SocraticGadfly: 3/30/08 - 4/6/08

April 05, 2008

Iraq-related roundup – Latest neocon lie, ACLU filling gap, JROTC in UK

Doug Feith lies about Iraq
One of the “masterminds” clusterfuckers behind us invading Iraq, Doug Feith, now has a new take on why we invaded Hussein might attack us first. No further comment needed on the stupidity and lying level of this one.

ACLU filling Gitmo gap
The ACLU is working hard to get volunteer civilian attorneys to supplement the military defense attorneys in Gitmo military trials. The ACLU is going to need plenty of PR help in weeks ahead; we know that, from military insiders, the trials are being pushed up to coincide with the general election in November. The ACLU is going to get a lot of blowback from both elected and unelected wingers.

Junior ROTC Britain?
It sounds like something like that is what Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants, to improve relations between the armed forces and the general public. Few secondary schools in Britain currently have a cadet corps program. A simpler solution, Mr. PM, might be getting your troops out of Iraq and not getting involved in stupid, unpopular wars in the future.

Vaccine- chasing law firm in an intimidating huff

When at work earlier this week, I went to the website for Shoemaker & Associates, the law firm that represented Jon and Terry Poling in their pseudoscientific suit claiming vaccines had caused their daughter’s autism. (The NYT story explains how parents no longer have to meet a burden of proof in such cases.)

I webmailed the company, calling it “sick f-ck ambulance chasers deluding grieving parents with pseudoscience.”

As I have blogged before, scientists have shown there is NO LINK between autism and the MMR vaccine in particular, and between autism and the thimerosal preservative in some vaccines in general.

(The intimidation part is coming up. And, I’ve had a company or two in the past try to intimidate me.)

But, that doesn’t stop Shoemaker and Associates from posting this on its website:

First, posting crap in all caps on the Internet is the height of childishness; for an allegedly professional law firm to do it is a good indicator of the mindset there. But, this is exactly the way it appears.

Beyond that, the webpage goes on to what is now clearly pseudoscience:
The evidence is now overwhelming that mercury injected into pregnant women and small infants has caused a huge epidemic of autism in this county.

And, no, Shoemaker, the California state government is not “hiding” anything, either. And, plenty of bloggers besides me have said RFK Jr. doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about on this issue, so go ahead and quote him to underline your pseudoscience.

The “intimidation” part? Right here.

Shoemaker’s website administrator traced the IP of my webmail, not e-mail, back to my newspaper company. As I said, it was a webmail, and in the e-mail address box, I listed my personal e-mail address, of course.

In fact, I got a confirmatory e-mail back to my personal e-mail address, stating the company would contact me at that e-mail address.

Shoemaker never e-mailed me. Instead, it just tried to intimidate me by contacting the company. The unidentified web administrator said:
I would kindly request that you ask Mr. Snyder to cease and desist from any further communication with our firm.

I’ll just contact you from home if I want to, you chickenshits. My only apology is for calling you “ambulance chaser” rather than “vaccine chaser.”

Oh, and as a newspaper editor, I’ll point out that you misspell “thimerosAl” on your website.

I also re-webmailed Shoemaker from home… and have now had my IP blocked.

But, you can still contact them.

Dogwoods in bloom!

This is why the city of Cedar Hill has given Audubon Texas $1 million, plus donated land to Audubon, for the preservation of Dogwood Canyon.

I’ll admit getting a bit lucky with this shot; I didn’t notice the butterfly had flown into the center of the cluster of flowers while I was in the middle of shooting.

Happy birthday, peace sign

The peace sign turned 50 yesterday. It was unveiled April 4, 1958 at a British ban-the bomb rally.

As the images at right show, the peace sign has become so iconic because it has adapted and expanded far beyond its original message. Greenpeace and others, of course, starting from the first Earth Day, have incorporated it into environmentalism, which does have a similar theme, in essence — be at peace with nature.

The peace sign, of course, came of age with the Vietnam War. So did environmentalism, and, so did many other movements. From peace activitism, through environmentalism, the peace sign gained credence as a symbol of protest, and a symbol of empowerment.

From there, it’s gone elsewhere, such as into gay/lesbian rights, as shows by the “equality” peace sign. It’s a call for peace rather than discrimination or persecution.

So, peace on and peace out.

Fight the power that be, but on the 40th anniversary of April 4, 1968, fight peacefully.

Darwinism looks to explain collective behavior

Wired has a great article on what the next frontier, or hurdle if you will, is for the explanatory power of modern neo-Darwinism — the development of groups and collectives. This includes bees in a hive, ants in a colony, bacteria in a collective, and even more complex things such as the vast array of bacteria that make up 90 percent of the cells in our own “human” bodies.

The main question is, how can neo-Darwinian theory as currently constituted explain these developments of evolutionary biology — if it can?

Down in front, creationists and IDers. Wired is a serious magazine and isn’t asking for “explanations” from you.

But, some of the evolutionary biologists quoted in the story say that something, either a greatly modified neo-Darwinianism or else some appended theory of emergent properties, based on things like chaos theory, complexity theory, and the “tipping points” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, is going to be needed to do the trick.
”There’s nothing wrong with neo-Darwinian evolution in its own right,” Carl Woese said, “but it’s not large enough to encompass what we know now.”

Woese’s specialty is bacteria, and he’s not afraid of bold theories that turn conventional scientific wisdom on its head. In 1977, he and colleague George Fox rearranged the animal kingdom from five branches into three, two of which comprise microbes.

Microbes make up much of Earth’s biomass, and they also cast into relief the shortcomings of neo-Darwinian evolution. A bucket of seawater can contain 60,000 bacterial species, and to Woese, these must be seen as a collective rather than as disparate units.

At the collective level, said Woese, bacteria exhibit patterns of organization and behavior that emerge suddenly, at tipping points of population variation and density called “saltations.” Natural selection still favors — or disfavors — the ultimate outcome of these jumps, but the jumps themselves seem to defy explanation solely through genetic changes or individual properties.

Such jumps don’t just call into question whether evolution is capable of producing sudden rather than gradual change. That debate raged during the later stages of the last century, but has been largely settled in favor of what paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould termed punctuated equilibrium. By contrast, Woese invokes yet-to-be-quantified rules of complexity and emergence. These, he said, may also explain other exceptional jumps, such as the transition from protein fragments to single cells and from single-celled organisms to multicellular ones.

Contrary to IDers, creationists, or New Agers, etc., Woese works with rules that have a basis in science and/or mathematics, rules that are ultimately testable through construction of hypotheses.

Part of the issue hinges on debate over an idea stated most forcefully by philosopher Daniel Dennett: Is neo-Darwinism algorithmic or not? I am guessing Woese would either say “I don’t know,” or “possibly not.” Other evolutionary biologists might agree with Dennett, yet others might reject his claim forcefully.
”Selection probably happens at all scales, from gene to individual to species to collection of species to ecosystem to we don’t even know what,” said Maya Paczuski, head of the Complexity Science Group at the University of Calgary.

Paczuski’s group sees evolution as taking place at all these levels, with what happens in ecosystems rippling down to individuals, back up to populations, across to other populations, and so on — all simultaneously, and in tandem with the mysterious dynamics of networked complexity.

But does it all happen mechanically? Or does evolution obey some larger imperative?

University of Nevada evolutionary biologist Guy Hoelzer calls that imperative biospheric self-organization. "The idea of evolution is embedded within self-organization,” he said. “It coordinates the ecological roles of species so that ecosystems persist and process a great deal of energy.”

I, too, doubt Dennett’s idea, though as a scientific layperson (but not a philosophical one), I don’t think I have enough of a scientific background to be able to reject it forcefully. I do think that, to some degree, the developmental processes we eventually discover in the emergent properties of biological groups, collectives and ecosystems will show enough discontinuity with neo-Darwinism to be likely to develop as separate subfield within evolutionary biology.

Look at reality and not myths on child sex abuse

Note: This is from my newspaper column for our April 3 weekly issue; I do a column every April on this subject.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month is a good time to clear up stereotypes about child abuse, above all, child sexual abuse.

In the last few years, Myth No. 1 has been that the Catholic priesthood in specific, or the clergy/ministerial profession in general, has some sort of special problem with child abuse.

Not true, overall. It does have some degree of problems because clergy have two special factors that facilitate child abuse — they are in positions of authority, and they are in positions from which they can develop familiarity with children.

But, they’re not the only profession or group of people in that situation.

So, too, are Scoutmasters, who have in the past faced some stereotyping themselves over child sexual abuse.

So, too, are schoolteachers, who have more daily contact with children than do either Scoutmasters or religious leaders.

And …

So, too, are parents.

That leads to Myth No. 2, that child abuse is “out there.”

No, it’s not. It’s very rarely the “old man on the park bench” that’s sexually abusing children.

It’s much more likely to be someone in a position of familiarity with the abused child, whether a religious leader, a schoolteacher … or a parent or other relative.

Related to that is Myth No. 3, that child abuse is a problem of poverty, or only of certain social ethnic or social groups.

This myth is about as false as a similar one about drug abuse.

Plenty of child sexual abuse goes on behind the doors of middle-class and rich families as well as poor ones, white families as well as black and Hispanic ones. Families respected and recognized in communities, as well as those who aren’t, can have the same secrets inside closed doors.

Myth No. 4 is that it happens just to girls.

While far more girls than boys are sexually abused, nonetheless, estimates are that perhaps one-quarter or even one-third of child sexual abuse victims are boys.

Then, there’s Myth No. 5, that child sexual abuse is so rare as to be like lightning striking.

This is the most dangerous and pernicious myth of all.

That’s in part because it’s the most direct attempt to minimize child sexual abuse and not face it in our society.

It’s tough getting an accurate handle on the numbers. Of course, many children don’t report sexual abuse when it happens, and don’t even face the issue until after they become adults. Many adults have narrow definitions of what sexual abuse is.

But professional estimates go as high as one in three girls and one in six boys suffering at least one incident of some sort of sexual abuse in their lives. And, many of those children suffer far more than one incident, often combined with physical, emotional or verbal abuse.

And, there’s one more myth, that survivors of abuse, especially sexual abuse, should be able to “just get over it.”

As recent scandals with politicians and infidelity have illustrated, many child sexual abuse victims — and not just girls — end up in prostitution because of images and attitudes toward sexuality they’ve picked up from the abuse. Others turn to alcohol or drug abuse at a young age to numb out emotional and psychological pain.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Prevention of a problem starts with being aware one exists.

This is an imperfect world, and we’ll never prevent every case of child abuse, whether sexual, physical or verbal/emotional. But, we can continue to improve our efforts.

Hypocrisy alert – First US case against Iraq contractor

Despite all the rapes allegedly being committed by KBR employees in Iraq, despite it becoming ever-more clear of the criminality of Blackwater’s porn-like shootings of Iraqi civilians, the U.S. has CHOSEN — there’s no other word for it — to arrest an Iraq, Alaa Mohammad Ali, as the first civilian contractor in Iraq to be charged under Iraqi military law.

This is stupid on so many counts.

Beyond the hypocrisy mentioned above, to practice the colonialism of arresting an Iraqi while Basra is aflame and our boy in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki, is hanging by his fingernails, illustrates once again the cluelessness of a large part of our footprint in Iraq.

And, tying the two together, to announce this indictment in the same week that the State Department extended Blackwater’s contract by another year goes beyond mere cluelessness and hypocrisy to the level of clusterfuck squared.

NATO ready to leave Afghanistan

That’s the gist of a special white paper recently circulated quietly at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Rumania.

As Matthias Gebauer notes, it should be no shock that Germany is the driving force behind this:
The paper illustrates a new train of thought developing within NATO: For the first time, a step-by-step outline has been sketched — with substantial help from Germany — for when the 47,000 NATO troops currently in Afghanistan might be pulled out. According to diplomats, concrete benchmarks are laid out — though any withdrawal, they make clear, would not be immediate.

Supposedly, those benchmarks are much more specific than the vague ones U.S. Congressional Democrats pushed on President George Bush over Iraq. At the same time, benchmarks in the paper include ones for controlling opium poppy production and establishing an independent judiciary, so NATO forces may be there for a while.

But, both of those areas are in the realm of nation-building, not combat. So, if NATO forces stay, their mission is going to get more of a NATO theme and less of a U.S. military focus.

Whoever wins the White House has now been forewarned.

SCOTUS sort-out seems looming in Web housing ads

A federal appellate court has ruled cannot require users to disclose their sexual orientation.
To inquire electronically about sexual orientation would not be different from asking people in person or by telephone if they were black or Jewish before conducting business, the panel said in an 8-3 ruling that partly overturns a lower federal court decision.

“If such screening is prohibited when practiced in person or by telephone, we see no reason why Congress would have wanted to make it lawful to profit from it online,” 9th Circuit chief judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “Not only does Roommate ask these questions, Roommate makes answering the discriminatory questions a condition of doing business.” …

“Where it is very clear that the Web site directly participates in developing the alleged illegality — as it is clear here with respect to Roommate’s questions, answers and the resulting profile pages — immunity will be lost.”

I agree. I agree 110 percent both personally, and as a newspaper editor.

As I’ve blogged before, including about a contrary court ruling I’ll describe below, websites that are the functional equivalent of newspaper classified ads ought to have to abide by the same legal standards.

And, the plaintiffs in this case made that same argument:
The Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley and the Fair Housing Council of San Diego filed suit against the Web site, claiming it violated the Fair Housing Act and various state laws.

Again, I agree both personally and professionally.


Last month, another appellate court upheld a district court ruling saying that Craigslist could, in essence, do the same thing by running ads that let people say things such as “No Minorities.”

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who originally dismissed the case, ruled that Craigslist serves as an intermediary party, not a publisher. The 7th Circuit upheld her ruling on the same grounds.

Well, that directly conflicts with the ruling.

April 04, 2008

No wonder Kerry was for the war before he was against it

Sen. John Kerry’s stock investment in Defense Department civilian contractors was somewhere in the range of $2.6-$38.2 million for the period of 2004-06. And that’s just HIS money, not Theresa Heinz Kerry’s.
Spokesman David Wade said Kerry, who staunchly opposes the war in Iraq, is one of many beneficiaries of family trusts that he doesn't control. Wade also noted that Kerry does not sit on the Appropriations Committee, which has direct control of the defense budget.

“He has a 24-year Senate record of working and voting in the best interests of our men and women in the military, not of any defense contractors,” Wade said.

Please. You can get a family trust adjusted in some way, if you want to pay enough money.

The report says more Republicans in Congress own stock in DoD contractors, but Dems who do invest plug in more dinero in their investments.

Going green at AFI Dallas film festival

I saw one of the documentaries at the American Film Institute’s second annual Dallas Film Festival tonight. “Burning the Future” is all about mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. The movie, which will be shown in Charleston, W.Va. on Earth Day, will literally sicken you if you have the same degree of environmental sensitivity that I do.

One person director David Novack was NOT able to get on camera was Big Coal incarnate, Massey Coal Chairman Don Blankenship. It was Blankenship who, earlier this week, damaged an ABC camera in an attempt to keep from being filmed for a segment of “World News Tonight” and “Nightline,” as I blogged about yesterday. Novack joked about that when I asked him, after the film screening was done, if any coal execs had refused to talk to him.

The movie website has links to a number of other websites, including a petition from Clean Energy Action that calls on us as individuals to demand our elected officials get much more serious than they have now about energy measures, starting with a Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFÉ, standard that provides the conservation level we need on gasoline and starts kicking in immediately.

More radical than that, the petition calls on us to cut our energy use in half by 2050. I believe that is doable and that you should sign the petition.

Oh, DVDs of the movie are available at the website, too.

Friday Crapblogging – no shit, Indians were here before Clovis

As I blogged yesterday, archaeologists now have convincing proof that American Indians were here in the “New World” at least 1,000 years before spear points were discovered at Clovis, N.M., thus settling the argument on one of the hottest issues in archaeology and anthropology in the last decade or so

The key to, and possibly the most fascinating part of, this discovery, is stuff like

That’s a coprolite, a fossilized bit of excrement, though I don’t know if this particular one is human or not.

The fascinating part is that researchers were able to get enough DNA out of a fossilized turd nearly 15,000 years ago to do radiocarbon dating on it.

It is these things that certainly make science fascinating for a professional like P.Z. Myers, aka Pharyngula. I am certainly not a professional, but definitely a science-interested and science-informed layperson.

Beyond that, consider this my opener to Friday crapblogging, for those of you tired of bloggers foisting pictures of cats upon you every week.

Myths about Paulson regulatory package

Doing his usual fine job, Jim Jubak exposes the reality behind the myths of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s Wall Street regulation deregulation package.

The details of each of the items below is at the link:
• Merge the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This would make the SEC let sectors of the financial world police themselves more. Well, in the last month, with Southwest Airlines, we’ve seen just how well that works with the Federal Aviation Administration. For years, we’ve seen how well that works with the Food and Drug Administration.

• Establish a federal insurance regulation office. Not a bad idea — if it didn’t pre-empt state insurance regulators, which Paulson’s bill would do.

• Set new federal mortgage regulation standards but keep oversight of subprime mortgages with the Federal Reserve. We’ve already seen just the mess that can produce.

• Let Goldman Sachs (Paulson’s previous stomping grounds), Lehman, and other investment “banks” have more access to the Fed’s discount window. In other words, corporate socialism for Wall Street, which will be relabeled as “neo-capitalism” or something similar.

• Missing — better oversight over the derivatives market and addressing the conflict-of-interest issues with ratings agencies such as Moody’s. Not surprising, since people from Goldman Sachs, among other places, were behind the drafting of the legislative proposal now on Paulson’s silver platter.

In other words, this is a bid for a last-minute Republican financial wet dream. But, it won’t just be GOPers. Remember, back in Clintonista land, more than half of Congressional Democrats voted FOR things such as Gramm-Leach-Bliley that helped get us in this mess in the first place.

The Street is using the issue of companies like Japan’s Nomura Holdings, which just picked London over New York for its HQ for its international operations, as stressing the need for even less regulation.

Bullshit, Jubak says. Blame the falling dollar instead.

Of course, since Big Ben Bernanke, abetted by Paulson, caused that falling dollar in the first place, we’re not going to hear more about that.

‘Expelled’ telling more lies

The latest trick? Rather than boot people like P.Z. Myers, aka Pharyngula, when they show up for screenings of the science-free mock-umentary of non-existent discrimination against creationsts and IDers, the people behind “Expelled” are resorting to a new lie.

This one? “Expelled” PR people claim that screenings of the movie have been canceled, when, instead, they’ve just changed the start times, to try to screen out dirty, sneaky, science-literate evolutionists who are trying to infiltrate the screenings.

It’s enough to make Pharyngula give “Expelled” spokesman Ben Stein a smackdown:

Oh, here is something ludicrously funny: If Stein hadn’t accepted the narrator gig Dennis Miller was reportedly the next option. And, I’ll believe it when I see it that “Expelled” will open on 1,000 screens two weeks from today.
The reason for the canceled screenings lies is that Stein, producer Mark Mathis and others don’t want the science-literate to see the lies inside the theater, on screen. As LiveScience points out, the lies include the fact that the discriminated/hassled people were actually not given tenure, if university professors (and no wonder), had expired contracts as contract faculty, had engaged in improper publishing ethics to sneak non-peer reviewed reports about intelligent design into academic journals and more.

The movie also repeats the old canard that evolution is responsible for Nazism. Not true, as many Nazi officials were clueless about it, and many of those (who pretended to be?) not clueless rejected Darwinism.

As for claims ID (or creationism-lite) should be taught in public schools, Benjamin Radford has the perfect answer:
There's a place for creationism/intelligent design theory in schools. It's in religion and social studies classes, not science courses. If Ben Stein and other creationists are truly concerned about giving fairness and equal time to competing theories, they should be demanding that students be taught that mankind came from a tree, as the Maasai tribe of East Africa believe; that according to Hindus, the gods Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma created the world and humans; and that the Incans believed that mankind first arose on two small islands on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. There is just as much evidence for these creation stories (and many others) as for the one told in Genesis.

One refrain is "teach the controversy," but among scientists there is no controversy about whether evolution is true. Evidence of evolution is all around us; for example, flu vaccines need to be reformulated each year because the flu viruses are constantly evolving and adapting to older vaccines.

The only “controversy” is how people who claim to have such steadfast religious beliefs can be such out-and-out liars.

Actually, even that’s not a controversy. Some of the biggest whoppers in the history of mankind have been told in the name of religion.

News briefs – Big Coal hates cameras, McCain hates health, Clinton hates misunderstandings

Massey Coal chief attacks ABC camera

Massey Coal Chairman Don Blankenship just can’t stand cameras. To the point of trying to destroy an ABC canyon.

Uhh, Don, a camera is not a West Virginia mountaintop to be destroyed at your leisure or a pesky state judge to be swatted aside.

John McCain still refuses to open medical records

For the third time, Schmuck Talk Express™ has stiffed The New York Times on opening up his medical records. Is it because of the pretty serious melanoma surgery he had in 2000 — after his last presidential run, in which he did open up his medical records?

Another day, another Hillary misunderstanding

This time, it’s an alleged “misunderstanding” over whether she told Bill Richardson that Barack Obama couldn’t win, when asked about that at a news conference. (Video at the bottom of the Raw Story page.)

Green news – Germany drops ethanol push and more

The German government has bowed to the obvious in dropping a push to get more than 1 million cars to use ethanol-enhanced gasoline.

But, the German government did not cite developing-nation environmental destructiveness or other green issues. Rather, it was that ethanol is more corrosive to engine parts than traditional gasoline.

Meanwhile, world governments have agreed to include ships and planes in the latest round of climate talks. The two transport/travel sectors account for about 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but were not covered under Kyoto, due to their international nature.

And, parts of Catalonia are having the worst drought in almost a century. When Barcelona officials talk about importing fresh water from “nearby” Marseilles, France (since when did 250 miles become “nearby,” anyway), you know it’s serious.

Four long years – the drip, drip of Southwest safety issues

Federal Aviation Administration inspector Bobby Boutris said he found problems with Southwest Airlines safety inspection procedures back in December 2003, according to this handy timeline. Oh, and let’s see Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and former CEO/founder Herb Kelleher explain trying to get Boutris removed from his job 15 months ago.

Did a Southwest “mole” at the FAA, whether Douglas Gawadzinski or somebody else, file the anonymous in-house complaint against Boutris two months after the attempt to get him moved failed?

That’s why the “cozy” self-policing arrangement, at least in its current configuration or anything close to it, simply cannot be trusted.

Or, consider an FAA supervisor threatening the job of inspector Doug Peters.

This is getting beyond serious, this is getting ugly.

Pander alert – Clinton says will do more on gay rights – but will she?

Hillary Clinton is promising to overturn husband Bill’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” gays in the military policy, give equal tax rights to cohabiting gay couples and more.

Right. She promises action on what’s out of her control, but won’t promise any action on what she could change herself.

There’s no way the tax changes will pass Congress. On the other hand, I am awfully damned sure she could change military policy by executive order, just as Harry Truman did when he integrated the armed forces, but she is claiming that she couldn’t even do it with a Bush-style signing statement on a military appropriations bill and instead would need Congressional action.

Elsewhere, she has claimed that if she used an executive order, Congress could then attach an amendment barring gays to the next military appropriations bill. If she thinks Congress would do that by a veto-proof margin, she’s crazy.

Then, she claims she would support gay pride events to the degree she could, and tells THIS whopper:
“I don’t think the Secret Service let Bill walk in a parade when he became president,” she said.

What bullshit. You and the Slickster walked together in part of the 1993 inauguration parade. No, it wasn’t the whole thing. But you did walk in part of it.

Court makes wrong ruling on Craiglist housing ad bias liability - but hope rises anew

Although Craigslist steals a boatload of ads from traditional newspapers and even more from alt-weeklies, a federal appeals judge said it doesn’t have the same legal burden as them to make sure its classified ads for housing aren’t discriminatory.
The lawsuit, filed by a consortium of Chicago attorneys in February 2006, accused Craigslist of violating federal housing laws by publishing more than 100 ads that excluded potential buyers or tenants on the basis of race, gender or religion.

I strongly hope this is pursued to the Supreme Court and overturned. And, the Chicago lawyers who started the legal action say they’re not giving up yet on rooting out discriminatory housing lenders and sellers.

But, that’s a toughie.
The decision upholds a November 2006 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. In dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve ruled that Craigslist serves as an intermediary party, not a publisher.

And, that’s why it’s a toughie. You have both a district judge and an appellate judge unwilling to tackle new media issues. And, you know SCOTUS, should it even take such an appeal, isn’t going to be any better.

So, unless those Chicago lawyers find grounds to appeal this particular ruling, this gives Craigslist a hugely unfair legal advantage over traditional newspapers.

Update, April 4: Those Chicago lawyers may just have their grounds for appeal.

Out in San Francisco, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled cannot require users to disclose their sexual orientation. Sounds like an awfully similar case to me; this is headed to SCOTUS, I do believe.

April 03, 2008

BushCo hates bloggers in the name of national security

The Bush Administration strenuously opposes Sen. Arlen Specter’s media shield law. Why?
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the bill would erect roadblocks to gathering information “from anyone who can claim to be a journalist, including bloggers.”

The legislation gives an overly broad definition of journalists that “can include those linked to terrorists and criminals,” wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the nation would be more vulnerable to “adversaries’ counterintelligence efforts to recruit” those shielded by the bill.

Bullshit, bullshit, and bullshit.

We know the real reason they’re saying this is the same reason Mukasey took top blog Talking Points Memo off the AG’s daily e-mail news summary mailing.

They hate bloggers.


TPM got former AG Alberto Gonzales canned over partisan firings of district attorneys.

Bloggers got House Democrats to stiffen up and pass a FISA bill without telco immunity.

Bloggers took Bush, Uncle Fester Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld et al to task on Iraq long before the mainstream media had a clue.

George W. Bush, for the remaining nine and a half months of his term (not starring Mickey Rourke as Bush) wants to spy on bloggers.

It’s that simple.

Science news – Men don’t need to worry about length, but all need to worry about botox

Sex therapists say 3-13 minutes is fine for lovemaking time. Viagra-popping porn stars need not apply.

Shooting up on botox for wrinkles? Not so fast. It may migrate from crow’s feet to cerebrum.

Irony alert – New York Philharmonic

The NYPhil is tonight, on its national concert broadcast series, playing Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” as conducted a few years ago by Kurt Mazur.

But… Easter was last week. And… Passover hasn’t yet happened.

Will we get Stravinsky’s “Abraham and Isaac” next week? The NYPhil may not even have played that in the past 20 years for all I know.

Ethanol and junk food hit new roadblock in corn prices

It’s called $6/bushel corn.

Even though gas prices continue to rise, corn prices like this will push corn-based ethanol even higber. And, those Twinkies, Pop-Tarts and doorknob knows what else that are filled with high-fructose corn syrup, “regular” corn syrup, and various corn-derived gums, fillers and binders, just got a little more expensive.

This would be the IDEAL time to end the economic embargo of Cuba and get some more real sugar in America.

(It would also be the ideal time for about 200 million Americans to stop eating so freaking much junk food.)

But, that’s not all. Since corn-fed beef, pork and chicken fuel our Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations livestock agriculture, your Big Mac, Whopper or Chick-fil-A sandwich is going to get more and more expensive too.

(That said, it would also be the ideal time for about 200 million Americans to stop eating so much fast food.)

Boutris – Southwest findings just tip of iceberg

Federal Aviation Administration inspector Bobby Boutris told Rep. James Oberstar’s House Transportation Committee today that reported safety inspections violations by Southwest Airlines are just the surface of problems:
Boutris charged that Southwest has repeatedly sought to circumvent FAA airworthiness requirements, and that those violations go beyond the 117 aircraft that Southwest continued to fly in March 2007 despite knowing that the planes were overdue for inspection. That instance led FAA to levy a record $10.2- million fine on the airline last month.

FAA whistle-blowers’ testimony turned on the allegation of a too-cozy relationship between the principal FAA inspector with responsibility for Southwest, Douglas Gawadzinski, and Paul Comeau, Manager of Regulatory Compliance at Southwest.

“I believe that Southwest knowingly hired Mr. Comeau for his FAA connections with inspectors in our office, and to their advantage placed him in the position that directly interfaces with our office on a daily basis,” Boutris told the committee.

The allegation of intent by Boutris is the most serious part of his testimony, and the one most damaging to Southwest’s public image.

It remains to be seen, either in their Congressional testimony or outside of it, how Gary Kelly and Herb Kelleher address this issue.

Last nail in Clovis-first American Indian origin coffin

DNA from a site in Oregon has both confirmed the people came from East Asia and did so more than14,000 year ago, 1,000 years or so before the date of remains at Clovis, N.M. The date on coprolites, or fossilized excrement, matches a date for Monte Verde, Chile.
“This is the first time we have been able to get dates that are undeniably human, and they are 1,000 years before Clovis,” said Dennis L. Jenkins, a University of Oregon archaeologist, referring to the Clovis culture, well known for its unique spear-points that have been studied previously.

There is no way Clovis-firsters can scientifically defend their thesis any more. Plus, the date from Monte Verde would certainly require a crossing of the Bering land bridge as long ago as 16,000 years ago.

Indirectly, this may also bolster the cause of “splitters” vs. “lumpers” in linguistics battles over American Indian language families.

GAO faults feds and states for Yellowstone bison slaughter

The Government Accountability Office said the feds and the various states bordering Yellowstone are at fault for not providing more space outside the park for bison to migrate.
The Department of Livestock and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have been unwilling to treat bison as wildlife, and instead they continue to manage them like livestock,” said Amy McNamara with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a group that advocates for more bison habitat outside the park.

This year, more than 1,400 bison have already been killed in the annual ”hunt” slaughter which allegedly keeps bison from infecting cattle with brucellosis. (Actually, ranchers in the area should worry far more about elk passing on infections — the elk whose numbers will explode again if states start hunting wolves; the elk whose numbers already get inflated due to government feeding in the winter.

Rose Renfroe is 49? Not

Uhh, Rose, as part of your run for Duncanville (Texas) mayor you might want to update your MySpace page to reflect your real age of 65. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature or Duncanville voters. That is doubly true when Mother Nature's best friend, Recycle Man, is your mayoral opponent.

Southwest Airlines gets bad business news

In addition to a mushrooming investigation of its safety laxity, Southwest Airlines got some bad business news today.

ATA, which had codesharing and frequent flier partnerships with Southwest, is going belly-up. It stopped operations just a day after filing for Chapter 11.

Southwest had hoped to use the partnership to indirectly launch international service:
“ATA Airlines has been an outstanding partner for Southwest, and we are disappointed to hear this unfortunate news,” said Gary Kelly, the chief executive officer of Southwest, in a statement.

Kelly said at a June meeting of the BWI Business Partnership that the low-fare domestic carrier would consider using BWI as a “launch pad” for international service in the coming years, and would begin to test that using code-sharing with ATA to destinations in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

With its growth curve in domestic operations starting to flatten, the code-share entrée to international flights was a no-brainer for Southwest.

Well, after he truly and fully clears up the safety issues fiasco, Kelly can start hunting for a new code-share partner.

Why Hillary has been sitting on her tax returns

She and the Slickster may have earned as much as $50 million this decade. And, that may include offshore income. Plus, Billy Bob reportedly made as much as $47 million from speaking tours.

Probably staying in the dark, like mushrooms in many cases? Clinton Foundation donors. Yes, most such charitable donors are not disclosed by name. But, the spouses of the heads of most such foundations aren’t running for President of the United States, nor have such donors apparently used their donations to buy international political access.

Southwest Airlines safety probe mushrooms

Calvin Scovel III, the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general, has found that Southwest Airlines has violated more federal safety regulations than previously reported, and that the Federal Aviation Administration has more enforcement problems than previously reported:
It also discovered that FAA managers in North Texas didn't act on questions — raised as early as September 2005 — about whether decisions to let Southwest off the hook violated the FAA's own guidance about how its amnesty programs should be used.

“FAA’s oversight in this case appears to allow, rather than mitigate, recurring safety violations,” the inspector general found.

That’s bad news for both Southwest and the FAA. How bad? This bad:
The inspector general's report cites weaknesses in that model, known as the Air Transportation Oversight System. The system apparently missed that inspectors hadn't checked Southwest’s program for complying with airworthiness directives since 1999, according to the ongoing review. That check was 90 months overdue, the review found.

By the time the airline told the FAA about the error for which it was penalized, in March 2007, “21 key inspections were overdue for at least five years,” according to the inspector general’s investigation.

Five to seven years overdue? As many as 21 key inspections overdue?

Southwest’s legendary founder, Herb Kelleher, is in the hot seat before the House Transportation Commission as I write. Herb’s legendary charm isn’t going to defuse this problem. Nor is Gary Kelly’s “don’t look here, move along” attitude that was brought out in the first days after FFA announced its original findings about Southwest failing to do fuselage inspections.

And, we don’t even know just what those inspections were supposed to be about. Electrical wiring? Pressurization? What?

And, the FAA? Its airline-centric self-reporting system may not need to be totally scrapped. But it does need a full overhaul, not just cosmetic changes.

It probably won’t like these words:
“It is misfeasance, malfeasance, and bordering on corruption,” said committee chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. “If this were a grand jury proceeding, I think it would result in an indictment.”

The FAA just announced some changes yesterday:
• Clarifying complex airworthiness directives to reduce confusion among airlines.
• Adding a system for inspectors to report complaints about how managers deal with safety questions, to protect against concerns that managers may grow cozy with airline employees.
• Instituting a new rule to prevent inspectors from immediately going to work for the airline they regulated.

Of course, inquiring minds will ask why inspectors were allowed to do this in the first place, and cite that as Example No. 1 of the need for more thorough-going FAA reform.

Example No. 2 would be the FAA’s former policy of being more hands-on and detective-minded in its inspections, something Clay Foushee (see bottom hyperlink) would like to resume.

But wait — that’s not Southwest’s only problem.

In addition to the $10.2 million fine the FAA levied on Southwest last month for not inspecting fuselages on its 737s, it could face another fine for not properly doing rudder inspections.
An FAA inspector from North Texas, Bobby Boutris, told lawmakers today that Southwest disclosed the error to an FAA manager last year but continued to operate the jets for 10 days. The airline should have grounded the 70 jets after self-disclosing the error, according to the inspector.

Boutris is the whistleblower who flagged the too-cozy relationship between FAA inspector Douglas Gawadzinski and Southwest that allowed the airline to keep flying jets even without the fuselage inspections.

That “coziness,” not just with Southwest, but between the FAA and all carriers, is what Clay Foushee wants to investigate. Foushee is the lead investigator for Oberstar.

As for Republican complaints that Oberstar hasn’t involved them in the investigation, or that issues at hand haven’t been shown to concern other airline-connected oversight agencies, show me a Republican worried about too little regulation and I’ll show you a Republican who’s been dead 20 years.

Tom Thumb practices price-jacking deception

Don’t know if Randall’s, Safeway itself, or other grocery chains Safeway umbrella practice this, but Tom Thumb sure does here in Dallas.

By “price-jacking” I mean artificially inflating the price of foods, often to offer a buy-one-get-one-free “special” shortly afterwards. And, Tom Thumb seems to be doing it with foods most hit by recent commodity prices hikes, so they can coattail on legitimate fears of rising food prices.

Here’s two classic examples.

One is eggs. Yes, they’ve gone up — a lot — in the past few months. But, can anybody tell me they pay nearly $6 for an 18-count of eggs? I doubt it.

That one’s been on for a few weeks. It really caught my eye last week, though, when Minyard’s, a Dallas-area chain, had a buy-one-get-one-free on 18-count eggs for about a buck less.

Just noticed by me is flour prices.

I know wheat prices are also going up, but not this much.

I’m running low on, but nowhere near out of, whole wheat flour.

I browsed the aisles at my nearest Tom Thumb earlier this week.

King Arthur whole wheat flour was listed at $6.59 for a standard five-pound bag.

Does anybody else pay that much for it? I doubt it.

Later in the day, I was at Kroger. Price there?

A much lower $3.39.

I smell a buy-one-get-one-free “special” about to strike at Tom Thumb.

In short, Tom Thumb (and Safeway corporate parent, if this is happening elsewhere), I am now fully on to your deception. I will buy no more buy-one-get-one-free “specials” at your stores without checking at Kroger, Albertson’s and Minyard’s first.

Aviation world going greener

A hydrogen-powered car may be years if not decades away from reality due to infrastructure issues, but a hydrogen-powered plane? Already here. Boeing recently gave a hydrogen-powered plane its maiden flight, but cautioned the technology was just suitable for small private planes.

Meanwhile, in Paris, Orly Airport is tapping into geothermal energy for green terminals.

And, not just the terminals itself. A Hilton Hotel and two airport-based business districts will also be hooked into the system, which could provide one-third the area’s power.

Speaking of disclosing political tax returns …

When are we going to get to see John McCain’s tax returns? And, prenuptial agreements aside, when are we going to get to see Cindy McCain’s tax returns?

Pre-nup aside, as the article notes, she and her family made plenty of contributions to Schmuck Talk Express™ in his first Congressional campaign — so much that the Federal Election Commission made him give some back. For Schmuck Talk to glibly wave the pre-nup in the air as an alleged sign he’s free of money influence-buying, the claim he made during the Keating Five scandal, is bullshit.

April 02, 2008

Economics roundup – lies on unemployment, from Paulson and about housing relief

First, it’s clear the federal unemployment rate doesn’t really measure unemployment:
This month's jobs report is a great example of how misleading the unemployment rate can be. In February, the economy shed 63,000 jobs, which is a strong indication a recession may be at hand. But the unemployment rate actually fell, to 4.8 percent from 4.9 percent.

As most people know, it only counts people actually looking for work. But, that’s not the worst of its pitfalls.

Here, if you work for a temp agency, even if you want a “regular job” instead, you're considered “employed.” In Germany (or it used to be that way, at least), you’re considered “unemployed.” (I don’t know about other European Union members.)

The Nation had an in-depth article on this in the late 1990s. At that time, Manpower was the largest employer in both the U.S. and Germany.

Other “apples and oranges” comparisons problems on U.S. versus E.U. employment stats?

Most European countries have some sort of universal service; whether you’re in the military or in alternative service, you're not counted in employment stats. In America, with the all-volunteer armed forces, you are.

And, the U.S. “War on Drugs” incarcerates many people who likely would be unemployed, plus creates (often low-paying) jobs that don't exist to that degree in most E.U. countries.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson just can’t stop lying. This time, it’s about the definition of “regulation”:
The SEC should also consider streamlining the approval for any securities products common to the marketplace as the agency did in a 1998 rulemaking vis-a-vis certain derivatives securities products. An updated, streamlined, and expedited approval process will allow U.S. securities firms to remain competitive with the over-the-counter markets and international institutions and increase product innovation and investor choice.

Last I checked, “streamlining” wasn’t listed under “tighter regulations” in a financial dictionary. (Except for one paid for by Wall Street.)

And, that’s the problem. Other “regulating” in Paulson’s playbook include loosening Securities and Exchange Commission regulations per the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act.

But, you smarmy Democrats. This was a bill that passed the House under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds vote in exchange for killing off debate. It only had four no votes. (And, don’t forget, this contained the infamous “Enron loophole.”)

And, although nobody wants to break ranks, it appears a fair amount of what Congress is pegging as “housing relief” is also a lie. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s plan to give people who buy foreclosed houses a temporary tax credit sounds like the biggest part of the lie so far:
“Basically, you're giving money to builders that overbuilt and banks that issued bad loans,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “It’s giving money to the villains in this story.”

That’s really not the only part of the lie, though:
Economists also questioned how effective it would be to have local governments buy and refurbish foreclosed homes. Advocates of the idea say it would stabilize neighborhoods and protect home values, but the White House said it would benefit lenders most.

“The funding to purchase homes does nothing to help homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Well, even a stopped calendar is right once a year.

Science roundup – lung cancer, planet hunting, NASA and willpower

Scientists identify lung cancer genes

Not everybody who smokes, or even who smokes like a chimney, gets lung cancer. New genetic findings may bring us a step closer to knowing why:
Three teams from France, Iceland and the United States said on Wednesday they had pinpointed a region of the genome containing genes that can put smokers at even greater risk of contracting the killer disease.

As the story says, smokers account for about 90 percent of lung cancer cases… BUT… only about 15 percent of smokers get lung cancer. Obviously, genetic factors are involved.

Smokers, please don’t use this as an excuse to continue puffing, though. My dad died from COPD, surely an even nastier death than one from lung cancer.

‘Astro-comb’ seeks ‘Goldilocks’ planets

Astronomers have a good idea where to look, around stars other than ours, for planets most likely to harbor life, i.e., “Goldilocks” planets that are just right on temperature and other factors. Now, a new pulsed laser technique may help the search.

End of shuttle could end 8,000 NASA jobs

Of course, beyond worries about this, the shuttle should have been retired years ago. Ever since the Moon race was won, both NASA and politicians have lacked focus for what we should — and should not — be doing with manned space flight.

Want to strengthen your willpower?

Well, exercise can help. So can brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand for two weeks.

Southwest Airlines free pass on inspections becomes deadly …

Or, a threat of that to a whistleblower has hit the screen.

The wife of Bobby Boutris, the Federal Aviation Administration inspector who became a whistle-blower against the FAA’s lax oversight of its (non)-inspection of Southwest Airlines, reportedly received a veiled death threat against her husband in the mail:
The threat came in the form of an article delivered to Mr. Boutris' wife, which discussed how a woman “gets by when your husband is gone,” according to one federal official who requested anonymity because he wasn't cleared to speak about the probe. An accompanying note suggested the article would be useful to the woman.

Whether someone from Southwest or FAA, I hope they immediately get shit-canned, then prosecuted fully.

Trickle-down torture from BushCo exposed

In Vanity Fair, British law professor Phillipe Sands convincingly exposed Bush Administration claims that U.S. torture was done by just a few bad apples as the lies they are.
This explanation is false. The origins lie in actions taken at the very highest levels of the administration—by some of the most senior personal advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense. At the heart of the matter stand several political appointees—lawyers—who, it can be argued, broke their ethical codes of conduct and took themselves into a zone of international criminality, where formal investigation is now a very real option. …

The fingerprints of the most senior lawyers in the administration were all over the design and implementation of the abusive interrogation policies. Addington, Bybee, Gonzales, Haynes, and Yoo became, in effect, a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse. …

The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves.

That would include “distance and deniability” for this:

But, then, they shot “distance and deniability” in the foot:
On September 25 (2002), as the process of elaborating new interrogation techniques reached a critical point, a delegation of the administration’s most senior lawyers arrived at Guantánamo. The group included the president’s lawyer, Alberto Gonzales, who had by then received the Yoo-Bybee Memo; Vice President Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington, who had contributed to the writing of that memo; the C.I.A.’s John Rizzo, who had asked for a Justice Department sign-off on individual techniques, including waterboarding, and received the second (and still secret) Yoo-Bybee Memo; and Jim Haynes, Rumsfeld’s counsel.

You don’t get that much more “in the mix” than that. Or this:
Addington talked a great deal, and it was obvious to her that he was a “very powerful man” and “definitely the guy in charge,” with a booming voice and confident style, Guantanamo judge advocate Diane Beaver said. … Beaver spent time with the group. Talking about the episode even long afterward made her visibly anxious. Her hand tapped and she moved restlessly in her chair. She recalled the message they had received from the visitors: Do “whatever needed to be done.” …

Beaver was insistent that the decision to implement new interrogation techniques had to be properly written up and that it needed a paper trail leading to authorization from the top, not from “the dirt on the ground,” as she self-deprecatingly described herself. “I just wasn’t comfortable giving oral advice,” she explained, as she had been requested to do. “I wanted to get something in writing.

There is another reason “distance and deniability” went out the door: the pornographic eroticism of violence, something also on display among troops in Iraq.
The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even. “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas,” Beaver recalled, a wan smile flickering on her face. “And I said to myself, You know what? I don’t have a dick to get hard—I can stay detached.”

From BushCo lawyers getting their erotic jollies over torture, the ethical bottom is not far away, and the lies over “trickle-up” torture aren’t much more clearly refuted.

From there, Gen. Michael Dunleavy, Guantanamo commander at the time, sent his request for “enhanced interrogation techniques” up the chain to Gen. Tom Hill, head of Southern Command. From there, it went to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers. It’s this process that the administration has used to try to claim torture was “trickle-up.”

After that, Dunleavy was soon replaced at Gitmo by Gen. Geoffrey Miller, and things went from bad to worse. Even tougher interrogation plans were requested for Mohammed al-Qahtani and sent direct to Rumsfeld for approval. Miller then got a vocal, verbal command, apparently from Rumsfeld himself, to go ahead.

We all know that Miller then went on to Abu Ghraib, and by his actions undercut John Yoo’s claims that Gitmo issues were confined to Gitmo. The abuses there began two months after Miller got there. The worry of “expansion” was expressed at that time:
Mike Gelles, of the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service, had shared with me his fear that the al-Qahtani techniques would not simply fade into history — that they would turn out to have been horribly contagious. This “migration” theory was controversial, because it potentially extended the responsibility of those who authorized the Guantánamo techniques to abusive practices elsewhere. John Yoo has described the migration theory as “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.”

Then, of course, came the Military Commissions Act, which gave immunity to Yoo et al. Of course, as the story notes, that’s purely a U.S. matter. Perhaps somebody in Belgium, with its broad-ranging war-crimes law, will (waiting until after Jan. 20, 2009), seek Rumsfeld’s or Yoo’s extradition.

Of course, neither Obama nor Clinton, let alone McCain, would ever grant that. The war crimes the administration committed, along with Bush’s illegal appointment to office, will never be challenged by Democrats, as Ted Rall has repeatedly noted.

But… there is precedent for Addington, Yoo and Gonzales. One of the war crimes trials after World War II put German military lawyers in the dock. The trial of SS lawyer Josef Altstötter, first alphabetically among 16 defendants, was the basis for “Judgment at Nuremburg.”

Beyond that, Article 4 of Geneva’s anti-torture convention criminalizes torture or complicity in it. And, let’s not forget the case of Alberto Pinochet. A European judge in the Vanity Fair story argues that the immunity provisions of the Military Commissions Act might bolster the case for some other country seeking Rumsfeld or Yoo, on the grounds the U.S. legal system will never dealt with them.
“It’s a matter of time,” the judge observed. “These things take time.” As I gathered my papers, he looked up and said, “And then something unexpected happens, when one of these lawyers travels to the wrong place.”

Some detailed snippets from the story include these:

• Doug Feith undercutting and bypassing Myers, and describing with pride his own part in denying Geneva Conventions protections, even those of Common Article 3, to Guantanamo detainees
Feith thought he’d found a clever way to do this, which on the one hand upheld Geneva as a matter of law—the speech he made to Myers and Rumsfeld—and on the other pulled the rug out from under it as a matter of reality. Feith’s argument was so clever that Myers continued to believe Geneva’s protections remained in force—he was “well and truly hoodwinked,” one seasoned observer of military affairs later told me.

• How Donald Rumsfeld personally chose Gen. Michael Dunleavy to command at Guantanamo, rather that Dunleavy asking on his own for latitude on interrogations;
• Rumsfeld’s personal sign-off on some of the techniques;
• How Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) was the basis of many of the Gitmo interrogations, despite BushCo denials.

FFA suck-up watch – not just Southwest

Federal inspectors will testify before Rep. James Oberstar’s Transportation Committee April 3 that FFA inspectors have been too cozy with ALL airlines for many years.

Southwest Airlines has gotten plenty of negative ink recently for flying planes without inspecting them for fuselage cracks, and getting a friendly FAA inspector to wink at that.

Your Pentagon at work spying on you and more

The FBI’s notorious National Security Letters? Being used by the Pentagon to monitor American citizens’ telephone and Internet usage.
“Newly unredacted documents released today reveal that the Department of Defense is using the FBI to circumvent legal limits on its own NSL power,” said the ACLU, whose lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court.

ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said the Pentagon does not have the authority to get e-mail and phone records or lists of Web sites that people have visited, but noted the FBI can get that through NSLs.

Meanwhile, the Whatagon is going to get tough with colleges that have traditionally blocked or restricted its on-campus recruiting efforts. Per Army Times:
Under rules that will take effect April 28, defense officials said they want the exact same access to student directories that is provided to all other prospective employers.

Students can opt out of having their information turned over to the military only if they opt out of having their information provided to all other recruiters, but schools cannot have policies that exclude only the military, defense officials said in a March 28 notice of the new policy in the Federal Register.

And, the DoD is morphing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays to “do know, don’t fly” for gay civilians, it would seem. The Pentagon initially refused to let Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s partner, Lauren Azar fly with her to Europe on a military plane on a Congressional trip:
The Pentagon said it was merely following House rules, which do not define domestic partners as spouses. (Speaker of the House Nancy) Pelosi’s office countered that the Pentagon has its own rules about who can go on its planes.

Both sides agree that Defense Secretary Robert Gates reversed the decision to keep Baldwin's partner, Lauren Azar, off the plane after getting contacted by Pelosi.

“It’s a matter of fairness that spouses should be allowed to go, and she is Ms. Baldwin's spouse,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

Ahh, it’s not like the brass hats have anything serious to worry about, like telling the truth about Iraq or something.

Ted Rall – repeal BushCo laws in 2009 if you really believe he was illegal

Ted Rall, with his usual cut-to-the-chase style, cuts Bill Maher and other weak-kneed bleaters against Bush off at the pass on what should be the practical ramifications of December 2000:
There’s one way — only one way — to avoid ratifying Bush's legacy. The next president must do the following three things immediately upon taking office:

1. Issue an executive order declaring all laws and actions undertaken by the Bush Administration, the states and local municipalities (because many state and local ordinances are influenced by national politics) between January 2001 and January 2009 null and void.

2. Act quickly to restore the rule of law — freeing Gitmo inmates, offering compensation to victims of torture and rendition, order immediate withdrawals of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other undeclared wars.

3. Create a cabinet-level department to investigate top officials and subordinates of the Bush interregnum for crimes they may have committed and refer them to the appropriate courts for arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

Of course, Rall knows neither Obama nor Clinton nor Reid nor Pelosi will ever do such a thing. Of course, that’s why Rall doesn’t vote Democratic. (I exchange e-mails with him on a semi-regular basis, and have talked to him about things like parliamentary government ideas.)

Slickster anger over Richardson erupts

Bill Clinton, apparently morphing James Carville’s “Judas” comment about Bill Richardson endorsing Barack Obama, had a meltdown in front of California Democratic superdelegates:
“It was one of the worst political meetings I have ever attended,” one superdelegate said. …

As the group moved together for the perfunctory photo, Rachel Binah, a former Richardson delegate who now supports Hillary Clinton, told Bill how “sorry” she was to have heard former Clinton campaign manager James Carville call Richardson a “Judas” for backing Obama.

It was as if someone pulled the pin from a grenade.

”Five times to my face (Richardson) said that he would never do that,” a red-faced, finger-pointing Clinton erupted.

Well, Big Bill Richardson can talk for himself. And he does:
“(Carville’s comment) is the kind of political venom that I anticipated from certain Clinton supporters and I campaigned against in my own run for president. …

“More than anything, to repair the damage done at home and abroad, we must unite as a country. I endorsed Sen. Obama because I believe he has the judgment, temperament and background to bridge our divisions as a nation and make America strong at home and respected in the world again.”

As for allegations he wasn’t returning Bill’s calls, Richardson said he was on vacation, and did call Hillary Clinton before announcing his endorsement decision.

After a week of relative calm, with Quinnipiac joining Rasmussen in showing Obama closing the gap in Pennsylvania, expect more of the Red-faced Slickster in coming days and weeks.

Wal-Mart backs off as bloggers make a difference

I was one of countless bloggers to comment on Wal-Mart going beyond even its anti-worker stereotype in suing Deborah Shank for medical disability lawsuit money from three years ago. (Read the blog post for story details.)

Well, even Wally-World can be made to feel public heat. Big Bad Blue has announced it is dropping its suit to collect money the Shanks won in a personal-injury lawsuit against a trucking company.

But, just because Wal-Mart dropped this one claim doesn’t mean the practice, known as “subrogation,” is going away. Raw Story, which also has Anderson Cooper and Keith Olbermann video at the link, notes that a 2006 Supreme Court decision made the process easier. (The Shanks case made its way to the Supreme Court, which turned away the Shanks’ appeal without a hearing.)

No, next time, Wal-Mart won’t wait three years to sue to get the money. As I noted in my original post, that was probably the most egregious of its actions, legal or not.

Signs of a longer and deeper recession popping up

First, auto sales went in the crapper in the first quarter, but haven’t hit the bottom of the crapper yet.

Second, four percent of mortgages could be in foreclosure by the end of the year.

Third, many subprime neighborhoods are having more and more foreclosed houses ransacked for scrap copper, thereby intensifying the downward spiral of the neighborhood.

Fourth, the housing construction decline hit the two-year mark with no signs of immediate lessening.

Fifth, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is upping his economic warnings.

April 01, 2008

News briefs –secrecy, tobacco druggery, Obama surge

Who’s paying for those milblogs? Your tax dollars?

That’s because the U.S. military is being advised to secretly recruit bloggers.

FDA may finally regulate tobacco as drug

All three presidential candidates support the Senate version of a bill to give the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate tobacco as a drug.

Of course, this is really half power. While the FDA could regulate advertising by tobacco companies and outside additives, i.e., ammonia, formaldehyde, etc., to tobacco, it would not get the power to regulate nicotine itself as a drug.

Obama closes gap in Pennsylvania

Barack Obama is now within 5 percentage points of Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, just two weeks after the discussion was how big of a win Clinton would have to get a political bounce by beating expectations.

Hmm, looks like she might have to “just win, baby,” to quote Al Davis.

And, what’s backfiring the most? Her cozying up with Dick Scaife? The clownish, Fox-suck-ups of Ed Rendell? Her own past history on NAFTA? Lies about Bosnia? A mix?

Illiterate science journalism at Morning News confuses nature and nurture

In a health story today at The Dallas Morning News, (don’t forget the initial capital!) freelancer (I’m sorry, “special contributor”) Elsa K. Simcik made a whopper of a mistake on nature vs. nurture. She says:
Reed also didn't realize that being African-American automatically put her at high risk for developing colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society Web site, “African-Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States.”

Yes, but there is NO definite evidence linking anything genetic in African-Americans to the higher colon cancer rates, therefore, Martha Reed was NOT “automatically” anything.

There are a variety of environmental risk factors, to be sure. Lower screening rates and detection often being in more advanced states of cancer both contribute to the higher fatality rate. Traditional black foods, higher in saturated fats and lower in fiber, are certainly likely contributory to higher rates of occurrence.

BUT … those are all “nature” factors, not “nurture” ones.

As for claims of genetic-driven difference, all of them are weak at this stage, and even if they do pan out with more research, nonetheless, their effects will be seen as much smaller than the environmentally-caused ones.

I know the Snooze got rid of its fantastic science editor, Tom Siegfried, in what seems like an eon ago. But, that’s not an excuse for not having at least a staff writer with some science writing doing this story.

It ain’t D.B Cooper’s chute after all

A week ago, I blogged on the possibility that the parachute used by famed hijacker Dan aka D.B. Cooper more than 30 years ago had finally been found. Alas and alack, it ain’t so.
FBI investigators reached that conclusion after speaking with parachute experts, including Earl Cossey, who packed the chutes provided to Cooper that rainy November night in 1971.

“From the best we could learn from the people we spoke to, it just didn't look like it was the right kind of parachute in any way,” said FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs.

This is the third time a parachute has been brought to Cossey’s attention as possibly being Cooper’s. I guess skydivers or whatever occasionally have untraced death sites or something.

That said, in the spirit of the day, April 1, Cossey answered his phone today, when fielding reporters’ calls, as “D.B. Cooper.”

On the plus side, the geographical mysteries that would have been caused by this being Cooper’s parachute have now …

Vanished into thin air again.

How anti-vaccination parents claim they ‘won’ in court

The legal standards have changed.

Specifically, in cases of alleged vaccine-induced injury heard in special court under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, there used to be a preponderance-of-evidence standard, similar to other civil cases.

No longer. That’s how Hannah Poling’s parents “won”:
back on science by dropping preponderance of evidence as a standard. Now, petitioners need merely propose a biologically plausible mechanism by which a vaccine might cause harm — even if their explanation contradicts published studies. In 2006, for example, Dorothy Werderitsh claimed in the vaccine court that a hepatitis B vaccine had triggered an autoimmune response in her brain that led to multiple sclerosis. Two large studies had clearly shown that hepatitis B vaccine could neither cause nor exacerbate multiple sclerosis, but the court ruled in favor of Werderitsh, elevating a hypothesis above epidemiological evidence.

As Paul Offit notes, in the last few years, 4,800 parents of autistic children, blinded by grief and deluded by pseudoscience, have lined up to sue.

Biofuels destroying economies of poorer peoples

We know that biofuels are becoming more environmentally destructive, with planting of monocrop biofuels “plantations” such as oil palms farms. But, they continue to hurt people in the developing countries they’re supposed to protect.

For instance, in Indonesia, a liter of cooking oil is now $1.31. Maybe that sounds like a bargain compared to $3 here in America, but this is Indonesia. That price is more than 1 percent of the minimum wage.

Imagine paying $15 a liter for your bottle of Crisco or whatever, here in America, and you get the idea.

Meanwhile, it’s not actually that “green.”
A study published in the journal Science in February found it would take around 86 years for biodiesel made from palm oil grown on cleared tropical lowland forest to repay the “carbon debt” generated from clearing the land.

For biodiesel from cleared peatlands, the study found, the debt would take more than 840 years to repay.

But Indonesia appears intent on running up that debt. Already at least 10 million of its 22.5 million hectares (55.6 million acres) of peatland have been cleared, according to the Centre for International Forestry Research, and the clearing shows no sign of slowing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. push for more corn-based ethanol is driving up the price of meat, milk, eggs and other animal-related products. A family in Indonesia making twice the minimum wage now eats meat just twice a month.

Colorado could crack down on CEOs

A proposed Colorado ballot measure would make CEOs bear personal criminal responsibility if their companies run afoul of the law. The proposal, spawned by Joe Nacchio’s conviction for Qwest insider trading, would also, like the federal Clean Air Act, permit any Colorado resident to file a civil suit against a CEO in such circumstances.

Somehow, I have the feeling that:
• State and national Democrats will skirt a berth around this at least as wide as a lobbyist’s armspan;
• Fortune 500-type companies will vilify Colorado as the “anti-Delaware” if this passes;
• Other progressive states will put an eyeball on this.

Could California, with some of the most liberal state laws on ballot initiatives, follow suit?

Bush killed on TV

Actually, it’s a Palestinian puppet on Hamas TV killing a Bush puppet, but, you know, expect more winger flim-flammery on this:
“You are a criminal, Bush, a despicable man. You made me an orphan. You deprived me of everything,” says the hand-held puppet.

“I must take my revenge with the sword of Islam,” the puppet-child says, stabbing the Bush puppet several times in the chest and ignoring pleas of “I repent, just don’t kill me” — and an invitation to a toy-filled White House.

The sad thing is, this counts as reality for many in the Muslim word, and flim-flammery about this stuff counts for reality in the U.S. wingnut world.

Hypocrisy alert – Sony busted for using Warez

That’s right, Sony BMG, one of the world’s leading music companies, somebody ready to sue you for using Napster, just got busted for using Internet-password hacking Warez.
PointDev, a French software company that makes Windows administration tools, received a call from a Sony BMG IT employee for support. After Sony BMG supplied a pirated license code for Ideal Migration, one of PointDev's products, the software maker was able to mandate a seizure of Sony BMG's assets. The subsequent raid revealed that software was illegally installed on four of Sony BMG's servers. The Business Software Alliance, however, believes that up to 47 percent of the software installed on Sony BMG's computers could be pirated.

Forty-seven percent? Shit. I think Sony’s going to have more problems than the€300,000 ($475,000) PointDev is suing it for.

Pander alert – Obama wants Cesar Chavez holiday

Setting aside the question of whether or not Chavez is deserving, or is the most representative Hispanic for a “Hispanic holiday,” all I have to say otherwise is:

If you’re going to pander, pander big.
“As farmworkers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what Cesar Chavez accomplished so many years ago,” Obama said in a statement from his campaign. “And we should honor him for what he's taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation.

"That’s why I support the call to make Cesar Chavez's birthday a national holiday. It’s time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union.”

And, you’ve supported this for how long? And how vocably? And, how many Chicago Hispanics did you talk to about this idea when you were in the Illinois Senate?

Answers: Just now; very quietly; zero.

One leg of three-legged anti-healthcare stool goes wobbly

Fifty-nine percent of doctors are now OK with national healthcare.

I’ve blogged more than once opposition to national healthcare, whether a UK/Canada single-payer system or a voucher-type system like that of many EU members, is based on a three-legged stool:
• The American Medical Association;
• Health insurance companies.

Beyond that, I’ve noted that the key to passing some sort of national healthcare is to negate the strong-arm lobbying of two of the three.

Well, the first leg may just be getting wobbly.

That said, a combination of carrot and stick on a voucher-type program, which would keep private health insurance companies in business, albeit under new federal regulations, would take care of leg No. 3.

That leaves the drugs folks.

No copper, only PVC – houses worth more as spare parts

Owners, or mortgage-holders of some homes in foreclosure, are resorting to that “No copper, only PVC” phrase as signs on the houses to try to prevent looting.

And, the prospect of refinancing homes that may not be altogether there, due to looting of copper, brass and aluminum, is scaring off even more banks that are already getting tighter with credit.
”f the appraiser spots something that is not right, like copper tubing lying on the floor or something missing a lot of wiring, that's a red flag to the buyer's bank. That will essentially melt down any transaction you've got,” real estate broker Jonathan Osman said.

“They don’t want to make a $200,000 loan on a house that has serious problems in case the buyer defaults and they are stuck with it,” he said in a telephone interview. “It stinks for the banks that have foreclosed on the property because they now have a house that they really can’t sell. They have nothing to do but auction it off for whatever they can get for it.”

With scrap copper running at $3.50 a pound, vs. 70 cents just a few years ago, boarded-up houses are a tempting target for low-level thieves.

I say “low-level” because ripping 50 pounds of copper out of a house — if you can find one with that much — would net you a whole $175.

And, guess where it’s all going? That’s right, the giant sucking sound across the Pacific.

A full 80 percent of stolen scrap copper is estimated to wind up in either China or India.

This has several fallouts, beyond the obvious one of essentially making the vandalized home unsellable.

First, it drives up crime in the area.

Second, especially if it’s aluminum siding being ripped off an exterior, it uglifies not just that house, but the surrounding neighborhood.

Both, of course, further drive down prices on remaining houses that may be up for foreclosure. The bank or other note-holder, if it’s stubborn, sits on the house longer, leaving it a more tempting, longer-lasting target for the same vandalism.

Four percent of homes in foreclosure by end of year

Morning News story gets analysis wrong, though

Four percent? That’s the estimate on where the housing world is headed. That is, barring an economic regulatory reform package that also offers homeowner some relief. Anyway, here’s where we’re at right now, along with projections for the future:
Nearly 3 million homeowners, or about 6.3 percent, were behind in their monthly mortgage payments in January. By some estimates, more than 2 million families will have their homes foreclosed on this year. The number of homeowners facing foreclosure climbed almost 60 percent in January compared with the same month a year ago.

Those 2 million? That’s just over 4 percent of the total of about 48 million homeowners.

And, if those estimates are anywhere close to accurate, the Street has a ways to go before finding its bottom.

Unfortunately, the author of the story, Will Deener, says that getting mortgage defaults behind us, will allow this wonderful benefit:
Then the banks, brokerage firms and mortgage companies will start packaging those mortgages again and selling them to institutions, which is how the system is supposed to work.

Uhh, no, Will. Wrong. Exactimento wrong.
That’s how the system was gamed to get us to this point in the first place. The “system” as it currently stands is broken.

Oh, and Dallas Morning News? Why isn’t this run in hardcopy, or identified online, as news analysis or a column, which it clearly is. (Going by a column in hardcopy today, which is NOT run ragged-right on line justification like columns are supposed to be, I am assuming this one, too, if/when it appears in hardcopy, will be run as a straight financial news story.)

Oh, and why isn’t the Snooze posting e-mail addys for most of its freelance contributors anymore? I’m guessing some of them might not like it, but, the Snooze could either set them up with corporate e-mail addresses or else simply say that’s part of the price of freelancing.

Auto sales crater in March and worse to come

U.S. auto sales fell by double-digit percentages in March. And it wasn’t just the former Big Three. Even Toyota was off 10 percent. And we’re probably not done yet:
“I’d like to be able to tell you that the worst is behind us, but I really can't give you that assurance,” Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.’s sales and marketing chief, said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. Farley said Ford is concerned the shrinking availability of consumer credit will continue to hurt sales and that the second quarter could be more difficult than the first.

It certainly will as far as profits are concerned.

All the automakers reporting their sales numbers said SUV/truck sales were off more than car sales, with gas prices the obvious culprit. As SUVs and pickups make up a bigger percentage of sales, and definitely of profits, for the Formerly Big Three than for Toyota or Honda, this news is indeed not encouraging.

With Chrysler taken private by Cerberus, we have no idea what it did, but given that, in the car division, two of its biggest sellers are the gas-guzzling 300 and Magnum, it’s probably hurting at least as bad as GM and Ford. Cerberus may have thought it was smart a year ago, but Daimler-Benz is probably wiping its brow in relief right now.

Speaking of Chrysler, it’s the first of the Big Three to elminate free life insurance for retirees.

Should the ‘National Pastime’ start in its country of origin?

Jay Mariotti is mad as hell about baseball starting its season in Japan and isn’t going to take it anymore.

The Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist sees this as yet another Bud Selig marketing idea gone awry.
Selig forever will be known as The Greedy Commissioner, the car salesman who sells out integrity and tradition for fat-cat owners who aren't satisfied enough with $6 billion-plus in 2007 revenues and want to sell some T-shirts in Japan. All I know is, if baseball still wants to be embraced as the national pastime and still wants us to regard Opening Day as sacred, the season cannot open halfway around the world.

It is our sport and our holiday, not to be rented out any more than the Brits would allow the Premier League to launch in East Rutherford, N.J. Opening Day always has been a vital part of our sports romance, the raising of an emotional curtain between winter and spring, especially in places like Chicago where the winters are endless hell. …

The NFL played a real game in London last season, but never, ever would those owners launch a season anywhere but in an American stadium. Not to sound like a xenophobe, but Opening Day should not be 13 time zones away from one team's town and 16 from the other's. It's just un-American.

And, he’s probably right. Not just about this above, but the stupidity of trying to go to Europe. Since the retirement of Bert Blyleven (can we please, for doorknob’s sake, get this man his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame?) how many European players have there been in MLB? Beyond that, most Europeans probably do see baseball as bastardized cricket. And, in the UK at least, fans can watch the unbastardized version of that sport.

Unlike the NFL, which can more easily afford to play regular season games overseas, with its weekly schedule, or the NBA, which may eventually adopt David Stern’s idea of an entire division of European teams, Major League Baseball really has little to gain from this.

Japan has two established MLB-equivalent professional leagues of its own. The only marketing MLB can really do is vis-à-vis Japanese players on MLB teams, and that could be done with a postseason barnstorming tour, a la the 1920s.

Bill Belichick says ‘move along nothing here’ on Spygate

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick continues to insist there is nothing further to be uncovered about Spygate.
“I think they’ve addressed everything they possibly can address. … We addressed so many questions so many times from so many people I don’t know what else the league could ask.”

Considering NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is moving at tortoise pace on offering an immunity deal to former Pats assistant coach/video gofer Matt Walsh, we of course have no way of knowing if what Belichick claims is true. Goodell confirmed for the first time that the NFL spoke again with Belichick and other Patriots employees after the Super Bowl.
“We followed up on other things because certain things had been tossed out.”

Walsh, through his lawyer, Michael Levy, has been negotiating with the NFL for legal protection, from lawsuits by the Pats or the league, to come forward to talk. Levy and the league reported three weeks ago that they were close to an agreement to do that, but talks have been sporadic since, the story notes.

Meanwhile, the Belichick spin-o-meter continues to run at full tilt:
“I barely knew Matt Walsh. He was hired before I became the coach.”

He conceded he should have contacted Ray Anderson, the NFL’s vice president for football operations, after a memo from Anderson in 2006 that laid down the specifications for intelligence gathering.

“What I should have done … I should have called the league and asked for a clarification,” he said. “That was my mistake.”

He said that in one respect, Spygate did the Patriots a favor.

“We’ve taken it as a positive and reorganized our operations to make sure a situation like this never comes up again,” he said. “Our operation is more efficient, more streamlined. Look at the results of this season. That would confirm it.”

Well, then, does the loss to the Giants disprove anything?

That said, it’s time to once again run our “if Kurt Warner sues the Patriots” poll:

Free polls from
If Kurt Warner sues, he should get
Nothing $100,000 $500,000 $1 million $2-3 million $4-5 million more