Monday, August 11, 2008

John McCain gets go ahead

Countdown: Nothing About The FBI's Anthrax Story Adds Up

Keith interviewed investigative journalist Gerald Posner last night, who did a great job of shattering all of the inconsistencies and improbabilities in the FBI's official case against alleged anthrax killer Bruce Ivins.

The strongest evidence they have going for them is also their Achilles' heel and that he's psychological profile.  That fact that he's very unstable, that he was someone who was an alcoholic, that he might wanted to have the vaccine continue to go along, but that's also the fact that he could have been set up as a cutout or puppet or used by a group of people who wanted the anthrax out there.

They also knew about his weak psychological profile.  How was he employed with the most secret biological warfare lab in the United States with this type of background that we now hear about?  That they should have known about from day one.  The Defense Department should hang its head in shame.

Drink it or Drive it: The Promise of Agave for Ethanol

 by Sarah Lozanova

Corn has given ethanol a bad name and scientists are searching far and wide for alternative feedstock. Agave has been getting attention lately and looks very promising, although tequila connoisseurs may not be cheering. Here's why agave is so much appealing:

High Yield Per Acre

Soybeans generate a measly 60 gallons of biodiesel annually from an acre of land and has an energy balance of 2.5. Corn generates about 300-400 gallons of ethanol per acre and has an energy balance of 1.3. Sugar cane can generate 600-800 gallons of ethanol per acre annually and has an energy balance of 8. Sugar cane unfortunately is very labor intensive to cultivate and could contribute to deforestation.

Agave however can yield an impressive 2,000 gallons of distilled ethanol per acre each year annually. Cellulosic ethanol from agave has 6 to 9 times the yield per acre. This would significantly reduce the quantity of land needed to produce the same quantity of transportations fuels.

Thrives in Wastelands

Agave fixes nitrogen in the soil and actually improves the soil quality where it is grown. 95% of the Agavacea family calls Mexico home and 50% of the country is ideally suited for agave cultivation. Dry, arid, and steep terrain typically have fewer economic opportunities and greater poverty. Ethanol from agave would open up new markets in marginalized lands.

Few other ethanol feedstocks grow well on marginalized lands. Sugar cane, which is used widely in Brazil for ethanol production, is grown in tropical regions and can drive deforestation.

Worst President Ever

The Folk Brothers, David Massengill and Jack Hardy, perform Jack's song "Worst President Ever" on the Main Stage of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2008

Is Anyone Ready?

by Susan Estrich

The knives are out for my friend Bill Clinton. Again.

There he is in Rwanda, not one of the top spots for August vacations, trying to do something to stop a few million Africans from dying of curable diseases. Far as I can tell, no one wanted to discuss that, or at least report what he had to say about it.

No, it was his refusal to simply say "yes" when asked whether he thinks Barack Obama is ready to be president that resulted in one of the most viewed stories this week.

In fact, if you look at what he did say, it was almost certainly true. "You can argue that nobody is ready to be president," the former president told ABC News.

"You can argue that even if you've been vice president for eight years, that no one can be fully ready for the pressures of the office," Clinton said Monday from Rwanda.

You can argue it, for sure, and you'd be right, looking at history. But if you're Bill Clinton, apparently you're not supposed to say it. News reports quoted Clinton "backers" as saying the president couldn't give the politically correct answer because he's still smarting from his wife's loss. And that's what Clinton backers were saying. My e-mails from Obama backers cannot be printed.

What was Clinton doing?

Maybe he was just being honest.

The coming Republican fall

by Larry Meacham

Tear down that wall

Wash Post: "Obama Hits Back, Too Softly For Some"

Interesting article in today's Washington Post. It encapsulates the angst many Democrats are starting to feel about the election, McCain's increasingly negative attacks, and the Obama campaign's responses to those attacks. Democrats we talk to are worried. They're not just the chattering class on TV. It's Democrats across the board. They're worried because they want Obama to win, but more generally, they want our party to win. This election is about far more than Barack Obama. It's about Democrats taking back the White House, taking back our country. All Democrats share ownership of that goal.

Here are a few of the key points in the article, and my thoughts:

1. "We are not going to base our campaign on the concerns of so-called campaign strategists on cable TV," spokesman Bill Burton said.

In fact, lots of Democrats are expressing concern, including senior Hill staff, senior consultants, senior activists, and more.

2. "The price [McCain] paid for his party's nomination has been to reverse himself on position after position," Obama told a crowd of more than 1,000 at a high school gym in Elkhart. "That doesn't meet my definition of a maverick. You can't be a maverick when politically it's important for you but not a maverick when it doesn't work for you."

This is great, seriously. Hit McCain on his strength, his "maverick" status. Guaranteed to tick him off.

3. [Y]ou have to counterattack. You don't want to look like a whiner. You want to look tough."

This is a point I've raised several times. I think John Kerry and Al Gore paid a high price for being intellectual pretty-boys who didn't show enough of a tough-guy side (interestingly, I think Wesley Clark has the same PR problem - way too nice of a guy on TV, and never shows his inner general). The public knows Obama is smart and good looking, now they need to know that he can be an asshole too.

U.S. guns arm Mexican drug cartels

Licensed weapons dealers are abundant near the border. 'Straw buyers' assist the traffickers.
By Richard A. Serrano
SIERRA VISTA, ARIZ. -- High-powered automatic weapons and ammunition are flowing virtually unchecked from border states into Mexico, fueling a war among drug traffickers, the army and police that has left thousands dead, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

The munitions are hidden under trucks and stashed in the trunks of cars, or concealed under the clothing of people who brazenly walk across the international bridges. They are showing up in seizures and in the aftermath of shootouts between the cartels and police in Mexico.
More than 90% of guns seized at the border or after raids and shootings in Mexico have been traced to the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Last year, 2,455 weapons traces requested by Mexico showed that guns had been purchased in the United States, according to the ATF. Texas, Arizona and California accounted for 1,805 of those traced weapons.

No one is sure how many U.S.-purchased guns have made their way into Mexico, but U.S. authorities estimate the number in the thousands.,0,6985616.story?page=1&track=ntothtml

Springtime for Hitler


You may recall that George W. Bush promised, among other things, to change the tone in Washington. He made good on that promise: the tone has certainly changed.

As far as I know, in the past it wasn't considered appropriate for the occupant of the White House to declare that members of the opposition party weren't interested in the nation's security. And it certainly wasn't usual to compare anyone who wants to tax the rich -- or even anyone who estimates the share of last year's tax cut that went to the wealthy -- to Adolf Hitler.

O.K., maybe we should discount remarks by Senator Phil Gramm. When Mr. Gramm declared that a proposal to impose a one-time capital gains levy on people who renounce U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying taxes was ''right out of Nazi Germany,'' even the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley, objected to the comparison.

But Mr. Grassley must have thought better of his objection, since just a few weeks later he decided to use the Hitler analogy himself: ''I am sure voters will get their fill of statistics claiming that the Bush tax cut hands out 40 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. This is not merely misleading, it is outright false. Some folks must be under the impression that as long as something is repeated often enough, it will become true. That was how Adolf Hitler got to the top.''

For the record, Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice -- the original source of that 40 percent estimate -- is no Adolf Hitler. The amazing thing is that Mr. Grassley is sometimes described as a moderate. His remarks are just one more indicator that we have entered an era of extreme partisanship -- one that leaves no room for the acknowledgment of politically inconvenient facts. For the claim that Mr. Grassley describes as ''outright false'' is, in fact, almost certainly true; in a rational world it wouldn't even be a matter for argument.

A Nation of Whiners? Perhaps

by Froma Harrop

You won't hear me straining to defend Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican whose penchant for grating commentary sunk his 1996 bid for the presidency before the New Hampshire primary. It was really just a matter of time before the former senator, serving as John McCain's economic advisor, put his foot in it: Gramm opined that Americans complaining about the economy were "whiners."

It's not good politics to call any voter a whiner, and Gramm had to leave the campaign. But honesty impels one to grant him this: The point about America being "a nation of whiners" is not without merit.

Yes, losing one's job or home is traumatic, and having both taken away more so. But the average citizens facing $4-a-gallon gas and learning that their hacienda isn't the money factory they thought it was haven't exactly been thrown into the Dust Bowl. Some Europeans pay twice as much for gas and live in half the space, and no one is passing around the hat for them.

I spent last week replaying Ken Burns' searing series on World War II. "The War" follows several American families ranging from working class to upper-middle class. None of them, not even the fancy folks in Mobile, Ala., lived as large as today's typical McMansion family.

These people also had to endure the war's horrific sacrifice, made more unbearable by the youth of the dead. Nearly 7,000 Americans perished on the tiny island of Iwo Jima alone, with several times that number injured, many grievously. It was a hideous battle in a long parade of gruesome campaigns. Over 400,000 Americans died in that war.

One of the documentary's running themes was that of servicemen pining for their loved ones back home. And their homes were modest triple-deckers in Connecticut, farmhouses in Minnesota or bungalows in California.

When the war ended, Americans soon resumed their historic quest for bigger and better.But even then, the returning soldier's idea of palatial living was a 750-square-foot house in Levittown, one-third the average size of a new home in 2006. The accommodations in Americans, by the way, were the envy of ruined Europe.

So the recent economic downturn hasn't made Americans poor by any sane measurement.

No respect

7 worrisome signs for Obama

by Glenn Thrush

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., campaigns under the

A few weeks back, Time magazine was musing that John McCain was in danger of sliding from "a long shot" to a "no-shot." Around the same time, a hard-nosed former Hillary Clinton insider declared the race "effectively over" thanks to the McCain campaign's ineptitude, the tanking U.S. economy and Obama's advantages in cash, charisma and hope. And Obama, up by three to six points nationally, was about to leverage a much-anticipated trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe into a pre-convention poll surge.

Instead, his supporters are now suffering a pre-Denver panic attack, watching as John McCain draws incrementally closer in state and national polls – with Rasmussen's most recent daily national tracker showing a statistical dead heat.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has been privately enumerating her doubts about Obama to supporters, according to people who have spoken with her. Clinton's pollster Mark Penn recently unveiled a PowerPoint presentation red-flagging Obama's lukewarm leads among white female voters and Hispanics – while predicting a five-point swing could turn a presumed Obama win into a McCain landslide.

"It's not that people think McCain will win – it's that they are realizing that McCain could win," says Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown, whose surveys show tight races in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. "This election is about Barack Obama — not John McCain — it's about whether Barack Obama passes muster. Every poll shows that people want a Democratic president, the problem is they're not sure they want Barack Obama."

Who Framed George Lakoff?

The Chronicle Review

A noted linguist reflects on his tumultuous foray into politics


For years he's been at the center of some of the biggest intellectual disagreements in linguistics (most famously with Noam Chomsky) and has helped create an important interdisciplinary field of study, cognitive linguistics, that is reshaping our understanding of the complex relationship between language and thought. More recently he has been vying for respect among people notoriously hard to persuade about anything — politicians and their financial backers. So this summer he has been on the road promoting his new book, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics With an 18th-Century Brain (Viking), which argues that liberals have clung to the false belief that people think in a conscious, logical, and unemotional manner and that this belief has doomed Democrats' chances with voters.

But transferring scholarly ideas into political practice can be tricky. After a heady few years when he seemed the person Democratic policy makers wanted on the other end of the telephone, Lakoff is finding that what they're asking for — and are willing to put money behind — is not always what he can provide. Lakoff's foray into politics is a story marked by intellectual breakthroughs, the allure of influence, and a fall from great heights. Yet his lifetime work permeates several disciplines and continues to spur cognitive researchers to go off in new directions.

Oil execs for McCain