February 26, 2011

Christians? You got an Obamacare loophole — if you want it

You don't have to have health insurance coverage if you sign up for a dubious alternative called a health sharing program.

How dubious? This dubious:
Although they have procedures for dealing with coverage disputes, they're largely unregulated by state insurance departments that oversee private carriers.
And this dubious:
If Medi-Share is an insurance alternative, its guidelines carry an eye-catching disclaimer:

"The payment of your medical bills through Medi-Share or otherwise is not guaranteed in any fashion." Members remain solely responsible for payment.
Indeed, the main part of the story, the hook, is about Medi-Share refusing to pay for brain tumor surgery, and even eventually winning an arbitrator's decision on the matter based on its claimed inability to pay.

And this dubious, in terms of Christian brotherly love:
Nevada pastor Michael Rowden sued Medi-Share over its refusal to pay for treatment of a heart condition. He eventually reached a settlement. "I was actually embarrassed to be associated with them," he said.
So, how does it "work," using that word theoretically? Here's how:
Every month, they pay a fixed "share" to cover the medical expenses of members in need. The cost usually is less than private insurance, but it's not tax deductible. Members use a network of medical providers.
OK, so .... being a hypothetical devil's advocate here ...

What if Muslims, especially based on their history of nonbank lending networks and such, started something similar and got an exemption from Obamacare?

Conservatives would go apeshit. They would probably claim the exemption was because Obama was indeed a Muslim himself. The practice would be touted as proof of sharia law in America.

And, tell me again, how Christians are being "persecuted"?

That said, I seriously expect about the same number of Christians to sign up for this as who drive without auto insurance or who own homes without insurance (or without lightning rods).

The sad part, per my "persecution" crack, is the pandering involved by Members of Congress (and, indirectly, the "Muslim" Obama Administration). That said, by not supporting a single-payer system, or at least making it an option, Team Obama opened itself up to loopholes like that. And, because the Obama Administration has trumped BushCo on faith-based initiative spending and indulgence, I bet Preznit Kumbaya actually isn't at all saddened by the existence of this loophole.

Needed: Texas lawsuit for the mentally ill

As the state plans to cut its mental health services budget, we're getting more and more mentally ill "warehoused" in city and county jails. Harris County Jail is now the state's largest mental health institution.
“We’ve done everything we can do to make it therapeutic,” said Sgt. Bernard Kelly, a supervisor in the jail’s mental health unit. Some inmates say it’s the best mental health care available to them in Houston. It all costs the county about $27 million a year.

Harris County officials have seen the number of mentally ill inmates explode since 2003, the last time Texas had a budget crisis and made major cuts. Then, there were fewer than three full-time psychiatrists on duty at the jail. Now, there are more than 15. Often they see the same mentally ill inmates repeatedly.
It will probably only get worse.

Sheriffs know that, but, especially in smaller counties, they don't have the resources to do much about it. I wrote about this three-and-a-half years ago, when the state was already 50th in per-capital mental health spending, and yes, it's only gotten worse since then.

Of course, we could have something even worse - Tricky Ricky Perry could beat the drums for faith-based mental health services. And, I'm not being 100 percent facetious about the possibility of that happening.

Prince Fielder - odd-numbered or even-numbered years?

As the Milwaukee Brewers prepare for what could well be a drive to win the NL Central crown, they also face the fact that this could be the last year they have slugger first baseman Prince Fielder in the house.

And, while mentioned in the same breath, or at least the same atmosphere, as Albert Pujols, there's really not a lot of comparison.

Fielder has a career negative dWAR, compared to Pujols having 10 points to the good.

Plus ... which Prince Fielder is the real one?

His defenders claim his power slump last year was due to trade rumors. But, his 2008 year was quite similar. As was 2006.

So, if he has a monster 2011, would-be suitors will have to ask which Prince Fielder, if not both, they'll get.

Can we officially call Tiger Woods "mediocre"?

Why not? AP's Tim Dahlberg just did.

Tiger still has a distressing new ability, post-fire hydrant, of not being able to close out when in the hunt.

Of course, part of that goes back to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. But, given that was one of Tiger's last events before his ex-wife "rescued" him from that late-night wreck, it had to incubate in his mind a bit.

But, the "mediocre"? Dahlberg says it's in style points, intimidation, the whole nine yards:
He’s not all that interesting to watch anymore, unless you’re the type who likes hearing a loud swear word or enjoys watching someone spit on the green as Woods did in Dubai. He no longer hits the ball past everyone, and there is a gaggle of talented kids who not only aren’t afraid of Woods, but can’t wait to take him on.
Now, Dahlberg isn't writing Tiger off, of course.
I don’t doubt Woods will win again. He’s got so much talent it could happen just by accident.

But I don’t see him winning the way he used to win, and I don’t think there’s any way he wins five more majors to break the record held by Nicklaus.
But, here's the bottom line:
(T)he greatest player of his era will have to adjust to a new normalcy.

For Woods, that may be even tougher than figuring out his new swing.
While Dahlberg doesn't go into too many details about Tiger's play, the biggest difference is his putting. I even saw a commenter on a Yahoo blog raise the name of Ian Baker-Finch.

Now, Tiger doesn't have actual "yips," but, since last summer, he's been struggling with the flatstick.

And, if that continues, Augusta National won't be too friendly this April.

That's especially true if Robert Lusetich is right, that Tiger lacks self-confidence above all else right now. If true, that would certainly explain the putting issues.

Kaymer new PGA No. 1; Tiger mediocre?

The German did it by winning his semifinal match in the Accenture Match Play.

More on his win, and his ascent, here.

That said, we'll also have other movement in world rankings. Tiger Woods fell behind Graeme McDowell to No. 4 earlier this week. Luke Donald can pass both into No. 3 if he beats Kaymer tomorrow. He might move into No. 4 as is; if not, it could happen soon.

So, at least in terms of Tiger's past, I don't think AP's Tim Dahlberg is off base in writing about his possible "mediocrity."

AP, Texas independence, urban legends, myths, lies

Let me spell out a few mistruths and half-truths that lie behind this Associated Press story on the 175th anniversary of Texas declaring itself independent from Mexico.
What came out of the discussions over a few days 175 years ago this coming week was the Texas Declaration of Independence, a handwritten document proclaiming Texas was freeing itself from its oppressive ruling government in Mexico. The declaration was modeled after the American Declaration of Independence authored 60 years earlier by Thomas Jefferson.

No other U.S. state has such a distinction.

Four U.S. states established themselves as independent republics before joining the United States: Vermont, California and Hawaii as well as Texas.

Otherwise? Vermont also had a declaration of independence. So did California, from Mexico. In both cases, I'm talking about official documents, just like in Texas.

I have e-mailed author Michael Graczyk at what I am guessing is his address, mgraczyk@ap.org. We'll see if I get a response.

Wingnuts on Wis - trolls? deliberate stupids? Slavery advocates?

OK, a Forbes blogger gives a basic thumbnail of David Kay Johnson's excellent piece at tax.com (which I originally thought was a wingnut site itself just because of the URL) explaining that Wisconsin public workers who have a pension fund it 100 percent with their own contributions.

Their own money. 100 percent. NO state $$ contributed. Period. End of story.

So, Gov. Scott Walker is wrong.

Well, in commenting on the blog, wingnuts insist because the salaries are paid by taxpayers, Walker is still right to want to cut the pension funds.

Either wingnuts have reached a new level of stupid, or they've reached a new level of trollery. Or both. They're not mutually exclusive.

Or, they want the public workers to be reduced to lower and lower pay.

Look, folks, you need to bitch at the right-wing CEOs at private sector companies who won't give you raises. Redirect your anger to where it should be focused.

February 25, 2011

Tom Leppert who?

The now-former Dallas mayor, to riff on an old spoof movie, "J Men Forever," "should die his underwear and learn to live within his (political) limitations" rather than seek the GOP U.S. Senate nomination.

Really? Zero big name recognition outside DFW. No political favors to cash in. No special schtick other than now pandering and turning hard right.

Don't write off labor as part of liberalism's future

Earlier this week in Salon, Michael Lind noted that labor unionism was only one strand of progressive politics in the U.S. and that social democracy had actually contributed more.

Matthew Dimick counters that, in today's all-on assault by the right on all angles of progressive politics, union strength is going to be necessary to further social democratic politics.

Annuities instead of Social Security?

Wow. Just wow.

Set aside Rick Perry and Texas GOP wingnuts, and sometimes a good idea like this comes out of the Lone Star State.

Column authors Henry T. C. Hu and Terrance Odean say government-provided annuities would replace the uncertainty of retirement budgeting folks in their 40s and 50s face today and would actually stimulate grown in private annuities, too.
Our proposal is a winner for everyone. The Treasury could lower borrowing costs and diversify its investor base while acknowledging and budgeting for risk that it already bears. Individuals could eliminate the risk of living too long. By looking at the promised rate of return on the annuities, individuals will have a better sense of how much they need to save.
Where do I sign up?

Seriously, I'm not sure on the details, but it sounds like this would level a playing field that currently isn't totally level, on differing Social Security payouts.

Gitmo to go on trial

Spanish judge Balthasar Garzon may have been suspended from investigating allegations that the U.S. has tortured people at Guantanamo, but another magistrate there will hear a similar claim by a Moroccan.

Center for Constitutional Rights has more.

Too bad we can't send the Three Stooges, aka George W. Shrub Bush, Rummy Rumsfeld and Darth Cheney, over to Spain to stand in the docket as Obama continues to look forward.

Guess Spain didn't get that memo from Preznit Executive Order Kumbaya.

Banksters fess up to illegal mortgage problems

Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup, as part of annual financial filings with the SEC, admitted that state attorneys general investigations (and a lame-o one by the feds so far) into their, well, illegal use of MERS software in mortgage paperwork filings could well be a financial deadweight and not just a perception issue.
“The current environment of heightened regulatory scrutiny has the potential to subject the corporation to inquiries or investigations that could significantly adversely affect its reputation,” Bank of America said in the filing.

The state and federal inquiries “could result in material fines, penalties, equitable remedies (including requiring default servicing or other process changes), or other enforcement actions, and result in significant legal costs,” Bank of America said.

Wells Fargo said in its filing that it was “likely that one or more of the government agencies will initiate some type of enforcement action,” including possible “civil money penalties.”
Well, boo-hoo. Dr. America prescribes 30CCs of "cramdown" for the sick bankster patients.

More seriously, here's my tentative grand bargain:
1. State AGs as a group, agree to suspend investigations, both on the illegal use of MERS, and on banks wrongfully repo-ing deliquent-mortgage homes to which they don't have clear title in particular, for 18 months.
2. In exchange, without admitting guilt for past use, the banks agree that MERS, by not providing actual paperwork to county clerks, is illegal in all such states with such a requirement, and stop using it ASAP. (I'm assuming they're still using it, in the middle of this mess.)
3. Banks agree to triple their current mortgage-modification programs.
4. Banks agree to reveal what "minimum," as percentage of mortgage principle, they currently have as a cutoff rate for walkaway deals and other mortgage modifications, and to lower that minimum by 10 percentage points.

That's just some back-of-the-napkin figuring. I'm guessing that, given this was part of an SEC filing, that doing all of that would still hit the bottom line no harder than would state financial penalties, should the banksters dig in their heels.

HuffPuff-AOL didn't talk to Google?

HuffPuff-AOL didn't talk to Google?

The Googster is officially tweaking its algorithm to better screen out SEO-driven webpages. And, it went so far as to officially confirm that was the reason:
“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other Web sites or sites that are just not very useful,” Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, and Matt Cutts, who leads Google’s spam-fighting team, wrote in a company blog. “At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”
More proof as to the nature of the targets?
Google’s announcement did not mention content farms. But Mr. Cutts has spoken in recent weeks about the problem and said Google was working on algorithm changes to fix it. “In general, there are some content farms that I think it would be fair to call spam, in the sense that the quality is so low-quality that people complain,” he said in a recent interview.
The company said, in that post, this should affect about 12 percent of blog searches. It also said that while this was a U.S.-only change for now, it would get rolled out worldwide, but that was coming soon enough. It also noted that a personal website "blacklist" tool on its Chrome browser, though not used in the algorithm tweaking, said the tweak caught about 85 percent of the most-blocked sites.

It also said that while some content farm shinola might rank high early on, the tweak would cumulatively reward the best sites, and so its effects should become more visible in months ahead.

So, the takeaway for HuffPuff-AOL should be that just because CEO Ted Armstrong used to work at Google Ads, the company will NOT be able to game Google's algorithm. Nor, in light of post-holiday shopping revelations, will a J.C. Penney be able to do that through web parking in the future.

That said, will that actually be the takeaway? I doubt it.

To the investment world public, Armstrong will probably claim that AOL sites (even though eHow) was mentioned in the blog) aren't "content farms." Inside the AOL hive, he'll probably work on a mix of redoubled efforts to game or crack the algorithm, on the one hand, and overwhelm it, and us in general, on the other.

That, in turn, will mean that the poor HuffPuffers, individually, will see their individual posts hidden in an ever-bigger blizzard, thereby denting their vanity. As for the pay-per-piece Demand Media, I'm sure teh Google's tweak will hit you, too.

And, indeed it will. Wired has an excellent in-depth piece on what this likely will, and won't, mean. (It's more pessimistic than the NYT blog about how much or little effect it will have, referencing Google's idea that an algorithm should be "neutral." [Bullshit. If true, you wouldn't tweak it.])

Re Demand:
Demand Media is highly reliant on Google for traffic to its sites and in its filings with the SEC noted that a change in Google’s algorithms could materially affect the company’s prospects.

But on Friday, the company tried to downplay the significance of Google, saying the company was increasingly getting loyal users and traffic via Facebook and Twitter:

“It’s impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term – but at this point in time, we haven’t seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business. [O]ur properties are developing into recognizable consumer brands that are delivering real value to an increasingly loyal community.”
And, re Google's "neutral" bullshitting, some day, I may just start using Blekko or something.

Can Cards still compete? Is Lohse "quality"?

Ken Rosenthal thinks the St. Louis Cardinals can still compete for the NL Central crown even after losing Adam Wainwright.

Only if he's buying the Cards' party line on pitching is Rosenthal right.

And, here's that party line:
The Cardinals’ party line is that they still have four quality starters .... (including) Kyle Lohse. La Russa spoke of “six or seven” internal candidates for the fifth spot.
Kyle Lohse a "quality starter"? Yeah, Tony the Pony is scraping the barrel indeed.

Tiger's No. 4

Well, contra my blog post of yesterday, we CAN still talk about Tiger in the schadenfreude world. With his first-round loss at Match Play and Graeme McDowell advancing to the third round, Tiger will fall behind Graeme to No. 4 in world rankings. With Lee Westwood also out in the second round, Martin Kaymer could move to No. 1, too, if he can win out. If nothing else, he will open more space between himself and Tiger.

Carpenter gone from Cardinals?

Adam Wainwright's need for Tommy John surgery has already been projected to affect how likely the Cardinals are to shell out money to resign Albert Pujols.

Wainwright might not be back until the middle of 2012 and not be back to 100 percent effectiveness until 2013. That would mean the first year of a new Pujols contract is unlikely to show dividends in the postseason. So, management might engage in loss-cutting and rebuilding mode. Trades made during the year this year could be one sign of that.

But, a third player also may be affected by all of this.

Chris Carpenter knows he could be traded if the team doesn't compete.

I've already expressed my guess before, that the Cards will NOT pick up Carp's $15M option for 2012. I could see the team making a two-year offer of about $11-12M a year, with a third-year team option of about $10M. Nothing more than that, though.

But, unless the injury bug hits elsewhere in the division, on paper at this point, the Cards are No. 3 behind Reds and Brewers. If that plays out in reality, it's all a matter of how soon the Cards fall off the pace, and how much, before they look at roster moves.

On the other hand, if the Cards could ink him to an extension of the sort I just mentioned, and he seems healthy enough, they'll certainly hold on to him, I think.

Assange loses extradition hearing

The Guardian mentioned it was seen by many as a "foregone conclusion>' Well, given statements by Judge Howard Riddle, I'd have to agree.

That said, there's cluelessness to spare here.

1. Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig:
Hurtig acknowledged during a three-day hearing earlier this month that his witness statement, in which he maintained Ny had "made no effort" to interview Assange before he left Sweden, was untrue.
And, no, not a slip, chief magistrate Howard Riddle said.

2. Howard Riddle, per the Australian (dunno why this isn't in the Guardian story — let's maybe not be so hasty to decry US media self-censorship?):
There was no evidence he would be shipped off to the US and face the torture and human rights abuses alleged by Mr Assange's defence team, (the judge said.)
Really? Judge Riddle, meet Bradley Manning, possibly being tortured by deliberate isolation and sleep deprivation.

And, add this:
Mr Assange said the US Government had admitted that it was waiting to see the British court verdict before determining its own future action against him.
That said, even without Hurtig's willful misstatements, it seems Judge Riddle has had his mind made up in advance.

But, this is the bottom line:
Assange has never been charged with any offence relating to accusations made by two Swedish women in August while he was visiting Stockholm, nor has he been formally interrogated in connection with all four of the alleged crimes of rape and sexual assault. His lawyers had argued that this meant the EAW, issued by prosecutor Marianne Ny, was not legal. They also maintained that the alleged offences would not be illegal in the UK, and that a "secret" rape trial would be a breach of Assange's human rights.
That's the bottom line. It's ridiculous for a country to have warrants without charges.

Unless, of course, it's the United States wanting to hold people as "material witnesses." But, that's American exceptionalism!

February 24, 2011

Wainwright out for year; Pedro as replacement?

It's official. St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, it turns out, will need the dreaded Tommy John surgery.

Replacements? John Mozeliak, beyond mentioning spring training promotions from the minors, is talking Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millwood.

Ugh. Pedro hasn't had a 30-start season in six years. Millwood? 2009 was his only decent, and even then, not that good, season in the last six years.

Promotions from the minors? The Cardinal prospect list in general is thin, and no minor-league starters have been touted.

One NL scout, going beyond the sabermetric WAR, calls this a 10-win dropoff, in talking to ESPN.

That said, now that the worst is true? Beyond Wainwright, what does this mean for Albert Pujols?

Wainwright might not be back until the middle of 2012 and not be back to 100 percent effectiveness until 2013. That would mean the first year of a new Pujols contract is unlikely to show dividends in the postseason. So, management might engage in loss-cutting and rebuilding mode. Trades made during the year this year could be one sign of that.

Supporting that? That same NL scout:
"The Cardinals have very few of what I'd call 'B' players," the same scout said. "They have 'A' players -- and then they have 'guys.' Now Yadier Molina has to be the best catcher in the league. Pujols has to be the best first baseman in the league. They need big improvement from their center fielder (Colby Rasmus). Those are the things that have to happen. They have to be an offensive team now."
Also per that same ESPN link — will this affect whether or not the Cards' pick up Chris Carpenter's option at the end of this year? I already leaned no, thinking of a two-year new contract at lower value. This only reinforces that.

On the other hand, a team without both Wainwright AND Pujols might not be close to contention for the postseason. In fact, it might be far enough "out" to have impact at the turnstiles.

So, stay tuned. But, yes, Wainwright's injury can't be viewed in the light of him alone.

And, it turns out Ken Rosenthal agrees. He even wonders if this will change Pujols' mind on being traded this year.

Also, a third player may be affected by all of this.

Chris Carpenter knows he could be traded if the team doesn't compete.

Meanwhile, Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN says "pony up" for would-be Albert Pujols suitors not named (or maybe including) the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wainwright out for year; Pedro as replacement?

Type your summary here Type rest of the post here

Lobbying - more Obama 'change we can believe in'?

Ahh, the "perceptions" game. Team Obama moves meetings with lobbyists away from the White House itself.

But, in reality, a change which is no change is no change.

And, confidentiality agreements? Sounds like all of Team Obama has a collective thin skin.

Can sports media STFU a bit on Tiger Woods?

Tiger Woods is still not on top of his game, as his first round bow-out in the Accenture WGC Match Play showed.

So, I'm with Yahoo's Devil Golf Blog — can golf media STFU, at least a little bit, about Tiger until he proves he's back by winning something?

Really. There's going to be a day he's no longer around at the top of his game anyway, so ... call this prep time for that.

Or, to riff on Richard Nixon 1962, you won't have Tiger's ass to glorify anymore.

Accenture-ate the FedEx Cup

This week's Accenture WGC Match Play golf tournament has many pro golfers, especially but not limited to Europeans, lamenting the lack of more match-play events on PGA Tour.

Meanwhile, more and more golf writers are getting tired of the barfolicious early-season flogging of the FedEx Cup, not just by the PGA Tour but also by CBS on broadcasts.

So, here's the solution.

Let's make the final day, say, of the Tour Championship, a 36-hole match play event. Top four (and ties) from the first three days qualify for a Sunday finale, all playing the same group. To keep it from bogging down too much, once a player is officially eliminated, he stops playing. Probably, after 30 holes, we'd be down to, say, 3 players.

Match play for $10 million? That would HUGELY jazz up the FedEx Cup. And, per Tiger Woods still not on top of his game at Accenture, we'd really see how much domination and intimidation mean.

Cedar Hill ISD could close school

Beltline Intermediate School in the suburban Dallas school district Tmay be shut downy. Why? Rick Perry's economic miracle declining property tax revenues, of course.

I'm still waiting for the next school funding lawsuit against the state. That will be three during Perry's reign. How long until even GOP soccer moms get tired of him, and the GOP Legislature he rode in on? Well, it's been a whole decade, two lawsuits, and even a legislative GOP that balked at Tricky Ricky's education funding moronity in the first 2005 special session. Since I don't have kids, I can laugh my head off at this schadenfreude.

That said, raising money from lobbyists for themselves apparently isn't a problem

Does Obama mean it on DOMA nondefense?

It's a good question indeed. President Obama has walked a tightrope, to put it politely, with defending the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act in federal courts.

That said, new suits in federal court in New York, where there's no recent precedent on gay rights, forced his hand — and he let his hand be carefully forced.

First, the nondefense applies only to Section 3 of DOMA, to be technical. And, not even fully to that.

Jonathan Turley does a good job of both legal and political parsing of the announcement and says, "It's pretty much a political decision." Having had time to read more since this afternoon, I'd tend to agree.
The more obvious explanation is that it didn't feel it could politically oppose DOMA before the midterm elections. I found Holder's statement to be rather forced and unconvincing. ...

Everyone that I've spoken to believes this decision was motivated by political considerations and not legal considerations. Eric Holder has proven an extremely political attorney general, much in the same way as the Bush attorneys general. His position not to prosecute torture, his decision to defend DOMA, and his prior decisions on DOMA were all driven by political considerations in the view of his critics. So I think that's what the motivation is.
And, although he just comments in passing as a first draft, looks like Greenwald's skeptic meter was left idling at the curb on this one. I mean, in light of Turley's comments, and as much as Greenwald has been skeptical of Obama and Holder before, there's a fair amount of wishful thinking on his part, perhaps.

Now, Turley notes, rightfully, that this is better than nothing.

But, a lot better? Well, maybe not.

Meanwhile, Greenwald has now fully addressed the Holder/Obama decision. And, basically, he expands on his defense of Obama on DOMA. And that's despite mentioning how Obama has politicized other civil liberties issues! I know this is a hugely personal issue to you, Glenn, but read Jonathan Turley, then take off the blinders.

So, the claim of Lisa Hirschman in this other Salon story, that Obama's setting a trap for the GOP? It rings hollow; if anything else, he's setting a trap for people who don't parse his words, and who aren't well-informed gay rights activists.

February 23, 2011

Wainwright - NOT good news for Cards - or Pujols signing, perhaps

OK, this is not good, "Tommy John surgery" and "Adam Wainwright" being mentioned in the same story is a bad start to spring training. The phrase "significant injury" also doesn't sound good.

That said, what if the worst is true? Beyond Wainwright, what does this mean for Albert Pujols?

Wainwright might not be back until the middle of 2012 and not be back to 100 percent effectiveness until 2013. That would mean the first year of a new Pujols contract is unlikely to show dividends in the postseason. So, management might engage in loss-cutting and rebuilding mode. Trades made during the year this year could be one sign of that.

On the other hand, a team without both Wainwright AND Pujols might not be close to contention for the postseason. In fact, it might be far enough "out" to have impact at the turnstiles.

So, stay tuned. But, yes, Wainwright's injury can't be viewed in the light of him alone.

And, it turns out Ken Rosenthal agrees. He even wonders if this will change Pujols' mind on being traded this year.

Matt Ridley is a global warming denier?

A few years ago, when I read his book "Nature via Nurture," I realized Ridley was (no longer?) a Pop Ev Psycher.

Now, via a link in a blog from a blog, I realize that may be, alas, a global warming denier.
Four years ago (though not more recently), the retreat of Arctic sea ice was unprecedented since records began, but records began only in 1979.
He then goes on to claim:
(A)nd there is lots of evidence of greater ice retreats in past periods, such as the 1930s.
But, but, but, my "dear" Matt, if this is "evidence," then, it's "records," isn't it? Didn't you just undercut yourself?

This comes from an article where he says we should stop worrying about a possible decline in the Earth's magnetic field, so it's a bit tangential. Nonetheless, he knows that from ice cores and other things, we have corroborative information on climate change in the past.

And, given that he had at one time seemed like a Pop Ev Psycher, I'm going to guess there's a common underlying political theme.

Antixvaxxers lose another one

I actually agree with Nino Scalia! Once in every 10 blue moons, eh? Whoa.

As to the why of agreement?

He was part of a 6-2 majority dismissing a vaccine-related suit against Pfizer's Wyeth unit.

I don't buy Sonia Sonomayor's counterclaim:
Sotomayor said the ruling “leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing or distributing their products.”
No, no, no. Theoretically, at least, the FDA still has that role. How well it does it is another issue. She's also wrong in claiming the law establishing the vaccine court didn't intend consequences like this.

More on the case and its background here. While this isn't guaranteed to keep antivaxxers out of either federal or state court systems on spurious claims, it will certainly help.

For people who believe as Sotomayor does, and have the power to do something, fine. Start by giving better funding to the FDA. Beyond that, look at what's good about the current vaccine court structure and ask if it can't be translated to other science-heavy legal cases which are susceptible to tort abuse. (It happens, trial lawyers, setting aside the BS of the GOP.)

For example, whether from bomb testing dust or uranium mining dust or poor reactor management, perhaps all cases of radiation sickness should have a similar court. At the same time, each guilty finding should have mandatory punitive damages if it's part of a pattern.

Anyway, Orac has (as I had hoped and expected) now posted much more about this case.

Now, a lot of antivaxxers will claim this is stopping state-level lawsuits. No.

As for the state court issue nothing's changed there. The original 1986 law precluded suits from starting in state court. Orac note this. ALL this ruling did was state that the Court says the 1986 law pre-empts initial state court action on design-defect claims as well as on other claims where initial action at state court level was already pre-empted. So, it stops nothing; rather, it clarifies what was already stopped.

Was the majority's ruling a proper one? Here's what 42 U. S. C. §300aa–22(b)(1), the relevant section of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, says:
No vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.
Subsection 2 goes on:
For purposes of paragraph (1), a vaccine shall be presumed to be accompanied by proper directions and warnings if the vaccine manufacturer shows that it complied in all material respects with all requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.] and section 262 of this title (including regulations issued under such provisions) applicable to the vaccine.
So, design defects, it seems, were meant to be heard by the court. There is one exception.

Sub-subsection A of subsection 2 says that if a plaintiff shows:
(B)y clear and convincing evidence that the manufacturer failed to exercise due care notwithstanding its compliance with such Act and section (and regulations issued under such provisions).
In other words, willful negligence suits can still proceed, unless the new ruling invalidated them, too.

Full SCOTUS ruling here (PDF).

The skinny on corporate tax dodgers

They're bad.

The worst? Arguably, GE. Other bad ones? Some of the are Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, Chevron, Ford, ExxonMobil and Bank of America. Exxon, for example, actually pays taxes at a 47 percent rate - but none of that in the US.

USDA in bed with Monsanto, again and always

The government's approval of GMO alfalfa is just the latest case of this ongoing "relationship." Again, what a shock. That's why, again, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice's former science adviser, now at AAAS, is such a liar when she discussed how there's no danger from GMO crops.

Now, with the approval of GMO alfalfa, and the "guilty until you're proven innocent" attack on non-GMO farmers if GMO crops show up in their fields, what happens with organic milk and cheese? The USDA is likely lying about what it says is a low chance of cross-pollination.

It's also likely lying when it says glyphosphate-resistant weeds will be slow to evolve.

Another good point in the story? Only 7 percent of alfalfa is currently treated with herbicides. Why do we need Monsanto's crap?

Of course, we don't.

A decade of bubble burst in Vegas

As of the end of last year, Las Vegas housing prices were below those in January 2000.

To be fair, Cleveland and Detroit are in the same boat. But, neither's in the Sun Belt, the new economy, etc.

The Vegas numbers probably should be of concern for Phoenix and California's Central Valley, though. Add in cutting back on discretionary spending, though, and Vegas has its own unique problems. The gaming/casino industry will probably take the better part of a decade to fully rebound. So, some parts of America will have a Lost Decade, like Japan.

February 22, 2011

Unions vs. broader liberalism

Does the decline of unions necessarily mean the decline of liberalism in general?

Michael Lind is sometimes good, sometimes "eehh" and sometimes very good.

In answering "no" to the question above, he's very good.

He reminds us that unionism isn't the only strain of liberalism from the past and that unions have opposed some social democracy initiatives before, like national healthcare. (Also, unions in the past had race issues at times, and lets not forget all those "Reagan Democrats.")

That said, the "why" of union decline, and the push to actively accelerate it, aren't good news for liberalism in general, though.

Stanley Fish gets Watson right

It's not often that I agree with the philosopher of playing around with language, but on IBM's Jeopardy-winning computer, he's right. There's nothing really new to it, as Watson's creators note with their care in language in discussing what Watson can do.

I've listed emotions, or lack thereof, as one way in which Watson isn't really intelligent.

Another, riffing on Fish, is that it doesn't have sensory inputs under its own control. Now, if a Japanese personal servant robot ever gets its cameras or other sensory imputs jacked up 1,000-fold AND gets a personal feedback and reflectiveness for them AND has Watson's seeming control of language AND develops something like emotions, then we'll talk.

Is Isiah wrecking the Knicks again?

Having read recently that he's been pushing New York Knicks owner James Dolan to fire GM Donnie Walsh, I'll assuming Isiah Thomas is behind the team's clusterfuck trade for Carmelo Anthony.

It's pretty clear, per Yahoo, that the final trade package offering is all Isiah's idea. And, one that will simply gut the Knicks, especially if the salary cap gets lowered.

Over at ESPN, Ian O'Conner vehemently disagrees, claiming this is a short-term and a long-term win for the Knicks. Really? Trading one-third your roster plus three draft choices for someone who's never gone past the first round of the playoffs and can't play defense better than anybody else left on the Knicks is good?

February 21, 2011

Plenty of dam problems in the West

And, 5 percent of them are believed susceptible to failure, and nobody knows where the money for repairs could come from. The cost is likely more than $50 billion.

On the Kern River, in California, if Lake Isabella Dam fails? Bakersfield could be in trouble:
The potential is for a 21st-century version of the Johnstown Flood, a calamitous dam failure that killed more than 2,200 people in western Pennsylvania in 1889.
Yes, the Corps of Engineers is right that the chances are minimal. But, they're not nonexistent.t

Afghan victory is just around the corner!

Stop me if you're hear this one before. Military vets Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl of Center for a New American Security claim that this time victory really is near.

First, per Source Watch, CNAS is a "neocentrist" site — the foreign policy equivalent of a neolib site. (Note John Podesta's presence on its board, as well as neocentrist flaks now part of Team Obama.)
First, it's almost neocon, IMO. If warmonger Tom Ricks is a "senior fellow," it earns that description. And, Mark Lynch may give it a veneer of realism, but at some point, the way the Middle East is right now, he, and others, will have to stand and be counted more on things like ... well, Palestine.

OK, deconstructing a couple of Fick/Nagl claims:
Half of the violence in Afghanistan takes place in only 9 of its nearly 400 districts.
Yeah, and that means the Taliban can move around to new districts.

Next, while decrying kill counts, the duo touts "capture counts" — with the minor problem of not supplying specific figures.

Afghan Army troop strength has increased remarkably.
What about troop quality? Overall, not just one anecdote.

And, looking ahead at future concerns:
The first is uncertainty about how long America and its allies will remain committed to the fight. The question is still open, but President Obama and the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have effectively moved the planned troop withdrawal date from July 2011 to at least 2014, with surprisingly little objection.
I guess more and more of the American public wanting to leave doesn't sway the claim of "surprisingly little objection." Especially as a new Gallup poll shows a full one-third of Americans want us to take a minimal role in foreign affairs. But, when your friends populate the Administration...

And, re Karzai, Pakistan and corruption, they claim:
We are establishing a task force to investigate and expose corruption in the Afghan government, under the leadership of Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster. We are also shoring up the parts of the border that the Taliban uses by thickening the line with Afghan forces, putting up more drones and coordinating more closely with Pakistani border guards.
"Investigate and expose" is different than "enforce." The February National Geographic had a great story on opium poppies in Afghanistan. Even people seemingly upright turn a blind eye on more than the occasional occasion.

Shoring up the border with Pakistan, etc? The apparent murders committed in Lahore by purported CIA agent Raymond Davis have probably put a damper in that.

Bush and Buchanan — the parallels

Many people rate Andrew Johnson the nation's worst president. He undermined the start of Reconstruction, was openly racist, and had such a huge ego as to claim once that it was god's design to have Abraham Lincoln assassinated so he, Johnson, could become president.

Well, among the professional historian types, Lincoln's other "bookend," James Buchanan, often is ranked second-worst. And, to the unacceptability of many modern Republicans in general, let alone neocons, wingnuts, etc., George W. Bush is given a spot in the bottom five, even if not specifically ranked.

Glenn LaFantasie, in a Presidents' Day argument that Buchanan should actually be No. 1, also notes the parallels between him and W., starting with two of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history — Dred Scott, which Buchanan knew about in advance and had bullied one Northern justice into signing off on, and Bush v. Gore.

Our CIA man in Pakistan

Yesterday, the Guardian had an in-depth piece about Raymond Davis, the American consular employee in Lahore, Pakistan, who killed two Pakistanis a month ago, then had another consular employee kill a third while driving to pick him up, by hitting that person with his vehicle.

The story made clear (shock me) that Davis is a spook working for the CIA.

Beyond the disgustingness of the Obama Administrastion, we have members of the U.S. mainstream media who allegedly have also known this about Davis but not printed it.

Meanwhile, the WaPost looks at the legal ramifications of the U.S. claiming Davis has diplomatic immunity. Of course, the warmongering editorial page of the post won't look at the ramifications of an ongoing undeclared war against Pakistan.

February 20, 2011

Angelo Mozilo has friends in high places

Or, another bankster gets a pass.

Former Countrywide CEO Mozilo will not be charged with any crimes related to Countrywide's role in the subprime housing bubble.

Must be more "looking forward" by the Obama Administration's Department of Justice.

Jim Edmonds is NOT a HOFer

Sorry, Cardinals fans, and others.

I swear, ESPN must ask every potential baseball writer, as part of the hiring process, if they are "Big Hall" or "Hall of Fame maximalist" guys.

Cincinnati Reds blogger Chad Dodson, given a temporary perch on ESPN's Sweet Spot, is the latest to drink the Kool-Aid, this time over Jim Edmonds.

Dude, look at his numbers. Zero black ink at Baseball-Reference. Little gray ink.

Yes, he was a great defensive CF (more on that below) ... but, because of injuries in part inflicted by the reckless OF play, he fell short of 2,000 hits.

You compare him to Duke Snider. And put him ahead of Andre Dawson, whom you rightfully said is an iffy HOFer.

Well, at the plate, he also compares to Ellis Burks. And Fred Lynn (with good injuries parallel). And Jason Giambi.

True, none of them have his mitt. But, of his Gold Gloves, he had one in a negative dWAR year and another at a 0.1 dWAR.

I recognize that CFs don't get a lot of respect at times from the Hall. But, that's no reason to open the barriers too much.

And, that said, I'm open to a debate on how much we should value defense in a CF versus the corner OF positions. I know B-R does positional adjusting and weights that. But, I just can't get past how much the injuries took away from Edmonds' career; it reminds me a bit of Pete Reiser.

Justin Bieber, Rick Fox, get a room FFS!

First, this whole idea of a celebrity all-star game as part of the NBA's All-Star weekend? Puhleeze. Spare me. What next? Slow-pitch celebrity softball as part of MLB's All-Star break?

Beyond this, are you are creeped out as I am by Rick Fox saying Justin Bieber has "the softest hair"?

And, no, I will not Photoshop a pic of Fox finding that out for himself. Besides, looking at his ugly shoes, why bother with a Photoshopping?

Maybe he and Rick can do a duo on next year's "Dancing with the Stars."

Walker is high on Koch

Yes, Scott Walker, the new GOP governor of Wisconsin, is high on Koch - money from the Koch brothers, that is. The Center for Media and Democracy has details.

Loch Ness Monster cousin is NOT found

In the British paper the Telegraph, there's a gullible story claiming that someone with a cell phone caught a picture of "Brownessie," hailed as the English cousin to the Loch Ness monster.

Well, the story's not totally gullible. It did interview one skeptic:
Photo expert David Farnell of Farnell’s photographic laboratory in Lancaster said: “It does look like a real photo but because it’s been taken on a phone the file size is too small to really tell whether it has been altered on Photoshop or not.”
OK, here's why I'm skeptical.

Shutterbug Tom Pickles describes the event:
“It was petrifying and we paddled back to the shore straight away. At first I thought it was a dog and then saw it was much bigger and moving really quickly at about 10mph.
Really? 10 miles per hour? I would think something swimming that fast would produce more ripples.

OK, so Pickles misestimated the speed. Then, we can rightfully ask, what else did he misjudge? The size?

He claims it was three cars in size. Moving even close to 10 mph, something that big would surely produce bigger ripples than in the picture.

Then, we have conflicting comments.

Pickles says:
“Its skin was like a seal’s but it’s shape was completely abnormal – it’s not like any animal I’ve ever seen before."
But kayak companion Sarah Harrington says:
“It was like an enormous snake.
Snakes don't have abnormal shapes. True, eyewitnesses have unreliable testimony, but that different?

The kicker? The story says Pickles and Harrington were out "as part of a team building exercise with his IT company, CapGemini."

OK, how many other people were getting built up? Any of them want to comment?

That said, speaking of comments, people on the story's website nail it. The "creature" looks too sharp, compared to the rest of the image. The perspective looks too "high" for it to be shot from a kayak, unless it was quite close. And, in that case, something three car lengths in size and moving at 10 mph would surely have swamped a kayak. In which case, the couple would have been seen being swamped by other IT team builders.

One other commenter notes a 24-year-old man and 23-year-old woman out on a lake together ... this might be a hoax not just to be a hoaxer, but to cover some tracks ...