Wednesday, December 22, 2010

bipartisanship, a dish best served cold

It's been quite a lame duck session, has it not? What was supposed to be a legislative winding down of the 111th Congress saw the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, ratification of the New START Treaty, and a tax cut package no one seems to know what to make of, as well as serious pushes of a 9/11 worker health bill and the DREAM Act.

What's been most interesting about it has been the sudden flood of Republican "yea" votes in the Senate, where none have been seen in years it seems. The usual suspects who've flirted with bipartisanship in the last few years -- i.e., the three New England Republicans not named "Judd Gregg" -- finally started following through, and even Gregg himself put his country first on START. We also saw a few one-offs from erstwhile party men like Bob Corker.

And then there are the Democrats' new best friends, Republicans who voted for several Democratic initiatives who've never cottoned to anything with the slightest whiff of donkey before. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) voted for the DREAM Act and the START Treaty. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Arlen Specter (?-PA) voted for all three. Yeah, that's right: the DREAM Act, a bill laying out a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, got votes from a Utah Republican and an Alaska Republican.

Lugar's harder to figure out (he's quite old, and may be headed for retirement), but Murkowski, Specter* and Bennett share a particular something in common: they were both primaried this year and lost. It's interesting to see that Senators are normally this petty, and it isn't just a particular personality who radically changes his voting patterns to get revenge on party leadership after such an event. Not sure, however, if it's comforting or disheartening.

*I suppose technically Specter lost the Democratic primary, but he was only in that party because he'd been driven out of the GOP by Senator-elect (ugh) Pat Toomey.

Monday, December 20, 2010

the difference between President Obama and President McCain



Next time you want to say Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton, is just another moderate Republican president, remember this moment. Remember this reaction to repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell from the man whose biggest weakness in the 2008 Republican primary was that he was too liberal.

Friday, December 17, 2010

guilty of some crimes, innocent of others

When considering the moral consequences of a news story, when distinguishing the faces from the heels, it helps to learn to distinguish relevant facts from irrelevant ones. For instance, there's no inherent contradiction in Roman Polanski being both a brilliant filmmaker and a child rapist.

This is important when looking at all this Wikileaks stuff, too. If you take my view, Julian Assange is providing an important service by keeping a website for whistleblowers to publish their material. Whistleblowers keep the government honest, as their presence is a major incentive not to cut corners or allow corruption to set in. Plus, of course, the act of whistleblowing is often the only method by which corruption is rooted out and stopped once it has taken root, and the only way to ensure someone is held accountable. Nothing disinfects like air and light.

[A side note: whistleblowers often give up much more than just their careers for their country and their integrity. Bradley Manning's mind is currently being destroyed by extended solitary confinement in Quantico (8 months and counting) for his contribution to Wikileaks.]

It is perfectly possible, however, that a man on this crusade against the invisible, unelected, secretive powers that rule our world also raped two women. The accusers have gone public, and the charges are serious:
The first complainant, a Miss A, said she was the victim of "unlawful coercion" on the night of 14 August in Stockholm. The court heard Assange was alleged to have "forcefully" held her arms and used his bodyweight to hold her down. The second charge alleged he "sexually molested" her by having sex without using a condom, when it was her "express wish" that one should be used.

A third charge claimed Assange "deliberately molested" Miss A on 18 August.

A fourth charge, relating to a Miss W, alleged that on 17 August, he "improperly exploited" the fact she was asleep to have sex with her without a condom.

Is it possible that this was all a multi-government conspiracy to shut down Wikileaks? Uh, I guess it's theoretically possible, but which is more likely?

  • Three different governments conspired to convince two of Assange's ex-lovers to concoct false rape stories in order to provide the pretense to arrest him, throw him in Gitmo and shut down his website

  • the dude raped two women, and also happens to run a famous whistleblower clearing house website


C'mon, seriously.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

compromise wins

I don't normally care much for his work, but Steve Kornacki at Salon nails this one:
As part of the deal, expiring unemployment benefits for millions of Americans will be extended for 13 months. Just as important, there is now a real prospect that the Senate will act on repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and ratification of the START treaty before this month's lame duck session ends. Is extending tax cuts for the richest Americans (and blowing another hole in the deficit in the process) a steep price to pay for all of this? Absolutely. But that's politics: Obama took the best deal he could possibly get...

...Note that the deal also includes a reduction in the Social Security payroll tax and an expansion of the earned income tax credit and the college tuition tax credit. This is on top of the extension in unemployment benefits. These measures have one thing in common: They are stimulative in nature.

McConnell and Kyl, being the odious, nihilistic saboteurs that they are, held the entire lame duck session hostage over rich people's tax cuts. Among the things held hostage? Unemployment insurance, meaning that if Obama played chicken with the Republicans and they didn't blink, millions of people could have had their last monetary lifelines cut just in time for Christmas. Obama could not let that happen.

Was there really a chance the GOP would have let unemployment insurance expire? Well, Republicans did just get elected partly on angst over entitlement spending. Besides, Republicans and conservatives are ideologically unfriendly toward such generosity in the first place. You tell me.

And besides, what's the endgame there? The Republicans could always just let the lame duck session end and then bludgeon the Democrats over letting everyone's tax cuts expire. Then when the new Congress convenes, pass the tax cuts all over again and dare the Democrats and Obama to vote against them. Democrats get hammered several times on the same issue and get nothing in return. No unemployment insurance, no additional stimulus, no START treaty, no DADT repeal, nothing.

By admitting Republicans have the upper hand and compromising on tax cuts, however, Obama was able to extract a fair amount of stimulus out of the deal and broke the logjam for potential work on DADT and the START treaty. I'm not a fan of tax cuts as stimulus, but when the choices are stimulus via tax cuts and nothing at all, you take what you can get. If either of the other things passes, so much the better.

Furthermore, Obama kept the tax cuts from becoming permanent. Will relitigating the issue in 2 years just mean Obama loses again? Maybe, and yes a 1 or 3 year extension would have been better politically, but at least there's a chance sanity could win out next time.

Monday, December 06, 2010

the Wetzel Plan, 2010 edition

We do it every year here, highlight Yahoo! columnist Dan Wetzel's plan for a 16 game playoff in college football like the one played in division II. It gives automatic seeds to all 11 division one conferences, with 5 at-large bids that would normally be chosen by a panel of experts a la the NCAA basketball tourney (for the purposes of illustration, Wetzel goes with highest seed). Each game is played on the higher seed's home field, with the championship game on neutral ground. This year:

It's something, isn't it? In the first round, we're looking at Michigan St. at Arkansas, VA Tech at Ohio State, and LSU at Oklahoma, and it just picks up from there. TCU would face off with the winner of VA Tech-Ohio St., Oregon would get the winner of Oklahoma-LSU, and we'd get a potential Michigan St. at Auburn matchup.

One of these days, hopefully.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

courts and banks as partners in crime

A very helpful article here from Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone on the mortgage-backed securities crisis, the foreclosure crisis that it spawned, and how banks are getting out from under their own bad decisions by fraudulently kicking homeowners out on the street, and all with the help of the judicial system.

There are several truths coming out of this story that I think most people have a hard time coming to grips with. The first is that, as I and others have said before, Americans have been trained since It's a Wonderful Life to think of bankers as accountants when we should be looking at them as used car salesmen. They're not trying to protect your interests, and their bottom line no longer depends on your prosperity. Remember for a moment that banks are also credit card companies and tell me they're not just trying to get you on the hook for as much as possible.

The second is that nearly every case of foreclosure in the United States now happens because the judge allowed the bank to commit fraud. Banks so completely f**ked the normal system of titles and paper trails with the whole mortgage-backed securities debacle that they can't prove which mortgages they own, and rather than try to untangle that Gordian knot of securities, they just forge the paper trail. If the judges were to insist on proper paperwork, two things would happen:

  1. There would be no more foreclosures

  2. All the big banks would fail. All of them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA admits it punishes people who opt out of body scanners

Amazing. From Consumer Traveler:
TSA officials commenting for the article, “added that checkpoint requirements for passengers departing from the United States haven’t changed since the underwear bomber incident last December.” That suggested pat-downs were still the same as they had always been.

However, when meeting with privacy officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA later that month, I was told unofficially that there were two standards of pat-downs. One for the normal situation where passengers are going through metal detectors and a different pat-down for those who refuse to go through the whole-body scanners.

With this latest announcement, TSA admits that it has been clandestinely punishing passengers for refusing to go through the invasive whole-body scans with an even more intrusive aggressive pat-down and that soon those more invasive pat-down will creep from airport to airport.

What does "more invasive" mean? At some airports, this. It also comes with verbal abuse from TSA agents, as recounted by Jeffrey Goldberg during his own encounter.

Welcome to George W. Bush and Joe Lieberman's America.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

coverage for me but not for thee

Great story from Politico about an anti-health care bill freshman congressman demanding his government health care now that he's in congress. The real juicy part:
“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange...

“Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

I and many liberals have often found it striking how conservatives of all stripes seem incapable of recognizing the gravity of other people's problems until they are forced to deal with them personally. This is, I think, why conservatives reacted so loudly to President Obama's employment of the word "empathy" when describing the traits he wanted in a Supreme Court justice. It's a word liberals have been bludgeoning them with for generations to the point that it's become dog-whistle for "not a conservative hypocrite." It's the liberal retort to the conservative "bleeding heart" jab.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Maddow vs. Stewart on the news

It's actually pretty rare for us to be treated with an interview between two brilliant people who are neither ideological/tribal cohorts nor opposites. This is a real treat; I think Jon Stewart has a lot of insights about media and politics that he can't really articulate in a direct way on his own show, and Rachel Maddow is best interviewer on television. To adapt a quote from Steve Earle, "and I'll stand on Bill Moyers' coffee table and say that."

Thanksgiving tips from NYC chefs

Cool article from the Times. Carving the bird beforehand to keep from drying out the breast? I can't believe that never occurred to me! There are some awesome-sounding recipes with the articles, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

interesting math

Anyone else find it interesting that the presidential commission charged solely with tackling the budget deficit recommended tax cuts for the wealthy?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

extending the smoking ban

From the South Bend Tribune:
On Tuesday, County Council member Mike Kruk, D-District E, introduced a proposal to expand the countywide smoking ban to include bars and restaurants.

Currently, both types of establishments are exempt from the ban under certain conditions.
...
In addition to bars and restaurants, the proposal would also ban smoking in private clubs and tobacco bars, and eliminate smoking rooms at places of business.

It would continue to exempt private residences, retail tobacco stores, designated hotel and motel rooms and outdoor areas at workplaces.

Smoking bans are interesting politically because they cut across lots of traditional ideological and tribal lines. It's also a place where I think reasonable people can disagree, and where an honest discussion has to account for tradeoffs.

Is a smoking ban an infringement on people's personal liberty? Yes!

Do smoking bans save lives and improve public health? Yes!

I've sometimes wondered just how united restaurant and bar owners are on smoking bans. As vocal as bar and restaurant owners are about not wanting to drive the smokers away from their businesses, in my experience it's much more common for nonsmokers to refuse to patronize a place than smokers. You have to figure there are some owners who privately hope for the chance to finally tell people not to light up without having to take the blame for the decision.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Walk Like an American

A really interesting post from James Fallows on the apparently idiosyncratic American gait. I remember experiencing something similar in Ireland where I several times was pegged as an American the second I walked in the door despite being of 100% English and Irish stock, wearing only clothes from Irish department stores and having yet to utter a single word.

What really strikes me about the article is not that it pegs the American gait as unique but that it pegs it as black. Note this bit from one of the quotes:
Carl Jung said that white Americans walk like Negroes, talk like Negroes and laugh like Negroes. Now Carl Jung was from Switzerland, where they make the real white people.

Not sure what to say about that. I like the thought, though.

Friday, November 05, 2010

pot legalization

I was pretty shocked to read this from Josh Marshall this morning:
...I just don't know if I think marijuana should be legalized at all. Maybe it's that I'm getting into my 40s. And maybe I'm a hypocrite. I of course know people who smoke grass. And I don't have any problem with it. Decriminalized? Yes, I think probably so. But that's not the same as legalization. It's very different actually. And let me be clear that I think our drug laws are catastrophic. They create endemic violence first in our major cities and now along the borders and it's led to generations of Americans rotting in prison. The whole war on drugs is an unmitigated disaster. And the fact that people can't use marijuana for clear medical reasons is crazy. But do I think it should be like alcohol? Anyone over 18 or 21 can buy it?

Ok, I get that pot legalization may not be something Marshall has thought much about, but this stikes me as shockingly misplaced priorities from someone who's usually a pretty clear thinker.

Andrew Sullivan takes him to task:
How to rationalize the irrational? From the post cited, I'd say Reason One is: I'm older. Reason two: er, see Reason one. What Josh seems to be saying is that he wants pot de facto legal but closeted. But like most closets, this one requires a shame that simply isn't there any more - and has not been for decades now. And any illegality is bound to end up hurting the poor and minorities to a disproportionate extent. It's not unenforced. It's enforced brutally upon hundreds of thousands of people. It's okay to sit there mulling how uncomfortable fully legal pot makes you, as long as none of your friends is thrown into jail, or forever barred from employment, or fired for no reason related to work performance. Josh's view reminds me of the argument of those who backed sodomy laws but didn't want them aggressively enforced. They didn't want to throw people in jail, but they wanted the stigma to remain. Yes, stigma. For one kind of pleasure (being stoned) as opposed to another (being drunk).

Never thought I'd be agreeing with Sullivan over Marshall, but he's absolutely spot-on here.

Atrios used to make fun of people who want abortion to be illegal but aren't willing to carry the logic over to saying someone should actually go to jail or anything over it. As he put it, what they really want is for the state to officially deem abortion "icky." I think Marshall is falling into the same trap here.

At the end of the day, either pot is contraband or it isn't. Contra Marshall, there is no magical middle ground, no official federal designation of "ickiness." It will either be bought in a convenience store and marketed by Philip Morris, or it will be bought on the street and will continue to serve as the golden goose for every cartel in Mexico and the cause of thousands of murders every year across Central America and the southwestern United States. Being caught using it either will appear on your rap sheet, forever branding you a drug user and giving every employer an excuse not to hire you, or it won't.

Decriminalization is a cop out; it doesn't change anything.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The consensus is in

Brian Kelly couldn't make them a championship football team in 8 games, therefore Notre Dame is DOOMED FOREVER. DOOOOOOOOOOOMED!

Also, the peanut gallery in the South Bend Tribune, a real think tank of football coaching wisdom, are now confident that Kelly will be fired. This year.

What's funny is that, when Kelly was hired, the consensus in the Tribune and in the wider world of sports punditry was that it would take him several years to build a good team in South Bend. He's implemented a very different offensive scheme, despite Michael Rosenberg's moronic assertion that Weis and Kelly have the same "philosophical approach" because they're both "passing coaches." He'd have to get his kind of recruits in there. He has to change the program's culture, shift it away from players playing for a ticket to the NFL, away from lax conditioning and defeatism.

It may be true that the sun has forever set on Notre Dame as an elite football program, that there are now insurmountable structural barriers in BCS football separating the big state schools from everyone else. If that's true, though, we'll know at the end of Kelly's term, not the beginning.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

that's some nerve

Evan Bayh, fresh off of abdicating his Senate seat in the middle of a Republican wave year and keeping his $10 million warchest so the Dems can't use it to keep the seat, writes an op-ed lecturing Democrats on why they lost. Apparently the Democrats lost because they didn't govern according to the lesser Bayh's personal political stances. Surprise!

I just love rhetorical games like this:
Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left.

Really? What about an electorate that is 66 percent moderate to liberal?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Goodnight, Russ, and good luck

The silver lining of a Republican wave year is that a lot of bad Democrats lose their seats. Though we need the senate seats, I'm not even a little bit sorry that blue dogs like Brad Ellsworth and Blanche Lincoln are losing their jobs all over the country. I've predicted since last year that my own blue dog congressman would get ousted tomorrow, and I'm standing by that prediction with horror at the prospect of Congressman Walorski, but no love lost for ol' Joe.

There is, however, one Democrat whose impending electoral demise I will be mourning bitterly on Wednesday. That voters who have known him for 18 years would ditch him now for being "a Washington insider" drives home just what poor judges of character voters can be. He's one of perhaps 2 people I would have voted for in the 2008 primaries over Barack Obama. You've done amazing work these last 18 years, Russ Feingold. Godspeed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Remember, kids

Wikileaks has been grossly negligent with the information they have released to the point that they have put lives at risk. Also, they have released nothing that we didn't already know.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The New Tax Man

Among the lessons we should have learned from the Romans: allowing powerful private entities to collect taxes is a bad idea. In the case of American banks, it means a shift from a business model based on fraud to one based on extortion.

In this particular tale as told by the Huffington Post, local governments are making Faustian bargains with big banks, allowing them to collect taxes and even add their own fees on top of them in return for fronting government the revenue. Minor shortages in people's tax returns are blossoming into huge, multi-thousand-dollar shakedowns, and in many cases people are losing their homes because of what was originally a delinquent tax/utility bill of less than $1000.

This, of course, is an entirely separate issue from the other scandal of banks trying to foreclose on people who aren't behind on their mortgages, or worse, don't even have a mortgage by not bothering to review their own paperwork.

It's also different from the other, OTHER scandal of banks hiring what are basically thugs to break into the occupied homes of people they are illegally foreclosing on to change the locks on them, and in many cases burgle their home in the process.

And that's different from the other, other, OTHER scandal of the foreclosure mills [i.e., the thugs] hired by the banks giving their employees jewelry, cars, and houses in exchange for forging documents to submit to courts so they can steal people's homes.

"nonsense math"

An analysis of the "computer polls" used as cover by the BCS.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Joel Burns: It gets better


A gay city council member in Fort Worth, Texas discloses his own tribulations as a gay kid in West Texas for the first time in order to join the "It Gets Better" movement. Very moving.

And yes, he is an openly gay man elected to public office in Fort Worth. There are politically sane places other than Austin in the Lone Star State.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

on the take

A bombshell cover story in Sports Illustrated about the ubiquity of sports agents paying college football players. It drops several names, including Ryan Leaf and Santonio Holmes.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Public Option was never an option

Always true to form, the dreaded October Surprise is sprung on the Democrats, and it comes from their own incompetent leadership. From ThinkProgress:
In his book, Daschle reveals that after the Senate Finance Committee and the White House convinced hospitals to to accept $155 billion in payment reductions over ten years on July 8, the hospitals and Democrats operated under two “working assumptions.” “One was that the Senate would aim for health coverage of at least 94 percent of Americans,” Daschle writes. “The other was that it would contain no public health plan,” which would have reimbursed hospitals at a lower rate than private insurers.

The Senate didn't drop the public option until December 9, and the White House claimed to be fighting for it up until that point. Daschle, a former Senate Minority Leader and lobbyist for for a firm that did work for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, fought against the public option from the moment he was brought on. Why is it not surprising that Daschle would release a book a month before the midterms trying to help bolster support, and inadvertently include damning information about an inside deal that completely deflates the base?

Speaking as a Democratic voter and part of the liberal base that gets daily calls to come help man the phones and knock on doors and give money, the feelings of betrayal and helplessness upon hearing news like this is pretty serious, certainly much worse than anything the Republicans could say. This is the kind of revelation that makes people like me throw up our hands and ask why we even bother.

Ole Miss mascots: the three finalists

Hard to look at these and not mourn the now-defunct campaign to nominate Admiral Ackbar as the new Rebel mascot, the most inspired mascot choice since an intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado renamed themselves The Fighting Whites.

It honestly surprises me that Lucas would pass up on such a golden opportunity (in every sense of the term). I suspect that killjoys among the alumni and administration had a lot more to do with the deep-sixing of Ackbar's chances.

Of the choices left, at least Hotty Toddy is somewhat indicative of the Ole Miss experience, with his annoying preppy jock-like appearance and reference to a late night alcoholic beverage typically used as a genteel pretext for inviting someone in for sex.

OH SNAP!

Monday, October 04, 2010

realignment

An interesting time to watch college football, as the old order of the last 10 years is in full collapse.

  1. Another grim milestone for the Trojans, as USC loses to a team in consecutive years for the first time since Pete Carroll came to town. And that team is Washington of all teams. USC is now unranked.

  2. Texas drops two in a row for the first time in something like five years, and after conceding another easy Red River shootout to a very vulnerable Sooner squad, is unranked for the first time in 10 years.

  3. For the first in five years, right after Urban Meyer accepted the head coaching gig, Florida gets destroyed by another team, losing by more than three touchdowns while failing to score a single TD of their own. You knew this Florida squad was but a shadow of the old when they tried the famous Tim Tebow jump pass at the 1 yard line. It was picked off in the end zone.


In other news, Notre Dame delivered its first beatdown of the Brian Kelly era against a panicked and overmatched Boston College squad. Here's to many more against better teams.

Friday, October 01, 2010

UN: Israel "summarily executed" American citizen on flotilla

Our relationship with that country is so toxic. After the report, the UN's Human Rights Commission voted to endorse this report, with only the United States abstaining. Now apparently both the United States and Israel can execute American citizens without trial or arrest.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

cyberbullying from Michigan state attorney's office

This is insane: an assistant attorney general in Michigan is in the middle of a massive cyberbullying/stalking campaign against the student body president of the University of Michigan because the kid is gay.


He's protested outside the kid's house. He leaves comments all over the kid's blog, and harasses his friends. He keeps a blog about the kid and shows pictures of him with rainbow flags with swastikas in the middle.

And he's an Assistant Attorney General of the state of Michigan.

Gliese 530g, where the "g" stands for Goldilocks

Astronomers at UC-Santa Cruz find a habitable planet. It orbits a dwarf star in the Libra constellation.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

food stamp Cadillacs

A look at what you can actually buy with current ($4.50/day/person) and soon-to-be-cut food stamps. Doesn't look much like living high on the hog to me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dantonio

Speaking of Saturday's game, best wishes to Spartan coach Mark Dantonio on a speedy recovery. He was admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack just a few minutes after making one of the ballsiest calls I've ever seen in college football, a field goal fake from the wrong side of the 30 yard line in overtime after ND had already gone and scored its own FG.

That takes some serious cajones, coach.

we only lose because the refs make us

Here is one will likely end up being the inaugural post of the series "what Kelly said". Yeah, maybe there should have been a delay of game penalty on the fake field goal attempt. It doesn't matter, though, because in any game there are going to be occasional bad calls. If the defense had properly covered Gantt the play clock wouldn't be an issue. If the Irish had played better than Michigan State during regulation, that play would never have happened in the first place.

The fact is that the Irish were not robbed. Michigan State played as well or better than Notre Dame, with more total yards and fewer turnovers. They won that game.

We're at an uncomfortable moment in this season because ND was played to a stalemate by a middling Big 10 team while at full strength (unlike last game when we gave Michigan a free half to pull ahead). If you had asked Irish fans at the beginning of the season if they expected the team to be about that good, a middling Big 10 team, a potentially dangerous opponent for most outfits but not really competitive with the league's elite, they probably would have agreed. Confirmation of your team's mediocrity still hurts, though, no matter how accurately you predicted it.

I think the most common prediction I heard a month ago was 8-4 on the season. I think we're able to establish ND's relative strength with the last game, though, and with USC, Stanford, Pitt, Utah, and Boston College still on the docket, escaping with only 4 losses would be miraculous. Barring significant progress in the secondary and running game, I'm ready to predict a 5-7 season, picking up one of these tough ones (we shouldn't be favored in any of them) but dropping another to one of the patsies.

It's ok, though. I said at the end of last season that ND should land a great coach and give him time, because building a great team often means making systemic changes to the current one. Weis' teams were highly talented but overwrought, underconditioned, weak on fundamentals (tackling in space, anyone?), and lacking in confidence. It takes time to remedy those issues, especially the last one.

I know it sounds corny and fanboyish, but I have confidence in Brian Kelly in the long run.

Friday, September 17, 2010

overthinking it

Marc Ambinder:
Why did Democrats take a beating for passing a health care bill that was very similar in form to what Republican intellectuals had been urging for more than a decade? Because the Tea Party, conservative independents and Republicans have moved the political center to the right--marginally on a 0 to 100 scale, but enough to tip the scale away from Democrats. The electoral environment favors economic libertarians, and the Tea Party movement (or the conservative movement) has organized itself in such a way that really excites conservatives, while liberals, at a disadvantage ideologically (in the sense that conservatism has always been more organized and less diverse) cannot, as they did in 2008, build a tent around a larger coalition.

Holy hodgepodge of tendentious analogies, Batman!

The answer to why Democrats took a beating on HCR is actually quite simple. It's the same reason, in fact, that they took a beating on the stimulus and the bailouts.

They didn't listen to their base: liberals.

Liberals, not unions or minorities or women, are the engine of Democratic PR and campaign operations. They are the ones who send in letters to the editor and mount demonstrations and write on their shitty little blogs like this one. They're the ones who talk on cable news shows and fund commercials and 527s. They're the ones who get excited about politics and talk to their family and friends and argue Democratic policies and win converts.

Liberals by and large feel somewhere between disappointed and betrayed by the Obama Administration, and find their Senate delegation and its leader hopelessly gunshy. Despite Jonathan Chait et al.'s insistence that Barack Obama is "the most effective liberal president in at least four decades," it does not escape liberals that their president and massive, filibuster-proof majorities in Congress have so far given them Mitt Romney's health care plan, George W. Bush's tax cuts and bank bailouts, and were last seen working on Ronald Reagan's environmental regulation system. They are in general agreement that Barack Obama and Harry Reid gave away the store on health care with the public option. They worry that Obama screwed any liberal that will ever want to talk economics again by pushing a doomed stimulus plan that was less than half the size it needed to be, and nearly half of which was composed of inefficient tax cuts rather than public projects that keep people employed, giving the appearance of a Keynesian response but not enough oomph to sustain the recovery. They are sore that he wrote blank checks for Wall Street after its irresponsibility and craven behavior nearly destroyed the economy, but had no solution for putting people to work. They are outraged that he never fought for cramdown, and that his only attempt to deal with the housing market (HAMP) turned out to be not just unhelpful but downright predatory, cajoling people into staying in their homes just long enough for their lenders to squeeze a little more blood from their stones before evicting them anyway. And they are horrified by the Administration's war on whistleblowers, embrace of indefinite detentions, and decision to co-opt all of President Bush's illegal "war powers" rather than restore the Rule of Law.

And when they had the temerity to say something, the White House Press Secretary openly mocked them on national television. Mocked them, after all those hours and doors and phone calls and personal checks. Is there any other voting bloc in the country, any at all, that is ever openly derided by their own politicians?

Now we're a month and a half from the midterms and Democrats are wondering why they have no support, no volunteers, no campaign donations, and no one is applauding their policies on TV. It's a hell of a lot harder to motivate your base when they give you everything, and then two years later all you can say is, "at least I'm not the other guy, right?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"anti-colonialism"

To quote a current internet fad, I'm so old I remember when "anti-colonialism" was part of the American consensus.

I am amazed and horrified at this place where we have found ourselves, where Americans are so "white hot" with racist rage and existential anxiety that we have these kinds of attacks being launched at the president on a seemingly daily basis by people who are proffered as "thoughtful conservatives" by the press, and these are the more benign mutterings of the white right. Sizable groups of influential people are openly arguing that Muslims should not be allowed to build mosques in the United States and do not deserve First Amendment protections, and Patriot Day has become essentially an anti-Muslim holiday. And the demonstrations and even arson at mosques all over the country, my God! One side of the political spectrum has openly embraced ethnic discrimination.

Friday, September 10, 2010

learning something ugly about yourself


Over the last several days, I've been processing an event from earlier in the week. I should preface by saying that I've always thought myself fairly enlightened on matters of race compared with many white people (of course, I suppose all white people probably believe that). Unlike a great many whites I know, I don't live in denial of my own latent racist tendencies, or of the benefits I have personally derived from white privilege. I live in a mixed neighborhood, and by choice. I'm politically left on matters of race, from affirmative action to prison reform and the War on Drugs. For a white person, I think I'm pretty well read in terms of African American literature.

So to the matter at hand: on Tuesday I was surfing the intarwebs, and I came across a series of Harvard tests on implicit associations and preferences. Just for kicks, I decided to take the race one. After about 5 minutes, the results were in.

According to the test, I have a "strong" preference for white faces over black, stronger than most white respondents.

What does that mean? Does it mean I'm more racist than most people? At first I thought, "well, I went to pretty segregated schools for the most part, and there aren't a ton of black people in my profession, so maybe it's just that I don't have as much experience with black people as others." That isn't true, though, nor is it relevant. It means exactly what it looks like: I associate white faces with good qualities and black faces with bad more than most white respondents. Are my southern upbringing and, shall we say, "racially insensitive" parents to blame? Maybe, but does it matter?

What do I do with that? People on all sides of the political and racial spectrum deride "white guilt," but shouldn't I feel guilty about this? Shouldn't I feel convicted, to borrow a less ambiguous term from theology? I suppose "should" doesn't really matter. I do.

Perhaps I could counteract this subconscious malady of mine by interacting with more African Americans. How would I do that, though? I know hardly any black people these days aside from a few of my neighbors, with whom I have little or nothing in common and who all have busy family lives. I don't work closely with any, and I could probably count on one hand the number of black people who even work in my giant academic library. There are none in my wider circle of friends or in their circles. I don't share the religious tastes of most African Americans, so church is out of the question. The only obvious place I can go to socialize with black people is the bar down the street, which I've made a point to avoid because a) drinking at bars is expensive, and b) it allows smoking inside, which makes me smell like an ashtray and entices me to smoke.

It appears I've run aground against a persistent spatial segregation in America. Even when I want to hang out with black people, there are few places where our lives intersect. We have constructed separate societies for ourselves that inhibit not only necessity for interaction, but opportunity for it.

Some months ago I asked a friend of mine what it was like growing up in the segregated South (he was a kid in Tenessee in the late 50's-early 60's). What he said was that in the Tennessee he grew up in he hardly knew black people existed. Segregation wasn't about making black people use crappy water fountains or giving white people the good bus seats; it was about moving black people away so whites didn't have to interact with them. It was about not living near them, or being in the same stores and restaurants as them, or standing in line with them or sitting next to them or going to school with them.

Here I am, 50 years removed from Jim Crow in a part of the country that was never officially segregated, and suddenly I'm finding that description of 1950's Tennessee alarmingly familiar. I'm also feeling like I just saw those test results all over again.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

everything you know about learning is wrong

Fascinating. Part of the reason I like this article, admittedly, is it validates my long-held theory that all this "what type of learner are you?" stuff I keep encountering in my classes is pop psychology bulls**t:
Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Almost zero.

More difficult to deal with is the revelation that mixing up studying venues, rather than using the same spot every day, improves retention. I did a fair bit of this in college, taking study sessions wherever I could get them because of an unpredictable social life and work schedule, but for many students this is going to be a problem due to the importance of establishing routines to maintain discipline. People often set up a particular place and time to study because studying sucks, and things that suck are easier to keep doing once you've established a routine. Furthermore, even in college people tend to regiment their other daily activities pretty tightly, so there will be a tendency to want to do that with studying as well. We are creatures of habit.

pictures of home

I was surfing some of my Red Raider blogs this morning when I came across this picture of a dirt road somewhere in Texas. It looks very much like the area around the Caprock, about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Lubbock, but it could pass for most of the state.

I think I stared at this picture for 5 minutes, overwhelmed by nostalgia.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Netflix: the little engine that could

James Ledbetter at Slate asks why it's perennially underestimated by so many tech writers:
How nasty and wrong have the critics been? In 2005, Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, called Netflix "a worthless piece of crap with really nice people running it." Today, that worthless piece of crap has a market capitalization of $6.4 billion. In early 2007, when Netflix first announced its plans to allow subscribers to stream videos instantly—rather than wait for DVDs to arrive in the mail—esteemed tech journalist Om Malik predicted that this move would "soon be relegated to the dustbin of failed ideas." Netflix has more than doubled its subscriber base since then, and today nearly two-thirds of them use Netflix's streaming video service.
...
What is it about Netflix that causes critics to misread it so badly? Call it the innovator's paradox: Netflix forged an identity by building a simple business—DVD delivery by mail—that had never been done before. The very fact that this DVD-by-mail idea connected so deeply with consumers led many observers to think that was all that Netflix could or would ever do. Instead, the DVD delivery service—while still vital to Netflix's revenue—looks more like the Trojan horse of a much wider strategy designed to change how Americans watch filmed entertainment.

I find this subject fascinating as a Netflix devotee. I think the reason for Netflix's continued survival is actually pretty simple: they cultivate an almost militantly loyal fanbase. They're similar to Apple, Trader Joe's, and Costco that way. It's about brand loyalty.

They managed that by developing quality products, attention to detail, fundamentals, blah blah blah, but what binds these four companies together in particular is poached a ton of people from another company whose own customers hate them. Thus Apple gave people a way out of patronizing Microsoft, Trader Joe's has Whole Foods, and Costco has Wal Mart. Netflix, for their part, had movie rental stores in general and the loathsome Blockbuster Video in particular. Among Netflix users I knew, there was a palpable sense of foreboding when Blockbuster introduced its own mail order viewing service, because we were worried it would be better than Netflix. Not excited or curious, but worried!

That strength of brand loyalty benefits Netflix immeasurably. Many of its customers (myself included) have no interest in finding better movie services even though some may well exist. I don't investigate Redbox or any of the other interlopers fully knowing that one might be better suited or cheaper for me. I tell my friends about Netflix. I post on my crappy little blog about Netflix. And so on.

American Taliban

It's the new book by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos fame. From what I can tell, the thesis of the book is:
...in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.

Provocative.

A number of liberal voices have taken issue with Kos' book, arguing that it's an intellectual analog to the odious Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. I myself haven't read the book and don't plan to read the book; I read my share of polemics during the Bush years, and I'm done with it.

I want to point out this post on the subject from Ta-Nehisi Coates, though. Coates et al. are right: there are substantive differences between the American Right and the Taliban, those differences being pretty much everything the Taliban does that make them our enemies. Even if they reflect similar values, believing that women will be sluts if we allow them birth control is a far cry from believing that women will be sluts if we don't throw acid in their faces. Believing that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry is hardly the same as believing that gays should be executed. And of course, the Christian Right pretty rarely engages in violence in furtherance of its cause.

That being said, though, there is a grain of truth here, and that's where I'm not sure if this book does its greatest service or disservice. I can't help but think that the reason Kos is taken so much flak for this comparison is his decision to use "jihadists" instead of "Islamic fundamentalists." The two are often conflated, but they're different in the same way that (to break my own rule and use an analogy) Christian fundamentalists and abortion clinic bombers are different. Just because there are Christian fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics, it doesn't mean that Christian fundamentalists as a rule want to bomb clinics or agree with bombing clinics. For all the right wing bluster about "the left" being in bed with Islamists, the group in America with the most in common with Islamic fundamentalists is undeniably Christian fundamentalists.

The difference between our fundies and their fundies is one of degree rather than one of quality. So yes, the Christian Right does not believe gays should be executed, but they do believe that they are undeserving of the full rights of straight people. They may not force their women to wear hijabs or burqas, but they do believe in patriarchy, teaching their daughters that a woman's place is in the home and that the husband is the king of the household. They may not want Sharia law, but they do want more religion in our laws. They share very similar views of "decadent" liberals and atheists. They both approve of the use of torture. They agree that Iraq and Afghanistan are battles in the great clash of Christianity vs. Islam. They both agree that we should go to war over Israel.

Does Kos' book "move the Overton window" allowing for discussion of these similarities in respectable circles, or does it delegitimize any and all comparisons by association in the same way that Dan Rather's false documents rendered any discussion of Bush's special treatment in the Texas Air National Guard verboten? I'd like to see the former, but I fear the latter.

588

That's the number of total yards Hawaii racked up against USC last night. Hawaii.

Know hope.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

the Bible got it wrong

An evangelical preacher is taking a new tack in proselytizing to gays, starting with "I'm sorry." The idea is that he used to be a bigot about homosexuality until several of his friends came out, and now he tries to talk to gays about Jesus without pressing on them that their lifestyle is sinful. From what I can tell, however, he still thinks homosexuality is sinful, he just doesn't talk about it openly:
"It's theologically sloppy to say it's not a sin," he replies. But he quickly adds that all Christians are sinners, according to Romans 3:23. "We're all dealing with something."

Thus the current limits of evangelical outreach to the GLBT community.

My real interest is the next part. Dan Savage moves from here and drops a bomb on the whole conversation:
When evangelicals are ready to admit that the bible got homosexuality wrong—just like it got slavery and shellfish and figs and masturbation and burnt offerings wrong—then we can talk.

Provocative. It did get those things wrong, though, didn't it? Certainly slavery and masturbation in any case.

The problem here is that biblical inerrancy is a principle feature of conservative religion in general and evangelicalism in particular. Popular religion is rife with unexamined contradictions, of course; we're all perfectly aware that, for instance, kosher law is in the Bible and yet Christians don't practice it, or riffing from prior conversations, that the Sabbath is on the 7th day of the week, which isn't Sunday. Sometimes Christian children in Sunday school ask where Cain's wife came from, or how Noah was able to get animals native to the Americas before the Flood. Biblical inerrancy as a sentiment, however, is deep and powerful and fundamental to conservative reliosity. To let go of it jars loose the entire rock of the church.

To ask evangelicals to admit that part of the Bible was wrong, any part, is frankly asking conservatives to become liberals.

Trader Joe's

A pretty good article from Fortune Magazine on the business side of Trader Joe's.

the Sabbath

I don't usually bother with the guy on this little blog, but Glenn Beck said something I found just high-larious. He said he originally planned his "let's all worship Glenn Beck" day speech for 9/12, but changed it because he didn't want to ask people to "work on the Sabbath."

9/12 is a Sunday.

Ok, maybe that's only a punchline for me. It's a minor pet peeve of mine. I understand that this is a somewhat common misconception among Christians, much like calling the last book of the New Testament "Revelations" (just one long, weird Revelation, people!), but the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week. That's Saturday for the calendar-illiterate. Hence why Jews go to synagogue and 7th Day Adventists go to church on Saturday.

Christians go to church on Sunday, the Lord's Day, in honor of the Resurrection.

I guess I'm just interested by all the tiny ways people like Beck and Palin accidentally let on that their supposed expertise is a complete fabrication. Beck doesn't actually know a damn thing about the religion he's trying to champion, and Palin's storehouse of homespun wisdom is just part of the stage set, an illusion meant to help the audience suspend their disbelief.

These two people are the de facto chairs of the political party that may take the House in November.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

perennially underrated

Mandel is right on this: Texas Tech enters the season underrated yet again. Every season A&M is picked to finally rise up and take their rightful place above the Red Raiders, and every season they fail. This year the only real change for either team is that (arguably, at least) Tech upgraded their coaching staff.

I think ultimately this is about history. The Aggies were historically the second team in the state with the Red Raiders a distant third (or worse), so everyone keeps expecting a return to the natural order. As anyone in the ACC will tell you, though, there's no good reason to expect a team to magically improve just because it was good 15 years ago.

women are for sex, men are for violence

A fantastic post from Chastity on oppressive gender-based societal expectations ... for men. The money quote:
...it’s perfectly okay to beat up men, because if a man can’t defend himself it’s his fault.


Warning: this is a super geeky post from a Warcraft blog. Yes, it does dig a little into the weeds of a video game. The middle part (3 male good spellcasters) is probably the most exclusionary one. The gist of it is simply that the game reflects a larger cultural assumption that men settle their conflicts with brute force.

Also, echoing Chastity, none of this is intended to imply that men have it as bad as/worse than women.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

what you need to know about the egg recall

Thanks to Salon for publishing a quick list of "need to know" facts, such as where to find out if your brand is affected, the symptoms of salmonella, etc.

Recalls like this are why it's increasingly in our interest to unplug ourselves from industrial agribusiness where possible. I realize that sounds hyperbolic, but clearly mainstream food production has become so centralized and so poorly monitored that massive summertime food-borne disease outbreaks and attendant food recalls are becoming commonplace. Even the FDA has admitted that they lack the funds and manpower to "shift from reactive to preventive."

There is a way to innoculate yourself from the annual poisoning of the American consumer: buy local. Despite the assurances of the free marketeers that it's "in the interests of big business" to provide a safe product, industrial agribusiness has a terrible record when it comes to food safety compared to your local farmer. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, I think:

  1. what does minimum wage (or worse!) worker #4,972 care whether he's really thoroughly washing the lettuce, or keeping the eggs at a safe temperature, or making sure there's absolutely no paint chips falling into the peanut butter?

  2. the giant company that supplies billions of eggs a year to half the country will be inconvenienced by the recall, and will have a bad year for profits, but will survive and be in perfect form again in a year or two. If the guy at the poultry booth in the farmer's market sells bad eggs and his customers get sick, between losing the trust of his customer base and the hell that state/federal regulators will call down on him he'll almost certainly go out of business.


Nevermind the remarkable difference in quality and taste between local free range and industrial eggs. There are some foods where there's little change in taste between the local and industrial stuff, and others where it's night and day. In my experience tomatoes, strawberries, grass fed beef, and eggs are the products where the difference is starkest. The eggs even look different on the inside: you don't realize how pale and flabby and unappetizing industrial yolks are until you crack open a local, free range egg and see one of those dark, almost burnt orange, thick yolks sitting almost perfectly spherical in the pan.

Buying local means not having to worry about national recalls.

Monday, August 23, 2010

learning the lessons of Greece

Wait, what's that, you say? Going full-on austerity in a vulnerable economy was a terrible, terrible idea that plunged Greece into a bonafide depression?

some facts about new incoming freshmen

Beloit College does this every year, and it's fascinating. Some of the facts are more mind-blowing than others, such as "Nirvana is on the classic oldies station" and "few in the class know how to write in cursive," not to mention simply the birth year: 1992.

Some, however, are of world-historical relevance: "they have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S." This is the first college class born after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the same year the European Union was created.

"a model of cowardice"

That's how Glenn Greenwald described the behavior of prominent Democrats in response to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," a misnomer so egregious it compares in silliness to "partial birth abortion" and "Holy Roman Empire." It is the "death panels" of this summer, to be sure, but this wholly absurd debate* is useful in one single solitary respect: it provides a tiny glimpse into the hearts of prominent politicians. Some have been heartening, such as the courageous stands made by Michael Bloomberg and Russ Feingold, while others were dispiriting, whether as predictable as Harry Reid's craven vote-mongering or as disappointing as the fraying of Howard Dean's moral fiber.

*As Howard Kurtz mentions, the organizers of the cultural center have only managed to raise $18k of the $100 MILLION needed, so it's unlikely this thing will ever be built anyway.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

change we can believe in

On Monday the United States military led by the Obama Administration convicted a child soldier to an undisclosed sentence without a jury trial using evidence acquired through the use of torture and after having already imprisoned the boy for 8 years, over 1/3 of his lifetime.

Just thought you might find that interesting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the activist base

Quote of the Day, from David Frum commenting on Robert Gibbs' attack on liberals:
"More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base."

Bradley Manning: rage-filled homo

Interesting to see how our liberal media writes a bio piece for a whistleblower as if he were a serial killer or a terrorist. Why would he do such a thing? Is it because he had a rough childhood, or was gay, or had a temper? Is it because he fell in with "hackers" who started filling his head with crazy ideas?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the death of Ted Stevens

I can't get out of my head what must have been going through Ted Stevens' head in his final moments. To survive a plane crash but lose your wife and the mother of your 5 children in it is one hell of a life event, in every sense of the term. One can only imagine the kind of grief and survivor's guilt that accompanies it.

To then be in a second downward spiraling plane 32 years later, the odd familiarity, the sudden reminder of that past life and love and grief on top of the fear... There are no words.

Friday, August 06, 2010

"Borked"

I'm hearing the lament among lots of people who should know better that the judicial confirmation process is a lot more partisan than it once was, and it's the Democrats' fault for opposing Robert Bork. It amazes me that even people in the news media will throw this claim out there without ever mentioning the reasons behind the opposition to Bork, as if it was just mere "partisanship."

Robert Bork openly supported Jim Crow poll taxes. He also did not believe in a constitutionally protected right to privacy. At his confirmation vote, no fewer than six Republicans voted against him, and he won only 42 votes for confirmation.

Still think the Democrats were being overly partisan?

A quick history lesson: when the special prosecutor of the Watergate Hotel break-in, Archibald Cox, came a' knockin' for Richard Nixon's Oval Office tape recordings, Nixon knew he was in deep shit. He refused to hand them over at first, but Cox pressed on. Nixon offered a compromised, that a near-deaf Senator named John Stennis would listen to them for him. Cox refused the compromise, so Nixon did the only thing left he could think of: he ordered his Attorney General to fire the Special Prosecutor.

The Attorney General refused and resigned in protest.

So Nixon asked the next guy in line to fire him. The next guy in line refused and resigned in protest.

So Nixon asked the third guy in line to fire him. That guy saw the Attorney General job dangling in front of him, snapped it up, and fired the Special Prosecutor, an act so unethical that 5 years later Congress enacted the Ethics in Government Act specifically to prevent that kind of thing from happening again.

That guy who did Nixon's dirty work, as you can guess, was Robert Bork.

gay judges can't be impartial

I'm a firm believer that, while sports do not "teach us" the things coaches always claim they do, like "moral values," they do model some important lessons about human behavior. For instance, whenever one side loses an important match, rather than admitting weakness, the fans' first defense is to blame the refs.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

fun with numbers: government workers edition

The federal budget is overwhelmingly eaten up by 3 things: Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense, and all in roughly equal measure. If there was a mass of useless bureaucracy that could easily be washed away that would make any significant dent in the budget, you can bet it would have been by now.

Or not?

Let's take a look at the staff of the federal government, since in matters not related to Social Security and Medicare, much of what the government pays for is people: people to calculate tax revenue, people to analyze data, people to go enforce rules. Lucky for us, the federal government provides a handy dandy outline of what its staff looks like.

Notice anything interesting?

There are 1.9 million people employed by the federal government, not including the Postal Service or soldiers. Of those, 1.1 million of them work for the Dept. of Defense, Veterans' Affairs, or Homeland Security. That's 58% of the entire federal government. And that does not include enlisted men and women!

Put another way, including the 1,421,000 active duty personnel, there are over 2.5 million people employed by the Depts. of Defense, Veterans' Affairs, and Homeland Security compared to 329,000 in all other areas of the federal government. There are more than 7 times as many people working in national defense as there are elsewhere.



And I didn't include the other 848,000 people in the reserves.

The Dept. of Education, every conservative's favorite target for elimination? 4,000 people. The evil, evil Dept. of Housing and Urban Development? 9,000 people. NASA? 18,000 people.

But remember, kids, the only way to balance the budget is with steep cuts to Social Security!

new right wing media guy invented robot chef and cure for cancer

Seriously. This guy is a.maz.ing.

Not helpful if you're trying to make the "teabaggers aren't really crazy " argument, though.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

the American police state

Add another one to the list of advances in the Bush-Obama police state. You may already know that the Obama Administration has approved the targeted killing of an American citizen with no trial and no judicial consent whatsoever, solely on the basis of the Administration's own assurance that he is a terrorist.

Here's a new one, though: when the guy's dad went to court seeking an injunction from the United States government assassinating his son, the administration claimed that they put a special label on his son making it illegal for anyone to represent him or file anything in court on his behalf.

The Obama Administration now claims the ability not only to deny you access to a lawyer, but the right to imprison any lawyer who would try to petition the government on your behalf. The government can now tell attorneys whom they can and cannot represent.

Let's review, shall we? The Executive now claims the right to tap your phones, read all your emails, and keep a complete database of all of your internet activity from searches to websites visited on any computer, all without any judicial oversight whatsoever. They can arrest American citizens without charge, imprison them for an indefinite period of time, torture them, or even kill them, all with no judicial permission or oversight. They can blow your head off as you're getting into your car to go to work one morning, having made the decision completely in secret and without having to inform anyone of even the reason for it. And if anyone out there doesn't like what's happened to you and goes to the courts about it, they can be arrested, too.

Sorry to get all Glenn Beck on you, but the construction of the American police state is complete. The legal precedents are now de facto ratified by both parties, and the colossal apparatus required to implement them is in place, as shown by the Washington Post several weeks ago.

Just think back on all Barack Obama has done when given the reins to this monster, how even a former constitutional law professor, a guy who championed the rights of the arrested as a state legislator, took the powers assumed by Bush and ran with them. Now imagine Sarah Palin or Rudy Giuliani being elected president.

the Inquisitor state

Slate has a story on the history and process of stoning in Iran. Truly gruesome stuff, and people are condemned to it for adultery and prostitution. Also, the judge doesn't actually need any evidence or witness testimony whatsoever to condemn a woman to die this way.

Did I mention that you get buried up to your chest before you are stoned to death by rocks the size of tangerines?

The Slate story was prompted by the plight of Sakineh Ashtiani, a woman condemned to exactly such a penalty (despite the supposed moratorium on stonings in Iran) and an offer from the president of Brazil to grant her asylum.

I point this out first of all because it should have been us that offered asylum. I don't care if it's a publicity stunt, or if there's any chance of her getting an opportunity to take Brazil up on it. The combination of Ashtiani's charge, trial, and sentence encapsulate a horrific complex of police state tactics and medieval theocratic values, an "Inquisitor state" that we should be attempting to expose and humiliate at every opportunity.

Iran's example reminds us how Bush and Cheney had it wrong when they argued that our civil libertarian values make us weak and vulnerable. Rather, it is precisely our principles, our belief in everyone's right to privacy, religious freedom, and the rights of the arrested that make our society not just different from Iran's, but superior.

I also bring this up because stoning seems like an old ritual punishment that shows how Iran never progressed beyond the Middle Ages, but in fact it has only existed in Iran since 1983. We forget that Islamic fundamentalism is a recent phenomenon, a reaction to western colonialism. The United States' first participation in a coup of a democratically elected foreign head of government, in fact, was committed in Iran by the Eisenhower Administration.

It seems all our current nemeses are our own creations.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elkhart farmers' market closing

So says the Trib. I try to think of the reasons the market didn't do well, and perhaps it's best to consider why I only went a few times despite having a great experience. I have a few quibbles with the place, the biggest being that it has little or no produce most of the time, nowhere to buy non-food groceries, and half or more of the place was occupied by craft stores.

All that aside, though, you know why we didn't go? It was in Elkhart, a 20+ minute drive from our house. The only things we buy regularly from a farmers' market are poultry and eggs, and South Bend has a farmers' market 5-10 minutes from our house where we can get those. That's why.

By far the two most successful markets I've ever seen are in Cork, Ireland and South Bend. They have exactly one thing in common that isn't shared by the failed American Countryside: they're centrally located in the city of their customer base. In a city of 100,000 people, 20+ minutes is a seriously long drive for groceries, especially when you can't even get all your groceries there.

Speaking of, the Old English Market in Cork is by far the most successful of the three for a very simple reason: it had a booth that sold condiments, prepackaged foodstuffs (dried soup, canned goods, etc.), and other such things. It didn't force its customers to go to its major grocery store competitors for their non-fresh-food groceries. There aren't just a ton of people willing to switch to a farmers' market from their convenient, familiar grocery store in the first place. There are far fewer willing to make two trips a week instead of one just so they can get free range eggs and chicken breasts. In Cork, however, the market seemed to do as much business as Tesco.

If the South Bend market had a booth or section where they sold things like cheap mustard bottles, canned beans, paper towels, and bath soap, I would do all my grocery shopping there, even if they didn't have all my brands. The market would gain not only my paper towel and bath soap business, but also my potatoes and milk and rice and sandwich meat business. If the Elkhart market had done so, it's possible we would have made the trip more often.

Monday, July 26, 2010

fun with numbers: autoworker pay edition

The Washington Post tells me that, while auto workers from the pre-bailout era make $28/hour, new hirees are making a government-mandated $14/hr.

Interestingly, although most people who read the Post are probably on salary and think of wages in terms of annual income, the Post never bothers to tell us how it translates.

In case you were wondering, $14/hr. X 8 hrs/day X 5 days/week X 52 weeks/year = $29,120/year. That's factory work (i.e., physically taxing) for guys assumed to be primary breadwinners, 99% of whom according to the article have at least high school degrees. That also means those supposedly hugely overpaid damn union workers were making less than $60k.

Wikileaks strikes again

90,000 pages of classified information on the Afghanistan War published by Wikileaks and sent to 3 different major newspapers. The cache of documents paints an ugly picture, and the Obama Administration is flailing to answer the charges. Their best counter is that all this occurred before the surge, and that much of it formed the basis of that decision. Some great commentary here.

How serendipitous it is that this bombshell drops only a week or so after the Washington Post's massive report (2 years in the making! as we are frequently reminded). The Post's is useful especially to us laymen, but many of critiqued it for bringing no new information to bear. It seems more to be an aggregate of stories published over the last several years on the intelligence community, and with little cohesive narrative thread to boot.

Compare with this story and all its truly new information.

An interesting note about its publication: the New York Times requested that Wikileaks withhold "harmful material" from its website -- on behalf of the Obama Administration. A wonderful comparison of priorities between old and new media right there.

technology and the end of privacy

Even getting harder for spies, as technological trends are tending to favor the surveillance state.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dems to make Bush tax cuts permanent

An extraordinary act of cowardice from a party that found such cuts repugnant just a couple of years ago. From Time:
Senate Democrats will soon advance a plan to make permanent President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts for middle-class Americans earning less than $200,000, but let the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire, two Senate party aides said Tuesday. They will also propose to reinstate a 45% estate tax on individuals for the next two years.

The emerging tax plan is designed, as much as anything else, to clarify the differences between the two parties as they hurtle toward the fall elections. Following on their success with the financial-regulatory-reform bill, Democrats are betting that Republicans will once again take up a legislative battle on behalf of the wealthy. "Republicans are going to have a real choice ahead of them," says a Democratic aide. "Are you for extending these tax cuts for middle-class families or are you against them because you want to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans?"

This, of course, will be the second Obama tax cut in two years despite an already record low tax burden. The likely effect of permanent Bush tax cuts as shown by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (via Ezra Klein):

Tax cuts are the perfect example of a policy that is popular yet irresponsible. The cost is enormous, and the gain for the average citizen minimal.

Need I show more examples on this blog? Over and over we've seen how tax hikes amounting to pocket change for the average person can completely solve the budget woes of entire school districts. Instead, cities around the country are putting fire and police departments in hock. Meanwhile, at the federal level the argument on taxes is between those who want to bankrupt the Treasury cutting huge checks to the rich, and those who want to bankrupt the Treasury cutting checks for chump change to the middle class.

We have completely lost our minds on this issue.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Top Secret America

A massive report from the Washington Post. It's huge. It will make you sick to your stomach.

That being said, I know it's sexy in media circles to frame things in teabagger terms, but the "waste" and "overspending" in our secretive shadow government is so, so very beside the point.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bradley Manning charged

And he could face 52 years in jail. Manning is the whistleblower who gave damning government documents to Wikileaks. People are already starting to compare him to Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

This is a serious matter. I wasn't all that surprised to see Obama give in on the public option, and it didn't shock me to see a smaller stimulus than was expected. His willingness to open our shores to further offshore drilling was unwise but not entirely unexpected. What has truly shocked me about this administration and this former-constitutional-law-prof-turned-president, however, is the secrecy of this administration, its cavalier attitude toward civil liberties, and the zeal with which it pursues whistleblowers. Never would I have thought that Barack Obama would be an enemy of civil liberties and a British Tory Prime Minister a defender of them.

Whistleblowers serve a valuable purpose in democratic governments. Governments that have whistleblowers in their midst have more incentive to deal honestly with the people and be more effective because someone is watching. As with all things in government, oversight is key.

Whistleblowing is also a right, however, one tied to freedom of speech, privacy, and dissent. One can't help but notice the sustained rollback of our civil rights over the last 30 years, and any hope we had of a Democratic president acting as a bulwark of those rights is all but gone.

Friday, July 02, 2010

cutting unemployment benefits won't create jobs

It's a pretty simple calculus, really, but no one's pointing it out. Cowardly Democrats and craven Republicans want unemployment benefits to expire, so the argument goes, so that people will get off their duffs and go get jobs. This theory assumes that there is a glut of jobs out there going unfilled.

The situation they are describing is what happens in times of full employment, not an economic downturn. The problem is not that a half million jobs are going unfilled; the problem is that there are a half million fewer jobs than applicants. This is not difficult to understand.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Journalism in the age of Bush and Obama

The Frum bruhaha is in fact only a small part of a wider clustershag happening all over the world of journalism over intellectual freedom, dissent, and the proper role of journalists vis-a-vis their subjects.

We have three major leak stories:


  1. Wired Magazine reported on the exposure and arrest of Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who supplied several thousand documents including a controversial video of a helicopter strike on Iraqi civilians to the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. See Greenwald's excellence coverage of the matter for details.

  2. Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings published a humdinger of an article exposing disparaging comments made by General Stanley McChrystal and his staff about civilian leaders that ultimately led to his resignation. CBS News' Lara Logan slams Hastings in response, denigrating his journalistic ethics and his patriotism for daring to publish the remarks because there's an unspoken agreement that you don't publish anything that will embarrass the troops. "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has," she says at one point.

  3. FishbowlDC published remarks disparaging prominent conservatives made by Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel, whose beat is the conservative movement, on the liberal journalist listserv Journolist. The WaPo freaked out, and accepted Weigel's resignation. Conservative Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg says they were right to can him, that only conservatives should report on the conservative movement, and that he would gladly publish remarks from the listserv if they suited his purposes. Greenwald pwns him on it, and Joe Klein comes to Goldberg's defense by questioning Greenwald's patriotism and calling him a lawyer over and over (that may sound unfair, but seriously read it. One wonders if it was really written by John Boehner, as overloaded with sophomoric, Republican innuendo as it is).


There are numerous similarities between some of the stories, such as the question of whether anything you say in front of a journalist is unpublishable. What I find more interesting is the response from establishment journalists on these issues. We have Lara Logan and Joe Klein, neither one known as a conservative and one known as an out and out liberal, not only not taking the journalist's side but impugning people's patriotism. Meanwhile, in the first story, one involving an actual, bonafide whistleblower, the print press has already apparently lost interest, with coverage of the story now occurring almost exclusively online. To test this argument, I mentioned this story to a friend of mine who pays close attention to national news but doesn't read blogs, and he had never heard of this story, or even of Wikileaks!

In the first two stories there's the similar thread of establishment media personalities being uninterested in whistleblowing and hostile to reporting that is unfavorable toward the government. They show how the press has become more deferential toward the government in recent years and perhaps no longer claim the civil libertarian mantle they once did.

In the third story we see a similar argument that reporters should not be adversarial toward their beats, though this time it's an ideological beat. The argument from the WaPo and Goldberg is essentially that reporters should agree with those they're covering, that someone covering conservatives should be a fellow traveler (nevermind for now the issue that the WaPo doesn't have anyone covering the liberal side!). Also, what constitutes lack of "toilet training" in journalism is whether you say ugly things about your subjects and use naughty language, rather than whether you write things that are later proven to be utterly false, refuse to retract them, and use your column to let your friends insult your enemies anonymously.

Interesting and scary to see what's happening to that profession. And they wonder at their credibility problem.

professional conservatism

Don't look now, but there's a really interested bruhaha going on right now in the conservative community about ideological orthodoxy. Some of you may remember a post I linked from David Frum called "Waterloo" about the GOP's historic defeat when the healthcare bill passed. Frum is a big name conservative who served in the Dubya White House but who, on occasion, has been able to have honest conversations about the state of the Republican party.

As you can guess, he was promptly ostracized after his post. Among other things, his request to have his blog added to the conservative blogads network was denied. According to the manager of that network, John Hawkins, his was only one of two blogs that have been denied, the other being the dreadful Little Green Footballs which actually shifted from a Bush-loving conservative blog to a Rachel Maddow-loving liberal one.

Frum's response is very interesting. Here's one bit that resonated with me:
Hawkins seems to be suggesting that we go on TV not as individuals, to express our own ideas as best we can, to offer the most useful information we can discover. No – people should appear as representatives of pre-existing tribes: conservatives, liberals, blacks, whatever, to engage in a ritual of synchronized repetition of pre-existing phrases. You are a conservative? You must say THIS – and never that. You must approve THIS – and never admit to doubts about that.

Hawkins asks: “What’s the point of putting Frum on TV?” Take him seriously though and you have to wonder: What’s the point of putting ANYONE on TV when the job could be so easily automated?

This is similar to the point I've been trying to make for a long time when I talk about "professional conservatives." Hawkins ascribes to the same view of punditry as that of many TV news shows: when you bring on a guy that's a conservative (which you're always supposed to do, of course), he isn't supposed to be an expert with an expert's individual opinion. Rather, he's merely the representative of the conservative movement that they're for some reason entitled to in every single news segment, and thus his job is to present the conservative line. His role is to counter the expert and represent the Right.

Frum, however, has the temerity to suggest that the conservative should also be an expert bringing his expert opinion, rather than a medium for GOP talking points.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ireland's economy in the toilet because of austerity

Clearly the problem is that they didn't fire enough teachers. Bond investors feed on their tears.

the GOP's Elena Kagen clown show

Just finished watching Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama accuse the late Justice Thurgood Marshall of having "used [his] power to redefine the meaning of our constitution."

You don't have to be Ralph Ellison to read between those lines.

Monday, June 28, 2010

more on war, or moron war

We have a lot to learn.

In the NYT Ross Douthat argues for permanent war in Afghanistan ... I mean, staying until we "succeed," which in the context of his article just means until the Taliban are guaranteed never, ever to rule again, Al Qaeda are eradicated in Pakistan, and the Middle East is no longer volatile. Then we can go home!

Maybe we can hope to be as successful there as we were in its sister-warzone, Iraq, where after 4000 soldiers' lives and hundreds of billions of dollars we have "succeeded" in finally establishing the Islamist state with strong ties to Iran that we've always dreamed of.

And look here! Here's Joe Klein in TIME, one of the major liberal voices in the press, referring to the antiwar base of the Democratic party as "vestigial," as in a useless, degenerate extra part inherited from a prior age. It is notable that those who are considered "antiwar" are considered deserving of such open contempt -- by a liberal pundit!

Just as with Iraq, however, we can at least take heart that the people are smarter than their chickenhawk pundits.

the corrosive effects of war

A great piece in the Post today from Andrew Bacevich on the increasing mistrust and alienation our professional army feels toward the rest of the populace. The opening two sentences are much broader, however, and I'm glad to see someone saying it:
Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government.

I hope that we get at least one great benefit from the war in Afghanistan, since it looks like we'll get little else: the lesson that even "good" wars are bad. Aside from the trite costs "in blood and treasure," war creates new enemies even when it vanquishes the old ones, damages our reputation abroad, desensitizes our people to violence (which carries its own attendant degradations of character), and breeds resentment of our democratic values and civil rights among both the military and civilian populations. It makes us coarser and more authoritarian as a people.