[H]ere is the truly offensive section of an overreaching piece of legislation: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
This puts the Treasury's actions beyond the rule of law. This is a financial coup d'etat, with the only limitation the $700 billion balance sheet figure. The measure already gives the Treasury the authority not simply to buy dud mortgage paper but other assets as it deems fit. There is no accountability beyond a report (contents undefined) to Congress three months into the program and semiannually thereafter. The Treasury could via incompetence or venality grossly overpay for assets and advisory services, and fail to exclude consultants with conflicts of interest, and there would be no recourse. Given the truly appalling track record of this Administration in its outsourcing, this is not an idle worry.
But far worse is the precedent it sets. This Administration has worked hard to escape any constraints on its actions, not to pursue noble causes, but to curtail civil liberties: Guantanamo, rendition, torture, warrantless wiretaps. It has used the threat of unseen terrorists and a seemingly perpetual war on radical Muslim[s] to justify gutting the Constitution. The Supreme Court, which has been supine on many fronts, has finally started to push back, but would it challenge a bill that sweeps aside judicial review?
[In the S&L crisis], the government did not need a strategy to decide which bad loans to take over; it dealt with anything that fell into its lap as a result of a thrift bankruptcy. But under the current proposal, the government would go out and shop for bad loans. These come in all shapes and sizes, so the government would have to judge what type of loans it wants. They are illiquid, so it's hard to know how to value them. Bad loans are weighing down the financial system precisely because private-sector experts can't determine their worth. The government would have no better handle on the problem.
In practice this means the government would make subjective choices about which bad loans to buy, and it would pay more than fair value. Billions in taxpayer money would be transferred to the shareholders and creditors of banks, and the banks from which the government bought most loans would be subsidized more than their rivals. If the government bought the most from the sickest institutions, it would be slowing the healthy process in which strong players buy up the weak, delaying an eventual recovery. The haggling over which banks got to unload the most would drag on for months. So the hope that this "systematic" plan can be a near-term substitute for ad hoc AIG-style bailouts is illusory.
Republicans may suffer damage not because their remedies are worse but because a lot of their ideology about how markets work has been belied by events. Republicans are the party of rewarding people for risk-taking. If the government covers part of the losses, then the risks were illusory in the first place. (So, of course, were some of the rewards. A good percentage of the proceeds from the controversial Bush tax cuts was surely poured into this black hole of speculation and unknowability.)
President George W. Bush, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and treasury secretary Hank Paulson all declare their preference for free-market solutions and a desire to minimise moral hazard. But they sound like François Mitterrand in mid-1983 when he abandoned his socialist programme commun in the face of capital flight and a collapsing franc, all the while proclaiming his devotion to socialism.
Turns out we didn't need "stealth socialist" Barack Obama to pervert capitalist America into a crumbling nationalized economy run in private by a dome-skulled kleptocracy as our nation's battered military wastes away in the forgotten bummer of a civil war in Afghanistan.
Who imagined that the great opportunity for joint progressive and libertarian advocacy and activism would end up being economic? But that's where we are. This loathsome bailout plan is a slap in the face to anyone who believes in either free-market principles or social justice.
[B]ad policies get enacted all the time. But we're at a point now where congress is, allegedly, in the hands of progressive leadership. Simply put, if congressional Democrats manage to acquiesce in a plan that spends $700 billion on a bailout while doing nothing for average working people and giving the taxpayer virtually no upside in a way that guarantees that even electoral victory would give an Obama administration no resources with which to implement a progressive domestic agenda in 2009 then everyone's going to have to give serious consideration to becoming a pretty hard-core libertarian.
Bernanke says, "There are no atheists in foxholes and no ideologues in financial crises." But if there's ever a time to hold strong to fundamental principles, it would seem that this would be it. We're setting precedents that will govern the behavior of the international business community for decades to come. Do we really want to signal that risks are public and rewards are private?
For that matter, do we really want such fundamental decisions being made by obscure, unaccountable men like Bernanke, Paulson, and SEC chair Chris Cox? Shouldn't Congress and the president be more than bit players?
At a practical level, Amity Shlaes is right when [s]he notes that, "The stock market crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression were not the same thing." And a New Deal II could just as easily lead to Great Depression II as letting creative destruction do its thing.
The Bush administration asked Congress for unchecked power to buy $700 billion in bad mortgage investments from U.S. financial companies in what would be an unprecedented government intrusion into the markets.
The plan, designed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, is aimed at averting a credit freeze that would bring the financial system and economic growth to a standstill. The bill would bar courts from reviewing actions taken under its authority....
As congressional aides and officials scrutinized the proposal, the Treasury late today clarified the types of assets it would purchase. Paulson would have authority to buy home loans, mortgage-backed securities, commercial mortgage-related assets and, after consultation with the Federal Reserve chairman, "other assets, as deemed necessary to effectively stabilize financial markets," the Treasury said in a statement....
The plan would raise the ceiling on the national debt and spend as much as the combined annual budgets of the Departments of Defense, Education and Health and Human Services.
Let me quote that last part again:
the combined annual budgets of the Departments of Defense, Education and Health and Human Services
From the occupation of New Orleans after Katrina to the financial socialism-for-the-rich we're seeing right now, the Bush Republicans' instincts in a crisis have always been to seize more power. And then -- just wait! -- to demonstrate how enormously unsuited they are to wield it.
And the Democrats, those alleged alternatives? Maybe it's their innate affection for economic intervention, maybe it's just the same spinelessness they've brought to issues ranging from FISA to Iraq, but they don't seem to be objecting to the Paulson plan. ("The consequences of inaction could be catastrophic," says Harry Reid, according to the Bloomberg report I quoted above. The consequences of really stupid actions must not be up for discussion.*) McCain's position on these issues keeps evolving; I expect that at some point next week he'll call for parading short sellers through the streets in dunce caps.
I'll exit with some cheery thoughts from Glenn Greenwald:
Haven't we heard all these years that national health care was an extremely risky and dangerous undertaking because of what happens when the Federal Government gets too involved in an industry? What happened in the last month dwarfs all of that by many magnitudes.
The Treasury Secretary is dictating to these companies how they should be run and who should run them. The Federal Government now controls what were -- up until last month -- vast private assets. These are extreme -- truly radical -- changes to how our society functions. Does anyone have any disagreement with any of it or is anyone alarmed by what the consequences are -- not the economic consequences but the consequences of so radically changing how things function so fundamentally and so quickly?
Other countries are debating it. The headline in the largest Brazilian newspaper this week was: "Capitalist Socialism??" and articles all week have questioned -- with alarm -- whether what the U.S. Government did has just radically and permanently altered the world economic system and ushered in some perverse form of "socialism" where industries are nationalized and massive debt imposed on workers in order to protect the wealthiest. If Latin America is shocked at the degree of nationalization and government-mandated transfer of wealth, that is a pretty compelling reflection of how extreme -- unprecedented -- it all is.
* Maybe he's expecting a bailout.
The Mini Book Review is back. See many old ones.
Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, by Paul Gottfried (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Gottfried's outlook on a topic oft-addressed by many writers (this is, in fact, his own second book assessing the American right) is at least a rare and bracing one: a paleo-rightist himself who thinks most of the popular and successful manifestations of the American right have sold out its own values--quite literally sold out, in pursuit of foundation cash and job openings controlled by neocons. This is most certainly a book for deep-insiders--you couldn't really make much sense of it if you weren't already versed in reading and thinking about, in, and among the American right--but for those types, its perspective is necessary.
The heart of Gottfried's thesis? Conservatism "has developed a talent not only for presenting takeovers as the serene march of the past into the present but also for treating a general retreat from its original positions as a progression of victories." The American right has retreated from a genuine oppositional intellectual movement to one with "a situational function, that of framing policies for the Republican Party and contributing to the administrative staff of Republican administrations."
He grants, with consummate fairness and a great deal of truth, that a conservative movement more to his liking--one that "stood where....Ron Paul...does today, might well have opposed the liberal Left even less effectively than the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute do today."
Gottfriend distinguishes the classless and unrooted, purely intellectual, American conservatism from any European roots; laments the passing of Russell Kirk (though he has his reservations about him as well) as a prime right-wing influence in favor of Jaffa and Strauss; traces the subtle shifting and occasional precarious combinations of dueling systems of "value conservatism" within the movement (while noting that nowadays it's easier for value conservatism to forgive being tolerant of gay marriage than being intolerent of endless wars for democracy); and ends with sadness that that global crusade for "democratic values" has inhabited the shell of conservative institutions, all the while tracing this more to cashflow than idea flow, and denying any modern conservative triumphalism that claims their neo-conservatism is more intellectual or ethically purer than the old variety they superseded.
In the end, noting intellectual conservatism's lack of any mass social or class base, he declares it mostly "contrived" and a "media phenomenon," and darkly suspects it functions well as an ally to left-liberals in keeping more paleo-cons, like himself, safely segregated from the public conversation. For a book undergirded to some degree by anger at what he sees as a conspiracy to subvert true conservative values, it remains dispassionate enough that even those who disagree with his thesis can do so without feeling embattled. Gottfried leaves you room to consider his thesis, even be enlightened by it, without agreeing with it, a refreshing rarity in interested assessments of political movement and theory.
Unconvincing Quote of the Week
"If I was president today, I would fire him." - John McCain on SEC Chairman Chris Cox.
The Week in Brief
- You bought AIG. How are you liking it so far?
- Short selling was banned.
- Neither candidate knew what to do about any of this.
- Sarah Palin promised to reform Washington by doing things that Barack Obama already did. (By the way, who thinks McCain would have chosen her if he knew an economic crisis was coming down the pike?)
- Barack Obama wrestled back the polling lead from McCain.
- Bob Barr won Texas. Maybe.
- Joe Biden waved the flag and an IRS form, at the same time!
Below the Fold
- Jonathan Chait remembers when Dan Quale was a scrappy average American whom those liberal elites just didn't understand. (He never hunted moose, though.)
- Daniel Hopkins does the work and buries the Bradley Effect.
- Phil Klein explains why we should have seen the meltdown coming.
- Daniel McCarthy wants a smarter future from the Ron Paul movement.
This week's Politics 'n' Prog was chosen for me. Shine on, you
delirious precious gem.
Is it patriotic to pay higher taxes? Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) recently told those making over $250,000 per year that, "It's time to be patriotic...time to help get America out of the rut." But if he's really so concerned, writes Associate Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward, why do Biden's own tax returns reveal such a stingy record of charitable giving?
Does Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) offer libertarians any reason to cheer? Self-described "libertarian Democrat" Terry Michael offers seven potential upsides to an Obama presidency.
As someone who had been saying for the past few years that things like Nixonian wage and price controls would be considered beyond the pale in a world that, I thought, understood and appreciated some basics of free markets more than it did 35 years ago, well, it's a good thing my jaw has dropped so much on the past week's news that I have room to fit a lot of crow.
Well, my man Mises always said that some interventionism always created the impetus for more and more interventionism, and this month could be fruitfully dedicated to the old Austrian's memory.
How can short-selling destroy a good company?
The simple answer is that it can't.
First of all, short-selling can't force down your share price. Short-selling only forces down your share price if buyers don't emerge to defend your share price.
Banning short-selling cannot protect a bad stock. If nobody is willing to buy XYZ at a price higher than $.02 a share, then the price at which XYZ will trade will be $.02 a share (or lower). It doesn't matter whether you have short-sellers or not.
What drives stock prices down is the lack of people willing to buy them at the higher price. If the company has sufficient value, there will be sufficient buyers.
Megan McArdle, while agreeing in theory, thinks Kling underestimates the potential dangers of short-sellers:
If short-sellers flood a market, they can overwhelm the buyers, especially when you have a massive credit contraction in the markets.
Stephen Bainbridge also has a good, thorough list of reasons why this ban is stupid and will be of no particular help in solving the problem of massive sky-high piles of bad debt.
Last week The New York Times ran a
surprisingly sane story
about Salvia divinorum, the psychedelic herb that's been
banned or restricted in 13 states. The lead departs from
the usual approach of
drug policy journalism by describing a salvia trip that
features "convulsive laughter" provoked by a vision of "little
green men" in a boat, as opposed to psychosis, murder,
self-mutilation, blindness from staring at the sun too long,
or an accidental plunge from a multistory building. Another salvia
user is "transported into a dream state..as if drifting down a
rain forest river" with "a beatific smile spread lightly
across his face." He describes the experience as "just a very
gentle letting go, a very gentle relaxing." The Times is
appropriately skeptical of claims that salvia can lead to
suicide and sums up the drug's risks this way:
Though research is young and little is known about long-term effects, there are no studies suggesting that salvia is addictive or its users prone to overdose or abuse. Indeed, a salvia experience can be so intense, and at times so unsettling, that many try it just once, and even devotees use it sparingly.
Reports of salvia-related emergency room admissions are virtually nonexistent, likely because its effects typically vanish in just a few minutes.
The article, by Kevin Sack and Brent McDonald, notes that scientists are worried about legal restrictions on salvia, which could impede "promising research into its possible medical uses," such as "treatment of addiction, depression, and pain." Except for the obligatory reference to salvia's alleged street names ("Sally D and Magic Mint"), the piece is quite different from what we've come to expect when mainstream news outlets cover drug fads.
Mark Bauerlein, scourge of Internet users and people born after 1965, recently wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation. Since then, he's been on a one-man jihad against Kids These Days and Their Cellular Phones and Computers.
This week, in The Chronicle of Higher Education he declares that "Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind." When people read things online, according to a newish study, their eyes move in a "F" shape, reading all the way across at the top of the page, but moving pretty much vertically down the left margin by the time they get to the bottom.
This technique is none-too-effective for understanding "a dense argument, a Modernist poem, a long political tract, and other texts that require steady focus and linear attention." Fair enough. But the online reading mode Bauerlein describes has students "race[ing] across the surface, dicing language and ideas into bullets and graphics, seeking what they already want," which doesn't sounds like the end of civilization to me. It sounds like a complementary skill to settling in with a dense text. He writes:
"Last year when I required students in a literature survey course to obtain obituaries of famous writers without using the Internet, they stared in confusion. Checking a reference book, asking a librarian, and finding a microfiche didn't occur to them. So many free deliveries through the screen had sapped that initiative."
That's akin to saying, "I asked students to make toast without a toaster, but building a fire and finding a long stick to hold the bread didn't occur to them. The toaster had sapped their initiative."
I think Bauerlein makes a moderate case at the end of the article for carving out a space in educational environments for careful reading on dead tree, but I'm not sure, because by the end of his article, I was
For more, see Nick Gillespie go head to head with Bauerlein at reason.tv.
Ryan Singel summarizes a memo produced at the Department of Homeland Security:
Americans' fear of a terrorism could create a mass outbreak of a psychosomatic illness -- even in the absence of any real attack -- creating a fake epidemic that could overwhelm hospitals attempting to treat real victims.
Adding to the confusion, the symptoms of a mass pyschogenic illness look much like symptoms of an anthrax attack, avian flu outbreak or chemical attack.
The report was originally issued in 2006 and recently revealed on Wikileaks. To download it in pdf form, go here.
In his column from our October issue, Associate Editor David Weigel looks at Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) long record of advocating for liberal interventionism and a humanitarian-based foreign policy.
Ars Technica's Julian Sanchez (a reason contributing editor) has an important piece on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's new lawsuit against the NSA and computer eavesdropping.
The plaintiffs are the same as those in the telecom case, Hefting v. AT&T, with one more added for good measure. All are ordinary citizens of a "nationwide class of customers of all AT&T residential phone and internet service providers," and their standing to bring suit relies not on any contention that they were specific targets of NSA surveillance, but on the claim that the government was indiscriminately vacuuming up vast quantities of data, to be filtered by the government according to algorithms known only to them.
This claim rests in large part on evidence provided by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, who has provided documentation attesting to the existence of a secret room in AT&T's Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, where fiber optic cables were diverted through a sophisticated Naurus traffic analysis machine. As EFF attorney Cindy Cohn notes, this is a hub facility through which both purely domestic and international traffic are routed, whereas a program targeting exclusively international or domestic-to-foreign communications should be situated at the point where "the wire hits the beach." The Folsom Street room is believed to be only one of many similar interception stations. According to a March report in the Wall Street Journal, "current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number."
This is where things get murky.The case EFF plans to make—and, indeed, their plaintiffs' standing to bring suit—rests on the premise that the wholesale diversion of domestic communications to the government's filtering device in itself constitutes a search or seizure beyond the bounds of both the Fourth Amendment and federal wiretap statutes—including the new FISA Amendments Act, which gave the Attorney General broad discretion to authorize the collection of communications, including domestic-to-international communications, provided the "target" of the investigation is a foreign person or group.
Whole thing here.
The bailout of the banking industry--which seems to be calming traders--could cost you $1,000,000,000,000. Yes, that's the right number of zeros.
Congressional leaders said after meeting Thursday evening with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that as much as $1 trillion could be needed to avoid an imminent meltdown of the U.S. financial system.
Paulson announced plans Friday morning for a "bold approach" that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. At a news conference at Treasury headquarters, he called for a "temporary asset relief program" to take bad mortgages off the books of the nation's financial institutions. Congressional leaders had left Washington on Friday, but Paulson planned to confer with them over the weekend.
"We're talking hundreds of billions," Paulson told reporters. "This needs to be big enough to make a real difference and get to the heart of the problem."
Makes sense. AIG had a trillion dollars in assets before this week. But if this was a serious country, wouldn't this prompt Obama and McCain to stop talking about how they're going to spend more of our money? All we hear from this is some babbling about firing Chris Cox and blaming the other guy for having the wrong advisors. Oh, and insisting they were right all along.
Earlier this year, a lot of people noticed that an election between a non-white Democrat who upset the frontrunner and an old moderate Republican mirrored the final election in the TV series The West Wing. In the episode "The Cold," President Jed Bartlet summons Democrat Matt Santos and Republican Arnold Vinick into the Oval Office to inform that that he's going to be spending a (paltry-sounding) $70 billion on a defensive war in Kazakhstan.
What's this going to cost?
It depends on how long we stay.
It doesn't matter. The first 100 days in office are the most productive of the whole term and there's no way we can extricate ourselves from from something like this in three months. It's not about the money. You're blowing any political capital we might have by forcing us to fight a war.
Do we have an estimate?
First twelve months: 70 billion.
I can say goodbye to my tax cut. Your education plan is certainly off the table.
"The Commission is committed to using every weapon in its arsenal to combat market manipulation that threatens investors and capital markets," SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said in a press release. The ban on short-selling financial stocks is part of comprehensive plans being taken by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The SEC is also using emergency authority to require institutional short-sellers to disclose new short sales.
Regulators are essentially halting the practice of profiting when securities fall in value, a method most commonly used by hedge funds, as a means of easing the volatility in banking shares.
Shorting is the bread and butter of hedge funds, epitomizing the act of "hedging" against risk. A typical hedge fund will go short on half of all its trades. "It's a big problem for us," said one trader, who said the complete ban on short-selling was unexpected. "It's pretty extreme."
More here. And, one suspects, much more to come on this front.
reason on SEC head Chris Cox back in 1995, when he was a So-Cal congressman:
The former securities lawyer was in the headlines when Orange County declared bankruptcy in December. In fact, he broke the story when he was handed a note from the county's lobbyist during a meeting with reporters. The note read: "Urgent: Orange County may declare bankruptcy by 1:30 this afternoon. Please call the SEC to get the federal courts to freeze the asset pool" to stop investors from pulling their money out. Cox read the first sentence aloud—he later said he assumed the news was already public--and thereby precluded any behind-the-scenes federal intervention.
As the GOP's point man on financial markets and an Orange County representative, Cox would be the logical person to head any congressional inquiry into the bankruptcy. That means the county's financial shenanigans are unlikely to spark a witchhunt against derivatives or other esoteric securities.
As part of the Contract with America, Cox is principal sponsor of the Securities Litigation Reform Act, a bill that would make it more difficult for investors to file class-action lawsuits against the companies they invest in or the brokerage houses from which they take advice. Cox's bill would require an investor to hold at least a 1-percent stake in a security before filing suit; force plaintiffs to prove brokerages intentionally lied rather than merely gave bad investment advice; and make investors who lost lawsuits pay the defendants' legal fees. Nuisance suits when stock prices fall are pet peeves of growth companies in particular, including the high-tech communities in both Orange County and Silicon Valley.
Following on the recent fatwas against Mickey Mouse (does anyone else suspect the Looney Tunes gang in this?), the AP reports that Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan, "chief of the kingdom's highest tribunal, the Supreme Judiciary Council," has announced "that it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that show 'immoral' content," including reruns of Sex and the City (damn you, Mario Cantone!)
"I want to advise the owners of these channels, who broadcast calls for such indecency and impudence ... and I warn them of the consequences," al-Lihedan said.... "Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it's permissible to kill them."
The remarks were especially surprising because many of the most popular Arab satellite networks are owned by Saudi princes and well-connected Saudi and Gulf businessmen.
On Sunday, reportedly under pressure from senior government figures, al-Lihedan appeared on Saudi state TV to explain his comments, apparently to prevent vigilante killings. He said owners should first be brought to trial and then sentenced to death if other penalties don't deter them.
He said his "advice" was aimed at owners who broadcast witchcraft, indecent programs, shows mocking Islamic scholars or religious police and comedies inappropriate for Ramadan.
Here's a voice of reason and restraint who could add something to non-violent but still-troubling American attempts to regulate small-screen content:
"Our religion prevents Muslims from watching films that provide seduction, obscenity and vulgarity," said Sheik Hazim Awad, an Iraqi cleric, who, like al-Lihedan, is Sunni Muslim.
But "the real Muslim can just cancel (subscriptions to) these channels," he said.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok looks at how Uncle Sam is trying to keep the economy afloat.
Last June, the TSA changed the name of its main hub in Herndon, Virginia to the "Freedom Center."
The new name was apparently chosen from an agency-wide competition.
Which means that in addition to being creepily and predictably Orwellian, the government agency in charge of preventing another terrorist attack in our country's transportation system also suffers from a disturbing lack of creativity.
Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, an original pork-buster and friend of reason, has just launched Pork Parade. The spare-looking site is a hub for a number of social networks that let the congressman name and shame earmarks in real time, from his campaign cell phone (although he's been using his campaign computer until he upgrades his phone). Anyone who looks for junk in the budget and tags his/her Twitter.com messages with #pork is linked up with Flake's efforts; their messages appear on the Pork Parade feed.
I had a quick chat with Flake just now to find out a little more about this.
reason: In a nutshell, what do you want to achieve with this?
Jeff Flake: It's a great way to get more people involved in exposing earmarks. I'm going to floor right now to challenge another John Murtha eamark, for example, and I can alert everyone who's following me what I'm doing and why I'm challenging it. Once you let people know, that generate phone calls and activity that lets other people know.
reason: Did this idea come out of [Texas Rep.] John Culberson's twittering during the drilling protest?
Flake: That was the first I heard of Twitter, actually. Of course, now we’re all... twitterpated. The earmark issue is a great use for this. What we’ve missed, up to now, is quick action where people can hear about these earmarks right away.
reason: What's an instance, from the last few years, when this social networking stuff could have delivered a victory for you?
Flake: People have been made more aware over last couple years, generally, about earmarks. We've been able to apply pressure with e-mails, with blog posts. This allows you to get the message out more quickly. Next week I’m challenging a Pelosi defense earmark that would pay for the Presidio historic site in San Francisco. If you had hundreds of people saying they want it out, that helps, and it helps even more if you can do it instantly. In last couple years I've had occasions, where I published list of earmarks I was going to challenge and seen congressmen run down to the floor to remove their eamarks and save face.
reason: The knock on "pork-busting" is that these earmarks are such a small portion of the budget. Could you use this tech, eventually, to attack other items in the budget that cost more money, or other bills?
Flake: There will be other efforts. This is a way to put individuals on notice, and letting them see how many people you can get to take action against over-spending. It goes far beyond earmarks, but you've got to build up the support and the infrastructure for this kind of action first.
And private insurance? That’s the thing, I— Actually, can I just —I wanted to ask a question. And—
JOHN DONVAN [MODERATOR]
—and I wanted to ask, actually two questions, to the audience. First, how many Canadians, would Canadians in the room please raise your hands. [ONE PERSON APPLAUDS, LAUGHTER]
We have about seven hands going up—
Okay, not as many as I thought. Okay, of those of you who are not on the panel who are Canadians,, how many of you think you have a terrible health care system. [PAUSE] One, two—
We see—almost all of the same hands going up. [LAUGHTER]
Bad move on my part. [APPLAUSE]
Lord knows, there is a libertarian case to be made against John McCain. But it would be inaccurate at best to claim that a McCain presidency offers zero potential upside for libertarians. Matt Welch makes the case.
District attorneys in Massachusetts are gearing up to oppose Question 2, an initiative on the November ballot that would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by an adult a citable offense akin to a traffic violation. They call their group the Coalition for Safe Streets, because God knows what would happen if all those vicious pot smokers were allowed to remain at large. But the Question 2 campaign, a.k.a. the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP), says the prosecutors broke the law in their eagerness to defend it:
The Campaign Finance Law prohibits a ballot question committee from accepting any contribution or making any expenditure until it files a statement of organization with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance....The Coalition for Safe Streets did not file for organization until Sept. 5, 2008, but they started accepting contributions in July 2008 and started spending funds with an expenditure of $21,000 to [the P.R. firm] O'Neill and Associates on Aug. 21, 2008.
CSMP's Whitney Taylor tells the Boston Herald, "This was an attempt to keep their organization as covert as they could for as long a possible." Which is probably true, and it would be nice if law enforcement officials followed the law and played by the rules that constrain their opponents. But I'm not a big fan of using campaign finance restrictions to beat up on people for exercising their freedom of speech, so I have trouble cheering CSMP's demand for a criminal investigation. Even more problematic is the committee's claim that the Massachusetts District Attorney Association violated a state law that says "no person shall publish or cause to be published in any letter, circular, advertisement, poster or in any other writing any false statement in relation to any question submitted to the voters, which statement is designed to affect the vote on said question." Again, it would be nice if both sides in a campaign told the truth, but it's hard to see how a law against misrepresenting a ballot initiative can be squared with the First Amendment (or with the Massachusetts Constitution's promise that "the right of free speech shall not be abridged").
These allegations should in any case be unnecessary, given how lame the arguments mustered by Question 2's opponents are:
"This is not your father's marijuana of 20 or 30 years ago," [Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe] said. He said marijuana now is far more potent, and contains substances designed to addict the user.
Such as? Note that O'Keefe is implicitly conceding that THC, marijuana's main active ingredient, is not addictive by itself. So it's a bit of a puzzle why he's so concerned about increased potency.
I noted the decriminalization initiative last fall. (Marijuana expert Lester Grinspoon, who had qualms about the initiative back then, is now on board as a supporter.) I addressed the not-your-father's-marijuana argument in a column last June.
I'm not prepared to argue with their economic calcalations; still, Canada certainly remains a bad place to speak your mind about certain things.
In other Canada freedom news: amazing and celebrated alt-cartoonist Chester Brown is running for parliament as a Libertarian.
Many years back, I wrote an article that generated more hate mail than anything I ever wrote--over 200 emails--for the website suck.com. (Sorry, the late, lamented website Suck.com.) It was a bit of japery mocking Canadian attempts to distinguish themselves from America. I never thought "more freedom" would be one of those distinguishing characteristics.
It ain't quite Damien Hirst, but this awful canvas by Hugo Chavez, painted during his brief stint in prison for attempting to overthrow the Venezuelan government, fetched $255,000 at auction today. The proceeds will be used, according to The Guardian, to "help fund his socialist revolution"—a task the government has thus far found slightly challanging, despite record oil revenues.
And just when I was about to question President Chavez's credentials as an artist, the Guardian warned me that "Chávez's artistic credentials are not in question." Indeed, he once drew pictures of fellow students in high school:
As a boy in Sabaneta, a dusty, poor town in the plains, he used to paint friends, animals and landscapes. As a military cadet he drew caricatures of his comrades for their graduating yearbook.
Asked last year why he wanted to abolish term limits so he could run indefinitely - he has spoken of ruling until 2025 - the president said his revolution was like an unfinished painting and he was the artist. Giving the brush to someone else was risky, "because they could have another vision, start to alter the contours of the painting."
Sheikh Muhammad Munajid, a Muslim cleric and former Saudi diplomat with a show on Iqra TV, deplores the influence of cartoon mice such as Mickey and Jerry, who encourage children to believe the filthy rodents are benign and lovable:
According to Islamic law, the mouse is a repulsive, corrupting creature. How do you think children view mice today—after Tom and Jerry?
Even creatures that are repulsive by nature, by logic, and according to Islamic law have become wonderful and are loved by children. Even mice.
Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases.
Don't even get him started on Porky Pig.
Is this the real reason Farfour had to go? If so, what should we make of the fact that he was "beaten to death by an actor posing as an Israeli official trying to buy Farfour's land"? Perhaps fictional rodent eradication is a cause that can unite Muslims and Jews.
Even the drug dealers are feeling it:
Spiraling gas prices led an Indiana drug dealer to levy a fuel oil surcharge on customers purchasing cocaine, according to investigators. Anthony Salinas, 18, tacked on the gasoline surcharge when he sold a confidential police source coke on two occasions in June. While arranging one buy, Salinas told the source that a quarter-ounce of cocaine would cost $240--$215 for the drug itself and "$25.00 for gas money to deliver the cocaine," according to the court affidavit...
Maryland Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, defeated in a three-way primary for re-election this year, is backing Barack Obama.
Justifying his endorsement of Obama, Gilchrest said that "we can't use four more years of the same kind of policy that's somewhat haphazard, which leads to recklessness. "Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), "have the breadth of experience. I think they're prudent. They're knowledgable."
I'm not too surprised, based on what Gilchrest told me in 2007, referring to McCain and firey former POW Rep. Sam Johnson.
I respect both of those guys. But they flew airplanes. They were in prison camps. They weren't on the ground, fighting with the South Vietnamese army, or on the ground every day in 120 degree heat, or in driving rainstorms day after day after day, in the swamps, in the rivers, in the jungles. I respect them immensely but they have different perspective from someone who saw combat on the ground. Both those poor souls were tortured. My view is that of a grunt.
Slightly more surprising--but only slightly--is an Obama endorsement from former Los Angeles GOP Mayor Dick Riordan.
Riordan criticized GOP presidential nominee John McCain's past support for financial deregulation, saying it helped trigger the mortgage crisis and subsequent economic downturn. "There's nothing in his background that shows he's a person who can understand these complicated economic issues, or shows that he is entrepreneurial enough to bring about change."
Riordan and McCain haven't gotten along for years, though. And none of this is quite so stupid as the McCain endorsement of Hillary Clinton fundraiser/pearl necklace collector Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, whom I must believe un-endorsed the Democrats as part of a devious plan to make the GOP look bad. (What endorsement would be more worthless in a week like this than the snooty kudos of a Rothschild heiress?)
The big surprise is how many of these dogs aren't hunting. You've got a liberal black Democratic candidate who's concentrated poison in some Southern districts, a grumpy Republican whom half of his party has hated at one time or another, and two third-party candidates who used to serve in Congress. And yet the party structure is basically intact. The only sitting members of Congress who've endorsed the other party's candidates are Joe Lieberman and Wayne Gilchrest.
Tony Richard, a 17-year-old senior at Blaine High School in Blaine, Minnesota, works 20 hours a week at a local grocery store, where he uses a retractable razor blade to break down boxes for recycling. One day after work, he tossed the box cutter into his car, which he later drove to school. Anyone familiar with "zero tolerance" insanity can already guess where this story is heading: Richard was suspended from school, and may be expelled, for bringing a "weapon" onto campus. School officials say their hands were tied:
The policy flatly says any student found in violation will be immediately suspended, and expulsion proceedings will be launched automatically.
Tony has spent his entire high school career at Blaine, and the sum total of his behavioral mishaps until now were three marks for being tardy. That had no bearing on the school's decision to banish him.
The staff at Blaine High, Schwartz explained, has no leeway in such matters once a weapon is found on school property. These cases are referred directly to the school board regardless of circumstances.
[Thanks to Mark Lambert for the tip.]
At a hearing tomorrow, Dallas County, Texas officials are expected to announce that DNA evidence has cleared Johnnie Earl Lindsey of a rape for which he has served 26 years in prison. Lindsey would become the 20th person exonerated in Dallas County, where District Attorney Craig Watkins (see my interview with him here) is actively working with innocence activists to seek out and overturn wrongful convictions.
Watkins also recently announced that his office will now take a look at all pending death row cases originating in Dallas County. Dallas-area journalist Trey Garrison notes that Watkins' announcement triggered this curious reaction from a former prosecutor:
Toby Shook, who sent several people to death row while he was a Dallas County prosecutor, said Mr. Watkins was imposing an unnecessary new level of review and a hardship on victims' families.
"Perhaps he hasn't thought this through, but essentially what he's saying is, 'There is one more court of appeal and that's me,' " said Mr. Shook, who was defeated by Mr. Watkins two years ago. "That's going to be devastating to a [victim's] family."
Perhaps. But I would hope the families of murder victims would prefer that the correct person be executed for the crime, not just any person.
American voters can make history this November—by showing what kind of bigots they are.
An important political message sponored by Who Do You Hate '08?:
Watch this video at YouTube and subscribe to reason.tv videos here.
Last month, Jackson's Clarion-Ledger newspaper got hold of a letter the College of American Pathologists sent to the embattled and now former Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne. The letter informed Hayne that no action would be taken against him. Despite Hayne's role in two wrongful convictions, his doing 1,500 to 1,800 autopsies per year by his own admission, and numerous criticisms of Hayne's sloppiness and questionable diagnoses by his own peers, the investigating panel told Hayne that no action would be taken...
...which would adversely affect your membership in the college because the committee concludes it lacks sufficient evidence on which to base a finding that you are deficient in moral character or professional competence or guilty of professional misconduct.
The Clarion-Ledger reports that the College initiated the investigation after the complaints from the Innocence Project about Hayne. Curiously, Innocence Project spokesman Eric Ferrero tells me that no one at the College ever called anyone at his organization to discuss Hayne. In fact, they never even requested copies of the actual exhibits in the Innocence Project's complaint against Hayne to the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure.
Ferraro also says that to his knowledge, no one at the College of American Pathologists bothered to speak with Hayne's many critics among his fellow forensic pathologists, either. Forensic pathologists I've spoken with who have been critical of Hayne also say the same thing—no one from the College ever contacted them.
So the College found that there was "insufficient evidence" of impropriety to take action against Hayne, but seems to have neglected to talk to the people who actually possess or have seen evidence of Hayne's improprieties. When I called the College to inquire about their investigation, I received a voicemail in return stating that the organization does not discuss its members, or any investigations of them.
The only thing we definitely know about the investigation is that a panel spent two hours in a closed-door hearing with Hayne and his attorney, a scenario the Innocence Project's Peter Neufeld described this way:
It's like a criminal defense lawyer being able to show up at trial and present all of the evidence and have none of the victims of the crime testify against you," Neufeld said. "If you only have the party you're investigating present and don't have any of the people conducting the investigation present to demonstrate his misconduct, I can't really take the findings of that hearing very seriously.
If Hayne and his 1,500 autopsies, funeral home-based practice, and long trail of fierce critics aren't enough to merit action, you wonder what a pathologist would have to do to receive an actual rebuke.
The problem of course is that Hayne and government officials in Mississippi will hail the College's investigation as redemption (Hayne and his attorney already have), and use it to further delay a thorough investigation to see just how much damage Hayne has done in the thousands of cases in which he has testified. It will make it yet more difficult for the people he may have helped wrongly put in prison find relief.
Meanwhile, despite Hayne's effective termination as a Mississippi medical examiner last month, he will continue to testify for the state in the dozens more cases for which he has already performed the autopsies. So there will be yet more Mississippi convictions based on Hayne's testimony. When he announced Hayne's removal from the state's list of acceptable pathologists last month, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson said Hayne could stay on long enough to finish up his backlog of 400-500 autopsy reports—a staggering number that Simpson and Hayne's attorney blamed on late toxicology reports from the state's crime lab.
As it turns out, the backlog number is closer to 600, and only 15 percent of that number is due to tardy toxicology reports. The rest are due to Hayne's own sloppiness. To put that number into perspective, Hayne's backlog is more than twice the maximum number of autopsies the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends a doctor perform in an entire year. This is nothing new. I have autopsy reports Hayne completed as late as four months after the actual autopsy.
As I'll show in subsequent posts, it wasn't just Mississippi that dropped the ball on Hayne. The various medical professional organizations that deal with forensic pathology have been getting complaints about Hayne going back more than a decade. They never really confronted him. The College of American Pathologists is merely the most recent.
Contributing Editor Cathy Young sits down with Fox News's Greta van Susteren to discuss her recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "Why Feminists Hate Sarah Palin."
American voters don't share the punditocracy's quadrennial alarm that this is The Most Negative Campaign Season Ever, according to a new Rasmussen poll:
Most voters (55%) say the tone of this year’s presidential campaign is about the same as in other recent election years, despite complaints from Barack Obama’s side and some in the media that John McCain has been campaigning negatively.
In fact, 20 percent actually think things seem more civilized than usual this time around.
Standards are low, however, as a plurality of voters (41%) say a used car salesman is more ethical than a member of Congress, and both the candidates are, after all, members of Congress.
Via TWS's new blogger Mary Katharine Ham, who urges talking heads to "Try to keep your underclothes unentangled over negative advertising."
A local ordinance barring concealed-carry in city parks in Clyde, Ohio, is overturned by the state Supreme Court, the result of suit filed by Ohioans for Concealed Carry. The ordinance was found to conflict with Ohio state law that allows for liberal concealed carry unless already existing federal or state law prohibits it.
A chart of national concealed carry laws.
Call off the search-and-rescue teams! Democratic vice presidential Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), last seen having a Bette Davis as Baby Jane moment with a wheelchair-bound political supporter and questioning the wisdom of his even being on the ticket (Hillary Clinton, he told a rally, "might have been a better pick than me"), has surfaced again.
This time, the Delaware destroyer is telling rich folks that paying taxes is patriotic:
"We want to take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people," Biden said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Noting that wealthier Americans would indeed pay more, Biden said: "It's time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut."
Regarding the Obama and McCain proposed tax plans, analysis from the Tax Policy Center says:
Both John McCain and Barack Obama have proposed tax plans that would substantially increase the national debt over the next ten years, according to a newly updated analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Compared to current law, TPC estimates the Obama plan would cut taxes by $2.9 trillion from 2009-2018. McCain would reduce taxes by nearly $4.2 trillion. Obama would give larger tax cuts to low- and moderate-income households and pay some of the cost by raising taxes on high-income taxpayers. In contrast, McCain would cut taxes across the board and give the biggest cuts to the highest-income households.
The short version of the tax plans of both candidates is that Obama would ding top-income earners while giving larger breaks to lower-income earners. McCain wouldn't ding top-income earners. Here's one analysis based on Tax Policy Center sources:
According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, 60 percent of taxpayers make about $66,000 or less a year.
Under McCain's plan, you'd see anywhere from a 0.2% to 0.7% tax cut, which means you'd save anwhere from $19 to $319 dollars a year.
Under Obama's plan, tax cuts would range from 2.4% to 5.5%. You'd save between about $570.00 dollars up to $1,042.00.
But what if you're somewhere in the middle, which means you're making anywhere from $66,000 all the way up to $227,000.
"I think McCain and Obama will do about the same for the middle grouping but what you'll get in exchange is more debt on the backs of our children," said [economist Mark] Pingle.
Now for the top tier earners. Under McCain's plan, those earning between $227,000 or more will see the biggest tax cuts.
But under Obama's plan, the wealthiest Americans will either see no change or higher taxes, to the tune of more than $700,000 a year.
I actually don't understand that last line on the sentence level; I guess it means that Bill Gates might be hit for an extra 700K?
But here's a basic question: Assume you're making $50,000 a year. Does the difference between a $319 break and $1,042 get you going as a voter? I would prefer to pay less taxes in any given situation, but I'm interested in how voters process this sort of information, assuming they consume it in the first place. What's the price point for a tax cut? Or a tax increase?
Or assume you're making $500,000 a year. Does the idea of your taxes staying flat or going up by, say, $5,000, get you moving? Or would it need to be much bigger of an increase before you vote your pocketbook? (This latter question is the topic of the excellent 2002 collection edited by Joel Slemrod, Does Atlas Shrug?: The Economic Consequences of Taxing the Rich).
At the same time, we shouldn't lose sight that Joe Biden is right: From a purely strategic position, Hillary Clinton would have been a better pick than he was.
According to the aggregator at Pollster.com, Barack Obama has bounced back to a narrow lead over John McCain. The Democrats bottomed out in the mid-40s after the GOP convention and after the Palin pick, but there's been a steady fade for McCain since last week. It coincides almost precisely with the Wall Street meltdown.
McCain's holding steady in the state polls, but he's still down, and they lag a week behind the national tracking polls. He's outperforming Bush '04 in Michigan and New Hampshire, but the newest polls in some Bush states (New Mexico, Virginia) have Obama's lead in those states immune to the convention bounce. Compare Obama's slight disadvantage right now to Kerry's oh-god-shoot-me-now implosion four years ago.
Another possible factor weakening the Macster: a decline in cases of Palinmania.
Since Sept. 13, Palin's unfavorables have climbed from 30 percent to 36 percent. Meanwhile, her favorables have slipped from 52 percent to 48 percent. That's a three-day net swing of -10 points, and it leaves her in the Sept. 15 Diageo/Hotline tracking poll tied for the smallest favorability split (+12)** of any of the Final Four. [UPDATE: The Sept. 17 Diageo/Hotline tracking poll shows Palin at 47 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable--an even narrower +10 split.] Over the course of a single weekend, in other words, Palin went from being the most popular White House hopeful to the least.
There was a moment when some Republicans, here in D.C., dreamed that Palin had so rattled the Obama campaign and message that the Hopemonger couldn't come back. Then the Feiler Faster thesis got to work, and Americans got as normalized to Palin in two weeks as they've gotten normalized to Obama in a year. The new CBS poll shows Obama re-building the usual gender gap over McCain. It's one poll, but it suggests that McCain's gender politics are drawing diminishing returns.
This bit of Harold Meyerson grave-dancing on Wall Street, published in today's Washington Post, is one of those boomkarkable, people-really-did-think-that-back-then kind of columns:
At the risk of speaking ill of the dead, what good was Lehman Brothers, anyway? And if Merrill Lynch was so bullish on America, why is it that, despite the torrent of foreign investment that flowed in to Lehman, Merrill and their Wall Street peers over the past half-decade, so few jobs were created in America during that period of "recovery"? [...]
Airports, bridges and roads are decaying. Rural wind-power facilities cannot light cities because our electrical grid has not been expanded. [...]
Someone needs to invest in the United States of America. For the past decade and, in a broader sense, for the entire duration of the Reagan era, both government and Wall Street have opted not to.
At the risk of taking Harold Meyerson even half seriously, this particular financial crisis he finds so cheery is based in significant part on financial institutions of all sorts getting involved with the sale of mortgages to U.S. residents who, it turned out, could not afford them. In other words, banks and other mortgage lenders–including those with explicit mandates from the government to expand the pool of home-ownership to lower-income Americans–went belly-up partly because they invested in America.
As for airports, bridges, roads, and the electricity grid, one reason private capital doesn't invest much in preventing their decay, is that the authorities that oversee them generally aren't private. Blaming investment banks for the crapitude of, say, LAX is like blaming the L.A. Unified School District for the share-price plummet of Washington Mutual: It does not make sense.
A final note. There probably wasn't a country in the world that didn't, at some point in the 1990s, attempt to create its own replica of the Silicon Valley. How does Meyerson suppose this America-led technology boom, which knowledge workers like him especially benefit from to this day, got its financing? Or is it just that the only kind of investment in America that qualifies as Investment in America must involve unionized jobs at the kind of factories Meyerson himself would never work for?
Jesse Walker's weekly freeform radio show, Titicut Follies, will be broadcast on WCBN-FM this afternoon from 12 to 3, eastern time. If you live in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, you can tune in at 88.3 FM; if you live elsewhere, you can listen online.
In a new paper for the Cato Institute, Shirley Svorny takes on medical licensing. Here's an excerpt:
By almost all accounts, the quality of services consumers get from nonphysician clinicians is at least on par with what they would get froma physician performing the same services. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies compare outcomes in situations where patients are treated by a physician, a physician assistant, or an advanced practice nurse. Outcomes appear similar--an important factor, considering that nonphysician clinicians can provide many services at a much lower cost. There is also evidence that teams of clinicians outperform individual physicians. (Many physicians who are accustomed to working in teams are happy with the collaboration.)
Also worth quoting:
In the Federation of State Medical Boards' database, the nature of the investigation is not recorded in more than 65 percent of cases that ended in sanctions between 1994 and 2002. In those cases, the state board and the physician entered an agreement without the physician being found guilty. These dynamics deny consumers information that would help them avoid low-quality physicians....
If, as some suggest, concerns about financial and reputational consequences diminish efforts to discipline clinicians formally or publicly, or encourage confidential consent agreements, then one might conclude that licensure offers more protection to malfeasant clinicians than to consumers.
Read the whole thing.
Andrew Breitbart, long associated with The Drudge Report, prop. of the excellent newsfeed site Breitbart.com, author of The Washington Times col "Big Hollywood," and maker of lists for reason, finds it larfable that Matt Damon is worried about GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin banning books. Breitbart writes:
The sad fact is that actual artistic oppression—book banning in its many modern forms—is a matter of course in the entertainment industry, especially when the underlying product is declared politically incorrect or runs contrary to the interests of Hollywood's political altar, the Democratic Party.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations runs rings around Hollywood's pious First Amendment absolutists.
"I hope you will be reassured that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs," director Phil Alden Robinson wrote after changing the script from Muslim terrorists to Austrian neo-Nazis in the Tom Clancy thriller, "The Sum of all Fears." "And I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination."
While Mr. Clancy put up an admirable fight, actor Ben Affleck acquiesced, cashed his multimillion-dollar check and fought the dreaded Austrians, whose flagging Teutonic self-confidence again took a hit. Thanks to Hollywood artistic appeasement, Arab youth in totalitarian Muslim countries indoctrinated in anti-Western thought dodged another esteem bullet....
The silence of the celebrity political class was heartbreaking when Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic radical in retaliation for making "Submission," a critically acclaimed film that portrayed horrific female oppression within the practice of Islam.
Yet Hollywood—quick to find martyrs near to its heart (Valerie Plame, et al)—ignored its fallen Dutch comrade and refused to celebrate the film and its maker, fulfilling his murderer's greatest desire.
This is a few days old, but does Ted Nugent ever go out of style? At Human Events, the conservative icon and acclaimed author of "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" takes a long look at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and nods in approval:
Those pundits and Fedzilla fanatics who proclaim Gov. Palin has no experience to run the country are the very punks who want to continue to feed Fedzilla. They advocate taking more of our paychecks, wasting more of hard earned money, and not being held accountable. I would like to buy these Fedzilla punks a one-way ticket on the express train to Hell.
Last night, a political savior may have arrived. Ted Nugent at your service, Vice President-to-be Palin. I'm your biggest fan. Let's rock.
Should it be illegal for bars to offer discounts to women? Steve Chapman makes the case for ladies night.
I've held off on blogging Bob Barr's unusual Texas ballot situation until now because I figured it was a distraction. The basics: Barr went through the excruciating process of getting on the ballot, was certified, and then noticed that no other party had done the work. Not the GOP, not the Democrats.
But the big two parties are the big two parties. Barr was playing by their rules. They'd eventually get on the ballot anyway, right?
Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr has filed suit that would keep voters from seeing the names Barack Obama and John McCain on their voting machines, saying they failed to follow the Texas law to get their names placed on the ballot. The Libertarians are claiming that both the Texas Democratic and Republican parties missed the deadline to certify their presidential nominees and report them to the Texas Secretary of State.
Barr got support immediately from the guy he didn't share a third party-promoting stage with last week, Ralph Nader.
Clearly this presents three options for the Democrats and Republicans... First, they could recognize that our crazy-quilt system of unfair ballot access laws harms not only independent and minor party candidates but also democracy processes. They could provide real reform to ensure that voters are able to vote for candidates of their choosing in this upcoming and future elections.
Second, they could take the same medicine they have been dishing out to grassroots candidates for decades, and have their candidates John McCain and Barack Obama join me as write-in candidates in Texas. But what is most likely is that they will choose the third option, which we have seen in the past. They will simply lean on state officials to ignore the law or direct the Texas legislature to push back the deadline after it expired. If this happens, then it is just another example of political bigotry and its double-standard in American politics: independent and minor-party candidates are strictly held to ridiculous requirements to participate in democracy, while the two-party duopoly are given a privileged pass.
I wouldn't bet ten cents on Barr winning this case, but it's amusing to think what would happen if he did. Without Texas, McCain could get to 270 (273, actually) electoral votes if he carried all the Bush states plus New Hampshire and Michigan and Obama didn't win Iowa. But he probably wouldn't be without Texas. The state allows write-in votes, and in 2006 the GOP nearly won a House seat (Tom DeLay's seat) with a write-in candidate whose name was literally too long to fit in the voting machine. It wouldn't be tough for McCain to win the state as a write-in candidate.
Horrifying headline explainer here.
Foreign Policy doesn't think Obama is the only major party presidential candidate with some positively awful ideas--and neither do I.
Following up on yesterday's Barack-bashing, here are McCain's 10 Worst Ideas according to the foreign policy mandarins at Foreign Policy. I don't agree all are awful--I tend toward a Rothbardian "cut all taxes at any times anywhere" mentality that makes numbers 2, 3, and 7 seems just fine (even if a gas tax holiday doesn't have all the economic effects its proponents promise), but the responsible, respectable voices at Foreign Policy do tend to believe that government deserves and needs every penny it can squeeze out of us by any means necessary.
It was interesting, though it's clearly absurd, to see in number 6 McCain pretending that his foreign policy vision of eternal intervention everywhere will somehow lead to "victories" that will then lead to "savings" that can apply to deficit reduction.
Writing in today's New York Sun, economic historian Amity Shlaes stresses the importance of rules over rulers in these troubled financial times, offering "three rules-based reforms [that] cry out for implementation":
First, no more bailouts. Otherwise, it is already clear, the auto companies will be next. The airlines are also in line.
Heck, you can even give this reform a name: The Lehman Rule—and then hope that the Treasury abides by it. One reason the Dow drooped during Mr. Paulson's press briefing on Monday was that he seemed to be indicating he might break the rule soon.
Second, clean up the rating system so that numbers speak something closer to the truth.
Third, make America more competitive by lowering corporate taxes and other levies so foreign firms will want to fill our new vacuum. The worst thing about John McCain's new "crisis" advertisement is that it suggests a strong man—and not a strong country—is the answer. Here President Bush's response, that he had faith in our economy, was more useful.
They all laughed at him. Then they panicked and went looking for gold.
Gold's huge rally — prices shot up over 8 percent — came as the government moved overnight to rescue troubled insurer American International Group Inc. with an $85 million bailout loan. The Federal Reserve stepped in after AIG, teetering on collapse from losses tied to the subprime crisis and the credit crisis, failed to find adequate capital in the private sector.
Fearing more tightening of credit markets, investors reacted swiftly and began dumping stocks and socking money into gold, silver and other safe-haven commodities. Gold is especially attractive during times of crisis because the metal is known for holding its value.
Gold for December delivery jumped $64.50, or 8.25 percent, to $845 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its highest trading level since Aug. 29. Prior to the rally, gold had fallen 25 percent since surging to record levels above $1,000 an ounce in March.
"The same market participants who got out of gold are coming back in now. This is the start of an upward move," said Carlos Sanchez, analyst with CPM Group in New York, who predicted prices could climb back to $1,000 by year's end.
I've contacted the Campaign for Liberty for comments from Paul
on the AIG rescue mission and the gold price spike, but you'd have
to be deaf and blind not to know what he's thinking. Back in the
primary, I think Paul surprised Republicans by offering a
Rothbardian critique of the economy that sounded pretty good
next to the bland "fundamentals are strong"-isms of McCain, Romney,
Rudy, and the Sleepy Fred Country
Express. But it sounded good because Paul acknowledged
structural problems with the financial system, not because he was
100 percent right.
If you want a smart take on the role that gold had in worsening the Great Depression, I'd point you to this paper by Ben Bernanke. Yes, that Ben Bernanke.
A prosecutor is threatening Italian comedian Sabina Guzzanti with a five-year prison term for telling a joke about Pope Benedict XVI in Hell, "tormented by great big poofter devils," at an anti-government rally in July. According to the London Times, Rome prosecutor Giovanni Ferrara claims Guzzanti violated the Mussolini-era Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, which "stipulates that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President." (I gather that Italians also can go to prison for insulting their president, currently a former senator named Giorgio Napolitano.) Ferrara has to get permission from the Ministry of Justice for the prosecution, which Guzzanti's father, a member of Parliament, called "a return to the Middle Ages." One of his colleagues, Christian Democrat Luca Volonte, either disagrees or pines for the days of the Inquisiton, saying "gratuitous insults must be punished." The pope, meanwhile, already has forgiven Guzzanti, or so a Jesuit scholar speculates.
[via The Freedom Files]
Yesterday the House Financial Services Committee approved a bill that would require federal regulators to define "unlawful Internet gambling" before demanding that financial institutions block transactions related to it. The Payments System Protection Act, sponsored by committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would delay the imposition of regulations required by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. That law left the legal status of various kinds of online gambling ambiguous, and when payment processors asked the Treasury Department for guidance, they were told that had to figure out what was legal on their own. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in November, professional poker player Annie Duke summed up the situation this way:
The posture of the federal government is, "We are going to create a new federal crime, but we will not tell you what it is." In the proposed rule, the regulators explain their refusal to resolve this by saying that to do so would require them to examine the laws of the federal government and all 50 states with respect to every gaming modality, and that this would be unduly burdensome. Yet that is exactly what they are requiring the general counsel of every bank in the country to do.
Frank, who is also sponsoring a bill that would explicitly legalize (and regulate) online gambling, closes out my June reason article about the online gambling crackdown with a ringing defense of the freedom to engage in "recreational activities" that "human beings enjoy" (a category in which he also includes pot smoking).
In his From the Top column from our October issue, Editor in Chief Matt Welch explains how immigration restrictions hurt legal and illegal residents.
Sixteen people were killed today after a militant group exploded a car bomb in front of the U.S. embassy in Yemen. A group calling itself Islamic Jihad in Yemen claimed responsibility. According to this report, one of the victims was a high school student from Lackawanna, NY who had gone to the country to get married. The Telegraph has more details:
The car exploded some distance from the embassy in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, at a checkpoint manned by security personnel, before gunmen in another car started firing.
The attackers wore police uniforms to try to get through the embassy's perimeter security during a morning shift change.
Four civilians and six members of the police died in the attack, a spokesman for the Yemeni security forces said. The six attackers - one wearing an explosives belt, also died. There were no casualties among US diplomatic staff.
And this interesting detail from the Telegraph story:
The British embassy was attacked with grenades so many times in the 1990s it was moved to a more secure location on a hillside overlooking Sanaa after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Some interesting observations from Eric Trager here.
My friends, our long national nightmare is over.
The House voted Tuesday to lift the federal moratorium that has blocked drilling along most of the U.S. coastline for three decades and give states a greater role in choosing whether to have oil rigs off their shores.
When a bill gets filed at 9:45 the night before and then it’s announced it’s going to come to the floor the next morning as the first bill up, a bill that no one has read, written in the dark of night that won’t do a damn thing about American energy.
Boehner's point is that the bill, which did end the 26-year old ban on offshore drilling, was sweetened with $18 billion of oil company tax hikes, tax credits for alternative energy development, a requirement that utilities generate 15 percent of energy from non oil-sources, and a ban on gifts from oil companies to federal employees. The Democrats caved on drilling, but not on any other item in their agenda. And they have, apparently, taken the air out of a key Republican issue less than 50 days before the election, when the nation is focused on something else entirely.
UPDATE: As commenters point out, this legalization doesn't include the 50 miles closest to the shores.
Republicans called the bill a ruse, saying that's well beyond where most of the estimated 18 billion barrels of oil is located.
The White House threatened a veto, saying the bill doesn't go far enough to generate new domestic supplies of oil and natural gas.
Nonetheless, I think the Republicans are losing the wedge issue: Now Democrats are saying "drill here," and Republicans are saying "no, drill here." And, again, it's happening as prices at the pump drop and a Republican administration nationalizes AIG.
A couple years ago, I got hit with a jaywalking ticket. I was crossing at the corner in downtown Washington, but against the light. There were no cars coming. When I got "pulled over" by cops in a squad car, it didn't even occur to me that I was about to get in trouble. When I figured out what was going on, I—a sweet, law abiding, goody-two-shoes—sassed the cops. And for a good while afterward, I felt vaguely grumpy whenever I saw an idle squad car taking in the street scene.
So now California and other states are talking about banning text messaging in cars—Suffolk, NY, has already done it—and I can't help but think that such a thing will recruit many more into the ranks of the grumpy cops-sassers. The drug war and speeding laws have already sent us pretty far down this path, but when you add talking on the cell or texting to the list of verboten behaviors, just about everyone in America under the age of 50 (and quite a few who are older) is going to start feeling nervous around cops. We're talking about people who are basically good, law-abiding, common-sensical guys and gals, who just want to double check an address, or make sure everything is ok with their kids.
Sure, texting a mangum opus while dodging through tricky traffic is silly, but people who check a text message at a stop light shouldn't be subject to flashing lights and aviator glasses.
"The government was forced to commit $85 billion," McCain said in a statement. "These actions stem from failed regulation, reckless management and a casino culture on Wall Street that has crippled one of the most important companies in America," McCain said in a statement.
"The focus of any such action should be to protect the millions of Americans who hold insurance policies, retirement plans and other accounts with AIG," he said. "We must not bail out the management and speculators who created this mess. They had months of warnings following the Bear Stearns debacle, and they failed to act."
Although he is stepping up criticism of government regulators as he seeks the presidency, McCain has long favored a reduction in corporate regulation.
More here. Feh.
In last week's New York Times, Tyler Cowen hit these right notes:
The biggest financial deregulation in recent times has been an implicit one—namely, that hedge funds and many new exotic financial instruments have grown in importance but have remained largely unregulated. To be sure, these institutions contributed to the severity of the Bear Stearns crisis and to the related global credit crisis. But it's not obvious that the less regulated financial sector performed any worse than the highly regulated housing and bank mortgage lending sectors, including, of course, the government-sponsored mortgage agencies.
In other words, the regulation that we have didn't work very well.
There are two ways to view this history. First, with the benefit of hindsight, one could argue that we needed only a stronger political will to regulate every corner of finance and avert a crisis.
Under the second view, which I prefer, regulators will never be in a position to accurately evaluate or second-guess many of the most important market transactions. In finance, trillions of dollars change hands, market players are very sophisticated, and much of the activity takes place outside the United States—or easily could.
Contributing Editor Cathy Young explains why Sarah Palin's vice presidential candidacy represents a watershed moment in both feminist and conservative politics.
A lawyer friend IMs "I would be fascinated to know on what authority the Fed is claiming the right to do this." It's probable that they don't actually have the legal right to do anything like this. Their authority is this: who's going to stop them? No one wants to take on responsibility for this mess themselves.
True, the Fed statute says that loans can be issued with conditions....But the Fed statute does not say that the Fed can purchase businesses, and it seems reasonable to interpret the statute to forbid the Fed to purchase businesses. So here's the question, is the AIG deal a purchase or a loan? I suspect the deal is a loan in form but a purchase in substance. Unfortunately, the details are not available, but the press accounts suggest that the Fed is receiving AIG equity (more precisely, the option to obtain equity) as collateral for the loan but that it's going to exercise the option more or less automatically. Here's an analogy. Suppose that I lend you $100 and we agree that all of the equity in your business will be collateral for the loan. The contract provides, however, that you must pay me interest of a gazillion dollars, due one second after closing, and that if you fail, that counts as a default, whereupon the collateral is mine. The parties use the loan form but substantively a sale occurs. A court would almost certainly interpret the transaction as a sale, not a loan, if tax or other legal consequences turned on the distinction. If the AIG loan is like this, then it's illegal. So: why aren't our rule-of-law friends yowling?
I wonder if this was the September revamp talked about in July
In each case, industry and government officials have justified the bailout as cheaper in the long run than doing nothing. But critics contend that bailouts often encourage bad behavior by relieving underperforming industries of the consequences of their ineptitude.
In addition, sometimes the government can end up as an investor in companies that are the target of regulatory action, creating a conflict of interest. The government's potential ownership of AIG could put policymakers at cross-purposes with their own efforts to regulate a variety of financial transactions in which the company participates.
Are we socialists yet? No, no. Relax. We couldn't possibly be socialists. Socialists only nationalize successful businesses.
And from a Hit & Run comment thread downstream, here's a bleak thought from John Kluge:
The ownership society is sold as a way to get people to embrace the market and oppose government control of the market. I think the opposite is going to prove true. As more and more people are dependent on the market doing well, the political pressure to ensure that no one loses in the market will be greater and greater.
Creationism is not just for certain fundamentalist Christians anymore. Monsters and Critics is reporting:
Turkish internet users have been blocked via a court order from accessing the site of prominent British biologist Richard Dawkins after complaints from lawyers for Islamic creationist author Adnan Oktar, the website of Turkish television station NTV reported on Wednesday.
A court in Istanbul ordered that Turk Telekom block access to the site and since the weekend Turkish internet users seeking the site have been redirected to a page that says in Turkish 'access to this site has been suspended in accordance with a court decision'.
NTV reported that Oktar complained he and his creationist book 'Atlas of Creation' had been defamed by comments made by Dawkins on the site.
'I am at a loss to reconcile the expensive and glossy production values of this book with the breathtaking inanity of the content,' Dawkins, a distinguished advocate of the theory of evolution, wrote on his website in July referring to the Atlas of Creation.
The book has caused controversy not just through its advocation of creationism but also through how thousands of copies of book were distributed to schools in a number of European countries.
Thank whatever deity (or none) for the First Amendment which
protects both free speech and religious practice.
Hat tip to Eric Jon Magnuson.
Over at the Fund for American Studies (1706 New Hampshire Ave., NW), I will be co-pondering that question tonight with Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle, and the National Review's David Freddoso, author of The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate (see his book and mine reviewed together by W. James Antle III over at The American Conservative.) The shindig is organized by the America's Future Foundation. Drinks begin at 6:30, the panel goes from 7, the cost is free for AFF members and $5 for interlopers. RSVP to email@example.com.
In a scramble to avert what would have been the biggest casualty of the credit crisis to date, the U.S. government last night agreed to sweep in and bail out global insurance giant American International Group (AIG).
The dramatic U-turn puts AIG in the government's control in exchange for an emergency loan after the group at the heart of the financial system failed in a drive to raise about US$85-billion from a private consortium, according to people familiar with the deal....
Hank Paulson, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, had steadfastly rejected the idea of a government bailout for Manhattan-based AIG, the largest insurer in the world, with US$1-trillion in assets. He and other federal officials had been pushing AIG and Wall Street banks to come up with a private-sector solution for the billions in emergency financing.
But those attempts came up dry after two days of searching for funds.
Which isn't to say the average AIG shareholder is sitting pretty:
American International Group Inc. lost 44 percent of its remaining value in early trading after investors learned that the U.S. rescue will curb the insurer's dividends and wipe out most of their stake....
The "punitive" interest rate on the two-year loan "makes it extremely clear that this is not a subsidy extended to keep the company afloat but rather a stranglehold that makes AIG unviable while ensuring that its obligations will be met," said Marco Annunziata, an analyst at UniCredit SpA, in a note to clients. "This is to all extents and purposes a controlled bankruptcy."
A better word might be nationalization.
Megan McArdle has a "modest suggestion" about John McCain's "9/11 commission" idea for the markets.
John McCain could convene a commission right now. He could get a bunch of economists and bankers together, and they could hash out the problem and present him with a plan. Then he could tell us what it is. Then we could decide if we liked it. It would be almost like this election was about selecting someone who will make good policy.
"I've taken on tougher guys than this before!" I'm not sure what that means. Is Mitch McConnell actually a tougher challenge than a faltering financial system? Or is McCain suggesting that the Fed chairman will trap him in a tiger cage for five and a half years until McCain thinks of a solution?
This is the second or third time McCain has talked without acting on an issue which, as a senator, he could actually affect. It depends on whether you count his gas tax holiday and the "drill baby drill" campaign as one issue or two. McCain, remember, took time off the campaign trail to block votes against the Iraq surge, so it's not like the idea of actually acting is alien to him.
Obama offers up a two-minute ad in which he, like McCain, talks into the camera.
Here’s what I believe we need to do. Reform our tax system to give a $1,000 tax break to the middle class instead of showering more on oil companies and corporations that outsource our jobs. End the “anything goes” culture on Wall Street with real regulation that protects your investments and pensions. Fast track a plan for energy ‘made-in-America’ that will free us from our dependence on mid-east oil in 10 years and put millions of Americans to work. Crack down on lobbyists – once and for all -- so their back-room deal-making no longer drowns out the voices of the middle class and undermines our common interests as Americans. And yes, bring a responsible end to this war in Iraq so we stop spending billions each month rebuilding their country when we should be rebuilding ours.
Another blown opportunity, I think. But I'm not sure. The problem, as McArdle hints, is that the panic in the market right now takes a little study to understand. Elections aren't about studying. They are about opponents, and how you, the voter, can defeat them. McCain's pinanta: Wall Street greed! Obama's pinata: Wall Street greed! And some other stuff!
Before she was elected governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin admitted to smoking marijuana. But as Senior Editor Jacob Sullum writes, she now opposes marijuana legalization and favors the arrest of other Alaskans for something she once did with impunity.
Mike DeBonis, one of my colleagues at Washington City Paper, sends word that the D.C. Council has removed the machinge gun clause from the DC gun law, as well as lifted the restrictions requiring that hand guns be kept disassembled:
The mayor has just signed the emergency gun bill passed earlier today by the D.C. Council, reports mayoral spokesperson Mafara Hobson. That means semiautomatic handguns are now legal and you no longer have to have D.C. police perform a ballistics test before taking your gun home. And once it is home, you no longer have to keep it disassembled or keep a trigger lock on it until you feel a “reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm.”
UPDATE, 7:27 P.M.: The Fenty statement: “The Executive and D.C. Council have worked together to adopt common-sense, reasonable laws to prevent handguns from falling into the wrong hands or being misused. I have signed this new legislation passed by the Council today, and believe it fully complies with both the letter and spirit of the Heller decision. We trust that Congress will recognize that it is appropriate that the District legislate in this area of local law.”
DeBonis is skeptical that the relaxed restrictions will "placate Congress." I guess we'll have to wait and see.
I think they are wrong to bash him on number 4, I'm agnostic for the moment about number 10 (leaning toward thinking it doesn't make much real difference either way), but otherwise, Foreign Policy has a nice summation of 10 boneheaded notions of our conceivably maybe possibly probably next president, Barack Obama. Stresses mistakes on trade, war-waging, and general giveaway boondoggles to (or targeted attacks on) various special interests.
Having grown up in Massachusetts amongst a fair number of Irish-Catholics, it wasn't uncommon to hear a lunkhead wearing an oversized Larry Bird jersey, slurping on a Bud bottle, mumbling some nonsense about the nobility of the Irish Republican Army. In Boston, a criminal gang of thugs, knee-cappers, murderers, and half-baked Marxist theoreticians were venerated in the 1970s and 80s (and no, I'm not talking about the Bulger family). On Broadway in South Boston, one could find Belfast-style murals proclaiming that an "Ireland unfree will never be at peace." Of the threats of violence routinely delivered in the neighborhood, this was small beer. Of course Johnny Adair and the Shankhill types were just as bad, but there was, in this subliterate milieu of NORAID donors, never any question of that.
But that was a long time ago—before Omagh and 9/11—and not something I'd given much thought to in recent years. And then someone went and asked actress Rose McGowen, the star of a forthcoming IRA-themed film called Fifty Dead Men Walking, what she thought of Republican terror. The Telegraph reports:
McGowan stars in Fifty Dead Men Walking, a film based on the memoirs of Martin McGartland, an RUC Special Branch agent who infiltrated the IRA in the 1980s.
"I imagine, had I grown up in Belfast, I would 100 per cent have been in the IRA," said the actress, whose father is Irish.
"My heart just broke for the cause. Violence is not to be played out daily and provide an answer to problems, but I understand it."
In the same interview, she said she found the Union Jack flying in North Ireland "deeply offensive." A Unionist MP asked McGowen if the IRA she romanticized, the one she was 100 percent behind, included those brave freedom fighters (like Gerry Adams) involved in the abduction and of murder of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 and convert to Catholicism who was targeted for helping a dying British soldier, shot in front of her apartment in the Lower Falls Road. For those interested in an objective history of the IRA, I recommend Peter Taylor's brilliant book Provos or Killing Rage, by former Republican terrorist Eamon Collins. (Shortly after the release of Killing Rage, Collins was gunned down while walking his dog.)
It doesn't seem like Bob Barr's shunning of the Ron Paul press conference has dented his campaign bus. Outside of the tear gas-choked air of Independent Political Report and radical-leaning LP blogs, Barr's media coverage has remained steady, respectful, and (of course) dismissive. Today he left the trail for some private work that can't hurt with with ornery libertarian voters.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defamed a Georgia sporting goods store when he labeled it one of several "rogue gun dealers" putting firearms on his city's streets, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr argued Tuesday to a federal appeals court.
Barr, a former prosecutor and Republican congressman from Georgia, is representing the store in a $400 million libel lawsuit against Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
And Barr waved the flag of victory over Pennsylvania Republicans, who lost a lawsuit written to keep him off the ballot.
The challenge to Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia who some GOP strategists fear might siphon votes from McCain, was filed by Harrisburg lawyer Victor Stabile, who also is chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Party.
Commonwealth Court Judge Johnny Butler rejected arguments that the party tricked voters by gathering signatures under another candidate's name and substituting Barr's name in August, three months after he was nominated at its national convention.
The Libertarians' intent "was to comply with the (state) election code, not to mislead Pennsylvania's voters," Butler wrote.
This is matched by bad news from Louisiana, where bureaucratic delays caused by Hurricane Gustav might have kept Barr's signatures from being counted for ballot access.
At The Nation's Campaign '08 blog, John Nichols reminds us that funnyman Al Franken isn't out of the running for the U.S. Senate just yet. As of last week's Minnesota primary, it's now officially a three-way race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Franken, and Independence Party hopeful Dean Barkley. For those of you watching Ron Paul's Rally for the Republic two weeks back, Barkley is the fellow that Jesse Ventura nearly forgot to mention in the midst of his 9/11 conspiracy rant. Barkley served as chairman of Ventura's long shot gubernatorial campaign, served as Minnesota senator after Paul Wellstone's death in 2002 (appointed by Gov. Ventura, then replaced by the duly elected Norm Coleman), and worked as campaign manager for Kinky Friedman's independent run for governor of Texas in 2006.
Here's how Nichols breaks it down:
Because of his own high-spending campaign, sly moves to the political center and stumbles by Franken, Coleman had maintained an advantage in the race.
But Barkley, though his campaign is short on funds, has a big name and more than a little good will accumulated over many years of independent political activism. And, this year, Barkley seems to be drawing more from Coleman than Franken.
If Franken can secure the liberal DFL base, he might just make it to the Senate without a majority—as, it should be noted, Coleman did in 2002.
First, the big news:
Islamic law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.
The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.
Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court....
Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.
Next, some thoughtful analysis from the students at the GW Patriot blog:
[T]he act in question--sanctioning Muslim Sharia courts to serve as officially-recognized arbiters in British civil cases--shouldn't be so repugnant to thinking people. As liberals (and, in global terms, all of us here at the Patriot are liberal), we ought only to worry whether these courts are really as "voluntary" as they claim to be, which are similar to the Beth Din courts that decide civil cases between consenting Jews. We might find Sharia law itself repugnant, but the degree of cultural relativism inherent in liberal political institutions is there for a good reason. If we don't like it, we don't have to consent.
It's an open question just how voluntary these sorts of arrangements really can be. The possibility that participation in these courts could be coerced is there, which is worrisome enough to justify significant state oversight. That is not sufficient reason, though, to dismantle the courts entirely. We have to swallow our principles here and admit that--since we allow people to make self-harming decisions elsewhere all the time--it would make sense only to a xenophobe to stop at sanctioning a Sharia arbitration court.
Critics should examine not just the voluntary aspect of sharia, but also its fairness. How many Muslim women will be coerced by their fathers and husbands into submitting to sharia instead of taking their chances with the British court system? And how many of them, as a result of this cultural insulation, will end up being punished for—or as a result of—their gender? Anecdotal evidence suggests quite a few women will end up worse off under sharia:
There are concerns that women who agree to go to tribunal courts are getting worse deals because Islamic law favours men.
Siddiqi said that in a recent inheritance dispute handled by the court in Nuneaton, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between three daughters and two sons.
The judges on the panel gave the sons twice as much as the daughters, in accordance with sharia. Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts.
Almost as disturbing as the people who advocate for sharia on principle are the people who ask why the Jews get special treatment and the Muslims don't. Where are the advocates for dissolving both Beth Din and Sharia?
Addendum: The astute Jesse Walker brought this H&R post to my attention, as well as this defense of alternative forms of arbitration. Despite his seductive intellectual prowess, I maintain my disdain for sharia.
David Freddoso is the author of the lone decent anti-Obama book, The Case Against Barack Obama. (It's the Myth of a Maverick of anti-Barackology!) It was researched on the scene in Chicago. It doesn't traffic in birth certificate-style kookery.
So, naturally, the Obama campaign is siccing the bloodhounds on Freddoso.
Chicago radio station WGN-AM is again coming under attack from the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama for offering airtime to a controversial author. It is the second time in recent weeks the station has been the target of an "Obama Action Wire" alert to supporters of the Illinois Democrat.
"The author of the latest anti-Barack hit book is appearing on WGN Radio in the Chicagoland market tonight, and your help is urgently needed to make sure his baseless lies don't gain credibility," an e-mail sent Monday evening to Obama supporters reads.
"David Freddoso has made a career off dishonest, extreme hate mongering," the message said. "And WGN apparently thinks this card-carrying member of the right-wing smear machine needs a bigger platform for his lies and smears about Barack Obama -- on the public airwaves."
Guy Benson has more details here. I can see the Obama campaign's problem, though: Freddoso is a much more credible "smear artist" than, say, Jerome Corsi. The Corsi-ish reliance on crazy Obama smears that defined part of this summer was actually good for Obama, in the same way that the pre-Lipstick-on-a-Pig Palin attack stories were good for Palin. By being so crazy, they made it seem like to attack Obama was to be/sound crazy.
The New York Times is reporting that the state-run Texas Windstorm Insurance Association may not have enough money to pay billions in claims from Texans whose houses and businesses were whacked by Hurricane Ike. As the Times explains:
Hurricane Ike caused as much as $16 billion in property damage, by some estimates, but the state-led insurance pool that will pay much of the cost has only $2.3 billion, leaving the Texas government on the hook potentially for billions of dollars in claims.
Insurance companies all but stopped offering hurricane coverage for property on the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 cost them billions of dollars in claims and as property values soared, raising their exposure to disaster claims.
The pullout of commercial insurance carriers forced most property owners on the coast to turn to the state-run insurer of last resort, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, or the wind pool, as it is called.
Tens of thousands of owners of homes and businesses have bought storm coverage through the state insurance pool in the last few years. It now has about 225,000 policyholders, up from about 68,000 in 2001. Property in the hurricane risk zone was worth about $895 billion in 2007, an increase of 24 percent since 2004, according to the Insurance Information Institute...
Because the insurance industry had pulled out of the coastal market, an estimated 60 percent of the insurance cost in Galveston will be borne by the insurance pool.
If the "insurance" premiums charged by the state don't cover the losses, what then? Among other things, make the insurance companies pay anyway:
Insurance companies are not completely out of the picture in Galveston and the coastal counties. All carriers licensed to sell property insurance in Texas are required to participate in the state insurance pool and pay assessments based on their market share in the rest of the state. The wind pool also has rights on a $500 million state catastrophe reserve fund and reinsurance worth $1.5 billion.
These resources, plus customer premiums, have given the state insurance pool a total of $2.3 billion to cover all of this year’s claims. But smaller storms this year have reduced the total to $2.1 billion.
When that money is depleted, the insurance pool can impose unlimited assessments on insurance companies. They, in turn, can recover the money through state tax breaks, spread over several years. The resulting decline in tax revenue could drain millions from the state’s general revenue fund.
In a related story, the Times describes the devastation on the Bolivar peninsula across from Galveston. The Times talks with several people who rode out the storm there, including Deeann and Frank Sherman and Robert Isaacks. They are now taking certain facts into account about living on the coast:
“We take a chance living on the beach — everybody does,” said Robert Isaacks, the Emergency Medical Services coordinator for Crystal Beach.
Mr. Sherman said his car repair business could not be insured because it was not elevated above ground. He tried to insure his home this year, he said, but insurers rejected the home because of the aviary the couple built out of bullet-proof glass, to protect it from storms.
The Shermans said that their life on the coast had been rich, but that it was over. They will sell their land on Bolivar to someone “younger and braver,” Ms. Sherman said, and go elsewhere. “There is a passage in the Bible that says, woe be to those who live on the coast,” she said. “I’m taking that to heart now.”
The fact that insurance companies refused to insure property located on storm-wracked coasts is not an instance of market failure. A market failure supposedly occurs when the price of goods and services do not reflect the true costs of producing and consuming those goods and services. That's clearly not what happened here. The market is practially shouting at people, "Don't build something you can't afford to lose where hurricanes periodically crash ashore."
Instead the state "insurance" scheme is an example of government failure which occurs when a government intervention causes a more inefficient allocation of goods and resources than would occur without that intervention. In this case, it's the government that's telling people that it's OK to build in dangerous areas and then not charging them enough for the "insurance."
After reading the Democratic and Republican platforms, Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explains where the major parties stand on human embryonic stem cells, reproductive health, scientific integrity, space exploration, the Internet, and research funding.
Over at The Wall Street Journal, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia weighs in on John McCain's and Barack Obama's stances on national service. A snippet:
Both John McCain and Barack Obama exhorted Americans to dedicate themselves to public service in an appearance at Columbia University on Thursday, to mark the seventh anniversary of 9/11. But Americans need no lectures from politicians to participate in their nation's civic life. They need them to stay out of the way. Between the two, Sen. Obama is far less likely to do so.
At first blush, the two candidates appear indistinguishable on the subject. Both have urged Americans to look beyond their individual, material pursuits and commit themselves to causes greater than themselves -- Sen. McCain arguably even more aggressively than Mr. Obama. The difference is that for Mr. McCain this is a moral ideal. For Mr. Obama, it is a governing mission. "Making that call to service will be a central cause of my presidency," he declared in an Independence Day address at the University of Colorado and elsewhere.
Tune your dials to National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation today at 2 p.m. to hear Associate Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward discuss Sarah Palin, women, and the 2008 election.
Over the last few days, both major party candidates have said Wall Street is out of control, and needs more and better federal regulation. Barack Obama has mocked the concept of the “ownership society,” which is the sensible idea that people should have control over their own lives. John McCain has promised to rein in the “greed” and “self interest” on Wall Street. Both promise a tighter regulatory structure, as do leaders of both parties in Congress.
Here’s my question: The federal government is currently running a $400 billion deficit. If we never add a new federal government program, taxpayers are still on the hook for $59 trillion in unfunded future Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security liabilities.
Nevertheless, both McCain and Obama are still making wildly expensive promises, and proposing a wide array of new federal programs. Not exactly the models of fiscal restraint, these two.
Yes, markets can be brutal. And it’s never pleasant to watch a correction unfold in real time. I’m certainly dreading the sight of my next 401(k) statement. But even the shadiest of corporations wouldn’t attempt the the shenanigans the federal government employs to hide its liabilities from taxpayers. When it comes to cooking the books, Congress can throw down with Bobby Flay. When it comes to solvency...well...$59 trillion.
All of which makes it a pretty dubious proposition that we’d be better off today if only we’d given more power to our noble politicians to safeguard the public interest from greedy corporations.
In March I wrote a column in which I noted that several experts believed that oil markets were in the grip of a speculative bubble. Just one relevant quotation:
So what will happen to oil prices over the next few years? No one is predicting $10 per barrel oil. However, once the current bubble bursts, both Evans and Lynch believe that the price of crude will settle at around $60 to $70 per barrel in the next couple of years. "It's very hard to pinpoint just how long a bubble can expand before it breaks. Getting the timing right is not an easy matter," says Evans. But he adds, "I think that this is the riskiest time to be long in crude oil since 1980."
It turns out that people will buy less when the price rises. Who knew that the laws of supply and demand still work? (The possible advent of a worldwide recession doesn't hurt either.)
Note: I would like all those who sent me emails in June and July (and you know who are you are) demanding that I publicly admit that I was wrong in my March column to send me emails admitting that they were wrong about the $200 per barrel oil they were predicting was imminent. (wink)
*This looks more like a forest ranger tower than an oil derrick to me, but I liked the image anyway.
Google recently filed a patent for offshore computing barges. That's right, Google conspiracy theorists: A computer navy.
The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres
Keeping cool and finding tax-free space is a serious issue for Google and its competitors:
Data centres consumed 1 per cent of the world’s electricity in 2005. By 2020 the carbon footprint of the computers that run the internet will be larger than that of air travel, a recent study by McKinsey, a consultancy firm, and the Uptime Institute, a think tank, predicted.
I wonder if they could work something out with my pals over at the Seasteading Institute? Google-owned server farms in international waters, populated and defended by anarchists? Be still, my heart.
For more on the ever-popular Google-is-the-Great-Satan meme, check out the ongoing thoughtful discussion at Tech Liberation Front.
Update: Jesse Walker was similarly intrigued.
Both McCain and Obama, writes Nick Gillespie, want to beef up "public service" and enlist Americans to serve in a cause greater than themselves—all on the taxpayer's dime. Bad idea.
Newsweek's Andrew Romano writes that the race for electoral votes still favors Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain, but it tightening up:
A campaign that once boasted about redrawing the electoral map by targeting an unprecedented 18 battlegrounds has been forced to focus on a more familiar swath of states—and even play defense in places it had hoped to win easily. In the last week, the Red States have gotten redder—and the Blue States have gotten purpler....
It's not all doom and gloom for Obama. So far this month, he's seems to have solidified his narrow margin in Michigan and New Hampshire (states McCain is hoping to flip) while expanding his edges in the Bush states of Iowa and Colorado, where he now leads by 9.7 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. If he wins these states in November—along with Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico—he wins the White House.
Tyler Cowen has a fantasy about Sarah Palin:
Andrew Sullivan is calling Sarah Palin "Rovian." Maybe, but her first order of business has been to fool the Republican establishment, not the American people. (Read this silly AEI guy.) Her few genuine words on foreign policy indicate her positions are hardly the modern Republican norm. She is "unusual" on pot smoking and benefits for gays and juror nullification. The Republicans are underestimating her role as a Hegelian agent of world-historical change, just as the Democrats did at first.
Which narrative do you find more plausible?:
"Lovely Sarah, she's saying and doing everything we want her to. What a quick learner. How pliable she is. Remember Descartes [sic] on tabula rasa?"
"Once John and I are elected, they'll need me more than I need them."
The people who are right now the happiest may end up the most concerned. For better or worse, they're about to lose control of their movement.
Needless to say, Cowen's evidence for this theory is thin. But I understand where he's coming from. There's just enough curious wrinkles in Palin's resume -- her apparent support for jury nullification, her friendly relations with the Alaskan Independence Party, her roots in the Mat-Su Valley -- to let a libertarian dream that the unvetted vice president will have a secret agenda, if that's the sort of dream you're predisposed to have. And why wouldn't you be so predisposed? There's a longstanding cultural myth that an honest, authentic person will come to power accidentally and enact sweeping, benign reforms. This might not happen very frequently in real life, but it happens in the movies all the time.
I'm all for film-fueled reveries. But I hope this sort of thinking doesn't lead anyone to actually vote for John McCain's ticket. Even if we set aside the question of whether Palin really has a hidden agenda, such a strategy would be troublingly passive; when a movement is reduced to hoping for a deus ex machina, there's a fundamental sense in which it has given up. We're in bad shape if our plan to expand American liberties owes more to the plot of Dave than to any hard-nosed political calculations.
On Tuesday, September 16th, starting at 6:30pm, please join reason's DC staff for a happy hour to celebrate:
The release of the paperback edition of reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch's book, McCain: The Myth of a Maverick. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event.
The release of reason's October issue (subscribe now!).
Come early for reason swag, including copies of the October issue, stickers, illustrated poster versions of our legal immigration flowchart, and more.
The event will take place at the upstairs bar at The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Avenue, NW, a block south of Dupont Circle.
The fun begins at 6:30pm and ends when you say it does. Drink and food specials throughout the night, and the patio will be open for smokers.
Hope to see you there!
John McCain is calling for a "9/11 Commission" to investigate the various bank failures on Wall Street.
"[American workers have] been betrayed by a casino on Wall Street of greedy, corrupt excess -- corruption and excess that has damaged them and their futures," he added. [...]
"We're going to need a '9/11 Commission' to find out what happened and what needs to be fixed," he said. "I warned two years ago that this situation was deteriorating and unacceptable. And the old-boy network and the corruption in Washington is directly involved, and one of the causes of this financial crisis that we're in today. And I know how to fix it, and I know how to get things done."
"Americans are hurting right now, and there's going to be a ripple effect of this financial crisis because of the greed and corruption and excess, and Wall Street treated the American economy like a casino," he continued. "And we can fix it, and we've got to keep people in their homes."
Recall that McCain has also advocated "Surge"-style tactics in high-crime U.S. cities, and said we're in a new "twilight struggle" against radical Islamists. What's next, a Shock and Awe energy policy? Vietnamization of the public school system?
Alaska's governor and America's sweetheart has said, up to now, that she'd comply with an investigation into her firing of a state employee who divorced her sister. Things change.
Mrs Palin was "unlikely to co-operate" with the inquiry "so long as it remains tainted and run by partisan individuals that have a pre-determined conclusion", the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.
Tainted? Who are these partisans, anyway?
In July, the four Democrats and eight Republicans on Alaska's Legislative Council voted unanimously to investigate the circumstances of Monegan's dismissal.
So, 12 people from both parties agreed to start the investigation, and they are "partisan individuals." That makes sense if Alaska is divided into a Palin Party and an Anti-Palin Party, but that's the only way in which it makes sense. We'll probably be told that everyone opposed to Palin's governorship is a hidebound party hack who opposes her reforms. But we were told Palin "said thanks but no thanks to that Bridge for Nowhere," and that had all the veracity of a Baron Munchausen story, too.
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign responds to Tina "bitch is the new black" Fey's skit about Palin by calling Fey a sexist.
Pakistan's military has ordered its forces to open fire if U.S. troops launch another air or ground raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman said Tuesday.
The orders, which come in response to a highly unusual Sept. 3 ground attack by U.S. commandos, are certain to heighten tension between Washington and a key ally against terrorism.
Pakistan's civilian leaders have protested the raid but say the dispute should be resolved through diplomatic channels.
However, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press that after U.S. helicopters ferried troops into a militant stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal region, the military told field commanders to prevent any similar raids.
Do Bush, McCain, and Obama have the same foreign policy?
The heroic traits voters once looked for in a presidential candidate—greatness, certitude, vision—are out of fashion this election season. Tim Cavanaugh looks at how the two candidates stack up in their respective abilities to keep the heroic qualities to a minimum.
Always good for us rah rah capitalism types to keep in mind that sweeping out the dusty corners of private enterprise will reveal just as many dunces as when one does the same thing in government. From today's Telegraph:
Were it not so serious, the role reversal would be hilarious. For years, US governments have called in titans of finance for advice on how to run federal affairs more effectively. Now, those clever clogs who were once deemed to have all the answers are asking difficult questions, like: "May we have some help, please, we appear to have burned through our shareholders' reserves?"
But as that other noble Brit, Douglas Adams, would remind us: Don't Panic. It seems as if the world is ending, and it may be. But keep your cool, because everything is going according to plan.
As a former Goldman Sachs executive, Paulson understands that the unravelling of Lehman is not a sign, per se, that free markets are failing. Quite the reverse. They work best when driving out weak and inefficient operators. Creation and destruction are part of the game. Nobody said that capitalism was devised to provide soft landings for hopeless losers. Sending a message that all sinners will be saved only encourages reckless behaviour.
The long, sad case of the West Memphis Three took yet another turn last week as Crittendon County Circuit Judge David Burnett rejected death row inmate Damien Echols' motion for a new trial based on new DNA evidence. Echols, who was 18 at the time, was convicted in 1994 of the brutal murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Two other teens, 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and 16-year-old Jason Baldwin, were also convicted, though only Echols was sentenced to death. Misskelley and Baldwin's motions were denied last week as well.
It's a shocking and thoroughly depressing story from start to finish. Local officials maintained that the murders were "Satanic" in nature and then used the three teens' fondness for black clothes and heavy metal music as evidence against them. There was no physical evidence linking the three teens in any way to the crime, only the factually impossible "confession" of Jessie Misskelley, a special education dropout with an IQ of 72. To appreciate just how ugly the whole sham was, consider that Misskelley's statement was wrong about virtually every significant aspect of the crime, from the nature of the victims' injuries, to the manner in which they were restrained, to the timeframe where the killings occurred. He gave vague and contradictory information, most of which was preceded by prompts from the police. As Mara Leveritt notes in Devil's Knot, her excellent book on the case, "Every detective in the room knew, even if Jessie did not, that the statement was absurd."
The FBI has released its crime stats for 2007 and it's good news:
All four of the violent crime offenses declined in 2007 when compared with figures from 2006. The estimated number of forcible rapes declined 2.5 percent; the estimated number of murders and nonnegligent manslaughters dropped 0.6 percent; and the estimated number of aggravated assaults also decreased by 0.6 percent. The estimated number of robberies decreased 0.5 percent in 2007 when compared with 2006 data....
Each of the property crimes also declined in 2007. Motor vehicle theft decreased 8.1 percent when 2007 data were compared with the 2006 data. The estimated number of larceny-thefts decreased 0.6 percent, and the estimated number of burglaries declined 0.2 percent.
FBI press release on crime stats here.
Nothing, according to Yale University senior Jerry Guo, a promising young student studying—don't laugh—North Korean economics. Guo writes in Sunday's Washington Post that, contrary to all that propaganda from the West, the Juche Kingdom ain't all that bad:
"What I did witness: a mother buying a soda for her daughter from a sidewalk snack cart; two older women sitting on a bench, gossiping and eating pears; businessmen coming out of the subway, sans Bluetooth headsets; a grimacing teenage boy getting a haircut at a salon.
This was not the bizarro-land that I've read about in countless magazine articles and history books. No, this could have been Anytown, USA."
There were delicate blouses and dresses for around 15,000 won (roughly $4 at black market exchange rates), all sorts of fruit -- thought to be nearly impossible to find in this mountainous hermit kingdom -- and enough varieties of mystery meats to make my high school cafeteria green with envy.
And the town offers plenty else to do: there's golf, several karaoke bars, the "Kaeson Youth Funfair," a massage house with lots of late-night activity, and a shooting range (no joke: there's a field where you can practice your grenade-throwing).
And while conditions are certainly grim, the view I had of the countryside from my window suggested that they might not be as stark as all that: young boys giddily waving hello, men leisurely fishing, schoolchildren swimming in irrigation canals.
Take a look at the aerial view of Pyongyang on Google Earth and you will notice only a handful of cars on the street, and almost no people—just like Anytown, USA. It looks something like this:
Oh, and after the karaoke bar and the indoor golf don't forget to check out a public execution!
Over the weekend, Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher wrote a terrific column on the botched drug raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo. Snippet:
Critics of no-knock raids say they not only result in too many errors, sometimes with tragic results, but undermine efforts at community policing, the building of trust and relationships that is critical to effective crime-fighting, such as Berwyn Heights' requirement that its officers go to every local youth ballgame, get out of the car and walk around chatting with people.
"Telling the people that these officers followed procedure and did nothing wrong sends a chilling message," Calvo says. "And then we wonder why people who live in high-crime areas don't trust the police. They treated us like animals. They were not there to protect and serve, they were there to search and destroy."
Calvo intends to seek stronger county oversight of SWAT deployments, and that would certainly help. But as long as we continue to glamorize the police when they take on the trappings of the military, more people will be shocked out of bed in the middle of the night, more dogs will be shot on sight, and we'll have ever more reason to wonder why the police are treated like enemy occupiers.
Federal News Radio reports that more than a half million federal employees owe some $3.59 billion in federal income taxes. The biggest scofflaws are the Post Office (in raw numbers) and the Government Printing Office (by percentage). The list also includes the Executive Office of the President (where 58 employees owe $320,000), and 1,000 staffers on Capitol Hill.
I was surprised to learn that except for the IRS, the federal government does not consider failure to pay federal taxes a firing offense. Surprised, that is, until I remembered that when you're a federal employee, virtually nothing is actually a firing offense.
In the past, the report has included data from the IRS the percentage of tax cheats in the general population, but the IRS apparently stopped making that information available a couple of years ago.
The Anglican Church is fashioning a public apology to one of history's most shat-upon scientists, Charles Darwin:
The Church of England owes Charles Darwin an apology for misunderstanding his theory of evolution and making errors over its reaction to it, a senior clergyman said today....
"People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges which changes the way people look at the world, it's easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights.
"The church made that mistake with Galileo's astronomy, and has since realised its error. Some church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. So it is important to think again about Darwin's impact on religious thinking, then and now – and the bicentenary of Darwin's birth in 1809 is a good time to do so.
"It is hard to avoid the thought that the reaction against Darwin was largely based on what we would now call the 'yuk factor' - an emotional not an intellectual response - when he proposed a lineage from apes to humans."
While somewhat late to the party, the Anglicans are at least better at admitting their foibles than the One True Church, which is currently building a statue to commemorate Galileo:
"It's an effort to make him a symbol, an attempt to make Galileo one of the emblems of the church," says Mr. Galluzzi, whose museum houses two of Galileo's telescopes. "It's the church which needs rehabilitation on this case, not Galileo. He was right."
On the other side of the barricades, meanwhile, some Roman Catholics think the church has already done more than enough to make up with Galileo.
Atila Sinke Guimarães, a conservative Catholic writer, dismisses the church's mistreatment of Galileo as a "black legend."
The scientist, he says, got what he deserved. "The Inquisition was very moderate with him. He wasn't tortured."
As the western branches of the Anglican Communion have liberalized over the last several decades, their membership numbers have plummeted. In Africa, on the other hand, where Anglican ministers espouse a fire and brimstone theology akin to American Evengelicalism with a hint of Orthodox Roman Catholocism, membership is on the rise.
It would seem that the more
denomination Anglicanism encourages intellectual
freedom—or doubt, as the believers call it—the less able it is to
sustain or grow its membership. Why can't Anglicans be more like
some Jews and some Buddhists,
occasional intellectual stars in a contemporary
religious dark age? Because Christianity
Anglicanism thrives only if its adherents believe that dogmatic
obedience is a non-negotiable requisite for salvation. Waiving that
requirement amounts to relinquishing a monopoly on salvation.
Via Ben Smith, Barack Obama rounds up the culprits for today's market meltdown.
I certainly don’t fault Senator McCain for these problems. But I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. It’s the same philosophy we’ve had for the last eight years – one that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. It’s a philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise; one that says we should just stick our heads in the sand and ignore economic problems until they spiral into crises.
Matthew Yglesias picks up the rebound.
Conservatives don’t believe in [the] safety net for regular people — just for the billionaires. Guaranteed health care? Forget it. Guaranteed retirement income? No way. Just let the market work, and when it stops working the executives will be okay and the rest of us will, oh, something or other.
It’s just something to keep in mind when you hear John McCain ranting about the horrors of government waste. Obviously, there is some waste in there, and certainly some stuff that sounds funny like Sarah Palin’s seal DNA earmark. But in McCain’s mind, it’s all waste. Nobody paid attention at the time, but back in the spring he came out with an extraordinarily stingy housing plan that would have done essentially nothing to help ordinary people hit by the foreclosure crisis. McCain, after all, managed to acquire eight homes through
good old fashioned hard workmarrying an heiresses, so why shouldn’t hard work and prudence be good enough to see any family through tough times?
I think we're seeing a return to the frame that Obama wants: If
the country thinks the economy's collapsing, and if the blame is
placed on Coolidgenomics, then the Democrat wins. Unfortunately for
the Democratic ticket, Joe Biden is far more convincing than Obama
in serving up this sort of boilerplate. But this clip is the sound
of a Democrat on friendly turf.
According to FBI figures released today, about 873,000 people were arrested on marijuana charges in the United States last year, 5 percent more than in 2006 and a new record. This is the fifth year in a row that marijuana arrests, which are up 167 percent since 1990, have increased. In 2007 marijuana arrests accounted for nearly half of the 1.8 million drug arrests; as usual, the vast majority of the pot busts, about 775,000, were for simple possession.
In addition to chart above, NORML has a handy table.
[Thanks to the Drug Policy Alliance for the tip.]
For political artists, the past eight years have been boom years, providing much opportunity for outrage. But as Associate Editor Michael C. Moynihan writes, what will become of the perpetually outraged artist in the event of an Obama administration?
Angela Valdez profiles Damien Ober, so far the lone Libertarian candidate on the D.C. ballot this year, and a gonzo candidate for "Shadow Senator," the horse hockey job that D.C. polls created to protest and lobby against the city's lack of real, voting senators.
Ober, 30, came up with the idea for the ads a few months ago, envisioning a political prank/art project with sequential videos rolling out the narrative of a fictional candidate. He recruited friends to help write scripts and a local Shakespearean actor to play the role of candidate.
After announcing their “candidacy,” Ober and his friends uploaded videos about the defeat of the gun ban, the sagging U.S. economy, and our dependence on foreign oil. Their positions took a vaguely libertarian point of view—Ober served as a delegate for Rep. Ron Paul in the February 2008 Republican primary—and consistently returned to references to shadows. By using an obvious fraud—the shadowy candidate—as the mouthpiece for a sincere message—the disenfranchisement of D.C. voters—the videos poke fun at the duplicity of real politics.
Ober’s platform includes a few unusual proposals: He wants to put more resources into human space flight (the voyages could still be unmanned, Woods notes, “if we send women”); he wants to reclaim Arlington for the District of Columbia and re-energize public education by requiring failing public schools to teach Greek and Latin. He also advocates more openness in campaigning.
If the space flight thing is jarring, keep in mind: Ober's day job is at our local commie-themed coffee house, the Marx Cafe.
As I wrote above, it looks like Ober might be the only Libertarian option on the ballot. The attention-getting Heller campaign crashed on the launchpad due to a late start and what I can only characterize as a bumbling ballot access campaign that involved on volunteers who were drafted at social gatherings and not that interested in actually hitting the hot summer streets. Ober, by contrast, was everywhere gathering signatures. I ran into him twice in July, and both times he had a clipboard in hand.
The New York Times is reporting that an Indian criminal court accepted a brain scan as evidence of guilt in a murder trial in India earlier this year. The developer of the the Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (BEOS) test claims that it uses electrodes to detect when regions of the brain "light up" with guilty knowledge.
According to the Times:
The woman, Aditi Sharma, was accused of killing her former fiancé, Udit Bharati. They were living in Pune when Ms. Sharma met another man and eloped with him to Delhi. Later Ms. Sharma returned to Pune and, according to prosecutors, asked Mr. Bharati to meet her at a McDonald’s. She was accused of poisoning him with arsenic-laced food.
Ms. Sharma, 24, agreed to take a BEOS test in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra. (Suspects may be tested only with their consent, but forensic investigators say many agree because they assume it will spare them an aggressive police interrogation.)
After placing 32 electrodes on Ms. Sharma’s head, investigators said, they read aloud their version of events, speaking in the first person (“I bought arsenic”; “I met Udit at McDonald’s”), along with neutral statements like “The sky is blue,” which help the software distinguish memories from normal cognition.
For an hour, Ms. Sharma said nothing. But the relevant nooks of her brain where memories are thought to be stored buzzed when the crime was recounted, according to Mr. Joseph, the state investigator. The judge endorsed Mr. Joseph’s assertion that the scans were proof of “experiential knowledge” of having committed the murder, rather than just having heard about it...
Ms. Sharma insists that she is innocent.
As the Times points out, most U.S. experts doubt that the BEOS technology has been propoerly validated. However, neuroscience researchers are working toward creating such a "truth machine." As the Times notes:
“As we enter more fully into the era of mapping and understanding the brain, society will face an increasing number of important ethical, legal and social issues raised by these new technologies,” Mr. [Hank] Greely, the Stanford bioethicist, and his colleague Judy Illes wrote last year in the American Journal of Law & Medicine.
If brain scans are widely adopted, they said, “the legal issues alone are enormous, implicating at least the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
“At the same time,” they continued, “the potential benefits to society of such a technology, if used well, could be at least equally large.”
Back in 2001, I looked at the status of brain scanning technologies and pointed to some of the possibilities that fully validated brain scanning technologies would offer for abuse by government and some implications for the future of privacy:
...James Halperin, author of the 1996 science fiction novel The Truth Machine.., notes an interesting convergence in current fMRI and brainwave research since his fictional "Cerebral Image Processor" measured a combination of electrical activity and blood flow. In The Truth Machine, Halperin illustrates the benefits and problems that the pervasive availability of an infallible lie detector would cause society. It is easy to see some of the benefits -- detecting would-be terrorists, finding politicians who tell the truth during campaigns, detecting honesty in meeting contractual obligations. But what about those areas of life we would like to keep private, say, one's sexual orientation, or unusual religious beliefs, or drug habits, or taste in pornography? Halperin suggests that right now, many of us tolerate laws and regulations on many of these private activities because we know that we are not likely to be caught when we violate them. In a world where the truth can be known absolutely, Halperin thinks laws regulating many private activities would be repealed and there would be areas of life in which the use of a truth machine itself would be banned.
Whole column here.
Fitch Ratings has downgraded the long- and short-term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) and outstanding debt ratings of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, (LBHI), parent of Lehman Brothers Inc and other subsidiaries as follows:
--Long-term IDR to 'D' from 'A+';
--Short-term IDR to 'D' from 'F1';
--Senior debt to 'CCC' from 'A+';
--Subordinated debt to 'C' from 'A';
--Preferred stock to 'C' from 'A'.
Fitch's slogan? "Know Your Risk." Know, then, your risk on relying on their wisdom that a company with an A+ debt rating will keep that exalted status until shortly--but, mind you, very shortly!--after it declares bankruptcy.
The Washington Post is reporting on a bill that D.C.'s City Council might be voting on as early as tomorrow that would seem to largely pre-empt the goals of both the bill moving through Congress that would liberalize D.C.'s gun laws post-Heller and the "Heller II" lawsuit. Some details:
D.C. officials, coping with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out the city's handgun ban, have drafted legislation that would do away with several remaining firearms restrictions, including safe-storage requirements and a provision that bars ownership of semiautomatic pistols.
Although the move by the city to ease handgun restrictions coincides with the House effort to virtually strip the District of its power to regulate firearms, [Democratic council member Phil] Mendelson said officials are not seeking to placate members of Congress. He said the proposed changes, which he will urge the council to pass Tuesday, result from a careful review of the Supreme Court decision in the weeks since it was issued June 26.
"I think we're addressing the Supreme Court ruling and, coincidentally, addressing Congress's concern," said Mendelson....And by addressing the Supreme Court ruling, he said, "it will pull out the underpinnings of the argument for that legislation."
Although the storage requirements would be done away with, a gun owner would be subject to prosecution if a child got hold of a loaded, unlocked firearm. If the child did not hurt anyone, the owner would face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail. If the child injured someone, the owner could be charged with a felony carrying up to five years in prison.
I've been unable to yet read this draft legislation, and am a bit confused by the Post saying both that it would "do away with....provision that bars ownership of semiautomatic pistols" and that it would "ban magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds" since it was that whole "capable" language that has so far allowed D.C. to claim that pretty much any clip-loaded semi-auto is forbidden, but more should be more public soon.
The Hill on the tangled progress through Congress of the bill to overturn D.C.'s existing gun regulations.
And my forthcoming book, Gun Control on Trial, on the Heller case and its many attendent issues.
From funnyman economist/TV personality Ben Stein:
Earlier this month I was flying home to Los Angeles from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, which I attended as a pundit, not a politician. Sitting next to me on the flight was a charming young man named Tom Morello. Ruthless questioning elicited the fact that he is the lead guitar for a fabulously successful band called Rage Against the Machine.
But instead of spinning this material into an Odd Couple-style comedy of manners, the former Nixon speechwriter (website here) uses it as an opportunity to probe the perennial, bipartisan, and futile crusade against Washington "waste, fraud and abuse," and then pivots in favor of federal regulation:
Then there is that aspect of the war against Washington in which candidates -- very often, my fellow Republicans -- rage against the machine of regulation. Indeed, this is a constant refrain of the conservatives I call my pals. Regulation is stifling growth and entrepreneurship, they say.
With respect, I don't see it. Look at the major debacles in the economy in the past quarter-century. The junk-bond scandal of the 1980s was largely a result of a failure of regulation. The tech boom of the 1990s and the subsequent bust were greatly facilitated by a lack of regulation over fiduciary behavior by underwriters and investment banks. The problem was not too much regulation, but far too little.
Or look at the current financial madness caused by wildly imprudent lending by major banks and investment banks. Basically, a major piece of deregulation, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, overturned most of the laws that had kept commercial banks and investment banks separate. This made it much easier for monster-size banks to lay down enormous bets on the direction of housing prices.
I don't agree with Stein–for one thing, I'm not sure what special "regulation" was required for the dot-com bust of 2000, and the tech boom that both proceeded and succeeded it continues to be a wonderful thing indeed. Also, most entrepreneur-stifling regulations occur at the local, not federal, level, and they can stifle to the point of sending perfectly good people to jail.
But it's interesting to see the re-regulatory mindset at work. Somewhere, somehow, people were making money in new-sounding ways. When enough of them started to lose money, it's time to Do Something. That is a powerful urge in any season, and it sure seems to be gathering steam in 2008.
ScienceDebate 2008 is a group of scientists and other concerned citizens who tried to promote a formal debate on science and technology policy issues between presidential candidates during the primary season. Once the primaries ended, ScienceDebate hoped to persuade the two major party candidates to engage in such a public debate. They declined.
However, both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates agreed to provide answers to the questions online. About two weeks ago, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) did so. Now, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has weighed in with his answers. ScienceDebate 2008 lines both up side by side with Obama's replies in blue type and McCain's in red type.
A few highlights from McCain's replies are below:
(1) On innovation:
As President, I will...
• Fund basic and applied research in new and emerging fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, and in greater breakthroughs in information technology;
• Promote greater fiscal responsibility by improving the scientific and engineering management within the federal government;
• Encourage and facilitate commercialization of new innovations, especially those created from federally funded research;
• Ensure U.S. leadership in space by promoting an exploration agenda that will combine the discoveries of our unmanned probes with new technologies to take Americans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond....
(2) On climate change:
...The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple commonsense demand that we act to meet the challenge, and act quickly.
To dramatically reduce carbon emissions, I will institute a new cap-and-trade system that over time will change the dynamic of our energy economy. By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emissions, by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050....
(8) On stem cells:
While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress. Moreover, I believe that recent scientific breakthroughs raise the hope that one day this debate will be rendered academic. I also support funding for other research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research which hold much scientific promise and do not involve the use of embryos. I oppose the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes and I voted to ban the practice of “fetal farming,” making it a federal crime for researchers to use cells or fetal tissue from an embryo created for research purposes.
(11) On space exploration:
...I understand the importance of investments in key industries such as space to the future of our national security, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and national pride as a technological leader. Although the general view in the research community is that human exploration is not an efficient way to increase scientific discoveries given the expense and logistical limitations, the role of manned space flight goes well beyond the issue of scientific discovery and is reflection of national power and pride.
History provides some guide to this. In 1971, when the Nixon Administration was looking at canceling the Apollo program and not approving the development of the Space Shuttle - then Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Casper Weinberger stated that such a policy: "would be confirming in some respects a belief that I fear is gaining credence at home and abroad: That our best years are behind us, that we are turning inward, reducing our defense commitments, and voluntarily starting to give up our super-power status and our desire to maintain world superiority." Three and a half decades later this seems equally valid, if not more so given the increased number of countries that are making significant investments in space....
Both candidates' full answers to all 14 ScienceDebate 2008 questions can be found here.
I will be participating in a panel discussion at the University of Mississippi on September 18 on the topic: "U.S. Science Policy: What Should be on the President's Agenda?" My fellow panelists are bioethicist and editor of Science Progress Jonathan Moreno, and Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science.
After months of rescuing failing companies, Washington did the right thing this weekend and refused to bail out Lehman Brothers:
Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary, decided to draw a line and refuse such help. After the Fed had bailed out Bear Stearns in March and the Treasury had taken over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last weekend, expectations were high that they would do the same for Lehman. And that was precisely the problem: it would have confirmed that the federal government stood behind all risk-taking in the financial system, creating moral hazard that would take years to undo and expanding taxpayers' liability almost without limit.
The company filed for bankruptcy this morning. We'll see how long the new approach lasts.
Lindsay Lohan chimes in on the big race:
"I find it quite interesting that a woman who now is running to be second in command of the United States, only 4 years ago had aspirations to be a television anchor, which is probably all she is qualified to be.
"Oh, and... Hint Hint Pali Pal—Don't pose for anymore tabloid covers, you're not a celebrity, you're running for office to represent our, your, my COUNTRY!"
Lohan—who is rumored to be in a relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson—also referenced Palin's views on homosexuality.
"Is it a sin to be gay?" Lohan asked. "Should it be a sin to be straight? Or to use birth control? Or to have sex before marriage? Or even to have a child out of wedlock?
"Is our country so divided that the Republicans best hope is a narrow minded, media obsessed homophobe?"
In conclusion, Lohan cited an Associated Press story reporting that Palin's church advocates a conference about prayer curing homosexuality. Wrote Lohan: "Palin's Desire to "save and convert the gays"—really??"
I think all of these are valid points and, given the quaility of insight emanating from most cable yak shows, I'm all the more impressed that the case made by the star of Herbie: Fully Loaded and Mean Girls. That said, Palin has said she's pro-contraception, and seems to have answered the questions about sex before marriage and out-of-wedlock births in pragmatic, not moralistic tones. I've read mixed reports on whether the governor believes homosexuality is a sin, but she doesn't seem to have the paper trail of a Mike Huckabee when it comes to attacking gayness as evil. I would prefer to hear her, like Barack Obama, push for equality under the law for all folks, but Obama has fallen too far short of endorsing marriage for gays.
As the People cover above suggests, pace Lohan, the tabloids are in the political mix for the long haul (as John Edwards could tell you). And whatever her politics, most of which I don't agree with, Sarah Palin a bona fide phenomena through whom detractors, supporters, and others feel they can speak; in this she is like a Princess Diana or an Angelina Jolie or an O.J. Simpson.
She has genuinely confused our standard categories, especially in terms of politics, which explains why women-friendly lefties are engaging in misogynistic bashing of a working mother who didn't abort a Down Syndrome baby (what is wrong with her, they seem to say?) and the right is championing a pants-suit swearing tough gal with a handsome, gelded stay-at-home dad (who was George Gilder's absolute nightmare 25 years ago).
Enjoy the confusion while it lasts, because within a couple of months, we'll have forgotten all about the challenge Palin posed to standard gender and political categories, whether she and McCain win, lose, or draw.
Steve Chapman's column this morning nails the John McCain campaign's assault on truth and voter intelligence (an already easy target) of late.
In that vein, Mickey Kaus reported Friday that McCain's campaign is now running a Spanish-language ad attacking Barack Obama for failing to support McCain's comprehensive immigration bill. It's yet another McCain ad chock-full of egregious distortions. What the ad doesn't mention:
• Obama (like McCain) voted twice to end Senate filibusters on that bill.
• Both filibusters were led by the Republicans, not Obama or the Democrats.
• McCain himself said in the primaries that if the same bill were to come up for a vote in the Senate today, he would no longer vote for it.
In fact, it's pretty difficult to discern anything truthful about the ad at all.
There are plenty of reasons why an honest conservative would oppose the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). But as Steve Chapman writes, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has instead chosen to smear his opponent with ridiculous claims that he thinks the American people are gullible enough to believe.