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3DHS / Is Anybody Out There?
« on: April 11, 2010, 04:53:32 AM »
APRIL 10, 2010.
Is Anybody Out There?

After 50 years, astronomers haven't found any signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. They could be looking in the wrong places..

Fifty years ago this week, on April 8, 1960, a little-known astronomer named Frank Drake sat at the controls of an 85-foot radio telescope at an observatory in Green Bank, W.Va., and began to sweep the skies, looking for a signal from an alien civilization. It was the start of the most ambitious scientific experiment in history.

Barely an hour had passed when the equipment suddenly went wild. A loudspeaker hooked up to the giant antenna began booming and the pen recorder gyrated manically. The radio telescope was pointed at a nearby star called Epsilon Eridani. Mr. Drake was nonplussed. Surely his quest couldn't be that easy? He was right. The commotion turned out to be a signal from a secret military radar.

..The astronomer's solitary vigil lasted for a few weeks; he ran out of telescope time with little to report. Nevertheless, his pioneering effort sparked the genesis of a 50-year project known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, now an international research program with a multimillion-dollar budget. It has included renting time on some of the biggest radio telescopes in the world—such as the 1,000-foot dish at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, featured in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye."

After five decades of patient listening, however, all the astronomers have to show for it is an eerie silence. Does that mean we are alone in the universe after all? Or might we be looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time?

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, once considered a quixotic enterprise at best, has now become part of mainstream science. In the past decade or so, over 400 planets have been found orbiting nearby stars, and astronomers estimate there could be billions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone. Biologists have discovered microbes living in extreme environments on Earth not unlike conditions on Mars, and have detected the molecular building blocks of life in deep space as well as in meteorites. Many scientists now maintain that the universe is teeming with life, and that some planets could harbor intelligent organisms.

Speculation about other worlds populated by sentient beings stretches back into pre-history. For millennia, the subject remained squarely in the provinces of religion and philosophy, but by the 19th century, science had become involved. Astronomical observations hinted that Mars could be a congenial abode for life, and in the 1870s the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli fancied he could see lines on the surface of the red planet. A wealthy American writer, Percival Lowell, became fixated with the idea that Martians had built a network of canals to irrigate their parched planet, a conjecture fueled by the publication of H.G. Wells's novel "The War of the Worlds." Mr. Lowell built an observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., specifically to map the canals and to look for other signs of Martian engineering.

Sadly for Mr. Lowell, there were no canals. Space probes sent to Mars in the 1960s found no sign of Martian engineering projects, and no sign of life either, just a freeze-dried desert bathed in deadly ultraviolet radiation.

In the next few decades, the search for radio messages from the stars was taken seriously enough to attract government funding. From 1970 to 1993, NASA spent about $78 million on projects that sought to refine Mr. Drake's trail-blazing observations, starting with a feasibility study for the construction of an array of 1,000 dishes sensitive enough to pick up routine television and radio transmissions from nearby stars. In 1992, NASA officially launched a program called the High Resolution Microwave Survey—but Congress killed it the following year, ending NASA's involvement.

Most of the funding today comes from private donations through the SETI Institute, a private nonprofit founded in 1984 in Mountain View, Calif. The jewel in its crown is the Allen Telescope Array, a $35 million dedicated network of 42 small dishes in northern California, with about $30 million of the funding contributed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The goal is to ultimately increase the network to 350 dishes. Donors on other projects have included David Packard and Bill Hewlett (co-founders of Hewlett-Packard) and Gordon Moore (co-founder of Intel).

Our own radio stations broadcast continuous narrow-band signals, that is, radio waves tuned to a sharply-defined frequency. Searches have mostly focused on something similar coming from space. The late Carl Sagan, a charismatic champion of searching for extraterrestrial signals in the 1980s, envisaged an advanced alien civilization deliberately beaming narrow-band radio messages at Earth to attract our attention. That scenario now seems very unlikely. Even optimists like Mr. Drake, still an active researcher, suppose that the nearest alien civilization would be hundreds of light years away. Because nothing travels faster than light, these hypothetical aliens would have no idea that a radio-savvy society exists on Earth yet.

A more likely sign could be a beacon, a radio source that goes bleep on a regular basis for anyone who might be listening, sweeping the plane of the Milky Way galaxy like the beam from a lighthouse. It would show up in a radio telescope as a brief pulse that repeats periodically—perhaps every few months or years.

Astronomers do occasionally detect brief radio bursts coming from space. A famous example was the so-called "Wow!" signal, recorded on Aug. 15, 1977, by Jerry Ehman using Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope. Mr. Ehman discovered it while perusing the antenna's computer printout, and was so excited he wrote "Wow!" in the margin. Radio pulses can arise from a variety of astronomical phenomena, ranging from spinning neutron stars to black hole explosions, but the characteristics of the Wow signal don't fit any known natural event. Nor did the pulse match a man-made disturbance. Nothing has been detected again from that part of the sky when astronomers have looked.

The logistics of building beacons have been analyzed by the astrophysicist Gregory Benford of the University of California at Irvine and his brother James Benford, an expert on high-powered beamed microwaves. The main unknown is how often a beacon would repeat, so the Benfords are urging for a systematic search to be made. It would need a dedicated set of radio telescopes, oriented to stare for years on end at a fixed patch of the sky—preferably towards the center of the galaxy, where the oldest stars are found and the most advanced and best-resourced civilizations are likely to be located.

By focusing on radio signals, however, the search for intelligent life has been extremely limited. As in forensic science, the clues left by alien activity might be very subtle and require sophisticated scientific techniques. An advanced civilization might engage in large-scale astro-engineering, reconfiguring its planetary system or even modifying its host star, effects that could be observed from Earth or near space. The physicist Freeman Dyson once suggested that an energy-hungry alien community might create a shell of material around a star to trap most of its heat and light to run its industry—a solar energy program with a vengeance. Dyson spheres would betray their existence by radiating strongly in the infrared region of the spectrum. A few searches have been made using satellite data, but without success.

If a civilization endures for long enough, it might seek to migrate beyond its planetary system and colonize, or at least explore, the galaxy. The Milky Way is huge—about 100,000 light years across—and contains 400 billion stars, but given enough time, a determined civilization could spread far and wide. Our solar system is about 4.5 billion years old, but the galaxy is much older; there were stars and planets around long before Earth even existed. There has been plenty of time for at least one of those expansionary civilizations to reach our galactic neighborhood—a prospect that once led the physicist Enrico Fermi to famously utter "Where is everybody?"

How do we know they haven't been here already?

It would be an incredible coincidence if Earth had been visited by aliens during the brief span of human history. On purely statistical grounds any visitation is likely to have been a very long time ago. To pluck a figure out of midair, imagine that an alien expedition passed our way 100 million years ago. Would any traces remain?

Not many. However, some remnants might still persist. Buried nuclear waste could be detectable even after billions of years. Large-scale mineral exploitation such as quarrying leaves distinctive scars that, in the case of Earth, would eventually become obscured by overlying strata but would still show up in geological surveys. Space probes parked in orbit round the sun might lie dormant yet intact for an immense period of time. Scientists could look for such hallmarks of alien technology on Earth and the moon, in near space, on Mars and among the asteroids.

Another physical object with enormous longevity is DNA. Our bodies contain some genes that have remained little changed in 100 million years. An alien expedition to Earth might have used biotechnology to assist with mineral processing, agriculture or environmental projects. If they modified the genomes of some terrestrial organisms for this purpose, or created their own micro-organisms from scratch, the legacy of this tampering might endure to this day, hidden in the biological record.

Which leads to an even more radical proposal. Life on Earth stores genetic information in DNA. A lot of DNA seems to be junk, however. If aliens, or their robotic surrogates, long ago wanted to leave us a message, they need not have used radio waves. They could have uploaded the data into the junk DNA of terrestrial organisms. It would be the modern equivalent of a message in a bottle, with the message being encoded digitally in nucleic acid and the bottle being a living, replicating cell. (It is possible—scientists today have successfully implanted messages of as many as 100 words into the genome of bacteria.) A systematic search for gerrymandered genomes would be relatively cheap and simple. Incredibly, a handful of (unsuccessful) computer searches have already been made for the tell-tale signs of an alien greeting.

One of the hazards of searching for alien life is an inbuilt anthropocentric bias. There is a natural temptation to fall back on what we would do when trying to guess the motives and activities of aliens. But this is almost certainly misleading. Unless alien communities inevitably destroy themselves, they could last for tens of millions of years or more. It is impossible for us to guess what such immensely long-lived civilizations would be like or how they would affect their environment.

One thing seems clear, though. Biological intelligence is likely to be merely a brief phase in the evolution of intelligence in the universe. Even in our own young species, computers now outperform people in arithmetic and chess, and Google is smarter than any human being on the planet. Soon, most of the mental heavy lifting will be done by designed and distributed systems, and over time those systems will themselves design better systems. Given a very long period of development, information and knowledge processing, networks could merge and in principle expand to cover the entire surface of a moon or planet. If we ever do make contact with E.T., it is unlikely to be a flesh-and-blood being with a big head, but a gigantic throbbing artificial brain. Whether such an entity, inhabiting the highest reaches of the intellectual universe, would have the slightest interest in us is moot.

We have no evidence whatsoever for any life beyond Earth, let alone intelligent life. It could be that life's origin was a stupendous fluke, and that we are alone after all. But the consequences of discovering that other intelligences exist, or have existed, are so momentous it seems worth taking a penetrating look at how we could uncover evidence for it. While astronomers painstakingly monitor the hiss and crackle of the natural universe for any hint of a signal, scientists of all disciplines should reflect on how alien technology might reveal its existence in other ways, both across the vastness of space, and in our own astronomical backyard.

For many nonscientists, the fascination with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is its tantalizing promise of wisdom in the sky. Frank Drake has said that the search for alien intelligence is really a search for ourselves, and how we fit into the great cosmic scheme. To know that we are not the only sentient beings in a mysterious and sometimes frightening universe—that an alien community had endured for eons, overcoming multiple problems—would represent a powerful symbol of hope for mankind.

Paul Davies is author of "The Eerie Silence." He is director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W1

3DHS / Ouch
« on: January 27, 2010, 12:14:18 AM »
I have found a state with worse roads and schools than Georgia -- namely ALABAMA!


3DHS / Airport Security: Is Israel the Answer?
« on: January 09, 2010, 02:01:54 PM »
Airport Security: Is Israel the Answer?

Posted: 01/8/10 

Over the past week or so, much ink has been spilled over the pros and cons of airport security techniques as diverse as body scanners (child porn?), passenger profiling (racist or just plain smart?) and the prohibition on bathroom breaks during the last hour of the flight (cruel and unusual punishment?). Surprisingly, what people aren't talking so much about are the methods employed by the country that pioneered and perfected aviation security, Israel.

Israel has lived with terrorist threats since its inception as a nation-state. A fascinating article in The Toronto Star last week provided a detailed explanation of the multi-tiered, incredibly effective and -- by all accounts -- remarkably efficient system that the Israelis have devised to both detect and manage security threats at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, that airport's security has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. The kicker: There aren't even long lines.

Here's how it works: From the moment you drive into the parking lot of the airport from one of two entrances, armed guards are there to monitor your car and ask you two questions: How are you and why are you here? Once inside, more questions follow as you wait in line to check in, accompanied by hand inspections of your bags when security personnel deem that wise. Finally, there's a layer of scanners and metal detectors. At all stages of the process, the Israelis employ profiling, but it's not profiling based on race, but on behavior. They are looking for things like body language and profuse sweating and other signs of unease. Crucially -- and in contrast to the United States -- your bag remains with you until your security check is complete, and you do the security check before you obtain your ticket, not after.

What really distinguishes the Israeli security measures, however, is the extensive use of questioning. It's not just the casual "Have your bags been with you since you packed them?" sort of thing. It is, instead, detailed and probing and -- significantly -- once the security official starts asking you questions, s/he will never once take his eyes off of yours. This can, of course, be disconcerting. When I attended a wedding in Israel a few years back, a friend of mine -- young, single, male and traveling with two different passports, one British and one Australian -- was detained for several hours by the airport security team. Among other things, they asked to see all of the photos he'd taken on his trip and asked him why he didn't appear in any of them. (Answer: He was taking the pictures). Another friend was asked to give the security officials a pair of her jeans . . . to keep. They never told her why.

There are several reasons to think that moving towards the Israeli model would be superior to the sorts of measures that the U.S. and the U.K. have begun to implement in recent weeks. For starters, as Ria points out, profiling people by country is not a sure-fire way to screen all would-be terrorists. By enflaming the embers of anti-Islamic sentiment, this tactic could actually incite more people to commit acts of terror out of sheer resentment, rather than contain such acts.

It's also not clear that the best measure of the effectiveness of our airport security apparatus is the number of thwarted attacks, as is often thought to be the case. The best measure of our security is actually the number of attacks that aren't even attempted because would-be perpetrators fear being caught. That's counter-factual, and so it's impossible to know for sure. Still, looking at the ratio between the number of people who've said explicitly that they'd like to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and the number of attacks occurring at Ben Gurion over the last few decades, you'd have to say that the Israeli strategy seems to be working in this regard.

There are, to be sure, a number of costs to so-called Israelification. The difference in scale between the size of Israel and the U.S., for example, is enormous. By American standards, in terms of passengers served, Ben Gurion is like a busy regional airport on the order of Sacramento. So implementing Israeli-style security measures nationwide would be quite a feat.

For one thing, retraining employees at the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Agency along the lines of the Israeli model -- and both entities are already organizationally challenged -- would be both labor-intensive and expensive.

Finally, if Jan thinks civil liberties issues are involved in America's newest watch lists and security measures, those pale in comparison to the kind of liberties you'd need to give up were this scenario enacted (see above on photos and jeans). "Intrusive" would get a whole new meaning, something Bonnie got a taste of two years ago.

To be clear, I'm not advocating a full-scale Israelification for the United States' airports (although the U.K.'s smaller size makes it a much better candidate). But if we really want to talk turkey where airport security is concerned, we should certainly be at least considering it.|aim|dl4|link3|

3DHS / The End of an Era: A Role Model Moves On
« on: January 02, 2010, 07:53:54 PM »
After Memorable Sugar Bowl, Saying Goodbye to Tebow Is Sweet Sorrow

NEW ORLEANS -- On Friday afternoon, the first day of 2010, an artist named JT Maurer sits alongside Jackson Square in New Orleans's French Quarter. The skies are overcast. Sunlight occasionally spirals down on the milling tourists, illuminating the old gray stone sidewalk. Throngs of Florida and Cincinnati fans, in their requisite blue and red, swarm the old city. On the black iron bars that surround Jackson Square park, Maurer has placed his black charcoal paintings of famous figures for sale.

On the top row, from left to right, rest the following: Barack Obama, Tim Tebow, Jesus.

As the sun begins to decline over across the muddy Mississippi, and night comes on, Tim Tebow's college career still has 60 minutes left, a Sugar Bowl tilt against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

I ask Maurer how the $50 Tim Tebow paintings had been selling.

"Not that well," he says. "I haven't sold one yet. Most people are focused on drinking and they don't want to carry around a painting. Lots of people have stopped and looked, though. I think the Gators are upset about being here."

The only other football figure for sale is legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant.

"To tell you the truth," says Maurer, "I was kind of hoping Alabama was going to be here again. I was expecting it. Last year, I sold 11 Bear Bryant's to Alabama fans."

My wife stands alongside me. She speaks before I even say anything. "You are not," she says, "buying a picture of Tim Tebow."

Let me be clear, I love Tim Tebow because he is the most authentic figure in sports today. Maybe, in all of American public society. Too often our sports heroes like Tiger Woods or Mark McGwire are steeped in artificiality. The same is true of our political figures, our religious leaders, virtually everyone in the public arena today is selling us something that has nothing to do with reality. In an age when we crave authenticity more than any other trait, when our television shows seek to capture reality and when players, coaches, and everyone associated with them sells an artificial image of themselves, I love that Tebow is refreshingly honest, direct, disarming, a man in full.

I don't want to be sold a false image anymore.

And, what's more, I don't want a player to do or say something because he thinks I want to hear that. We've reached an era where player and coach answers are so cliched, they don't even realize that they're spouting cliches anymore. We've all seen athletes and coaches interviewed on television so many times that we know what's coming before it's even said; our athletes are all playing roles.

Tebow isn't playing a role.

Because his role isn't to be cool, or to be calculated, or to do anything like that, it's to be as real as real can be.

That's why no matter how many times Tim Tebow scored touchdowns against my team, no matter how many times he triumphed over other teams that I was rooting for, I don't want to see Tim Tebow leave college football.

Watching him play is too much fun.
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As the Gators took the field on New Year's night 2010, come along for an italicized recap of the game interspersed with a retrospective of Tebow's career.

Call it Tebowiana.

1. Do you remember when we all watched Tebow play in the MTV reality show, Two-a-Days?

He was a top recruit then, a home-schooled lefty with a rocket arm. His team lost to Alabama's Hoover High School and a few months later Tebow spurned Mike Shula to join Urban Meyer's first full recruiting class.

Imagine how much the world of college football changes if Tebow picks Shula and Alabama. Is Shula still at Alabama?


Forget two national titles, has Urban Meyer won a single national title at Florida?

Probably not.

The fine fault line between success and failure is exposed in that decision, the moment when Tebow first became a star.

Recall the Two-a-Days television conversation.

"Is he good?" a Hoover cheerleader asked.

"Yeah," the Hoover player said, "he's real good."


Kickoff arrives in New Orleans.

One play after Jeff Demps is carried off the field -- Cincinnati fans in front of me are chanting, "See you later, alligator" --Tebow hits Aaron Hernandez with the 19th touchdown pass of the season, and the 86th of this career.

Tebow is 7-for-7 on the first Gator drive.

2. Tebow and Verne Lundquist first became an item on a September night in Knoxville. A then-freshman Tebow came in for a fourth down conversion against the Vols.

The Gators trailed 20-14 in the fourth quarter. Tebow lined up under center.


I was watching from a sports bar in Auburn, Ala., having just watched Auburn beat LSU 7-3.

"Are they really running him out of the shotgun?" my friend asked.

Yep, they were.

Tebow converted and celebrated on the field.

The Gators won 21-20.

Lose this game and not only do the Gators not play Ohio State for a national title, but they don't even win the SEC East.

On the second drive, Tebow uncorks an NFL-caliber pass down the seam. It's one of three more completions that Tebow has to begin 10-for-10 and give the Gators a 9-0 lead.

3. Then, later that freshman season, came the jump pass against LSU.

I was in Athens, Ga., getting ready for the night game between Georgia and Tennessee. The only thing that united Bulldog and Vol fans was rooting against SEC East foe Florida.

As Tebow threw his jump pass for a touchdown, the tailgate reaction was stunned silence.

Eventually, a Bulldog fan grabbed my arm. "Before he is done at Florida," said the Dawg, "Tim Tebow is going to be more hated in college football than Shane Battier."

In my column that debuted the term Tebow'd in October of 2006, I even wrote: "Here's a ClayNation prediction for you: By the time he's a senior [if he stays until he's a senior], Tebow is going to make J.J. Redick seem downright lovable in comparison."

But that never happened.

In fact, it never came close to happening.

Of course I also wrote then, "Urban Meyer has forbidden Tim Tebow from ever flexing both his biceps at the same time. The last time Tebow flexed, every coeds' top at the University of Florida miraculously rose at the exact same time. This caused two plane crashes, 96 fender benders and all classes were canceled at the university."

What I should have written was this, "When Tebow flexed, every coeds' top at the University of Florida miraculously rose at the exact same time ... and Tebow covered his eyes."

On the third drive, Tebow runs his streak of complete passes to 12, converts a fourth down on a shotgun draw, and tosses a perfect touchdown pass to Deonte Thompson. He's now 14-of-15 for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

4. Tebow converts on fourth down at The Swamp during Florida's 17-16 victory over South Carolina, and then heads out to The Swamp, the restaurant on University Avenue in Gainesville, for a postgame meal.

People forget once more what might have been. Lose that game against the Gamecocks and Meyer is 0-2 against Steve Spurrier.

Uneasy would lie the headset on the coaching crown.

Instead Tebow carries the Gators to victory.

That night, Tebow goes out for a post-midnight meal. Word spreads that Tebow is in The Swamp Restaurant and gives me the first indication of what it would have been like to see Elvis in his prime.

Tebow is in the building!

There's a rush to the second floor where an 19-year-old is having a meal. Or trying to have a meal. He's swarmed.

Just three months after turning 19, Tebow, wearing an oversized white shirt and jeans, is already a star.

Still more, Tebow leads the Gators to a fourth consecutive scoring drive and with seven minutes remaining the Gators are up 23-0.

Tebow's eye black? Ephesians 2:8-10

8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9Not of works, lest any man should boast.

10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
5. Being e-mailed 14-million different attachments featuring Tebow wearing jorts.

It didn't matter that the picture was fake, it was everywhere.

Barry Bonds once said: If 70,000 people are willing to boo you, you must be good. Now it's time for the Tebow addendum, "If every Southern football fan has seen you photoshopped in jean shorts, you must be pretty good too."

On their fifth possession of the half Tebow hits Riley Cooper for an 80-yard touchdown. Did you know that they are roommates? I'm told that Thom Brennanman shared the most overtold stat immediately on the Fox broadcast.

Somewhere Verne Lundquist chortled.

6. The next year, in early September, Tim Tebow was stopped by Ole Miss on a fourth down sneak and the Rebels stunned the Gators 31-30.

Lots of attention has come from the "promise speech" that Tebow made after the loss. That's always been secondary to me. Because I was more interested in the response across the SEC.

No one could believe that Tebow had been stopped on fourth-and-short.

What's more, the failure offered a more interesting narrative, a player challenged as opposed to a player who was always dominant. In responding to defeat, Tebow became more interesting than he ever was in victory.

Tebow goes over 300 yards passing, 320 to be exact, with three touchdowns and 28 yards rushing tossed in for good measure.

At the half.

If Florida leaves him in for the entire game, he'll pass for 500 yards.

7. The circumcision of Filipino boys is something only Tebow could pull off.

Yeah, it's absurd and funny. And something that you and I wouldn't do.

No matter what.


Because even if it's beneficial to someone, you and I aren't touching Filipino foreskin because we would get killed for it by friends.

Question: "Where'd Clay go on his vacation this year?"

Answer: "Oh, you know, he went and circumcised Filipino boys again."

Result: For the rest of my life I hear about this after any friend has more than a beer.

But Tebow?

He makes circumcising Filipino boys cool.

Okay, maybe even Tebow can't pull that off.

At the half Cincinnati has 55 total yards on 28 plays. Tebow has 348 total yards on just 31 plays.

Also at the half Ephesians 2: 8 10, what Tebow is wearing on his eyeblack, is the No. 2 search result on Google hot trends.

What's No. 1?

Tebow cam.

8. Yeah, I asked Tebow if he was saving himself for marriage.

And all his answer did was burnish the mythological and otherworldly image of Tebow. But what it also did, was provide still further evidence that Tebow was refreshingly honest, someone who was willing to live his faith and continue to propound that faith even when it might not be cool.

I'll be honest, if I'd have to choose between being an SEC quarterback on the field, or an SEC quarterback off the field, I'm picking off the field. And you'll know exactly what I've meant if you've ever spent any time on SEC campuses.

In my experience, some of the biggest hypocrites on earth are those who profess themselves religious and evangelize for their faiths.

But Tebow's different.

How different?

My mom e-mails me the Bible verses he puts on his eyeblack.

On the first drive of the second half, Tebow runs his tally up to 366 yards passing and, on fourth down, after drawing the defense tosses a pitch to Emmanuel Moody to put the Gators up 37-3 and end all talk of the Big East being in the BCS title game in the foreseeable future.

Amazingly, Cincinnati was one second being put back on the clock from playing Alabama for the national title.

9. His lack of fear in returning when only a perfect 14-0 season and a championship could sate Gator fans.

Think about this for a moment, the Gators went 12-0 in the regular season and lost a single game, the SEC title. Tebow had a chance to become the greatest college football player ever, but he'd set the bar so high for himself that anything less than absolute perfection disappointed us.

And because he didn't achieve perfection, we devalued him.

Think about this for a moment, if Tebow leaves early, is drafted somewhere and heads to the NFL, do we rank him higher as an all-time player?

I think so.


Because Tebow occupies such a high perch in our estimation that we would have given him a perfect season and a national title by default.

We really would have.

And, by the way, if you don't favor a playoff then you're a damn fool. Having Tebow end his career in the Sugar Bowl, a game that is virtually meaningless, against an awfully matched team is a complete anti-climax. It doesn't do justice to Tebow's career.

Tebow is now 28-of-31 for 435 yards passing. As if that weren't enough, he scores on a four-yard run to make his tally 471 total yards rushing and passing. That 471 yards is the most by any player in BCS history.

Prior record holder, Vince Young put up 467 against USC in the title game.

What's most amazing about Tebow's yardage?

There's still 2:40 left in the third quarter.

10. Crying at the end of the Alabama game in the SEC Championship.

If any other player on a team cried after a loss, I'd mock them to no end. I might even write an entire column about it.

But somehow this was the perfect ending for Tebow's SEC career.


Because Tebow cried even though Alabama fans cheered his crying. He's so honest with us, that when his team lost, he didn't even think about the joby he might be providing to Alabama fans via crying. Nope, he just reacted as he saw fit.

And Tebow wept.

On the final complete drive of his college career, Tebow runs his total yardage stats into the stratosphere: 31-of-35 passing for 482 yards and 14 rushes for 51 yards. Add it all up and that's 533 total yards in a BCS game, a record that might stand for decades.

With 3:13 remaining in the game, Tim Tebow leaves the field for the final time of his football career. The crowd, mostly Gator fans, chants,"Thank you, Tebow," Tebow raises his hands in acknowledgment, and one of the greatest careers in college fooball history is over.

But not quite yet, as the witching hour comes to New Orleans, Tim Tebow doesn't want to leave the field just yet. He sprints to midfield, in front of the few fans remaining, and runs a semi-circle around the Superdome field, slapping hands with Gator fans.

Until, at long last, Tim Tebow leaves the building.

"It was better than a dream," Tebow says later.

For four years, Tim Tebow wasn't better than us, he was honest with us.

And that's why when I show up back in Nashville, I'm going to be carrying a Tim Tebow painting that spent Sugar Bowl week resting on the fence outside Jackson Square.

OK, not really.

But a Tennessee fan even thinking about it, says all you need to know about Tebow's career at Florida.

Clay Travis is the author of three books. His latest, "On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to The End of an Era" chronicles the 2008 Tennessee football season and is on sale now and makes a great stocking stuffer. You have a stocking for Martin Luther King Day, right?

3DHS / Our Mutual Joy
« on: December 09, 2008, 09:14:20 AM »
Our Mutual Joy
Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.

Lisa Miller
From the magazine issue dated Dec 15, 2008

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

The battle over gay marriage has been waged for more than a decade, but within the last six months—since California legalized gay marriage and then, with a ballot initiative in November, amended its Constitution to prohibit it—the debate has grown into a full-scale war, with religious-rhetoric slinging to match. Not since 1860, when the country's pulpits were full of preachers pronouncing on slavery, pro and con, has one of our basic social (and economic) institutions been so subject to biblical scrutiny. But whereas in the Civil War the traditionalists had their James Henley Thornwell—and the advocates for change, their Henry Ward Beecher—this time the sides are unevenly matched. All the religious rhetoric, it seems, has been on the side of the gay-marriage opponents, who use Scripture as the foundation for their objections.

The argument goes something like this statement, which the Rev. Richard A. Hunter, a United Methodist minister, gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June: "The Bible and Jesus define marriage as between one man and one woman. The church cannot condone or bless same-sex marriages because this stands in opposition to Scripture and our tradition."

To which there are two obvious responses: First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes. "Marriage" in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God's will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews' precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between "one man and as many women as he could pay for." Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: "Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world. (The fact that homosexual couples cannot procreate has also been raised as a biblical objection, for didn't God say, "Be fruitful and multiply"? But the Bible authors could never have imagined the brave new world of international adoption and assisted reproductive technology—and besides, heterosexuals who are infertile or past the age of reproducing get married all the time.)

Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either. The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels. There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew. Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but he roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women).

The apostle Paul echoed the Christian Lord's lack of interest in matters of the flesh. For him, celibacy was the Christian ideal, but family stability was the best alternative. Marry if you must, he told his audiences, but do not get divorced. "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband." It probably goes without saying that the phrase "gay marriage" does not appear in the Bible at all.

If the bible doesn't give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on "Homosexual Practices," the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, "possibly because it did not result in true physical 'union' (by male entry)." The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as "an abomination" (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?

Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who "were inflamed with lust for one another" (which he calls "a perversion") is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery. In his book "The Arrogance of Nations," the scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring in this famous passage to the depravity of the Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. "Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all," Elliott says. "He's talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. We're not dealing with anything like gay love or gay marriage. We're talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God." In any case, one might add, Paul argued more strenuously against divorce—and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching.

Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument). Common prayers and rituals reflect our common practice: the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer describes the participants in a marriage as "the man and the woman." But common practice changes—and for the better, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.

Marriage, specifically, has evolved so as to be unrecognizable to the wives of Abraham and Jacob. Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husbands' frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th. (In the NEWSWEEK POLL, 55 percent of respondents said that married heterosexuals who have sex with someone other than their spouses are more morally objectionable than a gay couple in a committed sexual relationship.) By the mid-19th century, U.S. courts were siding with wives who were the victims of domestic violence, and by the 1970s most states had gotten rid of their "head and master" laws, which gave husbands the right to decide where a family would live and whether a wife would be able to take a job. Today's vision of marriage as a union of equal partners, joined in a relationship both romantic and pragmatic, is, by very recent standards, radical, says Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History."

Religious wedding ceremonies have already changed to reflect new conceptions of marriage. Remember when we used to say "man and wife" instead of "husband and wife"? Remember when we stopped using the word "obey"? Even Miss Manners, the voice of tradition and reason, approved in 1997 of that change. "It seems," she wrote, "that dropping 'obey' was a sensible editing of a service that made assumptions about marriage that the society no longer holds."

We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future. The Bible offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community. It speaks eloquently of the crucial role of families in a fair society and the risks we incur to ourselves and our children should we cease trying to bind ourselves together in loving pairs. Gay men like to point to the story of passionate King David and his friend Jonathan, with whom he was "one spirit" and whom he "loved as he loved himself." Conservatives say this is a story about a platonic friendship, but it is also a story about two men who stand up for each other in turbulent times, through violent war and the disapproval of a powerful parent. David rends his clothes at Jonathan's death and, in grieving, writes a song:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
You were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
More wonderful than that of women.

Here, the Bible praises enduring love between men. What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations.

In addition to its praise of friendship and its condemnation of divorce, the Bible gives many examples of marriages that defy convention yet benefit the greater community. The Torah discouraged the ancient Hebrews from marrying outside the tribe, yet Moses himself is married to a foreigner, Zipporah. Queen Esther is married to a non-Jew and, according to legend, saves the Jewish people. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, believes that Judaism thrives through diversity and inclusion. "I don't think Judaism should or ought to want to leave any portion of the human population outside the religious process," he says. "We should not want to leave [homosexuals] outside the sacred tent." The marriage of Joseph and Mary is also unorthodox (to say the least), a case of an unconventional arrangement accepted by society for the common good. The boy needed two human parents, after all.

In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, cites the story of Jesus revealing himself to the woman at the well— no matter that she had five former husbands and a current boyfriend—as evidence of Christ's all-encompassing love. The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, quotes the apostle Paul when he looks for biblical support of gay marriage: "There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." The religious argument for gay marriage, he adds, "is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness."

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow. Terry Davis is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Conn., and has been presiding over "holy unions" since 1992. "I'm against promiscuity—love ought to be expressed in committed relationships, not through casual sex, and I think the church should recognize the validity of committed same-sex relationships," he says.

Still, very few Jewish or Christian denominations do officially endorse gay marriage, even in the states where it is legal. The practice varies by region, by church or synagogue, even by cleric. More progressive denominations—the United Church of Christ, for example—have agreed to support gay marriage. Other denominations and dioceses will do "holy union" or "blessing" ceremonies, but shy away from the word "marriage" because it is politically explosive. So the frustrating, semantic question remains: should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are? I would argue that they should. If we are all God's children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that. People get married "for their mutual joy," explains the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center in New York, quoting the Episcopal marriage ceremony. That's what religious people do: care for each other in spite of difficulty, she adds. In marriage, couples grow closer to God: "Being with one another in community is how you love God. That's what marriage is about."

More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good—and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God's knowledge of our most secret selves: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for "Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad." Let the priest's prayer be our own.

With Sarah Ball and Anne Underwood


3DHS / Presidential Library for George W Bush
« on: November 26, 2008, 02:47:29 PM »
Presidential Library for George W Bush


Dear Fellow Constituent:

The George W Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages and accepting donations. The Library will include:


The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.

The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.

The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.

The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.

The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.

The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.

The Tax Cut Room, with entry only to the wealthy.

The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.

The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, they make you to go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth visit.)

The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.

The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.

The Supreme Court Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.

The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.

The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.

Note: The library will feature an electron microscope to help you locate and view the President's accomplishments.


The library will also include many famous Quotes by George W. Bush:

'The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.'

'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.'

'Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.'

'No senior citizen should ever have to choose between prescription drugs and medicine.'

'I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change.'

'One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared'.'

'Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.'

'I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.'

'The future will be better tomorrow.'

'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world.'

'One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.' (during an education photo-op)

'Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.'

'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.'

'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.'

'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.'...George W. Bush to Sam Donaldson




Jack Abramoff, Co-Chair G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors

3DHS / Britain Going Bankrupt?
« on: November 25, 2008, 09:37:19 AM »
Is Britain going bankrupt?
Posted By: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at Nov 24, 2008 at 20:06:10 [General]
Posted in:
Tags:View More Alistair Darling, bankrupt, CDs, fiscal, great britain, IMF , Labour, Pre-Budget Report, uk

The bond vigilantes are restive.

We are not yet facing a replay of the 1970s 'Gilts Strike', but we are not that far off either.

There is now a palpable fear that global investors may start to shun British debt as the budget deficit rockets to £118bn - 8 per cent of GDP - or charge a much higher price to cover default risk.

The cost of insuring against the bankruptcy of the British state has broken out - upwards - over the last month. Yes, credit default swaps (CDS) are dodgy instruments, but they are the best stress barometer that we have.

Today they reached 86 basis points, near Portuguese debt in the league table. For good reason. Alistair Darling has had to admit that the British economy faces the most sudden economic collapse since World War Two, and the worst budget deficit of any major country in the world.

Ok, this is a lot lower than Iceland, Ukraine, Hungary, and other clients of the IMF, but is significantly higher than Germany (35), USA (43), and France (49).

After trading at similar levels to our AAA-rated peers for years, we started to decouple in August and then began to soar in October.

We reached a fresh record the moment the Chancellor told the House of Commons that the budget would not return to its already awful condition until 2016.

Should we be worried? Yes.

Marc Ostwald from Insinger de Beaufort said Gilt issuance would reach £146bn in fiscal 2008/2009. Britain will have to borrow £450bn over the next five years.

This is an utter fiasco.

With deep embarrasment, I plead guilty to supporting the Brown-Darling fiscal give-away - though with a clothes peg clamped on my nose. As the Confederation of British Industry and many others have warned, we face an epidemic of bankruptcies unless we tear up the rule book and take immediate counter-action.

The Bank of England's drastic rate cuts are a necessary but not sufficient stimulus. Monetary policy is failing to get traction because the credit system has broken down.

We face the risk of a rapid downward spiral if we misjudge the threat at this dangerous moment, as we sit poised on the tipping point. Besides, the whole world is now resorting to fiscal stimulus in unison under IMF prodding. Sticking together is imperative. If countries reflate in isolation,  they can and will be singled out and punished. That is the lesson of 1931.

But this is not to excuse the Brown Government for the total hash it has made of the British economy. It presided over a rise in household debt to 165pc of personal income. How could the regulators possibly think this was in the interests of British society? What economic doctrine justifies such stupidity? Why were 120pc mortgages ever allowed? Indeed, why were 100pc mortgages ever allowed? Debt is as dangerous as heroine.

Labour ran a budget deficit of 3pc of GDP the top of cycle. (We had a 2pc surplus at the end of the Lawson bubble, so we go into this slump 5pc of GDP worse off). The size of the state has ballooned from 37pc to 46pc of GDP in a decade, and will inevitably now rise further.

It is because Gordon Brown exhausted the national credit limit to pay for his silly boom that today's fiscal stimulus  - just 1pc of GDP (China is doing 14pc) - is enough to rattle the bond markets. Our national debt will jump in what is more or less the bat of an eyelid from under 40pc of GDP to nearer 60pc - according to Fitlch Ratings. It is enough to make you weep. But is this bankruptcy territory? Not yet. Britain will remain at the mid to lower end of the AAA club.

A Fitch study today estimates the "fiscal cost" of the bank bail-outs (which is not the same as just adding guarantees to the national debt) is 6.9pc of GDP for Britain  - compared to Belgium (5.7pc), Germany (5.8pc), Netherlands (6.3pc), and Switzerand (12.9pc). We are not alone in this debacle.

If and when the storm blows over, Britain should still have a lower national debt than Germany, France, or Italy. It will certainly have a better demographic structure that most of Europe (except France and Scandinavia), and less catastrophic pension liabilities than most.

The situation is desperate, but not serious -- as the Habsburgs used to say. Fingers crossed.

3DHS / $7.4 Trillion
« on: November 24, 2008, 11:12:57 AM »
Fed Pledges Top $7.4 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit

By Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry

 Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.

The unprecedented pledge of funds includes $2.8 trillion already tapped by financial institutions in the biggest response to an economic emergency since the New Deal of the 1930s, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The commitment dwarfs the only plan approved by lawmakers, the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Federal Reserve lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the three years before the crisis.

When Congress approved the TARP on Oct. 3, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged the need for transparency and oversight. Now, as regulators commit far more money while refusing to disclose loan recipients or reveal the collateral they are taking in return, some Congress members are calling for the Fed to be reined in.

“Whether it’s lending or spending, it’s tax dollars that are going out the window and we end up holding collateral we don’t know anything about,” said Congressman Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican who serves on the House Financial Services Committee. “The time has come that we consider what sort of limitations we should be placing on the Fed so that authority returns to elected officials as opposed to appointed ones.”

Too Big to Fail

Bloomberg News tabulated data from the Fed, Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and interviewed regulatory officials, economists and academic researchers to gauge the full extent of the government’s rescue effort.

The bailout includes a Fed program to buy as much as $2.4 trillion in short-term notes, called commercial paper, that companies use to pay bills, begun Oct. 27, and $1.4 trillion from the FDIC to guarantee bank-to-bank loans, started Oct. 14.

William Poole, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said the two programs are unlikely to lose money. The bigger risk comes from rescuing companies perceived as “too big to fail,” he said.

The government committed $29 billion to help engineer the takeover in March of Bear Stearns Cos. by New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. and $122.8 billion in addition to TARP allocations to bail out New York-based American International Group Inc., once the world’s largest insurer. Yesterday, Citigroup Inc. received $306 billion of government guarantees for troubled mortgages and toxic assets. The Treasury Department also will inject $20 billion into the bank after its stock fell 60 percent last week.

“No question there is some credit risk there,” Poole said.


Congressman Darrell Issa, a California Republican on the Financial Services Committee, said risk is lurking in the programs that Poole thinks are safe.

“The thing that people don’t understand is it’s not how likely that the exposure becomes a reality, but what if it does?” Issa said. “There’s no transparency to it so who’s to say they’re right?”

The worst financial crisis in two generations has erased $23 trillion, or 38 percent, of the value of the world’s companies and brought down three of the biggest Wall Street firms.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average through Friday is down 38 percent since the beginning of the year and 43 percent from its peak on Oct. 9, 2007. The S&P 500 fell 45 percent from the beginning of the year through Friday and 49 percent from its peak on Oct. 9, 2007. The Nikkei 225 Index has fallen 46 percent from the beginning of the year through Friday and 57 percent from its most recent peak of 18,261.98 on July 9, 2007. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is down 78 percent, to $53.31, on Friday from its peak of $247.92 on Oct. 31, 2007, and 75 percent this year.


Regulators hope the rescue will contain the damage and keep banks providing the credit that is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy.

Most of the spending programs are run out of the New York Fed, whose president, Timothy Geithner, is said to be President- elect Barack Obama’s choice to be Treasury Secretary.

The money that’s been pledged is equivalent to $24,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. It’s nine times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office figures. It could pay off more than half the country’s mortgages.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Bob Eisenbeis, chief monetary economist at Vineland, New Jersey-based Cumberland Advisors Inc. and an economist for the Atlanta Fed for 10 years until January. “The backlash has begun already. Congress is taking a lot of hits from their constituents because they got snookered on the TARP big time. There’s a lot of supposedly smart people who look to be totally incompetent and it’s all going to fall on the taxpayer.”

New Deal

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, when almost 10,000 banks failed and there was no mechanism to bolster them with cash, is the only rival to the government’s current response. The savings and loan bailout of the 1990s cost $209.5 billion in inflation-adjusted numbers, of which $173 billion came from taxpayers, according to a July 1996 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office.

The 1979 U.S. government bailout of Chrysler consisted of bond guarantees, adjusted for inflation, of $4.2 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation report.

The commitment of public money is appropriate to the peril, said Ethan Harris, co-head of U.S. economic research at Barclays Capital Inc. and a former economist at the New York Fed. U.S. financial firms have taken writedowns and losses of $666.1 billion since the beginning of 2007, according to Bloomberg data.

“This is the worst capital markets crisis in modern history,” Harris said. “So you have the biggest intervention in modern history.”

Federal Lawsuit

Bloomberg has requested details of Fed lending under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and filed a federal lawsuit against the central bank Nov. 7 seeking to force disclosure of borrower banks and their collateral.

Collateral is an asset pledged to a lender in the event a loan payment isn’t made.

“Some have asked us to reveal the names of the banks that are borrowing, how much they are borrowing, what collateral they are posting,” Bernanke said Nov. 18 to the House Financial Services Committee. “We think that’s counterproductive.”

The Fed should account for the collateral it takes in exchange for loans to banks, said Paul Kasriel, chief economist at Chicago-based Northern Trust Co. and a former research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“There is a lack of transparency here and, given that the Fed is taking on a huge amount of credit risk now, it would seem to me as a taxpayer there should be more transparency,” Kasriel said.

$4.4 Trillion

Bernanke’s Fed is responsible for $4.4 trillion of pledges, or 60 percent of the total commitment of $7.4 trillion, based on data compiled by Bloomberg concerning U.S. bailout steps started a year ago.

“Too often the public is focused on the wrong piece of that number, the $700 billion that Congress approved,” said J.D. Foster, a former staff member of the Council of Economic Advisers who is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “The other areas are quite a bit larger.”

The Fed’s rescue attempts began last December with the creation of the Term Auction Facility to allow lending to dealers for collateral. After Bear Stearns’s collapse in March, the central bank started making direct loans to securities firms at the same discount rate it charges commercial banks, which take customer deposits.

In the three years before the crisis, such average weekly borrowing by banks was $48 million, according to the central bank. Last week it was $91.5 billion.

Lehman Failure

The failure of a second securities firm, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., in September, led to the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility and the Money Market Investor Funding Facility, or MMIFF. The two programs, which have pledged $2.3 trillion, are designed to restore calm in the money markets, which deal in certificates of deposit, commercial paper and Treasury bills.

“Money markets seized up after Lehman failed,” said Neal Soss, chief economist at Credit Suisse Group in New York and a former aide to Fed chief Paul Volcker. “Lehman failing made a lot of subsequent actions necessary.”

The FDIC, chaired by Sheila Bair, is contributing 20 percent of total rescue commitments. The FDIC’s $1.4 trillion in guarantees will amount to a bank subsidy of as much as $54 billion over three years, or $18 billion a year, because borrowers will pay a lower interest rate than they would on the open market, according to Raghu Sundurum and Viral Acharya of New York University and the London Business School.

Bank Subsidy

Congress and the Treasury have ponied up $892 billion in TARP and other funding, or 12 percent.

The Federal Housing Administration, overseen by Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steven Preston, was given the authority to guarantee $300 billion of mortgages, or about 4 percent of the total commitment, with its Hope for Homeowners program, designed to keep distressed borrowers from foreclosure.

Most of the federal guarantees reduce interest rates on loans to banks and securities firms, which would create a subsidy of at least $6.6 billion annually for the financial industry, according to data compiled by Bloomberg comparing rates charged by the Fed against market interest currently paid by banks.

Not included in the calculation of pledged funds is an FDIC proposal to prevent foreclosures by guaranteeing modifications on $444 billion in mortgages at an expected cost of $24.4 billion to be paid from the TARP, according to FDIC spokesman David Barr. The Treasury Department hasn’t approved the program.


Bernanke and Paulson, former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, have also promised as much as $200 billion to shore up nationalized mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The FDIC arranged for $139 billion in loan guarantees for General Electric Co.’s finance unit.

The tally doesn’t include money to General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC. Obama has said he favors financial assistance to keep them from collapse.

Paulson told the House Financial Services Committee Nov. 18 that the $250 billion already allocated to banks through the TARP is an investment, not an expenditure.

“I think it would be extraordinarily unusual if the government did not get that money back and more,” Paulson said.

‘We Haircut It’

In his Nov. 18 testimony, Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee that the central bank wouldn’t lose money.

“We take collateral, we haircut it, it is a short-term loan, it is very safe, we have never lost a penny in these various lending programs,” he said.

A haircut refers to the practice of lending less money than the collateral’s current market value.

Requiring the Fed to disclose loan recipients might set off panic, said David Tobin, principal of New York-based loan-sale consultants and investment bank Mission Capital Advisors LLC.

“If you mark to market today, the banking system is bankrupt,” Tobin said. “So what do you do? You try to keep it going as best you can.”

“Mark to market” means adjusting the value of an asset, such as a mortgage-backed security, to reflect current prices.

Some of the bailout assistance could come from tax breaks in the future. The Treasury Department changed the tax code on Sept. 30 to allow banks to expand the deductions on the losses banks they were buying, according to Robert Willens, a former Lehman Brothers tax and accounting analyst who teaches at Columbia University Business School in New York.

‘Wells Fargo Notice’

Wells Fargo & Co., which is buying Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia Corp., will be able to deduct $22 billion, Willens said. Adding in other banks, the code change will cost $29 billion, he said.

“The rule is now popularly known among tax lawyers as the ‘Wells Fargo Notice,’” Willens said.

The regulation was changed to make it easier for healthy banks to buy troubled ones, said Treasury Department spokesman Andrew DeSouza.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said he was angry that banks used the money for acquisitions.

“The only purpose for this money is to lend,” said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. “It’s not for dividends, it’s not for purchases of new banks, it’s not for bonuses. There better be a showing of increased lending roughly in the amount of the capital infusions” or Congress may not approve the second half of the TARP money.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Pittman in New York at; Bob Ivry in New York at

3DHS / SPAM -- The Food for a Troubled Nation?
« on: November 16, 2008, 10:46:47 AM »
Spam Turns Serious and Hormel Turns Out More

AUSTIN, Minn. — The economy is in tatters and, for millions of people, the future is uncertain. But for some employees at the Hormel Foods Corporation plant here, times have never been better. They are working at a furious pace and piling up all the overtime they want.

The workers make Spam, perhaps the emblematic hard-times food in the American pantry.

Through war and recession, Americans have turned to the glistening canned product from Hormel as a way to save money while still putting something that resembles meat on the table. Now, in a sign of the times, it is happening again, and Hormel is cranking out as much Spam as its workers can produce.

In a factory that abuts Interstate 90, two shifts of workers have been making Spam seven days a week since July, and they have been told that the relentless work schedule will continue indefinitely.

Spam, a gelatinous 12-ounce rectangle of spiced ham and pork, may be among the world’s most maligned foods, dismissed as inedible by food elites and skewered by comedians who have offered smart-alecky theories on its name (one G-rated example: Something Posing As Meat).

But these days, consumers are rediscovering relatively cheap foods, Spam among them. A 12-ounce can of Spam, marketed as “Crazy Tasty,” costs about $2.40. “People are realizing it’s not that bad a product,” said Dan Johnson, 55, who operates a 70-foot-high Spam oven.

Hormel declined to cooperate with this article, but several of its workers were interviewed here recently with the help of their union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 9. Slumped in chairs at the union hall after making 149,950 cans of Spam on the day shift, several workers said they been through boom times before — but nothing like this.

Spam “seems to do well when hard times hit,” said Dan Bartel, business agent for the union local. “We’ll probably see Spam lines instead of soup lines.”

Even as consumers are cutting back on all sorts of goods, Spam is among a select group of thrifty grocery items that are selling steadily.

Pancake mixes and instant potatoes are booming. So are vitamins, fruit and vegetable preservatives and beer, according to data from October compiled by Information Resources, a market research firm.

“We’ve seen a double-digit increase in the sale of rice and beans,” said Teena Massingill, spokeswoman for the Safeway grocery chain, in an e-mail message. “They’re real belly fillers.”

Kraft Foods said recently that some of its value-oriented products like macaroni and cheese, Jell-O and Kool-Aid were experiencing robust growth. And sales are still growing, if not booming, for Velveeta, a Kraft product that bears the same passing resemblance to cheese as Spam bears to ham.

Spam holds a special place in America’s culinary history, both as a source of humor and of cheap protein during hard times.

Invented during the Great Depression by Jay Hormel, the son of the company’s founder, Spam is a combination of ham, pork, sugar, salt, water, potato starch and a “hint” of sodium nitrate “to help Spam keep its gorgeous pink color,” according to Hormel’s Web site for the product.

Because it is vacuum-sealed in a can and does not require refrigeration, Spam can last for years. Hormel says “it’s like meat with a pause button.”

During World War II, Spam became a staple for Allied troops overseas. They introduced it to local residents, and it remains popular in many parts of the world where the troops were stationed.

Spam developed a camp following in the 1970s, mainly because of Monty Python, the English comedy troupe. In a 1970 skit, a couple tried to order breakfast at a cafe featuring Spam in nearly every entree, like “Spam, Eggs, Sausage and Spam.” The diners were eventually drowned out by a group of Vikings singing, “Spam, lovely Spam, wonderful Spam.”

(Familiar with the skit, Internet pioneers labeled junk e-mail “spam” because it overwhelmed other dialogue, according to one theory.)

Here in Austin, local officials have tried to capitalize on Spam’s kitschy cultural status, even if a decidedly unpleasant odor hangs over the town (a slaughterhouse next to the Hormel plant butchers 19,000 hogs a day). Austin advertises itself as “Spamtown,” and it boasts 13 restaurants with Spam on the menu.

Jerry’s Other Place sells a Spamburger for $6.29. Johnny’s “Spamarama” menu includes eggs Benedict with Spam for $7.35. At Steve’s Pizza, a medium Spam and pineapple pizza costs $11.58.

“There are all kinds of people who have an emotional connection to Spam,” said Gil Gutknecht Jr., the former Minnesota congressman, who was in the gift shop at the Spam Museum buying a Spam tie, sweatshirt and earrings. Mr. Gutknecht recalled that he once served as a judge in a Spam recipe contest.

“The best thing was Spam brownies,” he said, with more or less a straight face.

No independent data provider compiles sales figures that include all the outlets where Spam is sold, including foreign stores, so it is not clear exactly how much sales are up. Hormel’s chief executive, Jeffrey M. Ettinger, said in September that they were growing by double digits.

The company would not discuss more recent sales of the product or permit a tour of the Spam factory, citing rules that Hormel said prevented it from speaking ahead of a forthcoming earnings report.

However, Hormel executives appear to be banking on the theory that Spam fits nicely into recession budgets. Workers on the Spam line in Austin — more than 40 of them work two shifts —see no signs that their work schedule will let up.

“We are scheduled to work every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Darwin Sellers, 56, a Spam “formulator” who adds salt, sugar and nitrates to batches of Spam. “Mr. Ettinger is negotiating with the man upstairs to get us to work eight days a week.”

Mr. Sellers said he had not seen much of his family in recent months, but the grueling schedule had been good for his checkbook. He bought a new television and planned to replace a 20-year-old refrigerator.

Unlike his colleagues though, he has no plans to stock up on Spam. “It’s not something I’ve ever developed a taste for,” he said.

A rising segment of the public, it seems, does have a taste for Spam, which is available in several varieties, including Spam Low Sodium, Spam with Cheese and Spam Hot & Spicy.

James Bate, a 48-year-old sausage maker, was buying it at Wal-Mart in Cleveland recently. Not only was it cheap, but he said it brought back fond memories of his grandfather’s making him Spam sandwiches.

“You can mix it with tomatoes and onions and make a good meal out of it,” he said. “A little bit of this stuff goes a long way.”

3DHS / Change is NOT Needed, thank you
« on: November 16, 2008, 09:36:58 AM »
Deep-Red Region Has Obama Blues :

A Different Perspective.

3DHS / On Coerced Testimony
« on: July 05, 2008, 12:34:23 AM »
Comments are hereby solicited.

On Coerced Testimony Including Confessions, and Rules of Evidence

The Fourth of July seems a good time to look into this matter.

First, we can all agree that the notion of torture as a means of obtaining information is repugnant, and as a general rule civilized societies do not employ it. The US Constitution has built in a protection against being compelled to testify against oneself, which pretty well rules out the use of torture as a means of obtaining confessions.

Note that the Constitution does not rule out compelled testimony, nor do our courts, nor do the courts of any other civilized nation. Witnesses can be and are compelled to testify before grand juries (if they are not willing to talk to the police) and can be jailed until they decide to cooperate. Depending on where they are jailed, one might say that torture is a legitimate means of compulsion, and the threat of being jailed in a place where sexual and other assault on inmates is common is often used as a threat. High profile witnesses such as reporters who refuse to reveal sources may be protected, but less visible potential witnesses do not have that expectation. The ability to compel witnesses to appear and testify is pretty fundamental to our theory of a trial, and that power is available to the defense as well as the prosecution as a Constitutional right.

So, when it comes to compulsory testimony, the practice is common and indeed routine, with a few exceptions. One exception is the journalist claim to immunity from being compelled to reveal their sources; this "right" is fairly new, and its limits are not well established, and in these days of the Internet and blogs it is very difficult to determine just who is a journalist within the meaning of the shield laws to begin with. We have not heard the last argument in that matter, nor have we seen the last ruling. But in general if you are a participant in or witness to an event that becomes important in a civil or criminal case, you can be compelled to testify under oath and under penalty of perjury, no matter how embarrassing or unpleasant this may be; and if you plead that you won't testify because it might incriminate you, you can be granted immunity and compelled to tell your story.

Which brings us to the major exception to compulsory testimony: the immunity against self incrimination. This isn't debatable in the United States because it is built into the Constitution, and is one of those rights from the Bill of Rights that probably could not have been inferred from the grant of limited powers theory favored by Hamilton and the others who argued that a Bill of Rights was not only not needed, but would prove to invert the theory of the Constitution: with a Bill of Rights, those powers not forbidden to the general government would be understood to have been granted, while the Hamiltonian view was that if the Constitution didn't say the Federal Government could do something, then it couldn't do it no matter how reasonable that might seem. In any event, immunity against self incrimination is pretty well absolute in the United States, at least in so far as it applies to the Federal Government. (This is not the time to discuss the theory that some (but certainly not all) of the Bill of Rights was incorporated as prohibitions on the States by the Civil War Amendments.)

While the existence of this right is not debatable, its wisdom is certainly discussable, which was the only reason I brought it up in the first place. Most Americans don't seem to know there are plenty of  arguments against not being compelled to tell the truth in court even if the truth tends to be self incriminating. Whether they ought to be aware of those arguments can be debated, but surely knowing they exist does no harm?

But do note that even if one cannot be compelled to incriminate oneself, one can be compelled to testify against one's colleagues in a crime. Prosecutors can and do grant immunity to minor actors in a criminal enterprise, sometimes as part of a plea bargain, sometimes on the theory that it is better to let the little fish get away if we can get the major culprits, and sometimes because the evidence against the small fry is so overwhelming that there is no need for self incrimination with or without details.

So: we accept the principle of compelled testimony, even if that testimony is embarrassing or self incriminating, so long as that compelled testimony is not used against the witness. Perhaps this ought to be debated, but at the moment it is certainly the practice in both Federal and State courts, and in England (and of course there are places that do not recognize any right against self-incrimination, and routinely demand that a witness tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in both civil and criminal cases. It is my understanding that this was the situation in Louisiana until the US Supreme Court imposed the Bill of Rights on the state after the Civil War Amendments.

We can compel testimony; so we are now haggling over the means of compulsion.

There is a long and complex literature on this subject. One of the classic cases is the ticking time bomb. There was an excellent made for television 1960 Playhouse 90 production starring Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, and Cliff Robertson that looked at this in great detail: Heflin is a French officer charged with public safety in Algiers. It is known that a teen age boy, a prisoner, knows where a bomb has been placed and when it will explode. Many lives, both French and Algerian, are at stake. Time is short. What means are legitimate in finding the location of that bomb? Cliff Robertson, a junior officer, offers to use extreme means of interrogation and argues that there is no choice. I don't suppose this can be found for viewing now, but I have never forgotten it. It lays out all the arguments with great clarity.

This case is a distillation of the current arguments regarding water boarding and other extreme means of interrogation. One side claims that it is irresponsible not to use extreme means when there is a chance for saving life: for preventing another 9/11. The other claims that "the end does not justify the means." (As an aside: if the ends don't justify the means, then what does?)

I don't expect to settle any of this. If two thousand years of discussion hasn't settled it, I won't be able to. I just want to lay out the threads of the argument so we understand what we are talking about.

The Stakes

One thing we can agree on: extreme means of compulsion are only justified by the highest of stakes. Alas, that, too, can be debated.

Torquemada, Inquisitor General in Spain during the inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella the Great, is said to have personally been a very good man who wore a hair shirt and was both abstemious and pious in his personal life. He was also very concerned that the Inquisition was being used by the Royal Government for political, not spiritual, purposes, and he conceived it as his job to do the real work of the Church, which was the salvation of souls. To him there were no higher stakes. He was horrified by the notion that people were being condemned without just cause; but of course, to him, "just cause" had a different meaning from what most of us would accept.

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella united Spain and drove out the last of the Moslem kingdoms which had been established over the centuries since the Prophet. The dream of uniting Spain, and ending any Muslim presence in Europe, had been the dream and ambition of every Christian Spaniard for six hundred years. For a good summary of the early days of this conflict as well as one of the most valuable synoptic histories of the West, see Fletcher Pratt The Battles that Changed History.

Prior to 1492 there had been other conquests of Muslim states in Spain. In all cases their Most Catholic Majesties (Isabella la Catholica was Queen of Castile in her own right, as well as Queen of Aragon as Ferdinand's husband; and Gonsalvo de Cordoba, the best general of the age, was Isabella's general, not Ferdinand's) required that all the new subjects either convert to Christianity or leave the kingdom. There were many conversions, but there was also great suspicion that the conversions weren't sincere. This had consequences both religious and political. Politically, it was very dangerous to have a fifth column of Muslim sympathizers in the kingdom. Religiously, heresy was considered one of the worst of the sins, and heretics were doomed to Hell. Dante had placed them in fiery sepulchers below the City of Dis.

Of course there were opportunities for petty officials. Many Jewish and Muslim converts were wealthy. Convicting them of heresy could be quite lucrative, and even the Pope became concerned about false prosecutions. One reason Torquemada was appointed Inquisitor General was to prevent selfishly motivated accusations. Alas, his reforms did not spare those who really were heretical, and if one was questioned before torture, during torture, between tortures, and after torture one might be induced to confess to anything. Torquemada had good intentions but his place in history is not the one he would have liked to have.

In other words, if what is wanted is reliable information about the guilt of the subject -- reliable self incrimination -- torture is notoriously unreliable. In Germany nearly everyone accused of witchcraft confessed -- and their property was confiscated, generally to the enrichment of the accuser. King James I of England, on reading the testimony of women accused of witchcraft, famously said "They are all great liars." He did not believe they sailed the seas in a sieve, or summoned a horned man, or flew on broomsticks. Some of this testimony was voluntary braggadocio, but some was solicited under torture -- and it was not reliable.

That says nothing about the efficacy of torture for soliciting verifiable information, as for instance, the location of a ticking time bomb. While few of us today would agree with Torquemada that if we can bring the sinner to true repentance at the moment of death we will have done him an infinitely great service -- that the stakes cannot be higher -- the argument is not so clear in the case of the ticking time bomb, or the location of hostages. What we think of high stakes today is quite different from the days of Ferdinand and Isabella.

That doesn't mean that the stakes are not high. Or that the subject should not be debated in a responsible republic.

What's to Debate?

In the United States there is no debate over self-incrimination. Whatever the arguments, the question has been settled in the Constitution itself: the federal government cannot compel you to incriminate yourself, and the courts have ruled that this doctrine applies to the states as well. The question is settled.

What is not settled is just what can be compelled? Can the defense require reporters to reveal sources? If the only testimony that will free a defendant is a confession by someone else, can that someone else be granted immunity and compelled to make that confession? If he does, how can we tell if this is the truth? If he does not, is there justice for the defendent?

The Constitution itself gives the accused the right  "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense".  We have seen that the State of Texas doesn't seem to pay much attention to this when it thinks the stakes are high -- not only has no one in the FLDS case been confronted with an accuser, but the accuser is apparently now known not even to exist -- but in general this is a right we all have and I would presume most of us support it.

But what does it mean? What means of compulsion are legitimate and what means are not? We have a lot of case law on that subject, but I don't think there is a general agreement. This is one subject for debate.

A second debate can be had on the general principle of high stakes matters like the ticking time bomb.

And of course it is not enough to establish principles. One also needs to establish procedures: due process of law. We have some procedures. What we need now is some general agreement on principles.

3DHS / Condoms Anyone?
« on: June 10, 2008, 12:24:25 PM »
Antarctic base gets condom haul before winter
16,500 prophylactics arrive for 125 scientists, staff before darkness sets in
updated 4:46 a.m. ET, Mon., June. 9, 2008

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - One of the last shipments to a U.S. research base in Antarctica before the onset of winter darkness was a year's supply of condoms, a New Zealand newspaper reported Monday.

Bill Henriksen, the manager of the McMurdo base station, said nearly 16,500 condoms were delivered last month and would be made available, free of charge, to staff throughout the year to avoid the potential embarrassment of having to buy them.

The base only has a skeleton staff through the long winter.

"Since everybody knows everyone, it becomes a little bit uncomfortable," Henriksen told the Southland Times newspaper.

About 125 scientists and staff are stationed at McMurdo base, the largest community in Antarctica, during the winter months when there is constant darkness.

The first sunrise will occur on Aug. 20 and McMurdo's population will start to increase again in September when supply flights resume, peaking at more than 1,000 during the summer period.

3DHS / Hillary Willing to be VP
« on: June 03, 2008, 05:20:24 PM »
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton on Tuesday told New York lawmakers she is open to being the running mate of Sen. Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, two of the lawmakers told CNN.

Sen. Hillary Clinton trails Obama by 159 delegates and is 201 delegates shy of capturing the nomination.

1 of 2 Rep. Charles Rangel, a senior member of the New York Democratic delegation, also told CNN, "I have reason to believe she is open to the [vice president] slot."

One of the sources added that former President Clinton has been privately pushing for a couple of weeks for his wife to be No. 2 on the ticket.

On Monday night, a close friend and advisor of the former first lady told CNN that Clinton will say tonight "that she will do whatever it takes" to put a Democrat in the White House. Barack Obama insiders saw that as an indication she would accept an offer to be his running mate if asked.

"In her speech [Tuesday] night, she will convey the message that first and foremost she is committed to Democrats winning in November and will do whatever she's asked to do," the Clinton advisor said.

"She will do whatever it takes to bring the party together to win and whatever is asked of her to make sure the Republicans are defeated," the advisor added.

Even though she discussed being Obama's running mate, her campaign chairman earlier in the day said Clinton was "absolutely not" prepared to concede the race after the polls close tonight in Montana and South Dakota, the final two contests on the primary calendar Tuesday night.

Terry McAuliffe rejected as "100 percent" incorrect an Associated Press report that Clinton is preparing to acknowledge that Obama has the delegates to win the nomination Tuesday night as the five-month Democratic primary process comes to a close.

Obama "doesn't have the numbers today, and until someone has the numbers the race goes on," McAuliffe told CNN.

Clinton continues to fight Obama in the Democratic primary season. Some 61 contests over five months will end Tuesday as Montana and South Dakota hold primaries.  Watch McAuliffe say the 'race goes on' ?

Only 31 pledged delegates are at stake in those two contests.

Obama on Tuesday had 2,083 delegates, just 35 delegates shy of the 2,118 needed to clinch the nomination, after a number of superdelegates announced their support for the senator from Illinois.

There are 193 superdelegates who have not backed a candidate.

Former President Jimmy Carter and Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and the highest ranking African-American in Congress, were two of the most prominent superdelegate endorsements that Obama picked up. Watch Clyburn endorse Obama

"I came to that decision because I do believe that he has elevated this campaign," Clyburn said. "He has energized our constituents. He is redrawing an electoral map for Democrats."

There are not enough pledged delegates at stake in Montana and South Dakota to put Obama over the top, but a rush of endorsements by the remaining undeclared "superdelegates" could allow him to claim victory when he takes the stage in Minnesota Tuesday evening.

Superdelegates are the approximate 825 Democratic governors, members of Congress, and party officials who each get to vote in the delegate nominating process. Around 200 of them have yet to endorse either Obama or Clinton.

In a bit of symbolism, Obama will spend Tuesday night at a rally at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the same arena which will house the 2008 Republican National Convention in September. Clinton will spend the night at an campaign event in New York City. What she will say is the question of the night. See what cartoonists think of the interminable race

Obama is looking more and more toward a likely general election matchup with John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. And while not taking anything for granted, it appears he's starting to look at Clinton as less of a rival and more as an important ally who can help him win in November.

"We're getting very close to the number that will, that will give us the nomination and if we've hit that number on Tuesday night, then we will. We will announce that and I think even if we don't, this is the end of the primary season, and I think it's very important for us to focus on the clear contrast that's going to exist between Democrats and Republicans in this election," Obama said this weekend while campaigning in South Dakota.

"Sen. Clinton is an outstanding public servant, she has worked tirelessly on this campaign, she has been a great senator for the state of New York and she is going to be a great asset when we go into November to make sure that we defeat the Republicans," Obama said on the campaign trail Sunday in South Dakota, adding Monday in Michigan that "she and I will be working together."  Watch Obama vow the party will come together after the primary ?

Clinton's road to capturing the nomination is much longer and more difficult. She trails Obama by 166 delegates and is 201 delegates shy of capturing the nomination. Her main shot at winning now appears to depend on a mass wave of superdelegate support, which seems unlikely.  See what's next for Clinton ?

Clinton's been making the case for weeks now that she's ahead in the popular vote in the primaries and caucuses to date. Much of this argument hinges on how Michigan's disputed primary is counted. If Obama is awarded no votes, since his name wasn't on the ballot, Clinton leads by 194,000 in the popular vote count. If Obama is awarded the 40 percent who voted uncommitted in the primary, he's ahead of Clinton by 45,000 votes in the overall count.  Watch Clinton outline her optimism ?

"The Clinton campaign is making every effort to convince superdelegates she is the best qualified and most electable Democrat to take on John McCain in November. The problem for Clinton is that it seems a little bit too late for her argument to stick even if these superdelegates did embrace her assertion that she is the leader in the popular vote," said Mark Preston, CNN political editor.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reported that "only a handful of people at the inner core of the Clinton campaign knows what she's thinking about doing when Tuesday's dust settles, adding that "those who have been with her since nearly the beginning are saying she will not push this into the convention. As one close Clinton supporter put it, she's acutely aware of her place in the party. She will not ruin the party."

Clinton scored a large victory Sunday in Puerto Rico's primary. It could be a different story in Montana, where Obama is ahead in the most recent polls. Obama campaigned in the state late last week, before stumping over the weekend in South Dakota. Clinton spent Monday in South Dakota. A new poll out Monday in that state puts Clinton up by double digits. But regardless of the results, Tuesday night is much more about the big picture than about who won which primary.

3DHS / Taiwan's Ruling Party Tells China
« on: June 03, 2008, 12:05:34 PM »
We Want Security, Int'l Participation, Taiwan's Ruling Party Tells China
Patrick Goodenough
International Editor

( - China on Thursday invited Taiwan to restart bilateral dialogue that has been suspended for almost a decade. The talks are expected to begin as early as mid-June.

The latest sign of a thaw in China-Taiwan relations came after the heads of the two countries' ruling parties met and discussed such sensitive matters as Taiwan's desire for security and "international space."

The chairman of Taiwan's nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party, Wu Poh-hsiung, met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hu's capacity as head of the Communist Party.

The landmark meeting on Wednesday came shortly after Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT, called for a "diplomatic truce" with the mainland in his inauguration address.

Their conflict goes back to 1949, when China's then-ruling KMT fled the mainland for Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Tse-tung's communists who established the People's Republic of China.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, has successfully blocked most of Taiwan's efforts for recognition and participation in the international community, including its annual efforts to take part in World Health Organization (WHO) activities. China also refuses to have diplomatic relations with the handful of countries that recognize Taiwan's sovereignty.

The dispute across the Taiwan Strait is among the most potentially explosive irritants in China's relations with the United States: China has threatened to use force if necessary to prevent the self-ruled island from proclaiming formal independence, and the U.S. is committed under 1979 legislation to help Taiwan to defend itself against unprovoked aggression.

Security and freedom to operate in the international community are top concerns for many in Taiwan, and Wu's raising of the twin issues in his talks with Hu were groundbreaking.

Wu told a press conference after the meeting he told Hu that Taiwanese "need a sense of security, respect and a place in the international community," and that Hu had said that was understandable.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying that once suspended cross-Strait dialogue was resumed, the participation of Taiwanese in international activities would be discussed, with priority given to the WHO issue.

"I believe that if two sides can work together and create conditions, solutions will be found to these issues through consultation," Hu said.

The meeting between the two party leaders appeared warm, with Hu thanking Taiwan for its active response to this month's deadly earthquake in Sichuan province, which killed at least 68,000 people.

Wu recalled an earlier earthquake, in Taiwan in 1999 -- at a time relations were especially poor -- and said while neither side could promise there would be no natural disasters, "both of us can promise that, through our joint efforts, there will never be a war across the Strait."

(The 1999 earthquake cast China's attempts to isolate Taiwan into stark relief. Beijing demanded that international relief aid be channeled through the mainland, delaying its arrival. Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO was also a problem, and Taiwan complained that China had prevented regional WHO experts from visiting the scene. Taiwan argues that its WHO non-membership cost Taiwanese lives during outbreaks of diseases, including SARS in 2003 and an enterovirus epidemic in 1998.)

Under Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), dealings with China were strained.

Hu said Wednesday that positive political changes in Taiwan provided an opportunity for improved relations.

He called for a resumption of talks between a semi-official Taiwanese body, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), and a mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).

The two were set up in the early 1990s to handle exchanges in the absence of official contacts between the two governments. But after a fallout in 1999, negotiations were frozen and did not resume during Chen's eight years in office.

On Thursday, Xinhua reported that ARATS has sent SEF a letter inviting Taiwan to send a delegation for Jun. 11-14 talks to discuss visits by Chinese tourists to the island and the introduction of regular direct charter flights between the two.

Currently, anyone flying between the mainland and Taiwan must make stopovers in Hong Kong or in third countries.

The establishment of the so-called "three links" -- direct flights, trade and postal services -- is a priority for the new Ma government, which hopes the flights will begin this summer.

Military gesture possible?

DPP leaders expressed some reservations about the Hu-Wu meeting, warning that a political track between the KMT and Communist Party of China may not be as transparent and as subject to government monitoring as authorized SEF-ARATS negotiations.

DPP secretary-general Wang Tuoh said the KMT must protect Taiwan's sovereignty, national interest and security in dealing with China, while DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said the meeting between Wu and Hu could give the impression that the KMT party was trying to usurp the powers of Taiwan's executive branch of government.

Prof. Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, says Ma took a big political risk in reaching out to China in his inauguration address, and China needs to respond positively. The U.S. should encourage Beijing to make significant gestures sooner, rather than later.

Cossa predicted that Beijing would move forward on the "three links" and might make some type of military gesture, like drawing back some of the more than 1,000 missiles deployed along the Chinese coastline pointing towards Taiwan.

"The Chinese will move slowly before making concessions in the most important area of international space since they fear that it helps legitimize the separation of the two and makes Taiwan's status as a de facto country more apparent and acceptable," he said.

On the other side of the Strait, "Ma will face some opposition at home and also won't move too fast since he is trying to consolidate his political standing."

Cossa said that during recent visits to Beijing and Taipei, he found a genuine sense of optimism in both capitals.

But with China preoccupied with the aftermath of the earthquake and hosting the Olympic Games this summer, "we should not expect too much to happen too soon."

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