Maybe Newdow was right

Fighting the “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance seemed like such a folly a year or so ago, but then Texas reminds us of just how pushy the religious can be.

Texas students will have four more words to remember when they head back to class this month and begin reciting the state’s pledge of allegiance.

This year’s Legislature added the phrase “one state under God” to the pledge, which is part of a required morning ritual in Texas public schools along with the pledge to the U.S. flag and a moment of silence.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, who sponsored the bill, said it had always bothered her that God was omitted in the state’s pledge.

“Personally, I felt like the Texas pledge had a big old hole in it, and it occurred to me, ‘You know what? We need to fix that,’ ” said Riddle, R-Tomball. “Our Texas pledge is perfectly OK like it is with the exception of acknowledging that just as we are one nation under God, we are one state under God as well.”

And of course, to make it extra-unconstitutional, they are introducing a new concept to free speech in schools – student free speech is only ok if the parents approve.

By law, students who object to saying the pledge or making the reference to God can bring a written note from home excusing them from participating.

Charming. In a way this may end up being Newdow’s dream come true. The national pledge at least had 50 years of history (although the “under God” was shoved in for equally bad reasons) to contend with in the courts. This effort, if challenged, might undo both pledges, because this is completely indefensible.

Cap One Finally Stops Lowering Your Credit Score

For all the encomia made by banking industry lobbyists to the value of the “free flow of information,” one finds examples where the industry restricts information sharing when it benefits them.

Capital One was one of the worst offenders. It’s complex, but the company was restricting information flow in such a way that it lowered cardholders’ credit scores. How? Capital One reported cardholders’ balances, not their credit limit. This practice makes a cardholder appear to have maxed out their credit card. Why? Because if your credit score is lower, it will be harder to get other credit cards. It’s an anticompetitive tactic.

Kenneth R. Harney of the Washington Post explains the problem very clearly, and reports that Capital One has finally ended this practice. And they blamed it on privacy:

Over the years, Capital One has brushed off criticism that it was needlessly harming its customers by withholding their account limits from the credit bureaus. Equally bad, said some consumer groups, Capital One never disclosed the practice to its customers. Although industry critics said Capital One’s purpose was to hide its good customers from competitors searching credit-bureau files for attractive FICO scores, the company said it was protecting customers’ privacy.

If you have a Capital One card, consider canceling it in light of this terrible behavior. Need a new credit card? Be sure to use Consumer Action’s 2007 Credit Card Survey to find the best card with the lowest fees and rates.

If this holds up Obama will be my hero

Slate has a story by John Dickerson about how Obama has rejected the weasel tactic invented, or at least perfected, by Bush for avoiding questions.

To hide the fact that they’re hiding something, candidates elevate their refusal to a virtue. “One of the jobs of a president is being very reasoned in approaching these issues,” Hillary Clinton said to a hypothetical question about sending ground troops to Darfur. “And I don’t think it’s useful to be talking in these kinds of abstract hypothetical terms.” Two days later, Mitt Romney cried hypothetical when asked in a debate whether, in hindsight, going to war in Iraq was a mistake. To give the dodge extra weight, he criticized the question in Latin (calling it a “non sequitur”), on fairness grounds (saying it was “unreasonable”), and, finally, mathematically (labeling it a “null set”), as if to suggest there was some immutable arithmetic law that made entertaining the whole notion absurd.

The hypotheticals that candidates have been avoiding are the interesting, substantive ones. Anyone running for president should have thought through those questions, and if they haven’t, we should know about it.

Fortunately, one candidate is answering hypotheticals. For the last two weeks, the Democratic political conversation has been consumed with hypothetical questions. Last week, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engaged in a multiday set-to over whether they would meet with nasty dictators. This week, Barack Obama doubled down on hypotheticals by raising his own hypothetical situation in his sweeping speech on foreign policy. If he found actionable intelligence about al-Qaida leaders hiding out in the mountains of Pakistan, he said he would send in troops whether the Pakistani government liked it or not. When asked the next day about using nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said he never would use them.

Saying one won’t answer hypotheticals is the most pathetic shortcut I can think of for avoiding hard questions, and the fact that Hillary does it too, well, is there a better example of the problem with her? But Obama at least is setting himself apart as the one who will at least attempt intellectually-honest responses to legitimate questions.

Now, I don’t feel like arguing the relative merits of candidates yet, and I’m trying to avoid getting into this horse race mentality half a year before there are even any primary elections. But can we all agree, the avoidance of hypothetical questions is the most pathetic and arbitrary weasel technique ever? Whatever positions a candidate has, I can think of few things that piss me off more than adopting Bush’s slimy technique for avoiding real discussion. I think Dickerson agrees.

Perhaps the greatest argument for insisting that candidates answer hypothetical questions is that George Bush hates them. He refused to entertain most plausible scenarios as a candidate. As president, the dodge is like his seal of office: He brings it to every press conference. The irony, of course, is that Bush launched an entire war based on the hypothetical scenario that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein might form a partnership. In the end, the weapons stockpiles turned out to be hypothetical, too. “That’s a hypothetical question,” Bush said, answering a typical question from before the Iraq war about what the American people should expect. “They can expect me not to answer hypothetical questions.” Of the next president, the American people should expect just the opposite.


I would also like at the same time to salute Republican Tom Tancredo for also being willing to answer hypotheticals. However, his answer, is well a tad disturbing.

– Followers of radical Islam must be deterred from committing a nuclear attack on U.S. soil, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said Tuesday morning, saying that as president he would take drastic measures to prevent such attacks.

“If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina,” the GOP presidential candidate said. “That is the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they would otherwise do. If I am wrong fine, tell me, and I would be happy to do something else. But you had better find a deterrent or you will find an attack. There is no other way around it. There have to be negative consequences for the actions they take. That’s the most negative I can think of.”

However this does demonstrate why having politicians answer hypotheticals is important! We now know a lot more about this man than we did previously, and what kind of foreign policy he would entertain. Namely the batshit-crazy variety.

Wendy’s: CSPI’s Calorie Menu Misuses Wendy’s Trademark

In the bogus legal claims department, one finds this blub from Consumerist. What’s the deal here? A pretty aggressive consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, created model menu for Wendy’s that demonstrates how the “restaurant” can display calorie information. It’s pretty clear, and very useful.

Click for full size

Of course, Wendy’s hates this stuff. And their lawyers at Akin Gump are arguing that the sample menu is a misuse of Wendy’s trademark. Sorry Wendy’s and Akin Gump, generally speaking, trademark is a type of consumer protection intended to help consumers distinguish between brands. There’s no brand confusion here!

And check out all the calories in those Starbucks drinks. Ouch!

Skeptics’ Circle Number 66 – Summary of Abstracts

Welcome to the 66th meeting of the International Society of Skeptics.

Abstracts from attendees:

Straw Men and Circular Reasoning
Author: Skeptico
Introduction The problem of debunking crop circles persists despite many previous valiant efforts (See Sagan, C.S. Demon Haunted World).
Results In this study the author evaluates current research into the formation of crop circles. Relying on faulty evidence and circular reasoning, current proponents fail to elevate crop circle formation from hoax to alien conspiracy.
Conclusions Crop circles remain convincing evidence of extraterrestrial life only for people with defective reasoning skills.

Abstracts continue below the fold:
Continue reading “Skeptics’ Circle Number 66 – Summary of Abstracts”

The New Animal Rights Tactic to Suppress Research – lawsuits

Janet points us to this AP article about how the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine –aka PETA pretending to be doctors (less than 5% of them are actually doctors) – is now suing UCSF over reported violations of the animal welfare act.

I’m sure this is as noble as their attempts to smear McDonalds, or sue the dairy industry or their lawsuits against fastfood chains for serving “carcinogenic” grilled foods, or calling school lunches weapons of mass destruction for containing meat, and on and on.

Does anyone think this is a legitimate attempt to foster reform at UCSF (which was already fined and re-audited by the USDA for the violations) or is it just another sleazy attempt to make basic research more expensive and onerous to discourage the use of animals?

Given their history of lying, smearing, misrepresenting themselves, aligning themselves with terrorist organizations like SHAC, etc., I suspect the latter.