June 07, 2008

Nice to see someone else call Obama on pandering

HuffPost’s Daoud Kuttab gets it just right on Obama’s pandering to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

His AIPAC appearance, Florida electoral votes be damned, was a seminal opportunity to illustrated the “politics of change” in foreign affairs.

Instead, he never took the bat off his shoulders and struck out standing up, with the same old lines about a unified Jerusalem, etc. that every other politician kissing AIPAC’s ass repeats.

Well, get used to it, because, in reality, Obama is Just.Another.Politician.

‘Cowboy’ professor still won’t give up the myth of the West

Gregory Lockwood says the West needs more, not less, of the capital-M Myth of the cowboy. He’s talking about myth in the literary sense.

However, myth in the literary sense often becomes myth in the philosophical/religious sense, and Lockwood well proves that by waxing idolic over the cowboy, starting with citing the protagonist of the Louis L’Amour dime novel “Conagher” as a prototype for the cowboy hero the West needs today.

To that, I say bullshit, as I did in detail with a response to High Country News:
No, what really gets the goat of many people is NOT the "Cowboy Myth" but Western ranchers all too willing to rail against "welfare," except when it comes to paying below-market grazing rates on federal land.

As for myth with the small letter, “Conagher” illustrates the problem entirely. I read Louis L’Amour novels 20 years ago, until I outgrew two-dimensional characters and stereotyped plots.

As for myth, much more myth, Lockwood’s prototypical 19th-century cowboy may have been tolerant, but real-life Wyoming was the home of Matthew Shepherd. Beyond that, Louis L’Amour never wrote about a black, Indian or gay cowboy, though he did finally get an Indian protagonist in his last long book.

If you want a modern novelistic character for the West, why not choose Sgt. Jim Chee from Tony Hillerman’s books? He's a far more realistic model.

As for broader Western myths, let's not forget federal subsidies to the transcontinental railroad, federal military "subsidies" for settlers and ranchers alike to violate Indian treaties, subsidies of massive irrigation damns with below-market irrigation water prices and below-market hydroelectric prices, as just a few things refuting the myth, very much with Lockwood’s lower-case “m,” of the “independent” westerner in general.

A perfect example of this: In 1964, Barry Goldwater was all for privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority, but the idea of charging market rates for Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam electric power down in Phoenix? Nary a word ever crossed his lips.

In short, Mr. Lockwood, you explify why the authors you deride say the West needs to move beyond its myths — and its continued fascination with mythmaking.

Occasionally, HCN has a clunker in an issue, and this is definitely it.

High gas prices good for wildlife

Randy Udall presents this simple idea.

Gas prices rising ever higher are going to further cut down travel across the vast Western states.

With fewer cars on the roads, that makes it easier for wildlife to make longer treks.

Anecdotal proof?

A wolverine at the California side of Lake Tahoe, the first wolverine spotted in the Golden State in 85 years. A mountain lion in Chicago, of all places.

June 06, 2008

Perry finally opens mouth on FLDS and says nothing

That’s the nickel-version analysis of Gov. Helmethair finally breaking his silence on what happened at Eldorado.

First:
The governor said he hopes state law enforcement officials and prosecutors "continue to send the message" to the sect that child sexual abuse won't be tolerated.

That means he presumes that sexual abuse DID happen. If any cases ever go to trial, you can bet defense attorneys will raise this.

Will Jessup, a Utah-based elder for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agrees:
“It's an outrage that he would even make such gross and broad allegations,” Jessop said. “He’s listening to people that tell lies about the FLDS.”

Perry then said he hopes CPS and the FLDS “work together.” Translation?

Judge Walther, push the envelope on how much you rule CPS can do in the way of drop-in visits.

But, it’s all for the KIDS! Because any good Republican is for the KIDS, except when they’re poor, on welfare, without health insurance, etc.:
“I am substantially less interested in these fine legal lines that we’re discussing than I am about these children's welfare.”

Uhh, those “fine legal lines” include U.S. Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

I also find it “interesting,” at the least, that Perry made his first in-depth statement in weeks when out of not only the state, but the country, in France.

Shoes push civilization way back – science roundup

Shoes 40,000 years ago

A study of skeletons, based on how shoe-wearing is known to change foot and calf structure in modern humans, says our ancestors were shod that long ago.

The strange world of parasites

It now includes catepillars wigging out for a parasitic wasp.

How little we know about serotonin and the mind

The neurotransmitter does have some control over both weight and eating habits, but by different channels. We’re probably nowhere near understanding all the different ways in which the big three of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine work.

Friday scatblogging – scat-singing




Hot new jazz singer Esperanza Spalding gets into scat-singing on her new album.

Here’s another review:
She’s going to have to decide whether she's a bassist who sings, or a singer who plays bass. She may choose to be both, but while Spalding is a capable vocalist, she has a long way to go before she becomes an exceptional one. As a bassist, she's much closer.

More on Spalding at her MySpace page.

Friday scatblogging – test your outdoors knowledge

Can you tell the difference between coyote and bobcat scat? Field and Stream challenges you with a 22-point scat questionnaire.

First question has to do with the scat pictured here. (I got a 14, myself).

Future of Mars and Moon exploration

Will we actually find Earth-based life?

And, no, not because of some drifting of spores, nor any “space seeding” science fiction, but due to spaceship contamination, it’s possible. Earth molecule ATP might live for months in outer space.

Can NASA have a one-ton Mars rover ready in a year?

That’s its deadline to have everything go on what is far and away the largest and heaviest rover sent to the Red Planet.

Water on lunar poles?

New radar says possibly, but onsite testing is needed.

Irony alert — Cedar Hill biz burglary

The Cedar Hill Linens ’n Things was shoplifted, somewhere between $500-$1,500 worth of goods, June 1. That was the day after the store started a liquidation sale, one of about 120 stores in the company that will be shuttered.

So why is American doing a checked-bag fee at all?

American says it will only affect one out of four customers.

But, those one out of four are, basically, the Travelocity/Orbitz/Expedia ticket buyers. Maybe American wants to push them to either buy first-class, or else buy through American’s website.

American says that if too many people take too much carry-on for airplane bins (and older plans, like a Super 80, can fill up quickly), it will check those bags for free.

That’s going to waste time, waste manpower and delay plane takeoffs.

Is it any wonder that with business acumen like that, American continues to lose money by the bushel basket?

No, that’s no wonder.

The wonder, or the disgust, is that American CEO Gerard Arpey continues to get fat bonuses for such brilliant ideas as the Arpey fee.

Umemployment and housing news not good

Unemployment jumps half a percent, another good sign we’re in a recession, as is five straight months of job cuts.

First-quarter foreclosures hit a full 1 percent; delinquencies crossed the 6 percent mark. And, more than 6 percent of subprimes have started the foreclosure process.

Texans, once again, don’t forget to thank Phil Gramm for y our difficulties.

So Highland Park wants to make Mockingbird a toll road?

I’ll show the snooty enclave a south of the Trinity toll . Next time I need to go up there, I’ll make sure to add some extra fiber to the diet in advance, and leave HP’s city fathers a very “warm” and “soft” toll.

June 05, 2008

California officially in drought

Der Governator is blamed by some for not declaring a drought earlier; others blame the federal courts and environmentalists for blocking more water withdrawals from the Sacramento Delta. Doesn’t matter, Californios; after the driest spring in 88 years, you’re definitely and officially in a drought.

And, I’d say, get used to it.

Global warming-associated climate change says the Desert Southwest is going to get drier as well as hotter. That means even less water from the Colorado River and less snowmelt in California’s own rivers from the Sierras.

As for conservation, yes, farmers could do more, but, it’s obviously residents who have to tighten their belts.

The answer is NOT, contra Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and avocado grower Al Stehly, building new reservoirs:
“It's not a water problem; it's a plumbing problem. You can't get it through the delta,” Stehly said. “I don't know what they're doing in Sacramento. They're sitting on their hands.”

Schwarzenegger implied as much yesterday, calling on legislators to approve his proposed $11.7 billion water bond, which would pay for more reservoirs and help restore the delta.

But, with California already billions of dollars in the red, even with Ahhnold using another bond to avoid budget cuts or tax hikes, can California even afford this?

And, if you’ve to less water flowing into rivers, what good does it do to build more reservoirs anyway? Isn’t that almost literally pounding sand down a rathole?

The Potemkin village of home equity revealed

Americans’ home equity is now just 46.2 percent, the lowest since the end of World War II.
A homeowner’s equity is the market value of a property minus the mortgage debt. And homeowners’ percentage of equity has declined steadily even as home values surged during the housing boom due to a jump in cash-out refinancing, home equity loans and an increase in 100 percent financing.

So, all those complex subprime mortgages that were supposed to increase homeownership actually undercut the No. 1 reason realtors and the mortgage industry offer in support of homeownership.

Beyond that, nearly 8.5 million homeowners had negative or no equity in their homes, representing more than 16 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage.

And, that means there’s potentially as many as 8.5 million walkaways, jingle-mailers, or whatever you will.

Lancaster ISD in BIG trouble with TEA

Anytime the Texas Education Agency talks about appointing a conservator, you’re in trouble.

Anytime you get per diem meal allowances and still apparently bill meals to a credit card, you’re inviting trouble.

Anytime you spend nearly $600 at Pappadeaux for a Martin Luther King Jr. dinner for less than 30 people ($55 a pop, roughly), you’re inviting trouble from your own taxpayers; the heck with TEA.

And, it seems awfully strange for Superintendent Larry Lewis to claim this “vindicates” the school district.

Details in the 291-page PDF of the TEA audit findings. (The portions after page 64 are basically skippable.)
• Not in compliance with IRS travel reimbursement regs, page 8;
• Unallowable travel per diem when paid from a state or federal grant, page 9;
• Per diem/credit card “double dipping,” page 9;
• MLK dinner at Pappadeaux, page 11;
• Other credit card dining, with unnamed city of Lancaster staff as well, page 11ff;
• Counting graduated seniors as attending school after the date of graduation, page 13;

Also, whether ethical or not, or legal or not, a number of the credit card bills, as I had heard off the record in the past, are related to the International Baccalaureate program.

As for the Pappadeaux dinner, the current LISD administration could have talked to the “other lens” called King Myrick before he moved away from Lancaster.

Now, if you had just invited Jeff Melcher there, everything would have been hunky-dory!

That said, Kathy Goolsby (or her editor), coming off as typical mainstream media, couldn’t resist taking a shot at Lancaster Today. If the Snooze would just worry about its own financial bottom line, it wouldn’t have to potshot at a school district entering into an agreement with a suburban community newspaper. (And, Today Newspapers actually has a copy of the contract, Kathy.)

Lancaster ISD in BIG trouble with TEA

Anytime the Texas Education Agency talks about appointing a conservator, you’re in trouble.

Anytime you get per diem meal allowances and still apparently bill meals to a credit card, you’re inviting trouble.

Anytime you spend nearly $600 at Pappdeaux for a Martin Luther King Jr. dinner for less than 30 people ($55 a pop, roughly), you’re inviting trouble from your own taxpayers; the heck with TEA.

And, it seems awfully strange for Superintendent Larry Lewis to claim this “vindicates” the school district.

Details in the 291-page PDF of the TEA audit findings. (The portions after page 64 are basically skippable.)
• Not in compliance with IRS travel reimbursement regs, page 8;
• Unallowable travel per diem when paid from a state or federal grant, page 9;
• Per diem/credit card “double dipping,” page 9;
• MLK dinner at Pappadeaux, page 11;
• Other credit card dining, with unnamed city of Lancaster staff as well, page 11ff;
• Counting graduated seniors as attending school after the date of graduation, page 13;

Also, whether ethical or not, or legal or not, a number of the credit card bills, as I had heard off the record in the past, are related to the International Baccalaureate program.

As for the Pappadeaux dinner, the current LISD administration could have talked to the “other lens” called King Myrick before he moved away from Lancaster.

Now, if you had just invited Jeff Melcher there, everything would have been hunky-dory!

That said, Kathy Goolsby (or her editor), coming off as typical mainstream media, couldn’t resist taking a shot at Lancaster Today. If the Snooze would just worry about its own financial bottom line, it wouldn’t have to potshot at a school district entering into an agreement with a suburban community newspaper. (And, Today Newspapers actually has a copy of the contract, Kathy.)

Kill whales, kill polar bears

Iceland again shows its endangered species bona fides, shooting a polar bear after it swam 200 miles to shore.

‘Strengths and weaknesses’ next ID and creationism in Texas

And, the latest spinmeistering battleground for how to indoctrinate school students into religion masquerading as science is right here in Texas.

As the story points out, the big question is who gets to define “weaknesses”?

Take, for example, intermediary forms on the evolution from australopithecines to homo sapiens, or “missing links.”

Any time a new intermediary form is discovered, creationists/IDers/strength-and-weakness types claim, “that means you now have two missing links.” (You have to fill in each and every “gap” after all.)

And, with ardent IDers having seven of 15 votes on the State Board of Education, the battle is getting tense.

That begins with the lies, self-delusions or both of the chairman of the SBOE, Dr. Don McLeroy:
McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event — thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it’s just not there.”

Well, to riff the famous science line, “you’re so incorrect you’re not even wrong.”

So, too is the Strengths and Weaknesses website.

Cedar Hill ISD looking at 13-cent tax hike

Due to the way the Texas Lege “equalized” school funding in the last session, in essence putting a hard cap on school districts’ state assistance, more and more school districts could be in CHISD shoes in the near future.

And, Cedar Hill is using the idea of 13 “pennies,” with a penny each for different programs, such as fine arts, to sell the idea.
Cedar Hill ISD Superintendent Horace Williams and Chief Financial Officer Mike McSwain explained that state funding caps on Cedar Hill - and other school districts that are likely to be in similar boats - is why the district is taking a hard look at the idea.

“We have a targeted revenue,” McSwain said.

And, that is $4,862 per what is known as a “weighted student,” with extra money for special education, free or reduced-price lunch, gifted and talented and career and technology education students.

So, if housing prices appraise significantly upward in Cedar Hill, the state cuts its degree of support, to maintain the overall funding level at that revenue target.

McSwain doesn't expect any major relief from the next session of the Texas Legislature. And, that $4,862 has no inflationary adjustment, either.

The 13-cent increase, from $1.04 to $1.17 per $100 valuation, is the top allowable rate.

Dallas County Judge gets jury duty

Doorknob help the judge, prosecution and defense attorneys and suspect all if Jim Foster is as inept a juror as he is a county judge.

From an e-mail media press release to my office:
Dallas County Judge Jim Foster has been summoned for jury duty and will report to the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts building. He will join many Dallas County citizens in serving their civic duty.

“Civic participation is a duty of all Dallas County residents to ensure justice,” said Foster. “Jury duty is one of the most fundamental responsibilities that we have to our community. I’m proud to take part in this process alongside my fellow citizens.”

Will he even understand what the case is about?

The total cost of civilian casualties in Iraq

Salon has an excerpt from Chris Hedges’ new book, “Collateral Damage.” Hedges says:
The God they knew, or thought they knew, failed them. The church or the synagogue or the mosque, which promised redemption by serving God and country, did not prepare them for the awful betrayal of this civic religion, for the capacity we all have for human atrocity, because the stories of heroism used to mask the reality of war. …

Each generation responds to war as innocents. Each generation discovers its own disillusionment, often at a terrible personal price.

Hedges makes it clear that this training starts from the day the typical soldier or Marine sets foot in Iraq or Kuwait, starting with the incessant use of the word “haji.”

I know some ex-military liberal bloggers like Blue Girl will try to defend the military more than I, but this isn’t defensible. And, because it’s such an ingrained part of military culture, you can’t make the “few bad apples” claim.

And, yes, this is what the mainstream media is failing to cover in the general cutback in Iraq coverage.

On the coffee table — ‘Empire of Lies’

And, no, it’s not about the United States under Bush, either!
“Empire of Lies,” fully titled as “Empire of Lies: The Truth About China in the Twenty-First Century,” is Guy Sorman’s
excellent effort to rip off the mask and blow up the Potemkin Village of today’s China … a mask and Potemkin Village many Westerners have willingly co-created with Chinese Communists.

Economic conservatives and neoliberal “spinners” from James Fallows and Reed Hundt through Bill Clinton (singled out in one passage) are exposed as frauds, liars and enablers for a China of modern myth in this power-packed new book.

French journalist, politician and philosopher (and why can’t we get that combo in America) Sorman exposes the lies of both the Chinese Communist Party and its Western apologists, which range from hardcore economic conservative American capitalists to French communists.

There’s a few basic lies that underscore the scores of surface lies both the Chinese Party and its western enablers tell.

Sorman says Lie No. 1 is that capitalism will lead to democracy. He has a clear, albeit much smaller, counterexample – Singapore, led by, ironically or not, Chinese.

Lie No. 2 is that there is a “Chinese mindset,” “Chinese way of business,” or whatever, that is antithetical to democracy. Variants of that include references (usually wrong ones, according to Sorman) to Confucianism, etc. Counterexample? Taiwan. Daoism, repressed in China, flourishes there along with Confucianism, Buddhism and Protestant and Catholic Christianity — along with traditional Chinese culture.

Lie No. 3 is the lie of Chinese economic statistics. Sorman says that even if you don’t discount the costs of environmental degradation, Chinese growth rates are almost surely somewhat overstated, and possibly highly overstated.

Lie No. 4 might be a partial variant of No. 2, and would be the “China isn’t all that bad” lie, especially if you compare it to the former Soviet Union. Sorman argues the other way around, that China is arguably more repressive than the Soviets of Khrushchev and beyond, at least in some ways.

As a result of all this, Sorman says, we really don’t have that much to fear from China as a foreign power in general or a military adventurer in particular. On the economic side, in fact, he expects the rich-poor gap to be likely to worsen, not improve.

Another “sublie” would be the one that Western countries, through “economic involvement” with China, can moderate its behavior. China isn’t going to be moderated by that. And, as a sidebar, Sorman estimates that about half the Western-owned factories in China are money-losers.

Finally, while not absolving Japan, Sorman accuses China of manipulating the Nanking Massacre of 1937.

Read this book and get an unvarnished view of today’s China.

Continental joins list of route-cutting airlines

The Houston-based Continental will cut flights “11 percent by the end of this year and ground nearly 70 planes.

With most major carriers now doing this, here’s the ripple effects:
1. Higher prices after this summer, due to limited capacity.
2. Cutbacks in orders from Boeing and Airbus, unless to replace the oldest, most inefficient planes quickly.
3. Opportunities for Southwest, which has trimmed its expansion plans for this year, but still has some expansion plans as of this moment.

We can only hope on No. 3, and also hope here in Dallas that Southwest does not continue its semi-collusion with American as the Wright Amendment continues to undergo its phase-out ending.

Judge should have embarrassed ‘eco-terrorist’ tree-cutter more

A federal judge fined Patricia Vincent $100K for cutting down ponderosa pines because they obscured her view of Lake Tahoe.

Judge Brian Sandoval only gave her community service, not a possible six months in prison, in addition to the fine, saying she had been “embarrassed” enough already.

Hell, she’s rich enough to already have paid off the fine.

Throw her ass in the slammer.

After all, per the Bush Administration, she’s an eco-terrorist, right?

The direct way for Obama to act against telco immunity

Over at Washington Monthly, guest blogger dday calls on Barack Obama to denounce, or whatever, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes’ “conversion” to supporting including telecom immunity in a renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

(Sidebar: As I blogged earlier, WTF led Reyes to be so fine NOW with telco immunity, when he made himself into a progressive hero this spring?)

Anyway, if the eventual House bill needs any reconciliation with the Senate version, Obama has his chance …

To filibuster.

(Assuming that 41 Dems don’t have enough real patriotism to invoke cloture in the first place.)

June 04, 2008

Mmm, cheesy



Vella Cheese, home of what I think is the world’s best cheddar, and DEFINITELY the world’s best dry Jack.

US does not have enemies

Per Ted Rall, we have RIVALS. And, yes, plenty of them.

But, since the Saddam Hussein government is out of power in Iraq, technically, we’re not at war with anybody. (Of course, per the Constitution, technically, we were never at war with Ba’athist Iraq, but that’s a whole nother story.)

Anyway …

Iran? Rival.

China? Rival.

Etc.

Not enemies.

The hate-mongering of U.S. foreign policy would probably drop a notch with more precise use of language.

But, Barack Obama, just like John McCain, talks about “enemies.”

Oh, and Hamas isn’t our enemy either. It IS Israel’s enemy, but, it only becomes our enemy if we make it our enemy.

Who bought off Silvestre Reyes? Will Obama stay silent?

And, if the chairman of House Intell is so fine NOW with telco immunity, what changed in the last month?

Answer. Nothing.

Except a Democratic presidential campaign.

Over at Washington Monthly, guest blogger dday calls on Barack Obama to denounce, or whatever, Reyes “conversion.”

Five bucks says it ain’t gonna happen.

Oops on Dallas Police Department

Dallas PD has suspended its “bait car” program, designed to lure thieves to cars with police kill switches, after they couldn’t turn a car off in timeand a bystander was killed.

Carter has sound advice for Obama

Don’t pick Clinton as vice president.
“I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made,” said Carter. “That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates.”

Carter added that, were the shoe on the other foot, he would oppose a Clinton-Obama ticket.

His reasoning has some smarts, based on John Edwards’ half-assing it through the 2004 VP campaign. (Note to Obama – don’t pick Edwards either. And I’ve already said don’t pick Webb.)

That said, Carter’s first VP idea, former Sen. Sam Nunn, adds zero pizzazz to the ticket. And, someone more au courant can still add gravitas.

Beyond that, though, specific to Obama, the “change” meme will really look vacuous if he picks Clinton.

But, Hillary’s campaign has already said she’s open to the deal. That puts Obama on the spot.

But, what’s in it for her? A desire to escape Senate boredom if Obama wins?

Or a desire to position herself like Edwards if Obama loses.

Forget it, Hillary. If you take the nomination and Obama loses, you’ll be roundly blamed by many Democrats in 2012.

Carter has sound advice for Obama

Don’t pick Clinton as vice president.
“I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made,” said Carter. “That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates.”

Carter added that, were the shoe on the other foot, he would oppose a Clinton-Obama ticket.

His reasoning has some smarts, based on John Edwards’ half-assing it through the 2004 VP campaign. (Note to Obama – don’t pick Edwards either. And I’ve already said don’t pick Webb.)

That said, Carter’s first VP idea, former Sen. Sam Nunn, adds zero pizzazz to the ticket. And, someone more au courant can still add gravitas.

Beyond that, though, specific to Obama, the “change” meme will really look vacuous if he picks Clinton.

But, Hillary’s campaign has already said she’s open to the deal. That puts Obama on the spot.

But, what’s in it for her? A desire to escape Senate boredom if Obama wins?

Or a desire to position herself like Edwards if Obama loses.

Forget it, Hillary. If you take the nomination and Obama loses, you’ll be roundly blamed by many Democrats in 2012.

United joins American in route and job slashing

Almost by the same percentage as American, United says it will cut domestic flights about 20 percent by the end of this year.

Delta has also, previously, announced route cuts.

But, neither United nor Delta is following American on charging for a second checked bag, let alone a first one.

My guess is that some other airlines look at a more token $10 charge for a second bag at some point in the future and that nobody follows American on charging for the first checked bag.

Sierra goes anti-enviro AGAIN!

Apparently Carl Pope doesn’t understand the word “environmentalism.” The Sierra Club was one of five major environmental organizations to not only sign off on, but help negotiate the environmental metrics of, the sale, for commercial development, of parts of California’s Tejon Ranch.

And, I don’t care if non-comment “handshake” agreements, albeit without contracts, have been common in the past. The original practice, even without a contract, is a crock. It’s unprofessional, in my opinion, for a wildlife biologist, unless he or she wants to be on the take, to sign off on such a deal in advance.

Ditto for the environmental organizations lining this up.

The hypocrisy is squared by the gag order also extending to how much money each of the scientists was paid.

It would be the equivalent of me, as a newspaper editor, agreeing in advance of the first words of an interview to let someone go off the record.

Joining Sierra in the Green Hall of Shame?

First, shock me that Sierra signed off on this. Carl Pope probably thought he could use some Sierra-branded Clorox to bleach away bad PR.

I’ve blogged my displeasure, including my refusal to renew my Sierra membership, here, here and here.

Shock me also that Natural Resources Defense Council was one of the five groups. After getting snookered here in Texas by William O’Reilly and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts on the TXU buyout, and giving KKR priceless greenwash, it makes me wonder about any corporate dealings NRDC has too.

The third biggie? Audubon California.

As for Audubon, the last time I got an offer to join it, I e-mailed back, to the appropriate department, asking if its free tschotschke du jour was made in China or not. (WWF burned me on that one a few years back.)

No answer from Audubon means no membership from me.

More people who are knowledgeable are going to stop participating in major environmental organizations and get more active in smaller, more pristine ones.

Goodbye Dollar Menu?

McDonald’s franchisees would like to utter that magic phrase, but big Mayor McCheeses at HQ are instead pushing it further.

Franchisees’ complaint? Not enough profit margin in the dollar items.

A few stores, in fact, have stopped offering it.

And, since McDonald’s continues to be the industry leader, despite a few stumbles in recent years, you know that Wendy’s, Burger King and others are taking similar looks at their menus.

Tiananmen Square — 19 years ago



Since it’s already June 4 in Beijing, it’s well worth reflecting on the Tiananmen Square anniversary, with the Olympics less than two months away.

Arguably, the dichotomy of modern, Deng and post-Deng China, started on this date. The peasant/urbanite and still-poor/middle class dichotomy. The capitalism/repression dichotomy, despite the claims of both fiscal conservatives and Democratic Leadership Council neoliberals aside, that American financial “involvement” will not change from outside.

In his new book, “The Empire of Lies,” a refutation to both fiscal conservatives and neoliberals, French intellectual Guy Sorman notes that soon after Tiananmen, he didn’t expect outrage over it to last. The almighty dollar, france and deutschemark of those days, the latter two now replaced by the euro, overwhelmed human rights issues.

After all, that’s why the Olympics are in Beijing this year after all, isn’t it? A chance for major sporting goods companies and other businesses to expand their Chinese markets? The currency of return is not just paying for marketing and advertising rights, but some political whitewash for the Communist Party.

Sorman’s book (I’ll have a review later this week) notes other hypocrisies, such as Chinese immediate admission to the WTO, despite being more repressive in many ways than Russia.

He also, contrary to neoliberals such as Atlantic’s James Fallows, doesn’t expect American engagement in particular, nor a tidal force of capitalism in general, to work some sort of inexorable magic on China, either politically to drive it toward democracy, or socially to address the rich/poor and urban/peasant gaps that continue to grow.

Goodbye and so long J.R. Simplot

High Country News explains well why environmentalists should have a green wake for the demise of Idaho’s “Mr. Spud,” J.R. Simplot, also known as the biggest rancher on public lands in our country. (And one of the worst overgrazers.)

Simplot also owned the nation’s largest concentrated animal feeding operation.

June 03, 2008

Silver lining in another House Dem surge?

Reports are that Democrats could add as many House seats this fall as in 2006.

Bottom line would be that Blue Dog Democrats would have to decide whether they wanted to be “Blue Dog” or “Democrat” on several issues.

Even if half of 30 new Congressmen this year might fall in the Blue Dog coalition, the other 15 would negate the part of this Congress’s Democratic majority that is owed to Blue Dogs.

Even if we whack those numbers to 20 new seats, and half of them not Blue Dog, the 10 “pristine” new seats would pretty much do the trick.

Not all CAFÉ standards are created equal

The new corporate average fuel economy standards passed by Congress last year don’t actually take effect until 2011, but it’s clear that the formerly Big Three have a lot further to go than their Japanese rivals.

Luxury car makers, overall, have even further to go.

For example, Porsche must boost its currently expected 2011 fleet economy by nearly 50 percent or pay federal finds.

Toyota, meanwhile, can afford to become 12 percent more of a gas hog over current projections and still meet federal 2011 requirements.

Also, VW and Subara are penalized for the “footprint” they have in current sales numbers. VW, at least, has indicated it plans to sue.

The lies and misdeeds of Ben Bernanke

The Bear Stearns bailout? May have broken the law Kevin Phillips says. He references former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, who in essence calls the actual action, not the possibly illegal vote to approve it, as violating at least the spirit of Fed governance.

It’s just one of several mistakes, miscues and worse that Bernanke, The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™, has engaged in.

Phillips is also right on the money in deploring the number of Democrats lined up to still support Big Ben.

AIRPLANE WING ALPENGLOW

Airplane wing alpenglow,
Traces of sunset at 35,000 feet.
Fleeing an ever-receding western horizon
Orange fades to salmon then wingtip gray
As the brushed aluminum of aerilons
Begins to merge with the duskening twilight.
At ground level, with evening full arrived,
Scattered lights delineate civilization,
In the vastness of the intermountain west,
The tenuous human claim on desert lands.
While the occasional larger blob
Or highway-hugging sodium vapor strip,
Only services to emphasize the solitary vastness.

Wachovia cans CEO; what’s next?

In what is surely a sign of the subprime times, Wachovia Corporation CEO G. Kennedy Thompson is out on the street. Thompson had been stripped of his role as chairman of the board a month ago.

But, new chairman Lanty Smith said, “move on, don’t look here,” as in, this doesn’t mean Wachovia has new problems.

I disagree. Canning him without having any idea yet of a replacement has to raise red flags.

And, the warning flags are elsewhere, too.

Yesterday, Washington Mutual board stripped CEO Kerry K. Killinger of his position as chairman of the board. Rumor is he could be pushed out soon, too.

Just what WAS Syria hiding in the desert?

Did Israel bomb a nuclear fuel processing site in northern Syria earlier this year, a peaceful nuclear power plant, or something else?

The International Atomic Energy Association could soon have the answer.

After weeks of haggling, Syria will let the IAEA visit the el-Kibir site. But three other sites U.S. intelligence says may be linked to a clandestine nuclear program. However, pending the results of the initial visit, those sites may become open to the IAEA in the future:
“They will only go to the bombed site,” said a diplomat close to the IAEA. “They did request to go to other places. It’s the first visit. There will be other visits, to be sure, and you take one step at a time.”

It’s questionable how much the IAEA can even research in a brief initial visit. But, it hopefully will be able to start connecting the dots to follow up with on future tours.

Texas homeowners in default? Blame Phil Gramm

Former Sen. Phil Gramm, looking as smarmy as ever in this picture, bears chief responsibility for the deregulation of CDOs, CDSs, SIVs and related subprime mortgage-driven investment “vehicles,” says David Corn.

The story of how this same bit of 2000 legislative legerdemain benefited Enron has already been told. But, unknown to anybody else in Congress at the time, it would also benefit the Bear Sterns of the world, as well as Gramm’s current employer, Swiss über-bank UBS.

Can you really imagine the idea of economics wingnut as the next Secretary of the Treasury?

Read the whole story for more on his shenanigans and a thumbnail sketch of how the process worked for investment banks.

Barack Obama should directly ask Gramm if he feels any guilt over Enron’s actions and his abetting of them.

Then, ask if Gramm feels any guilt over the subprime bubble.

Texas Observer has more on this issue.
University of Texas economist James Galbraith says Gramm is “not against government at all. His career has been finding ways to make money for his friends. It’s a predator relationship. (Government) is his food supply.”

And Hilzoy has a good roundup of the life and times of Phil Gramm.

That said, let me once again state one other thing.

For Democrats to pile on Gramm about the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 is hypocritical. A majority of Democrats in both House and Senate voted for the bill. President Clinton was behind it from the start.

And, as the Observer story notes, Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was a strong supporter of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act’s provisions.

That said, for loyal Texas GOP voters in default, there is a bit of schadenfreude in all this, if not more than a bit.

GM plant closings — Texas thoughts

I commented briefly on GM’s announced plant closures earlier, but now that I’ve put this week’s newspaper to bed, I have more time to look at this issue further.

First, no news is good news, right now, about the Arlington plant. But, given that it’s an SUV plant, good news can’t come without any strings attached.

Is GM going to start building cars there too?

Second, re the uses of the Arlington plant, and GM’s actions in general:
“It is significant, but this is a late reaction to changing market dynamics,” said Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The plans really should have been in place a number of years ago.”

Totally agreed.

Not only is GM behind the curve on retooling both its plants and its corporate mindset, this is a credibility issue.

So, too, is continuing to tout Volt rather than do what it can right now with hybrid cars.

Oh, and there’s THIS minor problem:
Buzz Hargrove, president of the Toronto-based Canadian Auto Workers union, said closing the Oshawa, Ontario plant would violate the three-year contract reached with GM last month.

“We are not going to allow this to happen,” he said at a news conference, declining to specify how the union will respond.

Assuming GM CEO Rick Wagoner had an eye cast on Oshawa during contract negotiations earlier this year, he could be accused of bad-faith bargaining. A strike would throw a monkey wrench in GM retooling.

Finally, GMAC, whose financing had helped GM buff up its overall bottom line in the past, is now a lead anchor itself due to subprime mortgage exposure.

Ignorant Army faults Sun for global warming

Flogging already refuted non-science on sunspots’ and other sun factors’ alleged role in global warming the life and times of Phil Gramm.
In an advisory to bloggers entitled “Global Warming: Fact of Fiction [sic],” an Army public affairs official promoted a conference call with West about “the causes of global warming, and how it may not be caused by the common indicates [sic] some scientists and the media are indicating.”

In the March, 2008 issue of Physics Today, West, the chief scientist of the Army Research Office's mathematical and information science directorate, wrote that "the Sun’s turbulent dynamics" are linked with the Earth's complex ecosystem. These connections are what is heating up the planet. “The Sun could account for as much as 69 percent of the increase in Earth’s average temperature,” West noted.

Next up: The sun made “weapons of mass destruction” disappear from Iraq!

On the coffee table — ‘The Good Fight’ by Harry Reid

“The Good Fight,” available here at Amazon, explains well why Harry Reid is a good Democrat on most social issues.

Growing up in a shack with an outhouse in half-dead Searchlight, Nev., in the New Deal, he learned about the hope and support government programs can offer to people on the edge.

Searchlight is detailed with warts, vivid colors and all by Reid. So, too, are his parents.

Beyond that, the best part of the book was Reid’s discussion of his years as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. While he doesn’t go into a tell-all of Mob influence over Vegas casinos, he gives the reader enough information to see how much the city needed cleaning up. And, with Reid presiding over the commission at the time non-Mafiosi like Steve Wynn and Kirk Kerkorian started building, he was part of Vegas’ transition to the world of today.

That said, the Washington years are somewhat thin. All Democrats are great, as is independent Joe Lieberman on anything besides Iraq. The difficulty of herding cats as Senate Majority Leader is discussed in brief, but not too much on any one issue or vote.

Nor do we hear anything about how Obama-Clinton has played out inside the Senate Democratic caucus. I would have loved to hear Reid drop a few “fly on the wall” comments.

This is a borderline three/four star book overall.

For all my Amazon reviews, go here.

WallyWorld moves into classifieds

Yes, the maw of the Big Blue Box continues to grow. Wal-Mart now wants to take on Craiglist; Wal-Mart has started a classified advertising service.

By volume, Wal-Mart gets about half as many website visitors as Amazon, at 26 million to 47 million.

Of course, Craigslist gets 30 million unique visitors per month, so WallyWorld has a ways to go.

Meanwhile, WallyWorld has, in the past year or two, tried to suck up to community newspapers. Obviously, that’s not going to last, though I’m sure the online service is targeted more at larger markets.

Hip T-shirt and MacBook do NOT make you cool

Instead, it means you’re just a more self-deluded version of the typical modern American consumer. After all, you’re using brand names to make a statement that you’re beyond the typical use of brand names.

Oh, by the way, this is another reason for the hate side of my love-hate with Mac.

So, take your smugness …

GM closes four plants and sez Volt is coming

That last part I’ll believe when GM puts a new Volt in my driveway for free, but the plant closings are no surprise. Neither is the possibility of ending the Hummer line, though I believe that no more than the perennial “Volt is just around the corner” comments.

GM CEO Rick Wagoner says he believes the country is going to see a permanent shift to smaller cars:
“We at GM don’t think this is a spike or a temporary shift.”

And, you didn’t see that a decade ago?

No. Instead, like one of Amos’ “fatted cows of Bashan,” you gorged yourself on Hummer profits.

NO to 55mph speed limit

I’m a good environmentalist and general liberal, but this just won’t fly out West. I’m sure good Democrats like Montana’s Jon Tester and the Udall bros. of New Mexico and Colorado have no enthusiasm for a lower speed limit in their states.

They would tell non-Westerners it’s not temporily feasible, beyond not being politically feasible.

I grew up in Gallup, N.M., during the 1970s. For any serious big-ticket shopping, we had to drive to Albuquerque — 140 miles each direction. If you’re in southeastern Utah, you can burn 250 or more to get to Salt Lake City. Ditto from southeastern Oregon to either Portland or Boise. Non-Westerners just don’t get the vastness.

Why won’t it work politically? When New Mexico gave into the Nixon push to cut speed limits to 55 after the first oil embargo, here’s what happened.

State law specifically noted a fine of just $5 unless you were doing over 70, and no record of the speeding going in your driving record.

In other words, the 55 was a paper-tiger speed limit.

Instead, let’s work more on the technology side. Beyond hybrids, etc., let’s push to get a minimum of five speeds in every new car tranny. Let’s support work to find a way to get rid of torque converters or otherwise make transmissions lighter.

Driving 55 just isn’t the answer out there.

Foresight linked to optical illusions?

Researcher Mark Changizi believes he has explained the “why” of optical illusions. They’re related to the brain’s visual system’s one-second “tape delay,” a delay that allows visual and motor systemsto be coordinated.

Scientists have long known about the slight sync difference between visual and motor systems but debated how the brain “fixed” it.

How’s this affect optical illusions?

Changizi notes that many of the most common ones are motion-related in their effects and hence, the “tape delay” causes the illusion.

It’s interesting, but I think he’s stretching.

June 02, 2008

James Watson won’t back down on race and intelligence

The DNA Nobelist recently talked with black professor and historian Henry Louis Gates. In the wide-ranging interview, Watson throws all sorts of crap against the wall.

He claims the main part of his “dumb blacks” comment was a joke.

He still believes in “Jewish intelligence genes.”

And other nonsense.

Gates has a sidebar, with his assessment of Watson’s true standing on these issues, and calls him, finally, a “racialist.”

It’s a good description, a good and sad description of the hornblower of the famous DNA pair (Crick deserves more credit than he gets), who has a history of such statements on race-genetic issues long before the 2007 comments that got him in hot water.
No more Citibank student loans for juco and community college students.

Citibank claims it’s all statistically based on past default rates, etc.

Well, it comes close to redlining community colleges from where I sit.

And, here in Texas, with deregulated tuition at state-run four-year colleges, this is just another kick in the pants to local students.

WallyWorld to the healthcare rescue?

MSN economics columnist Jim Jubak is normally spot-on in my book, but I have plenty of skeptical bones in my about his idea that Wal-Mart is good for what ails the healthcare system.

Even he admits WallyWorld is far short of what it should be doing on reforming healthcare benefits for its own employees.

Videoconferencing with doctors in China? Waiting in line as much as at a conventional doctor’s office?

Jubak says folks like Costco need to follow, and many have already begun.

Well, just as Costco runs a better warehouse store than Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club, and with a more liberal company ethos, I have no doubt it will trump WallyWorld here too.

Will the last airline to go broke please turn out the lights?

U.S. airlines are projected to lose $2.3 billion this year, according to International Air Transport Association.

The main reason? Jet fuel costs are expected to rise 30 percent over last year.

But wait, you’re just getting the sunny side.

Throw out perennial money-maker Southwest, and the rest of the Top 10 airlines are expected to lose nearly $5 billion this year.

And, that 30 percent rise in jet fuel? It’s based on a Brent crude oil price of “just” $106/bbl.

Jamie Baker of JP Morgan expects the legacy airlines to drop a $7.2 billion dime.

Hey, Gerard Arpey, a $15 bag check fee ain’t gonna cover that at American.

And United, you can talk all you want about not being interested in mergers, but you’d better get interested in doing something different.

Larry Summers and Steve Pinker listen up!

That male-female math gap?

It appears to be reversible. The quasi-metaphysical Evolutionary Psychology, as opposed to the actually scientific evolutionary psychology, takes another body blow.

Here’s the details of the latest research:
• Girls are as good at math as boys given the proper environment.
• Males may have an edge in spatial thinking abilities, which are useful in math — and this advantage may be very ancient, evolutionarily speaking.
• Deep-rooted though this difference may be, females can surmount it with just a little work.

More proof of this gap being at least in fair part environmentally based?
“The gap doesn’t exist in countries in which men and women have access to similar resources and opportunities,” said Paola Sapienza of The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois, summarizing the results of a new study published in the May 30 issue of the research journal Science.

And, another study notes that the spatial cognition differences, to the degree they have a real gender basis, can also be surmounted. (In other words, Pinker, Summer, et al, environment trumps “raw genes” again. Try reading somebody like Matt Ridley.)

Green Party not on Texas November ballot

As in 2004, the Texas Green Party will not be on the ballot in Texas in the November general election. Individual Greens can be written in, but you have to remind people to do that.

Why?

First, Barack Obama is a more dynamic candidate than John Kerry, making it an uphill battle.

Second, lack of organization.

I’m not a registered Green.

BUT, I e-mailed leaders of Dallas Greens almost a month ago, asking where, such as the main Half Price books location, Green volunteers might have ballot access petitions for signature, and when. I was going to put the information here, on my blog.

Nobody ever got back in touch with me.

It’s called ORGANIZATION, Texas Greens, or Dallas Greens, at least.

Maybe in 2012, you’ll recognize that.

Meanwhile, this time around, don’t blame other people without looking at your part first.

Call it the Gerard Arpey fee

American Airlines’ $15 fee for your first checked bag went into place yesterday.

Fortunately, I had just carry-ons for my flight back from San Francisco.

And, we actually got back to Dallas 15 minutes early.

But, let my tell you just what the Gerard Arpey fee did NOT get:
1. A boarding agent to run out the skybridge, hook it up, and open the airplane!
2. Working telephones in the flight attendants’ area at the back of the plane to check on when a boarding agent might get there, after the captain’s original call.
3. Flight attendants happy with Gerard Arpey, his big fat bonuses, or the crappy contract offered to various American unions.

Rather than e-mailing just one person, go to American’s website and bitch at a bunch of people. Since it's now 2 a.m., writing this in advance of going to sleep, I'm too tired to look up e-mail addys anyway!

Vella Cheese has done it again!

Bet you didn’t think Monterey Jack could taste as dry as Parmesan yet with unique Jack cheese taste.

Well, Sonoma, Calif. based Vella has topped its Special Select Dry Jack with a new Golden Bear Dry Jack, aged a minimum of two years.

So, next time you’re in California wine country, get more than just wine.

If you like cheddar, also, you MUST get to this place sometime. Whole Foods Market, and also Central Market, Dallas’ other lux grocery with multiple stores, sell Vella’s dry Jack (itself a delight), but don’t sell …

Vella’s 5-year-old raw milk cheddar.

June 01, 2008

Restaurant grease theft on the rise

As oil prices continue to soar, biodiesel gains interest. And, with that, restaurant grease becomes more attractive, whether gained by legal or illegal means.

A Burger King grease dumpster worth $6K? Yes. Grease worth 33 cents a pound? Yes.

Wonder how long it will be before fast-food places put video cameras on their grease bins.

On the coffee table — Gandhi and Churchill

It has been said of French president Clemenceau that he had one illusion, France, and one disillusion, mankind, including Frenchmen.

Arthur Herman, in his magisterial Gandhi & Churchill, five-starred by me at Amazon, shows how the same could be said of his twin protagonists over India and Indians.

Churchill’s illusion was that Britain could continue to hold on to the old British Raj, even after World War II and a bankrupt British treasury. His disillusion was rather a cynicism about Indian capacity for self-government, lumping Gandhi in with millions of other religious fakirs.

Gandhi’s illusion was multiple, but basically of two parts. The second was that a medieval-age India, with 300 million people all picking up Gandhi’s spinning wheel, was possible, was the best way for India to go, and was desired by most Indians. His second, more tragic illusion was that India without Muslim-Hindu partition was the only way to go, and that it could only be done on his terms.

Herman documents how Gandhi, not Churchill, not Viceroy Archibald Wavell, not Muhammad Ali Jinnah or anybody else, wrecked the last reasonable shot at an unpartioned India because it wasn’t done his way.

Gandhi’s illusion? That Indians wanted to follow his way of satyagraha, or “soul force,” in its nonviolence, as well as to become peasant-based, rather than Nehru’s vision of technology-driven socialism. Herman shows that British actions in Gandhi’s years of the Raj were NOT driven by nonviolence but rather, the fear of violence that accompanied most of Gandhi’s arrests, fasts from prison, etc.

In short, Gandhi comes off badly in this book, and deservedly so.

The mythical Gandhi of Ben Kingsley’s acting and of previous bios of the Mahatma is just that — a myth. Herman rightfully shows that Gandhi impeded India’s independence (at the times he wasn’t irrelevant). And the myth already gets shattered in his South Africa years.

Churchill, meanwhile, was Gandhi’s tar baby. His 1930s “years in the wilderness” were all due to India, ultimately. His irrationality on the subject had some influence on some of his wilder military tactics proposals during World War II, as well.

But Herman doesn’t stop there. He gets deeper into the personages of both, what drove them, and how neither could understand the other’s drives. Churchill, who was a secularist his adult life, could never understand, let alone accept, Gandhi’s religious revitalization. Gandhi, meanwhile, could understand Churchill more but would never lower himself from his hyper-idealist pinnacle enough to translate that into action.

If not for these two, India would have been independent earlier, and likely would have remained in the British Commonwealth.

An excellent book. And one of which this long review only scratches the surface.

And Herman, who helped his dad with galley proofs of a new translation of the Bhagavad-Gita when he was a child, has the academic and personal background to make this book excellent.

My first thoughts for Obama in general election

First, Sen. Obama, you, I’ll riff on George Wallace a bit. You can’t outmilitary Schmuck Talk Express™, so hammer him for being locked into war-first solutions.

• Along with that, you can’t out-military him with a certain vice-presidential choice. Translation? Don’t choose Jim Webb. Although I still lean Green right now, you can make me lean either less or more Green by whom you choose to run with you.

• Also in that header, don’t choose John Edwards. His poverty tour is a great idea, but, if he wouldn’t bust knuckles for John Kerry, will he for you?

• For other reasons, unless you have a gun to your head worse than the one Sam Rayburn pulled out on JFK in 1960, don’t choose Hillary, either. If a woman, like Kansas Gov. Sebelius, is a good choice in part because of an outreach to feminism-energized female supporters, make sure she is the choice for more than just that.

Second, on the “Muslim” Swift Boating that is sure to come in tidal-wave level, don’t just deny it.

Take an aggressive gamble. Call out the religious bigotry. Ask what would be wrong with a Muslim president. Consider using Rep. Keith Ellison in this regard, if he has any free time from his re-election campaign.

Call on McCain to denounce it. Every time it happens. Pin it to him hard.