March 15, 2008

Kos may be imploding and we can only hope

A bunch of pro-Clinton members, saying they are tired of being trashed rudely by Obama supporters, without Kos himself or any of his staff lifting a finger about it, have declared a strike.

I have a question or two, though.

First, what took you numbnuts so long to get a clue?

I don’t think any of you had sympathy three or four years ago for those of us who were banned for being too Green, too independent-minded or too anti-Armando.

Screw you.

Second, what will you do when Kos permanently flips you the bird? Half of you are probably addicted enough that you’ll admit you were wrong in some sort of Kossack show trial.

People of any ethnic background can be racist

That’s contrary to Jeff over at Shakesville, who says whites who have a problem with Jeremiah Wright really have a problem with themselves, because blacks can’t be racist.

To which, I replied:
This is pure drivel.

First, let me qualify my bona fides. I’m a left-liberal who voted Green in 2004 and will likely do so again in 2008.

And, I'll tell you right now, the idea that black people in America can't be racist is a lie.

I have personally seen in America racism out of the mouths of whites, blacks, Hispanics and American Indians. I'm sure South and East Asians do it too.

Jeff, I don’t know whether you have “white guilt complex” or what, but, you're an idiot for spreading lying myths like this.

Reporters and media protection latest BushCo ‘security threat’

I guess a media shield law will give al Qaida “aid, hope and comfort,” or some other stupidity.

First, we have the Subtler, Suaver Alberto Gonzales™, Attorney General Mike Mukasey, claiming a shield law now wending its way through the Senate, defines a journalist too broadly.

Of course, this is the same AG Mukasey who cut blog/online news source Talking Points Memo off the list of daily e-mail media recipients from the Department of Justice.

And, doorknob bless Patrick Fitzgerald for prosecuting Scooter Libby, but he’s just wrong in claiming a shield law isn’t needed.
Dismissing notions that media subpoenas would dampen investigative reporting, Fitzgerald said, “Journalists have been saying the sky is falling since 1972 ... and that suddenly the stories will dry up. But I'm not seeing big blank spaces on the front page.”

Uh, Pat, the worry isn’t what has happened since 1972, but what has happened since 2001. Get a clue. Or else admit that you’re spinning a line here.

Bush launched civil war in Gaza

That explosive claim is the heart of this Vanity Fair exclusive. The lede graf from David Rose ought to whet your appetite, drop your jaw, or both:
After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.

Muhammad Dahlan, identified as Fatah’s long-term “heavy” in Gaza, and privately called “our guy” by Bush himself, is fingered as BushCo’s proxy in this, a pro-Zionist? pro-stupidity, for certain head-shaker that even neocon stalwart David Wurmser denounces, in the story, as anti-democratic. (Wurmser resigned from the State Department a month after Dahlan’s Gaza coup was launched.)

Dahlan, the story details, has a long history as a “heavy,” arresting Hamas people, on behalf of Fatah, as early as 1996. And, this isn’t anything new. He personally knows Bill Clinton as well as George Bush; he also knows George Tenet, under the Clinton Administration portion of Tenet’s CIA tenure.

This isn’t all Dahlan’s fault, though. He says he warned the Bush Administration that Fatah wasn’t ready for the January 2006 parliamentary elections:
“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”

We all know the end result. Hamas won the elections, as Bush was even more criminally stupid in Palestine than in Iraq in presuming a democracy could be started from the top down.

It’s a long story, but hugely worth your reading.

The State Department, understandably, has refused to comment.

Muslim politics hit Turkey

A national appeals prosecutor wants Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which emerged from a banned Islamist party, banned itself on similar grounds. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the push by Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, chief prosecutor of the court of appeals, was not aimed at his party (known by the acronym AKP from its Turkish name), but at “the will of the nation.” The request called for the party as a whole, and Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, to be banned from politics. Hasim Kilic, the president of the Constitutional Court, said it would consider whether or not to accept the complaint Monday.

The AKP, long viewed with wary eyes by bastions of secularism in Turkey, above all by the army, pushed through an initiative last month to allow women to wear Islamic headscarves in universities. That is the proximate cause of the issue.

Wright leaves Obama campaign

Belatedly for Barack Obama, Rev. Jeremiah Wright shows he has some degree of political sensibility by resigning his role as an honorary advisory to Obama’s campaign. NBC says it’s unclear whether he left voluntarily or got a shove.

I say “belatedly” because Rasmussen polls show Hillary Clinton has Belatedly for Barack Obama, Rev. Jeremiah Wright shows made up 7 points nationally in just one day. While it’s unclear how much of that is due to the Wright imbroglio, some of it has to be.

China goes for repression daily double – possible Olympic fallout

Besides shooting protestors in Lhasa, Tibet, Beijing tried to “protect” Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park from autograph seekers during Major League Baseball’s first foray into China.

Well, the Olympics ought to be fun. The British Olympic Committee has backed off an attempt to censor its own athletes’ criticizing China in the run-up to this summer — protests that have more fuel on the fire after this weekend; many athletes from around the world, especially distance runners, are so skeptical of Beijing cleaning up its air pollution that they’re talking about wearing surgical masks; and now, China tries to block an athlete from his own fans.

Of course, Beijing is internally censoring outside news reports on Tibet. Chan Ho Park, or international athletes’ protests during the Beijing games, won’t fare any better.

No pictures will be shown of athletes wearing black armbands in support of Tibet, or wearing surgical masks in support of healthy lungs. President Bush will not be shown allegedly “criticizing” Chinese President Hu Jintao on civil liberties.

Dust storms will not be shown swirling from the west into Beijing. Chinese citizens having to hunt for water because there is none after the Olympic Village uses its massive demands will also not be shown.

U.N. says U.S. surge moved Iraq violence around

The question as to just how much good the Petraeus “surge” in Iraq did got more scrutiny as to whether it didn’t just shuttle violence out of Baghdad to the countryside:
As security improved in Baghdad, violent attacks spread last year to other parts of the country, including Diyala Province and Mosul, al-Qaida’s last urban stronghold, according to the report from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

American officials refused comment.

It’s been a question in the mind of anti-war bloggers for months.

What it’s like to be a Navajo – and how water rights could change that

Unemployment officially at 50 percent and possibly 67 percent. Per-capita income at $8,000 a year. Driving as much as 40-50 miles off the Big Rez to get water in Gallup. Living as close as you can to “Third World” existence here in the United States.

That’s why Navajos want their cut of Colorado River water.

But, will they? The 1922 Colorado River Compact only made allowance for the seven states of the river basin. No Navajos, or other Indian tribes, need apply. But, the Supreme Court’s Winters decision, in another case, gave Indian tribes the right to retroactively claim water rights. Given that Navajos live bordering both a long stretch of the Colorado and most of its third largest tributary, the San Juan River, they’re in a position to make some claims. And, the Navajos’ eligibility for those rights go back to the founding of their reservation in 1868, before most of the Colorado River Basin was settled and when only two of the current seven basin states were established as such.

Plus, the compact itself says:
“Nothing in this compact shall be construed as affecting the obligations of the United States of America to Indian tribes.”

The Navajo, like other tribes, can either sue for their rights, or negotiate compacts with various states, pending Congressional approval. The Navajos have already started down the latter path:
That’s the path that the Navajo Nation has taken in New Mexico. In 2004, the tribe and the state announced a settlement agreement that would award the Navajo 326,000 acre-feet of water from the San Juan River, a major tributary of the Colorado. (An acre-foot is enough for about two families in Phoenix or Las Vegas for a year.) The settlement also authorizes more than $800 million in federal and state money to build a pipeline that will take the water to the east side of the reservation and to the city of Gallup. The Navajo Nation is now seeking congressional approval of the deal, the tribe’s first step toward asserting its rightful claims on the Colorado.

Stanley Pollack, an assistant attorney general for the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice, says the Navajos could claim as much in Arizona, plus 100,000 acre-feet more in Utah. Out of the 17.5 million acre-feet the compact claimed the river produced, or the 15 million that is a more realistic yet still quite optimistic number, 800,000 acre-feet is huge.

Let’s put it this way. It’s half again the water rights of the city of Las Vegas. And, going by age, the Central Arizona Project is the last in line.

But, Pollack is a bilagaana — a white man — and so, distrusted by many Navajos. With Arizona pushing back against Navajo claims, and Pollack very much a pragmatist, he’s even been accused of creating a water rights holocaust against the Navajos.

And, that problems stems back to legendary, and ultimately criminal, former Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter McDonald. McDonald tried to get a Navajo water rights claim based on their current reservations, but “Dinetah” — the Navajo claim to all the land inside their four holy mountains. Problems with that include not only that the federal and state governments wouldn’t recognize that, but McDonald and other Navajos were ignoring the Hopi, Utes, Zuni, Jicarilla Apache and the 19 Indian pueblos on the Rio Grande who lived in the area, as the High Country News article notes.

But the dreams went up in smoke with Peter Mac’s arraignment on corruption charges, for which he was eventually convicted.

But, the idea still holds sway in many Navajo minds. And, Jack Utter, a bilagaana conspiracy theorist who also works for the tribe, is fueling the anger against Pollack.

Anyway, who knows how this will turn out. As far as intra-Navajo scrums, the HCN story quotes an old aphorism:
The Navajos would rather have 100 percent of nothing than 50 percent of something.

Growing up in Gallup, I can attest to this having some degree of truth.

And, in this case, the Peter McDonald will-o’-the-wisp could be 100 percent of nothing for decades.

Or, with global warming and a drought of nearly a decade and counting tightening its grip on the Colorado Plateau, the Navajos could be pragmatic while still sitting in a large driver’s seat.

Anyway, read the full, in-depth story. This is why I subscribe to High Country News.

Blair could be ‘a bit of a flippertygibbet’ – even on al-Qaida?

That lovely quote is from Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1995-2007

That humorous, if still serious, tidbit, aside, Powell had much more serious things to say.

The most serious, coming from the man recognized as key to establishing the 1997 Northern Ireland accords, is this: The West needs to start negotiating with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
“There's nothing to say to al-Qaida and they’ve got nothing to say to us at the moment, but at some stage you’re going to have to come to a political solution as well as a security solution. And that means you need the ability to talk.”

The comments came from an interview Powell offered as part of a publicity tour to promote his new book on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Suffice it to say, the book probably won’t be anywhere close to Blair’s nightstand. Not with tidbits like this:
• He did not think Labour had governed boldly enough because it feared losing power.
• Blair had a tendency to change his mind about things and could be “a bit of a flippertygibbet.”
• Blair had failed in 10 years of government to sell Europe to the British.
• Relations between the Blair and Brown camps were so toxic that Gordon Brown did not talk to him for 10 years.

Already, the book is controversial outside of Blair’s house, with the “negotiation” comment. Gordon Brown’s Foreign Office has already weighed in:
“It is inconceivable that (Her Majesty’s Government) would ever seek to reach a mutually acceptable accommodation with a terrorist organisation like al-Qaida.”

Powell is the senior member of Blair’s government to serve his full 12 years. His book, “Great Hatred, Little Room,” will have excerpts serialized in The Guardian starting Monday, March 17.

The real call for the next Prez not at 3 a.m.

Instead, as Joseph Romm, author of the excellent book “The Hype About Hydrogen” (five-starred by me on Amazon) says, the next president will have a daily call for global warming action.

Romm says either Clinton or Obama would definitely be better than McCain at answering this call, but that we shouldn’t expect either one to be a miracle worker:
Before I look in depth at them, the first thing to make clear is that no president, not even a modern-day Lincoln or FDR, could possibly stop global warming even by their second term. The increase in concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is primarily what determines how much humans will increase the planet's temperature. To stop concentrations from rising further, the entire planet will have to reduce total annual emissions at least 60 percent or more from current levels, including carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Absent a World War II-type mobilization, that kind of dramatic change in the planet's energy system will take a few decades.

Beyond a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system (which in the Clinton and Obama platforms calls for deeper CO2 cuts than Schmuck Talk Express™ does), Romm says the next president has other global warming calls to make:
• Appoint judges who will uphold laws to reduce emissions against challenges from the big polluters.
• Appoint leaders and staff of key federal agencies who take climate change seriously and believe in the necessary solutions.
• Embrace an aggressive and broad-based technology deployment strategy to keep the cost of the cap-and-trade system as low as possible.
• Lead a change in utility regulations to encourage, rather than discourage, energy efficiency and clean energy.
• Offer strong public advocacy to reverse the years of muzzling and misinformation of the Bush administration.

Romm says both understand the need for major upgrades to the electric power grid, and changing how utilities do business.

And, despite pandering toward coal and ethanol interests, especially on Obama’s part, Romm says both candidates calls for lower-CO2 fuels will rule out serious increases in either ethanol or coal gasification.

As for either one being better than Mad Max McCain, Schmuck Talk has already said he would vote against clean energy tax credits already on the books.

And the need for more than the current do-nothingism? Huge:
That is why China is projected to be the top producer of both solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines by 2010.

We’re getting our ass kicked on green energy, and there’s plenty of jobs out there if we want to stop getting our ass kicked.

Obama spinmeistering crazy in Pennsylvania

Barack Obama claims that losing Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton by less than 10 points would be a victory.

That’s not even mild spin. That’s ridiculous.

Here’s where it could backfire, though. Let’s say pundits accept the 10-point handicap as legitimate and Obama loses by more than that.

Hasn’t he then left the door open to serious questions about his electability?

Is the immunity-free FISA bill really that?

Did House Democrats pass a FISA bill that is free from telecom immunity on a de facto basis as well as de jure?

Or, given the history of judiciary deference to the executive branch on things like state secret claims, did the House actually just punt an immunity decision to a judge?

The House’s FISA bill leaves it to a trial judge to determine if telecommunications companies being sued for warrantless wiretapping should be given immunity. If, and a big enough “if,” a judge rules the telcos should stay in the dock, the Bush Administration will certainly immediately invoke the “state secrets” claim. And, judges have given a lot of leniency on that issue in the past.

My Political Cluelessness column about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi aside, you and I know that many Members of Congress know that, too.

In other words, it's arguable that Democrats are punting, punting to the judiciary, as much or more than taking a real stand.

Obama fesses up to getting more Rezko money

Presidential candidate Barack Obama now admits he got as much as $250,000 for his various political races from indicted Chicago wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko. That’s well up from the $150,000 Obama had previously claimed.

Since this is not a rounding error, the question is, how much of a dent does this give to Obama’s record for probity, and for his attempts to distance himself from Rezko?

Second, why did this come out? Did either the Chicago Sun-Times or the Chicago Tribune (Obama sat down with both papers’ editorial boards to reveal this) have some goods on the dollar amounts in question?

And, in a bit of snark, since Obama said he gave all of Rezko’s campaign contributions to charity, will he be cutting a check for another $100,000?

China leadership unanimously votes Dalai Lama to blame for Tibet deaths

Well, not quite. Actually, I’m mashing two stories and heads together.

First, China does blame the Dalai Lama for stirring up rioting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Second, Hu Jintao was re-elected as China’s president, presumably unanimously. That said, Xi Jinping, a rapid climber in the Chinese Communist hierarchy with no real connection to Hu, was elected vice president, perhaps putting Hu on some sort of notice that pollution, corruption and inflation all need more fighting from him.

March 14, 2008

Teacher merit pay concerns in Texas

I can see why a lot of school districts here in Texas are opting out of the state’s merit pay plan. Poorer districts are worried about the 15 percent match.

But, all districts should be worried about “teaching to the TAKS,” given that the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills makes up 60 percent of the assessment weight for Tier 1 of the state’s merit pay program.

All I know is that, being in the Dallas area, when I hear “TAKS” and “money” in the same sentence, my first associational response is “Wilmer-Hutchins ISD.”

Of course, the monetary amounts on the merit pay system are too low to be a huge incentive to cheating, but it would surely cross somebody’s mind.

And, since Tier 3 of the Texas Education Association merit pay plan is based on student attendance, what’s to stop somebody from fudging the books there?

I’ll have more next week, after an article in my newspaper and at least one post on our company blog stimulates some discussion, I hope.

Bill Clinton lies like a dog about his part in NAFTA

On the campaign trail for Hillary in Erie, Pa., he told some NAFTA whoppers. Here’s the biggest:
I tried to get labor and environmental standards in the agreement but I couldn’t because it was all negotiated when I got there.

Geez, let us count the ways that’s wrong.

First, you yourself promoted NAFTA, pushing wavering Congressional

Second, you yourself got labor (under NAFTA main page in Wiki) and environmental side accords passed.

I’m sure this is just the beginning of more than a month of NAFTA lies from both Clintons (as well as the Obama campaign) before the Pennsylvania primary.

Oh, while we’re in for a little Clinton-bashing, why didn’t you get Kyoto brought before Congress as a congressional-executive agreement rather than a treaty, or at least try to? As Wiki notes, only 6 percent of more than 16,000 international agreements the U.S. made from 1946-1999 were crafted as formal treaties subject to two-thirds approval by the Senate.

So, Slickster, don’t give us this NAFTA bullshit.

UK politicizing teaching of Iraq War

And apparently using American materials to do so.

The National Union of Teachers has called foul on new lesson plans about the war, threatening to boycott a conference with military leaders.

The union has not just “called foul” in a social sense, but in a legal one as well, claiming the new lesson plans break the1996 Education Act, which aims to ensure all political issues are treated in a balanced way.

Here’s a laundry list of concerns:
At the heart of the union's concern is a lesson plan commissioned by an organisation called Kids Connections for the Ministry of Defence aimed at stimulating classroom debate about the Iraq war.

In a “Students’ Worksheet” which accompanies the lesson plan, it stresses the “reconstruction” of Iraq, noting that 5,000 schools and 20 hospitals have been rebuilt. But there is no mention of civilian casualties.

In the "Teacher Notes" section, it talks about how the "”nvasion was necessary to allow the opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein” but it fails to mention the lack of United Nations backing for the war. The notes also use the American spelling of “program.”

Here’s more of what the Ministry of Defence guide says, and what it omits, per Independent analysis:
* "Iraq was invaded early 2003 by a United States coalition. Twenty-nine other countries, including the UK, also provided troops... Iraq had not abandoned its nuclear and chemical weapons development program". After the first Gulf War, "Iraq did not honour the cease-fire agreement by surrendering weapons of mass destruction..."

The reality: The WMD allegation, central to the case for war, proved to be bogus. David Kay, appointed by the Bush administration to search for such weapons after the invasion, found no evidence of a serious programme or stockpiling of WMDs. The "coalition of the willing" was the rather grand title of a rag-tag group of countries which included Eritrea, El Salvador and Macedonia.

* "The invasion was also necessary to allow the opportunity to remove Saddam, an oppressive dictator, from power, and bring democracy to Iraq".

The reality: Regime change was not the reason given in the run-up to the invasion – the US and UK governments had been advised it would be against international law. Saddam was regarded as an ally of the West while he was carrying out some of the worst of his atrocities. As for democracy, elections were held in Iraq during the occupation and have led to a sectarian Shia government. Attempts by the US to persuade the government to be more inclusive towards minorities have failed.

* "Over 7,000 British troops remain in Iraq... to contribute to reconstruction, training Iraqi security forces... They continue to fight against a strong militant Iraqi insurgency."

The reality: The number of British troops in Iraq is now under 5,000. They withdrew from their last base inside Basra city in September and are now confined to the airport where they do not take part in direct combat operations.

* "The cost of UK military operations in Iraq for 2005/06 was £958m."

The reality: The cost of military operations in Iraq has risen by 72 per cent in the past 12 months and the estimated cost for this year is £1.648bn. The House of Commons defence committee said it was "surprised" by the amount of money needed considering the slowing down of the tempo of operations.

The amount of lies and half-truths involved, in conjunction with the word “program,” do make on wonder if this wasn’t “Made in U.S.A.”

Bear Stearns approaches junk bond status

Investment bank Bear Stearns isn’t just running out of liquid capital, it’s running out of reputation.

Meanwhile, Bear Stearns’ bond rating has been cut three levels, to BBB, by Standard & Poor’s. That’s only two grades above junk status.

But, S&P said it could downgrade Bear Stearns even further.
S&P plans to complete a review of Bear Stearns in the next few weeks “as more concrete, longer term solutions to Bear's liquidity and confidence crisis are fleshed out,” S&P analyst Diane Hinton said.

“The ratings could be lowered further if there is a failure to stabilize liquidity or to achieve a satisfactory longer term funding structure,” Hinton said.

Bear Stearns can’t get capital regardless of its rating, Allegiant's Harding said.

“What their rating is now is irrelevant,” he said. “Whether it's BB, AAA or A, I just think it's a response to the emergency funding today.”

House passes immunity-free FISA bill

The vote was pretty much party-line at 213-197; all Republicans voted no, joined by 11 aisle-crossing Democrats. Here’s some highlights:
“I believe that the nation is deeply concerned about what has gone on for the last seven years, and I want to restore some of the trust in the intelligence community,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes said. ..

“Congress is not fully informed, and it would be reckless to grant retroactive immunity without knowing the scope of programs out there,” Congresswoman Jane Harman said.

The telco immunity issue will be booted to a trial court judge.

The bill also would initiate a yearlong bipartisan panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission to investigate the administration's so-called warrantless wiretapping program.

All sounds pretty good.

Unfortunately, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller has already made noises he doesn’t like everything in the House bill, and it’s believed that part of what he doesn’t like is that’s its missing telco immunity.

Some real progressives need to slap him upside the head and tell him to either get on the train or become a Republican in fact.

OK, I have the 11 aisle-crossers.

Dennis Kucinich and Jim McDermott (I assume a “conscience” vote on a bill they thought not strong enough on civil liberties), Dan Boren (Blue Dog), Michael Capuano, Christopher Carney, Jim Cooper (Blue Dog/lite), Bob Filner, Maurice Hinchey, Tim Holden, Nick Lampson, Heath Shuler (not much more than a Republican) and Peter Welch.

Capuano, Carney, Filner, Hinchey, Holden and Welch may also be conscience voters. Filner represents the Mexican border portion of California and the rest are all northeastern.

Also, I’d like to have someone with a legal background weigh in on how likely a judge is to grant immunity or not, should this bill be the final baby, and we get to that point.

Sean Wilentz mildly takes Orlando Patterson to the woodshed

Patterson, who does a better job each time he writes a column of showing his sociology education is about as deep as Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s is on New Testament studies, is like a fish in a barrel that doesn’t yet realize it’s been shot.

Wilentz fires again. Unfortunately, Sean, after pointing out how the Obama campaign has played the race card through various surrogates, is guilty of either excessive politeness or naivete with Patterson:
But it is surprising that a distinguished scholar such as Orlando Patterson should so badly misread what I wrote. In any event, his account completely misrepresents what I have said — and thereby mocks the really important issues.

Surprising, Sean? Didn’t you give consideration to the alternate idea that Patterson dealt h imself an inside straight on race-playing cards?

House Dem whore out to credit card companies

Thursday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions of the House Committee on Financial Services was holding hearings on credit card debt, related to a bill sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney that would outlaw some of the worst credit card tricks and traps. People with debt problems had been invited to speak, until they got this switcheroo:
The people who had been invited to testify had flown in from around the country with their credit card bills in hand, only to learn that they couldn't talk unless they would sign a waiver that would permit the credit card companies to make public anything they wanted to tell about their financial records, their credit histories, their purchases, and so on. The Republicans and Democrats had worked out a deal "to be fair to the credit card lenders." These people couldn't say anything unless they were willing to let the credit card companies strip them naked in public.

Look at Maloney put her tail between her legs:
“In order to have a discussion that focused entirely on the substance and not on process, we are doing everything we can to accommodate any concerns that have been raised.”

Credit card company reps had already gotten to speak in a previous session, without any requirement that they sign waivers about what all they had done with financial data, how good or poor their privacy protections were, etc. etc.

Good thing this wasn’t the Senate, where Joe Biden, Sen. MBNA, probably wouldn’t have let the people show up in the first place.

Yet another reason not to buy ‘made in China’

Pre-installed viruses on electronic devices such as iPods. American businesses, such as Apple, that are affected, blame sloppiness in manufacture, due to China’s Wal-Mart like “low manufacturing prices everyday” creating crap.
But sloppiness is the simplest explanation, not the only one.

If a virus is introduced at an earlier stage of production, by a corrupt employee or a hacker when software is uploaded to the gadget, then the problems could be far more serious and widespread.

Knowing how many devices have been sold, or tracking the viruses with any precision, is impossible because of the secrecy kept by electronics makers and the companies they hire to build their products.

But given the nature of mass manufacturing, the numbers could be huge.

“It’s like the old cockroach thing — you flip the lights on in the kitchen and they run away,” said Marcus Sachs, a former White House cybersecurity official who now runs the security research group SANS Internet Storm Center. “You think you've got just one cockroach? There’s probably thousands more of those little boogers that you can’t see.”

For example, stuff like this doesn’t sound “accidental”:
Jerry Askew, a Los Angeles computer consultant, bought a new Uniek digital picture frame to surprise his 81-year-old mother for her birthday. But when he added family photos, it tried to unload a few surprises of its own.

When he plugged the frame into his Windows PC, his antivirus program alerted him to a threat. The $50 frame, built in China and bought at Target, was infested with four viruses, including one that steals passwords.

Nor does this:
In one case, digital frames sold at Sam’s Club contained a previously unknown bug that not only steals online gaming passwords but disables antivirus software, according to security researchers at Computer Associates.

That said, wouldn’t you love to see smug Steve Jobs get slapped with a class-action lawsuit if he doesn’t actually do something about this?

Actually, Apple has commented more on the issue than some American companies, such as major electronics distributor Best Buy. And, none of the Chinese manufacturers AP contacted for the story would utter a peep.

Bear Sterns up the creek without a paddle

After slipping yesterday over liquidity worries, the investment bank gave up nearly half its stock value this morning. That in turn acted like a leaden anchor on other financials, which in turn drug down the entire Dow.

Ultimately, who’s guaranteeing J.P. Morgan’s guarantee of Bear Sterns? You and I.

Science news roundup – more ‘little people,’ Alpha Centauri, moths

More “little people” found in Melanesia

A new set of small-stature human skeletons, similar to the “Flores people,” have been found in Palau. Researchers say they have a variety of cranial and facial features, some similar to Homo sapiens and others to Homo floresiensis, which is sure to stir the debate pot as to just what has been discovered both on Indonesia’s Flores Islands and at Palau. Biggest difference is that “Palau man” doesn’t have the small brain of the Flores folk, which could add credence to the idea that those people suffered from severe iodine deficiency.

Is extra-solar life that close

Some astronomers think it is – as close as Alpha Centauri B. Statistical calculations say planets should have formed around the star. Now, I don’t know how being part of a triple-star system would affect the development of life there, if there is a planet that is habitable. That said, I’ll stick by my extremely conservative estimate on the Drake number for our galaxy.

Moths remember caterpillar life?

Simple Pavlovian avoidant conditioning says yes.

Jesus was black, eh, Rev. Wright?

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I’m sure that finding is earthshaking news to legions of New Testament scholars from around the world.

Beyond the other racial stuff from Barack Obama’s pastor, what I most loathe is the pseudoscientific “black Jesus” crap from Wright. And that’s what it is.

And, Republicans who want to drive a wedge between Obama and Jewish voters have new ammunition to fire.

Jesus was not Caucasian, contrary to 19th-century paintings and what is likely still a fair-sized swath of white Christian belief today, and he likely was pretty swarthy, but he wasn’t from sub-Saharan Africa, either, Rev. Wright.

Pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and the like are a sure political turn-off for me.

Native Americans arrival dated earlier

“Clovis-only” theory of Indians gets death blow

A new review in Science strongly confirms that the first “Native Americans” got to the New World at least 16,000 years ago. It would seem that nobody but old-school crabbed anthropologists could still defend the Clovis theory
A new review published in the research journal Science contends that that the first Americans had their roots in southern Siberia, ventured across the Bering land bridge probably around 22,000 years ago, and migrated down into the Americas as early as 16,000 years ago.

In the paper, Ted Goebel of Texas A&M University and colleagues argue that the latter date is when an ice-free corridor in Canada opened and enabled the migration.

The new account is bolstered by genetic evidence and the discovery of new archaeological sites and more accurate dates for old sites, according to the researchers.

Genetic evidence, they wrote, points to a founding population of less than 5,000 people at the beginning of the second migration in Canada.

Moreover, they added, archaeological evidence suggests the Clovis culture may have been relative latecomers to the Americas or descendants of earlier Paleo-Indian populations represented at archaeological sites such as Monte Verde in Chile. That site is thought to have been occupied 14,600 years ago.

This squares with my belief that a multiple-migrations theory of population of the Americas is more likely than a one-movement theory, with the likely exception of Inuit/Aleut, and perhaps Na-Dene. Along with that, this would seem to favor “splitters” rather than “lumpers” among linguists.

March 13, 2008

No tengo dinero dollars

Dollars no longer accepted at the Taj Mahal. Or Parisian flea markets.

George Washington at an all-time low against the Brazilian real since it was freely floated in 1999.

Brazilian moneychangers offering Chinese yuan to cut out dollars as a middleman.

Meanwhile, if Peruvians are hoaring their native soles currency instead of the dollar, you know the greenback really sucks.

And, unlike the 1970s oil crises and stagflation, the dollar has a competitor currency today.

Tour operators in Agra, India, near the Taj Mahal, will take euros. So will the Parisian flea markets, of course.

Another dumb BushCo privatizing idea – nuke waste

Do you really want nuclear waste privatized? I didn’t think so.
A power point briefing prepared for lawmakers by Dennis R. Spurgeon, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for nuclear energy, includes a slide showing a “non-governmental entity” that would manage nuclear waste disposal and fees from nuclear utilities in concert with a still undeveloped recycling program supported by the Bush administration.

Basically, it’s an attempt to gin up private-sector support and money for Yucca Mountain and do an end run around its top political opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Well, no way in hell it’s going to work to do anything but piss off Harry Reid.

But, that’s the political brilliance of our current administration.

Send Preznit strong dollar with his pony

That’s because, despite his plaintive pleading, Bush is about as likely to find a strong dollar as he is the Reaganesque pony at the bottom of the shitpile.

Here’s his hugely insightful comments:
“Those aren’t good tidings, if you’re for a strong dollar like I am,” Bush said about the exchange rate.

“One reason I am for a strong dollar is because ... I think it helps deal with inflation,” he said.

“Our dollar doesn't buy as many barrels of oil as it used to, and so therefore it’s more expensive for the American people.”

I guess Yale and that Harvard MBA did learn you a few things about economics.

Next, he’ll say, “When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results,” like Coolidge!

Anti-Iraq opposition fractured

A USA Today survey says Iraq War opposition breaks down into four groups.

It describes them as (my quotes where used):
• The “get out now, get all the way out, no preconditions” group, that includes me.
• The “leave after Iraq is secure” group.
• The “I want out but we’re stuck in an Iraq quagmire” set.
• The “I want us out but have tuned out” opposition.

The paper says the first two groups each make up 1 in 5 Americans and the last two each claim 1 in 10 people.

I think “fractured” puts it too strongly. I think Group A people like me have to do a better sales job with Group C that we can get out and with Group D to not tune out so much. (That said, I think I have half a foot in that camp at times myself). All this has to be done while outshouting, if necessary, Group B, especially to the degree Group B folks may have half a foot, or more, in the pro-war camp.

Along that line, the Politico claims support for the war is its highest since 2006.

Of course, the story spoils itself with extensive quoting of Michael O’Hanlon.

Nonetheless, despite Greenwald’s attempt to totally trash the piece, poll numbers are poll numbers. If they’re shifting, that has to be dealt with.

DNC shooting itself in foot in gay lawsuit

The Washington Blade, the Capital’s gay newspaper, is giving a smackdown to the Democratic National Committee, claiming the DNC is trying to intimidate the paper over its reporting in the gay discrimination suit against it by former LGBT outreach director Donald Hitchcock.

I blogged a little bit about this earlier. It’s incomprehensible, if true, that the DNC would engage in gay discrimination. Hitchcock claims harassment and retaliation by DNC Chief of Staff Leah Daughtery and Chairman Howard Dean, held him responsible for criticism of the DNC’s LGBT outreach efforts by his partner, Democratic consultant Paul Yandura.

Blade Kevin Naff says two DNC attorneys recently visited the paper’s office over the paper’s criticizing the DNC’s response to anti-gay comments by former Joint Chief of Staff head Gen. Peter Pace. The lawyers claim they had no connection to the suit and weren’t even representing the DNC, since another attorney is the actual attorney of record in the suit.

Right, right. Gays can vote Green or stay home, you know.

Hypocrisy alert: U.S. and Chinese foreign aid

CIA head Michael Hayden says is China is “have not yet stepped up to the responsibility of a major power” by, in essence “bribing” southeast Asian countries with foreign aid in exchange for U.N. votes. Translation coming after Hayden’s comments:
Chinese communist leaders… so far have failed to understand “they actually have some responsibility for the maintenance of the global system,” the Washington Times quoted Hayden as saying in an interview.

“When you go and essentially corrupt an island nation in the South Pacific with massive infusions of aid no matter how appropriately or inappropriately it will be used, and you strangle nascent democracies in their crib by doing so just so you can get that island nation's vote in the General Assembly, that's pursuing it for a very narrow base,” Hayden said.

“If you want to be a great power, you’ve got be thinking more broadly, you cannot be acting just on those kind of narrow considerations,” he said.

First, note the source… the conservative media mouthpiece horse’s ass for the Beltway.

Now, the “translation.” What Hayden means is that China is irresponsible for not supporting the American version of the global system. And, of course, we established our version by … massive amounts of foreign aid for … 2002-03 U.N. votes on Iraq.

Science news roundup – DEET, alligators, cats, tomatoes, Lake Baikal

How DEET works

The popular drug repellant keeps mosquitoes and other insect irritants from smelling human body odors. With that, chemists may be able to make better-designed repellants.

Alligators move lungs to dive

Gators move that and more to dive and swim:
Researchers said American alligators use their diaphragm, pelvic, abdominal and rib muscles to change their center of buoyancy, forcing the lungs toward the tail when they dive, toward the head when they surface, and sideways to roll.

The researchers said this may also explain why alligators have diaphragms, which are not common among reptiles.

Cat harbors drug-resistant staph, infects owner

In what is certainly scary news from the world of infectious diseases, German scientists have discovered a pet cat harbored methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. Only after the cat itself was treated with antibiotics did the owner heal. Dogs can also have this effect, which should rightfully concern pet owners, researchers said:
“It remains unclear whether the cat was the source of the patient’s infection or vice versa," the researchers note — but said the strain was rare in humans.

“This case illustrates that MRSA transmission also occurs between humans and cats,” they added in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We conclude that pets should be considered as possible household reservoirs of MRSA that can cause infection or reinfection in humans.”

This makes me wonder further. Hogs are a major vector for diseases that infect humans, especially in southeast Asia because humans and swine live closely together. With ever-more pets in the developed world, even though cat- or dog-human genomic differences are greater than with hogs, could we see some degree of something similar?

Tomatoes – the delectable roundness of eating

Scientists have discovered a gene for giving tomatoes their shape.

Lake Baikal being polluted

Per long-held fears of Russian environmentalists, it appears a paper mill is polluting the world’s deepest lake.

Lake Baikal is so large it has 20 percent of the world’s reserve of liquid-state fresh water. It is a United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization World Heritage Site.

Pujols says he can avoid surgery

Albert Pujols, the face of the St. Louis Cardinals since the retirement of Ozzie Smith, made 80-point headlines at the start of spring training by saying he would shut it down for the year if his elbow was bothering him and the Redbirds weren’t in contention.

But now, he’s singing a different tune. Prince Albert says he can avoid surgery on his right wing not only this year but for the rest of his career.

And he insists the elbow isn’t bothering him.
Pujols has altered his weightlifting program to put less stress on the elbow, a switch that has not made a dent in his power. He vows not to get cheated at the plate.

“I’m taking the same swings I’ve always taken, with the same approach and the same energy,” Pujols said. “Injuries, that’s something you can’t control, and if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.”

Pujols is fond of saying that perhaps a month into the season, no one is truly healthy.

“You play 162 games and you travel every three days, you sleep in different beds every three days, and you play night games and day games and it’s tough,” he said. “Your body needs to get used to all that and people don’t understand that and say ‘Oh, you can't stay healthy.’

“I’ve said before, if there's anybody in this game that plays 100 percent healthy the whole year, he's lying. My mind tells me that I’m 100 percent but my body doesn’t, and that’s the way it is.”

In other Cardinals’ spring training news, Juan Gonzalez was scratched from action today with a mild abdominal strain.

And, Chris Carpenter threw 20 pitches off a mound for the second time yesterday.



“I think he looks like he’s right where he should be at this point,” pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “He’s making good progress, but it is what it is. In his case, you’ve got to put the time in.”

Carpenter said he’s throwing at 60 percent effort and only fastballs. So, while he's happy to be progressing there's little sense of relief. It’s way too early for that.

“I think it’s going to get different when we start upping the intensity and the quantity," Carpenter said. “It’s on a line and it’s going in there nice with an occasional little pop in the mitt.

“I’m not firing it, but it’s hard enough for right now, and I’ve been recovering fine and as long as that continues to progress, everything will fall into place,” he said.

Sounds promising so far, but, as Carp says, this is still early in the recovery road.

WSJ says recession is here and could be bad

And, many of the economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect this one to be worse that those in 1990-91 or 2001.
“The evidence is now beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Scott Anderson of Wells Fargo & Co., who was among the 71 percent of 51 respondents to say that the economy is now in a recession.

Some details from the survey:
Twenty economists now expect payrolls to shrink outright. And the average forecast for the unemployment rate was raised to 5.5 percent by December from 4.8 percent in the previous survey.

Twenty-nine of 55 respondents said they expect the economy to contract in the current quarter and 25 expect it to do so in the second.

The economists also expressed growing concerns that a 2008 recession could be worse than both the 2001 and 1990-91 downturns. They put the odds of a deeper downturn at an average 48 percent, up from 39 percent in the previous survey.

I don’t see how anybody not inside the Bush Administration can deny that we’re in a recession if the nation’s financial newspaper of record says so.

Speaking of that, the one silver lining is that Ben Bernanke, The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™, may be out on his ass if a Democrat is in the White House next year:
The economists gave the Fed chairman just a 59 percent chance of being reappointed in 2010. “If a Democrat is elected he won’t be reappointed, and (presumptive Republican presidential nominee John) McCain may opt for another, too,” said David Resler of Nomura Securities. “The problems occurred on his watch,” added Ram Bhagavatula of Combinatorics Capital.

A small blessing, but yes, a blessing.

Not the Wright stuff from Obama pastor

Yeah, it’s a Fox story, but, still, expect Barack Obama to get more scrutiny over his church pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Is what Wright saying any more offensive than anti-Catholic comments by McCain backer John Hagee or newly uncovered anti-Muslim ones by McCain “spiritual advisor” Rod Parsley?

No, they’re not. Are they any less offensive, though?

No, they’re not.

And, does Obama have a longer relationship with Wright? Yes, he does.

It will be hard for his campaign to play the “repudiation” card against McCain with this.

New Duke of Duval County

His name is Sheriff Santiago Barrera Jr.. “Blowout Barrera,” if I may, has nothing to learn from the mastermind behind “Landslide Lyndon.” If anything, he’s worse than the original Duke himself, the legendary George Parr:
For 20 years, Sheriff Santiago Barrera Jr. had done what he pleased. He decided who sat in his jail and when they were released. Sometimes it was before a judge got involved and other times it was after.

Here’s the latest thing to get Barrera’s nose out of joint:
Christopher Maher wrote a front-page story about the arrest of the sheriff’s 42-year-old son, Miguel Barrera, on charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest. According to the newspaper, when Maher interviewed the sheriff at the jail about another story, Barrera said, “If you guys keep interfering with my business, I’m going to have you arrested.”

Nicole Perez, managing editor of the Echo-News Journal and The Freer Press, alerted the county attorney.

And, that’s not all the problems associated with Barrera. Shock me that election corruption and vote intimidation allegations would be brought up in Duval County:
Brrera’s tough tactics extended to politics. The sheriff arranged the demotion of the commander of a tri-county drug task force to patrol officer in December after the commander, Romeo Ramirez, announced his primary campaign against Barrera for sheriff in the county of about 12,000 people.

Ramirez won last Tuesday’s primary, but Barrera has made allegations about irregularities with mail-in ballots. So far, only one incorrectly addressed ballot has been brought to the district attorney.

Instead of “Landslide Lyndon,” do we now have “Blowout Barrera” threatening a comeback?

Charter Communications selling your info …

And not paying you for it, either

Out in Los Angeles, Charter is giving media survey company A.C. Nielsen data from 330,000 subscribers' digital set-top boxes , for Nielsen to then sell to private advertisers for demographic research.

To protect the privacy of its customers, no identifying information will be included in the data, said Jim Heneghan, senior vice president for ad sales for Charter.... The information will show when a digital set-top box is turned on, the specific channel the box is tuned to and whether a show is being recorded. It will reveal when channels are switched and when the television is turned off. …

Despite Charter's assurances that data about individual customers would be guarded, some privacy advocates expressed concern about the growing industry of selling details about consumer behavior.

"Where does it stop? The company could promise anonymity today and then change their privacy policies tomorrow," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego.

Exactly. It likely won’t stop. You think Charter would have some big press release when it did start releasing more private information.

Here’s what Nielsen is going to do”
Beginning in about two months, Nielsen will start selling the Charter data to its clients, primarily the television networks, cable channels and advertisers. Nielsen and Charter declined Wednesday to discuss financial details.

That’s the other part of the ripoff. Charter is going to make huge bucks on this, but do you think your cable bill in L.A. is going to be reduced? Not a chance.

Thank doorknobs I still use rabbit ears.

Iraq vets prepared to dish on possible war crimes

Following in the train of a similar action 37 years ago by Vietnam vets, soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are prepared to start talking about war crimes.
More than 100 veterans gathered in a Detroit hotel in early 1971 to talk about things they had seen and done in the Vietnam War. Called the Winter Soldier Investigation, the group spoke about a horrifying array of allegations: convoys driving over civilians; burning of villages; bodies thrown out of helicopters; torture, mutilation and infamous “free-fire zones,” where anyone not wearing a U.S. uniform could be killed.

Thirty-seven years later, more than 100 veterans will gather over the next several days for “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan.” The event is designed to be another purging of the horrors of war, and another effort to put American military policy on trial in the public eye. The gathering this time, at the National Labor College outside Washington, D.C., is sponsored by the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. “Soldiers will certainly be testifying about their experience and observation of actions which are absolutely in violation of international law,” says IVAW spokesperson Perry O’Brien, who served as an Army medic in Afghanistan in 2003.

Organizers are hoping that modern technology, i.e., such things as digital camera and video imagery from Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, will give them more publicity traction with the media than their Vietnam counterparts got.

At the same time, IVAW faces the same tightrope that Vietnam Veterans Against the War did – calling out the war crimes without painting grunts in the field as war criminals. And, like 37 years ago, that’s going to be dicey, Vietnam vet Rick Weidman said.
Some Iraq veterans agree that the pro-war crowd will work to create the impression that the event is an unpatriotic smear against the troops. “It troubles me a little bit,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America said about the coming event. “I hope that they are thinking this out, because there are plenty of people who are going to want to have their ass.”

As March 21 is Iraq Moratorium Day, remember soldiers daring enough to talk like this.

NOW Paulson wants to do something about predatory mortgages

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wants tougher mortgage lending rules. I’m not against that at all, but, it’s been nearly two years since you took office. Even as the subprime market was starting to implode, we had predatory lenders still seeking out easy marks, and nothing was being done.

Hell, for that matter, how much money did Goldman Sachs make in financial derivates related to predatory lending, when you were running it?

That said, let’s get to what he does want.
“Regulations needs to catch up with innovation and help restore investor confidence but not go so far as to create new problems, make our markets less efficient or cut off credit to those who need it,” Paulson said.

One is “strong nationwide licensing standards” for mortgage brokers. Nice, but won’t happen without a huge fight that Paulson’s boss has no interest in, in terms of political philosophy.

Tougher oversight of mortgage originators, including things such as mortgages offered without income checks, etc.

Better due diligence on originators of securitized mortgage-based credit issuers. Good luck, there. I assume you’re talking about the CDOs and other alphabet soup financial derivatives that have recently gained notoriety. They’ve been around more than a decade. Even if Goldman Sachs didn’t have a lot of exposure to them, I didn’t hear any big worries about them from you when you were in the private sector.

More stagflation news on $1,000 gold and weak spending

More signs the recession is here

consumer retail spending contracted, by six-tenths of a percent, in February. Economists (the dismal pseudo-science?) had been reportedly expecting a 0.2 percent increase:
“This is a downward spiral consistent with a recession,” said Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss RE in New York.



Gold – more signs we have real inflation problems

Gold has punctured the psychological $1,000/ounce barrier. And we know what happened when oil busted $100/bbl. It collected its breath, then speculators started bidding it up even higher.

If Big Ben Bernanke (The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™) is serious about a 3/4 point Fed rate cut next week, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see oil at $120 if not $125. Ditto for $1,100 gold, maybe even $1,200.

Result? The Dow was cratering in early trading.

March 12, 2008

Prostitution not victimless

First, it’s true the number of women sexually abused as children who are in prostitution, as this op-ed notes.

Re the Eliot Spitzer debacle which has reignited the issue of legalizing prostitution, it’s a very valid question whether women trapped in sexual self-hatred aren’t victims, indeed.

“Kristen,” the prostitute of Spitzer’s choice, says she came from childhood abuse, without saying whether sexual, physical, emotional, or some of multiple types, and that she left a broken home at age 17. Like many other girls/young women in similar situations, she also admits to drug abuse.

(Read her story here and see her MySpace page here.

Second, as the authors note, prostitutes were financially victimized just as much in the ultra-high dollar Emperor’s Club of Spitzer’s choice as in cheap street arrangements. Pimps (still the only word, right) at Emperor’s Club took 50 percent off the top.

Oh, even in the Nevada counties where prostitution is legalized, women can’t work as “free agents,” either.

And, requiring sex twice an hour, except if one man had the woman “rented out” longer than that, is certainly physically damaging.

Chris Hedges calls strawman ‘New Atheists’

First, he apparently think Chris Hitchens’ political beliefs apply to all New Atheists, assuming that Salon is correct when it says he says they are:
Conspicuously allied with the neocons on the subject of America's role in world politics.

To be honest, Hitchens is the only New Atheist I’ve heard express ANY political opinion beyond worrying about the Bush Administration’s, or some states’, folding, spindling and mutilating of the First Amendment through faith-based programs getting government money, school boards and state boards of education trying to teach intelligent design, etc. Hedges says Harris, in his first book, talks about a nuclear first strike on the Arab world, but you don’t have to be a neocon to believe in that – which I don’t, anyway.

Dawkins, and Dan Dennett, who apparently doesn’t even draw Hedges’ eye, are about as apolitical, otherwise, as you can get.

As for claims that New Atheists are secular utopians, some may be, others certainly aren’t.

That said, I will agree that Harris is intellectually shallow, and Hitchens is a performer.

Again, though, “New Atheists” are a lot more than these two.

It’s hard to believe that “I Don’t Believe in Atheists,” with its shallow diatribes, was written by the author of “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”

But, Chris Hedges, that’s OK. We don’t believe in you as a serious writer anymore, either. Maybe you’re dying for a war addiction fix or something.

Downer cows make for killer burgers

Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. President Steve Mendell fessed up to using downer cows in his company’s Southern California slaughterhouse. Downer cattle are supposed to verboten due to fears of mad cow disease.

Of course, that was only after a Congressional committee confronted him with undercover video.

Mendell was under subpoena to appear before the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee. Without a subpoena, he was a no-show last month, which carries an implication of guilt in my book right there.

And, what did he not want to talk about?

This imagery that should just want to make you rush out to buy fast food, or some hamburger at the grocery store NOT:
Mendell watched red-faced and grim, sometimes resting his head on his hand, as cows were dragged by chains, sprayed in the nostrils with water, shocked and harshly prodded with forklifts to get them into the box where they would be slaughtered.

Earlier, in written testimony, Mendell claimed no downers went through his slaughterhouse. He then admitted he was changing his testimony because he got caught red-handed. Meanwhile, his legal mouthpiece, a familiar old Republican flunky, tried to spin even that:
Asked about the discrepancy with his written testimony, Mendell said, “I had not seen what I saw here today.” He said that the Agriculture Department had not shared with him some of the undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States.

Stupak pointed out that the video has been available on the Humane Society website.

After Mendell’s testimony, his lawyer sought to clarify Mendell’s remarks. Asa Hutchinson, a former GOP congressman from Arkansas who once led the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Mendell would not dispute logical conclusions drawn by Stupak about downed cattle illegally entering the food supply.

“But it can’t be conclusive because he does not know all the facts of it, he hasn’t studied it and he only saw one brief shot at it during his testimony,” Hutchinson said.

So, Mendell is trying to blame the USDA, and Hutchison is trying to claim Mendell doesn’t know what goes on in his own company. Typical Republican, just like our glorious CEO president.

If Mendell didn’t know about shit like this, literally, shit, from the feces that cling to downers, it’s because he didn’t want to. The company had a quota of 500 slaughters a day. As for his claim that his plant had good training, well, that might be true in theory, but if you’re running that many cows through, it’s not that way in reality.

And, given the fact Mendell was a no-show at the previous committee meeting, as I noted above, Hutchison knows that anybody with half a brain sees through the spin.

As for the “killer burgers” part of the head, it’s a legitimate fear:
Richard Raymond, Agriculture Department undersecretary for food safety, acknowledged “there is that remote possibility” that cases of mad cow could emerge years from now as a result of the Westland/Hallmark practices.

And, there may be more in the system:
Raymond also said that the Agriculture Department had found evidence of more than the two non-ambulatory cattle shown in videos Wednesday improperly entering the food supply. Even though carcasses also undergo inspection and can be discarded after slaughter, “it’s a reasonable statement to assume it did enter commerce, some of it,” Raymond said.

As for Mendell, he’s now worried about his own future. He claims he’s received death threats and people have told him they’re “praying for us to suffer and die like the cows.”

Well, you know, if we went by the “eye for an eye” idea, something like that would make a fitting punishment for Mendell, should he be criminally convicted of everything.

One hamburger a day, every day for the rest of his life, made of the recalled beef from his slaughterhouse. Given that it was the subject of the largest recall in history, I’m sure it would be no problem cooking him up a daily quarter-pounder, or even double quarter-pounder. And, no, that’s not totally tongue in cheek.

Southwest self-inflicted wounds get worse

So, now it’s alleged Southwest Airlines had rudder inspection issues on some planes, too, as well as failure to inspect for cracks.

That’s what James Oberstar’s House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee says it found.

Southwest is denying the rudder allegations, but, given how much crow the company has already had to eat this week on PR flak that turned out to be wrong or misleading, it should probably not claim to contest anything right now.

Oh, the 46 planes that Southwest didn’t inspect for fuselage cracks like it should have?

It flew 38 of them for a total of 1,451 flights, a decision that FAA officials characterized as flunking a basic safety test.

No shit.

But, Oberstar isn’t looking just at Southwest. He’s looking at the whole FAA system, including where the agency trusts airlines to do a lot of self-inspection.

However, the trust issue bounced back to Southwest, which, apparently, deliberately gamed the system.

And, at some point, beyond asking for an outside consultant, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly is going to have to make some sort of corporate apology. And, probably sooner would be better. If he doesn’t get that, I wonder how much Southwest’s board is going to lean on him.

Kevorkian really wants you to pull the lever

That is, if you want to vote for “Dr. Death” to be your next Congressman in suburban Detroit.

Hell, I bet he has no problem meeting the requirement of getting 3,000 signatures by July 17. That would get him on the November ballot as an independent. Per the local suburban paper, the Oakland Press:
He lives in the 9th Congressional District. The seat is held by eight-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills. Democrats currently filed to run include former Michigan Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters.

Kevorkian is still on parole, until June 1, 2009, for his second-degree murder conviction April 13, 1999 for his participation in the assisted suicide of Thomas Youk. Michigan law does not bar him from running for office.

Here’s the take on Jack’s run from the prosecutor in that case:
“I would place Jack Kevorkian’s candidacy in the same ranking with (Texas U.S. Rep.) Ron Paul’s (presidential run),” Dave Gorcyca said.

“It’s probably more of a publicity stunt. To call attention to himself is standard protocol for Jack when he doesn’t have the limelight focused on him. I would not consider his candidacy to be a legitimate one.”

First, while Jack can flock to the limelight, I think this limelight NEEDS his presence.

Second, Gorcyca shows himself to be a stuffed-shirt suburban Republican, with the dismissal of Ron Paul as well. (Not that Ron Paul isn’t a huge nutbar, but, that’s not why Gorcyca is dissing him and you know that.)

Third, Knollenberg was re-elected in 2006 with just 51.6 percent of the vote. And, the economy in Michigan has deteriorated further since then, making him vulnerable.

Could Kevorkian bring out a number of libertarian types who might not otherwise vote? Could he poach senior citizens from both parties? You betcha.

Personally, I would not only pull the lever, I would endorse him, if I could and edited a newspaper there, I would personally endorse him on my blog, and…

I am personally endorsing him on my blog.

Go, Jack, go. Even with one lonely voice, someone challenging right-to-die and assisted suicide legal bans might open other Members of Congress to speak against the War on Drugs and related bullshit.

Note: I taught a class in death and dying issues at Baker College in Michigan in the mid-1990s, during Kevorkian’s first trial.

That said, do I consider him the ideal PR person for assisted suicide? No. At one time, he may have been, but, he crossed the line in the Youk case by administering the injection himself. Even if Youk were that seriously incapacitated, surely an cyberwhiz friend or acquaintance of Kevorkian could have rigged up a way for Youk to self-inject by batting his eyelids a certain number of times.

Wachovia says plenty bad to come in housing market

Besides $110/bbl oil, this was the other reason the Dow slumped today.

Wachovia expects plenty of fallout to still hit the housing market.
Speaking to analysts on a Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. conference call, Don Truslow said, "It feels like we have a ways to go."

Using a baseball analogy, Truslow said he didn't know if the downturn was in the third, fourth or fifth inning. He added "we're still before the seventh inning stretch."

And if the economy gets worse, "we could find ourselves right now in very early innings of the credit cycle," Truslow said.

Again, can you say “stagflation”? $110/bbl oil and a still-sagging housing market can.

Oil breaks $110

Another psychological barrier falls with oil hitting $110/bbl. If the Street’s rumor about Ben Bernanke, The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™, wanting to cut interest rates 3/4 a percent next week, is true, well, oil will break $120/bbl before the end of this month.

As a result of oil and other things, the Dow dropped nearly 50 after yesterday’s 300-point gain.

Big Ben is going to bring us a snootful of stagflation and he’s clueless.

One of Dallas’ finest – Alphonso Jackson

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson appears to have learned the art of political payback all too well from his hanging out with other BushCo Texas cronies. Stripping the Philadelphia Housing Authority of by $50 million in federal funds for not agreeing to what appears to be a request for a sweetheart political land transfer is about par for the Bush Administration’s political course.

As a result, Philadelphia housing director Carl R. Greene is suing Jackson for retaliating against Philadelphia.

Gary Kelly changes his tune at Southwest

The CEO of the suddenly troubled Southwest Airlines is no longer saying “don’t look here.” Instead, he is hiring an outside consultant. That’s after an initial internal investigation told him things weren’t so rosy:
Kelly said he doesn't like what he's seen so far from an internal investigation that began on Friday. In particular, he said he was “concerned with some of our findings” about how Southwest handles so-called airworthiness directives and other regulations.

Southwest has also placed three unnamed managers on leave, as I suggested yesterday that Kelly needed to do.

Besides Kelly’s findings about Southwest’s handling of government regs, somebody at Southwest also found some bad planes. Southwest has reportedly grounded 42 of its jets.

Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to do any protesting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s $10.2 million fine.

Something else tells me that Southwest is going to trot out a massive PR campaign soon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mr. Southwest himself, Herb Kelleher, used to cut TV spots.

Big stuff in Cedar Hill

Uptown Village, the first full-blown mall in south suburban Dallas, is now officially open. As Cedar Hill City Manager Alan Sims put it, echoing the sentiments of so many, “Now we (in the Best Southwest) don’t have to drive to North Dallas or Arlington any more.”

Now, if we can just get more of the stores actually opening, rather than having delays.

For more news about Cedar Hill, visit the Cedar Hill Today website or the Today Newsapapers’ group blog.

Turkish generals ‘get it’ against Kurds

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he will have his government investup to $12-$15 billion in Kurdish areas of Turkey to drain the force out of Kurdish rebels. The money would build dams and irrigation projects plus pave roads.

The government will also start a new television channel with Persian- and Arabic-language broadcasts.

Turkey’s generals are referenced as realizing military might alone can’t dampen Kurdish rebelliousness.

March 11, 2008

Capitalist marketing alert – St. Pat and FTD

Since when did St. Patrick’s Day become a day to send flowers to people? I swear, the crap, the excrementa, of hypercapitalism in the U.S. gets worse all the time.

Biodiesel not so green

At least not its byproduct runoff. Just because the byproducts of soy-based diesel fuel are themselves organic doesn’t mean they’re not harmful. Any oil slick can reduce oxygen levels in water, for example. And, these slicks certainly aren’t ‘green’ in an environmental aesthetics sense. That and other damages can cause major fish kills:
Leanne Tippett Mosby, a deputy division director of environmental quality for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said she was warned a year ago by colleagues in other states that biodiesel producers were dumping glycerin, the main byproduct of biodiesel production, contaminated with methanol, another waste product that is classified as hazardous.

Glycerin, an alcohol that is normally nontoxic, can be sold for secondary uses, but it must be cleaned first, a process that is expensive and complicated. Expanded production of biodiesel has flooded the market with excess glycerin, making it less cost-effective to clean and sell.

Ms. Tippett Mosby did not have to wait long to see the problem. In October, an anonymous caller reported that a tanker truck was dumping milky white goop into Belle Fountain Ditch, one of the many man-made channels that drain Missouri’s Bootheel region. That substance turned out to be glycerin from a biodiesel plant.

In January, a grand jury indicted a Missouri businessman in the discharge, which killed at least 25,000 fish and wiped out the population of fat pocketbook mussels, an endangered species.

In many cases, biodiesel plant owners are willing to pay state fines that are little more than pocket change in order to get plants started up faster and run them at higher speeds. Or, in other cases, they tell regulator to eff off:
In October 2005, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management informed Alabama Biodiesel that it would need an individual pollution discharge permit to operate, but the company never applied for one. The company operated for more than a year without a permit and without facing any penalties from state regulators, though inspectors documented unpermitted discharges on two occasions.

Are biofuels plants so un-green that they’re more trouble than they’re worth, as California GOP Congressman Brian Bilbray claims? Well, that is surely going to far, but if you insert “unregulated” or “in their present state” in front of “biofuels,” he might be on to something.

ELF terrorists or not?

Ted Rall claims he is going by the dictionary in stating that Earth Liberation Front activists are not terrorists.

Rall doesn’t defend actions of theirs, such as burning 4,500-square-foot pseudo-green McMansions (and yes, Al Gore could do more than just buying carbon credits for his own mega-McMansion) in exurban Seattle.

But, contra to BushCo propaganda, he claims that while they are arsonists and vandals, they’re not terrorists. No people have been threatened. In fact, ELF tells activists to “take all necessary precautions against harming any animal —human and non-human.”

While Rall may be right that the use of the word “terrorist” diminishes its legitimate use, nonetheless, Merriam-Webster doesn’t fully agree with him. It lists violent or destructive acts.

Ferraro ‘if Obama were white’ criticism legitimate or not – updated?

Former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, a Hillary Clinton backer, has caused a big uproar, complete with Barack Obama hard blowback, by saying:
“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Now, my header asks if this is “legitimate.” That’s a different question, the political legitimacy of the statement, than what degree of truth it has.

Is it legitimate? Whether people are telling the truth in polls or not, many polls have indicated voters are more likely to support a minority candidate than a female candidate. And, Obama has less than four years experience. So, yes, it’s a politically legitimate question to raise.

Is it true? That’s complicated by the fact that we have had so few minority politicians of note. (Not you, Alan Keyes, and Jesse Jackson was sui generis.) That said, the last white presidential candidate with similar elective experience was Bobby Kennedy in 1968, and, without his last name, he wouldn’t have been running.

This is not a question of political experience, which can be overblown. Compare Abraham Lincoln with his predecessor, James Buchanan.

Rather, it’s a question of political visibility. And, there, I think Ferraro has at least a degree of truth in her comment.

That said, Ferraro could have phrased her comment much, much better than to say “he’s lucky.” It comes off as sounding a bit “back of the bus” at worst, and even if not at worst, seems to minimalize the experience of growing up black.

As far as claims that the Clinton camp is playing the race card vs. the idea that the Obama group is playing the reverse race card, we’re ultimately trading in dueling metaphors:

“Get in the back of the bus” vs. “Get back in the kitchen.”

Of course, in follow-up comments defending her original statement, Ferraro showed she has some snark and irony bones in her body by saying:
“Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?”

For good measure, she decided to throw Obama campaign manager David Axelrod under the bus:
“He knows damn well that the best thing to do in a situation like this is to come back and hit with race.”

In a more serious vein, Ferraro is standing behind her original comment, as well as the talking point that sexism is a tougher road to hoe than racism, at least in the political world.

Aside: If Cynthia McKinney gets the Green nomination, progressives can assuage both gender and ethnic concerns. Now, if McKinney would just announce that she is coming out of the closet, we’d have all the bases covered.

Irony alert: Wolf Camera

The Wolf Camera store in Cedar Hill, Texas, was robbed in late February. Local police have little to go on because …

A camera store didn’t have surveillance cameras.

Some summary thoughts on the Spitzer situation

I don’t have a URL, because if you don’t understand “Spitzer situation,” you haven’t been intaking much news in the last day or two.

First, no, I don’t think prostitution should be criminalized. But, if legalized, it needs to be regulated, as in Nevada, for the protection of all parties involved.

Second, re Spitzer, it’s the cover-up, in this case, the shuffling of large dollar amounts, etc., that always gets you.

Third, as stated before, psychological repression is a good way to get tripped up, whether you’re a politician or not.

Fourth, DON’T use the name of an actual friend, political acquaintance or business acquaintance to cover your tracks in a situation like this. I imagine the real George Fox is mad as hell at Spitzer about now, and rightfully so. That said, an act of such unthinking, and desperation, probably goes directly to Point No. 3 above.

Fifth, if you are going to pay for high-priced call girls, especially if you’ve made your reputation prosecuting financial corruption, can you not be smart enough to recognize what money shuffling will trigger your bank to contact the IRS? Know that your bank will contact the IRS if it appears you are trying to break your money transfers down into smaller amounts just to avoid the $10,000 reporting trigger.

Sixth, given the multiplication of the sexuality-related 12-step groups, why doesn’t Spitzer tearfully announce he has an addiction and is taking a leave of absence for counseling and rehab? GOPers in the New York state legislature would look incredibly mean-spirited if they tried to impeach him while he was in a rehab.

Seventh, do not ask your bank to remove your name off wire transfers of serious amounts of money after first requesting them. You just raised the suspicion red flag and started waving it furiously in your own face.

Fallon out at CENTCOM – Iran to heat back up?

Fallon has been an outspoken opponent of war with Iran, or anything close to it, and a recent Esquire article speculated that he wouldn’t serve out his term due to the degree of opposition to what many people believe is still a closely-held ultimately policy of the Bush Administration, or at least of Vice President Cheney and the neocons.

Indeed, Fallon references both the article itself, and his stance, in his resignation statement:
Admiral Fallon has requested that the Secretary of Defense allow him to step down as USCENTCOM Commander. He cited the disrespect of the President in a recent magazine article, the resulting embarrassment, perceptions of differences between his views and Administration Policies and the resulting distraction from CENTCOM missions.

“Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the President’s policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the CENTCOM region. And although I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command Area of Responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America's interests there,” said Fallon.

His actual statement invites a bit of parsing. It may well be true that Fallon doesn’t disagree with the aforementioned folks on policy objectives, at least not with the less nutbar members of BushCo.

But, the implementation of those policies? Means to achieving those policies? Different story, to be sure, and Fallon left that carefully untouched.

Southwest Airlines has second black eye

As if a $10.2 million fine for safety violations weren’t enough, Rep. James Oberstar’s investigation now has allegations that Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration jointly falsified a report that said Southwest was in safety compliance.
“For them to indicate in a report that the carrier had grounded their airplanes until they finished their inspections, only for someone else to find out that they continued to fly, is a very serious situation,” said Linda Goodrich, regional vice president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the union representing safety inspectors.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters says more disciplinary penalties could be coming down the pike. Meanwhile FAA deputy associate administrator Peggy Gilligan says there’s no indication of intentional misleading on the part of any FFA inspector.

FAA supervisor Douglas T. Gawadzinski filed the reports that claimed, as he later told FAA investigators,”there was never a concern with the airworthiness of the aircraft.” That despite six of Southwest’s 737-300s having cracks as long as 3.5 inches.

If I am Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, I stop the bullshit talk now and announce a full internal investgation, with a number of people being put on leave while the investigation continues, with the promise of firings as necessary, to the full degree that corporate legal counsel allows, and a step or two beyond.

Hamsher on Spitzer – some good comments, one ‘huh’ one

Jane Hamsher at Firedog Lake has some interesting questions about the apparent politicization of the case.

Besides the Mukasey/DOJ involvement, I too want to know how involved New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be, and working with New York state Sen. Joseph Bruno on all this, given Bruno’s history with Spitzer.

That said, I don’t know why she’s asking why the bank didn’t notify Spitzer, not the IRS, of suspicious money transfers. I’m assuming the transfers were over the $10,000 mark and therefore, the bank had to notify the IRS.

As far as not notifying Spitzer, we don’t know whether they did or didn’t. I mean, is he going to tell the world now, if he were notified? And, what was he going to say to the bank?

“Thanks, but that was actually me spending massive money on high-priced call girls?”

Update: Turns out I was right on Spitzer’s bank transfers. In fact, he broke his money movements down below the $10,000 threshold, but the total amount involved, with estimates running from $40,000-$80,000, was enough to trigger suspicion. Spitzer certainly didn’t help himself by then trying to get the bank, as yet unnamed, to take his name off the wire transfers.
Bank officials declined, however, saying that it was improper to do so and in any event, it was too late to do so, because the money already had been sent, the sources said.

The bank, as is required by law, filed an SAR, or Suspicious Activity Report, with the Internal Revenue Service, reporting the transfer of the money that exceeded $10,000, but had been broken down into smaller amounts, the sources said.

Unbelievable.

McCain clueless on healthcare economic

The Schmuck Talk Express™ showed, per his own past admissions, just how clueless he is, indeed, about economics, especially healthcare costs, with his recent comments on 60 Minutes.

McCain, in opposing anyting coming close to national healthcare, said he prefers a $2,500 per person, $5,000 per family, tax credit for people to go out and buy their own.

First, I’m assuming that McCain actually meant “tax deduction.” A $2,500 tax credit, as in a refund, would obliterate federal income tax revenue.

On the flip side, maybe Schmuck Talk did mean that, in which case he’s cluelessness squared on economic issues.

On that assumption, then, let’s take someone making about $30K a year in a job that doesn’t provide health insurance. Let’s have this person single, to focus on the $2,500 deduction.

If this person lives in an apartment, not a house, they probably don’t make enough charitable contributions to itemize. So, will the $2,500 be like the standard deduction or personal exemption, or not?

More importantly, a $2,500 deduction would probably only save a person in the situation about $500-$600 in actual taxes. Yes, that’s better than nothing, but it’s still at Band-Aid level and not real help.

Was Spitzer set up?

Per an earlier blog post I had about quick-draw Mukasey, prominent New York City attorney Horton wonders if the whole thing wasn’t a set-up.

Horton notes that the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice has shown huge political bias in the Bush Administration, as well as the fact that the Mann Act is a bogus legal relic.

It is an eyebrow-raiser, at the least, given that Attorney General Mike Mukasey has shown himself to be little more than suaver, more subtle Alberto Gonzales.

House Dems actually have backbone on telco immunity?

House Democratic leaders are prepared to say no to telecom immunity as part of FISA renewal with a much better alternative This bill would authorize trial judges in the suits already pending against AT&T et al to look at the actual evidence, thus legally throwing out BushCo’s “state secrets” claim, make a summary of their findings for plaintiffs, and continue to hear the suits from that point.

Here are key points:
The tentative proposal worked out by House Democratic leaders, officials said, has three main elements.

It would impose tougher restrictions on National Security Agency eavesdropping than the Senate version does by requiring court approval before the agency’s wiretapping procedures, instead of approval after the fact. It would also reject retroactive immunity for the phone carriers.

The proposal would also create a bipartisan Congressional commission with subpoena power to issue a report on the surveillance programs, including the one approved by Mr. Bush to monitor some Americans’ international communications without warrants.

The commission would seek to find out how the program was actually run. Some Democrats complain that even now, more than two years after the program was first publicly disclosed, many questions about its operations remain unanswered.

Theoretically, this is actually better for telecoms. They could, with all cards laid on the table, present as vigorous of a legal defense as they wanted. Or, once they knew for once and for all that the state secrets issue was dead, they could decide to accept the obvious, and then get down to the business of negotiating out-of-court settlements.

One thing the House bill does not have is federal indemnification of claims against telcos. And I agree that it shouldn’t.

First, the warrantless wiretapping started before 9/11. Second, not everybody did it. Once again, it is most relevant to mention Joseph Nacchio and Qwest.

Medical overtesting: Doc says it happens a lot

Long Island cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar actually welcomes Medicare’s cutback in medical testing reimbursements. He says it might play a definite part in getting rid of the ridiculous overload of testing.

He points out this includes the stress of having to do so many tests per month to pay for all the expensive machinery that more and more hospitals and clinics buy, in part to keep up with the medical Joneses.

Identical twins not so identical

Not in their DNA.
“When we started this study, people were expecting that only epigenetics would differ greatly between twins,” said Jan Dumanski, a professor of genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an author of the study. “But what we found are changes on the genetic level, the DNA sequence itself.”

The specific changes that Dr. Dumanski and his colleagues identified are known as copy number variations, in which a gene exists in multiple copies, or a set of coding letters in DNA is missing. Not known, however, is whether these changes in identical twins occur at the embryonic level, as the twins age or both.

“Copy number variations were discovered only a few years ago, but they are immensely important,” said Dr. Carl Bruder, another author of the study at the university. Certain copy variations have been shown in humans to confer protection against diseases like AIDS, while others are believed to contribute to autism, lupus and other conditions. By studying pairs of identical twins in which one sibling has a disease and the other does not, scientists should be able to identify more easily the genes involved in disease.

Interesting, indeed.

And, the fallout involved?

First, how much more careful do we need to be with future twin studies? How much of a grain of salt do we need to apply to past twin studies?