Obama announces a push for high-speed rail as part of stimulus

The snazziest way to get to Beijing from Tianjin – at 350kph
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President Obama on Thursday highlighted his ambition for the development of high-speed passenger rail lines in at least 10 regions, expressing confidence in the future of train travel even as he acknowledged that the American rail network, compared with the rest of the world’s, remains a caboose…

“What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” he said, “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”

The government has identified 10 corridors, each from 100 to 600 miles long, with greatest promise for high-speed development.

They are: a northern New England line; an Empire line running east to west in New York State; a Keystone corridor running laterally through Pennsylvania; a major Chicago hub network; a southeast network connecting the District of Columbia to Florida and the Gulf Coast; a Gulf Coast line extending from eastern Texas to western Alabama; a corridor in central and southern Florida; a Texas-to-Oklahoma line; a California corridor where voters have already approved a line that will allow travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and a half hours; and a corridor in the Pacific Northwest.

Only one high-speed line is now operating, on the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, and it will be eligible to compete for money to make improvements.

This is so long overdue it’s hard to comment about. If you know anything about mixed transportation modes, if you’ve ever spent any time traveling in most of the civilized world outside the U.S. – you know about high speed trains.

It’s just Congress and American voters who specialize in ignorance on the topic.

13 million Mexican nationals in United States – over half illegally

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A U.S. think tank said Wednesday the latest figures conclude there are nearly 13 million Mexican immigrants living in the United States.

The Pew Hispanic Center said 55 percent of those 12.7 million immigrants were “unauthorized” and Mexicans now account for 32 percent of all immigrants in the United States.

The report…was based on a March 2008 Current Population Survey.

Pew said in a written statement that the number of Mexicans living in the United States increased 17 fold over 1970, and it is estimated one of every 10 living persons born in Mexico now lives in the United States.

Sounds about right. The information that is.

15% of the population in my county is here illegally.

Glacier’s Blood Falls are evidence of million-year-old species

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Gushing from a glacier, rust-stained Blood Falls contains evidence that microbes have survived in prehistoric seawater deep under ice for perhaps millions of years, a new study says.

The colony of microscopic life-forms may have been trapped when Antarctica’s then advancing Taylor Glacier reached into the ocean 1.5 to 4 million years ago. What’s more, the tiny organisms’ feeding habits apparently give the falls their shocking color.

Mikucki and colleagues captured and analyzed a bit of the extremely salty, iron-rich liquid—which seems to be concentrated seawater—fresh from Taylor Glacier. In the samples were tell-tale proteins apparently from microbes.

Since their capture millennia ago, the microbes seem to have been completely isolated. Under 1,300 feet (400 meters) of ice, they catch no sunlight, required for photosynthesis, and have no source of outside food.

The only thing keeping the microbes alive, the study says, is their ability to generate energy from chemical reactions with sulfur and iron.

You could spend a lifetime of fascination learning what you might from that isolated seawater.

Losing your home? Dial 1-800-IGNORE!

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Megan Cavallari looks up from her stack of hundreds of faxes and documents, proof of her efforts to try to save her home from foreclosure. She’s been on hold for over an hour, trying to get details for a loan modification.

Finally, she’s transferred to another line. But she doesn’t get a human. Exasperated, she sighs. Once again, it’s the “automated lady.”

“Every report says the banks are helping, and everything on the radio says they’re helping,” Cavallari said. “You call and call and call; you’re not getting a voice. You’re getting a recording.”

Cavallari, a music composer who does scores for films, is like hundreds of thousands of Americans going through foreclosure. But she says the process of trying to save her home — and her $92,000 down payment — has worn her out. She recently filed for bankruptcy and is moving out of her home with her young daughter.

The entire ordeal has been draining, especially trying to reach somebody at the bank. “You call them. After being on the phone with them, they send you to an automated lady. [Then] they send you to a Web site after you’ve been on the phone for an hour.”

I think the core of the problem is banks tried to make their balance sheet look better by letting go everyone they could think of – including the people who should be answering those phones.

Are times getting better? That’s still relative. It’s not harder to get a home or car loan. Banks are just living up to the standards they ignored for so long. So, for some – yes, it’s more difficult and probably should be.

I asked some of these questions at my locally-owned bank. Their response? They’re going nuts trying to hire capable people – especially to handle the avalanche of home loan refinance applications. Interest rates have never been better and if you’re up to snuff, you can save yourself some money every month.

Republican officials call for secession, assassination

I’ve had enough of Rick Perry.

At least the Perry who stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol today bashing our federal government and talking openly about Texas seceding from the United States…

Perry’s always been a conservative, but that isn’t the issue. He’s a demagogue now, and every single newspaper in Texas with a decent editorial page should denounce these remarks and call for him to retract them publicly or resign…

Partisanship and political philosophy aside, I can think of few things more irresponsible in this economy than the governor of Texas speaking freely about secession. What business is going to relocate to Texas with him talking like that? Who wants to come to a state to do research at its large land grant universities with a governor who sounds like George Wallace or Lester Maddox naming the regents.

Do you think Perry is serious? Or is he just another right-wing nutball pandering to what remains of the Republican base?

And then there is…

Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, who says he will decide by the end of the month whether to run for either the U.S. Senate occupied by Roland Burris or Illinois governor, vented his anger over Gov. Pat Quinn’s tax hike proposal to the Chicago’s Tribune’s Rick Pearson:

“I think that the decision to raise taxes by 50 percent in Illinois is political suicide,” Kirk said of Quinn’s proposal to raise the tax rate to 4.5 percent from 3 percent, coupled with an increase in the personal deduction. “I think the people of Illinois are ready to shoot anyone who is going to raise taxes by that degree.”

Is this just political rhetoric? Or is the Republican Party becoming the party of insurrection?

Of course, closer to reality, the governor working hardest at taxing Internet users is Haley Barbour the Republican governor of Mississippi.

N.S.A. continues “overcollection” of our emails and phone calls

The Foundering Fathers – Cheney, Alexander, Bush
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The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts…

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence community, did not address specific aspects of the surveillance problems but said in a statement that “when inadvertent mistakes are made, we take it very seriously and work immediately to correct them.”

The questions may not be settled yet. Intelligence officials say they are still examining the scope of the N.S.A. practices, and Congressional investigators say they hope to determine if any violations of Americans’ privacy occurred. It is not clear to what extent the agency may have actively listened in on conversations or read e-mail messages of Americans without proper court authority, rather than simply obtained access to them.

One of the better chuckles in the article is that the FBI finally got up on their hind legs and began to investigate NSA excess – after the last Congressional elections.

I guess the writing on the wall prompted a decision that protecting the rights of citizens might be more important than aiding the most reactionary elements in the American spy community. For a change.

Minnesotans want Coleman to concede, Franken seated

Why is this man smiling?
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A poll reveals Minnesotans, by and large, want Republican Norm Coleman to concede the state’s U.S. Senate race to Democrat Al Franken.

Public Policy Polling said its survey (.pdf) indicated 63 percent say Coleman should call it a day rather than continue to fight in court, USA Today reported. That percentage includes “almost all of Franken and (independent candidate) Dean Barkley’s supporters, as well as a third of respondents who voted for Coleman last fall,” the polling organization said.

Fifty-nine percent said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, should certify Franken the winner and he should be seated immediately.

A three-judge panel has voted that Franken won by 312 votes out of nearly 3 million cast.

When the next gubernatorial election comes around, I’ve suggested that Minnesotans should remember that Pawlenty’s loyalty to Republican ideology trumped his responsibility to provide representation in the Senate for his state. Maybe, he’ll take a look at the sentiments of the citizens of the state – and relent.

Or maybe he’ll have to get an honest job after the next election cycle.

‘Octomom’ to trademark nickname for reality TV, diapers and more

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The woman who gave birth to octuplets, Nadya Suleman, is seeking to trademark her media nickname — Octomom — for a TV show and a line of diapers.

Word of Suleman’s federal trademark filings came as her lawyer confirmed he is talking to production companies about a TV show, but said reports of a signed deal are premature.

Suleman, who gave birth to octuplets in January, brought home the last and smallest of the eight babies on Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said. Suleman also has six other children. All 14 were conceived through in-vitro fertilization.

Suleman is not the only one to claim a trademark on the nickname. A Texas company not affiliated with her has filed to trademark an Octomom iPhone game.

“You press on her belly and she has babies,” the company’s CEO said.

American “TV reality” culture at its very best.