A new CBS News poll out last night reveals approval levels have declined to an all-time, basement low for Obama's Democratic Party, with only 37 percent of those polled saying they have a favorable view of the Dems. That's a decrease of 20 percentage points in the past year. Then again, Republican Party's image isn't much better, either: 33 percent approve of Michael "Keepin' It Real" Steele and Co. And in the "unfavorable" view category, it's a neck-and-neck race between which party gets the mantle of most loathed by American populace so sick of Washington the name evokes disgust and resentment—55 percent of Americans have a negative view of the GOP, and 54 percent say the same about Democrats.

The conclusion here is obvious: If you're a candidate running for national or even state political office, you basically have to do everything you can to separate yourself from the folks in Washington, casting yourself in the starkest terms possible as an outsider untainted by the influence and money of modern-day politics. Take Rory Reid, a gubernatorial candidate in Nevada and the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The other day I was clicking around Reid's site, reading up on his ambitious new education reform plan. Then it hit me: You'd never know that Rory was the son of Harry from reading Rory's website. The only mention I could find of papa Reid was in a smattering of press clippings posted on the site. As one Nevadan wrote me in an email recently, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the negative effects that could arise from such a relationship."

Back to the CBS poll. While the broad political data is mostly predictable, the economic-related results are more telling. For instance, 59 percent of respondents said Wall Street has undue influence on Washington. That's a no-brainer—consider that the finance, insurance, and real estate (or FIRE) sector has spent more than $4 billion lobbying Washington in the last decade or so. And when Washington had the chance to beat back the Wall Street influence machine by limiting the size of big banks, constraining not just their financial size but the size of their political influence, too, the Senate failed to act and the White House did nothing. And there's little chance the House and Senate together will revive that idea.

What's more, the poll shows the public strongly backs government support for homeowners—but not bank bailouts. Which means the Obama administration has it all backward: It's poured billions of dollars and plenty of political capital into the massively unpopular bailouts; but the program that could win them public support, the Making Home Affordable program, the Treasury's homeowner rescue, has been a complete mess. Some would say a failure.

Indeed, with the perilous state of the economy still looming large on the minds of Americans (eight of 10 told CBS the economy remained in bad shape), the administration's inability to help homeowners as it helped the banks could prove disastrous in this fall's elections.


Lance Cpl. Justin Roy of Lafayette, La., an infantryman who serves with Company F, Anti-terrorism Battalion, 4th Marine Division, engages targets during live-fire urban combat marksmanship training conducted by US Marines and Moroccan soldiers as part of Exercise African Lion 2010 at Morocco Military Base Tifnit May 19. Photo via the US Army photo by Sgt. Whitney Houston.

[UPDATEThe plot to this story has thickened, with spying, sniping, union intrigues, and right-wing patriots. Check out the latest here: "Tea Party, Union Back Holy Water Teachers."]

South Florida: pristine beaches, liberal amounts of liquor, vacationing coeds, flamingoes, drug dealers.

Growing up there, though, I knew the region wasn't all Miami Vice, CSI, or even Dave Barry columns. As in every part of the union, South Florida has its traditional nooks, where mainly minority working-class folks with old-time discipline and old-time religion reign supreme. Western Pompano Beach, on the wrong side of the tracks from the ocean, was one such place. At its core, tucked between a crumbling neighborhood road and I-95, was Ely High School, where I graduated from.

That's where local pastors say Leslie Rainer and Djuna Robinson, two Christian teachers, doused colleague Schandra Tompkinsel Rodriguez with "holy water" March 11 in the middle of a class Rodriguez was teaching. They claim she was discussing her nonbelief with the students, thus warranting their aqueous intervention. Rodriguez filed a complaint, and the teachers were removed from campus.

You'd assume that's the end of the story. But not in Pompano Beach. [More]

UPDATE: On Tuesday night, BP, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), agreed to keep the video flowing, when it tries to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. Markey noted, "BP made the right decision to allow the public to see this potentially historical event for themselves. The hopes of millions of Americans rest on this effort, and the world deserves a first-hand view of the top kill attempt. BP should now take the next step and make the full 12 possible video feeds available to the public, not just one single feed.”

It took several weeks for BP to make public the live feed of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. But now the oil company, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), plans to shut down the video during its next attempt to seal the well, which is scheduled to happen on Wednesday. Is this due to performance anxiety on the part of BP? What could be more gripping reality TV? Markey, understandably, is not happy. Here's a press release from his office:

Markey: BP to Kill Top Kill Video Feed; BP Says to American People The Solution Will Not Be Televised

After Releasing Public Video Feed, BP Blackout for Well Termination Attempt

WASHINGTON (May 25, 2010) – After pushing BP into providing a live feed of the spill at the bottom of the ocean, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today learned that BP will terminate the live feed during BP’s pivotal attempt to seal the well this week. BP informed Rep. Markey’s office that the live feed would be terminated some time early Wednesday morning, and would continue to be offline until after the attempt at the so-called “top kill” is completed.

“It is outrageous that BP would kill the video feed for the top kill. This BP blackout will obscure a vital moment in this disaster,” said Rep. Markey, who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. “After more than a month of spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is essentially saying to the American people the solution will not be televised.”

Last week, after Rep. Markey’s request, BP agreed to provide live footage of the subsea spill operations. Rep. Markey first provided a live link to the accident site a few minutes before 1:30 PM EST on Thursday, May 20. Demand for the video from the public and the news media was overwhelming. Hundreds of thousands of people visited the Select Committee (www.globalwarming.house.gov) Web site in the first 24 hours. The Energy and Commerce Committee was also able to provide access to the feeds due to Rep. Markey's request at http://energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2011:live-feed-of-the-gulf-oil-spill&catid=122:media-advisories&Itemid=55.

According to a BP technical video released yesterday (see http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033572&contentId=7061710), many of the preparations for the top kill attempt have already been completed. Therefore, Rep. Markey questioned today why the actual attempt to plug the leaking well could not be shown to the American public.

“No one wants to interfere with the operations during the top kill. With those preparations mostly done, now the world should see whether or not this strategy works, and we should see it in real time,” said Rep. Markey.

Rep. Markey yesterday had also asked BP to provide all 12 available feeds from the accident site, and yesterday released a YouTube video showing the differences between the one feed the public has been allowed to see and the 12 possible feeds available to BP. To view this video, click HERE.


Our friends over at "This Week in Lady News," who pore over the right-wing blogs so you don't have to, stumbled upon a company in South Florida that has a novel idea for protecting brown people in Arizona: White yourself out with a downloadable mask! A Gringo Mask®!

"The objective of this effort is to protect, support, and dignify our Hispanic community, with the firm idea of getting out and standing up to the SB1070 law," say the creators of www.gringomask.com (the website is also available en espanol). They're offering "his" and "hers" versions of the cutout masks that will theoretically enable the wearers to blend in with their white co-nationalists.

As TWILN writes

The group's gringo mask is a lovely surrealist reminder that, in their words, "all Americans do not have blue-eyes and blonde hair...[and] Hispanics are not all the same either. Therefore nobody should be judged based on their appearance."

Amen! There is one catch, though: You'll need to provide your own rubber band to fasten the mask. Hopefully the Office Depot clerk won't ask for ID when you're buying them.

Things got heated last night when Rep. Anthony Weiner went on the O'Reilly Factor to defend his claim that Glenn Beck and his sponsor Goldline are working "hand in hand to cheat consumers". (Video below.) Beck had appeared on the show Friday, hot dog in hand (hot dog=wiener, get it?), winning over Bill O'Reilly (who himself has promoted gold). O'Reilly told Weiner that his investigation of Goldline "smacks of a witch hunt" and that he was unfairly singling out the company because of its affiliation with Beck. Why, he wondered, if Goldline is so shady, does it get an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau?

For his part, Weiner gave as good as he got. He explained that he'd focused on Goldline because it's the biggest gold dealer and because it's using Beck to "gouge" consumers with overpriced investments. He also pointed out that BBB ratings are subject to grade inflation, which O'Reilly scoffed at. "Bill, you're being a shill for this company," Weiner snapped. "As long as they get an A+, I'm fine with it," O'Reilly replied.

Politicians aren't known for being the humblest bunch. But there's a Tea Party-backed candidate for Congress whose ego-boosting seems to have gone a step further than usual. Tim D'Annunzio, a Republican candidate in North Carolina's Eighth District, has actually claimed to be the Messiah, according to sources in court documents. The Associated Press reports:

In Hoke County divorce records, his wife said in 1995 that D'Annunzio had claimed to be the Messiah, had traveled to New Jersey to raise his stepfather from the dead, believed God would drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid as the New Jerusalem on Greenland and found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona. A doctor's evaluation the following month said D'Annunzio used marijuana almost daily, had been living with another woman for several months, had once been in drug treatment for heroin dependence and was jailed a couple times as a teenager. The doctor concluded that his religious beliefs were not delusional.

A judge wrote in a child support ruling a few years later that D'Annunzio was a self-described "religious zealot" who believed the government was the "Antichrist."

The Republican Party has been circulating the papers in an attempt to cut down D'Annunzio's primary campaign. Running on an anti-government—if not pro-Messiah—platform, D'Annunzio has received significant backing from Tea Party activists and has managed to top his Republican rival Harold Johnson in individual donations. The winner of the June 22 primary will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell, a Blue Dog who wrested the seat, considered to be the most competitive in the state, from GOP control two years ago.

Republicans are rightfully terrified of D'Annunzio's ascendancy. But some Tea Partiers don't seem seemed fazed by their candidate's God complex. Ronnie Long, president of We the People NC, told the AP that he didn't approve of the GOP's personal attacks against D'Annunzio, adding: "He's not the kind of person the parties can rule over and manipulate.”

(h/t Slatest)

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) can add a new group to her growing list of opponents in Washington and on Wall Street: House Democrats, led by Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY). McMahon, Bloomberg reports, is leading a bloc of Democrats who want to kill the toughest of Lincoln's derivatives regulation proposals—namely, forcing big banks to break off their "swaps" desks. "The House bill is based on principles on how to reduce risk and make the system more transparent," McMahon said, "it’s not based on wiping out the system or destroying the system and that’s what the provision does."

The swaps trading desks that Lincoln wants to cut out of banks are highly profitable operations that trade complex financial products like derivatives, whose value depends on that of an underlying asset (wheat, oil, or a stock). Lincoln believes these trading desks are too risky to remain in taxpayer-backed banks. Her demand to make banks convert their swaps desks into separate subsidiaries or divest them altogether, and her fight to keep that provision in the Senate's financial reform bill, has earned her plenty of opponents in addition to McMahon—all of Wall Street, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Senate banking committee chair Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, and a slew of others. Indeed, Dodd briefly flirted with the idea of killing Lincoln's provision while the Senate was still negotating its own bill earlier this month, but Lincoln demanded the provision remain—which it did.

Another House Democrat, Gary Ackerman of New York, wrote to top House leaders to warn them of the consequences of Lincoln's swaps desk proposal, Bloomberg noted. "We are deeply concerned by the very real possibility that, as a result of the Senate derivatives provision, America's largest financial institutions will move their $600 trillion derivatives businesses overseas, at the expense of both New York’s and the United States' economy," Ackerman wrote.

Complicating the debate on Lincoln's proposal is her midterm election this fall. Senate lawmakers had held off on fighting over the provision last week to avoid hurting Lincoln's chances in her Democratic primary race against progressive candidate Bill Halter. In the primary, though, neither Democratic candidate secured 50 percent of the vote, leading to a June 8 run-off and prolonging the uncertainty over whether Lincoln's rule would survive or not. There's no doubt that Lincoln will continue fighting for her swaps desk rule at least until that run-off to maintain her unrelenting stance toward regulating Wall Street. The question is whether Lincoln, now largely on her own, can withhold the barrage of criticism and opposition that grows by the day. 

The US military's default infantry rifle, the M-4, is not well-suited to the long-range battles that often unfold in the hills of Afghanistan, the Associated Press noted on Friday. The M-4 (an updated version of the Vietnam-era M-16) has an effective range of around 1,000 feet. But many fights with Afghan insurgents involve distances two to three times as long—2,000-2,500 feet. Trying to kill enemies who are half a mile away with a gun that can generally only kill people who are 1/5 of a mile away isn't easy. So now the military is trying to give more troops in Afghanistan access to the M-110 semi-automatic sniper rifle, a weapon that fires a larger bullet and is accurate at 2,500 feet and sometimes beyond.

Despite the change, only nine soldiers in each infantry company—less than ten percent of the unit—are getting the new guns. That's okay in some areas—the M-4 worked well in Iraq because most of the fighting was in flat areas at short distances or in cities at even shorter distances. There are places like that in Afghanistan, too, and when the terrain is flat or there is house-to-house fighting, the M-4 usually performs admirably. Even in the hills, there are many engagements where using the M-4 doesn't prove problematic. Often, Afghan insurgents only have Soviet-made AK-47s, which they can rarely shoot effectively beyond 1,000 feet. Lt. Scott Doyle, a platoon commander in Zhari, told the AP that the Taliban are "spraying and praying" from beyond 1,000 feet with AK-47s. 

The real problem with M-4s arises when American troops face insurgents who are armed with older, often World War 2-era bolt-action rifles. These Taliban "snipers" aren't always particularly accurate, but their Lee-Enfields and Mosin-Nagants have much longer effective ranges than the Americans' M-4s. (Soviet troops faced a similar problem with their AK-47s when they invaded and occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s). In this video from the New York Times, Americans in Afghanistan confront a distant Taliban sniper—and have trouble dealing with him. In a follow-up post, the Times' CJ Chivers put the sniper incident in context:

From early last June through April 3 of this year, 478 American service members were struck by hostile gunfire in Afghanistan and 59 of them died of their wounds. This works out to a lethality rate of about 12.3 percent — a very low proportion by historical standards. (During much of the 20th century, roughly one in three American combatants struck by bullets in battle died.) In Afghanistan, the lethality rate of bullet wounds from 2001 through early last June was 15.6 percent. Since then, it has dropped. These lethality rates, both long-term and short, suggest that precision rifle fire from higher-powered rifles has not been a large-scale national phenomenon at any time during this war, and certainly not in the last several months.

So this isn't a large-scale problem by historical standards. But it's still a life-or-death issue. And troops will probably be grateful that the military is trying to make sure they have more options for dealing with different types of engagements. Folks who aren't getting the M-110 are going to get ammo upgrades: the Marine Corps is starting to distribute an enhanced 5.56mm round (the size the M-4 and M16A4 use) that is similar to sniper ammo and can easily go through windshields and other barriers without changing direction.


Lance Cpl. Felipe Pech, an entry control point sentry for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), secures a splint on a simulated casualty May 21 during his test in the Combat Lifesavers Course in Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. Photo via the US Marines by Gunnery Sgt. Steven Williams.