Sunday, February 24, 2008

McCain's vulnerability

Recent news is showing some points of vulnerability for that darling of the MSM, John McCain.

The wingers already dislike him because of their bizarre notion that he's not a conservative. By November I expect that most of them will come around, if only because they hat the idea of a Democrat, especially either a black man or a woman, in the White House. Still, partly because of the steady diet of pro-McCain coverage the MSM have fed us over the last two decades, lots of moderates and independents have swallowed the myth that he's an honest straight shooter, beholden to no special interests.

If we want to win in November it will be important to work to dispel this myth, and keep working on establishing the truth.

That's what's really important about the coverage in the Times and the Post this week.

First off, did he have an affair with a much younger lobbyist, and trade "personal" favors for legislative ones? This is obviously a two-part question, and the answer to part two does not depend on the answer to part one, much as his people are trying to conflate them. The evidence of a sexual relationship has not yet been published, although if there is truth to the story it seems likely to surface. The evidence of favors provided by McCain to the clients of the lobbyist, on the other hand, is indisputable, even if you accept McCain's story at face value.Recalling the Paxson episode in his memoir, Mr. McCain said he was merely trying to push along a slow-moving bureaucracy, but added that he was not surprised by the criticism given his history.

Of course, there is reason to dispute McCain's claims. Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson yesterday contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

But even if he is telling the truth, does McCain really expect us to believe that a letter from a powerful senator, urging a federal agency within the jurisdiction of that senator's committee to expedite agency action on behalf of a lobbyist, is not a significant benefit to that lobbyist? To even ask the question is to expose how ridiculous it is. Why did the lobbyist ask for the help if she didn't think it would be a benefit to her and her client? Whether he's been doing favors for the woman because she's been providing favors (heh!) for him is beside the point: he's been doing them, and his staff knows it.

Of course, the Post coverage goes far deeper. McCain's campaign organization is run by lobbyists and fat cats, who continue to work for their corporate clients while running McCain's campaign. But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

What's their defense? What I heard on NPR the other day is that it shouldn't be a big deal because their work for the McCain campaign is unpaid. What they call unpaid, I call an investment. What possible difference does it make if McCain is paying these millionaire lobbyists cash to work on his campaign? If he gets elected, what are the odds that their services won't be handsomely repaid, either by appointive positions that enable them to steer government benefits or toothless regulations to their clients, or, more likely, seats at the table when the regulations, programs, and contracts are being written?

I also have to say that McCain's defense that he isn't going to be corrupted because of his inherent honesty is somewhat undermined by his history when, as one of the Keating Five, he was reprimanded for his role in insulating Charles Keating from S&L regulations and helping to precipitate the Savings and Loan debacle (yes, your tax dollars at work).

We need to keep an eye on this, and to keep this very visible as the campaign develops. The MSM love this guy, which is undoubtedly why he's been on the Sunday morning talk shows more than anyone else, and without a Democratic counterpart much of the time, but I sense an opportunity to undermine his image as honest John. It may be essential in 2008.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Indispensable Resource

If you visit the various atheist and pro-science sites on the web, or even read the newspapers, you'll unavoidably encounter boatloads of anti-science, anti-evolution propaganda, mostly distributed by scientifically ignorant religious fundamentalists.

You probably also know that there is no validity to any of these claims, but you may not have the refutation at your fingertips. If that describes you, you should check out this Index to Creationist Claims, a taxonomy of all the bogus claims we hear repeatedly from the anti-evolutionists along with the refutation of any of them.

Here's an example:
Claim CC200:
There are no transitional fossils. Evolution predicts a continuum between each fossil organism and its ancestors. Instead, we see systematic gaps in the fossil record.
Morris, Henry M. 1985. Scientific Creationism. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 78-90.
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. 1985. Life--How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, pp. 57-59.

1. There are many transitional fossils. The only way that the claim of their absence may be remotely justified, aside from ignoring the evidence completely, is to redefine "transitional" as referring to a fossil that is a direct ancestor of one organism and a direct descendant of another. However, direct lineages are not required; they could not be verified even if found. What a transitional fossil is, in keeping with what the theory of evolution predicts, is a fossil that shows a mosaic of features from an older and more recent organism.

2. Transitional fossils may coexist with gaps. We do not expect to find finely detailed sequences of fossils lasting for millions of years. Nevertheless, we do find several fine gradations of fossils between species and genera, and we find many other sequences between higher taxa that are still very well filled out.

The following are fossil transitions between species and genera:

1. Human ancestry. There are many fossils of human ancestors, and the differences between species are so gradual that it is not always clear where to draw the lines between them.

2. The horns of titanotheres (extinct Cenozoic mammals) appear in progressively larger sizes, from nothing to prominence. Other head and neck features also evolved. These features are adaptations for head-on ramming analogous to sheep behavior (Stanley 1974).

3. A gradual transitional fossil sequence connects the foraminifera Globigerinoides trilobus and Orbulina universa (Pearson et al. 1997). O. universa, the later fossil, features a spherical test surrounding a "Globigerinoides-like" shell, showing that a feature was added, not lost. The evidence is seen in all major tropical ocean basins. Several intermediate morphospecies connect the two species, as may be seen in the figure included in Lindsay (1997).

4. The fossil record shows transitions between species of Phacops (a trilobite; Phacops rana is the Pennsylvania state fossil; Eldredge 1972; 1974; Strapple 1978).

5. Planktonic forminifera (Malmgren et al. 1984). This is an example of punctuated gradualism. A ten-million-year foraminifera fossil record shows long periods of stasis and other periods of relatively rapid but still gradual morphologic change.

6. Fossils of the diatom Rhizosolenia are very common (they are mined as diatomaceous earth), and they show a continuous record of almost two million years which includes a record of a speciation event (Miller 1999, 44-45).

7. Lake Turkana mollusc species (Lewin 1981).

8. Cenozoic marine ostracodes (Cronin 1985).

9. The Eocene primate genus Cantius (Gingerich 1976, 1980, 1983).

10. Scallops of the genus Chesapecten show gradual change in one "ear" of their hinge over about 13 million years. The ribs also change (Pojeta and Springer 2001; Ward and Blackwelder 1975).

11. Gryphaea (coiled oysters) become larger and broader but thinner and flatter during the Early Jurassic (Hallam 1968).

The following are fossil transitionals between families, orders, and classes:

1. Human ancestry. Australopithecus, though its leg and pelvis bones show it walked upright, had a bony ridge on the forearm, probably vestigial, indicative of knuckle walking (Richmond and Strait 2000).

2. Dinosaur-bird transitions.

3. Haasiophis terrasanctus is a primitive marine snake with well-developed hind limbs. Although other limbless snakes might be more ancestral, this fossil shows a relationship of snakes with limbed ancestors (Tchernov et al. 2000). Pachyrhachis is another snake with legs that is related to Haasiophis (Caldwell and Lee 1997).

4. The jaws of mososaurs are also intermediate between snakes and lizards. Like the snake's stretchable jaws, they have highly flexible lower jaws, but unlike snakes, they do not have highly flexible upper jaws. Some other skull features of mososaurs are intermediate between snakes and primitive lizards (Caldwell and Lee 1997; Lee et al. 1999; Tchernov et al. 2000).

5. Transitions between mesonychids and whales.

6. Transitions between fish and tetrapods.

7. Transitions from condylarths (a kind of land mammal) to fully aquatic modern manatees. In particular, Pezosiren portelli is clearly a sirenian, but its hind limbs and pelvis are unreduced (Domning 2001a, 2001b).

8. Runcaria, a Middle Devonian plant, was a precursor to seed plants. It had all the qualities of seeds except a solid seed coat and a system to guide pollen to the seed (Gerrienne et al. 2004).

9. A bee, Melittosphex burmensis, from Early Cretaceous amber, has primitive characteristics expected from a transition between crabronid wasps and extant bees (Poinar and Danforth 2006).

The following are fossil transitionals between kingdoms and phyla:

1. The Cambrian fossils Halkiera and Wiwaxia have features that connect them with each other and with the modern phyla of Mollusca, Brachiopoda, and Annelida. In particular, one species of halkieriid has brachiopod-like shells on the dorsal side at each end. This is seen also in an immature stage of the living brachiopod species Neocrania. It has setae identical in structure to polychaetes, a group of annelids. Wiwaxia and Halkiera have the same basic arrangement of hollow sclerites, an arrangement that is similar to the chaetae arrangement of polychaetes. The undersurface of Wiwaxia has a soft sole like a mollusk's foot, and its jaw looks like a mollusk's mouth. Aplacophorans, which are a group of primitive mollusks, have a soft body covered with spicules similar to the sclerites of Wiwaxia (Conway Morris 1998, 185-195).

2. Cambrian and Precambrain fossils Anomalocaris and Opabinia are transitional between arthropods and lobopods.

3. An ancestral echinoderm has been found that is intermediate between modern echinoderms and other deuterostomes (Shu et al. 2004).

As you can see, it's pretty exhaustive. You might want to bookmark it now, so that it will always be there for you.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I don't know what to think about this, but last night the Times broke a story claiming that there is evidence of an inappropriate relationship between McCain and a young, female lobbyist:

"A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity."

The Post followed with its own story, apparently with at least one McCain aide going on the record:

"Aides to Sen. John McCain confronted a telecommunications lobbyist in late 1999 and asked her to distance herself from the senator during the presidential campaign he was about to launch, according to one of McCain's longest-serving political strategists.

John Weaver, who was McCain's closest confidant until leaving his current campaign last year, said he met with Vicki Iseman at the Center Cafe at Union Station and urged her to stay away from McCain. Association with a lobbyist would undermine his image as an opponent of special interests, aides had concluded.

Members of the senator's small circle of advisers also confronted McCain directly, according to sources, warning him that his continued ties to a lobbyist who had business before the powerful commerce committee he chaired threatened to derail his presidential ambitions."

And finally, the McCain campaign has responded with what can most accurately be described as a non-denial denial:

"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

Note that he denies doing "favors for special interests or lobbyists" but does not deny having a sexual affair with someone he isn't married to.

I suspect there will be more coverage of this story, even given the hands-off approach that the American media take toward McCain, so I'll be watching with some interest. Obviously, at first blush it appears to relate to private sexual behavior, which isn't what we're electing a president for. On the other hand, if true it would seem to undermine McCain's image for probity and principle, even if there were no benefits provided to this lobbyist and her clients.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Followup on the Danish Cartoons

I've written before about the Danish cartoons that the Muslims were up in arms about a couple of years ago. At the time I was thinking that the Muslim reaction represented a clear effort to suppress criticism, or any heterodox view, relating their religion, and nothing has happened to suggest that all of us who were opposing the fundamentalists were wrong about that.

So here's the latest:
Murder plot against Danish cartoonist

Published 12.02.08 08:21 - updated 17:31

Early Tuesday morning, Danish police arrested three men with a Muslim background suspected of conspiring to kill Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist with Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten.

Two of those arrested are Tunisian citizens, one a Danish citizen, according to the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, which has kept the group under surveillance for months.

So what do you know? These people aren't just people who got offended and are expressing their hurt feelings in their unique, culturally diverse way. No! When they say they're going to kill people who don't talk about Allah the way they want, they mean it, and they're actually going to try to kill them.

Say what you will about Christianity, and I'm no fan of it, but at least, it's pretty rare to hear about Christians plotting to kill people because they don't like the way they talk about Jeebus, do you?

Maybe what's called for here is a little less tolerance of violent groups.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The joys of theocratic rule

I'm sure that the English consider their country to be basically secular, notwithstanding the fact that they have an official state religion headed by the monarch. Still, who would have thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury would think the biggest problem the English need to deal with is a shortage of theocracy, and extremist Muslim theocracy at that?

Sure enough, this guy, Rowan Williams, is now saying that England should adopt sharia law for legal disputes involving Muslims:
He said there was an argument that aspects of sharia law, such as those involving divorce, financial transactions and the settling of disputes, could be accommodated with British legislation.

Speaking before a speech on the issue - delivered last night - Dr Williams said: "Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states.

"But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to divorce courts as we understand them."

I assume his reference to "the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice . . ." means that he isn't yet ready to support stoning adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, and other practices that even moderate religions find distasteful. Still, since Islamic family law is the foundation for the oppression of women, including forced burqa-wearing, prohibitions on unaccompanied women traveling out of their houses, and other forms of male dominance, this position can't be seen as anything other than a call to revert to the backwards views that are so oppressive in Saudi Arabia and, increasingly, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This also demonstrates the dangers of "moderate" religions. If you start out with the idea that all religions are entitled to respect and tolerance, this is the inevitable result.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The ultimate betrayal

I've written before about the disgraceful treatment that our government has subjected returned Iraq War veterans to, but once again they have sunk to a new low.

NPR has been running this story: Last week, NPR first described a meeting last March between an Army team from Washington and VA officials at Fort Drum Army base in upstate New York. NPR reported that Army representatives told the VA not to review the narrative summaries of soldiers' injuries, and that the VA complied with the Army's request.

Naturally, the Army's lying about it: The day the NPR story aired, Army Surgeon General Eric B. Schoomaker denied parts of the report. Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), who represents the Fort Drum area, told North Country Public Radio, that "The Surgeon General of the Army told me very flatly that it was not the Army that told the VA to stop this help."

Of course, in a big organization like the Army, it's hard to cover up the whole paper trail, and reporting by NPR proves the lie, and they've got the documentary evidence to prove it.

Remind me again which party is soft on defense.

Badge of Honor: Josh makes the Bush enemies list!

So far, as corrupt as the Bush Administration has been, we haven't seen an official enemies list like the kind Nixon created when he was president.

Of course, history repeats itself, which is why I said "so far". We now have the first documented example of the Bush enemies list, and the sole name on the list is Josh Marshall.

You undoubtedly remember that it was Josh who kept the U.S. Attorney purge alive as a story, and got it on TV and on the front pages. Apparently that's why the Department of Justice has shut him down, deleting him from their e-mail list for press releases.

It's not going to affect the reporting, but it's one more demonstration that Mukasey is no more
than an administration apologist.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yes We Can

I've been saying for a long time that Obama seems to be generating the kind of enthusiasm that Kennedy did when he was running back in 1960. Here's the video that embodies that enthusiasm. Even though he wasn't my first choice, it's inspiring.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This seems like big news

Okay, let's take a minute to assess where things stand. Yesterday was Super Duper Tuesday, and Clinton and Obama are essentially dead even in delegate count, 580-571, out of 2,025 needed for the nomination (I'm not counting the super delegates, since they are not committed).
They have basically hit half the states and have half to go.
And now today, we have two news stories that it's hard not to connect.

Clinton lent $5 million to her campaign before Super Tuesday

Obama Campaign Has Raised Over $4 Million -- Since Polls Closed Yesterday!

Coming out of Super Tuesday, every campaign wants to spin the day as a win. Still, if Clinton's campaign is running on fumes and Obama is taking money to the bank in bushel baskets, it's at least suggestive that the winds are turning Obama's way.