In Tunisia, a street vendor set himself on fire, antigovernment protests followed, and Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. In Egypt, liberal opposition groups chanted “Freedom, Freedom” in rallies beginning January 25, and by week’s end Egypt’s authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak was wondering whether his 30-year reign was about to come to an end. Even in Yemen, protesters took to the streets seeking to destabilize the 20-year-old regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. At times recently, it has seemed as if the entire Arab world churned with aspirations of democracy.

There was a day when the United States would have been on the side of the protesters, when an American leader would have used his position to strengthen and support those willing to fight and die for their freedom and the ability to elect their own leaders. But while President Obama made a passing reference to Tunisia in his State of the Union, he did not mention Egypt.

That’s disappointing. But what took place in Damascus on January 27 is a disgrace. As the Arab world tilted toward democracy, the Obama administration was paying its respects to a dictator. The new U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, presented his credentials to Syrian dictator—and strong supporter of terrorism—Bashar Assad.

Wonder if that’s a trapdoor under the circular red carpet.

Environmental Criminals

Believe it or not, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a website for “EPA Fugitives” charged with “environmental crimes.” Among their current most wanted, for instance, are Carlos and Alessandro Giordano, a father and son team on the lam since 2003.

Their crime? They were caught trying to sell Alfa Romeo automobiles imported from Italy that “did not meet the United States emissions standards.” According to a former assistant U.S. attorney on the case, “they were importing cars that were designed for the European market, which had less stringent safety and air pollution controls.” They’ve fled to Italy.

Now consider the EPA’s own supposedly stringent regulatory process. On October 13, the EPA announced a waiver from its current regulation, which caps ethanol content in gasoline at 10 percent; the waiver would allow 15 percent ethanol (so-called e-15) for cars of model year 2007 and newer. (This is basically a political favor to subsidized ethanol producers and the corn growers who supply them; as tends to happen with federal subsidies, they’re making more ethanol than the market will bear.)

The EPA, however, had not completed the required tests to issue this waiver; moreover, the agency chose to ignore other testing, particularly the extensive, still-ongoing auto and oil industry research program on the potential for ethanol to harm engine durability. Then on January 21, the EPA further expanded that waiver to cars of model years 2001-2006, and again did so without complete testing.

The EPA’s decision was supposed to be based on testing of 16 different sample engines by the Coordinating Research Council, a nonprofit group with funding from the Department of Energy, to see if e-15 would be suitable for the U.S. auto fleet. When the waiver was issued on October 13, nine of the 16 tests were at best incomplete: Five of the engines had significant problems and were scheduled for retesting and four others had yet to be completed. DOE unexpectedly pulled their funding last summer—perhaps not wanting to be an accomplice to the EPA’s decision.

What is the relative severity of these crimes against nature? The Giordanos tried to sell a total of two dozen cars in California with “less stringent” emissions controls. The EPA is trying to change the regulations for ethanol—with incomplete or negative testing—that could impact emissions on about 150 million automotive engines made between 2001 and 2010. Not to mention there are 75 million engines models older than 2001 still on the roads. The EPA was not even considering including them in a waiver because they probably would not burn e-15 cleanly or safely. If the new formula is approved, those with older engines may have difficulty finding appropriate fuel.

The EPA is facing a civil suit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals filed by various food, agriculture, engine manufacturing, and energy groups for coming to a decision “prior to the completion of thorough testing to ensure the safety, performance and environmental impacts of the new fuel for consumers.” They deserve a place on their own most wanted list.

Dr. Moseley Braun, We Presume

Joining Richard “I Served in Vietnam” Blumenthal and Hillary “Sniper Fire” Clinton in beyond-the-pale résumé embellishment is Chicago mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun. The erstwhile U.S. senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate was on a Chicago radio show on January 12 when she listed among her qualifications for office her “advanced degrees from Harvard.”

Moseley Braun, a former American ambassador to New Zealand, never earned any degrees from Harvard. She did, in fact, graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned a law degree from the University of Chicago.

According to the Harvard Crimson, however, Moseley Braun’s only connection to Harvard was as a visiting fellow to the school’s Institute of Politics in 2007, a post described on its website as a “short-term fellowship [that] periodically brings distinguished veterans of public life to Harvard for a short stay.” The Moseley Braun campaign later said its candidate “misspoke.”

Gil Meche, Class Act

The Scrapbook has a new hero. Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche has announced his retirement, despite being in the fourth year of a five-year contract that would have paid him an additional $12 million. But the 32-year-old pitcher wasn’t satisfied with his own performance (he went 0-5 in nine starts for the last place Royals in 2010 last year).

“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche told the New York Times last week. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

No reaction yet from the MLB Players Association. Though we can’t imagine that union or any other will be happy to hear about someone who felt bad for making a crazy amount of money while not working.

Annals of Academe

An important new scientific finding, as reported by the University of Texas at Austin:

Men are more than twice as likely to continue dating a girlfriend who has cheated on them with another woman than one who has cheated with another man, according to new research from a University of Texas at Austin psychologist. Women show the opposite pattern. They are more likely to continue dating a man who has had a heterosexual affair than one who has had a homosexual affair. The study, published last month in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, provides new insight .  .  .

Of the provision of new insights, there is no end.

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"The president won’t give his annual State of the Union address until later tonight, but in an important way, the speech has already worked. For the past week or so, news report after news report has dutifully relayed .  .  .” (Ezra Klein,, January 25).

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