SocraticGadfly: 2/28/10 - 3/7/10

March 06, 2010

DADT - gays ALREADY legal in military

At least out West, in the area of purview of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, they are copacetic.

The Ninth Circuit ruled in 2008 that blanket policies against gays in the military are illegal; the court said the military has a case-by-case burden of proof as to whether a gay or lesbian soldier disrupts unit cohesion.

So, if you're a gay or lesbian servicemember in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, you're OK. My recommendation? Come out now, and push.

Of course, some military brass, like the homophobic, Jesus will kill Muslims Lt. Gen. William Boykin, might say, "Well, we will just transfer you to a posting outside those nine states."

That said, back to the story. How did we get here?

The judges in the case of Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt said the legal landscape changed when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down a Texas ban on sodomy as an unconstitutional intrusion on privacy. (I'm sure Nino Scalia is having a case of apoplexy right now.) The 9th Circuit said that the landmark decision opened the door for the courts to take a fresh look at the constitutional rights of gay Americans.

And, from that, one Congressman sees a way forward on DADT:
Rep. (Vic) Snyder suggested that the Defense Department cure the problem by making the venue for all "don't ask" dismissals fall within the 9th Circuit, so that all service members would have the same rights.

Go, go, go!

Bigger issue, though.

This was adjudicated in 2008. In the middle of a presidential election, in which the veep candidates were "quizzed" on gay marriage issues in their debate. SEVERAL questions abound.
1. If McCain is so against DADT now, where was he then, when this ruling came out? You know the answer; he wasn't yet such an anti-Obama panderer.
2. If not McCain himself, why didn't some of his campaign staff leak this, and try to nail Obama down? Maybe they thought it wasn't a winning issue with independents, which means that Obama's current dilatory (polite for "foot-dragging") work on DADT is all the more said.
3. And related, if Obama really cares that much about repealing DADT, or working past/around it, why didn't he, or somebody on his staff, get Vic Snyder's bright idea?

Why the hubbub over K2 'fake pot'?

K2 has been around for 15 years.
John Huffman, a Clemson University chemist, synthesized a substance he called JWH-018. The chemical was structurally similar to THC, the active ingredient in pot, and apparently quite a bit more potent.

So why the sudden hubbub, especially in the "meth heartland" of the lower Midwest and border states?

Well, the location of much of the hue and cry probably is a partial explainer.

Or, maybe it's just part of the scares over real pot:
Is JWH-018 dangerous? No one really knows. There's not a lot of research on what it does to mice and almost nothing on what it does to humans. Its effects shouldn't be that different from marijuana's, but then, we could argue all day about how dangerous marijuana is. Even researchers who have found that pot use has long-term detrimental effects, like the link to psychosis that was announced earlier this week, tend to qualify their statements by noting that the link is "by no means simple" and arguing that we need a lot more research.

Or, as the story notes, it may be that, being unregulated, who know how JWH-018 for sale is adulterated.

If you're curious, here's the chemical background on JWH-018.

That said, it appears that hysteria will trump actual science-based investigation of just what JWH-018 does and doesn't do to humans. Too bad; I'm sure there are plenty of avid research volunteers ready to sign up.

Beyond the federal DOJ perhaps wanting a look at this, local and state law-enforcement agencies, of course, along with local and state elected officials, haveall the usual reasons to want to criminalize this substance:
1. Looking tough on crime;
2. Money off asset forfeiture seizure sales;
3. Tchotches from asset seizure that law enforcement keeps, rather than sells;
4. Avoiding addressing why people use mood-altering substances, and addressing some of those issues, rather than the surface-level symptoms - in other words, taking the easy way out.

It's **what we did** with fire that made us human

A new theory suggests that if we had not learned to cook food, not only would we still look like chimps but, like them, we would also be compelled to spend most of the day chewing. It's well known that fire breaks down proteins and makes them easier to digest, so cooking rather than warmth, may have been a key in fire's power, especially for brain growth.

So, what's for dinner, homo habilis?

We have 1,000 types of nerve cells

This Scientific American story shows why we have only just emerged from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age on neuroscience:
(And), as our understanding of the brain grows, our desire to intervene, to help ameliorate the many pathologies to which the mind is prey, grows commensurately. Yet today’s tools (drugs and deep-brain stimulations) are comparatively crude, with undesirable side effects.

Christof Koch is a disciple of DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick and a leading neuroscientist. He's on the forefront of new research in the field; read the full story to see some of the latest avenues of research.

Tea Partiers are the new new left

And, it's David Brooks saying that. What? He's making sense?

Well, it's more of a "distancing" campaign, I think. It's what Bill Buckley would be doing if he were still alive but today's National Review is too craven to do.

The myth of productivity

Here is another reason why both neolibs and economic conservatives are full of crap with promoting blank slate free-trade measures.

March 05, 2010

Can Vijay Singh bounce back?

Good analysis article on my man Vijay. I didn't realize, with all the T Woods hoopla, that Vijay had a second surgery on his knee in December, which he says was in part due to coming back too soon in 2009 from his initial surgery.

I would put, at a minimum, Vijay in the top 10 of one major, top 20 of at least one other, and on the winner's stand at least once this year, myself.

Arctic methane could start venting

With potentially serious global warming consequences. Science magazine is rightly worried:
A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.

The research results, published in the March 5 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

Let's see how the denialists spin this one.

When I grow up, I want to be a bankrupt media mogul too!

Dean Singleton, the man who built up, then overbuilt, MediaNews, while simultaneously wrecking the Associated Press and undermining its connection to its traditional newspaper members in the Internet Age by letting AP whore after news aggregators, once again shows his moxie, bullshit level, or whatever.

As Media News' parent company (a shell organization, if you will — Dean-o was one of the first media moguls in on that idea) emerges from bankruptcy court, not only does the Deanster get to stay on as CEO of the newly reconstituted Affiliated Media, he does so with a nice $650K base salary, and his MediaNews co-founder apparently getting pushed out the door.

Meanwhile, we have the brown-nosing of billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., father of the former Utah governor, callling Dean-o "a smart businessman."

Can we change that to "a bamboozling businessman"?

Dear Starbucks – no decision is a decision

Howard Schultz and Starbucks, versus the "open carry" pistol advocates — PISTOL-carry advocates, not GUN-carry advocates — say that they just want to be left alone, out of the politicization of pistol-carrying rights, etc.

That said, the "open carry" movement has specifically targeted Starbucks, so "no decision" on banning pistol-carriers from Starbucks, rather than letting state laws apply, is itself not just a decision, but a politically charged decision.

Also, in California at least, some "open carriers" are breaking the law, yet the weaselly LA Times op=ed board, by opposing this group's petition drive to get Starbucks to give pistol packers the boot, says:
The Brady Campaign is spraying ammo at an innocent bystander.


Meanwhile, up in Starbucks' home, the Seattle Times has a pro-con on the issue. Even the columnist supporting the "right" to carry can't muster too much support.

That said, Starbucks has the right, per laws in all open carry states, to ban open carrying of pistols in its stores. That, if anything, would depoliticize the issue.

Wake up and ... smell the coffee, Starbucks.

Scat, you foxes; scat here, tigers

It's a double dose of SCATtering animals for this week's Friday scatblogging.

In Tasmania, scat studies hope to show that Australia's effort to eradicate non-native foxes is working.

Meanwhile, in India, other scat studies hope to show that Bengal tigers are not on the wane.

March 04, 2010

On Iran sanctions, not all nations equal

Team Obama is prepared to offer China and other UN Security Council members special exemptions on the next round of Iran sanctions.

Dear Turkey, and Obama - genocide is genocide

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has again, as in 2007, passed a resolution declaring the Ottoman Empire's early 20th century massacres of Armenians to be genocide. (As in 2007, the resolution will likely go no further.)

Once again, it's "nice" to see Barack Obama do a civil liberties and human rights flip flop, now saying, well, maybe it isn't genocide, contra a campaign pledge.

And, modern Turkey needs to deal with it, rather than deny it and get huffy.

Photoshopping fun with Pat Robertson

Get your Red Heifer jerky now so Bro. Pat Robertson can help rebuild the temple.

For non-Americans, especially, not familiar with the backstory, millennialist fundamentalists believe that the ashes of a red heifer (used in certain purification rituals in the Old Testament), are needed to be offered once more, to start the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and thus lead to the messianic millennium.

Wikipedia starts with the biblical background:
According to Numbers 19:2: "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke" — in other words, the animal must not have hairs of any other color, it must be in perfect health, and it must never have been used to perform work. The heifer is then slain (Numbers 19:3) and burned outside of the camp (Numbers 19:3–6). Cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet are added to the fire, and the remaining ashes are placed in a vessel containing pure water (Numbers 19:9).

In order to purify a person who has become ritually contaminated by contact with a corpse, water from the vessel is sprinkled on him, using a bunch of hyssop, on the third and seventh day of the decontamination process (Numbers 19:18–19). The priest who have performed the ritual then become impure themselves. The priest who performs the ritual must then bathe himself and his clothes in water. He shall be deemed impure until evening.

From there, it became more detailed in the Jewish Mishna and connected with Messianic ideas.

For more on the origin of that idea, and its being taken over by Protestant fundamentalists, go here. The Temple Institute is an ardent pusher of rebuilding the temple.

Wiki concludes with some of this modern fundamentalist angle, even noting that Clyde Lott, a cattle rancher in the United States, is breeding red heifers, hoping to produce one that will be certified as unblemished, etc.

Finally, Justin Raimundo puts all of this into some modern geopolitical context.

Pat has put himself in the limelight enough, anyway, that the photoshopping idea popped into my head.

A heifer is a cow, and needs to be killed for its ashes to be burned. So, eat some red heifer jerky!

Rahm swimming over his head? Or his boss?

Joe Conason postulates too intellectually, and chess-politically, as well, deep of waters is why President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel hasn't been giving the MSM surrogate-leaked puff pieces about himself recently.
What is probably the dismal truth about his stewardship of the Obama vessel can be found toward the end of last August’s Times story, which showed the chief of staff steering without any rudder of principle, and playing captain in policy and political waters too deep for him.

That said, is The One afraid of Rahmbo? Unsure whom he could find to replace him? Bamboozled by Rahm?

What Conason doesn't explore is that, perhaps, some of what he says about Rahm, and not just because Rahm leaks such ideas — is true about Rahm's boss, too.

March 03, 2010

Interesting but impractical idea on healthcare?

Paul Starr notes that one of the biggest objections to President Barack Obama's national healthcare plan is its mandated insurance purchase. He also notes that refusing to let insurers not cover people with pre-existing conditions makes this the easy way to keep the insurance system, under such reform, from collapsing.

He notes that many people, and not just hard-core libertarians, object to the forced buy, and so, he offers an interesting option:
Let individuals opt out of the new insurance system, without a penalty, by signing a form on their tax return acknowledging that they would then be ineligible for federal health insurance subsidies for a fixed period — say, five years.
And, he notes that current "Obamacare" penalties for refusing to buy insurance are low, so he would put in fairly heavy tax penalties.

That said, given Mr. Joe Stark's recent homicide-by-airplane at the IRS building in Austin, the apparent anthrax attack at the IRS site in Ogden, Utah, and the general stridency of many tea party types, the "impractical" in my headline starts to make sense now, doesn't it? Unless Paul Starr wants to hire about 5,000-10,000 new, and armed, revenue enforcement agents, I don't see this going anywhere.

That said, even with the mild penalties of the Obama/Congressional Democrats' plan, whose going to be doing the enforcing?

On the other hand, how exactly does a country like Germany, which distributes vouchers for people to buy private insurance, handle its penalties and enforcement? (Of course, German cultural stereotypes of orderliness and obedience aside, there may be generalization truths behind the stereotypes.)

McLeroy out from Texas SBOE!

I didn't blog about this last night, but, Don McLeroy lost his primary battle for the Texas State Board of Education to a much more mainstream Republican, Thomas Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. (More on that name below.)

McLeroy was a former board chairman and the ramrod of the Religious Right on the SBOE. His loss, combined with other results from last night, seem to mean the SBOE may take a notch or two (though probably not much more than that) to the center next year.

So, we need to fight the current SBOE even more between now and then.

As for Bill Ratliff? If Jim Hightower had been less arrogant and presumptuous, and run a better campaign against Rick Perry for Ag Secretary in 1994, maybe Ratliff would have run for election to Lite Guv in 1998 and Texas would be a whole lot different.

Is Tiger targeting the Masters for return?

Reportedly, he is out of treatment/rehab/counseling and working into golf playing — physical, skills and mental — fitness shape. Yeah, it's "just" five weeks until Augusta, but...

Besides, Jack Nicklaus agrees with me.

Where, oh where, did my little dog come from?

Most likely from the Middle East, according to genetic research.

Why did Milton Friedman hate Chile?

It appears Mr. Libertarian Economist persuaded Pinochet-era Chilean leaders to relax previously more stringent building codes.

Why? Because his libertarian soul hated government-imposed building codes as a regulation.

Result? Per Chileans on the ground, buildings from the 1950s and '60s have, in many cases, held up better than those from the 1970s and '80s. Multiple, documentary links off the link above.

That includes this interview with the Minneapolis Fed, where he said:
Similarly, building codes impose costs that you might not privately want to engage in, wage and hour laws—and on and on.

So, Wall Street Journal, et al, stop putting him on a pedestal. Even worse, non-ideological MSM, stop buying the Journal line.

March 02, 2010

Why Kay Bailey Hutchson lost - and her future

Kay Bailey Hutchison folded like a house of cards, unable to even send Rick Perry to a runoff in a three-way race with a tea partier challenging Tricky Ricky on the right. How weak is that?

Very weak, from where I stand. BUT ... not unexpected.

She ran about the lamest major-level state office campaign I've seen in my journalist history. It was clear, a month after her entering the race, why she ducked out of a challenge to Perry four years ago. She simply wasn't ready to, at first, and then refused to mentally get ready to, trade gut-level punches, or below.

When your most memorable TV commercials involve TxDOT electronic traffic billboards, you have a media campaign staff that should be fired. Other weak-tea commercials? The ones that had the pull quotes from newspaper editorial endorsements come immediately to mind.

Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News offers his take, summed up in a one-liner:
She had a dozen messages and no message.

That said, you can have multiple messages, if they're ultimately submessages of, if more than one, no more than three main messages. AND, if you're ready to play political hardball in selling them.

If you wanted more moderate GOP voters to be more enthusiastic, you should have targeted younger, suburban voters. Targeted them better. And, gotten more troops involved with GOTV efforts.

That said, I don't totally blame campaign manager Terry Sullivan. He worked with the material he had. But, so much for his reputation as a "hardball strategist," eh?

Now, do Debra Medina supporters vote for Tricky Ricky in November, or stay home? It depends in part on whether he decides to tack to the center or stay far right. That, in turn, depends in part on whether or not Bill White can gin up a legitimate "Republicans for Bill" organization.

And, yes, that's possible. Some of Kay's financial big guns actually, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, seem to kind of welcome it:
"I can assure you that I will not be a financial supporter of Rick Perry, and I can assure you that most of the people I talk to are not going to support him either," said Fort Worth oilman Dick Moncrief, Hutchison's financial chairman in North Texas, predicting that Republicans who are "fed up with Perry" may wind up supporting White if Hutchison fails to get the nomination.

Stay tuned. And, I hope Bill White can pull this off.

Kay's Senate seat
Now, what's in Kay's future?

Now that she stands exposed, will she get a primary challenger for her Senate seat two years from now? I'd give you 50-50 on that. No, it won't be a Debra Medina-level nutbar, just a Rick Perry-level one.

Now, will she stay, or go through with the "pledge" of leaving early?

Burnt Orange Report offers four options:
She resigns respectfully, campaigns for the Republican, and walks off the stage with little fanfare and no big applause. Her legacy then is the same as it is today.
She stays in the Senate, finds a bipartisan cause to champion, and passes an historic piece of legislation. Strong legacy, especially if Perry loses to White in the fall -- which would amount to a vindication for Hutchison's campaign.
She endorses Rick Perry. The weakest of her options, because it makes her less than Perry.
She endorses Bill White. The most unlikely of options, but the one with the highest reward.

I offer option five: She stays in the Senate, licks her wounds, does little, and stays in Washington after January 2013.

Let's look further at why all four of Burnt Orange's options are wrong.

No. 1? Too painful for even "Miss Good GOPer," I think. Plus, if Tricky Ricky plays to the base and tacks right in the general election, he might not want her.

No. 2? Nope. First, of course, no big bipartisan issue is getting past the rest of this Congress. And, depending on how many Senate seats the Dems lose in November, and who fills them from the GOP, the next Congress is likely to be even less bipartisan. Doorknob bless Burnt Orange Report, but their "options" are kind of clueless on this one.

I presume, though it's not clear, that Options 3 and 4 also presume she resigns. I don't think it's likely, as said. But, if she does, 3 is more likely than Option 1. Option 4 ain't likely.

Per the StartleGram link above, it's clear Options 1 and 3 ain't what her financial backers want, either.

Meanwhile, CQ Politics looks further at how her different possible decisions play out for others.

The war on drugs, the "right," the "left," and the border

Why myths of many liberals and conservatives alike fail at the Mexican border, as reported by High Country News, THE magazine to read for Western-states issues.

A sampling:
On the border, Adam Smith meets magical realism. Here the market tenets of supply and demand, the basic engine of both the migration and the drug industry, are supposed to be overturned magically by a police state. Consider one simple number: The border is 1,900 miles long. If two people slipped through each mile in a 24-hour period, that would amount to 3,800 people a day. That adds up to 1,387,000 people a year. ...

Almost certainly, the drug industry and illegal migration are the two most successful anti-poverty initiatives in the history of the world. The drug industry has poured tens of billions of dollars annually into the hands of ill-educated and largely poor people. ...

The real problem is not these success stories but the fact that the good times are going to end. Obviously, the terrain of the U.S. can only sustain a finite number of people. So eventually migration -- both legal and illegal -- will be curtailed by draconian national I.D. laws. As for the drug industry, the money depends on two variables: that drugs remain illegal; and that domestic suppliers, meaning the licit pharmaceutical industry, refrain from launching competing products.

It's time to get real about Mexico, and its issues, drug-related and otherwise. Neither maudlin nor thuggish.

March 01, 2010

Is Breitbart a criminal?

Conservative agent provacateur Andrew Breitbart still refuses to release full, unedited tapes of his staffers various "punkings" of ACORN offices, despite yet another prosecutor's office finding yet another ACORN office innocent of all criminal allegations.

The prosecutors found, in part, the tapes presented as "evidence" were heavily edited.
A law enforcement source ... : "(James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles) edited the tape to meet their agenda."

Does such editing approach the level of giving a false statement to police, which is itself a criminal offense in every state in the nation?

Perhaps that's why Breitbart, at the same link, refuses to say why he won't release unedited tapes, and stumbles over the entire question.

Or, a lawsuit worry might be on Breitbart's mind. I can see an action against him, for authorizing O'Keefe/Giles, and the two of them, of course, for defamation.

Say hello to the Coffee Party!

It's the sane, sensible alternative to Tea Partiers for addressing what's wrong with American "corporatocracy."

That said, non-angry is less likely to spread than angry, and the Coffee Party folks sound like they still need to purge some Obamaesque kumbaya.

KKR buyout of TXU is imploding

The tanking investment banks in particular and economy in general have folks like JPMorganChase at the throat of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and allies who took over Texas utility company TXU in 2007.

And, we ain't seen the worst yet:
The company ... it still faces a $20 billion balloon payment coming due in 2014. To leap that hurdle, the private equity owners have a handful of options: persuade bondholders to swap their debt at a discount for debt that matures later; sell a stake of the company in an I.P.O.; or sell assets.

Since KKR et al bet on natural-gas prices, this is one of the best arguments for commodities speculation regulation I can think of.

Second, it's a great argument for not giving a dime to Gang Green environmentalists like NRDC and Environmental Defense who endorsed the takeover. (EDF is now providing green flak for Walmart, among others.)

Third, it's a call for more regulation of the broader financial industry. You know that KKR, Texas Pacific and Goldman Sachs' investment arm will do anything and everything they can to dodge more losses.

Fourth, it's a call to re-regulate utilities.

February 28, 2010

Krugman: No finance reform is preferable...

To the watered-down crap Senate Democrats are likely to pass, due to skittish "centrists" and obstructionist Republicans. He notes the House has already passed a decent bill. I say even it could certainly be better; that said, it's "acceptable."

Anyway, here's why Krugman says it would be better to junk it all:
There are times when even a highly imperfect reform is much better than nothing; this is very much the case for health care. But financial reform is different. An imperfect health care bill can be revised in the light of experience, and if Democrats pass the current plan there will be steady pressure to make it better. A weak financial reform, by contrast, wouldn’t be tested until the next big crisis. All it would do is create a false sense of security and a fig leaf for politicians opposed to any serious action — then fail in the clinch.