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Wednesday's total solar eclipse, as seen from China. Parts of Asia fell under darkness this morning as the eclipse lasted over six minutes - the longest solar eclipse of the century so far. Crowds of people traveled to and came out in India, China, and Japan to see the events.

Newscom / Cheng Xuliang / ChinaFotoPress




A woman and her poodle observe the solar eclipse from Hangzhou, China.

Newscom / Wu Huang / ChinaFotoPress




Residents of Hangzhou, China view the eclipse.

Newscom / Shi Jianxue / ChinaFotoPress




The eclipse as seen from Yinchuan.

Newscom / SIPA




Businessmen in Shenyang observe the eclipse.

Newscom / ChinaFotoPress




A resident from Hangzhou views the eclipse through a welding helmet.

Newscom / Li Zhong / ChinaFotoPress




Pedestrians watch the eclipse through viewing goggles provided by Google.

Newscom / CNImaging




Monks follow the solar eclipse at the Putuo Temple in Zhoushan, in eastern China.

Newscom




A time-lapse photograph of the eclipse.

Newscom / Feng Zi / ColorChinaPhoto

Looks like were not the only ones who are concerned that the Congressional commission to look into the causes of the financial crisis may struggle to get to the truth.

A group of distinguished economists, academics, and thinkers -- including Joseph Stiglitz, Jamie Galbraith, and Robert Reich -- has written an open letter to the newly-named commissioners, urging them to come together "in non-partisan cooperation to investigate the origins of the financial crisis in ways that lead to a full understanding of the institutions, people and practices that are responsible for our economic collapse."

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For the last couple weeks, health care reformers have been grasping at a thin reed of hope that the Senate would vote on a reform bill before adjourning for August recess. That reed might have just disappeared altogether.

"We're going to take a little longer to get it right," said Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin according to The Hill. "Initially we had hoped for a full vote by then, but I don't think it's going to be possible."

As I noted earlier today, the Senate schedule--which will likely include a four day debate over the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor--leaves precious little room to complete a lengthy debate over health care legislation. Unless Democrats decide to delay recess, it looks like the Senate will not be voting on a complete bill until September.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is getting an early start on the special election for New York's 23rd District -- so early in fact, that the seat hasn't actually become vacant yet!

Rep. John McHugh (R) has been nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of the Army, but hasn't been confirmed by the Senate nor resigned from his House seat yet. However, the NRCC has this new TV ad, running against a prospective Democratic candidate, state Sen. Darrel Aubertine -- who hasn't declared that he will be a candidate, either:



The ad has the populist tone we've seen of late from the Republicans -- bashing the Democrats as the party of bailing out Wall Street, for example. They tried this in the recent NY-20 special election, which in the end was narrowly won by Democrat Scott Murphy in a district that was a toss-up to begin with, leaving an inconclusive verdict on this line of attack.

Another fun complication from this race would occur if Aubertine were to run and win. Remember that recent crisis in the New York state Senate, with a whole bunch of party switches back and forth over which party would control the place? It could happen all over again if Aubertine were to vacate his seat, which would give the state Republicans a plausible shot at picking it up and making it a tie for control of the chamber.

Late Update: DCCC press secretary Ryan Rudominer gives us this comment: "The Republican Party of No realizes they have nothing to offer the folks of the 23rd district so they've resorted to attacking an unannounced candidate in a campaign that hasn't even started. That's pathetic."

If you were wondering how and why the weekend reports that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) had come out in support of a true public option had become so confused, I may have an answer for you.

I've obtained, from two separate sources, video from the Maine health care rally in question, during which a Snowe representative named Cheryl Lehman really does say what she was reported to have said--that Snowe supports a public option, which should be "available from day one."



That rendering is a reformer catch phrase which basically means "no trigger mechanism." But Snowe's staff emailed me the full text of that statement today, and it contains an important qualifier. Snowe supports a public option, available on day one, "in any state where private plans fail to ensure guaranteed affordable coverage."

But as you can see from the footage, that qualifier wasn't appended to the statement Lehman read. It's difficult to say whether the error was Lehman's or Snowe's, but at the very least it creates the appearance that Snowe's telling her supporters in Maine one thing and her colleagues in Washington something else. I've sent the clip to Snowe's staff, with a request for an explanation and will post any response they send along.

The Democratic National Committee is now piling on against Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) pronouncement that Republicans can "break" President Obama by stopping him on health care, with this new TV ad, which will air in Columbia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C.



"But the only people Jim DeMint will break are South Carolina families and business owners," the announcer says. "Sen. DeMint is playing politics with our health care, putting the special interests in Washington ahead of South Carolina families and businesses. The only health care plan Jim DeMint supports is no plan at all."

As his August deadline for health care reform legislation looms, President Obama will get more involved in talks with lawmakers, White House officials said today.

Obama made several phone calls to lawmakers today, said White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, despite shifting his focus for a visit and press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. His staff gave him updates on the legislation's progress throughout the day.

Aides said the White House will focus on three key groups of Democrats whose support is crucial, but far from guaranteed. The administration is courting the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs (some of whom Obama met with yesterday for an hour), Dems from high-income districts whose constituents would be affected by a tax on the wealthy, and those opposed to abortion, who are worried about a public plan which might require health care providers to pay for abortions.





In a joint press conference this afternoon with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner said the Democrats' health care reform bill is too expensive, and that it's time for them to scrap it and start over.

Boehner cited a figure--$1.6 trillion--with origins in Associated Press articles that put the price of House health care legislation at $1.5 trillion. But those articles were based on the assertion of an anonymous congressional aide. Though it hasn't scored a complete piece of legislation, the Congressional Budget Office--normally the authority on these matters--said in a preliminary report that the legislation would cost just over $1 trillion. And budget experts themselves are of a few minds over how various reform provisions should be evaluated, some note that certain measures like healthy lifestyle provisions, which will no doubt have some budgetary impact, but aren't analyzed by the CBO.

We'll have video for you shorlty. In recent days, the White House has characterized statements like Boehner's as backdoor attempts to kill reform entirely.

The latest Strategic Vision (R) poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race finds Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine trailing his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, by a hefty margin.

The numbers: Christie 53%, Corzine 38%, with a ±3% margin of error, not significantly changed from the 51%-39% Christie advantage a month ago.

Interestingly, this poll also says that President Obama's approval has been declining in New Jersey, down to 50% approval against 40% disapproval, compared to a 56%-38% margin a month ago. This is an important number because New Jersey is a traditionally Democratic state, and Corzine is expected to tie himself heavily to the Obama brand while tying Christie to the unpopular national GOP.

If Obama were to become something less than super-popular in this state, that could complicate Corzine's efforts.

After holding one-on-one and expanded meetings in DC this afternoon, President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki held a joint press conference to discuss the future of Iraq. "There is going to be a difference in strategy," Obama said. "There are going to be strategic and tactical discussions taking place."

The emphasis on the change in strategy comes after the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns. Obama said the withdrawal timeline is on schedule.

Addressing concerns about the preparedness of the Iraqi government and military to handle threats, Obama said "we're very pleased" to "have seen both improved capacity and greater confidence on the part of the Iraqi security forces." Prime Minister Maliki said "those who thought that the Iraqi forces, if the American forces leave, will be incapable of imposing peace and security, these people proved to be wrong."

Maliki, speaking through a translator, also commended the organization and cooperation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments. He called his meeting with Obama both "productive and constructive," and said "it reflected the deep conviction on the part of both sides to establish a strategic friendship and in order to continue the successes that we have achieved, and perhaps we referred to the security successes that led to the stability in Iraq."

Obama also said that "violence [in Iraq] continues to be down," echoing remarks by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, who made a similar statement in a National Press Club appearance on July 8.

There was a moment where Obama's translation services seemed to falter - when a reporter asked a question in Arabic and he initially responded, "My translation is not coming through here, guys, and my Arabic is a little shaky," drawing laughs from the crowd.

The question was about the U.S. helping Iraq out of bankruptcy, and post-translation, Obama answered that "it would be a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened by the sins of a deposed dictator." His approach to solving the issue will be to ask for the cooperation of United Nations members.

TPMLivewire