Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oil For Food

Gee, no one could see this coming! What happens when the price of oil and gas really start to take off?
Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.

The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.
So the price of food has gone up by half already and the rate of increase is accelerating. I probably should have added starvation, potentially even in the US, as one of the stories to follow this year.

American grain production is at all time highs, yet this is not due to getting more food to market, but an effort to replace crude fossil fuels with ethanol-based production. God forbid we should put people ahead of our cars!

Eleven countries, including China & Mexico, have had to either impose food rationing or tamp down food riots. Think illegal immigration was a problem when it was just disparate incomes? Imagine the wave of immigrants coming over once the food runs out!

And how can we say no to them?

Ironically, part of the problem we're seeing with food production can be laid at the feet of the American consumer: we've helped create a middle class in places like China, Australia, and India, and those families want higher protein diets. Higher protein diets need more energy to be produced than further-down-the-food-chain diets of grains and vegetables. And of course, all this increased economic activity to service our Xboxs and SUVs has created a climate change that makes it darn near impossible to grow food in places that were best suited for it, like many of the former Soviet Union republics. Even the American breadbasket is in danger of droughts that could kill production for whole years.

This will not be pretty.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Music Blogging

The Beach Boys - Sail On, Sailor

Not the best version of this song I've ever heard, but it was on You Tube.

For long time readers of SLB, if this song sounds familiar...

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) He's tipped his king. It's hard to describe what Bobby Fischer's victory in chess meant to America. In an age before computers, CDs, iPods, Walkmen, video games, and cell phones, a competition of wits between two men played out in Iceland, where an American wrested from the perennial title holders, the Soviet Union, one of the most prestigious championships in the world. It was telecast "live" (sort of) nationwide on PBS, when PBS meant actually television, back when they covered Congressional hearings and important news. Shelby Lyman, fercrissake, became a household name!

2) "Check". It wasn't even much of a gambit. It stalls for time, however, to paper over the huge flaws in America's game plan.

3) This knight remains passive, but could be played at any moment. For now, he is "j'adoube".

4) These two sides shook hands and declared a dead draw. One can presume the Writer's Guild can declare they have a winning position.

5) The queen is being harassed by a pawn. This will play out on the right as the "liberal media baring their teeth," but anyone who watches the whole taped episode will realize Romney is being a prima donna. Endgame. End of story. End of campaign.

6) Thompson is in a squeeze, but I don't think South Carolina will prove to be his unpinning.

7) A man's home is his castle, they say. Well, the rook gets captured.

8) The bishop betrays the queen. Think Ann Coulter will repent?

9) One pawn makes a feignt, to try to reveal the isolated pawn's move.

10) EARWORM ALERT: "The goal is for us all to capture all we want."

11) Of course, if you find yourself in a losing position, here's a new way to win: cheat.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hump Day Comedy Blogging + 1

Sorry for not getting this up yesterday...don't ask, tough day at work...but, from Jon Swift's blog:
A real Republican should sound like Rep. Michele Bachman of Minnesota who said in a statement supporting the Middle Class Protection Act, which would protect the middle class by giving corporations a 25% tax cut that will eventually trickle down to the workers who still have jobs: "I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We’re the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs."

President Hillary

Barack Obama just handed the nomination to Hillary:
I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
When you diss the only Democrat to win the Presidency since Ronald Reagan, and you praise the Sith Master of the Neo-Con movement, you might as well pack up your campaign slogans and pray you'll be asked to be VP.

Barack, your fight isn't with President Clinton. Tell us how YOU will change the country, especially in light of how your legislative record is, to be polite, spotty and inconsistent. Picking on The Big Dog is only going to remind people that you might be too young to remember how the country was under Reagan. You are four years younger than I am, but I sure as hell remember.

How we ran up massive deficits. How the poor and disenfranchised became more so. How the rich became uberwealthy while the middle class began its grand descent down the marble staircase to permanent servitude.

How we flexed our military muscle all around the globe for no particularly good reason (c'mon, invade Grenada to save a dozen college students? Who we kidding?). How we cut and run in Beirut when the going got tough. How we funded Osama bin Laden. How we dealt arms to terrorists for hostages.

How the Christian Coalition rose from the ashes of the Reagan Administration to become the single biggest obstacle to sanity in this country.

And indeed, how Reagan himself grew the government exponentially (you could bother to do some research, Senator).

And then people will remember how only Bill Clinton saved them from a worse situation, and for that, was brutalized by the plutocracy that has become "America". And vote for Hillary.

Shame on you, Barack, shame on you.

UPDATE: Bob Stein calls it what it is: a stab in the heart of Democrats.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wexler Wants Hearings, Do You?

I Had My Heart Broken Last Night

By a movie: Maxed Out.

The film, released in 2006, has proven to be more timely as the years have passed:
Maxed Out takes viewers on a journey deep inside the American style of debt, where things seem fine as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time. With coverage that spans from small American towns all the way to the White House, the film shows how the modern financial industry really works, explains the true definition of "preferred customer" and tells us why the poor are getting poorer while the rich keep getting richer. Hilarious, shocking and incisive, Maxed Out paints a picture of a national nightmare which is all too real for most of us."
You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be affected by some of the stories in this expose, juxtaposed against some of the cruel, callous and officious bullshit spewed by the people who are roasting, toasting, and burning to a crisp those who are least capable of handling the credit so cynically ladled on them by predatory lenders.

If you want an idea of why the subprime market worked so well despite nearly every single rational thought, this movie gets under the mechanics and tinkers with the very soul of why credit cards exist, how they work, and what the banks and their cronies in Congress and the Bush administration wish would happen to you.

Yes. You. There's not a one of us in this country, with the possible exception of the uberrich and propertied, who couldn't but for the grace of God be one of these stories: white, black, urban, suburban, rural...everyone could fall prey to these sharks with silk tongues wearing silk suits:
The most profitable niche of the industry is called "alternative" or "sub-prime"—euphemisms for a business formerly known as loan-sharking. They target those with less than perfect credit-people like Mark Mumma, whose frustration with the sub-prime credit card issuer Providian caused him to start the website From 2000-2002, Providian paid over $400 million to settle charges that it defrauded its customers. Soon after, a Providian director and the chairman of its compliance committee was appointed corporate crime czar by George W. Bush.
Right now, in this country people are going broke at a faster rate than they did during the Great Depression.

Sink your teeth into that statement for a moment. The event that triggered your parents and grandparents to squeeze each and every dollar for all it was worth was nothing compared to the firestorm headed our way: it could create a permanent underclass along the lines of sharecroppers of the post-Civil War South.

The stories in "Maxed Out" will leave you breathlessly angry and crying from rage and sympathy. As director James Scurlock puts it:
We're all led to believe that people get into financial trouble because they are irresponsible, but I've learned that most people are getting in trouble because the banks and credit card companies are setting their customers up to fail. Why? The more credit they give us, the more credit we need. When we inevitably fall behind, they can charge the huge late fees and the over-limit fees and the stratospheric interest rates that drive their profits.

I highly, highly, recommend this film. It will scare you into taking care to clean up your debts now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's Sad To See What Our Government Has Been Reduced To...

How does a President deal with sky high oil prices?

A leader might bully a little the people who are holding back, if he felt they were doing it to pump up their profits. He might threaten or cajole them to pump out a bit more to help ease the strain.

A leader might recognize that this is a permanent, serious problem, and begin (even if a bit late) to try to correct our dependency on that oil.

A leader might make demands that both producers AND consumers work together to bring the price down until we can manage to absorb the increases.

A leader would never beg:
"I would hope, as OPEC considers different production levels, that they understand that if ... one of their biggest consumers' economy suffers, it will mean less purchases, less gas and oil sold," Bush said.
"Please sir, may I have some...more?"

That's our energy policy? Sheesh!

Attack Of The Cloned

I mentioned in my piece of January 4 that biotechnology would be among the top ten stories of 2008. Here it comes:
Cloned cows, pigs and goats and their offspring are safe to enter the U.S. food supply, regulators found amid criticism from lawmakers, consumer groups and worried eaters.

The Food and Drug Administration posted a summary of a final report backing the use of cloned food on its Web site today after a seven-year review. The agency hasn't recommended any special labeling for such products.
On its face, food from cloned animals doesn't sound like such a big deal. If anything, it's not likely to have much impact on the food supply, since it still takes the same amount of time from "conception" to maturity sufficient to provide a food source (or milk source). This isn't going to provide a sudden bounty of food, and in fact may actually shrink the food supply since, you know, Mother Nature has a pretty efficient system for reproduction already in place, something it will take man millennia to replicate in terms of efficiencies.

What cloning WILL do is change the quality of the food supply, and this is where concerns need to be addressed more carefully, in my opinion.

First thing: I dislike the fact that the FDA will allow cloned meats and milks onto the market without some distinction being made, to allow consumers a choice. If the argument is that labelling cloned meat as cloned will somehow hurt their sales, well then maybe that's a clue that more work needs to be done to ensure the safety of the product!

Next, I'm not against cloning, even human cloning. We've been cross-breeding animals for millennia now, in order to improve the breeding stock, make better meat and milk, and to help prevent diseases. I don't see that big a difference, except...

We can be fairly sure that the intent of cloning will have commercial interests ahead of the interests of health, safety, and diversity. And that spells major trouble: cloned animals will likely come from the most convenient sources, namely the animals at hand.

Any high school kid who's taken genetics can tell you that's called "inbreeding" and leads to all sorts of nasty things, like hemophilia. Life is like that, and humans who battle life by doing things on the cheap will pay dearly.

Even putting as many genetic safeguards in place as possible is no guarantee that this will be prevented: someone somewhere is going to screw up. Take a look at how much toxic crap is dumped in our environment now by big businesses, who can actually afford to dispose of it safely! Why would the FDA think things will be any different with cloning?

Let's take a current example from the food processing industry as an example: growth hormones.

First off, Congress, if growth hormones are bad for ballplayers, why are they OK for cows, chickens and pigs? After all, I don't eat Barry Bonds...stuff like this has a half life. It's not necessarily metabolized completely in the animal itself.

Second, for years, hormones like rBGH have been pumped into milk-producing cows to raise their estrogen levels, thus producing more milk. Well, guess what? That wasn't particularly safe!

And a whole new industry cropped up that claims their milk is "rBGH free". I can imagine that within ten years, a whole new market will have cropped up about "born natural" animals.

See, here's the thing: I'm not against cloning. I'm not even against cloning for meat or milk. What I am against is ignorance and deliberate deceptions, which is what the FDA seems to be mapping out here: first, introduce a potentially dangerous and deadly process and product to the market, let it run its retail course and then assess the results, like LSD given to hundreds of government employees, because you don't want to scare people off before the results are in.

You guys are supposed to be protecting us.

As they said in Jurassic Park:
Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet's ever witnessed, yet you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun.
Bang! You're dead!


UPDATE: Welcome, readers. Feel free to peruse the blog as you finish reading this article. The smoking section's over there (sorry, but I have hyperactive respiratory disorder...), and the bar's open.

(h/t MissCellania for noticing this)

Monday, January 14, 2008

This Is JUST What The Doctor Ordered!

Dr. Karl Rove, that is:
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) - Race became a focus of the Democratic presidential campaign on Sunday with Hillary Clinton accusing rival Barack Obama of distorting remarks she made last week about the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement.

Obama, who would be the first black president, called this "ludicrous" but said Clinton had offended some Americans who believed her comments last week had marginalized the role of black leader Martin Luther King in advancing those rights.

Clinton, who would become the first woman president, and Obama are locked in a close race for the right to represent the party in the November 4 election to succeed President George W. Bush. Republicans too are in a tight race.
In case you missed it, and you may have, Clinton said in effect that while Martin Luther King Jr's words were passionate and powerful, it took a political process to bring about the changes he wanted to see.

And she was right. And wrong. There's no guarantee that President Johnson would have done much about civil rights if not for the powerful words AND actions of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the other hand, Martin Luther King Jr could not introduce legislation into Congress to create The Civil Rights Act, The Great Society or The Voting Rights act. It was Johnson's sheer power, force of will, and knowledge of Congress that got these passed.

It is precisely this kind of bitter dissension that the Republicans are hoping for. The focus of BOTH campaigns should be to show the American people how they'll improve our lives. The economy is tanking, there's a war going on that's draining our lifeblood figuratively as well as literally. We have more important things to do than to assess credit for what little progress has been made in this country regarding race.

And while Clinton's wording was clumsy when she made her original comments, "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act," she said, adding that "it took a president to get it done," it's a little hard to say she minimized King's contributions, but I suppose if you're thin-skinned enough (or willing to lay down the race card), you can make the claim. One can have a dream, work hard for that dream, and yet it may take something beyond one's control to realize that dream.

Luck, after all, is the residue of hard work, and no one is denying King did the hard work.

It's not the only time Obama partisans have unfairly injected race into the, well, race:
In a call on Friday to Al Sharpton’s nationally syndicated talk radio show, Mr. Clinton said that his “fairy tale” comment on Monday about Senator Barack Obama’s position on the Iraq war was being misconstrued, and that he was talking only about the war, not about Mr. Obama’s overarching message or his drive to be the first black president.

“There’s nothing fairy tale about his campaign,” Mr. Clinton said. “It’s real, strong, and he might win.”
(You might ponder how tied up Obama might be in a general election when Republicans fight with the gloves off as you read this piece.)

The race has gotten nasty (even John Edwards has "me, too'd" the whole Martin Luther King thing, and he might do better to shut the hell up and let these two scratch out each other's eyes. Did New Hampshire teach you nothing, son?). If it's going to get over and done with quickly, fine, but if this animosity lingers well beyond February, it could rift the Democratic Party enough to hand the election to the Republicans.

So...again, I'm just a shlub blogger who's only been politically active and aware for 40 years.. it might behoove both Obama and Clinton to shake hands, and apologize.

And grow a thicker skin.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

We Are One

I know it's late notice, but tonight on "60 Minutes", the work of a fantastic organization, Women for Women International, is being featured on a piece about the DR Congo. I'm sure the informed readers of SLB are aware of the human rights violations in the form of an epidemic of rape and mutilation of women and children.

I've been involved with Women for Women International for some time now.

Al Franken interviewed founder/CEO Zainab Salbi on his radio show numerous times and her story is compelling and inspirational, as a survivor of the Saddam Hussein era in Iraq. Yet the work of this organization is even more inspiring, and there are many "Stories From the Front" on their site.

One person really CAN make a difference for one other person. Please take a minute to look over their website. Thanks alot.

All Things In Moderation, Including Moderation

Lately, one of the big memes in Blogtopia (© Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo) has been Jonah Goldberg's latest expulsion, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, or simpy, Liberal Fascism.

For a fairly in-depth analysis, I refer you to Sadly, No!, a somewhat amusing blog whose writers and editors have done signal work in deconstructing these ten pounds of crap in a five pound book. See in particular, this post. (Side note: It's a tough audience, but I'm thrilled they've accepted me as a somewhat regular commenter in threads, and even note my modest attempts at humour).

For fairly good reason, I might add. You see, in Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, or Liberal Fascism (LOLcats added for readability).

In a nutshell, Goldberg takes a fairly innocuous statement, "There’s this idea that the further right you go the closer you get to Nazism and fascism, and the further left you go the closer you get to decency and all good things, or at least having the right intentions in your heart" which Jonah "proves" is wrong. This is the first of many strawmen he burns.

A sane (ed. note. Lawyers...*sigh*) reasonable man would interpret that the way people have for millenia: The further out on the fringe you go, the more likely that you will cross over to the other extremist position.

In other words, politics is not a spread spectrum like something you'd see in a lab, but more like a circular rainbow, in which the colours all whip around in a continuum. Go far enough out on the left, and you start to see elements of the same dogmas that you'd see on the right.

And there's the key term: dogma.

We see it in other areas of life as well. Some militant atheists, for example, are as dogmatic about their non-belief in god as some fundamentalist (Islamist, Christians, Jews, take your pick).

Similarly, some political dogmas transcend "wing" descriptions, and here, if Goldberg had stuck to this point, he might have made some philosophical point, and maybe even dug up some insight into American politics. For example, dogmatic people tend to believe their's is the one best way of running a society (sounds like Goldberg himself, but that's a digression), and it really doesn't matter if the rest of their philosophies can be labeled fascist or socialist.

What does matter is an adherence to the dogma. Alfred Meyer covers this from a geopolitical perspective in his 1978 book "Theories of Convergence" (seems to be out of print, for the good reason of losing relevance), albeit with the US and Soviet Union as examples.

What Jonah does is use this "wrap-around" to create an entirely new school of thought: that liberals are fascists.

Nevermind that he includes in this fascism people like you, me, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. He also includes Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, AND FDR, and what dinner conversation they must have had, that quartet!

In other words, because he sees a rising of liberalism that mirrors the rise of progressivism in the 60s, Jonah has decided the best way to tamp it down is to somehow link it to fascism.

In other words, he employs the "Big Lie" of Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.

Wouldn't that make him a liberal?

Jonah, because I know you're self-involved and self-indulgent enough to read every single piece written about your specious book, let me say this right here:

You want to get in my face, in the face of millions of liberals? That's fine because it's to be expected of a dogmatist like yourself, but just know that the tar you paint with is spitting more back on you than you're able to smear on us.

Y'know, I wish I had a mommy who was a literary agent. Then my book Right Wing Nutcases And The Sale Of Cheetos would be number one in perpetuity.

THAT'S how bad a book you've written!

Would you like a Dorito, Fudgie?