Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No, It Will Not Consume The Earth

Actually the worst case scenario of the Large Hadron Collider that gets turned on tomorrow is not "the Earth is swallowed by a man-made black hole" but "Scientists prove the long-suspected Higgs boson exists and don't find anything smaller/cooler/new" which would kinda suck for a $10 billion series of toobs.

Still, the Brits put the chance of us dying from this thing at one in 50 million or so. My theory is that with 6.6 billion people on Earth, there's 1,320 people on this planet who really should not be allowed to touch the LHC.

Having said that, there's probably a staff of 1,320 scientists at the LHC core project or something. One of them is invariably named Dr. Gordon Freeman.

I hope the LHC has plenty of crowbars for tomorrow. I'm going to bed.

More Deceased Feline Physics Experiments

The Dow gave back basically all of yesterday's gains as the reality set in. Lehman Bros., the nation's fourth largest investment bank, lost half its value from Monday morning to Tuesday afternoon. The word on the Street is that Lehman is done. At this point it will drift lower until a buyer is found or one is appointed for it by the Fed in another sweetheart deal. Buyout rumors, usually a sure stock booster, failed to stop Lehman from falling 45% today alone.

That's because the Street is expecting another Bear Stearns deal, where the shareholders get nothing. After getting torched on Fannie and Freddie, investors aren't touching this leprous stock. Do you blame them?

Watch tomorrow's hastily called conference call tomorrow by Lehman to try to save the company.

My money's still on another Bear Stearns deal on Sunday. By Friday Lehman will be under $3. Maybe less. Fannie and Freddie are still under a buck. Lehman may be joining them. After that who knows? I'm still watching Wachovia, National City, and Citigroup. National City especially is in bad shape and has been for a long time.

We'll see.


Joe Biden goes straight for the SPLIT DIVIDER special move on McSame-Palin.
Joe Biden today waded into the now-sensitive discussion of developmentally disabled kids, my colleague Victoria McGrane reports, and differed with Palin on the issue, though he didn't mention her by name:

I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents who have both the joy, because there's joy to it as well, the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect. Well guess what folks? If you care about it, why don't you support stem cell research?

Palin reportedly opposes much stem cell research; McCain supports it.

This one's a killer move for Biden. Stem cell research is definately something that separates moderates from hard-core fundies like Palin. The McSame camp is pissed, accusing Biden of making a low blow, but if anybody should be interested in stem cell research to cure genetic disorders like Down's Syndrome, it SHOULD be Sarah Palin.

And in all honesty, stem cell research has overwhelming support among moderates, especially women. Palin's on the wrong side of this one and Biden absolutely needs to be pushing Bush's eight year resistance to stem cell work.

Take That Hans Brix!

Several news outlets are reporting at this hour that North Korean President Kim Jong-Il MAY HAVE suffered a stroke and the DPKR could collapse.
U.S. intelligence officials said today that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may have suffered a serious health setback, amid reports that the 66-year-old dictator had failed to appear at an important celebration of his country's anniversary.

An intelligence official said it appeared that Kim "has suffered a health setback, potentially a stroke." The official said the episode was believed to have occurred in the last couple of weeks, noting that U.S. officials are watching the development closely because of the far-reaching effects it could have on North Korean affairs.

Kim reportedly did not attend a military parade today marking the 60th anniversary of the country's founding, an event over which he would normally have been expected to preside.

A South Korean newspaper reported that Kim had collapsed Aug. 22, but also said there did not appear to be a panic over his health in the capital, Pyongyang.

Kim's health is intensely watched because he has no heir apparent and the floundering regime could collapse with his passing. He is visibly overweight, walks with a slight limp, and is reported by South Korean intelligence to suffer from diabetes and a heart condition.

Kim's prolonged illness or death could have an important effect on the current international effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. North Korea's military is strongly opposed to the country surrendering such arms, and analysts believe its influence would grow if Kim were sidelined or dead.

However, some observers expressed caution about the latest reports of ill health.

"He is going to die sooner or later and eventually one of these reports about his health will be true, but this one is probably much ado about nothing," said Andrei Lankov, a respected Pyongyang watcher and a professor at South Korea's Kookmin University. He said the extreme secrecy about the North Korean regime made it unlikely that either the United States or South Korea had received reliable intelligence about Kim's health.

The North Korean leader's last public appearance was Aug. 14, when he was reported by the state news service to have inspected a military unit. It is not unusual for the reclusive leader to disappear for months at a time, but his absence at today's parade was noteworthy because it marked the country's anniversary.
These were the same kind of reports that swirled around Castro. The difference is, there's no Raul Jong-Il to take over in Pyongyang.

May you live in interesting times.


Deep breath. Ready?


No, I'm serious. It's 2004 all over again.
THE next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America. Everything else — Fannie Mae, health care reform, energy independence, the budget shortfall in Wasilla, Alaska — is commentary. The nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, or downtown Washington, would cause the deaths of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; a catastrophic depression; the reversal of globalization; a permanent climate of fear in the West; and the comprehensive repudiation of America’s culture of civil liberties.

Many proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years. I am an optimist, so I put the chance at 10 percent to 20 percent. Only technical complications prevent Al Qaeda from executing a nuclear attack today. The hard part is acquiring fissile material; an easier part is the smuggling itself (as the saying goes, one way to bring nuclear weapon components into America would be to hide them inside shipments of cocaine).

No seriously, we have learned nothing. The GOP is running on fear again. The op-eds are running on fear.

Fear like this.

So what we have is one presidential candidate who still seems to be casting about for an overarching strategy; and another one who is not entirely sure whom we’re fighting. We can hope against hope that in the next two months, these two men will discuss, in a deliberative and encompassing way, the best ways to protect America from what some nonproliferation experts believe is a nearly inevitable attack. We should, in fact, demand that this conversation take place, because nothing else matters.
Nothing else matters. There is only 9/11. The economy doesn't matter, civil liberties don't matter, the housing depression doesn't matter, energy prices don't matter, nothing matters except constantly living in 2004.

You will obey or you will get nuked. None of the issues in this election matter save one, and that's protecting us from getting nuked by Muslims, otherwise you hate America and you want us to get nuked by Muslims, get it?

Idiots. All of them. I so hate this time of year.

Juan Cole Dropkicks A Hornet's Nest

...by comparing Sarah Palin's Christian fundie theocracy to Muslim fundie theocracy.
John McCain announced that he was running for president to confront the "transcendent challenge" of the 21st century, "radical Islamic extremism," contrasting it with "stability, tolerance and democracy." But the values of his handpicked running mate, Sarah Palin, more resemble those of Muslim fundamentalists than they do those of the Founding Fathers. On censorship, the teaching of creationism in schools, reproductive rights, attributing government policy to God's will and climate change, Palin agrees with Hamas and Saudi Arabia rather than supporting tolerance and democratic precepts. What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick.

McCain pledged to work for peace based on "the transformative ideals on which we were founded." Tolerance and democracy require freedom of speech and the press, but while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin inquired of the local librarian how to go about banning books that some of her constituents thought contained inappropriate language. She tried to fire the librarian for defying her. Book banning is common to fundamentalisms around the world, and the mind-set Palin displayed did not differ from that of the Hamas minister of education in the Palestinian government who banned a book of Palestinian folk tales for its sexually explicit language. In contrast, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it."

Palin argued when running for governor that creationism should be taught in public schools, at taxpayers' expense, alongside real science. Antipathy to Darwin for providing an alternative to the creation stories of the Bible and the Quran has also become a feature of Muslim fundamentalism. Saudi Arabia prohibits the study, even in universities, of evolution, Freud and Marx. Malaysia has banned a translation of "The Origin of the Species." Likewise, fundamentalists in Turkey have pressured the government to teach creationism in the public schools. McCain has praised Turkey as an anchor of democracy in the region, but Turkey's secular traditions are under severe pressure from fundamentalists in that country. McCain does them no favors by choosing a running mate who wishes to destroy the First Amendment's establishment clause, which forbids the state to give official support to any particular theology. Turkish religious activists would thereby be enabled to cite an American precedent for their own quest to put religion back at the center of Ankara's public and foreign policies.

And even though he's right, a big, huge red line just got crossed, and the wingnuts are going to explode.

The GOP vice-presidential pick holds that abortion should be illegal, even in cases of rape, incest or severe birth defects, making an exception only if the life of the mother is in danger. She calls abortion an "atrocity" and pledges to reshape the judiciary to fight it. Ironically, Palin's views on the matter are to the right of those in the Muslim country of Tunisia, which allows abortion in the first trimester for a wide range of reasons. Classical Muslim jurisprudents differed among one another on the issue of abortion, but many permitted it before the "quickening" of the fetus, i.e. until the end of the fourth month. Contemporary Muslim fundamentalists, however, generally oppose abortion.

Palin's stance is even stricter than that of the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2005, the legislature in Tehran attempted to amend the country's antiabortion statute to permit an abortion up to four months in case of a birth defect. The conservative clerical Guardianship Council, which functions as a sort of theocratic senate, however, rejected the change. Iran's law on abortion is therefore virtually identical to the one that Palin would like to see imposed on American women, and the rationale in both cases is the same, a literalist religious impulse that resists any compromise with the realities of biology and of women's lives. Saudi Arabia's restrictive law on abortion likewise disallows it in the case or rape or incest, or of fetal impairment, which is also Gov. Palin's position.

Now don't get me wrong, I like Juan Cole. He is absolutely right on Palin the theocrat. But comparing her to fundamentalist Muslim leaders in Iran is going to start a massive backlash by our own fundamentalist theocrats, and the hurricane that is unleashed will only prove Cole's point.

Lehman Bros. Breakdown

Lehman Bros. stock just fell off the cliff this morning, it's down under $10 from $16 on Friday. It was as low as $8.

I expect we'll be hearing about a bailout over the weekend. Fannie and Freddie are still wallowing around under a buck. There's a very good chance Lehman Bros. will join them shortly should the collapse continue before the Fed's standard Sunday Afternoon Bailout can be arranged.

Reuters has more.
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc shares fell as much as 40 percent to their lowest level in nearly a decade on Tuesday on growing concern that Wall Street's fourth-largest investment bank would be unable to raise needed capital.

"The market fears that no one will inject capital in the company," said Nick Kalivas, equity market analyst at MF Global Research in Chicago.

A Lehman spokeswoman declined to comment on the lower share price.

Part of the decline came after reports that Lehman's talks with state-owned Korea Development Bank on a possible infusion had ended.

It's just a matter of time now if the talks with the Koreans to save Lehman has fallen through.

[UPDATE] And even MORE good econ news!
The budget deficit will jump by $246 billion to $407 billion this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates in a report released Tuesday.

Last year, the budget deficit was $161 billion. The government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The agency attributes the jump to "a substantial increase in spending and a halt in the growth of tax revenues."

It just keeps getting better.

Not In My Self-Interest

The Obama camp has been confident, as have most feminist bloggers and op-ed columnists that I've read, that the Hillary vote is not going to go for Sarah Palin, and that women are not going to vote their control over their own bodies away by allowing McSame and Palin to put more Scalias and Thomases on the Supreme Court, not to mention her very unorthodox religious views.

And of course having said that with confidence, just the opposite has happened in the last week.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has gained huge support among white women since naming Sarah Palin as his running mate and now leads Democrat Barack Obama among those voters, according to a survey published on Tuesday.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll found that much of McCain's surge in the polls since the Republican National Convention is attributable to the shift in support among white women.

The race for the White House is now a virtual tie, with Obama at 47 percent support of registered voters and McCain at 46 percent, the poll found.

Before the Democratic National Convention in late August, Obama held an 8 percentage point lead among white women voters, 50 percent to 42 percent, but after the Republican convention in early September, McCain was ahead by 12 points among white women, 53 percent to 41 percent, the poll found.

Folks, that's a twenty point turnaround among white women, and that has accounted for both conventions.

That's pretty stunning. If that holds through November, Obama's in deep trouble. I don't think it will, but Obama's surely taken a lot of damage. If Palin's winning the Hockey Mom vote by enough to put McSame in the overall lead, that's going to cause a lot of problems in swing states. I'd honestly like to hear from women out there...what does Sarah Palin offer that makes her worth voting for?

Wet Fish Slapping For Dummies

David Brooks is an individual who often needs to be hit with a large wet fish whenever he pens a column. Seriously. He's that guy in the office that says the most pointlessly vapid thing imaginable, then holds it out for the world to see and is as proud of it as a toddler making bubbles in the tub. Today's piscatorial punishment comes courtesy of this.

If I were advising the candidates, I’d tell them to double down on weirdness. Obama needs to occasionally criticize his own side. If he can’t take on his own party hacks, he’ll never reclaim the mantle of systemic change. Specifically, he needs to attack the snobs who are savaging Sarah Palin’s faith and family. Many liberals claim to love working-class families, but the moment they glimpse a hunter with an uneven college record, they hop on chairs and call for disinfectant. Obama needs to attack Bill Maher for calling her a stewardess and the rest of the coastal condescenders.

If I were McCain, I’d make the divided government argument explicit. The Republicans are intellectually unfit to govern right now, but balancing with Democrats, they might be able to do some good. I’d have McCain tell the country that he looks forward to working with Congressional Democrats, that he is confident they can achieve great things together.

The candidates probably won’t take this kind of advice. But remember: Weirdness wins. Surprise me most.

The GOP is unfit to rule, and can't win on the issues, so instead of Obama attacking on that, he should what, act like Martin Lawrence in Big Momma's House? A minstrelsy act from the bad old days? He should juggle chainsaws while drinking malt liquor? I'm not sure what's more infuriating, the fact that Brooks admits that the GOP has nothing but Cirque de Palin to distract the public with, or the fact that he thinks the black guy who is winning hands down on the issues and should be winning on the issues is in fact not entertaining enough for a black guy on his TV.

Now you're thinking "Zandar, you're making too much of that second point there" and I agree with you, except Brooks's fellow columnist at the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, said pretty much the same thing today.

Not, anyway, the Obama who appeared Sunday on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. That Obama was cool, diffident, above it all -- unflustered, unflappable, unexcitable and downright unexciting. These "uns" ran on, a torrent of cool that frosted my flat-panel TV and had me wondering if, as a kid, Obama ever got a shot in the mouth on the playground, he'd glare at the bully -- and convene a meeting.

Stephanopoulos vainly tried for some genuine reaction. In choosing Palin, did John McCain get someone who met the minimum test of being "capable of being president"? Everyone in America knows the answer to that. They know McCain picked someone so unqualified she has been hiding from the media because a question to her is like kryptonite to what's-his-name. But did Obama say anything like that? Here are his exact words: "Well, you know, I'll let you ask John McCain when he's on ABC." Boy, Palin will never get over that.


And how about this silly business that she's qualified for the presidency because she's commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard? Another softball. Another slow one, right down the middle. Obama reared back . . . and told Stephanopoulos that those questions should come from the media: "It's going to be your job and. . . ." Pathetic.

Obama needs to be angrier! Wackier! More entertaining! Not clean and articulate! America can't handle a black guy that's not bustin' caps in asses or an Original King of Comedy, apparently.

I mean damn. Obama should just combine the images of the entertaining black man and the angry black man by hitting people with fish. Starting with these two idiots.

Home Is Where You Hang Your Constituents

More excellent news for the McCain campaign breaking this morning!
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.

The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.

Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received $16,951 as her allowance, which officials say was permitted because her official "duty station" is Juneau, according to an analysis of her travel documents by The Washington Post.

The governor's daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show.

But since she's a Republican we'll only hear how this means Sarah Palin was committed to a stable family life for her kids that was well within her rights to do.

If she was a Democrat, the news would be screaming about how this latest scandal (yet another reason she should do the right thing for the country and resign from the ticket, the GOP would say) means she's clearly guilty of endangering America's western frontier by damaging Alaska's political landscape by being possibly guilty of fraud and emboldening Russian aggression by showing weakness in our closest state to Vladivostok.



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