SocraticGadfly: 11/30/08 - 12/7/08

December 06, 2008

Big Three bailout cost $125 bil?

That’s the estimate of Mark Zandi. Especially if folks like NRDC will provide a little environmental greenwash flack, Congress probably doesn’t want to hear from folks like Zandi.

Right, left hands incommunicado in Mumbai

Indian police have arrested two men for buying mobile phone cards used by the Mumbai terrorist attackers. One problem. One of the two is allegedly an undercover counterinsurgency cop.

His superiors claim he was on assignment and want his release.

Several problems here.

First, is the guy worth that much to publicly ask for his release? Haven’t you just blown his cover and his operation, even endangering other agents? Or, is that part of the plan>

Second, what if he has actually become a double agent? Or isn’t always sure where his lines are drawn?

That’s what happened in late Tsarist-era Russia. The state secret police, the Okhrana, sometimes not only had right and left hands ignorant of each other, but different fingers on the same hand operating differently.

BCS hope for Mack Brown and Texas Longhorns???

Or for Utah and Boise State?

Florida did its part, beating Alabama\ in the SEC title game.

And, the win wasn’t overwhelming, especially if you look at the stats behind the score.

So, fingers are crossed in Austin?

But, what if Oklahoma loses to Missouri?

Will fingers deserve to be crossed in Salt Lake City, at least, if not Boise, Idaho?

And, why not? Boise State showed a couple of years ago that it belonged in the BCS Big Dance.

A ‘bridge loan to nowhere’ for Big Three?

Congress may – no guarantees yet – pass some sort of bridge loan for the Big Three. It would be part of a tacit, or not-so-tacit, agreement with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson allowing him to tap into the second part of TARP lenders’ bailout money.

And, in the spirit of Christmas cheer, Congressional Dems have caved one more time to Bush, as the $25 billion Congressional loan guarantee fund will be tapped for the bridge loan. And, this is without the formerly-Big Three putting restructuring plans on the table.

There’s other things to remember here. It’s no fault of Chrysler’s workers, but being owned by a private capital management company with friends in high places engaged in suck-up lobbying could backfire. Nobody put a gun to Cerberus’ head and forced it to buy Chrysler last year.

And, the New York Times rips GM a new one saying Rick Wagoner’s mea culpa earlier this week didn’t tell half the story of its past mismanagement.
G.M.’s biggest failing, reflected in a clear pattern over recent decades, has been its inability to strike a balance between those inside the company who pushed for innovation ahead of the curve, and the finance executives who worried more about returns on investment.

Among specific failures? Not continuing its early studies of hybrid technology way back in the 1970s. Dropping work on minivans, where it started before Chrysler.

So, why would we bail out a company that has such hugely entrenched mismanagement?

We shouldn’t. Not anywhere near it currently stands. You’d have to cut management so deep the government would have to actually run GM. No thanks.

Nor should we bail out a privately held company. If Cerberus wants to thoroughly open its books – which I’m sure it doesn’t, that’s why it’s privately held – maybe then. Only maybe. Better, if it wants to spin off Chrysler as a public company, then let’s talk.

That leaves Ford. We can find out just how good of a liar, or truthteller, Bill Ford Jr. is if GM and Chrysler have to be folded up, shrunk, or incredibly overhauled so as to leave most of domestic carmaking to the Blue Oval.

And, That’s the estimate of the WSJ has more questions.

More on the ‘Obama ain’t American’ conspiracy theory

First, it IS a conspiracy theory, with its leadership propagated with 911/ Fraudsters (it’s my blog and that’s what they get called here), anti-Semitic/Bildeburger types, etc. Its leadership and cult walks, talks and quacks psychologically like other conspiracy theories.

More on the movement’s wackiness here.

Nothing you or I say, or even SCOTUS could say, would deter these people from their delusions.

Now, if these nutters wanted to divert their energy not to some Rathergate-style allegations of birth certificate Photoshopping, but to demanding the production of an Alaskan birth certificate that’s been AWOL from Day 1, they should contact Sarah Palin. Or, Bristol Palin.

Cedar Hill-Wylie football playoff liveblogging

You can see complete coverage of this and other Cedar Hill sports at Cedar Hill Today.

1:00 4Q - Game really over. Wylie picks up a first down after the missed field goal. Wylie at their 34, first down, Longhorns with just one TO left.

2:55 - GAME EFFECTIVELY OVER. CH couldn't score a TD on three plays inside the 10. Coach McGuire opted to try a FG on fourth down and Camara was wide right from 26.

4:00 4Q - CH driving inside Wylie 25; converted two 4th down plays already. But, they have just one time out left.

7:55 4Q - Longhorns down two scores for the first time since Plano West, and as I said earlier, Wylie is NOT PW. Monk hits Knott on a flare pass; his second effort makes it 31-21.

11:10 4Q - CH cannot convert the turnover and fails on 4th/8 at Wylie 38.

0:04 3Q - Second big play. Elijah Olabode for CH forces a fumble when tackling Colby Harper. A momentum swing in a strongly defensive second half.

3:00 3Q - Wylie capitalizes on the turnover with a 28-yard Zac Ohannessian FG. Their first lead of the game at 24-21.
Also, we're getting several dead-ball personal-foul penalities, as the game is getting playoff-intense.

4:14 3Q - First big play. A Longhorn snap hits Le'Derian Cockrane in motion and Wylie recovers at the CH 31.

HALFTIME - We're at 21-all. For Cedar Hill, Jackson has turned in an even better passing game, overall, than he did last week.

Some halftime stats for you. Both QBs are over 100 yards passing. CH is at 295 total offense and Wylie has 235. First downs favor Cedar Hill by a 2-1 margin; the Longhorns have much better time of possession.

1:40 2Q - OK, Monk can throw the ball, and Cedar Hill is still vulnerable in the secondary to play action. Monk hits Colby Jackson on a 51-yarder catch-and-run fly pattern and we're tied again, at 21.

3:39 2Q - Cedar Hill back up with Jackson 6-yard run. 21-14.

5:32 2Q - Wylie goes 3/out. Not "seeing it" today, so far, with Monk as a passer for Wylie.

6:21 2Q - Longhorns go for it 4th/2 at Wylie 10 and fail. CH Coach McGuire jaws at refs, probably risking a flag.

9:47 2Q - Nick Knott knots the game at 14 with his second big-play run, this one 39 yards.

END OF 1Q - Cedar Hill 14-7 with Wylie at the CH 39, 3rd/12.

1:00 1Q - And, that was a short-lived tie. With two big runs by Jackson and Ben Malena, capped by Malena's 2-yard run, the Horns are back on top, 14-7.

2:14 1Q - A short-lived Cedar Hill lead, as Nick Knott puts Wylie on the board with an 80-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.

2:34 1Q - Horns on the board first. Driphus Jackson hits Darrius Smith with a 23-yard TD pass on a fade route to the front right corner of the end zone.

12:00 1Q - Wylie starts the game with a successful OS kick, then has a Jerod Monk 44 TD run wiped out on penalty. Wylie eventually turns ball over on downs. Bad call to roll Monk left to pass on the 4th-down play from where I sit.

We're here at Texas Stadium for the mouthful-phrased Class 5A Division II Region 1 championship, in what figures to be Cedar Hill's toughest playoff test.

To get to this point, the Longhorns first defeated an outmatched Plano West team that still could have won with some better coaching decisions, then bested the weakest Southlake Carroll team in a decade after SLC upset Colleyville Heritage, followed by holding off a tough Mansfield team last week.

None of these teams, though (including SLC) had the passing game of Wylie, which has an almost 50-5 balance in passing and rushing yardage. How well Cedar Hill can defend the pass will be a key to this game.

Wylie quarterback Jerod Monk is a legitimate double threat, and, big and hard to take down. On defense, Cedar Hill Longhorn coach Joey McGuire says Pirate nose guard Nikita Whitlock can really clog the middle on run defense.

You can see complete coverage of this and other Cedar Hill sports at Cedar Hill Today.

Non-religious use First Amendment elbow room at Christmas

At the state capital grounds in Olympia, Wash., the Freedom From Religion Foundation has joined the nativity sets and such with a sign that says, in part:
“Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Anything that makes O’Reilly nuts can’t be all bad.

Want to be happier?

Spend more time with happy people just one or two degrees of Kevin Bacon removed from you.

Don’t expect all your mood changes to come from contacts under your own roof.

Want to be happier yet? Take surveys like this with a degree of detachment, if not a grain of salt.

December 05, 2008

How bad is the paper biz?

Josh Marshall thinks the negative trends against it are all structural.

While not disagreeing with the degree of structural problems, I note that some of this is, in fact, cyclical:

Who are two of biggest advertisers in newspapers? Realtors and auto dealers. Need I say more?

That said, part of the decline in both those sectors is structural, too.

Realtors are going to Craigslist, and may increase that, since a federal court has ruled that Craig's is NOT a newspaper and therefore not subject to Fair Housing guidelines.

Also on the structural side, there's been plenty of stupid decisions, just like in the auto business.

The AP not adopting a subscription model for online AP stories more than a decade ago would be the biggest.

If that had been in place, member newspapers then could have comfortably charged for online subscriptions.

BUT, circ is only about 25 percent of revenue and ads the other 75. Craigslist would have cut in no matter what. (And, it'skilling alt-weeklies even worse.)

Back to structural problems.

The biggest has been the assumption by newspaper owners that they're "entitled" to 25 percent profit margins. Well, those days are long gone.

Take Sam Zell. Stupidest thing he's doing is keeping 'Trib Co. and selling the Cubs. He should keep the Cubs, and WGN, and sell the rest.

Unemployment numbers in literary riffing

First, who has NOT blogged about the unemployment numbers in the crapper, the worst in job cuts since the first oil crisis?

But, there are a couple of ways to look at it.

One is, per Mark Twain and obits:
When I got up in the morning and didn’t see my name as among those being fired, it was a good day.

The other, per a guy named Ronald Reagan:
Recovery starts when George W. Bush leaves the White House.

The unemployment rate has climbed 2 full percentage points in a year. Wunderbar.

Want more fun news? Home mortgage foreclosures hit nearly 1.4 million last month.

Albert Pujols - player of the decade

I couldn't have said it myself any better than Gerry Fraley did. Or, per Fraley, as MVP this voters this decade have spoken.

Sorry, Canadian Liberals

It looks like the Canadian public is taking a shine to PM Harper’s tough-guy political stance.

Between that and a few Liberals getting weak-kneed even BEFORE Harper prorogued the government, good luck with that February no-confidence vote on the budget.

Many of our cities will be missing a newspaper

If you're my age, you're old enough to remember the demise of the two-newspaper city in the U.S., except in its biggest cities.

Coming next? The For more on yesterday's events, demise of the one-newspaper city in a number of places, perhaps.

A number of liberal bloggers have rightly praised McClatchy's news coverage out of D.C. during the Bush Imperium. Well, it's one of the worst-off chains, financially.

Additional factors? Especially due to struggling car dealers, the ad downturn is local as well as national. Real estate's plummet is, of course, definitely a local issue, especially in subprime ground-zero spots. And, the credit crunch makes national advertising lines of credit hard to line up.

Support REAL electoral change - help elect a Green to Congress

Malik Rahim is running for Congress in Louisiana's Second District against incumbent William Jefferson, he of "money on ice" fame from a Congressional office refrigerator bulging with Ben Franklins.

But, this post is about change, not the same old, same old.

Per Rahim's campaign bio:
Malik Rahim is the founder of Common Ground Collective Under Malik's leadership, the Common Ground Collective opened the first free health clinic in the city of New Orleans, helped reopen schools, gutted over 3,000 homes that needed repair in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, and provided direct services to nearly 200,000 returning residents.

You can learn more about Rahim here and contribute to his campaign here.

With Democrats in Congress showing they're all too willing to do President Obama's centrist bidding, this is a chance to help elect a truly independent voice.

He can still use your money (he's already gotten some of mine) or other help, such as doing GOTV calls.

Will Parliament gridlock in Ottawa end minority government?

As noted in The Guardian, Canada's been under minority government during not only Harper's entire tenure, but before him, with Paul Martin's last liberal government.

Half the problem, to be blunt, is the Bloc Quebecois. Harper is right; it is oppositionist, if not secessionist. (Oh, and there are plenty of Anglophone Liberals in Quebec who are wary, at least, of the Bloc.)

For Americans starting to read about Canadian politics? If you throw out the BC, the Conservatives have the majority, not just a plurality.

Stickings says this is going to take more active leadership in Ottawa. Agreed. That includes stronger campaigning in Quebec, and, as part of the hustings, demanding that the Bloc stand for something Canadian, not just against a lot of things Canadian.

Would I go as far as to hint that Governor General Michaelle Jean was a coward to allow Harper to prorogue? I don't know her well enough other than to say many Canadians consider her a carpetbagger. Also, many political analysts say it would have been an even greater constitutional shock not to grant Harper's request.

For more on yesterday's events, see here.

December 04, 2008

Greene a reasonable pick-up for Cards

I waited to weigh in until knowing the trading price, which has been announced as Mark Worrell and a jar of peanut butter to be named later.

The big question, of course, is if the Cards can resign him after next year.

OK, SS addressed. 2B and a closer still to come.

Why did Bernanke and Paulson take a pass ...

On showing up for the Big Three begging circus in front of Congress today?

If a bailout isn't approved immediately, Big Ben's still going to have to start talking six weeks from now, and Geithner is a Paulson protege.

So, what gives? Are they really that chicken shit? That clueless about the degree of problems either in Detroit or the economy as a whole? Too uncertain on how to read political tea leaves?

Texas cities should look former TXU gift horse in mouth

Guaranteed low electric rates for 24 years? Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?

Well, electric power generator Luminant is presenting what claims to be the real deal, and Cedar Hill, Duncanville and Grand Prairie are among cities that have signed up.

But, the hidden costs of these and other cities getting a minimum of 60 percent of their electricity from coal-burning power plants - hidden costs that could include increased carbon dioxide and mercury emissions - say that maybe this is too good to be true, or at least is a gift horse that needs further examining.

First, the trader of that gift horse needs a closer look. Luminant is what were the electric power plants of the old TXU. That's before leveraged buyout artist Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, profiled in the movie “Barbarians at the Gate,” along with Texas Pacific Group and Goldman Sachs, acquired TXU about two years ago.

Now, TXU wasn't exactly in the charity business even before the leveraged buyout. KKR never has been charitable, as the movie I mentioned documents. And, anybody watching current Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs alumnus Henry Paulson in the past month or two knows that he (and his company) are not known for befriending the little guy or paying attention to Main Street instead of Wall Street.

The three cities above, and others, have joined Cities Aggregation Power Project. If enough cities join the deal, CAPP cuts Luminant a check for $465 million. In exchange, they get 60 percent of their electricity at a fixed rate, on a 24-year contract, starting at a cheap $7 a kilowatt-hour.

Luminant needs the money. It has leveraged buyout debt, and anybody who's watched Crazy Uncle Henry Paulson's roller coaster knows that, these days, an antsy debtor can get an itchy trigger finger to call in debt.

In addition, Luminant has three new coal plants coming on line, and debt from them to pay off too.

Luminant gets well more than half of its electric generation from natural-gas plants. But, it's offering cheap (not allowing for any loopholes) power to cities that don't have a problem getting the majority of their electricity from relatively dirty coal.

The rates are cheap enough that it looks almost like bribery-level offerings to get CAPP cities to help Luminant pay off its leveraged buyout debt before some creditor in today's credit-tight world starts calling in notes.

Also on the financial side, the leveraged buyout trio promised to keep rates low through Š wait for it Š the end of 2008. I'm sure Luminant is going to be beating the bushes hard for new city customers for the next four weeks.

If enough cities sign up to launch CAPP, who knows what the price will be down the road on the 40 percent of power that's sold at floating rates?

Beyond that, there's the issues of air quality and global warming.

First, global warming. Coal emits a lot more carbon dioxide, the most common human-generated greenhouse gas, than does natural gas. Many inside-Washington environmental analysts expect some sort of national carbon dioxide emissions cap-and-trade program to come out of the Obama Administration, and relatively soon.

How much that will affect coal-fired electric costs, and how much of that cost Luminant would try to shuffle over to the 40 percent of the electricity it will provide CAPP cities at floating rates, is unknown. But, the fact that this thumb could potentially come down on the price scale means the CAPP deal may not be quite so cheap as billed.

Meanwhile, Luminant's four dirtiest power plants are estimated to be responsible for 5 percent of all mercury pollution in the United States. Luminant says it's working to clean up its plants, but didn't we hear that from the old TXU years ago? Just as pre-buyout TXU wasn't a charity, it wasn't exactly the “greenest” electric power generator.

As far as Metroplex air quality, those three new plants are near Waco, just to the southeast. At least on some days, prevailing winds come here from the south-southeast, and the more electricity from that plant, the more problematic the air quality in or area, already under Environmental Protection Agency non-attainment citation.

Over a 24-year period, stepping up conservation efforts would likely save CAPP cities as much money as TXU's coal-black smokestacks will pump out, and with the benefit of saving electricity in general.

Mumbai blasts could affect India elections

India has national elections coming down the road, and, per Newsweek, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the so-called Hindu nationalist party, could be looking to return to power, over how Congress has handled the Mumbai pre- and post-attack situation.

For more on the BJP and its coalition allies, see Wiki.

You think India has been pointing fingers at Pakistan now? Wait until a party change.

Geither doesn’t like sharing the financial field

Report is, Tim Geithner, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for U.S. Treasury Secretary, is trying to force Federal Depository Insurance Corporation head Sheila Bair out of office.

Given that Bair has done more than about anybody in Beltwayland the last three months in trying to help holders of bad mortgages, this, whether accidental or deliberate, would send a bad sign that Obama’s financial team, even more than indicated so far, is on the side of Wall Street, not Main Street.

And, isn’t her worry about FDIC depository insurance, reportedly overdone in Geithner’s eyes, deserving of a high worry factor?

That said, is this a surprise? Given that Geithner comes from the Goldman Sachs assembly line, no.

Have some more Kool-Aid, Obamiacs!

What Josh Marshall is missing on Obama’s missing oil windfall taxes

The Talking Points Memo host says he doesn’t get the progressive brouhaha over Obama’s reneging on implementing a windfall profits tax on Big Oil. (This is even as ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson does got “it” — namely, a 10 percent pay raise and new bonuses.

So, I e-mailed Josh to help him out.

Oil prices WILL go back up. Nobody argues that.

So, what's wrong with having a windfall profits tax ALREADY IN PLACE in advance of that?

Nothing, and plenty right with it.

You think B.O. is going to institute one 18 months from now, Josh? I got some palm-lined property on Chicago's Loop to sell you.

In other words, this was Just.Another.Promise. from Just.Another.Politician™ .

Citizen Obama?

No, no Rosebud involved, but some nutters from the farthest of the right still hope to throw Obaam himself on the fire.

It’s likely SCOTUS won’t even hear the case, which is kind of sad. Instead, the Nine could take five minutes to look at Obama’s birth certificate, five more to look at the “renouncing citizenship” rumors, and rule, “Yep, he’s a natural-born citizen” (although that wouldn’t stop all the nutters) and but a definite “no” on paper.

Bankruptcy likely part of Big Three bailout?

It’s the only way Washington can get a guaranteed deal to force bondholders to take less than 100 cents on the dollar, for one thing.

Other benefits, especially of a prepackaged bankruptcy?

1. It would likely cost less money to We the People.

2. It would be easier to structure things such as dumping two brands by GM.

3. Related to No. 2, it’s the easiest way of working around protectionist state laws that make it hard for automakers to close dealers.

Folks like GM’s Rick Waggoner have to say “bankruptcy is not in our plans” for public, i.e. stockholder, consumption, until details of a pre-packaged bankruptcy are ironed out. But, it’s the way to go.

And, using confidential sources, Reuters reports GM and Chrysler will accept some sort of bankruptcy filing as part of the price of doing business with Congress.

Breaking – Harper prorogues Canadian parliament

Gov. General Michaelle Jean agrees to suspension

In what is really the “nuclear option,” not U.S. Sen. Bill Frist’s threat to suspend rules of the Senate over judicial nominations, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has prorogued Parliament. Parliament will be shut down until Jan. 26, the day before Harper has to present a new budget.

For those unfamiliar with how we got to this point north of the border Harper called a snap election in October, afraid that waiting until after the U.S. election for the next Canadian election on a normal schedule would cause Obama-tilting north of the border to help Liberals.

He modestly improved Conservatives’ plurality, but, running against the weak Liberal leader Stephane Dion as his primary opposition, still couldn’t garner a majority.

He then hugely overreached politically. Nov. 27, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented a fiscal update that included cuts to funding for political parties’ national campaign finance program, limited civil servants’ right to strike and failed to offer a stimulus package to spur economic growth. The Liberals, New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois, said they would oppose the plan and negotiated an alliance.

Harper has backtracked on the first two points, but it’s questionable whether his credibility can be improved.

To explain Harper to U.S. voters, he’s a Grover Norquist type on government size and blending, with a mix of a smarter George Bush and the political style of Karl Rove in the mix.

And, what is Jean’s thought at this time? She has refused interviews on agreeing to the proroguing. And, she did so after meeting only with Harper and no follow-up with opposition leaders.

As for Jan. 27? Will the Bloc join Liberals and NDP in a formal no-confidence vote? (Such a vote wouldn't actually happen until February.)

The opposition will have to either put up or shut up at that point — by either moving a formal no-confidence vote or not.

And, it appears a few are already shutting up, whether being unwilling to boot Harper so early after new elections, or having second thoughts about partnering with the separatist-minded Bloc:
An early sign that (Conservative) pressure might be working came Dec. 3, when Liberal legislator Frank Valeriote told the Guelph Mercury newspaper that he wanted to work with Harper to deal with the economy rather than joining a coalition.

Farm ‘emissions’ could be on global warming talks

And should be.

You think Big Coal, the Big Three, etc., have squealed about Kyoto and post-Kyoto climate control deals, or potential deals? You ain’t heard nothing yet compared to the sounds that will come out of Big Ag if CAFOs, or whatever they’re called in western European, come under the regulatory microscope:
“It’s an area that’s been largely overlooked,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He says people should eat less meat to control their carbon footprints. “We haven’t come to grips with agricultural emissions.”

he correctly notes this would have more environmental benefit tan driers switching to hybrid cars.

Short of eating less meat, at least, eat more poultry. It takes less plant food to put a pound on a chicken than it does a hog. (A Swedish group estimates the entire process of producing a pound of beef produces 11 times more emissions than does a pound of chicken.) And, if not poultry, then more pork. It takes less plant food to put a pound of new weight on a hog than a cow.

Sweden is going to start labeling meat at the grocer’s for emissions. That could be one part of the solution.

Americans oppose auto bailout

In a CNN poll, 61 percent said no.

Of course, really, this all doesn’t matter anyway. Barring some miraculous change of heart by Bush, or, more likely, a Congressional cave on the $25 billion loan line for “green” cars, nothing’s going to happen before Jan. 20.

But, if Congress caves, Gang Green enviro groups will cave after some huffing and puffing, and rather than endorse Greens or whatever, will continue to endorse Democrats.

Another greenhouse gas effect on oceans

Carbon dioxide’s increasing acidification of the oceans is making them noisier. That, in turn makes it harder for many marine mammals to communicate.

Scientists – EPA should look at toxin combos

The National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said that should be the No. 1 new goal for the Environmental Protection Agency.

No. 2? Getting information out to the public more quickly, even if that means dealing with more uncertainty.

Chin fund says ‘No’ to Western American banks

Could the dread moment of turnabout many, many people have feared finally be coming true? China Investment Corp, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, will no longer invest in Western banks?

Well, possibly

Why? A perceived lack of stability.
“Right now we don’t have the courage to invest in financial institutions because we don’t know what problems we will put ourselves into,” Lou Jiwei said on Wednesday.

Actually, it’s not Westernbanks and erratic policies that bother China; it’s American ones.

Take THAT, Crazy Uncle Henry Paulson.

Speaking of that, Crazy Uncle Henry’s in Beijing as we speak. Probably getting his head handed to him on a Made in China platter.

And, Mr. President Shrub, you think you can “remind” Beijing of “flexibility” on the renmimbi?


December 03, 2008

Cedar Hill red-light cams could have a kink

Texas state District Judge Craig Smith says the companies that actually monitor the red-light cameras in Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Dallas and other cities around the Metroplex, have no legal right to do so. The judge's ruling against Redflex Traffic Systems and American Traffic Solutions have led to federal class-action lawsuits against both.

We don’t want you here, Mr. Torturer

Unfortunately, Shrub and Laura Bush are moving to Dallas after Jan. 20.

Maybe we can build Bush’s 50-foot border fence around Highland Park. If they get hungry in there, we’ll throw Uncle Fester Cheney over the wall.

Bob Rubin – ‘no line responsibilities’

His Citi job description, to the tune of $115 million, will, in hindsight, certainly be the exact same job description as an Obama economic policy advisor.
To this day, he appears unable to say what exactly he did for the $115 million that he took out of Citi. "I think I've been a very constructive part of the Citigroup environment," he recently told the Journal, in defense of his tenure. Try selling that line at your next annual performance review, especially when asking for an eight-figure salary.

He sold it to a guy from the South Side of Chicago!

Mmmm, Smell the Change™!

Black is white and coal is cleaner with BushCo

In the latest installment in his last-minute assault on the environment, by executive order, Bush just made mountaintop removal coal mining easier . And claims this will be cleaner for the environment.
“This rule strengthens protections for streams,” said Peter L. Mali, a spokesman for the Interior Department office that wrote the regulation. “Federal law allows coal mine waste to be placed in streams, and the rule tightens restrictions as to when, where and how those discharges can occur.”

Wrong-o, Mr. Mali. It makes legal in general circumstances what used to require waivers to do.

Meanwhile, EPA trying to finish work on a rule to make it easier for utilities to put coal-fired power plants near national parks, and another to make it easier for coal-fired plants to increase their emissions without installing new pollution-control equipment.

Coal — it’s what’s for dinner in the Bush White House.

Why NOT to trust GM’s restructuring program

If you really believe GM’s claim, which I assume will be part of its restructured aid request from Congress, that it can increase its market share inn 2009 from a previous projection from 20.6 percent to 22.5 percent now, I’ve got some palm-lined beachfront on Detroit’s Lake St. Clair to sell you.

California Lege weighs in on Prop. 8

Both the California Assembly and Senate, in separate measures, are considering resolutions indicating their sense that Prop. 8 was a revision to the California Constitution, as opposed to an voter-driven amendment, which should have required that the state legislature review the proposed change and vote on a 2/3 margin to release it to the ballots for popular vote.

That said, can I say for the record that Der Gobernator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a big fat fricking hypocrite on this issue?

First, he vetoes not just one but two legistlative attempts at legalizing gay marriage in the state. Then, after the California Supreme Court says, “Ahhhnold, you’re wrong,” and anti-gay rights folks introduce Prop. 8 in response, THEN he says he agrees with the Supreme Court.

OTOH, if the legislature’s bill had succeeded, Prop. 8 supporters could probably make a stronger argument that their measure wasn’t a revision.

On the other hand to THAT, though, it might be harder for them their case against a legislative vote rather than a judicial ruling.

Nice argument for Big Three bailouts, but not good enough

Why I worry about a bailout's use, at bottom

Over at Scholars and Rogues, Lex gives a good shot at arguing for some sort of government help for each of the Big Three, treated separately.

Several good points he makes:

1. Watch GMAC. If it gets its hands on TARP funds, GM may indeed walk away from carmaking. So, too, may Chrysler parent Cerberus, which also holds a significant chunk of GMAC.

That said, if Ford could get the other two of the Big Three to do a gradual, rather than sudden, walk-away so as to allow readjustments in the supply chain, isn't that to it's benefit? And, if ppl really want gas-guzzling carbon emitters, Hummer and Jeep could merge and produce something, which the government could subject to a massive carbon tax.

2. Lex is right that a carbon tax is a good idea. BUT, not as a replacement for CAFE standards; instead, make it an add-on.

3. He's right that the UAW is not simon-pure, though it gets too light a slap on the wrist.

4. He's also right that the Japanese Big Three have built ever-more-guzzling vehicles of their own. From worst to best, the offenders are Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

That said, there's things he misses or gets wrong.

1. He misses that this isn't just an American issue. In Europe, the biggies (Daimler/BMW/Opel/VW) are talking about whacking 100K jobs there. We have a glut of vehicles in the Western market.

2. GM’s had hybrids for YEARS already. Through its Allison division, it’s one of the world’s largest makers of hybrid buses. Ford had a diesel-hybrid it unveiled at auto shows two years ago. And, back to GM, which could have Volt on the market already if it had settled for starting with NiMH batteries and a non-plugin version, then worked the kinks out over time.

3. Lex claims tougher safety standards have contributed to car weight. That's pretty much not true. Most of that has been carmakers interacting with the market. Safety features have had very little to do with it.

4. Back to the Big Three, though. Why do they, GM in particular, STILL spend R&D on hydrogen cars when they KNOW that’s not the wave of the near, or medium future?

And, that’s why I DON’T favor a bailout. “Green” R&D could mean GM pounds more money down the rathole of hydrogen research.

Replace coal with WHAT?

I agree that we need to phase out our use of coal.

BUT, replace it with what?

Replacing the world's current coal usage requires Othe equivalent of six Saudi Arabias.

Just how much conservation are you ready to do? Not a lot, perhaps? America's use of coal has increased faster than natural gas in this decade.

Only in Sweden, eh? – virtual reality body-swaps

No sir, or madam, I kid you not. Using closed-circuit TV and well-known psychological and physical illusions, Swedish researchers have shown it is possible to make people like you and me think we’re in another body, even a body of the opposite sex.

December 02, 2008

gOd news - bad driving Texas, Pledge alterer dead

Two stories of note in the world of gOd today.

First, a San Antonio woman claimed God told her to cause a wreck. Guess you need to go to gOd's garage for car repairs, lady.

Second, Rev. George M. Docherty, responsible for "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, has died. Here's why he inflicted that on us, from a 1952 sermon.
“I didn’t know that the Pledge of Allegiance was, and he recited it, ‘one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” ’ he recalled in an interview with The Associated Press in 2004. “I came from Scotland, where we said ‘God save our gracious queen,’ ‘God save our gracious king.’ Here was the Pledge of Allegiance, and God wasn’t in it at all.”

Docherty gave the sermon again in 1954, when he knew Ike would be in the audience. Read the full story for more.

Guess it WASN'T about Iraq after all, was it?

Contrary to Obama's lies

Jeremy Scahill states the obvious on Obama's foreign policy appointments and his half-truths about the importance of the Iraq War as a campaign issue.

Scahill reminds us that (contrary to Chris Hitchens' rant, although that was itself halfway spot-on, contrary to Josh Marshall and other MSLBs circling the wagons) this is about more than Hillary Clinton.

Remember a vice-presidential nominee named Joe Biden? Remember how HE voted on Iraq?

In short, Obama LIED (sorry, Kool-Aid drinkers, no other word for it), about the importance of the right decision on Iraq in the first presidential debate. Obama LIED about how important that was to him the weekend before the Democratic convention, when he tapped Biden.

Guess what, Kool-Aid drinkers? We haven't even gotten to the official start of four years of Kool-Aid season.

In Scahill's column (and maybe this is why Josh Marshall doesn't like British newspapers - they expose him and other MSLBs for what they are), Max Boot gets it right when he says there's not a lot of diff between neoliberalism and neoconservativism.

It's going to take some people many glasses of Kool-Aid before they admit that.

NEITHER diesel NOR natural gas the correct answer on Dallas buses


Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Dallas Area Rapid Transit board members pushing natural gas buses as “clean” are wrong. So, too, though, are other DART board members, and Dallas City Council members who say the answer is staying with straight-up diesel buses.

The correct answer? Hybrid buses, of which GM is the world’s top maker.

Yes, THAT GM, the company that won’t build a full-hybrid car.

The wrong answer is natural gas, both because Dallas won’t recoup the extra cost, when natural gas prices go back up, and because T. Boone Pickens is hawking the idea.

Note to Boone, and Leppert: Not all the natural gas is “ours,” either. We’re a net importer. Pickens is a shyster and Leppert’s a moron.

Is OPEC imploding?

Jim Jubak has the answers to both questions.

Shorter version? Yes on the implosion, and no, especially assuming Peak Oil is lurking, it’s NOT good for us in the longer run.
If you believe in some version of peak oil, which I do, then a post-OPEC free-for-all in the oil markets looks like a disaster. As it becomes more and more expensive to extract conventional and unconventional oil, the world is already looking at a bad case of underinvestment. The International Energy Agency has warned that a huge supply crunch awaits the world on the other side of the current supply glut because of underinvestment in new supplies of oil. Lower oil prices would just make that underinvestment worse.

Read the full story for more on Jubak’s answer to Question No. 2, as well as fallout within OPEC, and the Russian oil bear outside, on Question No. 1.

India connecting Pakistani dots on Mumbai attack

Indian officials say names of five members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, including Yusuf Muzammil, head of its operations against India were in a satellite phone’s index found on a fishing vessel the Mumbai terrorists hijacked and used for part of their journey.

I’m sure Indian security officials will have more secrets to discover in this phone.

And, the terrorists’ original boat originated from Pakistan.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari claims if India shares its intelligence information, his country would:
“do everything in our power to go after these militants.”

Sure. Instead, Inter-Services Intelligence is likely to use that info to tighten up chain of command on any terrorist training it does.

Remember how Pakistan originally offered to send the head of ISI to India? And then downgraded that to “a representative of” ISI?

Now, the head of ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is will brief Pakistan’s parliament on how to “dampen down the discourse of conflict and work for peace in the region,” according to Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister of information.

Sure again. Pasha is probably trying to wipe metaphorical fingerprints off metaphorical gun barrels with this speech.

That's even as Pakistani intelligence agents looking for the roots of the one surviving terrorist, named as either Ajmal Amir Kamal, Azam Amir Kasav, or Azam Ameer Qasab, claim nobody by that name ever came from his reported home village of Faridkot, according to its residents.

Something tells me I’ll soon hear the sound of ISI canceling any flight to India.

The hypocrisy of Warren Buffett on the subprime crisis

Is on full display in this Portfolio expose.

You know how everybody's been touting the genius of Warren, how he warned derivatives were "financial weapons of mass destruction," etc.?

Well, a lot of people also know that Moody's, etc., the financial ratings agencies, were a big part of the problem, by their jacked-up ratings of CDOs, etc.

Guess who owns 20 percent of Moody's?

No names, but his initials are Warren Buffett.

But, it's only starting to get bad, the story that's laid out in Portfolio.

Investor Steve Eisman, by the time he laughed at a Moody's investor, in the same section of the story, was already "shorting" the bonds based on the worst tranche of subprime-loan based CDOs. But, financial investment agencies were then creating new CDOs based on Eisman's shorts!

Eisman said it's the equivalent of drafting Peyton Manning in fantasy footbal, and the act of drafting him creates a second fantasy Peyton.
“It was like feeding the monster,” Eisman says of the market for subprime bonds. “We fed the monster until it blew up.”

It's a long story, nine webpages if not in single-page view. But, it will give you further understanding of just how things went wrong on Wall Street.

Dallas high school sports mascots I don’t get

Carter is the Cowboys. Why do they have Lady Cowboys instead of Cowgirls?

Bishop Lynch is the Friars. Why do they have the Lady Friars instead of, say, the Nuns? Doubly so since in Catholicism, women can’t become friars?

‘Health halo’ or Subway BS effect?

By whichever name, the effect is the same — people who eat Subway vs. McDonald’s, for example, because they think they’re eating healthier (i.e., less fast and saturated fat) misestimate calories and so eat more at Subway.

Contrary to the surveyor, though, I don’t think this is idle ignorance. I think it’s a mix of willful ignorance and the typical American desire for “magic bullet” solutions, especially, but by no means limited to, diet.

Monounsaturated fats do NOT magically help you lose calories. Even fiber from whole grains doesn’t, though it can at least “satiate” your innards more.

(That said, that Subway sub, if you’re getting it on white-flour bread, definitely isn’t a lot healthier than Mickey D’s.)

Oh, and beyond providing clear calorie content for fast food, along with fat and saturated fat, sodium content ought to be mandatory, too.

But, back to the main point.

You wanna lose weight? Stop eating so damned much, and start exercising more. Stop looking for magic bullets.

As for those so-called health haloes, French researcher Pierre Chandon tells people that, when they get to a restaurant like Subway, which they recognize as having a health halo effect, to practice active skepticism against that halo.

Read the full story for his suggestions.

Canada – if Harper’s out, how long is coalition in?

I’m assuming that, per Canadian news reports, the Liberal-NDP coalition will hold.

But also, per the deal, I’m assuming it won’t hold that long. Bloc Quebecois has guaranteed its benevolent neutrality only until June. After that? Either the Liberal-NDP coalition pays off the Bloc in some way, shape or form, or else it’s done enough positive to fight the recession that it can risk an election.

That’s assuming Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe doesn’t push his hand. And, I don’t think he will. At least not, as long as Stephen Harper is Conservative leader. I’m sure Harper’s anti-union push didn’t go over well in Quebec.

That said, assuming Harper can’t continue to push off a no-confidence vote, and the deal goes down, what happens to him?

I mean, even though he couldn’t win a majority, he increased the Conservatives’ plurality in October. They can’t just push him to the curb within his own party, can they?

OTOH, he ran this election against Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, regarded as one of the poorest leaders of the party in decades.

That said, I’ve got a freelance journalist friend in Montreal. I’ll ask him some stuff.

Meanwhile, I wondered last week, how would a change in government affect the possibility of a Big Three bailout here? Remember, part of the reason everybody wants to boot Harper is that he hasn’t offered any sort of economic stimulus plan. (Harper is a U.S. conservative’s red meat wet dream – he actually wants to cut spending, big-time, and he has a brain.)

Finally, in case you’re not aware of this, the Canadian governmental structure is more “federal” than ours is. Provincial governments have a lot of power, and in Alberta and B.C., especially, they’re not afraid to use it. So, in a sense, this isn’t quite as huge as it would be down here.

On the other hand, it shows Americans close-up what we’re missing by not having parliamentary government.

Call us Japan, Inc.

JPMorgan Chase U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker starts his hearing on FISA telco immunity expects the Fed to lower its funds rate to zero in January.

It would be big medicine, for an economy that may contract 4 percent in the fourth quarter. But, is it strong medicine?

The history of Japan says, "maybe not."

Telco immunity front and center

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker starts his hearing on FISA telco immunity at noon Texas time today. Wired is liveblogging the hearing.

Here's among the latest BushCo statements:
The immunity legislation "represents the considered judgment of our nation's political branches that, in the unique historical circumstances following the 9/11 attacks, telecommunications companies should not bear the burden of defending against claims that those companies assisted the government in its efforts to detect and prevent further terrorist attacks."

Yeah, right.

December 01, 2008

For Obamiacs and Krugmanites who say ‘spend away’

I offer the counter-example of Japan. Japan, with the highest debt burden of any modern nation — debt at 182 percent of GNP — has little money for m ore programs for the elderly, for example.

We’re not aging as rapidly as Japan is, but, we would be at zero population growth without immigration, at best.

Ignoring typical conservative diatribes about the imperiled future of Social Security, treating a $1 trillion deficit cavalierly isn’t advised.

Yes, FDR pushed us back into deeper economic malaise when he tried to be a budget-cutter in his second term.

That said, his deliverance from both a strong depression AND from monstrous deficits was found in World War II.

I don’t think that’s a bankable repeat economic plan.

But Steve Benen, for example, riffing on Paul Krugman, say, “spend away,” though.

We’re fortunate we’re not as old as Japan. But, we’re moving more that way.

And, if we were a Third World country pulling this crap, the IMF would be beating down our collective national door with a battering ram.

Other critics of the Krugman column are right — it’s a blank-check license to spend without doing some analysis of what a bottom line should be.

Baseball Hall – your first steroids-era ballot and my thoughts

There’s one first-ballot guaranteed entry on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: Rickey Henderson.

Let’s take a look at a few others.

First, steroids aside, and lifelong Cardinal blood aside, Big Mac is NOT a Hall of Famer. McGwire couldn’t even get 2,000 hits.

A crime he’s not already in, and who may finally make it this year? Bert Blyleven.

The good, but not that good, no Veterans’ Division ballot: Dale Murphy. Think of him as a younger Ron Santo, with Atlanta fans less rabid than Cubbies.

As for the counterargument that he won two MVPs? First, so did Juan Gonzalez. Case closed. Second, his first MVP year? Here's the key stats: .281/.378/.507. In other words, a weak year in the NL.

Tim Raines? Sounds intriguing, but like the Hawk (Andre Dawson), I just can’t quite pull my finger on Rock.

Nice indeed, but not enough? Tommy John. For pitchers, I have two starter criteria, per ERA+ and WHIP. In my book, your ERA+ must be 110 or higher and your WHIP 1.25 or lower to be even considered for the Hall. Both stats are free from live-ball/dead-ball or roids/pre-roids considerations.

John, NOT a power pitcher, misses on the WHIP. (Blyleven comfortably meets both standards. As does Luis Tiant on the veterans’ ballot.)

Jack Morris? Per the standards I list above, he misses on BOTH benchmarks. Basically, if not for his 1991 World Series effort, we wouldn’t even be talking about him.

Lee Smith? Just on the high side on WHIP. Since closers – especially today’s closers – are overrated, he can at least wait a while.

Alan Trammell? Nope. For batters, an OPS+ of 115 is a minimum starting point in my book. 120 or better to get a real look.

My predictions? Henderson and Blyleven. Not sure at all of the vets’ ballot.

Note: On the header for this post, I know Mac has been on the ballot three years now, but we are getting new retirees, some of whom have had some questions in the past, joining him.

Unwanted fish fry worse than thought?

The "unwanted fish fry" is the acidification of our oceans by our ever-increasing carbon-dioxide emissions. And, it appears to be worse than previously believed.

That means more stresses on oceanic species, and less ability of oceans to absorb yet more CO2.

Not so fast on Bob Gates

He may NOT be so much Obama’s guy after all.

Other than him indeed being a partisan Republican way back in college (blogged in my archive, click the “Gates” tag below), he and Obama had differences. Gates last comments on record are against a swift pullout from Iraq, for example.

The Iraq SOFA would appear to make such differences moot, but the amount of loopholes it has say, maybe not.

But that’s not all. The two have some differences on approaching Iran, for example. (Of course, Gates, an “unfingered, unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator” in Iran-Contra, might be justified in claiming to know Iran and what’s up.)

So, let’s not take Obama’s latest “creative centrism” move as a sign of either “Change™” or much of anything else other than politics as usual.

Sooners-Longhorns rematch for BCS title?

It’s quite possible; the computers don’t like Florida, and a weak win by it over ’Bama in the SEC title game, co8upld with OU beating Mizzou, and OU and UT should be 1-2 in the standings.

But, after the Tide rolled over Auburn this past weekend, a Florida win would be an upset indeed.

Texas probably needs Florida to win ugly as well as by a small margin.

Too many car dealers for Detroit’s cars

As a newspaper editor, where we’ve been seeing the ad dropoff for a year, I know this is true, but the “degree of its reality is still hard to fathom.

And, as the story notes, the decline of American dealers affects not just local papers, both small dailies and non-dailies. Little League teams, community projects and more all take a hit.

But, whether we, the Big Three, or the National Association of Automotive Dealers — which lobbied for state laws that prevent Detroit from eliminating dealers — like, more and more Big Three dealers are going to go on the closure, or foreclosure, block.

The Japanese pioneered the big dealer concept long before AutoNation et al came along. And, that strategy, too, is paying dividends.

Amoeba got kin!

Even more exciting than the "Clams got legs" cry from the cartoon B.C., is this finding, that amoebas favor genetically similar creatures and can even form multicellular clusters.

No, it's not conscious "kin" in the first instance, nor is it multicellular "organisms" in the second, but it is all new behavior.

Depression 2009 - a prospectus

The Boston Globe's Drake Bennett is not saying a depression is going to happen. BUT, if it did... he says it will look a lot different than 1929.

Bank runs via ATM or online banking? Check. Long ER lines as people drop insurance? Check? Even more isolation? Check.

Speaking of 1929, and isolation, Bennett shatters some cherished, usually conservatively cherished, myths. First, the Great Depression increased, not decreased, communalism. By 1935, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc., had lost about half their pre-Depression membership.

November 30, 2008

Zardari – Don’t blame ME for my effed-up country!

How else can you break down the “don’t push me against a wall” statement Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari made to India?

Yes, militants have the power to start a war in the region – the same militants trained, financed, indoctrinated and directed by your own country’s Inter-Services Intelligence. And, what have you been doing about it since replacing Musharraf?

One former Indian official is already calling bullshit:
“It’s part of the usual blackmail of the United States that Pakistan does to take more interest in India-Pakistan issues,” said B. Raman, a former head of Indian intelligence agency RAW.

“They think this kind of argument will make the United States sit up and take notice of their sensitivities and do something about it.”

Of course, since we have in the past used Pakistan like a douche and then thrown it away – and well before the Soviet-Afghan war – you can’t blame Pakistan for trying the pandering route.

Flippers, not poor, caused subprime collapse

As Steven Malanga notes (and yes, he's from a hard-right think tank), contrary to myths of both Democrats about poor first-time homeowners AND Republican talking points blaming Fannie, Freddie and the Community reinvestment act, it was, in essence, speculative homebuyers who caused the problem.

Malanga focuses on "flippers." He could have included second-home "investment" buyers, and "apartment renter"-buyers, who treated 2/28s and similar mortgages like leases, but, flippers were certainly the primary portion of the speculative homebuyers.

Read the full story. Even the Manhattan Institute can find an acorn on occasion.

Smithsonian mag errata strikes again

This time, it’s a mistake about ants about which I don’t need E.O. Wilson’s help to point out the error. A brief about Forelius ants says this:
Scientists in Brazil have observed an unusual act of selflessness. When Forelius ants retire for the night, one or more workers remain outside the colony, kicking sand to seal the entrance. If that protects those within from predators or rain, it also dooms the outside ants to die overnight of exposure. It's the first known case of "pre-emptive self-sacrifice" among insects.

As both Wilson and mathemetician-philosopher Douglas Hofstadter know, individual ants don’t have a sense of self! Ant colonies might, but that’s precisely why the story is counterfactual.

An individual Forelius ant is, in this case, like a microphage white blood cell attacking an invader. The phage “sacrifices” “itself” to kill the bacterium.

But, it doesn’t actually sacrifice itself.

So, no this instance, from what I know of entomology, is NOT the first known case of “pre-emptive self-sacrifice.”

Reason No. 924 not to renew my subscription. (And, the mag hasn’t corrected some previous errata I have pointed out.)

Why does Bush hate safe streets, safe imports, loan disclosures?

Some of the last-minute executive orders Bush is ramming through would let truckers drive longer hours, let importers avoid some post-9/11 safety inspections, let truckers pollute without self-monitoriing equipment, loosen lending loopholes and more.

Congress can reject the changes next year on a special fast-track program. BUT… will GOP senators want to do some early filibuster threat muscle-flexing?

A good question, indeed.

Boomer. Sooner.

Sorry, Texas fans, and yes, it may be "unfair," but folks from Norman will wave to you from Kansas City Saturday night.

Mumbai attacks reflect high planning level – Pakistan?

So says both Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata, whose company owns the TaJ Mahal motel, and American-based global security analysts
Tata said his hotel had advance warning, and took precautions, but that they failed:
“They knew what they were doing, and they did not go through the front. All of our arrangements are in the front,’ he said. “They planned everything. I believe the first thing they did, they shot a sniffer dog and his handler. They went through the kitchen.”

Hmmm. Hindu business owners in Mumbai and elsewhere will probably tighten their screening of would-be Muslim employees.

If a group like Lashkar-i-Taiba, which means “Army of the Pious,” and Jaish-i-Muhammad, or “Soldiers of Muhammad,” is behind this, it could accomplish some of what the groups want.

“This is a new, horrific milestone in the global jihad,” said Bruce Riedel, a former South Asia analyst for the CIA and National Security Council and author of the book “The Search for Al Qaeda.” “No indigenous Indian group has this level of capability. The goal is to damage the symbol of India’s economic renaissance, undermine investor confidence and provoke an India-Pakistani crisis.”

”What is striking about this is a fair amount of planning had to go into this type of attack,” said Roger W. Cressey, a former White House counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations. “This is not a seat-of-the-pants operation. This group had to receive some training or support from professionals in the terrorism business.”

This alleged Deccan Muhajedeen, even if it exists, doesn’t sound like that group.

So, whether British, American or Pakistani officials like it – indeed, even if they try to tamp down such thoughts – the smartest thing for New Delhi to do, it seems, is look on the other side of the Indus River.

Smithsonian religious gullibility – or political correctness – on display

In the midst of an otherwise great article on Africa’s Pygmies, we get this clunker:
Drumming propelled their worship of the much-loved Ejengi, the most powerful of the forest spirits—good and evil—known as mokoondi. One day Wasse told me that the great spirit wanted to meet me, and so I joined more than a hundred Mossapola Pygmies as they gathered soon after dusk, beating drums and chanting. Suddenly there was a hush, and all eyes turned to the jungle. Emerging from the shadows were half a dozen Pygmy men accompanying a creature swathed from top to bottom in strips of russet-hued raffia. It had no features, no limbs, no face. "It's Ejengi," said Wasse, his voice trembling.

At first I was sure it was a Pygmy camouflaged in foliage, but as Ejengi glided across the darkened clearing, the drums beat louder and faster, and as the Pygmies' chanting grew more frenzied, I began to doubt my own eyes. As the spirit began to dance, its dense cloak rippled like water over rocks. The spirit was speechless, but its wishes were communicated by attendants. "Ejengi wants to know why you've come here," shouted a squat man well short of five feet. With Bienvenu translating, I answered that I had come to meet the great spirit.

Now, it would be one thing for author Paul Raffaele, in the midst of the second graf, to say “the so-called spirit,” or else to continue to call it a creature, as he did in the first graf, but to simply transition to calling it a spirit, as he does, is journalistically and scientifically unprofessional.

And, lest anyone think this is a one-off, Raffaele talks of a second meeting with “Ejengi” three webpages later, and again uses the word “spirit.”

Reason No. 923 I won’t renew my Smithsonian subscription.

‘Deflation’ watch – 2008 Christmas shopping could contract

When, for the story, at least one shopper says she’s willing to wait until Dec. 26 to buy Christmas gifts, it could be a slow shopping year indeed.