Saturday, January 31, 2009

Science Saturday: The Artistic Animal


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17452)

Topics covered:

Denis’s new book, “The Art Instinct”... The sexual origin of peacock tails and human creativity... Why isn’t smell an art form?... Where Stephen Jay Gould went wrong... The painting that people of every culture like... Understanding why we love Duchamp, Jane Austen, Ren & Stimpy...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Is Your House Really Yours Anymore?

Cato @ Liberty reports:
No U.S. Supreme Court decision in the modern era has been so quickly and widely reviled as the infamous Kelo decision, in which the Court ruled that the government could take Susette Kelo’s house in New London, Conn., and the homes of her neighbors, and give the property to a private developer. The courts justified the ruling by saying the new use for her property could generate more taxes and jobs.

Kelo told her story at the Cato Institute on Monday.


Ted Haggard's Tortured Soul

Andrew Sullivan writes:
It's hard to disagree with Ta-Nehisi:
For some truly disturbing video, watch a man who once--and apparently still does--crusade against gays, on Oprah talking about seeking therapy to curb his attraction to men. It may not be me right, but I felt enormously sad for him, and even sadder for his wife.

I watched the whole thing. I feel for Haggard - because he is trapped between who he is and his internalized belief that God cannot love him for who he is. But God can love him for being gay. And does love him for being gay. This is hard, I know. Accepting God's unconditional love for me was the hardest part of keeping hold of my Christian faith. My childhood and adolescence were difficult to the point of agony, an agony my own church told me was my just desert. But I saw in my own life and those of countless others that the suppression of these core emotions and the denial of their resolution in love always always leads to personal distortion and compulsion and loss of perspective. Forcing gay people into molds they do not fit helps no one. It robs them of dignity and self-worth and the capacity for healthy relationships. It wrecks family, twists Christianity, violates humanity. It must end.

Earlier this afternoon my friend Paul Sawyer texted me:
Ted Haggard: scumfuck or tragic figure or both?

I responded:
Both. Proves gays can't be "cured."

Saddleback At You, Rick

Nationally syndicated sex-advice columnist Dan Savage is leveraging the power of the Internet to strike back against the anti-gay political activism of Rick Warren and his Orange County, Calif., based Saddleback Church.

Savage used his column to solicit suggestions for a provocative new meaning for the word "saddleback." He then allowed his readers to vote for their preferred choice from a list of his favorite submissions. This week, Savage announced the resulting neologism to the world.

From this point forward, the definition of "saddlebacking" is as follows: "The phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities."

The inspiration for this definition is that some young people who take virginity pledges apparently think they can avoid breaking them by engaging in anal, as opposed to vaginal, intercourse.

"Here's why this definition is perfect: Saddlebacking, like barebacking, involves one person riding up on another's backside," Savage wrote in his column. "But in this case, it's not the bare-naked cock-in-ass that's the most important feature of the ride, but the fact that the person being ridden has been saddled - thanks to the efforts of the Rick Warrens of this world - with religious hang-ups and serious misconceptions about sex."

As a gay man, Savage certainly doesn't have any problem with anal sex. However, he regularly criticizes those who engage prematurely or unsafely in such an intimate act. And, as abstinence-only education seems to actually increase the likelihood of such behavior, he often takes those who advocate it to task as well.

Warren initially raised the ire of Savage and the rest of the gay community by lobbying forcefully for the passage of the California ballot initiative Proposition 8, which ended marriage equality in that state. The mega-church pastor then caused further controversy by comparing gay marriage to pedophilia and incest. Finally, Warren's views and the gay community's response to them gained national media attention when President Obama chose him to give the inaugural invocation.

Unfortunately, the primary effect of all this publicity has been to provide free advertising for Warren's Saddleback Church. In this age of Google, one need only know such an organization's name in order to be able to access its website and all of the propaganda posted there. But the method the online search giant uses to rank pages in its listings allows dedicated groups of people a means of getting their voices heard as well - and that's exactly what Savage is up to.

The precise inner workings of Google's software are not publicly known. Part of the company's strategy for staying ahead of its competitors is to keep them guessing about exactly how its computers decide which pages will come up first when one searches for any given word or phrase. However, important factors in a site's prominence in Google search results include the number of pages linking to that site as well as the context of those links. For example, a large number of sites link to the UI's website and generally do so from a page that includes the words "University of Iowa." Thus, most Google searches involving the UI return its homepage as one of the top results.

Gaming Google's system to achieve humorous results is known as Google bombing. For a long time, Googling "miserable failure" brought up a link to former President George W. Bush's bio page at the White House's official site. Google's software engineers have taken action in an attempt to defuse such pranks, but their solution is far from perfect. Regardless, deliberately boosting the search ranking of a new definition of an existing word is arguably not an abuse of Google's system at all. It's just a technologically sophisticated way of making a statement. And that's what Savage is asking us to do.

So, all you bloggers out there, please follow my lead and write posts linking the words "saddleback" and "saddlebacking" to the page Savage has created to promote these terms' new meaning, which is www.saddlebacking.com. For those of you without blogs, you can do your part via word of mouth. Together, we can reshape how the public thinks of this word.

(Cross-posted from the DI's main site.)

As proof that this can work, try Googling "santorum."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Only 16 Percent Of Stimulus Is Green

Climate Progress evaluates the stimulus bill:
The stimulus package must do more than spark a short-term boost to the economy. It must invest in the nation’s mid- and long-term economic security - and that security must be based on a new energy economy that reverses the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and weans us from our dependence on fossil fuels.

...

By HSBC’s calculation, 16% of the proposed $825 billion stimulus package targets green investments. One of the key questions Congress must ask, and answer quickly, is whether that’s sufficient stimulus for a new energy economy and sufficient evidence of U.S. leadership. Put another way: How much of our children’s money will we spend on life-support for the old carbon economy and how much will we invest to build the new one?

...

By my reckoning, a 16% share of the stimulus package is not enough.

As it puts the final touches on the stimulus bill, Congress should substantially increase the green investment, in part by making sure that every relevant element of the package gives highest priority to reducing carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels.

...

For example, our investment in “shovel ready” road and bridge projects should take greenhouse gas emissions into account, lest we dig ourselves deeper into carbon debt. In a study commissioned by the Presidential Climate Action Project, the Center for Neighborhood Technology concluded that reducing vehicle miles traveled with mass transit and more intelligent urban planning is just as important as new vehicle technologies and fuels in reducing carbon emissions. Yet current federal policy rewards pollution by basing transportation funding on road miles, fuel consumption and vehicle miles traveled. Under current policy, the federal government pays 80 percent of road projects but only 50 percent for mass transit projects. In this case, as in many others, federal spending is moving us down the wrong road.

...

Radical change is what we need now in federal spending. A green revolution to a new energy economy — with all of the financial security and new jobs it would create — should be the core goal of the stimulus package.

Given my horror (not surprise, just horror) at the pork and protectionism rampant in the bill that passed the House, I'm now solidly against that version of the package. But I still believe the green provisions are essential. So how about a $132 billion (16 percent of $825 billion) green-only stimulus? Maybe with some broadband Internet expansion thrown in on top?

I know, I know, keep on dreaming.

Stimulus Plan Contains Protectionist Provisions

Cato @ Liberty reports:
Leaving aside the many other disastrous implications of the pork-laden “stimulus” bill, here are some thoughts about its impact on international trade. For all practical purposes there is no difference between the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill of 1930 and the “Buy American” provisions in the $819 billion spending bill that passed the House Wednesday.

Smoot-Hawley was the catalyst for a pandemic of tit-for-tat protectionism around the world, which helped deepen and prolong the global depression in the 1930s. “Buy American” provisions will no doubt inspire similar trade barriers abroad and will have the same effect of reducing global trade—and therefore prospects for economic recovery. It is not unreasonable to say that U.S. policymakers are on the verge of taking us down that same disastrous path.

Continue reading.

My timid support for this bill just shrank to zero. If I were in Congress, I would have voted against the stimulus based on this alone. Why do both of this country's political parties have to be filled with such ignorant hacks? Oh, yeah, because that's the nature of party politics. There has to be a better way to run a government--there just has to be.

Update:

Cato @ Liberty keeps at it:
Evidently, the once-and-for-always politically savvy U.S. steel industry has not lost its touch. Like profit-maximizing firms in any industry, America’s steel producers have devoted large chunks of their profits (which have been enormous and record-setting over the past five years, up until 4Q08) to their highest yielding input. For Big Steel, that input isn’t human capital or physical capital, but the far more productive enterprise of lobbying for taxpayer largesse. And this will be a pretty big payday for these modern-day robber barons.

But, it is absolutely stunning—even to those who have watched this industry impose its will over U.S. trade policy at great expense to other industries time and time again—that nobody in Congress has blown a whistle on this outrageous scheme. The incredibly profitable U.S. steel industry (which has fallen on harder times in the past several months like everyone else), consists of fewer than 100,000 workers. It is the ONLY beneficiary of this hair-brained provision that will undermine any incentive the industry has to remain efficient, and promises to spark reprisals and crush export sales for industries that employ millions of workers. That doesn’t strike me as a recipe for U.S. job growth.

Continue reading.

Thin Mints(TM) Get Thinner

The future businesswomen of America will soon be on your doorstep asking for more money for less goods; a perfect lesson in modern business. The Girl Scouts of the USA head to the street this month for their annual cookie sale; however, the boxes will contain fewer and smaller cookies than last year.

If you decide to purchase a box of the annual sweets, you can rest easy knowing that while you are receiving fewer goods, at least it's Salomnella free!

American Family Association Monitors UK TV

Towleroad reports:
Earlier this month, Donald Wildmon's American Family Association announced a boycott of Pepsi for its support of LGBT causes but they've recently become even hotter under the collar over an ad the company is running in the UK which features a guy in a bar who gets hit on by several women but passes them up for a hunky guy on the other side of the room.

Here's the ad, which is stupid (but that only makes the AFA's tantrum that much more absurd):



And here's what the AFA has to say about it:
Pepsi is now using its TV spots to promote the gay lifestyle. AFA asked Pepsi to remain neutral in the culture war. Pepsi refused. The company said it will continue major financial support of homosexual organizations seeking to legalize homosexual marriage.

...

Pepsi also forces its employees to attend sexual orientation and gender identity diversity training, where they are taught to accept homosexuality.

First, promoting the "gay lifestyle"? Really? Does the AFA seriously think the rate of homosexuality in the population can be increased through advertising? Sexuality is an integral part of people's identities. It's not the sort of thing that can be influenced by TV spots--like, for example, people's choice of sugar water brands.

Second, would the AFA rather that Pepsi employees not be taught to be kind to their LGBT coworkers? What ever happened to that whole do-unto-others thing? Apparently, they don't think Jesus was serious when he taught that people should love their neighbors as themselves. I never ceased to be amazed by the scope of fundamentalists' perverse obsession with gay sex.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Plot To Kill Google


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17438)

Topics covered:

What Google knows about you... The best way to fight for privacy... Why is Google allowed to spy and AT&T isn’t?... Google vs. Facebook on privacy... Keeping Google from being evil... Can websites be profitable only by violating privacy?...

Savage Announces Saddlebacking Definition

The prodigious Dan Savage writes:
And now... without further delay... the winning definition of "saddleback"... by a gaping margin... definition number 5: "Saddlebacking: the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities." After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she's saving herself for marriage.

Here's why this definition is perfect: Saddlebacking, like barebacking, involves one person riding up on another's backside. But in this case, it's not the bare-naked cock-in-ass that's the most important feature of the ride, but the fact that the person being ridden has been saddled—thanks to the efforts of the Rick Warrens of this world—with religious hang-ups and serious misconceptions about sex. Like the barebacker who casually tosses away his health—or his partner's health—because he believes, quite erroneously, that "risky = sexy," the saddlebacker offers up her ass because she believes, quite erroneously, that she can get fucked in the ass—vigorously, religiously—and still be considered a virgin on her wedding night.

I've set up a website—www.saddlebacking.com—to popularize the new definition. (Get to work, Google bombers!) Now let's get this term into common usage as quickly as possible.

Marijuana Inc.


(Via DoseNation.)

Hey, speaking of a "green stimulus" and "green jobs," why not try legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana? If our society were more rational, there wouldn't even be a debate about this. It's really just common sense--but, tragically, as the saying goes, common sense isn't all that common.

Guantanamo Baywatch: The Final Season

Jon Stewart continues to deliver spot-on commentary made more popular through mixing it in with comedy. Special bonus: Steve King rears his xenophobic Golem look-alike head midway through the clip. And I really do get tired of saying this again and again and again, but I can't help feeling a pang of shame when "R-Iowa" shows up after the congressman's name.


(http://www.thedailyshow.com via Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

Snuggie is Taking Over America

Oh Snuggie, the death of America...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An E-mail Exchange On Economic Stimulus

My friend Paul Sawyer sent me the following e-mail this afternoon:
I love how this headline frames the parameters of debate. From CNN: "The Stimulus Package: How Fast Will It Work?"

That's fucking rich. Not only will Obama's Hail Mary not work, it will almost certainly make things worse.

I responded:
It's a mistake to lump the whole stimulus package together.

Tax cuts and/or rebates for low to middle-income Americans combined with increased government spending that can be rolled out over the next 6 to 12 months have the potential to boost consumer demand and help the economy from getting stuck in a vicious cycle of contraction. Also, investment in energy efficiency, alternative power, carefully targeted transportation infrastructure, and broadband Internet deployment will definitely have substantial long-term benefits.

But none of this really addresses the fundamental problem, which is that the US populace and government have been living beyond our means for quite some time. Only serious belt-tightening can help with that. And that's a dirty secret no one wants to admit.

Sawyer:
Totally agree, but the "serious belt-tightening" you advocate and the "vicious cycle of contraction" you hope to avoid are one and the same. We need to embrace this contraction, not put it off. Yes, it will painful, but it's unfortunately very necessary. Contrary to popular delusion, the problem isn't that we have too little credit, but that we've had too much. The idea that we can spend our way out of this mess is wholly nonsensical. That's more of the problem. Yes, having new roads and a new energy grid would be nice, and sure, we'll save some bank being more energy-efficient, but pouring slabs of concrete or outfitting cities with rail does absolutely nothing to increase our productive capacity. Not to mention the idea that government can create jobs out of thin air is absurd. It has no means of creating wealth; all it can do is redistribute/redirect the wealth created by the private sector. "Creating" these jobs is useless, because the only benefit they can possibly provide is the boosting of consumer spending. They do nothing to up our productive capacity. (Unlike, say, factories, new roads/infrastructure do nothing to generate real wealth after their completion; they just sit there).

Our economy is just waking up from a night spent drinking (read: consuming) itself retarded on cheap drinks (read: easy credit). In order to treat the hangover/headache, the political class is demanding that we crack open some more beers. Sure, this will alleviate our pain in the short term, but it will make our inevitable hangover (day of reckoning) that much worse.

Of course, I failed to ask the most obvious question of all: Where is all this money going to come from?

Dirty secret: The American Economy is fake. It's (literally) a very complex, very convoluted Ponzi Scheme. Its totally dependent on foreign creditors to keep it going, just as pyramid schemes rely on new investors to perpetuate the scam. What's going to happen when we run out of suckers i.e. when the world finally realized we have no ability (hell, not even an intention) of paying them back? The house of cards will collapse. We're already seeing the beginning of this.

A skilled fiction writer couldn't have concocted a more timely and fitting metaphor than the Madofff scandal.

Me:
There's an important distinction between a necessary decrease in consumption and a vicious cycle of contraction. We have to be careful in cutting back on consumption that we don't also unnecessarily cut back on production. Ideally, to move forward positively, we should cut consumption while boosting production. Intelligent investment in public goods such as better infrastructure does in fact increase our productive potential. More efficient communication, transportation, and energy production/distribution will lay the groundwork for private-sector job creation. Think of it like setting up trellis in a vegetable garden. For lots of reasons, the private sector cannot effectively setup some of the basic services it needs to succeed. So although it's true that the government doesn't actually generate wealth, it is essential in laying the groundwork for the private sector to do exactly that. The primary argument in favor of increasing such infrastructure spending now is to have the government act as a spender of last resort and provide temporary jobs. Of course the only way things will get better in the long-term is through an expansion in private sector production.

There's some truth to what you're saying, but don't forget that it's very much in interests of the Chinese, Japanese, Saudis, etc. to work out a smooth landing after a controlled descent as opposed to a crash for the US economy. If we crash, our creditors lose their shirts, too.

This Schiff article is good but seems to miss that point to some extent.

Really, what we need to to is sit down with our biggest foreign creditors and work out a payment plan. It's in our collective interest to do so.

Sawyer:
If it's the government (allegedly) boosting production, then it's simply impossible to not simultaneously boost consumption. That's because, as already stated, the government has no means of creating wealth on its own. Debt-based consumption is debt-based consumption, whether it's done by Joe Dumbass on his credit card or Joe Government doing it by borrowing from foreign creditors. The only difference is the latter is larger in scope and less efficient.

I agree that it's in the best interest of both us and our foreign creditors to work out a payment plan. I would love to be a fly on a wall during those negotiations and relish the absurdity. I mean, we are beyond fucking broke. "Okay, by 2075, we promise to have five percent of our debt paid off. Deal?" Besides, whatever infeasible payment plan we sign on to is largely immaterial--the point is, no one in their right mind is going to continue to piss away their money on a country that fritters away every last dime on hocus pocus bailouts and "stimulus packages" and borrow-and-spend consumerism. At this point, our creditors' only concern should be cutting their losses.

*sigh*

This aired this morning:


I hear nothing to object to.

Me:
That's not quite right. The government can be involved with building infrastructure that the private sector couldn't build on its own. And that infrastructure in turn can allow the private sector to become more productive by giving businesses access to more efficient communications, energy, and transportation services. Denying that is denying history. Just look at how the railroads, highways, power grid, and Internet were all built. The government was deeply involved in each case.

And you know what? Regardless of whether we're destined to suffer serious inflation (even possibly to the extent of a complete collapse of the dollar's value), it's a good idea to upgrade key infrastructure now. If we don't go broke, the new infrastructure (if it's built in a reasonably intelligent way) will help facilitate increased economic growth later on that will bring about a recovery. And if we do go broke, at least we'll have good infrastructure to use during the period of time we can't afford to build any more--and it will still help with the eventual recovery. Finally, in either case, we get the twin benefits of keeping more Americans working and spending by paying them to build this infrastructure along with giving the public at large the impression that something is being done to fix our problems.

In truth, I'm highly skeptical that the stimulus plan is going to work. However, there's pretty much no politically feasible way to stop it from being implemented in some form. So shouldn't we put more energy into directing the funds toward good infrastructure projects and away from wasteful entitlements and pork?

Also, I'm not even suggesting that the Chinese, Japanese, etc. will ever get all their money back. But they're better off accepting that and taking some fraction of it over time than simply flooding the world market with American currency and seeing their remaining reserves become worthless. An American depression would almost certainly cause major depressions in our creditor nations as well. And--especially in China--that could have disastrous political consequences for the current power structure.

Update:

Sawyer:
I never denied that government can or has build infrastructure, or even that it can undertake projects impossible to the private sector. I merely pointed out that it lacks the wealth to so on its own. The dollars must either be A) Taken from the private sector via taxes, B) Borrowed from foreign creditors, or C) Printed out of thin air. All three options entail hidden costs and unintended (or intended, if you're a conspiracy nut) consequences. The fact that costs are dispersed (and therefore hidden), doesn't mean they don't exist. It just makes it easier for the political class to sell it to the public.

What you're arguing is that government--through foresight and careful planning--can pool resources into projects that will yield a rate-of-return greater than any private initiative could. Even if I believed central planning to this insane degree could work (I don't), there's little in the soon-to-be $1 trillion "stimulus" package that puts my mind at ease. When you're pissing away that much dough, the burden of proof is damn high, and it falls comically short.

These infrastructure projects (more to the point: spending money we don't have) is exactly what will PRECIPITATE the inflationary holocaust. Again, the government doesn't have the means to produced real wealth; all it has is a printing press. It's silly to assume our foreign creditors will continue to foot the bill, and so appears that the Fed is poised to print the dollar into oblivion.

The idea that the World's Consumer Plantation (America) has been the engine of Asia's economy is a favorite fantasy among Americans. The fact is, Asians have had to sacrifice their standard of living by propping up bovine, over-consuming US of A. The world economy is heading for the shitter, no doubt about it, but Asia will be better off allowing us to die. Their growing consumer base (one backed by production, not credit) will, in time, more than make up for the fake consumption they will have lost in America.

Also, Dean, who has been cc'd on all of Sawyer and my e-mails, has responded:
First of all, I agree we have to cut down on our dependence on credit. It doesn't really matter; for at least a decade, credit will be tight enough to tamp down demand.

You can't look at the economy like there's a fixed amount of wealth out there. Infrastructure investments, obtained by borrowing against future taxes to foreign countries, can definitely be worth it and have been for the past century at least. The idea is not to look at debt in real terms (no jokes, Paul) but in relation to our GDP. If you can borrow and grow the GDP faster than the debt increases, you've lowered your debt by borrowing. Of course this doesn't always work, but this isn't some sort of hose job by some monolithic scape-goat plotters.

The principle generator of wealth in the country is the idea that lending money towards productive ends creates wealth itself. Borrowing to consume (or to buy things that generally decrease in value and don't add to your productivity) has been the problem and still is.

I hate to say it, but thank god the congressional republicans are standing their ground, because this stimulus can't be a shopping list, I hope they can flag more things like that contraceptive bullshit.

p.s.: I'm less versed on inflation, but this seems to suggest that we've always had inflation up the ass, more so when we didn't have paper money. Also, go over the budget sometime, there's never a revenue source called "printed" it's all accounted in taxes or debt.

So: A) why have they been lending to us so much? and B) what would they have to gain from their (albeit, current) biggest buyer's downfall?

I guess my estimation is that banks, even though they got bailed out, will still never come close to the credit orgy that preceded all this shit. Even if they're flush with cash, they'll think of Bear Stearns or WaMu and will be much much much more stringent on what can be spent with a loan. There's also likely to be increased regulation on what percent of any type of financial institution's debt can be securitized, likely necessitating credit card companies to tie themselves to banks or become them themselves. If this happens, the belt-tightening will thankfully happen itself.

So, I think pumping credit back into the system is necessary to allow for productive loans and self-interest will force that credit to not go to consumption. Some people are pissed that the government money already received by banks hasn't translated into credit. While it needs to eventually, this is a good sign, I think.

Sawyer:
To be honest, I have no idea why they've been lending us so much. Foolishness--or at least lack of foresight--is the only thing I could think of. (Maybe groupthink?) I think the question is rather moot. The point is, they're going to stop at some point, and I think sooner rather than later.

Me:
Philosophically, I'm inclined to agree with Sawyer. But pragmatically, I think Dean has the right idea. As I've said multiple times, there will be a stimulus package. As long as that's the case, the money might as well go toward the most useful projects possible.

Final thoughts for the day: First, I've blogged about this WSJ editorial in favor of a stimulus focused on building a smart power grid and a faster Internet previously. It's an excellent read. Second, my support for investment in energy efficiency as well as renewable electricity generation has more to do with my concerns about climate change than a desire to stimulate the economy. But, once again, as long as we're tossing money at something, it might as well get tossed at a good cause. (Yes, Paul, I'm aware you're skeptical that human-caused climate change is a serious threat, but I recommend reading the Climate Progress blog for a while and checking out the source material it links to. It's succeeded in scaring the shit out of me.)

Obama's Outreach To The Muslim World

Here's Obama's new interview with Al-Arabiya, which is split into two parts:





I'm in agreement with Andrew Sullivan--this was a smart move on Obama's part:
It popped up on television last night and I had two reactions. The first was a sense of met expectation. Part of the rationale for Obama's presidency from a foreign policy perspective was always his unique capacity to rebrand America in the eyes of the Muslim world. Since even the hardest core neocons agree that wooing the Muslim center is critical to winning the long war against Jihadism, Obama's outreach is unremarkable and should be utterly uncontroversial. Bush tried for a while to do the same. But Karen Hughes is not exactly Barack Obama. And the simple gesture of choosing an Arab media outlet for his first televised interview as president is extremely powerful. It has the elegance of a minimalist move with maximalist aims.

Continue reading.

Political Science for Dummies

From the chain email that my admittedly batshit cousin Donna-Jean sent me:

DEMOCRAT
You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful.
You push for higher taxes so the government can provide cows for everyone.

REPUBLICAN
You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
So?

SOCIALIST
You have two cows.
The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
You form a cooperative to tell him how to manage his cow.

COMMUNIST

You have two cows.
The government seizes both and provides you with milk.
You wait in line for hours to get it.
It is expensive and sour.

CAPITALISM, AMERICAN STYLE
You have two cows.
You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.

BUREAUCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE
You have two cows.
Under the new farm program the government pays you to shoot one, milk the other, and then pours the milk down the drain.

AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do an IPO on the 2nd one.
You force the two cows to produce the milk of four cows.
You are surprised when one cow drops dead.
You spin an announcement to the analysts stating you have downsized and are reducing expenses.
Your stock goes up.

FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.
You go to lunch and drink wine.
Life is good.

JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded trains.
Most are at the top of their class at cow school.

GERMAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour.
Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows but you don't know where they are.
You break for lunch.
Life is good.

RUSSIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You have some vodka.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You have some more vodka.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

TALIBAN CORPORATION
You have all the cows in Afghanistan, which are two.
You don't milk them because you cannot touch any creature's private parts.
You get a $40 million grant from the US government to find alternatives to milk production but use the money to buy weapons.

IRAQI CORPORATION
You have two cows.
They go into hiding.
They send radio tapes of their mooing.

POLISH CORPORATION
You have two bulls.
Employees are regularly maimed and killed attempting to milk them.

BELGIAN CORPORATION
You have one cow.
The cow is has a dissociative personality.
Sometimes the cow thinks he's French, other times he's Flemish.
The Flemish cow won't share with the French cow.
The French cow wants control of the Flemish cow's milk.
The cow asks permission to be cut in half.
The cow dies happy.

FLORIDA CORPORATION
You have a black cow and a brown cow.
Everyone votes for the best looking one.
Some of the people who actually like the brown one best accidentally vote for the black one.
Some people vote for both.
Some people vote for neither.
Some people can't figure out how to vote at all.
Finally, a bunch of guys from out-of-state tell you which one you think is the best-looking cow.

CALIFORNIA CORPORATION
You have millions of cows.
They make real California cheese.
Only five speak English.
Most are illegal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nagging Administrators Remind Us That Smoking Isn't Allowed On Campus

The UI has sent out yet another e-mail today reminding the community that smoking isn't allowed on campus--just in case anyone forgot over winter break, I guess. I did notice at least two people violating this policy on my way to the newsroom today, however, so it's clear that the message has yet to fully sink in.

Here's the reminder:
Dear Members of the UI Community:

In accordance with the Iowa Smoke-Free Air Act, The University of Iowa was designated a smoke-free campus effective July 1, 2008. Smoking is prohibited in all indoor and outdoor areas on campus, including University buildings, campus grounds, parking lots, athletic fields, and recreational facilities. State law also prohibits smoking in off-campus buildings being used by the University for University business.

We ask that all students, staff and faculty help us comply with the Iowa Smoke-Free Air Act by refraining from smoking in prohibited areas.

Information on the smoking policy, smoking cessation resources, boundary maps and other frequently asked questions is available on the Smoking Policy website at http://www.uiowa.edu/homepage/smoking/index.html

The University and the State offer free or low-cost assistance to smokers who wish to quit. A complete list of smoking cessation resources is available on the smoking policy website.

Jonathan Carlson
Senior Associate to the President
Co-Chair, Smoking Policy Implementation Team

Joni Troester
Director, UI Wellness, Human Resources
Co-Chair, Smoking Policy Implementation Team

As we reported in the Daily Iowan late last year:
Iowa's smoking ban hasn't exactly lit a fire underneath local police to crack down on illegal smokers.

Since the ban went into effect on July 1, people are prohibited from smoking in almost all public facilities, with the exception of casinos' gaming floors.

UI police have responded to 84 smoking calls, 27 of which were complaints, but no citations have been issued.

This isn't surprising, as the idea of prohibiting smoking throughout the entire UI campus is inherently ridiculous. I've already written a column about that. However, this fact clearly doesn't matter to the nanny-state Iowa legislators who passed the law or the persistent nags who attempt to enforce it here at the university.

Obama Calls Climate Change A Potentially “Irreversible Catastrophe”

Climate Progress reports:
Obama delivered a stirring speech today on his decision to push for California waiver that mandates cut in auto CO2 emissions.

The President has no doubts about the “irreversible catastrophe” we face on our current emissions path — “violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines” — which is no doubt why he chose John Holdren to be his science adviser see “Obama’s strongest message on climate yet“).

For those who misunderstood his inaugural call to action on energy and climate, “Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet,” his speech today should make clear that he is deadly serious about addressing the most deadly serious threat we face (full text here).

It's only a matter of time before Obama does something I disagree with (like pushing through an enormous stimulus package that contains many provisions unlikely to actually help the economy in the long or short term), but for now he continues to impress.

Blago As Surrealist Performance Artist

Here's the video from Rod Blagojevich's appearance this morning on the View:



I've got to hand it to him, he's going out in style--not with class, but in style.

Steve King's Tired Antics Continue In 2009

It's a new year, and America has a new president, but Iowa is still blessed with the same old Rep. Steve King - a bizarre breed of bigot who besmirches the good name of Iowa further with every day he spends representing the state's 5th District in Washington, D.C.

Last March, King warned that Al Qaeda terrorists would take to the streets and dance in celebration if Barack Obama were elected president. Not long after making this incendiary claim, King appeared on Fox News and reaffirmed it. He even went so far as to suggest he would apologize if Obama won and his prediction didn't come true.

Following up on this story, Politico, an online political- news outlet, contacted King a few days before Obama's inauguration and asked him about his previous statements. Though he offered no apology, King was willing to acknowledge that the terrorists' celebrations that he had prophesied have thus far failed to come to pass.

"They have made statements against Obama," Politico reported he said. "This thing has shifted, and now I think Obama's position of immediate withdrawal [from the war zone] has changed."

However, rather than leaving well enough alone and refraining from offering any new offensive remarks, King went on to suggest to the Politico reporter that Obama's choice to include his middle name, Hussein, in the swearing-in ceremony was "bizarre" and "a double-standard." Apparently, it's King's view that because various right-wing commentators suffered criticism for highlighting the new president's full name, the president himself should also be barred from referencing it publicly.

The disingenuous nature of such a complaint is entirely transparent. Using Obama's full name simply to refer to the president has never been considered offensive. Complaints about highlighting that his middle name is Hussein only arose when it was clear from the context or tone of the usage that the speaker was attempting to draw some sort of connection between the president and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Further evidence of King's ongoing hostility toward the president can be found in his refusal to attend a post-inauguration reception that Iowa's congressional delegation held for residents of the state who were in Washington, D.C., at the time. Radio Iowa has reported that a King aide asserted that the congressman's snub was a result of his opinion that his campaign donors wouldn't approve of him contributing the required funds toward refreshments at the reception. However, classy Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Tom Latham apparently had no objection to ponying up their $100 contributions.

Regardless of the extent to which King is an embarrassment to Iowa, it's highly unlikely he can be defeated by a Democratic challenger. Even with a spirited candidate such as Rob Hubler under the Obama-Biden ticket, which won the state so commandingly, Iowa's 5th District was simply too conservative to elect anyone who wasn't a Republican.

But there remain two plausible scenarios under which King could be dethroned. First, a challenger who looked more like reasonably rational Iowa Republicans such as Grassley or Latham could go after King in the primary. Second, given demographic trends, Iowa may well lose a U.S. House seat after the next census. Though such a development would unfortunately reduce the state's legislative clout, it seems unlikely that a candidate as far out in the wilderness of right-wing madness as King would be able to survive following any such redistricting.

One way or another, hopefully, a more serious politician who is actually interested in effectively lobbying for the people of Iowa will eventually succeed in sending King back to Kiron, where he belongs.

(Cross-posted from the DI's main site.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Free Will: Good Cognitive Citizenship


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17359)

Topics covered:

Obama’s election: a triumph for rationality?... Scandal! Existence of atheists publicly acknowledged... In search of Canada’s tribal chief... Why be rational?... Why are you deciding to see that optical illusion, you fool?...

Right-Wing Media Personalities Demonstrate Their Laughably Blatant Hackery

Oh, Jon Stewart, what would we do without you?


(http://www.thedailyshow.com via Slog.)

More On The "Death" Of Media


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17269)

Topics covered:

Bob asks Jon: Am I an obsolete business model?... New York Times vs. Huffington Post... So, what’s the future of journalism?... The demise of the book... I’ll wait for the online video... Former New Wave sensation Jon on the music industry...

From Unknown To President In Four Years

It had been a long time since I watched Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, but I ran across it this morning.

Here it is:



About four and a half years later he's president. That's quite a leap. And it was largely made possible by modern communications technology in the hands of people who knew how to use it effectively.

So here's the question: What will happen in coming years as increasingly powerful communications technology becomes available at an accelerating rate? Perhaps these leaps will get shorter and shorter. The long-term effects of that are difficult to guess, but it is clear that effectively organizing large numbers of people over short periods of time is getting easier. This ought to enable political changes that would have barely been imaginable--let alone possible--just a few years ago.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mexico: The Canary In The Coal Mine?

Continuing with the line of thinking from my earlier post "Re: Was Ayn Rand Right All Along?"...

The global economic/political/social situation looks increasingly bleak.

The Washington Post reports:
The world economy is deteriorating more quickly than leading economists predicted only weeks ago, with Britain yesterday becoming the latest nation to surprise analysts with the depth of its economic pain.

Britain posted its worst quarterly contraction since 1980 on the heels of sharper than expected slowdowns reported from Germany to China to South Korea. The grim data, analysts said, underscores how the burst of the biggest credit bubble in history is seeping into the real economies around the world, silencing construction cranes, bankrupting businesses and throwing millions of people out of work.

Continue reading.

And Joel Kurtzman writes for the Wall Street Journal (via Thomas Barnett):
Mexico is now in the midst of a vicious drug war. Police officers are being bribed and, especially near the United States border, gunned down. Kidnappings and extortion are common place. And, most alarming of all, a new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.

One center of the violence is Tijuana, where last year more than 600 people were killed in drug violence. Many were shot with assault rifles in the streets and left there to die. Some were killed in dance clubs in front of witnesses too scared to talk.

Continue reading.

Barnett comments:
The danger that Latin America once again becomes an active arena for U.S. military involvement (we are always somewhat involved, I'm talking about where the public's sense of intervention is activated by events and magnitude) looms for two reasons: the global downturn eventually reaches there (despite the political bravado down there) and the drug violence is distinctly heating up.

Point being: the auto-pilot quality of the past decade isn't likely to work. Neither subject (pushing more economic inclusiveness with trade agreements and figuring out an alternative path to the dysfunctional (certainly for Mexico) drug war) are ones Obama would gladly tackle in the near-term, and yet, events may force him to do so.

John Robb brings up the highly problematic situation in Mexico in two recent posts that are both highly instructive and disturbing.

Regarding how Mexico's unraveling relates to the problems most other nation states are having, Robb writes:
Diving into military theory (again).

A core dynamic behind the emergence of the nation-state was it's ability to run a successful protection business (aka racket). A system that has been growing since the treaties of Westphalia in the 1600s. The protection business is relatively simple:
1. It is a monopoly. It has exclusive ownership over the use of violence. As a monopoly, it must crush all internal competitors.
2. It defends its monopoly from outside interests -- as in warfare with nation-state and non-state competitors.
3. It charges the customers (individuals and businesses) within its geographical areas of control for this service. This isn't optional. Customers presumably benefit from this protection.

...

The protection formula broke down in the latter half of the 20th Century as the nation-state became more complex. Key elements of this breakdown include...

Continue reading.

So what should you take away from all this?

First, in the short-term we need to end the drug war ASAP unless we're okay with the strong possibility of having to deal with a failed stated on our southern border within the next several years--to a certain extent we already are, but things could easily get much worse. Second, we need to brace ourselves for a long and wild ride. The world seems set to change radically over the coming decades. We all need to start thinking about what we can do to help ourselves through these difficult times as opposed to just standing around hoping our failing nation-states will save us. Because they won't.

Science Saturday: Dancing With Dogs


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17340)

Topics covered:

Reflections at the end of the Bush Error... Embryonic stem cell research breaks new ground... Will alternating current soon be obsolete?... Can 9-volt brain jolts enhance learning?... John critiques CBS’s science reporting... Reverse-engineering the mind...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's Permanent Political Campaign

Here's an e-mail I received from the Obama campaign early this afternoon:
Friend --

When Barack Obama was declared our 44th President, you didn't just revel in that victory -- you started asking what's next for this movement.

How is this unprecedented group of volunteers, grassroots leaders, and dedicated supporters going to help make change a reality?

More than half a million people shared their thoughts and ideas about moving forward, and we listened carefully. Last week, President Obama announced the creation of Organizing for America -- a group that will work alongside the President to support the agenda you fought so hard for.

You can be part of its first steps.


You've already invested in the future of this country -- whether you voted, donated money, helped organize your local community, or got involved in countless other ways.

But right now, your participation in the political process is more important than ever. We'll soon be asking you to give whatever time or talent you can to support the President. With your help, we can bring change to Washington and the entire nation.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you,

David

David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Welcome to the world of permanent campaigning. I don't know how many people will be willing to keep on volunteering for the Obama administration as the months and years wear on. However, the Internet will allow a large number of people to accomplish a lot of lobbying with just a little effort on each person's part.

So beware, members of Congress who become swing votes regarding key Obama legislative initiatives, expect to be deluged with calls from Obama supporters in your districts.

Stimulate Broadband And The Power Grid

A Wall Street Journal opinions piece makes an excellent case for how best to spend stimulus money:
As a new American administration takes office during the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, everyone is understandably fixated on the present emergency -- on what went wrong and how to fix it. There is a growing feeling of desperation, the idea that we must do something -- anything -- to get the world's economic juices flowing again.

Let me offer a different point of view: We shouldn't undertake projects simply for the sake of creating economic activity. Rather than just stimulate, we should transform.

...

Smarter infrastructure is by far our best path to creating new jobs and stimulating growth. We at IBM were asked to map this out by President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, and our research shows that a $30 billion stimulus investment in just three areas -- smart grids, health-care IT and broadband -- could yield almost one million new jobs within one year. That's possible because these kinds of infrastructure have significantly greater economic and societal multiplier effects than traditional infrastructure like bridges and highways.

Continue reading.

I've been convinced for some time that this is the way to go, so I'm excited to see such a strategy being advocated in an influential paper. The fact of the matter is that there's going to be a stimulus package no matter what. So those of us who are skeptical of such governmental interference in the economy might as well spend our energy attempting to direct the resources in the best possible direction.

Obama Continues Shift Back To Rule Of Law

MSNBC reports (via Radley Balko):
President Obama yesterday eliminated the most controversial tools employed by his predecessor against terrorism suspects. With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the "war on terror," as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.

...

Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away: The military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where the rights of habeas corpus and due process had been denied detainees, will close, and the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons. And in a broad swipe at the Bush administration's lawyers, Obama nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001.

Continue reading.

Balko comments:
It’s worth emphasizing again here these steps Obama’s taking effectively limit his own power. That’s extraordinary.

I suspect that not everything John Yoo & Co. wrote was flat-out nuts. Some of the legal opinions issued over the last seven-plus years may come back in some form. This move looks like Obama wanting to send a very clear message that the executive branch will be returning to some semblance of the rule of law, and not governance by executive fiat.

So much for the first 100 days. Obama's first 10 will go down in history as exceedingly important.

The cynic in me is now officially disarmed--at least until we start printing money to pay for a stimulus package likely to cost more than $800 billion...

Libertarian Realignment

Traditionally, libertarians have tended to vote for Republican candidates. But the GOP has abandoned its small-government roots. Thus, for those who place individual freedom at the top of their list of political priorities, Democrats such as recently inaugurated President Obama now represent the lesser of the evils.

By no means do I endorse Obama's plan to engage in unprecedented government spending in an extremely risky attempt to stimulate the faltering American economy. Parts of the stimulus package, particularly those initiatives aimed at increasing energy efficiency and substantially boosting renewable electricity generation, will indeed have positive long-term effects. However, these programs do not constitute the bulk of the proposed stimulus package. And regardless of whether federal spending is aimed at worthy causes, the nature of governmental bureaucracy guarantees that there will be substantial waste alongside any actual accomplishments.

Unfortunately, a Republican president would likely be proposing a spending spree of similar scope. Remember, under George W. Bush's reckless management, the federal budget deficit ballooned to record levels, and the national debt became crippling enough to make the global market take a second look at whether our country is even a good credit risk anymore. And although Sen. John McCain campaigned largely on his record of opposing pork-barrel spending, he joined Bush and Obama in supporting the unprecedented bank bailout that Congress approved in the weeks before the election.

So, given that those of us who believe in conservative fiscal policy know we're going to be left out in the cold regardless of which major party controls the federal government, we are left to make our decision on the grounds of who is better for civil liberties.

Bush and his team have only been out of the White House for a couple of days, but new accusations about the extent of their domestic-surveillance program are emerging. Even without the information that is likely to come out over the coming weeks and months, there is already an overwhelming pile of evidence that the Bush administration engaged in breathtakingly wanton law-breaking not only in terms of spying illegally on American citizens but also with regard to the sickeningly cruel treatment of terrorism suspects, against many of whom there's barely a shred of incriminating evidence.

One of the most appalling aspects of Bush's warrantless wiretapping program is that he could have almost certainly gotten Congress to sign off on any even remotely reasonable course of action after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Members of Congress showed the president immense deference in the realm of national security throughout the rest of his term after that horrifying series of events. But rather than making his case to Congress and getting any necessary changes to surveillance law included in post-9/11 legislation, Bush simply asserted his right to act outside of any legislative framework.

Though important, the need for legislative oversight of the executive branch's domestic-surveillance activities pales in comparison with the need for judicial oversight of the executive's policies regarding detention and treatment of terrorism suspects. The Bush administration's tragic failings in this area hit this point home with terrible force. That administration's position had always been that the detainees kept in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are all among the most dangerous of terrorists. Yet, the number of people being held there against whom the government has any case at all continues to shrink.

In his first days as president, Obama has taken major steps in the direction of correcting Bush's worst mistakes. His nominees for top Justice Department officials are all on the record as believing that the president is obligated to act within the law and not able to do whatever he wants merely by asserting that his authority as commander in chief of the military allows him to do so. Furthermore, Obama has restored uniform standards to suspect interrogation policies that will immediately end all officially sanctioned torture.

If Obama lives up to his early promise on these key issues, a libertarian realignment will be in order. If neither party is getting economic policy correct, then it only makes sense for those who hold their civil liberties dear to vote for the party that actually respects those fundamental rights.

(Cross posted at the DI's main site.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bush's Domestic Spying Program Likely Worse Than Previously Revealed

Wired reports:
Just one day after George W. Bush left office, an NSA whistleblower has revealed that the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program targeted U.S. journalists, and vacuumed in all domestic communications of Americans, including, faxes, phone calls and network traffic.

Russell Tice, a former NSA analyst, spoke on Wednesday to MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Tice has acknowledged in the past being one of the anonymous sources that spoke with The New York Times for its 2005 story on the government's warrantless wiretapping program.

Continue reading.

Also, here's the video from MSNBC:



No one who takes the Constitution and rule of law seriously can possibly be against an extensive investigation into the Bush administration's brazen lawlessness. And given that Bush and his people have only been out of the White House for just over two days now, it's all but certain that this can of worms has yet to be fully opened. The process of investigating the outgoing administration is likely to develop into a full-fledged political shit-storm within the next year.

An Introduction To Genomics


(http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/437)

About this talk:
What is genomics? How will it affect our lives? In this intriguing primer on the genomics revolution, entrepreneur Barry Schuler says we can at least expect healthier, tastier food. He suggests we start with the pinot noir grape, to build better wines.

A Libertarian Take On Shoe-Throwing

From Reason.tv:
Nick Gillespie hits the streets in Washington D.C. to ask Obama supporters why they were throwing shoes at a giant inflatable George W. Bush and what their biggest hopes and fears are for the Obama Administration.


(http://reason.tv/video/show/657.html)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good Signs From Obama On Openness

Wired reports:
United States President Barack Obama announced today that his administration will roll back the secrecy that has ruled during the Bush Administration and implement a new era of government openness and transparency.

Referring to the Freedom of Information Act as one of the most important tools of oversight the nation possesses, Obama called on all government agencies to err on the side of openness and release information whenever possible, which directly contradicts orders by the previous administration to look for reasons to withhold information whenever possible. Just because you have the legal right to withhold information, doesn't mean you should, Obama said at a White House press conference and staff swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.

"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," he said.

Continue reading.

Update:

Reason urges Obama to go even further with his transparency agenda:
During the campaign, Mr. Obama talked about "putting the government online" and he has already announced a website for stimulus spending—www.Recovery.gov.

"We plan to create a Web site that will contain information about the contracts and include PDFs or contracts themselves and also financial information about the contracts," Peter Orzag, Obama's choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, encouragingly told The Washington Post.

...

But President Obama and Congress should not limit transparency to just the stimulus spending or even TARP—everything should be on the table.

The Treasury Department—in association with the Federal Reserve and FDIC—should create an "online checkbook" showing how many checks it has written, when they are cashed, and offer detailed notes about what they paid for. The government should also list who it has loaned money to, what has been paid back, and how much interest it has earned. Ultimately, the key is simplicity and clarity.

Continue reading.

Gene Robinson On The Daily Show


(Via Slog.)

Bush Prosecution Not Obama's Choice

In today's Daily Iowan, Nate Whitney wrote:
President Obama must not pursue prosecution against former members of the Bush White House. It's simply not healthy, and certainly not productive. Hope and change, a new direction, a leader with a fresh perspective, oh but by the way - he's also going to point fingers and use the freshly appointed hand of the law to crucify the guy that used to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

No. Bush had his failures, a litany of them, and time and history will be a better judge and jury than any of us can at this moment in time, but that's not for our current president to decide. What kind of conflicting message would that be, to yearn for bipartisanship and a bold new direction for all Americans, whether they be fire engine red or the deepest sea blue in political nature, yet instigating a public flogging of our former leader never before witnessed, complete with courtroom action and possible jail terms? Is this seriously what we want? Is this our great new politics?

No. It's more of the same, from someone who promised to be anything but. Obama would be wise to leave any instigation of the matter at the door when he enters his new home. If Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the band are to be gone after then so be it, but not by this president, and not at his direction.

The key point that those advocating for or against Obama "going after" Bush for his war crimes are missing is that it's simply not up to the new president to decide such matters. Glenn Greenwald makes a compelling case that binding U.S. law requires prosecutions for those who authorize torture.

So, yes, Obama should leave well enough alone. However, the incoming attorney general has no such luxury. There must be a criminal investigation into all those who authorized torture. Any attempt by Obama to stop this investigation would show him to have little more respect for the rule of law than his predecessor.

And if anyone doubts that the Bush administration approved interrogation practices that amounted to torture, I highly recommend checking out Greenwald's piece today about Obama's suspension of the military commissions that the previous administration created to conduct farcical "trials" of Gitmo detainees:
One of the Guantanamo detainees whose military commission has not yet concluded is Mohammed Jawad. Jawad is an Afghan citizen who, in late 2002, was taken into U.S. custody and then shipped from Afghanistan, his home country, to Guantanamo, where he has remained ever since -- more than six full years and counting. Nobody has ever accused Jawad of belonging either to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Instead, he is accused of throwing a hand grenade at two U.S. soldiers inside his country, seriously injuring both of them. He vehemently denies involvement. At the time of his due-process-less imprisonment in Guantanamo, he was an adolescent: between 15 and 17 years old (because he was born and lived his whole life in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and is functionally illiterate, his exact date of birth is unknown).

...

In Afghanistan, Jawad was severely beaten, drugged, and threatened with death for both himself and his family if he refused to confess to the grenade incident. That occurred just weeks after the incident where two Afghan detainees, including a completely innocent 22-year-old Afghan cab driver, were beaten to death -- murdered -- while detained and interrogated by U.S. troops in Bagram. The confession Jawad "signed" (with his fingerprint, since he can't write his name) became the centerpiece of the Bush administration's case against him, and yet, it was written in a language Jawad did not speak or read, and was given to him after several days of beatings, druggings and threats -- all while he was likely 15 or 16 years old.

In December, 2003, when he was (at most) 18 years old, Jawad -- according to Guantanamo prison logs -- attempted to kill himself. In 2004, he was subjected to the so-called "frequent flier" program, where, in a two-week period alone, he was moved to a new cell 112 times -- an average of every 3 hours, in order to ensure he was sleep deprived and disoriented. Over the six years at Guantanamo, Jawad was repeatedly subjected to extreme cold, bright lights, and various stress positions. He was often kept in solitary confinement or in "linguistic confinement," isolated from anyone who spoke his only language (Pashto). As recently as May of 2008, while Jawad was at Guantanamo, he was beaten so badly by guards that, weeks later, he still had extreme bruises on his arms, knees, shoulders, forehead and ribs.

Continue reading.

Mohammed Jawad deserves justice. It doesn't matter if just sweeping all the cases like his under the rug would make it easier for Obama to work with the Republicans in Congress. Those who think Jawad ought to be satisfied with mere rhetoric about hope and change should think long and hard about how they'd feel if they'd gone through what he has.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Final Legal Act, Bush Appeals Spy Ruling

Wired reports:
With just 64 minutes left in its last full day in office, the Bush administration asked a San Francisco federal judge late Monday to stay enforcement of a court ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president may bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.

...

The Bush administration asked Walker's permission to appeal his Jan. 5 decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Walker had ruled that "sufficient facts" exist that two U.S.-based lawyers for an Islamic charity might have been spied upon for the case to proceed to the next stage.

The case seeks the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program the president approved in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Continue reading.

The importance of this case would be difficult to overstate--its outcome may well be a deciding factor in whether Bush and his advisors are ever held accountable for their blatantly illegal activity.

Satellite Image Of Inauguration

From one of Google's blogs:
We just received a spectacular overhead shot of the National Mall during the Inauguration from our satellite imagery partner GeoEye. This gorgeous satellite view of the ceremony was taken at 11:19am (Eastern) by the GeoEye-1 satellite as it passed overhead. To see this amazing image download this KML and open it up in Google Earth -- here is a preview of what you'll see:



We are ants.

Inauguration Edition Of Bloggingheads


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17228)

Topics covered:

The politics of the “We Are One” inauguration concert... How Obama is disarming the left... Bon appetit! Obama brilliantly woos conservative pundits... Why you should go to the inauguration... Is Obama overdoing the whole Lincoln shtick?... Byron says Geithner’s tax problems must be taken more seriously...

A Fitting Farewell For Bush


(Via Climate Progress.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bush Seeks To Cement Orwellian Legacy

From Cato @ Liberty:
The president who launched our longest war, arrogated more power to the executive than ever before, increased federal spending by a trillion dollars, pushed for the biggest expansion of entitlements since Lyndon Johnson, further nationalized education, tried to nationalize marriage, and held Americans in jail without access to a lawyer or a judge has found a theme for his presidential library: freedom.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center will include a “Freedom Institute” focused on a broad portfolio of topics, including the expansion of democracy abroad and education reforms of the kind Bush implemented during his presidency, according to organizers.

Coming next: The Clinton Center for Honesty and the Paris Hilton Center for Modesty.

Interview: Congressman Jared Polis, First Openly Gay Man Elected To Congress

Towleroad reports:
Yesterday we paid a visit to newly-elected Representative Jared Polis from Colorado, the first openly gay man elected to Congress, in his brand new office in the Cannon Building on Capitol Hill as the nation awaits the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.



It's interesting and exciting to watch more blogs branch out and start doing this type of reporting.

Re: Come Watch The Obama Inauguration


As I announced yesterday, the Dublin Underground, 5 S. Dubuque, will be opening at 11 a.m. on Tuesday to allow people to watch Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Come one, come all--and bring your friends.

Bush Commutes Shooters

CNN published this on their website today.

Granted they're border guards, they shot an illegal immigrant/drug runner, but honestly, why not just leave this one alone? They shot someone, were sentenced to 10+ years, and now poof! get-out-of-legitimate-and-necessary-jail free. Anyone else feel like this is Bush's sulking, petty testament to a major thrust of his ending administration?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Feedback Effect

Quite a bit of the media attention and public perception of our imminent president seems to not address what he plans to do and the obstacles presented his administration in achieving those plans, but indicate instead the growing sense that Barack Obama may be lost to an image of himself. Not that there isn’t intelligent, constructive discussion going on, among both political center-stagers and the audiences with whom they interact—it’s just that I see his face printed on tee shirts, buttons and boxer shorts, lockdown security for the inauguration tinged with paranoia that we might lose him so near the end if we look away for an instant, and a stream of celebrity into Washington (including Beyonce, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock and The Boss) to herald his even greater celebrity realized on Tuesday; much commentary given to his being a kind of cultural savior, a beacon shining out for some systemic change and the perfect certainty that he’ll accomplish it; a concrete figure easier to recognize and trust than the intricate, often faceless components of which a government consists.

What worries me is that Obama’s capably functioning as president will be overshadowed by the space he occupies in Americans’ minds. We may begin to give ourselves over to the kind of trust and hope he continues to inspire, becoming a little blinder, a little more deferential to his actions. He cultivates this boundless optimism, “Anything is possible,” he said, and while the country could use a good boost of half-full, I wonder how long, how far we’ll run with it.

But perhaps we’ll keep our edge, the kind of can-do drive this election awoke in us after the long, cynical spiral of the Bush presidency. I have some faith in that, I do, but of the massive amounts of information streaming from our media and our culture—a self-powered cycle anyway, one feeding through the other and back—enough seems to place him as a convenient focal point for the sometimes nebulous and alienating elements of government. It’s almost as if he were a spokesman for reversing the upsets our country is experiencing, and not one of many factors involved in the solutions.

However, I also have some, maybe a lot, of faith in Obama’s abilities to accomplish what he can within the power of his office and the will of his constituency. I think in part it speaks to these abilities that his face has been printed on boxer shorts. I’m not worried about him. I’m worried that too much weight has been laid on the boxers, if you get me.