Friday, August 31, 2007

Gay Marriage and Politics
At a recent presidential candidate forum sponsored by gay rights advocates, Senator Clinton said things have changed on the federal level: for one thing, Republicans aren't pushing for a gay marriage amendment to the Constitution this election cycle. In fact, she said, gay marriage seems like it won't be an issue at all in 2008. Without state referendums and a constitutional amendment to drive evangelical Republicans to the polls, she seemed to be saying, Democrats will have a better time, not having to fight that fight.

I don't know if that's right...but we'll see, because an Iowa court (how fortuitous for GOP candidates there) has just ruled that state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
In his 63-page decision, Hanson wrote that the statute excluding same-sex couples from marriage "violates Plaintiff's due process and equal protection rights for the aforementioned reasons including, but not limited to, the absence of a rational relationship to the achievement of any legitimate governmental interest." Therefore the law is "unconstitutional and invalid."
Something tells me we're going to get a healthy dose of gay marriage talk after all, but good for that Iowa judge. Eventually, one of these rulings may stick. Maybe then, with gay couples more able to live their lives, and their loves, in normal social settings, the airport sex stall ring will dissipate, and Republican Senators will have to search out other avenues to explore their personal secret hypocrisies.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm Gonna Need That TPS Report Before You Leave For the Afterlife
My buddy Chris emailed this story, showing the Chinese government's determination to control Tibetan Buddhists even after their death. There will be no more reincarnation, you see, without filing the proper paperwork with, and receiving the approval of, Chinese authorities.
According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation."
I can only imagine mine would be the soul to get lost in the bureaucracy of some Ministry of Bodily Rehabitation office.
Oh Well
Coulda put the Yankees away with this 3 game series. Instead, the Sox got swept and helped NY into a tie for the wild card. They went from looking like the offense was unstoppable against the White Sox to looking like they had no idea how to get a hit in this series.Just lucky they didn't get no-hit 2 games in a row. Really need to take 2 out of 3 against the Yanks in Boston in a couple weeks or else the confidence will probably be on the low end going into the playoffs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friendly Advice
Dear Sen. Larry Craig,
The troubling thing about your alleged behavior is not the gay element. It's the publicly lewd, near-predatory, law-breaking, recklessly stupid element. That's the part you want to deny.
Gentle NPR Rant
I love NPR - I listen to it in the car most mornings and afternoons for news and news analysis and some of the features. But I've just about had it with all the morning cancer talk. Is anyone else noticing this? I understand cancer is a scourge - a horrible disease that impacts nearly every family in a very profound way. But it feels like I wake up almost every day to the first-person account of dealing with the realities of mid-to-late-stage cancer. They even have a guy giving weekly updates of his life with the illness. But it's not just him. It seems like there's a near-daily expression of cancer-driven anguish, or at best a person trying to look on the bright side (in classic NPR monotone) of their otherwise horrible suffering.

Look, NPR, I can't take it any more. I want and need to feel sorrow for the suffering, and be inspired to do my part to be as helpful as I can be. But the news already offers so much of that without introducing me to a lineup of sufferers just because they give good journal. as it is, the headlines fill me with outrage over the horrors and sorrows of much of the world. I don't need to start out every other day marinating my outrage in a pool of cancer-stricken sadness, too. Please don't make me switch to sports talk, or God forbid, make me turn it off and have to actually think. Do the right thing. Limit first-person morning cancer sorrow to once every other week at the most.
Happy Anniversary. For the occasion, the White House has issued a "fact sheet" which claims that levee and floodwall rebuilding have left New Orleans with its "best flood protection in history." 2 thoughts on that: 1) Why do I not believe it? and 2) Is that really saying much anyway?

Harry Shearer compares the paltry federal response to Katrina with the rush to bailout sub-prime borrowers who likewise may be losing their homes.

And the Times-Picayune pleads with President Bush for "fair treatment" in financial aid following the failure of the federal levees that drowned their city.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Anonymous Airport Sex...Who Knew?
Larry Craig is in a spot of trouble. The Senator from Idaho pled guilty last month to disorderly conduct for using some kind of secret code in the bathroom to request sex from the person in the stall next to him, who turned out to be a police officer running a sting operation from the toilet there. I have lots of questions about this.

1) Is this anonymous sex in the airport bathroom thing really a common occurrence? Not that I expect any of you to know, but this is the first I've heard of it. I've read about such, er, traditions at truck stops and in public parks, but the airport? Don't people in airports have, you know, places to go?

2) I understand that people having sex in the public restroom is problematic and, I guess, unacceptable. But is this really the airport security concern that needs attention these days? I kind of hoped that all available security personnel were on the lookout for more serious threats. I mean, investigate complaints and all, but set up a sting?

3) Will that cop be eligible for medical leave for any complications he develops from, I suppose, sitting on the toilet all day waiting on Republicans to come by and give him the signal?

4) Will Craig really be in political trouble over this? you would think this might offend the sensibilities of Western conservatives. But at the same time, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) seems to be unscathed despite his sudden notoriety as a regular brothel and escort client with a diaper fetish. if that doesn't ruin your electoral chances in the South, I don't know what will, anywhere. We're a long way from the days when you could get impeached for lying about (legal) oral sex. Remember those days?

5) From the reports, Craig sounds like he is a pro at this game. Can't it only be a matter of time before someone comes along and Haggards him? Tells the story of how he and Craig completed this exercise at some earlier time?

6) Is he just freaking nuts? I know that the powerful can get reckless and feel invincible. But this is really really dumb. As far as being dumb goes, this is not even in the ballpark of a discrete affair. This is going out in public and requesting anonymous sex, knowing full well that if it becomes public it will tarnish your reputation forever. How do you get to be a Senator with that little self-preserving restraint?

7) Can you read this without laughing out loud?

8) Would you plead guilty to such charges if you didn't do anything and just wanted to avoid the public scrutiny of fighting them?

9) As TPM poster David Kurtz notes, how much should we really care?

Monday, August 27, 2007

What have you been watching, listening to, reading?

In the Loop, Plus a Poll: Tell Doug Why to Get Cable (or Not)
Doug mentions:
I've been going to parties lately and noticing that I can't really fully participate in conversations without a better working knowledge of Entourage, Rescue Me, and Nip/Tuck.
My first thought is: really? Nip/Tuck? I don't think in my experience anyone's ever mentioned that show, or Rescue Me, in conversation. I don't feel too far out of the loop not watching Entourage, but then I never really liked it the few minutes I've seen. Lots of friends tried to turn me onto Deadwood, but best as I could tell, you only needed to know one particular word to get the references there.

Honestly, and frustratingly, the show that I don't watch that seems to have the broadest cultural impact - even in trusted mediums - is American Idol. From the Daily Show to Colbert, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann to reading Rolling Stone or random blog posts or newspaper articles, its mention - even to trash it - seems near ubiquitous. In fact, I'm thoroughly pissed that I learn as much about the goings on there as I do, having never watched a minute of it. Why do I nonetheless know who the favorites are? Who's hated? Who the previous winners are? I don't *want* to be in that loop but am pretty well lassoed by it anyway.

But then, my second reaction is: Doug, you go to parties? Maybe this is why I don't identify - where are all the parties? I thought all my invitations had dried up because people our age don't have parties. Clearly I'm mistaken and I've been crossed off the invite lists. And who'd've thought that at these (until now) secret parties they talk about Dennis Leary's show? I can't even get a party with a good Timothy Leary reference these days.

Also it occurs to me, given my partyless existence - I get all my TV references from TV (and the intertubes), not actual conversation with other humans. So, tell me good readers: what is the show or shows your life most requires to feel in the loop? And are Entourage, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me the best reasons for Doug to get cable? (I'm assuming you can watch all the best Daily Show bits online nowadays...) Or are there even better reasons you would recommend, in addition to the shows I mentioned above?

Weekend Box Office
1. Superbad
2. Bourne
3. Rush Hour 3 (sigh...)
4. Mr. Bean's Holiday
5. WAR
Good Riddance [UPDATED]
I interrupt this Media Monday to celebrate with you the resignation of Alberto Gonzales. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Alberto.

[UPDATE: Piling on Gonzales doesn't take lots of skill - like beating on a pinata without a blindfold - but here are Pelosi and Reid's strong statements.

UPDATE 2: TPM has a run-down of responses; here's a good one from Rahm Emmanuel:
Alberto Gonzales is the first Attorney General who thought the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth were three different things.]

Saturday, August 25, 2007

DNC Votes to Strip FL Primary of Delegates
Florida moved its primary earlier than current Democratic Party rules allow. So the Party today voted to render the state's vote merely a "beauty contest" that will have no impact on the delegate selection process.

Friday, August 24, 2007

War Fetish
Historian quoted by Bush yesterday speaks: the President and war apologists are "perverse."
Blurring the Lines: The Bullshit of Clintonian Triangulation
Josh Marshall has already weighed in on Matthew Yglesias' post lamenting a recent statement by Hillary Clinton. And I have to agree with them both but on a slightly different trajectory. First, here's what she said (my emph.):
"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world," Clinton told supporters in Concord.

"So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that," she added.
In other words, she's been working both sides of the foreign policy fence for a reason: so that she can easily slip into Republican costume should a terrorist strike occur. And she can do that easily because she's been wearing one for so much of her time in the Senate. This is my main problem with Hillary: I don't trust her. She has given me every reason to believe that as President she would pander to foreign policy nutjobs in search of re-election, and would govern via mostly inconsequential half-measure.

Matt and Josh object because they think it's loser talk - and it is - to say that Republicans have an advantage if something terror-related happens. What a shitty position undercutting Democrats, essentially admitting that she doesn't believe in her own primary-season talking points! But I think it's worse than that. I think we're being set up. We can't forget that not only did she vote for the war, she refuses to say it was a mistake. She sounds mostly like a Democrat now, but it appears that her general election plan is the same old DLC crap: blur the foreign policy lines. She thinks she's the "best to deal with" terrorism in a general election, why? Because she's most experienced and most prepared to become a Republican, and thinks that will work. I, for one, happen to believe the Republican way is bullshit, and has gotten us into a deep, deep mess. I don't want a President who is even capable of that approach, much less one who believes it's the way to speak to the American people. Proud Democrat, please.
The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has soared since the American troop increase began in February, according to data from two humanitarian groups, accelerating the partition of the country into sectarian enclaves.

Despite some evidence that the troop buildup has improved security in certain areas, sectarian violence continues and American-led operations have brought new fighting, driving fearful Iraqis from their homes at much higher rates than before the tens of thousands of additional troops arrived, the studies show.
Plus, the NIE report is out. The verdict? Nothing is being accomplished, and things will get worse when we leave. Great.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is Nancy Pelosi the Enemy?
Constitutional scholar and conservative Bruce Fein has been arguing for the impeachment of both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney for their abuses of constitutional authority. In a column in Slate, he takes Speaker Pelosi to task for taking the option "off the table." I rarely understand polls, but I think the current ultra-low rating for Congress makes lots of sense. Conservatives, naturally, don't like Democrats being in control, and liberals - who hoped and expected more from Democratic control (probably too much) are disappointed. In that sense, she's exacerbating the decline in congressional approval, not preserving any real moderate support. All things considered - Bush running roughshod over the Constitution, War still raging with no end in sight, earmarks and lobbyists still running business - I'm not sure why Congress' approval is as *high* as it is, even at or near all-time lows.

But until recently I've agreed with Pelosi that going forward with impeachment hearings only makes things worse and alienates the few people left who think they're doing a good job. And I've thought that for a pretty simple reason: I don't think it would work, and I fear the repercussions of a failed impeachment attempt (I don't mean a failed trial like Republicans got with Clinton, I mean a failed attempt to even bring it to trial). It's questionable whether it could get out of committee, and far-fetched to think it could get out of the House, with so many conservative Dems unwilling to risk their seats.

Still, Fein makes a couple of good points, here and elsewhere: 1) Even if it fails to get out of Committee, there are gains to be made in principle by holding impeachment hearings, namely to warn future Presidents that this kind of abuse will not be accepted without resistance. 2) Once in the public eye, attention may be focused in a way that brings some of those wishy-washy representatives around. 3)It's just the right thing to do in defense of our Constitution, all political calculations aside. 4) As he says, "According to public opinion polling, the percentage of voters supporting the impeachments of both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are now approximately 45 and 54 percent, respectively."

Like I say, I'm not totally convinced, but I'm no longer where I was - and where Pelosi is - unwilling to even hear about it.
President Bush today, essentially: If we had just stuck it out longer in Vietnam, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Because Einstein Was Well-Known for His Happiness
From an AP report:
The mother who launched the Baby Einstein children's video empire by making videos in her basement for her own children says she's stung by a controversy over whether the videos help babies learn or get in the way — and insists they were never designed to make infants smarter, only happier.
In an interview, Aigner-Clark said she stands behind the videos and that they were never designed to make children smarter. The point, she said, is to make them happier by exposing them to "beautiful things" such as art, music and poetry.
Meanwhile, the NYTimes op-ed page found an author trying to sell her new book,“Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five.”
Only 17 percent of 384 babies in the survey were put in front of videos for an hour or more each day. The average baby watched only about 9 minutes a day. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that the national average may be a bit higher — about 13 minutes a day. And babies’ total screen time, including television, DVDs and even computers, according to Kaiser, is higher still — about 49 minutes per day. But the alarming finding from the University of Washington survey applied only to baby videos. Television time, in contrast, seemed to have no effect, good or bad, on babies this young.
I don't see how this helps the Baby Einstein case, to say that the TV time doesn't hurt, but acknowledge the video time does?

Monday, August 20, 2007

What have you been listening to, reading, watching?

Rufus Wainwright [Bonus Update]
I've been late in giving a review of this show Tuesday at the Ryman. I was truly excited about seeing him live because: his songs are beautifully, skillfully arranged and orchestrated, full of surprises, fabulous melodies (They Might Be Giants said of their own musical ambitions that they wanted to "rescue melody from the forces of evil." That comes to mind when listening to Rufus' tunes.), and harmonies that are at once complex and transparent, not to mention his trademark voice. Those were the things that took me there - to experience them live with other fans, and to see how he translated them on stage (especially the songs with quite dense orchestrations.)

Those things were perfectly done. The performances and live arrangements were pitch perfect - just different enough from the recording to give me reason to listen closely.

The other thing about Rufus is - if you didn't know - he's gay. His music has become more and more open about that, and his determination to be proudly out strikes me the same way that his determination to be openly dramatic and bold in his songwriting and orchestration does: it makes me proud to support him. To be sure, with his voice and talent, he could probably make lots more money with a different image and approach. Anyway, another point of interest going in to the show was to see, here in the bible belt, just how - for lack of a better phrase - gay he was going to be. Will he leave out his songs with more overtly gay imagery? What will his interaction with the crowd be like?

I knew he had at least a moderate comfort level when his first communication was to express disappointment that almost all the noisy cheerers - the biggest fans they put in the front 2 rows - were girls. All question was removed, though, when he took an intermission to change into an outfit that I can only describe as leather lederhosen, to the delight of the crowd. And I suppose he was ridiculing my asking when his encore attire - a long white bathrobe - was for the last few songs removed to reveal a handsome skirt suit. He then exchanged his shoes for a pair of high heels while talking to us (it was like Mr. Rogers on the cross-dressing channel), added some sparkly earrings and applied a healthy layer of lipstick to artfully sing a couple of Judy Garland numbers with piano accompaniment, while the rest of the all-boy band became a troupe of well-coordinated 40s-style dancers.

The vibe in the crowd for that part was a kind of stunned, ecstatic pride. I doubt anything like that (and little that talented) has ever graced the Ryman stage. With admiration I can say it was easily the gayest thing I've seen in a long time.

[Bonus: Here's a tidbit of lyrics from one of my favorites - even though he rhymes well with well - on Release the Stars, "Going to a Town":
Do you really think you go to Hell for having loved?
And not for thinking everything you've done is good?
After soaking the body of Jesus Christ in blood,
I'm so tired of America.

I may just never see you again or might as well.
You took advantage of a world that loved you well.
I'm going to a town that has already been burnt down.
I'm so tired of you, America.]
Weekend Box Office
1. Superbad
2. Rush Hour 3
3. The Bourne Ultimatum
4. The Simpsons Movie
5. The Invasion

Friday, August 17, 2007

In Which I Solve the Ridiculous Primary Problem
This is getting stupid. Michigan's likely moving their primary up to January 15, throwing the calendar into a mess. This is the dumbest thing to have to worry about. And it's unfair for any candidate at this late date to be uncertain about when and where elections will be held. Primaries are party operations and it's time they took some national control over them.

Here, by the way, is the solution:

We should have a national primary day early in March, for all states except 4. Prior to that, one state will hold a primary (or caucus, whatever they prefer) late in January, one in mid-February and 2 on the same day in late February. That gives some retail politics, and underfunded candidates a chance to impact the process without leaving any states so late as to be irrelevant. Which 4 states get the privilege, you ask? That's the best part. They will be the 4 states whose popular vote for President in the preceding election was the closest on a percentage basis, with the caveat that no state will be allowed to be one of the first 4 on consective presidential election cycles. Any state that doesn't wish to hold an early primary, for whatever reason, can pass, and the privilege will pass to the next state on the close-election list.

This plan ensures that the most competitive states in the general election have the most say in the primary process, while not allowing any state to become a fixture. Maybe we could calculate the percentage difference to only one decimal point and if there's a tie, let the state that's had the longest wait for an early primary win the tie. Voila.
Bush's Mine Safety Chief
You know how this story is going to go without even reading it, don't you? Now that 3 rescue workers have been killed trying to find the 6 trapped miners, I would understand if you can't handle reading about the tragic outrage that is Richard Stickler (yes, Dick Stickler), Bush's pick to head our Mine Health and Safety Administration. If it's too much for you heading into a weekend, don't read it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Baby Einstein Update
Disney (the company that owns Baby Einstein) has asked that the University of Washington retract their press release announcing the findings of the study I pointed to last week, in which babies exposed to the videos were found to have smaller vocabularies than babies not. The University said no thanks.

I'm going to keep my eye on this story - and not sure why it hasn't gotten more attention. President Bush did praise the company owner at the last SOTU, and I see advertisements for her great child neglect scheme entrepeneurship skills on CNBC commercials all the time these days. What's next, medal of freedom for the Chinese toothpaste and plastic toy makers?
Mission Accomplished [UPDATED]
Let me get this straight. We've increased our troop presence in Iraq under a "surge" strategy that we are supposed to believe in because it's being led by one of the great military men of ability and integrity, Gen. Petraeus. If it failed to meet its objectives, he would tell us and we're going to listen to his report and recommendations in September to guide war strategy going forward. Except that he's not really going to write the report, the White House is. And, oh yeah, they don't want the public to actually hear from him as he answers questions from Congress.
Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration's progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.
They really think they should be able to script everything don't they? Even while assuring us they're not in charge - it's the Generals, on the ground, you see.

[UPDATE: Via DKos, Harry Reid responds - something to the effect of "hell no." Kevin Drum thinks this was never a serious proposal, just a negotiating tactic to play down expectations.]

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hillary Gets Her Wish
I'm not supporting her and I hope she's not the nominee, but I like Hillary Clinton's first TV ad. And she has to be thrilled to be attacked by the White House over it. See it for yourself.
Arriana on Mine Man
Shouldn't we be hearing more about the "public face" of the Utah mine story?
[W]e get precious little on the Murray who had enough political muscle to get a Mine Safety and Health Administration district manager who had cracked down on safety issues at one of Murray's mines reassigned (clearly, contributing $213,000 to Republican candidates over the last ten years, as well as another $724,500 to Republican candidates and causes through political action committees connected to Murray's businesses, has its benefits). The Murray who rails against the United Mine Workers Association, claiming it wants "to damage Murray Energy, Utah American and the United States coal industry for their own motives." The Murray who called Hillary Clinton "anti-American" for saying America needs a president who will fight for workers' rights, and telling a Senate committee this summer that Al Gore and Congressional Democrats are bent on "the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit."

Monday, August 13, 2007

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

In my rush to last-minute escapism in advance of the start of the school year, I've seen a few films lately. On Saturday I posted (scroll down) my displeasure with having sat through Ghost Rider. Also over the weekend I saw the Billy Wilder classic The Front Page for the first time. Really great! That Jack Lemmon could really act huh? Carol Burnett was impressive too. Or maybe I was just surprised to see her. Also caught Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast - a movie I've been meaning to see in a while. Fabulous! It takes a tired genre cliche - that of luring the retired criminal back for one last go - and thrashes it. Here's what everyone else is watching:

Weekend Box Office
1. Rush Hour 3
2. Bourne Ultimatum
3. The Simpsons Movie
4. Stardust
5. Underdog

Score one for originality! Only 3 of the top 11 are not a sequel, a remake or a TV spinoff. Anyone see Stardust yet? I can't decide if it looks interesting or dreadful.

On another note - I'm excited about tomorrow's Rufus Wainright with Neko Case show at the Ryman. I'm on the front row in the balcony! Will no doubt report back on Wednesday.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I suspect we'll see more like this. Thanks again, President Bush!
Yesterday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe “signed into law the controversial Interception of Communications Bill, which gives his government the authority to eavesdrop on phone and Internet communications and read physical mail.” In order to defend the law, which has been called “the dictator’s tool kit,” Mugabe’s spokesperson pointed to President Bush’s wiretapping program.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Powerfully Bad
I knew better than to watch Ghost Rider, the Nicholas Cage superhero movie, but nothing else in the on demand list sounded good tonight and I did collect the comic book as a kid, so I'm familiar with the basics of Johnny's story. So I figured why not...

It is easily the worst movie I've seen in a long, long time. This movie is soaked in bad. Top to bottom, start to finish, the dialogue is dumb, the developments are nonsense, characters ridiculous, the predicaments are stupid, the solutions worse. I can't believe I watched the whole thing.
The Future of Car Manufacturing
From Nissan:
Boffins at car manufacturer Nissan are developing a concept car that can monitor whether a driver is drunk or tired.

The car's technology will use sensors to detect alcohol in the sweat and odour of a driver, as well as checking awareness levels.

Sensors are placed in the gear stick to measure the amount of perspiration on the driver's hand and odour detectors are fitted into the driver and passenger seats.

A monitoring system will also check to see if the car is staying inside its lane and a camera mounted at eye level scans the driver's eyes for signs of tiredness.
But really, electric cars are just impossible to make.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Governor Bredesen Angling for VP/Cabinet Spot?
I don't know how else to interpret the inclusion in today's Tennessean of his op-ed relating to building a health care system that covers every American. As Governor, he has his hands full implementing the state proposals he's put through after dismantling our TennCare system. But he had plenty of time to answer the newspaper's question of the day: "How should the nation go about providing health care for all citizens." And his essay - part of an opinion-page debate that included Senator Bob Corker - was most definitely federal in scope and interest. Here's a bit:
[I]t is past time for every American to be covered. But the ideas being talked about today are increasingly stale, reflecting more the world as it was in 1965 when the Medicare and Medicaid programs were first passed than 21st-century realities. Today, we find ourselves with a problem that has become so large, so complex and interconnected that, unless Washington can find a way to lay aside the politics and work together, we're going to continue to fail.
Sounds like a guy that would like to be relevant on the national stage, don't you think? Corker's proposal, by the way, is this: Give every American $2,160 - every family $5,400 - in the form of tax credits for the purpose of purchasing health insurance.
These tax credits would be both advanceable and refundable, meaning that low-income families would have the money to make timed, monthly payments and would receive the full value of the tax credit regardless of the amount of taxes they owe the government. This proposal also provides states with flexible incentives to reform health insurance markets to ensure that affordable, high-quality health insurance is available. In short, this bill provides Americans cash to purchase health insurance in the private market.
I'm no fan of Corker, but I'll give him 2 things this week. 1) This plan at least extends Republican principles - like them or not - to the challenge of covering every American; in short, he at least considers it a problem worth solving (even if his main stated motivation is to avoid the inevitable government-run solution that will come if the country's health coverage woes continue to grow). Most Republicans don't sound like they even consider this a problem, just a feature of the market-based economy. 2) He voted for the Senate version of S-CHIP expansion, raising cigarette taxes to cover more children. Most Republicans did not.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Watch American Idol With Your Babies
Article 19 readers won't be shocked by a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics. We've covered this ground before, but here it is one more time and slowly for our friends with smaller vocabularies: Sitting your infants in front of Baby Einstein videos does not make them smarter; if anything, just the opposite.
For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children, the study found.

Parents aiming to put their babies on the fast track, even if they are still working on walking, each year buy hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of the videos.

Unfortunately it's all money down the tubes, according to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Christakis said children whose parents read to them or told them stories had larger vocabularies.

"I would rather babies watch 'American Idol' than these videos," Christakis said, explaining that there is at least a chance their parents would watch with them — which does have developmental benefits.
Stare at This
I don't know how correct it is - the stats at the heart of it. But the World Clock is pretty mesmerizing and will debilitate you for about 5 minutes. After you've looked around at all the numbers, make sure you press the "Now" button and look again before you leave. (via Gristmill)
49 Games To Go
I don't want to be the one to bring this up, but 113 games into the season the Red Sox lead over the Yankees is down to 5 games. If the Sox blow it, and if I believed in jinxes, I would probably blame the Boston writer who penned this column.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Democratic Debate

I thought Hillary was going to have a speechless moment there for a second, but instead she turned Edwards' shot at her into a rousing success for her. In addition to that, she just generally knows how to pivot policy questions on real-life concerns of the listener. Olbermann asks a question about China to all the candidates: are they an ally or an adversary? Everybody essentially agrees the answer is neither. They're a competitor. She's the one that mentions that we're tired of buying their poisoned food and toys.

Some fireworks surrounding Obama's recent Pakistan remarks. From my ears, Obama may have gotten the better of Hillary on that. Then a woman who lost her husband in a mine disaster asked Senator Biden about mine safety and worker protections in light of the ongoing situation in Utah. Biden basically ignored her question so he could use his time to get in another shot on Pakistan. Classy.
There's Hot Particles In My Air
Hopefully your air quality is better than Los Angeles'. Mine's not.

Monday, August 06, 2007

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Weekend Box Office
1. Bourne Whatever
2. The Simpsons
3. Underdog
4. Chuck and Larry
5. Hairspray

I saw the Bourne movie. For the genre (the I'm-involved-in-political-intrigue-and-being-chased-NO-I'm-chasing-you-now-how-do-you-like-it? genre), it seemed quite good actually. It does get a little tiring: the handheld camera, the extreme facial closeups and the constant music that says other more dangerous music could start at any moment. But it does have one of the more impressive car chases/wrecks and hand-to-hand fight scenes, and that's something if you're into it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Electoral College Crap and an Article 19 Poll
North Carolina and California are both in different ways making noise about changing the way they distribute electoral votes to a system in which they are awarded proportionally based on how many congressional districts are won.

So here's the poll question. What would be *the best way* to conduct presidential elections:
A) Popular Vote across the country
B) Electoral College System, with winner-take-all in *every* state
C) Electoral College System, with proportional electoral votes in *every* state
D) A Hodge-Podge of different methods according to each state's wishes
Son of Great News From the World of Science - It's Hot!! Edition
Luckily there's lots of extra beach space around lakes.
Lake Superior has both shrunk and gotten warmer, confounding scientists who can't explain what is happening to the world's largest freshwater lake by surface area and the third largest by volume of water.
Since 1979, the average water temperature has shot up 4.5 degrees compared to only a 2.7-degree increase in the region's air temperature. Scientists still don't know if climate change is to blame, but recently the lake's surface temperature registered 75, which is as high as anyone has known it to be.

In addition, the lake has shrunk suddenly. That has left children in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan playing in mud where they played in waist deep water only a few years ago.
So, see? When rising coastlines force businesses and residents to flee to drier ground, they can just move into the new land forming around our nation's lakes.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Supreme Disappointment
Shattered dreams
Members of a 1980s funk and disco group hit a sour note in their attempt to break the world record for the largest kazoo ensemble, falling short of the some 2,600 impromptu musicians needed.
"I don't know anything about it," said Cecilia Malone, standing among a crowd of spectators and looking at the plastic kazoo in puzzlement. "Which side do you blow on? Do you know?"

The current kazoo record was set this past New Year's Eve in Rochester, where 2,600 kazooers gathered to play shortly before midnight. Before that, The Quincy Park Band had held the record for gathering 1,791 players in Quincy, Ill., in 2004.
Author and "professional kazooist" Barbara Stewart, who was involved in this effort, is "leading a campaign to name the kazoo America's national instrument." Godspeed, sweet nasally tunestress. Godspeed.
3-Way Lead in Iowa, I Answer My Own Questions
A new Washington Post poll puts Obama, Edwards, Clinton essentially tied at 27-26-26. Richardson in double digits here too at 11. Is it time to pay attention to, or care about, these polls yet? No. I'll tell you when. Can Richardson really make this a four-way race? Maybe.

One interesting thing about this poll - they asked respondents for their second choice. This left things essentially even, still. 51% chose Obama either 1st or 2nd. 48 each for Clinton and Edwards. I think this is good news for...Hillary. The theory that Obama and Edwards represent an anti-Hillary vote, and with one out their supporters would flock to the other, doesn't hold up here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Open Mic Thursday
It's local election day here in Nash-Vegas and I'm volunteering around the city, in completely pointless save-the-world mode. One of these days, I'm going to pick a winning candidate just accidentally. Who knows, maybe it will be today. Won't be around all day, so feel free to get a conversation started in my absence - link to interesting news or whatever. You know the drill.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obama Speech
Delivered today, about combating terrorism. You can read it as prepared here. Here's a bit:
As President, I will make it a focus of my foreign policy to roll back the tide of hopelessness that gives rise to hate. Freedom must mean freedom from fear, not the freedom of anarchy. I will never shrug my shoulders and say – as Secretary Rumsfeld did – “Freedom is untidy.” I will focus our support on helping nations build independent judicial systems, honest police forces, and financial systems that are transparent and accountable. Freedom must also mean freedom from want, not freedom lost to an empty stomach. So I will make poverty reduction a key part of helping other nations reduce anarchy.

I will double our annual investments to meet these challenges to $50 billion by 2012. And I will support a $2 billion Global Education Fund to counter the radical madrasas – often funded by money from within Saudi Arabia – that have filled young minds with messages of hate. We must work for a world where every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy. And as we lead we will ask for more from our friends in Europe and Asia as well – more support for our diplomacy, more support for multilateral peacekeeping, and more support to rebuild societies ravaged by conflict.
I also will reject a legal framework that does not work. There has been only one conviction at Guantanamo. It was for a guilty plea on material support for terrorism. The sentence was 9 months. There has not been one conviction of a terrorist act. I have faith in America’s courts, and I have faith in our JAGs. As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.

This Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.