Posted by Liz @ 3:56 pm on October 30th 2009

HIV Ban Ended

President Obama has announced the lifting of  the travel and immigration ban on people with HIV/AIDS, the order is to be finalized on Monday.  It’s always nice to see a bipartisan step in the right direction, even though it did take a very long time considering it had the support of basically everyone from W. to Kerry.

This is something that most people understand on an intellectual level as being the right thing to do, but it is particularly interesting to read about it from the point of view of someone who has lived with a terrible disease as well as the looming threat of having to leave his home. From Andrew Sullivan:

For me, it is the end of 16 years of profound insecurity. Like many others, my application for permanent residence and citizenship can go forward. And I will be able to see my family again in England and know that my HIV will not force me to choose between my husband and the country I have come to call my home. There is no price to be put on that.

Or, as Wonkette puts it:

America is now .0000000001% less insane and bigoted!

Huzzah!

Posted by Brad @ 10:17 pm on October 29th 2009

Blogging, or Not

So, we haven’t been very active lately, sad to say. What’s weird is there has been plenty of stuff I’ve been chewing over—health care, Lieberman, NY-23, the Brothers Karzai, Maine gay marriage, PA-Sen, NJ-Gov, etc.—but I’ve sort of enjoyed having amorphous, unarticulated thoughts rather than putting opinions down in writing (though, if you’re curious: for (public option opt-in), against, for, against, for, for, against).

In any case, just an FYI, I move this weekend to Philadelphia, and am likely to be a spectral presence at best for a few weeks. However, Cameron has promised to pick up the slack.

Posted by Brad @ 11:55 am on October 28th 2009

Veto Message of the Year

The California Assembly unanimously passes a bill, sponsored by a congressman who recently walked out on a speech of Governor Schwarzenegger’s shouting “you lie!” and “kiss my gay ass!”. The bill would have expanded financing powers in a port in that congressman’s district.

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoes the bill, and sends along a nice quasi-subliminal message with it.

Tip of the hat to Governor Schwarzenegger.

Posted by Brad @ 12:21 pm on October 27th 2009

ACLU Awesomeness of the Day

The ACLU of Virginia warned a public high school about its practice of broadcasting an opening prayer at the start of their football games. A bunch of students of that high school began to float the idea of protesting the ACLU’s intervention—and the ACLU is encouraging them and making sure the school allows them their right to hold that protest.

As Kip Esquire notes in passing this link along: “Some get it, some don’t.”

Posted by Brad @ 4:36 pm on October 25th 2009

Health Care and War in Afghanistan – One is a Neccessity

Some of my friends (and co-bloggers) occasionally challenge me on my perceived liberal drift over the last decade. And mostly I concede that that’s fair—I have, after all, gone from being a straight-ticket Republican or Libertarian voter to pretty much a straight-ticket Democratic one, at least for national and congressional elections. But I justify it simply by pointing out that it’s not really me that’s changed, but rather it’s the right that’s been drifting. I still consider myself a conservative, but I am very clearly not a Republican, and when the two were cleaved, I stayed with the philosophy but not with the party. Actually, in most cases, being conservative has required me to be anti-Republican, which is where my “liberal drift” is at its most pronounced.

Sometimes I’ll come across a really good illustration of this, and Glenn Greenwald passes along a perfect one from the Washington Post. A reader wrote to them pointing out an obvious contradiction. In their official editorial line, the Washington Post has been against health care reform chiefly on the grounds that it contributes to the deficit. But they have also been hounding on the administration for not being hawkish enough on Afghanistan and for apparently not writing enough blank checks there. The reader wonders, very astutely, why it’s okay to contribute to the deficit in the case of Afghanistan but not in the case of providing citizens with health care, and with a straight face the Post writes:

All this assumes that defense and health care should be treated equally in the national budget. We would argue that they should not be . . . Universal health care, however desirable, is not “fundamental to the defense of our people.” Nor is it a “necessity” that it be adopted this year: Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr. Obama put it, “if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.”

It’s all about context, you see. According to most conservatives or Beltwayites, the death of 45,000 Americans a year for the crime of not having health insurance is a pittance, a small problem the fixing of which is a luxury. But Afghanistan—well, that’s a national priority! Because, somehow, that’s a greater threat to the daily lives and safety of Americans, and, somehow, we’re accomplishing something in Afghanistan, and by the way that’s coupled with a specific philosophy of anti accountability in terms of metrics or cost-benefit analysis or simple bookkeeping. And the Post can’t even put these two things in the same galaxy of choice—they don’t even really understand the question it’s so counter-intuitive to their way of thinking.

It’s that jarring context that continues to spoil me on most of what passes for the right these days, those inherent contradictions the simple existence of which I find offensive.

The correct answer, of course, is that strictly speaking neither health care NOR imperial wars abroad are “national security” level priorities—they are both choices—but try to find me a Republican who toes that line. On the national level, there’s precisely one. And granted there aren’t many Democrats either.

But I guess what keeps me going back, and what might account for the leftward shift of mine, is that if you’re going to be wrong on that question, if it comes down to the (false choice) context of health-care-vs.-Afghanistan, I find it a whole lot easier to sympathize with those that would choose health care.

Posted by Brad @ 12:42 am on October 24th 2009

Blog Post of the Week – Mickey Kaus on Fox News (!)

In case you haven’t heard, Fox News and the Obama White House are in quite a tussle lately, with the Obama White House saying, explicitly and with no compunction, that Fox News is not a legitimate news organization, and that they feel no great need to ever cow-tow to or include Fox News if they don’t feel like it. These are, believe it or not, separate points.

Fox has been mewling like whining babies that suddenly they have less access than the other major networks, and have been trying to make this into a valiant first amendment fight. Of course, when they had more access than the other major networks during the last administration, that didn’t seem to be a problem, but we’ll leave that aside. Obama’s team, by comparison, are being hilariously matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

In any case, much of this is just partisan dust-kicking, but I think the smartest take I’ve read on the question of whether Fox is or is not a legitimate news organizations comes from, of all people, Mickey Kaus, one of my least favorite bloggers, in a terrific post today that’s worth reading in full. He goes on a few worthwhile tangents in his short-ish post (including taking up Rojas’ refrain, that the prospect of a sea of biased news organizations doesn’t bother him in the least), but the bottom-line on Fox:

I guess there are two distinct axes on which you can judge press organizations–actually, there are many more than two (see below), but two are important here: 1) Neutrality–Are they attempting to be “objective,” trying to serve the “public interest” in some balanced way, or are they ideologically (or otherwise) driven in a way that inevitably colors their coverage–what topics they pick, what ‘experts’ they rely on, etc. 2) Independence–Whether they are biased or generally neutral, can somebody–a political party, a Mafia family, a government– tell them what to do?

I think it’s pretty clear MSNBC and the NYT and Breitbart.tv are not neutral. They all have an agenda and they pursue it. But they are independent. The Obama White House can’t tell Bill Keller what to do. They can’t tell Keith Olbermann what to do. (They can suck up to him, and it will probably work, but that’s a different issue.) Breitbart is for sure independent–I can’t see anyone telling him what to do.

I think Fox is also not neutral (which, again, doesn’t bother me) but it’s also not independent (which does). This isn’t because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch–moguls are, typically among the more independent sorts. It’s because it’s run by Roger Ailes. I have zero faith that Ailes is independent of the Republican party or, specifically, those Republicans who have occupied the White House recently–the Bushes. As I said, I think if Karl Rove called Ailes in 2003 and said “We don’t want so much coverage of X” it’s extremely likely that X would not be covered on Fox.[…]

I do think independence is essential to be a legitimate player in the new, emerging non-objective press world. If you’re independent, there’s always a chance you’ll change your mind. At the least, you have to make fresh calculations about your views and interests, which means that in a free society there will be a steady proliferation of nodes of thought. If you’re independent, Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs has a shot at convincing you–even if you’re conservative, even if you’re wildly biased, even if your organization is almost dictatorial in structure. Even if you’re Rupert Murdoch! But not, I think, if you’re Fox.

Posted by Brad @ 4:27 pm on October 23rd 2009

Great Moments in Movie Reviews

It just so happens to be about my #1 must-see movie of the year.

Cinema’s leading Brechtian wouldn’t seem like the best choice for a visceral examination of real emotional pain, but von Trier makes Antichrist about how aesthetic control can be as impotent as therapeutic control when it comes to dealing with nature at its wildest. He does this first satirically, by subtly mocking Dafoe’s platitudes (Where would you place your fears on a pyramid chart?), then turns on the audience, subjecting us to disgusting sexual violence as Dafoe descends into his wife’s nightmares. The shift is triggered when a fox announces “Chaos reigns!”, and anyone who rolls their eyes at that moment may have trouble stomaching Antichrist.

Posted by Liz @ 7:02 pm on October 22nd 2009

Arbitration Clauses

The 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill has been generating some interesting conversation about victim rights and contracts and who the government can do business with.  Al Franken proposed an amendment to the bill, passed in the Senate by a roll call vote, that would essentially block the DOD from working with defense contractors who require mandatory arbitration for assaulted victims in their employee.

In the grand scheme of things, employees really shouldn’t be able to successfully sue a company for the actions of individuals, but then you read about how KBR treated their brutally assaulted employee, Jamie Leigh Jones:

Jones was treated by a US army doctor who gave forensic evidence to company officials. She says the firm placed her under guard in a shipping container and she was released only after her father asked the US embassy to intervene. When the forensic evidence was handed to investigators two years later, crucial photographs and notes were missing.

Jones says she identified one of the men who attacked her after he confessed, but that Halliburton/KBR prevented her from taking legal action against him or the company by pointing to a clause in her contract requiring disputes to go to arbitration.
 

I understand and agree with the argument that the government really shouldn’t be interfering in employee/employer contracts and I certainly don’t think that the people who voted against this amendment are actually advocating violence so much trying to avoid multiple lawsuits, but locking anybody in a shipping container to prevent them from going to the authorities and taking custody of the rape kit shouldn’t be legal, however the contract reads.

There’s a disconnect somewhere in all of this that shouldn’t have to be dealt with at the Congressional level. Rape, assault and battery are all serious crimes, they’re already against the law, so why is it lawful for companies to arbitrate felonies against their employees’ wishes? (and yes, I know, they signed the contract)

This amendment feels like a band aid to a bigger issue of organization protection vs. employee protection and I’m not sure where the line should be drawn. People with a clearer idea about it, weigh in. As it stands, I’m hoping that the bill goes through with the amendment intact.

Posted by Brad @ 4:38 pm on October 22nd 2009

Mainstream

Posted by Brad @ 4:48 pm on October 21st 2009

John Kerry: Hero of the Day?

So Karzai has begrudgingly agreed to a run-off vote in Afghanistan’s elections.

And who comes out smelling like a rose?

John Kerry.

Read Ambinder’s take. No denying that Kerry had a major role, and may well have been the only effective diplomat to Karzai in our arsenal. Ambinder’s wonders, however, if the all the praise for Kerry isn’t part of a coordinated press strategy (perhaps from the White House?) looking to up his credibility and visibility.

He’s even money for Secretary of State should Clinton step down.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:46 pm on October 19th 2009

Soft power > free speech

The Obama administration affirms a UN resolution which would restrict speech critical of religion.

The resolution, like all such UN documents, is toothless. But for the US to explicitly support the principle in question is pretty inexcusable. If the Obama administration has made a worse foreign policy decision to this point, I’m unaware of it.

Posted by Brad @ 3:32 pm on October 15th 2009

Kid Flies Away in Balloon

Huh.

Posted by Brad @ 3:08 pm on October 14th 2009

Michael Steele: Still Awesome

He’s become my favorite person in politics. And now, I’d like to introduce to you, our readers, my new favorite .gif.

Michael Steele news today:

First item is the new GOP website from whence my new favorite .gif comes. Wonkette has been hilarious today on the subject. In any case, the website doesn’t work, it’s “rising stars” section is empty, and Steele’s blog was called “What Up?”. Awesome.

Second item is this unfortunate metaphor, appended with Josh Marshall commentary:

In response to press reports saying that the health care reform train is leaving the station with President Obama at the wheel (or whatever you use to run a train), Michael Steele just told Fox to look out because he is “cow on the tracks.” In other words, in addition to his other shortcomings, Steele is apparently unschooled on the history of train/cow confrontations, though I’m not sure it’s a metaphor Democrats will necessarily want to dispute.

Adding…

Later, in a new strike in his on-going war with his own dignity, Steele pleaded for a “Rodney King moment” on health care.

I vote for Michael Steele to be appointed to head F.E.M.A.

Posted by Brad @ 2:27 pm on October 14th 2009

Here’s One Organization That Had a Good Year

The Pentagon says it has just finished the best recruiting year since the all-volunteer military was established in 1973.

Defense Department head of personnel Bill Carr says all services met their goals for active duty and reserve recruiting and that the quality of recruits improved during the budget year that ended Sept. 30.

He told a Pentagon press conference that it’s because the department continued to spend strongly on finding recruits as fewer jobs were available in the civilian world due to the nation’s economic problems.

Worth noting: the military’s worst year for recruiting since 1973?

2005.

So it’s probably not just the economy that’s a factor. A combination of a rosier foreign policy outlook (or at least the perception of one) combined with a staggering loosening of standards since 2006 surely contributed.

Army vet kos sez:

“Obama is a factor. Bank on it.”

And I don’t think I disagree.

Posted by Rojas @ 12:09 pm on October 14th 2009

More on Lindsay Graham and Ron Paul

A quick search reveals that Senator Graham’s anti-Paul sentiments are not new:

The straw poll at the Value Voters conference should give some indication about the Nuge Factor that is rattling some traditional Republicans. Nugent was the star of the show in some of the Texas “tea party” rallies on April 15. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, was sent almost to seizures when a purely conservative crowd started chanting “Ron Paul, Ron Paul, Ron Paul … ” to the tune of “USA, USA, USA … ” during one of his speeches. Paul is not a Republican, Graham shouted back at the group.

There are a couple of things that we ought to note about this.

1. Sen. Graham is clearly picking a fight here. You will not find Ron Paul on record claiming that Lindsay Graham is not a Republican. Indeed, you will not find Ron Paul conducting purges of any kind. Paul was very consistent during the campaign advocating the inclusion of what he called “Robert Taft Republicans” in the party debate; at no point did he assert that other ideological factions be silenced or expelled. The advocacy of running RINOs out of the party is Graham’s, not Paul’s–which is what makes his comments yesterday so hypocritical and repugnant.

2. Graham is an experienced enough political operator that we can assume he is picking the fight for a reason. Indeed, it is not hard to see how a South Carolina politician would profit–at least in terms of his own constituents–by attempting to pivot off of another politician who opposes overseas military operations. As Graham is under fire for diverging from party orthodoxy on issues such as the Supreme Court and cap and trade, is it perfectly sensible of him to try to deflect anger towards another target. Hence, it is important that Paul’s supporters not rise to the bait. There’s no need to become the caricatures that Graham wants South Carolinians to see Paulites as.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:45 am on October 14th 2009

It’s all Ron Paul’s fault!

So, Senator Lindsay Graham finds himself facing down a group of angry tea-party style Republican activists, who accuse him of being a “Republican In Name Only.” And he responds thus:

One attendee of the event asked the senator, “when are you going to announce that you are switching parties?” The question drew loud applause from the crowd. Graham defended himself, and denounced the influence of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) on the Republican party:

GRAHAM: I’m going to grow this party, I’m not going to let it get [inaudible], I’m not going to let it be hijacked by Ron Paul. […] I’m going to find people in Maine, Delaware, Illinois, other places–

AUDIENCE: Move there!

GRAHAM: That can win as Republicans, and I’m going to go up, and we’re going to move this party, and this country forward, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.

The brazenness of it is astounding, really.

Ron Paul stood up on stage after stage and took on his entire party’s establishment. He and his followers caught nothing but savage hell from the party regulars for eighteen solid campaign months. He garnered no meaningful endorsements and was shut out of the party convention after finishing third in the primaries. And then he faced a House primary challenge which was supported by many of the same Republicans he’d been fighting against.

And now that the same sort of Republican Purity Crusade is being launched against better-connected Republican figures, who is to blame? Who is the establishment figure whose ideological policing is stripping the party bare and crippling outreach to new constituencies? Why, it’s RON PAUL, of course. His followers are ruining the party by their hegemonic control of its ideology.

Posted by Rojas @ 8:48 pm on October 13th 2009

The Physics of Fail

Apparently, every time physicists attempt to observe the Higgs Boson–a subatomic doohickey of some kind–something horrible happens. Projects get cancelled, machinery breaks down, what have you.

For this, say two reputable physicists*, there can only be one rational explanation: sabotage by time travellers. Apparently the Higgs Boson is one of those Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, and Pastwatch-style elements from a dystopian tomorrow are doing all they can to undo the catastrophe:

Dr. Nielsen admits that he and Dr. Ninomiya’s new theory smacks of time travel, a longtime interest, which has become a respectable research subject in recent years. While it is a paradox to go back in time and kill your grandfather, physicists agree there is no paradox if you go back in time and save him from being hit by a bus. In the case of the Higgs and the collider, it is as if something is going back in time to keep the universe from being hit by a bus. Although just why the Higgs would be a catastrophe is not clear. If we knew, presumably, we wouldn’t be trying to make one.

If the LHC ever DOES work properly, expect Terminators to start materializing in the control room.

h/t

* I should, perhaps, say “formerly reputable physicists.” Assuming–and admittedly, this is a stretch–that any physicist can be reputable.

Posted by Brad @ 4:37 pm on October 12th 2009

The GOP Speaks

H/t to Sully for this interesting blogging experiment.

Some blogger decided he wanted to get a bead on what the Republican party base really thinks. Not the squeakiest wheels or the most visible national figures, but the real GOP base. So he decided to use as a barometer for that, and I think it’s a good barometer, every official Republican party state chairman, a county chairman, a county vice-chairman, or a member of the county executive committee. He then emailed them all a set of six questions…

1) So long as it’s in the opposition, where should the Republican Party focus its energy?

2) What is the most worrisome part of Barack Obama’s presidency?

3) There’s been a lot of debate about the role that talk radio and cable news hosts should play on the right. Particularly controversial are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Mark Levin. What do you think about these folks? Do they help the right or hurt it (or is it more complicated than that?) How should Republicans interact with them?

4) One particularly fraught controversy pertains to race in America — with the first black president in the White House, some conservatives have been criticized as racists for opposing him, and some on the right have accused the Obama Administration or its allies of racism or anti-white sentiments (for example, Sonja Sottomayor’s “wise Latina” comment drew fire, as did the Skip Gates incident). As the right thinks about political strategy and policy, how should it approach matters of race?
v
5) Is there anything you observe locally, or that Republicans in your area of the country care about, that doesn’t get sufficient attention in the national media conversation? If so tell me a bit about the issue, and the approach you think the right ought to take.

6) Traditionally the Republican Party has been a coalition of religious conservatives, libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and national security conservatives. Is that alliance viable going forward? If so, what must be done to hold it together? If not, what alliance should the GOP try to build?

7) Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like the media or the country as a whole to know?

…and posted their answers verbatim on his website, unedited, as they came in.

The answer set is not exactly a scientific sample (as it is self-selected, only those people who decided they wanted to respond to the email knowing it was going up on a blog), but still, it’s sort of fascinating, and probably as representative of anything. You can view all the responses here.

Posted by Brad @ 4:21 pm on October 12th 2009

Ugh

So, the question of the day is…how do you make Fox News more right-leaning and reactionary?

I might have thought that a koan, but no, the answer is

The New York Times’ Brian Stetler reports that Fox News is relishing its position as the leading voice of partisan opposition to Obama … Stetler reports that Fox is trying to bolster its oppositional forces by adding CNN’s Lou Dobbs to its roster.

Although I suppose if Fox manages to gain a total monopoly on reactionary and right-leaning cable news pundits, that at least makes them easier to avoid.

Posted by Brad @ 10:15 pm on October 9th 2009

Quote of the Day

From a State Department spokesperson:

“Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum — when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes.”

Posted by Brad @ 7:08 pm on October 9th 2009

10 Questions for Ron Paul

Remember when Ron Paul was seen as a total fringe candidate, so out there that it wouldn’t do to be seen with him in respectable Republican circles and when media outlets (including debate moderators) happened to have him hanging around they almost couldn’t contain their harumphings and giggly jabs?

A weird thing has happened. He’s entered into a certain pantheon of acceptance since he started making a splash in the primaries, to the point where he’s not mainstream, but he’s not really fringe anymore either. He’s sort of an understood and accepted current in anti-governmentism. His thoughts on the Federal Reserve (and his bill, and his book), which even supporters rolled their eyes a bit about (myself included) has gained a certain traction, and of course as the most anti-big government Republican around, he seems now pretty ahead of the curve, and I still can’t shake the sense with all the Tea Party stuff and feigned anti-government populism from pretty much every potential 2012 candidate (Jindal, Pawlenty, Perry, Huckabee, Romney, etc.), people are taking a direct page out of his book, consciously. He’s not really a part of the anti-Obama opposition, in that he’s by no means driving it, but he did, I believe, go a long way towards setting the tone and getting the pendulum to swing back from veneration of executive authority to massive distrust of government, period. And what’s exciting about that is, in so doing, he’s sort of Trojan Horsed some of his more anti-Republican views, namely his anti-war positions, anti-empire positions, anti-drug war views, etc.

What will be really interesting to see is if he runs again in 2012. And if he does, don’t expect any Rudy Guiliani-esque knocks from the other candidates or general chortles of passive-aggressive “I can’t believe I’m sharing a stage with this guy” attitudes on the part of the frontrunners. Rather, expect a lot of Mike Huckabee or Tom Tancredo-esque attempts at cap-tipping and message and organizing co-option. I get the overwhelming sense now that most serious Republican intellectuals and candidates have now given over to a certain amount of respect and even admiration for Ron Paul and a desire to not get in his way.

Anyway, what spawned those thoughts, though I’ve been having them a lot, is Ron Paul is featured in the opening segment of Time magazine this issue, in their “10 Questions for…” feature wherein they ask newsmakers and luminaries lightning round style questions. It’s about as vanilla and mainstream a venue as you can get, and notably absent are words like “unlikely” and “curious” and notions that his ideas don’t have a place at the table.

Oh, and because I’m shameless, I’d also like to point out that the first time a major American periodical really gave some air and respect to the Ron Paul campaign, that I’m aware of, was a feature story in the Washington Post in which myself and this blog are featured. I remember badgering the journalist who wrote it into initiating the story (he had previously written a story about the online aspects of the primary campaigns, but didn’t mention Paul at all in it, which led to an email exchange between myself and the author which led to him giving me a ring when he convinced his editors to let him write a solo story about the Paul campaign). That was way back in June of 2007, before the money bombs, before the crowds, back when totally ignoring him was the norm, and I remember what a breakthrough it seemed like then. Now, it seems Paul’s a regular and well-liked guest in the media.

Posted by Brad @ 4:00 pm on October 9th 2009

America’s War on the Moon

Today, America successfully bombed the moon.

Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:17 pm on October 9th 2009

All I’m going to say about the Peace Prize

Beyonce deserved it more.

Posted by Brad @ 3:50 pm on October 8th 2009

Oh Politico

Seriously, whoever is running the show over there needs a wake up call. They’re now officially parodying themselves.

From Josh Marshall:

The week’s worst in story concept and execution, from Politico: “Roman Polanski Backers Gave $34K to Barack Obama, DNC.”

Posted by Brad @ 12:08 pm on October 8th 2009

Corporate Communism

I’ve written about this a lot I suppose, but it’s a point I think needs to keep getting hammered home to conservatives or other right-leaning folks and, for that matter, their critics. Quite simply: belief in the free market does not necessarily mean a blanket defense of all corporate or business objectives. There is a big difference between capitalism and corporatism (or cronyism). As Doug puts it:

There’s a distinct difference between the free market and the state-aided corporate capitalism that we live with today. When businessmen use the state to protect themselves from competition, or from their own wrongdoing, that’s not free market capitalism. When they pay lobbyists to get the Federal Government to subsidize them, whether directly or indirectly, that’s not free-market captialism. When they help write the laws that they then use to hamper competition, that’s not free-market capitalism.

Many on the right make the mistake of thinking that believing in capitalism means that you’re obligated to defend the actions of the capitalists, but when those actions involve using the state to evade the discipline of the market, you’re no longer defending the market, you’re helping to destroy it.

You simply can’t look at the current health care system, or the current banking system, and conclude that what you’re looking at is a free market system. Nor can you conclude that deregulation is in all cases preferable to regulation, because, of course, deregulation is often done in such a way as to benefit some sectors/corporations/individuals above others, which makes it a de facto regulation, the state leaning on the market and putting their thumb on the scale to advance this interest or that, which is the very definition of regulation. That is, perhaps, one of the reasons I’ve been accused in the last ten years of moving to the left—I guess it’s just that the shallow dogmatism of free markets vs. socialism strikes me as pretty well irrelevant to the most important issues of the day. A deregulatory measure can do just as much harm, in terms of economic freedom, as a regulatory one, and a regulatory one seeking to redress artificial inequalities can do just as much good as a targeted deregulation to do the same. Which is one of the reasons I wound up finding so much respect for Ron Paul, because he truly understands that distinction.

That’s not to say I favor regulation. Far from it. And in a vacuum, the less regulation the better. But the point is our system does not operate in a vacuum. I am inclined to be more and more distrustful of market interventions sold under the deregulation rubric, or throwing up roadblocks against reform of any system by crying about market intervention as a harm simply for its own sake. On the flipside, I find liberal or leftist critiques of aspects of our current systems and generalizing those to mean that the free market system itself is a flawed model to be obnoxious, because I think what is not well understood by those critics is that the solutions are usually to get the government to stick their thumb on the scale as a way to redress problems created by the government sticking their thumb on the scales, and if corrupt, greedy, and ignorant politicians administering the system created whatever current predicament we’re talking about, how does further increasing the possibility of corrupt, greedy, and ignorant politicians in the future exerting further control of the process redress that? It always seems to me that the liberal call for reform is predicated on the notion that the government is going to stop doing corrupt, greedy, and ignorant things with the authority they’re given. Or, “the whole system would work great if only there weren’t so many fucking Republicans screwing it up.” Well that’s great. Now all we need is a system of government only run by progressive liberals holding the interests of the Great Society at heart and we’ll be all set. Good luck with that.

Anyway, what spurred that thought is the following clip:

Posted by Brad @ 3:31 pm on October 7th 2009

Did Glenn Beck Rape and Murder a Young Girl in 1990?

There’s a really awesome legal battle going on presently that you probably haven’t heard about.

Glenn Beck has mastered the art of the talking head rhetoric style. Namely, make a lot of implicit suggestions and run a lot of things up the flag pole, but don’t actually say anything you could be held responsible for. Example: “A lot of people are saying that Barack Obama is trying to institute a youth education program, and those people are making comparisons to similar youth education programs under the Third Reich.” “What, that’s ridiculous.” “Oh hey, I know that, I’m just saying a lot of people are asking…is Barack Obama trying to institute a Nazi indoctrination program in our nation’s schools?”

Or, from Beck himself, interviewing Keith Ellison, the only muslim in Congress:

“No offense and I know Muslims, I like Muslims, I’ve been to mosques, I really don’t think Islam is a religion of evil. I think it’s being hijacked, quite frankly. With that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying let’s cut and run. And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview because what I feel like saying is, sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy. But that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

So, some farkers started discussing the allegation that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a girl in 1990. You know, they’re not saying he did. They’re just saying…did he?

The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget
Gilbert Gottfried DUMMY
www.comedycentral.com
Joke of the Day Stand-Up Comedy Free Online Games

And thus, http://glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com/ was born.

This site exists to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. We don’t claim to know the truth — only that the rumour floating around saying that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 should be discussed. So we’re going to do our part to try and help get to the bottom of this.

Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations? We’re not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 – in fact, we think he didn’t! But we can’t help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won’t he deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990?

That, in itself, is pretty awesome. But then Glenn Beck decided that this wasn’t very funny. Now, Beck knew he couldn’t shut down the website through a libel suit or the like, because the site would fall pretty cleanly under 1st Amendment protections as political satire of a public figure. So instead, he decided to make an appeal to an international body, the World Intellectual Property Organization, asking that the domain name is taken away and given to him. The WIPO is the body of appeal for public figures or companies who are trying to fight cyber-squatters who happened to have the foresight to register, say, www.playboy.net back in 1996. The key is, to get the domain name back, the plaintiff usually has to prove that there will be legitimate confusion arising from the domain name that justified, on the grounds of protecting intellectual property. I.e. if you had a porn site at Coke.com, Coke would probably win that case on the grounds that you’re fooling people by using their brand name. Or, Sean Penn would say that he has a right to www.SeanPenn.com, and the court is likely to agree with him.

Now, that Beck is going this route is funny for two reasons, one serious the other less so. On a serious note, pretty clearly nobody is going to confuse GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com for Glenn Beck’s website, so essentially what he’s doing is trying to do an end run around the first amendment and appeal to an international body to really stretch their purpose and declare this an international trade issue. If that works, of course, that’d be a pretty massive jurisdiction-grab on the part of that governing body, wherein it stretches its purpose from protecting trade to mediating 1st amendment disputes while not being beholden to the 1st amendment. That’s pretty sleazy.

The reason that’s funny, of course, is the idea of using a body of international law to bypass our constitution is not one that one would expect someone like Glenn Beck to embrace. But of course that only applies, I guess, in cases where Glenn Beck’s feelings are not being hurt.

Where it gets even better: the guy that runs GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com retained himself a lawyer, and between him and his lawyer, are having an absolute field day in their legal briefs. I’ve never seen legal briefs A. as blatantly insulting to the plaintiff as these, or B. as hilarious.

E.g.:

There is no indication that the Respondent has intentionally attempted to confuse anyone searching for Mr. Beck’s own website, nor that anyone was unintentionally confused – even initially. Only an abject imbecile could believe that the domain name would have any connection to the Complainant.

We are not here because the domain name could cause confusion. We do not have a declaration from the president of the international association of imbeciles that his members are blankly staring at the Respondent’s website wondering “where did all the race baiting content go?” We are here because Mr. Beck wants Respondent’s website shut down. He wants it shut down because Respondent’s website makes a poignant and accurate satirical critique of Mr. Beck by parodying Beck’s very rhetorical style. Beck’s skin is too thin to take the criticism, so he wants the site down. Beck is represented by a learned and respected legal team. Accordingly, it is beyond doubt that his counsel advised him that under the First Amendment to the United States’ Constitution, no action in a U.S. Court would be successful. Accordingly, Beck is attempting to use this transnational body to circumvent and subvert the Respondent’s constitutional rights.

Another brief from the lawyer (PDF) (whose name is Mark Randazza), begins by quoting Glenn Beck criticizing liberals for trying to institute a one-world government that will subjugate the American constitution.

“Let me tell you something. When you can’t win with the people, you bump it up to the courts. When you can’t win with the courts, you bump it up to the international level. […] Once we sign our rights over to international law, the Constitution is officially dead.”

So, Randazza gives Beck a proposal, that the standard for judgment in the case under the UDRP should be the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

I hate to presume anything about anyone, but I presume that Mr. Beck will agree to this stipulation. It would be an interesting day indeed if Mr. Beck preferred to risk that a panelist would apply French law to a case between two Americans over a matter of public discourse…

I am certain that neither party wishes to see First Amendment rights subordinated to international trademark principles, thus unwittingly proving Mr. Beck’s point. Lest this case become an example of international law causing damage to the constitutional rights that both of our clients hold dear, I respectfully request that your client agree to stipulate to the application of American constitutional law to this case.

And so on and so forth.

Anyway, let me highly recommended checking out http://glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com/ and reading through the legal briefs, which are works of art. Hat tip to Ed Brayton for cluing me in.

Posted by Brad @ 12:58 pm on October 6th 2009

America Saved

The United States is the most admired country globally thanks largely to the star power of President Barack Obama and his administration, according to a new poll. It climbed from seventh place last year, ahead of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan which completed the top five nations in the Nation Brand Index (NBI).

“What’s really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States for 2009,” said Simon Anholt, the founder of NBI, which measured the global image of 50 countries each year.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:01 pm on October 5th 2009

America Doomed

Robert Fisk is reporting that a coalition of OPEC nations has agreed to abandon the dollar as the currency of preference for oil transactions.

If true, this is very, very bad. If the dollar is abandoned as the international reserve currency of choice, there will be more or less nothing the US can do to preserve its international hegemony, and a massive economic retrenchment (read: depression) will be inevitable.

Posted by Brad @ 5:47 pm on October 5th 2009

Reasons Americans Go Into Debt

Worth passing on, if for no other reason than a common refrain is that the personal debt of the average American is mostly due to over-extension, “people buying things they can’t afford”. That is, by definition, true, but that then gets extended farther, into “people being irresponsible”. And then, to colour the point, we get a lot of talk of debt being a function of greed-driven conspicuous over-consumption (from the left) or irresponsible morons (from the right and libertarian circles) reminiscent of the “welfare queen” talk in the 80s and 90s (to the point where the central prototypical welfare recipient was a black woman popping out babies for the sake of bigger welfare checks or a shiftless lazy good-for-nothing laying on his ass just to collect free checks from the government).

There is certainly a core truth in all those characterizations, and the main thrust (you shouldn’t buy things you can’t afford) is an admirable message indeed, lost on too many Americans, but I think it is worth throwing out there that for every person that winds up with tens of thousands of credit card debt by buying designer clothes, there is another with it to pay off students loans, to take care of a sick family member (or yourself), or to pay rent and the like in the event of a loss of job or radical change in life situation. That isn’t to let off the hook the people whose debt is their own idiot fault, but it is to at least render the argumentative or ideological characterization less cartoonishly incomplete.

So I throw this out there for no other reason than to at least deepen the perspective.

James Surowiecki:

[A]s this paper from economists at the Federal Reserve shows, the growth in indebtedness has largely been driven by demographic changes and housing prices. Most interestingly, as Elizabeth Warren has argued, the idea that most Americans have been spending frivolously on consumer goods actually isn’t true. Instead, a hefty chunk of the increase in consumption in recent decades has been the result of higher housing prices, the rising cost of medical care, more spending on education, and childcare.

A generation ago, Warren says, basics (housing costs, health insurance, transportation, education, and taxes) accounted for fifty-four per cent of the average family’s income. Today, they account for seventy-five per cent of it. Now, some of those costs arguably do reflect a lack of frugality—homes are more expensive in part because they’re so much bigger. But the fact that more than fifteen per cent of personal consumption expenditures now go to medical care, when in 1930 only three per cent of personal consumption did, isn’t a reflection of frivolity, and that’s not going to change any time soon. In fact, when you actually look at what Americans spend money on today versus what they spent it on fifty years ago, it’s striking that Americans today actually spend less of their income on goods—including everything from furniture to clothing to food to appliances—and much more of their income on services. For the savings rate to get back to ten to twelve per cent, in other words, will require a lot more than having people stop buying flat-screen televisions.

Posted by Brad @ 4:07 pm on October 5th 2009

Afghanistan: This Week’s Attack and McChrystal’s Way Forward/Back

Believe it or not, Adam is still active, but for some reason he seems to be chiming in mostly in email, which has generated a lot of off-the-site political conversations without the benefit of, you know, website content. Boo Adam.

Occassionally, I think these conversations are interesting enough (read: they’re ones where I was right all along) that we ought to post them. So, today I will.

The following is an email string wherein we discuss Afghanistan, McChrystal, Obama’s political gamble with both, and our general lack of expertise regarding all the former.

(more…)

Next Page »