2009 - %3, July

Gonzo Finally Gets A Job

| Wed Jul. 8, 2009 9:58 AM EDT

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been the butt of many jokes over the past year thanks to media reports suggesting that he was unable to secure gainful employment after his disasterous tenure in the Bush administration. Sadly, it looks like those jokes will have to stop, as the Harvard Law grad has landed a teaching gig for the fall at a prestigious institution of higher learning: Texas Tech, in Lubbock, Texas. The guy once predicted to be the first Latino Supreme Court justice won't be teaching law or anything like that. Instead, he'll headline a poli-sci course on contemporary issues in the executive branch, based, apparently, on what little he can remember of it.

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Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday July 8

| Wed Jul. 8, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Here are stories from our other blogs you might have missed yesterday on healthcare, energy, and the environment. And don't forget to check out our new drug package! Lots of good tidbits in there, including my own painstaking map.

Feeling Bullish: Obama may go a little Raging Bull on oil speculators.

Changing the Guard: Mexico elections show people may think Calderon's drug war is failing.

Photo of the Day: Pretty topography as a soldier surveys Afghanistan.

 

 

 

When the Clock Strikes 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9

| Wed Jul. 8, 2009 12:38 AM EDT

This happens but once a century (twice if you count after midnight and after noon). Take note, celebrate the moment:

12:34:56 7/8/9

Love numbers.

Corn on "Hardball": From Al Franken to Michael Jackson

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 9:18 PM EDT

After joking on Twitter that I was scheduled to appear on Hardball to discuss Michael Jackson's impact on politics--after having been booked to review the latest on embattled Governor Mark Sanford and new Senator Al Franken--I then went on Hardball and actually had to talk about Michael Jackson. That's because both President Barack Obama and ex-President Bill Clinton made statements about MJ today. So we shifted subjects. Jackson, in. Sanford, out. Franken, still in. (Sanford, who was censured by the South Carolina GOP on Monday night, has lucked out. His love life just can't compete with Sarah Palin's wackiness or Michael Jackson's demise.) Here's how it went:

 

Vegetarian Diet Prevents Disease

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 7:21 PM EDT

Just in time to refute last week's atrociously reported story...The American Dietetic Association released a position paper stating that vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritious for adults, infants, children and adolescents, and can help prevent and treat chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.

"It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes."

The good news is that vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, with higher levels of fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.

Consequently, people eating well-balanced vegetarian diets tend toward lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Beyond that, vegetarians tend toward lower body mass indices and lower overall cancer rates.

Expanded sections in this updated position paper include: cancer protection factors in vegetarian diets, and the roles of fruits, vegetables, soy products, protein, calcium, vitamins D and K and potassium in bone health.

In other words, a vegetarian diet is better for you than a meat diet. It's also better for every other living thing on Earth. So why hasn't this study cracked the headlines?
 

Speculating on Oil

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 6:08 PM EDT

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration plans to take a more proactive position toward speculation in the oil market:

In a big departure from the hands-off approach to market regulation of the last two decades, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, said his agency would consider new limits on the volume of energy futures contracts that purely financial investors would be allowed to hold.

The agency also announced that it would pull back part of the veil on the oil and gas markets, publishing more detailed information about the aggregate activity of hedge funds and traders who arbitrage between domestic and foreign energy prices.

....Oil prices have swung wildly in the last year, hitting about $145 a barrel last summer, then plunging to $33 in December before rising to about $70.

....A growing number of critics have blamed some of the extreme volatility on the role of purely financial investors — those who are simply betting on the direction of energy prices, as opposed to those who actually use such products, like airlines....Non-commercial traders accounted for almost a fifth of the activity in several major oil and gas products for the week that ended June 30, according to data compiled by the commodities agency.

One of the interesting aspects of this is that it demonstrates the genuine difficulty in identifying asset bubbles.  The housing bubble was relatively easy to spot: it took place over a long period of time and prices shot up way, way past their historical trendline.  But oil?  That's harder.

Take a look at the chart on the right, courtesy of Calculated Risk.  It shows oil prices over the past couple of decades, and what you see is moderate stability from 1985-1999 followed by a slow rise starting around 2000 and a sharp jump between 2004-2006.  Was that a bubble?  Prices dropped for a few months after that, and then, over the space of 18 months, tripled from $50 to $150.  Was that a bubble?

To this day, I don't think there's any consensus about this.  Given growing demand and flat supply, prices should have gone up after 2000 — and the sharper rise in 2004 was no big surprise either.  That's not a bubble, it's just the free market at work.  But how about that second spike?  Was it driven by speculation?  Or was it also driven by demand fundamentals, which cratered naturally when the global economy went into recession in mid-2008?  And even if it was a bubble, it only lasted 18 months.  What are the odds that anybody could have identified it and targeted it fast enough to keep it under control?

Beats me.  But although I continue to think that supply and demand fundamentals were behind much of the price rise, I began to wobble on this during the first half of 2008. The oil market really did start to look pretty bubbly, and in August the CFTC begain to produce some persuasive evidence that financial speculators were having a substantial effect on prices.  This speculative bubble couldn't last very long (eventually speculators run out room to store their oil), but there's good reason to think that even a 12-month spike did a lot of damage to the world economy.

So what now?  Oil has been on the rise recently despite the recession, causing a few analysts to suggest that speculation is once again temporarily inflating prices.  And me?  I don't know.  As I've said before, though, one thing we can count on now that demand for oil is bumping up against fundamental supply limits is lots of price volatility.  Given that, trying to keep a lid on speculators creating even greater frenzy in the oil market makes a lot of sense.  The CFTC is probably doing the right thing here.

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Video: Reporter Emilio Gutiérrez Soto Speaks

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 3:22 PM EDT

Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, the persecuted Mexican journalist who is Chuck Bowden's subject in the current issue of Mother Jones, recently spoke with the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. Emilio was detained for 7 months by the ICE after he arrived at the border seeking asylum last June. He is now staying with friends in Las Cruces, still waiting for both a temporary work permit and his asylum trial.

MoJo Mix: 7 July 2009

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 3:13 PM EDT

Hey, it's Laura again. Kevin says it's okay if I drop by every few days with some MoJo stories we think you'll like. Don't worry, he'll be back in the next post.

I can't vouch for his cats, but Kevin Drum is one incredibly nice teetotaler in person. All the more reason his non-dirty-hippie's guide to marijuana legalization is well worth a read. And when you're done weeding that (sorry), here are three more stories readers are liking today:

1) This reporter fled the Mexican Army. Spread the word and you could save his life.

2) Drug War Quiz: Do you know which anti-pot ad campaign findings the White House buried in 2004? Dust off your short-term memory and test your drug war knowledge.

3) The latest Palin ethics complaint: She allegedly collected per diem payments for living in her Wasilla home. Palin ethics bingo, anyone?

Laura McClure writes the MoJo Mix and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

MoJo Mix: 7 July 2009

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 3:02 PM EDT

I can't vouch for his cats, but Kevin Drum is one incredibly nice teetotaler in person. All the more reason his non-dirty-hippie's guide to marijuana legalization is well worth a read.

And when you're done weeding that (sorry), here are three more stories MoJo readers are liking today:

1) This reporter fled the Mexican Army. Spread the word and you could save his life.

2) Drug War Quiz: Do you know which anti-pot ad campaign findings the White House buried in 2004? Dust off your short-term memory and test your drug war knowledge.

3) The latest Palin ethics complaint? She allegedly collected per diem payments for living in her Wasilla home. Palin ethics bingo, anyone?

Laura McClure writes the MoJo Mix and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 7, 2009

Tue Jul. 7, 2009 2:35 PM EDT

Army Capt. Christian Lightsey, of Jacksonville, Fla., looks out over the village of Sarhani during a patrol, June 30. Lightsey, and fellow Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, have been patrolling Afghanistan's volatile Kunar province since arriving in early January. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller.)