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I know I’ve been sleeping on the job here for several years, dear readers, but I did manage to wake the other day to notice … oh … I dunno … that we were bombing Syria and Iraq … that the Israelis shot down a Syrian plane … that Vladimir Putin was denouncing U.S. bombing of Syria … and meanwhile Russia is basically invading the Ukraine .. and ebola is apparently out of control in West Africa.  And that’s just to name a few of the noisy interruptions to my REM slumber.

It may be time to get this cocktail party started again, my friends.

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The polls have held, and President Obama has been re-elected. Frankly, the hysteria and the hand-wringing are a little more than I can bear, since I can find little difference between the incumbent and the moderate Northeastern ex-Governor who implemented Obamacare in his own state before Obamacare was called Obamacare.

So what can be done with a White House won definitively by the President (303-235 electoral votes), a House won definitively by the Republicans despite modest Democratic gains, and a Senate stubbornly held, with an improved majority, by the Democrats?

Possibly nothing, if recent history is an indicator.

On the other hand, there are two areas that, pragmatically speaking, really should be attacked by all of the above without delay. They are areas of natural compromise among our divided leaders.

First, it is time to enact the bi-partisan Simpson Bowles budget recommendations — $200 billion reduction in discretionary spending per year, $100 billion in increased tax revenue, raising the payroll tax and retirement age to strengthen Social Security. During the lame duck session, tacticians in the White House and in Congress have the perfect opportunity to cherry pick among retiring congressmen, those who were not re-elected, and those who won by large margins to take a patriotic stand and show the world that we Americans are serious about responsible, balanced deficit reduction. Some of those who won re-election by small margins can be forgiven if they sit this one out.

Second, a natural area for compromise by the White House would be in the area of energy. Specifically, if we can all agree that coal is dead (not actually dead, by the way; it will continue to operate in the U.S. on a smaller, more sustainable level, serving export markets, and people will still make money from it), then the President has no choice but to lend some support to clean, American natural gas. You can’t kill coal unless you have a credible fuel with which to replace it. If coal-fired power plants are coming off line, gas-fired plants are really the only thing available to replace them. Supporting natural gas development and the development of independent gas-fired power generation in the U.S. is the President’s best hope for articulating a practical, meaningful energy policy, and it is an initiative that conservatives should be able to get behind as well.

Time to stop all the childish nonsense. Time to work together to govern. After all, that’s why you’re there.

1. Sweden 9,88
2. Iceland 9,71
3. Netherlands 9.66
4. Norway 9,55
5. Denmark 9,52
6. Finland 9,25
7. Luxembourg 9,10
8. Australia 9,09
9. Canada 9.02
10. Switzerland 9.02

. . . according to the Economic Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy. See summary report here.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Sep 10, 2006 (AP)— On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami condemned Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings but also defended groups such as Hezbollah for what he characterized as resistance against Israeli colonialism. In a 30-minute speech given under tight security at Harvard University, Khatami repeatedly praised the concept of democracy but said American politicians, since World War II, have been infatuated with “world domination.” Khatami said he was one of the first world leaders to condemn “the barbarous acts” of Sept. 11. Responding to a question from the audience about bin Laden, Khatami said he had two problems with the al-Qaida leader behind the attacks. “First, because of the crimes he conducts,” he said, “and second because he conducts them in the name of Islam, the religion which is a harbinger of peace and justice.”

Full article here.

ABC’s Last Days on Earth, which aired last night as a special edition of 20/20, galloped through seven scenarios for the end of the world, aided by Al Gore and a gaggle of prominent scientists (including the ebullient American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson), and punctuated with earnest vox poppery and some rather stilted, angular commentary from Stephen Hawking.

And according to ABC, the nominees for the most likely end-of-world scenario are:

  1. A gamma ray burst or black hole;
  2. Artificial Intelligence on the loose;
  3. A supervolcano;
  4. The Earth getting hit by an asteroid;
  5. Nuclear annihilation;
  6. A natural or bioterrorist pandemic; and
  7. Global warming, also known as that thing Al Gore’s always talking about.

See more hype here.

During interludes in the discussion, average folks talked about what they would do with the rest of their lives if they knew the exact time and date of the end of the world.

Feel free to submit your own ideas in the comment section of this post.

The clock is ticking on the UN’s August 31 deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear program, and yet Iran has not changed its course:

VIENNA, Austria — Iran has kept enriching uranium despite the threat of UN sanctions and a looming deadline to freeze such operations, UN and European officials said Wednesday.

The officials said Iran had continued to enrich uranium until at least Tuesday.

Its ongoing enrichment could act as a trigger for action by the UN Security Council, which had set Thursday as the final day for Tehran to freeze such activity.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential, said Iran had also snubbed overtures from world powers for a new meeting on its nuclear program.

Iranian defiance on enrichment will be detailed in a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency due Thursday. The newest Iranian enrichment of uranium — the latest in a series of such activities in the past few months — was first reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, and diplomats told The Associated Press that it had continued at least into Tuesday.

Immediate sanctions are unlikely, as permanent council members Russia and China are expected to resist U.S.-led efforts for a quick response.

A senior European official said Tehran has not responded to a recent European Union offer, on behalf of the five Security Council members plus Germany, to discuss Tehran’s terms for new nuclear talks. The further sign of Iran’s willingness to confront the international community is likely to fuel Washington’s push for swift economic sanctions, Inspectors for the Vienna-based IAEA remained in Iran Wednesday as they continued gathering information that will go into Thursday’s non-public report. While their most recent findings were not available Wednesday afternoon, a senior UN official said that Iranian centrifuges were enriching small quantities of uranium gas as late as Tuesday.

Full article here.

Meanwhile, speculation continues to grow over whether Kim Jong-Il is ready to unleash a nuclear test, or just another movie project. China has joined the chorus of the concerned, recently demonstrating a lack of patience with its weird little neighbor that has prompted speculation that Kim has secretly gone to visit the Chinese:

International concerns about a possible North Korean nuclear test increased today with reports that Kim Jong-il may have crossed the border into China to explain his military provocations to uneasy allies in Beijing.

According to the South Korean media, satellites have tracked a special North Korean train, the usual form of transport for Mr Kim, entering Chinese territory. If confirmed, it would be his second trip to Beijing in less than a year – an unheard-of flurry of diplomacy for a notoriously travel-shy figurehead.

The reports are impossible to verify, but they come amid growing signs of Chinese anger with Mr Kim over last month’s missile tests, and regional anxiety about his next move. Earlier this month, the South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, requested an emergency summit with Beijing’s leaders.

Full article here. Apparently China has expressed its displeasure with Kim by reducing its grain imports to the starving country by more than half this year.

Reuters reports:

BP PLC said Wednesday that oil production at its Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska, already running at half capacity due to pipeline corrosion, has been cut by 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) for several days due to a technical fault.

A company spokesman said output at the biggest oilfield in the United States had been reduced to 110,000 bpd after a natural gas compressor in Gathering Center 2 failed.

“We anticipate that fixing the compressor will require several days,” said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.

Prudhoe Bay had previously been pumping about 200,000 bpd, around half its normal output, after serious corrosion in a pipeline led BP to shut down the eastern half of the field earlier this month.

The spokesman said no one was hurt and no oil was spilled in the latest incident, which has added to worries over an oil market strained by reduced Nigerian supply and fearful of potential disruptions in the Middle East.

First we’re losing all of the production, then the government clears the way to reopen the western half of the field, then this.  My sense is that the market will probably have to figure on capricious supply from Prudhoe Bay for the foreseeable future, and build in some cushion for further uncertainty regarding what was the source of 8% of total U.S. output.

The uncertainty about Prudhoe Bay was offset today, however, by the release of six foreign oil workers that had been kidnapped by Nigerian militants, as well as a perceived drop in U.S. gasoline demand:

The six Nigerian hostages were freed late yesterday in Port Harcourt, the country’s main oil port. Unrest in the Niger delta region this year has cut supplies from Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, by about a quarter.

Yesterday, the U.S. Energy Department said gasoline supplies rose by 402,000 barrels last week, instead of falling by about 2 million barrels as analysts had forecast. Demand in the U.S., the world’s biggest oil user, usually eases after Labor Day in early September, which marks the end of summer vacations.

Oil slipped today “following yesterday’s losses amid bearish inventories data in the U.S. with a surprise increase in gasoline” stockpiles, said Michael Davies, an analyst at Sucden (U.K.) Ltd. in London.

Crude oil for October delivery was at $71.72 a barrel, down 4 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 12:47 a.m. in London. The contract fell 1.2 percent yesterday. Brent for October settlement was up 8 cents to $72.10 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Nigerian kidnappers freed foreigners taken hostage Aug. 13 from a bar in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt, according to the U.S. consulate in Lagos. The hostages, all male, included two from Britain and one each from German, Ireland, Poland and the U.S.

More than 45 oil workers have been kidnapped this year in Nigeria, with at least 17 taken in August alone in six separate incidents. Most of the abductions this month took place in Port Harcourt, a city in the Niger delta where Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Nigerian venture has its headquarters.

Full article here.

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