocted to gain control of the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. The author even went so far as to hang the 9/11 attack around Bush’s neck, saying, “He was the guy who was minding the store when our nation experienced its biggest terrorist attack (on) Sept. 11, 2001.” The email was followed by a terse instruction from my sibling, saying, “The truth is the truth. Accept it.” I recognized the email immediately for what it was. It was a cry of undisguised anguish from a committed Democrat who looked into the future and saw her party taking an unprecedented drubbing at the polls… a fall from grace that, hopefully, will last for generations. It was a cry of rage from a partisan Democrat who… having bought into all the yellow propaganda emanating from union halls over many years… knows in her own heart that her party is about to receive its just deserts and who needed a convenient target on whom to inflict her seething anger. But she is just one of the millions of enraged “little people,” the Democratic rank-and-file, who, while totally oblivious to the foreign ideology that is the basis of their party, nevertheless remain totally dedicated to it. The top leaders and elected officials of the party are also in panic mode.

Britain to Search for Alien Life in Earth's Atmosphere
Excerpt: Space, the final frontier -- or is it? Scientists hope to find alien life forms closer to home -- in Earth's upper atmosphere. British researchers from Cranfield University, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, plan to launch a balloon this week from the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden, with on-board instruments that will search for non-Earth bacteria and micro-organisms. Team leader and electronic engineer Clara Juanes-Vallejo spoke to AOL News from above the Arctic Circle, where she and her team were waiting for the launch of the Cranfield Astrobiological Stratospheric Sampling Experiment, or CASS-E. "We have an interest in looking for life in extreme environments, like the planet Mars, because if we can find life in a harsh environment, like Earth's stratosphere, then we might be able to find life on Mars," Juanes-Vallejo said. "In the stratosphere, it's minus-90 degrees Celsius, and a near-vacuum, in addition to extreme radiation, where there's no atmosphere to protect you. If we find very strange life up there, we can say it's not ours." (They may find alien life, but they may also find Earthly life there. The great American science fiction writer Robert Heinlein suggested this possibility in several stories, most notably in "Goldfish Bowl" March, 1942. Ron P.)

Why Big Labor couldn't match Glenn Beck's rally
Excerpt: The nation's biggest, richest and most powerful labor unions spent months organizing the "One Nation Working Together" rally at the Lincoln Memorial Saturday. With midterm elections approaching, they hoped to put on a show of political strength to energize struggling Democratic candidates. But even after giving it everything they had, they still weren't able to draw as many people as Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in August. Why not? Because the labor movement is shrinking, aging and divided. Because the best program its leaders (and co-sponsors at the NAACP) could put together was one featuring Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Richard Trumka, Van Jones and Harry Belafonte. And because George W. Bush is no longer in the White House. Put those factors together, and Big Labor's big march fell flat.

Virginia Attorney General Resubmits Climategate Subpoena
Excerpt: Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has sent a new civil subpoena to the University of Virginia, renewing a demand for documents related to a work of a former university climate scientist that was stymied when a judge blocked his previous request in August. The new Civil Investigative Demand revives a contentious fight between Cuccinelli and the university over documents related to the work of Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist whose research concluded that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann worked at U-Va. until 2005; he is now employed by Penn State University. In the demand sent to the university last week, Cuccinelli once again asked that the school turn over all e-mails exchanged between former university professor Michael Mann and 39 other scientists as well as between Mann and his secretaries and research associates. An Albemarle County judge had quashed a previous demand from Cuccinelli at the request of the university, ruling that Cuccinelli had not properly explained his rationale for believing fraud may have been committed. He also ruled that Cuccinelli had no right to documents about grants conducted using federal instead of state dollars. In response, Cuccinelli has limited his demand to the e-mails and documents related to one state grant Mann received. The attorney general dropped requests for paperwork related to four other federal grants. But he expanded a section explaining why he sought the records, laying out in writing that he seeks the documents because Mann wrote two papers on global warming that "have come under significant criticism" and that Mann "knew or should have known contained false information, unsubstantiated claims and/or were otherwise misleading."

Peace Doesn’t Keep Itself
Excerpt: Yesterday afternoon, President Barack Obama told his Economic Recovery Advisory Board: “I realize that we are facing an untenable fiscal situation. What I won’t do is cut back on investments like education.” Meanwhile what our Commander in Chief is very willing to cut is defense. In Bob Woodard’s new book Obama’s War , the President is reported telling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I am not spending a trillion dollars” on war costs. And he told Vice President Joe Biden exactly why: ”I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” Since 1960, federal spending on education has tripled while test scores have remained flat. Meanwhile, even after factoring the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation will only spend 4.9% of GDP on defense this year compared to a post-Word War II average of 6.5%. Education is arguably a local responsibility that should be controlled at the local level with as little federal interference as possible. And even if you think federal spending on education is necessary, it is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, and the Department of Education did not even exist until President Jimmy Carter invented it. But the phrase “provide for the common defense” is right there in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. An explosion in domestic spending, particularly from entitlement programs–Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid–is the true source of our nation’s “untenable fiscal situation,” not defense. Furthermore, our nation’s continued economic prosperity is entirely dependent on a peaceful world.

Fascinating story about an illegal immigrant, a really special case
WBZ Boston, not exactly a Far Right station, started a series on this African lady who's been living here illegally for many years, in public housing, receiving disability checks although she has never worked a day here. She is well spoken and quite forward in her opinions.... for instance, that since she is here we have an obligation to make her a citizen. This is a priceless comment on how messed up our immigration policies are. She does have a relative here, but so far he has not sponsored her officially for anything. Except for an invitation at a ceremony back in January '09. --Del

Does Stuxnet Mean Cyberwar?
Excerpt: The atomic age isn’t exactly over, but it seems we may have entered a new phase of it. In the age of cyberwarfare, what does it mean to have a nuclear weapon if someone else may own your command and control systems – and you may not even know that they do? If the Iranians do manage to build a bomb, can they now risk embarrassment, not to say a nuclear catastrophe, by testing it? And even if they test it successfully, what’s its strategic worth if they don’t know whether or not they can actually use it? Even concepts like nuclear deterrence will have to be reviewed. The relative stability of the Cold War was a function of clarity: Deterrence is a strategy premised on clear red-lines, warnings and threats. Cyberwarfare is precisely the opposite, where no one has to own anything and there is little, if any, accountability. “One of the things that we are trying to reason through is what are the rules for using weapons in cyberspace,” says former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden. The U.S. discussion, explains Hayden, is in terms of distinction and proportionality. “You only want to hit who or what you’re mad at, and then you need to decide if the good done outweighs the evil. I look at the amount of collateral damage from Stuxnet and it strikes me that this would be a challenging policy question for us, whether it meets what Americans would describe as distinction and proportionality.” (...) Some estimates suggest that the cost of cyberwar will eventually wind up somewhere close to 10 percent of the defense budget, a figure that might have seemed steep two weeks ago, but maybe less so after Stuxnet. We want to be able to defend our own systems against similar attacks, or even worse ones. “You hear people say, ‘no one would bring the financial system down,’” says Stewart Baker, George W. Bush’s former assistant secretary for policy at the Department Homeland Security, and author of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism. “It’s wishful thinking to believe we all have an interest in the survival of the existing system. Obviously it’s not good for us if the system goes down, but maybe someone else sees it differently. Maybe the calculation is that while it hurts them, too, it will only hurt them for a year or so, while it sets us back a century. That’s a bargain some countries might be willing to make.”

Thank Obama for the GOP Revival
Excerpt: The Obama White House is getting gripes from party members about how its agenda may cost Democrats the House, or even the Senate, this fall. Come Nov. 3, the bigger criticism may be the extent to which the White House has cost Democrats their grip on the electoral map—not just this cycle but for some time to come. The 2008 Obama victory was followed by that great wash of literature hailing a Permanent Democratic Majority. The electoral map showed Democrats ascendant in vast swaths of the country—the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, and states such as Virginia and North Carolina. Republicans looked more like a shrunken, rump party of the South. In his New Republic piece, "America the Liberal," John Judis wrote that the Obama win was a culmination of a "Democratic realignment" long in the making; conservatism was kaput. Demographer Ruy Teixeira, in a paper titled "New Progressive America," feted the spreading blue map and its durability. Asked if Republicans might "come back," Mr. Teixeira explained the GOP had "nothing much to sell" and wouldn't until it had jettisoned "outdated ideology." Until then, the "long-term shifts" would "advantage the progressive side of politics."

Arabs Harass Female 'Peace' Activists; Left Silences Victims
Excerpt: Two activists have exposed a disturbing phenomenon that they say is an open secret within the “peace camp”: female “peace” activists are routinely harassed and raped by the Arabs of Judea and Samaria with whom they have come to identify. They say the phenomenon has gotten worse lately and that many foreign women end up as wives of local Arabs against their will, but cannot escape their new homes. Roni Aloni Sedovnik, a feminist activist, penned an article in News1 – an independent website run by respected investigative reporter Yoav Yitzchak – under the heading “The Left's Betrayal of Female Peace Activists Who were Sexually Assaulted.” “A nauseous atrocity has been going on for a long time behind the scenes at the leftists' demonstration at Bil'in, Naalin and Sheikh Jarrah [Shimon HaTzaddik],” she writes. “A dark secret that threatens to smash the basic ideological values upon which the demand to end the occupation of the Territories rests.” It turns out, she explains, that when female peace activists from Israel and abroad come out to Judea and Samaria and demonstrate against the Israeli “occupation,” they are assaulted sexually by the Arab men whom they have come to help. These are not isolated incidents, Aloni-Sedovnik stresses. Rather, this is an “ongoing and widespread” phenomenon that includes verbal and physical abuse. She accuses the 'peace' camp of purposely covering up the trend so as not to offend “the Palestinians and their heritage, which sees women as sexual objects.”

Terrorism, Vigilance and the Limits of the War on Terror
Excerpt: The U.S. government issued a warning Oct. 3 advising Americans traveling to Europe to be “vigilant.” U.S. intelligence apparently has acquired information indicating that al Qaeda is planning to carry out attacks in European cities similar to those carried out in Mumbai, India, in November 2008. In Mumbai, attackers armed with firearms, grenades and small, timed explosive devices targeted hotels frequented by Western tourists and other buildings in an attack that took three days to put down. European security forces are far better trained and prepared than their Indian counterparts, and such an attack would be unlikely to last for hours, much less days, in a European country. Still, armed assaults conducted by suicide operatives could be expected to cause many casualties and certainly create a dramatic disruption to economic and social life. The first question to ask about the Oct. 3 warning, which lacked specific and actionable intelligence, is how someone can be vigilant against such an attack. There are some specific steps that people can and should take to practice good situational awareness as well as some common-sense travel-security precautions. But if you find yourself sleeping in a hotel room as gunmen attack the building, rush to your floor and start entering rooms, a government warning simply to be vigilant would have very little meaning. The world is awash in intelligence about terrorism. Most of it is meaningless speculation, a conversation intercepted between two Arabs about how they’d love to blow up London Bridge. The problem, of course, is how to distinguish between idle chatter and actual attack planning. There is no science involved in this, but there are obvious guidelines. Are the people known to be associated with radical Islamists? Do they have the intent and capability to conduct such an attack? Were any specific details mentioned in the conversation that can be vetted? Is there other intelligence to support the plot discussed in the conversation?

Sources: Possible drone strike in Pakistan kills 8 Germans
Excerpt: Eight suspected German nationals were killed in a suspected drone strike in northwestern Pakistan, two Pakistani officials said Monday. The strike happened in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, the officials said. Missiles struck a building that eight suspected German militants were in, the officials said. The eight are believed to have been members of the group Jihad al Islami, the officials said.

Feds Say Two Californians Tried to Smuggle Grenade Launchers to Mexico
So shoot them. Seriously. ~Bob. Excerpt: Federal prosecutors charged two 21-year-old men with trying to buy grenade launchers, 40mm grenades and an M-4 rifle and export them to Mexico. Yoahjan Lara Flores, of Heber, Calif., and Arturo Lara, of El Centro, were arrested last week and pleaded not guilty. Lara Flores also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was convicted in 2009 of importing marijuana and was on supervised release when he was arrested, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Mexico has complained - to little effect - that many of the guns used in the country mass murders in Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere are imported from the United States. Some 30,000 people have died in Mexico since 2007 in a continuing battle for control of the country's drug market. Mexican officials, including the president, have complained that the vast majority of the drugs are not consumed in Mexico, but that the country serves as a "trampoline" to send the drugs to the United States. The smuggling of guns from the United States to Mexico has received far less press coverage than the smuggling of drugs the other way.

Top Stroger aide Carla Oglesby arrested in contract probe
Ah, Chicago. Another day, another corruption arrest. ~Bob. Excerpt: Authorities this afternoon arrested a top aide to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger as part of a probe into whether contracts were steered to the aide's company and her associates. Carla Oglesby was taken into custody between 3:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. by investigators in connection with the ongoing public corruption investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the Cook County State's Attorney's office. Sally Daly said state’s attorney’s investigators detained Oglesby as she was pulling out of a parking garage near Lake and Dearborn streets. Investigators were looking into a series of contracts that came in just below $25,000 --- the threshhold triggering approval by the County Board. Oglesby is charged with theft of government property, a class X felony punishable by six to 30 years upon conviction. She's also charged with felony counts of money laundering and official misconduct. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was expected to hold a press conference on the arrest Tuesday afternoon following Oglesby’s bond hearing, said Dan Kirk, Alvarez’s chief of staff. He said Oglesby could be charged with theft and official misconduct…. Oglesby, a one-time promoter of sports stars and hip-hop artists, was the spokeswoman for Stroger's failed Democratic primary re-election campaign. Stroger briefly suspended Oglesby earlier this year from her $120,000-a-year county job after reports that she authorized a $24,975 contract to her public relations firm, CGC Communications, to inform suburban residents about federal flood relief grants. Later, it came out that Oglesby sought approval to spend nearly $150,000 on census outreach contracts. The deals were given to people recommended by Oglesby and Eugene Mullins, Stroger's spokesman and boyhood friend.

Examiner Editorial: Elizabeth Warren's profitable conflict of interest
Excerpt: Now we know why President Obama sought to avoid a messy confirmation hearing for Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She might have had to respond to reports that she's a money-grubbing tool of trial lawyers. According to Bloomberg News, even as she was serving as head of the congressional panel overseeing the $700 billion bank bailout this year, Warren took $90,000 to testify in a class-action lawsuit by retailers against several of the major banks whose bailout she was overseeing. She told Bloomberg that she saw no conflict of interest, which speaks volumes about her judgment. Don't tell that to the Left, though. Liberal columnist Brent Budowsky wrote weeks ago in the Hill that if Obama appointed her as head of the commission, "the Democratic base will erupt and turn out to vote in far greater numbers than any current poll suggests." In the newly released book "Permanently Blue," author Dylan Loewe went so far as to suggest Warren could succeed Obama in 2016 and lead a permanent Democratic majority : "Politically," he wrote, "she's almost perfect."

Rep. Jan Schakowski Vents Her Contempt for the Constitution
My Congresswoman. ~Bob. Excerpt: And now, a rant so absurd that both NewsAlert and The Blaze picked up on it. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who once argued that government should destroy the private health-insurance market, here laments the radical nature of Republicans with radio host Stephanie Miller. How are Republicans radical and extreme? Well, they quote ancient texts … like the Constitution! They talk about old heresies … like free people governing themselves! They’re all “tenthers” because Republicans believe the conspiracy theory that the founders added a mysterious Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, and actually meant something by it!……Schakowsky has an opponent in her IL-09 district, Joel Pollak, [emphasis CAJ] who has been very active on the Internet. He gets backing from the Club for Growth for his sensible economic positions, not to mention the fact that the incumbent is a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. IL-09 is a D+20 district, which means that Pollak has a Sisyphean task ahead of him to unseat Schakowsky but a few more interviews like this and she may do Pollak’s work for him. I interviewed Pollak at CPAC, so be sure to check out that clip, and also his latest campaign ad featuring Joel’s remarkable wife Julia:

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