Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Last Call

So basically, Israel is running around going AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!one!!eleven!! at everyone this week.

Given recent changes in the Middle East, Israel must prepare for a battle in several theaters, outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Monday at the Herzliya Conference.

"The connection between the different players requires us to contend with more than one theater," he said.

The radical camp in the Middle East is gaining strength, Ashkenazi warned, adding that "the moderate camp among the traditional Arab leadership is weakening." He also made note of what he characterized as the "fascinating phenomenon" whereby power is shifting to the people of the region thanks to online social networks.

The army chief said that in the wake of the growing threat of radical Islam among Israel's neighbors, the defense budget would have to be boosted in the coming years. The main change faced by the army is the widening spectrum of threats, he said.

"Because of this spectrum, we must prepare for a conventional war…it would be a mistake to prepare for non-conventional war or limited conflicts and then expect that overnight the forces will operate in an all-out-war," he said.

Yeah, anyone want to hazard a guess where that additional money's going to come from?

Towards The Rotating Knives

Via Balloon Juice, what do you get when you cross robots, performance art, and bio-microbial fuel cells?

Pest-disposing death furniture.

Let's begin with their digital wall clock, which doesn't need a battery or a plug because it gets its energy from eating flies.

This carnivorous clock ("8 dead flies makes it work for about 12 days," says co-designer Professor Chris Melhuish, of Bristol Robotics) is just a prototype. It doesn't catch enough flies to power the motor on top and the digital clock. But this is just a first step.
 As Professor Melhuish explains on another video:

What we have here is a belt. The white thing is a belt that's covered in honey. So it operates just like standard flypaper. Flies would be attracted to that honey. They'd land on the belt, get stuck, as you can see it is moving down very, very slowly, and right underneath here there's a blade and the blade scrapes off any insects that have become stuck to the honey. They fall into the microbial fuel cell underneath. And this is the device that turns that organic matter into electrical energy.
I know there's a notion (popular with the sci-fi crowd and especially with "singularity" enthusiasts) that one day machines are going to develop primitive minds of their own, learn how to repair themselves, copy themselves and find their own energy sources. At which point, they will become our evolutionary successors and rapidly evolve into some sort of uber-beings. I am privately wary of this idea, but Auger & Loizeau clearly find it intriguing to think about.

Needless to say, the larger furniture is powered by disposing of...larger pests.  (Bon, you miiiiight want to skip the part about the table.)

The whole thing of course reminds me of this.

(I'm serious about the table, Bon.)

But The Catfood Commission Came Back, The Very Next Day Part 5

What, you thought that Democrats weren't going to get suckered into cutting Social Security and Medicare during the worst economy in generations?  Just need to brand it better, as Digby explains.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Calling Social Security cuts "welfare reform" is just brilliant. Gloria Borger will have to be taken to the hospital when she hears it. What could be better than "Welfare Reform Part II: The Greedy Geezers"? And it looks like Democrats have joined the cast:

At the same time, Democrats admit their own frustration that the president has not been more forthcoming in addressing the debt issue.

For example, “The Easy Cuts Are Behind Us” was the headline for a weekend op-ed by White House Budget Director Jack Lew promising that Obama’s 2012 budget will “look beyond the obvious” in cutting spending. But Lew is already months behind his fellow Democrats on one of his prime examples — cuts from the Great Lakes restoration initiative.

Lew listed other more significant new cuts –totaling $650 million--from community development and community service block grants. But none of these comes close to the desperate tone of last week’s 81-17 Senate vote on the small-business amendment, in which panic-driven Democrats virtually turned over the keys to the White House to cut whatever it wanted from unobligated appropriations, as long as they met the $44 billion target.

The article goes on to discuss how Republicans are facing some of the same issues. But let's face it. It's always going to be easier for the GOP to sign on to spending cuts. If the Democrats lead the way, I suspect they'll be able to set aside their differences. Where they fall out is on tax hikes, but from what I can tell that's not on the table. So it looks like Welfare Reform for the old and sick is on.

Americans who depend on Social Security and Medicare?  Welfare.  Ergo, the solution is bipartisan, Clinton-style centrist "welfare reform"!

Today, a decade after implementation, the Clinton-Republican “bipartisan” welfare law is a failure. As unemployment has doubled since 2007 and the number of people receiving food stamps has skyrocketed by 40%, the welfare caseload has risen only 10% — a clear indication that the nation’s poorest families are not receiving welfare grants due to the restrictive time limits imposed by the 1996 law.

Ask yourself: if the federal government allowed states to put time limits on food stamps, would those numbers have gone up 40%? Or would we have even more kids on the streets begging for alms?

And when that comes to Social Security and Medicare, it'll be "Obama's death panels" and Republicans will run against the President on this the day after Obama signs it into law.  Democrats will get pillaged on this because Republicans will lie and say they never wanted to cut anything but taxes.  Bush's response to reforming Medicare was the multi-trillion dollar prescription drug benefit, remember?  Republicans in 2012 will run on "restoring dignity to America's seniors" and the Dems will be left hanging out to dry.

And yes, the Democrats in Washington are this stupid.


That Voodoo That You Do So...Badly, Actually

The Not A Witch is back, people.

Failed GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell is back, and she's telling supporters she wants her newly formed political action committee ChristinePAC to "investigate and counter attack leftwing groups."

O'Donnell, who wrote that her losing campaign sent "shockwaves" throughout the nation, said in an e-mail to supporters Tuesday that her group will look into the groups "funded with one million dollars or more from billionaire leftist George Soros."

And then turn them into newts.  Or maybe Newts.  Not sure.

"The Left keeps after me because they consider strong, Republican women a danger to their status quo," O'Donnell wrote. "Your donation also enables me to speak out in many venues from Coast to Coast, thereby helping support a nationwide effort. This is a way that will help me counter attack our opponents and bring the battle to them."

ChristinePAC is based out of O'Donnell's Delaware home, raising concerns for ethics groups given that O'Donnell is already under investigation for alleged misuse of campaign funds.

Yes, give more money to the lady already illegally living off her campaign funds because she can't get a real job.  (It's hard being a hedge witch.)

The only reason that she lost of course was The Left, and not her atrocious, screwball antics.

Mini-Moose Memoir

Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will soon be able to add "author" to her resume with the release of an as-yet-untitled memoir set to hit bookshelves this summer.
As noted by Political Wire, an Amazon listing for an "Untitled Bristol Palin Memoir" -- in hardcover no less -- has been created, announcing that the 304-page book will be available for a little over $17.
I can't imagine what she might have to say that is useful.  Nobody knows the name, and the world can't  possibly be prepared for the pearls of wisdom that are about to be shared.  But by golly, we know how much it will cost.

Moosed It By Just A Hair

Sarah Palin fired off a loopy criticism of Obama and how he has handled the events in Egypt.  An article on Yahoo news by an independent contributor is quick to point out why every word she says is (surprise!) dead wrong.  Here is what Palin had to say:

"This is the 3 a.m. White House phone call ... that call went right to the answering machine."

"Nobody yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is will be taking the place of Mubarak. ... We need strength and a sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with. And, we do not have that information yet."

I think the last thing I want to hear is what Sarah Palin considers a sound mind, or the conclusions she thinks it would come to.  The only good that comes of these articles is that surely, oh surely people are reading, and more people who were wavering on the border will come over to the side of common sense. 

Everyone can speak out of turn, and anyone can make a mistake.  This woman is scary because the only thing that outshines her stupidity is her ambition.

The Current And Future Keith

The NY Times is reporting this morning that Keith Olbermann is going to Current TV.

Keith Olbermann, the former top-rated host on the news channel MSNBC, will announce his next television home on Tuesday, and people on Monday familiar with his plans pointed to a possible deal with the public affairs channel Current TV.

Mr. Olbermann, his representatives and executives from Current TV declined to comment on the move, but they did not deny that the channel, which counts former Vice President Al Gore as one of its founders, will become at least one partner in Mr. Olbermann’s future media plans.

One of the people with knowledge of the plans said Mr. Olbermann would have an equity stake in Current TV. The people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to comment in advance of the official announcement.

It would be good to see Olbermann doing the news again, even if it's kinda fly-by-night and internet-based.  Still, this could be very good for Current TV and for Olbermann.  Then again, it could turn into a disaster, too.  We'll see. 

I wish the guy luck.

No Longer Payday

Kentucky Democrats have long tried to fight payday lenders in the state and have lost twice before.  This year's effort wants to limit payday loan interest rates to what the federal government says military personnel receive: 36% instead of the 400% plus that Kentuckians are paying now.

With one critic calling it “legal loan-sharking,” a coalition of advocates, religious leaders, consumer protection officials and lawmakers lined up Monday to support a bill aimed at curtailing the payday loan industry in Kentucky.

“It is so easy to get caught in this trap,’’ said Mary Love, 65, of Oldham County, who said she became mired in a cycle of such loans in 2004. “The fees keep adding up and putting you deeper into the hole.”

Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, said his House Bill 182 represents the third effort in three years to limit interest rates that critics say can rise to more than 400 percent for the short-term cash loans.

Owens’ bill would restrict annual interest to 36 percent, the same limit Congress imposes on payday loans for military personnel.

“Hopefully, the third time will be the charm,” Owens said.

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, who is chairman of the House Banking and Insurance Committee, said he plans to hold a hearing on HB 182 next week and call it for a vote.

“I intend to stay there till we vote it up or down,” Greer said. “It is time to vote on it.”

But even if the bill passes, payday lenders will find a way to get around it like they have across the river in Ohio.

The dispute over Ohio’s payday lending practices began after voters upheld a 28 percent interest rate cap on payday loans in November of 2008, and many payday lenders began operating under several small loan laws already on the books. The legislature approved the cap in the spring of 2008, and payday lenders fought back with the voter referendum, but failed.

The small loan laws, which have been in existence for decades, are intended to govern installment loans, not single-payment, two-week payday loans. Payday lending opponents say the lenders are exploiting those laws to avoid the 28 percent rate cap. Lenders contend they are legitimately licensed by the state to make the small loans.

Some 800 of the Ohio’s 1,600 payday lending stores have shut down since rates were capped – and the rest are “trying to make a go of it” by adhering to the small loan laws, said Ted Saunders, CEO of CheckSmart Financial Co., a national payday lender with more than 200 stores in 10 states. “We’re lending money for far less than we did when all this started,” he said. “This is not business as usual. The activists just want to put us out of business entirely.”

Those activists are pushing the Ohio legislature to move once again, to close the loopholes in the loan laws by placing them all under the 28 percent cap. More than 1,000 payday lenders already have gotten licenses to make short-term loans under the old small loan laws, which allow for high origination fees and other charges, according to a report by the Housing Research & Advocacy Center in Cleveland.

Under those laws, for a 14-day loan of $100, lenders can charge an origination fee of $15, interest charges of $1.10, and a $10 credit investigation fee, for a total amount of $126.10, or a 680 percent annual interest rate.

Of course, Republicans are firmly on the side of the payday lenders being able to charge 500%, 600%, 700% or more interest rates,  and that's saying nothing about regular banks, who charge rates nearly as high for their own version of payday lending for customers who need an advance on their direct deposits, often used to avoid incurring hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees.

That's right:  banks have been getting into the payday lending business and if you're wondering why they've been able to pay off TARP money so quickly, now you know:  trapping customers between $40 or $50 per overdraft or a vig of $1 on every $10 taken out on a direct deposit advance to avoid the overdraft means you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

In the end, payday lenders will find a way to make their billions.  Here in Northern Kentucky there's a payday lender in every strip mall, if not more than one.  If Ohio is any indication, all HB 182 would do is thin out the competition a bit.

The Birds And The Bees (And The Humans, Too)

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard makes the connection between world food shortages and the collapse of the world's honeybee population, something I hadn't even considered.

The bee crisis has been treated as a niche concern until now, but as the UN's index of food prices hits an all time-high in real terms (not just nominal) and grain shortages trigger revolutions in the Middle East, it is becoming urgent to know whether the plight of the honey bee risks further exhausting our already thin margin of food global security.

The agri-business lender Rabobank said the numbers of US bee colonies failing to survive each winter has risen to 30pc to 35pc from an historical norm of 10pc. The rate is 20pc or higher in much of Europe, and the same pattern is emerging in Latin America and Asia.

Albert Einstein, who liked to make bold claims (often wrong), famously said that "if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live".

Such "apocalyptic scenarios" are overblown, said Rabobank. The staples of corn, wheat, and rice are all pollinated by wind.

However, animal pollination is essential for nuts, melons and berries, and plays varying roles in citrus fruits, apples, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, avocados, cucumbers, coconuts, tomatoes and broad beans, as well as coffee and cocoa.

This is the fastest growing and most valuable part of the global farm economy. Between 80pc and 90pc of pollination comes from domesticated honey bees. Moths and butterflies lack the range to penetrate large fields.

The reservoir of bees is dwindling to the point where ratios are dangerously out of kilter, with the US reaching the "most extreme" imbalance. Pollinated crop output has quadrupled since 1961, yet bee colonies have halved. The bee-per-hectare count has fallen nearly 90pc.

"Farmers have managed to produce with relatively fewer bee colonies up to this point, and there is no evidence of agricultural yields being affected. The question is how much further this situation can be stretched," said the report. 

In other words, the loss of America's bee colonies may not have caused the global food problems we're experiencing in 2011, but it's sure not helping the world recover.  More than ever, US farmers need healthy bees to pollinate crops.  If bees continue to vanish at their current rate, things could get very bad for the country and the world in only a few years.

It seems very few people are concerned about it, and I agree with Pritchard that it needs to change.


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