Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Year, Another Extension

I fully expect the MSM and the usual suspects on the left to start criticizing this any day now:
President Barack Obama has signed a one-year extension of several provisions in the nation's main counterterrorism law, the Patriot Act.

Provisions in the measure would have expired on Sunday without Obama's signature Saturday.

The act, which was adopted in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, expands the government's ability to monitor Americans in the name of national security.

Obama's signature comes after the House voted 315 to 97 Thursday to extend the measure.

The Senate also approved the measure, with privacy protections cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government's authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.
But remember, it's OK when a Democrat does this kind of stuff...

Hatin' On...The Swiss

I'm sure they're quaking in their boots:
Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has called for a jihad or armed struggle against Switzerland branding it an "infidel state".

He said Muslims everywhere had a duty to act against the country, which he claimed had been destroying mosques.

"Any Muslim in any part of the world who works with Switzerland is an apostate, is against (the Prophet) Mohammad, and God and the Koran," he told a meeting in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

In his rambling address he added: "The masses of Muslims must go to all airports in the Islamic world and prevent any Swiss plane landing, to all harbours and prevent any Swiss ships docking, inspect all shops and markets to stop any Swiss goods being sold."
Well darn. No more watches or chocolate for him, then.

Always Be Prepared

They won the gold, and now the Canadians want to party:
As if anymore proof is needed that a wild Olympic atmosphere permeates B.C.'s largest city, now there's an apparent condom shortage.

That's right. As you read this, an emergency shipment of condoms is desperately making its way across Canada to the West Coast city.

Health officials in Vancouver have already provided 100,000 free condoms to the roughly 7,000 ahtletes and officials at the Games. That's about 14 condoms per person. But as of Wednesday, those supplies started running dangerously low.

So naturally, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS research decided to step and make sure there were no hitches in Olympic action.

"When we heard about the condom shortage in Vancouver, we felt it important to respond immediately," said Kerry Whiteside, CANFAR's Executive Director. The organization assembled three large boxes of about 8,500 condoms, much to the relief of libidos at the Olympic Village. They're expected to arrive on Thursday.
Some things are just essential, I suppose...

The Return

He's baaack:
I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.

It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate. In addition, e-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law.

But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged.
Basically, the entire op-ed piece is this way-"Even if the science was wrong, I wasn't, therefore there's still a crisis!" It's kind of like the strategy he used after he lost in 2000-deny, blame, retreat, and then come back claiming he was right after all.

Is Google Learning Yet?

How Google learned to do its thing:
Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.”
Google, you've come a long way.

Red Tide

A scary prediction about a nasty new strain of wheat fungus:
90 percent of the world’s wheat has little or no protection against the Ug99 race of P. graminis. If nothing is done to slow the pathogen, famines could soon become the norm — from the Red Sea to the Mongolian steppe — as Ug99 annihilates a crop that provides a third of our calories. China and India, the world’s biggest wheat consumers, will once again face the threat of mass starvation, especially among their rural poor. The situation will be particularly grim in Pakistan and Afghanistan, two nations that rely heavily on wheat for sustenance and are in no position to bear added woe. Their fragile governments may not be able to survive the onslaught of Ug99 and its attendant turmoil.

The pathogen has already been detected in Iran and may now be headed for South Asia’s most important breadbasket, the Punjab, which nourishes hundreds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis. What’s more, Ug99 could easily make the transoceanic leap to the United States. All it would take is for a single spore, barely bigger than a red blood cell, to latch onto the shirt of an oblivious traveler. The toll from that would be ruinous; the US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 40 million acres of wheat would be at serious risk if Ug99 came to these shores, where the grain is the third most valuable crop, trailing only corn and soybeans. The economic loss might easily exceed $10 billion; a simple loaf of bread could become a luxury. “If this stuff gets into the Western Hemisphere,” Steffenson says, “God help us.”
It seems that this is one area where GM crops could come into play. But they're evil, aren't they? At least until people start starving.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Long Arm Of The Hippie Law

Is a sense of reality finally coming to the City By The Bay?
In the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, crucible for the hippie movement and the 1960s Summer of Love, residents and storekeepers have been complaining about overbearing transients blocking pedestrians and panhandling with their pit bulls by their sides.

This tourist mecca, known for its panoramic views and liberal outlook, is grappling with quality-of-life crimes - and the perception that its cherished sense of forbearance has gotten out of hand.

"This is a city that absolutely relies on visitors as its main economic driver," said Steve Falk, executive director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. "San Francisco is known for having a high level of tolerance, but ... the line has to be drawn somewhere, and I think San Franciscans are ready for that to happen."

Last year, the city's overall crime rate was the lowest in decades, with homicides down more than 50 percent. But a groundswell of gripes about "nuisance crimes" has made combatting them a priority for Police Chief George Gascon since he arrived last summer.

The chief has gone so far as proposing a citywide "sit-lie" ordinance that would give police the authority to move and cite those who block sidewalks or otherwise intimidate pedestrians to address problems like those in the Haight-Ashbury.

"There are a substantial number of people who want to see this happen. They're very frustrated," Gascon said in an interview. "It's beyond the tipping point. The anger is very real. I'm hoping we can come up with a powerful policy that makes sense for everybody."

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who recently moved to Haight Ashbury and was previously hesitant about Gascon's proposal due to potential divisiveness, said he will now introduce the ordinance this week to the city's Board of Supervisors.

Newsom said he constantly hears complaints from merchants while jogging or grabbing his morning coffee. He also told the San Francisco Chronicle that he recently saw a guy smoking crack while taking his infant daughter on a stroll down Haight Street.

"It's a lot of behavior issues, a lot of drug-related and transient issues and I'm sensitive to the challenges of some of these folks," Newsom told The Associated Press. "But, at the same time, there's families there, kids in strollers, merchants there barely making ends meet. We've got to find a compromise."
"Tolerance" is different when it's affecting your own right not to be harassed, isn't it, Mr. Mayor?

The Great Wall Of Old Media

Over at Mediaite, a skeptical reaction to the NY Times' plans for a pay wall:
apparently the many blogs are going to be behind the metered paywall the Times is planning on launching next year.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this changed, since when the news broke in a Q&A last week there seemed to be some confusion over the details. But even the fact the is considering it seems like a huge misstep. I understand their need to put the paper’s print content behind a paywall (though along with everyone else, I worry it will do some damage to their relevance) but the blogs? That’s just silly.

Of course one of the strengths is its ability to roll with the punches and stick with things that are working and drop things that don’t. Also, this paywall is still a ways off, and as I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it got dropped in the interim. I certainly hope so, anyway.
If the NY Times could reall roll with the punches in the online era, wouldn't they have not even considered this scheme in the first place? It just reinforces the notion that they are a crumbling Old Media empire, with the emphasis on "Old".

The Unquiet Earth

In the aftermath of the Chile earthquake, some people are wondering what's going on:
The Ryukyu Islands of Japan were hit with a 7.0-magnitude quake on Friday night. News of that tremor, the Haiti quake and now Chile may make it seem as if Earth is becoming ever more active. But in the grand scheme of things, geologists say this is just Mother Nature as usual.

"From our human perspective with our relatively short and incomplete memories and better and better communications around the world, we hear about more earthquakes and it seems like they are more frequent," Arrowsmith said. "But this is probably not any indication of a global change in earthquake rate of significance."

Coupled with better communication, as the human population skyrockets and we move into more hazardous regions, we're going to hear more about the events that do occur, Arrowsmith added.

However, "relative to the 20-year period from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s, the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years," said Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Earthquakes are not, as some quacks have suggested, a result of climate change. Mother Earth has always had her more violent side. We just see more of it than before.

When The Lights Go Out

The L.A. Times blog notes how Hugo Chavez might react when the plug is literally pulled:
Chavez is bombastic and buffoonish, probably disturbed. But as history teaches, mental disturbance is not unknown among the world's statesmen, and can be just as lethal as cold calculation. And as metaphors go, the image of Hugo Chavez plunging his unhappy country into further darkness is irresistible.
Unless you actually have to live there, of course...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Power To The Walking Dead

Because zombies are people, too:
A court has allowed a group of protesters dressed as zombies to continue with a lawsuit against police who arrested them for disorderly conduct.

The appeal court overturned a previous finding that the group had correctly been arrested over a 2006 protest in a shopping centre.

The group had been wearing makeup designed to make them look like and extra in a horror flick, with white faces, fake blood and black circles round their eyes.

They then proceeded to stagger round the shops, urging consumers to "get your brains here".

They also carried audio equipment, which police described as "simulated weapons of mass destruction", even though they were mobile phones.
Maybe they were actually phoners. In which case, they were probably just looking to reach out and eat someone...

Tea, Coffee, Or Me?

Move over, Tea Partiers, the left now has its own version:
Furious at the tempest over the Tea Party -- the scattershot citizen uprising against big government and wild spending -- Annabel Park did what any American does when she feels her voice has been drowned out: She squeezed her anger into a Facebook status update.

let's start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. geez. ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss 'em off bec it sounds elitist . . . let's get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.

Friends replied, and more friends replied. So last month, in her Silver Spring apartment, Park started a fan page called "Join the Coffee Party Movement." Within weeks, her inbox and page wall were swamped by thousands of comments from strangers in diverse locales, such as the oil fields of west Texas and the suburbs of Chicago.

I have been searching for a place of refuge like this for a long while. . . . It is not Us against the Govt. It is democracy vs corporatocracy . . . I just can't believe that the Tea Party speaks for all patriotic Americans. . . . Just sent suggestions to 50 friends . . . I think it's time we start a chapter right here in Tucson . . .

The snowballing response made her the de facto coordinator of Coffee Party USA, with goals far loftier than its oopsy-daisy origin: promote civility and inclusiveness in political discourse, engage the government not as an enemy but as the collective will of the people, push leaders to enact the progressive change for which 52.9 percent of the country voted in 2008.

The ideas aren't exactly fresh -- Tea Party chapters view themselves as civil, inclusive and fueled by collective will -- but the Coffee Party is percolating in at least 30 states. Small chapters are meeting up, venting frustrations, organizing themselves, hoping to transcend one-click activism. Kind of like the Tea Party did this last year, spawning 1,200 chapters, a national conference and a march on Washington.
Competition is always a good thing in a democracy, but isn't part of the reason the Democrats are failing to win people over because the majority don't want to listen to the liberal argument?

Riding The Class Train

Via Instapundit, this could apply here as well:
The nature of class war has changed. The old virus has mutated. The old social and political divisions have given way to two new classes — rather as on the trains. Those in economy are most of us, paying for the comforts of those in first class. And those in first class are the new political class — all those who owe their advancement and their security and their pensions and their privileges not to their backgrounds or their talents, or even necessarily their political parties, but to the state and our taxes.
Unfortunately, we also have these people, who think they don't have to waste their time with us commoners, but who will gladly take our money to subsidize their lifestyle. Some of them are in the entertainment industry. Others are in office.

There Goes The Gov

The governor of New York is calling it quits:
A scandal-scarred Gov. Paterson formally ended his short-lived election campaign Friday afternoon.

Paterson, under investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for contacting a woman who accused one of his top aides of domestic violence, made the announcement at his Manhattan office with his wife, Michelle, at his side.

"I am being realistic about politics," he said. "It hasn't been the latest distraction, it's been an accumulation of obstacles that has obfuscated me from bringing my message to the public.

"There are times in politics when you have to know not to strive for service, but to step back - and that moment has come for me," Paterson said. "Today, I am announcing that I am ending my campaign for governor of the state of New York."

"It has become increasingly clear to me in the last few days that I cannot run for office and try to manage the state's business at the same time. And right now, New York state needs a leader who can devote full time to this service."

Paterson said he looks forward to the conclusion of Cuomo's investigation. Holding his right hand up, Paterson said: "I give you this personal oath. I have never abused my office. Not now. Not ever."

"And I believe that when the facts are reviewed, the truth will prevail," he said.
Strange how politicians are so concerned with "The truth" after the fact...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sorry, Charlie

Yes, Mr. Rangel, there are consequences for your behavior:
A House panel has found that Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York broke Congressional rules by failing to properly disclose financial details of a trip to the Caribbean, a House official said.

Mr. Rangel, who heads the House Ways and Means committee and who has served his Harlem district for nearly four decades, has been under investigation by two house subcommittees.

The guilty finding led to quick condemnation from Republicans, who have made the powerful congressman a frequent target.

“Once promised to be the ‘most ethical Congress in history,’ the Democratic majority now has a serious ethics scandal on its hands thanks in-part to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “For months, and even years, Nancy Pelosi has been promoting corrupt actors within her caucus ranks when she should have been punishing them.”
Well, they do say that politics is show business for ugly people. It's nice to see that you can still hold the players accountable when it's no longer an act.

Beating The Bad Guys

This is good news:
The Afghan government took official control of the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, installing an administrator and raising the national flag while U.S.-led troops rooted out final pockets of militants.

The ceremony occurred in a central market as U.S. Marines and Afghan troops slogged through bomb-laden fields in northern parts of the town. Some 700 residents gathered to see Abdul Zahir Aryan formally appointed as the top government official in Marjah, according to U.S. officials at the event.

"It's a very historical day, a new beginning," Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, the commander of the U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan, told the crowd as U.S. snipers stationed on the roofs of surrounding buildings watched over.

In what had characteristics of a victory celebration, Nicholson said of the assembly: "I am so moved by this, so very thrilled by the turnout ... They are voting with their eyes, and they believe there is a fresh start for Marjah under the government of Afghanistan."
Well done to all concerned. You've earned it.

The Great Summit That Wasn't

Well, so much for that:
President Obama ended Thursday's White House summit by threatening to push for passage of health care reform without Republican support, and despite the daylong meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, a a bipartisan agreement remained out of reach as lawmakers vowed to stick to their guns.

At the conclusion of the televised showdown, which was aimed at finding common ground between the two political parties, Obama said Republicans had only a matter of time to decide if they would jump onboard.

"If we're unable to resolve differences over health care, we will need to move ahead on decisions," he said, alluding to using reconciliation, a controversial maneuver that prevents a GOP filibuster by requiring only 51 votes to pass legislation.

Obama added that if voters are unhappy with results, then "that's what elections are for."
Yes, Mr. President, and if you keep going with that attitude, you'll learn the lesson the hard way.

Birfers 4 Hayworth

I'm not fond of McCain, but I hope he tells this cretin what she can go do with herself:
One of the leaders of the so-called birthers is stepping up to defend former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Olry Taitz — a California dentist and lawyer who has filed lawsuits alleging that Barack Obama is not a citizen and therefore ineligible to be president — is taking offense at an ad McCain’s campaign released Wednesday linking Hayworth with her.

The ad, titled “Identity,” begins with the text, “These are serious economic times. Yet some are consumed by conspiracies,” before cutting to video of Taitz, another prominent birther, Phillip Berg, and Hayworth all questioning Obama’s citizenship.

“The only difference between these three people? Only one is running for the U.S. Senate,” the narrator of the ad concludes.

Taitz responded, in a post on her website, attacking McCain, who is being challenged by Hayworth in the GOP primary, for “ignoring the most important issue the country is facing today.”

Taitz called the ad — which she misspelled as “add” throughout the post — “despicable” and “appalling.”

She went on to challenge the four-term senator to a televised debate on the president’s citizenship.

“Senator McCain owes me and my clients an apology and an opportunity to discuss this matter with him on the merits on the national TV, as his add was shown all over the national TV and all over the Internet, on a widely watched show, such as Sean Hannity[’s] show,” she wrote.
McCain may be an old guy, but she sound like the one who needs medication.

Well Bleep You

Because California lawmakers apparently have no real problems to deal with:
The state Assembly is scheduled to vote on a resolution Thursday calling for a statewide "Cuss Free Week," to occur annually during the first week of March. If approved, it would go to the state Senate for a final vote on Monday.

The rest of next week will be officially swear-word free if both houses approve the resolution.

The resolution by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, was inspired by a South Pasadena teenager, McKay Hatch, who founded a No Cussing Club at his junior high school in 2007. His efforts to stamp out profanity have generated international attention, with 35,000 members joining the No Cussing Club's Web site.

Portantino said the California Legislature - known for imposing strict clean air and clean water laws - is the first state legislative body in the nation to consider a statewide profanity-free week.

Hatch, now 16, said he sees a link between cussing and drug use, bullying and other harmful behavior. A cuss-free world would be a more harmonious one, he said.

"I want to bring as much awareness as I can to people about their language and how they're speaking to each other," Hatch said in a telephone interview Wednesday as he was headed to Sacramento. "We need to stop tearing people down and uplift them instead."

Portantino said his resolution is simply a guideline, a reminder to "act like you're at your grandma's house." There would be no enforcement mechanism included.

"We're having fun with it," the lawmaker said, adding that he expected the measure to receive bipartisan support in both houses.
I'm glad someone is having a good time. Because there are people (and politicians) out there who would take this stuff seriously.

Parsing The Polls

You know something's unpopular when even CNN can't spin it like they normally do:
Although the overall health care reform bills passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate are unpopular, many of the provisions in the existing bills are extremely popular, even among Republicans, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday also indicates that only a quarter of the public want Congress to stop all work on health care, with nearly three quarters saying lawmakers should pass some kind of reform.

Twenty-five percent of people questioned in the poll say Congress should pass legislation similar to the bills passed by both chambers, with 48 percent saying lawmakers should work on an entirely new bill and a quarter saying Congress should stop all work on health care reform.

"Many provisions of those bills are popular, particularly restrictions on health insurance companies," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Roughly 6 in 10 would like a bill that prevents insurers from dropping people who become seriously ill or denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Seven in 10 favor requiring large and mid-sized companies to provide health insurance to their employees. Those proposals are popular among Republicans as well as Independents and Democrats. A cap on medical malpractice awards – something on the GOP's wish list that is not in the current legislation – is also popular."

According to the survey, Americans are split on a public option, and they don't like the idea of requiring everyone in the U.S. to have health insurance. The poll's release comes one day before a critical televised health care summit hosted by President Obama that will include top Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

The survey indicates nearly half of all Democrats say Congress should pass legislation similar to the bills passed by both chambers, with nearly 4 in 10 Democrats saying Congress should start from scratch and just 1 in 10 saying lawmakers should stop all work on health care.

A majority of Republicans questioned, 54 percent, want Congress to start from scratch, with just under 4 in 10 saying lawmakers should halt work on health care reform and just 6 percent saying Congress should pass into law the current legislation.

Fifty-two percent of Independents want Congress to start work on a new bill, with 27 percent saying lawmakers should stop all work, and 18 percent saying that the current legislation should be passed into law.
So, the basic notion of reform is still popular-just not the Obamacare version. Any way you spin it, that means trouble for Rahm Emanuel and company.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Age Of Bacon

Are we embracing bacon at the expense of other animal by-products?
More than any other food, bacon has been lifted by the comfort food trend because of that instant recognition. Picture a piece of bacon. Now, just try to convince me that the signature smoky aroma and fatty saltiness haven't already trapped every flavor receptor in your mouth and nose. Bacon is chock full of umami.

So when eaters see bacon on a menu, they know exactly what they're getting, just like the familiar reassurance of a slice of pizza or French fries. Plus, bacon's just never fancy, so no one feels intimidated ordering it. All of a sudden, you've got yourself a trend. Bacon has always been in every supermarket and everyone knows how to cook it. And everywhere they look, chefs and restaurants are telling them it's the must-use ingredient. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A lot of people are latching on to feel like they're part of a bigger food trend. But we should be moving on from the humble pig (pork belly, I'm talking about you, too) and elevating other animals. The culinary world is waiting for some gambler out there to take the next step. Right now, my menu has a lamb belly BLT because I think both lamb and goat are underappreciated and delicious. And, what about game birds (remember, I'm partial to doves)? There's so much wonderful experimentation going on for those brave enough to venture there. So many cuts of meat that may sound just as initially odd as pork belly, but can turn into the next big cooking trend coming from the right cutting board.
But it tastes sooo good...

The Missiles Of Hope And Change

When is a logo not just a logo?
The Internet is abuzz with comparisons of the "strikingly similar" logos of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the ubiquitous Obama 2008 campaign.

The Missile Defense Agency, which is part of the Defense Department, now features a circular red, white and blue logo on its Web site that has been characterized in some reports as "scarily" similar to President Obama's former campaign symbol. Others have noted that it has a crescent and star design, evoking a common symbol for Islam.

The logo, which first appeared on the Missile Defense Web site in the fall, was designed by TMP Government, a marketing and communications firm that has managed Web site redesigns and logos for numerous government agencies, including and more than a dozen Defense and intelligence-related sites.

But this particular one has caught the eye of critics of the Obama administration.

"I'm having trouble seeing past the crescent and star in the new logo," one critic posted on "Is this our signal to the muslim world that we're not going to shoot down their missiles?"

Another poster on likened the logo to that of a "corny science fiction movie."

But others said it was all in the eye of the beholder, and that they saw little or no similarity between the Obama and Missile Defense logos.

Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, dismissed the comparison entirely.

"It's ridiculous," Lehner told Fox News. "It isn't a new logo to replace the official logo. It's a logo developed for recruiting materials and for our public Web site. Also, it was used prior to the 2008 election and it has no link to any political campaign."
For the record, here's the logo in question:

It may just be a coincidence. But considering the commander in chief once had his own pre-presidential seal, I guess anything's possible.

The War On Google?

Google executives are convicted in Italy over a bullying video. Google responds:
[The conviction] attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.
Unfortunately, that's what some governments would like to do.

Working For The Union

Special interests? What special interests?
Two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives are holding hearings this week concerning allegations of sudden acceleration problems in Toyota cars and trucks sold in this country.

Among the witnesses appearing today at the hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was Toyota CEO Akido Toyoda, grandson of the company founder. On Tuesday, James E. Lentz, Toyota USA's top sales executive, appeared before the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

There is a combined total of 59 Democrats serving on these two panels, which hold potentially life-and-death power over Toyota's ability to continue offering its products to American consumers. So far this year, 31 of the 59 have received re-election campaign contributions ranging from as low as $500 to as high as $10,000 from the United Auto Workers union.

Why is that significant? Because the UAW is a major stockholder of Toyota's top U.S. rival, General Motors. Also, Toyota has successfully resisted UAW attempts to organize the Japanese firm's estimated 31,000 assembly line workers employed in five plants here in America.
Well, at least the union seems to be getting its money's worth...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Great Scott

Scott Brown discovers the price of crossing over:
A month after being crowned the darling of national conservatives, Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is being branded "Benedict Brown" for siding with Democrats in favor of a jobs bill endorsed by the Obama administration.

Like the four other GOP senators who joined him, the man who won the late Democrat Edward Kennedy's seat says it's about jobs, not party politics. And that may be good politics, too.

The four other GOP senators who broke ranks - Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri - also were criticized on Tuesday. But Brown was the big target on conservative Web sites, talk shows and even the Facebook page his campaign has promoted as an example of his new-media savvy.

"We campaigned for you. We donated to your campaign. And you turned on us like every other RINO," said one writer, using the initials for "Republican-In-Name-Only."

The conservative-tilting Drudge Report colored a photo of Brown on its home page in scarlet.

The new senator responded by calling into a Boston radio station.

"I've taken three votes," Brown said with exasperation. "And to say I've sold out any particular party or interest group, I think, is certainly unfair."

The senator said that by the time he seeks re-election in two years, he will have taken thousands of votes.

"So, I think it's a little premature to say that," he said.
I tend to agree that it's a little early to call the guy an out and out RINO, but this isn't a good start for a guy who ran as the alternative to the Democratic establishment.

Hearts Across The Border

Hey, if it was good enough for Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney:
An unapologetic Danny Williams says he was aware his trip to the United States for heart surgery earlier this month would spark outcry, but he concluded his personal health trumped any public fallout over the controversial decision.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Williams said he went to Miami to have a "minimally invasive" surgery for an ailment first detected nearly a year ago, based on the advice of his doctors.

"This was my heart, my choice and my health," Williams said late Monday from his condominium in Sarasota, Fla.

"I did not sign away my right to get the best possible health care for myself when I entered politics."

Williams said his decision to go to the U.S. did not reflect any lack of faith in his own province's health care system.

"I have the utmost confidence in our own health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we are just over half a million people," he said.

"We do whatever we can to provide the best possible health care that we can in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Canadian health care system has a great reputation, but this is a very specialized piece of surgery that had to be done and I went to somebody who's doing this three or four times a day, five, six days a week."
In other words, he wanted to go where he was certain he would be able to get the best-and most up-to-date-treatment possible. And he didn't have to wait six months to have it done.

Do Ask, Do Tell

It's not the 90's anymore:
Nearly seven in ten Americans think that people who are openly gay or lesbian should be allowed to serve in the military, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicates that 69 percent of the public favors allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military, with 27 percent opposed.

"That's a dramatic turnaround from the early 1990s, when the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy was first being implemented," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In 1994, only a bare 53 percent majority felt that gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve in the military."

Support for allowing gays in the military is much higher among Democrats than Republicans, but the policy wins support from a majority of Republicans as well. More than eight in ten Democrats say that gays should be allowed to serve; 62 of Republicans and 63 percent of Independents agree with that view.

The poll's release follows Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announcement Monday that he would be a sponsor of legislation next week to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which has been in place since 1993.

"The change in views on gays in the military dovetails with overall changes in public attitudes toward gays and toward homosexual behavior," adds Holland.
That's a good thing, and puts the lie to the liberal charge about how homophobic those evil Republicans are. It is an era of Change, after all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Birthers Are Coming

Oh, this'll work (via Hot Air):
Organizers of a new march on Washington are offering Americans the opportunity to show President Obama their birth certificates and declare that unless he produces documentation of his eligibility to occupy the Oval Office, he should quit.

The event is headed by Philip Berg, the first to bring court challenges to Obama's eligibility under the U.S. Constitution's requirement that presidents be a "natural born citizen."

While a number of cases, including several of his own, remain pending, Berg told WND today the issue needs to be pressed.

"Since the courts are taking their time to get to the point of allowing 'discovery,' it is time to motivate the citizens of the United States for a 'peaceful revolution' to expose the 'hoax' of Obama, the biggest 'hoax' in the history of our country, in over 230 years," he said.
Let's hear it one more time for the fringe, who don't know when to stop beating a dead horse.

Greek Lessons

From Robert J. Samuelson, a warning:
Every advanced society, including the United States, has a welfare state. Though details differ, their purposes are similar: to support the unemployed, poor, disabled and aged. All welfare states face similar problems: burgeoning costs as populations age; an over-reliance on debt financing; and pressures to reduce borrowing that create pressures to cut welfare spending. High debt and the welfare state are at odds. It's an open question whether the collision will cause social and economic turmoil.
If Europe doesn't learn this lesson, it most likely will.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1980

Do you believe in miracles?

It's a good day to be an American. More like this, please.

The Free Market Games

Are the Olympics the perfect example of capitalism?
Love watching the Olympics? Thank Capitalism. Competition and the desire to better one’s own life has brought about the motivation and innovation needed to produce nearly all of the devices we use to view the Olympics. With something as simple as pushing the power button on a flat screen TV, liberals are confessing to the pure success of the capitalistic system. Whether listening on XM radio, streaming live on a computer, receiving a TV signal via satellite, updating medal totals on a mobile phone, or watching in person, the means of viewing is courtesy of the fruits of capitalism.

The reason for this is simple: personal computers, satellites, cell phones, TV’s, and passenger jets were not designed with the intent of losing money or breaking even, they are here because investors wanted profit and consumers wanted product.

Viewing method is by no means the only area of the Olympics that is deeply-rooted in capitalism.

No one wants uncompetitive athletic performances and no athlete goes into the Games looking to lose. Athletes train for years to prepare for their two weeks of opportunity, and they require the best and latest in training technology. It is the free market that builds and designs these training products, not a government entity. The market demand is recognized and met with the intention of making profit, not out of charity.

Whether it’s the new long distance running shoes, weight training equipment, sleeker swimming suit designs, or the healthier training supplements that help the athlete obtain an edge, the ability to create the edge is brought on by the capitalistic system’s incentive program.
True competition results in true opportunity to create. Liberals, please take note.

Answers, We Want Answers

President Obama keeps saying that if the Republicans have better ideas on health care reform, he'll listen. Well:
The Congressional plan to squeeze reimbursement to nurses, doctors and hospitals by imposing top-down budgeting in Washington won’t work. It won’t change anyone’s behavior, and it will eventually lead to rationing, which undercuts innovation and medical research.

This is not rocket science. You simply need to pay people to do a good job, demand measurable outcomes and adopt proven standards of practice and information technology. Reward value, not volume.

Medicare and private insurance companies should reimburse providers not for each discrete service they provide but for managing a patient’s condition over an entire episode of care. In my own field, transplantation, for example, a payer should not separately reimburse 56 different nurses, doctors, pharmacies, imaging centers and hospitals. Instead, it should pay a heart transplant team a fixed sum (adjusted for risk) based on the diagnosis of “heart failure requiring transplantation.” The disbursement of that payment would then be made at the local level, where value can be most accurately determined, and waste most likely eliminated.

Health care providers could then compete on the basis of efficiency and success. Markets work. We should use them to drive behavior toward the goals of sustainable value in medical treatment and affordable health care for all Americans.
But that would imply that free market approaches do work, which goes against everything liberal "Reform" advocates believe in. As any good nannystater will tell you, free markets are evil.

The Tiger Woods Syndrome

Say what you will about Glenn Beck, when he's right, he's right:
The progressive idea of a big, bloated government has infected both parties. In a survey, 80 percent said “the main thing that influences what members of Congress do in office” is either “personal self-interest” or “special interests.”

But it’s not just Congress; state governments are doing it too. There are 21 states who currently have under-funded pensions and entitlements. And, even if you’re in a “safe zone,” it doesn’t mean you’re safe.


Politicians don’t think the rules apply to them. They only think about getting themselves re-elected. They’ve run through the boundaries of the Constitution.

And what about us? We think we are entitled: This is America! We deserve it! But, just like Tiger Woods said, we were wrong. It’s got to stop. And it starts with us. And that’s what the president needs to tell the American people.
But he probably won't. Unfortunately, he's become part of the Tiger Woods era, too.

Obamacare 2.0's Michael F. Cannon is skeptical of the "Changes" that have been added to the latest version of Obamacare:
The new blueprint is almost exactly the same as the House and Senate health care bills that the public have opposed since July. It mostly just splits the difference between the two.

One new element, however, is the president’s proposal to impose a new type of government price control on health insurance premiums. I explain here how those price controls are a veiled form of government rationing that helped sink the Clinton health plan.

If anything, those price controls make the president’s new plan even more bureaucratic and government-heavy. The Senate bill would take an ill-advised stab at cost-control by imposing a tax on the highest-cost health plans. That president proposes to pare back that excise tax and instead have a panel of federal bureaucrats cap the growth in health insurance premiums for all health plans. Those new government powers could make it even harder for people to obtain the coverage and care that they need.
Unless they agree to get government care, of course.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Super Bureaucrat!

Move over, X-Men, there's a new group of do-gooders in the house:
They are normally painted as faceless, grey Eurocrats ridiculed for endless deliberations on the bendiness of bananas or the amount of light that bulbs should give off.

But now European Commission officials have had their revenge – by producing a lavish comic book portraying themselves as heroes battling to save the world.

More than 300,000 copies of the glossy hardback – printed in five languages at a cost of £200,000 – are being sent to homes and schools in the UK and across the Continent.

The graphic novel follows the 'adventures' of Zana, Max et al at the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department – known as ECHO – as they struggle to secure funding for the fictional sate of Borduvia, which has been devastated by an earthquake.

Written by a Belgian graphic novelist Erik Bongers, Hidden Disasters – a cross between Tintin and Thunderbirds: International Rescue – contains such immortal dialogue as: "We must inform the Commissioner! She's briefing the European Parliament on the earthquake tomorrow."

While critics may snipe, a European Commission spokeswoman said the organisation's online bookstore had been inundated with requests for Hidden Disaster since its publication last week and a staggering 30,000 copies had already been shipped out.

The comic with an initial print run of 311,000 – equivalent to something like the print runs of JK Rowling's first Harry Potter books – costs 75 cents (about 65p) to produce.

The total cost of the book to print is 225,000 euros (£195,000) and is sent out for free at a further cost to the taxpayer.

"Part of the legal obligation on this [humanitarian] office is to increase public awareness and understanding of humanitarian issues," said the spokeswoman.

"The graphic novel aimed at adolescents and young adults is a way of getting to a big group of people and presenting issues in a form they recognise and like. It is focused on schools and language schools."

The spokeswoman dismissed the suggestion the book, printed in English, French, German, Italian and Dutch and with Polish and Spanish translations to possibly come later, was mere propaganda.

She said it would be worse if the European Commission undertook humanitarian aid work without telling the population of the EU about it.

ECHO employs 250 people at its Brussels HQ and 100 field experts on the ground. The Commission's humanitarian aid budget this year is more than 800 million euros (£700 million).

The TaxPayers' Alliance is less than impressed by Hidden Disaster. Matthew Elliott, its Chief Executive said: "It is deeply immoral to use taxpayers' money to promote the EU to children.

"This is pure political propaganda aimed at kids, which is a classic tactic of corrupt and unaccountable regimes down the ages.

"The EU seems to think it can buy itself popularity, but instead it simply makes itself look more out of touch and wasteful."
Well, propaganda is expensive...

Ocean Of Doubt

The news just keeps getting worse for the Climate Change Cult:
Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.

The study, published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience, one of the top journals in its field, confirmed the conclusions of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It used data over the last 22,000 years to predict that sea level would rise by between 7cm and 82cm by the end of the century.

At the time, Mark Siddall, from the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol, said the study "strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results". The IPCC said that sea level would probably rise by 18cm-59cm by 2100, though stressed this was based on incomplete information about ice sheet melting and that the true rise could be higher.

Many scientists criticised the IPCC approach as too conservative, and several papers since have suggested that sea level could rise more. Martin Vermeer of the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany published a study in December that projected a rise of 0.75m to 1.9m by 2100.

Siddall said that he did not know whether the retracted paper's estimate of sea level rise was an overestimate or an underestimate.

Announcing the formal retraction of the paper from the journal, Siddall said: "It's one of those things that happens. People make mistakes and mistakes happen in science." He said there were two separate technical mistakes in the paper, which were pointed out by other scientists after it was published. A formal retraction was required, rather than a correction, because the errors undermined the study's conclusion.
Just keep on undermining the facts, guys...

All God's Children

Are today's kids getting more down with God?
A report entitled “Religion Among the Millennials” produced by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life and released this week found that one in four people 18 to 29 years old are unaffiliated with a religion. But that by no means makes them all atheists or agnostics. While there are always religious people among the unaffiliated, the numbers are significantly higher among the younger unaffiliated crowd. While they are less likely than those unaffiliated and older than them to believe in God, they are more likely to believe in life after death, heaven and hell, and miracles.

And the spiritual quests of the millennials may eventually have policy implications. According to the Pew report, “They are slightly more supportive than their elders of government efforts to protect morality, as well as somewhat more comfortable with involvement in politics by churches and other houses of worship.”
That's the bad news-and the part that some of the more unpleasant elements of the right may take advantage of. But maybe they'll grow out of it.

The Golden Age

We have a recession, an unpopular Democratic President, and conflict in Afghanistan. It really is 1980 all over again:
America is delivering an Olympics beating that nobody saw coming.

The U.S. won as many medals on Wednesday—six—as it won during the entirety of the 1988 Games in Calgary, Alberta.

The 20 medals that America had won through Friday afternoon at the Vancouver Games represent far more than half of its greatest Winter Olympics haul ever—the 34 that it garnered during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Once the poor sisters of the Winter Games, once pressed to explain why a country with so much money and the greatest snow on earth couldn't dominate the slipping-and-sliding sports, America is on the verge of turning Vancouver into a romp.

To be sure, fortunes could change. Only seven of 16 days of competition have been completed. As of Friday afternoon, nearly 60% of medals at these Games remained to be won. But several events remain in which Americans are podium favorites, including six more in alpine skiing, three in bobsled, and nearly a dozen more in speedskating.
In a time of generally glum news, it's good to have something to celebrate. Congratulations all around.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Country Of No

The Obama agenda may be in more trouble than ever:
A full 54 Democratic seats in the House are now rated as "highly competitive," with nearly half already seeing the GOP challenger running even or ahead of the Democratic incumbent. Only six GOP-held seats are in play as possible Democratic pickups. Republicans need to win 40 seats to take back control of the House.

Nervousness in Democratic ranks will be heightened even more by Cook's finding that a total of 95 Democratic seats are potentially vulnerable -- almost two-fifths of the entire Democratic caucus. The list includes such powerful committee chairmen as David Obey of Wisconsin and Nick Rahall of West Virginia, both of whom have easily held their seats for more than 30 years. With so many members concerned about re-election, President Obama and Congressional leaders will be hard-pressed to get any major liberal legislation through Congress in the few remaining months of this session.
That won't stop them from trying. But then again, political reality hasn't stopped Team Obama yet.

A Nut Is A Nut Is A Nut

Steven Taylor responds to the liberal charge that Joe Stack was a Tea Partier:
First, while his anti-tax, anti-bailout rhetoric might fit broadly under the Tea Party rhetoric, his anti-George W. Bush, anti-religion, pro-health care reform rhetoric decidedly does not. As such, trying to associate him with “Tea Party-style right-populist paranoia” is unfair and incomplete.

Second, I am really tired of the rhetoric template used above (I am sure it has a name, but I don’t know what it is). That is the ol’ if the person had been X, then the reaction by Y would have been different than the one we are seeing, and that’s not fair so I will do the thing I am decrying (but not really, just kinda) to use this situation to make my point.

Is there any way we could start evaluating an event for what it is (or is not) instead of being compelled to note how the situation would have been discussed differently if the facts of the situation were different? Now only is it axiomatic that different facts will lead to a different discourse, but it is also true that we really cannot know how said alternate reality would have played out. Instead, when we imagine this other world, we can make it however we like. That’s great for fiction writing, but not so much for an analytical discussion.
Unfortunately, the type of kneejerk reactions we see when something like this happens (and this can apply to the right, as well) implies that there are indeed too many people out there who would rather be fiction writes than serious analysts.

Crank It Up

Call it the bartenders' dirty little secret:
Forty male beer drinkers were observed in a bar. According to a random distribution, patrons were exposed to the usual level of environmental music played in 2 bars where the experiment was carried out or were exposed to a high level. Results: The results show that high level volume led to increase alcohol consumption and reduced the average amount of time spent by the patrons to drink their glass.
The louder they are, the drinker you get?

The Great Global Novel

I wonder how many American writers have thought of this:
As a result of rapidly accelerating globalization we are moving toward a world market for literature. There is a growing sense that for an author to be considered “great,” he or she must be an international rather than a national phenomenon. This change is not perhaps as immediately evident in the US as it is in Europe, thanks to the size and power of the US market and the fact that English is generally perceived as the language of globalization, so that many more translations go away from it than toward it. However, more and more European, African, Asian and South American authors see themselves as having “failed” if they do not reach an international audience.

In recent months authors in Germany, France and Italy—all countries with large and well-established national readerships—have expressed to me their disappointment at not having found an English language publisher for their works; interestingly, they complain that this failure reflects back on their prestige in their home country: if people don’t want you elsewhere you can’t be that good. Certainly, in Italy where I live, an author is only thought to have arrived when he is published in New York. To appreciate how much things have changed one only need reflect how little it would have dented the reputations of Zola or Verga had they not achieved immediate publication in London.

What are the consequences for literature? From the moment an author perceives his ultimate audience as international rather than national, the nature of his writing is bound to change. In particular one notes a tendency to remove obstacles to international comprehension. Writing in the 1960’s, intensely engaged with his own culture and its complex politics, Hugo Claus apparently did not care that his novels would require a special effort on the reader’s and above all the translator’s part if they were to be understood outside his native Belgium. In sharp contrast, contemporary authors like the Norwegian Per Petterson, the Dutch Gerhard Baaker, or the Italian Alessandro Baricco, offer us works that require no such knowledge or effort, nor offer the rewards that such effort will bring.

More importantly the language is kept simple. Kazuo Ishiguro has spoken of the importance of avoiding word play and allusion to make things easy for the translator. Scandinavian writers I know tell me they avoid character names that would be difficult for an English reader.

If culture-specific clutter and linguistic virtuosity have become impediments, other strategies are seen positively: the deployment of highly visible tropes immediately recognizable as “literary” and “imaginative,” analogous to the wearisome lingua franca of special effects in contemporary cinema, and the foregrounding of a political sensibility that places the author among those “working for world peace.” So the overstated fantasy devices of a Rushdie or a Pamuk always go hand in hand with a certain liberal position since, as Borges once remarked, most people have so little aesthetic sense they rely on other criteria to judge the works they read.

What seems doomed to disappear, or at least to risk neglect, is the kind of work that revels in the subtle nuances of its own language and literary culture, the sort of writing that can savage or celebrate the way this or that linguistic group really lives. In the global literary market there will be no place for any Barbara Pyms and Natalia Ginzburgs. Shakespeare would have eased off the puns.
But does reaching an English speaking market have to be at the expense of one's own culture or language? Good writers have always known how to break through language barriers without sacrificing any of their own. Is this really a case of sacrificing cultural identity for the sake of the market-or an opportunity, to reach a new audience by "Keeping it simple," yet still honest?

And The Winner Is...

...Ron Paul?
Ron Paul has ended Mitt Romney's three-year run as conservatives' favorite for president, taking 31 percent of the vote in the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual straw poll.

Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas known for his libertarian views, ran for president in 2008 but was never a serious contender for the GOP nomination.

Romney, former Massachusetts governor and also a 2008 GOP candidate, has won the last three presidential straw polls at the annual conference. This year, he came in second, with 22 percent.

Sarah Palin, who didn't attend the conference, was a distant third in the straw poll, with 7 percent, followed by Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.

The straw poll is not binding -- and not necessarily a good forecaster, given that in 2008, John McCain went on to take the party's nomination over Romney.
I'm not sure what this means, except as an indicator of how much anti-establishment feeling there is among conservatives this year. And that there will be a greater role for libertarians overall in the GOP.

They're Baaaack

Don't call it a comeback; they've been here for years:
At an annual conference of grassroots conservatives, activists promised to crank up the pressure on Obama and his fellow Democrats and marveled at the political turnaround since he entered the White House in January 2009 on a wave of goodwill and high expectations.

Since then, Obama's approval ratings have slumped and his legislative agenda has stalled amid public unhappiness with the sputtering economy, high jobless rate and growing budget deficits.

"President Obama has lost his mojo," U.S. Representative Steve King said. "If we stand our ground as conservatives, he's not going to get it back."

With about 10,000 registered participants, this year's Conservative Political Action Conference was the largest and most festive yet and had to be moved to a larger Washington hotel.

"A year ago, this meeting was big and scared. Now it's big and excited," said anti-tax leader Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. He said Obama had proven his skill at his former job of community organizing.

"He has done a lot to organize conservatives," Norquist said.

"There is a real positive spirit here now," said Matt Schlapp, a Republican consultant and political director for former President George W. Bush during his first term.

"All segments of the conservative coalition are unified in a way that hasn't happened in a long time. No one is talking about their differences anymore," he said.

Republicans are expected to make big gains in November's congressional elections and could challenge Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Obama's legislative initiatives such as healthcare reform, climate change and financial regulatory reform have ground to a halt in the face of unified Republican opposition and his slumping poll numbers.
Good for them, and the Republican Party does seem to be on a roll this year, but I hope they'll bring the focus more on the libertarian side of conservatism, which is where the real future lies.

In The Clear

So apparently they didn't break the law, after all:
Justice Department lawyers showed "poor judgment" but did not commit professional misconduct when they authorized CIA interrogators to use waterboarding and other harsh tactics at the height of the U.S. war on terrorism, an internal review released Friday found.

The decision closes the book on one of the major lingering investigations into the counterterrorism policies of George W. Bush's administration. President Barack Obama campaigned on abolishing the simulated drowning technique of waterboarding and other tactics that he called torture, but he left open the question of whether anyone would be punished for authorizing such methods.

An initial review by the Justice Department's internal affairs unit found that former government lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had committed professional misconduct, a conclusion that could have cost them their law licenses. But, underscoring just how controversial and legally thorny the memos have become, the Justice Department's top career lawyer reviewed the matter and disagreed.

"This decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies those memoranda," Assistant Deputy Attorney General David Margolis wrote in a memo released Friday.

Margolis, the top nonpolitical Justice Department lawyer and a veteran of several administrations, called the legal memos "flawed" and said that, at every opportunity, they gave interrogators as much leeway as possible under U.S. torture laws. But he said Yoo and Bybee were not reckless and did not knowingly give incorrect advice, the standard for misconduct.
It's clear that mistakes in judgment were made, and it doesn't excuse the abuses that did happen. But to call these people "War criminals", in hindsight, seems to have been a bit much.

Romney, Don't Be Hatin'

Considering the source, I'm somewhat skeptical of this:
A rap star says former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney first touched him -- and not the other way around -- during a confrontation aboard an Air Canada flight that was preparing to take off from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Sky Blu, whose given name is Skyler Gordy, says in a video posted Friday on that he was trying to go to sleep when he leaned his seat back on the Vancouver-to-Los Angeles flight Monday. He says Romney loudly told him several times to straighten it and then grabbed his shoulder.

"I just react -- boom -- get off me, you know," Gordy says in the video, taking a swing through the air as he speaks. "And I didn't take it any further than that. I just wanted the man not to touch me; that's it."

Gordy says that Romney's wife, Ann, screamed and that the plane returned to the gate before two police officers escorted him off. After being detained briefly, he was allowed to buy a ticket for another flight.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom had no comment Friday about whether Gordy was the man with whom Romney had the confrontation. But aides said this week that Romney told them he thought the other person was a band member.

Christine Wolff at Interscope Records confirmed that Gordy posted the TMZ video. Air Canada referred calls to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which did not return calls.

Shortly after the confrontation, Fehrnstrom said the passenger became "physically violent" with Romney, but the former Massachusetts governor did not retaliate and instead let the authorities deal with it.

Gordy says in the video that Romney grabbed him with a "condor grip," as a sidekick play-acts the scene and adds: "Vulcan grip."
A Vulcan grip? I thought Obama was supposed to be Spock...

I Iz Internet Educated Now

According to this, there should be a lot more geniuses out there:
online survey of 895 Web users and experts found more than three-quarters believe the Internet will make people smarter in the next 10 years, according to results released on Friday.

Most of the respondents also said the Internet would improve reading and writing by 2020, according to the study, conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Internet and American Life project.

"Three out of four experts said our use of the Internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the Internet has improved reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge," said study co-author Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center.

But 21 percent said the Internet would have the opposite effect and could even lower the IQs of some who use it a lot.

"There are still many people ... who are critics of the impact of Google, Wikipedia and other online tools," she said.
Every technological revolution has its Luddites. But the Internet is just that, a tool. If people want to be smarter, it's up to them, isn't it?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Better Communication Through Subsidizing

In a case of populist contradictions, advocates of greater government interference in the communications industry say it would be for their own good:
It took 90 minutes but Tuesday evening’s panel discussion about the future of news ultimately devolved into a predictable attack by media “reformers” on commercial media and communications companies that see the Internet as their “plaything.”

The panelists — Robert McChesney and John Nichols of Free Press, Jane Hamsher of the blog Firedoglake, and Ivan Roman of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists — all said their ideas for media reform depend first and foremost upon winning a fight for control of the Internet. Their idea of victory is government oversight and massive federal spending.

“We are talking about spending money, substantial amounts,” Nichols said at the National Press Club.

To recap: America’s truly free media market, the one we have now and that offers greater opportunity thanks to the Internet, is a rip-off. Cable and telecom companies that build networks and make the widespread dissemination of independent journalism possible are evil, money-grubbing monsters. And the government can make it all better.
Unfortunately, this is the "Logic" they seem to apply to every "Evil" in our society.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Professor's Court

Is there a case for Obama going to the Supreme Court?
It would be unusual, but not difficult, for Obama to get himself on the Supreme Court. He could nominate himself to replace John Paul Stevens, for example, or he could gamble and promise Hillary Rodham Clinton that he won't run for reelection in 2012 in exchange for a pledge of appointment to the next vacancy. And although, as president, Obama has seemed haunted by the example of his political hero, Abraham Lincoln, on the Supreme Court, he could take up the mantle of the greatest liberal justice of the 20th century, Louis Brandeis, another community organizer with a background in politics. In the end, Obama's legacy on the court might surpass his legacy in the White House.
It makes sense, in a weird kind of way. Maybe if this presidency thing doesn't work out...

The Big Roundup

Who's next? Apparently quite a few:
Pakistani authorities, aided by U.S. intelligence, have apprehended more Afghan Taliban chiefs following the capture of the movement's No. 2 figure — arrests that together represent the biggest blow to the insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The arrests of more than a dozen Taliban leaders, including known associates of Osama bin Laden, came as militants fought to keep a grip on their southern stronghold of Marjah. Hundreds of militants were holding out against a six-day-old assault by 15,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.

Nine Taliban militants linked to al-Qaida were nabbed in three raids late Wednesday and early Thursday near the port city of Karachi, Pakistani intelligence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't supposed to release the information.

Two Taliban shadow governors also were apprehended in separate raids, Afghan and Pakistani officials said without giving specifics.

The arrests follow the capture in Karachi of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second only to the Taliban's one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The White House and the Pakistani army have confirmed Baradar's arrest but have released few details, including when and how he was apprehended.
While this is good news, it seems there may be more to Pakistan's motives than meets the eye. Still, this is progress and could lead to something significant.

Mummy's Home

Gloria Steinem would not be pleased:
Young mothers are turning their backs on high-powered careers to raise their children, a study has found.

Their mothers, or even grandmothers, lived through a time when women fought for full-time work and better pay.

But today's generation is returning to the traditional values of home and family - and looking to men to be the breadwinners.

The about-face was highlighted yesterday in research presented by leading sociologist Geoff Dench, who has analysed responses to questions asked in the annual British Social Attitudes survey.

Last night Mr Dench, who completed his analysis for the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies in association with the Hera Trust, said: 'Women with young children are going back to the very traditional division of labour in which they want the husband as the breadwinner.

'Having tried full-time working themselves they have found the home much more interesting and want to be enabled to have that - especially if the only job they have access to is a dull job.'

He said there had been a gradual move back towards 'more positive evaluations of women's traditional "work" in the family and informal community'.

While mothers have increased the amount of paid work they do, he said this was mostly part-time work, enabling them also to spend time in the home.

He said evidence pointed to the group fuelling the switch being young mothers aged 18 to 34 - the same age as their mothers were when they fought for the right to work on a par with men.

'They are rocking against the Baby Boom generation, in many cases their own parents,' he added. 'Just as young women led the movement into higher levels of paid work, it seems to be young women who are leading a return to more traditional values.'
There are all sorts of different paths to self-fulfillment. The challenge of motherhood is still much greater-and the personal rewards can be just as big, if not bigger-than proving you can make it in a "Man's world". And who says women can't do both?

United States of Arrogance

It's never a good idea to alienate your employees:
An information technology staffing firm based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., posted an advertisement for a technical writer that warned that an "arrogant American" would not flourish in the position.

"Exelon is looking to provide these proposals to Chinese businesses, so someone who is respectful and understands Chinese culture is preferred. An arrogant American will not work well in this role," the listing read.

The ad, posted by Viva USA, an information technology consulting firm, has since been removed. Varuna Singh, the company's development manager, told it received the language from its client, Exelon Nuclear Partners, and the wording somehow got past a "junior recruiter" who posted the advertisement on

"We are taking it down immediately, this was a mistake," Singh said. "This was not wordage by Viva. This was sent into us by the client, but we, as the staffing company, should have looked into it before posting."
Speaking as an arrogant American, I think I'll pass, anyway...

Big Teacher Is Watching You

Big Brother, caught in the act?
A federal lawsuit filed by a student and his parents accuses the Lower Merion School District of spying on students at home by watching them through webcams on school-issued laptop computers.

Fox 29's Sean Tobin reported that he spoke to a student at Harriton High School who said he read the book "1984" this year but never thought that his school would be accused of things in that book.

Sophomore Tom Halpern showed Fox 29 his district-issued laptop. He said he likes the computer but doesn't like what the school district is now accused of doing, allegedly spying on students through the webcam.

"Everybody's pretty disgusted," Halpern said.

The federal class-action lawsuit against the school district was brought just within the past week by the student and his parent, Michael and Holly Robbins.

They claim Lindy Matsko, an assistant principal at Harriton High School, spied on their son, Blake, at home by remotely activating the webcam on his laptop.

The suit alleges that Matsko informed the boy that he was engaged in inappropriate behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in his laptop.

The student told his parents about the incident, the suit claims, and the boy's father confronted Matsko.

The suit claims Matsko acknowledged the school could start the webcam and take pictures whenever it wanted to.

The family's lawsuit alleges the school district violated civil rights, privacy and federal wiretapping laws, and it says as many as 1,800 students could be affected at Harriton and Lower Merion High Schools.

The family also claims that every high school student in the district had a webcam laptop, and the computers were paid for with state and federal aid money.

The damages are currently unspecified. Because it is a class-action, there may be more parties to join.

Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley was also named in the suit.

The school district issued a statement just before 5 p.m. Thursday saying in part that the "security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops … has been deactivated effective today."
Yet another resounding success story for public education...

Taking The Hit

Yet another victim of Climategate?
Top U.N. climate change official Yvo de Boer told The Associated Press on Thursday that he was resigning after nearly four years, a period when governments struggled without success to agree on a new global warming deal.

His departure takes effect July 1, five months before 193 nations are due to reconvene in Mexico for another attempt to reach a binding worldwide accord on controlling greenhouse gases. De Boer's resignation adds to the uncertainty that a full treaty can be finalized there.

De Boer is known to be deeply disappointed with the outcome of the last summit in Copenhagen, which drew 120 world leaders but failed to reach more than a vague promise by several countries to limit carbon emissions - and even that deal fell short of consensus.

But he denied to the AP that his decision to quit was a result of frustration with Copenhagen.

"Copenhagen wasn't what I had hoped it would be," he acknowledged, but the summit nonetheless prompted governments to submit plans and targets for reigning in the emissions primarily blamed for global warming. "I think that's a pretty solid foundation for the global response that many are looking for," he said.
In the wake of this evidence, I'd say his timing is probably just about right. Maybe he can join Al Gore, who seems awfully silent these days...

The Last Rant

The final words of a psychopath:
The man suspected of intentionally crashing an airplane into a Texas office building today appears to have posted a lengthy online diatribe attacking the Internal Revenue Service and declaring that, "I know I'm hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand." The six-page manifesto, which you'll find below, is dated "2/18/10" and is signed "Joe Stack (1956-2010)." Andrew Joseph Stack, 53, has been identified as the man who flew a small plane into an Austin building housing IRS offices. The statement was uploaded to the front page of a web site that was registered in 2003 by a Joe Stack, who listed an address in San Marcos, Texas, which is about 35 miles south of Austin. The online posting is titled "Well Mr. Big Brother IRS man... take my pound of flesh and sleep well."
Look, I hate the IRS as much as anybody, but this loser was a nut case, pure and simple. That probably won't stop some on the fringe from trying to turn this guy into some kind of a martyr, but that's their problem.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


There appears to be a growing market for the former President:
Items featuring a smiling former President George Bush and the question, "Miss Me Yet?" are doing a brisk business as sales of pro-President Obama items lag, reports the Web shopping site CafePress.

Demand for the items spiked after a billboard featuring the ex-commander in chief appeared alongside a rural Minnesota highway last week, stirring up buzz.

CafePress spokeswoman Jenna Martin said sales of Bush-related products virtually disappeared after Obama replaced him.

But last week, she said, 10 of the firm's top-selling 100 designs were "Miss Me Yet?" items, moving to the tune of up to 500 orders a day.

"There were no Obama-themed designs on the list - Bush has stolen the political spotlight, just like Sarah Palin did the week before when she re-surfaced with crib notes written in her palm," she said.
Somewhere in Crawford, Bush is chuckling...


It's another resounding success for the Obama economy:
Homelessness in rural and suburban America is straining shelters this winter as the economy founders and joblessness hovers near double digits—a "perfect storm of foreclosures, unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing," in one official's eyes.
"We are seeing many families that never before sought government help," said Greg Blass, commissioner of Social Services in Suffolk County on eastern Long Island.

"We see a spiral in food stamps, heating assistance applications; Medicaid is skyrocketing," Blass added. "It is truly reaching a stage of being alarming."

The federal government is again counting the nation's homeless and, by many accounts, the suburban numbers continue to rise, especially for families, women, children, Latinos and men seeking help for the first time. Some have to be turned away.

"Yes, there has definitely been an increased number of turnaways this year," said Jennifer Hill, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness in suburban Cook County, Illinois. "We're seeing increases in shelter use along the lines of 30 percent or more."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's annual survey last year found homelessness remained steady at about 1.6 million people, but the percentage of rural or suburban homelessness rose from 23 percent to 32 percent.
I wonder how he's going to blame Bush for this...

Count 'Em

How much does it cost to find out how many people there are in this country? Too much:
Were those pricey Super Bowl ads a waste? Maybe not, but paying $3 million to census employees who didn't do any work surely was.

The Census Bureau, a month away from its 2010 population count, has already wasted millions of dollars paying temporary employees who never did the work and others who overbilled for travel, according to excerpts of an audit obtained by The Associated Press.

On a positive note, federal investigators said it was appropriate for the Census Bureau to spend $133 million on its advertising campaign, including $2.5 million for Super Bowl spots that some Republicans derided as wasteful.

But the report Commerce Department inspector general Todd Zinser makes clear the government is at risk of wasting millions of additional dollars without tighter spending controls by the Census Bureau on its 1 million temporary workers.

"The costs were substantial," he wrote, imploring the agency to improve cost estimates so the national head count does not exceed its $15 billion price tag.
Paying people for doing nothing? Isn't that why we elect politicians?

Red America

The Tea Party really is for all Americans:
Calling for new tribal leadership and a break from the federal government, founders of the first Crow Indian Tea Party movement rallied Monday in Hardin.

Leading the new Crow Nation Tea Party was Adrian Bird Sr., a former tribal chairman candidate who recently filed a civil complaint against the Crow executive branch alleging malfeasance for mismanaging tribal funds.

Bird, his wife, Lavanna, and fellow Tea Party founder Karmelita Plains Bull Martin are seeking to impeach the tribe’s four executives and take the Indian government in a different direction.

“We want them out of there because they are mismanaging tribal funds,” Bird said. “We need to get the people together.”

The Birds and Plains Bull Martin accuse the administration of mismanaging “tribal funds regarding education, employment, housing, casino finances,” and they accuse the tribal leadership of “total disregard of our laws and policies as the Crow Nation.”

Bird said the tribe would be better off if it developed the natural resources on the reservation, lived by tribal laws and declined federal government assistance.
We are all Native Americans now...

When The Walls Come Tumblin' Down

OK, even for lefties, this is a bit much:
On the heels of Senator Evan Bayh’s (D-Indiana) announcement of his impending breakup with Congress, and the accompanying lurch it leaves Democrats in, a movement has sprung up to draft heartland rocker John Mellencamp to run for the seat. Shortly after Bayh’s announcement, a “Draft John Mellencamp for Senate!” Facebook page appeared.

Crazier things have happened, and just how crazy is this, anyway?
Conventional wisdom would argue against Mellencamp politically, as he’s on record as not thinking Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were liberal enough. However, he has some strong positives as a candidate in Indiana.

First of all, you can’t beat him for name recognition, especially now that he has settled on one.

He’s well-positioned to take advantage of the powerful but ill-defined populist atmosphere among voters. Both in the state and nationally, Mellencamp has generated a lot of goodwill with working people by virtue of his Farm Aid concerts, and he’s managed to retain working-class authenticity despite being a superstar.

As Daily Kos diarist jolculbe points out, he also doesn’t have a record to run from. With anti-incumbent sentiment running high, being a total outsider might be an advantage.

Finally, aside from his utter lack of experience, not the liability it once was, Mellencamp is tough to assail. His heartland street cred is so great that, despite his political leanings, John McCain made heavy use of Mellencamp’s catalog at campaign events before being asked to stop. The guy’s image is as American as it gets.
First of all, being a left-wing (or even a populist) liberal isn't exactly popular in this Scott Brown era. Secondly, why does being a singer qualify someone for any position of authority? Stick to Farm Aid concerts and getting played on classic rock stations, John.

A Ward Of The Welfare State

Meet the welfare queen, UK style:
A single mother-of-six is getting more than £80,000 a year from the taxpayer to live in a £2million mansion in an exclusive London suburb.
Essma Marjam, 34, is given almost £7,000 a month in housing benefits to pay the rent on the five-bedroom villa just yards from Sir Paul McCartney's house and Lord's cricket ground.

She also receives an estimated £15,000 a year in other payouts, such as child benefit, to help look after her children, aged from five months to 14.

Miss Marjam does not work, as she spends all day looking after her children - Zekia, 14, Abdulhakim, 13, Jihad, 11, Hamza, ten, Ayman, two, and five-month-old Nasir.

The four eldest have the surname Benjamin, while the two youngest have the surname Khan.

Labour's controversial Local Housing Allowance enables council tenants to receive such high benefits to pay private landlords.

The maximum that can be claimed is set by central government and the allowances can be huge, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.
We have these people here, too. They're called bums.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Long Arm Of Which Law?

Jacob Sullum reports on the case of a Colorado medical marijuana grower, and what appears to be blatant contradictions in the attitudes of the DEA:
Did Bartkowicz's operation comply with state law? The short answer is "probably," at least as the law is currently understood. But that is not good enough to qualify him for the Justice Department's newfound tolerance, which applies only to "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

But that doesn't mean Bartkowicz definitely would prevail, which is what the Justice Department's guidelines apparently require. In fact, the memo (PDF) laying out the new policy suggests that the Justice Department reserves the authority to interpret state law. So even if Colorado's courts say Bartkowicz's operation was legitimate, the feds could disagree, which is rather inconsistent with President Obama's professed desire to respect state autonomy in this area. For example, the memo says "prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority." Among the factors that could expose a medical marijuana supplier to federal prosecution, it lists "financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law" (emphasis added). Colorado's law says nothing one way or the other about how much compensation a caregiver can receive from a patient. So on what basis does the DEA decide that Bartkowicz's "financial gains" (which he stupidly bragged about on TV) are illicit, let alone that the amount of cash he has is "excessive"? The Justice Department may think it's outrageous for medical marijuana growers to turn a profit, or even to get reimbursed for their expenses, but state law says no such thing.

The really galling aspect of this case is that Jeffrey Sweetin, who runs the DEA's Denver office, does not even pretend to be interpreting state law, as the Justice Department memo ostensibly requires. "It's still a violation of federal law," he says. "It's not medicine. We're still going to continue to investigate and arrest people." In other words, forget what Obama repeatedly promised on the campaign trail, what Attorney General Eric Holder declared last March, and what the Justice Department memo put in writing; we are going to carry on as usual. Given Obama's choice to head the DEA, it's not surprising that Sweetin feels confident in saying that the president's promises mean nothing.
In other words, do as we say, not as we promised.

Atomic Ocean

What could go wrong? Constructed by the state nuclear power firm Rosatom, the 144 by 30 metre (472 by 98 foot) ship holds two reactors with ...