kottke.org posts about politics

Donald Rumsfeld: The Unknown KnownMar 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 UkraineFeb 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.

Kiev Protest

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 changeNov 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.

(via @daveg)

Those Republican clowns in CongressOct 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.

Ted Cruz is a clown

More here in WMxdesign's GOP Clown College Flickr set.

The Killing MachinesAug 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 centuryJun 13 2013

Paul Revere network

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 patentableJun 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 dayJun 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 AgencyJun 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.

To keep up with events in Turkey, try Occupy Gezi's Tumblr and Facebook page.

How to prevent protests in ChinaMay 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.

See also how Georgia ended the country's drug problem:

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."

(via @tylercowen)

Sandra Day O'Connor's Bush vs. Gore mistakeMay 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]

Obama as Daniel Day-Lewis as Obama in Spielberg's ObamaApr 29 2013

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 shamefulApr 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 BrosApr 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.

Congressional gun control legislation is falling apartMar 20 2013

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 talksMar 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.

Petition the White House to eliminate daylight saving timeMar 10 2013

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 filibusterMar 06 2013

Rand Paul has had the floor to the Senate for 10 hours now, filibustering against the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. You can watch here. What's a filibuster?

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 1950Feb 28 2013

White House Gutted

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.

(via digg)

When it's OK for the US govt to kill citizensFeb 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.

The whole memo is here. A staggering disappointment from a man many think is better than this. See also: Obama's lethal Presidency.

Ed Koch, RIPFeb 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."

and Ben Smith at Buzzfeed:

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:

Top five truths you won't hear any US official admitJan 30 2013

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.

(via digg)

Obama's overlooked war and lethal PresidencyJan 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 violenceJan 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 petitionJan 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 releasedJan 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.

The report also highlighted decreasing air quality as a side effect of the changing climate. This weekend, the air quality in Beijing was off the scale for about 18 hours. The scale goes from 0-500:

Good: 0-50
Moderate: 51-100
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: 101-150
Unhealthy: 151-200
Very Unhealthy: 201-300
Hazardous: 301-500

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:

Beijing Pollution

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?Jan 11 2013

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.

and politics:

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 PresidentsJan 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.

Elizabeth II with Truman

Elizabeth II with Reagan

Elizabeth II with Obama

You can see the entire progression here or here. QEII is more definitely a human wormhole.

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 controlDec 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."

Hmm.

Senator Moynihan's bullet taxDec 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.

The Long Island shootings Moynihan refers to resulted in the deaths of six people and the injury of nineteen more. (via @Rebeccamead_NYC)

Men wearing boys coatsDec 18 2012

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter written to Samuel Kercheval in 1816, had this to say about the law and human progress:

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.

(via df)

Mayor Bloomberg demands action from DC on gunsDec 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 ratifiedDec 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 happenDec 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 controlDec 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 vigilDec 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 controlDec 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.

Mayor Bloomberg: we need political leadership regarding gun violenceDec 14 2012

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 gunsDec 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 gunsDec 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.

Warren Buffett: a minimum tax rate for the wealthyNov 28 2012

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.

(via df)

County-by-county voting maps for the past 112 yearsNov 16 2012

The Blaze has a collection of county-by-county election maps for every US Presidential election since 1900.

1932 Election Map

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 1996 Presidential campaign website for Dole/KempNov 14 2012

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.

Dole Kemp 96

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)

Real-time visualization of Facebook users unliking Mitt RomneyNov 12 2012

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)

Update: Now, with graphs! (thx, @colossal)

Remnick to Obama: focus on climate changeNov 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 clownsNov 08 2012

Now's probably a good time to remind you of this Flickr set of prominent Republicans Photoshopped to look like clowns.

Romney Ryan 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 liberalismNov 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.

VotedNov 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.

[1] 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 ideologiesOct 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.

Political Ideology

This reminds me of a timeline created circa 1880 for a book called Conspectus of the History of Political Parties and the Federal Government:

Political Parties 1880

Bigger version here. (via @joecarryon)

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.

Freeland is riffing on an argument forwarded by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Why Nations Fail. Their chief example cited by Freeland is that of Venice:

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 ObamaOct 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. ObamaOct 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 scienceSep 05 2012

In partnership with sciencedebate.org, Scientific American asked both major party candidates to answer questions about the important scientific questions of the day. Here are the results.

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 actJun 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 newsApr 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. 2012Apr 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 ClintonFeb 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 interviewedJan 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.

Obama/Clinton 2012Dec 28 2011

Writing on his Tumblr blog (!!), former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich makes the case for a Clinton/Biden swap that would lead to an unstoppable Obama/Clinton presidental ticket in 2012.

My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State - a position he's apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President.

So the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton.

Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that's been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that.

(via ★djacobs)

Send in the Republican clownsNov 18 2011

I wish these were bipartisan, but this suprisingly large collection of prominent Republicans made up with clown paint is still pretty amazing. Here's Texas governor Rick Perry:

Clown Perry

Dubya and meSep 12 2011

Journalist Walt Harrington has known George W. Bush for more than twenty-five years and wrote an article for The American Scholar about his conversations with the former President over the years.

President Bush -- and he was, no doubt, by then a real president -- talked expansively about Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, China, Korea, Russia. He talked about his reelection strategies, Iran's nuclear ambitions, WMD and how he still believed they would be found, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Vladimir Putin. He talked about his aides and how tough their lives were, the long hours and stress and time away from their families, about how difficult it was for his daughters. He said that compared with everyone around a president, the president had the easiest job. He was the same confident, brash man I had met years ago, but I no longer sensed any hint of the old anger or the need for self-aggrandizement.

(via ★bryce)

The Onion predicts the futureAug 11 2011

Published in The Onion more than 10 years ago after George W. Bush took office, Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over' is just getting more and more prescient.

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

They probably should get a Pulitzer. (thx, andrew)

An amazing crossword puzzleJul 22 2011

On the day before the 1996 US presidential election, the NY Times ran a crossword puzzle that correctly predicted the winner.

Amazing crossword

Click through to see how they did it.

How Cuomo delivered same-sex marriage legalizationJun 28 2011

A few days after the fact, but still a fascinating read on how the political sausage gets made.

Over time, however, championing same-sex marriage had become personal for Mr. Cuomo. He campaigned on the issue in the race for governor last year, and after his election, he was staggered by the number of gay couples who sought him out at restaurants and on the street, prodding him, sometimes tearfully, to deliver on his word.

The pressure did not let up at home. Mr. Cuomo's girlfriend, Sandra Lee, has an openly gay brother, and she frequently reminded the governor how much she wanted the law to change.

Something else weighed on him, too: the long shadow of his father, Mario, who rose to national prominence as the conscience of the Democratic Party, passionately defending the poor and assailing the death penalty. During his first few months in office, the younger Mr. Cuomo had achieved what seemed like modern-day miracles by the standards of Albany - an austere on-time budget and a deal to cap property taxes. But, as Mr. Cuomo explained by phone to his father a few weeks ago, he did not want those accomplishments to define his first year in office.

"They are operational," he told his father. Passing same-sex marriage, by contrast, "is at the heart of leadership and progressive government."

"I have to do this."

Our lefty militaryJun 22 2011

The US military is often thought of by many Americans as being identified with conservative politics, making it an unlikely blueprint for progressive reform. But a recent pair of articles demonstrates that the US as a whole might have something to learn about the US Armed Forces' liberal leanings. In the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the US military's universal healthcare and focus on education is worth looking at as a model:

The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees. This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans' health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military isn't its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are. Rather, it's the military day care system for working parents.

While one of America's greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty from replicating), the military manages to provide superb child care. The cost depends on family income and starts at $44 per week.

And the WSJ recently covered remarks made by Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, the top non-commissioned officer in the Marine Corps and general all-around hardass, about gays in the military:

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple, It says, 'Raise an army.' It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation. You all joined for a reason: to serve. To protect our nation, right? How dare we, then, exclude a group of people who want to do the same thing you do right now, something that is honorable and noble? ... Get over it. We're magnificent, we're going to continue to be. ... Let's just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let's be Marines.

Now that's some semper fi I can get behind. (thx, meg)

Risk, politics, and texting WeinersJun 09 2011

This is a very smart take on the Anthony Weiner situation from Amy Davidson at the New Yorker. Davidson argues that Weiner's recent sextual actions are politically relevant because they demonstrate that he's not very good at evaluating risk.

Measuring risk is what politicians do for a living -- from when they decide to run, to voting to hire policemen or teachers or to go to war. One doesn't want them to be completely, or even mostly cautious: politicians who never say anything that causes anyone to cringe, and never take a political risk, are useless. [...] That is why it is, sad to say, a matter of legitimate interest that Weiner's wife was pregnant when he sent those tweets. It widens our sense of just how careless he is with the lives of others, particularly those of people who are more vulnerable than he is. That is good to know about a politician; it is distinct from the question of whether someone who lies to his wife will lie to the public and, I'd argue, is more important.

The politician who actually went to jailApr 13 2011

Jeff Smith was a Missouri State Senator who ended up in jail for a year; here's an account of his experience in the klink.

Before I was shown my new digs, the staff processed me. That meant going repeatedly through the standard battery of questions. The third questioner finished and sent me to a heavyset woman.

"Height and weight?" she asked.

"5'6", 120."

She examined my slight frame and frowned. "Education level?"

I winced. "Ph.D."

She shot me a skeptical look. "Last profession?"

"State Senator."

She rolled her eyes. "Well, I'll put it down if you want. If you wanna play games, play games. We got ones who think they're Jesus Christ, too."

The Dalai Lama retiresMar 10 2011

Well, from political life anyway.

For years, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, has spoken of his desire to cede political authority, or "retire," as he has sometimes put it. But in Thursday's speech he made it official, announcing that he would propose the change during the session of the Tibetan Parliament in exile that begins next week in Dharamsala, India.

"My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility," he said, according to a prepared text of his speech. "It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run."

Retired perhaps, but still tweeting.

The shrinking political soundbiteJan 03 2011

The political soundbite has gotten progressively shorter over the past few decades.

A professor at the University of California had just published research showing that the length of the average TV sound bite had dropped dramatically, from 43 seconds in the 1968 presidential election to a mere nine seconds in the 1988 election. And this drop had led to lots of hand-wringing -- from professors, from journalists, and from politicians themselves. "If you couldn't say it in less than 10 seconds," Michael Dukakis complained about the previous campaign, "it wasn't heard because it wasn't aired."

It's currently just under eight seconds...which, perhaps not coincidentally, is about how long it would take someone to speak a text or tweet.

First election mapNov 11 2010

Matthew Ericson tracked down the first national election map published in the NY Times; it showed William McKinley's victory over William Jennings Bryan.

1896 Election Map

The speed with which the results made it into print boggles the mind given the technology of the day (especially considering that in the last few elections in the 2000s, with all of the technology available to us, there have been a number of states that we haven't been able to call in the Wednesday paper).

(thx, tyson)

Where to voteNov 02 2010

Curious as to where you might vote today? Find your fucking polling location. Pairs well with What the fuck has Obama done so far?

Prime ministers I have knownOct 21 2010

Unless you're from the UK (or watched Spitting Image and all sorts of other British comedies on PBS as an impressionable youth in Wisconsin), the observations of Parliamentary sketchwriter Simon Hoggart about the prime ministers he has covered might be too inside baseball, but I couldn't help sharing this Thatcher anecdote about her unwitting skill with double entendre:

But Thatcher saved the best of all for her victory tour of the Falkland Islands. She was taken to inspect a large field gun, basically a ride-on lawnmower with a barrel several feet long. It was on a bluff, overlooking a plain on which another Argentine invasion might one day materialise. She admired the weapon, and the soldier manning it asked if she would like to fire a round.

"But mightn't it jerk me off?" she replied. Chris Moncrieff of the Press Association, who was covering the visit, recorded the manful struggle of the soldier to keep his face, indeed his whole body, straight.

Actually, all the Thatcher stories are quite good. (thx, tom)

You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologizeOct 20 2010

Remember the whole thing Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill with the pubic hair on the can of Coke and the Supreme Court hearings and all that? Me neither. But Clarence Thomas' wife does; she left a voicemail on Anita Hill's work phone asking her to apologize for what she did to her husband.

"Good morning Anita Hill, it's Ginni Thomas," it said. "I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband." Ms. Thomas went on: "So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. O.K., have a good day."

That's either really passive aggressive, straight-up batshit insane, or the oxycontin talking. Ms. Thomas referred to the call as "extending an olive branch", which I guess is true if she meant that the branch was stripped of leaves and the end sharpened to a point.

And the Pursuit of HappinessOct 15 2010

Maira Kalman's lovely illustrated NY Times blog about American democracy is now available in book form.

Obama, the Rolling Stone interviewSep 29 2010

Long interview with Barack Obama in Rolling Stone. Most of it is politics, but they also discussed music.

My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There's still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I'm not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

Castro, Israel, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and dolphinsSep 09 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg visited with Fidel Castro recently and has two posts on his Atlantic blog about his meetings with the former Cuban head of state: part one and part two.

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro's invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. "Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him," she said. "Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he's really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn't expect to have. And he's revisiting history, and revisiting his own history."

This is substantial reporting but I'll admit my favorite line was:

I've never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.

Because of Goldberg's reportage on Castro's remarks regarding anti-Semitism, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (and strong critic of Israel) announced yesterday that he would meet with Venezuela's Jewish leaders. Someone get Errol Morris down to Cuba to make a sequel to his film about Robert McNamara. The Fog of Cold War perhaps? (via @kbanderson)

A day in the life of Barack ObamaSep 01 2010

Vanity Fair has a really interesting but depressing look at how The President of the United States spends a typical day navigating the upfuckedness of national American politics and its capital, Washington DC -- which Rahm Emanuel calls Fucknutsville.

We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They've all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency -- Barack Obama's presidency -- has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the "news" by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth -- these forces have made today's Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

For much of the past half-century, the problems that have brought Washington to its current state have been concealed or made tolerable by other circumstances. The discipline of the Cold War kept certain kinds of debate within bounds. America's artificial "last one standing" postwar economy allowed the country to ignore obvious signs of political and social decay. Wars and other military interventions provided ample distraction from matters of substance at home. Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington's problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades -- at a rate barely noticeable while it's happening -- produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it's the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. And thus a new president, who was elected with 53 percent of the popular vote, and who began office with 80 percent public-approval ratings and large majorities in both houses of Congress, found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat's opinion will keep spinning with the wind.

(via waxy)

Designing Obama online for freeAug 31 2010

Designing Obama, a book chronicling how the visual branding of the Obama campaign came about, is available in several formats, most notably in a completely free online version. Written by the campaign's design director, the making of the book was funded through the first big Kickstarter campaign.

The embryonic stem cell messAug 31 2010

The New Yorker has a long profile of Francis Collins, the ardent Christian whom Obama picked to head up the NIH, and the NIH's role in embryonic stem cell research.

A year later, Obama's appointment of Collins seemed an inspired choice. The President had found not only a man who reflected his own view of the harmony between science and faith but an evangelical Christian who hoped that the government's expansion of embryonic-stem-cell research might bring the culture war over science to a quiet end. On August 23rd, however, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, halted federal spending for embryonic-stem-cell research, putting hundreds of research projects in limbo and plunging the N.I.H. back into a newly contentious national debate.

Old cockAug 09 2010

Speaking of historical figures we can only perceive dimly, cartoonist/historicaster (let's rehabilitate this word, please) Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant adds a thoughtful, searching comment to a short series of cartoons about Andrew Jackson:

Ah, Andrew Jackson. Love him or hate him (and these days my money is on the latter), you can't deny that he was a fascinating man. He did some good things. He did a lot of bad things. And it's not like in his time, no one thought to duke it out with him over it all. The man had so many musket balls in his body you could stick magnets to him...

He did what he thought was good and right to do and he made himself something out of nothing, but he was a hard, racist man, and he doesn't get to be a hero anymore. In a way I am glad that he's such a conflicting figure, because most of the time you can't have it one way or the other. Not all of our historical leaders deserve Nobel Peace Prizes decorating their houses, not all of our heroes get recognized for the wrongs they did like Jackson does.

The vanished gardens of CordobaAug 09 2010

Cordoba is a city in southern Spain that was capital of the Umayyad caliphate of the same name during the Middle Ages. In the tenth century, it passed Baghdad the largest city in Islam and may have been the largest in the world.

Cordoba House is the name of a proposed complex on Park Place in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center site, sometimes called the "ground-zero mosque."

Newt Gingrich thinks the name is "a deliberately insulting term" that tests "the historic ignorance of American elites." In particular, he cites transformation of a church in Cordoba into a mosque as "a symbol of Islamic conquest" over Christian Spain.

Carl Pyrdum, a graduate student who blogs at Got Medieval, wrote a long, well-footnoted post detailing the problems with Newt's history.

Notice how carefully he's phrased his claim to give the impression that during the medieval conquest of Spain the Muslims charged into Cordoba and declared it the capital of a new Muslim empire, and in order to add insult to injury seized control of a Christian church and built the biggest mosque they could, right there in front of the Christians they'd just conquered, a big Muslim middle finger in the heart of medieval Christendom. Essentially, they've done it before, they'll do it again, right there at Ground Zero, if all good Christians don't band together to stop them.

The problem is, in order to give that impression of immediacy, Newt elides three hundred years of Christian and Muslim history. Three hundred years. The Muslims conquered Cordoba in 712. The Christian church that was later transformed into the Great Mosque of Cordoba apparently continued hosting Christian worship for at least a generation after that. Work on the Mosque didn't actually begin until seventy-odd years later in 784, and the mosque only became "the world's third-largest" late in the tenth century, after a series of expansions by much later rulers, probably around 987 or so.

The Great Mosque was actually built to commemorate the defeat of the Abbasids, the Umayyad's rivals for control of Andalusia. Joint worship emphasized the legitimacy of the Cordoban caliphate and its superiority to the rowdy Abbasids. "Far from 'symboliz[ing] their victory'," Pyrdum writes, "the Mosque was held up by Muslim historians a symbol of peaceful coexistence with the Christians--however messier the actual relations of Christians and Muslims were at the time." Before the Christians, the site hosted ruins of a Roman pagan temple.

Pyrdum's post was picked up by Crooked Timber, the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan, and other popular sites and worked its way up from there. On Twitter, David Weinberger wrote: "It's why we have blogs, people."

Imagine a newspaper or television station reporting on this story twenty years ago; if they had thought to fact-check Newt's talking point, they would have either sent a researcher to the library or phoned an historical or Islamic studies expert for comment. Then it may have been cut for space or time. That's not how things work any more. Knowledge floats.

Update:Michael Berube notes that the name "Cordoba" in Cordoba House is a known reference to the deliberately insulting interior of a 1975 Chrysler.

FiveThirtyEight goes to the NY TimesJun 03 2010

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight is licensing its content to the NY Times for the next three years.

In the near future, the blog will "re-launch" under a NYTimes.com domain. It will retain its own identity (akin to other Times blogs like DealBook), but will be organized under the News:Politics section. Once this occurs, content will no longer be posted at FiveThirtyEight.com on an ongoing basis, and the blog will re-direct to the new URL. In addition, I will be contributing content to the print edition of the New York Times, and to the Sunday Magazine.

The Times' own Media Decoder blog notes that the deal is similar in structure to the arrangement Freakonomics enjoys at the newspaper: more of a rental than a purchase. I believe Andrew Sullivan has had similar deals at the various publications at which he's blogged. (thx, nevan)

I am an American conservative shitheelApr 16 2010

This was written by an anonymous someone at Something Awful and was reproduced a few months ago on Reddit. Here's the whole wonderful thing:

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the national weather service of the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the national aeronautics and space administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US department of agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the food and drug administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issed by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to ny house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all it's valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration and post on freerepublic.com and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

And to be fair and balanced (if you will), here's the American liberal shitheel version (in part):

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock, powered by energy generated soley by Southern California Edison and manufactured by the Sony Corporation. I then took a shower in my house constructed by Centex Homes, sold to me by a Century 21 real estate agent, and mortgaged by Citibank. After that, I turned on my Panasonic television which I purchased with a Washington Mutual credit card to a local NBC Corporation affiliate to see what their team of hired meteorologists forecasted the weather to be using their weather radar system.

I think we can all agree that the word "shitheel" is hilarious. (via randomfoo)

Paul Krugman profileFeb 26 2010

The New Yorker has a nice profile of Paul Krugman in this week's magazine. His political awakening has a somewhat born-again Christian vibe to it.

In his columns, Krugman is belligerently, obsessively political, but this aspect of his personality is actually a recent development. His parents were New Deal liberals, but they weren't especially interested in politics. In his academic work, Krugman focussed mostly on subjects with little political salience. During the eighties, he thought that supply-side economics was stupid, but he didn't think that much about it. Unlike Wells, who was so upset when Reagan was elected that she moved to England, Krugman found Reagan comical rather than evil. "I had very little sense of what was at stake in the tax issues," he says. "I was into career-building at that point and not that concerned." He worked for Reagan on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers for a year, but even that didn't get him thinking about politics. "I feel now like I was sleepwalking through the twenty years before 2000," he says. "I knew that there was a right-left division, I had a pretty good sense that people like Dick Armey were not good to have rational discussion with, but I didn't really have a sense of how deep the divide went."

Obama: Daddy of the United States of AmericaJan 20 2010

Tom Junod says that the key to understanding how Obama governs is to look at how you'd imagine he might raise Sasha and Malia. Specifically, Junod compares the President's community organization roots with the parenting technique of positive discipline.

You don't have to win, we were told at the positive-discipline workshop. Your child is not damaged, morally, if your child wins, if the battle is withdrawn, or, better yet, never joined. Our culture has viewed parenthood in terms of decisive moments, but it's better to view it in terms of development, as a continual process, and to be in it for the long haul. Nothing lies like the moment of truth, and if there's no powerlessness, then there are fewer power struggles. If your child has a problem with authority, it's likely that you have a problem with authority, or your lack of it. The answer is to return it to your child in the form of choices, while you set an example. Your example is your authority. Positive discipline does not mean no discipline; it means that discipline is a matter of teaching mutual respect, rather than making your child suffer. "Children do better when they feel better, not worse," is what it says on my kitchen cabinet, and so when faced with intransigence, parents have to respond by stating their expectations, repeating the rules, and then giving their children the love and support they need to follow them. Always try to include, rather than isolate; avoid labels; don't negotiate, but don't escalate, either. If your children are not doing well, either take them out of the situation or remove yourself. You -- and they -- can always try again.

It is a philosophy that could have been minted by Cass Sunstein, the White House advisor who is developing ways to "nudge" citizens to make the right choices without them being aware of the manipulation. It could serve as a precis for how Obama has dealt with Joe Wilson, not to mention Skip Gates and Sergeant Jim Crowley, not to mention Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was never threatened but rather told to "think carefully" while answering the protests of the Iranian presidential election with the truncheon and the gallows. One could almost hear Obama saying, "Use your words, Mahmoud. Use your words."

The piece is interesting throughout, but I particularly liked this observation:

Barack Obama, then, is not the agent of change; he's the fulfillment of a change that is already occurring culture-wide, in every place but politics. That's why the Republicans fear him so much; why, while waiting for him to fail, they just come off as the political party for people who want to hit their kids.

Peter Paul Rubens, painter, designer, and diplomatOct 23 2009

In addition to being a painter of some repute, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat:

In Master of Shadows, Mark Lamster tells the story of Rubens's life and brilliantly re-creates the culture, religious conflicts, and political intrigues of his time. Commissions to paint military and political leaders drew Rubens from his Antwerp home to London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome. The Spanish crown, recognizing the value of his easy access to figures of power, enlisted him into diplomatic service. His uncommon intelligence, preternatural charm, and ability to navigate through ever-shifting political winds allowed him to negotiate a long-sought peace treaty between England and Spain even as Europe's shrewdest statesmen plotted against him.

and a graphic designer.

Moretus was Rubens's most frequent design client. To save his friend money, Rubens generally did his work for Plantin on holidays, so he would not have to charge Moretus his rather exorbitant day rate (Rubens was notorious for his high prices), and even then he agreed to be paid in books.

What is conservatism?Sep 09 2009

Tyler Cowen takes a crack at defining American conservatism.

Fiscal conservatism is part and parcel of conservatism per se. A state wrecked by debt is a state due to perish or fall into decay. This is a lesson from history. States must "save up their powder" for true crises and it is a kind of narcissistic arrogation to think that the personal failures of particular individuals -- often those with weak values -- meet this standard.

Cowen did the same for progressivism a few weeks ago.

Progressive policies offer more scope for individualism and some kinds of freedom. Greater security gives people a greater chance to develop themselves as individuals in important spheres of life, not just money-making and risk protection and winning relative status games.

U.S. Attorney dismissed by Bush to get old job backAug 03 2009

Daniel Bogden, one of the seven US Attorneys dismissed by the Bush Administration in 2006, has been nominated by the Obama Administration to serve in his former capacity in Nevada. (thx, david)

On political sex scandalsJun 25 2009

Sage advice from Alec Baldwin about the Mark Sanford affair: Don't Take the Bait.

Now is a wonderful opportunity to show the country what Democrats/liberals/progressives/unaligned learned from the Clinton era. Whatever personal problems that public officials deal with privately, leave them alone. This could happen to anyone, in any state, regardless of party. Why make the voters of South Carolina suffer while Sanford is skewered? If he wants to resign, so be it. If not, let him deal with it in private.

And Baldwin didn't say this but I will: lefty political sites like HuffPo and TPM have and are devoting a lot of time and attention to these Republican sex scandals. Hey, they're good for pageviews, right? That's part of the problem too. Aren't there more important political things going on in the world than this gossip?

Politics of the Supreme CourtJun 18 2009

A very interesting infographic of the ideological history of the Supreme Court from 1937 to the present. The color coding on the map is weirdly inaccurate but you can still be general trends pretty well...like how many of the justices changed greatly during their terms. William O. Douglas became slightly more moderate mid-term and then got really liberal while Rehnquist went from very conservative to more moderate as his term went on, especially after he became Chief Justice.

OT: I knew there was a Burger on the bench but was unaware of Justice Frankfurter (1938-1961).

Update: Alex Lundry designed the visualization and got in touch to explain the color coding.

The colors are chosen based upon the Min, Max, and Median of the area we are comparing. So, in the first view, the "overall" view, the darkest Red is anchored to the maximum ideology number across all justices and all terms, the darkest Blue is anchored to the minimum score, and the purest white is anchored to the actual median number (The Location of the Median Justice is NOT necessarily the actual median, as it is calculated via a Bayesian statistical estimate).

The second "compare" option, "within each seat, row" calculates separate color anchors for each row.

Similarly, the third compare option, "within each year, column" calculates separate color anchors for each column.

The Location of Median Justice and Court Average are not included in these calculations and their color values are set to what they would be in the overall comparison.

Update: Burger, Frankfurter, Salmon. (via @kurtw)

The President and the economyJun 15 2009

On the Freakonomics blog, Dmitri Leybman tells us about the three main ways that the President's political party can have an impact on the economy.

This tendency of Republican presidents to preside over growth that occurs so close to re-election has been cited by Bartels as the main reason why Republican presidents have been so successful in achieving two-term presidencies in the post-World War II era. Voters, Bartels believes, are economic myopists, paying attention only to the most recent economic outcomes and not the overall outcomes experienced under a president's rule.

A short word with Eliot SpitzerJun 11 2009

A short but revealing interview with Eliot Spitzer over a hot dog lunch in Central Park.

I asked him why so many politicians are caught in insane sex scandals. "What is it with you all?"

"I'm not going to make excuses," he replied evenly. "Let me ask you a question: Is there a difference between politicians and anybody else? Or is it that the lives of politicians are so very public?"

"There is a difference, Mr. Spitzer. You were elected to a position of public trust."

"That's right," he conceded. "It's why I resigned without delay. Some said I could try to ride it out. But I didn't see it that way. What I did was heinous and wrong."

(via the browser)

Congress considers font readabilityMay 19 2009

Both houses of Congress have recently passed credit card legislation which will cut down on credit card companies abusing their customers. The NY Times has a guide to what the new legislation could mean for consumers. The bill that passed the House contains some interesting provisions on how card companies can use type.

The House throws in what ought to be called "The Fine Print Rule." Card companies must print their account applications and disclosures in 12-point type or greater. A supervisory board will also probably declare certain hard-on-the-eyes fonts off limits. The Senate is silent on typeface but imposes many other communication requirements.

From the bill itself:

SEC. 14. Readability requirement.

Section 122 of the Truth in Lending Act (U.S.C. 1632) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

"(d) Minimum type-size and font requirement for credit card applications and disclosures. -All written information, provisions, and terms in or on any application, solicitation, contract, or agreement for any credit card account under an open end consumer credit plan, and all written information included in or on any disclosure required under this chapter with respect to any such account, shall appear-

"(1) in not less than 12-point type; and

"(2) in any font other than a font which the Board has designated, in regulations under this section, as a font that inhibits readability.".

I haven't seen a credit card application or bill in years (we're paperless)...what unreadable fonts are these companies using? Do they set their terms and conditions sections in 6-pt Zapf Dingbats a la David Carson?

Conservative Colbert viewers not in on the jokeApr 28 2009

According to an article published in The International Journal of Press/Politics, both liberals and conservatives find The Colbert Report funny, but the two groups differ in their perception of Stephen Colbert's actual ideological allegiances.

Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism.

(via cyn-c)

Letters to ObamaApr 20 2009

Early in Obama's presidency, one of the more encouraging signs that things were heading in a positive direction was that his daily briefing included ten letters that average Americans had sent to the White House. The NY Times has a special feature on these letters and how they reach Obama's desk. The President's director of correspondance chooses the letters carefully.

I send him letters that are uncomfortable messages.

But I wonder about the gatekeeper effect...Obama is really only reading what this guy wants him to read. To go further, I think Obama should wade through the pile himself once a month for an hour or so, if only to evaluate the caliber of the letters that he does see.

Update: The White House has posted a short documentary about these letters.

Gay marriage trends in the USApr 08 2009

Nate Silver says that "voter initiatives to ban gay marriage are becoming harder and harder to pass every year" and uses a regression model to produce a listing of when the voters of each US state would vote against a marriage ban if given the chance. Some notables:

New York - 2009
Iowa - 2013
Utah - 2013
Kansas - 2015
Texas - 2018
Mississippi - 2024

Did Reagan Try to Convert Gorbachev?Mar 16 2009

One of the many things on Ronald Reagan's mind during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s was the nature of Mikhail Gorbachev's religious beliefs. Some recently declassified notes taken during a summit meeting in Moscow in 1988 indicate that Reagan went so far as to attempt to convert Gorbachev to Christianity.

Gorbachev tried to switch the subject. Perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union might open the way for greater cooperation in space, he told the president. But the president wasn't to be diverted. According to the transcript, Reagan told Gorbachev that space was in the direction of heaven, but not as close to heaven as some other things that they had been discussing.

As the meeting ended, Reagan became even more direct and personal. He noted that his own son Ron did not believe in God either. "The President concluded that there was one thing he had long yearned to do for his atheist son. He wanted to serve his son the perfect gourmet dinner, to have him enjoy the meal, and then to ask him if he believed there was a cook."

Congressional flophouseFeb 20 2009

Many members of Congress don't live in Washington DC full-time and they often end up staying in housing that is less grand than the residences in their home states. The NY Times has a story of four Congressmen living in what sounds like a frat house.

While one shelf of the fridge is stocked with beer, the majority of its contents are condiments -- mustard, mayo, black bean dip, Kraft Parmesan. Although the pantry contains Costco-size boxes of Barilla penne and jars of Classico tomato sauce, little actual cooking takes place. His daughter Jessica, 17, remembers finding the same package of frozen French fries in the freezer three years after spotting them on her first visit to the house.

This is from 2002 but still worth a read. (thx, tim)

Update: The Times wrote a sequel to the above story in 2007. The update includes a few photos of the place, which makes it look both more and less fratty than you'd think from reading the article. (thx, audrey & kevin)

Ten lessons from the Bush yearsFeb 10 2009

Bob Woodward offers ten lessons that the Obama administration can learn from the eight long years that George W. Bush held office. The advice basically boils down to "keep your head out of the sand and your ass".

[Bush] made probably the most important decision of his presidency -- whether to invade Iraq -- without directly asking either Powell, Rumsfeld or Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet for their bottom-line recommendations. (Instead of consulting his own father, former president George H.W. Bush, who had gone to war in 1991 to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, the younger Bush told me that he had appealed to a "higher father" for strength.)

(via lined & unlined)

Bill Cunningham's InaugurationJan 27 2009

Street photographer Bill Cunningham didn't have a ticket to the Inauguration nor did he have an assignment from the NY Times to cover it; he just bought a train ticket, went down on his own, and brought back these photos. Be sure to listen to Cunningham's wonderful narration; he even gets choked up when describing the moment of Obama's swearing-in. I wish all journalism were this professionally personal (if that makes any sense). (via greg.org)

Old whitehouse.gov down the memory holeJan 23 2009

Greg Allen raises a good point regarding the new White House web site: why did the old site get completely erased?

It seems problematic to me that the entire official web presence of the Bush administration, as tainted and manipulative or enraging as you may think it is, just gets wiped clean from the web like that. People need to remember, reference, discuss, and link to that publicly owned, previously published information; it shouldn't be tossed to the curb like a dead plant or buried in the National Archive backup tape repository.

Perhaps there needs to be a simple directory structure put in place, something like:

whitehouse.gov/42
whitehouse.gov/43
whitehouse.gov/44

The files for each President's site would live under the associated directory and would never need to be taken down to make room for new files. Of course, maintaining all that, and the different systems and platforms potentially used by each administration would be a total PITA.

Update: Here are the Clinton whitehouse.gov archive and the George W. Bush whitehouse.gov archive. Nice but they don't address the broken links issue and snapshots don't capture any dynamic functions (like search, for instance). Also, shouldn't every page on the site function like a wiki so you can go back and see the history at any time? Quite a few people suggested using subdomains (e.g. 43.whitehouse.gov) instead of directories to keep everything straight; I concur. (thx, arnold & kate)

McCain: Obama's newest advisor?Jan 20 2009

I love this...Barack Obama has been asking John McCain for his advice over the past few weeks.

Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration's potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues -- in one case relaying back a contender's answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested.

McCain, though it was his own fault (or that of his handlers), didn't represent himself well during the presidential campaign and it's nice to see that the very able Senator isn't being sidelined because of it. Also, it's quite savvy of Obama to seek out his support. He's essentially buying McCain stock at a low point and will presumably leverage that purchase when that stock inevitably rises.

Update: A letter to the Times editor notes that there is a precedent for the Obama/McCain connection: FDR and Wendell Willkie after the 1940 election.

After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1940 election, he invited his opponent, the Republican Wendell L. Willkie, to meet with him in the White House. "You know, he is a very good fellow," F.D.R. said afterward to his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins. "He has lots of talent. I want to use him somehow."

(thx, phil)

New White House siteJan 20 2009

Several readers have noted that The White House Site has already been refreshed to the now-familiar Obama look-and-feel. It's even got a blog on the front page. Will there be a Twitter account? The Wikipedians have been busy too: Obama is listed as the current President on the President of the United States page.

Update: Oh, and all of the third-party content on the WH site is licensed under Creative Commons. Wow.

Update: Oh, there's a Twitter account. Pair with THE_REAL_SHAQ for maximum fun! (thx, brian)

Update: This appears to be the official WH Twitter account, former updated by the Bush administration but now helmed by the Obama folks.

Obama off by oneJan 20 2009

Obama made a small error in the first part of his inaugural speech. He said:

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

Because of Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms, there have been 44 Presidents but only 43 people have held the office and taken the oath. I'm surprised his speechwriters didn't catch that little detail. Of course, I think of Al Gore as an ex-President so maybe that's where it came from.

Text of all the inaugural addressesJan 20 2009

Bartleby has the text from all of the Presidential inaugural addresses, from George Washington to the Shrub. (Don't forget to watch the inauguration online!)

Presidential inauguration videos, 1901-2005Jan 20 2009

A MetaFilter user has tracked down video for all of the Presidential inauguration ceremonies for the past 100 years. Here's McKinley's from 1901, Teddy Roosevelt (1905), JFK (1961), and Reagan (1981).

Watch the inauguration onlineJan 19 2009

Chances are that if you're not in Washington DC or staying home from work tomorrow, you're going to be at your desk or otherwise out and about for the inauguration of Barack Obama. Fear not, you'll have plenty of viewing options:

Official Presidential Inaugural site
Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies site
C-SPAN
Hulu
The networks: NBC, ABC, CBS.

Or watch right here on kottke.org, courtesy of Hulu. Or not. The Hulu video is on autoplay, which is *really* annoying. Sorry about that. What the hell, Hulu?!

Per the schedule, the swearing-in ceremony will start at 11:30 am ET, which will include Obama's inaugural address. After the address, Obama "will escort outgoing President George W. Bush to a departure ceremony", which ceremony I hope involves a kick in the ass and a slamming door. Then there's a luncheon at the Capitol and a parade to the White House that traditionally starts around 2:30 pm.

LittleSis, a facebook for powerful AmericansJan 15 2009

LittleSis (clever name!) bills itself as an "involuntary facebook of powerful Americans, collaboratively edited by people like you". It's intended to be a resource for anyone who wants to know more about politicians, CEOs, etc., especially:

...investigative journalists, social scientists, political opposition researchers, social justice activists, public interest attorneys, business intelligence types, [and] amateur dirt diggers at the fringes, posting their findings to blogs, message boards, email lists, zines, and elsewhere.

Like Facebook, the site has a particular emphasis on how all these people are connected: politically, financially, socially. The best way to see what it's all about is to check out some profiles: Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, and the list of the 400 richest Americans.

The most gerrymandered Congressional districtsJan 15 2009

Slate has a slideshow of the most gerrymandered Congressional districts in the US. Gerrymandering is the practice of redistributing electoral boundaries in order to achieve a political advantage, often without regard to geography.

1996 interview with the ObamasJan 12 2009

The New Yorker has a too-short excerpt of an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama done in 1996 as part of a "photography project on couples in America".

There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it's unclear. There is a little tension with that. I'm very wary of politics. I think he's too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.

Update: Le Monde ran a more extensive excerpt of this same interview in French...ABC News had it translated into English. (thx, marshall & stacy)

Obama campaign art exhibitionJan 08 2009

The Danziger Projects gallery in New York is running an exhibition called Can & Did, a collection of art, graphics, and photography from the Obama campaign. The opening party is on Inauguration night (Jan 20) and it runs through the end of February. All details in the press release.

Obama's speech writerDec 19 2008

Nice short profile of Jon Favreau, Obama's 27-year-old speechwriter, and his influences.

And Favreau is right, Gerson's speech for Bush that September 20 was one of the great speeches in American history. But it must be noted here that with that speech the discord between speech and speaker has never been more pronounced, for we have come to know that Gerson's boss never fully grasped the power of words. With an exalting script, Gerson could make George W. Bush sound like Winston Churchill for an hour. But it is Jon Favreau's task and his gift that he is able to make his boss -- a fellow who has been known to write a sentence or two on his own -- sound like Barack Obama.

What I don't understand is how Favreau finds the time to write Obama's speeches *and* direct Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. Time machine?

Area woman makes goodDec 18 2008

Part of The Onion's end-of-2008 package: Area Woman Becomes Republican Vice Presidential Candidate.

The mother of five, who enjoys attending church potluck dinners with husband Todd, an unemployed commercial fisherman, reportedly "jumped at the chance" to become the second most powerful person in the country.

Sometimes the funniest fake news is disturbingly real.

Remnick writing Obama bookDec 17 2008

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, is writing a book about Barack Obama, race, and politics in America. The "germ of the book" is a great piece that ran in the magazine shortly after the election called The Joshua Generation.

The President's Guide to ScienceDec 16 2008

Aired a few weeks before the 2008 election, The President's Guide to Science is a 50-minute video featuring several prominent scientists -- Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, etc. -- offering their advice for the incoming US President, basically what they would teach the President about science. (via smashing telly)

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