SocraticGadfly: 4/6/08 - 4/13/08

April 12, 2008

On the coffee table – ‘Taking the Hill’

This story of Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq War vet to get elected to Congress is informative and sobering. It’s also a pretty good read. But, it’s not a great read.

The book is more informative when Murphy discusses his run for Congress than in his analysis of how and where Bush went wrong in launching the Iraq War in the first place, or how Bush, Cheney, Bremer, Rumfeld et al screwed up after the invasion.

Throw in the fact that Murphy felt compelled to join the Blue Dog Coalition and renew funding for the School of the Americas, with the larger position that, as a freshman in Congress who got elected on one issue, and this is not a five-star book.

I wound up giving it three stars on Amazon. If I were the first rater, I might give it four stars. But, in light of the five-star fluff of several earlier raters, it had to get knocked down to three stars as a counterweight.

Since there’s nothing new on Iraq, I’ll focus on Congressman Murphy.

First, the amount of work involved with getting elected is huge. Especially for a first-time office-seeker with not a lot of name recognition, it can be grueling. Murphy spells that out in detail, both for the Democratic primary and the general election. He then details attack-dog Republican tactics against him in the general election, including a possible Hatch Act violation by the chief of staff of his opponent, incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick.

Next, he discusses the hypocrisy of some endorsements, though he’s either too kind or too soft to use the word “hypocrisy.”

That includes the Veterans of Foreign Wars endorsing Fitzpatrick, a non-veteran. That includes unions endorsing Fitzpatrick because “he returns our phone calls.” (It’s all about access, isn’t it?)

Murphy then explains his decision to join the Blue Dogs because they stand for “balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility.”

But, uhh, Pat … “paygo” on budget issues is an official position of your party as a whole in both houses of Congress. No need to join the Blue Dogs for that, unless you think Pelosi and Reid are giving lip service.

As for SOAR, especially in light of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, you’re naïve at best if you really think that under this administration, all its days of training human rights thugs are in the past. You should have voted to kill it.

In short, contrary to some comment, a good book but not a great one. While it is interesting to read about the shoe leather of a Congressional campaign, one doesn’t have to be an Iraq vet to do that, either.

You REALLY need to take that summer vacation NOW

Why? Before a shitload more planes get grounded, and airlines cut service even more to make up for the lost money.

First, at least one more airline whistleblower is going to work with the Federal Aviation Administration.
U.S. Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch said another FAA whistle-blower has approached his agency, and a second is also considering working with investigators. The complaints involve two and possibly three airlines, which Bloch declined to name. The agency, he said, has four or five active files “and are opening more now.” The complaints, he said, “run the gamut” from maintenance issues to “airworthiness” and safety. …

In his more than four years as special counsel, Bloch said his office has substantiated at least 10 whistle-blower complaints about the FAA.

And, with the FAA coming under increasing heat from both Congress and higher up within the Department of Transportation, it WILL crack down on airlines more; the American situation with its MD-80s this week will not be an anomaly.

How much heat? This much:
“They’re not overreacting,” Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said. “They’re reacting and doing what they should be doing.” The mass groundings, he said, reflected the airlines’ failure to comply with FAA maintenance requirements.

Bloch, who testified before Oberstar’s committee, has become a leading critic of the FAA. The agency, he said, “is far and above the worst we’ve encountered in the federal government for its contempt for oversight, its willingness to retaliate against whistle-blowers ... and their willingness to cover up violations.” …

Calvin Scovel, inspector general for the Department of Transportation, which includes the FAA, said “fundamental breakdowns” in the FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines have raised “legitimate concerns about the FAA’s overall approach to safety oversight.”

And, that’s not all that’s coming down the pike.

Those “costs to make up” I referenced above? The American groundings this week will run the AA tens of millions of dollars, according to its (skating on thin ice?) CEO Gerald Arpey.

That’s not counting how this may play out with American’s reputation and loss of passengers. Nor is it factoring in if American’s stock price is going to stay in the less-than-$10 dump.

If you’re in Dallas or Chicago, where American has hubs and Southwest has quasi-hubs, you’re really screwed.

As for the “other airlines,” beyond what Bloch mentioned? The FAA has had four airlines in its gunsights. What the next two, after Southwest and American, might be, I don’t know.

As for the “how did we get to this point,” beyond Bloch’s comments about the FAA’s crappy regulatory attitude? Its inspectors’ union says the agency is shorthanded.
The head of the union that represents 11,000 aviation safety specialists in the FAA and Department of Defense said the FAA is “relying more and more on the airlines to regulate themselves” because of a shortage of personnel.

“It is time for the FAA to once again make safety its priority,” said Tom Brantley, national president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.

How’s the FAA going to pay for this? One answer would be new fees on the airlines. Or, to avoid them trying to figure out whether or not to pass that on to you and I the flying public, a variation would be to increase airport landing fees.

So, expect a higher ticket price, perhaps by this summer, beyond that due to fuel costs.

And, with crappier service, fewer flights, etc., expect to fly the unfriendly skies.

Nature news briefs – scentless flowers, oldest trees

Flowers lose scent to pollution, could affect bees
Flowers, at least in more polluted areas may not smell like flowers any more. And so, in turn, not as many bees may find them.

The distance aroma from flower pollen travels has dropped as much as 2/3 from the 1800s, researchers say. And, some do wonder if that’s part of the problem with beehive collapses. Having to rely on sight could mean less success, and so less food in the hive. Having to travel longer distances increases the chance of bees getting lost, of dying outside the hive and other things.
Move over, bristlecones
Norway spruces in Sweden are now known as the world’s oldest living trees, clocking in at 8,000 years old.

Of course, many scientists believe that the bristlecone pines weren’t the oldest plant species in the U.S., anyway. Guesstimates is all I’ve heard, but some think the lowly creosote bush of Southwestern deserts could be as old as 10,000 years in some specimens.

More than bluebonnets in Texas spring

Texas is renowned for its bluebonnets in April, along with other wildflowers. But, that’s not the only thing blooming this time of year.

This is a red oak, caught at just the right time of starting to put on leaves on this particular branch. This is in Windmill Hill Nature Preserve in DeSoto, suburban Dallas.

I shoot (currently) with a Canon Digital Rebel. (When the 50D, or 40D-X, or whatever comes out to knock the price down on a 40D, then I upgrade.)

I shot this with the starter 18-55 lens at about 50mm and a 5.0 on the f-stop.

And, about a year ago, I started a “Reflections” journaling project for myself, to do a haiku on a semi-regular basis to accompany “around town” photography of mine. It’s time to move that here to the blog.

Red oak starts spring red
Different color for life
Than other new growth;

But quick to green, then
In fall, to red again, and
Completes its cycle.

Economic woes hit nouveau riche

I am SOOOOO sobbing in my schadenfreude. Foreclosures are now hitting And, climate change McMansion World while luxury car sales And, climate change are off 13 percent.
The biggest impact is at the entry level of the high-end market — “aspirational luxury” for relative newcomers to upscale living, says Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a research firm.

Nearly four out of 10 consumers averaging $155,700 annual income surveyed late last year by Unity Marketing said they would be spending less in 2008 on luxury goods.

Unfortunately, the real rich aren’t feeling pain yet, the hedge fund managers, the CDO packagers, etc. But, maybe the nouveau riche, or nouveau riche wannabes, will get a wake-up call.

Obama watch – smell the pandering and watch the foot-shooting and Bush-riffing

First, Sen. Obama, can your Shtick Talk Express™, drop the pretense of the Politics of Change™, and just admit you’re going to opt out of public campaign financing, rather than make these dramatic wailings about the “creaky” system.

You’re part of the problem. Look in the mirror and admit it.

And, if you really think it’s creaky, propose how you would change it.

Meanwhile, you can probably devote some energy to not insulting rural Pennsylvanians.

For a campaign that talks about the disorganization of rival Hillary Clinton, this comment is a doozy:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them,” Obama was quoted as saying by the Huffington Post.

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” he said.

Actually, I think it’s a pretty good assessment of people in smaller towns in the Rust Belt.

But, you just don’t say shit like that. It’s clueless.

And, you sure as hell don’t say that while you take a page from George W. Bush’s campaign financing ( substitute “Bundlers” for “Pioneers.”)
Seventy-nine “bundlers,” five of them billionaires, have tapped their personal networks to raise at least $200,000 each. They have helped the campaign recruit more than 27,000 donors to write checks for $2,300, the maximum allowed. Donors who have given more than $200 account for about half of Obama's total haul, which stands at nearly $240 million.

And, as with Bush’s “Pioneers” and “Rangers,” it looks like these “Bundlers” are buying access. (Is that Tony Rezko I hear in the background?)
Among the group are businessmen such as Kenneth Griffin, a famously private 39-year-old billionaire who threw his support behind Obama’s presidential campaign just as he hired a team of lobbyists to urge Congress to preserve a lucrative tax loophole.

A year ago, Griffin invited Obama to speak to employees of his Chicago hedge fund, Citadel Investment Group, and in subsequent months, employees and their families gave the candidate nearly $200,000. Griffin had previously backed Republicans, including Obama’s initial U.S. Senate opponent. …

And there is the director of General Dynamics, the military supplier that has seen profits soar since the onset of the Iraq war and that has benefited from at least one Obama earmark … a request to spend $8 million on a high-explosive technology program for the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The program got $1.3 million.

Now, it’s true that these “Bundlers” may be less able to buy access than the “Pioneers.” But, will they not get any access?

If you believe that, I’ve got swampland in Arizona to sell you.

And, if Obama really wanted to practice the Politics of Change™, he could have turned down some of this money.

D.C. Madam in the Navy but Dickinson is out

How far did the reach of the so-called D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, extend? Far enough to include soon about-to-be former Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Dickinson, who worked for Debra Jean Palfrey for a couple of years.
Dickinson (skanky) at left.

And, at the “bargain rate” of $130 for 90 minutes (her 50 percent of $275 per john). Guess she hadn’t heard about the $1,000s per session that the Millennium Club so beloved by former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer was paying.

Dickinson (attractive)
At the same time, how can you “need the money,” or even have to allegedly file for bankruptcy, Ms. Dickinson, at a Navy salary of $77,200? Yes, you’re a single parent with three kids, but many single parents get by with half that income, and no, no welfare payments. I’m assuming that you being a Navy officer, your ex wouldn’t have as much opportunity to welsh on any alimony or child support he owed, either.

I know other people who make far more money than I do, including some with no kids at all, who also are broke from time to time. I just don’t get it.

April 11, 2008

Friday scatblogging – Name that scat

No, not my original title, but I’m going to piggyback on the most recent post by Kevin Woster, the Rapid City Journal outdoors blogger.

Woster is really talking shit. Here’s an example:

Rapid City, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is in southwestern South Dakota and is the gateway to Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

“Name that scat” is as it claims. Woster has four pictures of wildlife “piles” from Wind Cave and asks his readers to try identifying the animals that created them.

If you think you know what animal left that first one, head to his blog and try to guess the other three. And, check out other posts of his. If you’re a nature lover, it’s a pretty cool deal.

Oh, my guess, per several readers of Woster's blog, is that is a bison that left that beauty.

George Soros – gonna be a bad recession

Soros thinks the pending economic woes are so bad he got off the bench and started doing his own trading for his hedge fund again.
“I consider this the biggest financial crisis of my lifetime.”

Well, that minces no words.

Of course, as the NYT article points out, Soros prophesied similar gloom and doom 10 years ago. Other than him making a killing by manipulating Asian currencies (and you have to wonder if that’s part of why the Chinese are leery about letting the yuan rise), nothing happened.

Soros was right about something when he got back at the trading helm last year, though. By adjusting positions on a lot of trades, he wound up raking in $4 billion.

Basically, Soros wants to be recognizes as the Keynes of today or similar, the story says, and he hasn’t gotten that recognition.

That may be starting to change. Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz said that with some differences in vocabulary and nuances, Soros might start getting more due.

I agree to some degree with the gloomy forecast, but not just because Soros made it.

Hypocrisy alert – IOC head disses boycott of Beijing opening

Showing he can lie almost as well as his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who gave us, no, forced upon us, the Beijing Olympics for political and hypercapitalist reasons, International Olympic Committee Chairman Jacques Rogge claims a political boycott of any part of the Beijing Olympic Games would only hurt athletes.
“A boycott would hurt the athletes, but not the Games. I am sure many athletes would regret the absence of their political leaders when they parade,” he said. “But what I would say, is ‘wait and see.’”

Yes, if I’m an Olympic athlete, I’m going to miserably fail in my event because my president or prime minister isn’t on a reviewing stand for me to take a walk around a track. Does Rogge actually believe this crap?

That was followed by this whopper:
“Public opinion around the world does not want any boycotts. The Olympic Games is about the athletes themselves and the athletes are innocent.”

Guess you haven’t been reading the newspaper or the Internet this week, Mr. Rogge, or else your definition of either “public opinion” or “world” is something brand new.

In the latest factual counter-offering to Rogge’s fantasy world, the European Parliament has called on European Union members to boycott opening ceremonies.

Irony alert – Hoof-in-mouth has Congress with hoof-in-mouth

Six years ago, Sen. Pat Roberts did not want a federal animal research laboratory anywhere near being on mainland U.S. soil. But, now that Preznit Bush seems determined to establish a new National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility on the mainland, Kansas Republican Roberts is determined to see Manhattan, Kan., site of Kansas State University, win the competition among five finalists.

That’s despite the fact that current work with hoof-in-mouth disease is kept closely sequestered at an island in Long Island Sound and that the U.S. has been officially hoof-in-mouth free for decades.
Foot-and-mouth virus can be carried on a worker’s breath or clothes, or vehicles leaving a lab, and is so contagious it has been confined to Plum Island, N.Y., for more than a half-century — far from commercial livestock. The existing lab is 100 miles northeast of New York City in the Long Island Sound, accessible only by ferry or helicopter. Researchers there who work with the live virus are not permitted to own animals at home that would be susceptible, and they must wait at least a week before attending outside events where such animals might perform, such as a circus.

That’s also despite the fact that two outbreaks in the last decade in Great Britain have shown how easily the disease can spread, and how bad the agricultural losses can be.
An epidemic in 2001 devastated Britain's livestock industry, as the government slaughtered 6 million sheep, cows and pigs. Last year, in a less serious outbreak, Britain's health and safety agency concluded the virus probably escaped from a site shared by a government research center and a vaccine maker.

But, that’s not the only problem/issue. hoof-in-mouth, and many other of the diseases studied on Plum Island are not of the nature to be terrorism bioweapons. Plum Island should never have been moved from the Department of Agriculture to Homeland Security in the first place. If new research is added about which Plum Island allegedly doesn’t have high enough security, either don’t move that research there or else beef up Plum Island. The other alternative, moving the upgraded facility to Long Island, which has no commercial livestock industry, is the second-best option.

Microsoft move on Yahoo may backfire

First, Microslob is threatening to lower its current offer if Yahoo doesn’t accept that. Well, that ought to be worth a chapter in the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence Proxy Stock Battles.”

Second, especially with Yahoo approaching Google for this test run on advertising cooperation, this whole battle is expected to help Gurgle, which is exactly what Microslob didn’t want to do.

Third, when your new operating system, Vista, is such a piece of crap your own execs complain about it, AND your dreaded Service Pack 1 is so big you ought to have started over with a new OS, AND this SP1 is itself still pretty crappy, from what I’ve heard …

Don’t you have enough on your own plate, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, without worrying about trying to take over Yahoo?

Redate the Grand Canyon AGAIN

Just a month after a new study from the University of New Mexico claimed the Grand Canyon was 17 million years old, not 6 million, a new study wants to more than triple THAT estimate, to at least 55 million years old, if not a pre-KT dinosaur extinction date of 65 million years ago:
The ancient sandstone in the canyon walls contains a mineral called apatite, hosting minute amounts of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium. These slowly decay, or disintegrate, Rebecca Flowers, a geologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said. An abundance of the two elements [fixed from an earlier “three”], paired with temperature information from Earth’s interior, offered a sort of clock to calculate when the apatite grains were embedded in rock a mile deep—the canyon’s approximate depth today — and when they cooled as they neared the surface as a result of erosion.

Apatite from the bottom of the canyon’s Upper Granite Gorge region yields similar dates as samples collected on the nearby plateau, said geologist Brian Wernicke of the California Institute of Technology, a collaborator in the research.

Very interesting story. Kudos to WorldScience for quickly correcting the “three” mistake in the original version of this.

The one thing that worries me is the young-earth creationist types are immediately going to start claiming, “See, this proves radiometric dating doesn’t work.”

News briefs – Obama riffs on Coz, Olympic torch and opening boycott, Benedict calls out Bush

Barack Obama plays Bill Cosby
No, he’s not wearing a sweater, but in black-majority high schools, Obama is preaching much the same message — challenging parents to get involved with their kids’ education rather than dissing schools, and kids to put down the video games.
Olympic torch relay is still on
But, the rest of its international appearances, a la the San Francisco run, are going to be cut short. And, when International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called on China to respect its “moral engagement” toward improving human rights, Jiang Yu from the Chinese Foreign Ministry politely told him to STFU.
Growing boycott of Games opening is also on
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is now questioning out loud whether or not he will attend the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Preznit Bush is gonna look awfully lonely up there on that big reviewing stand. Of course, Ban is taking the Gordon Brown route on this. Just as the British Prime Minister claims he always planned to only attend the closing ceremony, Ban says he plans a “substantive visit” to China at some other time this year.
Pope Benedict – might does not make right
That’s the message Pope Benedict XVI will give the U.N.. But Preznit George (the Last, we hope) will continue to stick his fingers in his ears and say, “Nyaah, nyaah.”

April 10, 2008

Book take that summer vacation now

The Federal Aviation Administration’s crackdown on American Airlines could spread elsewhere. With less than two months to summer, ever-rising oil prices, airlines cutting planes out of the rotation to try to save fuel (when they’re not having to do catch-up inspections on them), the Senate wanting to conduct its version of the House Transportation Committee’s grilling of FAA officials, and the outside possibility of a strike at American, and summer air travel is likely to be a royal clusterfuck.

Beyond that, airlines that either own their own commuter companies, such as American Eagle being owned by American parent AMR, or have contracts with independent puddle-jumpers, are going to be slashing their routes.

In other words, if you want to travel from Dallas to L.A., or Chicago to Seattle, as long as American hasn’t grounded planes, you may still be OK. BUT… if you want to travel from Amarillo to L.A. via Dallas, American Eagle may not get you there so easily or frequently. And even Southwest, as the rest of its fuel hedge contracts expire, will probably fly routes like that less often.

Irony alert AND hypocrisy alert – Conservative bias in public schools

Ahh, who’d have thunk it? Esteemed sociological legal scholar James Q. Wilson, inventor of the “grass in the cracks” theory of urban decline (step on a crack and you break Ronnie Reagan’s back) and John Dilulio of White House Mayberry Machiavelli fame (ahh, John, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?) have gotten busted for conservative bias in a school textbook they wrote. Busted by the high school senior who had to read it, Matthew LaClair.

How bad is it? Let’s sample a few quotes:
The edition of the textbook published in 2005, which is in high school classrooms now, states that “science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all.”

A newer edition published late last year was changed to say, “Science doesn’t know how bad the greenhouse effect is.”

The authors kept a phrase stating that global warming is “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty.”

The Mythmaking Machiavelli, Dilulio, and the Rudy G.-loving Wilson didn’t reckon, though, with the Uncensorable James Hansen. (Appearing soon at a theater near you._
LaClair said he was particularly upset about the book’s treatment of global warming. James Hansen, the director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recently heard about LaClair's concerns and has lent him some support.

Hansen has sent Houghton Mifflin a letter stating that the book’s discussion on global warming contained “a large number of clearly erroneous statements” that give students “the mistaken impression that the scientific evidence of global warming is doubtful and uncertain.”

But, that’s not all. Dilulio, who was the first leader of Preznit Bush’s unconstitutional in my opinion but never adequately fought against by week-kneed Democrats faith-based initiatives, was surely the primary author of this nuttery about prayer in school:
LaClair also was concerned about the textboo’'s treatment of U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding prayer in school. The book shows a picture of kids praying in front of a Virginia high school and states, “The Supreme Court will not let this happen inside a public school.”

The textbook goes on to state that the court has ruled as “unconstitutional every effort to have any form of prayer in public schools, even if it is nonsectarian, voluntary or limited to reading a passage of the Bible.”

Those examples are not correct, says Charles Haynes, a religious liberties expert at the First Amendment Center in Washington.

“Students can pray inside a public school in many different ways,” Haynes said, adding they can pray alone or in groups before lunch or in religious clubs, for example.

That’s not all. The authors then claim that the Supreme Court ruling in Bowers, striking down Texas’ sodomy law, means it’s more likely that courts and not legislatures will decide issues of gay marriage.

LaClair sees a meta-bias behind all this:
“All the statements for the most part were trying to lead the reader in one direction and not giving a fair account of everything,” he said.

Oh, and this isn’t the first time LaClair has found religious bias at his school.

The Center for Free Inquiry, the nation’s top advocacy group for humanist rights, blew the whistle on the book and publisher Houghton Mifflin.

Note: Here in Tejas, Houghton Mifflin has a bad reputation for kowtowing to the wingers amongst state school textbook reviewers. I’m not a schoolparent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if “American Government” is floating around many a school district hear. That’s because HM is one of the four biggest publishers of K-12 school textbooks, and Texas is the second-largest school textbook market in the country, followed by No. 3 Florida. The entire market has more than $4 billion in sales.

Beyond that, here in Texas, HM has had the worst error rate in recent years among school textbooks:
All had some errors, but Houghton Mifflin Co., one of the leading educational publishers in the U.S., had 86,026 errors in the series of books it submitted to the state. That was 79 percent of all the errors that were discovered.

But, HM doesn’t care, between Religious Right-pandering and errors, as long as it gets a cool $1 bil or so off those school textbooks.

Ted Rall takes McCain to the woodshed

Ahh, yes, who could forget Schmuck Talk Express™ selling out his alleged principles in his previous presidential campaign and elsewhere?

“I hate the gooks,” he said in 2000. Is he privately saying, “I hate the hajjis” now?

Sucking up to South Carolina rednecks over the Confederate battle flag, then later saying he hadn’t been honest enough about how much of a suck-up he wanted to be.

Belatedly learning that Martin Luther King Jr. was a “transcendent figure,” more than a decade after originally opposing an MLK holiday. (What’s he think about Cesar Chavez right now?)

Anyway, read the full column for more.

American needs to can somebody – preferably CEO Arpey

And Planebuzz probably has it right: American CEO Gerald Arpey needs to go. Between not having a top exec speaking about this right away, through letting its corporate impression that American was being picked on lay out to rot in the sun, through finally using MARKETING exec (Dan Garton, American Airlines' executive vice president of marketing,) to face the heat, up to Arpey not having a press conference of his own before leaving Los Angeles to come back to DFW, this has been an AA clusterfuck.

I guess Arpey has another chance to redeem himself, or another chance to put his neck in the noose, dependent on whether your glass is half-empty or half-full. Per The Dallas Morning News airline blog, American could face a a second round of Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness compliance audits, according to Garton):
“My understanding is there were two phases of that audit and there will be additional audits of previously issued airworthiness directives. I guess that would be called Phase II.”

As for Arpey getting stranded in LA (poetic justice), why didn’t he cancel his conference in L.A. in the first place if he knew this was coming down the pike?

Meanwhile, American’s unions are a bunch of hugely unhappy campers.

At the same time, the executive performance bonuses Mitchell Schnurman mentions? I really don’t see how the board at American parent AMR can justify them.

Geez, it is not going to be a good summer to vacation out of D/FW Airport, is it? The only thing that could make it worse is a strike this summer.

Of course, Southwest doesn’t offer a great option at Love right now, either.

Lost leg and lost brains – Political cluelessness

I am not denigrating the courage of career Marine Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson , who is returning to Iraq after having his lower left leg amputated. Nor am I denigrating his stereotypical Marine loyalty to the Corps.

I am challenging his political and international affairs brainpower, though:
“This is where we were 232 years ago as a new nation,” he once said. “Now they're starting a new nation, and that's one of my big reasons for coming back here.”

No, we did not have multiple killing-level religious conflicts 232 years ago. No, we did not have central government so weak that the Articles of Confederation would seem like the acme of centralized government. No, we did not have rampant daylight kidnappings. No, we did not have shakedowns and bribery for government services. No, we did not have neighboring countries trying to manipulate factions in a civil war.

Other than that. Sgt. Gibson, yes, Iraq 2008 is exactly like America 1776. Congraluations for chugging a double shot of Bush Kool-Aid.

Hypocrisy alert – Randi Rhodes and Clear Channel

She’s definitely not a hypocrite for standing by what she first said about Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro, to the degree of quitting Air America rather than apologizing.

But, she will be jumping back in bed with a co-hypocrite. Her old radio station is a Clear Channel station, and is welcoming her back.

It’s amazing how Clear Channel can get bashed for media overconsolidation and stifling diversity, yet actually want someone like Rhodes back.

Irony alert – Focus Daily News

This newspaper says it has “updated” its website.

The date of that story? Jan. 1.

The place for that story? Top of the website.

The editor for the newspaper listed on the website? Gone from there for almost two years now.

The opinion poll on the website? Still about the 2006 Texas governor’s race.

American lies on FAA exposed

American Airlines’ claims that wiring problems that grounded 1,000 flights yesterday and about 500 today aren’t serious is pure bullshit.. The Federal Aviation Administration says shorts in the wiring at question could cause a fuel-tank explosion similar to that on the infamous TWA Flight 800.

American, you remember TWA, don’t you? The airline you acquired a few years back?
The explosion of TWA Flight 800 off New York's Long Island that killed all 230 people aboard in July 1996 was blamed on fuel vapors ignited by wiring. But it was a Boeing 747, not an MD-80, and investigators believe the disaster involved different wiring from the bundles now under scrutiny.

Brian Stirm, an aircraft-maintenance expert at Purdue University, said airlines had plenty of time for the inspections and that even an untrained mechanic could spot a problem.

That second graf is the key one, even if the first graf indicates FAA worries might be a little high.

American and Southwest – racing to the bottom for Dallas airline service.

Hypocrisy alert – Schweitzer skeptical of Obama

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has a couple of Barack Obama’s stances on issues under his microscope. First, he agrees with Hillary Clinton that you need a mandate to make national healthcare work.

Second, he criticizes Obama for voting for Bush’s 2005 energy bill while now criticizing Bush’s energy policy.

Problem is, though, that Schweitzer is OK with dirty coal, even if coal-to-liquids can’t meet a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. And, he avidly embraces the Fischer-Tropsch process for coal liquification, and using it in Montana, despite the fact that the whole state doesn’t have the necessary water available.

Feinstein hoist by own petard

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Betty Crocker), who along with Chuck Schumer was key in getting Mike Mukasey approved as Attorney General, is now hoist by her own petard as Mukasey refuses to give her a straight answer as to whether or not John Yoo’s 2001 memo claiming the Fourth Amendment had “no application to domestic military operations.”

Here’s the exchange:
“I’m just asking you, ‘Is this memo in force that the Fourth Amendment does not apply?’”

“The principle that the Fourth Amendment does not apply in wartime is not in force,” Mukasey replied.

“That’s not the principle I asked you about,” Feinstein countered. The memo referred to domestic military operations, she said.

“There are no domestic military operations being carried out today,” Mukasey replied.

“I’m asking you a question. That's not the answer.” …

Finally, Mukasey responded, “The Fourth Amendment applies across the board whether we’re in wartime or peacetime. It applies across the board.”

But, Mukasey then said he didn’t think the Yoo memo had focused on the Fourth Amendment.

I’ve said before, Dianne Feinstein’s political stances would be wonderful if she were a Democratic senator from, say, Oklahoma or Alabama. They would be solid if she were a Democratic senator from Ohio or Missouri.

But, she’s a waste, in essence, as a Democratic senator from California.

Waxman subpoenas EPA over California CO2 waiver denial

Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wants materials from the Environmental Protection Agency he claims show discussions with the White House before denying California’s request for a waiver to regulate carbon dioxide emissions of vehicles.

Well, if you’ve seen my review of “Censoring Science,” you have no doubt this happened.

You also have no doubt that, before Jan. 20, 2009, Henry Waxman isn’t getting Document 1.

First, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson will cite executive privilege. Second, he’ll cite California’s suit over the issue. That actually has more legal bearing, but the first issue won’t hold up, and California will ask for the documents in the trial.

Why I question merit pay for teachers and principals

A Carroll ISD principal has resigned. Why?

Allegations of cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Texas’ standardized test battery.
Last week, officials at Texas Education Agency confirmed that the investigation into testing practices at the highly rated elementary school was related to the March administration of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

Andra Barton was principal at Old Union Elementary School, one of 11 in the district rated as “exemplary” by the Texas Education Agency. Given that TEA’s merit pay plans are weighted heavily toward TAKS scores, this should give the agency pause — but probably won’t.

American wiring woes continue to worsen

After canceling more than 1,000 flights Wednesday, American is scrubbing another 900 today. And yet more flights could bite the dust tomorrow.
Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said late Wednesday afternoon that 60 planes had been cleared to fly, 119 were being worked on, and 121 planes had not yet been inspected.

And, oh, yes, it’s having an impact on the American bottom line already. Parent company AMR dropped 11 percent on the Street Wednesday.

And, like Southwest Airlines, this has to be a longer-term trust factor for the flying public:
Airline executives said they thought they had fixed the wiring two weeks ago, when they canceled more than 400 flights to inspect and in some cases fix the shielding around the wires in their MD-80 aircraft.

But this week, Federal Aviation Administration inspectors, who have been conducting stepped-up surveys of airline compliance with safety rules called airworthiness directives, said 15 of 19 American jets they examined flunked. That left the airline no choice but to ground all 300 of its MD-80s, the most common jet in American's 655-plane fleet.

So, on random inspection, 75 percent of American’s work flunked? Score one, belatedly, for the FAA getting religion on getting more hands-on with maintenance compliance.

Oh, and this can’t help American’s future image with the FAA, or with the more savvy part of the flying public: Crying that the FAA changed the regulatory tables. Nice.

But, it certainly won’t be just American and Southwest Airlines in the FAA limelight in the longer haul.

Midwest Airlines also grounded planes over wiring harnesses today.

The biggest problem with the Senate housing bailout bill?

Besides all the ones mentioned in this and previous stories? There’s no linkage with regulatory reform. Ditto for a somewhat different bill working its way through the House.

Given that what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is pushing for is NOT reform of the financial sector, but yet more dereg of the type that got us to where we’re at now, Democrats will either:

A. Be taken for a walk down the primrose path;
B. Willingly be DLC Democrats one more time and avidly sign up for yet another financial deregulation package.

My vote is for a mix, weighted 75-25 to the “B” side.

Hypocrisy alert – McCain on bipartisan campaign reform

Of course, the finger could actually be pointed at a lot of supporters of McCain-Feingold, not just its Schmuck Talk Express™ coauthor. But, yeah, it is more “bipartisan-ness” hypocrisy on Schmuck Talk’s part.

Point is, two years ago, over at Daily Kos, there were plenty of Dems there perfectly OK with what Congressional Dems were proposing in the way of public campaign financing — a “reform” that no way, no how, would give any third-party candidate public financing.

I’d rather have the hypocrisy we have now, thank you very much.

Note to Shoemaker and Polings on measles deaths

Per Doctors without Borders, 500,000 children in the world die from measles every year.
Each year, 30 million children contract measles and about 500,000 die from it. Measles is a major cause of child mortality in developing countries because effective immunization programs are not in place. In response to outbreaks, Doctors Without Borders conducts mass vaccination campaigns targeting all children between 6 months and 15 years of age.

Hope you like adding to the total here in the U.S., despite an effective immunization program being in place, Shoemaker & Associates.

April 09, 2008

Pander alert AND hypocrisy alert – Obama silent on Olympics for Chicago

Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton, hits the Daily Double on the politics of non-change today.

Clinton actually has a leg up on one progressive stance vs. Obama. She has called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and he hasn’t.

And why not, pray tell?

Chicago hopes to get the 2016 Olympics. And, one of Obama’s top campaign advisors and close friends, Valerie Jarrett, is the vice chair of Chicago’s bid committee.

Science news – lungless frog, Kenyan wildlife, cautious Green Brown, storm flags up, green Filipinos

Lungless frog in Borneo
A lungless frog is an evolutionary throwback, apparently breathing through its skin. Researchers said small body sizes, slow metabolisms and living in fast-flowing cold water where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged quickly appear to allow this.
Kenyan parks in peril
The current government instability in Kenya is killing tourism. And, the loss of tourists is threatening a compensation scheme for Maasai farmers living next to the famed Maasai Mara. The tribespeople are killed when predators like lions kill their livestock, but now the government can’t afford it. It also can’t afford to pay anti-poaching patrols inside the reserve.
Gordon Brown wants biofuels addressed
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants biofuels’ effects on world food prices addressed at the next G8 summit. Brown notes it’s threatening to roll back developed-world work in increasing growth in the developing world.
Batten down the Gulf hatches
Your first Atlantic hurricane forecast: Fifteen named tropical storms, with eight becoming hurricanes, four of them major – Category 3 or higher. That’s above the historical average of 9.6 tropical storms, 5.9 and 2.3 major ones.
“Based on our latest forecast, the probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the US coastline is 69 percent compared with the last-century average of 52 percent,” said Phil Klotzbach, a scientist at the University of Colorado. “We are calling for a very active hurricane season this year, but not as active as the 2004 and 2005 seasons.”

Is an election-year Katrina possible?
Philippines smarter than Shrub
Or more conscientious. Filipino schoolchildren will now learn about global warming. It’s going to be part of the national school curriculum, something that our Preznit will never add to No Child Left Behind (in the rising seas).

Take THAT Bill Gates – Yahoo looks at AOL

Yahoo is getting closer to a deal with AOL to combine Internet operations.
The possible Yahoo-AOL tie-up is part of a threefold plan by Yahoo to present shareholders with an alternative to Microsoft's unsolicited offer. Yahoo would also propose repurchasing billions of dollars of its own shares and is negotiating with Google Inc. about an advertising tie-up. On Wednesday, Yahoo announced a short-term test under which it will carry search advertising from Google.

Frankly, I think a full merger with AOL, if Yahoo winds up having to merge or be acquired, is much more in consumers’ interest than an acquisition of Yahoo by either Microslob or Gurgle.

And, as the story notes, the deal makes sense for AOL parent TimeWarner. And, if this deal includes a full spin-off of AOL, I think would certainly clear regulatory hurdles more easily than a deal with either Microslob or Gurgle.

And, if that’s true in the U.S., that’s true in spades if this needs E.U. approval, too.

The story also notes Gurgle owns a 5 percent stake in AOL. I think that should be divested if Yahoo merges with either AOL or Microslob.

Meanwhile, Yahoo is also doing a short-term test of ad partnering with Gurgle. Even if not permanent, it is expected to raise Yahoo’s cash flow, which will let it buy back more outstanding shares, which would then make a Microslob acquisition tougher.

Hypocrisy alert AND pander alert – Hillary sez differs from Bill on trade

Hillary hits the Daily Double today!

So, lemme see …

Hillary Clinton feels its OK to claim that eight years as First Lady amount to this vast reservoir of foreign policy experience, when most of it is riding Bill’s coattails and some is outright lying, like Tuzla and Northern Ireland, but on trade policies, she tries to claim a vast world of difference.

Well from her White House logs as First Lady, we know that’s a lie on NAFTA.

Except now she’s claiming she expressed reservations about NAFTA in 1993 White House meetings, including one she hosted for NAFTA supporters.
Clinton said “a number of people” who served in her husband’s administration “have publicly stated that I opposed NAFTA” even as her husband was working for its passage.

Right. And for 15 years, nothing leaked out.

And, conveniently, Hillary mentioned none of these people by name.

She also conveniently did not mention any detailed areas where she differed with the Slickster. That’s including her not complaining about this:
In 2005, the former president was paid $800,000 by Gold Service International, a Bogota-based business development group, for four days of appearances in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The group supports, among other things, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Now you know why she hasn’t actually fired Mark Penn but just given him a slap on the wrist.

Once a DLCer, always a DLCer.

Bernanke and Fed say we’re up shit recession creek

The Federal Reserve, at its March 18 Open Markets Committee Meeting, without using the R word, said we’re in a recession. Here’s just a few highlights:
Similar stresses were again evident in the financial markets of major foreign economies. However, economic news in these economies was generally less downbeat than in the United States, leading to expectations of greater monetary easing in the United States than elsewhere. The trade-weighted foreign exchange value of the dollar against major currencies declined notably.

Remember when Europe, “Old Europe” of Don Rumsfeld longing, supposedly always came out worse in times of recession than us? Not this time.
In the forecast prepared for this meeting, the staff substantially revised down its projection for the pace of real GDP throughout 2008. Although the available data on spending and production early in the first quarter were not materially weaker than the staff's expectations, many other indicators of real activity were more negative.

Wait … wait … listen for it …
The staff projection showed a contraction of real GDP in the first half of 2008.

Boom, there it is; we’re in a recession.

Now, the Fed goes on to predict recovery in the second half of the year. Possible, but this would sound more believable if the FOMC didn’t claim that the “stimulus” tax rebates will be the engine of this. As Kevin Drum says, almost no serious economist buys this..

But, wait, it gets better, as The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™ really gets the Fed to live up to Bernanke’s moniker in its 2009 forecast:
The forecast showed real GDP rising at a rate somewhat above the growth rate of its potential in 2009, in response to the impetus from cumulative monetary policy easing, continued strength in net exports, a lessening drag from high oil prices, and a relaxation of financial market strains.

Do you really believe exports will continue to go up? That can only happen here in America if the dollar goes even further in the crapper, right? And, if the dollar goes further in the crapper, we’ve got the stereotypically dreaded stagflation.

And, do you really believe in a “lessening drag from high oil prices”? Not I. Three or four times, Bush has jawboned the Saudis about oil production. The times they have claimed they have more reserves, have they pumped them? It’s hugely dishonest for the Fed to not breathe a syllable about Peak Oil.

In fact, the Fed itself admits energy prices will stay up for ALL of 2008, thereby undercutting the claims that the recession will last just six months.
In addition, the forecast for headline PCE price inflation incorporated a much higher rate of increase for energy prices for the first half of the year; as a result, headline PCE price inflation was expected to substantially exceed core PCE price inflation in 2008.

And, do you really think financial markets will be that relaxed by 2009? The only slim chance of that is if Bernanke’s recession does actually have a rebound in the first half of 2009.

The minutes also don’t talk a word about even a bit of stagflation fears, despite worries about inflation being writ large all over the minutes.

Well, that’s not quite true. Richard W. Fisher and Charles Plosser voted against the 75 point cut in interest rates March 18 precisely because of inflation fears. Fisher, in fact, stressed international influences on U.S. interest rates, the very thing that the Fed minutes hint at above in saying that recessionary problems will be worse here in the U.S. than many other places.

But, Fisher and Plosser are being led by a clown who is himself a semi-willing puppet on the chain of Wall Street. So much for the “independence” of the Federal Reserve.

Anyway, the material quoted above is just from the first half of the minutes. Read through the whole thing.

Can Tibet in exile survive the current Dalai Lama?

I say the current Dalai Lama, of course, because it’s a title not a name, and I don’t say “current reincarnation of,” of course, because no such metaphysical event happens. But, the more serious question of what Tibet’s future will be is related in part to how today’s Tibetans in exile relate to the Dalai Lama’s reforms As the story notes:
In the past 20 years, the Dalai Lama has transformed the Tibetan government in exile from the semitheocracy he brought from Tibet to a relatively independent democracy. In doing so, he has invested it with more responsibility.

But, not all Tibetans in exile are comfortable with that. Some can’t comprehend the idea of questioning the Dalai Lama. (Think of traditional Catholics suddenly being encouraged to question the pope.)

Also, it’s not just Tibetans in exile. Many Tibetans, not just commoners but lamas, remained inside the country/region after 1959. As the years go on, even insiders who are anti-Beijing may drift apart more and more from the exiles. It’s been almost 50 years since the revolt and exile.

And, it’s not a moot question, as far as time frames, either. Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, is 72 years old. He won’t be around that much longer.

And, being in power since 1950, he’s the only Dalai Lama, as far as temporal powers, Tibetans under 65 know. Having been recognized as the “reincarmation” a decade before that, as far as spiritual counsel, he’s the only Dalai Lama just about any Tibetan knows.

So, you have the table set for massive psychic shock when Gyatso dies.

And, as far as the Tibet-China history, it’s not so one-sided as one might think. Yes, the Dalai Lama has promoted reforms today, but it required the original 1950 Chinese invasion to get him to basically move Tibet beyond being a feudal theocracy.
The initial People's Republic of China's military invasion of Tibet in 1950 met with high resistance in the heart of the country. The 14th Dalai Lama, on the urging of his elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, proposed reforms, including limitations on the land holdings of the monasteries, abolishing of debt bondage, and other government and tax reforms as a response to the invasion. These were designed to forestall expected revolutionary initiatives of the Communists. However these ideas found little support among the entrenched Tibetan power structure.

So, while the Richard Geres of the world may want to romanticize Tibet, let’s take that with a grain of salt.

As for the U.S., we aided the original Tibetan independence movement from 1950 on. Beyond that, the CIA gave arms and training to the Tibetan resistance in 1956 and until 1964. In usual CIA fashion, it wasn’t enough, other than to give Mao Zedong, like Fidel Castro, invaluable PR talking points.

As for cultural genocide, well, to the degree Communism in China is hostile to religion that may be true. But, if intermarriage is “genocide” or similar, well, I don’t think Han Chinese in Tibet are putting guns to the heads of ethnic Tibetans.

American bumps Southwest off airline front page

Looks like the AA has got its own set of maintenance problems. Potential wiring problems on jets led American to cancel 1,000 or more (updated) flights today after scrubbing 500 yesterday. And, AA said the cancellations could continue tomorrow.

American cancelled some flights two weeks ago, when it found wiring inspections on some of its MD-80s didn’t meet Federal Aviation Administration standards. The new bout of cancellations is due to the FAA finding problems with the initial attempt to fix the problem. No word on whether or not a fine is coming down the pike.

As for volume, 800 flights is about one-third a daily load for American. Given that MD-80s are shorter-flight planes, I’m guessing that a whopping 40 percent of American’s domestic itinerary got scrubbed today.

And, it ain’t good news for the bottom line. The story notes analysts are already expecting American to announce a first-quarter loss of $300 million in two weeks. If the number comes in worse, with the wiring problems as well, the second quarter could be a bloodbath.

That’s not all. Many customers are complaining about the lack of advance notice from American. And, if the average scrubbed flight had 100 passengers, American just inconvenienced 100,000 people. If just 5 percent of them are mad enough to stop flying American, that’s 5,000 customers down the drain.

Greenspan cries over his spilled reputation

But, he’s half right.

Half right in that many Congressional Democrats now lining up to shiv him were praising him to the skies, both just a couple of years ago and during the Clinton Administration.

The point is, many of his decisions were all wrong. But, he wasn’t alone in believing them. Gramm-Bliley-Leach got the support of more than half the Democrats in Congress. So did weakening of commodities legislation in the late 1990s.

It’s pretty hypocritical for Democrats like Sen. Chris Dodd, mentioned in the story, to blame Greenspan now when they were in on the fun in the past.

As for economists now criticizing Greenspan, you have to wonder how much of it is a battle of dueling legacies, or a battle for political influence after Jan. 20, 2009.

Starbucks feedback is good idea

Yes, critics may call the idea stale, but Howard Schultz’s idea of getting direct feedback from the public, via MyStarbucksIdea, as smart business. Schultz built and grew Starbucks on the idea of community, and that’s what the website does. And some observers agree:
Most brands do not put out a welcome mat for feedback,” said Pete Blackshaw, executive vice president of strategic services for the market research firm Nielsen Online. “Generally feedback is viewed as a cost of doing business rather than an opportunity. Starbucks is saying this is an opportunity.”

As for specific changes, I’d love a dime a cup off mine for bringing my own mug or thermal cup, for example. A punch card for frequent visitors? Yes. And, because you have to sign in to list ideas or vote.

And, since you have to sign in to vote on the site, it’s a way for Starbucks to market to you. Since 100,000 other people have already listed ideas, I didn’t think I needed to add to the list.

Verizon helps FBI spy on you for Pentagon

Will you change your cell phone provider to something else? Will you end your landline service with Verizon-owned MCI? Or at least look at options? Here’s how the FBI’s domestic spying works:
Documents show the FBI has obtained the private records of Americans' Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies, for the military, according to more than 1,000 Pentagon documents reviewed by the ACLU -- also using National Security Letters, without a court order.

The new revelations show definitively that telecommunications companies can transfer “with the click of a mouse, instantly transfer key data along a computer circuit to an FBI technology office in Quantico” upon request.

A telecom whistleblower, in an affidavit, has said he help maintain a high-speed DS-3 digital line referred to in house as the “Quantico circuit,” which allowed an outside organization “unfettered” access to the carrier’s wireless network.

The network he’s speaking of? Verizon.

Verizon denies the allegations vaguely, saying “no government agency has open access to the company's networks through electronic circuits.”

Note the nondenial behind the word “open.” Well, no, FBI has to pay Verizon offices a courtesy call on occasion, do electronic maintenance work on occasion, etc.

Of course, it’s not “open.”

April 08, 2008

More bad news for Wally-World and the dollar

Between the following dollar and home-grown inflation in Southeast Asia, the price of imported goods at Wally-World, Family Dollar, Dollar General, et al could start skyrocketing. And, it’s not just China where that’s happening:
At the same time, inflation keeps rising: the Philippines announced that its inflation at the consumer level had doubled in the last five months, showing a 6.4 percent increase in March over the same month a year ago. And weekly inflation at the wholesale level has accelerated in India, reaching an annual rate of 7 percent in the week ended March 22, up from 3.1 percent as recently as last October.

The story notes that in Vietnam, it’s so bad the central bank has had to order businesses to take a certain amount of dollars.

When Vietnam won’t take dollars, you know it’s in the crapper. Plus, because many Southeast Asian countries, again, led by China but not just it, are still trying to peg their currencies to the dollar, their inflation is getting even worse, beyond rising costs in raw materials and food.

Vietnam is among countries trying price controls, but that’s not likely to last. When businesses find enough ways around that, either through loopholes or the old-fashioned developing world answer of bribing government officials, inflation will go even higher.

Wally-World isn’t mentioned by name, but another company is – Pier 1. A Vietnamese supplier is listed as jacking prices on its product 10 percent while noting that doesn’t cover all the 30 percent increase in production costs.

Hey, America, the gravy train is over.

Hey, rich America and government leaders, the bread and circuses is getting pricey.

Yet another reason to not vote either Clinton OR Obama

This time, it’s not about their weak knees on Iraq. It’s not about either one being two-faced on trade issues. It’s not about neither of them calling for a living wage, or a COLA on the current minimum wage.

Instead, while both will debate religion, neither will debate science.

A couple of science-related issues I’d like discussed are on my occasionally-updated Science and Reason Party blog, in my right-hand rail links.

Oh, no, Clinton and Obama can debate religion, as if that will help address global warming. (For those of you who are religious, I’ll remind you of the old anecdote of the couple stranded in a flood, and a rowboat, powerboat and helicopter coming by, with the couple saying “no thanks” to all three because “God is going to deliver them.” Prayer won’t address global warming, human action will.)

And, while the Green Party pushes for more action on global warming, and for getting us out of Iraq, nonetheless, a fair amount of Greens are New Agers, conspiracy theorists, or otherwise, if not hostile to science, dismissive of science outside narrow areas of their concern, or when it doesn’t fit their agendas.

NO to post-January Secret Service for Uncle Fester

Instead of spending $4 million of taxpayer money to allegedly shield him for six months from the outrage of his spending $3 trillion of taxpayer money on Iraq, let Uncle Fester dig into his Halliburton ownings and buy private security. I’m sure Blackwater has a few extra employees floating around somewhere; let Uncle Fester pay Blackwater rates out of his private pocket, too.
“The critical factor is we are at war,” said William H. Pickle, former Secret Service special agent in charge of the vice presidential division from 1998 to 2001, who said he was speaking based on experience and was not privy to current threat information. “We have an enemy who has sworn to destroy this country, and they have sworn to kill both the president and the vice president. So why in the world would we not protect him? It’s common sense. The government and this country owe the president and vice president, they owe them that safety.”

Really? When did Congress declare war?

Of course, if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton get elected, and Democrats expand their majority in Congress, in the name of “bipartisanship,” we will get a bill to provide for undeserved protection.

Fortunately, due to changes in federal law, the Preznit himself just gets 10 years of protection after he leaves office.

Let them eat Iraqi sand.

CBS denies CNN partnership deal – should we believe it?

CBS denies having a newsgathering partnership with CNN in the works. CNN has held talks off and on with both ABC and CBS for a decade, so it could be easy to dismiss this.

But, maybe we shouldn’t, given recent job-shedding by CBS.

Petraeus hearings – McCain becomes New Ager while Cornyn and Graham are wingnut suckups

Schmuck Talk Express™ says “We should choose to succeed.”

Just like that, eh? “Believe it and it will happen,” like some New Age mantra?

OK, Schmuck Talk, do you choose to follow Gen. Shinseki and put 500,000 troops in Iraq, although it’s too late for even that to succeed? Tell us what you’re going to do to actually create “success,” you deceitful warmonger.

Meanwhile, whether it’s a sign of old age in general, Alzheimer’s in particular, or what, McCain still can’t keep his Shia’s and Sunnis straight, calling al-Qaeda a Shi’a group.

Meanwhile, Texas quite-junior junior senator, John Cornyn, wants to almost literally run Petraeus up the flagpole and salute him with this petition:
Please know that we in Texas support you and all of the men and women serving our country with honor. We have entrusted you with a mission and respect the dignity you bring to our country and the job of leading our military in such a dangerous region of the world.

My response?
I pledge allegiance to the stupidity, wingnuttery and head-up-bunghole denialism of the junior senator from Texas, for the me for whom he does not stand, etc. etc.

Signed: Monty Python, at

Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, thinks Petraeus deserves a fifth star. For what? Being a politician?

And, where would we be without the neocomic relief of Joe Lieberman, claiming Iraq has had more political reconciliation than the U.S.

I guess he thinks that in Maliki’s Iraq, “reconciliation” flows from the barrel of a Mao-like gun.

Housing woes continue

Washington Mutual, announcing a bigger-than-earlier-expected first-quarter loss, is digging up $7 billion in new capital from third-party investors.

How bad is it? The Street pegged WaMu’s loss at $344 million; instead, it’s a whopping $1.1 billion. And, WaMu is also taking a provision for $3.5 billion in loan losses.

And, why is TPG Capital potentially pounding sand down a rat hole? WaMu’s second-quarter numbers might not get a lot better; pending home sales fell to an all-time low in February. And, as with WaMu, analysts’ advance predictions were off, on the too-sunny side.
“The question was whether things were starting to stabilize,” said Global Insight economist Patrick Newport. “Apparently they're not.”

Newport predicts home sales will fall by another 5 to 10 percent before picking up at the end of the year, while the Realtors group forecasts sales will remain flat in the first half of the year before rebounding strongly in the second half.

Discount the National Association of Realtors report. The NAR is engaging in nothing but PR, not honest analysis, and has been doing so for months. It’s staking its hopes on the higher dollar limits for jumbo loans recently approved for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

But, as I blogged earlier today on my “nouveau riche” post, McMansions are starting to hit the foreclosure chopping block in many places, too.

Christianity not the only way religion can be harmful

A baby born with two faces in a northern Indian village is being worshiped as a reincarnation the Hindu goddess of valor, Durga, a fiery deity traditionally depicted with three eyes and many arms, as the story notes.

Already, the father has said his daughter doesn’t need a CT scan to check on internal organ development. Then, you have this:
Village chief Daulat Ram said he planned to build a temple to Durga in the village.

"I am writing to the state government to provide money to build the temple and help the parents look after their daughter," Ram said.

Rather than spending money on the temple, instead, spend it on a prenatal care clinic, or investigating if environmental factors caused this birth.

Why does Petraeus hate Bush’s legacy troops in the field?

Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate today he is against more U.S. troop drawdowns in Iraq:
Petraeus told a Senate hearing that he recommends a 45-day "period of consolidation and evaluation" once the extra combat forces that President Bush ordered to Iraq last year have completed their pullout in July. He did not commit to a timetable for resuming troop reductions after the 45-day pause. …

Petraeus said his approach takes account of the fact that security gains achieved over the past year are fragile and reversible, and he said it is intended to “form a foundation for the gradual establishment of sustainable security in Iraq.” But he did not say when he thought that goal would be reached.

“Withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year,” Petraeus said.

What this means, claims of Bush and Defense Secretary Bob Gates aside, is that U.S. troops will stay on a 15-12 rotation rather than a 12-12 one.

I’ll bet five bucks that nobody calls him out on that in the hearing, though.

News briefs – Rush’s commercials more popular than Rush, 1,000 word picture, new magic act of Penn and Bush?

Rush beaten by his own down time
That’s right, Rush Limbaugh, Talent on Loan from a Cesspool™ gets worse ratings than the commercials on his own show. That gives a whole new meaning to Pilodinal Bloviating.

Coleman insights, who did the study, claims that because “dittoheads” (from being hit in the head with a ditto machine many years ago) actually are tuning in during commercials, they’re so anxious to hear Rush.

The sign that speaks 1,000 words
Gee, Terry McAuliffe, aren’t you Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman?

Bush and Penn tag-team on Columbia?
President Bush has given Congress 90 days to pass a free trade deal with Columbia. No word if he has hired Mark Penn, the “I’m not quite resigned yet” former chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Clinton, who got into hot water (briefly) over his open support for the deal, which she opposes.

Speaking of that, no word has leaked out from the Clinton campaign as to whether or not Penn was asked to stop his Burton-Marsteller lobbying for the Columbia deal.

Oil briefs – BP now means ‘Back to Petroleum’ and EIA means ‘clueless’

In 2000, BP said its initials now stood for “Beyond Petroleum.” Not any more. Canadian partner Husky is heavily involved in Albertan oil sands, BP wants to refine sour crude in the U.S., and it’s rumored the company is going to ax a lot of green initiatives.

Meanwhile, the government’s Energy Information Administration expects this summer’s gas prices will peak at $3.60/gal.

I highly doubt we’ll be that lucky. The main cluelessness is that EIA apparently still has an allergy to the phrase “Peak Oil.”

Shoemaker has big fish to fry

Vaccine-chasing law firm Shoemaker and Associates (cheesy enough to work out of a home office in D.C. as well as to write material in all caps on its website) has bigger fish to fry than Shoemaker and Associates.

Shoemaker has now subpoenaed well-known autism blogger Kathleen Seidel, who has been at the forefront of refuting the pseudoscience “autism is an epidemic” heartstring-tugging bullshit of Shoemaker at her blog.

It’s clearly an attempt to quash her, and nothing else. Yet another sign of how depraved this law firm actually is.

April 07, 2008

McCain REALLY doesn’t understand economicsMc

First, Carly Fiorina is an economic advisor of his? The person who ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground, or nearly so? If she’s an economic advisor, Schmuck Talk Express™ really is a putz on economics.

Second, contra people like Joseph Stiglitz, she claims the Iraq war has no effect on gas prices:
“High fuel prices have nothing to do with the Iraq War, per se.”

Raw Story also reminds us of this old Fiorina quote:
“There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore.”

Combine that her voluntarily throwing out this old Schmuck Talk™ comment:
“A year ago, John McCain started calling for a substantial reform of unemployment insurance,” Fiorina replied.

Reform here, would be used with the same Republican meaning as with Social Security: “reform” = “gutting.”

That ought to play really well in the industrial states this fall.

Andrew Sullivan in dreamland

If Sully thinks BushCo officials will ever be indicted for war crimes, at least inside this country, he’s delusional.

Of course, Sully has occupied dreamland for the better part of the last seven years and three months. Why so many alleged liberal bloggers link to him any time he says something that people with more insight have said years before is something that both amazes and irks me to know end.

Climate change roundup – Hansen challenges Big Oil, cataracts, EU pollution

NASA’s James Hanson, the prophet of global warming, says Big Oil is using tactics taken from Big Tobacco to mislead the public.
“Whats become clear to me in the past several years is that both the executive branch and the legislative branch are strongly influenced by special fossil fuel interests,” he said, referring to the providers of coal, oil and natural gas and the energy industry that burns them.

In a recent survey of what concerns people, global warming ranked 25th.

“The industry is misleading the public and policy makers about the cause of climate change. And that is analogous to what the cigarette manufacturers did. They knew smoking caused cancer, but they hired scientists who said that was not the case.” …

While he recognizes that he has stepped outside the traditional role of scientists as researchers rather than as public policy advocates, he says he does so because “in this particular situation we’ve reached a crisis.”

The policy makers, “the people who need to know are ignorant of the actual status of the matter, and the gravity of the matter, and most important, the urgency of the matter,” he charged.

“It’s analogous to an engineer who sees that there’s a flaw in the space shuttle before it is to be launched. You don’t have any choice. You have to say something. That’s really all that I'm doing,” he explained.

Actually, as he has at times before, I think Hansen is being too generous to BushCo officials. They’re not ignorant. They’re willing denialists, and there’s no other way to put it.

Meanwhile, WWF is criticizing EU carbon trading.
Power companies in just five EU nations could reap windfall profits of up to 71 billion euros over five years thanks to Europe's emissions trading scheme, the green group WWF claimed Monday.

It said the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) gives no incentive to move away from the most polluting coal-fired power stations and warned that Poland and other eastern European members were lobbying against a planned overhaul of the system after 2012.

Up until that time, EU polluting permits are given away for free; they’re supposed to be sold after that.

Interestingly, 2012 is when the current Kyoto Treaty expires. The EU isn’t a babe in the woods.

And, climate change may cause more cataracts. Australian doctors think it could also increase some respiratory diseases.

Finally someone gets religious opt-outs of medical treatment right

Renowned medical ethicist Arthur Caplan says prosecute the parents of children that die from not being taken to a doctor, not being vaccinated, etc.

Even if the parents do so on religious grounds, prosecute them, he says.
Parents do not have the right to watch a child wither away while they pray. Parents do not have the right to watch a child convulse in pain while they pray. Parents should understand that if a child is in agony, if a child is slowly dying before their eyes, that they have an absolute duty, the same as any other parent — religious or not — to call the police, an ambulance or emergency services.

One state has gotten that message. Oregon is trying Carl and Raylene Worthington for manslaughter after they let their 15-month-old daughter die from bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection, praying over her while refusing to take her to a doctor, get her medicine, etc.

Caplan says that even if the Worthingtons never spend a day in jail, it sends the right message.

Frankly, I think they need to spend jail time. Not the rest of their lives, but a year and a day.

And, unless they will sign a consent agreement with the state to get proper medical attention for any future children they may conceive, I think both Worthingtons ought to be sterilized.

Will Waxman subpoena Bernanke over Bear and BlackRock?

Will Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, maybe even HAVE TO subpoena Ben Bernanke, The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™?

Well, as more and more comes out about the $30 billion line of credit to JPMorgan to buy out Bear Stearns, maybe the answer is yes. Waxman wants to know why the BlackRock financial management firm got a no-bid contract to manage this.

Well, Big Ben will tell you, Henry, that the depth of the emergency meant there wasn’t time to take bids, even if that further reflects on his already less-than-stellar reputation.
Waxman says he wants to know more about BlackRock's role in managing the money, why it received a no-bid contract and whether the company's portfolio has investments in distressed mortgages or anything that may be in conflict with its new role in managing the Fed's money during the housing meltdown.

A bit more info about BlackRock:

1. It’s 49 percent owned by Merrill Lynch. This gives credence to the story that the Street was ready to get out the long knives for Bear Stearns.
2. Despite a public protestation otherwise, one wonders if Waxman isn’t just barking up the right tree on BlackRock problems. In February, admitting it was against normal company policy to comment on rumors, BlackRock said it had no CDO exposure.

Sierra Club and Carl Pope riffing on Bush?

In what deserves and gets both “irony alert” and “hypocrisy alert” tags, it would seem that Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope is stealing a page out of President George Bush’s “unitary executive” idea.

Except in this case, the “unitary executive” means the individual creative force of Sierra Club volunteers gets united under Carl Pope. How else to explain Project Renewal?

Ditto, “unitary executive” means the contribution dollars of individual Sierra members plays second fiddle to branding dollars from Clorox.

Oh, and there’s another irony alert here. Despite Sierra HQ stressing over the past few years that it does not want to address in any way, shape or form the impact of additiona population numbers, especially from illegal immigration, on U.S. environmental issues, at one time Pope was political director for Zero Population Growth.

Dave Brower is probably turning over in his grave as we speak. And, another irony alert. Before he died, Brower grew more concerned over population growth.

On the coffee table – ‘Censoring Science’

If you want to know just how far BushCo has gone in collaboration with Big Oil and Big Coal in general, and folks like ExxonMobil and Peabody in particular, to censor sound science on anthropogenic global warming and its degree of certainty, this is THE book to read.

If you want to understand how this censoring, while it starts with the attacks on James Hanson, goes far beyond that, throughout NASA and onto the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this book has the details.

If you want to see how this attack came out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to the degree a paper/e-mail/phone log trail was left, this book will connect the dots.

If you aren’t familiar with the major players in global warming denialism, how they stole pages from Big Tobacco’s cancer denialism (ironic that global warming denialist Richard Lindzen, a smoker, denies the tobacco-cancer link, too), and how “global warming denialism” has been respun into “global warming skepticism,” you need to read this book.

And … it will connect the dots on the stellar scientific research of Dr. James Hansen, who should have been at Stockholm last December with Al Gore and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change head Rajendra K. Pachauri as the third Nobelist, a voice sounding the alarm on global warming for 20 years.

Author Mark Bowen, with a Ph.D. in physics himself, knows the value of free scientific discourse. That, along with the career and achievements of Hansen himself, intertwine in this book.

How bad is the attack on science? NASA’s mission statement used to include the phrase, ‘To understand and protect our home planet.” In late 2006, that phrase was removed, about the time NASA Administrator Michael Griffin started machete-whacking the budget for Earth science.

Local TV going the way of the newspaper?

It would seem so, given the ad drops, viewer drops and now, the job-slashing, that’s hitting local network affiliate stations.

Outside of Baltimore, CBS is seeing cuts at network-owned affiliate stations in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. The story says no order came out of HQ for this, but did note these were allegedly low-performing stations. CBS as a company lost 14.6 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Contrary to the newspaper article, though, it’s more than fragmenting of the market, or audience. And, yes, I agree that part of this is recession-driven.

It’s more than just the “traditional” Internet, of newspaper and TV station websites, supplemented by the Yahoos and Google News of the world.

Instead, just as blogging provided an outlet for some sort of “print” citizen journalism, now YouTube has done the same for video citizen journalism.

In other words, TV is facing the same future that hit newspapers a decade ago.

Newspapers have adapted, in many cities, by cutting staff writers and hiring more freelancers. In general assignment work, that’s OK. But, as The Dallas Morning News has shown here, when you have freelancers doing things like science journalism, it backfires.

Of course, TV does less in-depth stuff like that. You could keep staff reporters and videographers for investigative work, and start farming out the rest. The flip side of that is, TV stations could “bureau” their news by suburban areas, in the larger TV markets.

It’s coming, in some way, shape or form.

Beyond the world of local news, entertainment is not just going to cable channels. YouTube has more and more of that to offer, too.

And, if this story about Internet 3.0, Hypernet, or whatever you want to call it is true, we’ll see a lot more people leaving the traditional boob tube turned off.

April 06, 2008

On the coffee table – ‘Sellout’

This is a great book that provides an insightful and even-handed look at the use of the word “sellout” by some African-Americans against other blacks.

Kennedy is personally qualified, as he notes near the end of the book. Besides being a professor at Harvard Law and the author of previous black sociology/studies type books, he has himself been a target of the “sellout” moniker more than once.

At the beginning, Kennedy explains that the word is used as part of efforts to maintain racial solidarity. He then notes that other groups use similar tactics, and later in the book draws some parallels to the gay/lesbian community.

But, for groups in general and black in general, this raises new questions that Kennedy tackles.

What are the defining points of the community, and here, specifically, the black community? And, who are the guardians and gatekeepers?

On the former question, Kennedy says it is, without a doubt, affirmative action. He then devoted an entire chapter to exploring how this rubber hit the road with Clarence Thomas.

Kennedy isn’t afraid to point fingers at many black “guardians” for merely engaging Thomas on his point of view, rather than any evidence he may have for it. He links this to the larger problem of black “guardians” writing off black conservatives in general. He makes clear that wrestling with an opposing point of view on empirical grounds does not necessarily mean agreeing with it.

No. 2, after affirmative action, from how I read Kennedy, he would probably say is interracial marriage.

And No. 3, quite relevant today with Barack Obama and Tiger Woods, is racial identity. Kennedy defends an ABC reporter a year ago asking Obama about how he identified himself, in part by referencing Woods’ “Cablinasian” self-designation.

Mercedes going REALLY green

It’s planning the first commercial production diesel-engine hybrid. Imagine an SUV that gets 40mpg.

(Note: Ford had a diesel-hybrid car as a concept vehicle several years ago, but even with the new clean diesel, has not seen fit to bring it to market. The Big Three, geniuses again!)

Mercedes also plans three diesel-hybrid cars. All four vehicles will use its BlueTek four-cylinder diesel engine.

And, this SUV is not sacrificing Mercedes-style power. It’s got a 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds. Plus, it claims to be even cleaner than any of Toyota’s gasoline-hybrid SUVs.

Yes a recession – but … I didn’t cause it

That was surely the line muttered under his breath by Alan Greenspan after the former Federal Reserve chief pegged recession chances at better, or worse, than 50-50 (depending on which way you look at it). But, St. Alan claimed the economy has not entered a recessionary state marked by sharp falls in orders, strong rises in unemployment and intensive weakening of the economy.

Really? Forget to read the March unemployment numbers last week, St. Alan? Or the durable goods orders?

At least St. Alan is honest about his politics:
“I’m Republican and I support John McCain, who I know very well and who I respect a lot,” he said.

Personally, I’ve always thought that the Fed chief should be as apolitical as military generals are theoretically supposed to be. But, Greenspan didn’t stay in power for nearly 20 years by being apolitical.

And, his “genius” legacy? Another gift of Slick Willie. Why Clinton renewed is term in the 1990s, is another one of those DLC ideas I will never understand.

Mark Penn quits - political cluelessness

I’m sure many Democrats who have supported Hillary Clinton would have invented a “Columbia flap” long ago, had they known that would have been enough to force him out.

As most political-watchers know, Clinton campaign strategist Penn got in trouble last week after meeting with Columbian Ambassador Carolina Barco Isaksonon behalf of Penn private-sector employer Burton-Marsteller, touting a free trade treaty with Columbia that Clinton opposes.

But, political insiders have also known that Burton-Marsteller’s client list, many of them antiunion companies, has been problematic for Clinton for some time.

However, Penn will remain chief pollster for Clinton.

Like her dismissal of Patti Solis Doyle as campaign manager, this is months too late for Clinton to catch Barack Obama. And, probably too late to totally undo damage in Pennsylvania.

Project Renewal vs my likely Sierra membership nonrenewal

Of course, per information I received on my election ballot for Sierra Club board of directors, maybe some Sierra top staff want that.

Anyway, what is Project Renewal? For Sierra members like me who aren’t activist members, in a nutshell, it’s a way for Sierra Club HQ staff, especially top executives, to constrain, if not kill off, volunteer activists by “chaining” them to paid staffers and constraining their efforts through circumscribed channels.

Already in November, Sierra HQ essentially killed a Sierra blog about Project Renewal and moved further comment/discussion to Sierra’s own bulletin boards. It’s an easy way to control discussion. And, a clear indicator the folks out in San Francisco did NOT like the feedback they were getting from the field already then.

If you want the details about the project (not at all discussed in Sierra, the club’s glossy bimonthly magazine), you have to go to a Sierra bulletin board and log in.

But, per the Virginia Chapter, here is an overview of Project Renewal. (PDF)
• Separation of policy deliberation from implementation by campaigns and activists. OCSC contends the functions of each were so different they called for separate bodies. Chapter leaders believe ExComs handle both functions just fine.
• Leadership of all national committees and campaigns would be by co-leaders, one volunteer and one staff member, with one held accountable for the committee’s results. This would centralize authority, especially with staff.
• National issue committees to be replaced with temporary task forces and advisors. After an outcry by volunteer leaders, committees were restored, but their placement and authority remains questionable.
• Establishment of an “Issues and Skills Network” that would be “self organizing and identifying.” While the idea has merit, this network has no clear way to connect with or be accountable to the rest of the Sierra Club.

This radical upset of existing club structure was strongly opposed by many national leaders. The Virginia Chapter passed a resolution at its November meeting objecting to the process and the elimination of issue committees. Rarely were members of the national conservation entities consulted by the OCSC as they made these changes. By the close of a comment period in January, 28 chapters of 64 nationally had weighed in and 26 were opposed to the changes.

Then, there’s this,
critical assessment of Project Renewal:
Unfortunately, it does some things just as well as the worst of the business world. It scrubs out the best in favor of the top-down business world’s worst. Like so many poorly led businesses, this organization’s leadership doesn’t know how the place really works.

Maybe Sierra Executive Director Carl Pope can learn management skills from Clorox, with all that greenwash money Clorox will provide.

Boise alleged ground zero for terror attack in West

Hide them thar taters! According to a Department of Homeland Security study, Boise, Idaho was the only western city to rank in the top 10 of 132 cities most vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The survey was developed by Walter W. Piegorsch, a professor at the University of Arizona, with help from Susan Cutter at the University of South Carolina and Frank Hardisty at Pennsylvania State University and assessed the vulnerability of each city to a terrorist attack based on three things: socioeconomics, infrastructure, and geophysical hazards such as potential for flooding or fire, the story notes. According to Piegorsch, the analysis measured not whether a city might be an attractive target to a terrorist but rather how well it could withstand an attack. And Boise is just downstream of a major Snake River reservoir.

Hell, in that case, Sacramento, Calif., (flooding from Folsom Reservoir being breached) and Las Vegas, Nev. (water cutoff from Hoover Dam being breached and eliminating Lake Mead) should rank ahead of Boise.

I suspect pandering/fearmongering to libertarian conservatives in places like Idaho who are none too comfy with DHS over things like Real ID.