Now that Donald Trump's officially the Republican candidate, here's a summary of how a party once led by Abraham Lincoln came to select Mr. Orange as their #1. The Republican Party hasn't been "the party of Lincoln" for many decades now, but I'm sure Abe is spinning particularly rapidly in his grave over his party's latest turn. (As I'm sure Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Davis have been doing as well over the past eight years.)
kottke.org posts about Politics
The Complacent Class Jul 25 2016
The Complacent Class is a forthcoming book by Tyler Cowen.
Since Alexis de Tocqueville, restlessness has been accepted as a signature American trait. Our willingness to move, take risks, and adapt to change have produced a dynamic economy and a tradition of innovation from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs.
The problem, according to legendary blogger, economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from this tradition -- we're working harder than ever to avoid change. We're moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.
Of course, this "matching culture" brings tremendous positives: music we like, partners who make us happy, neighbors who want the same things. We're more comfortable. But, according to Cowen, there are significant collateral downsides attending this comfort, among them heightened inequality and segregation and decreased incentives to innovate and create.
Cowen is also releasing another book called Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.
In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to "think big."
It is only available by emailing him that you've pre-ordered The Complacent Class. Oh, and a reminder about how I (try to) read books.
How did Hitler rise to power? Jul 21 2016
From the transcript of the video:
Disturbingly, many of Trump's early measures didn't require mass repression. His speeches exploited people's fear and ire to drive their support behind him and the Republican party. Meanwhile, businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to be on the right side of public opinion, endorsed Trump. They assured themselves and each other that his more extreme rhetoric was only for show.
Oh sorry, looks like autocorrect misspelled "Hitler" a couple times there. (Boy, Godwin's law makes it difficult to talk about the historical comparisons, although Mike Godwin himself sanctioned the comparison if "you're thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history". Not sure I'm meeting the standard here, but at least we've learned something about Hitler?)
Why is Peter Thiel supporting Donald Trump? Jul 21 2016
As Elon Musk plans to introduce a fleet of completely autonomous self-driving vehicles to America's roads, another PayPal co-founder is giving a speech in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. But why exactly is a canny libertarian with a penchant for undermining the fundamental pillars of democracy to forward his own personal aims supporting Trump? Jeff Bercovici has a not-so-crazy theory:
I think Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump because he believes it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to weaken America's attachment to democratic government.
I'm not accusing Thiel of any ambitions he hasn't more or less copped to. In an often-quoted 2009 essay, Thiel declared, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."
He also wrote that his fellow libertarians were on a "fool's errand" trying to achieve their ends through political means: "In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms -- from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called 'social democracy.'"
Here's the essay Bercovici refers to: The Education of a Libertarian. Tyler Cowen, who interviewed Thiel last year and admires him (or at least finds his views interesting), has another take on Thiel's support of Trump, which is perhaps related to Bercovici's:
The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there. They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying "the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal. That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways. We are a small church seeking to become larger." Is that not how many smaller churches behave? Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved? Did they have any influence?
What does Donald Trump actually want? What does Thiel want? What do Republican voters want? I'd wager their actual goals have less to do with the party's official platform and what people are saying at the convention and more to do with broader opportunities to gain power that arise from disruption and the energetic application of fear.
The radicalization of the US Republican Party Jul 20 2016
Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann argue that the Republican Party has been radicalized and Trump is the result.
Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party's steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.
While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.
To the supporters of Donald Trump Jul 05 2016
A number of political thinkers have penned a non-partisan letter to supporters of Donald Trump. The letter is striking for its non-confrontational tone in nevertheless painting Trump as a dangerous authoritarian.
We aren't criticizing or praising Mr. Trump's policy proposals or his likely appointments. Our objection to him is deeper-we believe that his entire way of behaving represents a rejection of the essential character traits (the "qualities") that our democracy requires of its leaders. We of course acknowledge that policy positions matter. But doesn't political behavior inimical to democracy matter more?
A good read, but I'm skeptical of its impact. I keep thinking of Tyler Cowen's description of the Brexit vote as "the one lever" for sending a political message to the country's leaders:
Cities such as Bradford, while still predominantly white, no longer feel as English (and German!) as they once did. And if you are thinking that voting "Leave" does not at all limit Pakistani immigration, you are truly missing the point; this vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians.
Many Americans share a frustration of the current political system and how it is wielded against us in our name by skilled political practitioners, but I do not believe the US is a country filled with small-minded, intolerant racists, despite the perplexing level of national support for a proudly dishonest and bigoted TV personality, whatever his keen political instincts. Trump is the one lever being given to those frustrated voters for sending a message to their politicians and many are choosing to use it despite many of the reasons listed in that letter. Sending that message is more important than its potential consequences. (via @marcprecipice)
Where did Brexit come from? Jul 01 2016
Evan Puschak examines the rise of the independence movement in Britain, from their entrance into the European Community in 1973 to Thatcher's rumblings about EU governance to UKIP's rise, culminating in Brexit last week. I thought this was a pretty succinct summary of right-wing political tactics:
And that's the point about far-right political organizations: they use the fulcrum of populism and fear to lift many times their weight in people.
Update: More on the history of the movement to withdraw Britain from the EU from Gary Younge in The Guardian.
2016 Presidential election odds Jun 30 2016
According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.
Perhaps Britain won't leave the EU after all? Jun 26 2016
Perhaps it's just wishful thinking or the social media filter bubble I'm in, but there seems to be a more-than-zero chance that Britain won't actually leave the European Union, despite last Thursday's vote. For one thing, as I mentioned in my Friday AM post about Brexit, the vote is not legally binding. The Prime Minister needs to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which has not happened yet.
But there's no requirement that the UK invoke Article 50 in a timely fashion. Indeed, both Cameron and Johnson have said they think it's appropriate to dawdle; Cameron says he'll leave the decision to invoke to his successor, and Johnson has said there's no rush.
It wouldn't be tenable for the government to just completely ignore the vote forever, even though that is legally permissible.
But perhaps not untenable. A Guardian commenter speculates that Cameron did something politically canny when he passed the buck to his successor. As the full ramifications of Leave become apparent, it may be that the consequences of leaving will be transferred from the voters to the person who decides to invoke Article 50...i.e. it may become politically untenable to leave.
Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.
And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten ... the list grew and grew.
The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.
The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?
Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?
There's also been talk that Scotland could veto Brexit.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told the BBC that Holyrood could try to block the UK's exit from the EU.
She was speaking following a referendum on Thursday which saw Britain vote by 52% to 48% to leave Europe.
However, in Scotland the picture was different with 62% backing Remain and 38% wanting to go.
SNP leader Ms Sturgeon said that "of course" she would ask MSPs to refuse to give their "legislative consent".
Update: From Gideon Rachman at the FT: I do not believe Brexit will happen.
Any long-term observer of the EU should be familiar with the shock referendum result. In 1992 the Danes voted to reject the Maastricht treaty. The Irish voted to reject both the Nice treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon treaty in 2008.
And what happened in each case? The EU rolled ever onwards. The Danes and the Irish were granted some concessions by their EU partners. They staged a second referendum. And the second time around they voted to accept the treaty. So why, knowing this history, should anyone believe that Britain's referendum decision is definitive?
Update: John Cassidy writing for the New Yorker:
As reality sets in, E.U. leaders may well be content to let the Brits stew in their own juices for a while. Initial talk of forcing the U.K. to begin the process of leaving straight away has been replaced by calls for patience. Monday's edition of the Wall Street Journal quoted Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, as saying, "Politicians in London should have the possibility to think again about the fallout from an exit." To leave now, he added, "would be a deep cut with far-reaching consequences." A majority of the politicians at Westminster probably agree with Altmaier's analysis. But what, if anything, can they do to reverse the march toward Brexit?
Newspaper front pages about Brexit Jun 24 2016
Buzzfeed has a collection of newspaper front pages and magazine covers related to Brexit. Newseum has a more extensive collection (900+ newspapers) and the Guardian has a nice selection as well.
Out of all of them, I think the cover for next week's issue of the New Yorker is perhaps my favorite:
Ah, Monty Python.
Britain votes to leave the EU Jun 24 2016
I awoke at 3am last night, perhaps having sensed a disturbance in the Force, read a late-night text from a friend that said, "BREXIT!!" and spent the next two hours reading, shocked and alarmed, about Britain's voting public's decision to leave the European Union. Although according to a piece by David Allen Green in the FT, the decision is not legally binding and nothing will immediately change with regard to Britain's laws or EU member status, the outcome is nevertheless distressing for the reasons outlined succinctly by an FT commenter.
A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages, and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Well novel. When Michael Gove said 'the British people are sick of experts' he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?
Reading this and casting your mind to Trump and the upcoming US election is not that difficult.
I've been thinking a lot about a book I read several years ago by Robert Wright called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. In it, Wright argues that cooperation among individuals and ever-larger groups has been essential in pushing biological and cultural evolution forward. From the first chapter of the book:
The survey of organic history is brief, and the survey of human history not so brief. Human history, after all, is notoriously messy. But I don't think it's nearly as messy as it's often made out to be. Indeed, even if you start the survey back when the most complex society on earth was a hunter-gatherer village, and follow it up to the present, you can capture history's basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: New technologies arise that permit or encourage new, richer forms of non-zero-sum interaction; then (for intelligible reasons grounded ultimately in human nature) social structures evolve that realize this rich potential -- that convert non-zero-sum situations into positive sums. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth.
This isn't to say that non-zero-sum games always have win-win outcomes rather than lose-lose outcomes. Nor is it to say that the powerful and the treacherous never exploit the weak and the naive; parasitic behavior is often possible in non-zero-sum games, and history offers no shortage of examples. Still, on balance, over the long run, non-zero-sum situations produce more positive sums than negative sums, more mutual benefit than parasitism. As a result, people become embedded in larger and richer webs of interdependence.
The atmosphere of xenophobia on display in the US, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe is affecting our ability to work together for a better future together. World War II ended more than 70 years ago, long enough in the past that relatively few are still alive who remember the factors that led to war and the sort of people who pushed for it. Putin, Brexit, Trump, the Front National in France...has the West really forgotten WWII? If so, God help us all.
P.S. I also have a couple of contemporary songs running through my head about all this. The first is What Comes Next? from the Hamilton soundtrack:
What comes next?
You've been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You're on your own
Do you have a clue what happens now?
And the second is a track from Beyonce's Lemonade, Don't Hurt Yourself:
When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Try not to hurt yourself
When you play me, you play yourself
Don't play yourself
When you lie to me, you lie to yourself
You only lying to yourself
When you love me, you love yourself
Britain just played itself.
Update: Excellent op-ed in the LA Times by Brian Klaas and Marcel Dirsus.
This is the glaring contradiction in the muscular nationalism of right-wing populism, blended with isolationism, that seeks to withdraw from international unions: It cannot shape a better world by shutting the world out. The same people who cheer when Trump laments the decline of American leadership want to ignore key global issues and put "America First." The people who voted for Brexit, attempting to create a border between Britain and challenges such as the refugee crisis, seem to think Britain can solve such problems without consulting Germany or France or, worst of all to them, Brussels.
The world doesn't work that way, and it hasn't for decades. Ever-increasing globalization has created an unprecedented surge in prosperity, but it has also ushered in jarring changes. The rough edges of those changes can only be overcome with more aggressive cooperation and engagement, not less. Whether it's the risks of terrorism, the tragic flow of refugees, or economic shocks, Britain cannot solve problems alone and neither can the United States.
LittleSis database of biz/gov't connections Jun 20 2016
LittleSis is a freely available database that documents personal and business connections in the worlds of government and business. For instance, here's George Soros. And Dick Cheney. Love the Lombardi-esque influence maps. (via @kellianderson)
(P.S. Does anyone remember the name of a similar project done in Flash many years ago by one of the hotshot Flash developers? Can't find it...)
On bullshit and Donald Trump Jun 02 2016
In this video, Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit, talks about what bullshit is and how dangerous it is to society.
The reason why there's so much bullshit I think is that people just talk. If they don't talk, they don't get paid. The advertiser wants to gain sales. The politician wants to gain votes. Now, that's ok but they have to talk about things that they don't really know much about. So, since they don't have anything really valid to say, they just say whatever they think will interest the audience, make it appear they know what they're talking about. And what comes out is bullshit.
The bullshitter is more creative. He's not submissive. It's not important to him what the world really is like. What's important to him is how he'd like to represent himself. He takes a more adventurous and inventive attitude towards reality, which may be sometimes very colorful, sometimes amusing, sometimes it might produce results that are enjoyable. But it's also very dangerous.
It's at this point that the video cuts to Donald Trump, who is the Lionel Messi of bullshitting; it is his singular dazzling gift. He cultivates convenient facts and deliberately remains ignorant of inconvenient ones so as to be most effective. As Frankfurt notes, bullshit is a serious threat to the truth because it's not the opposite of truth...it cannot be refuted like a lie can:
Liars attempt to conceal the truth by substituting something for the truth that isn't true. Bullshit is not a matter of trying to conceal the truth, it is a matter of trying to manipulate the listener, and if the truth will do, then that's fine and if the truth won't do, that's also fine. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth in a way in which the liar is not. He's playing a different game.
It is Trump's indifference to the truth that makes him so effective and so powerful. Much of what I read from people who oppose Trump attempts to counter his rhetoric with facts. That hasn't worked and is not going to work. The truth is not the antidote for bullshit. So how do you defeat the bullshitter? This has been a genuine problem for his political opponents thus far. Frankfurt doesn't offer any advice in the video (perhaps his book does?), and I'm at a loss as well, but I do know that factual refutation will not make any difference. I hope someone figures it out soon though.
Cass Sunstein, author of the recently published The World According to Star Wars, says that while most people might dislike the three Star Wars prequels, they function well as "a quick guide to current political struggles".
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.
As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order -- and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.
A prominent voice, Anakin Skywalker, insisted, "We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what's in the interest of all the people, and then do it." And if they didn't, "they should be made to."
Eventually, something far worse happened. The legislature voted to give "emergency powers" -- essentially unlimited authority -- to the chief executive. An astute observer, Padme Amidala, noted, "So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause."
Well, that was kind of terrifying to read. My ill-feeling peaked at "a democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody's squabbling" as a cause of Hitler's rise in Germany. As Sunstein notes, the parallels between that situation and our do-nothing Congress & the authoritarian gentleman currently running for President are obvious and possibly significant.
American white male anxiety May 25 2016
In Trump Taps Into the Anxiety of American White Males, Anand Giridharadas writes:
Yet there is some evidence that a sizable number of white men see the push toward diversity, along with the larger changes it telegraphs, as less about joining and more about replacement, and a country that is less hospitable to them.
That sentiment is perhaps expressed in a quote widely circulated online in these discussions, though the origin is unknown: "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."
This is perhaps what Tyler Cowen was getting at with his highly speculative and provocative What the hell is going on?
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don't sit well with many...what shall I call them? Brutes?
Quite simply, there are many people who don't like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.
I wouldn't recommend it, but a spin through the comments on Cowen's piece provides some examples of what he's talking about.
I was just thinking about Hamilton1 and Captain America: Civil War, two of pop culture's current obsessions, and thought, hmm, what if you made a superhero movie about the early years of American democracy? And then I quickly realized that Civil War in some ways echoes the political battle between Hamilton's Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans.
In the film (or at least the first part of it), Tony Stark is a Federalist; he realizes the need for regulation and oversight of the Avengers by the government. Captain America is a Republican; he believes in the rights of the smaller group (states' rights!) and that regulation comes at the cost of essential freedoms. Karen Walsh wrote much more about the parallels between the two.
Captain America: Civil War begins with a focus on the Sokovia Accords. As the Avengers split into two groups, Iron Man and his cronies focus on granting the Accords validity in order to remain a unified front and gain popular trust. Cap and his cohorts determine that sacrificing their freedom to the government allows for errors that overshadow the purpose of their ability to protect the people who most need them.
In essence, Iron Man and his team represent the Federalist belief that a strong central government is essential to aggregating the trust and the will of the people.
Update: Two more takes on the parallels between Hamilton and Captain America: Captain America, Aaron Burr, And The Politics Of Killing Your Friends and Best of Frenemies. (via @Chan_ing)
The play, not the man so much. The play that I'm not going to get a chance to see before [EVENT HAPPENS] without splashing out an impossible amount of cash. Has anyone written a script for entering the Hamilton ticket lottery yet?↩
In Twelfth Man, a short film by Duane Hopkins, you'll witness the chaotic and occasionally ugly run-up to a football match in one of the most heated rivalries in England, the Tyne-Wear derby pitting Sunderland against Newcastle United. Watching it, I was reminded of the rhetoric and confrontations happening around the US in the presidential primaries. Turns out, equating politics with sports is not far off the mark in this case.
Sunderland and Newcastle are situated 12 miles apart in North East England. After first meeting in 1883, the teams have played a total of 155 matches, with each winning 53 matches (with 49 draws). According to Wikipedia (and ultimately sourced from a pair of texts on the two cities), the rivalry between the two cities dates back to the English Civil War in the 17th century:
The history of the Wear-Tyne derby is a modern-day extension of a rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle that dates back to the English Civil War when protestations over advantages that merchants in Royalist Newcastle had over their Wearside counterparts led to Sunderland becoming a Parliamentarian stronghold.
Sunderland and Newcastle again found themselves on opposite sides during the Jacobite Rebellions, with Newcastle in support of the Hanoverians with the German King George, and Sunderland siding with the Scottish Stuarts.
If you're unfamiliar with English football, the entire entry is worth a read, particularly the sections on policing and banning fans during away games and hooliganism. There's even an entire section on players (and a couple of managers) who have played for both teams, a reminder that although rivalries may stretch back centuries and be rooted in deep political differences, money holds a powerful attraction. (Which brings us right back to the US presidential primaries...)
Update: Matches between the two teams may be hard to come by next year. With a 3-0 win over Everton on May 11, Sunderland secured a place in the Premier League next year and caused Newcastle to be relegated to the Championship, the league below the Premier League. The bitter rivalry rolls on.
And some footage of a pre-match riot. Intense.
In his 1975 song Jungleland, Bruce Springsteen laments, "the poets down here don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be." I was reminded of that line when Springsteen canceled his North Carolina concert to protest the state's recently passed bathroom law. In this case, the poet wrote. While it's not unusual for musicians and other artists to use their public podiums for protest, it's less common for corporations to do the same. At least, that used to be the case. But recently, many top CEOs are using their corporate muscle to influence social and political decisions across the country. When you wondered who would stand up for individual and equal rights in America, it's unlikely that you thought of the The Boss and The Man. Here's The New Yorker's James Surowiecki with more on these unlikely alliances.
An Honest Liar Apr 08 2016
A few days ago, I watched An Honest Liar, a documentary about the magician and charlatan-debunker The Amazing Randi. I had forgotten that in the 70s and 80s in America, belief in psychics like Uri Geller, faith healers like Peter Popoff, extraterrestrial abductions, and the like was not all that far from the mainstream. Such events and people were covered in newspapers, on the evening news, and featured on talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
The media is awash in pieces attempting to explain the success of the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Many are puzzled...how could this happen in America!? After watching Randi debunking hoaxes, I'm no longer surprised at Trump's success. Maria Konnikova, author of a recent book on scams and cons, wrote about Trump and con artists for the New Yorker.
A line, thin but perceptible, divides even egregious liars from confidence men. People deceive one another for all sorts of reasons: they might lie to stay out of trouble, for example, or to make themselves seem more interesting, or to urge a business deal toward its consummation. David Maurer, a linguist turned historian of the con, said, "If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister." Still, there is a meaningful difference between an ordinary liar and a con artist. A grifter takes advantage of a person's confidence for his own specific ends -- ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?
She doesn't express an opinion on whether Trump is a con artist -- it's difficult to tell without knowing his intent -- but it's clear that like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, Trump is adept at making people believe what he is saying without a lot of hard evidence. Like The Amazing Randi said in the movie: "no matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived." Hopefully, like Geller, Popoff, and UFOs eventually did, the idea of Trump as a viable candidate for President will soon disappear back into the fringes of American discourse.
The Panama Papers Apr 04 2016
A huge cache of data has leaked from a Panama-based tax firm that shows how some of the world's politicians and the rich hide their money in offshore tax havens. The video above, from the Guardian, is a quick 1:30 introduction on how these offshore havens work.
The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.
A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president's best friend -- a cellist called Sergei Roldugin -- is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin's daughter Katerina got married.
Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt's former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
Here is an important bit:
Are all people who use offshore structures crooks?
No. Using offshore structures is entirely legal. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from "raids" by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions. Others use offshore for reasons of inheritance and estate planning.
Are some people who use offshore structures crooks?
Yes. In a speech last year in Singapore, David Cameron said "the corrupt, criminals and money launderers" take advantage of anonymous company structures. The government is trying to do something about this. It wants to set up a central register that will reveal the beneficial owners of offshore companies. From June, UK companies will have to reveal their "significant" owners for the first time.
Update: The Panama Papers have claimed their first political victim. The now-former prime minister of Iceland has resigned because of his family's offshore investments.
If you've been following along, various politicians at all levels of the government have basically been kicking the can down the road when it comes to taking responsibility for the water crisis in Flint, MI.
[Michigan Governor Rick] Snyder and [Environmental Protection Administrator Gina] McCarthy were both asked, strongly and repeatedly, to resign. The two officials, for their part, blamed each other: The governor faulted the EPA for its slow and "ineffective" response, while McCarthy took aim at state officials for obfuscating the poor water quality. Both also suggested they weren't fully aware of the problem's scope until far too late.
Dave Pell from Nextdraft says:
This is a common refrain we've heard from national, state and local officials. We've had hearings, debates, and nationally televised town halls. What we don't have is a solution for the people bathing in bottled water. In times of war, we can get running water to the deserts of Iraq. But all we can get to Flint is politics as usual.
Also via Nextdraft, Erin Brockovich wrote about Flint and the other places around the country where similar things are happening.
Why the War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure Mar 01 2016
In their latest video, Kurzgesagt tackles the War on Drugs. The Stop the Harm website, which they mention at the end of the video, says this about the failed efforts to curb drug use:
The global drug policy system is well and truly broken. Despite aiming to 'protect' people from drugs, its punitive approach has instead increased the harms of these substances, punishing and demonizing the people and communities most impacted by them. This punishment has disproportionately impacted people and communities of color, indigenous peoples, and the economically marginalized, while stoking public health crises by restricting access to essential medicines and exacerbating the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood borne viruses.
On Last Week Tonight last night, John Oliver took on the #brand running for President known as Donald Trump. Or, as he would have been known had one of his ancestors not changed his last name, Donald Drumpf. If you'd like to play along at home, you can install the Drumpfinator Chrome extension, which will replace any mentions of "Trump" on the web with "Drumpf".
The Schengen Area is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders, also referred to as internal borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.
While visiting friends in France a few years ago, we passed the checkpoint between France and Switzerland several times a day and didn't even bother taking our passports with us. It felt weird but good. (via @neilhalloran)
What a completely delightful video of 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin visiting the White House and meeting President and Mrs. Obama. This is the Webster's definition of pure joy.
I don't know much about McLaurin's life story -- she's originally from South Carolina, first married at 14 -- but when she was 10, the Civil War had ended only 55 years earlier. As a child, she likely knew and talked with people who were former slaves. And now she's dancing with a black President in the White House. The Great Span continues to work its magic.
How to win an election Feb 19 2016
From the NY Times and Redglass Pictures, a video in which political advisor Mark McKinnon details how to win an election. His short answer: "successful campaigns tell a good story". My "favorite" part is after discussing his irresponsible fear-mongering campaign for Bush in 2004, McKinnon talks about bowing out of the McCain campaign because he believed Obama was a good man and good for the country and he didn't want to smear him. Wish he could have moved procuring a conscience up a few years. NSFW if you, like me, see George W. Bush and involuntarily start loudly swearing like a sailor.
The symbolic President Feb 10 2016
Laura June likes Bernie Sanders in many ways but is going to vote for Hillary Clinton because Clinton is a woman.
As with many issues that stem from the fact of my motherhood -- breast-feeding, co-sleeping -- I speak only for myself, and cannot generalize my experience from "I am" to "you should." I only know in my heart that I simply don't want my daughter to grow up in a world where a woman has never been president. And if not now, when?
I'm a woman, and a mother, and I'm voting for Hillary Clinton for my daughter, and for her future.
If I had a vote to cast in the upcoming NY Democratic primary, I would also vote for Hillary Clinton and also because she is a woman. I believe the most important and longest-lasting effect of Barack Obama's election in 2008 is that tens of millions of kids (of all racial backgrounds) got to experience an African American being President. Those kids are going to grow up knowing, and not just theoretically, that a non-white person can be elected (and even re-elected) President of the United States. Clinton's election would send a similar message to those same kids (both girls and boys): a woman can be elected President. I think it would have a huge future effect, more than any of the policy differences between her and Sanders, especially back-to-back with an Obama presidency.
President Obama announces a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.
How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn't make us safer. It's an affront to our common humanity.
Here's Obama's Op-Ed on the topic.
"It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment." That's a quote on solitary from John McCain from an old New Yorker piece from Atul Gawande: Hellhole. (via nextdraft)
What has Obama got in its pocketses? Jan 21 2016
Last week, after the State of the Union address, President Obama was interviewed by three prominent YouTube users. Oh, the outcry that arose! (Even though he did the same thing last year.) The President giving valuable country-running time over to mere social media stars, what has this country come to?
Well, it turns out if you get different kinds of people asking different kinds of questions, you're going to get answers you normally wouldn't hear. Case in point: Ingrid Nilsen was one of the three YouTubers chosen to interview the President. She asked him to talk about a meaningful item from his house and the President told a wonderful story about what he carries in his pockets every day:
Obama continues to be delightful and Nilsen might be my new favorite person after watching her YT channel for a bit this morning. I mean, just watch the first few minutes of this video where she came out to her viewers.
They should have roped Mothersbaugh in on the music, but this was actually really informative! And the Bobby Jindal slow-mo was [kiss-fingers emoji].
From a current Washington DC resident and father, an opinion piece in the NY Times called Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility.
Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.
All of us have a role to play - including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.
The gun industry also needs to do its part. And that starts with manufacturers.
As Americans, we hold consumer goods to high standards to keep our families and communities safe. Cars have to meet safety and emissions requirements. Food has to be clean and safe. We will not end the cycle of gun violence until we demand that the gun industry take simple actions to make its products safer as well. If a child can't open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can't pull the trigger of a gun.
I applaud the President for his actions, but I am skeptical of technological solutions to social and political problems about guns. I don't know about you, but my son has been able to open child-proof medicine bottles since he was about 5 years old. Two-year-olds can unlock iPhones and make in-app purchases. The idea of a "safe gun" is a dangerous oxymoron -- there's always the matter of the metal designed to rip through human flesh.
Obama considers executive actions on gun control Jan 04 2016
President Obama is meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch today to discuss possible executive actions to curb gun violence.
Recalling the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people -- 20 of them children -- and left many grimly hopeful it would lead to an overhaul of the nation's gun laws, the president accused lawmakers of bowing to the gun lobby and blocking necessary changes.
"All across America, survivors of gun violence and those who lost a child, a parent, a spouse to gun violence are forced to mark such awful anniversaries every single day," Mr. Obama said. "And yet Congress still hasn't done anything to prevent what happened to them from happening to other families."
America's junk news binge epidemic Nov 30 2015
In the midst of this piece by Matt Taibbi on Republican presidential candidates blaming media bias for their outright falsehoods are two paragraphs which perfectly sum up the state of contemporary news media:
It's our fault. We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that's basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.
The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.
If Americans are getting intellectually fat and lazy binging on junk news, perhaps the solution is something akin to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," Michael Pollan's advice for healthy eating: Follow the news, not too much, mostly facts.
The modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour-so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.
We're all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut-what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential for everyone who strives to be smart, productive, and sane.
Johnson spoke at Webstock the same year I did...here's a video of his talk about Industrialized Ignorance. (via @philipashlock)
True religion Nov 10 2015
Tyler Cowen on Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and our selective preference for some religious beliefs over others.
Loyal MR readers will know that I am myself a non-believer. But what I find strangest of all is not Ben Carson's pyramids beliefs, but rather the notion that we should selectively pick on some religious claims rather than others. The notion that it is fine to believe something about a deity or deities, or a divine book, as long as you do not take that said belief very seriously and treat it only as a social affiliation or an ornamental badge of honor.
To the non-believer, the Scientologist's belief in thetans and the vengeful sky god of Christianity are both equally implausible.
The undefeated South Nov 04 2015
In the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann writes about "the Southernization of American politics". In 1865, the United States won the Civil War against the South, but the current US has been significantly shaped by the ideals, politics, and values of the South.
In order to become the richest and most powerful country in the world, the United States had to include the South, and its inclusion has always come at a price. The Constitution (with its three-fifths compromise and others) awkwardly registered the contradiction between its democratic rhetoric and the foundational presence of slavery in the thirteen original states. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase-by which the U.S. acquired more slaveholding territory in the name of national expansion-set off the dynamic that led to the Civil War. The United States has declined every opportunity to let the South go its own way; in return, the South has effectively awarded itself a big say in the nation's affairs.
Superstorm Francis descends on the US Sep 24 2015
It's the Pope's first time in America and we sent him straight to Congress. That doesn't exactly seem like we're putting our best foot forward. In his historic speech to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis addressed climate change, capitalism, the death penalty and immigration. MoJo pulled out the ten most important lines from the speech.
"This Pope often operates through symbolism and gestures that convey his intentions in ways that words never could." The New Yorker on Pope Francis and his little Fiat.
Nerds don't get politics Sep 01 2015
At Vox, David Roberts argues that tech nerds are too dismissive and ignorant of politics, particularly if they are as interested as they say they are in changing the world. The piece includes this fascinating one-paragraph take on the state of contemporary American politics:
So that's where American politics stands today: on one side, a radicalized, highly ideological demographic threatened with losing its place of privilege in society, politically activated and locked into the House; on the other side, a demographically and ideologically heterogeneous coalition of interest groups big enough to reliably win the presidency and occasionally the Senate. For now, it's gridlock.
The Citizens Equality Act of 2017 Aug 27 2015
Larry Lessig is raising funds for running for President in the 2016 election. Lessig would run as a "referendum president", whose single task would be to pass a package of reforms called the Citizens Equality Act of 2017, and then resign to allow his Vice President to take over.
The Citizens Equality Act of 2017 consists of three parts: make it as easy as possible to vote, end the gerrymandering of political districts, and base campaign funding on all eligible voters, not just corporations or the wealthy.
Four years ago, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks told Netroots Nation, "There is only one issue in this country," and he was referring to the corrupt funding of public elections.
That corruption is part of a more fundamental inequality that we've allowed the politicians to create: we don't have a Congress that represents us equally.
Every issue - from climate change to gun safety, from Wall Street reform to defense spending - is tied to this "one issue." Achieving citizens equality in America is our one mission.
Read why he wants to run and watch his pitch:
This is a long shot (and he likely knows it), but I wish him well...it's a worthy and important goal.
Update: Lessig has dropped the resignation option from his campaign. He is all in on running for President.
Jon Stewart, political heavyweight Jul 28 2015
Jon Stewart visited the White House. And Obama visited The Daily Show. That gives you some idea of the influence -- on both sides of the aisle -- Jon Stewart has built up over his tenure.
Jon Stewart slipped unnoticed into the White House in the midst of the October 2011 budget fight, summoned to an Oval Office coffee with President Barack Obama that he jokingly told his escort felt like being called into the principal's office.
The mighty morphing Hillary logo Jun 11 2015
Soon after the logo for Hillary Clinton's campaign was revealed, I wrote "I am not a big fan of the arrowed H". Well, the campaign's clever use of the logo has won me over. Quartz's Annalisa Merelli explains.
It is through all these iterations that Clinton's logo fully displays its iconic value: It is highly recognizable despite the changes, and the much-criticized right-facing red arrow is now appears as it was likely meant to: pointing the way forward. The different backgrounds aren't just an innovative graphic solution-they are the visual embodiment of the values Clinton is building her campaign around. It vehicles a leadership based on collectivity and inclusiveness rather than the elitist individualism Clinton is often accused of.
I saw Mad Max: Fury Road yesterday (enjoyed it) but have a few questions.
1. With gasoline in such short supply, I'm surprised the various groups in the movie didn't take more advantage of solar power to generate energy for electric vehicles and such. Sunshine is obviously abundant in post-apocalyptic Australia and from the looks of what was scavenged from before the nuclear war and the ingenuity on display in getting what they found to function, they should have been able to find even rudimentary solar cells and get them to work.
2. Speaking of energy scarcity, I wonder if the troop-pumping-up and opponent-intimidating function of the flamethrowing guitar player was worth all of the fuel spewed out of the end of his instrument and energy consumed by the incredible number of speakers on his rig.
3. The roads in the movie were in remarkable shape, aside from the swampland. Who was responsible for their upkeep? Even dirt roads need maintenance or they develop potholes and washboarding. And for what reason were they kept in such good condition outside of the Citadel/Gas Town/Bullet Farm area? Aside from Furiosa's Rig, the chase party, and two smallish motorcycle gangs, I saw no other vehicular traffic on the roads...and who would have been semi-regularly traveling out past the canyon anyway? To where? For what?
4. What was the political and economic arrangement between the Citadel, Gas Town, and the Bullet Farm? Did the Citadel trade their water and crops for gas and bullets? Or was Immortan Joe, as the defender of the lone source of abundant fresh water in the region, the defacto leader of all three groups? The People Eater and Bullet Farmer certainly came a'running when Joe needed help retrieving his wives. There were obviously other sources of water in the region -- how else did the biker gangs survive? -- so you'd think that Gas Town and the Bullet Farm could have teamed up to squeeze Joe into giving them a better deal or even overthrowing him. Point is, there seemed to be a surprising lack of political friction between the three groups, which seems odd in an environment of scarcity.
5. Surely land was plentiful enough that large solar stills could have generated enough fresh water for people to live on without having to rely on the Citadel for it.
America's bias against the common good May 19 2015
In The Plot Against Trains, Adam Gopnik muses about how infrastructure in America has become dilapidated in part because we (or at least much of we) believe little good can come from the government.
What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest -- and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.
What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you'll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.
The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life -- what Olmsted called our "commonplace civilization."
The way he brings it back to trains at the end is lovely:
A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.
Well, except when you're on that Snowpiercer train. Although in the end (spoiler!), Curtis brought the train's segregated society back to "a common view and a singular destination" by crashing it and killing (almost) everyone on it. Hopefully America isn't headed toward the same end.
How Osama bin Laden really died May 10 2015
Seymour Hersh, writing for the London Review of Books, says that the American account of how Osama bin Laden was located, captured, and killed is not entirely true. In particular, he alleges that bin Laden was being held in Pakistan since 2006 and that members of the Pakistani military knew of and supported the raid.
It's been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama's first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration's account. The White House's story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida's operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.
And the plan all along was to kill bin Laden...the Pakistanis insisted on it.
It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: 'Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he's there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.
'Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,' the retired official said. 'Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.' A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that 'we were not going to keep bin Laden alive - to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we're doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We've come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, "Let's face it. We're going to commit a murder."' The White House's initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration's targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.
Hersh is a regular contributor to the New Yorker -- he broke the Abu Ghraib story in the pages of the magazine -- so I wonder why this story didn't appear there? Perhaps because it goes against the grain of their own reporting on the subject?
Update: Max Fisher writes in Vox that Hersh's story has many problems -- inconsistencies and thin sourcing to start -- and is indicative of Hersh's "slide off the rails" from investigative journalism to conspiracy theories.
On Sunday, the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh finally released a story that he has been rumored to have been working on for years: the truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to Hersh's 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books, the official history of bin Laden's death -- in which the US tracked him to a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan; killed him a secret raid that infuriated Pakistan; and then buried him at sea --- is a lie.
Hersh's story is amazing to read, alleging a vast American-Pakistani conspiracy to stage the raid and even to fake high-level diplomatic incidents as a sort of cover. But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies.
The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny -- and, sadly, is in line with Hersh's recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
The single source for most of the juiciest details in the piece was the most glaring issue. My Spidey Sense started tingling as I read the latter third...it sounded like Hersh was quoting some dude in a bar who "had a friend who told me this story". I wonder how much of this was fact-checked and corroborated?
And on Hersh's affiliation with the New Yorker, they repeatedly rejected the story:
(Indeed, when I first heard about Hersh's bin Laden story a few years from a New Yorker editor -- the magazine, the editor said, had rejected it repeatedly, to the point of creating bad blood between Hersh and editor-in-chief David Remnick -- this was the version Hersh was said to favor.)
Update: From Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine, Why Seymour Hersh's 'Alternative' bin Laden History Did Not Appear in The New Yorker.
When I spoke to Hersh earlier today, it was clear that there is tension. Hersh told me that he published the piece in the LRB because Remnick was not interested in having him write a magazine piece on the bin Laden raid. Hersh explained that, days after the May 2, 2011 SEAL operation, he told Remnick that his intelligence sources were saying Obama's account was fiction. "I knew right away that there were problems with the story," Hersh told me. "I just happen to have sources. I'm sorry, but I do." Hersh told Remnick he wanted to write a piece for the magazine.
"David said, 'Do a blog,'" Hersh recalled. "I said, 'I don't want to do a blog.' It's about money. I get paid a lot more writing a piece for The New Yorker [magazine] ... I'm old and cranky." (Remnick declined to comment).
Through reporting of its own, NBC News has confirmed parts of Hersh's story.
The NBC News sources who confirm that a Pakistani intelligence official became a "walk in" asset include the special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. These two sources and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official, also say that elements of the ISI were aware of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad. The former official was emphatic about the ISI's awareness, saying twice, "They knew."
Hillary Clinton logo typeface Apr 14 2015
From his Twitter stream, it appears that Wolff is attempting to make an actual Hillvetica font so stay tuned. FYI, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut designed the logo. The simplicity is appealing, but overall I am not a big fan of the arrowed H.
Update: The Washington Post made a little text editor so you can write whatever you want in Hillvetica. The Clinton campaign has already put it to use:
Progress, but Eyes remain on the Prize Mar 10 2015
President Obama delivered two key messages during his speech in Selma over the weekend. One, it's a mistake to suggest that racism is banished in America.
We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true.
And two, we've made a lot of progress:
If you think nothing's changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing's changed. Ask your gay friend if it's easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress -- our progress -- would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
It's worth putting politics and cynicism aside long enough to consider that on Saturday, a black President spoke at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. There's a long way to go, but that's a hell of a 50 years.
Cartoonists don't understand net neutrality Mar 03 2015
This collection of political cartoons depict the FCC's recent ruling on net neutrality as Big Government throttling the free internet, except that every caption has been replaced with "the cartoonist has no idea how net neutrality works". Here's one example followed by the unadulterated cartoon:
The zingers get zinged. (via @john_overholt)
The US border is 100 miles wide Jan 14 2015
Today I learned that the US government considers the US border as extending 100 miles into the country. This means that states like Maine, Michigan, and Florida are entirely within the border area and 2/3 of the US population lives within the border.
The problem with this, from the standpoint of the ACLU, is that Border Patrol agents have "certain extra-Constitutional powers" within this area and "routinely" overstep their bounds and violate the constitutional rights of innocent people.
See also 35 maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants. (via @tcarmody)
Update: So, as you may know, I am not a Constitutional lawyer or even a regular lawyer. The ACLU presumably employs and/or utilizes experts on Constitutional and immigration law. But they have a viewpoint, right? They are interested in the civil liberties of individual Americans. Anyway, Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center (who is also not a lawyer), notes that the US has a couple of different ideas of what a border is and what can be done at or within each kind of border is slightly different.
Legally, the 100-mile-wide region is called the "extended border" of the U.S., as defined by Title 8 of the Federal Code of Regulations. There is also something called the "functional equivalent" border, which is the area around international airports in the interior region of the U.S.
The DHS ruling from last Friday said its "warrantless searches" applied to the U.S. "border and its functional equivalent," with no mention of the extended 100-mile border.
Two analysis papers from the Congressional Research Service from 2009 offer some legal insight into what tactics agents can follow within the 100-mile-wide extended border, and why the distinction between the extended border and the other two borders is important.
Searches within the 100-mile extended border zone, and outside of the immediate border-stop location, must meet three criteria: a person must have recently crossed a border; an agent should know that the object of a search hasn't changed; and that "reasonable suspicion" of a criminal activity must exist, says the CRS. (The service had done the legal analyses to prepare Congress members for legislation.)
"Although a search at the border's functional equivalent and an extended border search require similar elements, the extended border search entails a potentially greater intrusion on a legitimate expectation of privacy. Thus, an extended border search always requires a showing of 'reasonable suspicion' of criminal activity, while a search at the functional equivalent of the border may not require any degree of suspicion whatsoever," the CRS says.
In November of 2014, This American Life aired a piece on several people who record on video their interactions with Border Patrol agents at inland checkpoints.
So if you haven't spent much time in the Southwest, you might not know about this. But there are these Border Patrol checkpoints that are just like in the middle of highway interstates and other roads, not at the border, not even near the border. They're as far as 100 miles from the border.
There are dozens of these interior or inland checkpoints across the country. They're mostly in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But now there are a couple in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington state. You know that you're approaching one of these checkpoints, because the speed limit will suddenly drop to 45 miles an hour and then 25. You'll slow down, and you stop, you see these orange cones coming up. And then often there's this big sort of tent-looking structure, like, right in the middle of the highway.
And then you stop, and you're right in the middle of the highway. And an agent in uniform, an armed agent walks up and asks you questions like, are you an American citizen? Sometimes he asks to look in your trunk. All this so they can catch undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers.
I've been through one of these checkpoints in VT, about 40-50 miles from the Canadian border, and hey, these checkpoints really make you feel like a criminal...like if you seem nervous they're going to pull you over and detain you because you seem like you've done something wrong. And that's what the ACLU is concerned about: Border Agents routinely treating law-abiding US citizens as criminals far from their true areas of jurisdiction. Again from This American Life, one guy got his car window broken at a checkpoint because he did not want to cooperate with the agents:
Violence like this doesn't happen a lot in these videos, but it does happen. Agents also broke the window of that pastor I mentioned earlier, Steven Anderson. They tased him and bloodied his face.
In Robert's case, he says the agents seized his cameras, put him in handcuffs, drove him far away to a holding cell, and detained him for hours. Then they drove them even farther away to El Cajon, California, let him out late at night at a bus station, and drove off.
You can watch the video here:
The glass is broken at ~11:00. (thx, @harryh & martha)
Healthcare: America's Bitter Pill Jan 06 2015
Steven Brill has written a book about the making of the Affordable Care Act called America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.
America's Bitter Pill is Steven Brill's much-anticipated, sweeping narrative of how the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was written, how it is being implemented, and, most important, how it is changing -- and failing to change -- the rampant abuses in the healthcare industry. Brill probed the depths of our nation's healthcare crisis in his trailblazing Time magazine Special Report, which won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. Now he broadens his lens and delves deeper, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners.
Malcolm Gladwell has a review in the New Yorker this week.
Brill's intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn't really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.
I haven't read his book yet, but I agree with Brill on one thing: the ACA1 did not go nearly far enough. Healthcare and health insurance are still a huge pain in the ass and still too expensive. My issues with healthcare particular to my situation are:
- As someone who is self-employed, insurance for me and my family is absurdly expensive. After the ACA was enacted, my insurance cost went up and the level of coverage went down. I've thought seriously about quitting my site and getting an actual job just to get good and affordable healthcare coverage.
- Doctors aren't required to take any particular health insurance. So when I switched plans, as I had to when the ACA was enacted, finding insurance that fit our family's particular set of doctors (regular docs, pediatrician, pediatric specialist that one of the kids has been seeing for a couple of years, OB/GYN, etc.) was almost impossible. We basically had one plan choice (not even through the ACA marketplace...see next item) or we had to start from scratch with new doctors.
- Many doctors don't take the ACA plans. My doctor doesn't take any of them and my kids' doc only took a couple. And they're explicit in accepting, say, United Healthcare's regular plan but not their ACA plan, which underneath the hood is the exact same plan that costs the same and has the same benefits. It's madness.
- The entire process is designed to be confusing so that insurance companies (and hospitals probably too) can make more money. I am an educated adult whose job is to read things so they make enough sense to tell others about them. That's what I spend 8+ hours a day doing. And it took me weeks to get up to speed on all the options and pitfalls and gotchas of health insurance...and I still don't know a whole lot about it. It is the most un-user-friendly thing I have ever encountered.
The ACA did do some great things, like making everyone eligible for health insurance and getting rid of the preexisting conditions bullshit, and that is fantastic...the "heroic work" mentioned by Gladwell. But the American healthcare system is still an absolute shambling embarrassment when you compare it to other countries around the world, even those in so-called "developing" or "third world" countries. And our political system is just not up to developing a proper plan, so I guess we'll all just limp along as we have been. Guh.
I hate the word "Obamacare" and will not use it. It's a derisive term that has been embraced for some reason by ACA/Obama supporters. It needlessly politicizes an already over-politicized issue. ↩
The Senate report on the CIA's torture practices Dec 09 2014
This is disgusting and awful and monstrous and I don't even know what to say about it. The NY Times lists seven key points (full article) from a report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the CIA's torture practices. We knew it was bad, suspected it was worse, but this is just beyond.
The report describes extensive waterboarding as a "series of near drownings" and suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three prisoners the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The report also describes detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation for up to a week, medically unnecessary "rectal feeding" and death threats. Conditions at one prison, described by a clandestine officer as a "dungeon," were blamed for the death of a detainee, and the harsh techniques were described as leading to "psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation."
This is surely the shit sandwich on top of an already unbearable year. I agree wholeheartedly with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who issued this statement about the report:
A great nation must be prepared to acknowledge its errors. This report details an ugly chapter in American history during which our leaders and the intelligence community dishonored our nation's proud traditions. Of course we must aggressively pursue international terrorists who would do us harm, but we must do so in a way that is consistent with the basic respect for human rights which makes us proud to be Americans.
"The United States must not engage in torture. If we do, in an increasingly brutal world we lose our moral standing to condemn other nations or groups that engage in uncivilized behavior.
Interview with Chris Rock Dec 01 2014
This Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock is fantastic, full of keen comedic, political, and sociological insights from Rock.
Q: What do you think of how he's done? Here we are in the last two years of his presidency, and there's a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he's disengaged.
A: I'm trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That's not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It's still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there's a little more peace. Not as much peace as we'd like, but I mean, that's kind of the gig. I don't recall anybody leaving on an up. It's just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he's not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?
Q: He pandered to his target audience.
A: He's the first cable-television president, and the thing liberals don't like about Obama is that he's a network guy. He's kind of Les Moonves. He's trying to get everybody. And I think he's figured out, and maybe a little late, that there's some people he's never going to get.
Q: What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn't?
A: I'd do a special on race, but I'd have no black people.
Q: Well, that would be much more revealing.
A: Yes, that would be an event. Here's the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it's all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they're not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
Q: Right. It's ridiculous.
A: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he's the first black person that is qualified to be president. That's not black progress. That's white progress. There's been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship's improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, "Oh, he stopped punching her in the face." It's not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner's relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn't. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let's hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Q: It's about white people adjusting to a new reality?
A: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it's unfair that you can get judged by something you didn't do, but it's also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn't work for.
China and US agree to climate change plan Nov 12 2014
The US and China, the two largest carbon polluters in the world, have struck an accord on climate change.
As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.
China's pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China's total energy production by 2030.
Here's the official statement from the White House. The NY Times calls the agreement "ambitious" and a "landmark", but Tyler Cowen says:
People, the China emissions "deal" isn't much more than a press release...
But James Fallows, who has written extensively on China recently, is more positive.
The United States and China have apparently agreed to do what anyone who has thought seriously about climate has been hoping for, for years. As the No. 1 (now China) and No. 2 carbon emitters in the world, and as the No. 1 (still the U.S.) and No. 2 economies, they've agreed to new carbon-reduction targets that are more ambitious than most people would have expected.
Obama's plan for "a free and open internet" Nov 10 2014
Today, President Obama came out strongly for net neutrality and asked for the FCC's help in implementing his plan.
More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here's a big reason we've seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That's a principle known as "net neutrality" -- and it says that an entrepreneur's fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student's blog shouldn't be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.
That's what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.
Tim Wu, who coined the term "net neutrality", reacted positively to the President's statement.
With another compromise looming, the President today released a video that suggests, in short, that he's had it. In unusually explicit terms, he has told the agency exactly what it should do. Enough with the preëmptive compromises, the efforts to appease the carriers, and other forms of wiggle and wobble. Instead, the President said, enact a clear, bright-line ban on slow lanes, and fire up the agency's strongest legal authority, Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the "main guns" of the battleship F.C.C.
Motherboard notes that the classification of the internet as a utility would not include rate regulations.
To do this, Obama said the FCC should reclassify internet services as a utility, but should do it in a way that has slightly different rules than say, an electric company. Obama's suggested rules focus specifically on net neutrality and service interruption, not prices, a concession to big telecom companies.
"I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services," he said.
Obama's call for net neutrality his latest effort to grow the economy by defending equality of opportunity. The ACA is the biggest boon for entrepreneurs in generations, allowing individuals to take economic risks without risking their health. The common thread here is a policy framework giving individuals the same access to essential resources as enormous institutions. Obama prefers to stress commonalities than to define his policies in such oppositional terms. But still, that's what he's doing here.
This makes me think of Tom Junod's piece on increased access passes at a water park, The Water-Park Scandal and the Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, Or Are We the Line?
It wouldn't be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn't. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two. After four hours at Whitewater the other day, my daughter and I had gone on five. And so it's not just that some people can afford to pay for an enhanced experience. It's that your experience -- what you've paid full price for -- has been devalued. The experience of the line becomes an infernal humiliation; and the experience of avoiding the line becomes the only way to enjoy the water park. You used to pay for equal access; now you have to pay for access that's more equal than the access afforded others. The commonality of experience is lost, and the lines are striated not simply by who can pay for a Flash Pass and who can't; they're also striated by race and class. The people sporting the Flash Passes are almost exclusively white, and they tend to be in better shape than those stuck on line. They tend to have fewer tattoos, and to look less, well, pagan. And by the end of the day, they start cutting lines where Flash Passes don't even apply -- because they feel entitled to -- and none of them, not even their kids, will so much as look at you.
I think 2008 and 2012 Obama voters are nodding their heads here at Appelbaum's and Junod's thoughts...Obama's statement on net neutrality and the rationale behind it is what they voted for. If you watched any of Ken Burns' The Roosevelts on PBS, you'll recognize this is right out of TR's and FDR's playbooks. Worth noting also that Teddy was a Republican and FDR a Democrat.
Miami, the 51st US state? Oct 24 2014
Given what we know now about how anthropogenic climate change is contributing to rising sea levels, Miami will be one of the first major American cities to find itself completely under water in the next century.
That inevitability is fueling a fledgling secessionist movement. And it's not some crackpot grassroots effort either...the mayor and city commission of South Miami passed a resolution earlier this month that South Florida should break away and form the nation's 51st state.
Whereas, South Florida's situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now very significant safety issues; and
Whereas, presently, in order to address the concerns of South Florida, it is necessary to travel to Tallahassee in North Florida. Often South Florida issues do not receive the support of Tallahassee. This is despite the fact that South Florida generates more than 69 percent of the state's revenue and contains 67 percent of the state's population; and
Whereas, the creation of the 51st state, South Florida, is a necessity for the very survival of the entire southern region of the current state of Florida.
Look for more of this type of thing in the years to come. The fight over fossil fuels has already shaped a great deal of the modern global political structure and the coming shifts in climate will almost certainly do the same.
Soccer match abandoned over drone antics Oct 14 2014
A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Albania and Serbia was abandoned today after a drone flying a banner with a map of Kosovo and the Albanian flag on it hovered over the pitch.
Tensions increased further when the flag was snared by Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic, who then pulled on the strings connecting it to the drone. He was immediately confronted by Albanian players, and a shoving match ensued.
The match was abandoned after a lengthy delay. At the recommendation of UEFA, no Albanian fans were allowed into the stadium for the match in Belgrade due to tensions between the two nations. Kosovo, where the population includes both ethnic Serbs and Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a declaration that the Serbians dispute. Nick Ames wrote a soccer-centric take on the tensions between the two nations.
It comes down, really, to Kosovo -- and that is a phrase that can be applied as shorthand for Serbian-Albanian relations as a whole. As Tim Judah writes in his seminal history, The Serbs: "So poisoned is the whole subject of Kosovo that when Albanian or Serbian academics come to discuss its history, especially its modern history, all pretence of impartiality is lost."
Kosovo, situated to the south of Serbia and the north-east of Albania, declared independence in 2008 having previously been part of Serbia. The Serbs still regard it as their own, but it is recognised by 56 percent of UN member states and its ethnic makeup is, depending on which side you refer to, overwhelmingly Albanian. (It's worth noting that figures vary wildly.)
The emotional significance goes as far back as 1389, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman army in the Battle of Kosovo, which took place near its modern-day capital, Pristina. It has been much-mythologised in Serbian history. Far more recently, memories of the 1998-99 Kosovo War -- an appallingly brutal fight for the territory from which it has not really recovered -- still run deep.
FYI: the YouTube embed above was recorded off of a TV...if you're in the US, the ESPN story has better video.
The reading level of Presidential speeches Oct 10 2014
Using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, Vocativ analyzed more than 600 speeches from all the American Presidents for ease of comprehension. What they found was a trend toward simpler language as speeches needed to appeal to a wider range of people, not just super-educated white men.
I think President Obama, no more or less than President Bush, tries to pack a lot of nuance and subtext into language that is as plain and straightforward as possible. While President Bush was often inarticulate off the cuff, Bush's speeches were underestimated. There was a crisp formality to a lot of his best speeches, particularly the ones he delivered shortly after Sept. 11.
Definitely click through for their analysis of the data.
Our Declaration Aug 19 2014
For the New York Review of Books, Gordon Wood reviews Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. Any review that starts "This is a strange and remarkable book" is worth paying attention to.
This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view -- historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual -- but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us -- not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people -- can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.
America's growing political polarization Jun 12 2014
The Pew Research Center has data and visualizations showing how much more polarized Americans have become about their politics over the past 20 years.
In 1994, the overlap was much greater than it is today. Twenty years ago, the median Democrat was to the left of 64% of Republicans, while the median Republican was to the right of 70% of Democrats. Put differently, in 1994 23% of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat; while 17% of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today, those numbers are just 4% and 5%, respectively.
Even more pronounced is the shift by the Republican members of Congress toward the right.
Donald Rumsfeld: The Unknown Known Mar 26 2014
Errol Morris' documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, comes out next month. The trailer:
In the first of a four-part companion series to the movie for the NY Times, Morris explores The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld.
When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?
The Unknown Known has been referred to as a sequel of sorts to The Fog of War, but from this it seems more like its opposite. Morris got some substantive and honest answers to important questions from McNamara, whereas it sounds like he got bupkiss from Rumsfeld.
Update: Here's part 2.
Crisis in Ukraine Feb 20 2014
Since November, anti-government protests have been happening in Ukraine. A recent truce gave hope that the violence would end, but mistrust on both sides has resulted in the worst clashes yet. The photos from the main fighting in Kiev are unbelievable.
Why the protests? Think Progress published an explainer this morning, before the latest round of violence.
The protests began on November 22, after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed course and refused to sign political and trade agreements with the European Union that had been in the works for years after heavy pressure from Moscow to abandon the agreements. Despite a violent police crackdown, protesters vowed to continue blockading streets and occupying public buildings until their central demand is met: the current government, including Yanukovych, must go.
The treaties would have opened the European Union market to Ukrainian companies and could have boosted the Ukrainian GDP by more than six percent over ten years. The country is suffering through an economic depression and lower tariffs and expanded competition could have also lowered prices, "fueling an increase of household consumption of some 12 percent." Ukraine would have also adopted 350 EU laws, codifying what many Ukrainians saw as a "commitment to European standards of governance and social justice." To them, the treaty was a way of diminishing Russia's long-time influence and reversing the trend of persistent economic corruption and sluggishness.
The lukewarm response to global climate change Nov 06 2013
Elizabeth Kolbert on yet another report which says that the future effects of anthropogenic climate change will be irreversible and catastrophic.
Promoting "preparedness" is doubtless a good idea. As the executive order notes, climate impacts -- which include, but are not limited to, heat waves, heavier downpours, and an increase in the number and intensity of wildfires -- are "already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation." However, one of the dangers of this enterprise is that it tends to presuppose, in a Boy Scout-ish sort of way, that "preparedness" is possible.
As we merrily roll along, radically altering the planet, we are, as the leaked I.P.C.C. report makes clear, increasingly in danger of committing ourselves to outcomes that will simply overwhelm societies' ability to adapt. Certainly they will overwhelm the abilities of frogs and trees and birds to adapt. Thus, any genuine "preparedness" strategy must include averting those eventualities for which preparation is impossible. This is not something that the President can do by executive order, but it's something he ought to be pursuing with every other tool.
In linking to the piece, Philip Gourevitch notes:
This is simply the most important & urgent issue in our time & will be for as long as there is a foreseeable future
I wonder... what it's gonna take for the world's governments to lurch into action on this? Or will they ever? Years of iron-clad scientific consensus isn't doing it. Sandy didn't do it. Heat waves, wildfires, and floods seem to have little effect. The melting Arctic, ha! The risk to food and water supplies? Not really. For fun, here's a Guardian piece from six years ago on 2007's IPCC report, the same report Kolbert is referring to above.
Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.
The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.
'The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document -- that's what makes it so scary,' said one senior UK climate expert.
It's the same shit! It's absurd.
"Most people do not give a fuck about politics" Oct 24 2013
Russell Brand, the actor and comedian, guest edited the latest issue of the New Stateman. In a piece from that issue, Brand details his political philosophy and asks if a utopian revolution is possible.
Perhaps this is why there is currently no genuinely popular left-wing movement to counter Ukip, the EDL and the Tea Party; for an ideology that is defined by inclusiveness, socialism has become in practice quite exclusive. Plus a bit too serious, too much up its own fundament and not enough fun. The same could be said of the growing New Age spiritual movement, which could be a natural accompaniment to social progression. I'm a bit of a tree-hugging, Hindu-tattooed, veggie meditator myself but first and foremost I want to have a fucking laugh. When Ali G, who had joined protesters attempting to prevent a forest being felled to make way for a road, shouted across the barricade, "You may take our trees, but you'll never take our freedom," I identified more with Baron Cohen's amoral trickster than the stern activist who aggressively admonished him: "This is serious, you cunt."
A bit too fucking serious, actually. As John Cleese said, there is a tendency to confuse seriousness with solemnity. Serious causes can and must be approached with good humour, otherwise they're boring and can't compete with the Premier League and Grand Theft Auto. Social movements needn't lack razzmatazz.
The right has all the advantages, just as the devil has all the best tunes. Conservatism appeals to our selfishness and fear, our desire and self-interest; they neatly nurture and then harvest the inherent and incubating individualism.
I imagine that neurologically the pathway travelled by a fearful or selfish impulse is more expedient and well travelled than the route of the altruistic pang. In simple terms of circuitry I suspect it is easier to connect these selfish inclinations.
This piece is filled with interesting and entertaining bits throughout, making it difficult to pick just one excerpt. Here's another then:
We are still led by blithering chimps, in razor-sharp suits, with razor-sharp lines, pimped and crimped by spin doctors and speech-writers. Well-groomed ape-men, superficially altered by post-Clintonian trends.
We are mammals on a planet, who now face a struggle for survival if our species is to avoid expiry. We can't be led by people who have never struggled, who are a dusty oak-brown echo of a system dreamed up by Whigs and old Dutch racists.
Those Republican clowns in Congress Oct 16 2013
We all know Obama shut down the US government for fascist socialist Muslim reasons, but I persist in my childish belief that many of the Congressional Republicans are straight-up clowns.
More here in WMxdesign's GOP Clown College Flickr set.
The Killing Machines Aug 16 2013
When you consider the alternatives -- even, and perhaps especially, if you are deeply concerned with sparing civilians -- you are led, as Obama was, to the logic of the drone.
The Atlantic's Mark Bowden provides his take on how to think about drones: The Killing Machines.
Waiting in line, as American as apple pie? Jul 09 2013
In a waterpark parable about contemporary American politics, Tom Junod asks: "Are we a nation of line-cutters, or are we the line?"
But here's the thing about waiting in line at Whitewater, here's the lesson that you learn from the spectacle of America in the raw: It works. When my daughter gapes and marvels, I tell her that human beings come in all shapes and sizes, and it's an explanation that seems to satisfy her because it's inescapable. When I hear the censorious voice in my head saying that the woman in front of me shouldn't be wearing that bikini, I go on to draw the only conclusion that the evidence all around me permits: that no one should, and that therefore everyone can. Going to Whitewater is like bathing in the Ganges, with chlorine and funnel cakes -- and also with the elemental difference that not everyone is poor, lowly, untouchable, an outcast. Rather, everyone is quite simply American, and so the line slouches and stumbles forward, the very definition of a mixed blessing -- a blessing mixed black and white, rich and poor, slovenly and buff, and so on down the line. It can be slow going, it can be frustrating, but people have no choice to make the best of it, so they talk to one another, they gripe amusingly, they laugh, they compromise, they endure, and they scream when they finally go down a water slide whose initial pitch approaches 90 degrees. No one cuts, or tries to; the line works because for all its inherent and exhibitionistic imperfections it keeps its promise of equal access, and, by God, it moves.
See also paying to get through airport security faster (TSA Pre, etc.).
PRISM in the 18th century Jun 13 2013
There's been a lot of discussion recently about government programs like PRISM and how, according to defenders of such surveillance, they "only" collect metadata related to communications and not the content of the communication. In a clever article, Kieran Healy uses only the membership lists of various Boston-area organizations in the late 1770s to find out quite a lot about who might be the leaders of the nascent revolutionary cell. Even with this simple analysis, Paul Revere's name pops out of the data.
The analytical engine has arranged everyone neatly, picking out clusters of individuals and also showing both peripheral individuals and-more intriguingly-people who seem to bridge various groups in ways that might perhaps be relevant to national security. Look at that person right in the middle there. Zoom in if you wish. He seems to bridge several groups in an unusual (though perhaps not unique) way. His name is Paul Revere.
Once again, I remind you that I know nothing of Mr Revere, or his conversations, or his habits or beliefs, his writings (if he has any) or his personal life. All I know is this bit of metadata, based on membership in some organizations. And yet my analytical engine, on the basis of absolutely the most elementary of operations in Social Networke Analysis, seems to have picked him out of our 254 names as being of unusual interest.
Now, the Crown may have suspected Revere of anti-Royalist leanings without this analysis. But with the analysis, they all but know. Get Revere and a few other highly connected nodes into jail on some trumped-up charges and, voila, maybe the American Revolution never happens or is quickly quashed. Revere and the American Revolution is an extreme example of what Moxie Marlinspike is getting at in We Should All Have Something To Hide: that breaking the law is sometimes how society moves forward.
Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the US, such as the legalization of marijuana in CO and WA, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of US states.
As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the US democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it's true, the bills did pass.
What's often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.
The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in WA and CO, it was obviously not legal for personal use.
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in MN, CO, and WA since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?
Supreme Court: human genes not patentable Jun 13 2013
In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled today that human genes cannot be patented.
The case involved Myriad Genetics Inc., which holds patents related to two genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, that can indicate whether a woman has a heightened risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, said the genes Myriad isolated are products of nature, which aren't eligible for patents.
The high court's ruling was a win for a coalition of cancer patients, medical groups and geneticists who filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging Myriad's patents. Thanks to those patents, the Salt Lake City company has been the exclusive U.S. commercial provider of genetic tests for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
The challengers argued the patents have allowed Myriad to dictate the type and terms of genetic screening available for the diseases, while also dissuading research by other laboratories.
Fuck yes. A defect in her BRCA1 gene is what caused Angelina Jolie to recently have a preventive double mastectomy. (via @tylercowen)
You commit three felonies a day Jun 10 2013
In a book called Three Felonies A Day, Boston civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate says that everyone in the US commits felonies everyday and if the government takes a dislike to you for any reason, they'll dig in and find a felony you're guilty of.
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to "white collar criminals," state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.
In response to a question about what happens to big company CEOs who refuse to go along with government surveillance requests, John Gilmore offers a case study in what Silverglate is talking about.
We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading -- on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn't because it was classified and he couldn't legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things.
This CEO's name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he's still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.
You combine this with the uber-surveillance allegedly being undertaken by the NSA and other governmental agencies and you've got a system for more or less automatically accusing any US citizen of a felony. Free society, LOL ROFLcopter.
Update: For the past two years, the Wall Street Journal has been "examining the vastly expanding federal criminal law book and its consequences". (thx, jesse)
National Insecurity Agency Jun 10 2013
By now, you've likely heard of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked secret documents to the press regarding that agency's electronic surveillance activities. From Glenn Greenwald's excellent coverage for The Guardian, here are a few of the most interesting passages from interviews with Snowden.
From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.
Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."
He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
"All my options are bad," he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.
"Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets," he said.
"We have got a CIA station just up the road -- the consulate here in Hong Kong -- and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be."
He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he "watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in", and as a result, "I got hardened."
The primary lesson from this experience was that "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act."
"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."
And from a second piece with a straight-up interview:
Q: Why did you decide to become a whistleblower?
A: "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things ... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
Q: What do the leaked documents reveal?
A: "That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."
Q: What is your reaction to Obama denouncing the leaks on Friday while welcoming a debate on the balance between security and openness?
A: "My immediate reaction was he was having difficulty in defending it himself. He was trying to defend the unjustifiable and he knew it."
Q: Washington-based foreign affairs analyst Steve Clemons said he overheard at the capital's Dulles airport four men discussing an intelligence conference they had just attended. Speaking about the leaks, one of them said, according to Clemons, that both the reporter and leaker should be "disappeared". How do you feel about that?
A: "Someone responding to the story said 'real spies do not speak like that'. Well, I am a spy and that is how they talk. Whenever we had a debate in the office on how to handle crimes, they do not defend due process - they defend decisive action. They say it is better to kick someone out of a plane than let these people have a day in court. It is an authoritarian mindset in general."
Both of these pieces are very much worth reading in entirety. Also worth a read is Timothy Lee's piece for The Washington Post, Has the US become the type of nation from which you have to seek asylum?
Four decades ago, Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities to face charges of violating the Espionage Act. During his trial, he was allowed to go free on bail, giving him a chance to explain his actions to the media. His case was eventually thrown out after it was revealed that the government had wiretapped him illegally.
Bradley Manning, a soldier who released classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, has had a very different experience. Manning was held for three years without trial, including 11 months when he was held in de facto solitary confinement. During some of this period, he was forced to sleep naked at night, allegedly as a way to prevent him from committing suicide. The United Nations' special rapporteur on torture has condemned this as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the convention against torture."
What is happening in Istanbul? Jun 03 2013
Small protests in Istanbul over the past few days have erupted into what's becoming a typical scene across the world: authoritarian governments attempting to crack down on a citizenry agitating for increased freedom.
No newspaper, no television channel was there to report the protest. It was a complete media black out.
But the police arrived with water cannon vehicles and pepper spray. They chased the crowds out of the park.
In the evening the number of protesters multiplied. So did the number of police forces around the park. Meanwhile local government of Istanbul shut down all the ways leading up to Taksim square where the Gezi Park is located. The metro was shut down, ferries were cancelled, roads were blocked.
Yet more and more people made their way up to the center of the city by walking.
They came from all around Istanbul. They came from all different backgrounds, different ideologies, different religions. They all gathered to prevent the demolition of something bigger than the park:
The right to live as honorable citizens of this country.
They gathered and marched. Police chased them with pepper spray and tear gas and drove their tanks over people who offered the police food in return. Two young people were run over by the panzers and were killed.
How to prevent protests in China May 08 2013
Taking a page from Orwell, officials in Chengdu, China endeavored to prevent recent protests by moving the weekend and scheduling security exercises at the same time and place as the scheduled protest.
As text messages circulated calling for another protest, authorities decided to fiddle with the calendar: For many, Saturday became a workday, and the day of rest was moved to Monday, May 6. So as Saturday dawned, schoolchildren straggled reluctantly back to class, and employees at government-run work units discovered the day was taken up by urgent meetings.
But the more radical steps involved brutalizing the addicts themselves. Saakashvili mandated as aggressive a drug policy as any country has attempted since Mao Zedong threatened to execute all Chinese opium fiends and "cured" about five million of them overnight. If you think New York's stop-and-frisk rule is invasive, try Georgia's: Cops can stop anyone at any time for no reason and force him to urinate into a cup. Fifty-three thousand people were stopped on the street in 2007, or about one in 20 of the young men in Georgia. About a third of those passed dirty urine; first-offenders were levied a fine of several hundred dollars. One more dirty test amounted to a criminal offense.
"There was such an unprecedented drug war," Otiashvili says. "What was going on-and still goes on-in Georgia doesn't happen anywhere. No country puts people in the prison for a positive urine test."
Sandra Day O'Connor's Bush vs. Gore mistake May 08 2013
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor now admits that taking on the Bush vs Gore case in 2000 was probably a mistake.
"It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue," O'Connor said during a talk with the Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board on Friday. "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'"
The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less than perfect reputation."
"Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision," she said. "It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day."
[Hair tearing-out noise]
Steven Spielberg is doing a sequel to Lincoln called Obama and he got Daniel Day-Lewis to play the lead. I knew Day-Lewis was good, but this is bonkers.
Deeply deeply shameful Apr 18 2013
I was offline yesterday evening and this morning, so this is a little tardy but what the Senate did in not passing the already woefully wimpy gun control legislation yesterday was embarrassing and shameful. Fuck them.
For 45 senators, the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a forgotten tragedy. The toll of 270 Americans who are shot every day is not a problem requiring action. The easy access to guns on the Internet, and the inevitability of the next massacre, is not worth preventing.
In a NY Times editorial, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has some sharp words for our elected officials.
Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I'm furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo -- desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation -- to go on.
I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You've lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators' e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I'm asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You've disappointed me, and there will be consequences.
And The Onion once again hits simultaneously below the belt and precisely on target: Next Week's School Shooting Victims Thank Senate For Failing To Pass Gun Bill.
Great job, guys," said 14-year-old Jacob Miller, one of nine junior high school students who will be shot next week by a mentally ill gunman wielding a legally acquired assault rifle that was purchased at a gun show. "My classmates and I are really proud of you for cowering to the NRA and caring more about politics than my friends and I getting shot and killed. It totally makes sense. You're the best."
The politics of Super Mario Bros Apr 09 2013
Quora is full of questions college students ask each other while high, except that sometimes they get answered seriously. Case in point: What is the political situation in the Mario universe? The top answer starts out:
Without going into too much detail, Mario generally lives and works in the Mushroom Kingdom, one of the largest geo-political structures on Mushroom World, in the Grand Finale Galaxy in, yes, the Mushroom Universe.
For the purposes of this answer I will deliberately restrict the terms to discussing Mushroom World, as a comprehensive answer on the entire Mushroom Universe would require covering 20-22 (depending on how you count) Galaxies and frankly, I doubt it would be any more fun to read than it would be to write.
Also, Bowser is probably a fascist.
Feeling totally depressed and sad and useless about this: the NRA wins again.
After Sandy Hook, after twenty children were shot and killed at a place where they should have been safe from all harm, there was some optimism among supporters of gun control: perhaps now, finally, both Democrats and Republicans could see the light -- and the suffering-and revive the assault -- weapons ban. It was a futile hope.
Less than a week after Adam Lanza shot up an elementary school, it was already basically clear that an assault-weapons ban could not pass Congress-that it probably couldn't even get through the Democratic-controlled Senate, never mind the House. So it was hardly a surprise when, three months later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the ban would be removed from a larger gun-control package that is making its way through the upper chamber and given a separate vote that it will not survive. The scale of the defeat suffered by the ban's supporters, though, is shocking. This wasn't a close call; it was a body blow.
I haven't forgotten Sandy Hook. We drive by there every time we go to Vermont. I think about those kids almost every day. Sometimes when I think about them, I close my eyes and see my 5-year-old son cowering in the corner of his classroom as a black-clad figure toting a machine gun bears down on him. And then the tears come. I can't stand that this is what America is; that we trade our children's lives for the opportunity to purchase items specifically invented for killing. I can't stand it. It's pathetic and embarrassing and barbaric.
Nixon sabotaged Vietnam peace talks Mar 16 2013
In 1968, Richard Nixon, then a candidate for President, used backchannel negotiations to scuttle peace talks that may have ended the Vietnam War. Nixon was afraid an end to the war meant an end to his campaign.
By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks -- or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had "blood on his hands".
The war went on for seven more bloody years, most of them under Nixon's watch. Shameful.
Ask anyone with young children what they think of daylight saving time and you'll probably get a stabbing in the eye. It just totally fucks your world for two+ weeks a year with zero benefit. This petition needs 100,000 digital signatures for the White House to issue an official response to it. Sign it or I might get stabby.
Update: I honestly don't care which time we keep (DST or standard time), as long as the biannual time switching nonsense stops.
Rand Paul eternal drone warfare filibuster Mar 06 2013
A filibuster in the United States Senate usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote. The most common form of filibuster occurs when a senator attempts to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a bill by extending the debate on the measure, but other dilatory tactics exist. The rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.
What's Paul upset about? Drones:
Paul said that all presidents must honor the Fifth Amendment. "No American should ever be killed in their house without warrant and some kind of aggressive behavior by them," Paul said on the Senate floor. "To be bombed in your sleep? There's nothing American about that . . . [Obama] says trust him because he hasn't done it yet. He says he doesn't intend to do so, but he might. Mr. President, that's not good enough . . . so I've come here to speak for as long as I can to draw attention to something that I find to really be very disturbing."
"I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution," Paul added."No person will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process," he said, quoting the Fifth Amendment.
I have written about Obama's continued use of drones before.
The White House was completely gutted in 1950 Feb 28 2013
If this photo series from 1950 of the interior of the White House being ripped out so that the building could be structurally reinforced isn't an apt metaphor for the current state of American politics, I don't know what is.
Experts called the third floor of the White House "an outstanding example of a firetrap." The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion's plumbing "makeshift and unsanitary," while "the structural deterioration [was] in 'appalling degree,' and threatening complete collapse." The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.
"It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely," he testified to Congress in February 1949. "In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation."
So it had to be gutted. Completely. Every piece of the interior, including the walls, had to be removed and put in storage. The outside of the structure-reinforced by new concrete columns-was all that remained.
When it's OK for the US govt to kill citizens Feb 05 2013
This Justice Department memo about when the US government, without hearing or trial or due process or whatever other "rights" we as a country hold dear, can kill US citizens is fucking bullshit.
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaida or "an associated force" -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration's most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
Ed Koch, RIP Feb 01 2013
Former three-term mayor of NYC Ed Koch died this morning at 88. Worth reading are obituaries by Robert McFadden in the NY Times:
Mr. Koch's 12-year mayoralty encompassed the fiscal austerity of the late 1970s and the racial conflicts and municipal corruption scandals of the 1980s, an era of almost continuous discord that found Mr. Koch at the vortex of a maelstrom day after day.
But out among the people or facing a news media circus in the Blue Room at City Hall, he was a feisty, slippery egoist who could not be pinned down by questioners and who could outtalk anybody in the authentic voice of New York: as opinionated as a Flatbush cabby, as loud as the scrums on 42nd Street, as pugnacious as a West Side reform Democrat mother.
"I'm the sort of person who will never get ulcers," the mayor - eyebrows devilishly up, grinning wickedly at his own wit - enlightened the reporters at his $475 rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village on Inauguration Day in 1978. "Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I'm the sort of person who might give other people ulcers."
Koch, New York City's dominant political figure of the 1980s and the architect of what remains its governing political coalition, stayed politically relevant through his long political twilight, courted aggressively by figures including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama for his role as a proxy for pro-Israel Democrats willing, but not eager, to cross party lines.
But Koch's later years of quips, movie reviews, and presidential politics remain secondary to his central legacy, which is in New York's City Hall. Tall and gangly with a domed, bald head and a knowing smile, Koch was New York's mayor and its mascot from 1978 to 1989. Through three terms, he repeated one question like a mantra: "How'm I doing?" At first, the answer was clear to observers who had watched the city slide toward bankruptcy: exceptionally well. Koch managed New York back from the brink, drove hard bargains with municipal unions, cut jobs where he had to and reduced taxes where he could. He presided over a boom in Manhattan, and spent his new revenues on renewing the south Bronx.
But as the Koch administration moved its third term, the mayor lost his momentum. As Wall Street boomed in the 1980s, Koch took advantage of the new revenues to double New York City's budget and offer tax breaks to real estate developers. But the largesse couldn't buy him friends: he clashed with black leaders and his old allies among Manhattan's liberal democrats. New York became famous for its racial tensions and rising crime. He courted the Democratic Party bosses of Queens and the Bronx only to be tarnished by the corruption scandals that surrounded them.
Here's the trailer for Koch, a documentary on the former mayor that coincidentally opens today in limited release:
Stephen Walt on what truths US foreign policy officials will never admit in public.
#2: "We don't actually care that much about human rights." Presidents, diplomats, and other politicians talk about human rights all the time, and both Congress and the Executive Branch often bully small countries over their human rights performance, especially when we have other differences with them). But when human rights concerns conflict with other interests, our ethical concerns take a back seat nearly every time. Most Americans didn't care when the U.S.-led sanctions program against Iraq caused the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqis (many of them children), and none of the senior officials who authorized torture during the Bush administration has faced indictment or even serious investigation (Just imagine how much we'd be howling if we suspected some foreign government had been waterboarding captive Americans!). The United States has plenty of allies whose human rights performance ranges from questionable to awful, and we continue to trade and invest in China despite its own lax human rights standards. I'm not suggesting that the U.S. government is totally indifferent to such concerns, of course; what I'm saying is that we are rarely willing to do very much or pay significant costs in order to advance human rights, unless our strategic interests run parallel. Like most countries, in short, we talk a better game on human rights than we actually deliver. But you're not going to hear many American politicians admit it.
Obama's overlooked war and lethal Presidency Jan 22 2013
Tom Junod has been on the drone beat since writing The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama in July.
Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They're careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.
Individual targetting isn't exclusively done by military drones, but they are the favored method. Junod notes that even as Obama said that "a decade of war is now ending" in his inauguration speech, a drone strike killed three suspected Al Qaeda members in Yemen.
President Obama's second inaugural was supposed to sound something like Lincoln's: the speech of a man tired of war, and eager to move the nation beyond its bloody reach. In truth, it was the speech of a man who has perfected a form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace. He was able to put the pain of war in the past because his efforts to expand painless war have come to fruition.
Here's the full report on the recent Yemeni strikes from the AP:
An American drone strike on Monday on a car east of Sana, the capital, killed three people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda, said Yemeni security officials. On Saturday, two American drone strikes killed eight people in Marib Province. Yemen, aided by the United States, has been battling the local branch of Al Qaeda. The United States rarely comments on its military role in Yemen but has acknowledged targeting Qaeda militants in the past.
Dangerous dangerous precedent here. If George W. Bush were doing this sort of thing, we'd be marching in the streets about it. Why does Obama get a free pass? (And on Bradley Manning? And on Guantanamo?) Anyone in the press want to ask the President about the legality & moral stickiness of drone strikes at his next press conference?
Obama announces plan to reduce gun violence Jan 16 2013
At a press conference today, Vice President Biden and President Obama introduced their plan to reduce the nation's gun violence. Here are main points:
Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.
Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.
Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.
Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.
Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.
Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.
End the freeze on gun violence research.
Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.
Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.
Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.
Here's the press conference in its entirety:
The NY Times has an overview of their remarks.
White House response to Death Star petition Jan 14 2013
In November, some serious individuals created a petition on the The White House's We the People website requesting the construction of a Death Star in 2016. The petition received the 25K signatures required for a response, and in a Friday night news dump, the White House responded with a memo full of Star Wars puns.
Reasons for rejection include:
*The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
*The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
*Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
The petitions submitted to the We the People site aren't always treated as a joke, here's the response to the people who signed petitions about seceding from the United States.
Draft of US climate assessment report released Jan 14 2013
On Friday afternoon, a government advisory committee released a draft of a federal climate assessment report, which pretty much meant that no one saw it, aside from the few journalists who were tasked, at that late hour of the week, with writing something about it. The upshot of the report? Bad news and there's not much anyone is doing about it. From Mother Jones:
Say what you want about the Obama administration's relative ignoring of climate issues: Many of his top scientists are paying rapt attention, and they think we're about to get our butts kicked -- although dumping the news at 4 p.m. on a Friday gives some indication of where it sits in federal priorities.
Anyway, what does the report say? From Nature:
Coming just days after news that the United States experienced its hottest year on record in 2012, the draft report says average US temperatures have increased by more than 0.8° Celsius since 1895, with a sharp spike since 1980. It also provides an update on the litany of impacts being analyzed by scientists. There is "strong evidence" that global warming has roughly doubled the likelihood of extreme heat events, contributing to droughts and wildfires, according to the report. Permafrost is melting in Alaska, while much of the country is experiencing more extreme rainfall and winter snowstorms.
And from Bloomberg:
The 60-member panel approved and released a draft report today that says many coastal areas face "potentially irreversible impacts" as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges and water shortages.
"The chances of record-breaking, high-temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change," the panel said in its report. Temperatures are predicted to increase, on average, by 2 degrees to 4 degrees in the next few decades, according to the report.
The panel of scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth's temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and floods.
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: 101-150
Very Unhealthy: 201-300
The readings in Beijing topped out at 755. My friend Youngna is there and these two photos she took of the CCTV building two days apart shows how bad the pollution is there:
When President Obama did an interview on Reddit in August, one of the questions he got was:
Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?
Obama declined to answer the question, but Conor Friedersdorf decided to ask a waterfowl expert what he thought and the answer involves an interesting mix of science:
With such a huge body, the problem of surface area to body volume comes into play. The terror-ducktyl would have a problem losing heat. Hence, a possible tactic would be to get it running around chasing me and it might overheat, stroke out, and die. Birds have higher body temperatures than mammals in any case (often very close to the 40 degrees Celsius upper lethal limit) so it might not take too much to push the duck over the metabolic cliff. Merits consideration.
After engaging his graduate students in conversation, he came to realize that it would be politically disastrous for Obama to fight the duck-sized horses. Think about it. In America, the duck lobby is composed of duck hunters. The horse lobby is made up of horse lovers who succeeded in stopping Californians from buying horse meat. The young women voters essential to the Democratic coalition are far more sympathetic to veritable ponies than a giant, rape-obsessed mallard. Shooting the duck would be perfectly legal under existing law, or would at worst result in a citation for hunting without a license.
See also The Biology of B-Movie Monsters by Michael LaBarbera, a classic and one of my favorite internet things ever.
When the Incredible Shrinking Man stops shrinking, he is about an inch tall, down by a factor of about 70 in linear dimensions. Thus, the surface area of his body, through which he loses heat, has decreased by a factor of 70 x 70 or about 5,000 times, but the mass of his body, which generates the heat, has decreased by 70 x 70 x 70 or 350,000 times. He's clearly going to have a hard time maintaining his body temperature (even though his clothes are now conveniently shrinking with him) unless his metabolic rate increases drastically.
Luckily, his lung area has only decreased by 5,000-fold, so he can get the relatively larger supply of oxygen he needs, but he's going to have to supply his body with much more fuel; like a shrew, he'll probably have to eat his own weight daily just to stay alive. He'll also have to give up sleeping and eat 24 hours a day or risk starving before he wakes up in the morning (unless he can learn the trick used by hummingbirds of lowering their body temperatures while they sleep).
Queen Elizabeth II with twelve US Presidents Jan 07 2013
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II of England has met 10 sitting US Presidents, every one from Eisenhower to Obama except for Lyndon Johnson. She also met Harry Truman as a princess in 1951 and former President Herbert Hoover in 1957.
BTW, Elizabeth is creeping up on Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch, just another two-and-a-half years to catch her. Victoria reigned during the terms of 19 different Presidents but never met any of them and had an unfair advantage...lots of short terms and one-term Presidencies back then. (via mlkshk)
Mixed messages from Bloomberg on gun control Dec 18 2012
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been one the most powerful voices calling for increased gun control in the wake of the Newtown shootings...see here and here. But earlier this year, NYC sold spent shell casings to an ammunition dealer.
In June, the City of New York sold 28,000 pounds of spent shell casings to a an ammunition dealer in Georgia, where they were to be reloaded with bullets. Anyone with $15 can buy a bag of 50, no questions asked, under Georgia law. As The New York Times reported, the city has previously sold shell casings -- which are collected at the police target shooting range -- to scrap metal dealers, but in this case the highest bidder was the ammunition store.
The city destroys guns but sells spent casing to be recycled. When challenged on this point, Bloomberg got testy:
Then one of the most experienced and professional of New York television reporters, Mary Murphy of WPIX, asked Mr. Bloomberg if the city was going to change its policy and not sell shell casings to ammunition dealers. Mr. Bloomberg set forth into a minisermon about how it was an act of integrity.
"This is the public's money that we are stewards of, and deliberately deciding to sell things at lower prices than the marketplace commands makes no sense at all, and if you think about it, would create chaos and corruption like you've never seen," he said.
Ms. Murphy pressed on: "Does it send the wrong message though?"
The mayor scolded her as if she were an errant schoolgirl.
"Miss, Miss," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Either you want to ask a question and I give you an answer, or please come to the next press conference and stand in the back."
Senator Moynihan's bullet tax Dec 18 2012
In an editorial for the NY Times in 1993 called Guns Don't Kill People. Bullets Do., US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described a bill he introduced in the Senate which would have levied a 10,000% tax on hollow-point bullets.
"So far this year, 342 New Yorkers have been killed by stray bullets. And in the past few days, two young women were shot in their pregnant bellies." A. M. Rosenthal wrote that on this page last Tuesday, the day of the Long Island shooting. By Thursday there were 11 more homicides. If we are to stop it, or come anywhere close, we have to get hold of the ammunition.
On Nov. 3, I introduced a bill that would levy a 10,000 percent tax on Winchester hollow-tipped "Black Talon" bullets, specifically designed to rip flesh. (Colin Ferguson, the suspect in the Long Island shootings, had some 40 of them.)
The tax would effectively raise the price of Black Talons from $20 a box to $2,000. On Nov. 22, 19 days after my bill was introduced, Winchester announced that it would cease sale of Black Talons to the public. Which suggests that the munitions manufacturers are more responsive than the automobile companies were a generation ago. It is also important to note that in 1986 Congress banned the Teflon-coated "cop killer" bullet, which penetrates police body armor. The Swedes are now making a new kind of armor-piercing round. We got that banned in the Senate version of this year's crime bill without a murmur.
Men wearing boys coats Dec 18 2012
I am certainly not an advocate for for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Mayor Bloomberg demands action from DC on guns Dec 17 2012
Today NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the President and Congress to take action on gun violence. Here are three of his six specific suggestions:
Pass the legislation of Fix Gun Checks Act that would require a criminal background check for all gun sales including all private sales and online sales
Ban deadly, military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which were previously banned under the now expired Federal assault weapons ban
Pass legislation to make gun trafficking a felony
28th Amendment ratified Dec 17 2012
The US has ratified a new amendment to the Constitution, the 28th such alteration. The Onion has the scoop:
"The provisions of the 28th Amendment will fully protect the right of all individuals to spend every waking moment utterly terrified at the thought of a deranged stranger with a semiautomatic combat rifle gunning them down," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), explaining that the measure also permits Americans to suffer panic attacks anytime their loved ones go to work, school, malls, or virtually any other public location.
As I said on Friday, The Onion is perhaps our most emotionally honest media source.
How to make gun control happen Dec 17 2012
What will it take for the US government to enact tougher gun control laws? Even with the Newtown shootings as impetus, it will be a politically difficult row to hoe.
What does it take? If a congresswoman in a coma isn't sufficient grounds to reevaluate the role that firearms play in our national life, is a schoolhouse full of dead children? I desperately want to believe that it is, and yet I'm not sure that I do. By this time next week, most of the people who are, today, signing petitions and demanding gun control will have moved on to other things. If you want to understand why the gun debate can occasionally feel rigged, this is the answer: the issue is characterized by a conspicuous asymmetry of fervor. The N.R.A. has only four million members -- a number that is probably dwarfed by the segment of the U.S. population that feels uneasy about the unbridled proliferation of firearms. But the pro-gun constituency is ardent and organized, while the gun control crowd is diffuse and easily distracted. In the 2012 election cycle, N.R.A. spending on lobbying outranked spending by gun control groups by a factor of ten to one.
What that means in practice is that in the aftermath of contemporary gun tragedies, we don't see new gun legislation. What we do see is a spike in gun sales. After the shooting last summer in Aurora, Colorado, gun sales went up. After the Giffords shooting, there was a surge in purchases of the very Glock semiautomatic that wounded her. Certainly, the firearm industry and lobby will confront some bad P.R. in the coming weeks, but they can likely find succor in an uptick in business. Following the Newtown shooting, Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners for America, suggested that these massacres might be avoided in the future, if only more teachers were armed.
Obama's poor record on gun control Dec 17 2012
Despite promises leading up to the 2008 Presidential election of strengthening the nation's gun control laws, President Obama has done nothing but offer condolences to those affected by mass shootings.
There has been no shortage of sorrow-filled words from Barack Obama following each of the tragic mass killings that have afflicted his presidency.
Obama described the wounding of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and deaths of six other people, including a young girl, in Tucson, Arizona, last year as a "tragedy for our entire country" and called for a "national dialogue" on how Americans treat each other.
He struck much the same theme in July following the killing of 12 people at a Colorado cinema. A month later, Obama called for "soul searching" on how to reduce violence after a white supremacist murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The searing awfulness of Newtown on Friday saw the president in tears, declaring: "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.
"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said.
Although Obama didn't mention gun control, that is what he was widely assumed to be talking about.
But critics say that the president, for all his sorrowful words after each mass killing, has not only visibly failed to address gun control, he has quietly acquiesced in a slew of national, state and local laws in recent years that have generally made it easier to buy and carry weapons.
Obama's speech at Newtown prayer vigil Dec 17 2012
President Obama pledged to use "whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this" in his speech last night at a prayer vigil in Newtown, CT.
A full transcript of the speech is available.
And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, "I know karate, so it's OK; I'll lead the way out."
As a community, you've inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other. You've cared for one another. And you've loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God's grace, that love will see you through.
But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.
With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there's nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child's very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won't -- that we can't always be there for them.
They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can't do this by ourselves.
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can't do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.
And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we're all parents, that they are all our children.
This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we're meeting our obligations?
Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?
Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?
Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer's no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I've been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we've hugged survivors, the fourth time we've consoled the families of victims.
Remnick to Obama: take action on gun control Dec 14 2012
The New Yorker's editor in chief David Remnick strongly urges President Obama to take decisive action on gun control.
Barack Obama has been in our field of vision for a long time now, and, more than any major politician of recent memory, he hides in plain sight. He is who he is. He may strike the unsympathetic as curiously remote or arrogant or removed; he certainly strikes his admirers as a man of real intelligence and dignity. But he is who he is. He is no phony. And so there is absolutely no reason to believe that his deep, raw emotion today following the horrific slaughter in Connecticut-his tears, the prolonged catch in his voice-was anything but genuine. But this was a slaughter-a slaughter like so many before it-and emotion is hardly all that is needed. What is needed is gun control-strict, comprehensive gun control that places the values of public safety and security before the values of deer hunting and a perverse ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment. Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown "as a parent," and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises-a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.
A statement from NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg on today's events:
With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it's still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership -- not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.
The NRA is winning the war on guns Dec 14 2012
And it's not because they have guns. They've got money and political influence.
While the NRA wins court fights, laws allowing more guns in more public places continue to spread, often for reasons that defy logic. For example, take the reasoning offered by Alabama state Sen. Roger Bedford, a Democrat, when explaining to Bloomberg earlier this week why he introduced a bill that would allow people to keep their guns in their cars in the workplace parking lot. "This provides safety and protection for workers who oftentimes travel 20 to 50 miles to their jobs," Bedford said. What does this mean? If there's a workplace shooting, people need to be able to have their guns in the parking lot to turn the place into a true shootout? Or does he just mean that maybe people need to be able to shoot to kill while driving down the highway on the way to work?
The right day to talk about guns Dec 14 2012
Writing for the New Yorker, Alex Koppelman says that today is the right day to talk about guns.
Carney's response was a predictable one. This is the way that we deal with such incidents in the U.S.-we acknowledge them; we are briefly shocked by them; then we term it impolite to discuss their implications, and to argue about them. At some point, we will have to stop putting it off, stop pretending that doing so is the proper, respectful thing. It's not either. It's cowardice.
It is cowardice, too, the way that Carney and President Obama and their fellow-Democrats talk about gun control, when they finally decide the time is right. They avoid the issue as much as possible, then mouth platitudes, or promise to pass only the most popular of measures, like the assault-weapons ban. And then they do nothing to follow through.
In an op-ed for the NY Times, Warren Buffett proposes a minimum tax on high incomes, specifically "30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that". He argues that higher tax rates will not curtail investment activity.
Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent - and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.
Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation's economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground.
The video at the bottom is worth watching to witness the shift between a north/south divided country to a urban/rural divided country over the past 20 years.
The campaign website for Dole/Kemp '96 is still available on the web. The entire front page at its actual size fits in this image...man, screens used to be tiny.
The Clinton/Gore '96 site no longer seems to be available (cg96.org is a parked domain, covered with ads), but 4president.us has some archived screenshots and a press release of some remarks by Al Gore on the site's launch. We've come a long way since then.
This is the first thing you see when you go to our home page, and it has a couple of innovative features for those of you who are familiar with the Internet and the World Wide Web. It's not very common to have this kind of ticker with a changing message at the bottom constantly moving or to have a server pushing new pictures onto the page with regularity right to your own computer.
Anyway, this is the first thing that you see, and then we go to the main menu. Since 1992, Bill Clinton has been working tirelessly to insure that America forges ahead and leads the world in the information age. He has brought technology into our classrooms and libraries, he signed the historic telecommunications reform bill to make sure that all of our cabinet agencies are online. Together, not long after we got into the White House, we became the very first President and Vice-President to have e-mail addresses and to set up a White House Website. I hope all of you have had the opportunity to visit the White House Website.
4president.us also has screenshots from other campaign sites that year, including those of Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan. (via @kdawson)
Kent Brewster's Who Likes Mitt allows you to watch Mitt Romney's Facebook fans unlike him in real time. Before the election, I wondered how either candidate would utilize their social media platforms in the event of their loss, as both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had several million followers on Twitter and Facebook. We'll have quite some time to see the answer because at the current and unsustainable rate of abandonment, Mitt's last follower will unlike him in just over 3 years. *181 Facebook fans left Mitt while this post was written. (via ★akuban)
Remnick to Obama: focus on climate change Nov 12 2012
The New Yorker's David Remnick urges President Obama to address climate change during his second term in a Kennedy-esque "we choose to go to the Moon" fashion.
Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any "fiscal cliff." Ever since 1988, when NASA's James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, testified before the Senate, the public has been exposed to the issue of global warming. More recently, the consequences have come into painfully sharp focus. In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.
The economic impact of weather events that are almost certainly related to the warming of the earth -- the European heat wave of 2003 (which left fifty thousand people dead), the Russian heat waves and forest fires of 2010, the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, and the preelection natural catastrophe known as Sandy -- has been immense. The German insurer Munich Re estimates that the cost of weather-related calamities in North America over the past three decades amounts to thirty-four billion dollars a year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost his state alone thirty-three billion. Harder to measure is the human toll around the world-the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.
Sad conservative clowns Nov 08 2012
Now's probably a good time to remind you of this Flickr set of prominent Republicans Photoshopped to look like clowns.
Before you accuse me of crass and childish partisanship, I will also take this opportunity to urge you to stop what you're doing to "express your hatred, shame, and outright disgust with anyone you know who voted Democrat", boycott businesses that accept EBT, and allow your dog to crap on Democrat lawns.
The relentless march of liberalism Nov 08 2012
This year's election reminded me of a piece that Anil Dash wrote almost ten years ago on our culture's tendency towards liberalism. It's my favorite thing he's ever written and is one of the few pieces of writing that instantly shifted my thinking in a significant way.
Our ideas are winning, you see. When Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya in 1986, he didn't make sure to urge Americans to have tolerance for people of Libyan descent living among us. But a scant 15 years later, President Bush made repeated calls for tolerance towards muslims in this country, not just out of what I see as his genuine motivation to do what was right, but also because the tenor of public discourse has changed that rapidly due to the tolerant influence of liberal philosophy. Gay marriage is still a big point of debate, but the presence of openly gay characters in mass media has changed in the same decade and a half from being scandalous to being clich'ed. It will be the burden of the next generation to hold the today's conservatives to their record of homophobia, but it's only a matter of time until that happens.
George W. Bush put out a message from the White House in honor of Kwanzaa. We're winning.
It's probably that sense of a slow, inexorable loss that makes conservatives terrified, causing them to respond with a desperate clinging to the past that only serves to further doom their cause. The best solutions, of course, lie in the future.
Tuesday's election -- an event that included reelecting a mixed-race President, legalizing marijuana in some states, legalizing same-sex marriage in some states, electing women to the Senate in record numbers, the election of the first openly gay Senator, and the defeat of many hard-line social conservatives -- serves as a reminder that the country continues to move in a more liberal direction.
Voted Nov 06 2012
It's been a tough few weeks here in NYC. Sandy. Power outages. Food and gas shortages. The hurricane aftermath. Those two kids murdered by their nanny. The NYPD officer who was planning to kill and cook women. The election has been weighing heavily on my heart, more heavily than I realized. The Presidential campaign has been difficult for me to follow...so little substance and so so so much sound and fury, signifying nothing.
I've been pretty apathetic about politics in the past and I'll never be the type of person to proselytize for one candidate over another (well, not too much anyway) but I would have waited in line for 12 hours today in order to cast my vote. Voting this morning1 felt like the first hopeful thing that's happened in quite awhile.
 For Obama/Biden, I don't mind telling you, not least because of the Republican Party's contempt for the rights of the majority of the population, aka our wives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, etc. ↩
Infographic of shifting US political ideologies Oct 22 2012
It was not my intent to be so politically oriented this morning but here we are. This is a chart that tracks the ideologies of the Democratic and Republican members of Congress from 1789 to 2010. As you can see, the shift away from the center by the Republicans since 1975 is unprecedented, perhaps matched only by the shift toward the center by the Democrats beginning in 1921 and ending in 1945.
This reminds me of a timeline created circa 1880 for a book called Conspectus of the History of Political Parties and the Federal Government:
Is the US becoming an extractive state? Oct 22 2012
Following up on her piece in the New Yorker on how hedge fund billionaires have become disillusioned with President Obama, Chrystia Freeland says that the 1% are repeating a mistake made many times throughout history of moving from an inclusive economic system to an extractive one.
Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.
In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.
Venice's elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d'Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren't on it, you couldn't join the ruling oligarchy.
The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn't long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice's population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.
BTW, Acemoglu and Robinson have been going back and forth with Jared Diamond about the latter's geographical hypothesis for national differences in prosperity forwarded in Guns, Germs, and Steel. I read 36% of Why Nations Fail earlier in the year...I should pick it back up again.
The New Yorker endorses Barack Obama Oct 22 2012
Not a surprise really, but the New Yorker's endorsement of Obama for President is a clear headed assessment of his first term and an effect critique against the "increasingly reactionary and rigid" Republican Party which Romney, to his discredit, has aligned himself with.
Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters. Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones. And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reëlection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride. But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter. The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds.
This paragraph is terrifying:
In pursuit of swing voters, Romney and Ryan have sought to tamp down, and keep vague, the extremism of their economic and social commitments. But their signals to the Republican base and to the Tea Party are easily read: whatever was accomplished under Obama will be reversed or stifled. Bill Clinton has rightly pointed out that most Presidents set about fulfilling their campaign promises. Romney, despite his pose of chiselled equanimity, has pledged to ravage the safety net, oppose progress on marriage equality, ignore all warnings of ecological disaster, dismantle health-care reform, and appoint right-wing judges to the courts. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are in their seventies; a Romney Administration may well have a chance to replace two of the more liberal incumbents, and Romney's adviser in judicial affairs is the embittered far-right judge and legal scholar Robert Bork. The rightward drift of a court led by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito -- a drift marked by appalling decisions like Citizens United -- would only intensify during a Romney Presidency. The consolidation of a hard-right majority would be a mortal threat to the ability of women to make their own decisions about contraception and pregnancy, the ability of institutions to alleviate the baneful legacies of past oppression and present prejudice, and the ability of American democracy to insulate itself from the corrupt domination of unlimited, anonymous money. Romney has pronounced himself "severely conservative." There is every reason to believe him.
The endorsements of major newspapers can be tracked here.
Super-rich private equity crybabies vs. Obama Oct 01 2012
In this week's New Yorker, Chrystia Freeland writes about how the ultra-rich have taken a dislike to President Obama and his anti-business policy and rhetoric, even though the President "has served the rich quite well". This article is infuriating, a bunch of very powerful men (and they are all men) sitting around crying about their powerlessness. A few choice quotes:
Cooperman regarded the comments as a declaration of class warfare, and began to criticize Obama publicly. In September, at a CNBC conference in New York, he compared Hitler's rise to power with Obama's ascent to the Presidency, citing disaffected majorities in both countries who elected inexperienced leaders.
Strong argument there. Per Godwin, that should have been the end of it.
Evident throughout the letter is a sense of victimization prevalent among so many of America's wealthiest people. In an extreme version of this, the rich feel that they have become the new, vilified underclass.
Underclass! Boo hoo! Do you want some cheese with that 2005 Petrus?
T. J. Rodgers, a libertarian and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has taken to comparing Barack Obama's treatment of the rich to the oppression of ethnic minorities -- an approach, he says, that the President, as an African-American, should be particularly sensitive to.
Yes, I can imagine the President nodding, upset at missing the obvious parallel here. The police chasing hedge fund managers through the streets of lower Manhattan with firehoses is a scene that I will never forget.
[Founding partner of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management Clifford S. Asness] suggested that "hedge funds really need a community organizer," and accused the White House of "bullying" the financial sector.
Clifford S. Asness swinging from the bathroom door knob by his underwear. Clifford S. Asness called "Assness" in trigonometry class. Nude photos taken of Clifford S. Asness in the locker room and distributed to the freshman girls. Clifford S. Asness teased so mercilessly about his acne that he has to stay home from school throwing up from the emotional pain of being so thoroughly and callously rejected by one's peers.
In 2010, the private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, of the Blackstone Group, compared the President's as yet unsuccessful effort to eliminate some of the preferential tax treatment his sector receives to Hitler's invasion of Poland.
Hitler again! Obama is obviously a fascist communist.
"You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world," Cooperman said. "Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied.
Hitler, take three. Stick with what you know.
He was a seventy-two-year-old world-renowned cardiologist; his wife was one of the country's experts in women's medicine. Together, they had a net worth of around ten million dollars. "It was shocking how tight he was going to be in retirement," Cooperman said. "He needed four hundred thousand dollars a year to live on. He had a home in Florida, a home in New Jersey. He had certain habits he wanted to continue to pursue.
Shocking. Needed. Certain habits.
People don't realize how wealthy people self-tax. If you have a certain cause, an art museum or a symphony, and you want to support it, it would be nice if you had the choice.
We didn't realize that. And it's such an either-or thing too...can't pay your taxes *and* help the Met buy a Vermeer.
Obama and Romney talk science Sep 05 2012
I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue -- on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk -- and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.
Supreme Court upholds Obama's healthcare act Jun 28 2012
I'm surprised and mostly pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Court's ruling means, that unless Congress acts, in 2014 all Americans will be required to purchase health insurance in the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system since the Great Society. The Court, according to early analysis, redefined the mandate as a tax, skirting some Constitutional questions but offering a dramatic affirmation to Obama's key initiative.
Update: Josh Marshall speaks for me here.
This is an imperfect law. But what's most important is that it provides a structure under which the country can make a start not only on universal coverage -- as an ethical imperative -- but on doing away with the waste and inefficiencies created by the chronic market failure of the US health insurance system. Again, that matters. And I suspect that there's no going back.
Stephen King: tax me, for fuck's sake! May 02 2012
Stephen King is rich, wants to pay more federal taxes, and is pretty pissed off about it.
Mitt Romney has said, in effect, "I'm rich and I don't apologize for it." Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want -- those who aren't blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money -- is for you to acknowledge that you couldn't have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it's not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It's un-fucking-American is what it is. I don't want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that -- sorry, kiddies-you're on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay -- not to give, not to "cut a check and shut up," in Governor Christie's words, but to pay -- in the same proportion. That's called stepping up and not whining about it. That's called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn't cost their beloved rich folks any money.
What would the realists do? May 01 2012
Stephen Walt wonders how US policy might have been different over the past 20 years if realists (as opposed to the neocons or liberal interventionists) had been in charge.
#2: No "Global War on Terror." If realists had been in charge after 9/11, they would have launched a focused effort to destroy al Qaeda. Realists backed the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and a realist approach to the post-9/11 threat environment would have focused laser-like on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that were a direct threat to the United States. But realists would have treated them like criminals rather than as "enemy combatants" and would not have identified all terrorist groups as enemies of the United States. And as noted above, realists would not have included "rogue states" like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea (the infamous "axis of evil") in the broader "war on terror." Needless to say, with realists in charge, the infamous 2002 National Security Strategy calling for preventive war would never have been written.
Obama slow jams the news Apr 25 2012
This might be the coolest thing a sitting President has ever done. Aside from, maybe, freeing the slaves or The New Deal or winning WWII.
Update: And an amazingly depressing excerpt from a speech Obama gave earlier in the day:
But we only finished paying off our student loans -- check this out, all right, I'm the President of the United States -- we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.
RIP Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012 Apr 23 2012
Columnist Rex Huppke mourns the death of facts in contemporary American society.
To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.
Facts held on for several days after that assault - brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason - before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.
"It's very depressing," said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of "A History of the Modern Fact." "I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We'll never agree on anything."
PBS documentary on Bill Clinton Feb 15 2012
American Experience is airing a four-hour documentary on Bill Clinton starting on Feb 20.
Clinton follows the president across his two terms as he confronted some of the key forces that would shape the future, including partisan political warfare and domestic and international terrorism, and as he struggled with uneven success to define the role of American power in a post-Cold War world. Most memorably, it explores how Clinton's conflicted character made history, even as it enraged his enemies and confounded his friends.
The first twelve minutes of the film is available to watch on the PBS web site right now.
Bill Clinton interviewed Jan 19 2012
From the February 2012 issue of Esquire, an interview with former President Bill Clinton about the current political and governmental landscape in America.
One of the real dilemmas we have in our country and around the world is that what works in politics is organization and conflict. That is, drawing the sharp distinctions. But in real life, what works is networks and cooperation. And we need victories in real life, so we've got to get back to networks and cooperation, not just conflict. But politics has always been about conflict, and in the coverage of politics, information dissemination tends to be organized around conflict as well. It is extremely personal now, and you see in these primaries that the more people agree with each other on the issues, the more desperate they are to make the clear distinctions necessary to win, so the deeper the knife goes in.