There are six days left until the election. Tomorrow, Barack Obama tries to own the headlines with a 30-minute 8 p.m. ad/address/fireside chat/colon cleansing commercial. (We don't know what's in it yet.) We don't know what happens on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but we know that they're the last days we have to listen to Obama and McCain before we spend four (or eight!) years listening to just one of them.
Marc Ambinder sums up the current McCain message—He can still win!—and provides some contrary evidence. I'll simply note again that this stuff happens every year. From November 2, 1988, in the Boston Globe:
Dukakis, accompanied by daughter Andrea yesterday because his wife is holed up in a Minneapolis hotel with the flu, delivered a highly charged speech at San Jose State.
From October 28, 1992, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The CNN-USA Today poll of 1,217 likely voters showed Clinton at 40 percent, Bush at 38 percent and Perot at 16 percent. With a margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points, that added up to a dead heat. ... Bush was greeted by thousands of people at a rally in Strongsville, near Cleveland.
"You know what's happening?" Bush asked. "These guys feel it slipping away from them. They know we're on the move. They know we're going forward. I feel sorry for them."
There's not an infinite supply of this stuff, but it's close. Really, only once in a generation (1984, 1972, 1964, 1936) do you have an election where the losing party doesn't bother claiming that it can still win this thing.
In the latest issue of The New Scientist, Yale University's Gus Speth says he seeks a non-socialist alternative to today's capitalism. But as Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey writes, capitalist economic growth has paid for both the technological progress and the compliance with regulations that have made environmental improvements possible.
The McCain campaign claims that in a 2001 interview with a Chicago public radio station, Barack Obama "expressed his regret that the Supreme Court hadn't been more 'radical' and described as a 'tragedy' the Court's refusal to take up 'the issues of redistribution of wealth.'" Not quite. Here is what Obama, at the time a state legislator and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, actually said (emphasis added):
If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the Court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order...But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.
And to that extent, as radical as people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted, and the Warren court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can't do to you, it says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.
And that hasn't shifted, and one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that, because the civil rights movement became so court-focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that.
While Obama clearly favors redistribution of wealth and sees it as an issue of "economic justice," he also clearly seeks to accomplish it through the legislative process, not through the courts. Asked by a caller whether the judicial branch is "the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place," he says "you can craft theoretical justifications for it" but emphasizes that he prefers a legislative approach:
I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn't structured that way....You start getting it all sorts of separation-of-powers issues...The court's just not very good at it, and politically it's just very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard.
So there is little basis here for McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin's claim that Obama "wants to appoint judges that legislate from the bench...as insurance in case a unified Democratic government under his control fails to meet his basic goal: taking money away from people who work for it and giving it to people who Barack Obama believes deserve it."
And without the judicial philosophy angle, there's no difference in principle on this issue between Obama and McCain. Both want to take money away from people who work for it and give it to people they believe deserve it. How else would you characterize McCain's plan to rescue reckless lenders and borrowers by using taxpayer money to buy "bad home loan mortgages"? Medicare, Medicaid, progressive income taxation, and Social Security, to name just a few redistributive programs that both candidates support, also entail taking one group's earnings and giving them to another group, and in some cases the beneficiaries are more affluent than the people compelled to subsidize them. McCain's outrage over "redistribution of wealth" is awfully selective.
[via The Freedom Files]
Fascinating piece in the November Wired by Clive Thompson about attempting to extend open-source arguments and practices to, not just software ideas, but hardware ideas. The piece neither elides the difficulties in keeping economically afloat by giving away, if not the store, at least the blueprints for the store; nor does it pretend that old-fashioned intellectual property defense is the only way for an innovator to prosper.
Thompson mostly profiles the Italian circuit board company Arduino. The piece is complicated and thickly reported, but some choice excerpts that give you the shape of the big ideas therein:
In a loosely coordinated movement, dozens of hardware inventors around the world have begun to freely publish their specs. There are open source synthesizers, MP3 players, guitar amplifiers, and even high-end voice-over-IP phone routers. You can buy an open source mobile phone to talk on, and a chip company called VIA has just released an open source laptop: Anyone can take its design, fabricate it, and start selling the notebooks.
[Arduino chief Massimo] Banzi admits that the concept does sound insane. After all, Arduino assumes a lot of risk; the group spends thousands of dollars to make a batch of boards. "If you publish all your files, in one sense, you're inviting the competition to come and kill you," [Banzi] says, shrugging.
[T]he Arduino inventors decided to start a business, but with a twist: The designs would stay open source. Because copyright law—which governs open source software—doesn't apply to hardware, they decided to use a Creative Commons license called Attribution-Share Alike. It governs the "reference designs" for the Arduino board, the files you'd send to a fabrication plant to have the boards made.
Under the Creative Commons license, anyone is allowed to produce copies of the board, to redesign it, or even to sell boards that copy the design. You don't need to pay a license fee to the Arduino team or even ask permission. However, if you republish the reference design, you have to credit the original Arduino group. And if you tweak or change the board, your new design must use the same or a similar Creative Commons license to ensure that new versions of the Arduino board will be equally free and open.
This is the unacknowledged fact underpinning the open hardware movement: Hardware is already open. Even when inventors try to keep the guts of their gadgets secret, they can't. So why not actively open those designs and try to profit from the inevitable?
[H]ow do you make money in a world of open hardware?
Right now, open design pioneers tend to follow one of two economic models. The first is not to worry about selling much hardware but instead to sell your expertise as the inventor. If anyone can manufacture a device, then the most efficient manufacturer will do so at the best price. Fine, let them. It'll ensure your contraption is widely distributed. Because you're the inventor, though, the community of users will inevitably congregate around you....[T]he serious income [for Arduino] comes from clients who want to build devices based on the board and who hire the founders as consultants.
...Then there's the second model for making money off open source hardware: Sell your device but try to keep ahead of the competition. This isn't as hard as it seems. Last year, Arduino noticed that copycat versions of its board made in China and Taiwan were being sold online. Yet sales through the main Arduino store were still increasing dramatically....Partly because many Asian knockoffs were poor quality, rife with soldering errors and flimsy pin connections. The competition created a larger market but also ensured that the original makers stayed a generation ahead of the cheap imitations. Merely having the specs for a product doesn't mean a copycat will make a quality item.
The piece also profiles some people applying these ideas to innovations in humidity monitors and VOIP networks for the third world, and speculates as to how and why even giant commercial enterprises will have to make peace and alliances with open source hardware communities.
Douglas Clement from our March 2003 issue questioned whether intellectual property law was necessary for innovation.
I'm probably going to vote for Sen. Barack Obama this year, writes Tim Cavanaugh, and my reason is particularly indefensible. It's a straightforward case of reverse racism.
The good people at Slate have revealed their votes to the world, as reason staffers will do tomorrow. The totals:
Barack Obama: 55
John McCain: 1
Bob Barr: 1
Not McCain: 1
Foreigners in our midst: 4
The lone Barr voter was none other than Jack Shafer, who calls Barr the "chowderhead's chowderhead."
An 80-year-old Norwegian man named Bernt Aune "had a cornea transplanted into his right eye in 1958, from a man born in June 1885. At the time it was expected to work for only 5 years," reports a New Scientist blog, which also wonders if the antique eye might only see in black and white. The cornea is still kicking 50 years later, making it the oldest functioning organ around.
As boomers age and replacements for body parts grow more and more common, I'm looking forward to some Ship of Theseus problems. Is dad still the same guy if his hip, back, corneas, and knee joints have all been replaced? Sure. But one can only hope that one day we'll really be stumped by a continually existing fellow with 123-year-old corneas and none of his original parts.
No word on how eyeball bling effects cornea longevity.
Should the courts recognize gay marriage or should electoral majorities decide whether to extend gay men and women this fundamental contractual right? Terry Michael argues that the time for waiting on voters has passed.
There's a major scandal brewing in Louisiana's criminal justice system.
Since 1994, Chief Judge Edward Dufresne has been handling the appeals of indigent Louisiana convicts who had to file their own briefs. Last year, the aid Dufresne had assigned to handle those appeals committed suicide. According to his suicide note, Jarrold Peterson killed himself in part because of the guilt he faced over what he had been asked to do as part of his job.
Peterson sent a posthumous letter to Louisiana's Judiciary Commission with a damning allegation. He said Dufresne had instructed him to deny every appeal not prepared by an attorney. Peterson said he was instructed to write up and file the denials without every showing the appeals to the judges. Peteson handled about 2,400 such cases in the 13 years he was in charge of them.
The Louisiana Supreme Court will now decide if the investigation of the allegations and the review of those cases will be handled by another circuit, and outside panel, or the same 5th Circuit court where all of this may have happened.
A few facts about Louisiana's criminal justice system that might be helpful in putting the seriousness of this scandal into perspective:
• About 90 percent of criminal defendants in Louisiana are indigent.
• Louisiana only provides post-conviction legal aid in death penalty cases. Everyone else must either hire a lawyer, find a lawyer to handle their case pro bono, or handle the appeal themselves. Obviously, most have no choice but to opt for the latter.
One criminal defense lawyer in Louisiana told me that if you're convicted of murder in Louisiana and you're innocent, you're actually better off getting the death penalty. At least then you'll get a team of lawyers, investigators, and experts to help with your appeal.
• Because convicts aren't considered citizens in Louisiana, they have no standing to make requests for public records—and that would include copies of their own case files. Some prosecutors' offices will grant such requests anyway, but they're under no obligation to do so. When such requests are granted, or are made by the family or friends of the defendant, defense attorneys tell me that DA's offices charge $1-2 per page, for files that can easily run thousands of pages.
• So what? Most of these people are probably guilty anyway, right? Maybe not. Earlier this month, the Louisiana Innocence Project released a study of 36 death penalty convictions won by the office of former New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick (yes, he's the father of the famous crooner). The report found that prosecutors had withheld important exculpatory evidence in nine cases, or 25 percent. In four cases—one in nine death sentences—the condemned defendant was later declared innocent.
Given that these were death penalty cases, the defendants had good representation from the state's capital post-conviction office.
Not only are 90 percent of defendants in non-capital cases left to find such abuses in their own cases by themselves, DAs are under no obligation to give them copies of their own case files, can charge exhorbitant fees when they do, and for 13 years, it looks as if at least one of Louisiana's appeals courts couldn't even bother to read the appeals, anyway.
One more thing to consider: Many Louisiana DAs have been sending regular work to former Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne and his disgraced "forensic odontologist" sidekick Dr. Michael West since the early 1990s.
With a McCain-Palin defeat creeping up closer and closer, speculation is turning to the GOP's 2012 hopefuls, with a heavy focus on brilliant Louisiana Gov. Bobby (born "Piyush") Jindal. He made McCain's VP shortlist, after all. But Chris Orr writes off his chances.
Though rarely explicit (and certainly not exclusive) a large portion of the GOP's closing argument this cycle has been to stoke white, working class fear and suspicion of the Other. The dark-skinned man with the foreign-sounding name may be a Muslim, or a socialist, or a friend of terrorists, or a racial huckster, or a fake U.S. citizen, or some other vague kind of "radical." You may never be sure which he is (maybe all of the above), but in your gut you simply don't "know" him the way you know the other candidates. This is not, to put it mildly, a message likely to benefit Bobby Jindal.
I think this is exactly wrong. If Obama wins, than the campaign Orr describes will have been a miserable failure. The host of Obama rumors (which are still churning) will have only convinced a small, embittered portion of the electorate to vote against the guy. And it won't be long before a President Obama doesn't abolish the Constitution, or institute sharia law, or build a White House tunnel to Mecca.
Michael Savage and his merry band of radio mouth-breathers will predict he's going to, any second now, but as Obama becomes a conventional liberal president it'll have an intense calming effect on this sort of racial-ethnic paranoia. It will make the GOP search for a non-white candidate more, not less, frantic. After all, could the Palin selection have been possible without Hillary Clinton blowing through a number of traditional voter impressions of female candidates and normalizing the idea of a woman as commander-in-chief?
The GOP elite and punditocracy will speed along the process. (Had Jindal gotten the VP nod instead of Palin, we'd have spent two months listening to conservatives explain how non-white Rhodes Scholars, not hockey moms who can't name a Supreme Court case, represent the "real America.") The only downside is that glowing stories about Jindal's trips to rural Iowa will come along with stories about the oddball conspiracy theorists in his crowds who want to know about his birth certificate and whether he's a member of al Qaeda and whether there's a tape of his wife railing about "whitey" being responsible for the Amritsar massacre.
Back in 2000, Karl Rove resurrected George W. Bush's political career by trashing John McCain in South Carolina. But as Ryan Sager notes, it now appears that McCain has dedicated the remainder of his political life to finishing Karl Rove's good works on Earth.
From the Financial Times:
Public pension funds in US states are facing their worst year of losses in history, exacerbating existing funding shortfalls and putting pressure on state governments to shore them up.
In the nine months to the end of September, the average state pension fund lost 14.8 per cent, according to Northern Trust, a fund company. The loss has grown since, as financial markets slumped further in October. The previous highest loss for state funds was 7.9 per cent for the full year in 2002.
In labor-tastic blue states like my native California, public pension funds are the mother of all delayed gratifications, with today's union-label politicians making all tomorrow's promises of money that probably won't be there. And, as mentioned yesterday, the larger of these funds are subject to constant pressure to make the world a better place, rather than make investors grow their money at maximal rates.
[Link via David Frum.]
Feel like owning a car company? Me neither, but it's not like we have much of a choice.
General Motors and Cerberus Capital Management have asked the U.S. government for roughly $10 billion in an unprecedented rescue package to support a merger between GM and Chrysler, two sources with direct knowledge of the talks said on Monday.
The government funding would include roughly $3 billion in exchange for preferred stock in the merged automaker, according to one of the sources, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The U.S. Treasury Department is considering a request for direct aid to facilitate the merger and a decision could come this week, sources familiar with the still-developing government response said earlier on Monday.
An injection of $3 billion in equity to support a GM acquisition of Chrysler would be roughly equivalent to the current, depressed value of the top U.S. automaker.
That last paragraph is worth a re-read.
If everything in this country that's "too big to fail" is bailed out by the federal government, with cash injections equivalent to the market value of the crappy company, what will be left? And how much will it be worth?
The New York Times edit board is suddenly very concerned with the North Carolina ballot, as 1) long ago, Dixiecrats exempted the presidential race from the button that lets you vote straight ticket and 2) Obama is narrowly ahead in the polls there.
This year, North Carolina’s flawed ballot could again result in tens of thousands of votes being lost. That is particularly worrisome since polls indicate a very close presidential race in the state. And as we saw in 2000, a presidential election can be decided by a mere 537 votes.
The problem isn't with North Carolina. The problem is democratic. Any majoritarian system is, by its nature, going to rely on the involvement of masses of dumb people who can't read or understand rules very well. Any ballot tweak meant to increase voter choices or simplify one part of the process is going to accidentally disenfranchise people who don't understand the rules. In 2000, this literally cost Al Gore the presidency. Not old people misreading butterly ballots, that is. People who didn't get the rules.
The results of Duval County's vote left Democrats here shaking their heads. More than 26,000 ballots were invalidated, the vast majority because they contained votes for more than one presidential candidate. Nearly 9,000 of the votes were thrown out in the predominantly African-American communities around Jacksonville, where Mr. Gore scored 10-to-1 ratios of victory, according to an analysis of the vote by The New York Times.
... Local election officials attributed the outcome to a ballot that had the name of presidential candidates on two pages, which they said many voters found confusing. Many voters, they said, voted once on each page. The election officials said they would not use such a ballot in the future.
Rodney G. Gregory, a lawyer for the Democrats in Duval County, said the party shared the blame for the confusion. Mr. Gregory said Democratic Party workers instructed voters, many persuaded to go to the polls for the first time, to cast ballots in every race and "be sure to punch a hole on every page."
"The get-out-the vote folks messed it up," Mr. Gregory said ruefully.
They probably did, but there's only so much you can do with voters who think "if I want Bush to lose, I have to vote for Gore AND Monica Moorehead of the Workers Party." When an election law huckster like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. throws around facts like "black voters' ballots are disqualified at nine times the rate of white voters' ballots," this is the story behind them.
What can states do about it? As simple as you make a ballot (and "vote once for president then hit this button for the rest of the ticket" is not rocket science), you're going to have voters who can't grok it.
John McCain gets all 1983 on us with a get-tough-on-crime speech:
Lax enforcement policies, judges who legislate from the bench and lack of support for law enforcement personnel all continue to force our innocent citizens behind the barred windows of their homes and allow criminals to roam free.
And now drugs are bringing waves of crime and organized gang activity to rural areas thought to be nearly immune from such problems. The federal government must both support state and local law enforcement and effectively enforce federal laws designed to root out violent crime, organized gangs and other interstate criminal activity.
I will appoint judges who will hold criminals accountable.
Huh. You’d never know from such speechifying that a record 1 in 100 Americans is behind bars today, including 400,000 for nonviolent drug crimes. Or that prosecutors win convictions in 90-95 percent of their cases. The “judges are letting criminals off on a technicality” line is a canard.
Unfortunately, Obama is no better on criminal justice policy.
Last week, I noted that despite assurances from Treasury officials that the bailout largess would be distributed in a transparent, accountable manner, one of the first big contracts awarded by the federal government, to the Bank of New York Mellon, had the actual amount of money to be paid to the bank redacted before the contract was made public.
The new website BailoutSleuth now reports that subsequent bailout contracts to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and the law firm Simpson, Thatcher & Bartlett were also posted with significant information redacted.
No matter what happens to the economy, it looks like business and finance journalists will have plenty of job security over the next couple of years, if for no other reason than to track how the government spends all of this money. I'd expect debacles at least on par with the awarding of contracts in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina.
Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this terrific Chronicle of Higher Education piece by Michael J. Socolow about the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles' version of War of the Worlds:
The "War of the Worlds" broadcast remains enshrined in collective memory as a vivid illustration of the madness of crowds and the deeply invasive nature of broadcasting. The program seemingly proved that radio could, in the memorable words of Marshall McLuhan, turn "psyche and society into a single echo chamber." The audience's reaction clearly illustrated the perils of modernity. At the time, it cemented a growing suspicion that skillful artists - or incendiary demagogues - could use communications technology to capture the consciousness of the nation. It remains the prime example used by media critics, journalists, and professors to prove the power of the media....
That is the ultimate irony behind "The War of the Worlds." The discovery that the media are not all-powerful, that they cannot dominate our political consciousness or even our consumer behavior as much as we suppose, was an important one. It may seem like a counterintuitive discovery (especially considering its provenance), but ask yourself this: If we really know how to control people through the media, then why isn't every advertising campaign a success? Why do advertisements sometimes backfire? If persuasive technique can be scientifically devised, then why do political campaigns pursue different strategies? Why does the candidate with the most media access sometimes lose?
The answer is that humans are not automatons. We might scare easily, we might, at different times and in different places, be susceptible to persuasion, but our behavior remains structured by a complex and dynamic series of interacting factors.
A dozen years ago, reason was making a similar case about media's effects.
The American Conservative asks 18 contributors who, if anyone, they plan to vote for this year. As you'd expect, given TAC's ideological eclecticism, the magazine received a wide range of responses, some more sensible than others. To my taste, Scott McConnell makes the best case for Obama, Kara Hopkins makes the best case for McCain, John Schwenkler makes the best case for Barr, and Gerald Russello makes the best case for staying home. I won't describe Daniel McCarthy's call for writing in Ron Paul as the "best case" for that position, since he's the only one arguing for the idea, but it's worth reading as well.
For an election forum with an explicitly libertarian slant, stay tuned for reason's forthcoming survey, which will appear on this website later this week.
From our November issue, Managing Editor Jesse Walker explains that while the speech-squashing Fairness Doctrine is likely to stay dead, there are plenty of reasons to fear the next FCC.
Three scholars associated with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis decided to do a little quick fact-checking of "widely held claims about the nature of the [financial] crisis and the associated spillovers to the rest of the economy," and put their findings in a new working paper [PDF]. What'd they learn?
The financial press and policymakers have made the following four claims about the nature of the crisis.
1. Bank lending to nonfinancial corporations and individuals has declined sharply.
2. Interbank lending is essentially nonexistent.
3. Commercial paper issuance by nonfinancial corporations has declined sharply, and rates have risen to unprecedented levels.
4. Banks play a large role in channeling funds from savers to borrowers.
Here we examine these claims using data from the Federal Reserve Board. Our argument that all four claims are false is based on data up until October 8, 2008.
Whole thing, well worth a read (and probably a drink), here.
Andrew Keen predicts an end to backyard gardens, playground basketball, basement jam sessions, amateur painting, and open mic nights for the duration of the economic hard times, because "the idea of free labor will suddenly become profoundly unpalatable to someone faced with their house being repossessed or their kids going hungry."
Oh, wait. Hold on. He only predicts an end to unpaid-but-pleasurable labor on the Internet:
So how will today's brutal economic climate change the Web 2.0 "free" economy? It will result in the rise of online media businesses that reward their contributors with cash; it will mean the success of Knol over Wikipedia, Mahalo over Google, TheAtlantic.com over the HuffingtonPost.com, iTunes over MySpace, Hulu over YouTube Inc., Playboy.com over Voyeurweb.com, TechCrunch over the blogosphere, CNN's professional journalism over CNN's iReporter citizen-journalism... The hungry and cold unemployed masses aren't going to continue giving away their intellectual labor on the Internet in the speculative hope that they might get some "back end" revenue.
Because that's why most people contribute to YouTube and Wikipedia. It's the reason why people post comments here at Hit & Run. "Back end" revenue! It's the American dream!
Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr highlights Barack Obama's recent response to the Detroit Free Press about the sort of Supreme Court justices he'll appoint if elected. Here's a snippet of Obama's answer:
Generally, the court is institutionally conservative. And what I mean by that is, it's not that often that the court gets out way ahead of public opinion. The Warren Court was one of those moments when, because of the particular challenge of segregation, they needed to break out of conventional wisdom because the political process didn't give an avenue for minorities and African Americans to exercise their political power to solve their problems. So the court had to step in and break that logjam.
I'm not sure that you need that. In fact, I would be troubled if you had that same kind of activism in circumstances today.... So when I think about the kinds of judges who are needed today, it goes back to the point I was making about common sense and pragmatism as opposed to ideology.
I think that Justice Souter, who was a Republican appointee, Justice Breyer, a Democratic appointee, are very sensible judges. They take a look at the facts and they try to figure out: How does the Constitution apply to these facts? They believe in fidelity to the text of the Constitution, but they also think you have to look at what is going on around you and not just ignore real life.
That, I think is the kind of justice that I'm looking for--somebody who respects the law, doesn't think that they should be making law...but also has a sense of what's happening in the real world and recognizes that one of the roles of the courts is to protect people who don't have a voice.
That's at least a better answer than the one he gave to Planned Parenthood last year, where he described his ideal justice as "somebody who's got the heart, the empathy" to sympathize with society's downtrodden. Occasional adherence to the Constitution is better than none at all, though Obama's slippery position on the Second Amendment shows just how far his "fidelity" to the Bill of Rights goes.
For those who can't get enough of today's reason superstar, Duke economist and North Carolina Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Michael Munger, I suggest dipping into this EconTalk podcast on the joys of middlemen.
One of the subjects addressed is the story about the priest in the POW camp during WWII taken from R.A. Radford's 1945 Economica article:
We reached a transit camp in Italy about a fortnight after capture and received 1/4 of a Red Cross food parcel each a week later. At once exchanges, already established, multiplied in volume. Starting with simple direct barter, such as a non-smoker giving a smoker friend his cigarette issue in exchange for a chocolate ration, more complex exchanges soon became an accepted custom. Stories circulated of a padre who started off round the camp with a tin of cheese and five cigarettes and returned to his bed with a complete parcel in addition to his original cheese and cigarettes; the market was not yet perfect. Within a week or two, as the volume of trade grew, rough scales of exchange values came into existence. Sikhs, who had at first exchanged tinned beef for practically any other foodstuff, began to insist on jam and margarine. It was realized that a tin of jam was worth 1/2 lb. of margarine plus something else; that a cigarette issue was worth several chocolates issues, and a tin of diced carrots was worth practically nothing.
A bonus Mike Munger story, gathered third-hand by yours truly: At a Public Choice Society meeting, Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan says to Munger, who he hasn't seen in several years, and whose flowing golden locks can also be seen on the reason homepage, "Munger, I just don't get 'ya. The hair says liberal, but the umbrella says conservative."
Editor's Note: On October 24, Contributing Editor Cathy Young wrote a column taking the left to task for "making excuses for Putin's Russia." That column, which discussed in detail Salon's Glenn Greenwald, provoked a response from Greenwald, which can be read here. Below, Cathy Young responds to Greenwald.
Several points are in order.
1. Once again, Greenwald muddies the issue by conflating two different positions: (A) that Russia's invasion of Georgia was an "unprovoked" attack; and (B) that the principal "bad guy" in the conflict was Russia while the principal victim was Georgia. Position A is indeed, as Greenwald states in his new post, "factually false." But it has not been espoused, to my knowledge, by any prominent person other than Sarah Palin. Position B is indeed the consensus, not only in the United States but also in Europe, as evidenced by the European Union's strong commitment to Georgia's reconstruction. (The preliminary report of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued on October 2, faulted Georgia for escalating the conflict to open warfare but devoted about ten times as much space to criticizing Russia's actions. The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers also contained some criticism of Georgia's actions but concluded that these actions could not be regarded as aggression against Russia to which Russia had a legitimate right to respond.)
If Greenwald wants to challenge the view that Georgia was the principal victim in the conflict, that is of course his right. However, he can hardly call this view a "blatant falsehood" or "factually false"; it is an entirely legitimate interpretation of the events.
According to Greenwald, the instances I cited of Georgia's role in the conflict being acknowledged in the U.S. media are just isolated dissenting viewpoints against the backdrop of a prevailing orthodoxy. Not so. These examples show that Palin was widely criticized for characterizing the Russian attack as "unprovoked," and that Condoleezza Rice accurately described the Georgian role in initiating military action in her speech at the German Marshall Fund. There are numerous other examples, such as this Time magazine article. In a random TV news transcript I pulled off Lexis/Nexis, from NBC Nightly News on August 10, both anchor Brian Williams and reporter Tom Aspell clearly stated that the Russian invasion came in response to the "Georgian attack" to retake South Ossetia. A September 16 New York Times article about new evidence offered by Georgia to back up its claim that Russia actually started the military action was based on the premise that Georgia is generally viewed as the instigator of the open conflict.
2. My very first article on the Russia/Georgia conflict, published on August 13, stated that Saakashvili is "no liberal hero," that his move to reestablish control over South Ossetia "was not only a major strategic blunder but also an assault on an area heavily populated by civilians," and that "on a political level, there are no real good guys in this conflict; the only true innocents are the ordinary people caught in the crossfire." It's a bit absurd, then, to suggest that I accuse anyone who doesn't consider Saakashvili a hero in a while hat of being a Putin-symp.
3. I strongly disagree with Charles Krauthammer's column, quoted by Greenwald in his latest post, accusing Obama of "moral equivalence" for his initial statement urging "mutual restraint" by Russia and Georgia. Obama's statement on August 8, made immediately after the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali and the Russian counter-assault, was entirely appropriate at that point. However, I have a far higher opinion of Obama than does Greenwald, who scoffs:
After an initial lapse into fact-based rationality, Obama quickly followed suit and has faithfully recited the approved script ever since, and any dissent—and truth—about the Russia/Georgia War has thus basically disappeared from mainstream political debate.
Could it be that Obama changed his response (the very next day) as the circumstances of the war changed, and as it became clear that Russia was using the counterattack in South Ossetia as a springboard for full-scale aggression against Georgia? Incidentally, in his later full statement on the issue, Obama harshly condemned Russia but also urged Georgia to "refrain from using force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia," so Greenwald is quite wrong to say that he adopted a completely one-sided position on the issue.
4. Greenwald approvingly quotes a BBC report claiming that Russia came to be seen as the bad guy in the conflict because it "lost the propaganda war" and just wasn't as good at spin as Georgia and its U.S. backers. This notion, also eagerly adopted by Russian officials, is utter nonsense. Russia lost the propaganda war because it made claims that turned out to be flagrantly false - such as the absurd allegations of Georgian "genocide" in South Ossetia. Russia's initial estimates of 1,500 to 2,000 dead in Tskhinvali have quietly dropped to about 150, and according to PACE findings most of those dead may have been combatants. Reports of atrocities such as execution-style shootings of young men, rapes, and intentional killings of children turned out to be pure fiction. As the PACE report recognized, while both sides were guilty of violence toward civilians, most of the ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia was inflicted by South Ossetian militias on Georgians while the territory was under Russian control. (This highly informative statement by a Human Rights Watch representative discusses grossly unreliable claims by South Ossetian refugees. Yes, they're all a bunch of neocons over there at HRW.)
5. Greenwald thinks the notion of autocratic Russia trying to snuff out Georgian democracy is too simplistic. Really? Few dispute that Russia has engaged in a covert war against Georgia since 2004, when Saakashvili came to power after the "Rose Revolution." One of Russia's tactics in this covert war was to create a class of "Russian citizens" within Georgia by issuing Russian passports to thousands of South Ossetians. (If the Bush administration gave the status of expatriate U.S. citizens to thousands of people in a separatist Iranian province and then used their "protection" as a pretext to invade Iran, would Greenwald see moral ambiguities in this situation? Somehow, I doubt it.) Over the same four years, Russia turned South Ossetia into the world's most militarized region - essentially, an armed camp run by Russian military and security officers and a launchpad for small-scale warfare against Georgia. (For more on the subject, see this speech at the Cato Institute by former Putin advisor Andrei Illarionov.)
Has the Georgian government made mistakes and committed abuses? Sure. In particular, in November 2007, Saakashvili imposed a state of emergency in response to unrest, ordered the violent dispersal of demonstrations, and temporarily shut down an opposition TV station (ironically, one owned by Rupert Murdoch). However, shortly thereafter, he called for new elections to renew his mandate. These elections, which took place in January 2008, were recognized as generally free and competitive by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, despite some fairness problems. Four candidates were able to run and campaign freely, with the leading opposition candidate getting 27% of the vote. (Saakashvili got just over 52%.) In fact, it may well have been the "cleanest" election held so far anywhere in the former USSR. Compare and contrast to Russia's farcical "election" of March 2008, in which no serious opposition candidate was permitted to run against Vladimir Putin's handpicked heir/puppet, Dmitry Medvedev. In 2007, Georgia ranked 66th out of 169 countries on the Press Freedom Index of Reporters without borders, while Russia ranked 144. (In 2008, Georgia's ranking dropped to 120th as a result of the crackdown in late 2007 and the war-related press restrictions -- still well above Russia, at 141.)
It is this struggling and imperfect, but nonetheless real democracy, subjected to tremendous pressure from neighboring authoritarian Russia, that Greenwald scornfully describes as a "neocon project." A few words on that: The opposition movement that brought Saakashvili to power - and ousted the U.S.- and Russia-backed Eduard Shevardnadze - was financed mainly by that noted neocon, George Soros. (In mid-2004, The Weekly Standard ran a rather harsh article attacking Saakashvili as a Soros puppet.) As for the supposedly damning fact that the U.S. has helped train the Georgian military, Newsweek recently ran an interesting report on the subject. Apparently, U.S. military involvement with Georgia actually began in 2002 in full cooperation with Russia, with the purpose of training and equipping the Georgian army to hunt down Chechen rebels (allegedly linked to the Al Qaeda) in the Caucasus mountains. More recently, according to the report, U.S. military training programs carefully avoided doing anything that could have been perceived as training the Georgian army to fight Russian forces - which partly explains why the Georgian military fared so poorly in the war.
To sum up: Do I think Greenwald loves the Putin regime? No, of course not. Do I think his (often deserved) revulsion at the Bush administration's policies has turned into a knee-jerk tendency to be against whatever the "neocons" are for, and consequently into a very real moral blind spot? Yes, and this blind spot is nowhere as evident as in Greenwald's glib, reprehensible dismissal of Georgian democracy.
A final note: I did not, of course, mean to imply that sympathy with Putin's Russia is limited to the left. Vlad also has the European fascists in his corner.
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), builder of the Bridge to Nowhere, owner of at least one Incredible Hulk tie, has become the fifth sitting senator convicted of a crime. The first to be convicted of seven.
It is the highest-profile felony conviction in a sweeping four-year federal investigation into corruption in Alaska politics, and a rare conviction by a jury of a sitting U.S. senator.
As the verdict on the first count was read, Stevens slumped slightly. When the second count was read, his lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, reached over and put his arm around Stevens' shoulders.
As Stevens exited the courtroom, his wife, Catherine, kissed him on the cheek.
Moments earlier, he told her, "It's not over yet." She responded, "You got that right."
And then he added, "Not over yet."
No, it's over.
If Ted Stevens refuses to resign upon his conviction, he faces expulsion, which has been extremely rare in the history of the U.S. Senate.
It might be a moot point. In eight days Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, will almost certainly defeat Stevens. There's the minor question of whether Stevens quits and Gov. Sarah Palin appoints a placeholder, but the writing's on the wall.
Way more to explain about this story than is contained in this Reuters squib in Google News headlines right now, to be sure (like under what circumstances these men were "found" and how the BATF is so sure of what their long-term intentions were, and if they in fact were guilty of any actual criminal actions beyond their alleged wanting, planning, and plotting to do harm), but let the speculation begin:
Law enforcement arrested two men in Tennessee who had plans to rob a gun dealer to shoot Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and "as many non-Caucasians" as possible, an official said on Monday.
An official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said police found the men in the Jackson, Tennessee area with a number of guns, including a sawed-off shotgun, in their car.
"They wanted to go to a place where they could shoot as many non-Caucasian as they could," the official said, noting that the men first planned to rob a gun dealer. "They also had a plot to assassinate Sen. Obama."
Buckle up, folks, the ride's getting wilder.
UPDATE: AP via Breitbart has both less and more details: exactly 102 black people were supposedly to be shot or decapitated had this BATF-foiled plot been carried out.
UPDATE II: And this BATF press release actually gives some story to the story. I can only assume this release, found by me at 3:10 pm pacific, was not available to Reuters when they wrote, or else they deliberately chose to leach the story of all relevant facts and details. To quote:
Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tennessee and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Arkansas were charged in a federal complaint, Friday, Oct. 24, 2008....The Criminal Complaint charges Cowart and Schlesselman with the illegal possession of a sawed off shotgun, conspiracy to rob a federal firearms licensee, and making threats against a major candidate for the office of president.
According to the complaint, approximately one month ago, Cowart and Schlesselman met via the internet through a mutual friend and both claim to have very strong beliefs regarding “White Power” and “Skinhead” philosophy. Cowart and Schlesselman began discussing going on a “killing spree.” The complaint further alleges that Cowart and Schlesselman discussed robbing a gun shop (federal firearms licensee) in order to gather weapons and ammunition. The complaint notes the defendants were in possession of a sawed off shotgun.
On Oct. 20, 2008, Cowart allegedly traveled from Tennessee to Arkansas to pick up Schlesselman in order to carry out their plan. The complaint states that at this time, the defendants further discussed their killing spree to include targeting a predominately African American school and to continue their spree until their final act of violence,which would be to attempt to assassinate Presidential Candidate Barack Obama.
...after soliciting a friend to drive their car between 11 p.m. on Oc. 21, 2008, and 2 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2008, the defendantsmade plans to rob a house, but were diverted when they arrived and observed a dog and two cars at the location....
The defendants were arrested on Oct. 22, 2008, by the Crockett County Sheriff’s Office. “Once we arrested the defendants and suspected they had violated federal law, we immediately contacted federal authorities,” said Sheriff Troy Klyce of Crockett County.
The complaint sounds like it asserts all sorts of things that the authorities wouldn't necessarily know if the first time these morons crossed the paths of police eyes was at this October 22 arrest, unless the accused just began dropping dimes like they were pennies on each other. Or perhaps that "mutual friend" was a federal informant? The two had their initial court appearance today, and will be back for a detention hearing in Memphis on Thursday.
In this week's issue of New York magazine, the always enjoyable "Approval Matrix" places the following item in the top left corner of its axis of cool and uncool (the "Highbrow/Despicable" region): "Political repression by Hugo Chavez, as detailed in the New York Review of Books." Political repression in Chavez's Venezuela is well-documented, and goes back to his earliest days as the country's president. I'm not entirely sure if New York thinks this is a new story, but the NYRB piece, written by two members of Human Rights Watch, is indeed worth reading. A sample:
On September 18, we released a report in Caracas that shows how President Hugo Chávez has undermined human rights guarantees in Venezuela. That night, we returned to our hotel and found around twenty Venezuelan security agents, some armed and in military uniform, awaiting us outside our rooms. They were accompanied by a man who announced-with no apparent sense of irony-that he was a government "human rights" official and that we were being expelled from the country.With government cameramen filming over his shoulder, the official did his best to act as if he were merely upholding the law. When we said we needed to gather our belongings, he calmly told us not to worry, his men had already entered our rooms and "packed" our bags.
In other Bolivarian news, Chavez has threatened to arrest opposition leader Manuel Rosales, who is running for mayor Maracaibo, in the province of Zulia:
"I am determined to put Manuel Rosales behind bars. A swine like that has to be in prison," Chavez said.
Chavez railed against Rosales at a gathering of businessmen in Zulia, urging the audience to vote against his rival for allegedly plotting to assassinate him, running crime gangs and illegally acquiring cattle ranches.
Chavez provided no specific evidence for the charges against the main leader of a fragmented opposition who has solid support in the oil-producing west of the OPEC nation.
More reason on Hugo Chavez here.
Most third party candidates brush aside the pundits and the polls. But as Associate Editor David Weigel reports, North Carolina's Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Michael Munger doesn't—which may explain why he's now one of the LP's most prominent candidates.
Contrarian economist Robin Hanson of George Mason University gives his version of what has just happened with the Current Crisis at his fascinating Overcoming Bias blog:
Few experts in our society could pull off saying:
- Emergency!!! We will suffer terribly if you don't spend a trillion dollars right now overpaying for stuff from our friends! No, you don't have time to study the problem, nor will we present an analysis for your review. No, other experts in our field cannot actually see this problem, and there will never be data showing the problem really existed. You just have to trust us and give us the trillion right now!!
US military experts said something similar on Iraq weapons of mass destruction, but at least they admitted we'd eventually be able to see if they were wrong (as they were). Medical experts implicitly say something similar about the health value of the second half of medical spending that costs a trillion dollars a year, even when our best data show little value, but this is a steady problem not a sudden new problem. Global warming experts have been trying, so far without much success, to get us to spend similar amounts on their problem, even though other experts can supposedly verify it.
Given how much less respect and deference economists get on most policy topics, relative to docs, physicists, or generals, I'm surprised to see some economists just got away with this sort of thing. The US has given top government economists, such as Paulson and Bernanke, well over a trillion in mostly blank checks to spend saving their Wall Street friends from ruin, supposedly to prevent another great depression. But it seems economists looking today at the data available then just can't find clear evidence a massive buyout was needed.
The full article has lots of links to support the "can't find clear evidence a massive buyout was needed" assertion.
Well, the generals did get away with this trick, just like the economists just did. Most people know they don't have any understanding of this national and international capital market stuff, but have a frightened sense that it is capable of causing them great and long-term harm. And unlike with, say, global warming, they also don't have a sense that what the experts are now doing to "solve' the problem will harm their lives or livelihoods in obvious or understandable ways, in the short term.
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, talks about "nerd values," the Internet, Ayn Rand, Barack Obama, and more.
It was bound to happen, right?
[DC] Metro officials announced today that they will begin randomly inspecting backpacks, gym bags and any other containers that riders carry with them onto the bus and rail system, in an effort to deter possible terrorist attacks.
Beginning today, signs announcing the new program will be posted at each of the rail system's 117 mezzanines, where faregates are located. Officials said Metro's program —announced at a morning news conference—was not begun in response to any specific terrorist threat, but was prompted by continuing concerns about transit security and the upcoming election and inauguration of a new president.
"We realize that all Americans everywhere are at some risk from terrorism, and that those of us who live and work in the region of the nation's capital face increased risks," Metro Transit police chief Michael Taborn said.
The inspections will take place when transit police determine that circumstances—such as an elevated threat level—warrant heightened vigilance. They will not be announced ahead of time. Inspections will be conducted by five to eight specially trained Metro Transit police officers and a police dog trained to sniff for explosives...
And of course, some of their procedures are just for the "appearance" of actually doing something:
In the searches, transit police will choose a random number ahead of time, such as 17. Then they will ask every 17th rider step aside and have his or her bags searched before boarding a bus or entering a rail station.
Overall, the searches don't sound too unreasonable—no confiscation of suspicious luggage and no arrests for non-compliant riders, just denied entrance to the metro—but then there's this part:
If transit police find illegal items such as drugs, the item will be seized and the person will be arrested.
Commenters, feel free to enlighten me as to the correlation between pot and terrorism.
Hat tip to Mike Debonis.
Last month, National Review ran a short blurb that was critical of the July raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo by a Prince George's County, Maryland SWAT team (article is subscription-only).
To refresh your memory, the police raided Calvo after intercepting a package en route to Calvo's home that contained marijuana. They blew open Calvo's door, shot and killed both of of Calvo's black labs (one as it was running away), then handcuffed and interrogated Calvo and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours.
Calvo was innocent. The package was never intended for him. It was part of a drug smuggling scheme, and was meant to be intercepted by a dealer working at the delivery company. The Prince George's County police made no effort to determine who lived in Calvo's home, did no surveillance, and didn't bother to notify the Berwyn Heights police chief before conducting the raid. They have since apologized to Calvo for wrongly raiding his home, but have defended the investigation and the aggressive tactics, including the slaughter of his dogs.
After National Review's short blurb denouncing the raid and the overuse of SWAT tactics in general, Milwaukee police detective and former SWAT officer Kent Corbett wrote a jaw-dropping letter to the editor, in which he not only defends what happened to Calvo, he mocks Calvo and his family with scare quotes. The letter is also subscription-only, so there's no link. But here's the copy:
As a former S.W.A.T. team member and a current homicide detective with the Milwaukee police department, I must take issue with the tone of a paragraph in “The Week” (September 1). The piece addresses the Cheye Calvo incident, in which police raided a Maryland mayor’s home looking for drugs, killed his dogs, and restrained him and his mother-in-law. It turned out the man was innocent.
I have personally been involved in the execution of no-knock search warrants, the killing of dogs during those executions, and the investigations of numerous drug-related homicides and officer-involved shootings. Yes, no-knock warrants are issued to avoid the destruction of evidence such as drugs, but they are also issued to protect the officers executing those warrants. In addition, each warrant requires a judge’s authorization, and obviously the available evidence satisfied the judge in this case.
Sorry if Calvo and his mother-in-law were “restrained” for “almost two hours.” Would you rather have them be comfortable for those two hours, and risk officers’ lives and safety? Calvo should be able to understand what the officers did and why they did it.
Municipal police departments do fight a war on the streets of this country daily. This incident should not be considered overkill (to take a word from Reason’s Radley Balko), but sound police tactics. As soon as some police administrator starts to second-guess the training and experience of the officers charged with doing these types of investigations, someone will get hurt or killed. Drug investigations are inherently dangerous, and so is the Monday-morning quarterbacking you are doing.
National Review's editors wrote a polite, well-argued response to Corbett.
I'm going to be less polite, because to use Corbett's own language, I take strong issue with his tone. His attitude is appalling, and unfortunately, not uncommon. The bumbling, violent raid on Calvo's home is inexcusable. I know nothing about Corbett, but his public defense of the raid on Calvo's home ought to call into serious question his judgment as a police officer. If Cheye Calvo had exercised his Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense last July, for example, he'd almost certainly be dead today. A cop or two might be dead, too. That simply isn't an acceptable outcome—not for a nonviolent crime like marijuana distribution, and certainly not when the suspect turns out to be innocent.
Prince George's PD's lack of investigation into who lived at Calvo's home, their rush to use the maximum amount of force possible, one officer's inexplicable decision to use her cell phone to make a veterinary appointment for her own dogs while Calvo and his mother-in-law sat handcuffed, staring at the carcasses of his two labs—for Corbett, these are all "sound police tactics." How dare we Monday-morning quarterback. In Corbett's mind, Calvo ought to "understand," and I guess we all ought to understand, even when these incidents happen again, and again, and again.
To people like Corbett and the politicians whose policies he enforces, drug prohibition is war. We ought to expect, tolerate, and even defend the occasional collateral damage—be it what happened to Calvo, or what happened to, say, Katherine Johnston or Isaac Singletary. I mean, if we start getting all upset about what happened to a white, upper-middle class family with some political heft like the Calvos, we might soon have to actually start caring when this kind of thing happens low-income black people, too. And we certainly can't have that. Because, as I'm sure Corbett knows, it happens far more often to them.
So let's all take Corbett's advice. Should the police mistakenly blow open your door, kill your pets, and detain you for hours at gunpoint, just deal with it. In fact, be grateful. We're in a war, after all. It's all about preventing people from getting high, at any cost. If you lose a couple of pets, or possibly a friend or relative, buck up. Sure, Calvo and his family were subjected to needless terror and violence. Sure, they could easily have been killed. But remember: Because of the Prince George's County Police Department's "sound police tactics," when all was said and done, there was 30 pounds less marijuana in southern Maryland than there would have been otherwise. And no cops were injured. So it's a net win.
I don't expect many police officers to agree with me on the appropriateness of SWAT tactics in general (though some do). But this is a bit much. Det. Corbett can look at the Calvo raid and not only conclude that the end result was acceptable, but also that Calvo has no legitimate complaint about what happened to him. The implication is that we shouldn't bother to worry about this kind of thing. That we should all just accept the possibility that what happened to Calvo could happen to any of us. Because what's most important is officer safety, and winning the war on drugs.
Corbett's letter isn't just wrong, it's chilling.
While I only saw it as an attachment to an email by a stranger, my favorite Obama bumper sticker image was a picture of his face with the legend: "You are going to be very disappointed."
Here's an extended riff on that theme from the progressive left maverick Alexander Cockburn in the UK Independent. Excerpt:
Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a "reform" candidate so firmly by the windpipe. Is it possible to confront America's problems without talking about the arms budget? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of the Second World War. In "real dollars" – an optimistic concept these days – the $635bn (£400bn) appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 per cent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 90,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan's territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating a new international intelligence and law enforcement "infrastructure" to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush's commitment on 20 September 2001, to an ongoing "war on terror" against "every terrorist group of global reach" and "any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism"?
Obama's liberal defenders comfort themselves with the thought that "he had to say that to get elected". He didn't. After eight years of Bush, Americans are receptive to reassessing America's imperial role......
Whatever drawdown of troops in Iraq that does take place in the event of Obama's victory will be a brief hiccup amid the blare and thunder of fresh "resolve". In the event of Obama's victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion. Already, Joe Biden, the shopworn poster boy for Israeli intransigence and Cold War hysteria, is yelping stridently about the new administration's "mettle" being tested in the first six months by the Russians and their surrogates.....
......In February, seeking a liberal profile in the primaries, Obama stood against warrantless wiretapping. His support for liberty did not survive for long. Five months later, he voted in favour and declared that "the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool".
Obama's run has been the negation of almost every decent progressive principle, with scarcely a bleat of protest from the progressives seeking to hold him to account. The Michael Moores stay silent. Obama has crooked the knee to bankers and Wall Street, to the oil companies, the coal companies, the nuclear lobby, the big agricultural combines.......
So no, this is not an exciting or liberating moment in America's politics. If you want a memento of what could be exciting, go to the website of the Nader-Gonzalez campaign and read its platform on popular participation and initiative. Or read the portions of Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr's platform on foreign policy and constitutional rights. The standard these days for what the left finds tolerable is awfully low. The more the left holds its tongue, the lower the standard will go.
A similar argument applies for libertarians who are enthusiastic supporters of Obama--or McCain, for that matter.
TNR House race guru Eve Fairbanks assesses the self-inflicted political damage of John Murtha, asks whether he will win re-election, then asks a better question: Who cares? Let 'im drown.
Murtha has always been a sore spot in Democrats' efforts to claim they want a cleaner Washington -- a shameless porker in the Don Young tradition and one of only three Democrats to make Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's "Most Corrupt" list every year. (The other two are Bill "Cash In My Freezer" Jefferson and Alan "Too Crooked To Sit On the Ethics Committee" Mollohan. Fine company!) Even if you forgive Murtha for the long-ago sins of ABSCAM, the CREW complaint details many more recent abuses, like leveraging his Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairmanship to "benefit the lobbying firm of a former long-term staffer and ... threatening to block earmarks of other members for political purposes."
Murtha's courage on Iraq used to counterweigh his ethical shadiness for a lot of Democrats: It's easy to forget how tough it was for a congressman who was also a veteran to be as critical of the war as he was in November 2005. But the party has plenty of strong military voices on Iraq now, people like Representative Patrick Murphy and Senator Jim Webb. Murtha's just not as crucial a dissenting veteran voice he once was.
Fairbanks also whacks Murtha for buying into the "real America is different" meme. I'd add another problem to the pile: I have been hearing for two years that the 76-year old Murtha is getting a little dotty. He's never been especially coherent (at the height of his public profile in 2006, his Iraq answers were usually a word salad of facts and assertions), but he's gotten worse since he lost a bid for majority leader. There's nothing at all keeping declining seniors from being re-elected again and again to Congress, as they can pass the work onto their staffs. In the last half of his final term, Strom Thurmond's staff was basically manipulating a southern icon-shaped muppet. But it's not a strke in Murtha's favor.
That said, it's possible that the worst porkers in Congress will survive tight races: Murtha and Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. We won't know until the day after the election whether Alaska's corrupt Republicans beat the odds to return to Congress. If they do it, Murtha's probably doing it too.
From our November issue, Associate Editor David Weigel talks to Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr about war, drugs, pornography, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Ayn Rand.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon thinks people caught with small amounts of illegal drugs should go to "treatment" instead of jail. Under his proposal, anyone possessing up to two grams of marijuana or opium, half a gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, or 40 milligrams of methamphetamine would face no criminal penalties as long as he agreed to enter treatment. Otherwise, he could get up to three and a half years in prison. U.S. drug czar John Walters says he has no problem with Calderon's plan. "I don't think that's legalization," he told The New York Times last week.
Neither do I. In fact, it's a stretch even to call Calderon's proposal "decriminalization," as the Marijuana Policy Project does in a press release tweaking Walters with the headline, "Hell Freezes Over: White House Drug Czar Backs Decriminalization." It is surely an improvement if illegal drug users don't go to prison, even if the alternative is a treatment program that may be inappropriate, ineffective, or both. Yet under Calderon's plan the threat of jail still hangs over anyone who violates the government's pharmacological taboos and is not prepared to undergo re-education, which entails identifying himself as an addict, even if he isn't, and playing the role of the drug dealer's helpless victim. Walters correctly sees that such compelled affirmation of drug war dogma, which he likens to the treatment-or-jail option offered in American "drug courts," poses little threat to current policy.
Notably, a 2006 bill that Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, supported before American complaints changed his mind would have lifted criminal penalties for possessing personal-use amounts of various drugs without requiring abasement at the altar of pharmacological correctness. Shortly before Fox refused to sign the bill, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said the Mexican government should "ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs." The Calderon proposal satisfies that criterion and differs little from current practice in many American jurisdictions, so it's not surprising Walters is on board.
A meteor could hit the earth this week. Russia could go for broke and invade all of its neighbors. But what we're most likely to see in the final eight days of the presidential campaign is continued Barack Obama dominance measured by a few good polls for John McCain. Obama will tell his supporters not to get cocky. McCain will claim he's roaring back.
Why do we know this? Because that's what always happens. From the Associated Press on Nov. 2, 1988:
"Today, the polls are closing, the momentum is our way," [Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen] told a rally attended by about 2,000 students Tuesday night at Washington University in St. Louis.
The Republicans think the campaign is over and are "popping those campaign corks, but I'll tell you on November ninth they're going to have the worst hangover they've ever had," he said.
As he has been doing at other stops, Bentsen held over his head a reprint of the 1948 Chicago Tribune which declared, wrongly, "Dewey Defeats Truman."...
[Bentsen press secretary Mike] McCurry, asked about new national polls sponsored by news organizations showing double-digit leads for Bush, said, "we don't necessarily think those are accurate. They are not consistent with the campaign's own polls," he said.
Eight days out it's not a good sign that the McCain campaign is still running on Drudge and deciding that a 2001 interview Obama gave about the Civil Rights movement and the Supreme Court is finally gonna take him out. It'll be a full week of stuff like that, along with claims (from pundits more than McCain) that the GOP is faring just as well, or better, than Gore and Kerry did in their final weeks. Don't buy that. RealClearPolitics collated the final polls from 2004, which, if you averaged them, were within two points of the actual result. The site has added final results to its battleground state chart, too.
You can glean two important things from RCP's averages. The first is that Obama is overperforming, and McCain is underpeforming, their party's candidates in 2000 and 2004. The second is important if you buy Bill Greener's highly dubious theory that all "undecided" voters in the polls will break for the white candidate. Obama is over 50 percent in every state that Kerry won, and over 50 percent in Iowa, Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado. Give McCain every undecided voter in the country this week, and Obama wins the election anyway with 306 electoral votes.
It's going to be a silly week, full of stories like this (in which a Georgia voter is informed, to her surprise, that she's not a U.S. citizen) and negative news cycles. But it would take a miracle (or, if you're a Democrat, a catastrophe) to change anything.
They tell you that they have this thing called a "search engine," and they are naming it -- get this -- "Google." They tell you to type in any word in this box on a computer screen and -- get this -- hit a button labeled "I'm Feeling Lucky." Up comes a bunch of Web sites related to that word.
I'm not surprised that Thomas Friedman doesn't know what the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button does. But surely the Times employs copy editors who do?
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says that President George Bush is right about something. What? That the Feds need to get out the banking business as soon as possible. As his Sunday column warns:
Let’s imagine this scene: You are the president of one of these banks in which the government has taken a position. One day two young Stanford grads walk in your door. One is named Larry, and the other is named Sergey. They each are wearing jeans and a T-shirt. They tell you that they have this thing called a “search engine,” and they are naming it — get this — “Google.” They tell you to type in any word in this box on a computer screen and — get this — hit a button labeled “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Up comes a bunch of Web sites related to that word. Their start-up, which they are operating out of their dorm room, has exhausted its venture capital. They need a loan.
What are you going to say to Larry and Sergey as the president of the bank? “Boys, this is very interesting. But I have the U.S. Treasury as my biggest shareholder today, and if you think I’m going to put money into something called ‘Google,’ with a key called ‘I’m Feeling Lucky,’ you’re fresh outta luck. Can you imagine me explaining that to a Congressional committee if you guys go bust?”
And then what happens if the next day the congressman from Palo Alto, who happens to be on the House banking committee, calls you, the bank president, and says: “I understand you turned down my boys, Larry and Sergey. Maybe you haven’t been told, but I am one of your shareholders — and right now, I’m not feeling very lucky. You get my drift?”
Maybe nothing like this will ever happen. Maybe it’s just my imagination. But maybe not.
Emphatically, it's NOT his imagination. This is exactly what will happen if the Feds own shares in banks for long.
Whole column can be found here.
Note: Of course, Google did not get their start up capital from a bank, but the point is still relevant.
Last week in the L.A. Times, Washington, D.C. police Detective Jim Trainum wrote an op-ed explaining how he never believed someone could confess to a crime they didn't commit—until a suspect he was interrogating did exactly that:
Even the suspect's attorney later told me that she believed her client was guilty, based on the confession. Confident in our evidence and the confession, we charged her with first-degree murder.
Then we discovered that the suspect had an ironclad alibi. We subpoenaed sign-in/sign-out logs from the homeless shelter where she lived, and the records proved that she could not have committed the crime. The case was dismissed, but all of us still believed she was involved in the murder. After all, she had confessed.
Even though it wasn't our standard operating procedure in the mid-1990s, when the crime occurred, we had videotaped the interrogation in its entirety. Reviewing the tapes years later, I saw that we had fallen into a classic trap. We ignored evidence that our suspect might not have been guilty, and during the interrogation we inadvertently fed her details of the crime that she repeated back to us in her confession.
If we hadn't discovered and verified the suspect's alibi -- or if we hadn't recorded the interrogation -- she probably would have been convicted of first-degree murder and would be in prison today. The true perpetrator of the crime was never identified, partly because the investigation was derailed when we focused on an innocent person.
If by-the-books interrogations like Trainum's can elicit a false confession, it isn't difficult to see how more coercive questioning could as well. California's legislature has twice passed a bill requiring the police to videotape interrogations. Both bills were vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger after lobbying from the state's police and prosecutors. A third attempt to pass a bill died in committee this year.
Last year, I criticized Schwarzenegger for vetoing one of those bills, and also for vetoing two other sensible criminal justice reforms.
George Will last week detailed how a ever-hungrier political class is rooting out sources of private money like truffle pigs in a mushroom forest:
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., recently convened a discussion of how colleges and universities should be spending their endowments. Grassley, who says more than 135 institutions each have endowments of more than $500 million, says perhaps they should be required to spend 5 percent of their endowments each year. Welch has introduced legislation to require that percentage be spent to reduce tuition and other student expenses.
This government reach for control of private resources comes even though last year colleges and universities spent, on average, 4.6 percent of their endowments. [...]
Some Massachusetts state legislators, committing two of the seven deadly sins, are angry because tax revenues do not match their ambitions, and envious of Harvard. They suggest raising more than $1 billion annually with a 2.5 percent assessment on the nine colleges and universities in the state that have endowments of more than $1 billion.
California legislators, disguising a third sin, avarice, as concern for "diversity," want to require large California foundations to report the race, gender and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff and grant recipients. Other state legislatures will emulate this step toward government control of the flow of philanthropy.
That last California spasm in particular is a worrying trend about the direction America is poised to go during the coming Obamaverse. You might think that the Fannie/Freddie debacle would forever sear the eyeballs of those dreamers who aim to improve society by forcing private or semi-private companies to redirect their activities away from the bottom line and toward the desires of various interest groups, but then you'd be hopelessly naive. Mortgages and endowments ain't the half of it Everywhere you see government contracting you see a fantastical variety of social engineering projects. There are any number of colossal pension funds being tweaked as we speak to fit the political goals of people whose track record with managing money has been, shall we say, suboptimal. In the ongoing financial-market crisis, such politically correct investing may contribute to an awful lot of carnage.
Over at ABC News, Michael S. Malone has a long, thoughtful essay (complete with examples, though not as many as I would have liked to have seen) of why the MSM is so in the tank for Barack Obama. Here's his final pitch, more or less:
In other words, you are facing career catastrophe—and desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play. Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here. After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway—all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.
And then the opportunity presents itself—an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career.
With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived fairness doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.
And besides, you tell yourself, it's all for the good of the country ...
In case you're wondering who he is, he
covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the ABCNews.com "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.
How is it that a youngish first-term senator with so many disadvantages—a slight resume, a foreign-sounding name, an exotic background, a thoroughly liberal voting record, and a skin color unlike any previous president—has come so far? The answer, writes Steve Chapman, lies in Barack Obama's message.
Some links to kick off your Monday morning:
* Bill Kauffman looks back at Norman Mailer's mayoral campaign.
* Jeffrey Rogers Hummel explains why "we now have the worst of both worlds: a massive bailout financed BOTH by Treasury borrowing, in order to avoid inflationary pressures, and a monetary base increase, heralding future inflation anyway."
* Simon Jenkins devotes his final column to decrying the sorry state of civil liberties in England.
Do We Know the Real John McCain?:
Don't Vote (Rational Ignorance Remix):
Obama Kids Sing for Change (Pyongyang Remix):
Stop Outsourcing Roles in Pro-Obama Videos!:
Who Do You Hate '08?:
Via Wonkette and a zillion other sites, especially this one, comes video of the strange WFTV interview with Joe Biden, in which the anchor asks, among other things, whether Obama's promise to spread the wealth isn't striaght out of The Communist Manifesto:
The audio synch is off enough to make think it's a fake, but it's really good clean fun, like a lost episode of Max Headroom or something.
And it made me think something that I never thought I would: Joe Biden handled himself well. What have you done with the real Joe Biden?
In December 2006, reason's Nick Gillespie spoke on a plenary session at the annual conference of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). The panel's topic was "What Would a Sensible Drug Policy Look Like," and Gillespie focused not just on that topic but on how drug prohibition functions as what he calls a "structuring event" in American life, forcing all sorts of activity—from education and athletics, from law enforcement to foreign policy—to pay hypocritical and misdirected lip service to a Just Say No mentality.
"The drug war screws with everything that it touches, and it touches everything," says Gillespie. Snippets from his talk:
What I want to do is try to create a post-prohibitionist mind-set, where we are no longer merely reacting to prohibition and trying to get rid of it, because in a way we become twinned with it....
When we talk about the Tour de France, we talk about drugs. When we talk about Major League Baseball, we talk about who's using them. Plan Colombia and a good chunk of our foreign policy is all about drugs. Hundreds of thousands of people are in jail because of drug policy. All of you [students] probably went through some form of bogus drug education program, all for no good reason. The real dead-end of this is...[found] in men's rooms in America. When you go and take a piss, there is a pretty good chance that the urinal cake holder, the thing that deodorizes it...says 'Say No To Drugs' on it....
The quick version of my sensible drug policy, of a post-prohibitionist policy, is that it would be smarter to regulate all drugs, including prescription drugs, somewhat like we do with alcohol....
Like drug warriors...we will need to stop imbuing inanimate objects with supernatural powers.
The drug war is over, if we want it—to paraphrase a famous anti-Vietnam war slogan. The end of the war starts up here, in our heads, and then proceeds out to the actual America. The starting point for a sensible drug policy, a true post-prohibitionist mind-set that does not participate in any way with prohibitionist thinking, would be take seriously the credo of the Whole Earth Catalog..."We are as gods, and we might as well get good at it." Ironically, the first step to becoming gods may be to recognize that drugs are only one means among many for changing who we are, how we live, and what we will become.
Approximately 17 minutes; click on the image above.
To embed this video on your website, go here.
SSDP's 10th annual conference will take place in Washington, D.C., from November 21-23 and will feature, among many other speakers, reason's Radley Balko.
Bill O'Reilly had a lot of fun last night with this footage of a reporter bearding former Weather Underground superstar Bill Ayers outside his home.
The whole segment is fun, but things really get cooking around the one-minute mark:
"When a terrorist guy needs some help, who does he call?," asks O'Reilly, laughing. "The cops, just like everyone else."
More reason on Bill Ayers, who may not be a serious campaign issue, for sure, but is still a fool whose past and present is worth remembering.
O'Reilly threatens reason's Jacob Sullum:
O'Reilly calls Ron Paul "a pretty frightening guy" and I disagree, earlier this year:
As expected, the British government has reclassified marijuana, a Class C "soft" drug since 2004, as a Class B drug. As NORML notes, "marijuana use by young people age 16 to 24 has fallen approximately 20 percent" since the drug's status was downgraded. Prime Minister Gordon Brown nevertheless ignored the advice of drug policy experts so he could "send a message" to Britain's youth about the "lethal" hazards of supposedly super-potent pot. Still, it looks like moving marijuana back to Class B will have few practical consequences. As before, people caught with small amounts of marijuana will receive warnings the first time around. A second offense can result in a citation and fine, while a third offense theoreticallly can lead to arrest and jail. But as NORML points out, "the Home Office will not document verbal warnings in a national database, making it difficult for police to know whether a defendant is facing their first, second, or third offense."
Unconvincing Quote of the Week
"She was upset with the media for blowing this into a political firestorm." - Pittsburgh police Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant on Ashley Todd, the McCain volunteer who admitted lying about a pro-Obama hate crime committed against her.
The Week in Brief
- Joe Biden declared pre-emptive war on Barack Obama.
- Obamacons tumbled out of the woodwork.
- Alan Greenspan was vewwy vewwy sorry.
- John McCain got on the Joe the Plumber bus.
- Ron Paul's ghost haunted the GOP.
- Bob Barr pronounced McCain's defeat.
Below the Fold
- Nate Silver explains why westerner John McCain is losing the western states. (Reagan swept them twice.)
- W. James Antle III throws a fit in Sam's Club.
- Will Wilkinson breaks a fly bottle over Jacob Weisberg's head. It leaves a mark shaped like an "L"!
- Greg Sargent has the ugliest scoop of the week. (If, as seems unlikely, McCain loses Pennsylvania in a squeaker because he underperforms in Pittsburgh, will Ashley Todd become the Steve Bartman of politics?)
- Gerard Baker predicts a wave of Palintology to come after the vote.
This week's Politics 'n' Prog is dedicated to Sarah Palin.
Senior Editor Brian Doherty reports from the "Escape from Berkeley" road rally, where a motley crew of non-petroleum vehicles raced from Northern California to Las Vegas.
Columnist Ron Hart:
Is there better irony than an imprudent Washington "investing" about a trillion dollars of debt funded tax money into the banking system and telling them how to run a business?
The same federal government confiscated the Mustang Ranch bordello in Nevada in the 90s and then promptly ran it into bankruptcy. If the feds cannot make a profit in a monopoly business of selling sex and booze, my guess is the complexities of banking will totally perplex them—especially when they have to follow the convoluted regulations they themselves impose.
If Congress imposes economic sanctions on Iran as harshly as they have on businesses in the USA, we should crush them with no military force required.
Hart notes wryly, "if Obama hates Bush's policies, hopefully he will cut government."
Over at The Corner, anti-immigration campaigner (both legal and illegal, according to the subtitle of his book) Mark Krikorian is horrified to learn that Sarah Palin isn't sufficiently hostile to the idea of "amnesty." Nothing surprising there. What's interesting, though, is that Krikorian apparently gleaned this information while reading the website of one Lawrence Auster, to whom he approvingly links and "hat tips." And who, exactly, is Lawrence Auster? Put it this way: this is a guy whose conservatism was too extreme for David Horowitz and Frontpagemag.com; the site cut ties with Auster after the Huffington Post published a piece detailing his history of, umm, racial insensitivity.
A few bons mots from Auster, who has published in the racist magazines The Occidental Quarterly and American Renaissance: "What really convinced me of an inherent, dangerous weakness in black ways of thought, however, was their widespread belief in Afrocentrism and the notion that whites were committing ‘genocide' against blacks." Blacks "seem to have much less interest in knowledge or beauty for its own sake" and they "are in fact less endowed with the qualities that make civilization possible, particularly Western civilization." Or how about this fascinating explication of whether or not women should be allowed to vote (Auster says they shouldn't, because while "Women are the natural care-givers and are naturally focused on the home and the family and its protection. But those same priorities, when expressed through the political sphere as distinct from the private sphere, inevitably lead a society in the direction of socialism.")
So a tip to Krikorian: If you don't want people to think that you support immigration restrictions because of some sort of animus towards Mexicans, you should probably avoid linking to the websites of white nationalists like Auster. (And for the record, as far as I can tell, Krikorian has never written about phrenology, eugenics, and bell curves before, though it is troubling that he seems to be a reader of Auster's site. In fairness, I peruse quite a few crackpot websites too—for the purposes of seeing what the mad fringes are reading, I promise—though I wouldn't think of "hat tipping" such nonsense, especially without adding a strenuous caveat.)
For those of you who suggest that immigrants simply "get in line," perhaps it's time to go over reason's helpful immigration flow chart. And don't miss Reason Foundation's Shikha Dalmia in combat with Krikorian on Bloggingheads.
UPDATE: I missed this post. After reading Krikorian's attempt to blame the collapse of WaMu on the company's affirmative action policies, Professor Bainbridge confessed that such nonsense makes him "embarrassed to be a conservative."
UPDATE II: Krikorian mails to say that I missed this post too.
The New York Review of Books asked a number of its high profile contributors for their take on the upcoming election (Spoiler Alert: They're all in favor of Barack Obama). Gary Wills made a particularly strong case for why the Republicans should lose:
When Dick Cheney was vetting the last two candidates for the [Supreme] Court, he did not really care about their views on abortion. He concentrated on their attitude toward the many executive usurpations of the Bush administration, and he was satisfied on this account with John Roberts and with Sam Alito.
When Charles Gibson was questioning Governor Palin, he should not have asked about the Bush Doctrine (a wavering concept, and touching only one matter, war). He should have asked for her views on the unitary executive—the question Cheney asked the Court nominees. That is what matters most to the Bush people. It affects all the executive usurpations of the last seven years—not only the right of the president to wage undeclared wars, but his right to create military courts, to authorize extraordinary renditions, secret prisons, more severely coercive interrogation, trials with undisclosed evidence, domestic surveillance, and the overriding of congressional oversight in every aspect of government from energy policy to health services.
The use of presidential signing statements to undermine federal law has been another aspect of Bush's executive power grab. As The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage has extensively reported, Bush has issued more than a 1100 signing statements claiming the authority to reject or ignore portions of the very laws he has just signed.
In December 2005, for instance, Bush signed the Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act. This exhaustively titled bill was most notable for containing the so-called McCain Amendment, which prohibited "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons under custody or control of the United States government."
At the time, the bill's passage was seen as a victory against waterboarding and other torture tactics. But consider the passage from Bush's signing statement that specifically refers to the McCain Amendment:
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power.
President Bush, in other words, would be waging the War on Terror as he saw fit, regardless of what Congress or the courts had to say about it.
Worried about the viability of Social Security? Unless you're already collecting it, you should be!
Follow the animated adventures of Sonny, exactly the sort of youth who is set to get screwed by a system designed during The Great Depression, when workers were plenty and retirees rare.
Episode Four of the series is titled "Broken Trust" and explains the rickety logic behind Social Security.
Watch the previous episodes by clicking on the images below.
Episode One: Pimp My Walker
Episode Two: Boom Baby Boom!
Episode Three: Policy Warrior
Jesse Walker already blogged about Bill Weld's Obama epiphany, and I blogged Sunday's Colin Powellgasm, but the Wall Street Journal names the other prominent Republicans who are (figuratively speaking) carving the "B" into their faces.
On Thursday, former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson endorsed Obama at the state capitol. “I think we have in Barack Obama the clear possibility of a truly great president,” he said. “I would contend that it’s the most important election of my lifetime.”
Scott McClellan, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, also endorsed Obama Thursday. USA Today reported that McClellan told CNN in a taping to be aired this weekend that Obama has “the best chance of changing the way Washington works.”Ken Adelman, a prominent conservative on foreign policy matters announced his support for Obama on Tuesday, telling the New Yorker that his decision was based on temperament and judgment.
All that and Charles Fried, who broke with the McCain campaign over the choice of that Tina Fey impersonator as a running mate. And this comes after former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (RI), former Rep. Jim Leach (IA) and soon-to-be-former Rep. Wayne Gilchrist (MD) endorsed Obama.
I think this is a legitimately big story. When the Jeremiah Wright scandal broke, I thought Obama had lost the image that brought him this far: that of the post-racial moderate who saw beyond party. Story after story has broken since then about his ties to the left-wing New Party, his saintly status among ACORN members, his slumber parties with Bill Ayers, and so on, and so on.
And yet Republican moderates are convinced that Obama is the more sensible choice than Maverick John McCain. This is striking: Obama may be the most liberal Democratic candidate in 36 years, but no prominent Democrats have endorsed McCain. Joe Lieberman? You can write off his endorsement as Senate clubbyness and the bitterness of a guy who was literally purged from the Democratic Party two years ago. (Plus, the guy lost a popularity contest to Dick Cheney.) After that, the McCain endorsers are distinguished by their silliness.
- Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild,
a multimillionaire friend of the Clintons who endorsed McCain
on the grounds that Obama is a... wait for it... elitist.
- Debra Bartoshevich, a Wisconsin Hillary Clinton delegate who is bitter that Hillary did not win the nomination. She even starred in a TV ad.
- John Coale, the husband of Greta Van Susteren who resents the Democrats "being taken over by the moveon.org types."
- Harriet Christian, a big-haired Democrat who protested the DNC meeting that assigned Michigan and Florida delegates, telling reporters that Obama was "an inadequate black man."
All of these people have been invited to official McCain events, as if they mattered. It's really striking, considering that in 2004 Democrats were begging McCain to join the Democratic ticket.
A fascinating call for papers from Econ Journal Watch:
In a rich body of highly regarded work, the Duke University economist Timur Kuran has developed a theory of preference falsification: the individual may publicly express views or attitudes that are false to his or her true private views or attitudes.......
The impetus of the symposium is to provide an outlet for exploring preference falsification and other forms of moral or intellectual compromise within the economics profession. Authors are encouraged to be introspective and personal, and yet impartial......
In his or her essay, the author should clarify the kind of preference falsification in which he or she has engaged. For example:
- Building models one does not really believe to be useful or relevant.
- Making simplifications that obscure or omit important things.
- Using data one does not really believe in.
- Focusing on the statistical significance of one’s findings while quietly doubting economic significance.
- Engaging in data mining.
- Drawing “policy implications” that one knows are inappropriate or misleading.
- Keeping the discourse “between the 40 yard lines” so as to avoid being outspoken; knowingly eliding fundamental issues.
- Tilting the flavor of policy judgments to make a paper more acceptable to referees, editors, publishers, or funders.
- Disguising one’s methodological or ideological views, such as by omitting revealing activities or publications from one’s vitae.
- For government, institute, or corporate economists: Having to significantly play along with things one does not believe in.
I'm not usually one to eagerly await academic journal symposiums, but they've got me hooked with this one.
Sheldon Richman, the editor of The Freeman, adds another nail into Jacob "end of libertarianism" Weisberg's coffin:
According to Weisberg, editor in chief of Slate, the financial turmoil taking place worldwide is the fault of . . . libertarians. That must mean libertarians have been in a position to repeal generations of deep-seated government intervention in the financial and related industries, including the Federal Reserve system. That would have taken a long time, yet I don't recall reading that a libertarian revolution occurred in the United States. Surely it would have been in the newspapers. Hence, I must conclude that I, like old Rip [van Winkle], was slumbering all those years. I missed the revolution! It's the only possible explanation.
Unless Weisberg is wrong.
Weisberg obviously hasn't been paying attention. For him the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie and Freddie, and past bailouts make up three separate libertarian explanations, when in fact they are all parts of a single integrated explanation of how government intervention created the problem. That he doesn't know this suggests that he doesn't understand the libertarian case. One ought to understand something before dismissing it.
The neocon columnist Charles Krauthammer's endorsement of John McCain today is neither remotely surprising nor remotely persuasive. But I have to admit I got a chuckle out of his lede:
Contrarian that I am, I'm voting for John McCain. I'm not talking about bucking the polls or the media consensus that it's over before it's over. I'm talking about bucking the rush of wet-fingered conservatives leaping to Barack Obama before they're left out in the cold without a single state dinner for the next four years.
I stand athwart the rush of conservative ship-jumpers of every stripe -- neo (Ken Adelman), moderate (Colin Powell), genetic/ironic (Christopher Buckley) and socialist/atheist (Christopher Hitchens) -- yelling "Stop!" I shall have no part of this motley crew. I will go down with the McCain ship.
On a related note, former Massachusetts governor William Weld has just endorsed Obama. Because of his tolerant stances on abortion, gay rights, and medical marijuana, Weld was hyped in the early '90s as a libertarian Republican. As he swelled the state budget and passed new regulations, he started to look more like an old-fashioned liberal Republican instead. Nonetheless, a couple years ago he nearly served as the New York Libertarian Party's gubernatorial candidate. Maybe Obama will give him an ambassadorship.
Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald recently blasted both major party presidential candidates for perpetuating the "blatant falsehood" that Russia launched an "unprovoked attack" on Georgia last August. But as Cathy Young writes, it just so happens that Greenwald's charge is blatantly false—and reveals much more about the mindset of the left than about the state of American democracy.
Yesterday was a banner day for distributed webby journalism. Conservatives, inspired by stories of fake donors like "Doodad Pro" and "Fhhdhh" giving money online to Obama, created their own fake names and tried to lay down some hope. They succeeded.
Erika Franzi, who described herself as conservative and preferring Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama, used the name “Della Ware” and entered an address of 12345 No Way in Far Far Away, DE 78954. Under employer, she listed: Americans Against Obama; for occupation, she typed in: Founder.
To her surprise, she said, her contribution went through in “fewer than three seconds.” Then, in order to be fair, she repeated the experiment on Mr. McCain’s Web site, entering the exact same information. Three times, she said, she received the message: “We have found errors in the information that you submitted. Please review the information below and try again.”
The day's other development was, if anything, weirder. Pittsburgh McCain volunteer Ashley Todd, a 20-year old College Republican, reported that she'd been mugged at knifepoint by a "6'4'' 200 pound" black man who then used his knife to carve the letter "B" in her face. The story led Drudge even before it was confirmed by local news. But the story stunk. Michelle Malkin, author of Unhinged—a book all about how Democrats engage in violent, angry behavior—suspected a hoax.
She refused medical treatment after reporting the incident to police. Why on earth would she do that?
Look at her face. What’s wrong with the “B?” Maaaaybe the alleged robber straddled her upside-down while carving it into her face. Maybe. But I’ve got my doubts.
Like Malkin, I've watched fake hate crimes unfold. I covered the unravelling of one hoaxter on my old college campus. (Apparently, the culprit is now an actor.) But Todd was working in the age of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, which gave hundreds of people across the web the tools to pull apart the story. Wonkette found her curiously chipper Twitter feed, and commenters found photos of a poster she'd made that bore handwriting that looked a lot like the scarlet (and not even skin-breaking) "B." Also:
Salon was able to find some of Todd's personal Web pages, which we're not linking to in order to protect her privacy. What appears to be her MySpace page, which gives her age as 23 rather than 20, is private. But the quote at the top of it is visible -- it reads, "Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths [sic] off, but its [sic] better if you do."
This circumstancial evidence is mostly discouraging conservative bloggers who started off the evening accusing (however tongue-in-cheek) Obama of egging on the mysterious mugger. The real work is being done by local cops, who have heard multiple versions of the story from Todd (one where the mugger was outraged by her campaign button, one where he didn't get angry until he saw her bumper sticker) and are giving her a polygraph. Still, it was the speed of bloggers that cast doubt on the story before it could even lead cable news.
UPDATE: Todd admitted to a hoax.
Investigators did say that they received photos from the ATM machine and "the photographs were verified as not being the victim making the transaction."
This afternoon, a Pittsburgh police commander told KDKA Investigator Marty Griffin that Todd confessed to making up the story.
The charge of "race-baiting" is thrown around in a lot of situations where it really doesn't fit. But telling cops a black person attacked and mutilated you when, in fact, you are trying to concoct a story to defeat Barack Obama... well, there's a word for that, and it's not "enlightened." Even conspiracy theorist Andy McCarthy is eating crow on this.
Cracked lists "The 6 Most Utterly Insane Attempts to Kill a US President."
Bonus video: Here's how to do it right:
Government has no business making distinctions between people based on their personal lives. That's why former Republican congressman Tom Campbell will be voting No on Proposition 8.
There is one question in the poll where Republicans did better than Democrats, who probably will still control Congress after the election. Voters were asked whether it would be better to have a Democratic president working with the Democratic-controlled Congress to get things done, or to have a Republican president keeping Congress in check. Forty percent of those surveyed said a Republican president would be better; 32 percent chose a Democratic president.
But every silver lining carries a dark cloud for the Republicans this time (and rightly so):
But the results were different when the question about divided government was posed another way. When voters were asked whether they preferred for Obama to be president and work with a Democratic Congress or for McCain to be a check on the Democratic Congress, Obama narrowly won, 49 percent to 44 percent.
Back in 2007, just as the Dems took control of the Congress (hey, how's that going?...never mind), reason looked at the virtues of and hopes for divided government here.
In testimony before Congress yesterday, former Federal Reserve chairman and Ayn Rand devotee did his best Claude Rains impersonation when it came to the financial meltdown that is running the show these days:
Despite concerns he had in 2005 that risks were being underestimated by investors, "this crisis, however, has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined," Greenspan said in remarks prepared for delivery to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity—myself especially—are in a state of shocked disbelief," said Greenspan, who stepped down from the Fed in 2006....
While Greenspan was once hailed as one of the most accomplished central bankers in U.S. history, the low interest rates during his final years at the Fed have been blamed for fueling the housing bubble and eventual crash that touched off the current financial crisis.
His strong advocacy for limited regulation of financial markets has also been called into question as a result of the crisis.
The former Fed chair said that a securitization system that stimulated appetite for loans made to borrowers with spotty credit histories, was at the heart of the breakdown of credit markets.
"Without the excess demand from securitizers, subprime mortgage originations— undeniably the original source of crisis—would have been far smaller and defaults, accordingly, far fewer," he said.
There's a lot to be said about this particular panel, which also featured Securities and Exchange head Chris Cox and former Treasury Secretary John Snow, so keep your eyesballs tuned to reason online.
But for right now, consider a couple of things:
First, as Jeffrey Miron pointed out at reason online earlier this week, it's far from clear that financial markets were deregulated in any serious manner. Or, more precisely, it seems the worst of all possible worlds was created, in which money folks could do what they wanted with implicit if not explicit guarantees that various elements in government would back them up in worst-case or even less-dire scenarios.
Second, as economist Arnold Kling has suggested, it's far from clear just what the hell is going on in credit markets, whose distress is the ill we gots to cure right now or else it'll be the second coming of the Great Depression:
For example, many economists breathlessly cited high short-term interest rates in interbank lending markets as an indicator of credit markets "freezing up." However, as some Minneapolis Fed economists point out, the volume of lending does not indicate such a freeze. In fact, very short-term interest rates are a ridiculously melodramatic indicator to use, because even a small increase in default probability can cause the annualized interest rates to soar.
Even before the situation is fully understood, there seems to be a huge interest in symbolic bloodletting, to pay for the sins of a boom market once the economy tanks (this always happens—just ask Martha Stewart).
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Henry Payne looks at Freddie, Fannie, and the scary truth about the financial crisis.
Yesterday the Transportation Security Administration said it will begin taking over the responsibility of checking airline passengers against government-generated watch lists in January. It expects to be fully in charge of that function, which the airlines currently handle, by the end of next year. The TSA, which has been working on a revamped system for vetting passengers since 2001, says exciting new developments in data analysis, including the use of full names, gender, and birth dates, will help avoid the sort of confusion that has grounded or delayed tens of thousands of innocent travelers mistaken for Al Qaeda hangers-on:
Details about why certain passengers are stopped are normally not shared with travelers, who often endure long delays and pointed questions. [The Department of Homeland Security] has received more than 43,500 requests for redress since February 2007 and has completed 24,000 of them, with the rest under review or awaiting more documentation.
Even if the TSA delivers on its promise to stop confusing members of Congress with terrorists, the watch lists seem like more trouble than they're worth:
The number of people who actually match the names on the watch lists is minuscule, officials acknowledged. On average, DHS screeners discover a person who is actually on the no-fly list about once a month, usually overseas, and actual selectees daily, [TSA Administrator Kip] Hawley said.
To bolster their case for the new program, U.S. officials for their first time disclosed that the no-fly list includes fewer than 2,500 individuals and the selectee list fewer than 16,000.
I noted the slow movement of watch list reform last year. In a 2004 reason cover story, James Bovard took a broader view of TSA folly. The latest issue of The Atlantic includes an article by Jeffrey Goldberg that reaches similar conclusions, relying heavily on the insights of TSA critic Bruce Schneier. Goldberg, who snuck various banned items past TSA screeners as part of his research, dismisses airport anti-terrorism measures as "'security theater' designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists."
In Texas and several other states across the country, law enforcement officials are engaging in the annual pre-Halloween ritual of corraling and branding "sex offenders" to prevent them from molesting kids while handing out candy. The efforts include arrests (typically for violating registration requirements or residence restrictions), confinement to police stations during trick-or-treat hours, and mandatory posting of signs declaring the homes of sex offenders candy-free zones. In South Carolina, A.P. reports, registered sex offenders "cannot give out candy or have their outdoor lights on." New York goes further, decreeing that sex offenders "can't answer the door to trick-or-treaters, have Halloween candy in their possession or dress in costume" (italics added). When do sweets legally qualify as Halloween candy? Minis presumably are contraband, but what about fun size?
There is little rhyme or reason to this crackdown, which does not distinguish between registrants who have a history of sexually assaulting children and those who have never shown any inclination to do so. Furthermore, as Scott Henson notes at Grits for Breakfast, the sex offender roundup diverts police resources from more pressing concerns to address a hazard that is vanishingly unlikely to materialize:
Such programs are all about playing to the media, not public safety. Kids trick or treating are more likely to be hit by lightning while going door to door than they are to be abducted by a registered sex offender.
There's only one [documented] case in the history of the planet where a child was abducted by a stranger while trick or treating (in Wisconsin in 1973). In that instance, the killer had no prior record and wouldn't have been on any sex offender registry even if it had existed....
By comparison, how many drunk drivers are out on Halloween? How much vandalism and other youth crime occurs that night while police attention is focused on tracking sex offenders?
They can say this is all about protecting children, but if authorities really wanted to protect kids they'd protect them from actual, demonstrable risks that occur in the real world.
Henson's advice to parents:
Let the kids go get some candy and have some fun, for heavens sake, and if you're worried what will happen, tag along. It's called "parenting."
Jesse Walker noted Halloween hype about sex offenders back in 2006.
One month ago I covered the campaign to put Ron Paul on the Montana ballot and learned that it might boost Barack Obama's chances in the state.
"It makes McCain's job here a hell of a lot harder," says James Lopach, the head of the University of Montana's political science department. "There is inviting soil for both Paul and Bob here. Some of those disgruntled conservative voters will be overjoyed to see them on the ballot."
Today comes this poll from Montana State University-Billings:
If this year's presidential election were being held today, for whom do you think you would vote?
Barack Obama 44.4%
John McCain 40.2%
Ron Paul 4.2%
Ralph Nader .7%
Bob Barr 1%
The gap between Obama and McCain is exactly the same as
Paul's support in the state. In the interals, Paul is drawing
independents, "other parties," and Republicans, but no Democrats
This shouldn't surprise anyone. McCain only carried eight counties in the Montana caucuses, coming in third in the popular vote, behind... Ron Paul. Paul won 20,606 votes in the nonbinding June primary, and this is a state where only 450,000 ballots were cast in the Bush-Kerry race. (The all-time record for a Libertarian candidate was the 9,825 votes Ed Clark collected in 1980.) If around 25,000 people vote for Paul, Nader, and Barr, then the winner in Montana only needs to hit 48 percent. Obama's closer to that than McCain.
Our presumptive president will govern more in the style of L.B.J. than Eugene Debs, writes Michael Moynihan. But is accusing Barack Obama of being a "socialist" actually a racial code word?
Another contentious Myspace profile, another legal debacle. The rundown, courtesy of Mediashift:
Jeffrey Spanierman, a teacher at Emmett O'Brien High School in Ansonia, Connecticut, created a MySpace page, ostensibly "to communicate with students about homework, to learn more about the students so he could relate to them better, and to conduct casual, non-school related discussions." One of Spanierman's school colleagues became concerned about the page, which she said contained, among other things, pictures of naked men with "inappropriate comments" underneath them. She was also concerned about the nature of the personal conversations that the teacher was having with the students, and she convinced Spanierman to remove the page, which she considered "disruptive to students." Spanierman subsequently created a new MySpace page, however, that included similar content and similar personal communications with students. When the colleague learned of the new page, she reported it to the school administration, which placed Spanierman on administrative leave and ultimately declined to renew his teaching contract for the following year. After hearings that he attended with his union representative and later with his attorneys, he received a letter stating that he had "exercised poor judgment as a teacher."
Spanierman contested the grounds for his dismissal, alleging that the school violated rights guaranteed him by the First and 14th Amendments, but the U.S. District Court of Connecticut rejected both claims. The legalese protecting tenured and non-tenured Connecticut public school teachers is beyond my expertise, so I'll avoid weighing in on whether or not Spanierman's contract was violated. And due to the appalling precedent established by the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, it's tough to argue that Spanierman's First Amendment rights were violated.
But there's a better way to go about contesting his firing—by arguing that Myspace and other social networking technologies are an integral component of education reform. After all, a million Mark Bauerlein books (excellent reason.tv interview here) aren't going to keep students away from the Internet, so why not turn Myspace, Facebook, and other online applications into teaching tools?
At Inside Higher Ed, Andy Guess reported on a Facebook application that communicates information from Blackboard (an online interactive syllabus), in effect, reaching "students even when they’re trying to avoid studying." And in an op-ed that came out a few months prior to Guess' piece, professor Shari Dinkins, a self-professed ole' fogie, conceded that "when used appropriately and in moderation, technology can help us teach. And it can help our “wired” students learn."
And while most of the reported successes of social networking mingling with curricula are from the post-secondary level, I know a number of high school teachers who have used instant messaging to help their students. In one of these cases, a math teacher signs onto his AOL account right after dinner and answers questions pertaining to the evening's homework until around 9 p.m., which allows more time the next day for teaching new material and addressing lingering concerns from the previous night's assignment.
Granted, Myspace—with its naked bum pics, renegade spammers, and risque ads—is probably not the best means for reaching students outside the classroom, but instead of firing Spanielman, his bosses should have done more to measure the effects of his online interaction with students, and, had they found them effective, established age-appropriate guidelines for how to use those tools.
Katherine Mangu-Ward on the University of Phoenix here. Excellent reason.tv video on universal preschool here. Daniel H. Pink on individualized education here. And of course, the other big Myspace case.
[Hat tip to Simon Owens.]
Finally, a bailout for ethanol producers. Why not? Iowa's presidential caucus is earlier than the Michigan primary, anyway.
"Some plants are under pressure because they've been speculating on corn," [Agriculture Secretary Ed] Schafer told reporters after speaking at the World Food Prize symposium breakfast.
The secretary said the department wouldn't buy or sell grain or cover trading losses. Rather, he said, money could come from the USDA's Rural Development office, which can provide up to $25 million to keep rural businesses operating.
The idea isn't getting a lot of attention in the final weeks of a presidential race, although Rep. Jeff Flake has spoken out.
“The federal government’s ethanol policies have driven up the price of corn,” said Flake. “But rather than reforming the policies that have caused a spike in corn prices, the federal government wants to bail out ethanol producers who speculated on the price of corn. Only the U.S. Department of Agriculture could dream up a policy like this.”
Flake said tax breaks and credits for ethanol producers should be repealed. “The high price of corn has had a ripple effect over our entire economy. Instead of trying to bail out every industry hurt by it, the federal government needs to take a serious look at reforming our ethanol policies,” said the East Valley Republican.
I realize this is an executive branch program, and this is unrelated, but: I'm not looking forward to this lame duck Congress. I don't think there'll be a lot of agreement with Flake.
Americans may be too lazy (or too rational) to vote. But as a great man once said, "You gotta eat!" So, while half of America may not be voting in the booth, they're happy to vote with their stomachs.
At Baskin Robbins, the results are in, and Whirl of Change ("Peanut-nougat ice cream whirled with chunks of chocolate-covered peanut brittle and a caramel ribbon") beat Straight Talk Crunch ("Caramel ribbon, chocolate pieces, candy red states and crunchy mixed nuts swirled into White Chocolate ice cream") with 51 percent of the vote. Half a million votes were cast.
At 7-11, coffee drinkers can choose between an Obama cup and a McCain cup. Obama is crushing McCain with 60 percent of the popular vote in the great cup buy-up. He is also winning in every state where 7-11 exists, except New Hampshire.
This measure actually has a pretty decent record. The Gore cup lost to the Bush cup by a single percentage point, and the 2004 results were identical to national polls: 51 percent Bush, 49 percent Kerry. I guess the sample size is pretty decent at 1 million cups of coffee sold each day at 7-11 stores.
Looks like indicators from the gluttonous public predict a win for Obama. Ah, America. How I love you.
See the 7-11 cups in action at the reason offices earlier this month.
John McCain has attacked Barack Obama for his connection to former Weather Underground member William Ayers. But as Steve Chapman notes, McCain has been associating with a dangerous militant of his own.
Steve Benen is shocked, shocked, that John McCain is hitting Florida with a "Joe the Plumber bus tour."
McCain is exploiting Wurzelbacher for no reason. Under Obama's tax policy, Wurzelbacher would get a tax cut, not a tax increase. Indeed, I don't know the details of Wurzelbacher's finances, but there's reason to believe he'd end up far better off under Obama's tax plan than McCain's.
But Wurzelbacher wasn't asking Obama about what his tax plans would do right now. It was a hypothetical.
I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes about $270-280,000 a year. Your new tax plan's going to tax me more, isn't it?... If I buy another truck and build the company, I'm getting taxed more.
Obama explained to Wurzelbacher, correctly, that now he'd get a tax cut, and if he'd pushed his plan through when Wurzelbacher was making less money than Wurzelbacher would have taken home even more. Obama tried to talk about what Wurzelbacher makes now; Wurzelbacher said Obama would punish him if he "fulfilled the American dream." It's completely fair for McCain to attack Obama's taxes on small businesses (although you can make the case that Obama will save them on health care costs).
The problem with the bus tour is that somewhere along the line McCain lost his grip on the economic argument and turned Joe's story into "honest man versus mainstream media."
Now, Joe didn't ask for Senator Obama to come to his house, and he didn't ask to be famous. And he certainly didn't ask for the political attacks on him from the Obama campaign.
Who cares? No one's lost a dime over Wurzlebacher's bruised feelings. They will lose money if they try to start a small business under Obama. That's the attack! And, typically, McCain is whiffing it because it's easier for him to fight about "honor" than about economics. The whole campaign is running on the Drudge Report—whatever leads there is the attack of the day. It's made it tougher for them to find a winning message.
Managing Editor 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.
Mark Ames at the Nation thinks that the New York Times took an unwarrantedly kind view of the sterling qualities of Georgia's government and behavior in the recent Russia v. Georgia contretemps, and is now quietly backpedaling. Some excerpts:
....a couple of weeks ago, the New York Times slipped in a story that completely contradicted a narrative that it had been building up for two straight months, one that was leading America into another war--a so-called "New Cold War." The article exposed the awful authoritarian reality of Georgia's so-called democracy, painting a dark picture of President Mikhail Saakashvili's rule that repudiated the fairy tale that the Times and everyone else in the major media had been pushing ever since war broke out in South Ossetia in early August. That fairy tale went like this: Russia (evil) invaded Georgia (good) for no reason whatsoever except that Georgia was free. Putin hates freedom, and Saakashvili is the "democratically elected leader" of a "small, democratic country."
The real question, then, is why the Times waited until this late to question its own position--why wait until the war was long off the front pages, to publish an article about what everyone with an ounce of journalistic curiousity already knew--that Saakashvili was about as much a democrat as he was a military genius?
The push in the West by outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post to get a new cold war on hinged on two major fallacies: (1) that Russia invaded Georgia first, totally unprovoked, because Georgia is a "democracy"; and (2), that Georgia is a "democracy."
It's as if the Times deliberately forgot what it already reported about Saakashvili last year, after he sent in his goon squads to crush opposition protests:
"I think that Misha tends toward the authoritarian," said Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer in the United States who taught Saakashvili when he was a student at Columbia Law School in the mid-1990s, later hired him at a law firm in New York and has remained friendly with him. "I would put it this way: there is a remarkable similarity between Misha and Putin, in terms of their attitudes about presidential prerogatives and authority," Horton said. Like Putin, he added, Saakashvili has marginalized Parliament and taken to belittling the opposition.
Ever since I went down to South Ossetia to see the war for myself, I'd developed a kind of sick curiosity to see just how the Times and all the others were going to extricate themselves from the credibility-hole they'd dug. I had a feeling it was going to come, because Saakashvili was not only a blatant liar but an incredibly bad liar. I was in South Ossetia at the close of the war--I saw the destruction that the "freedom-loving" Georgians wreaked, and the bloated, rotting corpses on the streets of the province's capital city, Tskhinvali--so I was particularly interested in how long the sleazy tale of good vs. evil would last, and how the major media would squirm their way out of their biggest journalistic fiasco since the Iraqi-WMD blooper.
It's a long piece, but well-detailed, and worth studying for historians of how U.S. public opinion is shaped toward feeling bellicose about far-away conflicts with little to no effect on genuine American interests.
Matt Welch on John McCain's overreaction to the Georgia crisis.
[Link via Rational Review.]
Anxious at the spreading unrest among farmers left behind in the rush to get rich, China's Communist Party leaders...unveiled sweeping reforms to give its 730 million or more rural residents more say in what they do with their land....
Approved at a twice-a-year plenum of the party's Central Committee earlier this month, the scheme will allow farmers to transfer their land-use rights and to join share-holding entities with their farmland. The policies, still lacking in crucial details, effectively give farmers -- rather than village leaders -- the authority to decide how to use their land.
Tens of thousands of peasant protests erupt each year and nearly half are linked to land grabs by local officials who see a chance to make money by turning over land on the outskirts of towns and villages to developers.
This isn't the first time disobedience from below has forced China's leaders to allow more economic liberty. As Gordon Chang pointed out two years ago,
We now know Deng as a reformer, and we credit him and the Communist party for debating, then planning, and finally executing the startling transformation of Chinese society. Yet the truth is that reform progressed more by disobedience than by design. Deng began his tenure in adherence to orthodox Communist economics, by trying to implement a ten-year plan. But his early failure to meet the plan's goals forced him to back away and permit individual initiative, at first under strict rules. Peasants on large collective farms, for example, were allowed to form "work groups" to tend designated plots, but it was specifically prohibited for just one family to make up a "work group." The prohibition did not last: in clear violation of central rules, families started to till their own plots, and local officials looked the other way.
Subterfuge on the farm was followed by subterfuge in towns and cities. Although private industry was strictly forbidden, entrepreneurs flourished by running their businesses as "red hat" collectives: private companies operating under the guise of state ownership. Such defiance would once have been unthinkable. By Deng's time, frustrated bureaucrats and countless individuals, including some of the poorest and most desperate citizens in China, were ready to take the next step -- ignoring central-government decrees and building large private businesses that now account for at least 40 percent of the Chinese economy. This became China's "economic miracle," brought to fruition even as government officials remained holed up in their offices in Beijing, preparing meticulously detailed five-year plans.
Today, Chang notes, "virtually every segment" of Chinese society ("except, of course, senior Communist leaders and wealthy entrepreneurs") regularly joins in much more public protests. "Almost anything, whether or not it is a genuine grievance, can trigger a sit-in, demonstration, or riot against party officials, village bosses, tax collectors, factory owners, or township cadres." The new extension of rural property rights is among the results.
Elsewhere in Reason: More comments on Chang's article.
Note: Video includes actual footage of the dog getting shot.
The major venue for discussing this question is the 3rd Singularity Summit this Saturday in San Jose, Calif. The folks at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAS) are offering a $75 dollar discount off summit's registration fee for interested readers of Hit & Run (and other blogs) here.
So what is "the Singularity"? According to the SIAS:
The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence...
A future that contains smarter-than-human minds is genuinely different in a way that goes beyond the usual visions of a future filled with bigger and better gadgets. Vernor Vinge originally coined the term "Singularity" in observing that, just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human.
Human intelligence is the foundation of human technology; all technology is ultimately the product of intelligence. If technology can turn around and enhance intelligence, this closes the loop, creating a positive feedback effect. Smarter minds will be more effective at building still smarter minds. This loop appears most clearly in the example of an Artificial Intelligence improving its own source code, but it would also arise, albeit initially on a slower timescale, from humans with direct brain-computer interfaces creating the next generation of brain-computer interfaces, or biologically augmented humans working on an Artificial Intelligence project.
The Singularity Summits gather tech luminaries to consider the implications of this view--if it's true and what might be done about it. Participants in this summit include:
* MIT's Cynthia Breazeal on the implications of robots with social intelligence.
* Peter Diamandis on materializing audacious goals with Mega X PRIZEs.
* Esther Dyson on the end of genetic ignorance – or was it bliss?
* Ray Kurzweil presenting his latest research, a more rigorous standard for the Turing Test, and discussing IEEE Spectrum's Singularity Report.
* Intel's CTO Justin Rattner on why the Singularity is a realistic possibility.
* Acclaimed author Vernor Vinge in conversation with CNBC's Bob Pisani.
Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology explains:
What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian or dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself. Understanding the Singularity will alter our perspective on the significance of our past and the ramifications for our future. To truly understand it inherently changes one's view of life in general and one's own particular life.
Cost to install a camera in the town park in Liberty, Kansas (funded by a federal grant : $5,000)
Population of Liberty, Kansas: 95
Irony of spending $50 per resident to install a federally-funded surveillance camera in a tiny town called “Liberty”: Well, you know how the commercial goes
With support from major foundations and political heavy hitters like Barack Obama, universal preschool is the next big thing in education reform. Indeed, it's second only to universal health care on the liberal wish list. The goal is to offer publicly funded preschool—complete with credentialed teachers and a standardized curriculum—to all four-year-olds during the school year.
Advocates argue that public investments in early education will pay dividends over the long term. Critics point out that the evidence from states that have universal preschool programs shows that whatever benefits kids receive from those programs fade out by the fourth grade.
Since preschool attendance rates in states that have universal preschool are no higher than the national average, universal preschool wouldn't even increase preschool attendance. It would, however, cost a lot of money, put lots of privately owned preschools out of business, and dramatically decrease early education options for parents.
So what do you think? Is expanding our failing K-12 system the best way to fix it?
This 10-minute documentary is hosted by reason's Nick Gillespie. It is written by Paul Feine and shot by Roger M. Richards. Go here for related materials and embed code.
In the 1976 case U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that contra the Fourth Amendment, the government can set up roadblock checkpoints within 100 miles of the nation's borders in order to check for illegal immigrants and smuggling. The Court ruled that if the stops are brief, limited to that purpose, and not fishing expeditions, the minimal invasion to personal privacy is outweighed by the government's interest in protecting the border.
The ACLU says that since September 11, 2001, the government has been steadily stretching the limits of Martinez, to the point where the Department of Homeland Security is using that case and the terrorism threat to conduct more thorough, more invasive searches at dozens of checkpoints across the country. With 33 checkpoints now in operation, we're not exactly to the point of "Ihre Papiere, bitte" Berlin yet, but the ACLU does warn that the area of the country 100 miles from every border and coastline would include about 190 million people, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population (see map below).
Moreover, post-9/11, the courts have been pretty deferential to increasingly invasive searches the government says are necessary for national security purposes. For example, federal courts have given the okay to airport seizures and thorough searches of laptops and other electronic devices belonging to people returning from abroad. Such searches can be conducted with no individualized suspicion at all. Some of those subjected to them have said it took weeks for the government to return their computers.
Should the courts uphold these increasingly invasive "border searches" under some vague national security exception, I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that the Fourth Amendment would be close to non-existent for a large portion of the country.
For those who are feeling bleak about the economy and downright suicidal about how dumb the election has become, cheer up. Science—and better still, science with commercial applications—continues apace, making the world a better place. Popular Science reports that a bunch of college students and professors at Rice are working on genetically modified beer that lowers the risk of heart disease.
To create their BioBeer, the students are attempting to genetically alter a strain of yeast so that it produces resveratrol [a chemical present in wine that lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer] while also fermenting beer.
They plan to enter their brew, based on Houston's Saint Arnold wheat beer, in the world’s largest synthetic biology competition: International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM), taking place November 8th and 9th in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
We should count ourselves lucky that these guys haven't taken their suds and gone gulching, since they're certainly laboring in an unfree world. To wit: 1) Most of the team is under 21, and therefore can't legally consume their scientific breakthrough, and 2) "Don’t start dreaming of BioBeer-filled games of beer pong or flip cup anytime soon. Until this team of young researchers eliminates all the additive 'marker' chemicals in their brew and the FDA approves, no one will be drinking a drop."
At a moment when America faces hard choices and perhaps hard times, writes Contributing Editor Cathy Young, the presidential campaign has largely degenerated into a vicious squabble whose poisonous effects are likely to be felt for years to come.
I was less impressed with the New Yorker piece on LP candidate Bob Barr than was David Weigel the other day. Sure, the very fact that a serious profile of an LP candidate is in such an augustly mainstream publication is a good sign for serious attention for the LP, I suppose.
The profile itself, though, managed to be so dull, and so unilluminating about libertarianism or the LP per se though barely successful in giving a pointillist picture-dabbed-through-small-details about Barr himself (it has one of those flat feature-writery finishes that the writer apparently wants the reader to find portentous in some manner but to me just screams "I don't really know what the point of this article is either, just let me sneak quietly out the back") that I don't think it will help even those who manage to finish it understand much they will care about about libertarianism or the LP.
For a more specific critique, the piece makes a huge leap, though, when it implicitly attributes a rise in paid membership to a change in the LP platform, the sort of thing that isn't really fact-checkable per se and something that almost no New Yorker reader will have any independent base of knowledge on which to judge. (It is also written in such a way that the author could deny even having meant to make that implication, though it's hard for me to imagine that most readers wouldn't read it that way):
In 2006, [LP founder David] Nolan told me, the Party had a “civil war” over its platform, most of which was subsequently dropped. The following year, the Party’s dues-paying membership grew by twenty-eight per cent.
My equally un-fact-checkable opinion is that the platform and what it says or doesn't say is only of importance to a very small number of party activists whose self-identity is tied up with it, and for the occasional candidate whose opponents try to call him out on some outre element of it, though I don't think there's even a lot of evidence that happens often, mostly because major party candidates can generally completely ignore their LP opponents.
Still, to be sure, a post-platform reform, post-Barr LP has been on the grow in terms of dues-paying national members, according to the LP's official figures. From December 2007 to now, the party membership has grown by 1,656 members; that's nearly 11 percent.
But how impressive is this? In 2004, the year of unknown Michael Badnarik as their candidate, with a Party burdened with that crazy-radical old platform, the party grew from December 2003 to December 2004 by 2,814 in whole numbers, and by 14 percent, from a much higher base.
For whatever reason, the Party's biggest membership plunge of the past few years happened over the course of 2006, the year which, in July, the Party's platform was shaved in the manner that the New Yorker implicitly credits with the 2007 membership rise. The LP gained 3,313 members in 2007--again, in judging how well the "nominating the successful politician" strategy has done for the LP's prominence so far, note that that is more than twice the number of new members that nominating Barr has earned the LP so far. Yes, the year isn't over yet, and the election hasn't happened yet. But, non-disdainful mainstream media attention or not, I'm not impressed with what Barr has done for the LP so far.
UPDATE: In private correspondence, Shane Cory from the Barr campaign says I'm being misleading about Barr's effect on membership growth by using net numbers rather than gross. With a month-by-month breakdown more specific than the ones the LP national HQ provided me with, he shows that since May (when Barr got the nomination) that new members joining the LP have amounted to at least 3,403.
True. But for every month since May, lapsed members have outnumbered both new members and renewed members--but not the two put together, of course, or there would have been no total growth at all.
I noted in the original post that from December 07 to now, LP membership grew 1,656. With more specific growth figures from May on supplied by Cory, I see that membership since Barr got the nomination in fact grew by a little more than that--1,884. (There was a dip between December 07 and May 08.) While reasonable people can argue about this, I suppose, it seems to me net growth in membership is a far more important measure of Barr's effect on growing the party than merely new members joining. If Barr drew in 10,000 new and lost 13,000 old members, that would not be a positive sign for the LP's future.
The New Yorker's Jill Lepore has a great article tracing the unsavory history of one of publishing's lowest arts: the campaign biography. Not surprisingly, it's all Old Hickory's fault:
In 1824, [John] Eaton published a revised "Life of Jackson," founding a genre, the campaign biography. At its heart lies a single, telling anecdote. In 1781, when Jackson was fourteen and fighting in the American Revolution, he was captured. A British officer, whose boots had got muddy, ordered the boy to clean them: Jackson refused, and the officer beat him, badly, with a sword. All his life, he bore the scars. Andrew Jackson would not kneel before a tyrant.
The United States has had some very fine Presidents, and some not so fine. But their campaign biographies are much of a muchness. The worst of them read like an Election Edition Mad Libs, and even the best of them tell, with rare exception, the same Jacksonian story: scrappy maverick who splits rails and farms peanuts and shoots moose battles from the log cabin to the White House by dint of grit, smarts, stubbornness, and love of country.... Nixon learned how to be a good Vice-President by warming the bench during college football games. Palin forged bipartisan political alliances in step-aerobics class. Parties rise and fall. Wars begin and end. The world turns. But American campaign biographies still follow a script written nearly two centuries ago. East of piffle and west of hokum, the Boy from Hope always grows up to be the Man of the People. Will we ever stop electing Andrew Jackson?
In this Reason Foundation roundtable, Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia, Terrestrial Energy author William Tucker, and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Jerry Taylor discuss the future of nuclear power, energy independence, and whether nuclear energy can sustain itself in the market without government involvement.
The Republican Party has exiled its Goldwater-Reagan wing and given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government, writes Senior Editor Radley Balko. That's why they deserve to get their clocks cleaned in two weeks.
I just got off a McCain campaign conference call in which senior foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey addressed this Washington Post story.
"Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election," said a commentary posted Monday on the extremist Web site al-Hesbah, which is closely linked to the terrorist group. It said the Arizona Republican would continue the "failing march of his predecessor," President Bush.
Schneuemann and Woolsey attacked the paper for selectiveness and unfairness, listing supportive things said by American enemies like Ghadaffi about Obama that the Post never covered. Plus, according to Woolsey, there's no way a serious Al-Qaeda blogger could support McCain.
This individual knows that an endorsement by him is a kiss of death, figuratively. He is not trying to help John McCain.
The first question: If this was a bad faith comment meant to hurt McCain, how do we know comments from Ahmedinijad about Obama aren't meant to hurt the Democrat? Woolsey:
Any major organization, itself, will not take the risk to depart from the party line.
Woolsey explained that if someone like Zawahiri said something like what that blogger did, you could assume if was part of a new sarcasm initiative. "But if you take an individual blogger... if you take this literally it's hard to conclude he supports John McCain." He chuckled into the receiver. It was just too self-evident that terrorists want the man who opposed the surge to beat the man who pushed for it.
The hilarious final days of the Bush presidency continue with a Washington Post report on how huge corporations scored "small business" contracts.
In the data The Post analyzed, federal agencies counted Lockheed Martin and its subsidiaries as "small" on 207 contracts worth $143 million. Dell Computer, a Fortune 500 company, was listed as a small business on $89 million in contracts.
The Navy claimed that $60 million in work it gave to Digital System Resources, a division of General Dynamics, went to a small firm—a year after agencies were warned that DSR did not qualify. The Defense Department, which for a century has used Electric Boat to build submarines, labeled the firm as a small business for $1 million in supplies and services. The Department of Veterans Affairs said a computer glitch caused it to claim a $29 million payment to defense security giant CACI as a small-business award.
And 36 of 200—eighteen percent—of the companies at the top of the contract list did not fit the definition of "small" businesses.
Nate Santucci, a Libertarian candidate for the Nevada Assembly who happens to be the "covert operations" director for Penn & Teller, has been endorsed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Democrats took a pass on District 22, leaving Republican incumbent Lynn Stewart to face challenges from Libertarian Nathan Santucci and Independent American Joshua M. Starbuck. Mr. Stewart, a retired high school government teacher, has lived in Southern Nevada for about 60 years and recognizes that money alone can't fix what ails public schools. Mr. Santucci wants to maintain an attractive business climate in Nevada. He's "tired of seeing casinos taking a hit for making money" and being targeted for tax increases. We think Mr. Santucci is more inclined to shake things up in Carson City. If a minor-party candidate is ever going to break into the Legislature, we hope it's Nathan Santucci in District 22.
This comes as the Indianapolis Star gives some credibility and props to congressional candidate Eric Shansberg, an alt-weekly says nice things about (and nearly endorses) libertarian Republican B.J. Lawson for Congress, and at least two LP Senate candidates—Alan Buckley in Georgia and Chris Cole in North Carolina—are running strong enough to give Republicans a scapegoat if they lose. (Hey, it happened in 2002.) Under the radar, this is still a decent year for libertarians of the big and small "L" running for office.
UPDATE: I just re-read that 2002 "Libertarians are spoilers" piece.
Libertarians are now serving, in effect, as Democratic Party operatives. The next time they wonder why the Bush tax cuts aren't permanent, why Social Security isn't personalized and why there aren't more school-choice pilot programs for low-income kids, all they have to do is look in the mirror.
Two years later Republicans expanded their majorities in the House and Senate. How'd this agenda fare? I can't remember.
It's a sloppy process, but this is exactly one of the ways that trade and markets work to increase the general quality of goods available: If you sell stuff that is sub-standard, much less dangerous, you'll go out of business.
Mike Duke, vice chairman of Wal-Mart's international division, said the company is expecting "greater transparency...from our supplier partners" [in China] beginning next month.
They will be required to "tell us the name and location of every factory they use to make the products we sell," according to Duke's prepared remarks delivered at a company conference in Beijing. "Essentially, we expect you to ask the tough questions, to give us the answers and, if there's a problem, to own the solution."
Wal-Mart will apply the new standards to apparel first and eventually use them on all its products, Duke said. No other details were given.
The measures by Wal-Mart, China's largest foreign retailer, come as confidence in Chinese exports has been shaken after a series of product safety scandals.
The net result of this sort of action will be an increase in the standards of living both for the people consuming Chinese goods and those creating them.
Terence McKenna, thou shouldst be living at this hour:
It has long been suspected that humans have an ancient history of drug use, but there has been a lack of proof to support the theory.
Now, however, researchers have found equipment used to prepare hallucinogenic drugs for sniffing, and dated them back to prehistoric South American tribes....
Scientists believe that the drug being used was cohoba, a hallucinogen made from the beans of a mimosa species.
Caveat: The researchers' abstract dates the paraphernalia to between 400 and 189 BC, which may well be prehistoric as far as those tribes are concerned but isn't exactly paleolithic.
Barack Obama says he will "transform the challenge of global climate change into an opportunity to create 5 million new green jobs." But as Senior Editor Jacob Sullum writes, by the same logic, Obama should view war, crime, and natural disaster as positive developments. All three generate economic activity, after all, though we'd be better off if the resources spent on bombs, burglar alarms, and reconstruction were available for other purposes, instead of being used to inflict, prevent, or recover from losses.