March 08, 2008

Bud Selig: What steroids? Somebody will tell me someday

The Budmeister has decided his duties as MLB commish don’t include reading Barry Bonds’ grand jury testimony, instead of trusting the summations of MLB lawyers.

Meanwhile, Selig continues to read through the Mitchell Report with the same “all due deliberation” Brown vs. Board of Education speed that NFL commish Roger Goodell is exercising in trying to line up a meeting with potential Spygate snitch Matt Walsh:
Selig also said he hasn't decided what he will do about players mentioned in the Mitchell report on drugs and continues to review them on a case-by-case basis.

“I haven’t made any decisions on that yet,” Selig said. “We are working to finish off all of Sen. Mitchell’s recommendations, which will really tighten the program up and somehow I'm hoping one of these days that I can escape a press conference without any questions on this.”

“One of these days”? What an effing laugher, Bud! Is “one of these days” a day in the next decade, or further out?

I have an idea.

Let’s make Bud and Roger switch leagues for a month. I bet, without having to engage in in PR foot-in-mouth, the two of them might actually fix some problems in each other’s league.

Pinkers – like brother like sister in quasi-junk science

It appears Susan Pinker is just as much a died-in-the-wool “naturist” on evolutionary psychology issues as is her better-known brother, Steven.

Specifically, in a new book, it’s the difference between boys and girls at school, followed by men and women at work, that gets her research psychologist’s explanation of being all about hormonal-generated differences in male and female brains.

The facts of difference are unarguable today. In school, boys are truant more, cause more disciplinary problems, perform lower on standardized tests, etc. But, they’re still the leaders in the business world. And, glass ceilings aside, women in the business world generally indicate higher degrees of job satisfaction, Emily Bazelon notes.

Pinker rejects the idea that much of this is due to the “glass ceiling” effect in the business world. She does admit there is some sexual bias, but says its effect is minuscule:
To support this, Pinker quotes a female Ivy League law professor: “I am very skeptical of the notion that society discourages talented women from becoming scientists,” the professor writes. “My experience, at least from the educational phase of my life, is that the very opposite is true.” If women aren’t racing to the upper echelons of science, government and the corporate world despite decades of efforts to woo them, Pinker argues, then it must be because they are wired to resist the demands at the top of those fields.

Now, Clarence Thomas would claim that society doesn’t hold black men down, either, and would cite his own academic experience, without talking 5 seconds about how much he benefited from affirmative action. So, without knowing who this professor is and how she got to where she is, I can’t even begin to dissect her statement.

Beyond that, Bazelon does her own takedown on Pinker and that pesky “glass ceiling”:
Pinker also skips past an answer to the book’s central question that may have more explanatory power than her other arguments, even if it’s more prosaic and familiar to many a parent. Boys lag dramatically behind girls in terms of psychological development and physical resilience and then start to catch up as teenagers, as a long-running and well-known study Pinker cites documented. Maybe after a few years as girls’ developmental equals, boys are ready to compete in the work force — and then zoom ahead as cultural norms and discrimination push women back. After all, why would girls’ hard-wired predilection against competition stay on ice while they blithely sweep all the academic honors and then kick in only at work?

I don’t reject sexual dimorphism in the human brain, at all. But, as Matt Ridley put it in his excellent book by that title, I affirm the reality of “nature via nurture” and it is obvious neither Pinker sibling does.

Fortunately, the pendulum of scientific study, even in molecular biology and genetics, as we learn more about how much “junk DNA” is actually regulatory sequences which control the expression of codons, regulatory sequences affected by cellular environment.

By the way, the Pinkers also clearly illustrate the difference between the proper use of evolutionary psychology and the misuse of the quasi-metaphysical Evolutionary Psychology.

Collin County turning bluer?

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s 78,000 total votes in the March 4 primary was 20,000 more than John McCain and Mike Huckabee combined in this stereotypical suburban “red-state county” just north of the city of Dallas. Even allowing for GOP crossovers not due to Obamamania but due to Rush Limbaugh-inspired shenanigans, that’s still a shocker.

Similar things happened in suburban counties adjoining Austin, San Antonio and Houston. We’ll see whether this carries over to November or not.

I’m sure the Texas Democratic Party would be satisfied with closing the 2004 general election gap by one-third or so.

Southwest safety snafu heats up

Now, it’s not just the Federal Aviation Administration that has Southwest Airlines in its gunsights. Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will have Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and other top execs testify before his committee; April 3 is the magic date.

Despite Oberstar eliciting testimony that a complacent FAA inspector basically gave Southwest a pass on not doing legally required self-inspection of its planes, Kelly continues to sing the “don’t look here” tune:
“As long as there is integrity in the record-keeping and there are clear rules and regulations, they shouldn’t leave much room for any shenanigans there. At this point, I don’t have any evidence that that is an issue,” he said.

He also, despite the lack of inspections, apparently believes, sight unseen, that all of Southwest’s 737s are A-OK:
“I don’t think we have anything that’s broken,” he said. “But we’re certainly going to use this as an opportunity to review once again and make sure we’ve got the very best maintenance procedures in the world.”

Well, Kelly is either laying cow patties out in the north 40 or else he sincerely believes in the “don’t look here” school of CEO management.

So, Gary. Let’s get down to Southwest image brass tacks.

It’s not any cheaper to fly Southwest from Love than it is to fly American from D/FW in most cases. In fact, in some cases, it’s more expensive. And, your vaunted corporate reputation has gotten a hard kick in the gonads.

And all you can do is sing “don’t look here”?

At least with American, I expect the north 40 to be covered with cow manure as part of the cost of doing air travel business with them.

Hypocrisy alert: Maryland cops speed – and refuse to pay

It seems 148 police officers in Montgomery County, Md., are speeding through video enforcement speed zones.

But, surely that includes cops on legitimate calls, right?

NO – that’s after 76 cops on actual pursuits were eliminated from the original 224 speeders.

And, wait, it gets better.

The AP story says: “The police union says officers shouldn't pay because the citations are issued to the owner of a vehicle, in this case the county, and not to the driver.”

Getting a new date on the universe

New cosmological precision says the universe is 13.73 billion years old, give or take 120 million years.

Why can’t the CIA get spies this dedicated?

An alleged Indian spy released by Pakistan after 35 years in prison has detailed the lengths he went to be seen as a legitimate Pakistani.

Kashmir Singh, a Sikh, said he adopted the name Ibrahim and even got himself circumcised to pass as a Muslim in Pakistan. He also ate beef, forbidden to Sikhs, and fasted during Ramadan. And, he says, he kept his mouth shut during 35 years of prison.

McCain – Against torture before for it and I know int’l law

No further comment needed:
“I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not” torture.

“I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” McCain said. “So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate” international rules against torture.

So, McCain is saying, in essence, he’s the Decider on what constitutes international law, because we know in the real world what international law says about waterboarding.

Eddie Bernice Johnson looking weak on the Hill

At No. 264, Johnson ranks below the halfway point of the 435 Members of Congress as ranked by Congress.org power rankings. Here’s the group’s criteria:
1) Position: How much power might the legislator wield through his/her position in the Congress by virtue of tenure, new committee assignments or new leadership position? This Power Category includes some new weightings for all committees, subcommittees, and leadership positions, taking into consideration the new majority or minority party status of the member.

2) Indirect Influence: How much power has the legislator demonstrated or may be capable of demonstrating to influence the congressional agenda or outcome of votes through the media or congressional caucuses.

3) Legislative Activity: How much power has the legislator demonstrated through the passage of legislation or shaping legislation through amendments thus far? The team eliminated from that data items which did not substantially change the bill or existing law. These included amendments dealing with technical changes or bills of a ceremonial or commemorative nature such as naming of post offices or other public buildings, or non-binding resolutions that expressed the “sense of the Congress.”

4) Earmarks: This is a new criteria added to the 2008 Power Rankings as a result of Congress’ decision in 2007 to make the earmarking process more transparent. How successful was the legislator at securing funds for local projects in his or her district or state?

In addition, the project team recognized that Members of Congress can exert or possess power that cannot be measured by these standard measures. Therefore, we created the “Sizzle/Fizzle” factor. For example, “Sizzle” factors can include a legislator’s unique background and experience (Sen. John McCain, R-AZ) or relationships (Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY) or newfound popularity (Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL) that somehow adds weight to their power.

Since Eddie Bernice has been around for quite a while, what her low ranking is saying is that she hasn’t done squat as far as serious legislation. She’s a career backbencher, to use British parliamentary terms. And, she doesn’t have a lot of indirect influence. In fact, only one Democrat in Texas’ U.S. House delegation, Henry Cuellar, ranks lower, out of the 13 total.

Eddie Bernice Johnson looking weak on the Hill

At No. 264, Johnson ranks below the halfway point of the 435 Members of Congress as ranked by Congress.org power rankings. Here’s the group’s criteria:
1) Position: How much power might the legislator wield through his/her position in the Congress by virtue of tenure, new committee assignments or new leadership position? This Power Category includes some new weightings for all committees, subcommittees, and leadership positions, taking into consideration the new majority or minority party status of the member.

2) Indirect Influence: How much power has the legislator demonstrated or may be capable of demonstrating to influence the congressional agenda or outcome of votes through the media or congressional caucuses.

3) Legislative Activity: How much power has the legislator demonstrated through the passage of legislation or shaping legislation through amendments thus far? The team eliminated from that data items which did not substantially change the bill or existing law. These included amendments dealing with technical changes or bills of a ceremonial or commemorative nature such as naming of post offices or other public buildings, or non-binding resolutions that expressed the “sense of the Congress.”

4) Earmarks: This is a new criteria added to the 2008 Power Rankings as a result of Congress’ decision in 2007 to make the earmarking process more transparent. How successful was the legislator at securing funds for local projects in his or her district or state?

In addition, the project team recognized that Members of Congress can exert or possess power that cannot be measured by these standard measures. Therefore, we created the “Sizzle/Fizzle” factor. For example, “Sizzle” factors can include a legislator’s unique background and experience (Sen. John McCain, R-AZ) or relationships (Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY) or newfound popularity (Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL) that somehow adds weight to their power.

Since Eddie Bernice has been around for quite a while, what her low ranking is saying is that she hasn’t done squat as far as serious legislation. She’s a career backbencher, to use British parliamentary terms. And, she doesn’t have a lot of indirect influence. In fact, only one Democrat in Texas’ U.S. House delegation, Henry Cuellar, ranks lower, out of the 13 total.

DST actually COSTS energy

So much for saving energy from “springing forward” this weekend.

Up until 2006, only 15 of Indiana’s 92 counties went on Daylight Saving Time in the spring. Then, the state legislature mandated it statewide.

That gave University of California-Santa Barbara economics professor Matthew Kotchen and Ph.D. student Laura Grant a brainstorm: see how the time change affected energy consumption:
Their finding: Having the entire state switch to daylight-saving time each year, rather than stay on standard time, costs Indiana households an additional $8.6 million in electricity bills. They conclude that the reduced cost of lighting in afternoons during daylight-saving time is more than offset by the higher air-conditioning costs on hot afternoons and increased heating costs on cool mornings.

Why, then, in the past, has Congress claimed, and some private studies seemed to show, that DST saved energy?

In a word, or two: air conditioning.

Back in World War I, when the first DST system was implemented, Willis Carrier hadn’t yet introduced America to modern air conditioning. Because of the Depression, then World War II, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that it started becoming a regular residential feature.

Now, you have it in all sorts of places it’s not needed.

Los Angeles? How often does it get that hot there? Albuquerque? Use a swamp cooler instead. Michigan? Please. Not needed. Get box fans for the occasional hot day.

Phoenix? It’s going to keep getting hotter; by 2020, we’ll have nights in Phoenix that never get below 100. Move away, back to Michigan.

Holy crap – an $11K coffee maker

Sorry, but NO coffee is worth that expense. This is just another toy for aging yuppies, or their coffeehouses, with too much time on their hands.

Novak right on Dems and Iraq – 10 months ago

Boosted from an old blog post; last May, Robert Novak said that if Congressional Democrats couldn’t pass a real Iraq bill by summer 2007, they never would. Well, they haven’t. Read on


Forget about 2008, he said back then:
President Bush has won a rare showdown victory over Congress simply because Democrats felt they could not afford the risk of letting a war in progress run out of money. The Democrats’ problem is that this demonstrates conclusively that they are all talk on the Iraq War — a fact that their base will quickly realize. There is no way for Congress to end the war short of cutting off funds, and to cut off funds without the consent of the President is to invite a repeat of exactly the same showdown the Democrats have now already lost.

Novak went on to say that if Democrats wouldn’t do more then, they certainly wouldn’t this year:
The bottom line is that Democrats have passed on their best chance to end the Iraq War. If they are not willing to take a risk here in a non-election year in order to force Bush to end the war, then they certainly do not have what it takes to cut off war funds in the coming presidential election year.

And, he was right. Apply the same logic to the FISA bill, and we know what’s going to happen.

Environmental news round-up – wolf-baiting, ice-melting, elk-sickening

Government to look at claims of deliberate wolf-baiting

In a story High Country News reported last year, a Mogollon Rim ranch hand admitted deliberately baiting a Mexican gray wolf with cattle. His aim was to get the wolf to attack livestock, get its “third strike” on such attacks, and so be eligible for the euphemistic “elimination.”

Damn, even Idaho/Montana/Wyoming ranchers aren’t as bad with their reintroduced wolves as New Mexico/Arizona ones are with the reintroduced Mexican wolves.

Real brucellosis problem in Yellowstone

Is elk, not bison. Problem is, none of the Yellowstone-adjoining states have done much in the past to monitor elk populations. Problem No. 2 is that hunters don’t want the states culling elk, while they have no problem shooting a motionless bison from 20 yards.

West Antarctic ice melt speeds up

The West Antarctic ice sheet is calving more bergs and getting thinner. The Spiegel article is skeptical, in the good scientific sense, about tying this to global warming, mainly because the sheet has only been measured since the 1980s. Nonetheless, it certainly bears watching.

March 07, 2008

Eleanor gee I’m Swellanor about Gore

Eleanor Clift earns her McLaughlin Group moniker with her hankering for Al Gore to get the nod of a knotted-up, brokered Democratic presidential convention.

Is it possible? Well, Clift notes the party’s “good conscience” rule for delegates could supply the necessary latitude:
We have the Ted Kennedy forces to thank for the freedom of choice that all delegates enjoy, not just the supers. In 1980, Kennedy argued for an open convention, while President Carter was determined to keep convention delegates bound. With a 600-delegate margin over Kennedy, Carter prevailed. As a result, any delegate voting against the candidate he or she was elected to represent could be replaced by an alternate and thrown off the convention floor. The rule was strict and enforceable. Kennedy couldn't dislodge any of the Carter delegates. Two years later, after Carter lost the election, the phrase “in all good conscience” was inserted into the rule, belatedly giving delegates the latitude Kennedy had sought.

Clift advises the Clinton campaign has already been eyeballing the rule, but doubts she’ll get traction with it, in what must qualify as the punditry understatement of the week if not the month.

My take? The only real possibility for this is if Obama doesn’t have the nomination bagged on elected delegates alone, especially if he winds up needing half or more of the superdelegates to get the nomination.

If we get to that point, by the time we get there, supers will probably have a long-lasting distaste for Clinton in their mouths. But, they will know we have gotten to that point because Obama has feet of clay or a glass jaw, choose your metaphor.

Now, if that happens, does Gore want it? He will get targeted not only for the stuff that came up in 2000, but comments about his McMansion making him a hypocrite on global warming, and a challenge to say just what he will do about global warming if he thinks it’s so serious.

The flip side is, he’s been bloodied, he is “looser” now, and he could flip the hypocrisy by demonstrating that he could run a “green” day-to-day campaign, relatively speaking. And, he’s even more free of Slick Willie entanglement than eight years ago.

The flip side to that is, he’s won the Nobel Peace Prize. Does he want to come down off the mountain?

Right now, if the Clift scenario threatened to play out the way it would have to, I would rate the chance of Gore accepting a draft as 20-80 percent against.

Bush: I HEART torture

The Torturer-in-Chief has said he will veto a bill banning waterboarding in the CIA.

Press question: Will the MSM actually press McCain when the time comes for an override vote?

Kempthorne on official firing line over polar bears

The Interior Department’s Inspector General has started an investigation into why Interior has delayed listing polar bears as a threatened species due to shrinking Arctic ice habitat:
A spokesman for the department’s inspector general's office said a case had been opened in response to a letter from six environmental groups. He said the preliminary inquiry would determine whether a full-fledged investigation is warranted.

“The letter had specific allegations ... (so) we started an initial inquiry,” said Kris J. Kolesnik, associate inspector general for external affairs. “If the initial inquiry produces something that warrants us to take further action, that’s when we open an investigation.”

Enviros say the delay was to allow Interior to auction oil leases in the Chukchi Sea.

God and Man at Yale Part II – the Blair Years

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will teach religion at the American university.

Apparently,

You political Calvinists will surely ponder whether Blair supports supra-lapdog-arianism or infra-lapdog-arianism as to exactly how he was predestined to be damned by following the God-man George W. Bush.

He will actually teach a course on faith and globalization. Great. A neoliberal of sorts teaching religion as a product to be marketed like soap, lies in foreign affairs, etc. He will probably become more neoconnish in this, too, believing that religion, in a generic sense, can be marketed internationally, like democracy.

The flip side to this is on the flip side of the pond. Most of Britain will probably be glad to have him out of its collective hair. EU member states, assuming this means Blair is giving up his quixotic and ill-chanced drive to become the EU president, will certainly say good riddance to him.

Great. We’re the sacrificial lambs.

Canadian PM Harper – NO Clinton NAFTA ‘wink, wink’

I don’t know whether this would quite fall under my “hypocrisy alert” blog tag, but the claim by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that only the Obama campaign gave a back-door briefing to Canadian officials to ignore its anti-NAFTA rhetoric probably should be taken with a big grain of salt.

Let me put it this way: I’d believe CTV before Harper.

You know, this is probably going to get really ugly before it’s all done. And, we still have more than six weeks until Pennsylvania.

Get ready for gas prices to soar and $1,000 gold

In light of today’s spate of bad economic news, the Street’s guessing game is that the Fed will cut the disoount rate as much as three-quarter percent at its March 18 meeting or even sooner.

If that’s true, the Fed is clearly saying “we don’t give a damn about inflation,” or else, “we don’t have a fricking clue how to control inflation.”

In either case, a rate cuthack like that is guaranteed to fuel inflation. Even with a recession, I predict oil prices will hit $115/bbl and gold $1,000/ounce by Memorial Day.

Samantha Power: Bigger flub with Obama campaign – on Iraq

Samantha Power, the recently-resigned former top foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, has had another media flub, and a more serious one, than calling Hillary Clinton a “monster.”

In attempting to give Obama “wiggle room” on his Iraq policy, she made him look less than committed to a full withdrawal and definitely not committed to a certain pace of withdrawal:
Power downplayed Obama’s commitment to quick withdrawal from Iraq on Hard Talk, a program that often exceeds any of the U.S. talk shows in the rigor of its grillings. She was challenged on Obama's Iraq plan, as it appears on his website, which says that Obama “will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.”

“What he’s actually said, after meting with the generals and meeting with intelligence professionals, is that you — at best case scenario — will be able to withdraw one to two combat brigades each month. That’s what they’re telling him. He will revisit it when he becomes president,” Power says.

In other words, a bit of a NAFTA-esque moment for Obama on Iraq. So, just what does he believe? And, given that his anti-Iraq stance from before his 2004 Senate election is a major part of his presidential campaign image, how much will this hurt him?

And, how hard will the Clinton campaign push him on this?

Southwest Airlines gets $10.2 million black eye

The Federal Aviation Administration will fine Southwest Airlines, the top in-country carrier, as $10.2 million or more for failure to inspect its planes for a variety of possible structural cracks, an FAA requirement for older planes. The fine is the largest ever against an airline. (This is updated from a previous post.)

Per its regulations, the FAA could have sought a penalty of $25,000 per violation, as much as $36 million.

When the fine was first announced, Southwest said it planned to fight any fines and the FAA assessment, claiming it has\d complied with regulators’ requests:
A spokeswoman for Southwest, Beth Harbin, said the airline brought the issue to the FAA's attention and believed it had handled the matter to the agency’s satisfaction. Harbin said the airline believed the case was closed last year.

“We brought in 46 airplanes to take another look at them,” Harbin said. “These are preventive inspections. On six of the 46 we found the start of some very small cracking. That’s the intent of the inspection schedule — to find something before it becomes a problem. These are safe planes.”

However, the FAA alleges Southwest failed to comply with follow-up AFTER bringing the issue to the attention of the agency:
From June 18, 2006 to March 14, 2007, the FAA alleges that Southwest Airlines operated 46 Boeing 737 airplanes on 59,791 flights while failing to comply with a September 8, 2004 FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD) that required repetitive inspections of certain fuselage areas to detect fatigue cracking.

The FAA alleges that after Southwest Airlines discovered that it had failed to accomplish the required repetitive inspections, between March 15, 2007 and March 23, 2007, it continued to operate those same 46 airplanes on an additional 1,451 flights. The amount of the civil penalty reflects the serious nature of those deliberate violations.

An AD is a legally enforceable rule issued by the FAA to correct an unsafe condition in an aviation product.

Sorry, Ms. Harbin, but it sounds like Southwest got caught with its pants down, badly down.

Whether Southwest beats the rap or not, this is a black eye. Combined with most of its fuel hedges having expired, and so it having lost most of its price advantage edge, this could be a challenging year for Southwest to maintain its profitability streak. And, worries about that probably will not help Southwest’s Wall Street bottom line.

The cluelessness of Obama staff – Samantha Power update

Enough additional stuff has “moved” on the Samantha Power case since I originally posted this last night that the story line needed an update in a separate post.

Barack Obama foreign policy aide Samantha Power tried an ex post facto comment retraction of a comment about Hillary Clinton:

“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything.”

And, a personal aside. I’ve been the journalist on the receiving end of just a gaffe myself, when a school district superintendent called the federal Title I program a “candy store” in the middle of a school board meeting, then tried to retract it.

Now, lemme see on the fallout. Tweety Chris Matthews will probably go into misogynist mode with both snafus being about women. Maureen Dowd will probably figure out a new spin on “shoulder-pad feminism” or worse, while more serious analysts will wonder if Power didn’t just prove Rice right.

Power has now resigned over the comment.

Futher tidbit: Here’s Josh Marshall’s take on the Power resignation and how it shows Clinton is inside Obama’s head right now:
Obama folks can either withdraw to a world where the “new politics” reigns or focus on the fact that here in the real world there are two “old politics” practitioners standing between him and the presidency and he needs to decide how he's going to deal with that fact..

I agree; what else is there to say?

And, how does a former experienced professional journalist shoot herself in the foot like this? (And no, I don’t think the Scotsman sandbagged her or something. Per Wikipedia: From 1993 to 1996, she worked as a journalist, covering the Yugoslavian wars for U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist, and The New Republic. Boy, Clinton must really be inside Obama staff’s heads.

Update: Earlier, I had raised the idea of an arrogance meme. I am corrected on this; the interview with the Scotsman was not an official campaign interview, but rather part of her book tour for her new biography of the late UN official Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Bad jobs news looks to drive Dow below 12,000

The February jobless numbers are in, and they don’t look good. Employers cut 63,000 jobs last month, the second straight month of cuts, following an anemic increase in December.

Meanwhile, the Fed is putting more money up to auction to banks, indicating it thinks credit crunch problems are even worse than so far admitted.

Reflecting that? Credit insurer Ambac has hustled to scrape up more money, an additional $1.5 billion, to be precise, to try to save its own credit rating.

Result? Dow threatening to Meanwhile, the Fed is putting more money up drop below 12,000.

The cluelessness of Obama campaign staff

Hey, if I can write about the cluelessness of Nancy Pelosi, maybe I ought to just make “political cluelessness” in general a blog theme. (Send me tips and URLs to Socratic Gadfly.)

Obama has two staffers who get the dunce cap.

First, top Obama foreign policy advisor Susan Rice says of both Hillary Clinton AND her own boss that “they’re not ready” in terms of foreign policy experience.

Shooting your own self in the foot is bad enough; shooting your boss in the foot, and not in a backgrounder, but in an interview, is pretty effing stupid.

Second, Obama foreign policy aide Samantha Power tried an ex post facto comment retraction of a comment about Hillary Clinton:

“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything.”

And, a personal aside. I’ve been the journalist on the receiving end of just a gaffe myself, when a school district superintendent called the federal Title I program a “candy store” in the middle of a school board meeting, then tried to retract it.

Now, lemme see on the fallout. Tweety Chris Matthews will probably go into misogynist mode with both snafus being about women. Maureen Dowd will probably figure out a new spin on “shoulder-pad feminism” or worse, while more serious analysts will wonder if Power didn’t just prove Rice right.

Update: Power has resigned.

Futher tidbit: Here’s Josh Marshall’s take on the Power resignation and how it shows Clinton is inside Obama’s head right now:
Obama folks can either withdraw to a world where the “new politics” reigns or focus on the fact that here in the real world there are two “old politics” practitioners standing between him and the presidency and he needs to decide how he's going to deal with that fact..

I agree; what else is there to say?

Update: Earlier, on Power, I had raised the idea of an arrogance meme. I am corrected on this; the interview with the Scotsman was not an official campaign interview, but rather part of her book tour for her new biography of the late UN official Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The cluelessness of Nancy Pelosi — John Hagee edition

Like my semi-regular “Irony Alert” and “Hypocrisy Alert” posts, the cluelessness of our Speaker of the House could turn into a regular blog feature here.

Today’s installment? After calling for John McCain to reject the endorsement of bigoted “evangelist” (spreading the gospel of hate? Armageddon? Anti-Catholicism, to be sure) John Hagee, our nation’s beloved dimwit Speaker had to be reminded McCain solicited Hagee’s endorsement. A blogger on a blog conference call had to remind her of that.

But, wait, it gets better.

As TPM notes, AFTER she was reminded of this, she STILL (sorry, have to use caps plus bold for stupidity of this level) uttered this gem:

“I can’t imagine that he wouldn't reject it.”

Oh, also consider this Reason No. 1,044 not to vote Democratic. With leadership like that, you deserve to be fuck-ups. Unfortunately, a country that deserves better has to suffer in the process.

March 06, 2008

Science roundup: old Grand Canyon, ringed Saturn moon, hereditary happiness

Grand Canyon 3x older than thought

The western section, at least, of the Grand Canyon has been redated to an age of 17 million years, or three times older than the previous 6my estimate. Scientists from the University of New Mexico used uranium-lead radioactive dating to get new ages for sediments on Grand Canyon cave walls.

Ring around Rhea

Evidence from the Cassini spacecraft appears to show a ring around Saturn’s second-largest moon, which lies within the planet’s magnetic field.

Happiness propensity strongly hereditary

In what is somewhat of a “no-duh” report, given the amount of research on the heritability of depression and other mental health issues, British and Australian researchers claim about half of a tendency toward happiness is heritable.

That said, the story needs a couple of caveats.

First, note that I said “tendency toward happiness,” and “happiness propensity” in the subhead.. The actual story, showing that even AP or big newspaper writers who cover science stories oversimplify human biology pieces into “nature vs. nurture” rather than “nature via nurture” for the true pattern of how genes and environment interact.

Also, on personality traits, we know that maternal stresses can affect the prenatal womb environment enough to cause a propensity toward anxiety, among other things. And, no personality assessment today is able to factor out this environmental influence in order to not falsely ascribe its effect to genetics. Of course, identical twins are in the same womb; a fair amount even share at least the same placenta and some even share the same amniotic sac, depending on how late after fertilization the original zygote divided. So, at least part of that claimed “50 percent genetic” isn’t so; 40-45 percent is more likely the reality, which is still big.

Southwest gets black eye

The Federal Aviation Administration could fine Southwest Airlines, thetop in-country carrier, as much as $3 million or more for failure to inspect its planes for a variety of possible structural cracks, an FAA requirement for older planes.

Per its regulations, the FAA could seek a penalty of $25,000 per violation, or $3 million to $36 million, although any fine is likely to be at the lower end of the range.

Southwest plans to fight any fines and the FAA assessment, claiming it has complied with regulators’ requests:
A spokeswoman for Southwest, Beth Harbin, said the airline brought the issue to the FAA's attention and believed it had handled the matter to the agency’s satisfaction. Harbin said the airline believed the case was closed last year.

“We brought in 46 airplanes to take another look at them,” Harbin said. “These are preventive inspections. On six of the 46 we found the start of some very small cracking. That’s the intent of the inspection schedule — to find something before it becomes a problem. These are safe planes.”

Whether Southwest beats the rap or not, this is a black eye. Combined with most of its fuel hedges having expired, and so it having lost most of its price advantage edge, this could be a challenging year for Southwest to maintain its profitability streak.

Bush to Beijing equals FDR to Berlin?

That’s the take of Congressman Frank Wolf, who wants to pass a federal law prohibiting the spending of federal money for U.S. officials to go to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

Wolf’s bill is clearly aimed at President George W. Bush’s planned attendance. Wolf, citing China’s human rights record, said it would be like Franklin D. Roosevelt going to the Adolf Hitler-orchestrated 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Actually, I was hoping Bush would go — and get lost over there.

That said, more seriously, I think Wolf has a point. And any human rights criticism Bush says he will direct at Chinese leader Hu Jintao will be indirect, muted and private; in other words, it could be done without Bush ever going to China.

Hypocrisy Alert: I smell Pelosi rat on telco immunity

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she is ‘absolutely’ opposed to telco immunity — but doesn’t want to focus on it to the degree a FISA renewal bill ignores “exclusivity,” that is, language stipulating that FISA legislation is the “exclusive means” by which the government conducts surveillance.

Per TPM:
Pelosi says that she “absolutely” opposes retroactive immunity for the telecoms, but that she “didn’t want the fight to be so focused there that we neglect exclusivity.” Pelosi added that the House leadership was "at the mercy of the 17 or 18 Democrats in the Senate who are voting with the Republicans on this" and said that “we are trying to work with the Dems in the Senate to come to an agreement” on exclusivity, immunity, and other issues.

Why do I smell a rat?

The “we did the best we could” statement is probably already in rough draft on Pelosi’s press officer’s computer.

More homeowner woes — more recession coming

First, homeowners’ equity is below 50 percent, and that’s for the first time since 1945. Meanwhile, foreclosures are at an all-time high:
The Mortgage Bankers Association, in a quarterly snapshot of the mortgage market released Thursday, said the proportion of all mortgages nationwide that fell into foreclosure shot up to a record high of 0.83 percent in the October-to-December quarter. That surpassed the previous high of 0.78 percent set in the prior quarter.

The delinquency rate for all mortgages climbed to 5.82 percent in the fourth quarter. That was up from the 5.59 percent in the third quarter and was the highest since 1985. Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due.

So, expect that foreclosure rate to keep climbing this year.

Can you say, “deepening recession”?

Somersby has a Josh Marshall takedown

Does the Talking Points Media founder pander to New York Times, as Bob Somersby claims? I think Somersby may be a little bit strong, but, his general idea, that Josh, like, say, Kevin Drum, isn’t really that liberal, does have weight.

And, on the specifics, I don’t know if that was Josh’s intent, and he does get bashed by readers claiming he is both pro-Clinton and anti-Clinton, but his particular comments do seem to imply he thinks the “press hates Clinton” idea isn’t quite so true.

Would this make Maureen Dowd a ‘self-hating woman’?

Her critique of Hillary Clinton’s “shoulder-pad feminism” (good thing she didn’t write about feminine-pad feminism could almost serve as a parody on how to write an actual op-ed column. Bob Somersby is surely right on this one; MoJo has a stockpile of anti-Clinton hate she’s still venting. Perhaps the still bitterly single MoJo (and what’s with wearing black motorcycle boots to one of Obama’s campaign events in Dallas, Miss Red) is venting out of jealousy.

And, on the specifics, I don’t know if that was Josh’s intent, and he does get bashed by readers claiming he is both pro-Clinton and anti-Clinton, but his particular comments do seem to imply he thinks the “press hates Clinton” idea isn’t quite so true.

Rep. Weiner wrong on letting Clemens off hook AND a panderer

Surely the only reason Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) thinks the FBI should drop its Roger Clemens perjury probe is NOT because he thinks either the Eff Be Eye has more and better things to do but because Weiner plans to run for New York City mayor in 2009 and thinks this is an ideal way to pander to Yankee fans.

Canadian oil sands project on enviro hold

The Federal Court of Canada, a special trial court, taking a greenhouse gases look at a 120,000 acre Alberta oil sands project proposed by Imperial Oil.
Justice Danièle Tremblay-Lamer found that the review panel did not justify its finding that the measures proposed by Imperial Oil, which is controlled by the ExxonMobil Corporation, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project to “insignificant levels.” The ruling indicated that the project would produce emissions similar to 800,000 automobiles.

The review is due to a suit by Canadian environmental groups.

CLINTON was first on NAFTA ‘wink, wink’ to Canada

That’s what Canada’s top paper, the Globe and Mail, says.

Ian Brodie, chief of staff to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, supposedly talked about Clinton staff back-dooring on NAFTA to a CTV informal press backgrounder:
”He said someone from (Hillary) Clinton’s campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . That someone called us and told us not to worry.”

And, CTV was looking at the Clinton angle first:
CTV News President Robert Hurst said he would not discuss his journalists’ sources.

But others said the content of Mr. Brodie’s remarks was passed on to CTV’s Washington bureau and their White House correspondent set out the next day to pursue the story on Ms. Clinton's apparent hypocrisy on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

However, CTV coverage focused on Obama, for whatever reason. Anyway, Clinton and Obama are both missing the boat in several ways.

First, the focus should be on the WTO, not NAFTA. Second, within NAFTA, put more money in the federal jobs retraining fund.

March 05, 2008

Why we need to do something about global warming NOW

By 2030, carbon dioxide emissions of Brazil, Russia, India and China will exceed today’s combined emissions of all 30 “first-world” members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That said, the OECD itself says the remedy will not cost an arm and a leg:
“It’s not cheap. It is affordable, but also it is considerably less onerous for mankind and for the economy than the alternative of inaction,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria told reporters.

The suggested measures would cost just over 1.0 percent of the predicted global gross domestic product in 2030, meaning world wealth would grow on average 0.03 percentage points less per year over the next 22 years, the organisation said.

If nothing is done however, global greenhouse gas emissions could rise by over 50 percent by 2050, while “one billion more people will be living in areas of severe water stress by 2030 than today, and premature deaths caused by ground-level ozone worldwide would quadruple by 2030,” the OECD report said.

So, it’s past time to act.

Terri Schiavo -- another reason NOT to vote for Nader

Boy, I had forgotten what an ass Ralph made of himself over the Terri Schiavo situation three years ago until noticing, via my blog meter, that my post from back then on the issue caught somebody's eye. So, here it is again.


I hadn’t posted much about Terri Schiavo to this point, but Ralph Nader’s idiocy was just too much.

Nader, a lawyer who should know better, took his place with the Randall Terrys of the world Thursday, March 24, in calling for Terri Schiavo’s feeding and water tubes to be reinserted.
“A profound injustice is being inflicted on Terri Schiavo,” Nader asserted. “Worse, this slow death by dehydration is being imposed upon her under the color of law, in proceedings in which every benefit of the doubt-and there are many doubts in this case-has been given to her death, rather than her continued life.”
Nader may be a lawyer, but he has apparently shown as much interest in the actual legal proceedings to this point, and now has as much familiarity with them as Dr. Bill Frist, Senate majority leader, does with the medical side of the case.

Maybe we can lock the two of them in a closet together.

But there’s more idiocy from Ralph.
The courts not only are refusing her tube feeding, but have ordered that no attempts be made to provide her water or food by mouth. Terri swallows her own saliva. Spoon feeding is not medical treatment.

“This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, it has ordered her to be made dead,” Nader and (Wesley) Smith assert.
Wrong. In right-to-die cases, courts have repeated found that manual outside help like this is just as much a medical treatment as are tubes, breathing machines, etc.

Ralph will never get my third-party or independent candidate support for dogcatcher now, let alone the presidency. And if the Green Party ever considers endorsing him, affiliating with him or lending its name to any candidacy of his in any way, then I’ll move my progressive vote elsewhere, if Democrats still aren’t worthy of it either.

Anthropologists say ‘hobbits’ not a separate species

The latest salvo as to whether 18,000-20,000 year old skeletons found in Indonesia in 2004 are a separate species, perhaps derived from Homo erectus, or simply humans with health or genetic problems has now been fired.

A group of anthropologists claims the “Flores Man” people are simply dwarf cretin humans, their small brains and short statures caused by severe iodine deficiency.

Occam’s Razor. This sounds much the simpler explanation to me, and unless the separate species has compelling genetic evidence, all other things are the same. So, it sounds like they’re humans with iodine problems.

Heather Wilson bought votes in N.M. county primary?

The former afternoon anchor for major Albuquerque radio station KKOB alleges just that, that Wilson was spreading money to lock up votes in the Bernalillo County GOP primary. KKOB News Director Pat Allen spiked the story, claiming it didn’t have legs, so Laura MacCallum quit, alleging Allen and others caved to Wilson pressure. Wilson, the congresswoman for the Albuquerque area, was seeking (and gained) the nomination to run for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici’s seat.

Afghanistan, al-Qaida and 9/11 — Ted Rall has a slightly different take

Rall this week gives his clearest enunciation to his thesis that Osama bin Laden did NOT orchestrate the 9/11 attacks.

Well, who, then? Is Rall a conspiracy theorist?

The answer to the second question is no. Rall doesn’t believe George W. Bush or Mossad orchestrated the attacks. He does finger Muslim radicals.

Only, he points the finger at the Egyptian-originated Islamic Jihad, not al-Qaida. Now, that said, Islamic Jihad was founded by bin Laden right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri, and in June 2001, Zawahiri officially merged it with al-Qaida.

So, if I’m reading Rall correctly, he’s arguing that Zawahiri had at least started this operation before the merger, and that he kept independent control of it afterward, to the degree he still had any hands on the operation in those last three months.

I think Ted is hair-splitting a bit here. Zawahiri and bin Laden were together long before the formal merger of their organizations. Even if bin Laden didn’t start the idea, he certainly was involved. That said, after the merger, Islamic Jihad controlled six of nine seats on the combined entities’ “board of directors.”

Anyway, this is a sidebar to Rall’s belief that we, contrary to Democrats who still want one war, shouldn’t be in Iraq OR Afghanistan.

First, as he notes, if we want(ed) bin Laden, well, he was almost certainly in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, on 9/11. There, he’s right. And, considering that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence had built up the Taliban hosts of al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad for years, we should have done more with Pakistan. Rather than warn Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to play ball with us, if we had any CIA capability, we probably should have looked at overthrowing him. At the least, we should have told him we would blockade the country if he didn’t seal his border against Afghanistan, and hand over bin Laden ASAP.

Anyway, back to Rall’s take on Afghanistan. He says that since Afghan President Hamid Karzai only controls about 15 percent of the country, even less than the official U.S. estimate of 30 percent, we’d be pounding sand down a rathole to follow up on Barack Obama’s “mini-surge” idea of sending 3,000-8,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Beyond the strategic issues are the social and natural geography ones: Afghanistan’s population is about 20 percent larger than Iraq’s and its land area about 50 percent greater.

Texas Dem pri-caucus causes confusion, anger, illegality claims, clouded future

The last one first. Clinton supporters claim, here in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, that Obama supporters locked them out of post-primary election caucuses in some precincts. And, even party leaders at the precinct level seemed uninformed in some places on how things were supposed to operate.

Of course, state Democratic leaders stoutly defend the system.

Anyway, the caucuses, and the overall closeness of the race, kept Clinton from making up much delegate ground on Obama. So, her latest idea? Announce The she’d be glad to have him on the ticket as her No. 2.

Transparent ploy. She looks desperate again. And, ain’t gonna happen, even if she does get the nomination.

Meanwhile, we’ve got seven weeks until Pennsylvania.

Hypocrisy Alert: Bush and oil addiction

President Bush is once again saying we need to reduce our oil addiction.

Well, Congress and you passed and signed into law a CAFÉ standards increase that doesn’t actually get any teeth until 2020, among other things.

So, until you’re actually going to DO something, STFU.

NAFTA dishonesty cost Obama Ohio

Since Ohio Democratic voters who made up their minds in the last three days broke heavily for Clinton, it seems pretty obvious that’s what cost Obama the state. People who decided in the last three days went 64-36 for Clinton. People deciding in the last day went 55-41 for Clinton.

Before that, people deciding in the last month broke 53-46 Obama.

Of course, even if this is a devious plot by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I don’t see how Clinton can take the lead in elected delegates before the convention. But, that leaves superdelegates, John Edwards as a broker, and more.

March 04, 2008

Time to remeasure the cosmos again?

Two astronomers believe an intergalactic “graphite” is dimming stars, especially in the infrared, and causing cosmologists to call for “dark energy” to explain distance measurements that may not actually be correct. Carbon whiskers, possibly created by supernovae, are believed responsible for the dimming.

I’m sure many cosmologists would breathe sighs of relief if further study confirms this.

Science journalists get depression wrong by dissing SSRIs and overhyping PLoS story

No, I still don’t believe memes exist, at least not in a strong sense, but the word is a handy catch-all. Anyway, that’s besides the point.

A set of psychology researchers say that media use of “chemical imbalance” to describe depression is scientifically inaccurate. Rightly, they note that the idea comes from classical Greece’s concept of the four “humors” in the body.

However, the researchers then have to follow up on the overhyped recent Public Library of Science report and claim, as does the author of the World Science story, that modern anti-depressants really don’t work:
The drugs, known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs, recently turned out to be largely ineffective.

Boy, that’s wrong in several ways. First, the PLoS story only claimed that antidepressants were relatively ineffective in mild or moderate depression, not all depressions.

Second, the PLoS authors overstated their case. From the study:
On average, the SSRIs improved the HRSD score of patients by 1.8 points more than the placebo, whereas NICE has defined a significant clinical benefit for antidepressants as a drug–placebo difference in the improvement of the HRSD score of 3 points.

That may not be great effectiveness, but it’s nowhere near “largely ineffective.” And, since milder depressions are usually likely to ring up lower diagnostic scores, the numeric steps of improvement, by HRSD scores, that provide relief, will be lesser anyway.

Beyond that, the third misstatement is to claim we don’t know how antidepressants work. It’s true that we don’t know details, such as not knowing which of the several different serotonin receptors in different types of neurons are affected, in one way, by depression, and then reaffected, or unaffected, by SSRIs, or tricyclics, or MAOs, for that matter. But, we do know that serotonin

Finally, both the World Science story and the original PLoS study omitted (either threw neglect or else deliberately) one huge issue:

Brain imaging studies, MRIs, show placebos given to patients in antidepressant studies affect a different part of the brain than do actual antidepressants.

If the omission, especially on the part of PLoS authors, was deliberate, it’s a definite science ethics issue. Even if through neglect or ignorance, it’s another definite “issue” with their study.

And, given that this finding was reported six years ago, it shouldn’t have been ignored.

Reverse evolution DOES happen

Or so it would appear. Turkish scientist Uner Tan, who first announced this idea two years ago, has now been vindicated in his pronouncement that such a genetic retrogression was possible.

And, in apparently being proven right, he has overcome the shameful cultural imperialism of a renowned British scientist that I described when Tan first announced his startling findings.

To go back, in 2006, Tan announced he had found an apparent case of “reverse evolution” in a few Anatolian peasant families walking on all fours. While ideas of retrograde evolution had already been in the air, it had never been considered a realistic thing to happen among Homo sapiens, let alone the idea of proving it genetically.

Well, the new news is that, as linked above, Tan has found just such a genetic cause. He had, back in 2006, said that with colleagues, he mapped the defect to a region of the genome called chromosome 17p, a site of some of the biggest genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees. As World-Science noted, researchers have also recently linked bipedalism to 17p.

Here is where the cultural imperialism I referenced before comes in. Tan made this claim about what happened after he announced his discovery:
He claims that after he invited (British scientists) to study the syndrome with him in Turkey, they “stole” his credit for discovering it, sold the story for an upcoming BBC documentary and — worst — paid the victims’ family to stop cooperating with him and other researchers.

Chief offender? Internationally renowned psychologist and cognitive scientist Nicholas Humphrey. Humphrey then, essentially, threw Tan under the bus, calling his theories “bizarre” after basically bribing the families not to cooperate with Tan any more. This was instead of supporting the research of Tan, which might be more difficult in a primarily Muslim country, albeit a secular state.

Well, now, Tan has the last laugh, or the last research triumph, over Humphrey. Tan and colleagues have identified a gene linked to the condition, which they call Unertan syndrome. And, they’re being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which World Science says is one of the three most prestigious scientific journals, according to Thompson Scientific. In other words, it ranks right behind Science and Nature. Take THAT, Nick Humphrey:
The new paper, co-authored with six of Tan’s colleagues including his wife, Meliha, reports that a responsible mutation has been found in two of four families that by now have turned up affected by “Unertan syndrome.”

“Human molecular genetics in Turkey is ‘on the map’ with this elegant analysis,” said Mary-Claire King, a geneticist at the University of Washington and an editor of the Proceedings.

Some scientists claim that the move to bipedalism involved many genes, therefore reverse evolution in walking wasn’t likely. Tan says, on the contrary, he thinks multiple genes may be involved with at least some of the afflicted people he has studied.

Oh, that company-underfunded pension the government insured’?

Think again, says Jim Jubak. He calls THIS the “scariest investing story of 2008:
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government agency that protects the pensions of 44 million workers in case their employers can't (or won't) pay promised benefits, has announced that to avoid going bust it will double the percentage of its portfolio — to 45 percent — that it puts into stocks. An additional 10 percent will go into alternative investments, including hedge funds.

In other words, facing a $14 billion deficit and even larger projected shortfalls, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., or PBGC, decided not to save (by raising premiums) or to live within its means (by cutting benefits) but to gamble in the financial markets by taking on more risk. The PBGC was so proud of its new strategy that it announced it on Presidents Day, when the U.S. financial markets were closed and almost no one was paying attention.

Jubak explains why the PBGC is in trouble:
This agency, set up by Congress in 1974, is supposed to fund the pensions of workers when their employers go bust or get bought by someone who shuts down the plan. …

When Congress set up the PBGC, it didn't provide any taxpayer money to pay out these benefits. Instead, payouts are funded by premiums paid by companies that sponsor pension plans -—plus investment returns on the money the PBGC holds, pending future payouts, and any money it recovers from plans that go bust. In 2008, the premium is $9 per worker covered by a multicompany plan; for single-employer plans, it's $33 per worker plus $9 for each $1,000 of unfunded vested benefits.

Unfortunately, the premiums don't cover what the fund has to pay out in most years, and the odds are that the deficit will grow. The agency estimated that for fiscal 2006, the pension plans it covered were a total of $500 billion short.

Even if just a small portion came due at one time, $500Bil is a lot of semollians.

Jubak says the PBGC had four options:
• Raising premiums, which would have required a politically unpopular vote by Congress.

• Lowering payouts, which would have required a politically unpopular vote by Congress.

• Tightening rules, so companies would stop underfunding their pensions, which would have required a politically unpopular vote by Congress.

• Purchasing a lottery ticket and announcing the problem was fixed.

Well, we know which one it picked.

Medical research plagiarism real problem, not political plagiarism

Medical research plagiarism appears to have a fair amount of “traction,” shall we say. What else could you say about people doing this half a doz3en times or more.

And, what if people are dying over this?

Imagine people dying because one shoddy study overtouting a drug, or hiding interaction or reaction problems, gets plagiarized and spread.

Or, imagine Big Pharma actually paying somebody to plagiarize a study a pharma company has already paid for.

Talk up a brokered Democratic convention

Big-name pundits, at least in the MSM, continue to say “Hillary can’t win.” While left-of-center blogs aren’t necessarily going that far, both they and the MSM are missing an alternative issue — what if neither Clinton NOR Obama can close the deal out?

This is very mathematically possible, as long as two current parameters continue to hold. And that is that John Edwards, especially, and Bill Richardson, secondarily, both do not endorse a candidate and do not release their delegates. Especially with Edwards’ case (he must now really regret playing tag-team wrestling with Obama against Clinton), if he holds tight, we could have a case where, assuming an superdelegate split leaning slightly to Clinton and an elected-pledged delegate list just barely Obama’s, that neither candidate has a majority.

And Edwards definitely gets to play kingmaker.

Possible? Sure, if the parameters I mentioned stay in place, there’s at least a 10 percent chance of this.

Barack Obama meets William Shatner

Oh, another observation about Barack Obama, this one about his stump speaking dynamic. Having heard more than one Obama radio commercial, based on public campaign appearance clips, since our Texas primary actually has relevance this year, he leaves me flat as a speaker.

Odd pauses, like he went to the William Shatner School of Political Oratory.

Sure Columbia found a computer

Columbia’s national police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, claims his government has found a laptop computer belonging to left-wing rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a computer that allegedly has documents showing FARC is interested in buying uranium.

This line of international affairs BS is so straight out of Washington, specifically sounding like neocons in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans drew it up, it’s no wonder Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have both moved troops to their borders with Columbia and, temporarily at least, suspended diplomatic relations.

As I said, this sounds like an OSP, or similar neocons’ group, baby.

BushCo probably has a few dozen laptops still on hold in the Whatagon’s Office of Special Plans. Besides the Iran and FARC ones, there's the Libya one, which didn’t have to be used, maybe the Somali one, the Syrian one, the Hezbullah one, etc.

That said, this idea could spread. Picture new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, or new PM Vladimir Putin, announcing he has just found a Chechen laptop. Or that China has found a Tibetan, or Mongolian, or Uyghur laptop.

Your Tuesday financial woes

For the past several weeks, on the Street, it seems like on Mondays, the bulls have had a restful weekend, take the weekend’s “no news is good news” bit in the teeth and run with it. Then, Tuesday, reality sinks in; this week, a 150-point drop in the market by noon.

The reality always has some specific facts. The biggest one today?

The recent injection of sovereign wealth funds into Citigroup Then, Tuesday, may not save it:
Citigroup shares dropped more than 6 percent Tuesday after the head of Dubai International Capital said that Mideast sovereign wealth funds may fail to save Citigroup unless more cash is pumped into the bank.

Samir al-Ansari, chief executive of the $13 billion government-owned investment firm, said at a private equity conference that it will take more than the combined efforts of the Gulf's wealthiest investors -- the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Kuwait Investment Authority and Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal -- to save the U.S.-based bank.

So, Ansari is trolling for money money to bail out Dubai. Do Arab (or Chinese) funds think Citi can be rescued, or do they look at such an attempt as pounding sand down a rathole? Even if they think that is likely, are they attached too much to what would in that case be “bad money” to chase it anyway?

If analysts are right that Citi could have to write off as much as another $18 billion, on top of $18 billion written down in January. If I’m the manager of a sovereign wealth fund, I’d wait for Citi’s stock to drop further, at least, along with any additional shoe-dropping, before I buy in.

March 03, 2008

Europe could crack down on GMOs

France is leading the fight for the European Union to develop much tougher standards on genetically modified organisms, and to have these standards implemented EU-wide.

That second part is the key. If the whole EU adopts a single, tough standard, this will have repercussions in two places: WTO talks and the next U.S. farm bill.

Obama: Just another politician — with either an organization problem or a greater lying problem

First, Barack Obama denied anybody from his staff communicated with Canada’s consulate in Chicago with back-door comments that Obama’s anti-NAFTA comments were just for show. Now, he’s still denying that Austan Goolsbee gave any such assurances to Canada, while admitting Canadian official Joseph DeMora did meet with Goolsbee.

The reason he’s changed his comments as to whether or not such a meeting took place? He claims he didn’t have better information at the time.

Well, he either:
• Got caught in two lies originally, and he’s now admitting to one of the lies while covering it up with a new lie (he knew about the meeting from the get-go) or
• He’s approaching stereotypical Hillary Clinton disorganization levels.

From what I’ve seen of Obama so far, my money is heavily on option A.

An open letter to Kay Bailey Hutchison on Iraq

As a Texas newspaper editor, I must ask you, do you really believe thus nutbar weekly columns your staff writes?

(Sidebar: If any of Sen. KayBee’s staff hits on this blog, I ask you, do you really believe the nutbar columns you write?)

Senator, you’re not bad on some non-Iraq columns that are on fairly mundane domestic affairs. But, on Iraq, you’re around the bend without a paddle, up the creek without a parachute.

Take this week’s column, for example, where you claim “some politicians may call for surrender.”

Name one. And, of course, you can’t.

Nobody who is calling for a withdrawal from Iraq is calling for a surrender to anybody.

It’s things like that which lead me, on any issue other than reproductive choice, to see that your claim to being a “moderate conservative” is nothing but BS, and you’re really nothing more than “a kinder, gentler John Cornyn.”

Cedar Hill dumb crime news of the week

Never have illicit narcotics on your person in a car when your brother is driving without a license.

Oil hits all-time high

April oil futures prices today at $103.95/bbl, above the inflation-adjusted level of $10.76 that 1980’s peak of $38./bbl would bring today.

What amazes me is that some energy analysts (that would be you, Daniel Yergin and Cambridge Energy Research Associates) are so low-price bullish and so much Peak Oil deniers as to claim that oil prices for the year might fall all the way down into the $65-$75/bbl range.

March 02, 2008

House Dems look to cave on telco immunity

That seems to be the word out of the mouth of Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Reyes, in a television interview broadcast Sunday, did not specifically say whether the House (FISA renewal) proposal would mirror the Senate's version. The Senate measure provides retroactive legal immunity to the companies that helped the government wiretap U.S. computer and phone lines after the Sept. 11 attacks without clearance from a secret court.

Reyes, D-Texas, said he was open to that possibility after receiving documents from the Bush administration and speaking to the companies about the industry's role in the government spy program.

“We are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because if we’re going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we’re giving immunity for,” he said. “I have an open mind about that.”

Regarding a compromise deal, Reyes said: “We think we’re very close, probably within the next week we'll be able to hopefully bring it to a vote.”

Of course, after an immunity-laden version of FISA renewal is passed, neither you nor I nor plaintiffs against AT&T nor the ACLU will ever get a glimpse at the documents that seem to have sealed the deal for Reyes.

What is this now, past the 1,000 mark on reasons not to vote Democratic this fall?

Is Frank Drake right about an intelligent galaxy?

Write your own Drake equations and make your guess on intelligent life in other solar systems!

Those of you familiar with the SETI project will love this. MSNBC lets you fill in your own guesstimates on the parameters of the Drake equations.

I tried it more than once. The first time, I got a Drake number of “1,” meaning I believe we’re all alone in this galaxy. The second time, being much less conservative, my calculations returned an estimate of 7,650 planets, still below Drake’s current guesstimate of 10,000.

While my “1” may be low, I think it’s a lot closer to the truth than 7,650, let alone 10,000; a third calculation gave me a Drake number of 988. I think Drake and some other people like him are somewhat of what I’ll call “secular salvationists,” wanting science to provide a quasi-metaphysical jolt to life on mundane Tellus Mater. In any case, I think they are WAY too optimistic.

The main bottleneck I see is on Drake point 3, how many planets in a solar system are habitable by virtue of having liquid water. I think that number is less than one per average solar system, something like 0.7 or so. I see lesser bottlenecks in the likelihood of life to develop, point 4, and that life to develop to our level of intelligence or more, point 5.

State Department follies in Iraq

First, it says the Baghdad Motel 6, otherwise known as the still needs work, but not to worry too much.

Rep. Henry Waxman isn’t buying it, though:
Waxman, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called on the State Department to respond in a March 12 hearing and demanded they release internal documents related to the project.

Waxman cites a Feb. 13 independent assessment of the embassy that found “major” infrastructure problems and “critical and non-critical” deficiencies in most buildings, despite a December 2007 certification by a senior project official that the embassy was complete.

“These inspection reports raise many questions about whether the embassy is safe for occupation and why the State Department certified the project as substantially complete in December,” Waxman wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

State makes it sound like this is just an office building with a few glitches, in which it’s not ready to take occupancy.

Meanwhile, State apparently is either gullible, naïve, or some staffers have got “connections.”

Nine Iraq investigators for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s inspector general’s office will not be replaced when their tours of duty are done:
Dona Dinkler, chief of staff to the USAID inspector general in Washington, confirmed the reductions. She said the State Department told the inspector general’s office it would have just two temporary duty officers on a rotating basis in Iraq.

Down from 11, counting these two, to just these two? Sounds like the cats will be gone, inviting the mice to play.

Any neocons in the Office of Special Plans giving Ahmed Chalabi a phone call right about now?