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Angel dance

Band of Joy, Robert Plant’s latest band:

Massive tornadoes in Alabama

Tuscaloosa apparently flattened by this F5 tornado that is heading to Cherokee County in Georgia. Take cover if you’re in the path:



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The view from Versailles

He’s apparently still under the illusion that this is about facts, and not disaster capitalism. Eugene Robinson:

What is it about the word “jobs” that our nation’s leaders fail to understand? How has the most painful economic crisis in decades somehow escaped their notice? Why do they ignore the issues that Americans care most desperately about?

Listening to the debate in Washington, you’d think the nation was absorbed by the compelling saga of deficit reduction. You’d get the impression that in households across America, parents put their children to bed and then stay up half the night sifting through piles of think-tank reports on the kitchen table, trying to calculate whether there will be enough in the Social Security trust fund to pay benefits beyond 2037.

And you’d be wrong. Those parents are looking at a pile of bills on the kitchen table, trying to decide which ones have to be paid now and which can slide. The question isn’t how to manage health care or retirement costs two decades from now. It’s how the family can make it to the end of the month.

President Obama gives signs of beginning to perceive this disconnect. His Republican opponents, not so much.

Two new polls, both released last week, tell the story. A New York Times/CBS News survey found that four out of 10 respondents believe the economy is getting worse — up from three out of 10 last October. Economists insist that things are improving; obviously, not so that anyone would notice.

A worrisome 70 percent of those surveyed said the country is heading in the wrong direction. Bad news for Obama is that the poll found his approval down to 46 percent; good news, as far as the president is concerned, is that his most visible GOP antagonist, House Speaker John Boehner, has an approval rating of just 32 percent. Clearly, Americans are not excessively pleased with their leaders.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found greater pessimism about the economy than at any time in the past two years — possibly because of the sharp hike in gasoline prices, which 71 percent of respondents said had caused financial hardship.

Yet if you followed the debate in Washington, you wouldn’t hear much about the cost of keeping the minivan on the road. All that Americans care about, you’d have to assume, is the national debt and its long-term evolution. If you listened carefully, you’d conclude that the solution — cutting federal medical and retirement benefits — was basically settled, and that the only question is whether to do it with a scalpel or a chain saw.

Skin in the game

Kevin Drum deconstructs. Guess what? Despite what politicians insist, high co-pays don’t bring down the cost of health care!

I’d like to report a broken outrage meter

I mean seriously, truly: WHAT. THE. FUCK???? So banks used the bailout to drive up our deficit, right?

A newly-released study from the Congressional Research Service bolsters claims that the nation’s largest banks profited off the Federal Reserve’s financial crisis-era programs by borrowing cash for next to nothing, then lending it back to the federal government at substantially higher rates.

The report reinforces long-held beliefs that the banking system in essence engaged in taxpayer-financed arbitrage: They got money for free, then lent it back to Uncle Sam while collecting juicy returns. Left out of the equation are the millions of everyday borrowers, like households and small businesses, who were unable to secure loans needed to tide them over until the crisis ended.

The Fed released records under pressure in December and March that showed the extent of its largesse. The CRS study shows for the first time how some of the most sophisticated financial firms could have taken the Fed’s money and flipped easy profits simply by lending it back to another arm of the government.

The report was requested by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who likened the crisis-era emergency loans to “direct corporate welfare to big banks,” in a statement. The cash likely was lent back to Uncle Sam in the form of Treasuries and other debt “instead of using the Fed loans to reinvest in the economy,” Sanders added.

It was nice while it lasted

A reliable food supply, I mean:

Australia’s pistachio farmers expected a bumper crop this year. Instead they had a harvest of horrors, with nuts blackened by a fungus that had never before caused an outbreak in pistachios.

The culprit was anthracnose, a fungal disease best-known for infecting mangoes. It raced through the industry, resulting in a harvest some 50 percent smaller than expected — and half of that was inedible.

What the disease means for the future of Australia’s pistachio farmers remains to be seen, but for the rest of the world it’s yet another cautionary example of fragility in modern agriculture.

“The wide cultivation of genetically uniform plant populations fosters rapid evolution among the pathogens,” said Scot Nelson, a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii. “Because of this greed, new pathogens or newly reported host-pathogen combinations arise almost daily around the world.”

Arrested

Nicole Sandler at crazy Allen West’s town hall in Palm Beach last night:

As you may recall, I had Nicole on my show a few weeks ago to talk about the short sale of her house. She needs bail money and legal fees right now, so if you can spare it, please DONATE NOW.

See?

This is something about which I’m tickled to say, “Told ya!”

Oh goody

No, seriously:

An investigation into possible manipulation of gasoline prices has uncovered “disturbing” revelations, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

“There are a couple things that … are disturbing,” Holder said, declining to elaborate.

He indicated the information would be reviewed by a fraud task force formed last week.

For the week that ended Monday, the nationwide average cost of a gallon of gasoline rose 3.5 cents, to $3.879, the Energy Department reported.

Gaining my religion

You know I’m not big on the organized religions, but I’ve changed my mind. I’ve finally found a faith that’s completely in line with my beliefs, and it might bring you peace as well. I hope you’ll consider it.

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