Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This is the smartest piece on Afghanistan military and political issues that I've read in recent memory. There are many memorable paragraphs, such as this one:
Meanwhile, Obama's broader strategic argument must not be lost. He has grasped that the foreign policy of the president should not consist in a series of extravagant, brief, Manichaean battles, driven by exaggerated fears, grandiloquent promises, and fragile edifices of doctrine. Instead the foreign policy of a great power should be the responsible exercise of limited power and knowledge in concurrent situations of radical uncertainty. Obama, we may hope, will develop this elusive insight. And then it might become possible to find the right places in which to deploy the wealth, the courage, and the political capital of the United States. We might hope in South Asia, for example, for a lighter involvement in Afghanistan but a much greater focus on Kashmir.[*]

(emphasis mine)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Mike Konzcal tells us about the new Teabagging meme: FDIC is the devil.

Visiting home for the holidays, it’s amazing to me how certain groups of friends, who I mostly considered in the generic Republicans/conservatives camp, have been wading deeper into the Ron Paul territory. “Abolish the Fed” is one thing, but what surprised me the most was when I was at a Christmas party several people mentioned, fairly out of nowhere, how bad FDIC is for the economy. I think they thought that regular depositors could have done a better job vetting financial institutions than major sophisticated shareholders. When I tried to point out how if there wasn’t FDIC and millions of savings accounts were getting wiped out in ordinary bank runs we’d almost certainly have a wave of turn-of-the-last-century style violence that is hard for us to even imagine now – think bomb throwing anarchist violence – they seemed to be ok with that.

FDIC is actually saving our asses right now by liquidating bad banks and keeping nervous market players from stuffing their money under a mattress. Runs on bank were common before FDIC and the Fed were established, and they created financial havoc. It was a financial panic and run on banks in 1908 that precipitated the creation of the Fed. When's the last we had an actual bank run like that?

Since before the creation of the FDIC, morons.

Seriously, this is where we are now? People are arguing, in all seriousness, that the same people who maxed our their credit cards, took high interest variable loans to purchase houses and used them as credit cards, are the same people who are going to study arcane bank financials to forecast who is more solvent. Is the biggest economic problem we have that we have too many financially savvy people working at the gas stations and McDonalds of this country being held back from joining the billionare club because of FDIC and CRA?


Monday, December 21, 2009

Moral Hazard?

Megan McCardle, yes that Megan McCardle, actually gets close to something important in a recent post about moral hazard in economic terms.
I go to a lot of pro-market think tank events where one speaker or another blames the financial crisis and the current recession on moral hazard, as well as basically everything else that has gone wrong in the last sixty years. I'm afraid I don't see it. The sticking point for me is twofold. The first is that we had crises before there was moral hazard--really, really dreadful crises, crises far worse than the one we're having now. I just don't see how you can look at the 1930s and name the FDIC as the decade's biggest financial problem. Or this decade's biggest financial problem. The closest our era came to a really devastating financial crash along the lines of the 1929-1933 period was in the total unguaranteed institutional money market funds.

Bingo! Nice job Megan. It's not often a bona fide Kool Aid Drinker manages to spit enough out of their grill to think outside their box. Keep going, you are almost there...
Nor do I find the central story of how the FDIC induced this moral hazard very compelling. Supposedly, ordinary depositors don't bother to check the soundness of their banks because they don't actually have skin in the game. Anyone making this argument cannot have met many ordinary depositors. If you stripped away my mother's FDIC protection, she wouldn't do any better of a job at evaluating Citigroup's finances. Moreover, this theory simply cannot explain the waves of bank failures that happened before 1934--failures in which the depositors neither expected, nor received, bailouts. Bankers still got overconfident, lent too much, and then went out of business. If you read contemporary accounts like the Benjamin Roth diary I recommended the other day, it's very clear that even when the shareholders and depositors were prominent local businesspeople with a lot of skin in the game and a pretty intimate knowledge of the bank's circumstances, they were still unable to foresee the trouble the banks got into.

She hits on an important idea that needs to be explored about what can we reasonably expect a regular citizen without a PhD in economics to understand about banks, markets, and what their best course of action in any given financial choice is, but we'll get back to that. This quote raises another important question, why didn't the bankers and regulators and everyone else figure out what was going to happen?

The central problem(s) we're dealing with right now seem to me to be, first, that asset/credit markets are sometimes subject to bad feedback loops which cause bubbles and crashes, and that the regulators cannot entirely forestall these, because the regulators are getting the same bad information from the feedback loop. And second, that to figure out what is going on in the banking system, we have to ask the bankers, who are going to tell us things that work to the advantage of the bankers. And third, that when new financial assets emerge, we don't fully understand the risks, and we tend to thereby get ourselves in trouble. Moral hazard seems like a distant fourth.

Good job Megan, I'll take it from here. What we might want to add to that paragraph is that one of the solutions to the problem of bad feedback loops that captures all the participants is to limit the systemic risk so that even if we make a bad call, we don't melt down our financial system. That is essentially what New Deal reforms to banking and markets did. As the Krugmanator put it, it made "Banking boring." Now, I don't think we can put that genie back in the bottle, but we can certainly put limits on the ability of lenders of all kinds to leverage themselves, force them to keep more capital in reserve, and make them disclose to regulators and investors all the relevant info. That's the minimum in my view, but its not hard to do. Megan, being the good University of Chicago graduate she is, will not be able to force such blasphemous thoughts through her keyboard onto the page, so I'm doing it for her.

This whole government intervention did it" argument stems in part from Milton Friedmans and Anna Scwartz's book "A Monetary History of the United States", where they argued that it was the Fed who monkeyfraked the economy in 1929-30 by raising rates and lowering the money supply. (true as far it goes) And that also the best way to deal with these downturns is to use monetary policy, which has been done since the 70's and seems to mostly work. Unfortunately, when you are already juicing the economy by keeping interest rates very low and one of these market blowups happen, you hit the zero bound pretty quick. Pulling out your Keynes playbook and blowing the dust off of it to run the Fiscal Policy Wildcat is what is really hard for many of these EMH fanatics to swallow.

Now, I think what Megan argues is true in that players in markets and the regulators get caught up on the feedback loop and don't see the apocalypse until the whole marketplace gets sucked into the abyss. Thomas Kuhn called this way of interpreting information a paradigm, and thus were a thousand awful business plan Power Point presentations born. But it is certainly true that once you buy into a conceptual framework, forever will it dominate your destiny until something drastic happens to shift the paradigm. Like, for example, a huge insurance company engaging in a global ponzi scheme and almost taking the entire financial system down with it.

I would go further and say that while Megan and people on the other side of the Great Divide like Tabbibi or academics like Krugman get close to portions of this, I think they miss the forest for the trees. I see the cause of the financial crash of 2008 as ideological. A free market ideology derived from the Efficient Market Hypothesis and a cultural brain tumor called Ayn Rand(insert your favorite cause here). And put in place and policed by a consortium of media, academic, business, and government group think that is almost Trotskyite in it's fervor to sell the beauty that are unregulated free markets and demonize anyone that wants to make them less insecure and destructive to regular people at the expense of quarterly profits and GDP.

So while I think its fair to point out the failures of the Obama economic squad, or to get worked up over banker salaries, I think that is ultimately spinning our wheels. We need to tear down the ideological construct and replace it with something that values economic growth, entrepreneurship and markets, but recognizes their limits, recognizes the role of the democratic institutions to intervene in markets, and remember that economic growth is only useful insofar as it elevates the human condition, not as fulfillment of biblical prophecy or to validate a particular economic thinker or school of thought.

Now I think Megan, at least in this piece, is sincere in her effort to grapple with what are uncomfortable questions for someone as far down the libertarian rabbit hole as she usually is. But the truth is that most of the people that are pimping the ideas that the Community Reinvestment Act is responsible for this horrible mess because of its liberal hippie meddling and forcing banks to lend white people money to non white people who then turned around and bought McMansions on credit and theen spent government money on guns, Malt liquor, and crack ho's they rented from Huggy bear the pimp are cynical douchebags who should not be taken seriously and probably should be frog marched into a rocket and launched into the Oort cloud to mine ice crystals and UnObtainum for the Trade Federation.

But I'm a DFH, so what do I know?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Just Not Feeling It

I've got such a long list of things that are pissing me off lately, that I can't even begin to make progress on narrowing down the field of what to rant about. If I covered everything that's currently getting up my nose, I'd be blogging full time until the end of the year. So, screw that. Instead, here, read this fresh horror. That's only the tippy top of a huge pile of steaming crap.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Moose bites Woman

I haven't watched the Oprah/Sarah lovefest, but I wanted to weigh in on this discussion about Sarah Palin being a 2012 Presidential candidate. I was struck by a desperate statement/plea by David Brooks on ABC news on Sunday claiming that GOP primary voters would never nominate Sarah Palin.

You might try whistling louder past that graveyard David...

Brooks is wrong of course. GOP voters would gleefully nominate Sarah Palin. They want to nominate her. They will give her every opportunity to get that nomination, provided she meets a ridiculously low bar they will set for her. I don't think she will be the nominee though. Not because she doesn't have a good chance, but because she wants to run for President more than she wants to be President. She likes the process of being famous and the attention of a candidate way more than the crap job of governing. Sarah Palin has the job she wants right now. Running for President is part of that job. It's GOP celebrity in chief that she wants to be, not POTUS.

What this says about Caribou Barbie is less interesting to me than what is says about the GOP. It must really suck to be a GOP pol that isn't a complete Kool-Aid drinker. It was one thing when these Jesus freaks could be manipulated by Karl Rove and the Mighty Wurlitzer every two years by shouting "fag" at the top of their lungs and having Junior play Commander in Chief the way my four year old plays Jedi, only with less panache. Now these people want to actually run things. Don' they know that no one at the Country Club wants to hear them rattle on about salvation and how great Sarah is? It's one thing for them to grovel to Rush. Rush is on the team. Sure he talks like THOSE people most of the time, but he is one the elite. Being a freak is just his job on the radio.

What the GOP base voter considers a conservative is being redefined, or has been. Back in the day when Mojo was a reporter, I would occasionally accompany him to candidate forums, city council meetings, and all the rest of that ugly stuff that reporters use to do before they became too cool for that sissy wonk stuff. You could find Sarah Palins all over those local political events. It shocked me at first. Who the Frak were these people? I'm not easily weirded out by people of faith. I grew up in a tight Catholic community, I'm okay with people who wear their faith on their sleeves. But this was something different. Mojo then explained it all to me..(cue Kenny Rodgers "The Gambler" here)

"Son" he said, (no he didn't call me that, I'm just working the Rodgers groove), this is part of a larger movement. The Christian Right has been telling their people to get involved at the local level. They want them to run for School Board, City Council, Planning Commission. That is how they plan to get political power in this country. Work their way up from local, to regional, to state, to Washington. Be afraid." Guess what. He was right. That's exactly what they did.

There is nothing wrong with that plan really. They have right to run for things and get their political groove on. And it's not like it hasn't been noticed, or fought against, or that its' been easy for them to operate in a GOP where many of the career pols and money geeks who fund them see the Sarah Palin's of the world as nutjobs. I feel their pain to some degree. I'm a liberal and a progressive in a party that would like me to shut up about a whole range of issues. Just vote for us, fund us, walk precincts for us, but don't rock the boat too much. That's what you get when you are a Dirty Frakkin Hippie.

So when David Brooks claims she won't win the nomination, I have to laugh at that. She could if she really wanted to. Her ignorance and stupidity are not deal killers in today's GOP. They are irrelevant. She is one of the tribe to her potential constituents across the country. She talks their language, believes what they believe. The more heat she gets from the media, the more disapproval she gets from New York RINO's like Brooks, the more they love her. She's a natural at this. The people who picked her out were not wrong that she has potential. What they were wrong about and continue to be is her motivation. I seriously doubt she wants any job in politics that would involve governing. She had that in Alaska and she bolted at the first opportunity. And let's be frank, if you cannot handle governing a state like Alaska, you really aren't going to deal with the Oval Office.

The danger for the GOP here is that Sarah's traveling road show doesn't lead anywhere good in the long run. She's not looking to build their brand, or expand their base. She's wants to build brand SARAH!, or expand her base, not the same thing. The GOP desperately needs to figure out how to broaden their base. Their voters are getting older and whiter, a demographic trend that spells serious trouble. The best outcome for the GOP is for Sarah not to run, but to support the most electable candidate and stump for them among her faithful. If she runs and the GOP primaries get as nasty as they usually do, that is going to piss off her voters in a bad way.

The GOP made this bed by trying to play to the worst instincts of their base without weeding out the worst of it. They have played patty cake with the racists, the cranks, and the ignorant to a degree that would make the most cynical Democrat look like Pericles. This was the Rove strategy. It worked for his client just fine. If it creates a huge electoral problem for the GOP in the future, well, that's not his problem. The talk radio audience they have been gravy training on is slipping its leash. And all the happy talk and dismissive attitude from Brooks and his crowd is not going to change that. So get used to the Sarah Palin GOP Mr. Brooks.

I hope you enjoy your Moose Turd Pie.

Monday, October 05, 2009

What Atrios Says

Apologies to our sole non-U.S. reader for the parochial cultural reference, but something Atrios posted today needs to be memorialized here. I'm just going to reprint it in whole:
Looting For Profit

Buy companies, leverage them, pay yourself a dividend, and then go bankrupt.

I think we've finally found the secret phase 2 of the underpants gnomes.

Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: Use underpants as collateral for multibillion dollar loan.
Phase 3: Profit

For those who need some context to catch the cultural reference, I'll save you the search:

(Yes, embedding is disabled. Just click through.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The AP tells us that somebody in Kentucky has lynched murdered a census worker:
AP source: Census worker hanged with 'fed' on body

By DEVLIN BARRETT and JEFFREY McMURRAY (AP) – 46 minutes ago
WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker near a Kentucky cemetery, and a law enforcement official told The Associated Press the word 'fed" was scrawled on the dead man's chest.

The body of Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and occasional teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The Census has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau's southern office in Charlotte, N.C., said law enforcement officers have told the agency the matter is "an apparent homicide" but nothing else.
(Emphasis mine.)

Details are still a little sketchy. We don't really know the motive for the killing yet, and the FBI is still investigating.

Marking the body with the word 'fed' is a pretty good clue to me that we're likely looking at a right-wing hate crime. I mean, I suppose we might find out that the guy was also an undercover federal law enforcement agent or something, but... come on... it looks pretty likely that somebody thought it would make a useful display of force to start murdering census workers. Maybe it's just one lone psychopath, but I worry that this might only be the beginning of a series of crimes like this, committed by a group of psychopaths— the sort of psychopaths who're easily spun up by the sorts of crap we saw going on in Washington, D.C. last weekend.

[NOTE: this might have been a lynching, but we don't really know yet. If people in Kentucky start showing around pictures of themselves smiling and standing around in large crowds next to the hanging bodies of federal workers, then there will be no doubt.]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Glenn Beck

Blogger doesn't seem to be showing me the archives... but I'd like to note for the record, that I was sounding the alarm about Glenn Beck over four years ago, well before he was a television personality. Back when he was only a second-tier talk-radio host.

Seriously, people... when it comes to spotting the potential of second-tier doomful assholes, I have mad skillz. Nevertheless, check out David Neiwert's latest dispatch on him at Crooks And Liars. I will tell you now, if this guy and all his fellow travelers aren't stopped soon, then we're going to be living inside V For Vendetta for the rest of our goddamn lives.

Update: more documentary footage of Glenn Beck's stooges out in force..

Monday, September 14, 2009

Know Your Dopefiend!

Keep an eye open for the telltale signs.
'Know your dopefiend. Your life may depend on it! You will not be able to see his eyes because of tea-shades, but his knuckles will be white from inner tension and his pants will be crusted with semen from constantly jacking off when he can't find a rape-victim. He will stagger and babble when questioned. He will not respect your bath.'

'Know your dopefiend. Your life may depend on it!'

'There are 4 states of being in the cannabis society, Cool, groovy, hip and square. In that descending order. The square is seldom, if ever, cool. He is NOT with it. That is: he doesn't know WHAT'S happening, but if he manages to figure it out, he moves up a notch to 'hip'. And if he can bring himself to approve of what's happening he becomes 'groovy'. And after that with much luck and perseverance he can rise to the rank of 'cool'.'

'Ahhrm. We must come to terms with the drug-culture in the country. The reefer butt is called a roach because it resembles a cockroach.'

'About those flashbacks. The patient never knows and think it's all over and then he gets himself straightened out for six months and then DARNIT the whole trip comes back on him.'

Friday, September 11, 2009

Look On The Bright Side, Congressman Wilson...

It could have been so much worse for you. You could have been overheard saying, "Go fuck yourself," to Senator Leahy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

So It Goes...

Here is the line in the President's speech tonight that signals where the bodies are buried:
...I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can’t find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice.
What he should have said:
I will not back down on the basic principle that all Americans have a right to coverage they can afford.
See the difference?

Here's some context in case you're still not reading it:
...To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can’t find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.
I could go into a detailed analysis here, but that will have to wait for later. At this point, the summary I promised yesterday is all I'm prepared to offer.

President Obama has now quite clearly signaled that he doesn't believe a health insurance reform package can pass the U.S. Senate unless A) it further cements the privileges of asymmetric information and market hegemony [over both patients and doctors] that the private health insurance companies now enjoy, and B) it allows Democrats a political fig leaf over their abject failure to pass either single-payer or the moderate compromise: an option for universal access to Medicare.

By telling us that a worthless bill, loaded with individual mandates, triggers that can never be pulled, co-ops that are nothing different than what we have today, interstate compacts that will only make matters infinitely worse, etc.— by telling us that this crap sandwich is the best we can expect from a Democratic president working with a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, that we can't even expect Democratic Senators who join with Republicans to deny cloture in debates on Democratic bills to pay any political price for obstructing their own party— by telling us that, he is telling us that we may as well roll up the U.S. government and put it in the big warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's over. We can't even pretend otherwise anymore, though I predict some will continue to try.

Our corporate aristocracy, with their gun-brandishing wingnut squadristi in tow, are now capable of exercising absolute control over the policymaking apparatus of the State without even needing to pay lip service to the public interest or the consent of the governed.

That was old school...

Well, here's my take on what's happening today before the President addresses Congress re: Health Insurance Reform.

The speech to school kids was part of it.

Maybe I am reaching here (I can easily see how this could be interpreted like this), but I think the Obama people went old school last week.

The key to this is the utter predictability of the wingnut-o-sphere regarding nearly anything the President does.

Last week the Administration announces that Obama will have a national address aimed at our children on the first day of school, and little else other than a vague notion that the Dept. of Education might have some sort of lesson plan suggested for teachers in the wake of the speech.

The spittle-flecked hyperventilating bloviation from the usual suspects was not only predictable, but I think it was counted on and the Administration played it in such a way as to encourage the rabidness to the point where mainstream media smelled a story and picked it up in the middle of the week...

See where this is going?

The media whipped itself into a really fierce little dust-devil for the speech, and then the speech itself, when released the day before turned out to be... a big vanilla soda. Stay in school, work hard, don't quit, respect yourself and nurture your talents.

This not only snatched the wind out of the sails of the wingnut-0-sphere for about 36 hours, but the meta-narrative of the media coverage became: "Why the hell were these morons all worked up about this? Are these guys stupid or just insane?"

And of course, this comes as the immediate precursor of the President's big health care speech to Congress. The Weengnut-0h-Zphere is spinning in it's predictable fashion, but the top-down media is not biting on this one. They just got caught in bed with these gomers, and on something as simple as a cheer leading speech to school kids... they aren't going to fall for that two weeks in a row.

The outcome? As the President goes into tonight's speech, he will have a very nearly even media playing field, without the pre-game hamstringing that would have otherwise almost surely occurred with a Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, Scaife Whinge-Nut dominated mainstream media narrative going into it.

Now let's see if the rest of this team is as good as I hope they are... but either way... that was old school Mr. President! Rock on!

mojo sends

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I Think I Just Failed Another Sanity Roll

...with probably about d4 damage.

Julia, at Sisyphus Shrugged, decided to go looking for the origins of the new wingnut meme-du-jour, i.e. that the executive branch is crawling with time-traveling Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian emperors. She noticed that the Wikipedia page is a relatively recent creation [its opening timestamp coincides with the circulation of this polemic from the wingnut Taxpayers For Common Sense], but I think I know where the meme originated: legendary hippie prankster Robert Anton Wilson (or, as I like to call him, Uncle Bob).

Uncle Bob was an eclectic fellow, to put it politely. I have a copy of the book he wrote that I think was the likely source of this weirdness, TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution. That book was almost certainly ignored by the wingnut hive mind, but I suspect the prank political party that Uncle Bob and his twisted friends put together might have managed to get more purchase. Go read the Guns And Dope Party manifesto and see if you don't think it might have a chance of being taken for serious by certain types in the wingnut wilderness. It quite handily marries Second Amendment militancy with the Tenther madness, then goes on to rail for page after page about the Tsarist Occupation Government. Does that sound like your modern teabagging Glenn Beck fan? It does to me.

How did the wingnuts find out about the Guns And Dope Party, I hear you asking? I think I might have had something to do with that. See, back in 2004 I was passing those links around to all the wingnuts I knew. And I knew a fair number in those days, because they hadn't quite gotten to the point where they were stockpiling ammunition like they are today, and they were still congregating in places where a hippie freak like me could communicate with them freely without being banned in ten seconds flat.

One thing I noticed when I would flow those links at the most weirdly of the wingnuts: they'd go all quiet for a few hours, then they would send a really short and cryptic follow-up message like, "Those are interesting links." And they would never mention it again.

As I mentioned to Julia, I'm more than a little concerned that I might have been one of the vectors for the transmission of this meme. Let That Be A Lesson To You! What happens at Burning Man, must ever STAY at Burning Man.

We Will Soon Have Our Answer

Wednesday night.

We will find out whether my cynicism during last year's election was warranted, or if Change in America is really possible without another revolution. We will know, because President Obama will tell us if he can see a way to overcome the institutional failure in the U.S. Senate and deliver effective reform of our health insurance system. If that can't be done, then you can pretty much forget about reforming financial services or military expenditures or foreign policy or or or... the list is almost endless.

Of the major crises facing the United States, the health care system is the most pressing, the easiest to frame, the most straightforward to fix and the least politically risky for Obama to play with an all-in push. If that can't be done, then we're all fucked.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Should Just Change My Name To Cassandra Already

Digby sez This Could Change Everything, and I'm having a hard time arguing otherwise:
You’ve probably heard by now that next week the Supreme Court will break up its summer recess to hear argument, for the second time, in Citizens United v. FEC. You may have the sense that this doesn’t happen often and that something important is going on. If so, you’re right and then some.

The case involves a film, Hillary: The Movie, that was produced by Citizens United, a conservative, non-profit corporation, to coincide with the 2008 presidential primary season. The case began as a fairly sleepy challenge to the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC’s) decision to treat the film’s production and release as corporate electioneering subject to campaign finance regulations, but was transformed by an order issued by the Supreme Court on June 29th. Here are five reasons why Citizens United is now a truly momentous case:

Digby goes on, but I'll just enumerate the five briefly by referencing her headers: A) President Palin, Courtesy of Chevron; B) Reargued Cases in September are like a Snowstorms in July; C) A Cast of a Thousand Stars (and a lawyer’s trick you should not try at home; D) The Alito Court; and E) The Roberts Court and Stare Decisis. She finishes up by saying, "Anybody want to take bets on whether or not the Roberts Court is going to move sharply to the right?"

I'd like to get in on that action, too.

I think the odds of the Roberts Court moving sharply to the right are approaching Sure Thing chances. And if you've been reading the Sara Robinson articles I've been linking, then you can probably infer the reason I'm having a tough time arguing against Digby that this case might not mean very much.

Here's what I want to know: if the Roberts Court overturns both Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and the parts of McConnell v. FEC that uphold regulation of corporate spending in candidate elections, then does that free our corporate overlords to go public under the law with their courtship of the militant right-wing extremists?

Should I be worried?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another Foul Gust Of Wind

The mighty David Neiwert monitors The Glenn Beck Program so you don't have to watch all of it just to catch the important parts. If, like me, you've been letting others keep an eye on the Hate so you can keep your sanity mostly intact for other uses, then you might want to check in here to see what you've been missing.
Obama's 'SS': Glenn Beck sees scary black people

Ah, but here's the one thing: If you've been watching Beck this week on his program, he's been imploring his audience to record it -- write it all down, even -- because it's the Most Important Stuff They'll Ever Watch on the Teevee.

That's because, if you watch what he's been doing so far, what seems to be emerging is that he is basically building a case justifying his declaration that Obama is a racist who hates white people.

This became crystal-clear midway through his Fox News program Thursday night, during a segment featuring ex-Democrat Patrick Caddell and the ever-vivacious Michelle Malkin to heartily agree with whatever craziness came burbling out of his mouth.

They were all gathered to talk about the "army" of "thugs" that President Obama is planning to gather under the combined umbrellas of ACORN, SEIU, Color of Change and whatever other insidious "radicals" Beck believes he's uncovered.

And what does this "army" of "thugs" look like?

Why, they're all black people, of course.
Oh, and Sara Robinson is out with the third part of her most recent series on the prospects of American fascism.

Try to stay upbeat people. We haven't lost yet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy Is Dead

Readers interested to see whether I will be able to spit the kind of acid I did recently when Robert Novak's end-of-unlife was announced will probably be disappointed to find that the only truly damning thing I can bring myself to say about Ted Kennedy at this time is that he was a long-time, openly unrepentant U.S. Senator.

I trust others on the web and elsewhere will deliver the shellacking of Ted Kennedy's memory that you might have been hoping to see here. I don't have it in me. He died without achieving his life's dedication, the reformation of America's health insurance system, and we are all the poorer for it.

Okay, Stephen Hemsley, the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, isn't poorer for it, but we're not counting him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


We can add New Jersey to the list of states I want to see launched into the sun [Update: or, at least, I would have if I had seen this article when it was first published almost 40 years ago...]:
Inestimable Privilege. In an extraordinary decision, Judge Camarata denied the Burkes' right to the child because of their lack of belief in a Supreme Being. Despite the Burkes' "high moral and ethical standards," he said, the New Jersey state constitution declares that "no person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience." Despite Eleanor Katherine's tender years, he continued, "the child should have the freedom to worship as she sees fit, and not be influenced by prospective parents who do not believe in a Supreme Being."
The "good news" here is that the judge was only allowed to rule in this case because the child was adopted.
If they fail in their appeal, Eleanor Katherine may have to leave the only family she has ever known and await adoption by another couple whose religious convictions satisfy the State of New Jersey.
I don't know how much more of this shit I can take before I completely snap.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Northern Redneckistan

I have family in Weed, California— which is a town not far from Mt. Shasta— and I travel there by automobile from San Francisco several times per year. This story about a health care town hall meeting near Redding is not a surprise to me, but some of you might not be aware of just how deeply damaged the northern California central valley can be.
House Rep from northern California says public health option a ‘threat to democracy’

US House Representative Wally Herger, of California’s 2nd congressional district, expressed “enthusiastic approval” of a town-hall attendee who described himself as a “proud right-wing terrorist,” newspapers in northern California report.
According to the Redding Record Searchlight, an incident broke out at a town hall at Simpson University in Redding on Tuesday when Herger signaled encouragement to a 67-year-old town hall attendee, Bert Stead, who called himself a “proud right-wing terrorist.”

“Amen, God bless you,” Herger reportedly replied to the comment. “There is a great American.”
Calling yourself a 'proud right-wing terrorist' because you're opposed to the Democratic health insurance reform package languishing in the House of Representatives... that makes you a great American.
That was enough for 50-year-old Marisa Hewitt, who called the largely anti-health reform crowd “a bunch of racist haters” and started “using the f-bomb” after the controversial comments.

That did not sit well with crowd. One individual grabbed Hewitt by the arm and ejected her from the hall with the words “you’re outta here.”
Using the word 'fuck' on the other hand, that is grounds for claiming self-defence in the commission of an assault.

The Mt. Shasta Area News [web cooperative] has more from the meeting:
The majority of citizens came to the microphone to denounce the health care plan as “socialist” and “a government takeover,” but a few, including several from Siskiyou County, spoke in favor of Obama’s plan.

Mount Shastan Craig Vivas asked Herger if “health care is a right?” and if not, “Who should be denied?”

“Forty seven million people are without health care insurance in America,” Vivas said.
Herger responded by saying “everyone should have access to health care” without declaring it a “right.”

“You call it a right. I call it something else,” Herger said.

Vivas said in an interview that Herger “believes in the unfettered free market as the solution to all social problems. That is a fallacy he shares with many other Americans.”

A Redding obstetrician echoed Vivas’ right to health care question saying, “We need to debate the issue.”

“If we decide it is a right, however, we have to have fiscal solvency,” he said.

Mount Shasta physical therapist Neil Posson said the United States is “the only democracy in the world that does not have universal health care.”

“We have average life expectancy compared to other countries and spend huge amounts of money,” Posson said.

Although opposed to the Obama plan, several speakers said that family members had been forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills “and that was with insurance.”

“There are many things we can do,” Herger responded without going into specifics.

Speakers brought up subjects far afield of heath care that included illegal immigration and the carbon cap and trade bill recently passed by Congress. Herger called the cap and trade law “environmental extremism.”

“Health care is not the only threat to our democracy,” Herger said.

Herger noted that the last election resulted in the Democrats having a majority in both houses of Congress.

“They can vote in anything they want,” Herger said. “The only thing standing between you and them voting in anything they want is you.”
In case, you're not from around here and you don't know, the Mt. Shasta area is full of generally normal and sensible people living in rural mountain communities. They are far removed from the crazy you find in Redding and parts south. Seriously, if you want to find the highest concentration of right-wing crazy in California, the town you want to visit is not in Southern California. It's Red Bluff. I'd feel safe betting the better part of a paycheck that's where most of these yabos originated.

Look, this is why it's important for everyone you know who supports reform to stop calling it "health care reform." That guy at the meeting who asked if health care is a right walked right into the trap that awaits everyone who fails to take this message to heart. Go back and read that dialogue and ask yourself if it would have gone differently if the guy had asked if the Congressman believed that everyone should have a right to health insurance, and if not, then who should be denied insurance?

I am sick unto death of my fellow liberals not getting their heads around this. Nobody in America likes the health insurance companies, except their executive officers and their boards of directors. Nobody. Start policing your language, liberals... we're demanding health insurance reform. Remember the magic word: INSURANCE.

Learn it. Use it. Live it.

(Hat tip to Raw Story.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hoisted From The Internet Memory Hole

Now that the shambling undead horror that was Robert Novak has finally been deanimated, it's time to reprint, in whole, the words of The Mighty Billmon so that we might remember him properly.
Network of the Living Dead
July 18, 2005

CNN executives announced today that they will not bury the badly decomposed corpse of columnist and on-air personality Robert Novak, despite complaints from producers that the stench of his putrifying flesh is making it difficult to book guests for the network's talk shows.

"We realize some viewers may be unsettled by the sight of a rotting pile of maggot-infested tissue on their living room TV screens," explained CNN/US president Jonathan Klein. "But Novak has a contract, and we feel that as long as we can squeeze a little more free publicity out of his legal and ethical problems, we have no choice but to keep him on the air."

Klein refused to comment on a recent outbreak of typhus at CNN studios in Washington that left five of Novak's makeup artists dead and 23 hospitalized, citing pending litigation. He also declined comment on the alleged involvement of Novak's personal chef in an interstate grave-robbing conspiracy.

"Those charges are under investigation by the police, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time," Klein said. "But I can assure you that anyone convicted of a crime and sentenced to a lengthy term in a federal prison will be fired from this network -- just as soon as the appeals process has been completed."

Industry insiders say that CNN, which badly lags rival Fox News in the ratings wars, is desperately seeking a long-term replacement for Novak, but so far hasn't found a reanimated corpse willing to accept the job.

"Most zombie journalists have higher standards than that," explained one network source, speaking on quadruple super duper secret sauce background. "And the others are either in jail or have already been signed by Fox."

The source, who I am now at liberty to reveal is Wolf Blitzer, disclosed that Fox talk show host Bill O'Reilly rejected a CNN offer after lengthy negotiations. "His Fox contract includes an all-the-production-assistants-you-can-eat clause," Blitzer said. "Klein wanted to top it, but the highest corporate would go was an unlimited supply of dead Iraqis. And O'Reilly said they give him gas."

One industry insider speculated that CNN would use advanced refrigeration technology to try to keep Novak's corpse from completely falling apart while it waits for Larry King to pass over into the undead state. Others disagreed, however.

"They've been waiting a long time for that to happen," one informed source said. "But I think King has already made his own deal with the network down under -- and I don't mean the Australia Broadcasting Corporation."
Followed by:
Death Takes A Holiday
August 05, 2005

Reversing their earlier decision to keep the unburied corpse of Novak on the air, CNN executives have announced that the zombie propagandist's decaying flesh will be "temporarily" entombed in a lead-lined refrigerated crypt at the Hanford Nuclear Energy Reservation in Washington State.

Network executives acted Thursday after Novak's body staggered to its feet in the middle of a joint interview with the mummified remains of James Carville, and vomited a noxious heap of its own decomposed organs directly into the lap of CNN host Ed Henry. The reanimated corpse then lurched off the set, leaving a trail of wriggling maggots and liquified fecal matter behind it.

"It was just the usual stuff," said one CNN producer present in the studio at the time. "Henry's had all his shots, and the steam hoses were ready. But when the suits found out that Novak said 'bullshit' on camera, they totally lost it. The promotional contract specifically required him to call it 'high-grade organic fertilizer from a naturally abundant bovine source.' The ad department was furious."

Other sources, however, said the decision to put Novak on ice was actually made several weeks ago, after several of the living members of his staff were mysteriously stricken by radiation sickness. Technicians reportedly traced the source of the contamination to Novak's lower intestines -- or rather, what's left of them.

"He's been having trouble getting his hands, well, his stubs, on fresh corpses lately," said one CNN insider. "So we've been feeding him some old ones shipped in from the Ukraine. How the heck were we supposed to know they were Chernobyl victims?"

But CNN/US president Jonathan Klein angrily denied that story, saying Novak has had no trouble at all obtaining young, healthy corpses to devour, thanks to his close relationship with the Pentagon and the recent rise in U.S. casualties in Iraq.

"Mr. Novak has been amply nourished by the brave young soldiers who have died defending his freedom -- and ours -- to tell lies to the American people," Klein said. "That was absolutely not a factor in this decision."

The use of a lead-lined sarcophagous, Klein added, was requested by Novak for unspecified "religious reasons."

"Let's just say that Bob has some serious debts to pay in the underworld -- and I don't mean the Mafia," explained one lawyer who's been officially briefed on the case. "Once he's cooped up in that crypt he's going to have a hard time covering the vig. Personally, I don't think even two feet of solid lead is going to stop the devil, but I can't blame Novak for trying. If you know Bob, you know he needs all the protection from the hereafter that he can get."

CNN executives insist the interment of Novak's rotting remains will only be a temporary "working vacation" for the undead pseudo-journalist, who will continue to write his syndicated column and deal with his mounting legal troubles -- despite the subzero temperatures inside his tomb.

Some experts are dubious, however. "If you saw the video from Thursday, you can tell the brain is just about gone," said one experienced pathologist. "I'm fairly sure there was gray matter in that stuff his corpse was puking up. You can see it all over that big book on the table next to Henry. I doubt at this point that Novak could do much more than type out a few random, incoherent letter sequences."

But Novak's editors at the Chicago Sun Times say they hardly expect to see that kind of improvement in the columnist's work, given his condition. "As long as he can still manage to slander and slime one or two innocent people a week, that's good enough for us," said one.

Novak's legal problems, however, may not be so easy solved, sources speculated. "You fucking got that right," said the lawyer who has been briefed. "Satan is the least of his worries now. If Bob thinks Pat Fitzgerald's gonna cut him some slack just because he's finally dead and in his grave, I think he's got a surprise coming."
Pretty strong stuff, but consider what Novak said just last year:
Q: Let's talk about the Valerie Plame affair, which caused you so much grief. If you had it to do over again, would you reveal who she was?

A: If you read my book, you find a certain ambivalence there. Journalistically, I thought it was an important story because it explained why the CIA would send Joe Wilson -- a former Clinton White House aide with no track record in intelligence and no experience in Niger -- on a fact-finding mission to Africa. From a personal point of view, I said in the book I probably should have ignored what I'd been told about Mrs. Wilson.

Now I'm much less ambivalent. I'd go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn't ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me -- or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don't think I hurt Valerie Plame whatsoever.
Words fail to express my happiness at receiving the news of Novak's final spark going dark. My only disappointment is that he didn't suffer enough before he finally went out.

Update: on second thought, words don't entirely fail me here. Let me see if I get this right, Bob... if you had it all to do over again, you'd jump with both feet on Valerie Plame's covert identity, destroy her network of agents, generally fuck up for years to come a significant part of U.S. nuclear non-proliferation efforts, particularly with regard to Iran and South Asia, and you would do this with relish and enthusiasm because... some bloggers and reporters [and one comedian who pretends to be a reporter] made fun of you? You thin-skinned ghoul, I'm glad you're done.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I'm at my wit's end.

First, they removed the end-of-life counseling provisions from the health insurance reform bill because it was important to forget that they were all in support of them until they reliably informed that our White Christian grandmothers would be eaten by space aliens at Area 51 by President Obama's death panels.

Then, they shut down the email alias because it was even more important to forget that the White House isn't allowed to delete emails they receive unless they might have originated from nutcases who think toting handguns and rifles to public assemblies in the vicinity of the President of the United States is the optimal form of political protest.

Now, they're talking about removing the public option from the health insurance reform bill because it's extremely important to pass a bill that contains individual mandates to buy private health insurance from effective monopolies that have every incentive in the world to resist cuts to their operating overhead. How this is not expected to be a political disaster of epic proportions for anyone caught voting for it is a complete mystery to me.

Let me get this straight. My fellow bloggers here and me are going to now be subject to criminal penalties if we don't pay our health insurance premiums to private companies whose sole function is to make profit by denying coverage for medical care to as many sick and injured people as possible?

This is supposed to be REFORM!?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Will we get T-Shirts?


Via Marcy Wheeler, Radar apparently posted a story about what exactly got James Comey so cranked up about the wireless surveillance program that he was willing to defy both the Vice President and the President by rushing to John Ashcrofts hospital room and had the FBI Director order his detail not to allow him to be removed. And it's oh so special:

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

The Bush Administration never disappoints. Even after they are gone.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Your Ticking Bomb Scenario

The terrorist who assassinated Dr. Tiller last weekend has now proclaimed to the Associated Press that he possesses information about other terrorist activity still in the planning stages.
Scott Roeder called The Associated Press from the Sedgwick County jail, where he's being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller one week ago.

"I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.
Maybe he's talking about the "martydom" that Newt Gingrich was enthusiastically helping his new best-friend-forever Lou Engle sell this past weekend.
Hmmm. If only there was a way to break Mr. Roeder's resistance to interrogation.
Roeder declined to elaborate. That means we have a suspect in custody who has admitted to having knowledge of specific terrorist attacks planned for the future. In order to thwart those alleged plots, we need more information from Roeder -- information he doesn't seem likely to give up voluntarily.

By the logic of the ticking time-bomb scenario, we should be waterboarding Roeder already -- or at least banging his head against the wall. After all, terror attacks could be imminent, with an unknown cost in terms of human lives and the creation of a climate of fear. It's a no-brainer, right?
The moar gooder news, of course, is that President Obama has made sure that America doesn't torture anymore. Oh wait.
Loophole 1: Torture is prohibited only of persons detained in an “armed conflict.”
The executive order applies only to “armed conflicts,” not counterterrorism operations.
Loophole 2: Only the CIA must close detention centers.
President Obama has ordered the CIA to close detention centers, except those “used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis,” which can stay open indefinitely. Exactly how long a duration is “short-term” and “transitory” is unclear.
Loophole 3: Officials may still hide some detainees and abusive practices from the Red Cross.
[...]Here again, if a detainee is not one captured on the battlefield by US soldiers in an armed conflict, Obama’s order provides no guidance as to his fate.
And my personal favorite...

Loophole 4: Abuses not labeled “torture” may continue.
I wonder if Scott Roeder is getting much sleep these days. I wonder how cold it is in his jail cell. I wonder if he's getting all his medications on time.

I wonder if inducing hyperalgesia by the combination of sleep deprivation and exposure to temperature extremes is ever going to be regarded as torture, or if it will continue to be labeled as merely a "harsh interrogation" technique. I wonder if drug treatments as an interrogation technique are still permitted.

I wonder about a lot of things. So does Josh Marshall [again]:
For some reason, we haven't seen any torture advocates clamoring to see those "harsh interrogation techniques" applied to Roeder. In fact, we asked four prominent defenders of torture for their views on the issue -- and all four stayed mum.

The world's most prominent torture advocate, Dick Cheney, didn't immediately respond through his "transition office" to a message we left about whether he'd support using enhanced interrogation techniques on Roeder.

The office of Sen. John Cornyn, who posed the ticking time bomb hypothetical to Eric Holder in his confirmation hearings earlier this year, likewise didn't respond to the same question.

Neither did Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who wrote in a recent column that, in the ticking time-bomb scenario, "the choice is easy."

And neither did Rich Lowry of National Review, who in a 2006 column, used the ticking time-bomb scenario to slam Sen. John McCain for seeking to modify the Bush administration's torture polices.

We'll update if any of them get back to us.
I'm waiting with bated breath.

You know... actually, I'll bet none of those monsters would mind very much if Scott Roeder were to be subjected to human rights abuses in the course of interrogating about his knowledge of terrorist activity. They're just not willing to step up and call for it publicly in this case, because they know it would be poorly received by the large faction of terrorist sympathizers in the GOP wingnut base to be seen arguing helpfully against the forced birth movement. Plus, they know they can count of whiney godless liberals like me to be consistent about opposing torture under all circumstances, even when public false confessions by Roeder to all manner of crazy weirdness could seem to be politically useful under the right contrived circumstances.

But we should be putting them on the spot. Those assholes really ought to be made to explain to us why we shouldn't be burying Scott Roeder alive to induce him to give up the names of his associates and accomplices. Why... I'm sure that with the proper application of a few cups of water and a stereo system with a good copy of Orbital's Satan, we could learn all about how he personally loaded Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons into Iranian flying saucers bound for Al Qaeda cells operating in the basement of San Francisco's world famous Nob Hill Male revue.

I'd have a tough time resisting the temptation myself.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


That's right, I'm calling a 2012 shot. Jeb will run, and he will be formidable. He is assembling his forces, even now...

The cabal has spoken...

mojo sends

Gingrich and Huckabee Meet Lou Engle and Ron Luce

Okay, now this is what I'm talking about. From the often very reasonable Talk To Action, we read this:
As Christian Newswire just announced four hours ago [prior to the time of the Talk To Action posting —s9], "Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Lou Engle, Ron Luce and others link up this week to inspire people of faith to reclaim the Nation's spiritual foundation." The event will be broadcast over GodTV, a Christian media network founded in 1995 which claims to be able to reach hundreds of millions globally.

On Sunday May 31, 2009 late-term abortion doctor George Tiller was allegedly gunned down in the lobby of his Wichita, Kansas church by a man, Scott Roeder, who had ties to the racist wing of the militia movement. The next morning CBS's Jeff Glor reported, "We did speak with the accused shooters' ex-wife yesterday. She said she was not surprised this happened and that she believed Roeder wanted to be a martyr for the cause."

If the event goes as planned, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee will appear, only days after Tiller was slain, with a man who has publicly agitated against George Tiller and called for Christian martyrs to stop legal abortion: Lou Engle of TheCall.
I've not written here about Lou Engle and Ron Luce before, but I've been meaning to do so for some time. If you don't know about these guys, go read what the Talk To Action article says about them. They are the real deal. It is NOT a good sign that Gingrich and Huckabee are embracing them in public like this.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weapons Grade Christianity

Fuckity fuckity fuck fuck

Here's my favorite bit (otherwise it's kind of a long, but really interesting read):
"Petraeus’s most vigorous defense came last August from the recently retired three-star general William “Jerry” Boykin—a founding member of the Army’s Delta Force and an ordained minister—during an event held at Fort Bragg to promote his own book, Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom. “Here comes a guy named Mikey Weinstein trashing Petraeus,” he told a crowd of 150 at the base’s Airborne and Special Forces Museum, “because he endorsed a book that’s just trying to help soldiers. And this makes clear what [Weinstein’s] real agenda is, which is not to help this country win a war on terror.”

“It’s satanic,” called out a member of the audience.

“Yes,” agreed Boykin. “It’s demonic.”

After 9/11, Boykin went on the prayer-breakfast circuit to boast, in uniform, that his God was “bigger” than the Islamic divine of Somali warlord Osman Atto, whom Boykin had hunted. “I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” he declared, displaying as evidence photographs of black clouds over Mogadishu: the “demonic spirit” his troops had been fighting. “The principality of darkness,” he went on to declare, “a guy called Satan.” Under fire from congressional Democrats, Boykin claimed he hadn’t been speaking about Islam, but in a weird non sequitur he insisted, “My references to. . . our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable.” These strategic insights earned Boykin promotion to deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a position in which he advised on interrogation techniques until August 2007.

Mikey Weinstein, for his part, doesn’t mind being called demonic by officers like Boykin. “I consider him to be a traitor to the oath that he swore, which was to the United States Constitution and not to his fantastical demon-and-angel dominionism. He’s a charlatan. The fact that he refers to me as demon-possessed so he can sell more books makes me want to take a Louisville Slugger to his kneecaps, his big fat belly, and his head. He is a very, very bad man.” Mikey—nobody, not even his many enemies, calls him Weinstein—likes fighting, literally. In 1973, as a “doolie” (a freshman at the Air Force Academy) he punched an officer who accused him of fabricating anti-Semitic threats he’d received. In 2005, after the then-head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, declared that people like Mikey made it hard for him to “defend Jewish causes,” Mikey challenged the pastor to a public boxing match, with proceeds to go to charity. (Haggard didn’t take him up on it.) He relishes a rumor that he’s come to be known among some at the Pentagon as the Joker, after Heath Ledger’s nihilistic embodiment of Batman’s nemesis. But he draws a distinction: “Don’t confuse my description of chaos with advocacy of chaos.”

(Military Religious Freedom Foundation) draws on a network of lawyers, publicists, and fund-raisers, but its core is just Mikey, plus a determined researcher named Chris Rodda, author of an unfinished multivolume debunking of Christian-right historical claims entitled Liars for Jesus.
moj sends

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Next, They'll Want A DNA Sample

Would somebody please tell me what practical purpose this might serve?
Homeland Security to scan fingerprints of travellers exiting the US
By Brett Winterford
29 May 2009 05:53AM

From June, US Customs and Border Patrol will take a fingerprint scan of international travellers exiting the United States from Detroit, while the US Transport Security Administration will take fingerprint scans of international travellers exiting the United States from Atlanta.

Biometric technology such as fingerprint scans has been used by US Customs and Border Patrol for several years to gain a biometric record of non-US citizens entering the United States.

But under the Bush Administration, a plan was formulated to also scan outgoing passengers.

Michael Hardin, a senior policy analyst with the US-Visit Program at the United States Department of Homeland Security told a Biometrics Institute conference today that the DHS will use the data from the trial to "inform us as to where to take [exit screening] next."

Maybe they'll see a compelling need to require me to have an exit visa before I travel abroad. I can't wait.
"We are trying to ensure we know more about who came and who left," he said. "We have a large population of illegal immigrants in the United States - we want to make sure the person getting on the plane really is the person the records show to be leaving."

The original exit scanning legislation planned by the Bush administration stipulated that airlines would be responsible for conducting the exit fingerprints.

But after much protest, Hardin said the new Obama administration re-considered this legislation two weeks ago and is "not as sold that private sector should be agency for exit fingerprints."

"The new administration feels that perhaps it is more appropriate that Government should take that role."

Wonderful. I'm really looking forward to everyone having to prove that their papers are in order at Checkpoint Charlie before I can get on a Lufthansa to West Berlin. That's gonna be just awesome.

Here's the part I love:
Editors Note - This story originally contained a representation that the biometrics trial in Atlanta and Detroit included the fingerprint scanning of US citizens. This has since been proved to be incorrect and the story has been modified - only non-US citizens will be expected to provide a biometric record.
U.S. citizens, of course, will be expected to present a valid passport— which will contain a biometric record. Assuming they still retain possession of their passport. Which is technically not their personal property, actually— it must be surrendered to law enforcement on demand.

The Weakly Standard: Persistently Wrong About EVERYTHING

Today, they trotted out some Ph.D. student to spin a noxious stream of neo-conservative bullshit about— get this— Internet governance. As it happens, I have some professional expertise in Internet engineering, operations and management, with a minor in Internet governance, so the Stupid in question here isn't as easily overlooked with a sigh and a "well, I'll let the experts take this article apart" dismissal. No, this one falls to me.

I shall now commence to vigorously taking the article down.

Who Controls the Internet?
The United States, for now, and a good thing, too.
by Ariel Rabkin
05/25/2009, Volume 014, Issue 34

The headline and the subhead, as always, is even worse than the article. In this case, however, I blame the author and not the editor. If the author had even the faintest clue what he was talking about, then the editor wouldn't have been tempted to extrapolate the [poorly formed] main argument of the article, i.e. that ICANN should remain under contract to the U.S. Department of Commerce, into the stratospheric heights of inanity it's reached here.

Let's start by taking apart the very first sentence of Mr. Rabkin's article:

In order to please our European allies and our Third World critics, the Obama administration may be tempted to surrender one particular manifestation of American "dominance": central management of key aspects of the Internet by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

He's talking about the ongoing tussle over control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It's not a new fight. It's been going on since before there ever was an ICANN. (The Wikipedia article about ICANN is pretty good.)

It takes a particularly bent kind of personality to look at the tiny management function of ICANN and its dependence on a revenue stream from the U.S. Department of Commerce that's so small that I defy you to even find it in the Commerce budget, and to describe that as American "dominance" of anything. These personalities seem to be drawn to the Weakly Standard like mosquitos to an Alabama campfire.

... Other countries are pushing for more control. Early this year, British cabinet member Andy Burnham told the Daily Telegraph that he was "planning to negotiate with Barack Obama's incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites." It would be a mistake for the administration to go along. America's special role in managing the Internet is good for America and good for the world.

Despite Mr. Rabkin's assertions, the United States does not have any special role in "managing" the Internet, and it gets nothing good or bad out of paying for ICANN out of the Commerce budget, except maybe the blame for some of ICANN's less than popular decisions.

But wait... Mr. Rabkin is only just getting started making a fool of himself.

Internet domain names (such as are managed hierarchically. At the top of the hierarchy is an entity called IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, operated on behalf of the Commerce Department. The U.S. government therefore has the ultimate authority to review or revoke any decision, or even to transfer control of IANA to a different operator.

p1. Internet domain name authority is federated, which is not quite the same thing as "managed hierarchically," and I would have expected an editor at The Weakly Standard to know the difference. Or, I would have expected that if I didn't already have an extremely low opinion of the editors at The Weakly Standard.

p2. The entity that manages the name authority for the root DNS zone is technically not IANA, which is only one of ICANN's subcommittee operations and not authoritative about anything related to operations or management of the Internet domain name system. Mr. Rabkin's conflates the two organizations, referring to ICANN as IANA, throughout his article. This is the error that proves to me that he doesn't have the faintest clue what he's talking about.

p3. Worse, the ICANN isn't even charged with operating the DNS root zone zervers. That job is currently farmed out of the U.S. Department of Commerce to a multinational corporation called VeriSign, the less you know about, the more calmified you will feel. They pay even less attention to what Barack Obama or the members of the U.S. Senate might think than you do. And YOU couldn't care less, could you?

p4. Finally, the U.S. government doesn't have any authority to review or revoke ICANN decisions. What it has is basically the same authority it has over any chartered corporation that depends on the U.S. government for its funding. The U.S. government, if sufficiently moved, can protest an ICANN decision by unilaterally revoking its charter and attempting to seize back direct control of the naming authority by force. Good luck with that, I say.

Moving on.

Until now, the management of the Domain Name System has been largely apolitical, and most of the disputes that have arisen have been of interest only to insiders and the technology industry.

Like this one, for instance? (Link goes to a technical side of the ongoing clusterfark over internationalized domain names, in which ICANN sits in the middle.)

IANA has concerned itself with fairly narrow questions like "Should we allow names ending in .info?" Commercial questions about ownership of names, like other property disputes, are settled in national courts. Political questions like "Who is the rightful government of Pakistan, and therefore the rightful owner of the .pk domain?" are settled by the U.S. Department of State.

There are persistent proposals to break the connection between IANA and the U.S. government. In these schemes, IANA would be directed by some international body, such as the United Nations or the International Telecommunication Union, which coordinates international phone networks. It is unclear what problem such proposals attempt to solve. There have been no serious complaints about American stewardship of the Internet, no actual abuses perpetrated by American overseers. But were we to abdicate this stewardship, a number of difficulties could arise.

Again. He means ICANN, not IANA. He also probably doesn't mean Verisign, either, but that's not exactly clear. There have been complaints about Verisign. Lots and lots.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get into the list of "difficulties" that he thinks could arise.

Perhaps most serious, control of Internet names could become a lever to impose restrictions on Internet content.

What? No, seriously... WTF?

Many governments already attempt to control speech on the Internet. Some years ago, Yahoo! was subject to criminal proceedings in France for allowing Nazi memorabilia to be auctioned on its website. Britain, Canada, and Australia all have mandatory nationwide blacklists of banned sites, managed by nongovernmental regulators with minimal political oversight. Such blacklists can have unpredictable consequences: Wikipedia was badly degraded to British users for some hours because of a poorly designed censorship system targeting child pornography.

Mr. Rabkin seems to have completely forgotten that the Domain Name System (DNS) has a federated naming authority, which he described as "managed hierarchically" in his opening sentence, and that ICANN only controls the top-level domain names. I can't begin to comprehend how he's taken that and gone off into the weeds here.

If we give control of the Internet naming infrastructure to an international organization, we must expect attempts to censor the Internet. The Organization of the Islamic Conference will doubtless demand the suppression of websites that "insult Islam" or "encourage hatred," and a number of European countries may well go along.


It doesn't matter who pays for either ICANN or the root zone operator. We must expect attempts to censor the Internet. In fact, we should probably not be terribly surprised to notice that billions of people are already subject to censorship on the Internet, despite Mr. Rabkin's lauding of American "dominance" over Internet governance. How did that happen, Mr. Wizard?

It gets better.

Most countries lack our First Amendment tradition, and if we wish to protect the free speech rights of Americans online, we should not allow Internet domain names to be hostage to foreign standards. Many other First World countries already have government-imposed restrictions on Internet speech that we would not contemplate here. Even if Internet governance were shared only with First World democracies, they might urge and ultimately demand that domain operators impose restrictions on content.

Oh, ye gods. He's worried that if ICANN were to be spun loose and run out of the Internet Society or something, then those goddamned wankers in Eurabia will force him to register instead of www.mohammedsuckedmydick or

I so want to be introduced to his dope dealer.

An international Internet-management organization could offer foreign governments a way to impose restrictions without public debate. Rather than having a political fight about the matter, governments might quietly pressure international regulators to draw up and gradually extend "responsible behavior" codes for online speech. This would follow a pattern familiar in other global institutions: Governments negotiate preferred policies without public participation and then present the results as an international consensus, beyond political challenge.

Rabkin is clearly not paying attention. Nobody interested in doing any of those things gives a flying fraggle how the ICANN runs its show, because it's irrelevant to them. How do I know this? Because The Weakly Standard routinely apologizes for every pseudo-Christian wanker in America who'd like very much to scour the pornography out of the Internet with an army of Jesuses wielding wire brushes and tasers, and does the Weakly Standard even know the difference between ICANN and IANA? No. Not important to them. Irrelevant.

American stewardship does not mean the world must put its entire trust in U.S. oversight. If the United States started using its privileged role in ways that other governments found intolerable, they could override this behavior. It would be technically straightforward for foreign governments to maintain their own naming infrastructure and to instruct Internet service providers to use it. This heavy-handed government intervention in network operations, however, would likely receive substantial public scrutiny. It probably would not be undertaken unless the United States gravely misused its authority over the Internet.

He's trying to kill me.

Mr. Rabkin apparently doesn't know or care that the monolithic public Internet domain name horizon is pretty much a polite fiction that bears no actual semblance of reflection on the practices of the real world. Does Mr. Rabkin know why OpenDNS has a reason to exist? Hint: it's because there really isn't a single centralized federated naming authority in practice. Naming authority is routinely overridden in the real world. It's only a single public horizon by convention. (It's not even law, because well, the Internet is run by toothless anarchists and dope-smoking hippies like me, and that's how we roll.)

This same reluctance would apply to potential American responses to censorship or mismanagement by an international organization.

The United States could, in theory, set up a renegade, uncensored Internet. ...

In theory, the United States could unilaterally dismantle its nuclear weapons systems and sell off its eleven carrier battle groups as scrap metal to the Pakistani razor-blade factories.

...But there would likely be significant public distrust, substantial political acrimony, and a great deal of hesitation. We are better off keeping the public Internet free and leaving the social and technical burdens on governments that want to censor. The present system is thus perhaps the best way to prevent the naming system from being used to chill online speech worldwide.

How, exactly does it do that, Mr. Rabkin? How exactly would "surrendering" it to the Internet Society, where the function originated in the first place, facilitate your supposed "chill" of online free speech? I'm trying to figure out how that would work, and I'm just not seeing it.

American supervision of Internet naming is not a historical accident.Much of the world's telecommunications infrastructure was developed by national post offices. Our unusual tradition of private infrastructure development, including the railroad and telephone networks, made America fertile ground for the development of the Internet. We expect government not only to settle political questions, but also to protect the freedom of private entrepreneurs as much as possible. To the extent that the Internet is decentralized and self-governing, it is so because Americans expect society to work that way.


It is natural for other countries to resent the privileged role of the United States in Internet governance and to demand a greater measure of control. [emphasis mine —s9] But if we believe in free speech, we ought to keep control of the Internet away from foreign governments that value it far less than we do.

Deep inside the mind of anyone who could write a sentence like that and get the basic facts underlying their argument so badly wrong, I have to imagine there is a tiny little fascist beavering away at a tiny little typewriter writing his next populist manifesto.

Shorter Ariel Rabkin: the dirty wogs are coming to kill us all in our beds... and make us learn how to type ϕβκ.com into our browser windows. God help us if Barack Hussein Obama sin Laden Malcolm X cuts loose the ICANN from the Commerce Department, because the next thing you hear will be truncheons and jackboots on the street outside your house. WOLVERINES!!!!1!

Shorter S9: the only privilege the U.S. government enjoys in governing the Internet anymore is to write a check every year to Verisign and ICANN; Verisign doesn't even notice the money, and ICANN hardly needs any. This is not a privilege worth defending, much less paying cold hard cash to retain.

In summary: Ariel Rabkin is a dumb-ass, despite being a Ph.D. candidate in computer science with a friend on the editorial board at The Weakly Standard.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Revolution Deferred...

DREAM BOOGIE, By Langston Hughes

Good morning, daddy!
Ain't you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You'll hear their feet
Beating out and Beating out a --

You think
It's a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain't you heard
something underneath
like a --

What did I say?
Sure, I'm happy!
Take it away!
Hey, pop!
It is a warm, bright pleasant evening here in Long Beach. The kind of evening people say reminds them how lucky they are to live in Southern California. The atmostphere is festive... or it would be, but for the serious reason we are all gathering here.

In my neighborhood, Junipero and Broadway, and the small coffeehouse that inhabits that space are the spiritual downtown of the Gay and Lesbian Community of Long Beach. And in about five minutes, thousands of them are going to start a march about two miles away and end up in the park across the street from my redoubt here in the coffee house.

The reason is fairly obvious for anyone who has been following the news today... some religious wingnuts have managed to convince a plurality of California voters that Gays and Lesbians are not real people, and the legal arguments used to try to overturn that opinion in the court were weak and almost entirely without merit.

It wasn't unexpected.

But there's a lot of anger pulsing just beneath the surface. It's Two-Thousand-and-freekin'-Nine, when are we going to join the rest of the world in the 21st frakin' century already?

But it's more than just gay marriage. These people, my friends and neighbors are the proverbial canary in a cultural coal mine; The last quasi-acceptable social hatred. It's the low hanging fruit for a group of people have an agenda for all of us.

Unfortunately, we haven't figured out to beat them at their own game yet. Like I said, there's anger, but also a lot of naiveté and credulity about their opponents... This mix of barely contained rage and a fundamental misunderstanding of what their enemies are really after is trouble for us all...

That's the great thing about Gay politics... any occasion for a march or protest is marked by lots of music, pulsing dance beats from the clubs and bars, lyrics of liberation set at 120 beats per minute. It's a disco revolution, where the rebels wear uniforms festooned in rainbow colors; it's a form of camouflage.

So there will be happy blaring disco music, dancing in the street, and people celebrating themselves loudly and in public... but listen closley... you think it's a happy beat?

7:24 p.m.
Police are setting up barricades on Broadway, as the marchers start to make their way down to the park. Folks are starting to gather in front of the bandstand in park, where they have set up a PA and will hold the rally portion of the evening.

So... what am I doing here? Have I gone madder than bastard on Father's Day? I mean, this is about Gay Marriage... I am a straight married white guy, what could this possibly have to do with me. Existential politics aside for the moment, the fact is that these are my friends and neighbors who are protesting for the right to be just like me.

How could I walk past them on the street, look them in the eyes or mingle with them in the coffee house without doing everything I can to support them in this time. This is my neighborhood (at least for another week or so) and these are my neighbors who need me. Forget the fact that I support their cause 110 percent, these are my people here...


7:40 p.m.
The march is now visible making it's way down a now-vacated Broadway. People with signs hanging out in the coffee place and the corner there waiting for them to arrive. Time for me to pack it up and get to the park...

At first it was a pretty inspiring sight... at least two or three thousand people trying to cram into our little park in front of the bandstand. They just kept pouring in off the street waving signs, blowing whistles, chanting...

Then the speakers started. They were okay, but for the most part uninspiring. They preached the need for love, respect, equal rights, blah, blah, blah... These are all well and good, but none of that is going to win an election, and that is what this is all about now; getting a measure on the ballot for the 2010 midterm primary.

Okay, I hear you saying "well then what Mojo? What do we do?" Here's what:

Commercial idea-- "prohibiting gay marriage: brought to you by the same people who think touching the hands of the snake-oil selling boob on the TV screen cures cancer and who think dinosaurs are freekin' Jesus Ponies (safe link)

If these people really want to rumble in the larger arena of culture, then I think it's high time we take that fight to them. Look, everyone likes to feel smarter than the next guy, and I can think of no better way to help people do that than by letting them know that voting against gay marriage is tantamount to ratifying this other goofy shit, because in the minds of those proposing it, that's exactly what it is, even if they won't come right out and say it!

Keep the pressure on and let everyone know they have skin in this game. Why do I keep saying this? Here's a quote from the Institute on Creation Research, a supposedly scientific institute:
"[...]What about the use of deception by government officials (rationalized as required for national security, or to avoid a riot, or to promote a “social injustice” policy)? What about civil rights, discrimination, and the persecution of Christians?

The Bible provides knowable answers to all of these moral decision-making questions, either directly or indirectly. The Bible’s moral values are not like relativistic situational ethics.
All physical, biological, and spiritual reality is created and maintained by God in Christ and revealed by the Spirit. All teaching, no matter how profound, attractive, or eloquent, should be tested by its fidelity to the Word of God.
Commerce (business) is the complementary discipline necessary to distribute the “useful things” to everyone.

In essence, commerce is complying with the “fill the earth” portion of the mandate.

Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden and told to “dress and keep” it. They were not told how to do so, only that it was their responsibility before the Creator to maintain and develop what had been provided for them. As the population of earth grew, it would be necessary to develop skills to make their tools and talents available to others. That procedure in modern terms is “commerce.” "
Yeah, this is all apparently "science."

They even go so far as to say that our current legal system is "evolution-based" law. It is all one big thing for the Xtian right. And so far, they have been much better than we at exploiting the general public's apathy about their desire to kill pluralism in society.

mojo sends