SocraticGadfly: 2/10/08 - 2/17/08

February 16, 2008

Soul ensoulment at conception has no scientific or medical basis

There’s a lot that a whole lot of pro-life people don’t know about human reproduction, from where I sit.

First, one-third of human conceptions are spontaneously aborted, usually due to major genetic or chromosomal abnormalities.

Often, a woman will think she’s missed a menstrual period, not yet recognizing she’s pregnant. Then, about two-three weeks later, she will have what appears to be a delayed period with much higher than normal bleeding.

No, it’s not; actually, she’s just had a spontaneous abortion.

And, that’s not all.

Neonatologists believe that many gestations actually begin as twins, whether one fertilized embryo quickly divides or two eggs get fertilized and implanted at the same time.

But, most births are singletons. What’s happening?

Darwinism (ooh, another nasty word to some) inside the womb.

If one fetus grows much slower than the other, it usually gets absorbed, or to be deliberately blunt, cannibalized by the other.

How do we know this?

Well, non-identical twins have different genetic makeups. We know of adults who, for example, have multiple blood types swimming inside their one bloodstream. Only one way that could have happened.

Other adults have cysts, that may turn cancerous or trigger autoimmune disorders, that have bits of bone or tissue from the “absorbed” twin.

Yes, this sounds unaesthetic, at least, and grotesque, at worst. That’s exactly the point.

To put it another way, for every two pair of “Precious Feet” we see on lapel pins, there’s one pair of terminally genetically damaged feet. Or, for every two pair of “Precious Feet” there’s probably at least three-four pair that have been “absorbed.”

That right there shows that the omnipotent deity of fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals isn’t so almighty after all.
A few sidebars here:

One — do NOT claim this is actually the result of “original sin.” You will thereby have ruled yourself entirely out of the bounds of rational, science-and-medicine based discourse on conception, pregnancy and abortion. Period.
(And, yes, like Ken Ham, some Xns actually will attribute the cause of anything wrong in our world to original sin.)
Two — neither the Tanakh nor the Christian New Testament use a Greek or Hebrew equivalent word, or even phrase, to “abortion.” The procedure, let alone a judgment upon it, simply isn’t mentioned.

Do NOT claim that the Mosaic Law comment about the fine a man is supposed to pay for assaulting a pregnant woman and causing a miscarriage has anything to do with abortion.

Three, this just shoots to hell, or Gitmo, the idea that “a soul is produced at conception.”

A. In the case of identical twins, then a second soul magically appears out of nowhere, unless you believe one soul magically split, too.

B. In the case of the “absorbed twin” embryos, one soul just got killed, by Religious Right logic; similarly, in the case of a spontaneous abortion, the mother just killed a soul. You gonna arrest a kid five minutes after birth for murdering his or her twin?

That said, I am open to some dialogue on this issue. Basically, on the politics of the issue, I favor converting our current trimester system on reproductive choice to a bimester system, while simultaneously federalizing freer reproductive choice in the first bimester and allowing states more latitude than they have now to install even more restrictive standards in the second bimester.

Speaking of "Mosaic Law," how do your birth conceptionsts address mosaics? Teratomas? Conjoined or regular "identical" twins? Ooops. And, yes, they all cause you problems.

February 15, 2008

A possible reason for CIA destruction of waterboarding tapes

Elimination of evidence from the upcoming Gitmo Six trials. Fits perfectly with how defense lawyers for Hamdan, KSM, etc. are getting stiffed every other way.

The truth behind Buffett’s offer to back up bond insurers — and how it could make the recession worse

Jon Markman lays out the less than idealistic details.

First, it’s only half a backstop. He’s only willing to reinsure low-risk muni bonds, not higher-risk private sector issues.

Second, it’s even more cynical than I first realized.
You almost have to admire the old buzzard’s devious but brilliant gambit, as it was the equivalent of a rich man walking into the parlor of a family about to lose its home to foreclosure and offering to buy all the good furniture, tapestries and china at pennies on the dollar.

His plan to provide backup insurance for $800 billion in guarantees would briefly shore up the finances of these devastated monoline insurers, to be sure, but it would also leave them with so much exposure to faltering debt instruments that the insurers would remain fully vulnerable to life-threatening downgrades from bond-rating outfits. …

Buffett is essentially asking the prayerful insurers to sell him the one thing they have ever made money on — muni guarantees — and hold on to the junk that no one can value. He is trying to rip out their throats while they’re up against the wall — the high-finance equivalent of a payday loan. He's suggesting they give up the tremendous long-term income stream generated by municipal bond issuers’ insurance payments for enough cash to get through the new next few months. …

The good news about Buffett’s move is that it exposed to the world just how disconnected the equity world is from the credit world. The gesture was greeted with a clueless surge in stock prices, but the debt world recognized the ineffable cynicism embedded in the Omaha, Neb., investor’s gesture and pushed risk spreads wider — their equivalent of a big thumbs down.

Markman also kindly reminds us of the exorbitant rates Buffett charged for terrorism insurance after 9/11.

Markman also notes that Buffett’s offer, which bond insurers have a month to accept, could force local governments to buy back major chunks of their municipal bond offerings.

Already, without this friendly offer from St. Warren, the credit crunch is hitting the muni bond market:
Already this week the world of seemingly low-risk credit got a lot more tense when a large set of bonds sold by municipalities with rates set through periodic auctions failed to attract much interest, requiring deal runners Citigroup and Goldman Sachs to commit their own thinning capital to the deals.

This is something that never happens, and the consequences are grave. Just to give you an idea, Bloomberg reports that rates on $100 million in bonds sold by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey this week soared to 20 percent from 4.3 percent a week ago. Debt put on the block by Presbyterian Healthcare in Albuquerque, N.M., and New York state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority met a similar fate, according to the wire service, as investors' confidence in the credit strength of the insurers has plummeted.

Twenty percent for bonds issued by a governmental agency as big as the Port Authority? That’s HUGE.

Clearly, something like the buyback effect of Buffett’s offer would likely have the primary effect of pushing us further into recession. Ambac and other bond insurers have a month to decide whether or not to swallow Buffett’s poison pill.

Four ways to seriously cut oil use

Think methanol, not ethanol, in many alt-fuel cases; think sugarcane not corn for when you do want ethanol; ban gas-only cars; fix the political process. Simply said by Gal Luft, but, of course, not easily done.

Waterboarding OK because it doesn’t cause ‘prolonged mental harm’ — I guess PTSD doesn’t count

Like Pol Pot instead of Torquemada

In his alternative reality unverse, Stephen Bradbury, the Department of Justice official serving as titleless head of the Office of Legal Counsel, says that issue, that waterboarding doesn’t cause “prolonged mental harm,” is part of why it’s legal.:
Under the mental side, Congress was very careful in the torture statute to have a very precise definition of severe mental pain or suffering. It requires predicate conditions be met and then, moreover, as we said in our opinion in December 2004, reading many cases, court cases, under the Torture Victims Protection Act, it requires an intent to cause prolonged mental harm. Now that's a mental disorder that is extended or continuing over time and if you've got a body of experience with a particular procedure that's been carefully monitored that indicates that you would not expect that there would be prolonged mental harm from a procedure, you can conclude that it's not torture under the precise terms of that statute.

I don’t know the universe Mr. Bradbury inhabits, but from what I’ve seen, waterboard can, if not always, cause PTSD.

And, that’s not “prolonged mental harm”? Just what IS prolonged mental harm, pray tell?

Oh, and just because waterboarding CIA-style isn’t like that of the Spanish Inquisition doesn’t mean that we’re not following other torturous regimes. Instead, it’s Khmer Rouge style.

Great. We’re like Pol Pot instead of Torquemada.

Consumers: Recession is here; pessimism highest since 1986

Contrary to Alan Greenspan or others, consumers believe we’re already in a recession, with consumer confidence hitting its lowest point since the George H.W. Bush recession in 1992. And some sentiment is even worse. The same survey says 86 percent of consumers believe the economy is in decline, the highest since the Reagan recession of 1982.

I think this reflects the reality that we’re going to have the worst recession since 1982.

Oh my darling Clemens-tine: The needle and the buttocks done

Andy Pettitte has confirmed everything Brian McNamee said about Roger Clemens getting ’roided up.

Clemens, along with Rusty Hardin and other Clemens legal mouthpieces, have not actually called long-time Clemens friend Pettitte a liar just like McNamee, just questioned his memory.

Meanwhile, Jason Whitlock has a great smackdown column for the Rocket.

Best of all, for the people still trying to defend Clemens, Whitlock and Fox staff do the same thing that people riding Barry Bonds’ ass did a couple of years ago: juxtaposed “before and after” pix. No, Clemens doesn’t look like he has swelling head growth plates (even if he does have a swelled head), but, he bulked up. The photos are clear. And, bulked up… not fattened up.

It would explain those end-of-career hamstring problems, too. Maybe that’s part of why the Rocket retired. He realized he couldn’t avoid blowing out his hammies.

Basically, the one difference between Bonds and Clemens is that Bonds is sullen and Clemens is smarmy.

Per Bill Simmons: “And you wonder why the late Boston Globe columnist Will McDonough derisively called Clemens "The Texas Con Man," attacked his character at every turn and wrote roughly a million times that Clemens only cared about himself and nobody else.”

Free polls from
Which MLB player benefited more from juicing?
Roger Clemens Barry Bonds   

New party runs Congress, same greed prevails

Since regaining Congress, Democrats got 57 percent of earmarks. Freshman Dems in the House have been among the biggest recipients, in order to boost their reelection chances. And, Hillary Clinton is in the Senate’s top 10, with Barack Obama in the bottom 25, to the tune of a $250 million difference. (McCain doesn’t take earmarks.)

Taxpayers for Common Sense said earmarks totaled $18 billion in fiscal 2008.

Bonds flunked 2000 steroid test: heat will increase on Anderson

The San Francisco Giant slugger allegedly failed a 2000 steroids test, the feds say.

The big angle in this is that is brings Bonds’ long-time personal trainer, Greg Anderson, back to the forefront of Bonds’ pending trial. As opposed to grand jury proceedings, it’s clear that Anderson will have to testify. If self-incrimination is an issue, the government will offer immunity. If he still refuses, the feds will throw every charge in the book at Anderson.

Specter: Doesn’t believe Goodell, is moving ahead with NFL probe

Sen. Arlen Specter, given the green light by Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, intends to expand his probe of how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handled the New England Patriots’ Spygate issue.

Goodell’s admission that at least some Pats’ videotaping went all the way back to 2000 opened the doors wide for this.
“I’m determined to go forward,” said Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “You have answers and positions where [Goodell] is saying that with the destruction of tapes that, ‘We did the right thing. We’re absolutely sure.’

“Well, that is absurd . . . Goodell says things that don’t make sense.”

Among the issues that continue to trouble Specter are:

• Goodell’s imposition of a penalty — the loss of a first-round draft pick, a $500,000 fine to coach Bill Belichick and a $250,000 to the team — before the Patriots had turned over evidence, including notes dating to 2002 and six tapes from the 2006 season and 2007 preseason, requested by the league. The Patriots were caught videotaping defensive signals from the sidelines in their Sept. 9 season opener against the New York Jets. The commissioner imposed his penalty on Sept. 13, four days before New England provided the tapes and notes.

“Did they know the scope of the wrongdoing before the penalty was imposed?” asked Specter, a former Philadelphia district attorney. “The answer is no.”

• Specter said it was unsettling to learn that the tapes, as well as notes, turned over by the Patriots in September had been destroyed in Foxboro rather than in the league’s New York offices. … Specter said the league’s suggestion that the material, particularly the notes dating to the 2002 season, was destroyed because it might have afforded a competitive advantage is unbelievable.

• Specter believes the NFL hasn't gone far enough in its offer of legal protection to former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, who has told that he has potentially embarrassing information about the team's taping practices.

The league has offered to indemnify Walsh against exposure to a lawsuit from the Patriots, but the proposal stipulates that Walsh must tell the truth and return anything he took improperly. Under those conditions, the team could still file suit against Walsh even after he turns over evidence to the Patriots and league.

“Matt Walsh is an important guy, and they have made it so conditional,” Specter said. “All they got to do is say, ‘We’re not going to sue you.’ It is not a big deal.” …

• Specter said he was concerned to learn from Walsh's attorney that an NFL security representative, Dick Farley, had been investigating Walsh.

Specter’s got a number of valid points, and this investigation is going to take a while. Goodell better hope its over before the start of NFL preseason.

Robert Reich: We need better income distribution

The former Labor Secretary and actual Clinton Administration liberal says the stimulus package just won’t cut it. Many people have spent beyond their means and better income distribution is the only way to prevent a real long-term dip.

He’s right, of course, but since Clinton himself really didn’t do anything to accomplish this, and Dems caved on extending unemployment bennies in the stimulus package, this just isn’t a high Democratic priority.

Greenspan and Yergin: Two liars, one stage

Daniel Yergin, the head of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, welcomed former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan to CERA’s annual conference. How fitting to have two of the biggest liars in our current economic structure on the same stage, doubly so when Greenspan said he was amazed at the strength of the U.S. economy in the face of relatively high oil prices.

Mr. Bubble continues to deny any responsibility for the current recession he now admits is “near,” though not here. His housing bubble, by encouraging people to buy McMansions, is contributing to ever more unsustainable energy usage on utilities as well as suburban sprawl. Yergin, the noisiest Peak Oil denier, still hasn’t changed his stance that we’re nowhere near Peak Oil, even as Greenspan’s actions have helped move us closer to the peak itself, if not in its actual plateau area.

Both appear to oppose carbon dioxide hard caps; that’s the best argument yet for supporting them.

February 14, 2008

Bush pardon Clemens?

That’s what Brian McNamee’s lawyer claims, citing the Rocket’s Bush connections in particular and GOP connections in general.

Yes, the whole issue of Congress nosing its way into professional sports is minor, compared to banning waterboarding as a CIA tool or preventing telecom immunity as part of FISA renewal. That said, this is where we’re at.

Rocket looks very guilty of perjury; a Bush pardon wouldn’t at all surprise me.

Clemens and Bonds — who benefited more from juicing?

First, Clemens’ and Bonds’ career stats.

Besides seeing Clemens’ injuries (can we even say “breakdown”) his last four years in Boston, THIS stands out. His post-Boston winning percentage jumps MORE THAN 100 PERCENTAGE POINTS. Clemens suck-ups and hired-gun statisticians just can’t hide from that.

Was Clemens a “bulldog,” as an acquaintance of mine claims? Well Greg Maddux has only nine fewer complete games. And, all but 18 of Rocket’s complete games were with the Bosox, and only four after he left Toronto. Now, Clemens’ hired gun statisticians would probably use that to claim he didn’t juice. I use it, in combo with his last four years in Boston, to say steroids kept him from breaking down even more.

Those years? 11-14, 9-7, 10-5 and 10-13 on W-L record. Three of the four years, less than 170 strikeouts and less than 200 innings pitched.

Oh, here’s a stat to throw in Clemens’ statisticians’ faces. His pre-Toronto career W-L? 196-111. Toronto and later, it’s 162-73. First winning percentage? .638. Second winning percentage? .754. HUGE difference.

My guess is that Clemens would not have broken either the 300-win or 4,000-strikeout mark. Would he likely still have been a first-round Hall of Famer? Yes, but not guaranteed.

Now, because Bonds’ case has been endlessly analyzed, I’ll give my short take.

Without ’roids, Barry still would have had 2,800 hits minimum (maybe more, without all the intentional walks; he might have gotten to 3,00) and 550-600 homers, 2,000 runs, 1,800 RBIs, been a guaranteed first-round HOFer and had a higher vote than Clemens. His biggest falloff, other than the homers, would have been in slugging percentage, then on-base percentage.

I’m certainly not defending Bonds. But, let’s put Clemens under just as much scrutiny.

Now, for a new poll:

Free polls from
Which MLB player benefited more from juicing?
Roger Clemens Barry Bonds   

Specter: Goodell admits Pats’ spying goes back to 2000

So, the New England Patriots were already surreptitiously taping opponents back in 2000; lemme see, that would be BEFORE the 2002 Super Bowl win over the Rams, would it not?

Paging Kurt Warner…. Paging Kurt Warner. You got a good tort lawyer, Kurt?

If Kurt Warner sues, he should get
$1 million
$2-3 million
$4-5 million
Free polls from

‘State secrets’ kills lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary

Barring a successful appeal, we’re not going to get to hear more about extraordinary rendition or how the private sector abetted it.

February 13, 2008

Criminal to use mental patients as suicide bombers, but that’s not all

Criminal indeed that the director of an Iraqi psychiatric hospital would have released the mental patients al-Qaeda used in last months one set of suicide bombings. Criminal also to train 10-year-old kids to steal and worse.

But, it’s also criminal that the Bush gang refuses to see just how its “flypaper” occupation provokes such resentment. Or how the increased poverty in Iraq makes al-Qaeda “job opportunities” interesting.

World of science roundup

A shirt that can generate electricity

Georgia Tech engineers claim to have invented a microfiber shirt that can generate electricity. Yes, but how much is a shirt with gold microfiber threads going to cost?

Bat evolution: Flight first, then ecolocation

The fossil of a 52-million-year-old bat answer the debate conclusively on this chicken-or-egg question. The fossil shows none of the echolocation-specific features of modern bat skeletons.

Titan has more energy than Earth fossil fuels

That’s what the latest analysis of Saturn’s largest moon says. Cool to a science junkie, perhaps, but also pretty much a no-brainer finding. And, as the story points out, totally irrelevant to Peak Oil here on Tellus Mater.

Fuel from air?

That’s what our nation’s top science think tank, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, claims. LANL scientists claim they can harvest CO2 and water vapor for raw materials from the air.

Oh, there’s a catch or two. One, it would take massive amounts of electricity. Two, in a no-duh thought, LANL proposes to use nuclear power for this. (Columbia University scientists claim to have a similar plan, but using solar/thermal power for the juice.) Also, there’s a question about, LANL claims to the contrary, just how well this can be scaled up.

For more on the current nonlikelihood of capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants, etc., That’s what our nation’s top science think tank, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, see here.

Conyers’ puts burr up Pelosi’s ass on contempt

And, about time. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers has filed a resolution demanding Speaker Nancy Pelosi file a civil suit regarding Congressional contempt charges against Josh Bolton and Harriet Miers if Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to pursue the comtempt issue, as the pair continue to cite executive privilege.

Executive Director Philip Zelikow had at least two known phone calls to Karl Rove. In addition, as director of Condoleeza Rice’s National Security Agency transition team after the 2000 election, he had a major hand in demoting Bill Clinton counterterriorism czar Richard Clark.

Commission add-on Bob Kerrey threatened to resign when he found out about it, but let Chairman Tom Kean (sadly) talk him out of it.

Note: This is not just an Obama dig, but it is in part. To the degree Republican Congressmen, let alone Republican committee staff and bureaucrats learned anything in the first six years of BushCo, it’s how to roll “compromisers” in the gutter.

Clemens hearings: Despite advance brown-nosing, perjury is in the air

One Congressman on Henry Waxman’s committee, Edolphus Towns, indicated after a pre-hearings schmooze with Roger Clemens he thinks Brian McNamee perjured himself.

Meanwhile, somebody WILL be charged with perjury after this is done. As ESPN’s live blog indicates, Waxman himself said that during the start of the hearing.

That said, my take on what ESPN has up so far? Clemens is perjuring himself big-time. He has already directly accused Andy Pettitte, whose own testimony was under oath, of lying:
Rep. Elijah Cummings started his questioning by making sure Clemens knew he was under oath — “and you know what that means? Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir,” the Rocket replied.

Rep. Cummings then praised Pettitte as being “one of the most respected players in the major leagues and one of the most honest people in baseball.”
“I would agree with that. Yes, sir,” Clemens responded.

But when Cummings then confronted Clemens with Pettitte's testimony that the Rocket had told him he’d used HGH, and asked Clemens if this was true, Clemens gave him a stern, “It is not.”

“So you did not tell Mr. Pettitte you used Human Growth Hormone?”

“I did not,” Clemens said.

Well, there you have it. Either Pettitte is one of multiple sources lying about Clemens, or vice versa.

People who have read my posts on this issue know what my take is.

As I said before, the only diff between Clemens and Bonds is that, in terms of PR, Bonds is sullen and Clemens is smarmy.

Update/wrapup: While McNamee was, at best, a B-grade witness, it's clear that Clemens and his pseudo-faulty memory are one big effing lie.

Other issues:
1. Clemens “Nannygate” interference comes awfully close, in this layman’s eyes, to obstruction of justice.
2. McNamee and Clemens indeed have both looked like they’ve tried to trap each other on taped telephone calls. Clemens’ motive is obvious, but what was McNamee’s? Extortion? Protection from the feds?
3. If you ask me now who benefited more from juicing, Bonds or Clemens, my answer is Clemens.

Online democracy hits EU

It’s a minor issue, to be sure, but EU residents can vote online for a new design of a 2-euro (€2) coin.

The plus side is, this is a way to create participatory democracy. The flip side is, I don’t know how much the EU has done to prevent online ballot-box stuffing, etc. But, it’s good to start with something like this as a learning experience.

The science debate is ON

Only thing missing so far? The candidates.

ScienceDebate2008 is set for April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. That’s four days before the Pennsylvania primary. And, yes, the candidates have been invited. As of yet, none have RSVPed.

Of course, I’m sure just “major party” candidates have been invited.

Ships: 3x the global warming once thought

How bad? Shipping contributes twice as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as much-maligned air travel. And, cleaner marine diesel here in the U.S. won’t help this one.
The true scale of climate change emissions from shipping is almost three times higher than previously believed, according to a leaked UN study seen by the Guardian.

It calculates that annual emissions from the world's merchant fleet have already reached 1.12 billion tonnes of CO², or nearly 4.5 percent of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas.

The report suggests that shipping emissions — which are not taken into account by European targets for cutting global warming — will become one of the largest single sources of manmade CO² after cars, housing, agriculture and industry. By comparison, the aviation industry, which has been under heavy pressure to clean up, is responsible for about 650 million tonnes of CO² emissions a year, just over half that from shipping.

Until now, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated shipping emissions to be a maximum 400m tonnes, but the new draft report by a group of international scientists is a more sophisticated measure, using data collected from the oil and shipping industries for the International Maritime Organisation, the UN agency tasked with monitoring pollution from ships. It not only shows emissions are much worse than feared, but warns CO² emissions are set to rise by a further 30% by 2020.

In other words, given the increasing behemoth known as Chinese trade (see your local embassies at Family Dollar, Dollar General, etc., and the associate consulate at Wal-Mart), we’re going to keep cutting our own environmental throat.

Oh, this also gets us back to NAFTA, back to the WTO, etc., and the lack of enforceable environmental standards as part of trade.

Thanks, Dick Gephardt, Bill Clinton, and yes, you too, Al Gore, amongst other Democrats.

February 12, 2008

Gitmo 9/11 trials roundup — the ‘kinder, gentler show trials’

First, you CANNOT “clean up” torture-obtained testimony by having the FBI reinterrogate the “Gitmo Six” after the CIA has already used coercive methods.

Second, the Gitmo Six trials are nowhere close to being like the Nuremburg Nzai trials. That’s insult to Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, prosecutor Tom Dodd (father of son Sen. Chris) and more. Even the Soviets didn’t torture any major or semi-major defendants they had captured.

Speaking of that, if Bush wants a comparison, maybe he could riff on Daddy Bush and call this “the kinder, gentler show trials.”

Lake Mead could be dead in a dozen years — pop your champagne corks now

Lake Mead dry by 2021? Like Ed Abbey, were he still alive, I would soooo cry, NOT, if this actually happens:
What are the chances that Lake Mead, a key source of water for more than 22 million people in the Southwest, would ever go dry? A new study says it’s 50 percent by 2021 if warming continues and water use is not curtailed.

“We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us,” co-author Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in a statement. “Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest.”

“It's likely to mean real changes to how we live and do business in this region,” added co-author David Pierce, a Scripps climate scientist.

Oh, and if you think this is a worst-case scenario, the authors say, not at all:
The researchers also noted that their estimates are conservative — in other words, the water shortage is likely to be even more dire than they estimate. The conservative approach included basing their findings on:
• The premise that warming effects only started in 2007, though most experts consider human-caused warming to have likely started decades earlier.
• Averaging river flow over the past 100 years, even though it has dropped in recent decades.

If you allow for today’s waterflow and an earlier start to global warming, here’s what the results actually could be, they say:
• A 10 percent chance that Lake Mead could be dry by 2014.
• A 50 percent chance that reservoir levels will drop too low to allow hydroelectric power generation by 2017.
• The system could still run dry even if recently proposed mitigation measures are implemented.

Speaking of Abbey, can we get the Monkey Wrench Gang to blow up Hoover Dam instead of Glen Canyon Dam at that point, since there will no longer be a need for it?

RIP freedom from snooping, RIP Democratic conscience — telco immunity passes Senate

Sixteen Democrats, more than a dirty dozen, were in the 67-31 majority to vote down the Senate’s Dodd-Feingold amendment and so give telecommunications companies retroactive immunity from spying on Americans — spying that went on BEFORE 9/11, remember. (Independent Joe Lieberman, I-Neocon, also was in the majority; Obama was on the right side and Clinton failed to show to vote.

Alternatives, such as Sen. Arlen Specter’s amendment to have the government stand in the lawsuit box in place of the telcos, also failed, as did Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Betty Crocker) bill to stipulate FISA is the sole mechanism for wiretapping, and an amendment to increase oversight of wiretapping of American citizens.

Yes, I know the House passed a version of FISA renewal without immunity, but given the margin in the Senate, you know what’s going to ultimately happen to that.

The only way of salvaging a somewhat more favorable impression of Democrats would be if someone like Chris Dodd follows through on his idea of doing an old-fashioned actual filibuster, since he doesn’t have 40 votes to block cloture.

I’m sorry for all you “vote Democratic no matter what” apologists, but if nearly one-third of Senate Dems, including a “bright new face” like Jim Webb, can vote in favor of immunity, there’s even less reason for me to support the “D” lever myself.

Update: There is hope for now. Dodd has indeed promised to filibuster if a House-Senate conference doesn’t strip telco immunity.

Of course, per the “faint hope” of “The Lord of the Rings,” whether any other Democratic Senators will step to the microphone for a real filibuster, as opposed to six-plus years of GOP fake filibusters, remains to be seen.

That said, per the Senate of the 1950s and 1960s, for historical value alone, it would be fun to see a real filibuster.

Iran infiltrating Mahdi Army, backing al-Hakim

No wonder Moqtada al-Sadr is losing control of his own political movement and militia. AP reports that, after Sadr called a freeze on fighting against U.S. troops more than six months ago, Iran deliberately started infiltrating his organization:
Iran has shunned the Mahdi Army, but has continued sending arms, fighters and money into Iraq. The leaders of these groups of fighters take orders from Iran and are known as the Ettelaat, shorthand for Iranian intelligence.

The Iraqi officials who spoke to the AP said that after al-Sadr announced a freeze on his militia in August, the Iranians sent in seven Ettelaat commanders — Iraqis loyal to Iran who had been training and handling elite Mahdi Army groups in Iran. These at the time had broken with the mainstream militia over the freeze.

The commanders were said to have slowly infiltrated with more than 1,000 men armed and trained by Iran, with orders to continue harassing the Americans with roadside bombings, mortar and rocket attacks — a one-year high of 12 on the Army’s 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division in January alone, the military said.

The Ettelaat force in Iraq is recruiting more fighters from among disaffected Mahdi Army foot soldiers and commanders of the so-called “special groups,” not only to keep American forces off balance but also as a sleeper brigade that would open all-out warfare should the United States attack Iran, a real fear in Tehran, the Iraqi officials said.

Along with that, Iran has made the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim its prime Iraqi stalking horse, despite al-Hakim’s more moderate approach to both the U.S. and Iraqi Sunnis.

Bottom line? Tehran holds the keys to just how much, or how little, political fissuring there is in Iraq.

It’s no longer just a subprime bubble — primes, HELOCs in trouble

Not quite a “duh” story, the Gray Lady notes the credit/housing bubble is extending to prime loans.

As should be expected, the main problem in prime loans is with ARMs or principal-only starter payments. While some people with ARMs may have been deliberate dice-rollers, I’m guessing some of them were on the borderline of prime-land, and an ARM was the only way they could enter.

Oh, and take note of predatory lending in the case of Brenda Harris:
At the time (of her home purchase), she asked for a loan that could be refinanced after one year without penalty. She said her broker had told her a week before the closing that the penalty would extend until May 2009 and that she reluctantly agreed because she had already started moving.

Even worse in our negative-savings-rate country, more than 5 percent of home-equity lines of credit are in default.

In other words, more people with less money to spend, meaning the current recession is not likely to be the most mild one.

Don’t let the cops bust you for speeding

Instead, find speed traps around the world with
one website:
Utilizing Microsoft Live Maps, the Speed Trap Mashup allows users to rapidly access speed trap information by country, state, city, zip code, or address, and if any are missing, speed traps can be added anonymously by anyone. Zooming in on local speed trap provides detailed information such as the type of speed detection used, posted speed limit, rating, and level of

I’ll have to check this baby out personally.

Rate your company online? Hmmm

Per eReleases:, Inc., an online African American owned recruiting firm, has created the first ever employer grading software that allow employees the ability to rate their employers on a circular platform. It's like giving the boss and company a personal grade without the formalities involved.

Could be good for “venting,” even if the company does nothing with it.

Old white guys no longer in Congress endorse Clinton

First, it was former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, so faded from memory that Talking Points Memo labeled him as first American to orbit the moon, not the earth.

Now, down here in Texas, Rep. Charles Stenholm, redistricted out of his seat by Tom DeLay’s flunkies Tom Craddock et al in the Texas Lege, is endorsing Clinton.

If Obama counters with, say Ted Strickland or Sherrod Brown in Ohio, and more minority Congressional endorsements here, his “change” meme will get yet another shot in the arm.

Hell, kids under 30, even if they’re politically active, probably don’t even know who John Glenn is, let alone confusing the Earth and Moon.

Buffett offer nice, but part of it also scares the hell out of me

Multibillionaire investor Warren Buffett is offering a second level of bond insurance to back up bond insurance companies.
In an interview on CNBC, Buffett said his Berkshire Hathaway holding company made the offer of reinsurance to bond insurers Ambac Financial Group Inc., MBIA Inc. and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. Buffett says one firm rejected his offer and he is still waiting to hear from the other two. He did not say which was which.

The nice part? This will certainly add some stability to credit markets.

The scary part? A single private investor with that much power, indirect power as it may be, over the muni bond market. And, Buffett himself admits he’s not Santa Claus:
“When I go to St. Peter I will not present this as some act that will entitle me to get in,” Buffett said on CNBC. “We’re doing this to make money.”

How much money, and how? Will he use this experience to further his touts as to which city’s or county’s bonds to buy?

GM: Cratering is job No. 1

Yes, part of GM’s $38.7 billion fiscal 2007 loss was due to tax issues, but not that much. And, how can you be profitable in Latin America and elsewhere in the world but suck in the U.S.?

Have you actually been building better cars for people elsewhere, especially Western Europe, that you’re not building here? Are you facing less competition (so far) from Toyota in these other areas?

Oh, and speaking of that, don’t expect that 3,000 edge in 2007 car sales to hold up this year.

Another week of recession fears, another mortgage Band-Aid plan

The government’s latest mortgage relief “patch,” in combination with six home lenders, really won’t do that much.

Yes, it extends beyond subprime borrowers. But, it doesn’t apply to people already in default, and the people who are eligible have just 30 days to negotiate new terms. The six banks — Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Countrywide Financial Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Washington Mutual Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. — are members of Hope Now, which claims it has already helped many subprime borrowers.

Yes, but helped how much?
Consumer groups, however, point out that many borrowers still can't keep up, even after loan workouts. They say many of the borrowers in the Hope Now effort have negotiated short-term loan modifications or repayment plans, which often involve a borrower getting back on track after missing a few payments. A full-fledged refinancing at a lower rate is preferable, they say.

I don’t want to totally minimize the help, but, remember, somebody like BofA ain’t in this for its health or its charitable reputation.

Reason No. 986 to want to not vote Democratic

As I start to do my taxes, and I realize my interest off my CDs gets taxed at a higher rate than that of a hedge fund manager’s management fees, and I realize some Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer actively support this, and other Democrats at least won’t fight it …

Spying on ‘leftist’ governments in Latin America: it’s an addiction, I guess

This time, allegedly, it’s Bolivia that’s the target of U.S. snooping, or, more specifically, Cubans and Venezuelans inside Bolivia. Supposedly, La Paz U.S. Embassy security officer Vincent Cooper asked Peace Corps volunteers and an American Fulbright scholar to pass along information about Cubans and Venezuelans working in Bolivia.

Cooper has been recalled to Washington for “consultations.” Yeah, right, he’s being told to be more discreet next time. Meanwhile, the La Paz embassy is already spinning.
The embassy released a statement Monday explaining that Peace Corps volunteers had been mistakenly given a security briefing meant only for embassy staff, asking them to report “suspicious activities”

“Nobody at the embassy has ever asked American citizens to participate in intelligence activities here,” U.S. ambassador Phillip Goldberg said during a flood relief visit to the eastern city of Trinidad. “But I want to say that I greatly regret the incident that was made known this weekend.”

The ambassador’s statement referred only to the Peace Corps briefing in July. Embassy officials said they could not confirm whether Cooper also gave improper instructions to a Fulbright scholar in a one-on-one briefing in November.

Several points to make.

One, Goldberg isn’t denying that official embassy staff are directly charged with orders to engage in paranoiac behavior, just that the briefing meant for them was wrongly given to Peace Corps volunteers.

Second, he really regrets not “the incident that was made known,” but “that the incident was made known.”

The third point:
On Friday, Fulbright scholar Alex van Schaick told The Associated Press that Cooper, the embassy’s assistant regional security officer, asked him to pass along the names and addresses of any Venezuelan and Cuban workers he might encounter in the country. “We know they're out there, we just want to keep tabs on them,” Schaick quoted Cooper as telling him on Nov. 5.

In other words, this was a repeat offense. And, I’m sure there are many more cases not yet revealed.

Richard Branson volunteers to launch ‘war room’ on global warming

Call this the “global warming surge,” a surge in which Shrub Bush will be permanently AWOL. British airline billionaire Branson, who has already started serious discussion on the greening of air travel, is ready to launch the global warming fight into its next phase:
The British billionaire, speaking at the start of a U.N. debate on climate change, said it would be run by a world figure in global warming and could serve as "a tool for the U.N." to ferret out good ideas and calculate each nation's costs.

“The ‘war room’ will be independent of politics,” Branson said. “But in the end it will need the United Nations, governments and other organizations to help make sure implementation happens.”

And, taking a break from his non-candidacy for president, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is sensibly calling for a carbon-dioxide tax rather than a cap-and-trade system.

This is a “surge” that any environmentalist can support. Hell, if Branson flew flights inside the U.S., I’d look to book with him for this reason alone.

February 11, 2008

John McCain’s campaign fun woes

You’ve got a runaway lead in party delegates. You’re already being coronated as the GOP presidential nominee.

Funny, though, if you’re John McCain, the GOP voters suddenly don’t seem to think that way.

First, he ain’t getting Ron Paul’s endorsement.
“I can not support anybody with the foreign policy he advocates, you know, perpetual war. That is just so disturbing to me,” Paul said.

“I think it's un-American, un-Constitutional, immoral, and not Republican.”

Second, Huckabee is surging like hell in Virginia. There’s a 20-point swing in polling just since Friday.

Third, Mr. McCain-Feingold has decided to opt out of taking public campaign funds.

Fourth, the Schmuck Talk Express™ is telling Huck to stop trying to get an actual final vote count in Washington state.

This just has to inspire confidence in Big Mac among Republican leaders.

Just a little note.

Just a little note.

Yes, John McCain would be the oldest man elected to his first term as president. But, Ralph Nader is two and a half years older. Not that Ralph looks like he’s about to drop dead, but he did just turn 74.

February 10, 2008

Please, no Green conspiracy theories

It was bad enough in Fort Worth Feb. 10 for Cynthia McKinney to mention “9/11 truthers.” Far worse was an entirely new conspiracy. Tom Smith, Green candidate for the U.S. Senate, mentioned “the Wellstone effect,” I guess making an allusion to the idea that Republicans caused the plane crash of the late Minnesota senator.

I mean, if I hear enough nuttery, I do have the option of not voting at all.

Greens in Fort Worth: a couple of fairly minor ‘issues’

One: this isn’t a Republican or Democratic event with a fancy buffet, etc., where people will wait an hour if John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is running an hour late. Cynthia McKinney was listed for 7 p.m. — why was she not given the floor until 8? It’s organization, folks, organization. And, if you expect to get “walk-ins” interested in the Greens, you’ve got to give them the main course or the sweet dessert, whichever you could call McKinney, right away, and hold the appetizer until later.

McKinney: ‘I had a place to go when the Democratic Party left me’

Those were among the choicer words spoken in Fort Worth Feb. 10 by former Democratic Congresswoman and current Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. This is one of multiple posts about the evening.

McKinney noted that, as a Congresswoman, some of the legislation she proposed, along with what she saw as a insubstantial yet substantial issue, a rejected attempt by party consultants to style her up, led her both to be marginalized within the Democratic caucus and to realize she had common issues with Greens.

Among that legislation she proposed was an attempt to ban depleted uranium from use in tank and artillery shells, banning tax breaks for companies moving businesses/factories overseas, and voting reform legislation that would have included instant runoff voting. Not surprisingly, all but three of the above three items were passed by Congress, the last in part because, of course, it threatens the two-party monopoly.

Top issues she mentioned included ending the war in Iraq, ending privatizing of prisons (Amen to that), learning from the success of “people power” in Latin America, and more attention to 9/11 “truthers” (a pet subject of hers, and NO amen to that on my part, especially as it was the second conspiracy theory item I heard at the event).

Other choice quotes:

Referring to the financial side of the two-party monopoly, she said, “We are all the same people. We get our money from the same people.”

On the work involved with doing the right thing, she said. “It’s easy for Nancy Pelosi, to ascend to the highest place (a woman has reached) .. and then say, ‘Impeachment is off the table.’”