Friday, November 28, 2008

Consumerism gone wild: A Wal-Mart employee in New York City was killed by stampeding consumers this morning (Black Friday). I know we would all love to get 75% off of a toaster oven, but this kind of nonsense is utterly ridiculous. There's a reason I don't go shopping on Black Friday. Here's a snippet from the AP Report:
A worker was killed in the crush Friday after a throng of shoppers eager for post-Thanksgiving bargains burst through the doors at a suburban Wal-Mart, authorities said.

At least four other people were injured, and the store in Valley Stream on Long Island was closed.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a "tragic situation" and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store.

"He was bum-rushed by 200 people," co-worker Jimmy Overby, 43, told the Daily News. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too. ... I literally had to fight people off my back."
Boingboing also has some links discussing union action following this incident. According to the Director of Special Reports for Local 1500, "Wal-mart must step up to the plate and ensure that all those injured, as well as the family of the deceased, be financially compensated for their injuries and their losses. Their words are weak. The community demands action."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One of the classic claims coming from those who believe global warming to be just another scare tactic is that "We had a scientific consensus about global cooling in the '70s. One decade, you have cooling; one decade you have warming. It's all just cycles." Turns out, people who say this are flat out wrong. Over at Climate Progress, Joseph Romm discusses a new scientific review article that shows that not only was there not consensus on global cooling in the seventies, but the majority of scientific articles on climate change pointed to a warming effect.
The survey identified only 7 articles indicating cooling compared to 44 indicating warming. Those seven cooling articles garnered just 12% of the citations.
The myth of global cooling was two things: 1) a man bites dog media phenomenon and 2) something perpetuated by the late and not-so-great Michael Crichton in his novel State of Fear. There's a handy graph (copied below) that shows that there were only two year in the 60s and 70s in which the number of cooling articles matched the number of warming articles.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Palin Fantasy

I know it's a little late, but I have a Palin fantasy. Here goes:

Now that the election is over, I fantasize that Palin goes back to Alaska with her family. She continues to be governor for the next two years, but loses the race to a no-name Democratic challenger in 2010 because it has come out that she helped doctor the election results in Alaska (in favor of Ted Stevens and Don Young), and she is on trial for felony election fraud. She is ultimately cleared of fraud, but her administration is in shambles. Continuing lawsuits from the McCain camp over the clothing mishap and defamation suits as her rhetoric towards them gets more hostile, ultimately force her, in 2011, to declare bankruptcy (all of my revenge fantasies include bankruptcy). In 2012, no one even considers her for a presidential nomination, and by 2016, she is living in a much smaller home in Wasilla, working as a manager at Wendy's and watching television for six hours a day. In 2011, Track Palin moves to New York and shortly thereafter comes out of the closet. He becomes a successful lawyer and soon is one of the pre-eminent gay rights' activists in the country, ultimately being an instrumental figure in the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. He eventually runs for mayor of New York and becomes their first openly gay mayor. Meanwhile, Bristol and her hubby are perpetually poor and continually draining the modest funds that Tod and Sarah have. As they watch their son on television, giving stump speeches advocating equality for everyone, they sit back and wonder what happened, living a regretful and argumentative life into their old age.

And that is my Sarah Palin fantasy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election oddities in Alaska, at Open Left. I suspected fraud the moment the results came in (and I commented on it over at Gerry's blog). The pre-election polls just aren't off by that much without something fishy going on.
I'm reading part 5 of Newsweek's "Secrets of the 2008 Campaign", which is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at everything that went on (an undergraduate working at the coffee shop asked me what I was reading today, and when I told him, he said, "That's really important." Not really. But it's fun to read). Right now, I'm reading about the selection of Palin, and I'm kind of surprised by how accurately Gerry assessed McCain's choice back in August. McCain is a chronic gambler. He is impulsive and addicted to risk. There's no other way to see it:
But McCain didn't want the safe choice. A top adviser would later recall that telling McCain that Pawlenty was "safe" was "like guaranteeing" that McCain would not pick him. Prodded by Schmidt and Rick Davis, McCain began asking about Palin, a first-term governor who had shaken up the Alaska political establishment by taking on her own party elders, who was fearless and defiant, who was … a little bit like McCain. He had called her that Sunday morning while she was attending the Alaska State Fair. It was a quick phone call, only about five minutes, and Palin had trouble hearing McCain over the noisy crowd. But McCain was intrigued. He told Salter and Schmidt to fly her down to Arizona and take a close look.
Needless to say, if McCain had picked Pawlenty, this would have been a closer race. Palin soured so many moderates. She is the embodiement of "The Authoritarian Personality": infantile, paranoid, defensive, aggressive, scheming, uninformed, and self-righteous (I honestly believe that with Palin as President, we would find ourselves in a police state overnight). In any case, I'm both glad and sad that John McCain the gambler ultimately picked Palin. Glad because it gave us that much more of a win. Sad because she really fueled a lot of aggression and hatred in the conservative base, and I worry where that is going to take us in the future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

11 PM: "Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States of America."
Just got back from Gerry's house. He's liveblogging, if you're interested. Looks like we've routed them. Kay Hagen takes NC; Obama has taken Ohio, it looks like New Mexico, etc. It's a good day.
To watch the Republicans steal votes in real time, go to Our Vote Live, the site of the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition. Most of the voting problems thus far are coming from (surprise) swing states and are in (surprise again) heavily Democratic areas.
A post entitled "Ugh" from a conservative poll tracking site is always a good thing for us:
Before Sunday, McCain was actually in a better poll position than many imagined. Not that he was in a good poll position, but it wasn't hopeless. The tracking poll range was about a 2 to 9 point lead for Obama, which was actually the final ranges for Bush against Gore. As we know Gore ended up winning the popular vote, and about half the country is convinced he won the electoral vote as well. There was also a good case for McCain getting the lion's share of the undecideds, given their demographic makeup and the fact that Obama had spent three quarters of a billion dollars and had still not won them over. Add into that the fact that the difference between the 2-point poll and the 9-point poll appeared to be structural, having more to do with the model for likely voter turnout than simply arising from random variance, and you had at least a straight-faced argument for McCain winning.

Sunday night, that changed. All the the tracking polls moved toward Obama. Even IBD and Battleground, the two polls whose models seemed to be the most favorable toward McCain, shifted from 2-point races to 4- or 5-point races. At that point, even under the best-case McCain turnout scenario, it became much harder to argue that undecideds and error margins could result in a McCain electoral win.

At that point the only hope was that this would be a one-day blip. That's part of the reason that I've held off doing electoral college projections -- I wanted to see what the trackers did today.

I'll tell you, it ain't pretty. Zogby has gone from an 8-point Obama lead to a 13.5-point Obama lead. IBD/TIPP went from O+4.5% to O+7%. Given that tracking polls are rolling averages, and are therefore "sticky," the move is probably even more pronounced than we are seeing. In other words, undecideds seem to be breaking heavily for Obama.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The headline: "Wave of Midnight Regulations Expected". The meaning: "Bush administration plans to finish off environment before end of presidential tenure." Via eenews (subs req'd, but campuses and some public libraries should have access). The Bush administration is planning to put through a number of "minor" regulatory changes after the end of the Nov. 1 rule proposal deadline, using yet another exception clause (for which the Bush administration is so well known). Here's a sample:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued proposed regulations to implement new car fuel-efficiency standards in April 2008, and final regulations are expected soon. "The Bush administration has proposed to use unrealistically low predictions of future gasoline prices for these calculations," the report says.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a proposed rule changing its environmental regulations to update its "waste confidence" finding, which determines the safety of spent nuclear fuel. NRC is currently deliberating a final rule to require new nuclear reactor applicants to provide an assessment of how the reactor would respond in the event of a large commercial aircraft impact, the report said.

The Interior Department also has a slew of regulations expected to come out before the end of the year. In April, it proposed a rule that would allow visitors to carry loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges unless state laws prevent them from doing so. Another Interior proposal would govern offshore leasing for renewable energy generators, such as wind turbines.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has also been rushing to complete changes to Endangered Species Act regulations that would fundamentally change how agencies consider potential threats to protected species from federal projects.

In an environmental assessment released this week, Interior said the rules would have little impact on the environment. Environmentalists decried the report as a rush job by political appointees that does not assess the full range of possible harm to species or court rulings on previous ESA decisions. The agency gave the minimum of 10 days for public comment on the assessment.

The Office of Surface Mining is expected to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule on mountaintop removal coal mining so that protections apply to all bodies of water, not just streams. But the rule would also exempt some practices or venues such as permanent coal waste disposal facilities and could allow for changing a waterway's flow.

The Bureau of Land Management could complete rules on issuing leases for commercial oil shale development now that Congress has allowed a moratorium to expire that had prevented the agency from finalizing such regulations during fiscal 2008. BLM also is expected to come out with a final rule establishing energy transmission corridors that would criss-cross through 11 states in the West. The agency also proposed a rule this month to eliminate a regulation that allows for emergency withdrawals of public land from energy production and mineral extraction to protect natural resources.

The National Park Service plans to change decades-old regulations within the next two months to open more trails to mountain biking. The agency is working on a draft proposal that it plans to release in time to have a 30-day public comment period and have the new rule in effect by mid-December. The service also plans to have a proposed rule for snowmobile use in Yellowstone this winter ready for public comment by early November and in place by Dec. 15, after a federal judge threw out a previous plan.

A federal judge also ruled last December that the Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider its refusal to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and a decision is expected by December.

And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on rules that would toss out part of a longstanding environmental law in federal fisheries management decisions.
Make It Simple, Stupid: Richard L. Hansen, at, has an article detailing why congress should pass legislation that makes voter registration automatic. The county-by-county, semiannual registration process is one of the stupidities of the election format in the U.S., which gives rise to immense controversy and numerous court battles, when instead, it could be solved with the cooperation of the post office and the Census Bureau:
The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government. The Constitution grants Congress wide authority over congressional elections. The next president should propose legislation to have the Census Bureau, when it conducts the 2010 census, also register all eligible voters who wish to be registered for future federal elections. High-school seniors could be signed up as well so that they would be registered to vote on their 18th birthday. When people submit change-of-address cards to the post office, election officials would also change their registration information.

This change would eliminate most voter registration fraud. Government employees would not have an incentive to pad registration lists with additional people in order to keep their jobs. The system would also eliminate the need for matches between state databases, a problem that has proved so troublesome because of the bad quality of the data. The federal government could assign each person a unique voter-identification number, which would remain the same regardless of where the voter moves. The unique ID would prevent people from voting in two jurisdictions, such as snowbirds who might be tempted to vote in Florida and New York. States would not have to use the system for their state and local elections, but most would choose to do so because of the cost savings.