Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Beautiful Fall Day

The blue sky glows above us as the red leaves drift downward--much like the blue and red lines on the IEM...


The electoral maps at Pollster.com and Real Clear Politics are also looking increasingly slanted.

Also, if you're bored, check out this entertaining site that allows you to "interview" Sarah Palin for yourself.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hey, China, Could We Borrow Another $700 Billion?

Reason magazine explains why the bailout bill currently moving through Congress is, at the very best, a temporary solution:
Today the federal government wants to bail out an industry that can't meet its obligations. But it increases the chance that the next time, it will be the federal government that teeters on the brink of financial doom.


Add it all up and you find that our government has suddenly run up a trillion dollars in new liabilities. That sounds like a lot—unless you compare it with Washington's other outstanding commitments. Currently, the national debt stands at roughly $10 trillion, which is about three-quarters as large as our entire annual gross domestic product. But The Concord Coalition, a Washington-based fiscal watchdog group, says explicit and implicit obligations amount to $53 trillion—"almost as much as today's net worth of all household assets."


With each year, government spending rises, and the budget deficit gets bigger. As the baby boom generation retires, the gap will grow. Given current trends, federal outlays stand to double between now and 2050, while revenues remain roughly stable.


When you spend more than you bring in, you have to borrow to cover the difference. In the next three decades, the government's official debt is on track to triple. But at some point, the Treasury predicts, "the world's financial markets would likely cease lending to the United States."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Financial Apocalypse Explained

Watch this video if you want to understand the current financial crisis. It's unlikely that one could learn more about the key issues involved in what's going on now in just over an hour than you can from listening to this conversation between Will Wilkinson, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, and Arnold Kling, a former economist on the staff of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and senior economist at Freddie Mac.


For similarly informed and intelligent commentary on the ongoing crisis and bailout proposal, check up regularly on the Cato Institute's blog: Cato @ Liberty.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama Slams McCain on Iraq (With Video Footnotes)


(Via Slog.)

Why Focusing on Sarah Palin is Important


(Via Towleroad.)

Biden on the Debate


(Via Bleeding Heartland.)

Multi-Task McCain

Maybe I'm alone in my opinion here, but regarding McCain's campaign suspension: I think it would be in the best interests of our country to elect a leader who is able to deal with many issues at once rather than only being able to focus (or at least choosing to focus) on one issue. The declining economy is a huge issue right now. But is it the only issue worth attending to? I hope not.

What about the war? In my book, that's a pretty huge issue. Or what about the failing health care system in this country that has been in shambles and lacking a solution for the past X number of years. And what about the countless people our government has been denying equal rights since forever it seems: racial minorities, the mentally disabled, the mentally ill, gay and lesbian couples who still can't legally marry, and all the other people who don't fit perfectly into society's little box of normalcy? To me, this is the issue.

Now, I can't say that either candidate will solve these issues. Hell, maybe both candidates are full of political air. But I do know that putting one issue on a pedestal while stacking all the other issues in the "to-do later" pile is counterproductive and goes against the needs of this country. We've been caught with our pants down before, and the fact that we are a global superpower doesn't excuse us from being caught exposed again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Rumors of My Liberal Bias Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I appreciate all comments, positive or negative, that we get on our articles at the Daily Iowan. Abundant comments show that our readership is engaged with our content and that's exactly what I want. For the most part I don't respond to comments because there is either no need or it simply isn't worth my time. However, sometimes a commenter gets so ridiculous that I feel I barely have any choice but to call him or her out on it.

Today, avid Daily Iowan reader/basher "taco" has earned himself such a response. Though I didn't write today's editorial calling out McCain for his shameful campaign-suspension stunt, I absolutely agree with it. That's quite clear from what I've been posting here on the opinions blog lately.

But taco clearly feels otherwise. This morning he posted a lengthy response in the comments section. Taco's tirade is so full of misinformation that I'm giving it a full-on Fisking. Taco's words are indented and my response is interspersed between them.

Taco begins:
Daily Iowa [sic], your blind partisanship and lack of pride in yourselves as journalists never ceased [sic] to amaze me. Christopher Patton, in particular: You are a real piece of work.

It's quite ironic that taco accuses me of blind partisanship. Even if I'm guilty of being overly partisan, which I don't believe I am, taco's accusation itself is evidence that my personal political allegiances are not in fact transparent to all of my readers. This is because I am not a Democrat, have never been a Democrat, and in fact have never even voted for a Democrat--not a single one. I was registered as an independent from the age of 18 until about two weeks ago. Now I'm officially listed as a Libertarian. If a race I'm voting in is close, I vote for the lesser of the two mainstream evils. However, in decidedly lopsided contests, I always support the Libertarian candidate if one is running.

Regarding my pride in myself as a journalist, it varies depending on how I feel about my articles a few days after they run. I have my ups and downs and probably engage in excessive self-criticism more often than not. But I have no problem being called a piece of work. Some of my best friends endearingly refer to me as such on a regular basis.
I'm glad for you if you feel uninvested and comfortable with what's going on in Washington right now that you'd rather McCain and Obama not be there. (In spite of Bush's televised request Wednesday night.) Personally, I want them to be in Washington right now. I'm very anxious about what's happening right now, and I wish I could be in Washington myself.

Actually, I feel very much invested and exceedingly uncomfortable about what's going on in Washington now. In fact, that's how I generally feel about events in our federal capitol. But this idea that McCain and Obama's physical presence there will somehow fix things is entirely baseless. Even assuming that Bush's proposed bailout bill, which is in reality a disgusting example of the worst kind of corporate welfare, actually needs to be passed ASAP, neither McCain nor Obama is likely to cast a deciding vote on the issue. Of course, as their parties' presidential nominees, their positions on the financial crisis have the potential to be extremely influential in determining how other members of their parties vote, but they can make their views known just as easily from the campaign trail as from the Senate floor. This is, after all, the information age.

Also, I have a hard time imagining a better use for McCain and Obama's time than debating these very issues tonight. One of them is going to be president in a few months. Americans need to know what their respective approaches to the ongoing financial crisis will be. Dueling press releases and ads aren't enough. We need to see them engage each other on this matter.
I don't know if you heard, since to tell from his Google Reader that Patton is more interested in gossip about McCain and Palin than hard news right now. (The fatal flaw of "Indy Media", as I posted yesterday.)

I'm flattered that taco takes an interest in my reading habits, which I proudly make entirely transparent on my shared items site. The extent to which I open my intellectual life to public scrutiny is, in my opinion, evidence of how seriously I take my journalistic integrity.

Certainly, taco is well within his rights to disagree with any or all of the articles I share, but he really ought to at least glance at the site before making assertions about what happens to be on it on any given day. The five items from other sites I had shared most recently before taco wrote his diatribe were the following: the Stranger's Dan Savage pointing out that Palin's assertion that she is not homophobic because she has gay friends has yet to be confirmed in any way, the Stranger's Erica C. Barnett noting that Palin's recent interview with Catie Couric provides further evidence that Palin has no idea what she's talking about most of the time, Reason's Tim Cavanaugh offering a lengthy, well-reasoned critique of Paulson's bailout plan as running entirely counter to the free market principles that have made America the prosperous nation it is today, Climate Progres' Joseph Romm reporting that worldwide carbon emissions increased an alarming 3 percent in 2007 alone, and Google's Vint Cerf explaining how his company believes the Internet will evolve in the future. Yes, two of those five items were about Palin, but one of those consists primarily of a transcription of an interview she did with the mainstream media. The Reason article focuses on the exact subject taco says I'm ignoring and the posts by Romm and Cerf deal with other issues of great importance to our planet's future. None of it is petty gossip of the kind that often dominates the mainstream media--the most recent exploits of Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears, etc. None of the outlets I read waste their time with such trash.
Washington Mutual failed last night, in the midst of all this. The first savings and loan to shut down amid all the mortgage banks, potentially taking with it hundreds of thousands of people's savings. The Federal Reserve Board, our foremost authority on the nation's economy, is telling us we have a problem, and events are bearing that out. Barack Obama spent the majority of the caucus season, as well as most of the last two weeks, touring the country talking to his constituents about the sad state of the economy and how he's going to fix it all if only we elect him! Was he just posturing too, the dozens or hundreds of times he has talked about the financial crisis and hard-working Americans losing their homes??

First, I'd like to point out that I shared a blog post about Washington Mutual's failure within a few hours of the story breaking.

Second, the FDIC guarantees all bank accounts up to $100,000, so hundreds of thousands of people will not lose their savings.

Third, as someone who actually supports market economics, I don't agree that the Federal Reserve Board is the foremost authority on our nation's economy. If their central planners were really as wise as taco thinks they are, why didn't they take action to stop the housing bubble that is the root of all the problems we're having now from getting so overly inflated? The answer is simple: they didn't realize that there was a dangerous housing bubble. A bunch of people made really bad decisions and now they're paying the price. Yes, the Federal Reserve should act to prevent a full-scale run on all of America's banks because that could lead to a depression. But, no, they should not be allowed to step in and save institutions that made poor investment choices just for the sake of preventing those institutions and the people who invested in them from losing their shirts. Paulson's bailout plan amounts to leaving capitalists' gains private while socializing their losses. It's a textbook case of crony corporatism, the very worst form of socialism. The fact that so many Republicans support it is further evidence of their party's abandonment of the free market principles it used to trumpet. I have yet to hear a convincing argument that we're on the verge of the sort of mass financial panic that would actually lead to a depression. Paulson and Bernacke certainly haven't been offering one. But don't take my word for it--over 200 reputable economists have signed a letter opposing the Bush administration's current proposal. (Via Reason, one of those supposedly liberal and gossipy indy rags I read.)

Fourth, of course much of Obama's talk about economics is mere posturing. That's what politicians do. I seriously doubt I'll be particularly pleased with whatever harebrained scheme Obama and the rest of the Democrats end up supporting in place of Bush's proposal. But at least he's not doing his best to make predictions of a complete collapse of our financial system into self-fulling prophecies by running around screaming that the sky is falling. Instead, he's sitting back and calmly arguing that matters as important as this one be discussed and debated at length before any major decisions are made.
This is what I hate most about this country. You complain about the candidates not focusing on the issues as much as anyone, and when push comes to shove you forget the issues and fall in-line behind your candidate!!

If I were taco, I'd be more cautious about saying he hates anything about America. If his right-wing friends hear that kind of talk they might go a far as to dis-invite him from the College Republicans bar crawl. And what would Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter think? They might ban him from their fan clubs. The horror!

In any case, I'd rather our politicians weren't as eager as they are to muck around in matters they clearly don't understand. But if I have to choose between a guy who rambles nervously about how we have to do something, anything NOW NOW NOW or we might all wind up broke and homeless in a matter of days only a week after asserting that the fundamentals of the economy were strong and a guy who has been arguing cogently for months that there were serious imbalances in the economy but still stresses that we need to proceed cautiously with any attempt to correct those imbalances, I don't consider it to be a difficult decision. If I were hyper-partisan I'd vote for Bob Barr no matter what, but I recognize that he's not going to win. So I have to choose the lesser of the evils. And Obama's a lesser evil than McCain by an order of magnitude, not just regarding his stance on the bailout but also because his greater respect for multilateralism abroad and civil liberties at home.

So does all of this make Obama my candidate? I guess so. But I'm no kool-aid drinker. Accusing me of being one without any evidence only serves to suggest that it's taco, not me, who is the knee-jerk partisan hack.
Our economy is in history-making economic trouble. McCain and Obama have both been summoned to Washington by Bush do something before things get worse. Get over your stupid blind obsession with McCain and Palin, at least until congress [sic] has a chance to stabilize our country's economy, for crissakes!

Again, I'm not denying that the current financial crisis is serious, but that doesn't mean that just doing something, anything is going to help. Frankly, at this point, anyone who's not highly skeptical of the Bush administration's ability to effectively manage anything after the debacles in Iraq and New Orleans is sadly naive and credulous. This notion that we have no choice but to fork over $700 billion dollars of tax-payer money to Paulson, who worked at Goldman Sachs when it was making many of the bad investments that are now bringing down so many investment banks, so he can hand it over in shady, backroom, no-strings-attached deals to his buddies on Wall Street is nothing short of ludicrous.

Seriously, people, whatever happened to fiscal conservatism? The Republicans have become the big-spending, big-government boogeymen they've always accused the Democrats of being. No self-respecting free-market conservative could possibly support this insane proposal to socialize the costs in financial markets while leaving the benefits private. It's embracing the most egregious aspect of socialism without even getting the alleged benefits of a more robust welfare state in return. Again, don't take my word for it. Read Reason magazine's article "Hank Paulson's Countdown to Armageddon".

The brouhaha surrounding the financial crisis and the various government plans to fix it really has my head spinning. Up has become down and down has become up. People who call themselves conservatives are accusing me of being liberal because I'm skeptical of a government proposal to spend $700 billion in a reckless fashion. Vertigo is setting in. Someone, anyone, please wake me from this twisted fever dream.

Oh, the hell with it. It's Friday. Time to go drink. Maybe beer can wash away my frustration--or at least dilute it for a little while, allowing my distressed mind a few precious hours of peace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bill O'Reilly Melts Down on the Radio

Make of this what you will. I'm not particularly convinced that O'Reilly's populism is particularly sincere. But regardless, this is pretty entertaining. I really hope Stephen Colbert does a parody.


(Via Reason.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bailout/Suspension Bullshit Roundup

Here's an excellent, succinct explanation of why we should be skeptical of calls to pass a bailout bill ASAP:
"I must tell you, there are those in the public debate who have said that we must act now. The last time I heard that, I was on a used-car lot," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana. "The truth is, every time somebody tells you that you've got to do the deal right now, it usually means they're going to get the better part of the deal."

(Via Reason, via the Volokh Conspiracy.)

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman has a sneaking suspicion that:
[T]he plan came first, and all this stuff about price discovery is an after-the-fact rationalization, invented when people started asking questions.

It has seemed very strange to me that such a supposedly crucial economic program would be based on such an exotic argument. My sneaking suspicion is that they started with a determination to throw money at the financial industry, and everything else is just an excuse.

But there are reasons to be hopeful.

Wired reports that the Internet is facilitating the rapid planning of potentially massive real-world protests:
An e-mail that began as a rallying cry from a lone journalist to an influential circle of friends to protest the U.S. government bailout of Wall Street has ignited a national day of street protests. Some demonstrators plan to dump their rubbish in front of the bronze bull sculpture near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan Thursday.

"People are going to bring their own personal junk that they think is worth as much as the junk financial instruments that the government is proposing to buy from the Wall Street banks," says Andrew Boyd, an activist and freelance online-video artist for nonprofit groups in Manhattan. "We're hoping that people show up with their 8-track cassette collections, their old Spice Girl CDs, their surf boards that got bit by sharks and old Enron stock certificates."

And Reason notes that initial polling suggests that the American people are not playing along with McCain any more than Obama is--only 14 percent support suspending the campaigns and a mere 10 percent support delaying Friday's scheduled debate.

So why did McCain think this would be a good idea? Perhaps because a stunt very much like it worked for him in the past?

But, regardless of any of this, the McCain campaign is now also suggesting that Palin and Biden not go forward with their scheduled debate. I suppose Palin has to rush back to Alaska and drill some oil wells so we can achieve energy independence by Friday evening, too.

However, David Weigel offers a solution that I think sounds pretty good: Friday's debate should involve Obama, Barr, and Nader. Who needs McCain anyway?

Offering some incisive political analysis, Marc Ambinder writes:
This is the time when politics matters the most, not the least.

When the philosophical differences that each party organizes around are put to the test of reality.


Suspending your campaign basically says: all that over the past sixteen months? It wasn't important. Ignore what I said or did.

Too late.

The tough thing here for McCain is that nobody in Washington asked him to come back; nobody seems to need him to come back; and that Democrats simply do not trust John McCain's motives.

Also, he notes some serious irony in McCain's ever-changing statements about the economy:
Last week, Sen. McCain said the fundamentals of the economy were strong.

To Katie Couric, he said that the country faces its worst crisis since World War II.

It ain't over 'til it's over, but it seems that McCain just embarrassed himself immensely. Now, the question becomes whether he will be able to save face at all. If not, this could easily turn out to be a fatal mistake.

David Letterman Knows a Joke When He Sees One

According to the Drudge Report, the late-night comedian, who was supposed to have McCain on as a guest today, is less than impressed with the suspension gimmick:
David Letterman tells audience that McCain called him today to tell him he had to rush back to DC to deal with the economy.

Then in the middle of the taping Dave got word that McCain was, in fact just down the street being interviewed by Katie Couric. Dave even cut over to the live video of the interview, and said, “Hey Senator, can I give you a ride home?”

Earlier in the show, Dave kept saying, “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.” And he joked: “I think someone’s putting something in his metamucil.”

“He can’t run the campaign because the economy is cratering? Fine, put in your second string quarterback, Sara Palin. Where is she?”

“What are you going to do if you’re elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We’ve got a guy like that now!”

(Via Slog.)

Obama Refuses to Take the Bait

CNN reports:
"It's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person will be the next president," Obama said. "It is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once. It's more important than ever to present ourselves to the American people."

Regarding McCain's call to join him in Washington to help participate in the debate over the economic recovery plan, Obama said, "If I can be helpful then I'm prepared to be anywhere, any time ... [I] don't want to infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics."

So far, so good. Now we'll just have to wait and see whether Bush and McCain can exert enough pressure to get some version of Paulson's plan passed in the next couple of days. Obama's refusal to play McCain's games makes that less likely. But one must never underestimate the Democrats' propensity to lose their nerve in high-stakes games of chicken.

A Ruse and a Trap

CNN reports:
McCain senior advisor Mark Salter told reporters Wednesday that the Arizona senator’s decision followed two days of discussions with colleagues on Capitol Hill, who told him that the bailout plan from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson faced an uphill fight.


He added that McCain would take part in the debate as scheduled if Congress reached agreement on the measure by Friday morning.

So, let me get this straight...

McCain says we're facing a financial crisis so severe that he must suspend his campaign and return to Washington to fix it. He also says that Obama should join him in doing this even though they disagree on some of the fundamentals about what caused the problem and how to fix it. And now a top McCain aide says that everything can get back on track for Friday's debate as long as Congress hurries up and forks over $700 billion to Hank Paulson before then.

For a few minutes there I was fretting that this silly stunt might actually work for McCain. But now the whole thing is completely transparent to anyone who cares to see.

The financial crisis is serious enough that nothing Congress, the president, or Paulson can do in the next two days is going to fix it. Frankly, it's going to take far longer than the remaining weeks of the presidential election. So McCain's argument is completely and utterly hollow. Suspending the campaign and delaying the debate can in no way help the economy. All it can do is muddy the waters and get McCain positive press.

But it's not all just a ruse aimed at making McCain look presidential through his allegedly non-partisan actions. No, it's much worse than that. And, again, transparently so.

In addition to distracting the the public away from the actual debate about the issues surrounding the financial crisis, McCain's campaign suspension ploy is also an attempt to bully Congress as a whole--and Obama in particular--into signing on to the Bush administration's current bailout plan with as few alterations as possible.

If the plan passes tomorrow or Friday, then McCain will claim success on Friday night. He will say that the economy was teetering on the brink and that other members of Congress--specifically Obama--were too busy bickering with each other to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. But not him. No, John "Country First" McCain risked it all, suspended his campaign, and got the job done. Under his brave leadership Congress finally came together and passed the bill that saved the economy! And all Obama did was follow along like a little junior senator without enough experience or ability to lead.

That's the narrative the McCain campaign wants. They don't care whether Paulson's bailout proposal is really a good idea. They don't care about seriously examining how we got into this mess in the first place. No, all they care about is shaping events such that McCain looks like the maverick, no-nonsense leader he sells himself as.

Please, Obama, please don't fall for this trap. Suspend your campaign and go back to Washington if you really feel you must, but don't be bullied into passing this $700 billion monstrosity in the next two days. That's what they really want out of this. Don't give it to them.

Stand up and show the country that true leadership is about real ideas and sound, well-considered policy-making. Make it clear that these are what you offer in place of McCain's gimmicks and recklessness. Do that, and you will win.


Sorry for the all caps heading but that's me calling bullshit on John McCain as loudly and clearly as I can.

He's suspending his campaign and going back to Washington to supposedly do something about the financial crisis.

I'm in complete agreement with Eli Sanders on what Obama should do:
Hard to know how this will play, but Obama has an opportunity here to say something like: “No way. If you want to be Commander in Chief, you need to be able to juggle foreign policy and economic policy at the same time. I’m ready to juggle both, and I’m ready to debate on Friday evening. I won’t take my eye off the economic crisis, and I’ll do everything I can to move the appropriate bills forward. But the American people deserve a debate on all of the issues affecting them, and they’ve been looking forward this debate. I have been too. This election is too important to postpone a discussion of the issues, and I hope John McCain changes his mind.”

And regarding what McCain is trying to pull:
It’s easy to see what McCain is trying to do here: Take the initiative, appear presidential, one-up Obama’s rhetoric of “coming together to solve big problems,” and put Obama in a box of either being for the debate or against quick action to steady the economy.

Obama needs to get out of this trap, and quick. He needs to agree or, as I suggested at first blush, strongly disagree—and he needs to do it soon, before a conventional wisdom develops around McCain’s move. The longer Obama waits, the more likely the conventional wisdom about McCain’s move is going to become: Bold, bi-partisan, politically shrewd, game-changing, initiative-grabbing, presidential.

McCain's decision clearly has a lot more to do with how he's doing in the polls and prediction markets than about the financial crisis. This is politics pure and simple--actually dirty and conniving. And it's pathetic in the extreme.

McCain is afraid to debate Obama on economic issues on Friday because he knows he will look terrible.

I think I'll get physically ill if the mainstream media fawns over this as an example of putting "country first" instead of calling it out for the obviously desperate political ploy that it is. But given my opinion of the mainstream media, I'd better go find a bucket really damn fast. Highly unfortunate since I had some great Indian food for lunch.

Anyway, like I said before: BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT!!!

Free Sarah Palin!


(Via Minnesota Independent.)

Congrats again to CNN. Keep it up. Be relentless. It's the only way to embarrass the McCain campaign into letting Palin out of her protective shell.

And if they still refuse to subject Palin to any substantive media scrutiny, perhaps it will be time to take Dan Savage's advice:
Maybe it’s time for the media to pull all reporters—print and television, photographers and videographers—off the McCain campaign. Entirely. Press coverage of a campaign is supposed to be a two-way street. The candidate wants to get his mug on television, he wants his rallies and speeches broadcast and written up, he wants to use the media to reach the voters. In exchange for allowing themselves to be used, the candidate is supposed to make himself available to reporters and anchors, answer questions, hold press conferences. The McCain campaign isn’t holding up its end of the deal. It’s using the media to reach voters without making Palin and, increasingly, McCain available for questioning.

But I can't imagine that would actually work. It's a classic collective action problem: no one major media outlet could afford to boycott the McCain campaign unless all other major media outlets actually joined the boycott as well.

A Bad Way to Bring the Troops Home

Glenn Greenwald writes:
Several bloggers today have pointed to this obviously disturbing article from Army Times, which announces that "beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st [Brigade Combat Team] will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North" -- "the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities."


For more than 100 years -- since the end of the Civil War -- deployment of the U.S. military inside the U.S. has been prohibited under The Posse Comitatus Act (the only exceptions being that the National Guard and Coast Guard are exempted, and use of the military on an emergency ad hoc basis is permitted, such as what happened after Hurricane Katrina). Though there have been some erosions of this prohibition over the last several decades (most perniciously to allow the use of the military to work with law enforcement agencies in the "War on Drugs"), the bright line ban on using the U.S. military as a standing law enforcement force inside the U.S. has been more or less honored -- until now. And as the Army Times notes, once this particular brigade completes its one-year assignment, "expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one."

Those who are fond of conspiracy theories no doubt wonder why this move is coming directly ahead of the 2008 election. However, this is yet another example of why making unsupported claims against the government is so unnecessary.

Using our military for domestic law enforcement purposes is just such an obviously terrible idea that there's no reason to assign bad faith to those who advocate doing so. It should be enough to argue that such a move is bad for the health of the American republic in the abstract. There's simply no reason to move in a direction that allows so much potential abuse of power.

Thus, everyone who is concerned about this should try to spread the word as much as they can. But we should do so in a way that does not leave us unnecessarily vulnerable to charges of being tinfoil hat wearers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Stupid, Pandering Ad from Obama


The way the narrator says "foreign" like it's a dirty word disgusts me. Pointing out that McCain lied about not having foreign vehicles when he was pandering to American autoworkers is one thing, but then turning around and pandering in the same fashion is pretty pathetic.

Despite Economic Problems, the Noosphere Keeps Expanding

Wired reports:
The financial markets are on the verge of implosion and the economy looks like it's going to hell, but online video is still growing at a ridiculous rate.


"The cat is out of the bag," says Mark Trefgarne, CEO of LiveRail, an online video advertising company. "The networks have accepted that the internet is the future. If ad revenue slows down, I don't think it's going to necessarily hinder their long-term view of the medium. No executive of a major media company who takes their job seriously would say, 'Ad revenue won't keep up with costs, therefore we won't expand online.' This is the time that they need to build a position online."

As more and more of what happens in the world is permanently stored online in an easily retrievable format, a sort of collective memory is growing. Currently, accessing the exact video clip that one wants can still be challenging even if it is online. However, as Google and other major players in this field continue to push forward with new technology at a breakneck pace, that will soon change. The ability to search through our enormous and growing archive of footage with high accuracy using the words people speak in videos or even objects that appear in those videos will be available soon.

And before too long most people's accessories such as phones and glasses will come standard with high definition video cameras embedded in them. Given how much faster wireless Internet access is getting, it won't be long after that that people will be able to get that content online in real time. It's a good thing that storage capacity and its price performance are growing exponentially. This means that, as difficult as it is to believe, we are unlikely to ever run out of space. Thus, we will ultimately have virtually unlimited access to virtually everything that happens in public places where significant numbers of people are present.

Of course we mere humans will only have access to that information when we look for it; however, the coming intelligent cloud will have constant access. It will be almost omniscient and omnipresent. And those are two of the three most common attributes that God is supposed to have.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Graver Threat: Financial Crisis or Climate Crisis?

Joseph Romm says it's not even a close contest:
What happens if we fail to act in time to avert the financial catastrophe that Treasury Secretary Paulson says is now upon us:

* Companies that made very bad investments would lose money, and some would go bankrupt.
* Other countries would probably stop lending us as much money until the shakeout was over.
* For a time, we’d have to stop living beyond our means with borrowed money that pays for massive imports from China and the oil producers.
* More people who bought houses they couldn’t afford would lose them.
* Our economy, which had been boosted unsustainably by phony wealth and a housing Ponzi scheme, would no doubt underperform for a few years until the shakeout was over, causing hardship for tens of millions.
* This might trigger a global economic slowdown, causing hardship for hundreds of millions.

What happens if we fail to act in time to avert the climate catastrophe?

* We cross carbon-cycle tipping points, such as the loss of the tundra, beyond which there is “no redemption.”
* We head toward CO2 concentrations this century that are triple or quadruple preindustrial levels.
* We should expect 0.8 to 2.0 meters of sea level rise this century, inundating the homes of 100 million people.
* We face desertification of one third the planet and loss of the glaciers that provide water to a billion people.
* We face loss of more than two thirds of the species on the planet, and a hot, acidic, and largely lifeless ocean
* We face humanity’s self-destruction — 6°C total planetary warming.

We need to keep things in perspective and get our priorities straight.

Thankfully, there are companies like Google that are not only succeeding financially but are also working toward clean energy solutions:
It isn't very Googley to stand on the sidelines – whether the challenge involves search, apps, or clean energy. So we're working to be part of the solution. Specifically, we have embraced the challenge of developing a gigawatt of renewable electricity that is cheaper than electricity from coal – in years, not decades.

In ten years, we envision a cleaner, greener world -- running on wind, solar, and steam - with clean cars plugged into a clean grid. But for that vision to become real, the technologies to power it will have to be economically competitive -- otherwise they won't scale. So we are focusing much of our effort on technology innovation to drive down the costs of key renewable technologies. We are fundamentally optimists -- we believe that when innovative people focus on the right problems, they can find solutions. And when renewable energy is cheaper than fossil-based alternatives, and when plug-in hybrids are as cheap as traditional cars, they will take off in the marketplace.

Rather than throwing Americans' tax dollars at poorly managed financial firms in order to get them out of a hole they dug for themselves we should be looking into following Google's lead and aiding the transition away from fossil fuels.

McCain's Cynically Hollow Anti-Corruption/Populist Rhetoric


(Via Slog.)

Bailout Bullshit Update

I only recently subscribed to the blog Cafe Hayek, which is named after the late, brilliant economist Friedrich Hayek. But given all the chaos on Wall Street and reckless plans to try to fix it coming out of Washington, I'm glad I did. It's the best place to go for information about the root causes of these problems that I've found thus far.

To get a better understanding of how this financial crisis got started, check out the Cafe Hayek posts "No money down, revisited"; "Bear Stearns, the CRA, and Freddie Mac"; and "The role of the CRA."

Meanwhile, over at Salon Glenn Greenwald expresses relief that some conservatives have started to oppose the Bush administration's bailout plan; however, he notes that their motives aren't exactly pure:
Apparently, the same political faction that has cheered on every instance of unchecked, absolute executive power over the last eight years -- which demanded that the President, and he alone, decide which citizens, including Americans, can be spied on, detained, even tortured, and that no oversight or disclosure was needed for any of that -- has suddenly re-discovered their desire for checks on federal government power. The reason? They say it themselves: with the looming prospect of an Obama presidency, they may no longer be in charge of that Government and these "small government conservatives" have thus suddenly re-awoken to the virtues of checks and balances, oversight and other restraints.

Finally, Lee Camp at 23/6 provides a simple notebook sketch illustrating with stick people what the proposed bailout is really all about.

Children of Gay Parents Speak Out for Gay Marriage

The organization Proud Parenting reports:
Teenagers with lesbian and gay parents have created a video that shows their normalcy and highlights their healthy families. The group is using the piece to help strengthen community support to oppose California's Proposition 8.

A recent poll indicates that fifty-five percent of likely voters oppose Prop 8, an increase from 51 percent who opposed it just a few months ago. The percentage of undecided voters has been steady - at 7 percent.

If a majority of voters approve - Prop 8 would define marriage as being between a man and a woman in the California constitution. It would nullify a May ruling by the California Supreme Court that overturned a 2000 gay marriage ban as unconstitutional.

Watch the video:


Then go to the No On Prop 8 site and donate as much as you can spare. All the young people in that video will be very grateful for your kindness and support.

(Via Towleroad.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

SNL on McCain's Campaign Ads

(Via Slog.)

Calling Out the Bailout Bullshit

I'm not an economist, but some very smart people who are are arguing that this massive financial-sector bailout is a terrible, awful, very bad idea.

Cato @ Liberty points to an essay in which University of Chicago School of Business Prof. Luigi Zingales concludes:
The decisions that will be made this weekend matter not just to the prospects of the U.S. economy in the year to come; they will shape the type of capitalism we will live in for the next fifty years. Do we want to live in a system where profits are private, but losses are socialized? Where taxpayer money is used to prop up failed firms? Or do we want to live in a system where people are held responsible for their decisions, where imprudent behavior is penalized and prudent behavior rewarded? For somebody like me who believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists.

Reason's Radley Balko compiles of a bunch of the general insanity surrounding the bailout and notes that this boondoggle will cost each American citizen at least $2,500:
Are you ready to shell out $2,500 to help Wall Street firms that made bad (often government-influenced and government-incentivized) decisions?

Doesn’t matter. You’re going to. Either through taxes or devalued currency. And that’s just until the next crisis, which is inevitable now that we’ve sent the message to big corporations that taxpayers will pay for their mistakes.

And don’t blame this on the free market. There’s nothing free-market about any of it. It’s corporatist socialism.

Maybe if I wish real hard, Sec. Paulson will announce a federal bailout of Radley Balko’s student loans.

I'm with Balko--I say it's way past time Paulson worked out a bailout plan for Christopher Patton's student loans, too.

Finally, as always, Glenn Greenwald can be counted on to rail against the lack of serious debate in the American government or media about whether the Bush administration's plan is really a good idea:
First, the fact that Democrats are on board with this scheme means absolutely nothing. When it comes to things the Bush administration wants, Congressional Democrats don't say "no" to anything. They say "yes" to everything. That's what they're for.


What is more intrinsically corrupt than allowing people to engage in high-reward/no-risk capitalism -- where they reap tens of millions of dollars and more every year while their reckless gambles are paying off only to then have the Government shift their losses to the citizenry at large once their schemes collapse? We've retroactively created a win-only system where the wealthiest corporations and their shareholders are free to gamble for as long as they win and then force others who have no upside to pay for their losses. Watching Wall St. erupt with an orgy of celebration on Friday after it became clear the Government (i.e., you) would pay for their disaster was literally nauseating, as the very people who wreaked this havoc are now being rewarded.


I don't pretend to know anywhere near enough -- in terms of either raw information or expertise -- in order to opine on the necessity or lack thereof of The Latest Plan in terms of whether the alternatives are worse. But what I do know is that an injustice so grave and extreme that it defies words is taking place; that the greatest beneficiaries are those who are most culpable; and that the same hopelessly broken and deeply rotted institutions and elite class that gave rise to all of this (and so much more) are the very ones that are -- yet again -- being blindly entrusted to solve this.

I guess it's a good thing I have this blog to rant on. At least this way it seems as though I'm doing something. Otherwise I'd feel every bit as powerless as I really am--as the vast, vast majority of us really are.

The Internet of Things

Slashdot reports:
This week, a group of leading technology vendors that include Cisco, Sun, Ericsson, Atmel, Freescale, and embedded open source developers, founded the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance to promote the 'Internet of Things,' in which everyday objects such as thermometers, radiators, and light switches are given IP addresses and are connected to the Internet. Such IP-enabled 'smart objects' give rise to a wide range of applications, from energy-efficient homes and offices to factory equipment maintenance and hospital patient monitoring.

Here's Google Tech Talk video of a lecture about the possible uses of an Internet of Things:


So what does this mean for you? In ten years if you misplace your shoes you'll probably be able to find out where they are by asking Google. Which will be pretty awesome as long as there are privacy protections that prevent everyone else from knowing where your shoes are at all times.

In any case, this is just one more example of how the Internet is going to merge with the real world and how Google will become God. So just go about your days as normal. Nothing to see here. But one day we'll all wake up and wonder when everything got so damn strange.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why Libertarians Should Vote for Obama

A guest opinion at Reason makes the case:
For those who recognize that "libertarian Democrat" is no more oxymoronic than "libertarian Republican," a solid case can be made for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as a Leader of the Free World who won't take that American Exceptionalism conceit as seriously as "Country First" Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Sure, we'll have to endure four or even eight years of warbling by Barbra Streisand at White House dinners. And I am under no illusions: Obama has more Populist-Progressive than Madisonian inclinations. But, guys and gals, Ms. Wasilla is no less stomach-churning than Babs. And the actual Republican presidential candidate is even more authoritarian than his Progressive hero, Teddy Roosevelt. John McCain is no friend of Friedman.

Check out the seven reasons libertarians can hope for the best from Obama.

Three Reasons to Be Gay Today

By which I mean happy, not homosexual.

1.) It's Friday.

2.) The weather is gorgeous in Iowa City.

3.) And, most importantly, the IEM is looking even more beautiful than the crisp, blue sky:

(Click image to enlarge.)

For a detailed analysis of why IEM participants have regained much of their confidence in an Obama win, check out fivethirtyeight.com.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Google and the Noosphere

Today was one of those days where I felt like my head was going to explode. Part of it was due to a bad headache I had for a while this afternoon. But most of it was just too many ideas bouncing around too fast in my head. So, despite their muddled nature, I'm just going to spill them out here now in an attempt to relieve the pressure.

"A great many internal and external portents (political and social upheaval, moral and religious unease) have caused us all to feel, more or less confusedly, that something tremendous is at present taking place in the world. But what is it?"
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I have an inkling as to what it might be...

First, let me tell you about the idea of the noosphere. According to Wikipedia:
In the thought of Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin, the noosphere can be seen as the "sphere of human thought" being derived from the Greek "nous" meaning "mind" + "sfaira" meaning "sphere", in the style of "atmosphere" and "biosphere." In the original theory of Vernadsky, the noosphere is the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transforms the biosphere.

For Teilhard, the noosphere is best described as a sort of 'collective consciousness' of human-beings. It emerges from the interaction of human minds. The noosphere has grown in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself as it populates the earth. As mankind organizes itself in more complex social networks, the higher the noosphere will grow in awareness. This is an extension of Teilhard's Law of Complexity/Consciousness, the law describing the nature of evolution in the universe. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, added that the noosphere is growing towards an even greater integration and unification, culminating in the Omega Point—which he saw as the goal of history.

Now, check out some of what Google has been writing about on their corporate blog in the last couple of days.

Regarding the increasingly social nature of the Internet:
It will be great when the instant I think of something to tell my friends, or something I need from my friends, they're available to me in some way. Remember when Google embedded IM into Gmail, and you could suddenly see -- without changing applications -- that the friend you were about to email was online and easily reachable right at that second? That little green bubble of presence right in front of our eyes brought a little extra ping of closeness that email hadn't had until then. That was in 2006, at the start of the AJAX-powered wave of dynamic web apps. Now, many sites and services are adding even more sophisticated plumbing (like profiles and friends and presence and comments) that brings the immediacy of social interaction to more and more places on the web. Reaching your friends can be really active, as IM is today, or it can be passive, like changing your status message.

In the coming decade, the web will become as effortlessly social as chatting with your family or roommates at home is today. Social features will be embedded and around and through all variety of spaces and places on the web. Sometimes you'll go to a place because you want to see your friends, and sometimes the place you're in will get better because you can bring your friends there. It will make it easier to strike up new relationships, new communities, new expressions of what your life is about. The web will connect people to the small moments that in many ways matter most.

Regarding the future of online video:
Today, 13 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and we believe the volume will continue to grow exponentially. Our goal is to allow every person on the planet to participate by making the upload process as simple as placing a phone call. This new video content will be available on any screen - in your living room, or on your device in your pocket. YouTube and other sites will bring together all the diverse media which matters to you, from videos of family and friends to news, music, sports, cooking and much, much more.

In ten years, we believe that online video broadcasting will be the most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication. The tools for video recording will continue to become smaller and more affordable. Personal media devices will be universal and interconnected. Even more people will have the opportunity to record and share even more video with a small group of friends or everyone around the world.

And regarding the exponentially increasing power behind Google's computers as they sort through an exponentially growing pile of data:

In coming years, computer processing, storage, and networking capabilities will continue up the steeply exponential curve they have followed for the past few decades. By 2019, parallel-processing computer clusters will be 50 to 100 times more powerful in most respects. Computer programs, more of them web-based, will evolve to take advantage of this newfound power, and Internet usage will also grow: more people online, doing more things, using more advanced and responsive applications. By any metric, the "cloud" of computational resources and online data and content will grow very rapidly for a long time.


Thus, computer systems will have greater opportunity to learn from the collective behavior of billions of humans. They will get smarter, gleaning relationships between objects, nuances, intentions, meanings, and other deep conceptual information. Today's Google search uses an early form of this approach, but in the future many more systems will be able to benefit from it.

What does this mean to Google? For starters, even better search. We could train our systems to discern not only the characters or place names in a YouTube video or a book, for example, but also to recognize the plot or the symbolism. The potential result would be a kind of conceptual search: "Find me a story with an exciting chase scene and a happy ending." As systems are allowed to learn from interactions at an individual level, they can provide results customized to an individual's situational needs: where they are located, what time of day it is, what they are doing. And translation and multi-modal systems will also be feasible, so people speaking one language can seamlessly interact with people and information in other languages.


Traditionally, systems that solve complicated problems and queries have been called "intelligent", but compared to earlier approaches in the field of 'artificial intelligence', the path that we foresee has important new elements. First of all, this system will operate on an enormous scale with an unprecedented computational power of millions of computers. It will be used by billions of people and learn from an aggregate of potentially trillions of meaningful interactions per day. It will be engineered iteratively, based on a feedback loop of quick changes, evaluation, and adjustments. And it will be built based on the needs of solving and improving concrete and useful tasks such as finding information, answering questions, performing spoken dialogue, translating text and speech, understanding images and videos, and other tasks as yet undefined. When combined with the creativity, knowledge, and drive inherent in people, this "intelligent cloud" will generate many surprising and significant benefits to mankind.

Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin's ideas seem more like mysticism than scientific hypothesis to most people. And they probably are. But still, they seem to be hinting at something real. Something which has become much more real since those men died. Something that is becoming more real by the day.

It's not just far-out philosophers talking about this stuff anymore. Engineers at Google are doing it. And, as they explained in the last post I quoted from above, their powers are growing exponentially.

Google just celebrated its tenth anniversary as a company. Their technology has improved radically in that time. But before too long they'll be making as much progress as they made in their first ten years in a single year. And it will continue to snowball from there.

Returning to the realm of mysticism...

Have you ever felt in passing as though you were a single neuron, reaching out and connecting to other people-neurons and forming a massive new collective brain? I have. Ever wonder what would happen if that were to become more than a metaphor? Or what would happen if the brain were to wake up? I have. But I don't claim to know. It's just a passing feeling.

If you want to learn more about these ideas, I have two book recommendations for you: Robert Wright's Nonzero and Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. They're probably not right about everything, but they both have a lot of fascinating ideas. And, like Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin before them, I think they're definitely on to something. Something big. It's still hazy and we can't quite make it out. But it's getting clearer all the time.

Something tremendous is at present taking place in the world. Over the course of the coming years and decades, I believe we will find out exactly what it is. It will no doubt horrify many and amaze all. And it will quite probably transform the world beyond recognition within the lifetimes of many of us who are around today.

The Great White North

I was, until a recent haircut and wardrobe change, a dirty hippie. I still am, but it's harder to tell. (Or so I say as I sit barefoot on my back porch, blogging in jeans that I've had for eight years, with holes in the knees, and some damn fine homemade patchwork if I dare say so). And Christopher's right. I have threatened on numerous occasions to move to Canada. I did in the run up to the Iraq war, during the 2004 election, for weeks after Bush was reelected, and on the eve of the 2006 election. However, I have to say that position, much like my hairstyle, has changed dramatically. 
I have family in Canada and they have offered, on several occasions, to harbor me if I ever decide to flee America. I have, since the age of 16, been turned on by Canada's allegedly socialistic practices. I consider myself to have a bit of a socialist streak (but really, deep down, don't all liberals?) and not the kind of socialist streak our government has been on lately with the bail outs of Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie May, and most recently AIG. I mean real socialist practices. I also love hockey, beer, men in flannel, and snow. I even briefly considered attending college in Canada. But all that has changed. 
While waxing political this morning with my dear friend Laura Greenwood, I came to the conclusion that Canada is not the answer for those of us frustrated with American social, foreign, and drug policies. Sure, a complete lack of humidity, the hilarious accents, and my beloved Ottawa Senators are tempting, but when it comes down to fight or flight response, I have to chose the fight.
When I left for college, I abandoned the Catholicism I was raised with. The conservative, Christian right, ruined me. Christ had provided us with two simple rules: loving him above all others, and our neighbors as ourselves. There is no way those two rules jive with the kind of ignorant hatred propagated by the Christian right. Jesus, after all, hung out with prostitutes, tax-collectors, and all kinds of allegedly unsavory people. So I abandoned Christianity all together, since I could no longer associate with what had been declared, at least by the media and majority of the public, Christian. Random and rambling I know, but it'll all make sense. I promise.
About a year ago, I decided that my relationship with God was my relationship with God and the Catholic Church, the Christian right, and the major news networks, didn't get to define what that meant. I also decided that social outreach, compassion, and patience were central to my life: values instilled in me way back in Catholic school. Fundamentalist Christians are just as scary as fundamentalist Muslims, and I needed to reclaim Christianity if for no other reason, than to remind people that we aren't all standing outside abortion clinics with fake babies and picket signs. Some of us believe in gay marriage and most of us believe in evolution. I decided I wasn't going to run from my faith anymore. I was determined to stand up and fight for what I believed being Christian means. 
So here's where the tangent comes full circle. I feel the same way about America as I do about Christianity. I need to embrace it and defend what it truly stands for. This administration is a disgrace. My father's family is conservative and they'll tell you as much, even now. But there is nothing conservative about this administration, except for their social policies and their sense of diplomacy. As I said before, I'm a bit of a socialist, leftie, tree-hugging wack job, but I understand basic conservative positions (and even agree with them sometimes--don't tell my mom).  I believe it is up to those of us who are outraged, to fight back and remind people that there is nothing unpatriotic about dissent. This of course, needs to be done in a rational, respectable way. Screaming, name-calling, and refusing to listen to the other side of an argument is no way to win people's favor and neither is running away to Canada simply because an election didn't pan out the way you wanted it to. 

CNN's Political Ticker Integrates "Fact Check" Posts

Again I find myself compelled to praise CNN. Their new focus on fact-checking in their political updates is great. Rather than just presenting the old "the Republicans said X, but the Democrats said Y" fluff, they're actually presenting their readers with objective analysis of the truthfulness of claims the parties make.

The CNN Political Ticker can be found here. And examples of what I'm talking about are here, here, and here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Canada's Looking Better and Better

It's stereotypical of various breeds of dirty hippies and other lefties to threaten to move to Canada. But now I'm starting to consider it myself.

As someone who greatly values economic freedom, Canada's allegedly socialistic policies have always been a turn-off for me. But now the Cato Institute's global economic freedom rankings place Canada above the US for the first time.

Check out this graph of the world's freest economies according to Cato:

See, a country need not sacrifice good economic policy in order to have more reasonable social and drug policies. So, as a young gay man who might actually want to get married someday (and would appreciate that marriage being valid wherever I go in the country), I have to say that Canada is looking better and better.

(Via Will Wilkinson.)

"Pray for Us, Sarah!"

Dan Savage recommends this video of people mocking Sarah Palin and her right-wing church, which teaches that it is possible to "pray the gay away":


It drags on a bit too long but is still pretty entertaining.

Finally, a Major Paper Writes about the Insanity in St. Paul

Better late than never, the NYT finally brings the St. Paul police's authoritarian anti-media tactics to the attention of mainstream America:
On the final night of the convention, as Senator John McCain was preparing to address delegates inside the Xcel Energy Center, the police prevented marchers who did not have a permit from crossing two bridges that led to the convention center. Later, as demonstrators took to the streets near the state capitol, the police lobbed flash grenades into the crowd while thick plumes of tear gas clouded the air. Then, several hundred demonstrators and more than a dozen journalists were directed onto a third bridge, where they were ordered to sit and place their hands on their heads.

Those trapped on the bridge included two reporters for The Associated Press, a photographer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and two Fox News editors.

“At some point even a journalist has to recognize that they are in violation of the law,” Tom Walsh, a St. Paul Police spokesman, said as the arrests were taking place. “Are they going to get arrested or are they going to cover it from a distance?”

But hey, I'm sure those Fox News editors were actually just scary anarchist radicals passing themselves off as legitimate journalists. Because there's no way the police would round up members of the media just for trying to observe what's happening at a protest--not in America...

(Via Slog.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Iowa City Police Citizens Review Board Meeting Liveblog

I have decided to go check out the meeting since I wrote an editorial encouraging students to do so. As I suspected, few if any students have take me up on my suggestion. There only about 25 citizens in attendance in total and some of them are fellow journalists.

Regardless, I'll be interested in seeing if any of the younger people here have anything good to say. I'll be updating throughout the meeting, so refresh the blog to get my latest comments.

The discussion of the board's history didn't take too long.

Here's the information about filing complaints against the police:
- The complaint form is available here.
- City code explaining the review board's legal status and functions are available in Title 8, Section 8 of the city code, which can be found here.
- Complaints must be filed within 90 days of the incident in question.
- Complaints first go to the chief of police unless the complaint is against the chief of police, in which case the investigation goes to the city manager.
- Police car video and audio recordings are used.
- Chief's report comes to a conclusion about the allegations, determining whether the complaint is sustained or not sustained.
- Copies of the chief's report go to the complainant, the review board, police officers, and the city manager.
- Review board generally thinks chief's report is good and no further information is required.
- Board's actual power is quite limited--basically only able to make recommendations and suggestions.

Presentation from a representative of the Iowa City police:
- No set time line. Complaints are accepted even after 90 days.
- Complaints are evaluated at face value: considering what disciplinary action would be required if the complaint is true.
- Physical evidence is reviewed to determine whether the complaint is sustainable.
- Complaints are evaluated through the chain of command.
- If the review process indicated that an officer may be subject to serious repercussions, two officers conduct extensive interviews that are part of a process very much like a criminal investigation.
- Officers are required to answer the investigators' questions, so if the investigation becomes criminal an outside agency has to conduct that for 5th Amendment reasons.
- Goal is to have investigations completed within 60 days.
- Classification of investigations: unfounded (not a problem), exonerated (allegations true, but officer's actions justified), not sustained (no compelling evidence either way), sustained (allegations true), and policy failure (allegations true, but officers acting within official policy).
- Chief makes final decision as to appropriate disciplinary action.
- All sustained complaints retained in an officer's file and all other complaints maintained in the police department's general files and used to assess general policy and procedure concerns.
- Reality is that officers do make mistakes and some situations could be handled better. Police are open to criticism or positive reinforcement so they can know what they should do in the future.

Public discussion (difficult for me to catch people's names, so I won't even try; however, I will transcribe the comments I think are of interest--also, questions are from citizens, answers are from members of the board):

- Q: Problem of maintaining anonymity of complainants and officers when video and audio tapes from vehicles are being used. And what about multiple complaints against the same officer or from the same citizen?
- A: Video portions not used for anonymous part of investigation because officers' identities would be revealed. However, audio is used. Also, knowing if multiple complaints are against the same person would prejudice the board. Thus, the chief would know that information, but the board does not.

- Comment: Debate about new jail. Idea of decreasing number of people being processed through the jail rather than simply increasing its side. Arrest rates for public intoxication, marijuana possession, etc. are comparatively higher than in Ames. Arrests for constructive possession of marijuana, meaning people are just in the room where marijuana is being smoked. Board should recommend that marijuana policy be more rational.

- Q: Board members' experience and backgrounds? More on issue of board not knowing if there are multiple complaints against the same officer. Question on whether the board really just deals with complaints or whether there is a robust discussion about policy.
- A: Braverman has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. King was a police officer in Alaska. Larson is a member of the community. Roth has law enforcement and criminal justice teaching experience. Yoder is a recent college graduate. And the code does allow the board to make recommendations beyond simply dealing with complaints against officers. Board and recommend to the police that they change policies, but the police and city council have no power to actually force changes of any kind.

- Comment: Few complaints is evidence of a good situation, not of an underused resource. Reassuring to know that the board exists. Know from time at the UI that the social sciences have become very fond of quantifying things. That means gathering statistics. Faulty way to look at the police department. A successful police department is to keep the police. If people aren't bothering others, committing property crimes, or driving intoxicated, then the police should leave them alone. The police should instead focus on assaults, robberies, etc. Things have improved over last several years. It's easy to think that because we're a bigger town, that means we have to have more crime. That's not necessarily true. Not foolish to think we could go back to the way things were years ago when the police were primarily focused on keeping the peace. The vast majority of UI students are peace-loving people who don't want to make trouble for anyone. Likes it when those arrested for public intox were also arrested for something else such as public urination or assault. Simple PAULA or possession of marijuana cases make one wonder if the person was simply in the wrong place and the wrong time and thus became a statistic. Most people want to keep community nice. Would appreciate conveying these thoughts to the city council.

- Comment: Officers generally very professional, fair, and honest. Background on other cities that have more police-citizen problems. Fortunate to have a review board here. No police department can be totally free of problems caused by individual officers. Problem with police harassment of certain bars. If bars are responsible as businesses, then the police should leave them alone. Incidents where police department has waged campaigns against certain bars. Should not be a mentality of trying to justify police in bars by going after bars. Should be cause and effect--only deal with problems, not bars not causing problems.

- Comment (first and only from a student): Received a PAULA at 19. Has worked downtown since then and has gotten to know officers. Choose to speak because no other young people have. Political science major. Blood alcohol levels are higher than ever. Dissing DI for standing up for students who are acting nonviolently. Suggests that the board members go downtown and see how horrible all the students drinking really is. What goes on downtown is "not pretty."

- Written comment read aloud complaining about lack of motorists' respect for pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrian deaths can result from these laws not being enforced. Recent sign changes are a step in the right direction, but a public information campaign and significant fines are needed in order to better protect pedestrians from vehicle traffic. Citations of Iowa laws protecting pedestrians.

The meeting has adjourned.

I'm not surprised that no students took my advice. But I wish they had.

Schweitzer 2016

The more I learn about Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the more I like him.

Iowa Independent interviewed him at Tom Harkin's steak fry recently. I recommend reading the whole article, but his comments on immigration were particularly good:
In Montana we have about 7 percent of the people that have been there for 400 generations. Their immigration policy would be a lot different if they could have it over again. When people talk about westward expansion they call it an eastern invasion. Immigration policy is not a debate that just happened this year. We’ve been debating it for 150 years.


I want to repeat the principle: families who want to come to America, work in America, raise families in America, ought to be welcome because that’s the thread that has made this blanket so warm in this country. We need to have a system that allows people a path to citizenship.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sarah Palin: Ignorant, Incurious Homophobic Bigot

The NYT reports (via Towleroad):
Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

And Salon piles on (via Minnesota Independent):
Bess' first run-in with Palin's religious forces came when he decided to write his book, "Pastor, I Am Gay." The book was the result of a theological journey that began in the 1970s when Bess was asked for guidance by a closeted homosexual in his Santa Barbara congregation. After deep reflection on the subject, Bess came to the conclusion that "gay people were not sick, nor they were special sinners."


When it was published in 1995, Bess' book caused an immediate storm in the Mat-Su Valley, an evangelical stronghold dotted with storefront churches. Conservative ministers targeted the book, and the only bookstore in the valley that dared to stock it -- Shalom Christian Books and Gifts – soon dropped it after the owner was barraged with angry phone calls. The Frontiersman, the local newspaper that ran a column by Bess for seven years, fired him and ran a vicious cartoon that suggested even drooling child molesters would be welcomed by Bess' church.

And after she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a "hit list" targeted by Palin. "I'm as certain of that as I am that I'm sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do."

Palin might not be quite as blatant in her hostility towards gays and lesbians as other Christianist politicians like Mike Huckabee, but she is clearly an enemy of the gay rights movement. In the end, I am confident that people like Palin are going the way of the dinosaurs (which she seems to think drowned in Noah's flood). But that doesn't mean they can't do plenty of damage in the meantime.

As a gay man, how am I supposed to believe that Palin has any intention of representing my interests if she is elected?

Reefer Madness

Reason's Jacob Sullum reports on the utterly insane number of marijuana arrests going on in the US:
According to FBI figures released today, about 873,000 people were arrested on marijuana charges in the United States last year, 5 percent more than in 2006 and a new record. This is the fifth year in a row that marijuana arrests, which are up 167 percent since 1990, have increased. In 2007 marijuana arrests accounted for nearly half of the 1.8 million drug arrests; as usual, the vast majority of the pot busts, about 775,000, were for simple possession.

Over the weekend in Iowa City the police busted three people for marijuana possession. Just imagine what those dangerous pot-heads might have done if they hadn't been apprehended, just imagine!

Frankly, I wish tailgating involved far less drinking and a lot more marijuana smoking. I guarantee it would be a safer, quieter, and generally more pleasant experience for everyone in the community. Bill Hicks made the case as no one else can (the whole video is great, but the most relevant part starts at 5:10):

In a more rational world the UI would be running a "Drink Less Alcohol, Smoke More Pot" campaign aimed at tailgating students.

Biden as Attack Dog

It's about time. And given the recent poll numbers, Biden had better pretty much live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan until election day.

Video part I:

Video part II:

(Via Minnesota Independent.)

Efficiently Following the Presidential Election

If you're as sick of most political pundits and their bullshit as I am but still desire to follow along with daily developments in the race, there is a way for you to do so that only takes less than a minute of your time.

Real-time tracking of the most recent poll results from all 50 states can be seen on an attractive, interactive map of the US at Pollster.com.

Also, the current values of Obama and McCain's "stock" on the IEM, the UI's prediction market, are always available in graph form on the market's site. This is today's graph:

So there you go--now you can get your political fix without wasting too much time.

Obama Strikes Back

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Current Reading List

Day by day my loathing of the mainstream media and fear of its insidiously vapid influence on American discourse grows like a snowball rolling down a hill. It's gotten to the point where I can barely open most publications without experiencing feelings of extreme disgust at how shallowly or even stupidly most important issues are treated.

Despite how difficult the utter meltdown in the traditional print media might make it for me to find the kind of job I'd really like to have after I graduate, I am deeply thankful for the industry's ongoing collapse. If newspapers that suck as much as many of them do were doing well financially, I would be much more depressed.

Anyway, enough negativity. There's a lot of excellent reporting and commentary going on these days and I follow many such excellent sources religiously. And so should you. So here's my complete reading list (pretty much everything I'm currently subscribed to in Google Reader)--check some of them out:

Towleroad - a multi-topic blog aimed primarily at gay men

Bleeding Heartland - a liberal blog focusing on Iowa politics

Blogging Heads - a diverse set of writers and thinkers engage in thoughtful conversations

Boing Boing - a wide variety of technology, media, and associated issues coverage

Cafe Hayek - a conservative libertarian blog

Cato @ Liberty - the libertarian Cato Institute's blog

Century of the Common Iowan - another Iowa-based liberal blog

Fastforward - a discussion of new media's impact on media businesses

Glenn Greenwald - excellent legal and political commentary on the degeneration of American democracy

Official Google Blog - Google's main corporate blog

Iowa Independent - great online-only Iowa newspaper/blog hybrid

Global Guerrillas - commentary on how technology is destabilizing traditional nation states

Climate Progress - serious, science-focused discussion of climate change problems and solutions

Overcoming Bias - unique discussion of bias issues in the social science, especially surrounding skepticism of the possibility of a technological singularity

The Agitator - coverage of how the drug war and the militarization of police are destroying civil liberties in America

Kurzweil Accelerating-Intelligence News - Ray Kurzweil's collected news stories about developments he thinks are leading to a technological singularity

Hit & Run - Reason magazine's blog

Reason Magazine Online - full articles from the libertarian publication

Responsible Nanotechnology - discussions of the promises and perils of trends in the field of nanotechnology

The Savage Lovecast - Dan Savage's weekly sex-advice podcast

Slashdot - "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."

Slog - The Stranger's (a Seattle alternative weekly) group blog

Enterprise Resilience Management Blog - how businesses and governments can best cope with globalization and its challenges

TED Talks - videos of presentations from the annual technology, entertainment, and design conference

Thomas P.M. Barnett's Blog - discussion of military affairs in the age of globalization

Urban Prankster - experiments in post-modern art, often involving flash mobs

The Fly Bottle - Will Wilkinson's blog on libertarian issues and ideas

Wired Magazine - some of the most colorful technology reporting available

Wired: Danger Room - Wired's military blog

Wired: Threat Level - Wired's electronic security and rights blog

And, as I've written numerous times before, if you're interested in a compilation of the articles from all of these sources that I find the most important and/or edifying, check out my news site: http://tinyurl.com/christopherpatton