SocraticGadfly: 5/13/07 - 5/20/07

May 19, 2007

New hope for fuel cell cars?

Hydrogen for auto fuel cells without a tank?

It’s possible, if one highly common metal and one kind of rare one can both be dropped in cost, and engineering comes through.

The highly common metal? It may be in your hand right now if you’re thirsty — aluminum. The kind of rare one? Gallium, the only metal besides mercury to be liquid at some normal conditions, melting at 86F/30C, and also, like water, expanding on freezing.

Anyway, pellets made of an amalgam of the two materials would be used to produce free hydrogen in reactions with water. The main price point concerns would be the cost of gallium, and the cost of reducing the oxidized aluminum back to its pure state.

WHY the Gonzo-Card rush to Ashcroft’s hospital?

On a political chat site, an acquaintance raised this issue about why Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card felt they HAD to rush to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed and force him to sign another extension for their domestic warrentless wiretapping, when such extensions ran just 45 days at a time anyway.

My answer?

Could this be because political ops were involved?

Here’s what I told her:
I haven’t seen THAT broached yet on Talking Points Memo. It’s a VERY good question, though.

A possibility that pops into my head, given what all else were finding out about Gonzo and Rove and the “vote fraud” scam-crap, and how the Watergate similarities are ratcheting up ...

This is 2004, mind you. Presidential election year, etc.

What if some of this wiretapping is, as with the Nixon years (and some degree the Johnson years) ...

Political operations?

Think about it.

May 18, 2007

White House-Congress talks on Iraq break down; Bolton dissembles about Iraq government

Bush rejects all compromises.
The White House's chief negotiator, Joshua Bolten, explain[s] why the Dem offer of waivable timetables was rejected: “We consider that to be not a significant distinction. Whether waivable or not, timelines send exactly the wrong signal to our adversaries, our allies ... our troops in the field.”

Boy, is Bolton behind the curve.

A majority of the Iraqi parliament is on record as wanting our troops out — and on a specific timetable.
On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers [out of 275] signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.

It’s about time for war opponents to be shouting this in Bush’s face until his — and Cheney’s — eardrums rupture.

Wolfowitz: Couldn’t run a two-car funeral

And, that’s what a friend said about the just-resigned former World Bank director.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source voiced admiration for his intellect but said Wolfowitz ‘couldn’t run a two-car funeral.’”

Some friends and admirers saw the seeds of Wolfowitz's demise in the arc of his 34-year Washington career. …

Throughout, Wolfowitz built a reputation as a foreign policy iconoclast, a mild-mannered intellectual with a steely ideological core, and an inept manager.

Wolfowitz, they concluded, should never have been in charge of a multinational institution owned by more than 180 governments and with 10,000 employees.

It’s crony politics at it’s usual, which makes one wonder who Bush will choose as Wolfowitz’s replacement.

A friend of mine pointed out this was just another, though a glaring, example of BushCo’s incompetence.

I told him he was right as far as it went, but that he needed to include arrogance in there as well:
The public vitriol that poured from the bank once his fall began in late March with revelations about the deal underscored wider problems.

Far from respecting the bank, member governments and staffers charged, Wolfowitz surrounded himself with doctrinaire former White House and Republican officials and gave them wide authority. He altered long-standing policies and imposed new ones without consulting the staff or member governments. He risked the bank’s credibility and the future of the poor countries it serves.

Why stop with Wolfowitz? Couldn’t we take the majority of Bush’s executive appointees, starting with his naming of Cheney as his vice-presidential nominee, and just “plug the name in”?

May 17, 2007

Scientists call for re-examination of JFK bullets, with apparent agenda

Former FBI lab metallurgist William A. Tobin and Texas A&M University researchers Cliff Spiegelman and William D. James claim the Kennedy assassination bullets need to be re-examined. However, they sound disingenuous in claiming they are just about science, rather than admitting they might favor a two-gunman theory, which is supported by, well…


Here’s why they think the bullets need new analysis. The trio notes that the type of FBI analysis used in 1976 has been, if not “discredited,” shown to be less than adequate. Therefore, the use of that analysis to rule out a second gunman is flawed, they say:
Using new guidelines set forth by the National Academy of Sciences for proper bullet analysis, Tobin and his colleagues at Texas A&M re-analyzed the bullet evidence used by the 1976 House Select Committee on Assassinations, which concluded that only one shooter, Oswald, fired the shots that killed Kennedy in Dallas.

The committee’s finding was based in part on the research of now-deceased University of California at Irvine chemist Vincent P. Guinn. He used bullet lead analysis to conclude that the five bullet fragments recovered from the Kennedy assassination scene came from just two bullets, which were traced to the same batch of bullets Oswald owned.

To do their research, Tobin, Spiegelman and James said they bought the same brand and lot of bullets used by Oswald and analyzed their lead using the new standards. The bullets from that batch are still on the market as collectors' items.

They found that the scientific and statistical assumptions Guinn used — and the government accepted at the time — to conclude that the fragments came from just two bullets fired from Oswald's gun were wrong.

“This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets,” the researchers said.

“If the assassination fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely, as the additional bullet would not be attributable to the main suspect, Mr. Oswald.”

Now, there’s the problem I have. The scientists claim they aren’t promoting an assassination theory, but they throw that in at the end. I’m sorry, but by doing that, you undermine your credibility to me. Not totally; you’re working out of a legitimate scientific inquiry.

BUT, it seems pretty clear that a two-gunman theory is one of the drivers for your push to have the bullets re-analyzed.

And that is simply not good science.

And, as expected, Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory wingnuts are already blogging away.

May 16, 2007

Why the heck do we need a “war czar” anyway?

Especially if new “czar” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute’s battles are supposed to be primarily bureaucratic, anyway?

Isn’t that what this little institution called the Joint Chiefs of Staff is supposed to do?

Well, it was, until the JCS got emasculated in favor of field commands such as Centcom about a dozen years ago, then increased its level of political ass-kissing to ever-higher levels.

Why Arizona is going to dry up and blow away

Even outside the desert parts of the state, water is getting scarcer and scarcer.

Take Prescott, where my sister lives. In 40 years, its greater area could be 540,000, compared to about 100,000 today. Yet already today, people in the area on individual wells are having to have them redrilled as much as 300 feet deeper at a cost of as much as $12,000.

And, Arizona apparently doesn’t have a state engineer or other “water czar,” at least not one with a lot of power, unlike most western states. The fact that a lot of diversion ditches off the Verde River have no state regulation shows that. And, as I detail beneath a few quotes from the High Country News story, that river is about to be sucked dry, if the city of Prescott and some “growth for growth’s sake” wingnuts have their way.

Here’s how bad the current water situation is:
In the Prescott area, water levels have dropped at least half a foot each year going all the way back to 1982, and more quickly since 1994 — anywhere from 1.5 to 4 feet a year. Today, the area is pumping its groundwater supplies almost twice as fast as they’re being replenished.

Throw in global warming and drought, and the Prescott area is ripe to blow away well before it gets to 540,000 people.

And that’s even with the efforts of wingnuts like former state legislator and current county supervisor (commissioner) Carol Springer, who could definitely stand a few Ed Abbey quotes, specifically about “growth for growth’s sake being the theology of the cancer cell.”
But in 1992, she pushed a bill through the Legislature authorizing the Prescott pipeline, which now stands to cost sponsoring cities $192 million — not counting interest. Her bill authorized Prescott to tap water from the Big Chino sub-basin, which lies north of the Little Chino sub-basin where the city has historically sunk its wells. Twelve years later, Prescott paid $23 million to buy a ranch in the Big Chino to obtain its water rights.

Springer’s bill created the only exception anywhere in Arizona to a previously approved ban on inter-basin water transfers — a law aimed at preventing one region from stripping another of its water resources, Chinatown-style. Her explanation for the need for the transfer is that a community must “grow or die.”

“If we can’t grow at all in the future, because we lose our right to pump groundwater, we will cease to exist,” Springer said. “There is no such thing as a static kind of a situation in terms of a community. You can’t not grow at all and survive. We have to have some element of growth.”

The Big Chino transfer bill wasn’t Springer’s only political effort relating to water supplies in the Verde Basin. Just last year, she chaired the group behind a successful statewide “takings” initiative that requires compensation of any landowner who can prove a new regulation reduces his property value. Some say the initiative could make it harder for the state to regulate development in rural areas with inadequate water supplies.

Unfortunately, she’ll likely be dead long before the catastrophic shit of her actions hits the fan.

The biggest crapola? Prescott’s plan to drill new wells into the Big Chino Basin, estimated to be 86 percent of the water source of the upper Verde River. The Verde flows south through central Arizona, basically from along the western edge of the Mogollon Rim down to mid-altitude desert before hitting the Salt River. Still undammed, it’s home to a great variety of birds and other wildlife, including bald eagles.

And, because it eventually flows into the Salt River Project, administrators of that project, and the Phoenix economic interests behind them, are also concerned. (Of course, there’s probably already too damned many people in Phoenix, but that’s another story.) Since about 40 percent of the SRP’s water comes from the Verde, this is a high-stakes issue. Of course, the SRP isn’t much more forward-thinking than the Prescott folks a lot of times, anyway.

Note: This post has been corrected to reflect that the 86 percent stat is for the upper Verde only. Also, the blogger's sister lives in Prescott; he knows first-hand about some of the issues.

May 15, 2007

Getting spammed with e-mail insurance job offers, part two

I’m sure that insurance companies would be selling subprime mortgages right now, if they could figure out how.

Beyond that, it seems like more and more jobs in America are becoming not just service jobs, but sales jobs.

Even sadder, what’s being sold is often a service, whether money manipulation or something else.

John Markman: Another stock market moron

The only way the Dow hits 21,000 in four years is if stock buyers become even much more irrational than they already are. I suppose that’s theoretically possible. It’s also theoretically possible that either George W. Bush or Vladimir Putin will win a Nobel Peace Prize.

At some point before 21,000, enough people will either start flinging out honest questions, or simply saying “Whoa,” to keep a mega-bubble from getting to ridiculousness.

Or the Chinese will move enough money to euros. Or OPEC will.

Markman says the Dow will hit 21K if it just performs as well as the Dow utilities or transportation indexes.

Well, I suspect the utilities index has been inflated by privatization. A slowdown, if not a stop, to that, plus more global warming worries, will spike utilities in the future, I wouldn’t doubt.

Transport stocks will be jumbled by oil price confusion in coming years.

American private healthcare provides less quality AND more waits than foreign universal healthcare models

The winner? Germany is the overall winner, in my estimate, out of six surveyed countries.

At less than half the per-person cost of U.S. insurance, it weighed in as less expensive than Canada, though more than the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Plus, waiting times for access were less than in the U.S.

So much for that moldy oldie that, even if universal health care pays the bills, you can never see the doctor!

Here's the details of the study:
“The U.S. health care system ranks last compared with five other nations on measures of quality, access, efficiency, equity, and outcomes,” the non-profit group, which studies health care issues, said in a statement.

Canada rates second worst out of the six overall. Germany scored highest, followed by Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

“The United States is not getting value for the money that is spent on health care,” Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis said in a telephone interview.

The group has consistently found that the United States, the only one of the six nations that does not provide universal health care, scores more poorly than the others on many measures of health care.

Congress, President George W. Bush, many employers and insurers have all agreed in recent months to overhaul the U.S. health care system - an uncoordinated conglomeration of employer-funded care, private health insurance and government programs.

The current system leaves about 45 million people with no insurance at all, according to U.S. government estimates from 2005, and many studies have shown most of these people do not receive preventive services that not only keep them healthier, but reduce long-term costs.

Davis said the fund's researchers looked at hard data for the report.

“It is pretty indisputable that we spend twice what other countries spend on average,” she said.

Per-capita health spending in the United States in 2004 was $6,102, twice that of Germany, which spent $3,005. Canada spent $3,165, New Zealand $2,083 and Australia $2,876, while Britain spent $2,546 per person.

May 14, 2007

If insurance sales jobs are so damned great …

Then why do I get spammed with so many insurance sales job interview offers every time I join a new online job hunting service?

“Bubbles” are good? Sorry, Gross is moronic

Slate’s Daniel Gross claims bubbles, like the housing bubble, are invariably good for the economy.

Now, without dismantling him point-by-point, let me comment on one or two things.

First, he says:
Bubbles get started when entrepreneurs latch onto new technologies, or new economic assumptions (or both).

Nonsense. The real-estate bubble was started by, in essence, speculative lending. Nothing new there. It was enhanced by finding a way to package junk-bond money making into a new package through collateralization of subprime loans. Not much new there.

Second, he claims:
And because Americans process failure quickly, the infrastructure swiftly morphs into a cheap, pervasive, and powerful platform for other entrepreneurs—who then launch businesses and innovations that benefit the economy at large.

Well, he is assuming that they also always process failure correctly. And that’s not a given.

Third, he overlooks that we may be in a worldwide bubble right now.

Jeremy Grantham notes:
everyone, everywhere is reinforcing one another. Wherever you travel you will hear it confirmed that “they don’t make any more land,” and that “with these growth rates and low interest rates, equity markets must keep rising,” and “private equity will continue to drive the markets.” To say the least, there has never ever been anything like the uniformity of this reinforcement.

With this as the set of talking points of focus:
1. Global fundamental economic conditions are nearly perfect and have been for some time.

2. Availability of global credit is generous and cheap and has been for some time.

3. Animal spirits and optimism are therefore high and feed on themselves through reinforcing results and through being universally shared.

4. All global assets reflect this and are overpriced and show, probably for the fi rst time, a negative return to risk taking.

5. The correlation in global economic fundamentals is at a new high, refl ected in the steadily increasing correlation in asset price movements.

6. Global credit is more extended and more complicated than ever before so that no one is sure where all the increased risk has ended up.

7. Every bubble has always burst.

8. The bursting of the bubble will be across all countries and all assets, with the probable exception of high grade bonds. Risk premiums in particular will widen. Since no similar global event has occurred before, the stresses to the system are likely to be unexpected. All of this is likely to depress confidence and lower economic activity.

9. Naturally the Fed and Fed equivalents overseas will move to contain the economic damage as the Fed did last time after the 2000 break. But the heart of the last bubble, the NASDAQ and internet stocks, still declined by almost 80 percent and 90 percent, respectively. (The heart of the bubble this time is probably private equity. In 10 years, it may well be described as the private equity bubble just as 2000 is thought of as the internet bubble. You heard it here first!)

10. What is wrong with this logic? Something I hope.

11. Of course the tricky bit, as always, is timing. Most bubbles, like internet stocks and Japanese land, go through an exponential phase before breaking, usually short in time but dramatic in extent. My colleagues suggest that this global bubble has not yet had this phase and perhaps they are right. (A surge in money flowing into private equity might cause just such a hyperbolic phase.) In which case, pessimists or conservatives will take considerably more pain. Again?!

Now, he does console us with the idea that some catalysts for change may more gently deflate bubbles than savagely bursting them. Let us hope.