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Housing Update

HOUSING UPDATE....The latest housing market news:Home prices fell a record annual 15.9 percent in June, but the monthly rate of decline slowed from May which suggested the decimated housing sector may be stabilizing, according to Standard & Poor's on Tuesday.This...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:33 PM EDT

HOUSING UPDATE....The latest housing market news:

Home prices fell a record annual 15.9 percent in June, but the monthly rate of decline slowed from May which suggested the decimated housing sector may be stabilizing, according to Standard & Poor's on Tuesday.

This stuff is notoriously hard to get a handle on, but it's possible that the housing market really is stabilizing. I originally posted the chart on the right a couple of months ago, and when the numbers are updated through June they look even more encouraging than they did then. Month-to-month declines in the Case-Shiller 20-city index have been getting steadily smaller, and in June there was barely any decline at all.

On the other hand, this stuff is seasonal and we might start seeing larger declines again in a couple of months. Past performance is no guarantee of future results etc. etc., and plenty of teaser rates have yet to reset. Still, it's a tiny ray of sunshine.

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This Just In: Republicans Really Good at Attack Ads

McCain's newest ad is the fourth in the past week to invoke Hillary Clinton's primary-era criticisms of Barack Obama. This...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

McCain's newest ad is the fourth in the past week to invoke Hillary Clinton's primary-era criticisms of Barack Obama. This time, though, it's a double whammy. McCain is also going the scare tactic route, using images of tanks, missiles, and masked men under the words, "Uncertainty. Dangerous aggression. Rogue nations. Radicalism." It quotes Clinton questioning Obama's readiness to be Commander-in-Chief and ends with, "Hillary's right. John McCain for president."

Kevin argues that until we know this ad is running widely, we should treat it like a flyer or blog post put out by two-bit crazies. I tend to disagree. (1) The very first "celebrity" attack ads against Obama weren't widely circulated, but the McCain campaign's internal polling or focus groups must have told them they were on to something because that meme exploded over the course of late summer. If Democrats are going to keep hurtful frames from dominating the campaign for weeks or months at a time, they need to look at and respond to new McCain approaches in their nascent stages. And (2) these ads are excellent examples of how to go negative well. The Democrats look like they need every lesson they can get in that respect.

YouTube

YOUTUBE....Jason Zengerle on John McCain's recent spate of attack ads:Eve asks whether the McCain campaign will release a new Hillary ad every day this week. Of course it will ? so long as we in the media keep linking to...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 1:52 PM EDT

YOUTUBE....Jason Zengerle on John McCain's recent spate of attack ads:

Eve asks whether the McCain campaign will release a new Hillary ad every day this week. Of course it will — so long as we in the media keep linking to the ads and doing news segments about them on TV. I'd love to know from our readers in these "key battleground states" where the ads are supposed to air whether they've actually seen any of them on TV, other than the times they've seen reports about them on CNN and Fox and MSNBC.

I'll go a little further. The majority of these "YouTube ads" are designed solely to get media attention, not to be seriously used as part of the campaign. If they were podcasts, or blog posts, or flyers, or email blasts, the media would ignore them if their purpose were so transparent. I mean, who cares about a flyer produced in small quantities and handed out only to the media?

But if it's video, it's news! I couldn't really say why, aside from the fact that the media is convinced that YouTube is a transformative election medium even though there's precious little evidence to back this up. So I'd say this: cable news stations need to stop being played for suckers. Unless a campaign says it's committed to a serious ad buy for the video in question, it's time to quit playing the game. Wise up and treat 'em the same way you treat attack email blasts.

Reinventing John McCain

REINVENTING JOHN McCAIN....Eric Alterman listens to Tom Brokaw and can't believe his ears:Discussing McCain's success in the Republican primaries, Brokaw attributed it to the candidate's "indomitable will," and opined that McCain won by simply being "the most authentic...he wasn't trying...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 1:01 PM EDT

REINVENTING JOHN McCAIN....Eric Alterman listens to Tom Brokaw and can't believe his ears:

Discussing McCain's success in the Republican primaries, Brokaw attributed it to the candidate's "indomitable will," and opined that McCain won by simply being "the most authentic...he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

This is not only wrong, but diametrically, screamingly wrong. It's not a difficult point — McCain won the primaries specifically by reversing himself on taxes, immigration, the religious right, and virtually every other issue important to the hard right. These policies were not only blazingly visible — Mitt Romney and others called him on it loudly during the Republican debates — but obviously destructive, as the last eight years have proven.

And yet, here is Brokaw saying of the candidate who by far has done the most to change his positions that McCain was "the most authentic...he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

It is indeed a vast mystery. It's not just that McCain has changed a lot of his positions, it's the fact that he's so plainly changed them purely for the sake of political expediency. "Learning his lesson" on immigration in front of CPAC. Knuckling under to the Club for Growth on tax cut inanity. Demonstrating his right-wing bona fides to the Wall Street Journal editorial page by quietly watering down his energy plan into near uselessness. Embracing Jerry Falwell on the stage at Liberty University. ("Are you going into crazy base world?" asked Jon Stewart at the time. "I'm afraid so," McCain answered, in a rare display of naked honesty.)

McCain has been desperately pandering to the GOP base for the past two years, and he's been doing it perfectly publicly and with only the thinnest veneer of explanation. But I guess it's indelicate to mention it for some reason. After all, haven't I heard somewhere that he spent a few years as a POW during the Vietnam War?

Healthcare News

HEALTHCARE NEWS....The percentage of Americans without health insurance went down last year. Hooray! Except for this:Before anybody gets the idea that we no longer need health care reform, take a closer look at the numbers. Enrollment in private insurance continued...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:25 PM EDT

HEALTHCARE NEWS....The percentage of Americans without health insurance went down last year. Hooray! Except for this:

Before anybody gets the idea that we no longer need health care reform, take a closer look at the numbers. Enrollment in private insurance continued to decline in percentage terms, mostly because the percentage of people with employer-sponsored coverage fell from 59.7 to 59.3. The reason the overall numbers look good is rising enrollment in public insurance programs, particularly Medicaid.

This is, in the end, a good reason for even conservatives to support (or at least not get too bent out of shape about) healthcare reform along the lines Barack Obama has proposed. The alternative, like it or not, is probably a steady increase in Medicaid and emergency room use, and even on conservative grounds a decently designed universal system would be a better alternative than that.

Land of Nukes and Noodles: North Korea Digs In Its Heels

An estimated one million North Koreans died of starvation in the late 1990s. Since then, the country has managed...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:50 AM EDT

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An estimated one million North Koreans died of starvation in the late 1990s. Since then, the country has managed to feed itself only by accepting large quantities of foreign food aid. But now, in the midst of what the United Nations says is its worst food shortage in more than a decade, the so-called "Hermit Kingdom" of Kim Jong Il has designed a staple that it hopes can ward off mass hunger, something not unlike the Elven bread that sustained Frodo and Sam during their trek into Mordor. According to Choson Shinbo, a Japan-based newspaper sympathetic to Pyongyang, North Korean scientists have developed a wonder noodle, made of corn and soybeans, that delays hunger pangs. It packs twice the protein and five times the fat of the average noodle, says the newspaper. "When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat and corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger."

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On Opening Night, the Obama Campaign Goes Warm and Fuzzy

The first evening of the Democratic convention was Warm and Fuzzy Night. There were a host of speeches over several...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 3:50 AM EDT

The first evening of the Democratic convention was Warm and Fuzzy Night. There were a host of speeches over several hours. Veterans, workers, elected officials of different colors and genders, and common folks addressed the thousands of delegates in Denver's Pepsi Center. But none of that mattered. The two main prime-time features were a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, who is fighting brain cancer, and Michelle-fest, a celebration of Barack Obama's wife. After a film highlighting Kennedy's long political career and his passion for sailing, the liberal lion of the Senate delivered a rousing speech declaring "the dream lives on." It was an emotional moment--and an authentic one. Minutes later, the convention turned to its next order of business: demonstrating to voters that Michelle Obama is a fine woman, who loves her fine family, and who would make a fine first lady. Throughout the night, there was not much bashing of the most unpopular president in recent decades and little smacking of John McCain.

The iconification of Michelle Obama--daughter, wife, mother and professional--was perhaps an obligatory exercise. Narrating a film about her daughter, Michelle Obama's mother revealed that Michelle is a "wonderful, caring mother" who has been able to "find a balance between a career and being a mom." In the film, Barack Obama noted how "kindhearted" her deceased father had been. Michelle and Barack cutely recalled their early days of courtship. (She resisted; he persisted.) Then her older brother came on stage and shared the facts that she woke him up early on Christmas mornings, played piano to calm him down before big games in high school, and memorized every episode of The Brady Bunch.

Next, Michelle delivered a speech in which she noted that her personal story--and that of her husband--shows "that the American dream endures." Noting how hard so many Americans work to provide for their kids, she said, "That is why I love this country."

She handled the speech well, and it was full of passages that seemed genuinely heartfelt. She also praised Senator Hillary Clinton for having put "those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," graciously using the disputed popular vote count promoted by the Clinton campaign during the primaries. But a question is, was all this I-love-my-family-and-country stuff necessary? The answer might be yes. Clearly, the Obama campaign was following recent political tradition: going Hallmark (or Lifetime) at the convention. ("I blame Ronald Reagan for this," lamented Salon's Walter Shapiro in the press section.) But in the case of the Obamas--due to their race, his unusual pedigree, and her comment about having not been proud of America (and the trashing she has received on right-wing talk radio)--it seemed that Team Obama had decided to lay it on awfully thick. The Obama campaign press release promoting her brother's speech noted he would "focus on values that shape her."

Political experts routinely maintain that voters' perceptions of politicians' values greatly influence how they vote. And that's probably especially true for those voters who pay less attention to the details of political races (such as the policy positions of the candidates) and who are, consequently, more driven by impressions. In other words, the undecided voters who decide elections. After the speech, Republican strategist Michael Murphy told me that he believed Michelle Obama had succeeded in "breaking down the wall" between her and some voters. But, he added, "I would have wanted more family talk in the speech and less candidate-y stuff about policies." But despite all the warmth she generated--and her speech was capped with a touching appearance of the two Obama daughters who spoke to their father through a video hookup--there was something demeaning about the whole exercise. At the Republican convention next week, will Cindy McCain have to prove she loves her kids and her country?

Wind Turbines Decimate Bats

We know wind turbines kill birds. Now a University of Calgary study shows they kill bats in even higher numbers. And not from collisions but from a sudden drop in air pressure known as barotrauma. Ninety percent of the bats examined post mortem showed signs of internal hemorrhaging consistent with barotrauma from the turbine blades. Only about half showed any evidence of direct...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:06 AM EDT

Big-eared-townsend-fledermaus.jpg We know wind turbines kill birds. Now a University of Calgary study shows they kill bats in even higher numbers. And not from collisions but from a sudden drop in air pressure known as barotrauma. Ninety percent of the bats examined post mortem showed signs of internal hemorrhaging consistent with barotrauma from the turbine blades. Only about half showed any evidence of direct contact with the blades.

Because they echolocate, bats seldom collide with manmade structures. But an atmospheric-pressure drop at wind-turbine blades is undetectable. And because they're mammals, they die more than birds from barotrauma. Their balloon-like lungs have two-way airflow and flexible sacs surrounded by capillaries. When external pressures drop, the sacs overexpand and burst the capillaries. Bird lungs are more rigid with a one-way circular airflow and withstand pressure drops better.

Bat fatalities at wind turbines far outnumber bird fatalities and the majority of bats killed are migratory species that roost in trees—including hoary bats, eastern red bats, and silver-haired bats. Little is known about their population sizes. But wind turbines could devastate them. . . Simple solution. Don't run the turbines at night. And for the sake of birds-of-prey, don't run them during peak migrations.

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

Obama Assassination Attempt Stopped

Holy crap. CBS4 has learned at least four people are under arrest in connection with a possible plot to kill...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 1:36 AM EDT

Holy crap.

CBS4 has learned at least four people are under arrest in connection with a possible plot to kill Barack Obama at his Thursday night acceptance speech in Denver. All are being held on either drug or weapons charges.
CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass reported one of the suspects told authorities they were "going to shoot Obama from a high vantage point using a ... rifle … sighted at 750 yards."
Law enforcement sources tell Maass that one of the suspects "was directly asked if they had come to Denver to kill Obama. He responded in the affirmative."

Michelle Obama

MICHELLE OBAMA....I'll confess that I find it almost impossible to judge political speeches. My attention usually wanders a bit because I've heard all (or most) of it before, I'm hyper-aware that it's all heavily staged and that every word is...

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:59 AM EDT

MICHELLE OBAMA....I'll confess that I find it almost impossible to judge political speeches. My attention usually wanders a bit because I've heard all (or most) of it before, I'm hyper-aware that it's all heavily staged and that every word is designed for a particular purpose, etc. etc. Because of this, to me personally, political speeches seem like specimens, not things that I myself have any genuine connection to.

So instead, I just try to guess how they're going to go over with other people. Unfortunately, I have no idea. And frankly, I don't think any of the talking heads on TV have any idea either. So they just follow each others' leads.

That said, my initial reaction to Michelle Obama's speech was that it was fine, but a little artificial sounding. But everyone else seems to think it was a home run. Do they really know? Are they just saying that out of partisan loyalty? Are they saying it because everyone else is saying it? Or was it genuinely a home run?

I dunno. I'm afraid I'm autistic on this particular wavelength. What did you all think?