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The Termites That Sank New Orleans

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 6:37 PM EDT

399px-Coptotermes_formosanus_shiraki_USGov_k8204-7.jpg A new study in American Entomologist suggests termites damaged New Orleans dikes enough for Hurricane Katrina to knock them over. The researchers first noticed termite trouble five years before Katrina struck. They found Formosan subterranean termites in floodwall seams made of bagasse—the residue from processed sugarcane. Formosan termites love the stuff.

After the 2005 breaches, the researchers inspected 100 seams, including three areas with major breaks. Seventy percent of the seams in the London Avenue Canal had been attacked by insects, and two major dike breaks occurred there during Katrina. Twenty-seven percent of seams in the ravaged 17th Street Canal also showed termite damage.

The Formosan subterranean termite is an invasive species native to China, where it damages levees. Besides eating at bagasse seams, the termites may have contributed to the destruction of the levees of New Orleans by digging networks of tunnels that funneled water and undermined the levee system. Ooops. . . The authors suggest that New Orleans' 350 miles of levees and floodwalls be surveyed for termite damage.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Madonna Says Her Anti-Palin Threats Are a "Metaphor"

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 6:25 PM EDT

50-year-old singer Madonna kicked off her latest tour last week in New Jersey, and made headlines for mentioning everybody's second-favorite Vice Presidential candidate. I mean Palin. Madonna apparently shouted to the crowd that the Alaska governor "can't come to my party! Sarah Palin can't come to my show!" Later, Madge even performed what appeared to be an impromptu, albeit non-rhyming, rap of some sort (see video above) in which she threatened to "kick [Palin's] ass." Perhaps more troublingly, during the song "Get Stupid," a video screen features a montage of bad guys like Hitler and Robert Mugabe, and Senator McCain pops up as well; Obama is included in the "good guys" section along with John Lennon and Gandhi. I'm not sure that's the equivalent of a consistent pattern of whipping up xenophobic, racist hatred at your political rallies until the assembled wingnuts demand the beheading of your opponent, but it has ruffled a few feathers, and the singer was asked about the comments at the premier of, uh, a movie she directed. Madonna directed a movie? Wow. Anyway, she said the "trash talk" was just "a metaphor," since Palin's "in the Republican Party, I'm in the Democratic Party." See a video of those comments (and more!) after the jump.

Report from Las Vegas: Obama Inching Ahead As a "Recession-Proof" Local Economy Falls Behind

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 5:46 PM EDT

These days, the city that lives off the fat of high-stakes risk is also suffering its consequences. Las Vegans can no longer deny the fact that their major industry is not, as so many once claimed, immune to financial downturns. Casino traffic and income in Nevada are declining. (According to one theory, while people still gamble when they're broke, they do it closer to home.) The foreclosure crisis has hit this state hard; you can now drive by subdivisions in which a majority of the houses look dark and uninhabited. New arrivals are finding that they can furnish their homes with what's been thrown away by departing residents.

The latest polls are showing Obama pulling ahead of McCain in Nevada. Sunday's Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason Dixon poll of likely voters has 47 percent for Obama, 45 percent for McCain, and 6 percent undecided. According to Hugh Jackson, who runs an excellent local progressive blog, the Las Vegas Gleaner, these local polls are notoriously unreliable. And the narrow point spread may be statistically insignificant. Still Congressional Quarterly's election map just shifted Nevada from the "toss up" category to "leaning Obama." And there's certainly been a big change from the Review-Journal's poll two months ago, which had McCain leading Obama 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

The Revolution Lives

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 5:43 PM EDT

THE REVOLUTION LIVES....Conservatives have been mostly at sea over the banking crisis, and I figure one of the reasons is that even modern movement conservatives have been unable to argue with a straight face that the solution to a systemic global credit crisis is the right wing's usual economic cure-all: tax cuts. This isn't entirely true, of course, as we saw a couple of weeks ago when the wingnuts in the Republican Study Committee held up the bailout bill because they thought that eliminating the capital gains tax ought to be a part of the package. Still, that one desultory effort aside, there's just been no way to plausibly pretend that extending the tax cut revolution was a serious answer to preventing financial meltdown.

Until now! Check out my abridged version of John McCain's latest economic plan:

Lower Taxes On....Suspend Tax Rules That....Accelerate The Tax Write-Off For....Reduce Capital Gains Taxes For....Eliminate Taxes On....

There's nothing like that old time gospel, is there? You name a problem, and the answer is tax cuts for the well-off. For more detail and less snark, Robert Gordon and James Kvaal have you covered here.

The ACORN Controversy: A Tough Nut to Crack

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 4:14 PM EDT

For years, conservatives have grumbled about voter registration efforts aimed at low-income citizens, particularly those mounted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), claiming these campaigns are rampant with fraud and corruption that benefits Democrats. On Tuesday, this low-grade battle became a headline-making clash, as the McCain-Palin campaign blasted ACORN and the Obama-Biden campaign and ACORN responded in kind.

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, the McCain campaign put the chairmen of its "Honest and Open Election Committee," former Republican Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman, front and center before the national media. The pair asserted that the election is in danger of being compromised, accusing ACORN of submitting thousands of phony voter registrations nationwide. They noted that they had sent a letter to the Obama campaign, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, and top state election officials proposing the creation of joint election observation teams. "Each campaign would list every precinct where either fears there is a potential for voter intimidation, fraud, or mistrust of the tabulation process on Election Day," the letter reads. "Each campaign would be responsible for recruiting a volunteer for each named precinct. The Republican and Democratic volunteers would work jointly as an observation team." (It is already routine for campaigns and parties to send election observers, often trained lawyers, to polling locations on Election Day. Representatives of local media outlets are commonly on hand as well.)

Danforth and Rudman's letter ends, "Let's talk." The Obama campaign isn't interested. It points out that the campaigns already dealt with this issue in an exchange of letters in September that generated little media attention. At that time, the McCain folks notified the Obama campaign of its joint observation teams idea and a week later the Obama campaign responded harshly: "This seems a starkly political maneuver to deflect attention from the reality of the suppression strategies pursued by national, state and Republican party committees." Nothing further occurred.

PBS's Frontline Special on Obama and "That One"

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 3:34 PM EDT

Even though yours truly ended up on the cutting room floor, I'm still plugging for y'all to watch tonight as PBS profiles the two presidential candidates. And gets folks who are apparently much smarter than me to opine on the choice. Ahem.

Watch a preview here.

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The Recession Cometh

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 3:22 PM EDT

THE RECESSION COMETH....Atrios points us to the latest from Nouriel Roubini, the Cassandra of the banking crisis:

Nouriel Roubini, the professor who predicted the financial crisis in 2006, said the U.S. will suffer its worst recession in 40 years, causing the rally in the stock market to "sputter.''

"There are significant downside risks still to the market and the economy,'' Roubini, 50, a New York University professor of economics, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "We're going to be surprised by the severity of the recession and the severity of the financial losses.''

The economist said the recession will last 18 to 24 months, driving unemployment to 9 percent, and already depressed home prices will fall another 15 percent. The U.S. government will need to double its purchase of bank stakes and force lenders to eliminate dividends to save them from bankruptcy, Roubini added.

This actually sounds about right to me. Another round of recapitalization strikes me as at least a 50-50 probability; forcing banks to suspend dividends sounds like a painful but necessary move; and there's really no question that we're headed into a fairly deep recession. In fact, what really surprises me is that it's only in the past week or so that newspapers have stopped running fatuous headlines along the lines of "Is U.S. Slipping Into Recession?" Of course the U.S. — and the rest of the world — are slipping into recession. Frankly, I think that's been obvious for months, but certainly nobody sentient could have doubted it anytime after mid-September.

And my arcane concerns about the current account deficit notwithstanding, massive stimulus is pretty obviously the right fiscal response to this now that monetary policy has been mostly played out. Along those lines, check out Steve Teles for some good ideas on what a stimulus package should look like. "Right now the Democrats are in danger of doing the obvious," he warns, "which will be bad economics, bad government, and bad politics. Someone needs to get them thinking bigger." Get to work, blogosphere!

Dueling Definitions of "Palinize"

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 3:13 PM EDT

Sarah Palin is quickly becoming a figure of speech as well as a figure of fun. Definitions of "Palin" words are still evolving, but here are two contenders from DailyKos and National Review:

1) Palinize, from DailyKos:

"Palinizing is above all the art of distraction, with the goal of diverting attention away from a fault (in Palin's case, ignorance) and towards the glittering veneer of hollow talking points which dazzle but do nothing in terms of answering the question presented."

and,

2) Palinize, from National Review:

"Palinize: to slander and caricature a working-class female public figure for the noble advancement of liberalism."

Could Palin, like Gerry (of "gerrymandering" fame), someday make it into dictionaries?
—Katie Flynn

ACORN's Wild Success Quantified

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 2:36 PM EDT

I'll have a lot more on this ACORN controversy in bit, but thought I'd point this out now. ACORN claims it has registered 1.3 million new voters this election cycle, mostly low-income people, people of color, and young people. On a conference call hosted by the Obama campaign today, campaign manager David Plouffe said the AP found 9 million newly registered voters across the whole country.

If these numbers are correct, a single organization has registered 15 percent of all new voters this election. That's a simply stunning number.

Anchorage Daily News Calls Palin a Big "Orwellian" Liar

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

Hometown audiences can be harsh--especially when they are disappointed. After the Alaska Troopergate report was released and declared that Governor Sarah Palin had abused her office, Palin maintained that she had been exonerated. Not so fast, says the Anchorage Daily News. Here's how the newspaper responded to Palin's claim:

Sarah Palin's reaction to the Legislature's Troopergate report is an embarrassment to Alaskans and the nation.
She claims the report "vindicates" her. She said that the investigation found "no unlawful or unethical activity on my part."
Her response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian.
Page 8, Finding Number One of the report says: "I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act."
In plain English, she did something "unlawful." She broke the state ethics law.
....If she had actually read it, she couldn't claim "vindication" with a straight face.
....Palin's response is the kind of political "big lie" that George Orwell warned against. War is peace. Black is white. Up is down.
....You asked us to hold you accountable, Gov. Palin. Did you mean it?
Bottom line: Gov. Palin, read the report. It says you violated the ethics law.

It's hard to accuse the Anchorage Daily News of being part of the Eastern establishment liberal media conspiracy that is supposedly out to destroy Palin. So how will the McCain-Palin spinners spin this one?