Party of NO blocks campaign funds disclosure

Republican Flag of Freedom

In a blow to President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats, Republicans blocked a bill on Tuesday to require an unprecedented level of public disclosure of who pays for political campaign advertising.

On a Senate vote of 57-41, Democrats fell short of the needed 60 to clear a procedural hurdle Republicans set up against The Disclose Act, likely killing the measure for the year…

Transparency and democracy fail once again in the U.S. Senate.

With Obama’s support, Democrats crafted the campaign finance bill in response to a Supreme Court decision in January that overturned federal and state limits on independent expenditures by corporations to support or oppose candidates.

The Democratic-backed bill would require corporate as well as union and advocacy group leaders to disclose their names in campaign ads rather than allow so-called front groups to take responsibility for the political advertising.

Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin pointedly noted that many Republicans had earlier favored more disclosure.

But this year, Durbin said, “They’re betting that most of these ads are going to be on behalf of their candidates and against Democrats. That’s what it comes down to…”

Voters will be left clueless as to who is funding the ‘independent’ TV ads promoting and attacking candidates and how much these secretive funders are paying for these ads,” Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said. The non-partisan advocacy group urged the Senate to reconsider the bill after the August recess.

The measure would also ban election spending by companies with more than 20 percent foreign ownership and recipients of U.S. bank bailouts…

Polls show broad public support for the aim of the bill to provide greater disclosure of donors to campaigns. But Republicans dismiss such surveys, saying they were conducted before Democrats drafted their bill behind closed doors.

Every bill in Congress is drafted behind closed doors. They keep the public out – and the stink in.

The issue is that the Republicans, once again, use 19th Century century rules to prevent a democratic vote on the issue.

Our galaxy is rich in Earth-sized planets

Since the time of Nicolaus Copernicus five centuries ago, people have wondered whether there are other planets like Earth in the universe. Today scientists are closer than ever to an answer — and it appears to be that the Milky Way galaxy is rich in Earth-sized planets, according to astronomer Dimitar Sasselov.

Drawing on new findings from a NASA telescope, he told the TED Global conference in Oxford, England earlier this month that nearly 150 Earth-sized planets have been detected so far. He estimated that the overall number of planets in the galaxy with “similar conditions to the conditions that we experience here on Earth is pretty staggering. It’s about 100 million such planets…”

Until technology was developed to detect planets outside the solar system 15 years ago, scientists were only able to speculate about the existence of Earth-like planets. The new technology paid off in the discovery of some 500 planets.

The disappointing fact though was that very few of the newly identified planets were the size of Earth.

There was of course an explanation for it. We only see the big planets. So that’s why most of those planets are really in the category of ‘like Jupiter,’ ” he said…

In March 2009, NASA launched Kepler, a telescope-carrying satellite that can detect the dimming of light caused by a planet orbiting around a star…

The discovery of many potential planets means “we can go and study them — remotely, of course — with all the techniques that we already have tested in the past five years. We can find what they’re made of, would their atmospheres have water, carbon dioxide, methane.”

At the same time, Sasselov believes, scientists can make progress in the laboratory on better understanding how chemicals can produce life. “And in one of our labs, Jack Szostak’s labs, it was a series of experiments in the last four years that showed that the environments — which are very common on planets, on certain types of planets like the Earth — where you have some liquid water and some clays, you actually end up with naturally available molecules which spontaneously form bubbles. But those bubbles have membranes very similar to the membrane of every cell of every living thing on Earth. …. And they really help molecules, like nucleic acids, like RNA and DNA, stay inside, develop, change, divide and do some of the processes that we call life…”

But, please, don’t let reality and science, progress and knowledge, get in the way of whichever superstition makes you feel all warm and safe inside.

We’ll probably discover an ogre or a banshee for you to fear somewhere in outer space.

How the Gulf of Mexico became the nation’s ‘toilet bowl’

When Nazia Dardar looks at the seemingly endless lake of water behind her stilted bayou home, the 76-year-old sees what once was a farm. Cows roamed there, she says, back when the lake was land.

“C’est le jour et la nuit,” she says in French, the most common language down here on the farthest and swampiest reaches of the Mississippi River delta. “It’s day and night.”

Perhaps nowhere is the protracted death of the Gulf Coast more apparent than in Pointe-Aux-Chenes, Louisiana, and other indigenous bayou communities where, decades before the BP oil disaster, the marsh started disintegrating and environmental problems washed in from as far away as North Dakota and New York.

The Gulf of Mexico became, in effect, the United States’ toilet bowl — known for its seasonal “dead zones,” high erosion rates, dirty industry, ingrained poverty and, now, for the biggest oil disaster in the history of the country. Compare that legacy on the Gulf Coast with the East Coast, with its wealth, and the West, with its more-sterling record of environmental stewardship…

These wetlands, a 20-minute boat ride from the stilted homes of Pointe-Aux-Chenes, provide nearly all the needs of people here. Shrimp, crab, fish and oysters spawn and hide in the protective grasses. Those creatures are the basis for the local economy.

They’re also what everyone eats…

Since 1932, more than 1,875 square miles of Louisiana have shriveled and died, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That’s enough land to nearly cover Delaware…

The Corp of Engineers – BTW – can take credit for the taxpayer-funded portion of the destruction.

Continue reading

Ansel Adams glass negatives from garage sale = $200 million

Rick Norsigian’s hobby of picking through piles of unwanted items at garage sales in search of antiques has paid off for the Fresno, California, painter.

Two small boxes he bought 10 years ago for $45 — negotiated down from $70 — are now estimated to be worth at least $200 million, according to a Beverly Hills art appraiser.

Those boxes contained 65 glass negatives created by famed nature photographer Ansel Adams in the early period of his career. Experts believed the negatives were destroyed in a 1937 darkroom fire that destroyed 5,000 plates…

The photographs apparently were taken between 1919 and the early 1930s, well before Adams — who is known as the father of American photography — became nationally recognized in the 1940s, David Streets said…

Photography expert Patrick Alt, who helped confirm the authenticity of the negatives, suspects Adams carried them to use in a photography class he was teaching in Pasadena, California, in the early 1940s…

While most of the negatives appear never to have been printed, several are nearly identical to well-known Adams prints, the experts said…

“I have sent people to prison for the rest of their lives for far less evidence than I have seen in this case,” said evidence and burden of proof expert Manny Medrano, who was hired by Norsigian to help authenticate them. “In my view, those photographs were done by Ansel Adams.”
Norsigian, who has spent the last decade trying to prove the worth of his discovery, is now ready to cash in — by selling original prints of the photographs to museums and collectors.

RTFA. Interesting tale in several chapters: discovery of the negatives at a garage sale; why had they ended up in storage in the first place; Norsigian appears to have been casual about validating the negatives until about 6 months ago; how they were authenticated.

Our grocery trips to town on the weekend are occasionally punctuated by my question: “Oh, look. A garage sale. Want to stop and look around?”

The answer is always “No”. I hope I haven’t missed something.

US can’t account for $8.7 billion in Iraqi funds

Congress calls this nation-building
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The U.S. Defense Department is unable to properly account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil money tapped by the U.S. for rebuilding the war ravaged nation…

A report by the U.S. Special Investigator for Iraq Reconstruction offers a compelling look at continued laxness in how such funds are being spent in a country where people complain basic services like electricity and clean water are sharply lacking seven years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The audit found that shoddy record keeping by the Defense Department left the Pentagon unable to fully account for $8.7 billion it withdrew between 2004 and 2007 from a special fund set up by the U.N. Security Council. Of that amount, Pentagon “could not provide documentation to substantiate how it spent $2.6 billion.”

The funds are separate from the $53 billion allocated by Congress for rebuilding Iraq.

Which was wasted directly by the idols of the indolent Right – Bush and Cheney.

The audit cited a number of factors that contributed to the inability to account for most of the money withdrawn by the Pentagon from the Development Fund for Iraq. It said most of the Defense Department organizations that received DFI money failed to set up Treasury Department accounts, as required.

“The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss,” the report said.

Ever notice how right-wing beancounters never seem to get round to setting up oversight or regulation on the actual spending of the money so important to their lives and well-being?

Just because a self-serving political creep talks about cutting waste and reducing deficits doesn’t mean they’re ever going to do anything other than rant their slogans in the media. That’s usually enough to get them elected. And re-elected.

Meteorite lands on cricket pitch during match

When two spectators standing on the boundary at a cricket match saw an object hurtling down from the sky, their first instinct might have been to applaud.

However Jan Marszel, 51, and Richard Haynes, 52, were not witnessing a six, but an extremely rare meteor strike.

The rock, a few inches long and believed to be up to 4.5 billion years old, broke in two when it hit the ground in front of them close to the pitch.

The pair – both Sussex members – were sitting square of the wicket watching the England player Luke Wright bat with Monty Panesar when they spotted the black, five-inch rock hurtling towards them.

Mr Marszel, an IT consultant, said: “We were sitting at the boundary edge when all of a sudden, out of a blue sky, we saw this small dark object hurtling towards us. “It landed five yards inside the boundary and split into two pieces.

“One piece bounced up and hit me in the chest and the other ended up against the boundary board. It came across at quite a speed – if it had hit me full on it could have been very interesting…”

Retired Mr Haynes, said: “We were quietly supping our pints, both looked up at the same time and saw a black object coming towards us – we didn’t know what it was.

“If it had come from the other direction we might have suspected someone had thrown it, but we saw it come in straight over the ground from quite a way out – it was definitely a meteorite.”

I hope no one spilled their beer.

Plastiki Wraps Up an 8,300-Mile Voyage

The Plastiki, a boat made of bottles that set sail from San Francisco in March, glided past the Sydney Opera House at midday local time Monday in a grand finale to a voyage intended to highlight the problem of plastic waste.

“Overwhelmed! Wow! Need to breathe. Wow! Wow! Wow!” read one of the final tweets from the boat, whose buoyancy relied on the 12,500 plastic bottles encased in its hull…

Underlining the vessel’s mission, Plastiki estimated at its Web site that 8.7 billion plastic bottles, give or take, had been used in the United States since it set out…

Wearing a pink cap and a mariner’s full beard, the leader of the expedition, David de Rothschild, 31, strode up the dock at Darling Harbor to a welcoming ceremony that included the American ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich. “The journey of the Plastiki is a journey from trash to triumph,” Mr. Bleich said, in a nod both to the boat’s recycled nature and its path through a large garbage patch in the Pacific.

We posted on the start of this adventure back in March. We can stop worrying about the voyagers, finally.

And return to worrying about what we all do to this small planet.