SocraticGadfly: 5/11/08 - 5/18/08

May 17, 2008

Steve Novick – A politician you could really have a shot and a beer with

Oregon Democratic Senatorial candidate Steve Novick has a recent commercial out with him opening a beer bottle with the metal prosthesis that serves as his left hand. His primary battle with Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley also shows the dangers inherent in someone 3,000 miles away, in this case, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, trying to be a kingmaker. But, it’s not the first case of complaints against Schumer.

In general, as exemplified in Kentucky, the complaints are that Schumer picks candidates with deep pockets ahead of any political philosophy or leanings that go left of the palest centrism.

Of course, critics could read a little history, like that of 1924 Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis, and realize this is nothing new.

Anyway, Novick’s commercial is here.

And, per his website, Novick appears to have plenty of progressive cred.

Put Washington on the lawsuit witness stand for global warming

Invoking the idea of “public trust” (gee, what a novel concept), that’s exactly what environmental law professor is trying to do, namely, laying the legal groundwork for suing the federal government over failure to adequately take action against global warming.
I characterize the atmosphere as an asset that the people own in common. The government is a trustee of that asset. This approach has a basis in our environmental law. You can even think of it as an attribute of sovereignty ... that is, the duty of government to protect our natural resources. The atmosphere is one of those natural resources. In fact, it’s the most crucial resource in our trust, because it holds everything else together.

She calls it a much more “macro” level approach rather than using existing regulatory frameworks like the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act (as in the case of the recent polar bear listing), etc. Not only would her approach have a broader focus on the number of issues, all hinged on global warming, it would address, because of that, one single suit would target a much greater number of government agencies than something like a Clean Air Act suit.

For more about Wood, a professor at the University of Oregon, visit her website.

More on Texas’ raspberry ants/Caribbean crazy ants problem

I hadn’t heard of these babies before, and even scientists aren’t sure where they came from, but probably the Caribbean, but they're becoming a Houston headache. Anyway, Helltown, you can keep these babies; we do NOT want them in Big D.

The one plus side they have is that they attack fire ants.

Flip sides?
• They bite humans, though not so painfully;
• They swarm electric lines and outlets, as shown, just like fire ants;
• They eat hatchlings of the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken;
• They eat ladybugs;
• Like fire ants, they’re resistant to over-the-counter chemicals.

My dread? Not just them moving further north, but, at some point, a cross developing between either them and fire ants, or them and the large red ants of the desert Southwest.

The New York Times has more on this annoying critter that I hope to doorknob does not move up from Houston.

Texas A&M has biological details about this ant, including video:
Another species of Paratrechina, fulva, has caused great pestilence in rural and urban areas of Colombia. In many cases, they displaced all other ant species. Small livestock (e.g. chickens) may die of asphyxia. Larger animals, such as cattle, are attacked around eyes, nasal fossae and hooves. They have also dried grasslands due to their association with homopterans.

A&M notes these ants nest under almost any object that retains moisture.

And, despite my hopes for their geographical containment, A&M notes they have moved beyond the city of Houston itself and are likely to advance even further. Global warming should make north Texas more and more amenable to them, if they did come from the Caribbean. A&M says moisture will be the main limiter, perhaps more than semi-cool winters.

A public poll argument for raising the gas tax

According to the Washington Post, gas would have to rise to a whopping $5.65 a gallon to seriously impact driving habits. A majority of people who have not already altered their driving habits (the story doesn’t say how much, or if they were even asked that) said, on average, that was their cutoff line.

Phase in a $1/gal increase in the federal gas tax, at 20 cents a year over five years, strong enough to be a stick but not so heavy as to be a club, and you’ve got another leg of federal energy policy. In addition to more money for highway funds, you could also do pass-throughs with the money to get more states to do buyback aid programs for the most serious older gas-guzzlers now on the roads, in the hands of people too poor to upgrade.

That’s part of a larger survey on inflation worries.

Irony alert – Brian Loncar can be his own ‘strong arm of the law’

The Dallas-area personal injury attorney, whom some might call an ambulance chaser, was broadsided by a Dallas Fire-Rescue engine in Oak Cliff.

Even though Loncar was already in the intersection, he’d likely be ruled at fault, should a citation be issued, for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. He’s in critical condition.

Flooding next and ongoing worry of China

When you have a dam with cracks big enough to swallow your fist, I’d say yes.

What if this were the Three Gorges Dam? China built the monster even though the country was warned by outside geological experts the soils at the site weren’t the best to anchor a dam. It also built a dam at a site it knew had some history of earthquakes.

Say goodbye to the Colorado River as you know it

As the U.S. Southwest is expected to heat up faster than the world average during the coming decades of global warming, what’s that mean for the lifeblood of the Southwest, the Colorado River?

The U.S. Geological Survey says it could hit a 500-year low in its flow.

Between that and reduced snowpack in the Sierras, 40 percent of SoCal’s water supply could become vulnerable in the next 20 years. Farmers will either get pressured to sell more water rights to cities (which I contend is illegal under the Newlands Act, which established the Bureau of Reclamation; read Marc Reisner’s excellent “Cadillac Desert” for more on this in particular and Desert Southwest water issues in general), or else pony up the money (which SoCal’s big corporate farms can easily afford) to get more efficient with irrigation, like folks like the Israelis do.

Remember, the Colorado is NOT the Mississippi or even close to it. In fact, it’s closer in size (and geographic setting) to the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers of (the former Soviet) Centra Asia, the Oxus and Jaxartes of Alexandrine fame. (The Amy Darya is shown at right, on the Afghanistan/Tajikstan border; doesn’t that just look like the Colorado Plateau?) And we all know what has happened to the Aral Sea as a result of too much tapping of these two rivers.

The USGS has predicted a 25-30 percent chance of a basin-wide water shortage by 2020. That’s the basis of the prediction, made last month, that Lake Mead could dry up by that date.

USGS scientist Gregory McCabe, the author of the report, is due to testify to Congress next month. Stay tuned.

If Hillary is so good in red states …

Then why does Barack Obama have more red-state superdelegates?

That’s one of several “enough already, Hillary” questions Matt Taibbi has.

That said, Matt is a little bit frothing over this issue. But, frothing aside, the column is worth a read.

Friday scatblogging vs catblogging round two

Yesterday, I pointed to the inanity of giving a cat Elavil for mental issues.

Well, the blogger who does that said, in this cat’s case, it’s to treat urinary incontinence. I double-checked her web link for veterinary Elavil, and sure enough, that’s a listed indication.

But, the first listed indication is for a “mental health condition,” separation anxiety.

To see just how nutty pet owners can be, and how greedy Big PhARMA can be, let’s take more of a look at veterinary Elavil.

First, other indications are for obsessive grooming behavior in cats and dogs. Who determines what is “obsessive grooming behavior”? Why, a pet psychologist, of course.

Don’t laugh. I’ll be getting to that in a minute.

Side effects? The biggest is that it can exacerbate a cardiac rhythm disturbance.

How do you know if your cat has one?

You give it an EKG, of course. Really.
The most potentially dangerous side effect that happens with a realistic frequency is the exacerbation of a cardiac rhythm disturbance. For this reason, an EKG screening has been recommended before starting this medication.

Oh, and there are medicine interactions. Don’t give your anxious or obsessive cat an MAO inhibitor along with Elavil. And, if your anxious cat has needed some stomach medicine health, sorry, that Tagamet doesn’t mix with Elavil.

You think I’m joking about all this? Look at the sidebar of clickable links on that web page. Benadryl, buprenorphine, fentanyl patches, glucosamine (which doesn’t work for people, anyway, so pet owners buying this are suckers twice over), phenobarbitol, prednisone, theophylline and valium.

Three thoughts on this, one with subthoughts.

Pets are as overmedicated, on average, as people now are, it would appear.

No. 2 is that this sounds like an invitation to become a junkie.
Doc, my cat is anxious. What can you prescribe her?
Oh, here try some Valium.

I’m also wondering if vets themselves who get into prescribing psychoactive drugs for dogs and cats, like hospital doctors and nurses, don’t have trouble at times with staying out of their own medicine cabinets.

Third is, how do you pay for all these pet meds, vet visits, vet psychologist visits, etc.?

With pet health insurance, of course, which has nearly 1 million Google hits.

Hey, Kevin Drum. Next time you do Friday catblogging, and you then bitch about lack of health care for people, you might comment about this issue.

If what I mentioned above wasn’t enough nuttery, you can now get a personality test for your cat.

(Answer: Every cat has narcissistic personality disorder, with histrionic subtraits.)

There. I just saved you a shitload of money on a veterinary psychologist. And don’t laugh. Somebody with a title is getting paid big money by dumb pet owners for this stuff. Unfortunately, the ASPCA, which is backing this pseudoscience, also has a similar one for dogs.

(Answer: Every sufficiently housebroken dog has attachment disorder.)

What ‘food crisis’?

Food here in America wouldn’t cost so much, and there’d be more to feed the rest of the world, if 30 percent of U.S. food weren’t wasted. (That’s on top of all the Americans who overeat.)

And both of those aren’t to mention the overprocessing of many American foods. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” right now, and this is so true.

Oh, also, if more Americans ate less food we wouldn’t have a food crisis either.

May 16, 2008

Burka gets gay marriage wrong

Paul Burka, the lead blogger and political columnist for Texas Monthly, has a blog post on the California Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage that is proof positive he’s really a neo-centrist squish. Or maybe it’s an age thing. He is 65, after all, and all the polls show that the younger you are, the more sympathetic you’re likely to be to gay marriage.

Basically, he trots out a variant of “separate but equal” arguments to defend denying gays the right to marry.

Kay Granger tries to explain House GOP political backpedal

Fort Worth Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger valiantly but unsuccessfully tries to explain to pull the wool over the eyes of voters why the GOP agenda is vegetarian this year.

Where is the missing (so far) red meat of guns, God, flag-burnings and abortion? Heck, the GOP hasn’t (so far) even jumped on the California Supreme Court gay marriage ruling.

Here’s Texas’ Little Kay (as opposed to LaPorte’s Cheerleader Kay):
“This may not be the family agenda you expected from Republicans,’’ said Rep. Kay Granger , R-Texas, who was in charge of formulating the “American Families Agenda,’’ the first part of the party’s “Change You Deserve’’ 2008 platform. “It is a change. In the past, the Republican agenda for families was about social issues. This is more straight-forward, talking to families where they are, not where you want them to be.’’

To the degree this is a real shift, rather than eye candy, or bait-and-switch, it’s true that it’s made more difficult by social conservatives diffidence, skepticism or worse toward John McCain.

Speaking of that, not all of Texas’ GOP Congressional delegation is down with the soft shoe. Jeb Hensarling wants some artery-clogging USDA Prime red meat on his plate:
Hensarling , leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), said there’s no concern about where Republican leaders stand. “We are the family party, for heavens’ sake. I have no fear on that score,’’ said Hensarling, whose group of more than 100 conservatives is the largest bloc in the House GOP caucus.

Hensarling has called a special meeting of the RSC for midday Tuesday to discuss “how best to go forward and define House Republicans’’ and keep conservative issues center stage. On Friday, he sent out a memo appealing to members to return from their districts in time to attend the session.

Will Granger, if she crashes the party, and Hensarling get into it? Could be fun to be a fly on that wall.

Saudis offer Bush a drop in the bucket – could this be inflationary?

I think this may actually be more insulting than no oil increase at all.

Anyway, Saudi Arabia has just announced it will raise oil output — by a mere 300,000 bbl/day, a relative drop in the bucket. That’s less than one-half of 1 percent of world daily production.

In the bigger picture, this is probably going to raise Peak Oil questions. Preznit Bush’s groveling aside, it would seem to indicate the Saudis have some level of worry about tight oil supplies being stretched to the inflationary breaking point during the summer vacation season, but that, on short notice, at least, they can’t do much about it.

Perversely, because of that, I wonder if this won’t actually drive prices upwards.

In other words, this piddly increase may lead a lot of people to think, “Is that it”? Not only is it less than half a percent of world daily production, it’s less than 3 percent of Saudi daily production.

If not Peak Oil, to me, that at least says “old fields.”

Buy a Prius.

Friday scatblogging — why I scatblog

It’s a protest against the inanity of catbloggers like the one giving a cat antidepressants.

What effing idiocy.

First, it might be different if it were a dog, as far as my personal animal preference.

Second, while I appreciate and understand the psycho-emotional value of pets, treating them that much like people is ridiculous. Doctors Without Borders could use that money spent on cat Elavil for the Myanmar cyclone relief, etc. A local food bank could use that too. (Some degree of apologiies to the blogger to whom I linked; she said her cat is on Elavil for urinary incontinence. The veterinary Elavil website she linked, however, lists a psychological issue, separation anxiety, as its first feline use; more on this above your head in another blog post.)

Third, this sounds like a spinoff racket for Big Pharma, as well as a direct racket for veterinarians. What next, cat whisperers, or dog whisperers, for that matter, asking patients to do primal meow or primal bark therapy?

Hell, it could be a Big Pharma spinoff for real people, too. Kid won't stop bed-wetting? Fine, here is some Elavil.

Finally, looking for new scatblogging ideas every week stimulates my creativity for blogging here.

Almost every one of my scatblogging posts, with the exception of something like the horse Scat Daddy, has been about serious issues.

Dating American Indian caves by coprolites goes to the “Clovis” issue that’s at the heart of anthropological study of American Indian origins. A challenge to identify wild animal scat encourages people to get m ore involved with nature. My multiple scatblogs about mass transit with the proper acronyms of course touches on fuel prices, the future of mass transit, etc. The blog about burning scat to fire a power plant raises a number of issues.

Even the one about the scat-porn video producer is serious in that it covered First Amendment issues. Especially given the current occupant of the White House, that’s a serious issue.

Friday scatblogging for senior citizens and disabled

Gas price hikes are hitting folks on fixed incomes, like senior citizens and service agencies for them, pretty hard. That includes Auburn, N.Y.’s SCAT Van:
The Senior Citizen’s Aid to Transportation (SCAT) Van, a free countywide transportation provider for disabled and senior citizens, was forced to increase its recommended donation from $3 a day for an inner-city trip to $3 each way to cope with rising gas prices.

Scatblogging aside, an extra three bucks, if all you have is Sociable Security, ain’t nice. Sounds like there’s a market here for a Prius minibus.

SCAT is having gas price problems in Greensboro, N.C., too. SCAT there is a shared-ride system for people with disabilities unable to ride on regular bus routes. Fares are going up a dime a trip.

Beyond that, speaking of senior citizens and others on fixed incomes and/or limited mobility, the rise in both fuel and food prices certainly is a kick in the groin to Meals on Wheels, local food pantries and such.

If you’ve got anything in your wallet or checkbook to spare, help these folks out.

Friday scatblogging – horsing around with Scat Daddy

Who could say Neiiigggh to a horse named Scat Daddy? Just don’t look a scat horse in the mouth … or elsewhere.

One of South Africa’s top 4-year-old Thoroughbreds, Scat Daddy is headed east to Australia for some “stallion in the paddock” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) time. Some well-earned horsing around.

Scat Daddy was good enough to race in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, after winning the Florida Derby. He finished 18th in a 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.

That’s all good enough to get him a stud fee of $16,500 Australian.

All we need now is for him to sire a foal, to be named …

Go Scat Daddy.

Then, three years from now, we can break sacred tradition at Churchill Downs and have a horse wearing advertising on its racing silks.

Courtesy of Go Daddy, of course.

Bush EPA wants to smog up national parks

Squashing California’s attempt to regulate CO2 wasn’t enough. Signing off on “Clean Skies” wasn’t enough. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and Administrator Stephen Johnson want to allow more air pollution in our national parks.

An EPA rules change would average daily air pollutions emissions in and around national parks over a full year, wiping out spikes in air pollution.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t visit national parks over a full year. I visit a specific park at a specific time.
A slew of National Park Service and EPA officials have challenged the rule change, arguing that it will worsen visibility in already-impaired areas, according to internal documents obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

And, it’s being done, the rule change, in a way that will allow more power plants to build near parks.
The National Parks Conservation Association has issued a report estimating the rule would ease the way for the construction of 28 new coal-fired power plants within 186 miles of 10 national parks. In each of the next 50 years, the report concludes, the new plants would emit a total of 122 million tons of carbon dioxide, 79,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 52,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 4,000 pounds of toxic mercury into the air over and around the Great Smoky Mountains, Zion and eight other national parks.

“It’s like if you're pulled over by a cop for going 75 miles per hour in a 55 miles-per-hour zone, and you say, 'If you look at how I've driven all year, I've averaged 55 miles per hour,’” said Mark Wenzler, director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s clean-air programs. “It allows you to vastly underestimate the impact of these emissions.”

Don Shepherd, an environmental engineer at the Park Service's air resources division in Denver, said of the new rule, “I don’t know of anyone at our level, who deals with this day to day, that likes it or thinks it's going to make sense.

“We really want to have clean air at national parks all the time, and not just at average times,” Shepherd said in a telephone interview. “All of our national parks have impaired visibility. . . . It would really be a setback in trying to make progress.”

You know what to do, after reading the rest of the report.

Go to my links list on the right, click on “Earthjustice,” and find out how to donate. Because the National Park Service deserves a good lawyer.

And, as a violation of the NPS’s Organic Act, this is definitely actionable.

Bush goes John Hagee in Israel and ignores history

As if referring to the Jews as “chosen people” wasn’t enough gasoline to throw on the fire of Israeli-Palestinian relations, President Bush also said Palestine was a desert before the arrival of European Jews.

Does anybody in the White House, or better, anybody at the appropriate Cabinet department, who’s not a pure political hack, actually vet any of the man’s speeches?

And any U.S. presidential candidate who does not say that the right of return has to be a negotiable issue from the Israeli side has another reason he or she won’t be likely to get my vote.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert knows that, by this point, many Palestinian Arabs don’t expect to get ancestral homes back, though some surely still would like to.

Instead, they want two things:
• Compensation;
• An acknowledgement of wrong.

Saudi stance on oil prices not an attack on U.S.

Everybody who knows much about the Saudis know about how much they have invested in U.S. securities, so King Abdullah telling Bush “no” on pumping more oil isn’t an attack on the U.S. or anything similar.

It’s not just the U.S. and Saudi investments there. As the Saudi economy grows, more people there will want “made in China” trinkets. Well, if oil prices push China’s economy into recession, that dries up a bit too.

Whether we truly are at the peak of Saudi oil production, or just at the peak of feasible production, we’re at some sort of plateauing point. I think KSA could produce more, but it would stress fields out.

And, is it no wonder our image continues to suffer in foreign countries? When we’re not trying to run roughshod over 98-pound weaklings, we’re groveling to the Saudis to pump more oil and to the Chinese to adjust their currency rates.
Saudi stance on oil prices not an attack on U.S.

CFR paper – is it embargo-lite on Cuba?

The Council on Foreign Relations has issued a formal task force paper calling for a partial end to our embargo of Cuba (PDF). But, it covers broader U.S.-Latin America relations as well. And, befitting the CFR, globalization seems to be a magic bullet of the paper.

Here are some highlights:
1. Free trade/globalization as part of the “solution” in summary/overview;
2. Latinos expect democracy to be social democracy, which BushCo and even Clintonite DC didn’t get;
3. Cuban economy has been growing faster than US in the past couple of years;
4. Still high inequality on Gini indexes in much of Latin America;
5. NAFTA of limited effect in Mexico due to ag subsidy in US, and, extrapolating out, the same will be true in the WTO unless Doha round makes major change;
6. Columbia violence more drug-driven than political now;
7. Failure of Plan Columbia in War on Drugs and shift of pro-drug work to Mexico;
8. Notes that FARC laptops found in Ecuador must be authenticated by Interpol;
9. Migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to US higher, as percent of population, than from Mexico and estimated, in absolute numbers, as at one-tenth of the Mexican migration;
10. Transnational gang worries are growing;
11. Benefits of “circular migration” touted;
12. Deepened ties with Brazil, especially re Doha round of WTO, recommended;
13. Work more with Mexico on energy and security issues recommended;
14. Negating Venezuelan influence by increasing funding for social justice programs in Latin America recommended’
15. Blames Cuba, not US embargo, for many of Cuba’s long-term core problems.

So, it’s a mixed bag of neoliberalism, with a fairly optimistic view of free trade’s power. In short, it’s nice, but it’s not “all that.”

Hugo Chavez officially busted by Interpol on FARC

Interpol confirms that the computers found in Ecuador on a raid by the Columbian government, and allegedly belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are the real deal, were not tampered with by Columbian governmental officials, and have a shitload of data on them.

As the Guardian notes, a summit of Andean nations opens Friday in Peru. The shit is going to hit the fan this weekend. (I could almost consider this an early Friday scatblogging post, but that’s stretching it a bit.)

More seriously, I’m not sure where Peru’s President Toledo will break. And, while Chile is liberal, it’s not left-liberal; it will certainly come down on Columbia’s side.

May 15, 2008

Happy milestone for Prius – buy now or wait for Gen 3

The little hybrid that could has sold No. 1 million, more than half of them here in North America.

The Prius sells more U.S. vehicles than the non-hybrid Ford Fusion. Sales are up 21 percent so far this year, and rose 70 percent last year. Plus, Camry hybrids are up 36 percent this year.

But the sheer demand means you might not be able to get one soon. Surplus inventory has hit a two-year low, letting Toyota cut incentives to just $123 a car. Toyota also plans on raising the base price by $400.

Meanwhile, the third generation of Prius is on its way, coming in 2009.

And, all you can say is, once again, Toyota will have done it again.

The gas engine is supposed to get boosted to 1.8 liters from 1.5, yet fuel economy is supposed to be improved; Toyota says it will boost the efficiency of the battery system. It will also, supposedly, get about 3-4 inches longer and 1 inch wider, but without appreciable weight gain.

On the performance side, that would boost the gas engine from 75 to 100hp. A better electric motor could make the total max hp about 160, as opposed to the current 110.

Economy? Could go over 50mpg, at least in city driving, compared to the current 48/45 city/highway.

And, that ain’t all.

Listening to hybrid gearheads, Toyota will launch a plug-in version in 2010.

It will also, theoretically, use a lithium-ion battery, and raises the stakes against Chevy’s proposed Volt, which has no cachet or history behind it. But, that’s what GM gets, and deserves, for its lame-o history on hybrids. Toyota doesn’t want to launch, though, until it works all the kinks (of which many still exist) out of lithium batteries. Of course, that’s assuming the long-awaited, long-rumored Volt doesn’t continue to have no more existence than as GM greenwash.

Personally, I would like to see a tri-mode car, which has BOTH plug-in and full regenerative braking capacity, and takes advantage of that by boosting the battery pack and electric motor sizes. I would not pay, certainly not a big premium, for a plug-in as the sole source of electric power.

Finally, as the third-gen Prius nears market, Toyota is moving in the direction of establishing this as a separate brand, along with Toyota itself, Lexus and Scion.

This is a hugely smart move in my book. It gets back to Toyota’s hybrid cred on the marketing and sales side, and lets Toyota get a tighter focus on the engineering, design and development side.

Between that and Toyota selling half of its Priuses in North America, it seems obvious that it’s going to start building them here. And, given the paragraph above, I think it’s a no-brainer that Toyota looks at building a separate Prius plant.

And that idea of Prius as an entire brand? What if that included a Prius sports car? Something like this hot new hybrid of a hybrid, looking like a futuristic Prius-Lamborghini sort of offspring described here.

And yes, it’s for real, including a 4-sec 0-60 speed and a 155mph top-out.

Drivetrain is a 3.3L V6 plus two electric motors. Rooftop is a solar panel to power climate control system and such. It’s rated at an estimated 33mpg combined city and highway economy.

Additional pictures of this boxy bad boy at the story link.

The real reason Bush wants to veto the farm bill could be …

The closure of the “Enron loophole” that it contains as an amendment.

The “Enron loophole” is the loophole that exempts e-trading energy speculators from regulatory oversight:
Some argue that the unregulated energy speculation, codified in 2000, can account for $20 to $25 in the jump in oil prices.

Fortunately, the farm bill passed both House and Senate by veto-proof margins.

Frankly, the “Enron loophole” is much more of a benefit to rich people than is the higher-income farm subsidies Bush keeps bitching about.

The Intelligent Designer at work in Greece (warning – graphic pic alert)

A 9-year-old girl in Athens went to a hospital with stomach pains. Doctors discovered she had an embryonic twin in her stomach:
Andreas Markou, head of the hospital’s pediatric department, said the embryo was a formed fetus with a head, hair and eyes, but no brain or umbilical cord.

Markou said cases where one of a set of twins absorbs the other in the womb occurs in one of 500,000 live births.
The usual questions abound, of course.

Here’s a sampling:
Picture via The Telegraph
• How could an Intelligent Designer botch this? And hundreds of similar births in the U.S. every year?
• Did the embryonic twin have a soul?
• Was this “soul-killing” to remove the embryonic twin? Let alone the 11-year-old Chinese girl’s much-larger embryonic twin pictured at right?
• Could the Grand Poobah of ID be so cruel, in the “problem of evil” crux, to let poor people go 11 years (or all their lives, not too many years before this), before having the option of surgery to remove an embryonic twin like the one shown?
• Would people who aren’t hardcore anti-choicers on reproductive rights soften their stances even more if this were presented as a counter-graphic example of the one-third or so of human conceptions that are “botched” in some way or another?
• Will IDers of an conservative Christian bent trot out “original sin” to try to explain away all of this? (And, yes, like Ken Ham, some Xns actually will attribute the cause of anything wrong in our world to original sin.)

Update, March 18, 2010: Abortion in the animal world provides an additional entree to this issue.

Beyond abortion in the animal world, both partially absorbed "Siamese" twins and an even more radical pregnancy development, a teratoma (when a second fetus is absorbed inside the first totally, and early in development) exist in the animal world, as do "mosaics" — when two fetuses "blend" to an even lower level. In humans, people who have different blood tests report them to have different blood types are an example.

Connected is the fact that about one-third of human pregnancies are spontaneously aborted — as noted by a Ph.D. biologist who is also a professed Christian, while still telling fundamentalists that under their worldview, god must be called "The Great Abortionist."

CFR says partially end Cuba embargo

Better late to the game than never, I guess from the Establishment pillar of our “bipartisan foreign policy establishment.” (BPFE, below.)

The Council on Foreign Relations has issued a formal paper calling for a partial end to our embargo of Cuba (Full PDF available at linked page).

Here’s the highlights, per Steve Clemons, who seems to be overselling this a bit, or more than a bit:
1. Permit freer travel to and facilitate trade with Cuba. The White House should repeal the 2004 restrictions placed on Cuban-American family travel and remittances.

2. Reinstate and liberalize the thirteen categories of licensed people-to-people “purposeful travel” for other Americans, instituted by the Clinton administration in preparation for the 1998 Papal Visit to Havana.

3. Hold talks on issues of mutual concern to both parties, such as migration, human smuggling, drug trafficking, public health, the future of the Guantanamo naval base, and on environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as Cuba, with a number of foreign oil companies, begins deep water exploration for potentially significant reserves.

4. Work more effectively with partners in the western hemisphere and in Europe to press Cuba on its human rights record and for more democratic reform.

5. Mindful of the last one hundred years of U.S.-Cuba relations, assure Cubans on the island that the United States will pursue a respectful arm’s-length relationship with a democratic Cuba.

6. Repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which removed most of the executive branch's authority to eliminate economic sanctions. While moving to repeal the law, the U.S. Congress should pass legislative measures, as it has with agricultural sales, designed to liberalize trade with and travel to Cuba, while supporting opportunities to strengthen democratic institutions there.

Why is this only a partial end?

I don't hear Steve referencing the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act (the Torricelli Law), for example. Wiki Cuban embargo for more details about what all the “Cuban embargo” involves.

Let’s be blunt.

Point 3: Our BPFE, not to be confused with BFE, will have a radically different idea on the “future of Gitmo” than a democratic as well as an authoritarian Cuban government.

Point 5: So, Cuba doesn’t get respect until it becomes a democracy?

Beyond that, there’s nothing about an apology for the U.S. propping up Bautista all those years, etc.

If I get time to browse the PDF in more detail this evening, I’ll write more.

Recession coming to UK too

The Bank of England warns about both recession and inflation from Ben Bernanke’s counterpoint, BofE governor Mervyn King. I wonder if Gordon Brown and other British PMs of the past have had the luxury of fudging British economic indicator stats as much as US presidents have.

Meanwhile, major UK lender Barclay’s has £2 billion of newly-announced bad credit on its books. That’s on top of £1.7 billion it wrote down in the first quarter. Officials would not comment on whether it would rewrite its stock through a rights issue or not.

California ruling on gay marriage and ‘full faith and credit’ detailed

There’s plenty of information to be mined from the California Supreme Court’s 172-page PDF of its ruling legalizing gay marriage in the state — and explicitly updating state law vis-à-vis the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause and how it relates to gay marriage.

In the preamble to the ruling, the majority sets up the ground for noting that domestic partnerships are, in essence, separate but not equal.

The court then notes the state does not have a “compelling interest” in maintaining the status quo nor is it “necessary” to serve such an interest.

Specifically, the court notes the issue of “dignity” of same-sex marriage vs. domestic partnerships, the potential perpetuation of the idea of “second-class citizenship,”

Here’s the kicker graf on the court’s ruling:
Although the California statutes governing marriage and family relations have undergone very significant changes in a host of areas since the late 19th century, the statutory designation of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman has remained unchanged.

The court specifically cited things such as changes in a married woman’s legal property rights as evidence of major evolution.

The court also found that California law, as written, appeared not to extend “full faith and credit” to gay marriage elsewhere.
Section 308.5 provides in full: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” This statutory language does not purport to limit the statute’s application to out-of-state marriages or to draw any distinction between in-state and out-of-state marriages.

This stems back to Prop. 22 in California in 2000, which read, in full:
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Nobody had yet sued the state over this, but since Massachusetts had already legalized gay marriage, the court apparently felt this needed to be addressed.

Beyond the main ruling, this will earn the California Supreme Court more “judicial activism” brickbats, I’m sure.

And, given gay-marriage haters’ bid to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot, this thing isn’t over. (The vote to approve Prop 22 was 4,618,673 votes versus 2,909,370. People who think California is the stereotypical “land of fruits and nuts,” or whatever, have no clue about its electoral complexity.)

So, fasten your political seat belts.

The history of the case is that a state superior court ruled California law unconstitutional, but an appellate court reversed that on a 2-1 vote, basically accusing the lower court of inventing a civil right where none existed before.

The state supreme court also said that anti-gay marriage advocacy groups that intervened in the original issue, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom performing gay marriages, had no legal standing once Newsom’s actions had been declared legally null and void.

That all said, given that much of the court’s language explicitly parallels the SCOTUS stance in 1954 on Brown v. Board of Education, I’m wondering how this will play out in California’s black communities.

Many, but by no means all, black civil rights leaders, of both older and younger generations, have said their struggles have been unique (which they have), but unique in a way that gay rights activists have no right to draw comparisons or make linkage.

California supports gay equality on marriage — hold on to your hats in election time

The California Supreme Court has seen the light on the equality of gay marriage. In a tightly split 4-3 vote, the court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.
The state’s constitution “guarantees same-sex couples the same substantive constitutional rights as opposite-sex couples to choose one's life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship,” the court said.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who had tried to do a city-level version of gay marriage before being legally enjoined, was ecstatic about the ruling.
“It's an exhilarating feeling. That’s the best I can describe it,” Newsom said. “At the end of the day, this is about real people and their lives and their families, and it doesn’t get much more personal than that.”

Given the population of California, the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution is now going to get a full workout.

Great – Texas now ‘raspberry ants’ problem as well as fire ants

I hadn’t heard of these babies before, and even scientists aren’t sure where they came from, but probably the Caribbean. Anyway, Helltown, you can keep these babies; we do NOT want them in Big D.

The one plus side they have is that they attack fire ants.

Flip sides?
• They bite humans, though not so painfully;
• They swarm electric lines, just like fire ants;
• They eat hatchlings of the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken;
• They eat ladybugs;
• Like fire ants, they’re resistant to over-the-counter chemicals.

My dread? Not just them moving further north, but, at some point, a cross developing between either them and fire ants, or them and the large red ants of the desert Southwest.

CBN thinks Obama can make real evangelical play

No snark and no cynicism at this Christian Broadcasting Network page. Yes, the media empire of Pat Robertson has at least one person, David Brody, who has an appreciative eye as a political analyst for the start of Obama’s serious election outreach to evangelicals, which is going to get a trial run in the Kentucky primary next Tuesday, and also has an appreciative eye for what Obama brings to the table as a Christian presidential candidate:
I know the conservative policy purists will say that Obama is liberal and therefore Evangelicals won’t buy his “Evangelical speak”. Not so fast. Remember, many people vote based on an emotional connection to a candidate or if they can relate to that person. Obama may need to work on this perception that he is “elite” but when he talks about Jesus and the Bible and the fact that he’s a sinner, it makes him more real and in the process, more electable too.

Also, Brody makes no attempt to “tag” Obama with Jeremiah Wright or anything else.

If Brody’s straight-up perception of Obama from the conservative evangelical world is anywhere near a correct assessment, this will indeed be a boost for him over McCain.

American mid-tech slippage? Why can’t I find this at Fry’s?

Over on the Guardian’s website, I saw a link for what you see pictured: nickel-hydride AA batteries with a twist. That twist is a flip-top that reveals a USB connector. You plug them into your computer’s USB port to recharge. (They can also be recharged in conventional NiMH chargers). Listed recharge time (in computers, I guess?) is a bit slow, at six hours, but not terrible.

I’m not joking when I talk about American slippage. Why CAN’T I find this at Fry’s?

Pistol Cam an idea whose time has NOT come – not yet at least

In the wake of the acquittal of three NYC police officers in the Sean Bell shooting, makers of the Pistol Cam are touting it as a way to stop police hair triggers

The camera, pictured on a police automatic (video at the bottom of the webpage linked above) sounds brilliant, right? It’s a handgun’s variant to the squad car cameras that, fortunately, are becoming almost ubiquitous at police departments above the smallest of towns.

But, I see several physical and psychological problems with this baby.

First, on the physical side… how does that gun draw from a holster? If it doesn’t hang up, what’s the “feel” of the weapon, etc?

Psychologically, this is definitely not the same as a squad car cam. I could see it making officers fearful of being second-guessed. A squad car camera monitors all actions by a police officer. A camera on a pistol monitors just one thing.

Besides, as one commenter at Raw Story noted, the Pistol Cam would not have any info about the run-up to the shooting.

What are you going to do next, mount a CIA-type cam in an officer’s badge?

Great – Texas now ‘raspberry ants’ problem as well as fire ants

I hadn’t heard of these babies before, and even scientists aren’t sure where they came from, but probably the Caribbean. Anyway, Helltown, you can keep these babies; we do NOT want them in Big D.

The one plus side they have is that they attack fire ants.

Flip sides?
• They bite humans, though not so painfully;
• They swarm electric lines, just like fire ants;
• They eat hatchlings of the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken;
• They eat ladybugs;
• Like fire ants, they’re resistant to over-the-counter chemicals.

My dread? Not just them moving further north, but, at some point, a cross developing between either them and fire ants, or them and the large red ants of the desert Southwest.

(Pseudo)-poetry vs turgid prose – Schmuck Talk Express™ vs Just.Another.Politician™.

Over at Salon, Gary Kamiya has a good, literary-oriented preview of Obama vs. McCain.

That said, he is too generous at times in conceding real poetry to Obama. He’s also too optimistic about how often Obama is going to get to exercise “soaring oratory.”

If Kamiya thinks Hillary Clinton ran a “lamentably retrograde” campaign, just what the hell does he think the GOP has in store for the general? Pattycake?

That said, elsewhere, Kamiya has a good piece on how Obama painstakingly constructed his current racial identity.

Kool and the Gang now Coal and the Gang

How sad is it for these aging soulsters to be doing sellout songs for Big Coal? Oh, probably no sadder than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to be doing sellout pandering for Big Coal.

Oh, and doesn’t the Big Coal billboard look like one of those sex machines or a dildo or something? “Big Coal = Screwing Pennsylvania’s Air.” The clouds are courtesy Salon, as the web caption notes. Why?
Two images you also will never see in a pro-coal commercial are pictures of coal plants or smokestacks. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the coal industry is positively in love with the environmental movement. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds and greenery abound in pro-coal commercials.

Meanwhile, the budget for Big Coal’s leading greenwash PR group has gone from $8 mil to $45 mil in just three years.

As for cost? Besides the Greenpiece analysis that I blogged about earlier today, the New York Times says some people compare the clean-coal effort to the expense and difficulty of the Apollo project.

Oh, and the pandering bottom line? Unlike James Hanson (remember, politicians trot out scientists only when they agree with them), neither Clinton nor Obama will commit to a moratorium on coal-fired power plants.

Carbon-capture coal or climate-crashing cheat?

Via DeSmog Blog, here’s the lowdown from Greenpeace on the eco-failure carbon capture could well be.

Here’s the summary:
CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change.
The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at utility scale is not expected before 2030. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not expect CCS to be commercially viable until at least 2050.

CCS wastes energy
The technology uses between 10-40 percent of the energy produced by a power station. Wide-scale adoption of CCS is expected to erase the efficiency gains of the last 50 years and increase energy consumption by one-third.

CCS is expensive
It could lead to the doubling of plant costs.

“Capture Ready” coal plants are greenwash

CCS is being used as an excuse by power companies and utilities to push ahead with plans to build new coal-fired power plants branding them as “capture ready.” Promises to retrofit are unlikely to be kept. Retrofits are very expensive and can carry such high efficiency losses that the plants become uneconomical.
Storing carbon underground can have unintended consequences
The world has no experience in the long term storage of anything, let alone CO2. In Cameroon, a sudden release of trapped, naturally generated CO2 from the bottom of Lake Nyos killed 1,700 people by suffocation in 1986.

You know the financial side is bad when, despite the opportunity for all the greenwash, electric companies still won’t actually touch carbon-capture coal-fired power plants.

May 14, 2008

Cards news – Pujols’ bat made for walking

Albert Pujols is becoming more and more like Barry Bonds without steroids, as he drew his league-leading 12th intentional walk last night. That’s why the Cards lead the league in stranded runners, averaging 8.5 per game.

And, as long as that number stays high, Prince Albert will be kept in the can by opposing pitchers with plenty of free passes.

Will the NFL join MLB before the bar of Congress?

Yes, if Sen. Arlen Specter has his way. And, we can only hope.

Specter said he’s disappointed with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s piecemeal handling of Spygate, the New England Patriots’ taping of other teams’ signals.
“The lack of candor, the piecemeal disclosures, the changes in position on material matters, the failure to be proactive in seeking out other key witnesses, and responding only when unavoidable evidence is thrust upon the NFL leads to the judgment that an impartial investigation is mandatory.”

He wants the NFL to do the equivalent of baseball’s “independent” Mitchell Commission, which, given George Mitchell’s ties to both the Boston Red Sex and Florida Marlins, was no such thing.

Also, Specter claims that Pats ex-coach Matt Walsh, who spilled the beans on more taping beyond the original Spygate issues that got the Pats in trouble, fined and stripped of a draft choice, told him more than he did Goodell.

Walsh claims the Pats also were taping in 2003-05, but that Goodell never asked him about that. Now, why would he not tell? Not trusting Goodell? An ace in the whole against that lack of trust?

Sounds about right to me.

Will Chavez say ‘eff you’ back to Bush?

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez doesn’t have to “explain … its conspiring” to anybody, especially not a Bush Administration that risks looking like Yanqui imperlialistas.

The U.S. is accusing Chavez of conspiring with Columbia’s FARC guerillas against its elected government:
“It will either have to commit itself to using its relationship with the FARC to promote peace or it will have to explain why members of its government are conspiring against a democratic neighbor,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannonsaid in a speech in California.

That’s after a FARC leader’s laptop allegedly, allegedly had info about FARC ties to some Venezuelan officials.

First, Columbia got the computer by a cross-border raid into Ecuador that inflamed tensions in northern South America. Second, although neither Chavez nor FARC leaders have denied the computer’s content, you never know with this administration. Stovepiping evidence is just one step away from planting evidence.

Hell, Columbia’s President Alvaro Uribe could have had the evidence planted before turning the computer over to Washington.

Second, just what does “conspiring” mean in Washington’s mind? Does Dick Cheney think Chavez was meeting with FARC leaders in Prague?

Third, even Bush, while mendacious about oil matters, isn’t that stupid about them.

What’s he going to do, announce a trade embargo against Venezuela and watch oil prices climb even higher? Yes, oil is fungible, but, indirect transport still jacks up prices, as does the worry of instability.

The PGA needs a Texas three-step — and Byron Nelson sponsorship

As part of revamping the FedEx schedule, PGA Commissioner Tim Finchen could create a Texas three-step of the Shell Houston Open, plus the Byron Nelson and the Colonial, between the Masters and the Players.

Oh, and with Hewlett-Packard buying EDS, and EDS already wanting more PGA support for the Nelson, what’s going to happen next?

Internet TV in cars – doorknob help us

And you thought cell phones were a sure-fire prescription for bad driving and accidents? That will be nothing compared to this.

And you know Internet porn is going to lead the hit parade.

Food prices make biggest jump in 18 years

Food went up 0/9 percent in April. Oh, how could energy prices be flat for the month?

Here’s how:
Since gasoline prices normally rise in April, the 5.6 percent increase in gasoline prices for the month was turned into a 2 percent drop after the government adjusted for normal seasonal variations — little comfort to people now paying pump prices that hit a new national record of $3.758 per gallon on Thursday, up nearly 40 cents in the past month.

Beyond the major jiggering with economic figures that Kevin Phillips has documented, this is more “normal” jiggering.

Edwards to endorse Obama — stick a fork in Hillary

The endorsement is supposed to happen at 6:20 Texas time.

Interesting, since just a week ago, his stance was “no endorsement forthcoming.”

It’s big also because Edwards’ antipoverty angle certainly had a target in older working-class whites that Hillary Clinton has said Obama can’t win.

Interior does SORTA right by polar bears — finally

The Department of the Interior has listed polar bears as a threatened species. Of course, the official listing was full of denialism:
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited dramatic declines in sea ice over the last three decades and projections of continued losses, meaning, he said, that the polar bear is a species likely to be in danger of extinction in the near future.

But Kempthorne said it would be “wholly inappropriate” to use the protection of the bear to reduce greenhouse gases, or to broadly address climate change.

So, Arctic sea ice is melting of its own free will, then?

At the same time, Kempthorne was not able to totally deny global warming:
“This listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting,” said Kempthorne. He said he had consulted with the White House on the decision, but “at no time was there ever a suggestion that this was not my decision.”

And, Big Oil still lurks in the background.

Kempthorne’s listing has semi-sized loopholes, too, to keep Arctic oil drilling going, and to “protect” power plants.

That’s why he said it would be “wholly inappropriate” to use this to tackle global warming. It also shows just how much he “consulted” with the White House.

And Kempthorne didn’t address why Interior had to be legally prodded into the decision, and the delays it did.

Bisphenol-A linked to obesity too

The more you read about BPA, the more there is, tentatively at least, not to like.

BPA, whether through its hormone mimicry work or through other means, appears to be contributory to the rise in developed-world obesity. Given that it has been in plastic bottles for baby formula nursing for a number of years, this is certainly plausible.
“We are calling this an emerging hypothesis,” Jerry Heindel of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences said. “Most of the data is in animals and we want to develop some biomarkers that could be used in humans.”

Beyond that, we’re still in the early stages of determining how chemical interactivity has additional side effects.

Edward Jenner: A historical anniversary for vaccine conspiracy theorists to remember

For all the nutbars who refuse to vaccinate their children and even hold “measles parties” (search the blog), and for all the mothers who let themselves be deluded about vaccines causing autism (search the labels), and, outside the U.S., African Muslims who believe vaccination is a U.S. conspiracy to sterilize them, May 14 should be a red-letter day. Two hundred years ago today, Edward Jenner first tried his cowpox virus vaccine against smallpox on a human subject.

Due to Jenner’s invention of vaccination, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eliminated in 1979.

The foreclosure ‘surge’ continues – is Jeff Sessions listening?

Getting less attention from BushCo than David Petraeus’ Iraq surge, the sharp rise in foreclosures indicates this will not be a short or mild recession, no matter how much one (per Kevin Phillips) plays with federal economic analysis numbers.

Year-over-year foreclosures were up 65 percent in April. Almost 1 in 500 homes in the country had a filing in April.

With a House plan to address the home-mortgage situation officially at a standstill in the Senate, this is about to become the proverbial election-year hot potato, courtesy in fair part of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Given how poorly his party has just performed in two special elections in the South in the House, you have to wonder if somebody at the RNC isn’t going to get enough political brains to kick him in the pants.

Could Ron Paul be the Buchanan of 1992 for GOP, even on McCain health?

Especially with former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr announcing his Libertarian candidacy, I think John McCain is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” vise over the issue of letting Ron Paul address the Republican National Convention.

Beyond the major issue of whether he, in a more avuncular way, might be as disruptive a presence for Schmuck Talk as Buchanan was for Poppy Bush, there’s another issue that Dems could exploit.

Who looks older, Ron Paul or Schmuck Talk?

But, who IS older?

Paul, by a few months.

The relatively vigorous, peppy, and even-tempered Paul videoed side-by-side with the not all that McCain could put not just McCain’s age, but McCain’s health at his current age.

Bush hypocrisy reaches new low along with callousness

After saying he had given up golf “for the troops,” Shrub showed yesterday he had given up telling the truth as well.

Without naming names, Bush blamed “flawed intelligence” for leading to the invasion of Iraq. Is “flawed intelligence” spelled STOVEPIPING?

Other lies include claiming he gave up e-mailing while President to “avoid leaks.” No, you did it to avoid an e-paper trail.

With Rove no longer at 1600 Pennsylvania, the lies get more slipshod all the time, don’t they?

Ted Rall rightly goes contrarian on fed money for higher ed

He says (and he’s largely right) that both public and private colleges are awash in money as is.

The implied thought is that ramping up federal money for college, whether a full blown GI Bill for Iraq vets, lower interest and more availability on federally-guaranteed student loans, or bigger Pell Grants, is that universities will just take the money and run.

With Texas in the lead, but by no means alone, in at least partial deregulation of tuition costs, Rall’s right. Here, UT down in Austin would swallow that money and raise its fees another 5-10 percent.

That’s especially true of Virginia Sen. Jim Webb’s proposed new GI bill, which would pay 100 percent the cost of tuition at the most expensive public university in a vet’s home state. Unless Webb attached mandatory price caps, you can see what would happen next.

The “college CEOs,” as Rall calls university presidents, would do exactly that:
Since 1981, when President Reagan got rid of a financial aid system mostly based on grants (which don't have to be repaid), easy credit on student loans has made it possible for any student to borrow as much as he or she needs — or, to put it another way, however much a college decides to charge. It's simple supply and demand; with no downward pressure on tuition, the warlords of college have an overwhelming temptation to gouge.

And gouge they do.

No one seems to question the wisdom of lending tens of thousands of dollars at above-market compound interest rates to children whose employment history amounts to, at most, a year at Burger King. 17-year-old borrowers have no idea what they’re getting into; parents imagine (usually wrongly) that kids’ college degree will guarantee them high enough wages to pay it all off and then some.

In other words, Newt Gingrich’s GOP revolution came to rest not in Congress, but American academia, despite conservative myths and lies about “leftist universities.”
College CEOs who wanted their companies to survive would be forced to recognize the new market reality. They would streamline their operations and reduce wasteful spending so they could cut tuition and other expenses. As Harvard and other Ivy League schools have already begun to do, they’d dip into the hundreds of billions of dollars currently sitting idly and uselessly in endowment investment accounts. And tuition would drop.

Ideally, that’s what would happen if we cut off, rather than ripped wide open, the student loan spigot.

But, because too many Democratic as well as GOP politicians get way too much money from the amorphous “financial sector,” this ain’t too likely.

And, if you don’t believe me and Ted that college CEOs would and will act this way, we’ll sell you some swampland in the nearest college quad.

May 13, 2008

Shrub reaches new level of callousness over Iraq

“I gave up golf to support the troops.” How incredibly tin-eared is that?

It’s no wonder that the Glenn Reynolds, the Mark Hindrakersrockets and other generals of the Fighting 101st Keyboards sit back in the laptops of luxury — they’re taking orders from the top.

What next? Give up mocha lattes at Starbucks? Montecristo cigars? Courvoisier XO?

My heart bleeds, W.

Abstinence-only sex ed coming to Cedar Hill schools

At its May 12 meeting, the Cedar Hill ISD school board got an information item from Superintendent Horace Williams about a mentoring program, one that includes abstinence-only sexual education, that wants to come to the district, with a financial partnership as part of that.

Williams said that Rev. Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (aka “George Bush’s pastor”), and some other ministers, wanted to bring 250 mentors to the district on a weekly basis as part of Project Turn-Around.

“This will go a long way toward dealing with some of the problems some of our students have. I’m not talking about drugs, but about home lives,” Williams said. “They’re not here to proselytize, but to help. Duncanville has had this.”

The school board agenda packet mentioned abstinence-only sex education as

The district would pay half of a program coordinator’s salary, estimated at $35,000.
The possible contracting with the program was presented to the board as an information item.

Technically, abstinence-only is not religious, but, if a Cedar Hill High School kid asks one of Evans’ mentors why they should be abstinent, five bucks says that kid gets a “Jesus” answer.

If I hear the phrase ‘miracle crop’ one more time …

I’m going to punch a credulous reporter right in the nose. I see sorghum is now the miracle crop du jour, now that the bloom has worn off ethanol and has never yet affixed itself to cellulostic ethanol, algae blooms, or hard copies of minutes from Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force.

Yes, sorghum is versatile. And yes, Texas grows a fair amount of it.

BUT. … just a few caveats about this “miracle crop.”

First, it has to face the same competition for acreage as the four grains more commonly grown than it.

Second, sorghum as ethanol needs energy return on energy investment, or EROEI, research, something famously NOT done on corn for ethanol 30 years ago.

The story claims sorghum for ethanol has an EROEI four times better than corn and in the neighborhood of sugarcane. We’ll see. The same paragraph mistakenly or uninformedly imputs an EROEI of 2 to corn, when 1 is the correct answer.

Then, you have this line of gibberish:
Unlike corn, sweet sorghum is not in high demand in the global food market, so its use in biofuel production would have little impact on food prices and food security, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics said.

Well, it IS used as livestock feed. No, there’s no sorghum flour to hit more than a buck a pound at the supermarket, but there is beef to get more expensive. And, if sorghum for ethanol pushes aside corn, then it stays pricey.

And, per Wiki, here’s another problem: Commercial-grade sorghum uses a lot of nitrogen.

Hell, for that matter, Johnson grass is a member of the sorghum genus. There’s plenty of that here in Texas. Why bother with grain sorghum for fuel?

McCain skips another enviro vote

This time, he dodged the Senate’s McConnell-Domenici amendment to the flood control bill, that would have opened up ANWR. That’s Schmuck Talk Express™ for you, a day after giving a pale pastel green speech in the Northwest.

Fuel bills hit Southwest as banks sign off

The Dallas-based airline has mortgaged 21 planes to raise $600 million for “general corporate purposes.”
In a report Monday, industry analyst Ray Neidl of Calyon Securities called Southwest “the gold standard among airlines when it comes to liquidity.”

Well, we know the truth. Southwest has had a bunch of old fuel hedges expire in the last year or two. It needs the liquidity for that reason, as jet fuel costs have been climbing even more rapidly than gasoline.

So, Southwest isn’t expecting any near-term easing of oil prices.

My question.

Given the amount of airplanes, many owned in fractional shares by various parties, sitting on California desert floors, what is an airplane really worth as collateral? I’m thinking other airlines wouldn’t come close to the nearly $30 million per that Southwest got from its seven lenders.

Dallas PD pencil-whips tickets in own favor

Imagine getting a traffic ticket for one violation, then getting a demand letter with additional citations and fines. In Dallas, you don’t have to imagine .

As the ACLU of Texas notes in the story, this sounds like a pretty clear-cut Sixth Amendment violation, preventing people from knowing charges against them. And, since the Supreme Court has said police departments can arrest you for moving violations such as seat belt offenses, this qualifies as “charges.”

The practice would also appear to be illegal, tampering with a government document.

Questions abound.
• How common is this?
• Does Dallas PD’s internal affairs division have an effective way to monitor this? The manpower to do so? The willpower to do so?
• Why has no cop ever been fired over this? How is this different from writing blank tickets?
• Will Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins consider filing criminal charges?

• It’s hard to detect, so who knows?
• On the first question no, and the second, probably no. The third, definitely no, if it’s just sending out a memo about the issue, and not even considering the idea this is unconstitutional and illegal.
• Given that Dallas officers have been fired for writing blank tickets and filling in all charges later, a “charge add-on” ticket seems no worse. Chief David Kunkle needs to get a grop.
• Unknown and unlikely — if Kunkle acts.

Other questions:
• How common is this elsewhere in the Metroplex? Texas? The nation?
• What preventative measures do other police departments have?

No there doesn’t ‘have to’ be life in space – nor a manned trip to Mars

What I’ve called “secular metaphysics” or similar in the past, when on the lips of Carl Sagan, is now on the lips of our latest space shuttle astronauts:
“If we push back boundaries far enough, I’m sure eventually we’ll find something out there,” said Mike Foreman, a mission specialist on the Endeavour.

Unfortunately, Japanese astronaut Takao Doi agrees that “life like us must exist.”

NO. That’s where the whole set of Drake equations behind SETI is like holding pudding in your hands. We simply don’t have enough empirical evidence yet to make anything close to a stab at most the Drake parameters. To quote Wolfgang Pauli, SETI enthusiasts who ramp the Drake numbers up high “aren’t even wrong.”

But Foreman sounds the soul of rationality next to the quasi-mystical Gregory Johnson.
“I personally believe that we are going to find something that we can't explain. There is probably something out there but I’ve never seen it.”

“Believe” would be the right word indeed for this.

Fellow astronaut Dominic Goree trots out a twisted analogy, claiming that Columbus, et al, didn’t know what was awaiting them, either.

Wrong in so many ways. First, Columbus et al were looking for spices, not alien life. Second, especially once Dieu got around the Cape of Good Hope for Portugal in 1487, the Portuguese, at least, knew exactly what was awaiting them. Most Spaniards laughed Columbus out of court for underestimating the size of the world, but Ferdinand and Isabella had to do something.

Oh, and working on a trip to bring Martian soil samples back to Earth? Great idea. Seeing the trip as prep for a manned journey to Mars? Stupid idea.

Morning News needs better financial analysts

The Snooze’s go-to business analysts said they liked Hewlett-Packard’s takeover of Electronic Data Systems.

Well, the Street didn’t like it. H-P got pummeled today over the final price of $13.9 billion for the takeover, first reported in rumors at a flat $13 bil.

Heck, the price has gone up by the hour. The Snooze first priced it at $12.6, but that wasn’t including assumed debt.

And, integrating the Ross Perot-type button-down culture of Plano with that of Palo Alto, Calif., sounds “interesting” at least and near-impossible at worst.

Of course, the “integration” will be easier after H-P whacks a number of EDS jobs.

That, in turn, won’t make the recession in D/FW any lighter.

Bye-bye Belichick and hello Vegas lawsuits?

Advance word on the Matt Walsh-Roger Goodell tete-a-tete today suggests that the New England Patriots not only DID tape other teams’ offensive signals in 2000-2002 (the story forgets to mention Super Bowl XXXVI opponent Los Angeles Rams, taped in a week-11 2001 regular season game), but were analyzing signals, based on game action of the ensuing play being spliced with signals.

From what I’m hearing, Goodell has enough goods to lower the boom on Belichick hard enough for at least a suspension.

And, I think he has to.

Question is, since the NFL does not have an antitrust exemption, unlike Major League Baseball, is the league now open to a shitstorm of lawsuits for fraud, false advertising, etc? And, I’m not just talking about Joe Fan, either.

What about Vegas sports houses?

I mean, if any of the games we know the Pats taped had results that were way off the book numbers on W/L, spread, over-under, etc., we’re talking millions of dollars, potentially.

Beyond that, the irony of sports bookmakers suing the NFL would probably be lost on Goodell as he tore out his hair.

I’ll have more on this later, as it becomes more clear what all Walsh revealed.

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Post does Veep prognostication – and fails (updated)

Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray take their guesstimate shots at who Barack Obama and John McCain will name as vice presidential nominees.

The duo stumbles from the start by claiming polls show Schmuck Talk Express™ doing better against Obama than against Clinton, so much better than he wouldn’t need to consider Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whom they rank only No. 4 among the top five.

The two ignore, or are unaware of, the fact that in Florida, Democrats now outnumber Republicans among registered Hispanic voters. (The story’s worth a read in and of itself, as Florida Congressional races will also be affected, including the possibility of toppling some Cuban-American Republicans.)

And, since Florida has more electoral votes than either Tim Pawlenty’s Minnesota or Rob Portman’s Ohio, Crist has to be considered No.1.

Of course, this bungling on analyzing McCain’s potential choice, and needs, is nothing compared to Cillizza’s and Murray’s bungling on the Democratic side.

In a nutshell, no way in hell Hillary Clinton is running with Obama. She would be 69 after two Obama terms, and yes, age bias is greater against women than men. Second, the way she’s running out the string would almost indicate she hopes Obama loses the general, so she can bring back the “electability” argument in 2012.

As for other choices? Sam Nunn’s a retread and probably wouldn’t help that much with Southern white voters.

That said, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland would help indeed with Midwestern white voters.

And, why was Big Bill Richardson not even on the list? He brings in the Hispanic vote, Western states vote (especially with Libertarian Bob Barr in the race, much of the West will be in play), and offers foreign policy gravitas.

That said, the Post writers do get it right on Obama’s best option, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Putting a woman, a governor and the leader of a more conservative Midwestern state on the ticket covers a lot of bases. I said this months ago.

To cover Hispanics and the West, Obama could make an advance announcement that Richardson will be his Secretary of State-designee, then.

Gas prices literally spin out of control for small-town stations

Old rotary-dial gas pumps can’t go over $3.99, so what’s a mom-and-pop type independent station in rural Texas to do?

Yes, there’s still pumps like this around, especially in more sparsely populated rural areas well off the beaten track. I’ve seen them in places in West Texas.

And, no, this isn’t a totally isolated problem. It’s estimated about 5 percent of the nation’s 170,000 gas stations have this problem. Also, many of them can’t record a total sale over $99.99. For a big-tank pickup or SUV, let alone an RV, a $100 fill-up is the norm now.
At Chip Colville’s Chevron station in this eastern Washington town, where men in the family have pumped gas since 1919, three stubby, gray pumps were installed when gas was less than $1 a gallon. They top out at $3.999, only 30 cents above the price of regular gas at Colville's station.

“In small towns, where you don't have the volume, there’s no way you can afford to pay for the replacements for these old pumps," Colville said. “It’s just not economically feasible.”

The problem is worse in extremely rural areas, where “this might be the only pump in town that people can access,” said Mike Rud, director of the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association.

And, a new pump ain’t cheap — try $10,000-$15,000. And, if you can afford it, you’re going to be waiting months to get it.

There are less expensive options, for at least the per-gallon price. A kit will let the maximum price be upgraded to $4.99, for about $650. And, as fewer and fewer of these beasties continue to survive, there’s fewer and fewer people to service them.

North Dakota, where much of the state is sparsely populated, is allowing gas station owners to bill by the half-gallon, as long as they inform customers the actual price will be double what the pump says.

That will also help — for now — pumps that won’t go over $99.99, as they can now, in effect, hit $199.98.

But, it may not be worth it:
“If gas is the profit driver and you are one of those guys with the old pumps, you're either evolving or getting out,” said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group that represents about 115,000 stores that sell gasoline.

“If you’re just that kind of image of the ’50s gas station where you have a conversation, fill up and have a cup of coffee, that's in the movies.”

Well, Mr. Lenard, a few people in rural places may have that nostalgic love still, just like the farmers in North Dakota or ranchers in west Texas that visit such pumps.

But, as more and more people move off those farms and ranches, they have less need for those stations.

Speaking of that, I wonder how many farmers and ranchers are cheating on blue diesel use. C’mon, you know it’s happening.

Broken record time – Bush to bitch to Saudis about oil again

Shrub’s repeated haranguing of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah over high oil prices get to the whole crux of “Is Bush that stupid” vs. “Is Bush that much a liar” question that we’ve seen in Texas for more than a decade, long before he ran for president.

In this case, is he so stupid to not believe in Peak Oil? Does he believe the Saudis actually can pump that more? Has he forgotten how much they have invested in American securities?

Or does he believe the American public will still readily believe a “blame the Arabs” spiel?

Meanwhile, the AP writer appears ignorant of KSA’s possible bumping up against Peak Oil:
Saudi Arabia has considerable additional production capacity. It’s pumping a little over 8.5 million barrels a day, compared with about 9.5 million barrels a day two years ago, and has acknowledged the ability to produce as much as 11 million barrels a day.

The “11 million” is a lie told for geopolitical reasons until proven otherwise. Second, nobody questions whether KSA has actually lost control over the whole situation.

Meanwhile, the GAO and some lawmakers that continuing to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at this time, even if a small physical factor in ramping up oil prices, may be a big psychological one.

Texas lies over Eldorado Mormons grow – put down the shovel, CPS

The latest lie is that Mental Health Mental Retardation staff never objected to separating even special-needs children from their mothers. That’s despite this:
Removing children from a polygamist sect's West Texas ranch was unnecessary and traumatizing, several mental health workers sent to aid the families wrote.

In a set of unsigned written reports, workers with Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center said that the Child Protective Services investigation of suspected child abuse and its decision to ask for state custody of all 464 children punished mothers who appeared to be good parents of healthy, emotionally normal kids.

First, you know you’re in for chickenshit, stonewall, and “story management” time when someone, in this case, CPS, says it will only accept and respond to submitted written questions.

That’s followed by this wundebar comment from CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins:
“We have received no complaints from Hill Country MHMR. However, we will be looking into what are obviously very serious allegations, and sharing these allegations with other agencies as appropriate.”

Since the statements are unsigned, and submitted by individuals, I guess they don’t technically count as “complaints from Hill Country MHMR.” Man, CPS looks stupider the more this drags on.

Oh, threatening to arrest an MHMR employee definitely is not good PR.

And, aren’t we at the one-month count on Rick Perry as AWOL on this issue?

Texas electric dereg leads to bait and switch

National Power promised folks electricity at 11 cents a kilowatt hour. Now it’s reneging. And it all appears legal. One customer says not only should he be commended for avoiding a cancellation fee with his previous electric company, but National Power ought to pay him one:
“They want to charge $300 for an early termination fee, but they’re not offering to pay a $300 termination fee,” Tony Wright said.

Hey, Tony, you live in Texas, remember?

Schmuck Talk Express™ talks climate change

Per his big climate-change speech, with excerpts courtesy Andrew Revkin’s New York Times blog, John McCain is not a global warming denialist. That said, he’s also not a catastrophist.

The question is, which he still hasn’t really answered, how far short of a catastrophist is he? While nobody would expect him to be as focused on this as Al Gore (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton aren’t, after all), just where does it rank as a policy issue?

On a 10-point scale of importance, what is global warming for Schmuck Talk? I’ll safely say it’s no more than a 4. Quite possibly as low as 2, or at least 2.5 if we make finer gradations.

He uses empirical evidence to talk about the reality of global warming, no doubt.

But, he undercuts himself on the carbon cap issue:
For the market to do more, government must do more by opening new paths of invention and ingenuity. And we must do this in a way that gives American businesses new incentives and new rewards to seek, instead of just giving them new taxes to pay and new orders to follow. The most direct way to achieve this is through a system that sets clear limits on all greenhouse gases, while also allowing the sale of rights to excess emissions. And this is the proposal I will submit to the Congress if I am elected president — a cap-and-trade system to change the dynamic of our energy economy.

As a program under the Clean Air Act, the cap-and-trade system achieved enormous success in ridding the air of acid rain. And the same approach that brought a decline in sulfur dioxide emissions can have an equally dramatic and permanent effect on carbon emissions. Instantly, automakers, coal companies, power plants, and every other enterprise in America would have an incentive to reduce carbon emissions, because when they go under those limits they can sell the balance of permitted emissions for cash. As never before, the market would reward any person or company that seeks to invent, improve, or acquire alternatives to carbon-based energy. It is very hard to picture venture capitalists, corporate planners, small businesses and environmentalists all working to the same good purpose. But such cooperation is actually possible in the case of climate change, and this reform will set it in motion.

Well, a carbon cap-and-trade system has to have some sort of teeth, i.e., a carbon tax.

Note also the blank check homage to the power of “the market,” also attested here:
Yet for all the good work of entrepreneurs and inventors in finding cleaner and better technologies, the fundamental incentives of the market are still on the side of carbon-based energy. This has to change before we can make the decisive shift away from fossil fuels.

Well, excuuuuse me, but isn’t government intervention HOW you “change” this? What a putz.

More putzing hat-tipping to the market by a man trying to pretend something like the Manhattan Project never existed:
The people of this country have a genius for adapting, solving problems, and inventing new and better ways to accomplish our goals. But the federal government can’t just summon those talents by command — only the free market can draw them out.

The call for a new Manhattan Project, against global warming, Peak Oil, or both, has become a rallying cry among many environmentalists. Well, given the purpose and backdrop of the original Manhattan Project, why can’t we raise the stakes and call for a War on Climate Change?

Hell, it’s much better than the currently befuddled War on Terror, let alone the War on Drugs.

Schmuck Talk goes on with encomia for nuclear power (no talk of cost, let alone refusing to discuss that the nuclear industry is one of the “special interests” he decries) and clean less dirty than now coal (ditto on the caveats).

He also talks about giving needy industries “extensions” on carbon caps, without saying how much of an extension level, for how long, who would make the call, etc.

That said, near the end, he does go beyond George W(ingnut) Bush in another way — China and global warming:
If the efforts to negotiate an international solution that includes China and India do not succeed, we still have an obligation to act.

And, by noting that Chinese leaders can’t be ignorant of their country’s self-inflicted environmental degradation, he seems to indicate he expects they’ll come around to some sort of agreement without too much browbeating.

There, he’s not so much naïve as he is woefully misinformed about China.

The “central” government in Beijing has little control over its provincial governments in economic development matters, no matter how environmentally destructive. In fact, it’s arguable that the creation of Special Trade Zones or Special Enterprise Zones may, in the long term, wind up being one of Beijing’s most short-sighted moves, not only for the environment, but for the country’s political stability.

May 12, 2008

Earthquake rocks Chinese stocks along with inflation

Petro China was among the hardest. The Sichuan area where the 7.9 temblor hit is home to an estimated 40 percent of China’s natural gas.

And, as I blogged earlier, inflation concerns are rising in China, both about domestic inflation and the spillover of U.S. problems.

flation may force China to hike yuan — irony alert

After all the years of Bob Zoellick and other BushCo flacks trying to jawbone China into letting its currency rise in value against the dollar, the specter of more U.S. inflation coming across the Pacific and adding to China’s own may ultimately produce the desired result.

Beyond that, this may be a gift horse that ain’t the best gift for us in some ways.

Inflation worries may push Chinese environmentalism further on the back burner, for example.

Hugo Chavez nationalizing fellow Latin Americans now

After nationalizing oil operations last year, this time, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is nationalizing his country’s largest steelmaker, after union talks broke down.

But, this isn’t ExxonMobil. Ternium-Sidor, which is majority owned by Argentina’s Techint. How well will the “Bolivarian Revolution” go amongst Chavez’s fellow non-Yanquis?

Ahh the poor Hamptonites — schadenfreude alert

Like I would feel sorry for rich snobs defaulting on $1 million homes.

Probably a bunch of canned Bear Stearns traders and analysts who got rich off CDO and SIV chicanery who are part of the foreclosure meltdown anyway. We can only hope.

Obama support for Israel — a blank check?

His commitment to Israel’s security is “non-negotiable”; does it go beyond that to blank check range?

Barack Obama sits down with Atlantic’s Jeffrey Golberg and discusses Hamas, Zionism and more.

Obama insists that he’s not going to write a blank check to Zionism:
I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.

But, he has also made the “blank check” comment:
When I visited Ramallah, among a group of Palestinian students, one of the things that I said to those students was: “Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional. Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” I’ve said this in front of audiences where, if there were any doubts about my position, that’d be a place where you’d hear it.

And, if Zionists insist that “X,” such as no-strings-attached “foreign aid” subsidy checks that get used to build the West Bank dividing wall? Will Obama stand up to them?

Well, we’ll see.

That Prius may get a bit more expensive

The Supreme Court upheld a $4.3 million patent infringement judgment against Toyota today. An appeals court had kept that ruling intact, but overturned the original trial court ruling that Toyota should pay $25 per vehicle to patent holder Paice LLC of McLean, Va.

The infringed patent was for a microprocessor that accepts torque information from both the gasoline engine and electric motor that make up the hybrid drive on Prius and other Toyota gas-electric hybrids.

Toyota got luckier last week, winning another patent infringement suit against it, and also over hybrid transmission technology.