July 26, 2008

Juan Cole kicks more Afghan sand in Obama face

Cole, using the pages of Salon rather than his own blog, issues some of his strongest comments yet about the idiocy of putting more American troops in Afghanistan.

First, that’s what it is, under current circumstances – idiocy.

And, the idea of hot pursuit of al-Qaeda into Pakistan is idiocy squared. Vis-à-vis the Iraq-Iran parallels, Pakistan has three times the popuation of Iran and, of course, has nuclear weapons.

Didn’t Obama himself, in his one-third idealism, one-third realism, and one-third political posturing speech in 2002, say he opposed dumb wars?

Per page 2 of the story, one-third of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier is considered “inaccessible” by the government in Karachi.
In Iraq, he is listening to what the Iraqis want. In Pakistan, he is simply dictating policy in a somewhat bellicose fashion, and ignoring the wishes of those moderate parties whose election he lauded last February.

If that’s not enough to shove the coffee under Obama’s nose, Cole suggest he talk with some old Soviet-era military veterans.

Is the West going to get the election short shaft again?

At the best Western-issues magazine around, High Country News, Ed Quillen expresses exactly that worry.

Despite the fact that Barack Obama has put some previously-Red states, like Montana and Nevada, in play, and gotten red-leaning Colorado to start changing colors, Western issues like water supply aren’t being discussed yet.

And, even though John McCain is also, along with Obama, concerned about the reality of global warming AND comes from Arizona, they’re still not being discussed.

If you’re wondering what some other Western issues might be, and how they should be addressed, read the full story. Then, get yourself a subscription.

Smithsonian mag clueless about American political history

The August 2008 issue of Smithsonian lists what it calls four conventions that changed America, followed by individual stories on each.

They are the GOP in 1912, when Teddy and his Bull Moosers to be were turned back; the Democrats in 1948, when the Dixiecrats walked out and a young Hubert Humphrey got the convention to adopt a civil rights plank; 1964 Republican, with Goldwater; and the 1968 Democratic convention.

Now the intro I linked above did not explicitly say theses were the four most important conventions every, but I’m inferring it is halfway implying that.

That said …

How the editor who got the idea for the four conventions could overlook EITHER of the 1860 conventions, let alone BOTH, is inexcusable.

Southern Democrats' intransigence at Charleston, spitefully blocking Stephen Douglas' nomination under the two-thirds rule, guaranteed a Republican victory.

The GOP convention being sited in Chicago, combined with pumping the Wigwam full of Lincoln-boosting locals, guaranteed Honest Abe the Republican nomination, and therefore, that victory.

A 1861 government with a President Douglas likely would have had no secession. South Carolina might have given it a go alone, but soon would have been blockaded back into the Union.

An 1861 government with a President Seward might well have wound up with Southern success in secession. (And Maximilian staying on the throne of Mexico to boot.)

And, all that said, this isn’t the first time in recent issues Smithsonian has fallen flat on its historical face.

The cover story in the May issue claimed that Acoma Indians built, and moved to, their famous Sky City pueblo in part from Navajos.

Just one MINOR problem.

The pueblo was built at least 400 years before the Navajos GOT TO the U.S. Southwest.

Did the Smithsonian run my letter to the editor, though? Did the magazine even e-mail me back? Noooo.

Update, July 30:Two points to add, one an admission of error (it happens) and a contra-affirmation based on that error.

First, the mistake. Smithsonian’s cover piece for the four stories said the mag was limiting itself to the 20th century, as a magazine editorial staffer e-mailed me.

That said, I e-mailed back and asked if the mag would consider something similar for 19th-century conventions, as the idea as now stated seems to imply that politics before the 20th century was a cut below.

That then said, I can suggest 20th-century conventions at least as important as the ones they selected.

For 1912, I would have picked the Democratic convention over the GOP. Woodrow Wilson was a dark horse and only a last gasp of the Dems’ two-thirds rule denied Missouri Rep. and Speaker of the House Champ Clark the nomination.

The 1912 GOP? Part of the TR myth. As GOP standard-bearer, he would have lost to Wilson, IMO.

I would have chosen the 1932 Dem convention ahead of 1964 GOP. First, spectacle aside, some form of Sunbelt GOP conservativism and “Southern strategy” was coming down the pike anyway. Remember LBJ’s comment that he lost the South for a generation.

But, FDR was by no means a shoe-in for the Dems’ candidate in 1932. Try to picture Cactus Jack, John Nance Garner, as president.

And, what about the 1944 Democratic convention? Not to choose Roosevelt, but to choose the man just about everybody on the inside knew would be his successor in less than four years.

So, confining myself to the 20th century, and with a head-on convention confrontation in 1912, I think Smithsonian still is off.

Obama kicks more sand in lib faces with Veneman

What else can you say about the fact that his VP vetters are supposedly looking at Ann Veneman, Bush’s first Secretary of Agriculture?

I don’t give a damn if she now heads UNICEF. As Ag Secretary, and before, she was HUGELY anti-enviro and has never apologized for that.

She was also HUGELY anti-regulatory and protective of Big Ag. Given that we’ve have just pushed through a totally unnecessary four-month odyssey to find the source of the Saintpaul salmonella outbreak – totally unnecessary if we had Canadian or EU-style agricultural product source and distribution regs – we’ve got a big irony alert and a jarring lack of political timing on this issue.

Brown on way out in London?

The CRUSHING loss of a Scottish parliamentary seat in a by-election has many Labor MPs worried about the future of the party for the next generation or so.

Result? It’s pretty hot in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s kitchen.

Some of the party leadership wants to force a confidence vote this fall if there’s no other change on the horizon and Brown hasn’t agreed to step down. Justice Minister Jack Straw is being encouraged to lean on Brown.

Union leaders are also pushing Brown; I’m not sure where they would go if they took a pass on Labor for an election.

I think a Conservative government would get on OK with Obama, though better with McCain.

But, if the Lib Dems finally crack the two-party wall? All bets are off.

Are WTO talks dead?

U.S. negotiators are bashing Tier 1 developing nations, such as Argentina and India (named) along with Brazil, etc., for resisting a Doha-round deal My odds? 3-2 that it will turn up dead at the end.

And, at least 3-2 odds that, even though Obama is actually a free-trader at heart, that it will NOT be picked up, in a new form, for at least two years after the change of administration, if he’s in power. Ditto on McCain, because Dems will control Congress anyway.

The EU is still divided, with many concerns. One issue is the geographic designations for agriculture within EU rules, such as Parmesan cheese only coming from that area, etc. Both the U.S. and Canada oppose that, but this is, I know an absolute deal killer for Italy and France, if the designations are not extended to the WTO.

Sham impeachment hearing – final thoughts

Thursday, I called Friday’s House Judiciary impeachment hearing a sham, above all for the reason that no impeachment vote were actually to be allowed, but for the number of people banned from the witness list.

Friday, I noted how the hearings turned out to be even more of a sham, from the self-censorship of chair John Conyers (and Dennis Kucinich, too!) on not using the word “impeachment,” to protestors getting the boot for protesting the shamness of it all.

“Have you no sham, Nancy Pelosi?”

Then, Friday night, I toured might be considered the four top liberal blogs — TPM, Washington Monthly, Atrios and the Orange Monster.

Any wrap-up at all, by them? Any blogging, as opposed to straight news on TPM, lead-in? Nope.

Guess it was either too embarrassing, or they too are non-idealistic enough to treat it as small beer.

Ban the word ‘equity’

With the direness of foreclosure projections being revised to the worse, I think it’s time to officially and legally ban the word “equity” from real estate agents, realtors, mortgage brokers, etc. in any part of a home sales pitch.

Picture going to your Toyota, GM, Honda or Ford dealer. If the salesperson, after complimenting you on your eye for vehicles, said, “And you’re building up equity when you buy that,” you’d laugh in his or her face.

But people go along with the same schmuckery all the time when buying a home.

No, you’re not buying equity at all.

Given that today’s cookie-cutter suburban tract homes have a planned obsolescence that basically comes due about the day the warranty expires, you’re actually buying yourself long-term repair bills at the 30-year mark.

Given that everybody else in the same neighborhood probably believes that equity crapola, too, you’re buying midterm remodeling bills at the 10-15 year mark.

Oh, and if your repairs are good enough to raise the price of your home, you’ re buying yourself a higher tax bill, too.

You’re not buying “equity,” though.

Buy a home as a residence, not an investment. Buy something MUCH more affordable, and invest in an actual investment. Maybe something safe, like CDs or slightly more “open,” like a market-based CD.

In most parts of the country, at the 30-year mark, you’ll actually have more money this way than if you bought a fancy new home for “equity.”
I’m serious on the banning. If I were the president, the Platonic philosopher-king or the head of the Federal Trade Commission, I would ban the word “equity” as false advertising.

July 25, 2008

The Lord sure has strange comments to Lancaster superintendent

Lancaster ISD superintendent Larry Lewis not only claims the Lord sent him to Lancaster, but that people who have opposed school bonds in the past are on the Lord’s bad list. Worst of all, the Lord apparently doesn’t want domestic abuse charges investigated.

Somehow, I missed this particular Morning News story at the time or I would have flagged it then. It would explain why an apparently orchestrated whispering campaign came out of LISD headquarters about my lack of religious belief when I was editor of the Lancaster community newspaper.

As for people skills Lewis reportedly has? Sales skills, people, sales skills. He worked sales and sales training for both Miller and Campbell, and his skills are great.

But, on a nonmaterialist skeptic like me, they failed to work from the night I first met him. And yes, on that first night, I did already feel like he was trying to sell me something.

Georgia smog get off of my cloud!

A study of weather patterns shows the Southeast is causing its own rain, but only on weekdays.

Storms in the middle of the week, when smog peaks, are stronger, rainer and wider than average.

Sham impeachment hearing update

Yesterday, I called today’s House Judiciary impeachment hearing a sham, above all for the reason that no impeachment vote will actually be allowed, but for the number of people banned from the witness list.

Well, the actual hearing has become even MORE of a sham, with Cindy Sheehan and other activists evicted from the gallery. Their crime?

Applauding too loud when witness Vincent Bugliosi said President Bush should be indicted for first-degree murder for lying us into Iraq.

But, THAT’s not all.

A person in fatigues, claiming to be a veteran, was barred for wearing an anti-war pin. And, John Conyers was OK with this:
Conyers instructed committee staff and Capitol police officers to “ask anyone with such signs to either remove them or leave the hearing room from this point on.”

This request kicked off more than three minutes of disruption and commotion as blue-clad police officers entered the crowd to escort out a man wearing camouflage fatigues and an button with an anti-war button.

“You’re hassling a veteran for wearing a pin? That’s an outrage!” another spectator shouted, before escorting himself from the hearing room.

But, THAT’s not all. More of Conyers in the tank.
A committee aide tells RAW STORY that members were cautioned to abide by the Rules of the House, which prohibit lawmakers from “impugning” the president’s character during official debate. Some apparently took this to mean they could not explicitly call for Bush' impeachment. None of this would stop Republicans from accusing the committee's majority of seeking just that.

And, just what does “impugn” mean? Wearing a button?

And, Conyers wouldn’t even USE the “I-word”:
The prepared text of Chairman John Conyers opening remarks referred to Congress’s “power to impeach.” When he spoke before the committee, Conyers modified that line to the “power to remove through the constitutional process” officials who abused their powers.

With Democrats like this, who needs Republicans, eh?

Foreclosure forecast for 2008 to be revised upward

At the start of the year, the national residential foreclosure forecast was for 2 million for 2008.

Just one not so small problem. We’re already at 1.4 million foreclosures.

And, bank repos as a percentage of foreclosures are up from 24 percent a year ago to 30 percent.

The one possible silver lining. Per the story, California in general and the Central Valley in particular remain Ground Zero.

Why a silver lining?

We might get some people moved out of the more water-unsustainable parts of the Golden State sooner rather than later.

Of course, the dark cloud would be Californios moving out and “discovering” some other place.

Cheney’s Cody friends outrank Yellowstone wildlife

The east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, from Cody, Wyo., will be kept open year-round to benefit snowmobilers, no doubt largely ridden by Cody-area friends, acquaintances or suck-ups of Dick Cheney.

The National Park Service was all set to close the entrance in winter, a policy which has been under consideration for a decade. Avalanche risk was the primary concern. But, since reintroduced wolves congregate heavily in the northeastern part of the park, closure of the entrance from Cody made sense for other reasons, too.

Guess what? Somebody – a conveniently unnamed somebody in the weakest part of the story – from NPS headquarters in DC said last November that the White House needed to vet sections of the proposed change.

Voila! Soon, Cheney’s buddies got their winter snowmobile access. Beyond needlessly disturbing wildlife, it will cost millions of dinero a year for the already strapped NPS to keep the area avalanche-safe.

But, the White House, with the usual straight-faced lie, says this was all an internal NPS action:

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the consultation between the Park Service and the White House "is standard practice." He added, "We don't comment on those internal deliberations. The Park Service rendered their decision after taking into account all pertinent factors.”

Yet other problems? The noise factor from shooting off howitzers to deliberately trigger avalanches. The occasional unexploded round left inside Yellowstone. The fact that this could set a precedent for deliberately-launched avalanches (instead of more railroad-paid snowsheds) to keep rail lines open in Glacier NP.

Read the whole story for the gory details.

I call ‘lies’ on USGS claims on oil in Arctic

The United States Geological Survey is claiming the Arctic could contain as much as one-fifth the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves.

Given that the Bush Administration has already proven itself the most anti-scientific in modern history, and is determined to leave a George W. Bush “legacy” of a final, countdown orgy of antiscience and politicization of science executive orders and bureau and agency rule makings that will make the previous 7.5 years look like a piker’s effort, why the hell should we believe the USGS on this?

Friday scatblogging – tread lightly in nature parks

You need to tread lightly when hiking in places like our busier national parks, not in order to avoid stepping in scat of wild creatures, but to help make sure those wild creaters remain around to leave their scat in the first place.

Scat-based evidence of wildlife such as the coyote pictured here was as much as five times greater in parks that had no or limited human access versus parks that got a lot of traffic.

The study in question focused on larger carnivores. If they are scared off, then deer, elk and similar, as well as smaller herbivores, may have populations that grow unchecked.

Of course, with more and more exurban growth (which I hope gets stifled by gas prices), where are disturbed carnivores to move?

July 24, 2008

Straw man in the ‘Cadillac Desert’ critique

Yes, some things about agriculture in California have changed since 1986. That ignores the fact that U.S. farmers in the Desert Southwest, compared to counterparts in places like Israel, are wasteful of water.

But, that’s not the only problem. Marc Reisner’s magnum opus, “Cadillac Desert,” isn’t all about agriculture, and the part that is about agriculture, which is the major part, true, isn’t all about agriculture in Southern California. It’s not even all about agriculture west of the Rockies.

More specifically, a lot of the book is about water impoundment and water rights; another large chunk of it is about the politics of western water; a third chunk is about bureaucratic infighting between Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers; a fair amount of it is not about agriculture at all. O’Hare knows that too, if he’s actually read the book.

So, in saying “Cadillac Desert is not a Bible ,” Michael O’Hare is setting up at least a bit of a straw man if not more than a bit.

And, agricultural use of water isn’t SoCal’s problem anyway; O’Hare is either focusing narrowly on refuting both some misconceptions about “Cadillac Desert” and his straw man version thereof, so narrowly that he won’t tackle the real issue, or else he’s ignorant of the margin of severity of the real issue.

As for other specific straw man claims of theirs, I, for one, whether commenting to Drum’s blog or posting here, have never claimed that agriculture uses 80 percent of California water, or that it is ridiculous to grow certain crops in the desert.

I HAVE claimed that agriculture, at least off Reclamation projects, gets its water at subsidized rates, though I have never actually used the phrase “next to nothing.”

Given that he lumps “energy” and “environment” under one tag, and the paucity of water-related postings under that tag , I’ll assume ignorance.

First, as I’ve blogged before, Lake Mead could be DEAD in a dozen years or so. Along with that, the whole Colorado River could wind up looking like the Amu Darya or Syr Darya in Kazakhstan.

Second, I think O’Hare sets up a straw man version of “Cadillac Desert,” as noted above.

Third, to combine No. 1 and No. 2, doesn’t matter WHO uses the most water if, er…

Lake Mead is dead!

Fourth, there’s this dam, called Hoover Dam, that produces electricity for SoCal and Vegas. Umm, if Lake Mead is dead, Kevin, you ain’t getting any electricity from Hoover Dam for OC. For SoCal, more than Vegas (or Phoenix), this is a serious problem in its own right.

Remember, Der Governator has pledged to get more electricity only from environmentally-friendly sources. Well, at some point in the not-too-distant future, he or a successor may have to REPLACE some electricity that’s CO2 friendly, if not necessarily environmentally friendly in the larger sense.

Fifth, after criticizing David Zetland, O’Hare is wrong himself on his “market-forces” idea of what drives water costs.
What the cost of water represents is the economic resources needed to get it to where someone wants to use it, mostly pumping and for urban water, cleaning and purifying. To get it to agricultural land is much, much cheaper than to get it to your tap pure enough to drink.

As anybody in the West can tell you, who controls water/water rights/water access is a major determinant, whether it’s used for ag or runs out of a city tap. In California, despite sales of water rights to cities (and the issue of whether or not water rights created for agriculture should be fungible or not is an issue O’Hare simply ignores), that is still a consideration, depending on the source of the water.

Other factors that the post ignores is the crop toll of salinized water, the cost to desalinate when farmers finally have to bite the bullet and more.

Sixth, on the enviro costs of Big Ag, O’Hare undercuts himself in his own post.

Seventh, the only reason CD is less relevant is because Reisner died in his mid-50s before he could do a third edition. I have no doubt he would have factored global warming into that third edition.

But, let's get back to the big picture, which is what both O'Hare and Reynolds, his linkee, miss.

To talk about narrow-based water-pricing issues without talking about water-supply issues, is like talking about someone throwing a lit cigarette out a car window in SoCal in August without talking about Santa Ana winds. Or like arguing about whether the lantern Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over was fueled by kerosene or white gas while ignoring high winds as contributory to the Chicago fire. Or, it would be, as you’ll understand, like blogging about Peak Oil by only writing about oil in Oklahoma.

In other words, O’Hare AND Reynolds are straining at gnats when there’s much bigger fish to fry.

Finally, I've got a bitchfest comment about their blog. Right now, at least, TypeKey won't let me post there and Haloscan won't let me trackback. I suspect it's a problem with their blog, not either service.

Shouldn't the "Reality Based Community" be better at allowing and promoting discussion?

Starbucks need not fear Mickey D

McDonald’s highly-touted premium coffees and coffee drinks are about as financially tasty as old Folger’s run through a percolator.
A chart of the six major areas where the company is selling the drinks shows that sales in most markets peaked about three weeks after the drinks launched, then declined in the following weeks, in some cases sharply, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In Kansas City, Mo., for instance, the average number of specialty coffee drinks sold per restaurant peaked in early December at 359. As of the last week in June, that average had fallen to 217.

And that’s not the half of it. Read the full story for more.

Longer school day should be priority No. 1 to improve education

Over at Kevin Drum’s post about the latest in school improvement attempts, a public school teacher agrees.

I partially agree and partially disagree with Drum’s take on the new story by Emily Bazelon over at the NYT about school integration issues in light of last year’s Meredith SCOTUS case.

Kevin’s take is that it’s fine to focus on getting a better class/income-based distribution of students in districts, whether or not racial integration is explicitly targeted along with that.

But, it’s about impossible to do in many central cities without mandatory suburban participation, Drum notes.

Bazelon’s original story notes that addressing the poverty of families, even more than having class-based integration, would be the No. 1 socio-economic issue.

So, what’s needed, then, is more public housing in suburbs. Kevin despairs of class-based redistribution. Except for the rich of both “liberal” and “conservative” persuasions who will dodge it, I think Kevin’s too pessimistic.

With high gas prices, middle-class flight is going to slow down more; it may even reverse in some cases.

But, is a direct approach the best way to tackle that, even? How addressable is that, even? And, are even schools in richer districts still open to plenty of improvement?

The single most important way to improve school performance, comparing individual schools to themselves, would be a school year of 200 days or longer, per almost all other Western countries. Better teacher pay for the longer year. That said, the type of money this would require would also probably address class-based issues.

Nationalizing school systems rather than balkanized local/state standards is also needed.

In other words, part of the problem with NCLB, besides its well-attested other problems, is that it doesn't go far enough.

Like father like son on Giuliani whining and tort reform

Rudy’s son Andrew is suing Duke University for being cut from its soccer team.

Young Andrew is claiming the cut has wrecked his shot at being a professional golfer, which means he is not only as much a whiner as the old man, he’s either as delusional or as much a liar — or both, they’re not mutually exclusive — as the old man:
Guliani's best finish was a tie for 36th at the Fighting Illini Invitational in Olympia Fields, Ill. His season competition average was 74.5, good for 12th best on the team.

Oh, and where will the GOP outcry about “tort reform” be on this?

Global warming summer in Dallas

After the fourth-hottest June on record last month, we’re currently on pace for the fifth-hottest July ever. And, after a bit of Dolly-induced “cooling” today, predictions have us back in the triple digits all the way to August.

And, why is this a “global warming summer”?

Because, to the best of my recollection, so far this summer, we have not set a new record high temperature for any single day. We’ve just been a few degrees above “normal/average” day after day.

In other words, the thermostat is being reset as we speak.

Pelosi’s latest shark-jumping moment

Naming disgraced former CIA chair Porter Goss, who knows plenty about lack of ethics, as co-chair of the new Office of Congressional Ethics, is certainly a TV-classic level shark-jump.

Besides Goss, the rest of the board looks like a bunch of retreads and mutual back-scratchers. Meanwhile, Passive Pelosi™ gives us a boatload of PR crapola, joined by her partner in crime, House Minority Leader John Boehner:
“The new Office of Congressional Ethics is essential to an effective ethics process in the House,” Pelosi said in a statement. “With the creation of the Office of Congressional Ethics, we bring a new element of transparency and accountability to the ethics process.”

Madam Speaker, I’ll believe you about the same time I believe the House will actually have an impeachment vote. So much for Congressional ethics, eh?

‘Impeachment’ hearing July 25 will be Shakespearean

Tomorrow, if nothing more than symbolically, is a long-awaited day for many of us true liberals who think Nancy Pelosi is full of it for her “taking impeachment off the table.”
The House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on one article of impeachmentproffered by Dennis Kucinich.

Shakespearean? How?

“Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”:
The committee can talk about anything deemed to be abuse of power by the president or the White House but not vote to impeach him, the first step toward removing him from office.

Beyond that, here's more “sound and fury, signifying nothing”:

1. Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, apparently taking his cue from Passive Pelosi™, or perhaps acting on his own, doesn’t actually want an impeachment vote

2. Both Ralph Nader and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney were excluded from Conyers’ witness list, although Libertarian candidate Bob Barr is on the list.

3. Given that Conyers has, to date, refused to call the bluff of people like Karl Rove and Mike Mukasey by using his powers of inherent contempt, he’s just going through the motions here, too.

Update: See here and here for follow-up stories, including a critique of the Four Horsemen of mainstream quasi-liberal blogs on this issue.

San Diego stupidity in response to subprime crisis

The idea of suing Countrywide, et al to block foreclosures may have a slim chance of success rather than none, but I wouldn’t go any higher than that.

Beyond that, San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre appears to be in la-la land:
“We would like to see San Diego become a foreclosure sanctuary.”

So, do we combine that with being an illegal immigrant sanctuary and house illegals in empty houses?

Cell phone and fluoridation pseudoscience

Kids, meet cell phone pseudoscience

Drumming up totally scientifically unsupported scares about cell phones causing cancer, especially in kids, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, wants parents to ban kids from using them.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of social and psychological reasons for parents to “pull the antenna.” But this pseudomedical claim isn’t actually a reason.

And, this isn’t the first bit of “medical” pseudoscience this week. Earlier, I got a red-flag-waving e-mail from a member of an anti-fluoridation activist network noting that the National Kidney Foundation had signed off on the idea that fluoride causes bone cancer, etc.

This, at bottom line, illustrates just how unscientific medicine is compared to the natural sciences.

And, until medicine tightens up the p value on medical research tests from 5 percent to, say 2 or 3 percent --- still loose enough to not screen out lifesaving outliers, but enough to screen out more pseudomedicine, it’s going to remain that way.

But, that’s not half the issue on the Kidney Foundation.

The anti-fluoridation activists list naturopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists among the “professionals” signing their petition to ban fluoridation of drinking water.

When I asked the e-mail troll for his or her name, and affiliation with one of these activist groups, as well as any actual NKF connection, the person stopped e-mailling.

The p is the acceptable rate of false positives. In physics, it’s 0.01 percent, FAR tighter than in medicine.

News briefs – First Amendment, minimum wage, labor laws

BushCo gutting labor laws?

It sure looks that way. The Bush “legacy” is shaping up to be a last-minute gutting of federal administrative rules around all departments, I think.

Child porn law or overly-broad child nanny law?

A federal appeals court agreed with the original district court and said that the Children Online Protection Act is the former.

COPA would have criminalized posting information online for commercial purposes that’s considered harmful to minors ,including not just obscene communication but also the depiction of sexual material that could be considered offensive, or material that lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

Pretty broad, especially with the “could be” phrase.

Look for Bush, or McCain, to start talking about activist child-porn-loving judges? Meanwhile, judges still prove better than elected Democrats, recently, in protecting civil liberties, it seems.

Min wage hike really isn’t

With rising gas prices, food costs, etc., instead, the upcoming minimum wage increase is just a wash.

More than once in the past 18 months, I have lamented Congressional Dems not attaching a COLA provision to the minimum-wage hike bill. See here, here, here (with link to signing a living wage petition), here,

Cedar Hill asks Lege for breed-specific dog powers

The Dallas suburb, along with neighbor Duncanville, wants the Texas Legislature to change state law so home-rule cities can enact breed-specific dog controls. (Note: The city is NOT planning a ban on any breeds if it gets this power.

Note No. 2 – it IS constitutional for cities to enact breed-specific legislation, as I note in my accompanying column:
A federal court ruling in Denver this spring, and an Ohio state court ruling last fall, confirm that.

In Denver, March 20, U.S. District Judge Walker D. Miller ruled that particular city's breed-specific ban was constitutional.

Aug. 2, 2007, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the city of Toledo's breed-specific ordinances are constitutional. The ordinances classify dogs that belong to a breed commonly known as pit bulls, or dogs that are pit bull mixes, as vicious.

So, let’s move beyond that red herring that breed-specific activists throw up.

Here’s some comments from the Cedar Hill City Council meeting:
“I think everyone would pretty much agree a shih tzu is not an aggressive dog, but I also own an Akita, which is considered aggressive,” Mayor Rob Franke said. “We do consider it a limitation to not be able to control certain breeds, but nobody on the council has talked about banning.”

Franke added a few other comments at the end of discussion. He said the city had plenty of “back-end” regulations, but not much in the way of “front-end” control.

He likened some dogs and their owners to being like people “carrying a gun on their hip.”

Councilman Cliff Shaw addressed what he saw as hyperbole.

“I think that's a bit of a stretch to claim that breed-specific legislation (has anything to do) with supporting our troops in Iraq,” Shaw said. (One person in citizens’ comments mad that claim after referencing the Fourteenth Amendment.)

The key to this is, if you would like for your city to have breed-specific dog policing powers, you need to contact your state representative and state senator.

Fiesta to buy Carnival – what next for Minyard’s and Sack ’n Save?

This move makes sense to me. I don’t know whether selling Carnival will let Minyard’s focus its operations better or not, but I think it has to try.

And, it certainly makes sense for Fiesta, athough it’s only buying 11 of the stores itself and spinning off the rest on resale.

That said, “Minyard’s” stores may not have that name much longer. It’s unclear from the story if the company is looking at going totally the Sack ’n Save route or what.

I’m guessing that’s going to be the ultimate decision. Not sure how else it can survive.

Pelosi voted for FISA revisal after knowing THIS?

Members of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff have been in talks to start a new Church Commission-style investigation of the Bush Administration for yet new details of its illegal National Security Agency domestic spying.
The parameters for an investigation were outlined in a seven-page memo, written after the former member of the Church Committee met for discussions with the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Common Cause and other watchdog groups. Key issues to investigate, those involved say, would include the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance activities; the Central Intelligence Agency's use of extraordinary rendition and torture against terrorist suspects; and the U.S. government's extensive use of military assets — including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies and U2 surveillance planes — for a vast spying apparatus that could be used against the American people.

Specifically, the ACLU and other groups want to know how the NSA's use of databases and data mining may have meshed with other domestic intelligence activities, such as the U.S. government's extensive use of no-fly lists and the Treasury Departmen’'s list of “specially designated global terrorists” to identify potential suspects. As of mid-July, says (Barry) Steinhardt (of the ACLU), the no-fly list includes more than 1 million records corresponding to more than 400,000 names. If those people really represent terrorist threats, he says, “our cities would be ablaze.” A deeper investigation into intelligence abuses should focus on how these lists feed on each other, Steinhardt says, as well as the government's “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect.”

Chickenshit Note 1: If anything goes forward, it won’t be until after the elections and a new adminstration. Now, Dems, unless they are complete clusterfucks, will expand their Senate control significantly, and should expand their House control at least moderately.

BUT… what if Schmuck Talk Express™ wins the White House? Where does that leave Passive Pelosi™?
Chickenshit Note No. 2: How long has the ACLU been sitting on this? What guarantees can it and the other groups involved offer that Pelosi, et al, will really do something after we get into 2009?

Skeptics’ Note No. 1: Will Democrats limit their investigation to the Bush II years, in spite of this:
A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration's alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s (emphasis added) and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores -- without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

Supposedly, Main Core was behind the threat by AG John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller to resign in 2004.

That said, how much did Clinton use it? Bush I? Reagan? Page 2 of the story makes clear that the backbone of Main Core goes back to the Reagan Administration.

More confirmation:
Norman Bailey, a private financial consultant with years of government intelligence experience dating from the George W. Bush administration back to the Reagan administration, (saide) the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s.

And, how bad is Main Core? This bad:
An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”

Skeptics Note No. 1A: How long has the ACLU been sitting on THIS?

Skeptic’s Note No. 2: How much were the “four,” the leaders of both parties on Congressional intell committees, briefed about any of this? How much had they heard as rumors and how long ago?

Uhh, here’s your answer on that one — at least some Dems have been fairly in the know FOR 20 YEARS, as page 3 shows:
During the Iran-Contra congressional hearings in 1987, questions to Reagan aide Oliver North about the database were ruled out of order by the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, because of the "highly sensitive and classified" nature of FEMA's domestic security operations.

Now, the answer, on paper at least, to Skeptics’ Note. No. 1 is that the New Church Commission would go back before Bush II.

But, that said, will it go after Members of Congress from either party?

Hey, c’mon, you know better than that. Besides, those Democrats like Passive Pelosi™ and Obama already gave themselves an out. The new FISA bill’s retroactive immunity.
Opponents of Bush's policies were further angered when Democratic leaders stripped from their competing FISA bill a provision that would have established a national commission to investigate post-9/11 surveillance programs.

Meanwhile, nobody in Congress, not even Russ Feingold, is talking. Complicity, perhaps? That’s what Salon suggests. The story also suggests that Obama is unlikely to want to start his adminstration off this way.

July 23, 2008

Mugabe could REALLY be in trouble

Running out of money to pay the army that keeps you in dictatorial power is usually not a good sign, not if your name is Robert Mugabe.

What’s up?

Sanctions are starting to bite. The Zimbabwean treasury is running out of paper from Europe to print banknotes. And, with hyperinflation, they’re running out of currency.

Ironically, the paper supplier, Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient, printed worthless currency for the Weimar Republic 85 years ago.

And, if you’ll read the full story, and look at the graphic at the bottom, you’ll see the situation in Zimbabwe is indeed rapidly approaching Weimar Germany.

Turley fears Obama sellout on Bush investigations

Jonathan Turley thinks Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular will give Republican illegalities a pass if/when they’re in power next year.

Judging by a comment from Obama legal advisor Cass Sunstein (of whom I expected better), and Passive Pelosi™ keeping under wraps the idea of a new Church Commission, Turley is right to be “very, very afraid.”

Sunstein, in another Obama the squishmeister/Kumbaya chorus master type of comment, said that investigating too much would risk politicizing public service unless the crimes were “egregious.”
“We’ve had eight years of moral relativism and the avoidance of legal process,” stated Turley. “And to start a major campaign with the suggestion that we're going to distinguish between egregious and non-egregious crimes promises more of the same.”

“Did we just see accountability go out the window for good?” Keith Olbermann asked Turley.

“That would probably wrap it up,” Turley replied.

Be very, very afraid — of an Obama victory. At least on the issue of civil liberties, you’re not going to get hypocrisy from McCain.

And, this fall, exercise your idealism and vote Green. If Obama loses? Maybe it’s better.

Rosenberg history unveiled

The federal government agreed that, because of historical significance, it would unseal the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg grand jury testimony.

While the government eventually accepted it, convicted spy David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, resisted. So Alvin K. Hellerstein said his grand jury testimony would remain sealed for now.

That was despite the National Security Archive and other plaintiffs arguing that, due to extensive interviews over the years Greenglass had conducted with various sources, he had waived his privacy rights.

For more background on the Los Alamos espionage, I strongly recommend Richard Rhodes’ magisterial “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.”

My personal take? Julius was guilty indeed. He got the death penalty because he wouldn’t sing, and because the Cold War had gotten hot with Korea.

Ethel was guilty of some intermediary work, but nothing near the death penalty, just for not “singing,” in essence. Hoover and Roy Cohn were driving a tough plea-bargain deal and she stayed loyal. Judge Hoffman made a hugely biased hash of their trial; he was guilty of judicial misconduct.

Yes to higher gas taxes and their benefits

MSN has a simple argument for how higher gas taxes could actually benefit the economy.

There’s only one fly in this ointment, but it’s a huge one. Author Vad Yazvinski agrees with Greg Mankiw that we ought to use the proceeds from a $1/gallon increase in the gas tax to cut corporate taxes.

WRONG!

Instead, the estimated $100 billion could be spent on mass transit development and urban neighborhood/traditional neighborhood design development.

But, the federal government should only support the latter in cities whose state governments have TND-friendly legislation.

Not all that $100 bil would go to these two areas, though.

Part of it would go to a voucher fund to help buy gas burners — and oil burners — off of poor people for more efficient cars of today. Texas has such a program at the state level.

Part of it would be used to fund aspects of the well-needed “Manhattan Project” to get us beyond the Age of Oil.

But, Yzvinski is wrong about how to use it, let alone wrong that the corporate income tax rate is not “ridiculously high,” as he claims.

World Bank all talk and no show on environment

Specifically, it’s all talk and no show in failure to demand environmental accountability from many of the projects it funds.
“They need to begin to see the inextricable link bet sustaining environment and reducing poverty,” Vinod Thomas, the director-general of the evaluation group, said in an interview. “It is clear now from the Amazon to India that if environmental sustainability is not raised as a priority then all bets are off.”

The Bank claims it’s making progress. We shall see.

Don’t piss off Bob Novak!

Boy, if you’re John McCain, who’s still shaky with many conservatives, stepping on the cape of the Superman of insider conservative columnists like cheaply using a $2 whore PR agent for a few minutes of news diversion away from Obama — when we’re not even to Labor Day, no less — is pretty stupid.
“I since have been told by certain people that this was a dodge,” Novak lamented. “They were trying to get a little publicity to rain on Obama’s campaign. That’s pretty reprehensible, if it’s true.”

Good luck getting favorable analysis of your party platform or campaign strategy in future months.

Barack Oboner

Hey, it’s not me! It’s Jon Stewart’s latest shot at Obama humor.
On Monday night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart cut right to the chase, mocking the extensive coverage of Barack Obama's trip to Iraq. Daily Show reporters Rob Riggle, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, Wyatt Cenac and Ed Henry all joke that they have 'a boner' for Obama and follow the campaign to the Middle East, leaving just a tape recorder tethered to a crude stand to cover McCain.

Stewart’s joke is over the media’s love-in for B.O., blogged here yesterday.

Read the full story for how the gag was spun out by Stewart et al.

The joke is not the best, but it does kill two birds with one stone — mindless Obamiacs and the mainstream media.

Irony alert – faulty planes, aviation votes, Ron Paul

Ron Paul and six other Texas Congressmen, flying a Continental flight back to DC to vote for an aviation vote had to make an emergency landing in New Orleans.

No word on whether or not Paul said this was all because we’re not on the gold standard.

Pelosi voted for FISA revisal after knowing THIS?

Members of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff have been in talks to start a new Church Commission-style investigation of the Bush Administration for yet new details of its illegal National Security Agency domestic spying.
The parameters for an investigation were outlined in a seven-page memo, written after the former member of the Church Committee met for discussions with the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Common Cause and other watchdog groups. Key issues to investigate, those involved say, would include the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance activities; the Central Intelligence Agency's use of extraordinary rendition and torture against terrorist suspects; and the U.S. government's extensive use of military assets — including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies and U2 surveillance planes — for a vast spying apparatus that could be used against the American people.

Specifically, the ACLU and other groups want to know how the NSA's use of databases and data mining may have meshed with other domestic intelligence activities, such as the U.S. government's extensive use of no-fly lists and the Treasury Departmen’'s list of “specially designated global terrorists” to identify potential suspects. As of mid-July, says (Barry) Steinhardt (of the ACLU), the no-fly list includes more than 1 million records corresponding to more than 400,000 names. If those people really represent terrorist threats, he says, “our cities would be ablaze.” A deeper investigation into intelligence abuses should focus on how these lists feed on each other, Steinhardt says, as well as the government's “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect.”

Chickenshit Note 1: If anything goes forward, it won’t be until after the elections and a new adminstration. Now, Dems, unless they are complete clusterfucks, will expand their Senate control significantly, and should expand their House control at least moderately.

BUT… what if Schmuck Talk Express™ wins the White House? Where does that leave Passive Pelosi™?
Chickenshit Note No. 2: How long has the ACLU been sitting on this? What guarantees can it and the other groups involved offer that Pelosi, et al, will really do something after we get into 2009?

Skeptics’ Note No. 1: Will Democrats limit their investigation to the Bush II years, in spite of this:
A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration's alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s (emphasis added) and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores -- without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

Supposedly, Main Core was behind the threat by AG John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller to resign in 2004.

That said, how much did Clinton use it? Bush I? Reagan? Page 2 of the story makes clear that the backbone of Main Core goes back to the Reagan Administration.

More confirmation:
Norman Bailey, a private financial consultant with years of government intelligence experience dating from the George W. Bush administration back to the Reagan administration, (saide) the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s.

And, how bad is Main Core? This bad:
An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”

Skeptics Note No. 1A: How long has the ACLU been sitting on THIS?

Skeptic’s Note No. 2: How much were the “four,” the leaders of both parties on Congressional intell committees, briefed about any of this? How much had they heard as rumors and how long ago?

Uhh, here’s your answer on that one — at least some Dems have been fairly in the know FOR 20 YEARS, as page 3 shows:
During the Iran-Contra congressional hearings in 1987, questions to Reagan aide Oliver North about the database were ruled out of order by the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, because of the "highly sensitive and classified" nature of FEMA's domestic security operations.

Now, the answer, on paper at least, to Skeptics’ Note. No. 1 is that the New Church Commission would go back before Bush II.

But, that said, will it go after Members of Congress from either party?

Hey, c’mon, you know better than that. Besides, those Democrats like Passive Pelosi™ and Obama already gave themselves an out. The new FISA bill’s retroactive immunity.
Opponents of Bush's policies were further angered when Democratic leaders stripped from their competing FISA bill a provision that would have established a national commission to investigate post-9/11 surveillance programs.

Meanwhile, nobody in Congress, not even Russ Feingold, is talking. Complicity, perhaps? That’s what Salon suggests. The story also suggests that Obama is unlikely to want to start his adminstration off this way.

July 22, 2008

Bush the drunk-enabler says no housing problem in Dallas

Videotaped on the sly at a Houston fundraiser last week by an attendee who later turned the tape over to Houston’s ABC affiliate, President Bush went enabler, hypocritical, smirky and martyr all in the same breath .

First came the “Wall Street was drunk” comments:
“Wall Street got drunk — that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras — it got drunk and now it’s got a hangover,” Bush said Friday, according to a video obtained by Houston’s ABC affiliate, KTRK. “The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments.”

So, our MBA president turns hypocritical on pretending he doesn’t understand “these fancy financial instruments,” let alone that …

A former alcoholic-drinking president, who knows well what “enabling” means, gets hypocritical on failure to own up to his administration enabled “these fancy financial instruments.”

Next? Bush the martyr, with a touch of smirky:
“And then we got a housing issue, not in Houston, and evidently, not in Dallas, because Laura was over there trying to buy a house today.”

Ahh, poor George (and Laura). You can’t buy a $2mil house in Highland Park while your Republican-voting supporters in Plano, as well as Democrats in Dallas and the south suburbs are facing foreclosure.

Local organics for the lazy yuppie – with hypocrisy

In a new idea that HAS to make the list at Stuff White People Like, Trevor Paque will come to your house and build you an organic garden if you’re too lazy to do it yourself. That includes all the follow-up such as weekly weeding, then harvesting.

And, where do you get this?

Well, nowhere else but the capital city for Stuff White People Like folks — San Francisco.

But, there are similar trends elsewhere, and in the usual SWPL hotspots — New York City (Hamptons), Berkeley and Santa Fe mentioned by name in the story.

However, it’s time for a hypocrisy alert. How much gas is being burned, and carbon dioxide emitted, by to-your-door delivery of local food?

Time for Cedar Hill ISD teachers to chill out?

Not in the sense of being grumpy, but being cold.

The story is in the poll question below; non-Cedar Hill teachers are welcome to respond:


Free polls from Pollhost.com
Cedar Hill ISD, as part of an energy plan, is considering setting classroom heater thermostats at 65 degrees, and banning space heaters. You think:
Both are OK The heater setting is OK, but not banning space heaters The heater setting is too low, but banning space heaters is OK Neither is OK   


Obama-Clinton edginess may cut both ways in wallets

The L.A. Times reports that, while Hillary Clinton’s former campaign donors have no problems whipping out the checkbook for Barack Obama, the reverse isn’t even close to being true, at least so far.
Clinton’s plea to heal the rift in the Democratic Party, her donors gave as much as $1.6 million to Barack Obama's presidential campaign last month, campaign finance reports show.

Obama's donors, however, were not quite as quick to send money Clinton's way.

Despite a request from the presumed Democratic nominee that his top contributors help Clinton retire half of her $25-million campaign debt, she received a modest $105,000 in June from only a handful of Obama partisans, a Times analysis of Federal Election Commission records shows.

At least 300 Clinton donors gave Obama the $2,300 legal max, the story says. So far, 11 such Obama donors have done the same for Clinton.

The Obama camp claims a bunch of donations for Clinton came in after the June 30 filing deadline, so they won’t become public until August.
Obama gave her a personal check, but it did not show up in the latest report. Nor did a check from Chicago executive Penny Pritzker, Obama's campaign finance chairwoman. Clinton did receive the maximum amount, $2,300, from Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, in June.

Well, we’ll see in a month.

E ven if that is the case, then, Obama donors were a lot slower on the trigger. For the sake of party unity at the convention, he had better hope that the checks were big, when they were finally written, or that August reporting gets covered up by convention news if they weren’t.

Fed looking at rate hikes?

Well, the Philadelphia Fed chief, Charles Plosser, says it needs to.

“Sooner rather than later” is Plosser’s sentiment:
“Inflation is already too high and inconsistent with our goal of — and responsibility to ensure — price stability,” Plosser said in a speech to a group assembled by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

“We will need to reverse course — the exact timing depends on how the economy evolves, but I anticipate the reversal will need to be started sooner rather than later,” he warned. “And, I believe it will likely need to begin before either the labor market or the financial markets have completely turned around,” he added.

Plosser is known as an inflation hawk amongst the national Fed board of governors.

What’s good for Obama might not be good for blacks

Namely, Obama winning the presidency might not be so good for black Americans.

The story is variations on a theme, that white Americans, even more liberal ones, would think we’re in a new generation. From “Stuff White People Like” types talking about “post-racial America to racialist Steve Sailer saying Obama offers “White Guilt Repellent,” it’s a theme that cuts across political divisions.

Among the most worried? Some black commentators:
Glen Ford, executive editor of the online journal blackagendareport.com, offered some white Americans a free solution to the race problem: “Millions of whites came to believe Obama could solve the ‘race problem’ by his mere presence, at no cost to their own notions of skin privilege,” Ford wrote in an essay in January.

Ford and others also distinguish between individual prejudice and institutionalized racism, in the places it can still exist today.

And, could an Obama presidency also produce a black backlash?

Not likely, but expect an Internet video campaign commercial to that effect from some winger 527 in the near future.

Not so fast on ‘McCain train wreck,’ TPM

Both Talking Points Memo and Matt Yglesias are flogging hard on the “McCain train wreck” idea, claiming that the shifting sands of Iraq and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s support for Obama’s withdrawal are Example No. 1 of this.

Well a new Rasmussen poll gives Schmuck Talk an eight-point lead in Ohio. The question is, of course, is that poll an outlier or not?

Nuke deal goes nuclear with Indian bribery allegations

That’s the allegations, at least, about the Indian parliament’s pending approval of a nuclear deal with the U.S., proposed more than two years ago.

The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh survived a no-confidence vote that he instigated, which essentially gives the nuclear deal a green light for passage.

The bribery allegations?
Three lawmakers with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., charged that Mr. Singh’s new allies, with a North Indian regional party called Samajwadi, had offered them roughly $750,000 each in exchange for abstaining from the confidence vote. …

Adding to the mystery, a private news television station, called CNN-IBN, said it had acquired what it called a “cash for vote” tape in the course of an investigation into alleged bribes. The station did not air the tape, but said it had handed it over to the speaker of the parliament, Somnath Chatterjee.

That would be serious dinero in the U.S. In India, it’s huge. Think of $3-$4 million bribes to U.S. Congressmen.

The big winner in all this? Kumari Mayawati, the politician who leads the party representing the Dalits, the “untouchables” of Hinduism’s caste system.

Read the whole story for a good primer on Indian politics.

That said, it wasn’t the height of U.S. election season when President Bush unveiled the proposal in early 2006. And, the GOP controlled Congress. So, let’s just see how this all plays out.

I’m guessing no Congressional vote until we get to the post-election lame-duck session.

The mirror doesn’t lie but people due to themselves

Specifically, we lie to ourselves about the images mirrors provide, from weight through height, to level of attractiveness, and on to actual body size.

Can we send the bill to Alan Greenspan?

I’m talking about the bill of potentially $25 billion for the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout.

And, who says $25 mil will be enough?
CBO numbers assume Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won't exceed the $85 billion in fair value losses on their balance sheets, agency officials told reporters in Washington today. The CBO said today it's taking into account an almost 5 percent chance credit losses may reach $100 billion.

Both Republicans and Democrats are uneasy about Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s plan, as a result.

Remember the S&L bailout of the 1980s? We heard the same story, at first, that the bailout costs wouldn’t be that bad.

Well, color me skeptical, if not highly skeptical, too.

Media NOT so nice to McCain

At least not in terms of amount of coverage, or lack thereof, for John McCain vs Barack Obama.

And, no, this is not some mainstream media corporate suit or talking head making this claim.

Rather, it’s the respected journalism analyst Tom Rosenstiel and his Project for Excellence in Journalism. Here’s the details:
For each of the weeks between June 9 and July 13, Obama had a much more significant media presence. …

Every week, Obama played an important role in more than two-thirds of the stories. For July 7-13, for example, Obama was a significant presence in 77 percent of the stories while McCain was in 48 percent, the PEJ said. …

“No matter how understandable it is given the newness of the candidate and the historical nature of Obama's candidacy, in the end it’s probably not fair to McCain,” Rosenstiel said.

And, it could backfire on Obama.

Rosenstiel said that if it continues, the election could wind up being a referendum on Obama. That raises the “gaffe quotient,” encourages right-wing 527s to get even more desperate, etc.

Or, it could backfire against Obama the other way, by letting Schmuck Talk Express™ fly under the radar.

Latest Gitmo shit hits BushCo fan as judge bans evidence

Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the judge in the trial of Osama bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan, has banned some prosecution evidence from being used.

Why?

The no-duuhh answer, from a civil liberties perspective.
Because of the “highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made.”

The administration, via Army prosecutors, is of course appealing the ruling.

Actually, they probably don’t even care. In a reversal of civilian court death penalty appeals, BushCo is probably content with another decade of various appeals to serve its purpose.

July 21, 2008

Dems take a pass on real civil liberties action

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Attorney General Mike Mukasey challenged Congressional Democrats to pass comprehensive legislation on Iraq/Afghanistan detainees rights, claiming the courts had made a hash of it.

Now, I think Mukasey is too harsh on that, as well as too clever by half; the courts have made a hash of Bush’s plans, more than anything.

But, he’s not all wrong, either. And yes, having Congress address some of the convoluted issues could be good.

Here’s why I claim Congressional Democrats are taking a pass.

Mukasey and the rest of BushCo want to coopt Congress into nailing some jello to the wall.

Congress doesn't want to go along.

The Democratic-controlled Congress is still afraid of the GWOT/Soft on Terror GOP talking points.

So, rather than going past calling Mukasey to seriously raising the bet, Congressional Dems go chicken-shit.

As for specific Democrats, yes, Sen. Pat Leahy is right that Mukasey has had plenty of chances, in front of Leahy’s Judiciary Committee, to propose general outlines of such legislation.

But, that’s not stopping you from taking the bit in your own teeth, Pat.

Instead, I suspect Dems view this idea with about as much relish as they do actually invoking the War Powers Act.

And, given the FISA cave, maybe it’s better that Dems decline Mukasey’s invite anyway. They’d be sure to cave in the end.

And, as for Leahy’s ride on the wahhmbulance that Mukasey didn’t “check in with him” before speaking at AEI, what the hell is up with that? Last I checked, Mike Mukasey wasn’t top counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was Attorney General and employed by the executive branch.

Political silly season from both sides will continue to gear up.

Ground rules for debating Evolutionary Psychology vs. evolutionary psychology

First, in many places on my blog, I have clearly explained the difference between Evolutionary Psychology, which at times engages in “just-so storytelling,” and scientifically investigatable evolutionary psychology. If you aren’t familiar with this difference, and if you’re not familiar with someone like David Buller who had explicated this difference, move on.

Related to that, if you are familiar with the work of people like Buller, but reject the idea of capital-letter Ev Psych, move on. You may not agree with me on the parameters on what falls in Ev Psych and what is legitimate ev psych, and I don’t expect that. But, if you reject the very existence of Ev Psych in toto, move on. You’re being dogmatic, and thereby moving beyond storytelling to mythmaking. I don’t have time to waste on you.

If you’re familiar with Buller and claim he’s been refuted, provide me with URLs. I will get back to you. That said, Buller’s far and away from the only person to distinguish Ev Psych from ev psych.

Related to that, do NOT accuse me of rejecting ev psych because I reject Ev Psych. For whichever reason you’re doing it, I’ve already rejected that immediately above; move on.

Second, if you’re not familiar with the latest in genetics, and beyond your high school biology teacher’s genetics to epigenetics and such, with a book like Matt Ridley’s Nature Through Nurture, move on. (And spare calling me an anti-naturalist in the process.) Or, Robert Sapolsky’s “Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals.”

In fact, let me excerpt a few sex-specific comments from my Amazon review of Sapolsky, by page number:
63. In a study with ducks, with attractive males, it actually appears that the female invests more energy in the egg, laying a larger egg when impregnated by an attractive male. (The egg size is under female control.)
Both of these should put some question to old stereotypes about peacock tails being signs of fitness and so increasing mating, etc. At the least, they should caution us to look for more nuanced explanations.

177. In many species, females in some way manipulate alpha-male type males into fighting over them, to go off and mate with more "nice guy" types.

Some more food for thought.

Third, if you’re not familiar enough with hunter-gatherer societies to know that, in many of them that exist today, women bring home more calories than men, and control distribution of said food calories, and won’t engage intellectually with what this means for man the noble hunter, move on.

Fourth, if you aren’t familiar with the fact that, before man the “noble” hunter was man the hyena-like scavenger, and what that means for Ev Psych’s just-so stories about “male dominance,” move on.

Fifth, given that, if you’re not prepared to look at the idea that the “dominance of man” likely began with “man the not-so-noble farmer” and the domestication of agriculture, move on.

Sixth, given that the domestication of agriculture led to the rise of civilization as we know it, if you’re not prepared to discuss the role and prominence of cultural evolution in evolutionary psychology, move on.

Seventh, if you’re not prepare to describe why you personally, if you do, focus so much of your ev psych discussion, or especially, your Ev Psych discussion, on sexual selection issues, move on. Because that WILL be part of the dialog and investigation from my end.

Eighth, if you are going to focus on male-female issues and sexual selection, be prepared to talk about the difference between individual selection (for a single man as male or woman as female) vs. group selection inside sexual selection.

Will Nutroots Nation live up to its poll info?



Or will it throw the “my Democrats right or wrong” switch in the voting lever in November?

Per a attendees’ poll from Netroots Nation, here’s the biggest concers:
Energy and global warming 19%
The growing gap between the rich and the poor 17%
Loss of constitutional rights 15%
The war in Iraq 11%
Corruption and special interests running Washington10%
Lack of affordable health care 9%
Other 8%
The federal deficit and government spending3%
High gas prices 2%
Lack of equal rights for gay and lesbian community2%

And, how does Barack Obama stand on these issues? Not a lot better than McCain.

B.O., like McCain, and like just about every member of the Republican-Democratic duopoly, has yet to use the phrase “Peak Oil.”

B.O. voted for the atrocious gutting of constitutional rights with the FISA amendment bill.

B.O. opted out of public campaign financing, at least raising an eyebrow on the special interests question.

B.O. will probably not get us to national health care, per Paul Krugman.

But, rather than vote Green or whatever, most attendees at Nutroots Nation will still pull the D lever in November, and never think otherwise.

The United States of Toyota

A great article on how Toyota has worked to replace Chevrolet next to baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.
No other car company, Asian or German, has so blatantly promoted itself as an American company. Yes, of course, Honda has been assembling motorcycles and cars in Ohio for nearly 30 years, but it hasn't gone as far as Toyota has in adopting an American persona. The same is true for BMW and Mercedes-Benz. They build cars here, and they participate in community affairs, but the lines never seem to blur between the origins of the company and their U.S. outposts.

Beyond that, the ugly red-headed stepchild treatment of Chevrolet, primarily in favor of Saturn, is also worth a look.

That said, the article is wrong in two places.

Yes, Japan may have manipulated the yen. But, more than half the U.S.-sold Toyotas are made here, so, while that may have helped 10-20 years ago, it’s pretty much irrelevant today.

And, protestations aside, writer Peter M. De Lorenzo ends up being being more a nationalist than his protestations claim.

Let the negative McCain campaigning begin

John McCain is statistically carrying the most pre-election baggage since Jimmy Carter, without having the advantage of incumbency himself.

So, let the negative campaigning begin, or accelerate, because there’s only one way he’s going to climb the mountain. Bush is still the president, and we’re still in recession-land, and both will be true the first Tuesday in November.

Nonsense misdefinition of atheism on Salon

Steve Carse, supposedly a scholar of religion, says this about atheism:
To be an atheist, you have to be very clear about what god you're not believing in. Therefore, if you don't have a deep and well-developed understanding of God and divine reality, you can misfire on atheism very easily.

Let’s unpack the baggage.

First, he’s claiming that the quadrivirate of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens doesn’t meet the first test. And that’s clearly wrong, at least for some. Hitchens clearly believes in none of the gods, entities, or metaphysical presences or rules like karma of any world religion, East or West. Dawkins is clear about Western monotheism; he doesn’t tackle the East; Dennett is more of a speculative discourse in his latest book, but it’s clear that he’s focused on the varieties of Western monotheism. And, without mentioning karma by name, Harris clearly gives Buddhism a pass. But, they’re all clear about these things.

Deep understanding? Dennett is a cognitive scientist and philosopher. Harris is working on a Ph.D., although he’s pretty shaky.

But, religion isn’t a laboratory course of study, unlike nuclear physics.

Beyond that, Carse appears to be trying to make his study the equivalent of a medieval guild or something. Or, as one other commenter to the Salon story said, maybe he’s just trying to shore up his own wobbly belief system.

But, that’s not the main reason for this blog post.

Rather, Carse offers this bullshit, in a question and answer:
And yet, you’ve just told me that you yourself don't believe in a divine reality. In some ways, your critique of belief systems seems to go along with what the new atheists are saying.

The difference, though, is that I wouldn't call myself an atheist. To be an atheist is not to be stunned by the mystery of things or to walk around in wonder about the universe. That's a mode of being that has nothing to do with belief.

Send in the straw men, instead of the clowns, I guess.

This is one of the oldest stereotypes of atheists in the book – hard-headed rationalists who can’t appreciate the wonder of Yellowstone National Park, a Beethoven quartet, or whatever.

Absolute bullshit.

Cut gas taxes, cut Texas jobs

A 90-day suspension of the federal gasoline tax could cost Texas half a billion dollars, and, as a result, 20,000 jobs over the next four years.

There are no easy answers on Peak Oil. Period.

Grow up, Americans, drop the blinders, and get rid of the idea of American exceptionalism.

Besides, the D.C. talk is of a much-needed raise, probably 10 cents a gallon.

Unless you want some Texas bridge to join the Minneapolis-St. Paul one near I-35 to join it in falling into some river, you should willingly pony up. If you live here in the Dallas side of the Metroplex, you may recall TxDOT found a hole in the pavement in a lane the Mixmaster section of I-30 earlier this summer.

Top black columnist Pitts — New Yorker cover fine - updated

In the latest sign that the Stuff White People Like wing of Obamiacs has let its political correctness and lack of a funny bone, among various problems of theirs, run amok, top black political columnist Leonard Pitts says there’s nothing wrong with the New Yorker cover.
Me, I like the cover. It strikes me as an incisive comment on the fear mongering that has attended Obama's run for the presidency. Still, I understand why it is incendiary: Some of us will take it seriously.

At the same, though, Pitts sees how people got huffy over it:
To be effective, satire needs a situation it can inflate into ridiculousness. But the hysteria surrounding Obama has nowhere to go; it is already ridiculous. In just the last few days, we've had Jesse Jackson threatening to castrate him and John McLaughlin calling him an “Oreo.”

Add to that the whispers about Obama's supposed Muslim heritage (not that there's anything wrong with that), the “terrorist” implications of bumping fists, and Michelle Obama’s purported use of the term “whitey” (a word no black person has uttered since “The Jeffersons” went off the air in 1985) and it’s clear that "ridiculous" has become our default status.

Pitts goes on to say the country is largely “ignorant, irony-impaired and petrified.”

Pitts’ prescription is in the column; basically, it’s to loosen up and lighten up.

To which I add the hypocrisy that, if anybody has been condescending in this whole schtick, it’s the Stuff White People Like types for assuming that “flyover country” folks can’t “get” intellectual New York satire.

Note: They can. And they do.

As for the SWPL crowd, it is almost as if voting for Obama is their version of Rent-a-Negro.

That said, I’m going to give The New Yorker a bit of criticism — a bit of art criticism.

Barry Blitt’s drawing of Barack actually looks more like a young Muammar Gaddafi (sketched at right by John Cox of Cox and Focum) than it does Obama.

For that matter, is Obama really that mad about the cover, or is it more that he’s pseudo-mad, play-acting for the SWPL crowd?

Of course, a certain section of the Green Party goes even more ape-shit over stuff like this. I cut the GP more slack because it’s a minor party, but it’s got issues too. Plenty of them.

Update, July 18 People for the American Way is the latest Stuff White People Like group to jump on the bandwagon of either politically correct real outrage or outrageous-itself faux outrage.

Update 2, July 21: We’ve got more of both enlightenment and pandering on this issue.

First, the pandering.

Al Gore claims the cover is “way too far over the top.”

Hey, Al. Read Leonard Pitts, then you can talk. Until that point, you, as another Stuff White People Like type, can STFU.

That’s because, beyond your original incorrect comment, you seem to be calling for The New Yorker and cartoonist Barry Blitt to engage in self-censorship in the name of political Kumbaya.

Next, the enlightenment side. Oliver Willis more succinctly agrees with Pitts, saying “people need to chill the hell out.”

Besides, the Chicago Sun Times’ Richard Roeper claims Team Obama knows this is all satire anyway.

Roeper riffs on B.O.’s initial response to the cover:
When Barack Obama was first asked about the now-infamous cartoon depicting him wearing a turban while “giving dap” to his gun-toting, Angela Davis-fro'd wife, he reportedly shrugged and said, “I have no response to that.”

Now, that isn’t proof he thought from the start it was good satire. It may reflect that mindset, that’s all. But Roeper is probably barking up the right tree.

July 20, 2008

Bertha a sign of global warming

Nearly two weeks after forming, Bertha is STILL a tropical storm – AND, could STILL be at tropical storm strength when it hits Iceland.

Has Iceland ever been hit by an officially designated tropical storm before?

Bertha has already set a record as the longest-lived July hurricane on record, as well as the longest-lived July tropical storm and the farthest-east forming one.

Meanwhile, even though the eastern equatorial Atlantic isn’t quite as warm this year as it was in 2005, tropical storm activity is keeping up a steady clip there already.

Catfish latest victim of high farm prices

Between Midwest floods, ethanol mandates and more appetites in Asia, don’t expect to see your local $7.99 all-you-can-eat catfish special on the menu much longer, certainly not at that price and possibly not at ANY price.

Food costs are more than half the overhead of commercial catfish farming now, and so many farmers aren’t even cutting back.

They’re quitting outright.

The big business of reselling securitized credit card debt

Why have credit card interest rates stayed so high over the last year or two even as the Fed cut interest rates? Why have credit card companies increased penalties for late payments, changed billing cycles to try to increase the number of late payments and more?

To generate more debt that can be securitized.
Now, because so much consumer debt is packaged into securities and sold to investors, repayment of the loans takes on less importance to those lenders than the fees and charges generated when loans are made.

Yep, MBNA, Capital One, et al, have been looking for their seats on the CDO gravy train.

And, loyal Democrats, don’t forget to thank Sen. MBNA, Joe Biden, for his part in this:
Not surprisingly, such practices generated dazzling profits for the nation’s financial companies. And since 2005, when the bankruptcy law was changed, the credit card industry has increased its earnings 25 percent, according to a new study by Michael Simkovic, a former James M. Olin fellow in Law and Economics at Harvard Law School.

The “2005 bankruptcy reform benefited credit card companies and hurt their customers,” Mr. Simkovic concluded in his study. He said that even though sponsors of the bankruptcy bill promised that consumers would benefit from lower borrowing costs as delinquent borrowers were held more accountable, the cost of borrowing from credit card companies has actually increased anywhere from 5 percent to 17 percent.

The complete story is eye-opening as well as scary. And, loyal Dems, folks like Chuck Schumer will join folks like Joe Biden in protecting the financiers of our country.

Karzai follows Maliki onto Obama bandwagon

Just after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, it’s time for an Obama-style 16-month deadline for U.S. troop withdrawals, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Obama would be “a strong partner.”

It wasn ‘t a cutdown of McCain; Karzai said either candidate would be a “strong partner.” Nonetheless, it helps Obama’s foreign policy chops.

At the same time, four years ago, John Kerry was practically getting official endorsement from several world leaders, so don’t read much into this.

Heads up weather alert to south Texas

We are officially in hurricane season, and an “invest,” similar to a tropical depression, is in the southwest Caribbean and could be headed your way.
Specifically, loud music may work better than salty pretzels and peanuts to get you to drink more quickly at a bar, a French study has found.

How much more quickly? Oh, about three minutes faster on a mug of beer. In percentage terms, it was 20 percent faster.

Consumption went up, too, by almost one full beer per person.

So, going back to my college days and remembering bar noise levels, did bar owners and bartenders already intuitively know something then?

Oil price hypocrisy and the bipartisan duopoly, Pelosi version

While it might be fair for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to blame President Bush, and Vice President Cheney, as two oilmen, for the portion of high gas and oil prices caused by the Iraq War, blaming them for the full run-up is both hypocritical and disingenuous.

When has the phrase “Peak Oil” crossed Pelosi’s lips, let alone being clearly explained to the American public by her? Or by Barack Obama, for that matter?

When has either one called for a “Manhattan Project” to address Peak Oil?

The answers, as usual, are “never.”

Oh, and since I don’t like the increased politicization of oil prices by either side in this election, I consider this a pander alert issue, too.