June 28, 2008

Winning awards at my day job

It wasn’t my best year, but it wasn’t my worst year, at this year’s Texas Press Association Better Newspapers Contest, as I hauled in a few awards. (The design, news photos and half of the feature writing were my personal effort.)

Overall, I’ve won page design twice and finished second twice in the past several years, won news writing and editorial writing, placed in column writing, won general design and won the sweepstakes for most overall contest points twice.

A bird by any other name may not have evolved the same

A major five-year study of birds may result in the creation of new species and major taxonomic reorganization. For instance:
Flamingos and some other aquatic birds, such as grebes (freshwater diving birds) and tropicbirds (white, swift-flying ocean birds), did not evolve from waterbirds. This suggests that birds have adapted to life on water multiple times.

And:
Birds have had a complex evolutionary history after an early and rapid explosion of species that occurred sometime between 65 million and 100 million years ago.

Thos are just two of 10 things LiveScience says you probably didn’t know about birds.

Even many of the estimated 82 million birdwatchers in the U.S. may not know most of those 10 facts.

Budget slumps hit Metroplex suburbs

Cedar Hill, despite the opening of its new mall at Uptown Village, is looking to trim $1 million from its proposed city budget.

When the Plano and Lewisville city governments are looking at possible budgetary belt-tightening, you know it’s serious.

For analysis of more of what cities may need to do to address the budget, abandoned houses in new developments and more, go here.

Sierra Club green jobs hypocrisy follow-up

Last night, I blogged about Sierra’s trumpeting its participation in the Green Jobs for American program, along with NRDC and the Steelworkers, but noted that, in the past, tchotchkes for membership renewals seem to not come from this country.

So I e-mailed, direct to Executive Director Carl Pope, asking if the gimme garden back offered on an envelope flier inside the latest issues of Sierra mag, came from inside the U.S. or not.

Per Sierra Club’s Director of Marketing Membership Johanna O’Kelly, that would be a big nugatory on their tchotchke backpacks creating green jobs in the U.S. of A. Via e-mail:
Our Green Jobs initiative revolves around jobs that are focused on providing eco-preferable products/services from energy and energy-saving devices to organic materials. Unfortunately, backpacks do not usually fall into that Green category since they have to meet certain basic criteria for consumers’ usage, such as water resistant, light weight, durable, etc.

Backpacks do relate well to our mission as we were formed as an outings
organizations with the thought that if you get someone outdoors, they are much more likely to help protect those places. Our bags are made overseas in one of several factories that have been inspected by a US auditing company of our choosing for meeting our workplace code of conduct standards. They are well made and last a long time and thus stay out of the waste stream longer as well.

So, let me unpack this big steaming pile of crapola, per the follow-up questions I e-mailed to O’Kelley.
1. Doesn’t fuel costs for shipping from China (unless Sierra discloses what country these gimme gifts come from, China is the empirically logical assumption) count as part of the green issue?

2. Doesn’t the higher pollution from Chinese factories, Chinese coal-fired electric plants, etc. count as part of the green issue?

3. In your second sentence, it sounds like you're saying, in essence, that American manufacturers can't make something that good, or at least, they can't make something that good at Chinese sweat equity wages. Well, just as people like Michael Klare note that U.S. military costs ought to be factored into the “true” cost of oil, shouldn't Chinese environmental degradation be factored into the "true" cost of Made in China?

4. If you want (to hand out) a tchotchke, why not hook the Sierra wagon to the carbon-offset star and plant 10 trees in the name of each member upon renewal?

And, that fourth comment was not meant as snark. I seriously mean that.

Sierra with your bags, WWF with your stuffed pandas and polar bears, and any other enviro groups passing out cheap made in China crap, STOP! Especially if you’re going to claim you’re trying to great more environmentally-based jobs in America.

In a follow-up e-mail, O’Kelley’s eyes may have opened:
On the fuel costs, you’re right I need to do that calculation again since it has been so long. … I think it is pretty fuel efficient but I need to probably figure this again. And we only have the factories do cut and sew — no mfg. And you are right about the US. mfg. There so few factories left. But again, as I mentioned before we do have these places inspected. You can go here for more info: http://www.fairlabor.org/all/code/index.html

And as for premiums, we test a myriad of things and we go with whatever produces the most membership sign-ups. We have not tried carbon offsets but have tried things such as compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) which unfortunately did not work well. Maybe we will give the carbon offset a try sometime although we find that most people want something tangible for themselves ... but maybe I’ll try it though. Thanks for the idea.

The attack of the 1,000-foot rising trees

It’s no horror movie.

Instead, it’s the potentially horrible upward march of trees due to global warming.

Over the past 100 years, trees in six western Europe mountain ranges have climbed about 1,000 feet up the mountainsides.
“This is the first time it is shown that climate change has applied a significant effect on a large set of forest plant species,” said Jonathan Lenoir, a forest ecologist at AgroParisTech in France, who led the study.

But, while the strategy provides relief, it isn’t permanent. Not only is there an ultimate dead-end at the tops of mountains, the relief may not be that stable.

Read the whole story for more.

GM now worth half of Avon — irony alert

Besides “a pittance,” or other one-liners, GM is now worth:
• One half of Avon;
• One third of Carnival;
• One-fourth of Yahoo, which has itself sucked as of late;
• One fifth of eBay, etc.

And, in the ultimate irony, GM is now worth one-66th of ExxonMobil.

Did Reyes use ‘weight’ to help kidnapped relative in Mexico?

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington charges just that, charging that Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes somehow helped get Erika Possert, whom Reyes described as the aunt of his sister-in-law's son's wife, freed from Mexican captors on payment of ransom.

Behind that story, whether true or not, lies the bitterness of many south Texas families with relatives kidnapped in Mexico who feel Reyes has turned a deaf ear to them in the past. And it sounds to me like that’s the key story.

It doesn’t look like Reyes has any impropriety in the Possert case, but he’s made enough constituents disgruntled they’re more than ready to seize on the appearance of impropriety.

While he’s not likely to lose his seat in this year’s general election, you never know, and I’m sure he’ll get a noteworthy Democratic primary challenger in 2010.

June 27, 2008

Can we sue or try Bill Hill?

Due to his “hang ’em high” intransigence, it now turns out the former Dallas County District Attorney not only kept the innocent incarcerated, but, through his adamant opposition to DNA testing, let the guilty walk as well.

In the case of Patrick Leondos Walker, seven years later, DNA testing by current Dallas DA Craig Walkins has cleared him of an armed robbery.

Unfortunately, one of the likely actual perpetrators was in jail and could have been DNA tested himself at the time Hill refused to allow any DNA testing in the case.

I’m not joking.

Can Hill be tried criminally for malfeasance of office? Or false imprisonment? Can he still be sued?

Can we at least get an ounce of flesh from disbarring him?

And not just Hill. Most of his staffers from that time need the same treatment. Read the full story.

Cornyn loses doctors' endorsement ... breaking

Following Cornyn’s vote earlier this week to cut Medicare payments to doctors, the Texas doctors’ PAC is withdrawing its endorsement of Big John.

From the Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee’s letter to Cornyn, signed by Dr. Manuel Acosta, chairman of the board of the PAC:
The Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee (TEXPAC) is outraged that you made the decision to follow the direction of the Bush Administration and voted to protect health insurance companies at the expense of America’s seniors, those with disabilities, and military families.

On July 1 – just four days from now – the government will slash Medicare physician payments by at least 10.6 percent, even more in many parts of Texas. That will force physicians into an impossible choice: face financial crisis by continuing to see their Medicare patients, or protect their practices and cut off those patients.
There is talk and then there is action. We expect our elected officials to show leadership and do the right thing. Absent that, TEXPAC has rescinded our endorsement of your candidacy.

(Sourced via e-mail press release.)

Bad science language in Smithsonian

John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, who will join the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum this fall, is the offender in talking about NASA’s challenge from Preznit Bush to get back into manned space exploration.

Here’s the offending comments:
“It’s not primarily about science,” Logsdon says. “It’s to test the belief that humans are destined to live in other places except earth.”

From a scientific point of view, that pair of sentences is carrying a boatload of baggage.

First, science doesn’t test beliefs, it tests hypotheses.

Someone who served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board should know better.

Second, “destined” is teleological language, and science doesn’t do teleology when done right. We’re not “destined” for anything, just like evolution doesn’t cause “progress.”

I hope Logsdon does not have the Air and Space Museum focus its displays and presentations to talk about what we are “destined” to do.

Friday scatblogging 2 — National Parks version

In an era when the average child supposedly is outside only eight minutes a day, it’s great that one of our National Parks, Saguaro, is getting so in-depth with its junior ranger program that desert scat is on the education menu.
"The hikes we went on were very enthralling," said junior ranger Kelsey Weaver, 11. "We were taught how to identify scat, burrows and some plants. I've learned a lot about how to figure out animals."

That kid may read this blog someday!

Friday scatblogging — scat you don’t want to see

I’ve camped alone in grizzly country in Montana (Glacier National Park and national forest to the south and Alberta (Banff National Park), so I know you don’t want to stumble upon fresh grizzly scat. That’s what happened to Jenne Danzl while out with boyfriend Roger Long and friend Joanie Merritt in Alaska.
“I’m always yak, yak, yakking,” Danzl says. “But this time I was concentrating on mushrooms and wasn’t talking nearly as much.”

“You have to know that the moss is like walking in really nice carpet,” Long says. “You don’t snap twigs or make a sound.”

Danzl was about 20 yards behind Long when she noticed the bear scat.

“And I said, ‘Oh Roger, this is a really fresh pile of scat.’ And Roger joked, ‘Why don’t you taste it and see how fresh it is?’”

Danzl joked back that she’d pass, and that’s when she heard the three woofing grunts. Seconds later a sow charged.

Turns out the sow had two cubs. Fortunately, the attack wasn’t too serious in its results.

But, it was pretty dramatic, as Danzl was bitten multiple times. Read the full story to see her thoughts in action, and the efforts of her caring boyfriend to try to drive the bear off.

One BIG diff between 1993 and 2008 flooding; can science help?

In 1993, we didn’t have West Nile disease in the upper and central Mississippi River valley. LiveScience talks about how scientific advances in the mosquito fight have also changed.

That includes selective mosquito sterilization, better repellents, more use of nature-based attacks on mosquitoes and more.

Read the whole story for details.

Morning News right about the Red Bird area

Leaders of the Best Southwest suburbs on the south side of Dallas should be in full agreement with this editorial, especially the Dallas Executive Airport and Charlton Methodist areas.

That said, Southwest Center/Red Bird Mall may be beyond saving.

June 26, 2008

Sierra Club doesn’t really love Made in U.S.A. — hypocrisy alert 2

Boy, the Sierra Club is doing well on corporate bullshit this month.

Immediately below this post, I note Sierra’s hypocrisy about population control, also linked just to the right in the archives.

This month’s Sierra mag has another item of hypocrisy in the Sierra Club bulletin.

Sierra touts how it’s working for American jobs, about two-thirds of the way down the webpage:
What can fight global warming, slash energy costs, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and revitalize our economy? The Green Jobs for America campaign, launched in April by the Sierra Club with the United Steelworkers and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Focusing on 12 states, the campaign promotes private investment and government policies to expand renewable energy.

Really?

Hey, Executive Director Carl Pope.

Remember a few years ago when I, and thousands of other people, asked where a tchotchke Sierra Club backpack for renewing members was made? Your staff wouldn’t even tell us what country it came from period, let alone whether or not it was American-made. Instead, you said, in essence, “Trust us.”

That garden bag on the flier inside this month’s magazine, offered to basic members? Is it made in the U.S.? I highly doubt it. You certainly make no claim to that end on the flier.

If you’re wondering the same thing shoot Carl an e-mail and ask him.

Sierra Club LOVES population control — outside of U.S.; big hypocrisy alert

For several years, ending a couple of years ago, Sierra Club annual board elections were sharply contested in part based on whether or not the club should take an official stance on population control in the United States.

Practically, of course, that meant taking, or not taking, an official stance on illegal aliens and illegal immigration, and what to do about that.

Well, Executive Director Carl Pope, ironically or hypocritically, himself a former political director for Zero Population Growth (see his Wiki bio), got the board he wanted, got Sierra governance changed, and kept population growth worriers from being easily nominated to run for board positions.

Imagine my surprise when I got my July/August issue of Sierra magazine (I’m going to keep the subscription until my Sierra Club membership officially expires, had an article touting birth control in Ethiopia.

The subhead is even explicit: “Ethiopia, the cradle of humanity, faces up to family planning.”

So, Carl Pope, why is it OK to talk about family planning there, in your mag, but not about population issues here on your board?

If you’re wondering the same thing, shoot Carl an e-mail.

Take James Hansen one step further on carbon taxes

Earlier this week, I blogged about how NASA’s James Hansen, the conscience of modern global warming studies, favors a tax system on utilities rather than carbon caps with tradeable permits.

Let’s take him one step further.

A carbon tax, or series of carbon taxes, should go far further than on electric utilities.

Rather, the idea should be similar to that of European Union value-added taxes.

Take appliances. The better the Energy Star rating, the lower the tax.

Windows? Highest tax on old single-panes. Double-panes and even better ones pay less tax.

A VAT could even be extended to new home construction, or new business construction, based on the amount of insulation used, etc.

Hansen’s idea of using the tax monies to help low-income people directly with their utility bills, rather than filtering it through Congress, is still the right idea there.

For how this might play out, with evidence from elsewhere, DeSmog Blog lets us know what’s happening with Canadian carbon taxes.

Oil spikes, GM craters, Dow slumps

GM hit its lowest price in more than $50 years and oil crossed the $140/bbl mark, all combining to drive the Dow to a 2008 low, below 11,500.

Oil surged on talk of Libyan production cutbacks and talk by OPEC that prices could break $150. While other news has played up the talk of Libyan cutbacks due to possible terrorism-related sanctions, to me, the OPEC talk was the big thing.
Chakib Khelil, president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said he believes oil prices could rise to between $150 and $170 a barrel this summer.

Remember, this comes directly on the heels of a pledged production increase by Saudi Arabia.

Khelil cited the strength of the Euro and weakness of the dollar, among other things, but the Algerian energy minister may also have been doing some muscle-flexing against Riyadh:
“The Saudis go out of their way to have this specific meeting outside the OPEC frameworks, and if you’re the OPEC president, you want to be important, so you come out of it and say $150 to $170,” said Roger Read, an analyst at Natixis Bleichroeder in Houston. “He’s trying to prove he matters and OPEC matters and the Saudis don't make all the decisions.”

If Read’s right, Khelil accomplished what he intended.

Meanwhile, GM stock sagged to a point not seen since 1955. It’s so bad that Goldman Sachs issued an unusual “sell” warning.

Elsewhere this week, I’ve heard some analysts claim that GM may burn through almost all of it’s capital by the end of 2010. So, if the Volt fizzles, it’s bankruptcy?

Seriously, who would be dumb enough to lend GM major amounts of money right now?

To complete the trifecta, Citigroup hit a 10-year low. The usual for the financial sector — mortgage derivates exposure.

Bring your FISA protest signs to Austin next month

Nancy Pelosi, the infamous Passive Pelosi™ herself, is supposed to be at the formerly styled Yearly Kos, now known as Netroots Nation, taking place in Austin July 17-20 at the Austin Convention Center. Obama has been invited; no word if he will show up.

Question: will folks like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU be there to protest?

I would assume that the ACLU of Texas, if it is going to stand up for ACLU traditions, will be there, with at least a news conference if not a protest.

If the ACLU of Texas gives me any info, I’ll let you know.

If you want to ask it the same question, or badger it into action, here’s your e-mail link.

Kevin Drum’s worst post of the week – wet dreaming for gun nuts

This week, the Flip-Flop Blogger™ is instead in his Squish Wasting Liberal California Bandwidth™ mode

In blogging about the Supreme Court’s 5-4 strikedown of DC’s handgun ban, Drum misses so many points it’s not funny.

First and foremost, he misses the original intent of the Second Amendment, where it is clear, and has been clear to most liberals, except the recently AWOL Lawrence Tribe, that the “well-regulated militia” clause is the primary clause of the Second Amendment.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

George Washington, above all, was familiar with problems with an unregulated militia. Also, Minutemen kept powder, and many of their weapons, at armories similar to National Guard armories of today. That’s what started the Revolutionary War, for doorknob’s sake. The British were marching on Concord to seize the arsenal there, as well as to try to round up Patriot leaders.

Second, Drum ignores Nino Scalia running roughshod over originalism when it doesn’t suit his tastes and philosophy.

We can’t talk about 100-year floods

As much as 6 inches of additional rain across the Upper Midwest clearly threatens a reduplication of 1993 flooding.

So how can we talk about 100-year floods, if this is the second such occurrence in 15 years?

We can’t.

To borrow a page from the skeptical empiricism of David Hume, in much of the U.S., we only have complete weather data for a little over a century. Sure, tree rings can take us farther back, and in a general way, tell us about particular years being wet or dry.

But, more specific than that? We don’t have the information.

So, we don’t know if a “100-year flood” is anything close to that.

And, from that, it follows that we have no idea if our levees are built high enough. We have no idea of a “100-year flood plain” actually keeps residential housing out of major floods well enough or not.

The heartless mainstream media continues to filet itself

The Miami Herald lays you off. After a bait-and-switch sending your job to India.

Then, it wants you to blog about it, and about how you’re going to survive without full-time income! (Scroll down to the June 22 post, or go directly there.

And, this is McClatchy.

Outside its more thorough, non Bush-shitted coverage of Iraq, it shows again it is Just.Another.Newspaper.

Bush-lite Obama sells out Constitution on ‘faith-based’ issues

A 2005 diary of his on The Orange Pseudoliberal Monster talks about how he’s OK with government-backed, Republican-created “faith-based” initiatives:
I think the whole “centrist” versus “liberal” labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark. … I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don't work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans). (Emphasis added.)

But, he is probably backing a one-trick pony.

Over at Free Inquiry, Tom Flynn says that in 40 years, maybe less, nobody will even remember the “faith-based initiative.”

The magazine has a more in-depth takedown of Democrats’ kowtowing to the Religious Right’s attempt to enter government by the back door on this issue, too.
Hillary Clinton sees no contradiction between “our constitutional principles” and “faith-based initiatives.” And Barack Obama depicted faith-based programs as a “uniquely powerful way of solving problems,” especially for substance abusers.

I can refute Obama directly on that one.

A boatload of longitudinal studies show that Alcoholics Anonymous, the original “faith-based program” for substance abuse, is no more successful for long-term sobriety, than other treatment, self-help or group support modalities.

For more, see my refutation of Arianna Huffington.

Of course, Obama doesn’t stop there, as he also sounds Republican-like in setting up this straw man:
Barack Obama claims to be “a devout Christian” and asserts that “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

First, here’s a very good riposte:
National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy complained, “I don’t want a progressive evangelical movement any more than I want the conservative one we have right now.”

And, here’s an even more telling one — The Constutution:
“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

I believe “public Trust” would include any entity getting government funds.

In addition to all the other reasons not to vote for Obama, such as concerns about how liberal he is, this one has weighed hard in my mind for quite some time.

That said, as Free Inquiry also notes, Obama is far and away from being alone among Democratic leaders on this issue.

The problem in Zimbabwe connected to South Africa

This waggish post at A Fistful of Euros (a great Euro blog) about the future of Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe and one-time challenger Morgan Tsvangirai says it all, in talking about the non-role that South African President Thabo Mbeki played:
Second, the regional approach to crisis resolution has failed i.e. leaving it to the Southern African Development Community. And it has failed because of Thabo Mbeki [Incidentally, I once heard a South African political comedian observe that you can't spell Thabo without Botha].

From a scientific point of view, that pair of sentences is carrying a boatload of baggage.

June 25, 2008

Participate in a Nigerian 419-type scam – go to jail

Do not pass go and do not claim you were trying to “get them before they got me.”

That’s what happened to a real estate broker in Ohio, found guilty of two counts of bank fraud. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Anthony Ross’ conviction.

Will Obama support the Feingold-Dodd filibuster on FISA?

A 2005 diary of his on The Orange Pseudoliberal Monster may provide some clues. It’s about his decision not to filibuster the nomination of John Roberts as Chief Justice. (Sidebar: Feingold was among Democrats who voted FOR Roberts’ nomination, a reminder that while some Democratic Congressmen are purer than others, none is as pure as Caesar’s wife allegedly was.)

That said, here’s a few selected comments by Obama:
I am not arguing that the Democrats should trim their sails and be more “centrist.” In fact, I think the whole “centrist” versus “liberal” labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark. Too often, the “centrist” label seems to mean compromise for compromise sake, whereas on issues like health care, energy, education and tackling poverty, I don’t think Democrats have been bold enough. But I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don't work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans).

First, a sidebar: I’ll be tackling this “faith-based” issue in another blog post tomorrow.

Beyond that, several points.

First, even with Karl Rove, it’s arguable that modern politics is still less nasty than that of the 19th century.

Second, Obama doesn’t explain HOW he will sell “Kumbaya.” Nor does he distinguish selling it to the voting public from selling it to Senate Republicans who keep threatening filibusters.
The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job. After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that’s our job.

But the hardest part, again unmentioned, is redefining the “job” of liberalism away from how Republicans have defined it, and that gets to the heart of “Kumbaya.”
Finally, you have this bit boatload of irony:
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great.

So, back to the main question — would that include the basket warrants part of the new FISA bill?

Probably not.

Don’t believe my analysis? Then read Obama’s lips:
“I think what is clear is that the way the program operated broke the law that was existing at the time,” Obama said Monday at a news conference in Jacksonville, Fla. “On the other hand, what I’ve also seen and learned is the degree to which the underlying program itself is, in fact, necessary to help prevent terrorist attacks.”

Sounds like he is definitely down with the infringement of civil liberties.

Oh, and he hasn’t tried to explain himself on this issue since that comment.

Saving Niger River nice gesture but likely no more

A €1 billion pledge to “save” the Niger River sounds like a great idea, but will it really do anything?

As the story notes, the river has fallen as much as 55 percent over the past 20 years and population is due to double in the river’s basin over the next 20 years.

Given the combination of that potential last fact, plus global warming, one thinks the World Bank et al would have been much smarter to spend all the euros on birth control in countries of the Sahel instead.

Obama OK with FISA bill PERIOD

Even if the Senate doesn’t remove immunity.

But Democrats-right-or-wrong supporters, still ignoring the idea that the good (or semi-good) can be the enemy of the best, will continue to back him rather than third-party true progressive candidates.

Shock me FISA-Yes Dems got more telecom money

Nonetheless, the 94 turncoats on the FISA bill got an average of 70 percent more in telecom campaign donations than civil liberties defending Democrats.

And you’ll note that Dem leaders who voted for the sellout got the biggest checks of all.

An independent-thinking blog worth a read

If you have time, take a look at Vote Out Incumbents Democracy.

Its mission is to reduce Congressional incumbency by 10 percent with the parallel mission of boosting third-party recognition and power.

Om nama Shiva, or whatever, to all of that.

Yes, Houston, and Dallas, we have a subprime problem

No, no Jim Lovell or Tom Hanks to announce it, but it’s there.

Contra to spinners like Gov. Rick Perry, take a look at this MSNBC interactive map, specifically the April 2008 stats, the latest ones.

See the I-35 corridor in purple?

In the Metroplex, see Kaufman, Ellis and Hood counties in red?

Also look at metro Houston, with Fort Bend County in red.

Yes, the Desert Southwest, Florida and metro Atlanta are worse. So are other metro areas.

But, places like Albuquerque, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, N.C., Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are better off.

Your credit card – No ID required

Yes, Liz Pulliam Weston says that MasterCard and Visa, for example, specifically PROHIBIT merchants from asking for ID. Your signed credit card is all that’s needed. That’s one of nine myths and realities of credit cards that she tackles.
Merchants’ agreements with Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover specifically forbid them from requiring identification. Your signature is supposed to be enough.

Furthermore, merchants’ contracts with Visa and MasterCard are supposed to prevent them from even asking for ID. American Express and Discover don’t prohibit asking but strongly discourage it.

Merchants typically ask for ID because they’re trying to reduce their own fraud costs. But if a clerk memorizes or writes down vital information from your driver's license — your address or date of birth, for example — you’re the one who could be at greater risk of identity theft.

Go to the story for the other eight myths and realities.

I’ve been banned from another blog!

I’m not going to dignify it with a link, but, as with being banned from Kos nearly three years ago, it’s proof that “liberal” blogs normally translates into “Democratic” blogs.

In this case, unlike Kos, it’s not being banned as a community poster. It’s being banned as a regular member of a group blog run on Blogger software.

Shorter story. I was invited to be part of this group blog about, oh, a year ago? I wasn’t told at the time it was a “Democratic” blog, but that was brought out more and more as the blog moved on.

Well, I guess I complained too much in “public,” on the pages of the blog, even though the incident that eventually led to me actually getting banned did not directly involve me promoting the Green Party (or, if you have a socialist/social democratic party, vote for it, if you would) as an alternative to the Dems.

Rather, I simply said, that in light of Passive Pelosi™ and Just.Another.Politican.™ Obama on the FISA bill, that people who had read this group blog for some time back, or were members, should know this confirmed my vote in November. It was a shortened version of the Friday FISA posts from here.

I didn’t, directly, or indirectly, try to “solicit” votes. (That said, if any readers wanted to dialogue with me, that was OK.)

Two days later, that post was removed. I complained in the comments section, and now I’m banned.

If nothing else, I’ve lived up to my blogging handle again.

Oh, what the hell; several people have hit on this post, so I will at least name it, and be snarky at the same time.

It’s “Watching Those We Choose,” obviously no longer linked here.

I guess “watching” doesn’t mean considering the full range of actions to take based on that watching.

The ‘ownership society’ outwits even economics Nobelists

Jim Jubak has the lowdown on page 2 of his latest column.
We've gradually discovered, for example, that most people are terrible managers of their own retirement money. Most people, in this case, includes the more than 20 winners of the Nobel Prize in economics that (Peter) Gosselin interviewed.

Jubak has other insights, including that the “ownership society” has produced almost as much income variability among people in the top 10 percent of incomes as the bottom 10 percent.

Now, as he notes, the bottom 10 percent don’t have any buffer or cushion, but it’s interesting the top 10 percent hasn’t opened its eyes yet. After all, in many ways, the “ownership society” has only benefited the top 1 percent of society, not top 10 percent.

Gosselin is the author of the newly- published “High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families,” from which Jubak drew his column.

No rest for the weary in uniform

Due to rising U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan, it looks more and more like any U.S. troops drawn down from Iraq will swiftly be moved east.

Of course, that assumes that American Caesar II, Gen. David Petraeus, will allow for more drawdowns in our forces in Iraq.

Maybe we can offer illegals a chance to avoid deportation if they’ll enlist in the Army the moment they get arrested.

June 24, 2008

Saudi oil propaganda monument rises in desert

Saudi Aramco has given journalists the full tour of the propaganda machine also known as an oil production plant.
Propaganda? Yes. The Saudis claim this will let them massively ramp up oil production, while skeptics have particular reasons to be, well, skeptical.
Skeptics who doubt Saudi Arabia’s ability to meet growing world oil consumption point to Khurais as a project that shows the kingdom is reaching its limits.

Khurais will start off with a massive water injection system around the periphery of the giant field and with electronic submersible pumps in the production wells — steps Aramco normally uses after a field has been producing for several years.

Injecting more than 2 million barrels a day of treated seawater into the field will provide a pressure source to move the oil through the rocks a mile below the desert and into the field's production wells.

Amin Nasser, Aramco's senior vice president for production and exploration, said the decision to use submersible pumps was not about coaxing production from a weak field, but rather a function of cost.

Nasser, meanwhile, spouted the Aramco line that there is no oil shortage and critics need to look elsewhere for high oil prices.

But, in a separate column, Jim Landers notes that many Peak Oil theorists are highly skeptical the Khurais project can do what the Saudis claim.
The Saudis say they're spending $60 billion over the next five years to maintain and expand production capacity – first to 12.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2009 and then to 15 million barrels a day if the demand is there.

County me as among the many skeptics.

Ghawar has a 28 percent water cut, and Nasser claims that is decreasing? Puhleeze.

Also, some oil analysts think the KSA 200K barrel increase in oil production will actually make oil prices worse in the short term, because it cuts into Saudi spare capacity, thereby reducing a major market buffer.

Feingold skeptical of stopping FISA

But, he’s going to give it his best shot.
“I’m very worried we’re not going to be able to prevail.”

And, Feingold does an excellent, illustrative job of getting to the heart of the matter, beyond the immunity issue:
Holding up his BlackBerry, Feingold warned, “Every time you e-mail my daughter or text message her in England, anybody contacts their son or daughter in Iraq, anybody has kids [spending] junior year abroad, anybody that has a business associate anywhere around the world, all of that is now sucked up into a database over which there is essentially no control for the first time in American history. All of this has happened to you, and your communications, in a way that you never would have thought was possible in this country.... We're going to fall over on this.”

The Progressive has a further take on Obama’s FISA position.

Passive Pelosi™ the buck-passer

Nice to know that the Speaker of the House (and frequent critic of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) wants the Senate to do what she couldn’t or wouldn’t get the House to do on FISA: spend more time discussing it. She said it would be “helpful.”

That said, it’s clear her idea of “helpful” is helpful in terms of greasing the skids to ram this down the collective American gullet.
“This issue has not been digested thoroughly by the American people,” Pelosi said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, saying it has been “a cause for great anger.”

That means it could be "helpful" if they heard more about it in a Senate debate.

In describing her own position on the bill, she said, “With great — take out ‘great’ — I can comfortably vote for the bill.”

You already DID “comfortably vote for the bill.”

The tragic power of alcohol

A mom on a temporary pass from prison for her son’s funeral goes straight to a bar afterward rather than checking back in at jail.

The tragedy?

She stands accused of causing her toddler son’s death in a DWI crash.

And she went to a bar right after his funeral.

Is it time to boot GM out of the Dow?

I say Yes to this CNN question. Market cap and other issues say boot it.

And, yes, if the Dow needs an auto stock, why can’t Dow Jones accept globalization, get rid of its “American incorporated” bias, and add Toyota?

Housing market continues to implode and drag economy down

A 15 percent year-over-year drop in housing prices is huge. The April drop was also down a bit more than 2 percent from March of this year.

The one glimmer of hope? Cleveland, a ground zero of subprime bombing in the Rust Belt, had a 2 percent rise.

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt continues to tank; Las Vegas home prices dropped 27 percent from last year.

Meanwhile, the housing news was a lead anchor on the larger economy.

And, contrary to Georgie Porgie, and What’s Good for Goldman Sachs is Good for the Country™, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the consumer confidence rating sagged to a flat 50 right in the middle of tax rebate check mailings.

Even St. Alan of Greenspan is on the worry ride, and using the “r” word in saying we’re on the brink of a recession.

The corny Barack Obama

And no, we’re not talking bad jokes, we’re talking his love for ethanol.

Here, John McCain is doubly right. Get rid of the U.S. ethanol subsidy, and stop putting the surcharge of 54 cents a gallon on Brazilian sugar-produced ethanol. It’s not only a free trade issue, it’s an energy return issue. Corn-based ethanol at best breaks even on energy return for energy investment, while sugarcane ethanol is well into the positive side, as high as 8 to 1. The times credits corn-based ethanol at 2-1, but that’s using a narrow calculation of EROEI; in reality, it’s laughable.

On the free trade side, it’s arguably a tariff that’s illegal under World Trade Organization rules, too.

And, although Obama won’t take money from lobbyists, he’ll cozy up to ex-Senators of both parties who do, on this issue.
The corny Barack Obama

And the fat get fatter — and more hypocritical (Hypocrisy alert)

At the end of this Condé Nast story about the Baconator and its stroke-inducing cousins, the comments get ludicrous, many of them buying into the line of the parent company of Hardees and Carl’s Jr. to not let the government “pry my hamburger from my cold dead hands.”

Yet, as I posted in a comment in return, I’m sure that not one of these anti-government crusaders will forgo Medicare paying for his heart attack or stroke treatment and rehab if he’s over the age of 65.

Curb your enthusiasm for plug-in hybrids

At least if lithium (small PDF) is the proposed prime battery material for 3-5 billion cars in 40 years, with at least 10 percent of them plug-in hybrids. Current worldwide lithium production would have to ramp up somewhere around 10-fold for sure, 100-fold, possibly.

Interestingly, well over half of lithium salts are concentrated in just three, adjacent, countries — Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.

The reading really gets good on about page 5 of the 14-page PDF.

Other noted problems —
• Within the ABC, much of the lithium is on the altiplano; little roads, high altitude, etc. Short of Tibet, it’s about the worst inhabited place in the world to try to mine commercially.
• Nationalization. Given that just three countries control this much lithium, this would be a slam dunk compared to the work of organizing OPEC.

But, the alternatives? The current NiMH requires cobalt, too, and can’t be ramped up to 2050 needs.

Another nickel-based battery and a zinc-based one may be more realistic. But, they have a lower life expectancy in terms of recharge cycles.

And, whichever way we go, as we go down the downslope of Peak Oil, the battery requirements are going to ramp up.

Picking winners and losers, whether done by governments, private industry, or cooperative, is going to be very dicey in years to come.

Bob Crandall rips legacy airlines a new one

Starting off by telling American, et al to stop blaming OPEC for their losses because they lost money when oil was a lot cheaper, the former American CEO turns up the heat from there.

Crandall, certainly American’s best CEO every, then shoots down other straw men of the modern legacy airlines, such as calls for more consolidation.

His answer?

More regulation.
Three decades of deregulation have demonstrated that airlines have special characteristics incompatible with a completely unregulated environment. To put things bluntly, experience has established that market forces alone cannot and will not produce a satisfactory airline industry, which clearly needs some help to solve its pricing, cost and operating problems.

But not necessarily regulation just like that of the old days.

He calls for things like a national transportation plan.

But, he goes far beyond this, even.

Who could imagine a former American CEO doing things such as:
• Calling for a rejection of the hub-and-spoke system;
• Calling for all flights under 300 miles on rail corridors to be replaced by high-speed trains.

It’s a long but HUGELY interesting read.

That said, some of his ideas of labor costs have no chance in hell until airline CEOs have contracts expressly banning them from getting bonuses.

And, the old, regulated days meant higher prices and fewer people able to travel.

June 23, 2008

Your computer will crash at midnight local time Friday

If you have a PC, that is.

It’s in memory of Bill Gates leaving Microsoft.

You don’t have to own a home to be a ‘real American’

Paul Krugman, disputing many Democrats and Republicans alike, provides a whole laundry list of the downsides.

Besides negative equity, he lists others, like long suburban commutes with today’s $4/gallon gas, and more trouble relocating to another part of the country.

Read the whole thing; plenty to think about.

And beyond “thinking,” there’s things to be upset about, like the degree to which the tax deduction deck is stacked in favor of homeowners.

Passive Pelosi™ paints false dilemma on FISA bill

Here’s how the not-so-civil-libertarian Speaker of the House tried to justify her yes vote of last Friday.
“If not good enough for some,” the bill is “certainly preferable to the alternative that we have, which is the Senate bill, which must be rejected.”

What bullshit. Write a better bill.

If Bush vetoes it, so what? Pass another enabling bill for the rest of his less than seven months remaining in office.

And, Slippery Steny™ Hoyer chimes in:
“The issue really was whether we would have a compromise that would involve the court in determining whether or not the telecom companies had received justification ... or simply a bill that gave them immunity.”

Well, no and wrong.

First, immunity was only one issue of several. The issue of authorizing basket warrants was bigger for the future, though not perhaps as sexy as telecom immunity. Extending the “exigency” period from three days to a week was also big.

But, back to your primary claim.

Write a better bill. One that didn’t grant immunity AT ALL.

Now, run-Democrats-up-the-flagpole-and-salute voters, like the other bloggers at Proctoring Congress (I may soon stop being an “other” blogger there) will decry Hoyer, even decry Pelosi. They may even decry Obama for not stopping the immunity, while giving him a free ride on the basket warrants and other issues.

But, you know what?

They’ll keep pulling the “D” lever, claiming it’s better than Schmuck Talk Express™.

Well, I have an old axiom for you folks:

Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best.

‘Irreligious’ does NOT mean ‘atheist’ – it can mean ‘clueless American’

Unfortunately, too many secularists, including personal friends of mine, have believed for years that the rise in people claiming “no religion” also meant a rise in people claiming “no metaphysical belief.”

In a word,wrong, according to a new Pew survey.

So, so wrong.

Americans are so religiously and metaphysically STUPID, on average, that one out of five Americans who claim to be religiously unaffiliated and atheist claim to also believe in a divinity. Half of agnostics in that group make the same claim.

Hey, idiots. If you believe something, you can’t BE agnostic about it!

Oh, back to the first point.

A full 70 percent of those who claim to be religiously unaffiliated say they believe in some sort of god.

To show you how bad this intellectual incomprehension is, here in Dallas, a college professor, at a philosophy discussion group, claimed to be an atheist — and to pray.

Well, in my book, you only pray to someone, namely, a divinity.

Overall, 92 percent of Americans believe in a god or universal spirit.

So, no, and alas, there is no atheist surge overwhelming the country, Bill O’Reilly.

That said, some of these same friends and online acquaintances of mine have claimed that atheism is far higher in western Europe, and I’ve normally responded that, no, lack of claimed religious affiliation is far higher.

I don’t doubt that the Pew poll would have at least somewhat similar findings there as here.

Update from comments and further analysis: Maybe they don’t teach grammar, including how to identify parts of speech, over in the U.K., anymore, so let me explain things a little more clearly for “Divided by Zero” and any people who may come over here from his blog.

Re the Wiki link on agnostic theism that he or she posts, let’s carefully analyze the language used here. And, it translates into the grammatical structures of modern Greek and German, too.

“Theism” is the noun. Nouns always take precedence over adjectives like “agnostic.”

For example, you can have simple noun-verb, or N-V, sentences. You cannot have a noun-adjective, or N-Adj, sentence.

“Divided by Zero,” by the Wiki link posted, therefore admits to being a theist (another NOUN, if you’ll note), and not an agnostic.

Just because one is agnostic about the empirical support for one's beliefs can't hide that one is a theist.

Contra Wiki, I would simply call a Fideist a Christian, for example. I would call a Deist a Deist, not an agnostic. So, I am sure, as I said in comments, would 99 out of 100 people on the street, for the same reasons I have told Divided by Zero that he/she is a theist.

As far as “making my own definitions,” no, I’m not.

Perhaps Divided by Zero also needs to read Wittgenstein, the later Wittgenstein on ordinary language philosophy.

Divided by Zero, IMO, wants to camouflage the anti-empirical, anti-scientific nature of his theistic metaphysical belief system with an intellectual gloss of agnosticism.

Finally, if you’re a theist, why are you mucking about (for a good British phrase) a carnival about godlessness in the first place? That might be entered into evidence as indicating a desire to look for trolling.

Other than that, the particular Wiki article is not the best-written.

Update No. 2OK, I'm going to tackle db0 once again.

First, I apparently did attribute personal belief to him that he did not hold. For that, I apologize.

But, he's still wrong on his definitions.

First comment, he talks about "theistic agnostic." "Agnostic" being the noun there. But, his Wiki link goes to "agnostic theism." "Theism" being the noun there. I stand by my addition to the post itself on the linguistic comments.

Let me explain this once more, in terms of color (or colour).

There's a difference between "reddish-orange" and "orangish-red." And db0 started talking about reddish-orange, then posted a link to orangish-red.

Update 3 I've removed references to the UK as db0's country of origin; no, I'm not going to get into the whys of that false assumption; I have corrected the grammar references to note both his country of origin and current country of residence. As I am e-mailing him, re banning and comments, I can unban him, but that is with me either running moderated comments on Haloscan or else deleting comments that continue to flog a dead horse on the linguistics issue.

And, I have unbanned Konstantine; that said, I have activated "moderation" with Haloscan.

Once again, Toyota does it again

Read this story about its largest in Asia greenhouse, and the first commercial trigeneration greenhouse in the Pacific.

It’s that type of thinking that the Big Three just don’t have.

James Hansen — put Rex Tillerson on trial

NASA climate scientist James Hansen, the goad and push in modern global warming and climate change studies, wants to put ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and other Big Oil execs on trial for crimes against humanity.

In his House testimony today, he said these people, just like top execs of Big Tobacco a decade ago, knew just how wrong their global warming denialist misinformation campaign was.

Hansen also indicated he may hit the campaign trail against House members who are weak on global warming.

Update: George Monbiot offers his take on Hansen’s desire.

Parhat NOT an ‘enemy combatant’

Coming hard on the heels of the Boumediene ruling, a federal appeals’ court’s finding that Uyghur Muslim Hazaifa Parhat, a Chinese native, is

In a word,NOT an enemy combatant can only push the Bush Administration further back on its heels.

How to deal with banks that won’t officially foreclose on subprime houses

In more and more metropolitan subprime-loan ground zeros in America, stuff like this is happening.

With individual subprime loans resliced and rediced three or four times on their way “upstream” to the ultimate securitization spawning grounds of a multibillion dollar CDO, cities can’t even find the bank, or other fiscal agency, actually holding the note when a person or family defaults on a mortgage.

It’s very interesting, though, that somebody knows exactly when to notify the mortgage holder, even if that same “somebody” is mysteriously absent when it comes time to take legal possession of the property.

My solution?

Cities should start being as aggressive as hell on condemnation proceedings. On houses with pools, there’s multiple health and safety grounds for doing so — mosquito breeding sites, potentials for children drowning, etc. Even in houses without pools, child safety of neighbor children getting hurt, plus the broader public safety issue of long-vacated houses being potential crack houses or other crime shacks, make condemnation a readily viable option.

So, here’s what all our major cities and suburbs should do.

Pass an ordinance, per city codes and various state laws, that say a house abandoned for threat of foreclosure, or appearance of imminent foreclosure, or other dotting of i's and crossing of t’s, which is not actually foreclosed upon in 60 days, and suitably maintained after that, automatically becomes subject to condemnation proceedings.

Banks, mortgage brokers, etc., know that even 1/3 a loaf is better than none. They’ll get their asses in gear.

Especially if there’s any way to combine that with extra fines against egregious repeat violators.

War crimes commission to meet in September

Not to investigate Sudan or Congo, but to start plotting legal strategy for a possible war crimes trial of of President Bush. If they start looking for donations, they can have some of mine.

Is sarcasm really an evolutionary adaptation?

Color me skeptical of this claim, no sarcasm involved.

It seems like this is bleeding over from evolutionary psychology to the “just-so stories” part of Evolutionary Psychology. (Read through this blog, and even more through my science and philosophy blog, for more on the difference between “ep” and “EP.”)

First, sarcasm couldn’t be developed until a number of other things, not all of which are driven by evolutionary biology.

Obviously, human language needed to develop. Other than eye-rolling, there’s not any non-verbal sarcastic comment.

Second, for sarcasm to really expand, it’s likely that a certain level of civilization had to be attained. That’s both for a critical mass of people to spread sarcasm around and for social ideas and constructs to be sarcastic about. And, neither of those two is directly based on evolutionary biology, or evolutionary psychology.

Finally, its value as an adaptation is itself questionable:
Fast forward a few million years [emphasis added] and the network of human relationships is wider and more complex, and just as important to survival. The corporate chairman throws out a sarcastic remark and those who “get” it laugh, smile, and gain favor. In the same way, if the chair never makes a remark, sarcastic people are making them behind his or her back, forming a clique by their mutually negative, but funny, comments. Either way, sarcasm plays a role in making and breaking alliances and friendship.

First, a side note. As I observed above, sarcasm couldn’t start without language, which started just tens of thousands of years ago, not a few million. (And, this isn’t the first time I’ve caught LiveScience.com bordering on vacuousness, or simply being inaccurate, in a story.)

Second, taking modern, brief-term cultural evolution as inevitably producing long-term results is another EP vs. ep issue.

Further on my main point

I can think of many maladaptations of sarcasm. One, what if, in tribal days of 5,000 years ago, rather than the inaccurate modern corporate suite, sarcasm inspired a rebellion instead of suck-up-it is? In other worse, the beta males, to caricature EP, were tired of getting verbally kicked in the tuchis too much and a “kinder, gentler alpha male” arose?

Finally, this illustrates what happens when social scientists, such as article author Meredith Small, an anthropologist, try to dabble in the natural sciences without properly grounding themselves.

Oh, you can sound off to Small yourself if you want. Show her some e-criticism.

Obama will NOT filibuster FISA

Sorry, MoveOn. I don’t care what pledges Obama or his campaign made last September.

You can call his campaign all you want at 866-675-2008. You can e-mail Obama spokesman Bill Burton, who gave that vow back in September; ain’t gonna happen.

Obama will go through the motions of trying to remove the telecom immunity, will do nothing about the basket warrant and “exigency” provisions, will “fail” (scare quotes deliberate) and that will be that. On the basket warrants, Obama has already indicated he likes it and other tech-related parts of the FISA bill.

Glenn Greenwald notes that Obamiacs should not give him a blank check on this issue, i.e., the eventual Obama claim of “trust me.”

Jack Balkin (via Glenn) goes further and says Obama wants the expansion of presidential power the new FISA bill offers.

Tying him back to Glenn, then, there’s no guarantee that Obama will appoint SCOTUS justices who will do nothing but uphold this expanded presidential power.

What good will it ultimately do if a Supreme Court votes to uphold Roe v. Wade but at the same time upholds some possibility of the government spying on you if it thinks NARAL is a terrorist group?

So, call away or e-mail, if you want. (I did.) But don’t hold your breath.

Sidebar: Given all this, is it really the best idea for MoveOn, acting at Obama’s beck and call, to shut down its 527 operation?

Will Bob Barr be a GOP presidential spoiler?

He could be, but part of me says this GOP nightmare won’t play out that way.

My reason why? Look at the picture.

He has a moustache and glasses.

William Howard Taft was the last president with facial hair. Tom Dewey was the last serious candidate with facial hair, and Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder made his mythical rise to fame by learning that women opposed Dewey’s moustache by as much as 20-1, and betting accordingly on the election in Vegas or wherever.

That said, the GOP runs stronger with men, of course, so the moustache worry may not be as big a deal now as in 1948. Also, more people have moustaches now.

Point No. 2. Barr wears glasses. Harry Truman was the last president who regularly wore glasses, not counting later presidents sometimes trotting out reading glasses.

There’s another issue. Although Barr won’t actually finish ahead of McCain and cost him electoral votes, the way he hurts Schmuck Talk Express™ is by siphoning GOP votes.

But, doesn’t the Libertarian Party risk its credibility with Barr, who other than Patriot Act opposition is no libertarian? Read the full story for a long laundry list of anti-libertarian stances he took as a Congressman.

Knowing the fractiousness of both libertarians in general and the Libertarian Party in particular, I’m surprised a libertarian splinter group hasn’t yet nominated its own candidate.

Indeed, the story notes that many Ron Paul-heads are still skeptical of Barr.

Global warming — 20 years ago today

July 23, 1988, James Hansen first sounded the alarm about anthropogenic global warming being “99 percent certain.”

He is due to testify before a House committee later today.

That said, Hansen doesn’t agree with “cap and trade” for greenhouse gas control:
He [instead] supports a “tax and dividend” approach that would raise the cost of fuels contributing to greenhouse emissions but return the revenue directly to consumers to shield them from higher energy prices.

Such an approach, of course, would also cut Congress out of the pork-distribution business.

That said, Hansen’s approach would be iffy here in a state like Texas that has deregulated electricity. That said, though, there’s an argument for the federal government requiring states to have a minimum level of utility regulation in place as part of such a bill.

June 22, 2008

Saudis lie, American dollars die

There is no way in hell Saudi Arabia will ever pump 15 million barrels of oil a day. I’ll eat my hat, slathered in Arabian cardamom, if they even get up to the 12.5 million barrels they claim upgrades that are now in the pipeline (pun intended) will produce:
Saudi Arabia increasing its production capacity to 12.5 million barrels a day in a $90 billion expansion plan that is scheduled for completion next year. Beyond that, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said that oil experts in the kingdom had identified additional opportunities to expand production, if needed, to 15 million barrels a day in future years.

I’m with folks like Matt Simmons. Much of the upgrade is needed just to keep KSA at 9.5 million barrels a day 5-10 years from now.

Specific to the U.S., KSA already, in the past year or two, has been sending more oil to China than to us, anyway.

The big key is if, at this summit or soon thereafter, the Saudis start listening to other countries more about pegging oil prices to other currencies besides just the dollar.

The ‘real’ price of oil – about $85 per barrel

I put “real” in scare quotes because, of course, the actual real price of oil is what is being paid for it today.

That said, here’s my take on all the burdens, with price, a barrel of oil carries in the way of overhead.

• Speculation — $15
• Dollar inflation — $10
• Iraq invasion premium — $10
• U.S. military oil use in Iraq — $5
• Iran-related instability — $10
• Instability in Nigeria, etc. — $5

That’s a total of $55/bbl, which would give us a price of $85 a barrel, otherwise.

Of that, we can pin about half that on Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Obviously, we have $15 directly related. I’ll add $5 each from Iran instability and speculation, and another $5 as negative feedback from that to dollar inflation. That makes $25 as a broader-market war premium.

That said, the other $10 of speculation money is legitimate, if you’re a speculator. It’s largely based on Peak Oil fears gaining broader acceptance, despite the efforts of traditional Big Oil and part of OPEC to sweep that under the rug.

And, speaking of that, to look at things from the demand side, speculators are exactly right, also.

Kevin Drum somewhat trumpets a relatively minuscule 2 percent drop in highway miles, albeit while admitting it’s just a drop.

And, that’s the whole point. The American public is comfortable with the denialism of American political leaders and oil companies on Peak Oil. As for the latter part of the equation, it’s easier to blame Big Oil conspiracies (even if ExxonMobil is selling all of its gas stations), or now, the conspiracy of speculators, rather than admitting that worldwide discovery and production of halfway easy oil has definitely peaked.

In other words, the small minority of Americans who have actually heard more than two sentences about Peak Oil and tried to listen for more than 2 minutes have stopped listening soon enough thereafter, for the most part.

The sheeple want Washington leaders, above all a president who, as their “civic religion” leader, will soothe them with anodyne, rather than, like Jesus or an Old Testament prophet, actually challenge their complacency and self-delusion.

Call it a spin-off of American exceptionalism.

Yes we do have bananas – for a buck

No, you shouldn’t be surprised if the $1 a pound sign gets hung on the bananas at your local grocery soon. And, you shouldn’t be surprised if they’re not even available at that price in 10 years.

That’s because all the world’s commercial bananas are of one type, and that type, the Cavendish, is getting hit by a blight.

German town goes REALLY green

In Marburg, Germany, new houses or major remodels of existing ones will have to add one square meter of solar panels for every 10 square meters of floor space. And some residents have their hackles up.

But to some degree, the town fathers and mothers are just passing on more broadly written legislative requirements from Berlin.

The German government says that from 2009, all new and renovated buildings will have to comply with stricter energy efficiency standards. And, not just Marburg’s mix of Green and Social Democratic politicians are getting more specific.

As the story notes, the conservative government of the state of Baden-Wurtemberg already requires new homes to have 20 percent of their heating come from renewable sources, and the measures will be tightened in two years.

Arthritis in Tiger future?

Docs say Tiger Woods should make a fine recovery in the short term, but that three surgeries in five years could have long-term fallout.

Remember Sandy Koufax?

Hit Cedar Hill for a Dallas summer recreation hotspot

Cedar Hill has not one but TWO 18-hole disc golf courses. (Please, not “Frisbee” golf when the top players are around!)
“One of the reasons we're here is because nobody else is here. It's got great terrain; a lot of courses are pretty flat,” said Jace Ousley of Celina. “All the holes are a challenge; it's laid out well.”

“There's plenty of hills; it's a nice course,” Jeb Wortham of Fort Worth said.

Meadors hopes and believes the disc golf courses are worthy of state recognition.

“We plan to submit the disc golf course facility to the DFW Parks and Recreation Area Directors Association and the Texas Parks and Recreation Society (TRAPS) for the Facility Design and Construction category,” he said. “If the facility places high enough with TRAPS, it will automatically be forwarded to the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) for consideration.”

So get a Frisbee, if you don’t have a professional throwing disc, and head for south of the Trinity. (People don’t bite down here.)

British public as deluded as U.S. on global warming

A majority of Britons still reject the idea of anthropogenic global warming. And, like many Republican voters here, or more accurately, like Sen. Jim Inhofe, they think scientists are exaggerating the case.

Why does Atrios hate third-party presidential candidates?

Yes, it may be nice that Barack Obama raised so much money from small donors that he appears to have made public campaign financing irrelevant.

But, what if Mike Huckabee had been able to get an average of $200 a pop from the 5 million most committed evangelical Christians?

Well, he’d be sitting on a cool $1 billion right now. Atrios and Francis Wilkinson might change their tunes.

Besides, the “liberal” run-Democrats-up-the-flagpole-and-salute bloggers are OK with the two-party duopoly, rather than real options.

That, of course, is why the only talk about public financing of Congressional campaigns in recent years has very specifically excluded third-party candidacies.

‘Messianic Jews’ attacked in Israel while US evangelicals twiddle thumbs

Your semi-regular Sunday religious commentary here. Messianic Jews (why not avoid your own quasi-hypocrisy and call yourself Jewish Christians, or just Christians) number about 10,000 in Israel, and many Jews just don’t like them.

A bombing and a church used by Jewish Christians (my blog, and my terminology prevails) are the most serious manifestations of the enmity.

Part of the problem is the Jewish Christians, which include the oft-strident Jews for Jesus, proselytize in Israel, considered a big no-no. Even the Mormons don’t do that.

And, the fact that these people were once Jewish by faith adds to the problem:
“Historically the core of Christianity ... was ‘convert or die,’ so it was seen and is still seen as an assault on Jewish existence itself,” said Rabbi David Rosen, who oversees interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “When you are called to join another religion, you are being called on to betray your people.”

And, here’s how one Jewish religious leader in Israel feels about that:
Rabbi Sholom Dov Lifschitz, head of the ultra-Orthodox Yad Leahim organization that campaigns against missionary activity in Israel, says Messianic Jews give him “great pain. They are provoking ... it’s a miracle that worse things don’t happen,” he said.

To add to the “fun,” these folks are proselytizing Muslims as well as Jews.

Now, the hypocrisy of the Religious Right here in the U.S. of A. is manifold.

The government of Israel isn’t criticized for cracking down on Jewish terrorism. The Christian Jews aren’t defended, let alone held up as the pre-Rapture “final ingathering” first fruits, as you think non-hypocritical pre-millennialists would do. The Bush Administration isn’t pressured to make foreign aid to Israel conditional on stopping these attacks.