Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Last Call

Say what you will about Lil Kim, but he's making the right call with getting back to the discussion table for North Korea.

The United States said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and to allow nuclear inspectors to visit its Yongbyon nuclear complex to verify a halt to all nuclear activities including uranium enrichment.

The U.S. announcement paves the way for the possible resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang and follows talks between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in Beijing last week.

"To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities," the State Department said in a statement. "

The DPRK has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities," it said.

Hey, once again President Obama's "weak, vacillating stance" is working, with the super awesome added bonus of us not having to bomb the crap out of anyone.  It's like he knows what he's doing, and that Secretary Clinton continues to be one of the more underrated diplomats in US history.

Imagine that.  The White House has a competent foreign policy leader.  Shocking, I know.

RIP, Mr. Jones

TMZ broke the news that Davy Jones had died this morning of a heart attack.  I found myself sadder than I would have expected.  I was only a so-so fan of the Monkees, but I loved Jones as a person.  He never took himself too seriously, and was gracious and grateful to his fans, something unheard of now.

People ask me if I ever get sick of playing ‘Daydream Believer’ or whatever,” he told The Chicago Daily Herald, a suburban newspaper, in 2006. “But I don’t look at it that way. Do they ask if Tony Bennett is tired of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’?”

The Monkees knew their charisma carried their mediocre music talents, though they did improve over time.  They were just so darned nice, and unafraid to take a blow to the head.  I'll always have fond memories of them on Saturday mornings.  The other Monkees gave appropriately sad and classy press statements.  I'll miss him, and I will stop now before I snivel.

Weep Not For The Snowe Queen

Maine GOP Senator Olympia Snowe will not be running for re-election this year, suddenly opening up a major chance for the Democrats to pick up a seat.  From her statement:

After 33 years in the Congress this was not an easy decision. My husband and I are in good health. We have laid an exceptionally strong foundation for the campaign, and I have no doubt I would have won re-election. It has been an indescribable honor and immeasurable privilege to serve the people of Maine, first in both houses of Maine’s legislature and later in both houses of Congress. To this day, I remain deeply passionate about public service, and I cherish the opportunity I have been given for nearly four decades to help improve the lives of my fellow Mainers.

As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives. I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.

With my Spartan ancestry I am a fighter at heart; and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue. However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail.

Translation:  "My party has gone insane.  I'm leaving.  You guys deal with it."  Maine Democrats are happy, if not eager to try to pick up a badly needed seat in order to keep the Senate out of GOP hands.

“As we said from day one, unexpected opportunities will emerge and the DSCC will be in a position to seize on these opportunities," DSCC spokesman Guy Cecil said in a statement. “Maine is now a top pick up opportunity for Senate Democrats. If there is one place in the country that is likely to reject the extreme, anti-middle class, divisive agenda Republican agenda it is Maine. Democrats not only hold a strong registration advantage in the state, but this is a state that the President won by 17 points in 2008 and will likely win by a significant margin this year as well.”

As I said, there's no room for moderates in the GOP for women like Snowe.  And if the Tea Party Mainers looking to replace Snowe are anything like this clown, the Dems should have little problem.

I weep not for her.  She was a pain in the ass on health care reform and basically extorted tens of billions out of the stimulus package before she voted for it.

Good riddance.

That Whole Respectful Disagreement Thing

Digby is dead right when she raises all kinds of alarm bells about the Dems' number 2 guy in the House, Steny Hoyer, talking to Our Centrist Third Way Betters about deficit reduction legislation.

In a speech hosted Monday morning by Third Way, Hoyer revealed that he and other lawmakers are looking for the right moment to introduce a bill that would achieve the sorts of deficit reduction goals that have eluded Congress and the White House thus far.
“Members of both parties, and on both sides of the Capitol, are working to ensure that the next time we find ourselves at an impasse — which could be sooner, rather than later — we will be ready, with a legislative package in hand to address our debt and deficit in a comprehensive, long-term way,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer declined to discuss the specifics of this bill, but suggested it would deal with spending and tax policies of all kinds. He and his colleagues face one key problem: there’s a lot of white space on the legislative calendar this year, and that means they’ll have a hard time leveraging unwilling members into action.
If, however, he can get members of both parties to vote in significant numbers for this bill — including broad Republican support for higher taxes — it would have significant implications for both Congressional elections, and the ultimate policy direction the government takes when it ultimately does lock in a deficit reduction plan.

Yeah, I trust Steny Hoyer about as far as he can throw me.  He serves a useful purpose as long as Nancy Pelosi is the one calling the shots, but if Hoyer had his druthers, we'd be up to our necks in Blue Dog crap with no pooper scooper in sight.   My issue is with Digby's characterization at the end:

I'm beginning to think we should elect the most crazed Tea Partiers we can find and encourage them to hold fast and never pass any bill that President Obama might sign. With Democrats like Hoyer around, it's probably our only hope.

Ironically if that's Colbertian satire, it's not funny, because that's basically what 2010 proved when voters did exactly that in the House and in state legislatures across the country in a redistricting year (hindsight and all.)  If she's being truthful, it's even less funny and for the same reason.  Yeah, we need better Democrats than Hoyer, and the bar for that is "breathing and recognizes President Obama as the leader of the party and will not piss on him repeatedly in public" and all, but c'mon.

First of all, there's no way Hoyer's deficit reduction foolishness means he's going to get anything done that the President can sign as bi-partisan anything during an election year.  Republicans aren't serious about deficit reduction at all (see the payroll tax cut) and if anything, they want to increase the deficit in order to push up a debt ceiling fight from 2013 to as close to October as they can (again, see the payroll tax cut).  Secondly, giving the President something the centrists will get tingles over in an election year is not something the GOP is going to allow, period.

And finally, the irony this is that "electing the most crazed Tea Partiers we can find" is how we got into this entire mess we're in right now.  No matter what President Obama signs, it has to go through Congress and the Sausage-Making Process(tm) first.  The key there is getting more and better Dems.

I know, I'm reading way too much into this, but it's not like the stakes aren't Mt. Everest high.  So far, the joke's been on us for the last fifteen months, or do we really think that having birth control, affirmative action, and separation of church and state reviewed is a good idea or something?  Maybe there's more pressing issues than what Steny Hoyer might "give away at the table" right now, people.  Just an observation.

Epic Fail: Ma Bell Style

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) -- When AT&T started slowing down the data service for his iPhone, Matt Spaccarelli, an unemployed truck driver and student, took the country's largest telecommunications company to small claims court. And won.

His award: $850.

Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel found in favor of Spaccarelli in Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley on Friday, saying it wasn't fair for the company to purposely slow down his iPhone, when it had sold him an "unlimited data" plan.

Spaccarelli could have many imitators. AT&T has some 17 million customers with "unlimited data" plans who can be subject to throttling. That's nearly half of its smartphone users. AT&T forbids them from consolidating their claims into a class action or taking them to a jury trial. That leaves small claims actions and arbitration.

Late last year, AT&T started slowing down data service for the top 5 percent of its smartphone subscribers with "unlimited" plans. It had warned that it would start doing so, but many subscribers have been surprised by how little data use it takes for throttling to kick in - often less than AT&T provides to those on limited or "tiered" plans

AT&T refers to their contract and their language stating they can throttle a customer who becomes a liability to the network. But that's not what customers are talking about here, and this is why Spaccarelli won. These customers are asking to be able to use what they are paying for.  AT&T is billing them for a service, failing to deliver, and hiding behind ambiguous language to stick it to their customers.  As customers become more tech savvy and dependent, they are going to have some uncomfortable questions.  If the FCC becomes involved it could lead to even more problems.  They promised a product and advertised a level of service that they cannot deliver.  Then they snark at the customer and blame them for the problem.  AT&T has come to represent the greed and bloated confidence that big business wields over regular folks.  It will be fun to watch them try to justify their behavior.

It will also be funny to see if this ruling sticks, and watch people nibble them to death with court appearances and expenses.  Of course, AT&T will just pass the cost back to the customer, but it would be satisfying to collect.

Great Balls Of Fire

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two orange orbs, just about 10 feet off the ground, floated past Steve Woody and his father as they hunted deer more than 50 years ago. The mysterious lights passed them, then dropped down the side of a gorge in the Blue Ridge foothills.

For at least a century, the Brown Mountain Lights have confounded residents and tourists in a rugged patch of Burke County, bobbing and weaving near a modest peak. Are they reflections from automobile headlights? Brush fires? A paranormal phenomenon, or something natural not yet explained by science?

Whatever the explanation, tourism officials are hoping all those decades of unanswered questions add up to a boost in visitors making their way to scenic outlooks around Linville Gorge with the goal of spotting something mysterious.

Unexplained mysteries like the Brown Mountain Lights have been the subject of cable TV documentaries and have fueled vast online communities of amateur investigators. Ed Phillips, Burke County's tourism director, is hoping to capitalize on that.

I like this kind of stuff, for a few reasons.  Someday you're going to hit pay dirt, and there's no telling a legit phenomenon from a hoax until you go see for yourself.  Nowadays, it's totally normal for people to have a cell phone camera with them, and the increase in cheap technology has allowed the curious to come out in greater numbers as well.  With a lot of local legends it's going to become time to put up or shut up.  Checking for EVP or heat signatures has finally let us perhaps learn something about the nature of rumored activity.  From ball lightning to voices, aliens to Bigfoot, the chance to obtain proof or be unable to obtain proof finally gives us a chance to discover the science behind what people have reported.  Even if the truth dispels the story (which is likely in most cases) just knowing the truth will be the reward.

Primary, Primarily

The Arizona primary was a complete blowout.  Romney won by 20 points over Santorum.  But Michigan was much closer, with Romney shaving out a 41-38% win over Slick Rick.  A few key findings in the Michigan exit polls reveal why Santorum lost:  First, Catholics voted for Mitt Romney, 44%-37%.  Second, the 9% of people who made up their minds to vote on Tuesday voted for Romney, 38-31%, but more importantly 47% of Michiganders made up their mind who they were going to vote for in 2011, and half of them voted for Romney compared to 24% to Santorum.  His remarks on JFK hurt him with Catholics...and he lost women by 5 points and men by 1.  Finally, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" didn't hurt Romney in the least, because Santorum opposed it too.  In fact, Romney won the 44% of primary voters that approved of the auto bailout by five points.

So we go from must-win for Romney in Michigan to must-win for Santorum in Ohio on Super Tuesday.

Independent groups backing Romney, Santorum and Gingrich are already airing TV ads in the state. Santorum campaigned in Ohio Tuesday and Romney will be in Toledo Wednesday morning for an event, followed by another in Columbus.

Romney will confront many of the same challenges in Ohio that he faced in Michigan, without the benefit of his hometown connection.

Like Michigan, Ohio’s economy relies heavily on the auto industry, and Romney’s high-profile opposition of the government bailout of the industry is not likely to be received warmly by many voters. He supported an effort last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights — an effort that was overwhelmingly overturned in the fall by voters in this union-heavy state. And Romney’s courtship of religious voters by supporting, for instance, an antiabortion “personhood initiative,” risks alienating female voters.

“The number one thing is the auto bailout,” said Eric Kearney, a Democrat from Cincinnati and minority leader in the Ohio Senate. “Ohio is the second-largest auto producer in this country. We rely on that. It’s a substantial portion of our economy. The first thing Mitt Romney says, and he repeats it, is he is against the auto bailout. Those are Ohio jobs he’s talking about that he doesn’t want to retain. I don’t get what his strategy is.”

Perhaps more than anything else, however, Romney’s difficulty connecting with average Americans may hurt him in a state such as Ohio. Romney acknowledged on Tuesday that his gaffes — including mentioning his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — have not been helpful to his cause. Republicans in Ohio agreed.

“People are like, ‘Yeah, he’s probably going to win, but I really don’t like him, and I’m not going to vote for him,’ ” said a high-ranking Ohio Republican who requested anonymity to speak freely. “That’s the collective zeitgeist.”

If Santorum can take Ohio, and then perform as well as I think he will in Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, Romney then is in big trouble.  If Santorum doesn't win Ohio he's done, especially if Newt will split the vote enough to give Georgia to Romney.  If that happens, then the nomination is effectively over. Either way, Romney wins Virginia...only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot there.

We'll see what next week brings.

From Way Downtown...Bang!

Via Spencer Ackerman at the Wired Danger Room, the United States Navy has three words for you:  Working. Railgun. Prototype.

The idea behind the Electromagnetic Railgun is to fire a bullet at hypersonic speeds using dozens of megajoules of electricity. The Navy wants it to guard the surface ships of the 2020s, unsubtly boasting to adversaries that messing with the ships will lead to bullets shooting across hundreds of miles of ocean in mere minutes. The Office of Naval Research says it will give sailors “a dramatically increased multimission capability,” like fire support for land strikes over long, long distances beyond the reach of enemy defenses, and defense against “cruise and ballistic missiles” that target ships. No wonder the railgun’s official motto is “Velocitas Eradico” — “Speed Kills.”
Lab tests have pleased the Navy, if not Congress. In December 2010, the Office of Naval Research fired a shot with 33 megajoules of energy, a world record, sending a 23-pound bullet 5500 feet in a single second. The Senate Armed Services Committee still found the science too impractical, and recommended killing the railgun, until a Navy congressional counterstrike revived the program.
Now that the Navy has an actual prototype railgun to shoot, the plan is to hook it up to sensors and cameras to test its performance at 20 and 33 megajoules’ worth of energy. Its goal is produce accurate shots from 50 to 100 nautical mile distances, which the Navy wants by 2017.

Sadly, we don't have 80-ton mechs to mount one of these on yet.  There are also other umm..."technical drawbacks":

Even railgun advocates concede there are a host of other challenges the hypersonic weapon will have to overcome. Its barrel will have to withstand repeated fires without wearing out. (The Navy wants to up firing rates to 10 per minute.) It’s got to fire smart bullets without frying the guidance systems during a blast. (The Navy says both BAE and General Dynamics are starting to design “a next-generation thermally managed launcher.”) And it’s got to be affordable. (The Navy has spent $240 million on the railgun so far, and it expects to spend about as much through 2017 on tests — before buying a single one of the things.)

And yeah, I know, a naval railgun's gonna be a "real big help" in policing the nebulous Af-Pak border regions and all, but there is a civilian technology upside:

Another big problem: the current generation of Destroyers can’t produce the power to fire the railgun without diverting juice from the propulsion systems. One of the goals of the railguns over the next five years is to create workarounds, so the guns will be relevant to their intended ships. Those include “an intermediate energy store using energy-dense batteries, similar to [those on] hybrid cars,” Ellis told reporters on a Tuesday conference call. “That enables us to put the railgun on ships that don’t have larger power supplies.”

Advances in battery storage technology that could say, make electric cars more widespread with batteries that are cheaper and more efficient wouldn't exactly be a bad thing.

Also, railgun. Because RAILGUN, that's why.  Velocitas Eradico, indeed.

StupidiNews, Leap Day Edition!

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