February 09, 2008

Coffee, marijuana, taxes make news roundup

An espresso-tasting machine? Yes

Researchers say they have created a machine that can taste espresso almost as accurately as trained espresso tasters and so should be shut down.


Not just U.S. DEA opposes medical marijuana machines

The U.N. says they violate international law and so should be shut down.

Why the GOP wouldn’t cave on jobless benefits in ‘stimulus’ package

That would dilute a GOP shibboleth, that a tax cut is the only real way to help the economy. Keeping an extension of jobless benefits out of the stimulus package kept it a tax cut.


What ‘marriage penalty’ on taxes?

I’m going to pay more than $400 more as a single than as a married filing jointly on the same income level, on my federal tax return this year. Add in the fact that singles are less likely to own houses and get a mortgage deduction, and we should be talking about the “singles penalty.”

Arbour, unlike Mukasey, knows torture when she hears about it

And, she says, something can be done


U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has no problem calling waterboarding torture. Once again, our moral standing in the world falls like a dropped soufflé.
Arbour made her comment in response to a question about whether U.S. officials could be tried for the use of waterboarding that referred to CIA director Michael Hayden telling Congress on Tuesday his agency had used waterboarding on three detainees captured after the September 11 attacks.

Violators of the U.N. Convention against Torture should be prosecuted under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” which allows countries to try accused war criminals from other nations, Arbour said.

“There are several precedents worldwide of states exercising their universal jurisdiction ... to enforce the torture convention and we can only hope that we will see more and more of these avenues of redress,” Arbour said.

Are there specific precedents for this? Hell, yes:
Arbour referred to an arrest warrant issued in 1998 by a Spanish judge for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who died in 2006, on charges of torture, murder and kidnapping in the years that followed his 1973 coup.

Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s were known to use waterboarding on political prisoners.

I’d pay damn good money to see an international judge issue arrest warrants for John Yoo, David Addington, Richard B. “Dick” Cheney and George W. Bush.

Why we need federal regulation of charities

“Charities” for wounded Iraq veterans that spend 70-80 percent of their take on overhead ought to have a special spot reserved in Gitmo. But, it’s all legal.

February 08, 2008

Do NOT send in the clones

Between continuing Big Ag pressure from the likes of Monsanto, concerns about overly narrowing genetic diversity, and genetically modified canola escaping fields and passing its herbicide resistance on to wild mustard, it seems clear that cloning in particular, and genetic engineering of crops in general, needs continued look-see before going further.

Parents: What songs are your teens drinking in?

No, not listening to, drinking in. One of three songs teens here has drug or alcohol references. One quarter were about the legal drug of ethanol.

On the coffee table – ‘Obama: From Promise to Power’ by David Mendell

Mendell is a long-time political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and has been covering Obama since he first ran for the Illinois State Senate. Before I tell you what I cleaned from the book, I’m going to give a quote from Mendell:

“What the public has yet to see clearly is his hidden side: his imperious, mercurial, self-righteous and sometimes prickly nature, each quality exacerbated by the enormous career pressures he has inflicted upon himself. He can be cold and short with reporters who he believes have given him unfair coverage. He is an extraordinarily ambitious, competitive man with … a career reach that seems to have no bounds. He is, in fact, a many of raw ambition so powerful that even his is still coming to terms with its full force.”

Beyond that, here’s some specific takes from Mendell:

First, Obama’s sometime lack of specificity on policy issues is nothing new.

Second, Obama’s attendance at a Chicago antiwar rally, according to Mendell, while it had a degree of idealism behind it, also had a degree of political calculation involved.

Third, Obama did pass some bills in his last term in the Illinois Senate to bolster his U.S. Senate campaign. Specifically, despite his strong stance on gun controls, he sponsored a bill to let retired cops have concealed carry. Why? To get the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, which he did.

Add it all up, and I see a Barack Obama of dichotomy. From his family background, international experiences and more, a person of more idealism than many politicians, even with some tempering. At the same time, as Mendell describes, he’s a politician who can fight tough, and will.

The dichotomy? The two sides don’t seem to converse with each other a lot, at least in Mendell’s observation, which I think exacerbates the thin-skinnedness. For those of you who have read Jack Tapper’s “Obama the Messiah” blog, I think his distancing of the press could backfire on him due to things like this.

Finally, if you’re going to compare Obama to a Kennedy, it’s Bobby, not Jack. Same amount of Senate experience at the time of campaigning for president. Same dichotomous mix, or non-mixing, of idealism and bare-knuckle politics. Same drivenness — Bobby had that same type of charismatic energy in a way Jack didn’t.

Mehdi Army ready to rise up again in Iraq?

Moqtada al-Sadr is calling to extend a six-month cease fire, but many rank-and-file in the Shi’ite force are restive. On the flip side, the International Crisis Group said the Mehdi Army was “unassailable” in its strongholds and the U.S. military should not provoke it.

Too late on both sides, perhaps. The U.S. has arrested several so-called “rogue” members, which certainly has added to the restiveness directed toward Sadr.

Bill Belichick, Kurt Warner, criminal liability and civil suits

As I blogged here earlier, Bill Belichick may have violated federal law if the Patriots videotaped the St. Louis Rams’ final walk-through practice before the 2002 Super Bowl. (The Economic Espionage Act, signed into law in 1996, criminalizes theft of “trade secrets,” which the Rams’ signals might or might not be.)

Would Belichick, other Patriots’ coaches, owner Robert Craft or the Patriots as a corporation be prosecuted if this is true? That’s a toughie.

Neither NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell nor the Rams would ever prefer charges. The feds would probably leave the case alone if Congress were satisfied Goodell had done enough to come clean and clean up.

Could an individual, i.e. former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, prefer charges? Since the stolen trade secret the law covers would have to be considered as belonging to the St. Louis Rams as a team and not Warner as an individual, I’d have to say no.

On the other hand, Warner’s already mentioned loss of earnings from not winning back-to-back Super Bowls. Does he have grounds to sue?

I’d say, “Hell, yes.”

Next question is, is this a state or federal suit? I’m sure Warner would love to have a state suit tried in Missouri, since that’s where he potentially lost most his earnings, other than the Super Bowl itself (New Orleans was the site of 2002’s Super Bowl XXXVI),. Belichick would probably want it in federal court if at all possible, in large part because federal civil juries require unanimity in civil as well as criminal cases, and federal juries often, though not always, tend to have a higher view of “preponderance of evidence.” (I’ve been trying some Google terms, but I don’t know if Missouri is unanimous, 11-1 or 10-2 on civil suits. I’ll take any help I can get.)

Whether a state-level suit could be moved to Louisiana (New Orleans was the sitge of 2002’s Super Bowl XXXVI), especially if Belichick couldn’t get it moved to federal court, is a more open question. (Look up where 2002 SB played, then that state’s rules, whether 10-2 or 11-1, on civil cases.)

And, there’s a lot of dinero involved here, should Warner sue.

That ranges from the small-dollar stuff, such as the different between winners’ and losers’ Super Bowl payouts, to big-dollar stuff.

That would include Warner’s worth as a quarterback after winning back-to-back Super Bowls rather than just one, lost commercial endorsements, lost speaking engagements, lost value of Kurt Warner merchandise such as his personal cut on No. 13 Rams jerseys, and even longer-term lost moneys such as if back-to-back Super Bowl wins wouldn’t get him into the NFL Hall of Fame. (No two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, especially one who won back to back, who is eligible for the HOF is not in there.)
That, then, goes to related tort issues, such as loss of reputation.

All of this leads to two sets of questions.


Is Bill Belichick, regardless of whether legal action is ever actually pursued
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com




If Kurt Warner sues, he should get
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Senate Dems cave, or charitably, take quarter-loaf, on ‘stimulus’

Yes, they got help for senior citizens in the finally agreed upon version of an economic stimulus package. And they got additional tax rebates for disabled veterans.

But, besides caving on heating assistance for the poor, and tax breaks for alternative energy, they surrendered the demand for an extension of jobless benefits, which has always been a Democratic staple in previous recessions.

Oh, well, President Obama will either perform the miracle of Kumbaya or else will have such magnificent coattails he will get a cloture-proof 60-Democrat Senate.

Yeah, right.

Dobson to endorse Huckabee — why wait until now?

My biggest question about this evangelical anointing is, “Why so late”?

It’s been clear for some time that, Bob Jones and a few other evangelical leaders’ laying on of hands aside, Mitt Romney wasn’t going anywhere with conservative evangelical voters, and that the only real options were either bless Huck or swallow hard and accept the Schmuck Talk Express™.

Dobson’s defenders might point out that he’s never before made an intra-Republican endorsement within a primary. Well, if that’s the case, then it means he’s that disliking of Big Bad John.

So, that puts me back to the original question: why this late?

In essence, Dobson has shown his political cluelessness, at least on timing and strategy issues. About a month from now, we’ll see just how politically impotent he actually is.

And THAT, in a nutshell, is why Dobson’s never done the laying on of hands inside the GOP primary races before — he’s always been afraid of the wizard’s curtain being pulled back, IMO.

Which, in turn, means Dobson is really desperate, and really does dislike Big John that much.

Green issues update Feb. 8 2008

The environmentally poor report card of biofuels is becoming ever more evident. Increasing carbon dioxide emissions through their production, removing CO2 “sponges” from the land through land clearing and more:
The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”

Of course, biofuels companies are already disputing the findings.

The bottom line? It’s called “conservation.”

On the plus side, the Navy has a robot undersea glider that runs on water temperature differences; it uses the temperature gradient difference between surface water and deeper water. Meanwhile, a new knee brace takes a page from the regenerative braking of hybrid cars; it generates enough power to run multiple cell phones and a backpack of similar design could generate even more power, 20 watts or so.

February 07, 2008

Hamdan records: lost or discarded?

Please. Given that the Army’s military tribunals are prosecution-weighted, or even prosecution-rigged, I find it ludicrous that the Army “lost” a year of its records on Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Especially ludicrous is the claim, “we gave the defense everything already.”

How many times have we seen this during BushCo? “We already gave you everything.”

Yeah. Right.

Update: More on the problem of military prosecutors stifling the handover of evidence is here; it’s clear these tribunals are a collective farce.

Acquiescent Dem gift Mike Mukasey keeps on his illegality giving

Once again, for your non-law-abiding pleasure, it’s called Attorney General Mike Mukasey, the “Alberto Gonzales with brains” that Democrats signed off on as attorney general. First, there’s the more minor issue of him stiffing Talking Points Memo; next, there’s the much more serious matter of his flat refusal to enforce Congressional contempt citations. Florida Congressman Robert Wexler elicits this blanket refusal
WEXLER: Should Congress pass a contempt citation, will you enforce it?

MUKASEY: A contempt citation of...

WEXLER: With respect to the subpoenas, with respect to Mr. Bolten?

MUKASEY: If you're talking about a contempt citation based on Mr. Bolten's failure to appear...

WEXLER: Yes.

MUKASEY: ... in response to a direction by the president that he not appear, the answer is no. Because he can't violate that request.

True, only six Democrats actually voted for Mukasey, but that was enough. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could have held up the nomination had he so chosen, or one of the 40 opposed Democrats, or more, could have filibustered.

Or, if one of the Senate Democratic presidential candidate had actually shown up that day, they could have blocked cloture instead of an actual filibuster.

Sure, some Democrats might argue that Bush would have just let somebody worse be acting AG. Counterargument: Aside from the likes of David Addington or John Yoo, could you actually have somebody worse?

The dirty half-dozen Democrats, to remind you are, Charles Schumer (D-Hedge Funds), Diane Feinstein (D-Betty Crocker), Evan Bayh (D-Blandness), Tom Carper (D-Banking), Mary Landrieu (D-Southern Belle With Vapors), and Ben Nelson (D-Too Background To Get A Snarky Title).

Beyond that, the man and his son were both campaign advisors to Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Terrorism Nutbar, for doorknob’s sake. How could you NOT expect something like this?

Hypocrisy alert: Bush calls for Senate to approve nominees, but won’t make some

Well, in the case of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Bush would have to make some nominations in the first place before the Senate could have anybody to vote up or down. The CPSC has just two of its five slots filled, and has been shorthanded for more than six months, when a six-month waiver was passed allowing it to operate without a quorum.

Of course, this isn’t like Assistant AG candidates who have supported torture or anything. This is an organization that, at least potentially, helps real, average people. It’s an organization that, at least potentially, can fine big businesses.

So, no, the Preznit wouldn’t want it to actually do its work.

Update: As for why Bush’s judicial nominees haven’t been getting approved, it’s because he’s apparently determined to make his “legacy” one of in your face obnoxiousness not only to the Senate as a whole but individual senators.

Clueless in Canterbury on church-state and Islam

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the world’s Anglicans, has called for introducing Islamic sharia into the U.K. He claims the need is there because Muslims don’t relate to British law.

Is he effing nuts? That’s certainly been the reaction across the British political spectrum. And, while Britain isn’t as irreligious as most of continental Western Europe, it’s more irreligious than the U.S. And besides, doesn’t he have enough to do herding the cats of the Anglican Communion, especially over openly gay priests in the U.S.?

Exxon, Chavez battle heats up

Many months ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez started nationalizing ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips holdings in his country, which eXXXon has vigorously fought. Now, Triple-X has gotten Venezuelan assets frozen in several countries, up to $12 billion in value, pending winning an appeal of Chavez’ nationalization seizure.

Part of me likes Chavez keeping the U.S., and folks like Exxon, on their toes. Part of me likes how he is realigning Latin American politics. But part of me recognizes that he’s showing himself to be an idiot on heavy-oil oilfield development.

Knock each other silly, I hope.
Exxon, Chavez battle heats up

Then Obama divided the five loaves and two fishes

ABC’s Jack Tapper has a hilarious blog post about the messianism of the Obama campaign.

I add to it, related to Kevin Drum’s post about Senate GOP uncooperativeness on a revised economic stimulus package:

Then Obama took the five loaves and two fishes, and divided them among the crowd, and there was enough stimulus for everybody. When everybody had eaten, Obama’s disciples gathered the remains, and there were five basketfuls of stimulus left.

As for dealing with those intransigent Republicans:

A disciple asked Obama how many times he must forgive a change-resistant Republican, and continue to bipartisanly cooperate

“Is seven times enough?” the disciple asked.

“Nay, you must forgive, and cooperate, seventy times seven times,” Obama said.


No, it’s not the nuttery of Ron Paul; nonetheless, it seems more and more clear that Obama’s campaign is becoming more and more about “change” and less and less about specifics, and that, in a clear example of mass psychology of herds/mobs/crowds, people are signing on in a frenzy of style not substance.

And, one might say the words of Obama, rather than being a miraculously-sustained five loaves and two fishes, are instead like Chinese food: tasty and stimulating, but digested with a once-again-empty stomach an hour later.

Democratic primaries: more slogging, more incrementalism, more parsing, more pandering

“Super Tuesday” for the Democrats was Shakespearean “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” not only for the Democratic race but for true differentiation on issues, and true progressivism on issues.

On healthcare, Obama will continue to ignore mandates while both will continue to ignore the need for vouchers as a cornerstone of their national healthcare plans.

On the environment, neither will get honest about the true cost and elbow grease needed to fight global warming.

On energy, both will continue to act as if they’ve never even heard of the phrase “Peak Oil.”

On foreign policy, both will continue to hold to some version of “imperialism lite,” American exceptionalism and blank checks to Israel. Neither will be honest with the American public about just how little we can do if Pakistan implodes, let alone the question of whether we should be trying to do anything in the first place.

(Note: This post will get regular updating as needed.)

Forest Service allowing uranium exploration near Grand Canyon

With almost no public input, the U.S. Forest Service is allowing exp href="just three miles from a Grand Canyon overlook.

Let’s put it this way: Public input was so limited that not one of the more than half-dozen environmental groups who send me e-mail action alerts on a variety of issues had an alert on this baby.

Here’s the USFS spin:
Barbara McCurry, the Kaibab National Forest’s spokeswoman on this issue, said her agency had little choice but to allow the drilling under the 1872 mining law that governs hard-rock mining claims. “The exploratory drilling is pretty minimal,” Ms. McCurry said, adding, “Our obligation is to make sure that any impacts are mitigated.”

To the degree this is true, which is a fair amount, but not as much as the USFS claims, then we need to reform the 1872 mining law; the House has already passed amendments to it.

More recession watch news: retail sales slump

January retail sales? Worst for that month, on a year-over-year basis, in almost four decades; company-by-company details at the link.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Fed governor seems to indicate more rate cuts are in the offing, while the Philadelphia gov dampened that talk earlier this week, saying the Fed still has to keep its eye on inflation. One side or the other will have to give; I think Big Ben Bernanke will have at least one more cut by mid-year, thus proving he is Wall Street’s lackey and Bubble Boy Jr.

D.R. Horton loss almost double what the Street expected

You know the housing slump is going to be problematic for a long time, now. Builder D.R. Horton had a major financial drop, losing 41 cents per share in its fiscal first quarter, compared with a Wall Street advance estimate of 25 cents per share.

The NYSE was down slightly this morning.

February 06, 2008

Will ex-Pat assistant spill guts on Spygate-plus?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he will give Matt Walsh legal indemnification for any info he has about the New England Patriots secretly taping other NFL teams, against league rules.

Walsh was a Pats’ assistant on their first Super Bowl team, which some St. Louis Rams players allege illegally taped their last pre-SB practice. Because Walsh signed a non-disclosure agreement when he left the Pats, he needs the indemnification deal.

But, what does he actually know? Here’s Goodell:
“If there is new information that is credible, new material that could be credible that would help us,” Goodell said, “yes, we'll look at it.

“We’ve had people come to us over the last six months with material that we pursued and it didn’t lead to anything.”

Among the things the league wants to talk to Walsh about is a recent Boston Herald report that a member of the Patriots’ video staff taped the St. Louis Rams' pregame walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI.

“We were aware of this before,” Goodell said. “We pursued it and weren’t able to get any information that was credible. We were aware of some of the rumors and we pursued some of them and we continue that. From Day 1, I said if we feel there is new information that’s inconsistent with what we've been told [by the Patriots], I reserve the right to reopen it.”

In other words, stay tuned. That includes you, Kurt Warner.

One more: three major banks to tighten financing on coal fired power plants:

Three top lenders, believing the government will impose greenhouse-gas emissions caps in the future, want utilities seeking financing for coal-fired plants to ensure they’ll be viable with such caps:
Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley say they have concluded that the U.S. government will cap greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants sometime in the next few years. The banks will require utilities seeking financing for plants before then to prove the plants will be economically viable even under potentially stringent federal caps on carbon dioxide, the main man-made greenhouse gas.

Question: Will presidential candidates, including would-be GOP nominee John McCain, who in the past has admitted near-cluelessness on economics issues, pay attention?

Remember, FutureGen carbon-sequestered coal-fired power plants are just as much “just around the corner’ as the hydrogen car or nuclear fusion power.

McNamee: I gave Feds proof I shot Rocket with roids

The former personal trainer to Roger Clemens says he gave IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitzky gauze pads and syringes with Clemens’ blood on them, blood from the syringes and gauze being used for steroid shots.

Well, hell, this should be fun. I would pay $5 myself to contribute to the cost of the DNA test. Good night, Roger.

Top-secret camp inside Gitmo confirmed

Not yet confirmed: what top-secret information learned that might be inside Camp 7, so secret its existence was just revealed two months ago:
For the first time, the top commander of detention operations at Guantanamo has confirmed the existence of the mysterious Camp 7. In an interview with The Associated Press, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby also provided a few details about the maximum-security lockup.

Guantanamo commanders said Camp 7 is for key alleged al-Qaida members, who must be kept apart from other prisoners to prevent them from retaliating against long-term detainees who have talked to interrogators. They also want the location kept secret for fear of terrorist attack.

Also not revealed: how they were gotten to "cooperate":
Many operations have been classified since the detention center opened in January 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More than four years passed before the military released even the names of detainees held on this 45-square-mile base in southeast Cuba — and it did so only after the AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

Camp 7, where 15 “high-value detainees” are held, is so secret that its very existence was not publicly known until it was mentioned in December by attorneys for Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident who allegedly plotted to bomb gas stations in the United States. Previously, many observers believed the 15 were being held in Camps 5 or 6, which are maximum-security facilities.

“Under the gag order ... we are prohibited from saying anything more about their camp,” lawyer Gitanjali Gutierrez, who met with Khan in October, said Tuesday. Most of the lawyers' notes and memos have been stamped “top secret” by the government.

Buzby told the AP he is sharply limiting to a “very few” the number of people who know Camp 7’s whereabouts.

He described it as a maximum security facility that was already built when President Bush announced in September 2006 that 14 high-value terrorism suspects had been transferred from CIA secret detention facilities to Guantanamo. An additional detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, arrived last April.

Meanwhile, Army Col. Mark Vargo, responsible for all other camps at Gitmo, has obviously drank too much of Bush’s Kool-Aid. He’s actually worried about an al-Qaeda attack on Gitmo. Like, where are they going to get the naval craft? And, Fidel’s not dumb enough to let them fly into Havana, where they’d stick out like sore thumbs anyway.

And, al-Qaeda is smarter than that. They know that if there are 15 talkers, they've already been wrung dry on info; attacking the base to kill them would do no good.

Other questions: Were they tortured? If so, how reliable, if at all, is their info? If not, is part of the reason Camp 7 is hidden is to keep egg off BushCo’s collective face, namely, the egg of admitting you can get solid evidence without torture?

Ledger OD accidental? Yes and no

Here is what the NYC medical examiner says:
“We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications,” the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement.

Is it accidental in the sense Ledger apparently wasn’t committing instant suicide? Yes.

But, anybody taking a mix of OxyContin, Lortab/Hycodan, Xanax, Valium and other benzos such as Restoril knows full well they’re playing with fire, and could in fact be seen as committing slow suicide.

So, let’s stop the hagiography. Addicts’ deaths are tragic in the sense of a wasted life, and in the sense of their refusing to either get or follow through on help, but they’re not tragic in the sense of irreparable losses to the world of arts.

Are Italian voters as dumb as American ones

It sounds like it. After the collapse of the left-of-center Romano Prodi government, Italy faces snap parliamentary elections in April, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who forced the collapse by refusing to agree to election reforms, is well in the lead..

Good luck with this, FDA (if Bush is serious

Bush’s 2009 budget calls for the Food and Drug Administration to open an office in China.. First, China has to agree; second, Congress has to fund; third, the FDA has to want to actually do something and China has to let it; and fourth, we have to believe that this will do a lot of good, given that China not only won’t police itself, but often can’t.

February 05, 2008

Did Bill Belichick break federal law with ‘Spygate’?

Now that the mask is coming off Coach Genius™, this, is hilarious if it has any possibility of being true:
As the media, the NFL and Congress commence the process of determining whether a video employee fired five years ago can prove the Patriots' video operation went far enough to potentially compromise the outcome of an NFL championship, a possibility exists that the federal government will launch an investigation into whether the Patriots took any action that violated the Economic Espionage Act.

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Economic Espionage Act makes the theft of trade secrets a federal offense. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the applicable legal mumbo-jumbo, 18 U.S.C. § 1832 makes it a criminal act to steal, take, carry away or obtain by fraud or deception what 18 U.S.C § 1839 defines as a “trade secret.”

I’m picturing Belichick and NFL Commish Roger Goodell’s worst nightmare: Patrick Fitzgerald being the prosecuting attorney on this baby.

Update: A friend of mine pooh-poohs this issue with the rhetorical statement of, “So stealing the third base coach's signs are now federal violations?”

No, of course not, but that’s an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Major League Baseball has no internal rules about stealing signs.

The NFL, though, DOES have rules about what you can, and cannot tape, of other teams. From there, it’s an easy argument that the NFL considers signals and other information picked up illicitly to be “trade secrets.”
That’s especially true if the allegations about the Pats’ taping the Rams last walk-through before the 2002 Super Bowl are true, being in advance of the game itself. Because, in this case, as opposed to in-game taping, the Pats would have had time in advance to adjust their defense to the Rams’ offense.

Or, on the civil side, what if Kurt Warner decides to sue Belichick (and the actual videotaper) for loss of income, loss of reputation, etc. What if he names Goodell and the NFL as co-conspirators?

Coming right up: Big Ben’s first post-Greenspan bubble

Jim Jubak argues that Fed head Ben Bernanke will show in 2009 he’s all grown up and capable of producing inflationary bubbles on his own. He spares no bones about his analysis:
Do the members of the Federal Reserve think we’re stupid? Do they think we don't understand that their quick fix for the economy and the financial markets in 2008 is going to completely unravel in 2009?

Do they think we can't see that they’re setting up the economy and the financial markets for a replay of the bust-to-boom-to-bust cycle that followed the bursting of the stock market bubble in 2000, in which easy money created a housing bubble that has now burst?

The Fed’s actions of the past five months are going to lead to higher inflation or higher interest rates (and a slowing economy again) in 2009. Apparently the Fed doesn’t think we can read between the paragraphs of its Jan. 30 press release and see that coming.

Jubak notes that 2007 inflation, especially “headline inflation,” which does include the stereotypically “volatile food and energy prices,” climbed well above the Fed’s target levels. He notes a recession will cool that off, but the deep 1.25 percent slash in interest rates means the Fed could itself be undercutting that economic slowdown to the point inflation becomes worse in 2009. And, Jubak says if some Fed-watchers are right, and Big Ben cuts the funds rate another full percent this year, inflation will roar in like a lion next year.

Subprime solution: Extend and expand Section 8?

That’s essentially the solution of Richard Bove, an analyst at Punk Ziegel & Co:
Bove proposes refinancing subprime borrowers with government-backed loans at an interest rate of 1 percent. …

Under the plan, the Federal Housing Administration would guarantee the loans and the banks would pay off all outstanding housing debt on the home. The new loan would be bought by the Government National Mortgage Association, or Ginnie Mae. Ginnie Mae would then repackage the loans into a bond paying a market yield. Bove throws out 6 percent as a possibility.

The difference between the actual 1 percent payout on the loans and the 6 percent paid by the new securities would be covered by the government. Taxpayers, in turn, would pay about $150 billion as part of the bailout.

“The cost may sound high, but it is not,” Bove wrote in an argument for the plan. “Compare it to the cost of rebuilding New Orleans below sea level or the cost of the Middle Eastern Wars. It is not high relative to these expenditures. The result is far different, however.” …

Like any reasonable proposal out there, Bove’s isn't going to save everyone. He proposes that refis are offered only to homeowners whose loan payments will be at most 30 percent of their income. He also wants borrowers to live in the home for a minimum of five years.

If the plan sounds familiar, it’s because Bove is simply trying to extend the government's Section 8 housing program to people who would otherwise not qualify.

I’m OK with the general idea, but not that big a spread on the interest rates. I think banks and other mortgage institutions ought to eat more of the losses they created — they need to suffer as a reminder.

Using Bove’s analogy, Katrina was an “act of God”; the subprime crisis, not — maybe an “act of Greenspan,” but that’s a whole nother story.

And, the true progressive in me says fines, garnishing excessive financial institution CEO pay or similar ideas would be a better finance mechanism than straight-up taxpayer dollars.

I’m also upset that among the myriad of subprime fix ideas, even the progressive Center for American Progress is not, apparently, proposing “linkage” of a subprime fix/bailout to new regulatory legislation.

More recession-related news — service sector slumps

For the first time in almost five years the service sector contracted in January. The contraction appears strong enough to be of real concern. It was also way off the mark of Wall Street’s expected continued expansion. Overall, 14 of 17 service industries in the measurement index showed contraction.

The Street dropped more than 250 points this morning on the news; so far, and surprisingly, nobody has (yet) said, “We need another rate cut.”

More seriously, for people who still claim we’re not in the start of a recession, you m ight want to think again. The questions are still open as to length and depth, but the simple existence of one? Seems like that’s on the books.

‘Ol’ Blue Eyes,’ you’ve got a short ancestry

Sinatra’s oldest granddaddy is only 10,000 years old at most, scientists say. That’s when some University of Copenhagen researchers say a mutation produced the first blue eyes.
“Originally, we all had brown eyes,” said one of the researchers, Hans Eiberg. But a mutation affecting a gene called OCA2 “resulted in the creation of a ‘switch’ which literally turned off the ability to produce brown eyes.”

Interesting, the switch is actually in an adjoining gene, but it influences OCA2.

This also shows, that aside from their clear biases, the Charles Murrays of the word who continue to be hard core “naturists” don’t know jack about what we’re learning about how genetics really works.

Reid, Obama, Clinton, telco immunity and Super Tuesday

Did anybody ever stop to wonder if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t deliberately putting the telco vote on Super Tuesday for more reasons than have been listed so far?

First, maybe he’s trying to have two anti-immunity votes kept out of town, if he’s that pro-immunity, and the two presidential candidates are really that anti-immunity.

Second, perhaps he’s trying to give both of them an “out” for the general election by making sure they’re unavailable to vote. The winner of the nomination can claim to have been against immunity, and so stroke progressives, while still taking telco campaign money.

Think about it.

‘Videophilia’ — the new social disease and its impact on global warming

It’s the ‘disease’ of people watching ever-more TV, plus playing ever-more video and computer games, plus being on the Internet ever more. (I plead a partial “guilty” to the last one.) The consequences are twofold. First, as the explosion in Type II diabetes show, we have more unhealthy, even fat, and ultimately self-destructive children; of course, many of them are now in adolescence or even early adulthood.

Second, we have these social issues, according to Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois at Chicago:
“Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance.”

How serious? This serious:
The biologists examined figures on backpacking, fishing, hiking, hunting, visits to national and state parks and forests. They found comparable statistics from Japan and, to a lesser extent, Spain. They found that from 1981 to 1991, per-capita nature recreation declined at rates from 1 percent to 1.3 percent per year, depending on the activity studied. The typical drop in nature use since then has been 18-25 percent, they said.

Third, because of this, we have less and less appreciation for nature, which authors of the study say may lead to increased environmental destruction:
“We don’t see how this can be good for conservation,” Pergams said. “We don’t see how future generations, with less exploration of nature, will be as interested in conservation as past generations.”

Beyond calling this “horrible,” I’d go beyond the study’s state of concern.

I’d say this is why an increasingly air-conditioning incubated generation of younger Americans is not likely to give too much of a damn about global warming as long as they can chill out with the A/C, zone out and stare out with the TV, computer or game set, and pig out with junk food.

Now, if Peak Oil (and Peak Natural Gas) will only do their work, and we get pricey enough electricity …

I’ll think twice about flying the more pricey ‘friendly skies’

United is going to start charging $25 for a second checked bag. Hell, they could probably make a lot more money, the way airline service is getting these days, selling baggage insurance for $25 a pop

Canberra joins Beijing kowtow

It’s always nice to know that the U.S. isn’t the only Western country capable of playing suck-up to Beijing. Australia is calling Taiwan’s bid to join the U.N. “completely inappropriate.” Maybe we should call all the mainland Chinese money buying Australian coal and bauxite “completely irresistible.”

Move over, Zeus

The site of an Arcadian shrine to Zeus was apparently recycled from previous worship of a pre-Zeus divinity — complete with female consort. The first use of the site dates back to circa 3000 B.C.E.

We still don’t know a tremendous amount about the pre-Minoan/Mycenaean history of what is today Greece. A find like this is fascinating.

February 04, 2008

Another nail in the vaccine-autism urban legend coffin

In what is purported as the biggest study ever, British doctors and scientists have found no causal link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

Nonetheless, this won’t stop hucksters with “alternative cures” and axes to grind against the medical establishment from preying on the raw emotions of autistic parents.

Bush pulls open records bait-and-switch

Shrub is trying to move a new open records office from the National Archives to the Department of Justice, complete with inherent conflicts of interest.

Senate Democrats are protesting, but so far, alleged open records friend John Cornyn is showing by his silence that when push comes to shove, his bread is buttered on the BushCo side.

Why we need class-based affirmative action, reason No. 12

Endowment stratification Endowment stratification at places like Harvard threatens to increase socioeconomic class in America. It certainly won’t do a lot to lessen it.

Sitting on multi-multi-billion dollar endowments also belies the “liberalism” of Ivies like Harvard, too.

What Iraq surge supporters will surely spin: U.S. troop deaths up

After four months of decline, U.S. troop deaths in Iraq went back u pward in January.

So, all the wingnut righties in tighty whities should remove the back-patting arms from behind themselves.

Obama’s radioactive hands

How much will him having his hands in the wallets of the nuclear power industry affect his environmentalism, such as it is?

First, underline the “such as it is” part. Obama has already pandered to the coal, ethanol and hard-rock mining industries, so this revelation shouldn’t be surprising.

‘Orthodox liberals’ — isn’t that part of the problem?

Frank Rich uses that label to describe both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But, wouldn’t you rather have some “unorthodox liberals”? While the Green Party isn’t ideal in every way, it certainly isn’t “orthodox” in terms of not buying into the “bipartisan foreign policy establishment” stance on world affairs, for example.

Bush the Warmonger repeating WWII

Adjusted for inflation, the military spending in Bush’s new budget will be the highest since World War II. Higher than Korea. Higher than Vietnam.
The Pentagon on Monday will unveil its proposed 2009 budget of $515.4 billion. If it is approved in full, annual military spending, when adjusted for inflation, will have reached its highest level since World War II.

And, will Democrats really try to do anything? Will we see a filibuster from Senate Democrats?

Ask me again why I’ll likely vote Green again this year.

February 03, 2008

Irony alert: Bill Belichick, coaching genius

The New England Patriots’ head coach has a reputation as a gridiron genius.

So, I want to know why the genius went for it on fourth and long, I repeat long, specifically, fourth and 13, from the New York Giants’ 31 in the second quarter rather than trying a 48-yard field goal. Your kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, had a season long of 52 yards.

Last I checked, coach genius, the scoreboard hadn’t changed. You still lost, 17-14, or by the margin of a field goal.

Knowing that Brady’s ankle wasn’t 100 percent, knowing what the Giants’ defense was doing, and seeing how tight the game was, I’d have to say this was one of the bigger coaching wrong choices in Super Bowl history, albeit with a bit of hindsight.

However, I said at the time that I didn’t get why Coach Genius was going for it.

Oh, and why was Brady not being told to roll out (or not making that decision for himself), at least on occasion, long before the final drive of the game?

Oh, and let me throw Coach Genius under the bus a little bit more.

With it obvious the Pats were having trouble with pass protection from the O-line alone, did you consider two-tight-end sets to chip block Giant D-ends, or catch outside blitzers? Fullback Heath Evans playing some time as a blitz blocking back? Kevin Faulk staying in the backfield to block more?

ESPN fans, as of the time of this post, rated “pass protection” as the No. 1 reason the Pats lost. But, isn’t some of that pass protection blamable on coaching?

The New England Patriots’ head coach has a reputation as a gridiron genius.

Wind turbines and military radar — a problem?

The British Defense Ministry is objecting to four east-coast sites for wind farms, saying the large generating windmills interfere with radar detection of planes.

I have not yet heard of anything similar in the U.S., but we shall see.

Hypocrisy alert: Shrub cares about diplomacy

Now, at the end of his reign, George W. Bush wants to hire 1,100 new diplomats:
The additional positions are part of an $8.2 billion request for State Department operations for the 2009 budget year that Bush will submit to Congress on Monday, according to documents described by officials.

That request would be $690 million, or 9.1 percent, above the current level for department operations, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the public release of the spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Other significant proposed increases include a 41 percent rise in spending for new embassy construction, from $670 million to $948 million, and a nearly 20 percent boost for worldwide security spending, from $968 million to $1.16 billion.

And, where was this concern for diplomacy five years ago, in February 2003?

Fear China’s economy, perhaps, but not Japan’s

Due to, primarily, a combination of its decade-long real-estate driven stagflation, and its declining, rapidly aging population, Japan’s economy is actually diminishing by many standards. It is now just 20th in per-capita gross domestic product, for example, and its share of the world’s economy has slid from a peak of 18 percent in 1994 to just 10 percent in 2006. A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers says the Japanese economy will be the size of Indonesia’s or Brazil’s by 2050. By that time, population decline will have reduced economic growth to zero, according to the Japan Center for Economic Research.

Actually, I’m not sure we’ll have to totally fear China or India in 2050. China’s size, not just a 1.3 billion population, but a contiguous land area as large as the U.S. including Alaska, can make national policy difficult to implement at the local level, as the failure of Beijing-based environmental efforts and other things show.

India, on the other hand, has even less infrastructure than China, a determination to pass China in population, and the chaos of a corruption-tinged world’s largest democracy. Until India can deliver more clean drinking water to its people, we don’t need to totally fear them either, reservoir of English-speaking engineers aside.

Who we should fear is the EU. A GDP as big as ours, larger population, democratic traditions, a banking/finance control system strong and independent of that of the U.S., a currency gaining world recognition, and an often-stronger, and often-different, take on regulatory issues.