Posted by Brad @ 12:34 pm on August 18th 2009

Dear Oppositional Anti-Reform Protestors

Be ye Republicans, Paulites, anti-socialists, or whatever.

Let’s please not make bringing loaded assault rifles to political rallies a “new thing”. I understand the point (I think), it is indeed legal, I even in some way’s think it’s sort of clever, in the same way burning bras, eating with black people, or openly displaying homosexual affection was sort of clever at one time or another (it’s shocking and it challenges, ideally, in an intellectual way, by charging head-on into a taboo and thus bringing that taboo directly to the surface, though I’m sure most would object to that comparison).

But…don’t. Just…don’t.

Posted by Brad @ 12:24 pm on August 18th 2009

Robert Novak Dead

At 78

Posted by Brad @ 9:55 am on August 18th 2009

More Sex Offender Madness

In Miami, they’ve passed so many laws restricting where sex offenders can live (not within 2,500 feet of any place where children might congregate, for instance), that the Department of Corrections, a government agency, has been moving them under bridges.

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) — The sparkling blue waters off Miami’s Julia Tuttle Causeway look as if they were taken from a postcard. But the causeway’s only inhabitants see little paradise in their surroundings.

Five men — all registered sex offenders convicted of abusing children — live along the causeway because there is a housing shortage for Miami’s least welcome residents.

“I got nowhere I can go!” says sex offender Rene Matamoros, who lives with his dog on the shore where Biscayne Bay meets the causeway.

The Florida Department of Corrections says there are fewer and fewer places in Miami-Dade County where sex offenders can live because the county has some of the strongest restrictions against this kind of criminal in the country.

Florida’s solution: house the convicted felons under a bridge that forms one part of the causeway.

The Julia Tuttle Causeway, which links Miami to Miami Beach, offers no running water, no electricity and little protection from nasty weather. It’s not an ideal solution, Department of Corrections Officials told CNN, but at least the state knows where the sex offenders are.

Nearly every day a state probation officer makes a predawn visit to the causeway. Those visits are part of the terms of the offenders’ probation which mandates that they occupy a residence from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Posted by Brad @ 9:51 am on August 18th 2009

North Korea Opens Its Border

The ulterior motive here is financial as much as anything, but it’s also part of a recent pattern of softening from Kim Jong-il. It may be time to bust out the carrot in regards to NK.

North Korea said on Monday it had agreed to reopen the border to South Korea its neighbor and allow tourism and family reunions to start again.

The agreement to ease restrictions on the border follows a meeting between the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-il and the head of the South Korean Hyundai Group who had gone to Pyongyang to seek the release of a detained worker. The visit followed hot on the heels of one earlier in the month by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who also met Kim, to win the release of two jailed American journalists. […]

North Korea has portrayed both visits as paying tribute to leader Kim, 67, whose health is the subject of speculation. He is believed to be trying to ensure his youngest son becomes the third generation in the family to head the destitute communist dynasty, its coffers drained by heavy military spending, poor economic management and years of U.N. sanctions.

Posted by Cameron @ 5:02 am on August 18th 2009

CNN talking heads flummoxed by open carry

h/t Classically Liberal

Posted by Rojas @ 3:52 pm on August 17th 2009

Your permission to become an American soccer fan

Bill Simmons, perhaps America’s most popular sportswriter, climbs aboard with a magnificent piece on the US-Mexico qualifier. He gets it.

Posted by Brad @ 3:02 pm on August 17th 2009

The Whole Foods Boycott

Radley Balko has been, dare I say it, en fuego on this one. 1 and 2.

Posted by Brad @ 1:28 pm on August 13th 2009

Just Frustration

I’ve been chewing over Rojas’ post here regarding the health care debate, and I find myself agreeing with much of it. In theory, I am not necessarily opposed to liberal reform of health care, and on any given subject, I can be persuaded either way. Indeed, I think at this point I would prefer some form of universal health care (or socialized medicine, if you prefer), to the unholy amalgamated system we labor under currently, which could most accurately be described not as a health care system, but a health insurance system, that combines most of the worst elements of the the market with most of the worst elements of bureaucracy.

But in practice, although I find myself defending a lot of the principles of reform outlined by Obama and the congressional Democrats, I find it pretty hard to defend the particulars, because, in large measure, I’m still not entirely sure what they are (Josh Marshall a few weeks ago said so himself, in saying (paraphrase): “I think it’s fair to say I’ve followed this health care debate as closely as anybody, and am a longtime health care policy wonk to boot, and I have to admit that even I have a hard time knowing exactly what the hell I’m talking about when I’m talking about things like ‘the public option'”. And it strikes me that a large part of the problem of our current system isn’t, say, that it’s too regulated, or too unregulated, but that the system isn’t really a system at all, but rather just a giant morass of legislation, practice, and bureaucracy that didn’t come about because of one big decision, but rather a million little compromises. In that sense, I had almost hoped from that outset that Obama would just create a big ambitious health care plan and shove it down Congress’s throat. Because the system could do with a little singular vision (frankly, in either direction), and I feel like we know what we’re going to get when the keyword is bipartisanship, the big decisions are made to placate a half a dozen moderate Senators or blue dog Democrats or to diffuse industry resistance, and the bulk of the work is done behind closed doors and occurring under subsection VII paragraph six of Section D1A.

All that said, while I’m prepared to agree with Rojas in substance on this question, one of the things I’m not really on board with is the Republican opposition to health care reform, and in the last week, my concerns on these lines have been articulated very well by a few conservative commentators in a few different places. Broadly, a few key points:

While I agree, as a very general rule, that no reform is preferable to bad reform, I do think in health care specifically that simple obstinacy is not very constructive. I believe this chiefly because I think the status quo is untenable, and politically the opposition has lazily aligned itself with the status quo, whether they intended to or not (the lack, or perceived lack, of much interest in substantive counter-proposals is key here). If I believed that opposition to Obama’s health care reform would get us better health care reform, I could be swayed here. But I most assuredly do not believe that, at least not with the current opposition. I believe all opposition will do in this instance is a mire the reform process in further over-complication and further beaurocratic and legislative morass, and frankly all it will effect, in policy, is watering down any singular vision and providing wider openings for special and industry interest “compromises”. Namely, it will open the window further to exacerbating exactly what has been wrong with the health care reform process in the last 50 years.

I also think that, in constructing the opposition to be primarily political rather than policy oriented, the opposition puts itself in the position of not specifically being against this reform, but health care reform in any capacity. It’s been sort of amazing to hear liberal politicians harassed at town halls by conservative seniors convinced they’re going to fuck up Medicare, with the Glenn Becks of the world piling on that. Or Sarah Palin talking about death panels for her Down Syndrome baby if we take power away from—health insurance companies. Just the style of the opposition, when you pull the camera back, is exactly the problem with how our nation, politically, handles entitlement systems. Namely, by the opposition, whichever side of the political spectrum that happens to be at the moment, finding short term benefit from just turning everything surrounding reform into a third rail sort of dialogue environment. Of course, that makes it harder not just for liberal reform or conservative reform, but for any reform whatsoever. Indeed, that political tendency is the killswitch which has prevented us from updated or reforming nearly all of our New Deal or Great Society entitlement or social programs since their inception, channeling any desire for reform into just a new and just another sausage-making session.

And finally, on an ideological level, I feel like Republicans are really having a missed opportunity of taking the health care reform mantle from the Democrats and instead just settling into the tired Party of No routine (as described in places above). Namely, I think there is in fact a pretty strong market-oriented argument to be had for a reform that would get us away from the employer-provided health insurance system we have now. Certainly, nobody gets screwed in the current paradigm as much as small business owners, and by hanging the albatross of health care on the market, government is directly responsible for perhaps the single greatest impediment to market activity and fluidity that currently stands. In that sense, PJ O’Rourke has it backwards. If you think health care is expensive when it’s free, imagine how much it costs when you have to pay for it three times. Well, welcome to America circa 2009.


Posted by Rojas @ 1:04 am on August 13th 2009

Soccer, futbol, and the nature of patriotism

A very interesting conflict has emerged today among US soccer fans as a result of the US world cup qualifier in Mexico City, and accompanying reactions among US military personnel in Tikrit, Iraq.

I have written before about the unique nature of the US soccer community. It is perhaps most accurate to think of the United States as a mid-range soccer state along the lines of a Belgium or a Norway. Yes, we have three hundred million citizens, but only about one in twenty of them are serious soccer fans. Given the aggressive hostility of the traditional US sports media to soccer (there is no other way to describe it; many sports traditionalists in the US openly despise the sport, and US fans tend to be very aggressive and confrontational in lobbying the sports media for more coverage, reinforcing this sentiment), the effective universe of serious US soccer fans is limited to a small, self-selecting community. (more…)

Posted by Brad @ 1:45 pm on August 10th 2009

To the Creation Museum!

PZ Meyers really put me off with his whole communion wafer thing, which struck me as wildly self-indulgent and indicative of all that is wrong with the oft-foisted “science versus religion” tension/debate. But his latest stunt is pretty good.

In town for a Secular Student Alliance conference, Meyers and over 300 atheists decided to visit the Creation Museum, not in protest and not with the intent of being anything but polite and cheerful, but just to bring (negative) attention to it.

ABC News covered it. Sadly there is not a single recap post about it from Meyers, but there are odds and ends that are pretty funny.

Posted by Rojas @ 3:33 pm on August 8th 2009

Madness and Frustration

It is hard to get an authoritative take on exactly what the health legislation before Congress entails. The proponents of the legislation deny more or less every claim made by the opposition; yet the complexity of the legislation is such that one would have to expect that, during its implementation by the bureaucracy, there will be developments that weren’t intended by the authors. And the opposition has, in several cases, been willfully ignorant and obnoxious.

I’m not here to offer an apology for the sort of imbecile who attends town hall meetings with the intention of shouting down the moderator. I have exactly zero time for that kind of community-severing political gamesmanship. On the other hand, I am kind of under the impression that not everybody who’s engaged in that kind of reaction is doing it as part of a conscious plan of disruption. Nor are all of them dupes of right-wing demagogues.

The health care plan is merely the latest example of a “comprehensive” piece of legislation to emerge in gargantuan, incomprehensible form from the sausage factory. One could just as easily point to the stimulus bill, the annual budget, or any farm bill you’d care to name. When legislation becomes too long and confusing for even those voting on it to read, it becomes prey to demagoguery by either its proponents or opponents. Those writing it have to bear their share of the responsibility.

It seems likely to me that a piecemeal approach to health care reform is a wiser approach at present. We should be debating individual reforms the practical implementation of which is comprehensible to the people who’ll be getting the care.

We’re now past the point at which grand schemes can expect to pass muster with the electorate on good faith alone. Legislation was not always written in the form it takes now; the republic was able to survive for the better part of two hundred years with laws that ordinary educated people could read and understand in a single sitting. If we are serious about involving the public in the process, we would do well to return to such an approach.

Posted by Brad @ 2:02 pm on August 7th 2009

In Case You’re Interested…

Today is Peter Schiff day, according to a dozen or so emails in my inbox.

Posted by Brad @ 1:26 pm on August 7th 2009

Bad MADD, Bad

So Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) apparently issued a press release condemning Barack Obama for his beer summit.

The American Beverage Institute (yes, I guess there is such a thing), finally says what no one else will.

“MADD is no longer an organization that opposes drunk driving, but an anti-alcohol group that has been hijacked by the modern day temperance movement,” said Sarah Longwell, ABI Managing Director.

“That someone in a position of leadership at MADD would criticize President Obama for simply drinking beer, illustrates the neoprohibitionist mentality that now dominates the group.”

MADD had a good run in the 80s, but since that time they’ve only gotten more and more fanatical, creating in many states drunk driving laws that go well beyond protecting the public interest, and both their legislative and cultural agendas are indeed based on shaming and railing against drinking alcohol generally (with the justification that any acceptance or god forbid promotion of alcohol is indirectly an acceptance or promotion of drunk driving). Fair enough, if that’ s their thing, but I wish people would stop thinking of them as a defensive, victim-rights sort of organization, and call them out for what they are—an anti-alcohol temperance organization, more akin to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union than anything.

Posted by Brad @ 12:49 pm on August 7th 2009

Sotomayor Confirmed

If anyone cares. The final vote was 68-31.

I’m at the point of favoring doing away with confirmation hearings altogether, at this point.

Posted by Brad @ 12:47 pm on August 7th 2009

Meanwhile, Across the Pond

Unlike we here, Barack Obama apparently isn’t a David Cameron fan, at least if you buy this guy’s reporting:

From across the Atlantic comes more detail about Barack Obama’s opinion of David Cameron. Last year, I reported that the then presidential candidate had emerged from a meeting with the Tory leader describing him as a “lightweight”. Now it is claimed that Obama also said that Cameron is all “sizzle” and no substance.

The colourful verdict was apparently the result of meetings with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Cameron on 26 July last year, at the end of a Continental tour. I have been contacted by a senior figure at a respected national newspaper who gave me an account of the meetings from an Obama aide. After taking breakfast with Blair, visiting Brown in Downing Street and meeting Cameron in parliament, Obama is said to have given the following verdict: Blair was “sizzle and substance”; Brown was “substance”; Cameron was merely “sizzle”.

Posted by Brad @ 7:58 pm on August 6th 2009

We Prefer Bad Customer Service

It’s insightful because it’s true.

In related news, we also prefer outsourcing and immigrants.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:30 pm on August 6th 2009

How to kill a clunker

NPR has the step-by-step details on automotive euthinasia. I myself am thoroughly experienced at destroying old cars merely by driving them; perhaps the Obama administration should hire me as a consultant?

Posted by Brad @ 3:57 pm on August 6th 2009

In Favor of a Technocrat Romney

There’s a very good article in the Spectator about Mitt Romney, who one has to assume is a pretty heavy frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination. Romney’s done a very good job of mostly picking the right battles lately, and just as importantly of finding the right mix of spotlight and hang-back that is often so hard for an out-of-office recent contender to master. Romney was probably never going to win a battle of social conservatism and foreign policy bellicosity. He could however, win a battle of technocratic administrative skill, and policy specifics on health care, budgets, and the like. Which is the playing field on which the next presidential election will probably occur.

But as Alex Massie writes, Mitt Romney seems to not be going in that direction, as the title of new book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness would indicate. At the risk of reading too much into a book that he hasn’t read, Massie does however deign to give Romney some good advice (under the auspices, of course, of criticizing him).

Theoretically the times should suit a technocrat such as Romney. Healthcare and budgets are things he understands. He is a fixer and a solver of problems. This ought to give Romney a significant advantage in the race for 2012.

Which makes it interesting that tedious stuff to do with policy and the things that actually have an impact on “ordinary” people’s lives is precisely what Romney is not “writing” about in this book. The left realised some time ago that red meat for the base and the kind of emotional rhetoric that sends the true believers home happy is not enough to win national elections. The American right persists in believing otherwise.

Then again, the GOP is increasingly a nationalist, not a national party. The title of Romney’s book acknowledges this. Who are these people apologising for being American? Well, Barack Obama obviously (if absurdly) and by extension all those who voted for him.

Here Massie gets, I think, a bit unfair, but passing it on:

Still, that’s by-the-by. Romney’s little book – and it is bound to be terribly small – wrestles with a straw man. Sadly that’s only to be expected these days. The GOP has, for the time being at least, decided to double down on nationalism amidst an atmosphere of festering resentment. Denouncing your opponents as un-American isn’t serious politics, nor does it seem likely to be sufficiently persuasive in serious times. But at the moment, that’s where the GOP is at.

The polls may fluctuate and they may report unhappiness with aspects of Obama’s policies (no surprise there) but if you can judge a party by titles of the books it buys then you’d be hard pressed to see how the Party of Angry White Men is going to be win back the Presidency on the back of a campaign fuelled by nationalist resentment.

Rojas has been pretty persuasive lately that the Republicans are, more or less, doing the right thing, even if they don’t always strike the right tone, by going back to their oppositional roots. And they are doing that much more on fiscal policy and health care than anything else (there is the usual quacking on foreign policy and national security, but by and large I feel like that’s, rightly, taken a back seat). I don’t think Massie has updated his own perspective, in that respect, to the times.

But it is strange that, in this environment that really seems to play to Romney’s strengths, he is trying to double down on Romney 2.0—the Romney we saw in 2008—rather than Romney 1.0, the Romney that governed Massachusetts and came off as a serious executive and strong policy-oriented centrist. That’s the Romney that could be competitive in 2012, running, as Rojas talks about, the Adult in the Room, the Technocrat answer to the Idealist left.

The Romney that tries to wear the mask of the Angry White Man, or the Evangelical Outrage, or the Culture Warrior, or the American Greatness National Security Bulldog, isn’t going to be a Romney that resonates, just as it never has for him.

Hopefully, he gets that hint in time.

Posted by Brad @ 2:41 pm on August 6th 2009

Your Psychology Paper of the Day

It turns out, jurors are disinclined to discount forced confessions or evidence obtained from rough interrogations or torture, despite a rather robust literature underlining that the results of those tactics are, in fact, unreliable.

Two theories discussed: One, the overwhelming weight of “expert” testimony—be it from cops, medical examiners, or whatever—tends to overwhelm considerations or method, reliability, or even, at times, common sense. Even when evidence was peppered in that the confessions were indeed false, it hardly mattered.

Second: People, in general, tend to over-weigh their own principles and under-weigh others. To wit, people are more likely to project onto an abstract situation their own over-valued sense of themselves, i.e. “Well if I weren’t guilty, I sure wouldn’t confess, even if they beat me up.” Yeah, okay bub. But still, that’s a powerful psychology tendency.

Equally powerful, and a third consideration (not mentioned) I think, is the presumption of guilt factor, which I wish more psychologies would study. Namely, “Well if he didn’t do anything wrong, why were the cops beating him up?” issue, which is obnoxiously pervasive and contra the entire Western conception of criminal justice, but on an individual basis is probably dominant.

The paper is in Psychology, Crime & Law.

Posted by Brad @ 11:40 am on August 6th 2009

Weird Email of the Day

I’m on quite a few campaign mailing lists, unfortunately, so I often get fundraising solicitations or meme-spreading talking point messages in my inbox. I didn’t really bat an eye today when I got an email from Chris Dodd, until I read the subject header.

From: Chris Dodd
Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 5:38 AM
Subject Congress – pissing the people off since 1913

Concerning Peter Schiff:

He may for senate pending the support he get during his pre-campaign fundraiser. If you are a Conservative or a Patriot and you want to help take back congress. Please visit: and donate on Friday the 7th of August.

No senatorial campaign in US history has raised a million dollars. – You can help make history. If you want to see Senatory Dodd punted out of Congress, please consider a pledge and donating. Pelosi needs an arch enemy!

Peter Schiff is a regular on Glenn Beck and Judge Napoliatano, and others… His platform for Senate can be summed up in two words. Small government.

Many Thanks!

I’m not even sure where to begin.

Posted by Brad @ 9:56 pm on August 5th 2009

Awesome Video of the Day

BBC Farsi, in their live report on the Presidential elections, has to drop the curtains, literally and figuratively.

Posted by Cameron @ 2:16 am on August 5th 2009

Two Cows

You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank,
then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States , leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and
produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘Cowkimon’ and market it worldwide.

You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
You count them again and learn you have 2 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows.
You worship them.

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.

h/t Aguanomics

Posted by Rojas @ 1:33 am on August 5th 2009

Blackwater Crusaders?

Okay, I’ll get it out of the way right off the bat: consider the source on this one. The Nation. Yeah. I know.

That having been said: there were some rather horrific charges levied against private military contractor Blackwater in federal court on Monday. Take a gander at The Nation’s coverage. Money quote:

Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that [Blackwater owner Erik] Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

I’m generally fond of the idea of privatization of government services in the economic realm. Not so much in the military realm. Never have been. One of the things we have a government for is to protect against foreign threats; one of the things we ought to demand of that government is that it be directly accountable for its conduct in dealing with said threats.

I opposed the second Iraq war, though not with the same vehemence as Ron Paul or the war’s left-wing critics. I don’t take any particular pride in having been right about the operation, nor do I regard the issue as necessarily settled; all in all I would rather see Iraq as a stable democracy rather than as the kleptocratic and hegemonically ambitious state it was under Hussein. Needless to say, though, if there ends up being any substance to the charges against Blackwater, it will end up being a major stain upon the Iraq operation, the Bush administration, and the idea of private military contracting generally.

Posted by Brad @ 5:36 pm on August 4th 2009

Great Moments in Republican Talking Points

Is it just me, or is the “if the Cash For Clunkers program was so much more popular than anticipated, how can we trust them to run health care?” talking point pretty…bizarre.

I sort of get what they’re saying, but given the relative weakness of the case, I’m sort of surprised that every single Republican talking head appears to have gotten the memo to push it.

If they were really interested in strategy, I’d think they’d latch on to my talking point about the program below. Sort of a “Hey, seems to have worked so well it even caught the Obama administration by surprise. It apparently hadn’t occurred to them that offering taxpayers a direct rebate in the course of a simple, transparent, and direct cheap could possibly work. Much better to just drop 700 times that amount into a black hole of executive pay and opaque federal and corporate entities and call it a day.”

Alternative: “Interesting that the government appears caught off guard when people buy cars, rather than the government buying car companies. Makes you wonder how much better of a return on investment the auto industry bailout money could have had if it was just, you know, given to consumers instead of executives.”

Posted by Brad @ 4:14 pm on August 1st 2009

An iPhone App I Would Actually Use

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