SocraticGadfly: 1/6/08 - 1/13/08

January 12, 2008

The law of unintended consequences kicks wild horses

Barring horse slaughter here in the U.S. just leads to a long trip to a crueler slaughter in Mexico.

Now, wild horse lovers want to ban exportation of horses for slaughter.

OK, are you going to write a personal check to cover euthanasia and carcass disposal costs for each horse? Better yet, as a preventative, are you going to stop your opposition to horse culls on federal lands in the west?

Are Greens Luddites?

At least in the U.K., an argument is a definite ‘yes,” according to Sir David King, the government’s former chief science advisor. The main issue to prompt this complaint? Nuclear power.

Now, I agree that, whether in the U.S., the U.K., France or elsewhere, nuclear waste disposal is a question that still needs a more permanent answer than it has. That said, I know nuclear waste, or even nuclear power plants, has a selfish NIMBY background to the issue.

Assuming the public, to focus here on the U.S., can either be persuaded, led, or if necessary, legally enjoined to deal with NIMBYism, I don’t have a lot of other environmental problems with nuclear power myself, while holding to the idea that is going to have to be a continuing part of the answer to global warming.

That said, just like the military power that should be counted as part of a premium on oil prices, we need to address more clearly the issue of nuclear power subsidies, the energy and environmental costs of uranium mining, etc.

That said, to partially address the mining cost side, I’m OK with breeder reactors.

January 11, 2008

Prius kicks Explorer’s butt

The world’s best hybrid is now officially outselling America’s top-selling SUV.


Pakistani police officer: “Mystery crowd” stopped Bhutto motorcade

McClatchy, extending its usual fine job in U.S. reporting to international coverage, has a boatload of new information related to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Some snips and pieces:
A police officer, Ishtiaq Hussain Shah of the Rawalpindi police, who witnessed the assassination said that a mysterious crowd stopped Bhutto'’ car that day, moving her to emerge through the sunroof. …

Bhutto, apparently thinking she was greeting her supporters, emerged through the sunroof of the bulletproof car to wave. …

It was Shah’s job to clear the way for the motorcade. But 10 feet from where he was standing, a man in the crowd wearing a jacket and sunglasses raised his arm and shot at the former prime minister. …

Who organized the crowd is only one of the mysteries two weeks after the assassination. …

The second report emerged in the Pakistani media, with detailed information about the pistol and bomb. It rejects the government's conclusion that Bhutto died when the force of the suicide blast threw her head against the sunroof lever of her car. Such an impact couldn't have fractured her skull, it said. The government refused to confirm the report's authenticity, but a security official verified it to McClatchy.

Really, though, go read the whole thing.

Obama: I was against the war before I became weaselly?

Here’s more on Bill Clinton and Obama’s “fairytale.”

Here , the Slickster explains in detail how Obama’s “fairytale” is about his allegedly consistent and continued opposition to the Iraq war.
“We went through 15 debates and the Obama campaign has made the argument that his relative lack of service in the Senate was not relevant because he had better judgment than the other Democrats on the Iraq War...” Bill said. “And I pointed out that he'd never been asked about his statements in 2004 that he didn't know how he'd have voted on the Iraq War, and that there was no significant difference between his position as President Bush’s.”

Obama’s lame explainer:
Obama has said during this campaign that he hedged on his answer about the Iraq War authorization vote because he did not want to openly disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards, as they were the party's ticket at the national convention where he was speaking, and both of whom had voted for the war and yet to repudiate it.

Hey, Obama, that didn’t stop Dennis Kucinich in 2004, among others. Puhleeze.

Doorknob, NO, no ready-to-use guns in national parks!

Unfortunately, nearly half the U.S. Senate feels otherwise. It’s bad enough to have kids with nonstop cellphone chatter in Yosemite, I don’t want a gun nut running around there.
Forty-seven lawmakers have signed a letter asking Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to lift Reagan-era restrictions that prevent citizens from carrying readily accessible firearms onto lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Current regulations, developed in the early 1980s, "infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners who wish to transport and carry firearms on or across these lands," the senators wrote.

The policies also differ from those of some other federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service. "These inconsistencies in firearms regulations for public lands are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary," said the letter, drafted by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

Thirty-nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed the letter, including both senators from 17 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. …

The current regulations, adopted in 1983 under then-Interior Secretary James Watt, say visitors to national parks must render their weapons inaccessible. Guns do not have to be disassembled, but they must be put somewhere that is not easily reached, such as in a car trunk, said Jerry Case, the National Park Service's chief of regulations and special park uses.

First, a national park is different than BLM or Forest Service land in many ways, you nimrods.

Second, there are MANY other places in this country you can’t take guns, where there is no “infringement of rights.”

Third, contra Crapo, it’s not any major inconvenience to hunters to put a gun in a trunk, or otherwise keep it from being readily accessible.

Fourth, I’m disgusted that a single Democrat would sign this letter.

Krugman puts paid to the lie about “the lackluster European economy”

Take THIS, GOP liars. Especially on the unemployment issue, Krugman is spot on.

Plus, as he notes, the Federal Reserve is not the sole arbiter of world monetary tendencies because of this. The European Central Bank is also a major player, which is another reason Fed chief Ben Bernanke will have trouble enacting many more rate cuts.

With a more robust economy than ours, the European Union is even more worried about inflation.

More proof Pakistan isn’t really cracking down on the Taliban inside the country

The Western journalists the country expels or otherwise cracks down on for writing about that. If Musharraf allies win parliamentary elections (if they still get held Feb. 18) this will only get worse.

DNC being sued over alleged gay bias in firing

Hmm, this one is news to me. The Democratic National Committee, along with named individuals including Chairman Howard Dean, is being sued by Donald Hitchcock for alleged anti-gay bias in firing him.

Hitchcock claims Dean and other leaders fired him in 2006 after his boyfriend, Paul Yandura, wrote an open letter criticizing the party’s lackluster gay activism.

Yet more economic woes; $1,000 an ounce gold next?

Gold hits $900 an ounce; after oil broke the psychological barrier of $100/bbl, is $1,000 an ounce gold next?

Quite possibly:
“Concerns of a recession will keep pushing up gold prices,” Carlos Sanchez, a precious metals analyst at CPM Group in New York, said. “Depending upon what happens in the economy and in the Middle East, we could see gold testing $1,000 an ounce, maybe even this quarter.”

Consumer confidence, meanwhile, plunges again, to an all-time low:
According to the RBC Cash Index, confidence tumbled to a mark of 56.3 in early January. That compares with a reading of 65.9 in December — and a benchmark of 100 — and was the worst since the index began in 2002.

So, if Bernanke tries much more rate-cutting, gold WILL pop $1,000, and oil WILL threaten $110, even with a struggling economy.

As I have said recently, welcome to the world of stagflation.

Needed for today’s departing CEOs: the “Golden Ass Kicking”

With Bank of America taking over Countrywide, nimrod subprime guru Angelo Mozilo is getting a wunderbar golden parachute:
Mozilo, one of the nation's highest-paid chief executives, stands to reap $115 million in severance-related pay if his troubled company is acquired by Bank of America Corp., regulatory filings show.

Free rides on the company jet are also included in Mozilo's departure deal, and the company will pick up his country club bills until 2011.

To replace this, we need the Golden Ass Kicking.

In this case, every Countrywide subprime mortgage holder in the country gets one free swift kick at Mozillo's ass.

January 10, 2008

Hillary Clinton “is now free to move about the country”

Roy Spence, the quixotic Austin ad guru who created that phrase for Southwest Airlines, will be taking a bigger role in Sen. Clinton’s presidential campaign.

If this is a further step in reinventing herself, or at least her campaign persona, in the face of the Obama “change” meme, I’ll give her some credit on style points.

That said, let’s talk about the real theme of the Democratic campaign. With Richardson and Dodd out, and Kucinich just waiting word from the UFO mother ship, the difference between Clinton and Obama (and a slipping John Edwards) can be summed up by the word “micrometerization.” Basically, you need one of those instruments to measure the difference between the three on a number of policy issues.

Iraq? None of the three plan a full withdrawal; none say exactly how many troops they’ll leave as a “reaction force,” let alone what the “trip-wire” will be.

Israel? Three kowtowers alike, on the bipartisan foreign policy consensus.

Peak Oil? Not a word from any.

Health care? Yes, Obama is less than universal, but, I’m not sure the policy difference is as great as Clinton or Edwards would make it out to be.

Environmentalism? Obama’s weaker here, but all three will pander to Big Ethanol. REAL conservation efforts probably won’t get any more mention beyond this year’s energy bill’s push to phase out incandescent light bulbs.

So, per the Roy Spences of this world, it’s about “branding” as much as anything.

Dateline: Maureen Dowd and New York Times editorial deceit

A “Dateline: Kerry, N.H.” tag on a column about Hillary Clinton potentially crying her way to election loses a lot of objectivity and ethical credence when it was actually filed from Jerusalem about the obesity crisis.

Meanwhile, the column itself engages in psychobabble pseudo-analysis below even her normally vapid and puerile standards.

People willing to swap four years of life for being obese, libertarian author alleges

And 2.5 y ears for “just” being overweight, says the author of a book who says we’re making too much a to-do about the obesity crisis.

Finkelstein ignores both the costs of health care for obesity and takes a medically unsupported, libertarian, “obesity is pure choice” tack, also. True, we shouldn’t diminish the choice factor involved in obesity; people do make choices as to how much they eat, what they eat and how little they exercise. But, we shouldn’t do this to the extent of ignoring or dismissing either genetic or uncontrollable prenatal environmental factors.

My MLB Hall of Fame thoughts

First, it’s good the Goose is in there. Gossage has long been deserving.

Second, no to Jim Rice. Not enough years played, not that good an outfielder, not that good a batter outside Fenway.

Andre Dawson? Still on the bubble for me. Those who say he should be a sure-fire HOFer, compare his career and Fred McGriff’s. Do you believe Crime Dog is as much a HOFer as Hawk, allowing for two fewer years played? Extrapolate out, and McGriff, who still played 19 years himself, breaks 500 homers, has more RBIs and runs scored than Hawk. He already has a much higher OBP and fairly higher OPS as well as somewhat higher slugging and BA. As for any steroids issue, Crime Dog and Hawk overlap enough that McGriff’s best years were in a lower-power era. He won two HR titles and didn’t hit 40 either time. McGriff also, on teams that often had more batters than Hawk’s Cubs, actually got more intentional walks.

Yes, 1B is supposed to have more sluggers. But, McGriff was also one of the better fielders of his day, there.

So, be reasonable. If Hawk is a HOFer, Crime Dog has basically the same argument. So, why does only the one get all the publicity?

Bert Blyleven? Should be in. Jack Morris? Not, at least not easily. Swap the teams the two pitched for over their careers, and Blyleven would have won well more than 300. Morris would have won about 220-225.

Dale Murphy? A very good player for several years and a nice guy. But, did he ever have that intimidation factor? Not really. And, a .265 BA. Sorry, Murph, but no.

More economic bad news

It’s not horrible, but certainly not good. Weak December sales and Capital One being the latest credit/finance company to report problems are the latest poor economic news to hit the stands.

But, the Fed’s continuing inflation worries, fueled by high oil prices, have led at least one Fed governor to say he doesn’t see the Fed having a lot of rate-cut wiggle room.

Bloomberg for Prez looking more official

The Unity08 website to reconstitute as a “Draft Bloomberg” one.

Spare us, please. Bloomberg has nothing new to add to the campaign. He has a mixed bag of pro-stay in Iraq (pro-war from the start), generic social liberal and moderate economic proposals, all of which are already out there somewhere.

That said, per a post of mine on this issue about a month ago, I think (pending the actual Democratic and Republican nominees) he stands a chance of hurting Democrats more than Republicans.

More on Clinton’s “iron my shirt” hecklers

Turns out they were hecklers from a Boston radio show. One claimed to be a Republican; another said he was a health care voter and had a Hillary for President sticker on his bag.

I don’t know how the Obama campaign handles this, but, obviously, stay tuned.

Am I surprised, to the degree this may not have been just a radio station preplanned stunt, but something calculated on Clinton’s part? Of course not.

Note of caution: Both links above come may need a bit of caution; the first comes from a right-wing website and the second from the New York Daily News. Nonetheless, T.A. Frank some of his own thoughts on the same theme at Washington Monthly.

Taking off on his theme: Obama kind of got blindsided.

My follow-up: If this happened in a Democratic primary, is this another reason to question Obama’s “I can sit down and reason with Republican” theme?

Per John McLaughlin: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being metaphysical certainty, the answer is “7-plus.”

Obama getting “anti-change” endorsements

First, it was colorless South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, a protégé of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, certainly not known as an agent of change. Now, it’s failed 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry.

Some powerful “change” folks there, Obama. Just saying.

Bush smokes crack on Palestine

The president claims there will be a Palestine-Israel peace treaty before the end of the year.

Three comments.

1. Do you really expect such a thing to happen overnight, when you’ve done no lifting for seven years?

2. On whose/what terms?

3. Aren’t you suddenly even more concerned about your “legacy” than Bill Clinton?

January 09, 2008

Looking ahead to Super Tuesday for the GOP

Actually seeing a bit of useful information on Faux News, it’s worth noting how many of the Feb. 5 primaries, on the Republican side only, are winner-take-all. The biggie here is California, but the list also includes Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Utah. In other words, about 80 percent or so of the GOP delegates on this date are on a winner-take-all basis, even with a plurality and not an absolute majority. (Tennessee is winner-take-all with a majority.)

So, on the GOP side, a run of the table is possible. That’s why even hapless old Rudy would be dumb to fold before then. If he can take populous New York and New Jersey, he’s clearly back in the race. Assuming he does at least reasonably well in Florida before that, this means California will be a bloodbath par excellence.

Hell, Mitt Romney will probably pledge to personally fund the entire state budget deficit if Ahhhnold will endorse him.

After that, most the remaining states that hold primaries are winner-take-all on the GOP side, including Texas March 4. Since Rudy has Gov. Rick Perry’s endorsement (for what it’s worth, coming from a guy re-elected with less than 40 percent of the vote), if Rudy has any pulse after the February Super Tuesday, well, then, he’ll stay in until March.

So, here’s hoping Rudy actually does do well in Florida — really well, since it, too, is winner-take-all. If he wins, we’ve got a four-man race through at least mid-March if not all the way to the GOP convention.

More on why an Iraqi soldier killed two U.S. soldiers

At least one of the U.S. soldiers allegedly was beating a pregnant woman. If true, one hell of an oops. The Army says it will have no comment on an ongoing investigation.

Nobelist Stiglitz: GDP not a good measuring stick

Economics Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz has been hired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to come up with a better way of measuring national economic well-being. Here’s his take on the issue:
Stiglitz said the current yardsticks “only reward governments if they increase materialistic production.

“If you improve the quality of life, but it doesn't show up in more material consumption, it doesn't show up in GDP, and you’ll be criticized," the US economist told AFP in a phone interview. …

Stiglitz, known for his outspokenness and criticism of globalization, said the French president had given him “a broad-ranging mandate trying to put together a commission study on the broad questions of how do you measure well-being.

“Among the economics profession there has been a strong sense for a long while that gross domestic product is not a good measure. It doesn't measure changes in well-being, it doesn't measure comparisons of well-being across countries,” he said.

Thus, if political leaders “are trying to maximize GDP and GDP is not a good measure, you are maximizing the wrong thing and it can be counterproductive,” he said.

The former chief economist at the World Bank, who resigned in 1999 after accusing rich countries of not doing enough to help the poor, said he hoped the panel's findings would go beyond the French framework.

Let’s hope he can deliver.

Post-New Hampshire political questions

Will there still be a Clinton staff shakeup? How much? How much does Mark Penn get declawed? Or has he already been? Would she still be smart to low-key South Carollina? How well does Edwards have to do in SC, with Clinton either in or out, to still be credible or even halfway credible?

On the GOP side, other than Rudy's last gasp bid in Florida, will Paul be helped or hurt by GOP-voter only primaries? Despite his being against the war, how well will his conspiratorial/staunch pro-life/talking race in code schtick play in the South? How well can Huck do with small staff and money?

January 08, 2008

Blogosphere has people as bad as MSM on New Hampshire

Andrew Sullivan claims a “blacklash” from secret ballots, compared to Iowa’s open caucuses, sunk Obama. Arovasis at AmericaBlog entertains that as a possibility.

Neither that nor “crocodile tears” may be the answer.

Maybe, even if the choking up was somewhat calculated, she still revealed enough emotional realism to appeal to voters? Maybe Gloria Steinem was right. (Even though I think she engaged in a fair share of hyperbole, and that, not being a black woman, she can’t speak to both gender and race from personal experience.)

Maybe, as some bloggers are speculating, a lot of Democrats wanted to stick it to bloviators like Chris Matthews. Maybe more independents than expected voted Republican.

Maybe it was some combination of the four factors I listed.

That said, nothing Sully says surprises me. I’m not at all a Clinton fan, but he does have a grade-A case of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

Aravosis? He should know better. If he doesn’t, he just went down a mark in my book.

Hey, Rick Wagoner — deeds, not words on green cars

The GM CEO says the automotive future is electric and green.

Really? Why don’t you bring out a $25,000-$30,000 gas-electric hybrid, or diesel-electric hybrid, that can help the environment NOW, rather than E85/flexfuel cars dependent on currently enivironmentally-ravaging, energy-poor, corn-based ethanol, or totally infrastructurally unfeasible (and expensive as hell to boot) hydrogen cars like your new Cadillac Provoq.

I mean, the U.S. car industry is among the biggest of liars among major U.S. industries. At times, I think only Big Oil and Big Pharma are worse.

Hey, Rick Wagoner — deeds, not words on green cars

The GM CEO says the automotive future is electric and green.

Really? Why don’t you bring out a $25,000-$30,000 gas-electric hybrid, or diesel-electric hybrid, that can help the environment NOW, rather than E85/flexfuel cars dependent on currently enivironmentally-ravaging, energy-poor, corn-based ethanol, or totally infrastructurally unfeasible (and expensive as hell to boot) hydrogen cars like your new Cadillac Provoq.

I mean, the U.S. car industry is among the biggest of liars among major U.S. industries. At times, I think only Big Oil and Big Pharma are worse.

Time for Dallas housing analysts to start eating crow over bubble

Housing bubble happen here? Oh, never, we’ve heard for the past several months.

Then WHY did pre-existing home sales FLOP last month, falling a huge 25 percent? Prices fell 2 percent as well.

Smugness risks not being alert to North Texas possibly getting its share of a recession-based boot in the butt, too.

I’ve been issuing the warning for months.

Sidebar: The Dallas Morning News website is still so FUBAR, especially on its search functions, that after reading this story in hardcopy, it was easier for me to find it online, for the URL to link, by using Google News, not the Snooze’s website.

Housing woes continue

First, pending home sales fell 2.6 percent in November. How bad is the housing market? Even the bulls are sounding bearish:
In a speech on Tuesday, the head of mortgage finance company Fannie Mae, chimed in with a pessimistic note. Chief Executive Daniel Mudd said home prices would “perhaps begin to gain modestly” in 2010.

That’s just three years away, folks. At least we’re getting more realism from housing insiders.

Second, Countrywide stock took another big tumble of about 20 percent. The company felt compelled to deny the increasing bankruptcy speculation:
In a prepared statement earlier in the day, the company said there was “no substance to the rumor that Countrywide is planning to file for bankruptcy, and we are not aware of any basis for the rumor that any of the major rating agencies are contemplating negative action relative to the company.” …

The stock was shaken by a report in The New York Times that said court records show the lender fabricated documents related to a bankruptcy case of a borrower in Pennsylvania.

Other Countrywide actions in borrowers' bankruptcy cases have come under scrutiny in the past.

The fact that nobody from China or Abu Dhabi has put a penny into Countrywide ought to bely the company’s forced optimism.

Finally, KB Home’s stock also took a tumble on a fourth-quarter loss of nearly $800 million. The fact that KB, which focuses on made-to-order homes, not pre-cut, pre-fab new developments, continues to slide should underscore the depth of the continuing struggles in the housing market.

Merrill Lynch says recession is officially here

The financial company says last Friday’s employment report confirms an official recession. But, a regional Fed governor says he doesn’t think Fed head Ben Bernanke has much room to operate:
“I am concerned that developments on the inflation front will make the Fed's policy decisions more difficult in 2008,” Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said.

He was referring to the problems faced by the US Federal Reserve, which might want to cut interest rates to avoid a recession, but is worried about inflationary factors such as $100-a-barrel oil.

National Bureau of Economic Research president Martin Feldstein denied Merrill’s claims. No duh… another BushCo flunky trying to defend the throne.

Cover-up in Bhutto assassination

U.S. intelligence claim the suicide bomber in the Benazir Bhutto assassination was there to take out the gunman who actually killed her.:
According to a former high ranking US intelligence official, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the delicate nature of the information, the US intelligence community understands the gunman to have been killed in the blast following Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination.

“He was killed, probably not knowing that the suicide bomber was there,” said this source. “We don’t know for sure if the two men arrived together. We do know that the assassin died in the explosion, and was probably meant to.”

Several other US intelligence officials concur that the bomber was likely "inserted" to “clean up” evidence of the shooting, including eliminating the gunman.

Well, this just adds to the idea that this was in some way a governmental job.

Several questions:

1. Will Scotland Yard’s assist on the assassination investigation come to the same conclusion as an on-the-record finding? If not, how much obstruction will either Musharraf, or somebody in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, throw up?

Answer? Plenty:
“The investigation will be opaque and less effective than what happened in Lebanon,” said Larry Johnson, former CIA officer and Deputy Director for Transportation Security, Antiterrorism Assistance Training, and Special Operations for the office of Counterterrorism in the US State Department.

Others interviewed for this article share Johnson’s skepticism and believe that the Bush administration will likely look the other way should any connection between Musharraf and the assassination be discovered, because, they say, at this point, the US has “no workable solution” and cannot discontinue support for Musharraf, given the options.

“We are being held hostage to Musharraf’s whim,” said one former intelligence official.

And, don’t you think Musharraf knows what Johnson said?

2. Who is behind the hit? Musharraf directly? Musharraf indirectly? Musharraf not having any advance knowledge? Will an anonymous U.S. intelligence source leak any preliminary ideas, at the least, on that?

January 07, 2008

How to misrepresent European politics, 101

The WSJ editorial page, in discussing the possibility of Mike Huckabee remaking the GOP into an American version of a Christian Democrat party, blames European Christian Democrats for everything this side of the plague and crack cocaine.

Among the predictable canards is blaming Christian Democrats for a “high” unemployment rate, without even explaining that Europe calculates unemployment far differently than we do, and that, it doesn’t lock up a bumch of drug-related criminals; that, combined with the drug-war infrastructure here, has a definite effect on U.S. unemployment numbers, too.

In short, if we compared apples to apples, the unemployment rate difference would be cut in half.

The WSJ also fails to mention 4-5 weeks of paid vacation, national health care and other things that we just don’t enjoy here.

As usual, they’re not reading their own news pages, of course.

January 06, 2008

We’re No. 1, even vs. all the world combined!

In military spending, that is.

To me, this is another reason I’m inclined not to vote Democratic, rather than Green again this year. What should be another important political issue, especially with military contractors for support services and contractors mercenaries for combat-area security, plus the whole, 45-year-old issue of the military-industrial complex, isn’t on Democrats’ radar screens any more than Republicans’.

And, no, you can’t pass this all off as the U.S.’s high per-capita income. That’s offset by the massive population of countries such as China and India. Hell, the EU plus Japan has twice our population, and a per capita income in the same ballpark, and the defense spending difference is astronomical. That combination of countries is spending only about $250 billion, compared to our $623 billion.