Friday, January 30, 2009

Michael Steele Wins Election for RNC Chair

Michael Steele wins election for RNC Chair, here's his speech.

Charlie Rose: An appreciation of John Updike

An appreciation of John Updike with Judith Jones, Senior Editor and Vice-President at Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., David Remnick and Sam Tanenhaus

Kobe Bryant: NBA’s Most Popular Player?

The NBA just released the top selling jerseys for 2008-09 season. And guess who’s #1? Yes, it’s Kobe! Kobe returned to his rightful place at the top of the list replacing Kevin Garnett, who was tops in 2008, of the champion Boston Celtics. I guess winning the MVP, leading the Lakers to the NBA finals, and leading Team USA to gold makes you pretty popular. Also making the list was his Los Angeles Lakers teammate Pau Gasol coming in at #6. Here’s the rest of the top 10:

1.) Kobe Bryant
2.) Kevin Garnett
3.) LeBron James
4.) Chris Paul
5.) Allen Iverson
6.) Pau Gasol
7.) Paul Pierce
8.) Dwyane Wade
9.) Derrick Rose
10.) Nate Robinson

*this is based off the start of the 2008-09 season till January

The only player I’m surprised is not in there is Dwight Howard. I mean, didn’t he just receive the most votes for this year’s All-Star Game? What do you think about the top 10?

“K.G., you may have won the NBA title! But my jersey is kind of a BIG DEAL!!”

Apocalypse 2012 The End Of The World

Abandon all your possessions and run for the hills: It has been foretold that the world is coming to an end sooner than you think, in the year 2012. It seems that you can't pick up any newspaper or magazine without reading that the apocalypse is almost upon us.

What really is going to happen in 2012? Asteroid 433 Eros is going to pass within 17 million miles of the Earth in January; the United States will hand over control of the Korean military back to the Koreans in April; there will be an annular solar eclipse in May and a solar transit of Venus in June; the Summer Olympics will take place in London; the Earth's population will officially pass 7 billion people in October; the United States will elect a new President in November; construction of the new Freedom Tower will be complete in New York City; the sun will flip its magnetic poles as it does at the end of every 11-year sunspot cycle; and, as I'm sure you've heard by now, the Mayan calendar completes its 5,125 year cycle, presumably portending the End of Days.

Mayans had three calendars. They had a solar calendar that was 365 days long, and a ceremonial calendar that was 260 days long. These two calendars would synchronize every 52 years. To measure longer time periods, they developed the "long count" calendar, which expressed dates as a series of five numbers, each less than twenty; something like the way we measure minutes and seconds as a series of two numbers each less than sixty. And, just in case this might seem too simple, for some reason the second to last number was always less than eighteen. The first day in the Mayan long count calendar was expressed as, and by our calendar, this was August 11, 3114 BC. Every 144,000 days (or about every 395 years, which they called a baktun), the first number would increment, and a new baktun would start. Recall how we all got to enjoy the excitement on the millennium of watching the digital displays roll over from 12/31/1999 to 1/1/2000? Well, that's what's going to happen on December 21, 2012 to the Mayan calendar. It's going to roll over from to, just as it has done each of the previous twelve baktuns. There's no archaeological or historical evidence that the Mayans themselves expected anything other than a New Year's Eve party to happen on this date: Claims that this rollover represents a Mayan prediction of the end of the world appear to be a modern pop-culture invention. It's true that the Mayan carvings of their calendar only depicted 13 baktuns, but what did you expect them to do? Carve an infinitely long calendar every time they wanted to express a date? The explanation could be as simple as they didn't expect people in the 21st century to still be obsessed with their archaic calendar.

Another story predicting doom in 2012 says that a new planet, variously described as Planet X, a planet/comet (which makes no sense), or the planet "Nibiru" is going to pass so close to the Earth as to cause earthquakes and tidal waves and all kinds of destruction, possibly even flipping the Earth completely upside down. This is an urban legend that's been around for a long time, but for most of the story's history, this was supposed to happen in May of 2003, as any Internet search for "Planet X" will reveal. Apparently what happened is that the Planet X advocates, perhaps embarrassed or disappointed that 2003 passed without incident, heard about the much more popular Mayan calendar story, and decided that 2012 is close enough to 2003 that it must be the correct date and that the Planet X destruction is probably what the Mayans were foretelling. The Planet X legend got started by misinterpretations of astronomical observations combined with an ancient Sumerian carving that has been erroneously interpreted to depict a solar system with ten planets. Why the craftsmen who made carvings in ancient Sumeria should be presumed to have planetary knowledge superior to that of modern astronomy is not convincingly argued. If you're interested in all of the actual science behind the Planet X story, there's no better source than Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog, which goes into all the facts, rumors, and sources in detail.

Here's one more reason people are frightened about 2012. About 500 years ago, Copernicus confirmed what Hipparchus had observed in 2200 BC: that the axis of the Earth, which leans over at 23.5°, completes one full rotation every 25,765 years. This means that in 12,000 years, Christmas will come to Australia in winter and the northern hemisphere will depict Santa in Bermuda shorts. Astrologers call this period a Great Year, and they divide it into 12 Great Months or astrological "ages", each about 2,147 years long. Each age corresponds to one of the signs of the zodiac. We are currently in the Age of Pisces, and like the song says, we're soon going to enter the Age of Aquarius. According to modern official delineations of the edges of the constellations, we'll move into the new age in the year 2600. But there's some disagreement, and some astrologers place it at 2595, 2654, or 2638. A few put it much earlier, as soon as 2150 or even 2062. However, once the news of the Mayan calendar broke, a large segment of the astrological community abandoned the official constellation definitions and stated that the Age of Aquarius will begin in 2012. So, you can call this a third major reason why the world will end in 2012, but you have to be awful loose with your astrology, and you also have to think of some reason why the dawning of the Age of Aquarius might bring on the end of the world. I have not found any plausible claims for how it might have this effect.

So that's a lot of reasons, weak though they might be, to predict that the we're all going to die in 2012. However, there's one significant fact that the 2012 doomsayers all seem to forget: Despite all the various 2012-ish predictions for the end of the world, there are far more stories of apocalypse with different dates. For example, popular interpretations of Nostradamus found predictions for the end of the world in July of 1999, December of 1999, June of 2002, and October of 2005. It's also been said that his writings could mean the dead will rise from their graves in either 2000, 2007, or the year 7000. Nostradamus never said anything about 2012.

Many Protestant Christians believe that the end of the world will come in the form of what they call the Rapture, when the righteous will all be whisked away to heaven. Shakers believed the Rapture would come in 1792. Seventh Day Adventists first calculated it would happen in 1843, then when nothing happened, they found an error in their calculations and corrected it to 1844. The Jehovah's Witnesses made firm predictions for 1918, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1984, and 1994. A book was published in 1988 called 88 Reasons the Rapture is in 1988. A number of Bible scholars found firm scriptural evidence that the Rapture would happen in October of 2005. Thousands of Koreans gave away all their money and possessions in preparation for the Rapture on October 28, 1992. Even Sir Isaac Newton made a calculation based on scripture that showed the Rapture could not happen before 2060. Some Jewish scholars place the "end of days" via Armageddon in the year 2240. I couldn't find 2012 mentioned in any of these stories.

In fact, James Randi's magnum opus publication An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural lists 44 distinct end of the world predictions that all came and went unfulfilled. Why should we think that the 2012 legends are any different? Any examination of the science behind any of the stories, even a glib examination, reveals a complete absence of plausible foundation. Only the Planet X story, which is the most easily falsified as it depends on concrete astronomical observations that are demonstrably false, offers a proposed mechanism for exactly how this "end of the world" is to be accomplished, the alleged gravitational destruction. Neither the Mayan calendar people, nor the Age of Aquarius people, have offered any claims for how or why the world will end, only that their particular legend points to a rollover in some ancient calendar. My calendar rolls over every time the ball drops in New York, and I've yet to see this cause any planetary cataclysm, except for the guy who has to mop out the drunk tank at the NYPD.

Many people tend to place more trust in ancient neolithic traditions than in the observations of modern science. There's nothing wrong with studying and respecting our predecessors' history for what it was, but when you turn things over and start believing that scientific knowledge of the natural world has only decreased over time, you're not doing anyone any favors.

Blacks as Conservative as Republicans on Some Moral Issues

One explanation: Black Democrats are much more religious than nonblack Democrats
by Frank Newport

PRINCETON, NJ -- Only 31% of black Democrats in America say homosexual relations are morally acceptable, roughly the same as the 30% of Republicans who agree, while very much different from the 61% of nonblack Democrats who say homosexual relations are morally acceptable.

The fact that black Democrats are much closer to Republicans' than to nonblack Democrats' position on this issue is noteworthy given that blacks overwhelmingly identify themselves as Democrats (to be discussed in detail below). The issue of black views on family-related moral issues is also noteworthy given the recent vote in California to approve Proposition 8, which effectively amended the state constitution to define legal marriage as only between a man and a woman. Exit-poll results after that vote on Nov. 4 suggested that black California voters had overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment, while overall, Democrats in California overwhelmingly voted against it -- essentially confirming the national attitude structure apparent from Gallup's analysis.

Gallup each year asks Americans to indicate whether they believe that each of a series of behaviors or actions is morally acceptable. The data reported in this article are based on an aggregated sample of the results from May 2006, May 2007, and May 2008, involving interviews with more than 3,000 Americans.

In this particular aggregate of data, 65% of blacks identify themselves as Democrats (and another 16% say they lean toward the Democratic Party). Only 5% identify as Republicans. Yet, as seen in the accompanying table, there are major gulfs between the attitudes of black Democrats and the attitudes of nonblack Democrats on a number of moral issues, and in most instances, blacks come much closer to the positions of Republicans than to those of Democrats.

There is an exception to the basic conservatism of black Democrats on the issues listed in this table. Black Democrats are actually less likely to find the use of the death penalty morally acceptable than are nonblack Democrats (or Republicans). But on the other moral-based issues included, black Democrats are consistently much more conservative than nonblack Democrats.

Just 30% of black Democrats say they would agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, compared to 57% of nonblack Democrats. Black Democrats are not quite as conservative on this policy issue as Republicans (among whom just 22% favor legalization of same-sex marriage), but are closer to Republican attitudes than to nonblack Democratic attitudes. And, as noted at the beginning of this story, black Democrats' views on the moral acceptability of homosexual relations are almost identical to those of Republicans, and the attitudes of both blacks and Republicans are significantly different from the attitudes of nonblack Democrats on this issue.

One of the underlying explanations for the divergence between the views of black and nonblack Democrats on these moral issues is religion. Black Democrats are much more religious than nonblack Democrats, and religion is highly related to views on homosexual relations.

In general, it appears that black Americans may be conflicted in their attitudes toward certain values issues such as same-sex marriage and homosexual relations. Despite the liberal orientation of the Democratic Party toward moral issues, blacks, perhaps because of their high degree of religiosity, are pulled in the other, more conservative direction that is typical of Republicans. In the case of same-sex marriage, it appears that the power of religion in shaping black attitudes, coupled with the fact that black turnout in California was driven up in general because of the high-profile candidacy of Barack Obama for president, helped push Proposition 8 to victory.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 3,022 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted in May 2006, May 2007, and May 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Obama Calls for Prompt Action on Stimulus

President Barack Obama is calling the economic slump a 'continuing disaster' for America's families. (Jan. 30)

Erdogan's Davos outburst

Davos got a bit more interesting yesterday when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion after castigating Israeli President Shimon Peres for Israel's actions in Gaza. Erdogan was upset not just at the content of Peres's speech but by the fact that he had apparently been given less time to speak.

Erdogan returned home to a hero's welcome in Turkey where he gave a press conference saying Peres's manner was "unacceptable" and blaming the panel's moderator, Washington Post reporter David Ignatius for not allowing him to speak. "I cannot allow anybody to harm my country's dignity and honor," Erdogan said.

Peres says the relationship between Turkey and Israel won't be affected by the event, though Erdogan had earlier stated that Turkish moderated talks between Israel and Gaza had been "shelved" after Gaza.

Steel(e) Yourself: It's Election Day For Republican National Chairman

Today's the big day in the long-awaited and much-discussed contest for chairman of the Republican National Committee. It's the biggest election in national politics since last November's presidential vote (okay, it's also the only one).

The balloting starts at 10:30 this morning and you can find regular updates on this blog.
For weeks, six men have been aggressively pursuing the party job, which pays about $200,000 a year and is good for the next two years. Along with gaining the opportunity to oversee a national political organization that spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the winner will instantly becomes a leading Republican spokesman at party events, on television and elsewhere else that prominent heads talk.

Contenders include the incumbent, Mike Duncan of Kentucky; former Maryland Lt. Gov. (and former state party chairman) Michael Steele; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and three current or former RNC members, Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis and South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson. The sixth candidate, former Tennessee Chairman Chip Saltsman, withdrew on the eve of the balloting.

The candidates made their final pitches (behind closed doors) to the electorate in the ballroom of the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington last night, followed by several hours of "hospitality" in various suites at the same venue.

Now it's in the hands of the voters, all 168 of them.

Here's how it works: Only members of the Republican National Committee -- three from each state, U.S. territory or the District of Columbia--may vote. It takes a majority of those voting to win.

There is no limit to the number of ballots and no requirement that the low man drop out after each round (as is sometimes done in these events). Unless someone gains a majority on the first round, which is considered unlikely, votes will start to shift from one candidate to another after the first or second round.

Duncan is regarded as the most likely candidate to come out on top in the first round, though probably without a majority. Hand-picked as chairman by then-President George Bush and Karl Rove, the White House political adviser, Duncan has to overcome anti-Bush sentiment on the committee and the feeling of some that the party needs a new face after losing the last two national elections.

If he doesn't win on the first and gain on the second, Duncan is probably done.

Steele and Blackwell, both African-Americans, would be breakthrough choices and the election of either man would send a loud message that the party of Lincoln is changing in the Age of Obama. Steele is regarded as suspiciously moderate by many conservatives, while Blackwell, who is perhaps the most conservative candidate in the field, is also the only one who never served on the RNC.

That matters a lot, since party chairmanship contests, when there's no president in the White House to dictate a choice, more closely resemble student council elections in high school than anything else. In other words, personal connections and concerns (who will get me a prime hotel room at the 2012 Republican National Convention) usually matter more than strategic considerations (who would be the best spokesman for the party).

For such reasons, some Republican veterans think Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman or Dawson, his South Carolina counterpart, may have the best chance if Duncan, the current national chairman, doesn't make it.

Many Republicans are worried about their party being viewed as a regional (read: southern), rather than a national, one. That could open the door for Anuzis, a likeable, if somewhat nerdy, political operator to wind up in the chairman's chair when the music finally stops.

Again, stay glued to this blog for breaking news--or even better, if you haven't done so already,
go to the bottom of that box with the gold outline on the right hand side of this screen and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog. If you do, you'll be sure to be the first to get all the news about Maryland Politics and learn the identity of the next RNC chairman as soon as it happens.

Fourth Quarter 2008 GDP Report: Where We Learn Just How Poor the POR Economy Is (Update: Bad Enough at an Annual -3.8%; Hinting Recovery?)

Well, that long-awaited day is here — the day where we get the first major indication just how bad the damage has been from the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy we’ve been living with since June 2008.

The third quarter of 2008 came in at an annualized -0.5%.

That’s bad enough, but as you might expect, predictions for the fourth quarter are coming in much worse:


Economists polled by Reuters offered a median estimate of a 5.4 percent decline in U.S. gross domestic product on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter, the worst since the first quarter of 1982.

The estimates of 81 economists ranged from a decline of 3.0 percent to a drop of 7.0 percent.

(Link — Don’t let the Obama Administration see this; they want us to assume we’re all gonna die unless his “Porkulus” package passes)

Strange as it may sound, there is a way an ugly fourth-quarter gross-domestic-product report could be a sign good news is afoot.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis on Friday takes its first crack at estimating GDP in the last quarter of 2008. Economists think inflation-adjusted GDP fell at a 5.5% annualized rate, the worst since 1982, as the economy was suffocated by the disappearance of credit.

Often such sharp declines in GDP are followed by significant snapbacks. The quarter following a GDP decline of 5% or more is positive 69% of the time in the past 48 such episodes in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, according to Merrill Lynch international economist Alex Patelis. He calls it a “heart attack” pattern because GDP’s course mimics the jagged line on an electrocardiogram.

(Link — These guys got the Obamemo)

Many economists think the decline will be a whopping 5 percent or more - which would make it the worst quarter for the U.S. economy since 1982.

“When we see fourth-quarter GDP … it will be bad,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHSGlobal Insight, an economic forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass. “What today’s numbers tell us is that first-quarter 2009 will be just as bad.”

Ben Herzon, senior economist of Macroeconomic Advisers, who said the GDP growth rate will likely be negative 5.5 percent, told USA Today, “It’s going to confirm what we already know, and that is we’re in a severe recession.”

Gloom has grown with the spreading realization of the refusal by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to back down from their insistence on starving the economy of energy in the name of what might be the greatest fraud in human history, Barack Obama’s campaign promises of huge tax increases on the most productive (deferred but not deleted), and, more recently, the dogged determination on the part of all three players to ram a comically misnamed “stimulus” down the economy’s throat.

What to watch for: How many media outlets “forget” to include the word “annualized” or “annual rate” in their coverage, giving many viewers the impression that the economy shrunk by the amount reported all in one quarter (See Update below — The prediction came true twice in 20 minutes.)

The report will be here at 8:30. Here it is –

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — decreased at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, (that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter), according to advance estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP decreased 0.5 percent.

Initial reax: Well, that wasn’t as bad as just about everyone thought. In fact, I’d characterize this as a huge miss by the prognosticators. It won’t be seen as that obvious, but it’s really no different than guessing -1.0% and having it turn out a bit less than +1.0%, which would most certainly raise eyebrows.

Initial theory: Factors cited in this post (lower gas prices, lower mortgage rates) began taking hold in December. This means that Obama’s race against the economy recovering on its own may indeed be on, and his lead may not be as great as he thought (better pass the Porkulus package quick, before those January and February reports start coming out).

I’ll have more to say later after reviewing the report and gauging media reaction.

Bloomberg To Address $4 Billion Budget Deficit Friday

January 30, 2009
The city’s budget deficit is on the rise and Mayor Michael Bloomberg will say how he plans to close it Friday.

The Bloomberg administration says the deficit has grown to $4 billion for this fiscal year, and blames falling tax revenues and the state’s budget.

The mayor is expected to announce cutting more than 23,000 city jobs if the state and governmental partners don’t provide aid.

Bloomberg is also expected to ask city unions to contribute to their healthcare plans if they are not doing so already.

Administration officials say the deficit would have been more than $6 billion if the city council and mayor hadn’t raised property taxes and cut spending at city agencies last year.

The mayor is expected to deliver his budget address at noon. NY1 will bring it to you live.