July 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


Is Condoleezza Rice Really Mitt's Veep Choice? (CONNOR SIMPSON, 7/12/12, Atlantic Wire)

Matt Drudge is reporting the Romney campaign's narrowed their choices for Vice President down to a carefully vetted handful, and that the front runner is none other than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Matt Drudge reports a VP announcement will happen in the "coming weeks," but for now the Romney campaign has a list of a handful of choices, and Rice is at the top. If true, pundits will point to Romney's big Park City donor retreat as the turning point for Rice. She gave a speech on American foreign policy that wowed everyone there. At the time, Politico said Rice's speech "was praised by several attendees. It, too, focused on foreign policy, and she chastised the president -- sometimes by name -- for failing to lead on the global stage." Two guests who declined to be named described Rice's speech to ABC News, saying it was "an 'impassioned plea' for the country to 'stand up and take charge.'" 

Ann Romney was the first to leak that a woman was part of the potential VP list, but Condoleezza Rice wasn't even on our radar then. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM

First Listen: The Very Best, 'MTMTMK' (ANN POWERS, 7/08/12, NPR)

The Very Best's official debut, Warm Heart of Africa, cemented the then-trio's position at the forefront of a new phase in the development of African-rooted music. It included cameos from hip time-zone trippers Ezra Koenig and M.I.A., and complemented the nearly psychedelic explorations of bands like Animal Collective.

Out July 17, MTMTMK is an altogether different effort, both catchier and more intense. Its songs, with lyrics written by Mwamwaya in English and the Malawian national language, Chewa, revel in the power of African sounds to shape a vision as wide as the world. (The Very Best has fun doing this: Check out the video for "Yoshua Alikuti," which parodies Lil Wayne's "A Milli," was filmed in Nairobi, and highlights a song protesting the regime of the now-deceased Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika.) Mwamwaya's beefy wail communicates passion, humor and conviction, no matter what language he's using at the moment.

MTMTMK features many highly danceable earworms that could start any party and sound great on the radio. Renowned musical ambassadors K'Naan, Baaba Maal and Amadou & Mariam all make appearances. "Rumbae" even includes a hook which resulted from collaborations with "Dynamite" hitmaker Taio Cruz. Yet the focus and craft Hugo and Mwamwaya bring to MTMTMK only makes the music richer: "Rudeboy" and "We OK" (co-written with Bruno Mars) revive the spirit of new-wave genre-busters like The English Beat, whose pretty choruses were wrapped around sharp-edged stories of cultural collision and change.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Romney's NAACP Gamble Pays Off (Tim Alberta, July 11, 2012, National Journal)

Mitt Romney isn't going to win the African-American vote over President Obama this November. Knowing that, it would have been understandable if Romney declined the NAACP's invitation to visit Houston on Wednesday and address the group's annual convention. The prospect of speaking to a crowd that overwhelmingly supports your opponent is not only politically risky; it's personally intimidating. In such settings, and under such an intense microscope, one small misstep can snowball into a news-dominating disaster. The Romney campaign, known for being risk-averse, easily could have determined the risks outweighed the rewards and avoided the event, opting instead to have their candidate address the conference via video message.

But Romney showed up. With the critical eyes of the political world resting squarely upon him, Romney marched defiantly into the lion's den and delivered a speech that was direct, assertive and dispassionate. Undaunted, the man seeking to unseat the nation's first African-American president stood calmly before a group of his most fervent supporters and informed them that he, not Obama, is the one they've been waiting for.

"If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him," Romney told the crowd, pausing for added emphasis. As scattered boos echoed throughout the audience, Romney offered an unscripted -- and uncharacteristic -- display of bravado. "You take a look," he nodded.

The reaction to the speech from the Left reminds of Michael Halberstam's novel, The Wanting of Levine, where, if memory serves, the Jewish nominee is served feces at a dinner with an NAACP-type organization but is the first Democrat to refuse to eat it.  Folks seem mostly upset that Mitt didn't grovel and gobble.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


American Voters Say Health Care Law Is A Tax Hike, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds (Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, 7/12/12)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a tax hike, American voters say 55 - 36 percent... [...]

"President Barack Obama has worked mightily to avoid the 'T' word, but most American voters say the ACA is in effect a tax hike," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Federal tax rates at lowest level in 30 years (Star Telegram, Jul. 11, 2012)

[A]t the very moment anti-tax protesters were emerging as the most powerful force in American politics, handing Republicans landslide control of the U.S. House, the data show that people were sending the smallest portion of their income to the federal government since 1979.

During Obama's first year in office, the average tax rate paid by all households fell to 17.4 percent, down from 19.9 percent in 2007, according to the CBO. The 2009 rate was significantly lower than the previous low of 19.4 percent in 2003 and well below the 30-year average of 21 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


The U.S. Housing Bust Is Over (DAVID WESSEL, 7/11/12, WSJ)

The U.S. finally has moved beyond attention-grabbing predictions from housing "experts" that housing is bottoming. The numbers are now convincing.

Nearly seven years after the housing bubble burst, most indexes of house prices are bending up. "We finally saw some rising home prices," S&P's David Blitzer said a few weeks ago as he reported the first monthly increase in the slow-moving S&P/Case-Shiller house-price data after seven months of declines.

Nearly 10% more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month a year earlier, many purchased by investors who plan to rent them for now and sell them later, an important sign of an inflection point. In something of a surprise, the inventory of existing homes for sale has fallen close to the normal level of six months' worth despite all the foreclosed homes that lenders own. The fraction of homes that are vacant is at its lowest level since 2006.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Tree-rings prove climate was WARMER in Roman and Medieval times than it is now - and world has been cooling for 2,000 years (ROB WAUGH, 11 July 2012, Daily Mail)

Measurements stretching back to 138BC prove that the Earth is slowly cooling due to changes in the distance between the Earth and the sun.

["Professor Dr. Jan Esper's group at the Institute of Geography at JGU used tree-ring density measurements from sub-fossil pine trees originating from Finnish Lapland to produce a reconstruction reaching back to 138 BC."]

The finding may force scientists to rethink current theories of the impact of global warming.

It is the first time that researchers have been able to accurately measure trends in global temperature over the last two millennia.

Over that time, the world has been getting cooler - and previous estimates, used as the basis for current climate science, are wrong. 

Their findings demonstrate that this trend involves a cooling of -0.3°C per millennium due to gradual changes to the position of the sun and an increase in the distance between the Earth and the sun. 

'This figure we calculated may not seem particularly significant,' says Esper, 'however, it is also not negligible when compared to global warming, which up to now has been less than 1°C. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


To Topple Assad, Unleash the CIA: Turkey and even Iraq's Kurds would help Syria's rebels if the U.S. showed it is serious. (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 7/11/12, WSJ)

Syria is predominantly Sunni Arab, with substantial rebellious Sunni communities throughout the country. Assad, who depends upon his Shiite Alawite minority (roughly 10%-15% of the population) for his military muscle, does not have the manpower for a multiple-front counterinsurgency.

A coordinated, CIA-led effort to pour anti-tank, antiaircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime's border security wouldn't be hard. The regime's lack of manpower and Syria's geography--low-rising mountains, arid steppes and forbidding deserts--would likely make it vulnerable to the opposition, if the opposition had enough firepower. [...]

This Syrian action would not be a massive undertaking. Even when the CIA ramped up its aid to Afghan anti-Soviet forces in 1986-87, the numbers involved (overseas and in Washington) were small, at roughly two dozen. An aggressive operation in Syria would probably require more CIA manpower than that, but likely still fewer than 50 U.S. officers working with allied services.

Most importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has irreversibly broken with Assad. He has allowed the Syrian opposition increasing freedom of maneuver over the border, including the shipment of small amounts of weaponry. Mr. Erdogan may not require much White House suasion to support a larger, American-led paramilitary program, but he'll want to know whether Mr. Obama is "all in." In Jordan, where the CIA has its most intimate Arab liaison relationship and King Abdullah (with Saudi backing) has turned against Damascus, the U.S. would find a helpful partner.

And Iraqi Kurdistan, always eager for more U.S. officials on its soil, would likely give the CIA considerable leeway provided Washington promised to stand by the Kurds in any dispute with Baghdad and Tehran. Given the Kurds' concern about American staying power, this is a significant hurdle. Iraqi Kurds don't want their Syrian brothers, who have so far been hammered less than Syria's rebelling Sunni Arabs, to invite the wrath of Damascus if they lack the weaponry to defend themselves.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Rise of the Saxophone (WILL FRIEDWALD, 7/12/12, WSJ)

Doc Cheatham, though best known as one of jazz's most enduring trumpeters, doubled on soprano saxophone at the start of his career. I once asked him why he didn't keep up with the instrument, and he told me, "The 1920s wasn't the time for the sax--seemed like nobody was playing it back then." The first great saxophonist was Coleman Hawkins, a musician from Missouri only a year older than Cheatham. At the time Hawkins made his first recording, at age 16 in 1921, there was no role model for him on the instrument. Yet by the time he recorded his landmark solo on "Body and Soul" 17 years later, Hawkins had altered the landscape of jazz and American vernacular music. He had almost single-handedly transformed the sax from an orphan horn into the very symbol of jazz itself.

And that wasn't even the half of it: "Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947," a new boxed set from Mosaic Records, shows that Hawkins's greatest accomplishment was in perfecting the very concept of harmonic improvisation. The first great improvisers had shown that solo improvisations could be played with drama, personality and even a kind of movie-star charisma. But Hawkins took it a step further: Finding that playing variations on a song's melody could get you only so far, he also improvised on the chord changes.

With harmonic progression as his starting point, Hawkins showed how he could extend an improvisation almost indefinitely. Not only were all saxophonists in his debt, but so were Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt and nearly every musician of the 1940s and '50s. Not until the '60s did jazzmen begin to look beyond chord changes for inspiration.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Obama Sinks to Historic Lows Among Blue-Collar Men (Ronald Brownstein, July 11, 2012, National Journal)

Though pollsters at each organization caution that the margins of error are substantial when looking at subgroups such as this, each poll shows erosion within that margin of error for Obama with these working-class white men. The new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama attracting just 29 percent of non-college white men, down from 32 percent in their most recent national survey in April, according to figures provided by Douglas Schwartz, April Radocchio and Ralph Hansen of Quinnipiac. The ABC/Washington Post survey found Obama drawing just 28 percent of non-college white men, down from 34 percent in their May survey, according to figures provided by ABC Pollster Gary Langer. Romney drew 56 percent of the non-college white men in Quinnipiac and 65 percent in the ABC/Washington Post survey.

No one expects Obama to win these blue-collar men, who are now among the most reliably Republican segments of the electorate. But even so, these numbers, if sustained through Election Day, would represent a modern nadir for Democrats. Since 1980, the worst performance for any Democratic nominee among these working-class white men was the 31 percent Walter Mondale managed against Ronald Reagan in 1984; the meager 39 percent Obama drew in 2008 was actually the party's best showing over that period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Misdiagnosing Romney's campaign (E.J. Dionne Jr., July 11, 2012, Washington Post)

Could it be that Mitt Romney is correct from a strategic point of view to tell us little about what he'd do as president?

...no candidate has ridden that strategy to office since 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


GE's Novel Battery to Bolster the Grid (KEVIN BULLIS, , July 12, 2012, Technology Review)

Yesterday GE officially opened a sprawling, $100 million battery factory in Schenectady, New York, with a dramatic battery-powered show of lights, music, and pyrotechnics. The factory, which will eventually employ 450 people, makes a new kind of battery--based on sodium and nickel. GE says the technology, which is more durable and charges more quickly than lead-acid batteries, will make off-grid power generation more efficient and help utilities integrate power from a wide range of sources, including intermittent ones such as wind and solar power.

While GE will have strong competition for new grid battery technologies from companies such as Aquion Energy and Liquid Metal Battery, the manufacturing giant clearly has high ambitions for its technology, recently forming a new business unit to commercialize the battery technology. Indeed, at the factory opening, the company announced an additional $70 million investment to increase its capacity to help meet a backlog of orders. "The cost of electricity over time is going to go down because [GE's battery] is going to give utilities the ability to use a multitude of different technologies at the same time," GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt told a group of reporters at the plant opening.