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Having little else to attack Barack Obama for, FOX News is beating him up for rising gas prices, going so far to use blatantly misleading charts.
The good news is that FOX themselves made the argument that the president has very little influence over gas prices — during the George W. Bush administration. Check it out:
On Wednesday I had lunch with Steve and he was being more negative even than usual about #Occupy and how the whole thing is a waste of a good effort and opportunity and it’s not going to go anywhere, and then yesterday I was talking to Misael about it, and it went roughly like this:
“You guys have no leader, no specific demands. What are they supposed to do? All you’re doing is camping in a place where camping isn’t allowed.”
“It’s about raising awareness, getting people around the country to begin to take action.”
“What awareness? Everyone is aware of occupy, and with the exception of a small minority they’re strongly in support of it, and that support is being squandered and diffused by boredom because nothing is happening and there aren’t clear demands…”
Etcetera. Meanwhile, this was happening. The protesters regrouped and turned their attention directly to Wall Street, escalating the conflict with police. Meanwhile, John reports that actual Wall Street employees were more annoyed with the cops than the occupiers. Maybe.
It’s muy fabuloso that something is happening (which reminds me: are you following Josh Harkinson? because you should), but I wonder what the endgame here is, and I don’t think it’s premature to think about that. Movements die all the time, and fear that this movement will die out is far from the only reason to hope that it comes up with something, and soon. Direct action is great, and it may be essential. But the risk with what happened yesterday is that it will begin to alienate people at some point. “Those rabble rousers? I think things need to change, but I’m not down with them.” Remember the WTO protests in Seattle? They made a statement for sure, but somehow I don’t think that’s where you want this headed. A list of accomplishments for the day that leads with how many were arrested is a sign of trouble.
So, my article about where #Occupy is going and what Lawrence Lessig proposes in his book has over a thousand Facebook recommendations now, which is pretty awesome. But Lessig himself doesn’t seem to be engaging with Occupy. He’s got an op-ed in the Times in which he lays out the actual plan for “fixing congress” in about as much detail as he’s got in the book, and laying bare the crux of the problem (ok, ONE of the cruxicles):
Here’s just one way: almost every voter pays at least $50 in some form of federal taxes. So imagine a system that gave a rebate of that first $50 in the form of a “democracy voucher.” That voucher could then be given to any candidate for Congress who agreed to one simple condition: the only money that candidate would accept to finance his or her campaign would be either “democracy vouchers” or contributions from citizens capped at $100. No PAC money. No $2,500 checks. Small contributions only. And if the voter didn’t use the voucher? The money would pass to his or her party, or, if an independent, back to this public funding system.
Fifty dollars a voter is real money: more than $6 billion an election cycle. (The total raised in 2010: $1.86 billion.) It’s also my money, or your money, used to support the speech that we believe: this is not a public financing system that forces some to subsidize the speech of others. And because a campaign would have to raise its funds from the very many, it could weaken the power of the very few to demand costly kickbacks for their contributions — what the Cato Institute calls “corporate welfare,” like subsidies to ethanol manufacturers, or tariffs protecting the domestic sugar industry. Cato estimates that in 2009, the cost of such corporate welfare was $90 billion. If cutting the link to special interest funders could shrink that amount by just 10 percent, the investment would, across a two-year election cycle, pay for itself three times over.
Did you catch that? What are we going to cut the first time we need that $6 billion, before the corporate welfare money starts coming back, professor?
Now, I it’s not like I think this is a reason to abandon the ideas in the book. This is how academics work: you publish the idea you’ve got, and let others build on it and patch the holes in it. Edison’s light bulb was useless until other people came along and tweaked and refined it and built the electrical grid. And yet — there the problem sits, unadressed.
But back to #Occupy. What’s next? Well, they’re getting real good about building web toys, which is cool I guess. Meanwhile, the people behind The99PercentDeclaration sent me an email yesterday saying they’re about to run out of money, so I guess they’re not plugged into $500,000 that the OWS people have on hand. The message: for now the medium is the message. Here’s Eugene Robinson doing a pretty good job of spinning all this into something positive. For right now, that’s the best we’re going to get. But yeah, I’m afraid that it’ll be like Slavoj Žižek said:
The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostaligically remembering “What a nice time we had here.”
Click through for my photos and video of Saturday’s Occupy Miami protests.
“Like a father fingering his Blackberry rather than playing with his kids, Congress shows us that we don’t matter.”
Copyright activist Lawrence Lessig has given up the fight — he’s realized that before anything else, there’s a more fundamental problem that has to be solved: the corruption of congress by money. In this video, he does a remarkable job of outlining the problem. He does a somewhat less then perfectly convincing job of suggesting a solution. Specifically. Since congress is unable to reform itself, he has a strategy that would — eventually — lead to a constitutional convention, per Article 5 of the Constitution. Bold stuff. This guy’s serious: there is soon coming a book, and here’s his presentation at the Conference on the Constitutional Convention, which he organized, at Harvard, where he teaches:
EMILY: Did you hear about this? They just passed a law in Florida that says Doctors can’t ask their patients whether there is a gun in their house.
JOSH: That’s weird. Why is the government telling doctors what they can and can’t say to their patients? And why are doctors asking about guns? I could see asking someone if they’ve been shot … but asking if there’s a gun in the house? What medical relevance could that possibly have?
EMILY: They’re concerned about safety. Pediatricians often ask parents if they have a gun in the house, and if so, whether it is stored safely. Haven’t you heard of all the kids that accidentally kill themselves or their friends playing with a gun they found around the house?
JOSH: Are those doctors also trying to get the parents to stop driving? Are they talking to them about pool safety, matches, blankets and plastic bags the kids can suffocate on, stairs, and a million other things? Because all those things are way more likely to kill a kid a kid than an accidental gunshot. Seems to me that, of all the household dangers facing a kid, a gun would be the most obvious to a parent. If they’re not a complete imbecile, they’ve already got it stored properly. And if they are an imbecile, having a doctor up in their face isn’t going to help.
EMILY: Well, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries.” Meanwhile, of course the legislation to muzzle doctors is written by the good ‘ol NRA.
JOSH: Oh, so the pediatricians are open about trying to get guns out of the homes? It seems that we have a right to own guns in this country whether we have kids or not. If I had a gun, I sure wouldn’t want my kid’s doctor giving me crap about it every time I take my kid in.
EMILY: It’s not necessarily to try to get rid of the gun. If they know there’s a gun in the house, and then they later become aware of some other dangerous circumstance, they’ll be informed. “There’s a gun in that house! Do something NOW.”
JOSH: What possible set of circumstances would warrant action with a gun that wouldn’t warrant action without one? If you’ve got a dangerous adult in the house, it seems to me they’re just as dangerous without the gun. Aren’t kids much more likely to be beaten to death by their parents than shot to death?
EMILY: So you’re okay with the law dictating what doctors can and cannot say to their patients?
JOSH: Well, something sure as heck dictates what doctors should and shouldn’t say to patients. Some things are useful to discuss, and some things are a waste of time. Doctors sure as heck better make the best use they can of the limited time they have with their patients, right? Traffic accidents kill 45 times as many kids as gun accidents, and four times as many as all homicides combined. So hopefully doctors are spending way more time lecturing parents about driving as safely — and as little as possible — as they spend talking about guns.
EMILY: There’s something different about guns though. ‘The possession of firearms in the home is a professionally-recognized risk factor for both gun-related homicide and suicide.’
JOSH: Well, sure. And living near a cliff is a risk factor for falling homicides and suicides. A sea-front home is a risk factor for drowning homicides and suicides. A slippery floor is a risk factor for tripping —
EMILY: OK, suppose you have a suicidal teen talking to a doctor. You’re really saying the doctor can’t bring up guns?
JOSH: Actually, it turns out that there’s an exception in the law if the doctor feels the gun issue is directly relevant to the patient’s care or safety. Suicidal teens would be a great example of that.
EMILY: What about the example of a kid being bullied at school. Can a doctor ask if the kid has a gun in the house? If he’s ever brought a gun to school? If he’s though about harming himself or anyone else with a gun? This type of law will have a chilling effect on doctors — force them to try to figure out whether the question they want to ask meets the legal standard for being directly relevant or not. Do you really want doctors to have to keep these legal distinctions in the back of their mind when talking to patients?
JOSH: Everything doctors do is governed by laws. Doctors make these sorts of decisions all the time — often wrongly, which is why we have so many malpractice suits in this country. But I don’t get the example — you can ask a kid if he’s thought about hurting himself or anyone else. If he has, you take action. At that point, telling the parents to make sure the gun is stored safely pretty obviously falls into the legal exception.
EMILY: I don’t know. It still seems wrong for a state legislature to dictate what doctors can and can’t talk about with patients.
JOSH: Look, guns are a touchy subject in our society. But it’s been legally determined that they’re permissible. Understandably anti-gun folks want to continue the fight, but should doctors really be allowed to use their position of power to promote their particular views? We have laws that prevent teachers from spreading their political views to their kids. Why not similar laws for Doctors?
EMILY: Vaccines and abortion are both touchy subjects in society. Are laws that tell doctors what they can say about those things next?
JOSH: Okay, that’s the slippery slope argument. People who are in support of those things will pass whatever laws they can. The existence of this law isn’t going to make much of a difference. But for the record, if anyone passes a law that tells doctors they can’t strongly encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated, I’m moving to Canada.
Thanks to Steve for hashing out this debate with me, and for most of the links above.
Shirin Neshat discusses what it’s like to be an Iranian artist working in exile, always having to be conscious of two completely different audiences. She says she envies western artists for their freedom to eschew politics in their work. She ends on an optimistic note about the Green movement, though it’s worth noting that this talk was recorded in 2010, and the lack of momentum towards freedom in the time since might dampen that optimism. (Weird aside: there’s no mention of the movement on Iran’s wikipedia page, just an odd reference on the talk page.)
Revelations came recently from the Wikileaks cable dump that North Korea has been selling nuclear weapons to Iran (oh, right, and long-range missiles to deliver the nukes to, say, western Europe), which should come as a shock to exactly nobody — they’ve previously been found to be selling nuclear material to Syria. The only question is to whom is North Korea not selling nuclear materials. Why not Hamas or Al-Qaeda? According to the ISIS, North Korea has at least 9 nuclear weapons and is not slowing down with its enrichment programs.
Okay, that’s one thing. Now consider a second thing: North Korea’s increasing aggressiveness towards South Korea. They torpedoed a South Korean warship back in March, and have repeatedly attacked the nation in other ways, most recently with artillery shells aimed at residential areas on Yeonpyeong Island.
So we have North Korea’s wanton nuclear proliferation, and it’s growing aggression towards South Korea and the rest of the world. What’s the proper reaction to this? I’d argue that it’s time to reconsider our present strategy of doing nothing.
Now, we have had some bad recent experiences with regime change. But consider all the ways in which North Korea is different from, say, Saddam Hussein-era Iraq. It’s uncanny how many of the things the Bush administration said about Iraq are actually true of North Korea: its a clear and present danger to the world, its military is starved and abused and likely to surrender, and its citizens live in deplorable abject misery which is an order of magnitude worse then the terrible poverty found around the world. The last point is worth considerable discussion, which I attempted earlier this year:
Here is a country that so oppresses its people that the richest among them — the ones trotted out for international show — live in slum-like conditions, in constant hunger, in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and being thrown into one of the country’s famous concentration camps. The conditions are actually worse than in 1984: patriotic songs are blasted from loudspeakers in the streets every hour on the hour from 6 am to midnight, the media (along with literally everything else) is owned and operated by the government, and the bizarre leader is worshiped and widely believed to control the weather with his emotions(!). This country allowed 2.5 million people to starve during the 1990s famine so it could support its military (note: the average North Korean is six inches shorter than the average South Korean). It runs a secret system of gulags in which torture is commonplace, and in which 400,000 people have died in the last quarter century. And by the way, part of the mind control system in the country is to brainwash racism and contempt for everyone else in the world into its people.
Now look, I’m no pro-war hawk. I opposed the Iraq invasion from the first moment it started being discussed. I think most of the wars the US has gotten involved with in the last century have been a mistake. But I’m saying it: we need to get into it with North Korea. It may be too late, but we need to do it before it’s even more too late. Star Wars ain’t happening, so once North Korea is stocked with nuclear missiles they’re going to have the whole world by the short hairs. It’s going to be real ugly, but not quite as ugly as you may be thinking.
First of all, there’s that million man army. They’ve never fought anyone, right? They’re draftees, forced to do everything they do by the government. They’re hungry and poorly equipped. Consider this: while the US armed forces have only about one and a half as many people as the North Koreans, their budget is almost 100 times as much: $6 billion vs. $533 billion. The one thing the Bush administration got right about Iraq was how easily their army surrendered, and exactly the same thing will happen in North Korea.
I’m prepared to concede that it may be a violent war. We may not be able to take out all of their nuclear weapons in the first round of bombing, and they may get one off. A lot of people might die. But I don’t think any war in living memory has been as justified as this one would be.
And consider what happens afterwards: unlike in Iraq, there is a perfectly obvious post-war strategy: Korean reunification. Not something the South Koreans are too keen to contemplate probably, but in the long run, and likely even in the medium run, it will turn out to be a good thing for everyone. Witness how smoothly German reunification went after some early hiccups. It’s hard to picture that the introduction of a huge and willing labor force into the South Korean economy wouldn’t spur a boom in manufacturing.
And what China? Long North Korea’s biggest, if reluctant, ally, even China has been growing impatient with North Korea, as again the Wikileaks documents show. They want reunification! But more to the point, once war is inevitable China will realize what side their bread is buttered on, and they’ll have to go along.
So that’s where we are at: a state that’s sufficiently totalitarian to keep internal dissent effectively nonexistent, is outwardly violent, and is building up its nuclear arsenal and dispersing it carelessly into the world for money. It pains me to arrive at this conclusion, but when our soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re going to have a new job waiting for them.
You might have missed it, but GM stock sale last week sealed the deal on a sea change in how our economy is going to work for huge companies going forward. When the bailouts of the financial industry were initiated, the outcry assumed that the taxpayers were “paying” to save the industry, and that the money was either mostly or totally gone. But in fact, many banks have repaid the money with interest, and while the government has not broken even on the deal, it is still possible that it will turn out to be profitable. We now see that the same may end up being true of GM, too: the sale of the government’s initial batch of GM stock went remarkably well — the company appears to have recovered, and if it continues to flourish it’s possible that the remaining stock will be sold at a sufficiently high price that we taxpayers will end up making money on the GM bailout, too.
This should make us uncomfortable. And the not unreasonable presumption that the government’s interventions in the management of GM had a role in the success should make us even less comfortable. Because these pieces of good news set an irresistible precedent for how to deal with future calamities.
Liberal and conservative economists so vary in their proposed remedies to problems that it’s it’s seldom possible to untangle economic facts their statements. But in the darkest days of the financial collapse, the one thing that all economists agreed on was that if you were going to bail out these huge companies, you had to make sure that no company was allowed to stay “too big to fail” going forward. Companies behave dangerously if they believe they have the safety net of a government bailout protecting them, but the safety net is unavoidable for huge companies. They’d have to be broken up into smaller companies, lest the whole process be repeated in the future.
But when the financial reform bill came along in July, too big to fail provisions were conspicuously absent. Why? Well, the whole bill just barely squeaked by Republican opposition. Measures to limit the sizes of companies were practically laughed out of the legislation by Senate Republicans, who instead proposed new bankruptcy procedures for large failing institutions. Republicans are fundamentally responsible for the absence of too big to fail provisions in the current legislation.
So consider these two facts: that the U.S. government now implicitly backs our largest corporations, and that when needed, government intervention may likely be good for both the taxpayer’s bottom line and for the companies involved. This, much more so than healthcare reform of anything else that has happened under the Obama administration so far, is classic Socialism. It’s richly ironic that Senate Republicans and the administration of George W. Bush, which began the whole process, are the ones fundamentally responsible.
Can you fix the budget? Sure, the Tea Party is full of batshit crazy and staggeringly stupid people. But the idea at its core — that the federal budget is a mess and we’ve been deficit spending like it’s crack — is pretty sound. So, ok smart guy, what would YOU cut to make it work? Don’t tell me, because your local New York Times digital department has put together a nifty little app that lets YOU play with the budget. You get all the different suggestions floating around, and you get to see the effects on the budget shortfall in 2015, and 2030. (It’d be even cooler if you could generate a unique URL to your solution for twitter, etc.)
YOUR president has been rocking it since health care reform passed this weekend: jobs package, financial reform, and now an arms deal with Russia. Also, going out of his way to publicly support Biden’s dropping the f-bomb in the oval office. Next up, getting tough on Cuba and help for underwater homeowners. Bonus link: healthcare speech with edits showing on the White House flickr stream.
You can add health care reform to all the other cornerstones of American society that Conservatives fought against: womens’ suffrage, civil rights, social security, Medicare.
I posted this to facebook, but I hate having stuff live only there, so here you go.
Update: Gloat-tastic: Obama stopped after every letter when signing his name to the bill to switch pens, creating 20 historical souvenirs.
First, the bits that you already probably more or less know: in the 1700s and 1800s, European powers gradually colonized huge swaths of the world, including the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East. (For an explanation of how this happened, Guns, Germs, and Steel is highly recommended, although I can not be held responsible for any blown minds.) The big players here were Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal. The island of Hispanola was fought over by Spain and France, partially because this was fun and partially because it was just the perfect place for the production of coffee, sugar, and indigo (yes, indigo). They settled things in 1697 with the Treaty of Ryswick, which basically carved the island down the middle, giving the French the western half and the Spanish the eastern half. And for the next hundred years or so, the western half thrived. Came a huge influx of French, and with them African slaves, into what became one of the more brutal slavery regimes of the time — a third of the Africans died within a few years of arriving.
In 1789 came the French Revolution, and word spread to the colony and caught fire among the slaves, who started a revolution of their own. Napoleon sent in a few tens of thousands of soldiers, but vast numbers of them were killed by
yellow fever the devil, and by 1804 the nation of Haiti was established. (Bonus fact: about ten thousand refugees left the island during this time, and ended up settling in New Orleans, in effect doubling its population and forever changing its culture.)
Now here’s the bit you didn’t know. In 1825, the King of France, Charles X, sent over an armada of ships and soldiers, and under threat of invasion, war, and re-enslavement, then-president Jean-Pierre Boyer signed an “indemnity” under which the French recognized Haiti’s independence in return of a payment of 90 million Francs (actually, it was originally 150 million, reduced to 90 in 1838). And where did Haiti get the money to make this deal? They borrowed it, of course, and from French banks. And what sort of terms did they get? Well, I believe the term is “merde.” (In case you are wondering, the internet’s best guess is that this would be $21 billion in today’s money.)
But whatever, right? These sort of deals are made all the time, and they’re usually dropped when the leadership changes or comes to its mind. But no. For the next hundred years, Haiti made payments on this debt while its people mostly practiced subsistence farming. Instability from it resulted in a crippling series of coups (38 in Haiti’s 200-year history) and left an obviously problematic political and economic heritage.
Does this explain everything that’s happened in Haiti since? Of course not. But it sure does explain some of it.
Along with the Electoral College, the US Senate is one of those anti-democratic vestiges of the state-centric zeitgeist that existed at the dawn of the US. But nevermind! I bet you didn’t realize that “the rules of the Senate” (so nonchalantly referred to in recent news) are not only mind-buggingly strange, but actually completely mutable? OK, check out this big, from the 5th Section of Article 1 of a little something called the Constitution:
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.
So, like, right now we have the 111th United States Congress, right? Well, when the session began, Senators sort of casually voted in the rules from the previous Congress without much fanfare. But the truth is that they could just as easily voted in any other rules. Say, Robert’s Rules of Order. Or nomic (can’t possibly put enough parenthetic exclamation marks(!) after this, so I won’t try). Just as easily, they can change the rules any time they want. As in, it takes a majority — not a super-majority — of Senators to change the rules. Which is not what you usually hear, right? You hear that it takes a super-majority, 67 votes, to change the rules of the senate, which is part of Rule 22, yadda yadda, which is why you need 60 votes to override a filibuster, which of late has become a virtual-filibuster where Senators just say, “yeah, we’ll filibuster that,” which has become increasingly used over the last couple of years (curses, Republicans!), which means that you need 60 votes to get anything done in our friggin government, which means no healthcare for YOU because of Martha Coakley’s “blah, whatever, finally I get my Senate seat”-attitude lost her the Massachusetts special election and that was the Democrats’ (capital-D, keep up here) 60th seat. Right, that. That Rule 22 can be overturned with just a simple majority, which is to say 51 votes.
Harry Reid could (for-realz could, not theoretical-could) make a motion to throw out the filibuster rule, the 59 remaining Democrats could vote it in, and they could pass your healthcare reform this afternoon.
And they might! But probably not. This, by-the-way/you-see, is what the Republicans were talking about when they talked about the “Nuclear option” back in the 90s when they had a majority (but nearly as big a majority as the Democrats have right now). Reid went ballistic back then at the suggestion of them doing that, so he’d have to eat his words a little bit. But when the Republicans are — have been — in fact promised to use every procedural trick in the Rules to fight health-care reform, a little bit of procedural push-back might be in order. Especially when it allows 40% of the Senators (which, if you do the math, can equal the representation of as little as 12% of the voting public of the US) to block anything they don’t like.
The New Yorker’s portraits of world leaders is a pretty good example of print and online media working together: small images and audio accounts of the photos by photographer Platon, beautiful full-page prints in the mag. The photos are striking, and they’re a profound examination of whether you can learn anything new about a person by gazing into their eyes in a simple still portrait. Conversely, almost all the short snippets of words reveal something startling, and they’re heightened by being spoken aloud.
This is what Geneva’s Article 3 says: whatever the nature of the combatant, in or out of uniform, and whatever his own moral rules (or lack of them), he deserves basic respect as a human being with human rights. This principle is nonnegotiable. It is the core principle of Western civilization. Resistance to the physical force of government, especially as that force is applied to people in custody, is the core reason America exists as an independent nation.
I believe that if you review the facts of your two terms of office, you will be forced to realize that, whatever your intentions, you undermined this fundamental American principle. You may not have intended that to occur. But you were the commander in chief and president, and these were presidential-level decisions. The responsibility for all of this is yours—before the American people and before the court of history. And you need finally to own these decisions, to take full responsibility for them, to account for them, to explain them, and, yes, to apologize for their scope and brutality.
— Andrew Sullivan, from a long and comprehensive open letter to President Bush. A pretty good companion to this piece is the Fresh Air interview with Philippe Sands (which I’m linking now for like the 5th time) — Sands argues that unless there is some sort of coming to terms, Bush administration officials have the possibility of extradition and trial overseas to look forward to.
“The rise of [Rush Limbaugh, Glenn] Beck, Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the rest has correlated almost perfectly with the decline of the G.O.P. But it’s not because the talk jocks have real power. It’s because they have illusory power, because Republicans hear the media mythology and fall for it every time.” — David Brooks
While discussing the alleged death of polite disagreement at Rex’s blog last week, I expressed the idea that a lot of the disagreement stems from a disagreement about simple facts. It’s almost impossible to support healthcare reform bill if you think it includes “death panels,” and there are folks who consume media in such a way that they genuinely believe this. But even those with every right to call themselves reasonable are at prone to this effect — we tend to be more likely to believe the facts that jibe with our view of the world. Those facts then push our opinion farther along toward certainty, and make those who disagree with us seem ever less reasonable.
It follows that clarifying the facts is a potential way to begin restoring some of the civility that’s been lost from public discourse. By this I mean not only correcting incorrectly held beliefs, but also by exposing reasonable disagreements about what are often presented as established facts.
Interestingly, there is a tool intended to do exactly that: the Dispute Finder. It works like this: you install it as a Firefox extension, and it then alerts you when a fact you are seeing on the internet is in dispute, and cites a few disagreeing sources. It gets to know what sources you respect, and so if you’re a Republican, say, it’s more likely to point you to a story about how death panels are a hoax in the Wall Street Journal then in Harper’s magazine. (Demo here.) Try this at home!: do any of the statements below make you nod in agreement? Click through for contradictory evidence.
- Genetically modified foods are dangerous
- Recycling is good for the environment
- 76% of Americans want a public health care option
- The 2009 Iran Presidential Election was rigged
The point here isn’t that any of those claims are wrong — the point is that they are not nearly as clear cut as we might suppose, and that having our beliefs challenged makes us more likely to listen to those we disagree with, ergo more civil discourse. Two problems.
1) This is all well and good on the internet, but can we attach it to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck’s asses? And also better yet, what about my uncle who parrots Limbaugh, Beck, et al. at the Sunday cookout? Well, it turns out they’re working on that! Explains Dispute Finder developer Rob Ennals on a recent On the Media:
The bullshit detector is a thing that we’re planning to do next. It’s trying to apply the same kind of ideas we’re applying to the Web to information you hear in real life. So let’s say you’re in a conversation with somebody and they tell you something which is disputed. The device is going to buzz in your pocket and let you know that you just heard something disputed and perhaps you should question it. … [A]nother thing we’re planning [is] to apply this to closed caption TV text; that if some pundit on TV says something disputed, a thing will flash up at the bottom of your screen saying, this is a disputed claim. This source you trust disagreed with some of this.
Nice, right? Sign me up. And sign up my uncle. Better yet, sign up YOU and YOUR uncle, which brings us to
2) This is great, but how do I get the people who disagree with me to sign up for this? To wit, aren’t the very people who are disagreeably disagreeing the least likely to pay any attention to this type of technology? And at first I think this will be true. But I think it’ll have a snowball effect. As this type of technology spreads and improves, the desire for intellectual honesty will begin to drive its adoption. That is, even the most extreme conspiracy theorists want to claim to be open to opposing arguments, right? So unless this whole project manages to get painted as part of the liberal conspiracy (not inconceivable!), some portion of even the wackos at the fringes of the political parties will get on board, which will begin to soften — maybe — the craziness that’s therein harbored.
Public financing of elections sounds like a good idea. But so does free speech. And it appears that honest philosophical examination finds these two ideals incompatible. Witness Hillary: The Movie, banned from cable television during the 2008 elections because of its campaign-promotional aspect. Well, off to the Supreme Court it went, which Supreme Court sent the case back for re-arguing. Given that the SC as it currently stands decidedly on the pro-free speech anti-campaign-reform side, this is taken as an indication that they’re planning on doing way more then conceding that the film should have been allowed to run. They very likely are looking at drastic scaling back of the limitations we place on political contributions, etc. If you need the “pro-free speech” argument spelled out again, George Will help you out.
Something is rotten in the state of C-SPAN: I subscribe to C-SPAN’s Podcast of the Week [iTunes link], and yesterday heard a pretty great speech that Bill Clinton gave [mp3] last month to the Netroots convention. Pretty great speech, if only just to hear how well he can hold interest over a near-hour. Thing is, that link goes directly to an mp3, hosted locally at that, because I have no idea what’s going on with C-SPAN’s site. This page refers to the podcast, and as of this moment still links to the audio file, but there is no reference to the speech anywhere else on C-SPAN’s site that I can find, and no permanent link to the podcast item. Pardon me, but this does not seem like the right way to run a service that is the de-facto record of our government’s activities, does it?
Five easy facts about healthcare: 62% of the bankrupcies in the United States are caused by devastating medical bills. 78% of those cases were people who had health insurance, but who found themselves not covered, or not sufficiently covered, when the time came. 18,000 people unnecessarily die here every year because of a lack of insurance. (Source.) Of the top 50 richest nations in the world, the United States is the only one that does not have guaranteed healthcare for everyone. (Source.) The last Republican administration had 8 years to fix the healthcare system their way, and they decided to do nothing.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) on Meet the Press: This segment is much more notable for the “how to win an argument by talking over someone,” though actually Sunday’s episode of MtP was not only fun to watch (Gregory is losing control!) but was informative about the healthcare debate. (Actually, the best thing I’ve seen recently there was this article, which explains why doing some reform, but not all the components being talked about, wouldn’t work.) But come on, Rangel is amazing, right?!
Larry Wilmore on the white majority, from last night’s Daily Show. Wilmore is always brilliant, but this was particularly good. There’s a great Fresh Air interview where he discusses how he figured out his role on the Daily Show.
In Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch compares contemporary hip-hop battles to international diplomacy (Jay-Z is the parallel to American hegemony). (via)
Dahlia Lithwick argues that the Republicans are really shooting themselves in the foot with how they’re handling the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. They’re hammering away on her “Wise Latina” comment — a single badly worded sentence from a 2001 speech — instead of her 10 year long record on on the Second Circuit court, where she’s heard 3,000 cases and written 380 opinions. Although the Republicans have agreed that she will almost certainly be confirmed and this is their version of going easy on her, they’re making themselves look like assholes.
Last year congress held hearings to the effect that oil price speculation has a lot to do with driving up prices. There is now legislation being passed to limit the practice.
- So, how does the Supreme Leader get the gig? He’s appointed by the awesomely-named Assembly of Experts. They made him, and they can unmake him. While there doesn’t seem to be the will to unseat Khamenei just at the present moment, keep a eye on these guys.
- File under shifting winds: Yesterday, more then a third of Iran’s 290-memer parliament didn’t show up for a victory party for Ahmadinejad.
- Note the geography of Tehran, which is a sprawling low-density city (not unlike Miami) connected by highways. This is part of why we haven’t seen the dramatic protest photos this week that we saw last week; it’s not for an absence of protests. It’s because the government has shut down many of the highways and imposed brutal martial law, making it impossible for people to get to each other. Instead of one protest of hundreds of thousands, there are smaller protests scattered around the city.
- As Nic points out, the Basij has been savage in all of this. Listen to this woman to get a sense of what some of the protests have been like. On the other hand, many soldiers in the much larger Revolutionary Guard have shown an increasing unwillingness to be inhuman towards their fellow citizens. Once the momentum really starts to shift you may see them begin to outright ignore orders, and the bottom may begin to drop out of everything.
- More then two thirds of Iran’s population is under 30(!), born after the revolution of 1979.
- As the protests continue, and spread around the world, (fueled in no small part by the video of Neda Agha-Soltan’s death), pressure on the Iranian government mounts.
- There is the idea going around that this could never have happened under Bush, who united the various political factions in Iran against himself. So it is precisely President Obama’s tone and handling of international politics that deserves recognition here.
- The NYT has a nifty infographic of the timeline of the events so far. Also do not miss Karim Sadjadpour on Fresh Air, from whom I’m stealing some of these observations.
After over a week, the daily protests in Iran are going strong, and have spread all over the world, but it doesn’t exactly seem like “a matter of time” until the government gives in and gives the protesters what they want. And this may be all for the better — by not nullifying the election, the legitimacy of the whole system, not just of the election, is cast into question. A new president may not be forthcoming, but the future power of the Supreme Leader seems to be under gradual revision.
In the meantime, it’s a matter of forces of will, the people against the government, right versus wrong. And it’s encouraging that you can’t have partial oppression. It works in North Korea because there is no money in North Korea. Introduce a little entrepreneurial spirit and education into a society, and what follows is the internet, cell phones, signs of a free media, and before you know it, the tide is shifting irrevocably in the direction of freedom. Maybe it will not be this time, but the future of Iran is clear — it’s going in the way of Eastern Europe in the late 80s. It may not be quite a Velvet Revolution (which, remember, took almost two months), but it’s got a poetry all its own.
Oh, right, the forces of will. On the one side you’ve got a vast cross-section of the Iranian public. On the other, a government increasingly driven to desperate-seeming tactics. Yesterday, they began parading college students in front of the media who were forced to say that they were influenced to protest by foreign media. (One of the losing candidates from the election was also persuaded to withdraw his complaints of vote rigging.)
Meanwhile, the photos keep rolling in — people taking to the streets by the hundreds and thousands, despite the government practically shutting down the city. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not next week, but something new is coming to Iran.
Maps showing economic downslump levels vs. economic stimulus levels by county. Looks like Florida made out pretty good.
Property owners around the crash site of United Flight 93 are soured that, despite their willingness to work out a deal or even donate it over the last 8 years, the government is going to use eminent domain to take their land for a memorial.
Vaclav Havel in the New York Times: The United Nations Human Rights Council is a farce, and membership is based on political maneuvering, oblivious to people suffering under tyrannical oppression.
G20 protests in London. It’s interesting how three groups are on near-equal footing in these image — the protesters, the police, and the photographers. Not only do the scenes have a quality about them of being staged for the photos, but it’s almost like all parties got together with the sole purpose of creating a previously agreed-upon set of images. I realize that sounds cynical, and that the protesters are extremely passionate and the police are doing a very difficult and dangerous job (as are the photographers), but it’s a very difficult feeling to escape with this particular set of images.
Remember the “what will the Daily Show do when George W. Bush is out of office?” talk? Well, while making fun of FOX News is not going to be a substitute for making fun of a disastrous president, the above needed to be said. It’ll be no fun listening to variations of it repeated ad nauseam, but it sure is fun to hear it once. The quick summation of GWB’s worst hits is worth the price of admission, and the outrage/gloat tone makes this the Daily Show clip for the time capsule. I hope Jon Stewart doesn’t cave to the Media Watchdog role some are pushing him towards, but, among other things, this clip demonstrates how effective he’d be in that role. If I could pick 6 minutes out of the last year of the Daily Show that every person would get to see, this would be it.
Predictions for when various states will legalize gay marriage. Fairly rigorous, the model uses data on when various states attempted to pass gay marriage bans, and the level of religiosity in the population. The tipping point comes between 2012 and 2013, which is also the year where we find Florida in the list. Mississippi is dead last, at 2024. (via)
Mugshots of Phish fans. Police in Hampton, Virginia raided a series of Phish concerts last week (apparently they haven’t heard that the Obama administration is legalizing pot) and confiscated $1,213,882.80 (?) worth of marijuana.
At the beginning of last week’s This American Life, Ira Glass suggests that many of us are resigned to not really understanding what’s going on with the financial sector. Then the NPR boys go straight into explaining it, starting in the simplest terms and working up to the global collapse scale. Required. One of the more interesting people in the show is Simon Johnson (a former International Monetary Fund bigshot who’s worked with many other countries fixing exactly this situation), who Terry Gross had an interview that is also very interesting. That should prepare you for the Baseline Scenario post from Johnson’s blog, and all the other jargon-heavy reports you’ll to be encountering.
Update: Spoilers (don’t read on if you’re going to listen to the programs): The amount of debt Americans hold, as a percentage of GDP, typically oscillates between 20 and 50%; at two points in the last century it’s hit 100%: in 1929 and in 2007. So all these people yelling about how banks should lend out the money the US government is giving them are exactly wrong — arguably it was our level of debt that, as much as anything, caused the current crisis.
Johnson believes that the solution is fairly obvious: nationalize the banks. You nationalize, clean up the mess, and re-privatize them. Apparently that’s what the IMF, with the USA’s blessing, has been helping/forcing governments with similar problems do for decades, and it works reasonably well. Also, the US government does it all the time, just on a smaller scale than would be presently required. But were it not for the “obvious” political problems, the IMF would advise us to do exactly that. There’s also the suggestion that — maybe — that’s exactly what the Obama administration quietly is preparing to do.
Lawrence Lessig presents a more fleshed out argument for public funding of Congressional elections at Google. Supports withholding money from elections for members who don’t support the plan … an interesting strategy.
Stevie Wonder performed at the White House. Cool enough. I say let’s do a concert a week, and let’s move them outside. Here’s a few folks I’d like to see performing in the rose garden (in addition to the obvious choice of George Clinton):
- Public Enemy
- Anthony Braxton
- Rage Against the Machine
- Willie Nelson
- Dixie Chicks
- Anthony and the Johnsons
What’s up with Dubai? I have been reading a lot about the financial crisis over the last couple of weeks. Surprise: it’s not that interesting or even particularly complicated. But yesterday I heard someone mention that India has been experiencing a relatively small slowdown, on account of not being nearly as leveraged in the banking/speculation domain. If the USA has been living large off irrational exuberance, and Iceland has been living X-Large … well, I couldn’t help but think of Dubai. Wouldn’t their completely absurd growth over the last five years or so be well explained by their XX-Large dose of the medicine of confidence-leveraging. And if that were so, they’d be going into an extra-steep nosedive right about now, right? Yep (via).
Wow, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was radicalized by his time in jail — he gave a talk at Nova a couple of weeks ago, and got the crowd riled up, at one point breaking out a US flag modified with a Swastika. So, it turns out uVu, South Florida’s odd little video service, has an archive of the talk: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. There’s also an interview.
The Eleventh Circuit Court has said that the Miami-Dade School Board was legally allowed (via) to remove a book (“Vamos a Cuba” — see here for some background) from school libraries.
Let’s invade Zimbabwe: Christopher Hitchens makes a darn good case for invading Zimbabwe and deposing president Robert Mugabe. Haven’t we leaned anything? Well, do me a thought experiment. Everybody talks about the Bush Administration’s catastrophic bungling of the Iraq invasion, right? And while some of their mistakes are 20/20-obvious, many were things they were warned about in advance, and in real-time, and/or just simple refusal to adequately plan or face up to facts that were obvious to gosh-near everyone.
So what if there’s a way to do this right? With the support and consultation of the surrounding countries and the world, with a half-African US president in command, and with the right motivations? What if you could go in quickly, depose Mugabe, hold the elections that the people of Zimbabwe so clearly want, and get out?
Palestinians are enraged by Israel’s brutal invasion of the Gaza Strip, in the months before Barack Obama’s inauguration. However, this was a reaction to epic increases in rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli citizens every year since Hamas was elected to lead Gaza. In response, it is pointed out that during the period of the 2008 ceasefire, the rocket attacks were cut to practically zero, while the Israelis did not stop the blockades of food and supplies to the Gaza Strip as they had promised. To that, Israel responds that ten (give or take) rocket and mortar attacks per month is hardly a ceasefire, and furthermore that Hamas has still not backed off from its claims that Israel is an illegitimate state that must not be allowed to survive. However, most Gaza citizens support Hamas not because they agree with its extreme anti-Israel position, but because of the corruption of their previous leadership. This leads us to a long series of conflicts that dotted the second half of the 20th century, resulting in a dramatic sequence of border changes, the 1967 border we often hear about being just one example.
How far back can these conflicts really be traced? Well, my initial research took me to the British Mandate of Palestine. Aha, I said, British colonization of the 19th and early 20th Century — here’s one other ongoing world problem we can attribute to it (hence the original title of this post). In 1948, Israel was established as a nation following the Holocaust. But in some sense this merely formalized what had already taken place. The Zionist movement began in the late 19th century, and between 1880 and 1914, the number of Jews living in Palestine doubled to about 60,000. Around this time anti-Semitism in Europe began to escalate, and the floodgates really opened.
While they were moving to the area peacefully and purchasing land to live on legally, the Jews attracted increasing hostility from the existing Arab population as their ambitions at political independence became increasingly apparent. This resulted in ongoing conflict, including a violent series of incidents in 1929.
So, when the Zionists talk about “returning” to Israel, what are they talking about? Well, we have Jewish Diaspora, an exodus from Israel in the first and second centuries during an occupation by the Romans. Before that, the 8th, 7th, and 6th centuries BC (!) saw a mass exodus with the destruction of the First Temple and the conquests of the ancient Jewish kingdoms. And, yeah, you’re pretty much back to the Biblical accounts, with all the clarity that brings.
Please note that this is just the result of some preliminary reading.
Posted: Thursday February 5, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink ·
A statue honoring Muntadar al-Zaidi, the guy who threw a shoe at George W. Bush, recently built in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town. (via Eyeteeth)
This episode of the Diane Rehm Show was billed as, “a look at how the Barack Obama administration may modify or dismantle anti-terror tools adopted under President Bush,” but ended up being a completely predictable discussion about torture. Mark Thiessen, a Bush staffer, argued that “the program” is completely responsible, the people behind it are “heroes,” that it was applied to an extremely small group of people, and that it saved thousands of American lives. Mike Posner, of Human Rights First, gave the canned “we don’t have to sacrifice our principles to keep ourselves safe” argument. And reporter Jess Bravin should have played referee, but was just a little too careful and didn’t have nearly enough to say.
What struck me was something that was never directly acknowledged in the conversation. All three commentators seemed happy to conflate two different questions: “Should we torture?” and “Does torture work?”
Thiessen claimes that in fact there are situations where standard interrogation techniques simply do not work, and in those cases the extended techniques often produced results. Posner claims, as do so many others, that in addition to all the other reasons for which they are deplorable, that the so-called extended techniques in fact do not produce results.
What became clear is that in fact the evidence is not conclusive about whether torture does, at least in some cases, get people to reveal information that they otherwise would not. This super-important point really ought to have been the pivot of the entire conversation, and future conversations about this should be framed thus:
- Is it effective? If it can be established that a particular technique does not produce results, then presumably nobody would want to use it, and the debate is settled.
- Is it ethical? If a particular technique can be effective, then we need to balance all the other arguments against using it specifically against its effectiveness.
There is a lot of stickiness about the legal definition of torture, and about just what exactly the US does and how often, and about what is routine and what is reserved for extreme cases, and it all gets unpleasant very fast. But the unpleasantness is no reason not to keep the issues straight, and to keep the argument clear. And in this we have been failing, and we need to try harder. We need to get some sort of definite handle on how effective different techniques are, and then move on resolutely to the ethical and practical issues.
* It’s interesting that these conversations often revolve around something that gets called the Jack Bauer exception, raising the separate issue of whether a situation presented not just in a hypothetical, but in an actually fictional account, ought to be relevant to this sort of national discourse.
This is the first time in my life that the guy I was rooting for became president. I liked Barack Obama from the get-go. I was rooting for him before Iowa, when there was an 8-person slate of Dem. candidates. Not particularly optimistically, but he was the guy I’d have picked, and somehow everyone else agreed with me. And as I’m sitting here on the eve of the inauguration, I wanted just to explain why I like Obama. What I told people was that he was the guy most like me that was running, but of course that’s just silly. There’s also the idea, attributable to someone or other, that a random person plucked from the populace would make a better president than any random person who was elected, and Obama seemed the closest to that “random person” then any other politician in striking distance. But this too misses the real essence.
What it comes down to is that Obama seems like the guy, when all is on the table, that is really best for the job. Clinton got the job through sheer political craftsmanship. Regan got it because people liked him, brains be damned. The Bushes got it through the unrelenting power of political connections. But Obama got the job just by straight-up being the best damned guy for the job. (The annoying smart guy, as Jay so lovingly put it.)
I’ve got no illusions — in 8 years you people will elect another idiot. We’ll continue to have mostly less-then-ideal presidents. Hopefully after 8 years of GWB we’ll no longer believe, as I used to, that who’s president isn’t really of that much consequence.
So do this with me. Let’s revel, just one last time, in the sheer breadth and scope of the badness of the George W. Bush presidency. Let’s pick a topic at random. International relations, science, civil liberties, bleh bleh bleh… let’s go with Bush’s relationship with the press:
OK, we’ve got that out of our system. Now, let’s welcome our new president.
If all goes according to plan, you can watch the inauguration right in this little window, courtesy of Hulu. See you on the other side!
Update: Viva Obama.
Update: Text of the speech.
“ISLAM: The Way of Life of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.” So read buses running in Broward County right now. (Here is a photo.) A fairly idiotic statement, considering Islam was founded hundreds of years after Jesus lived. But whatever — 1st Amendment, and all of that, right? Well actually, yes. We can take some comfort in hearing that the best person the Sun Sentinel (and the Herald) could find to speak in favor of pulling the ads is one Joe Kaufman, who “once called for nuclear attacks on Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq” and “wrote that ‘pure merciless force’ was the only way to deal with Muslims.” Nice to see that censorship has such a transparently nutcase spokesman. Not particularly related: atheist bus ads in London.
I’ve been catching up on my reading of Slate, and this caught my attention: Lawyers aren’t Special. Milan Markovic argues that Bush administration lawyers ought to be investigated for their role in the commission of war crimes. Traditionally lawyers are exempt from such investigations, but this may be absurd:
[S]ince the Nuremberg trials, it has been a fundamental precept of international law that soldiers must disobey orders to commit war crimes. If soldiers are supposed to differentiate between lawful and unlawful orders, why should lawyers, who are trained to know the law, have the privilege of never being held accountable if they advise unlawful conduct?
That stance seems especially unwarranted since lawyers can offer legal advice in such a way as to account for differing points of view when addressing controversial legal issues. In fact, lawyers are mandated to at least consider opposing points of view. They may, moreover, refer to moral and political considerations when advising clients, not purely legal ones. And yet John Yoo and other administration attorneys wrote one-sided arguments about crucial aspects of the coercive interrogation policy.
Also, if you haven’t already listened to the Fresh Air interview with Philippe Sands, you really should. He argues not only that Bush administration officials (including the president) ought to be indited for war crimes, but that there is an excellent chance that they will be at some point, in a foreign country. This may or may not be little more then a thought experiment, but it’s a dazzling listen.
A weird entanglement I witnessed at the door of NADA, where a guy wasn’t being allowed in apparently because of his dreadlocks (?! — but that’s actually what the security was telling him) and being black. “We’ve had some gang activity.” Meanwhile, dude was there with his girlfriend and a baby in a stroller, so wtf?? The two security idiots stood their ground, and eventually somebody else was called in and it looked like the situation was diffused and they were going to let him in. But seriously.
A couple of times I heard him ask, “is it because I’m black?”
And the security guys would get all indignant, “don’t start that shit!” when really they weren’t giving him much reason to doubt that that was exactly what it was.
Talk about an absolutely moronic response by the management of NADA to whatever incident they may or may not have had.
“Hours after Salon revealed evidence that two Americans were killed by a U.S. tank, not enemy fire, military officials destroyed papers on the men.”
“It’s not actually all that difficult to raise a few hundred thousand dollars, rent out an office and a phone line, call yourself the Institute for the Study of Policies I Think Are Awesome, and start blasting out press releases.” — How To Become An Expert (via Tomorrow Museum)
Mind blowing: the campaign of Barack Obama increased African-American voter turnout across the country. In California this contributed to the success of Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban. This, in turn, has led to pockets of ugly racism among Prop-8 demonstrates (and a side serving of anti-white hate in reaction).
The Barack Obama Twitter account appears to have packed it in, and I think that’s as it should be. The campaign is over, and it would be a mistake to link Obama’s campaign marketing efforts too much with his presidency. Adam Lisagor wondered if Obama would continue to use his logo, and it would appear that he will not.
This, on the other hand, is more like it: Change.gov, a brand new site designed by Obama’s people as only they could, and bringing a completely fresh approach to how the government uses the internet to interact with the people. It’s a little light right now, but it has lots of potential. I would like to see the “share your story/share your vision” features turn into something more like an internet forum, where the stories can be shared and discussed.
And I’d like at least a little of that radical transparency brought in: What newspaper articles and editorials did Obama find provoking today? Who’s he meeting with today? What’s being talked about inside the White House today?
I don’t think we’re ready for, “fire the publicist / go off message / let all your employees blab and blog,” in the White House, but we would benefit from whatever baby steps Obama can take in that direction, and Change.gov seems like just such a step.
Newsweek has been following the Obama campaign and getting inside dirt, on the condition that it wouldn’t be published until after the election, and so here it is: How He Did It.
Oh, fuck it, let’s just see what’s going on…
9:26pm: I’ve been telling everyone today that if Florida goes to McCain I’m going to be PISSED, and right now Obama has a lead here, so that’s all good. We have the Google election tracker, but unfortunately it’s running a little behind some of the network projections, which are currently 175 vs 76 (Obama/McCain, 270 needed, duh).
9:30pm: Ohio’s been called for Obama. Keep in mind: 270 needed to win, 350 is the “historical sweep” we’re looking for, 338 is what Karl Rove predicted.
9:43pm: I don’t think Chuck Todd has slept for about six weeks. Dude must have some really nice prescription uppers. HuffPo has a nice live tally map, as does NYTimes, breaking it down by county(!). NBC says 200/90 right now.
9:56pm: I have been just informed by my TV that “this election is not just about race, it’s about a vision for the country.” So, it’s pretty obvious why broadcast network pundits get paid the big bucks. Since a landslide for Obama seems a given right now, and Obama taking Florida appears a very reasonable proposition, I’ve shifted my giddy optimism to “Obama Wins Texas?” Despite being the biggest GOP Stronghold, Texas is actually sorta kinda close, what with all them hispanics, many of whom have apparently gotten uppity and have been voting Obama. And in election booze news, I’ve now switched from beer to vodka!!
10:06pm: 207/129. Whoa, Bob Dole’s wive was a senator? Also, according to Twitter, Pot has been legalized! In depressing news, 38% of Floridians as of now have come out in support of gay rights. You people are brainless fucking self-righteous assholes. The next time Bryan Williams tells me to remember the difference between “too close to call” and “too early to call” I’m going to hop a redeye to Washington and clock him. NOBODY CARES WILLIAMS. Ann Curry’s CG rotunda is kinda cool, though.
12:13am: 338/139. Victory speech. “This victory is not the change we seek — it is only the beginning.” Obama delivers the speech from a plain podium, the election/marketing “Change We Need” sign gone, with any luck forever (and with more luck, along with the “yes we can” chant). (McCain carries Texas by 55%.)
7:11am: Watching the crappy Stewart/Colbert special. Meh. Numbers as of now, 349/147, with 42 still uncounted. Pissing in your open-minded cereal: anti-gay measures appear to have passed in California and Florida. YOU ELECTED THE RIGHT GUY BUT YOUR COUNTRY IS STILL BACKWARDS.
It’s about that time, every four years, when we begin to look at the dysfunctional methods by which we elect our presidents. We get the obligatory crop of articles about the idiotic electoral college, but of course the problem extends way beyond that.
A couple of weeks ago I was exchanging heated e-mails with a good friend who’s supporting Nader, and of course she was advocating for opening our process up a lot more to third parties. That would certainly be a step in the right direction, but it’s credulous to think that that would bring about any real change. Third parties are successful exactly to the extent that they drain votes from whomever would be the second choice of their voters, usually splitting the vote and handing the election to the least-favored candidate. Some envision a true multi-party system, with five or six factions forced to form ad-hoc coalitions, and nobody operating under the illusion of having majority support. But this is the system they have in Europe, and politics do not work demonstrably better there than they do under our system.
But look: we’re living in a time of some pretty big changes right at this moment, and thinking big about our political system doesn’t seem as out-of-bounds as it might have before. So there are two questions to tackle. One, if we were starting with a clean slate, what sort of system would we want to put into place. Two, how to go about enacting that system.
So, election theory gets extremely thorny extremely fast, with various systems having their various pros and cons (note: the system we currently use is generally considered the least ideal for elections of more then two candidates). Let’s take as our starting point the system that Ze Frank used (transcript here)for electing the winner of the “I Knows Me Some Ugly MySpace Contest” (the silliness of the candidates has no bearing on the validity of the process). The election takes place in two rounds. In the first round, each voter gets ten votes, to be distributed as they choose among the candidates. Take this election as an example. You might choose to give five votes to Obama, three to Nader, and two to McKinney. You might give all 10 to McCain. Whatever. Votes get tallied, results announced, and a run-off election is held with the top two candidates from the first round. This time of course everyone just gets one vote. Under this system, even if you put all 10 of your votes in the first round toward a looser, you have a viable second choice you can vote for in the run-offs. Under this system, the influence of each party is clearly demonstrated even if it does not produce a winning candidate, and that in itself is a boon for democracy.
The classic objection to this system is that voter turnout is already low in our country, and asking voters to turn out twice is unreasonable. The obvious solution to this is internet voting. I’ve argued here here that the concerns over security are at least as easily overcome as security concerns surrounding paper ballot voting, but suffice it to say that if online banking can be secure there’s no reason online voting can’t.
So assuming that’s the system we want to go with, the next big question is how we get there. Since the electoral college is written into the constitution, it’s not going to be by bringing a trial and getting it to the Supreme Court. Procedures for amending the constitution from Wikipedia:
[A]mendments may be proposed by the United States Congress or by a national convention assembled at the request of the legislatures of at least two-thirds of the several states. To become valid, amendments must then be ratified by either the legislatures of or ratifying conventions held in three-fourths of the several states[.]
That’s quite a hurdle, and don’t expect current politicians, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, to go along easily. What’s required is a major grass-roots effort. Since the hurdle for the state-originated amendments is higher then for the Congressional route, what’s required is an effort directed at congressional candidates. Get a movement going, get candidates in close elections on board, and who knows — one day we might actually fix this thing.
Update: Kottke points to another alternative voting scheme that attempts to do something like what I’ve proposed, but in one step: Majority judgement.
Who’s the best interviewer on TV or radio? Charlie Rose? Larry King? Please. To some extent it’s a subjective question, your answer possibly skewed by your preferences in guests. For me, the answer lately has been Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. Her bio talks about her empathy with her guests, and that’s certainly a big thing, but the thing that is key to her success is a palpable curiosity that is rarely matched by television and radio personalities. Nothing is more disturbing then listening to an interviewee say something super-interesting, and the interviewer goes down to the next question on their little piece of paper, as if they had cotton in the ears. I’ve seen Charlie Rose actually cut people off sometimes (and here I’m not talking about political interviews, when cutting people off is not done nearly enough, at least in this country). Gross is right there with a spot-on followup question, inevitably better then the one I was hoping she’d ask. Too, her interviews have a satisfying quality, such that when she does 18 minutes with someone, she almost always seems to have gotten the best 18 minutes out of that person there was to get.
Her choice in guests in my opinion over-relies on the film industry (and I just flat don’t understand why she doesn’t regularly feature contemporary visual artists), but otherwise it is pretty excellent. She doesn’t do political figures, but frequently features experts who have vital information that ought to be factoring into our political decisions.
A few recent Fresh Air segments I do not recommend to be missing:
- James Bamford on the National Security Administration, including how the NSA refused to share information with the CIA before 9/11, about absurdly misused computer technology, and on systematic eavesdropping on conversations between soldiers in Iraq and their wives.
- Jane Mayer on the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies.
- Your man Krugman taking a bow for his Nobel and breaking down the deal with the Current Financial Crisis (although in this regard almost better to check out Another Frightening Show About the Economy on This American Life).
- Michael Pollan on food and US food policy.
Some older things I’ve recommended previously:
- Philippe Sands says Bush administration officials, including Bush and Cheney, have a decent chance of being tried for war crimes at some point in the future!
- Everything you know about Iran is wrong!!
The Obama tax calculator. Frankly, this is what I like least, and find most cynical, about the Obama candidacy: “vote for me, and I’ll give you money.” This sort of thing exposes the weakness in the very idea of a popular democracy, and I wish that a candidate with Obama’s rational appeal (not to mention with Obama’s near-lock on winning) would resist engaging in that kind of pandering.
Salon predicts another election disaster in Florida. Actually, the trouble has already started — lots of people have reported the early-voting problems the article references (why anyone would want to vote as soon as possible escapes me), we have brand new voting machines, droves of new voters, and this cockamamie new “no match, no vote” law (which is almost like Charlie Christ looking for a way to make himself less popular (but nevermind, because I got my address change in, so I’m good to go)).
Um, so the underlined things in all the stuff I’ve been writing are hyperlinks, and they usually point to things that I thought were worth reading or whatever. Most of y’all never click them, and that’s fine, but it bears mentioning. Here are some things that are also probably worth reading:
- Malcom Gladwell on genius. Honestly, I’d point you to anything Gladwell wrote. If you haven’t read his books, run, don’t walk. (And/or at least check him out talking about spaghetti sauce.)
- Maureen Dowd on Colin Powell’s justified indignation towards the McCain campaign. I generally find Dowd way overrated, but this is a really good column.
- John Swansburg on what happens when a big group goes out to eat (i.e. the bill gets bloated and the whole thing sucks), plus three strategies for approaching the situation.
- Irene Dieter on whether Nader cost Gore the 2000 election. I’ve been having an e-mail debate about this with a friend, and this is the latest link she sent me. I still say the voters who voted for Nader in Florida are as much to blame as anything else.
- Wikipedia page on Go, the greatest board game ever.
- Gizmodo on Brian Eno’s iPhone app. Of which there’s not much to say more then, if you needed one more reason to take the $80/month plunge…
- Jeffrey Goldberg on the BS that is the screening process at airports. I actually have yet to read this, but since re-discovering the Atlantic recently I’ve been having a blast over there.
Colin Powell famously endorsed Barack Obama yesterday. He joins a pretty impressive list conservative leaders who have abandoned McCain over the last few months, notably (to me, anyway) including George Will and Christopher Hitchens.
So, it looks like Obama’s a lock, and some reasonable folks are even talking about a 350 electoral vote sweep. But let’s breathe deeply — it doesn’t matter by how much Obama wins. It doesn’t even matter how great of a president he is. Eventually (read: 2016), Republicans will come back into power. The thing to do now, with the Republican party in the shambles it’s in, is to be reasonable. Don’t make Karl Rove’s mistake and start thinking about a “Permanent Democratic Majority.” Not only is it a fantasy, but it’s the stuff that moronic policy comes from (sorry, Turd Blossom).
The real question we should be asking ourselves (and this goes for Democrats as well as right-minded Republicans) is, “how can we help the Republican party become less dysfunctional.” How can we help them from nominating fools like George W. Bush in the future? There are lots of questions with easy answers floating around these days, but I haven’t heard this one asked yet, much less answered.
I suggest we assign economic recessions male and female names like we do with hurricanes. It would make each recession more specific and memorable (a la “Hurricane Andrew”, rather than “The big hurricane around 1992”)
A recession is like a hurricane in many ways: It travels a deadly path from one financial sector to another, destroying all profits in its path and affecting the health and wealth of everyone remotely near to it financially. It leaves financial ruin and financial injury (poverty; layoffs) in its wake which take many years to recover from.
Ex-CIA Operative Discusses Iran. Another essential Fresh Air interview, in which Robert Baer, on who’s autobiography the film Syriana was based, discusses Iran. Extremely credible, he claims that Iran’s intentions are not really counter to the United States’ interest, and highlights some of the opportunities that the future holds once the US gives up on trying to beat “democracy” into the Middle East.
Dan is exactly spot on: all the people ranting and raving about how great Barack Obama is, or how terrible McCain/Palin are, are missing the point. Yes, Obama would be much better for the country, but the point here is that this is the responsibility of all of us. (And please to watch also Dan on Jeremiah Wright, where I think he’s actually even more on point, just that the message is a little less timely.)
Hey, I happen to like Sarah Palin too. For whatever her level of experience, she has the right attitude, and that’s still got to be the most important qualification for a president. And to draw a chess metaphor, her pick as vice presidential running mate is like an even exchange of rooks (or something), since it neutralizes whatever attacks Republicans would have about Barack Obama’s lack of experience, while the attacks of the few Democrats who say her experience is substantially lower then Obama’s is easily discredited.
Here’s what’s interesting at this moment in the election process: As the conservative intellectuals line up against her, and as the latest round of criticisms and refutations of the McCain campaign’s claims in her favor (a few e.g’s: 1. Yes, she was for that “bridge to nowhere,” up until it became obvious the Congress would reject it; 2. No, she has not been to Iraq, and has “been to” Ireland, as claimed, in the sense that a plane she never got off stopped there to refuel; 3. as of latest, she will not be cooperating with the troopergate investigation; 4. maybe, this), Bill Bennett, one of the conservative intellectuals still standing in her support, went on the Today Show.
When presented with the latest series series of embarrassments and refutations of the points of experience the McCain campaign has cooked up for Palin, Bennett’s response was something like (paraphrasing), “sure, the Republican party intellectuals are turning against her, but most people don’t care about this stuff, and her support among average voters is still strong.”
We pause now while I confess to a pet peeve. “Begging the question” is a phrase that has gone beyond being abused in casual conversation, and is not being flagrantly abused by people on stages and on the television who ought to know better. I’m not normally a language pedant, but, um, I do not think that expression means what you think it means. “Begs the question,” has a specific meaning which is worth preserving. Try “raises the question” next time you want to use the former expression, and I think you’ll find yourself much better served. And while you’re at it, look up the meaning if you need to, and you’ll find yourself interestingly educated.
Anyway. To the extent that there’s any sense left in the world, people base their opinions in significant part on information they get from the news. So here’s Bill Bennett being asked to respond to the criticisms against Sarah Palin, and his response is (paraphrasing again), “even with all this criticism, people still like her.” Dude! Your job is to tell people what they should think, and that’s the best you got? Addressing this to a guy who should care, you, sir, are begging the question.
Image: photo of Sarah Palin as a youth, shortly after hunging, with her catch. Talk to me about how she wanted to ban books, but do not tell me she is not cool, America.
I’m completely transfixed by this little mini-interview with Tucker Carlson, filmed on Tuesday. Carlson is a cable TV blowhard who I rarely get to experience. Here he is apparently with his guard relatively down, talking almost casually with Talking Points Memo’s David Kurtz, and oscillating wildly between the eminently reasonable and the absurd. He begins with (obligatory?) praise for new media, then launches into
It seems to me the essence of scientific inquiry is, bring it on. Test me. Ask an endless series of questions. Test every possible hypotheiss. I mean, that’s what science is, right? But in the name of it you have people say, the very fact that you would raise that question not only suggests but in fact proves that you are a moron, incapable of understanding the debate, or you’re evil, you’re being funded by some special interest that wants to pollute the earth. To impune the motives of people who ask questions in the name of science, that’s insane! In fact, it’s like a parody — it’s like a joke.
Without knowing the specific exchange Carlson is referring to here, it should go without saying that he’s sort of missed the point — that scientists entertain an “endless series of questions” from those who understand the issue under discussion. The continued insistence of a certain group of the right wing that global warming does not exist contradicts the 99% of the scientists who study the issue, and who are understandably irate at debating demagogues who obviously can not be persuaded.
But then comes really the meat — Carlson’s criticism of how the GOP convention is being handled, and on the choice of Sarah Palin as vice presidential candidate. His critique of the cancellation of convention events, and his critique, is great. Spot-on, I’d say, but also almost funny in his frankness and openness. “Go zanny!”
I’m not ready to talk about global warming yet, but in my research I came across a recent session of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce regarding oil prices. As a public service I watched all six and a half hours of this (not always riveting) meeting, and now am here to share with you the results, which as a fairly free-market-oriented fella I for one found rather shocking.
We’ve heard over and over that oil speculators do not have a significant effect on the price of oil — this has been repeated over and over in a “no reasonable person disagrees with this” tone by all the various political and economic talking heads I’ve seen over the past few months.
The premise of these hearings is presented rather early in the video. Roughly stated, it says that speculators, freed by loosening of restrictions on them passed in 2002, have caused the price of oil to rise to almost double of what it would be in a standard supply/demand market. Further, it says that with fairly straightforward regulations, these speculators would be dis-incentivized out of the market, and the price of oil would return to something on the order of $60 per barrel (as I type, it currently sits around $140 per barrel). It further claims that the current dramatic increase is unlikely to lead to increased explorations, because oil producers do not believe that the price reflects the proper value of oil, and believe that exploration based on the current value would turn out to be financially disadvantageous.
Just a quick explanation of the last bit before I launch into how that premise was argued. The other thing is that the earth is not really close to being “out of oil.” The problem on the supply side is that the easily accessible oil is running out. There’s plenty of oil still in the earth, but it’s either in politically inaccessible places (e.g. ANWR, Alaska, e.g. also big chunks of Russia) or in geological formations from which it is more expensive to extract (e.g. the tar sands of Canada). In other words, if oil companies really believed that $140 for a barrel of oil was the stable price, there’s plenty of oil they could find. There’s still much more at $200 per barrel, and so on.
So, my natural skepticism about the ability of regulations on speculators to fix matters melted away as the four panels that testified before the subcommittee in turn made their opening statements and then answered questions from the congresscritters. The first panel consists of four experts — high-level folks that either advise or study the oil industry — including Fadel Gheit, managing director and senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., and Edward Krapels, director of Energy Security Analysis. To a one they all agreed with the premises outlined above. The next panel consists of a few folks from industries that rely on oil (trucking, airlines, etc.), to provide their obligatory whining; it is skipable.
The third panel consisted of one dude — Walter Lukken, acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This is the Bush-appointed guy in charge of overseeing the markets, speculators and all, and was notable mainly for how thinly his contempt for congress was veiled. This slimy little kid (looked no older then me) did everything short of telling the committee members to fuck themselves as they tried in vein to get useful information out of him. The final panel finally had some reasonable people who spoke in defense of speculation, but both unfortunately worked for agencies that directly benefit from the speculation — the market institutions themselves. The panel also had the day’s only university professor, Michael Greenberger of the U. of Maryland, who also agreed with the aforementioned premises.
There are some complications here — notably, oil speculation takes place not just on US markets but also on the ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) market, which while being housed in Atlanta is technically a British institution, making regulating it more difficult (but not as bad as it sounds). Overall, though, the subcommittee members — Democrat and Republican — seemed impressed that they had at their disposal a method to drastically reduce the price of gasoline. This hearing took place on June 23. Let’s see where they go with these findings.
- How to use a French Press. “It’s important to add your coffee quickly after grinding – if you’re smelling aromas, it’s going stale.” CoffeeGeek is so cute.
- Holy crap people Jeff Bridges’ website!!
- “Voicemail is dead. Please tell everyone so they’ll stop using it.”
- Chuck Klosterman got 96 Germans to write an essay about who their most influential American was to weed out which 20 would get to take a pop culture class he was teaching. “There was a female student who selected Jared Leto. I must admit — I did not see this one coming. He is perceived as a triple threat of acting, music, and environmental awareness (apparently, his tour bus runs on vegetable oil).”
- Better then the van lets you sign up to let broke ass bands on tour crash at your house. Joy.
- Songza lets you listen to any song anytime you want. Doesn’t work on my Firefox, but still great.
- My favorite new twitter feed: Captions from New Yorker cartoons without the cartoons.
- Some harsh words about Will Smith’s career. “Smith’s rules for how to be a global black superstar, then? 1. Keep it easy and breezy. Heroes must work for the good of the white folks (especially families and romantic pairings) in the movie, often to their own detriment.”
- Go play in graphic design traffic.
- “Never tell the hired gun that someone else has a bulletin, letter, memorandum, or document of any kind. You cannot possibly know this to be true, because the other person may have thrown it out since you last saw it. If you never saw it, then you did not know of its existence and cannot testify about your own knowledge. Don’t ever talk about a document unless you have the document in front of your eyes.” Actually, I have no idea what this is.
- Nobody wants to help me out.
- !!! (Via Keith Gessen’s blog, which is stuff about literary culture and photos of puppies and pretty great itself. Oh and who this person has a problem with. Too much internet, too little time.)
- On the internet you can buy yourself something to make you happy, like a picture of a flying car.
- So, Liz linked to FreeRice.com earlier this week, and the site seems like win-win for everybody, but I always get suspicious about stuff like this, so I poked around and found this. But still, right? Not only is it not completely credible, but even if true… well, I dunno.
- Six tips for designing your happiness commandments. I can’t believe I’m not grossed out by this.
- “. . . although it does not have law enforcement powers, TSA has begun issuing navy-blue uniforms and silver, cop-style badges. Not by accident, the badges look exactly like the kind worn by actual police officers. They say “U.S. Officer” at the top, with an eagle emblem in the center and “Transportation Security Administration” across the bottom. Not all law enforcement officials are happy.”
- Hey you people riding around the beach on squeaky bicycles: Lube that shit.
- Ted just posted a talk filmed in 2005: Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. collaboration. This is interesting because a lot of the threads that Shirky ties together are pretty old hat at this point (e.g. flickr tags), but whether or not his grand conclusion works out is still a bit up in the air.
- Still Bored? Want something to unravel? Try this, but don’t expect to be enlightened at the end of it all.
OK, I’m going back to read what Gessen thinks of the word ‘twat.’
Soon to come are little byte-link posts like at the other place. In the meantime, some things of which you ought not to be without:
- Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters. Is this really true? Sounds like a hoax.
- My friends Ross, Ariel, and Silvia are temporarily in Vietnam, as apparently the Chinese government has unofficially made most expats unwelcome on its premises for the time surrounding the Olympics. It’s complicated, but they seem to be having a good time.
- Rex gets into a big argument with a commenter about “oversharing” on the internet. When my little online spats are linked on Gawker I shall be happy. Also: let’s have more smart trolls.
- Eye-popping photographs of John McCain and Barack Obama.
- Christopher Hitchens on: When the waiter pours the wine for you. Getting waterboarded (there’s a video on YouTube). And don’t even get him started about religion. Also, here’s what he said about someone who insulted John McCain: “He combines the body of an ox with the brains of a gnat. Indeed, if his brains were made of gunpowder and were to accidentally explode, the resulting bang would not even be enough to disarrange his hair.”
- Tyte is a geeky looking British bloke who has a series of beatboxing instructional videos on YouTube that are fascinating even if you have no interest in learning to beatbox yourself. Check out this one and go from there to see the others.
- In my town, it’s considered wrong to sue when an idiot at a concert throws a drumstick into the audience and hits your wife.
- Text of a 2005 university commencement address by David Foster Wallace. “So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think.”
- A long and detailed talk on the state of cycling as transportation in the US and the world which is pretty depressing. (Thanks, Ralph.)
- New song/video by Tricky: Council Estate.
- Now if you’re the sensitive type you probably feel that I owe you an apology for that link. But perhaps what you really need is a suitable antidote. Grizzly Bear on La Blogotheque. (If you’re a GB neophyte then watch the second video first.)
- Kinsley’s proof that social security privatization won’t work. Homework: explain how he’s wrong.
Happy 4th, folks. Don’t fear, I’m going to spare you the list of America’s evils (which in any case have been better documented elsewhere), except maybe to direct you to the Fresh Air interview with Philippe Sands, who makes a persuasive case that the Bush administration committed war crimes, and explains why they have an excellent chance of being indicted at some point in the future.
What I want to talk about instead is patriotism and nationalism. You’re proud to be an American? Why? Isn’t it an accident of birth that you’re here? It’s not really something you get credit for. Why not be proud of being a good person instead? The thing to realize, and really my central point, is that when we celebrate our peoplehood as a nation, we diminish our peoplehood as a global society. This leads to support for dubious wars, unethical immigration policy, and inane arguments against foreign aid on the basis of “there’s hungry people right here in America.” Sorry, but the people starving to death in Africa have no less a right to food then the people starving in America (and possibly more of a right, since their opportunities to feed themselves are likely vastly inferior).
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” said Samuel Johnson in 1775. In Sex, Drugs, and Coco Puffs, Chuck Klosterman describes reaction to an e-mail he sent to a number of his friends:
Just about everyone . . . viewed patriotism as a downside. I wasn’t too surprised; in fact, I was mostly just amused by how everyone seemed to think extremely patriotic people weren’t just updateable, but totally fucking insane. One of hte mwrote that the quality of “patriotism” was on par with “regularly listening to Cat Stevens” and “loves Robin Williams movies.” Comparisons were made to Ted Nugent and Patrick Henry. And one especially snide fellow sent back a mass message to the entire e-mail group, essentially claiming that any woman who loved America didn’t deserve to date him, not because he hated his country but because patriotic people weren’t smart.
So, that’s just silly, right? Plenty of patriotic people are smart. But when you ease back on thinking of yourself as “American” and see yourself as a citizen of the world foremost, a funny thing happens. You become more interested in the events of the world. You start to care about all humans everywhere, and in so doing come in touch with a more profound aspect of your own humanity. And you become more able to see the flaws in your country and criticize them, which in turn makes you more engaged and in the long term leads to making your country better.
I hope its clear that I don’t have any problem with America. It’s a great country; better then most. What I’m saying here goes just as well for any country in the world. Let’s all be members of the human race, and see national borders as a maybe necessary but increasingly less significant political construct, and let’s all get along. I’ll drink to that.
Hey, I know you love Obama, and you’re thrilled that he’s going to be our next president. And I hate to burst your bubble. But the simple fact is that it’s not going to be enough. The country is headed down the tubes in a way that no president will be able to fix.
E.g., let’s talk health care. Obama’s healthcare plan (very similar to Clinton’s, if said similarity hasn’t been sufficiently pointed out) is radical enough to be tarred by republicans, drug companies, and the insurance industry. But it fails to bring about key changes that independent industry experts agree will need to happen. For two examples: (1) Change the way doctors are compensated. An article from last year’s New York Times terms it this way:
In the United States, nearly all doctors are paid piecemeal, for each test or procedure they perform, rather than a flat salary. As a result, physicians have financial incentives to perform procedures that further drive up overall health care spending.
Doctors are paid little for routine examinations and very little for “cognitive services,” such as researching different treatment options or offering advice to help patients get better without treatment.
“I don’t have a view on whether doctors take home too much money or not enough money,” Dr. Bach said. “The problem is the way they earn their money. They have to do stuff. They have to do procedures.”
(2) The insurance companies: by their very nature, they make a profit when most folks paying into their system stay healthy while a relative few get sick. Therefore, if universal healthcare is the goal, then removing the profit of the insurance companies is unquestionably desirable.
Yet as much as it’s a step in the right direction, Obama’s plan doesn’t even aspire to address either of these two simple issues. The reason is political.
First, understand that healthcare reform is politically feasible today (when it wasn’t in the early 90s) is because corporations are now feeling the pain of our nation’s increasingly insane medical costs. But amorphous corporate will can only push so hard against the lobbying interests of the drug/insurance cartel. Hence Obama’s plan, which goes exactly as far as it possibly can in today’s political climate. Suggest enacting the more drastic changes that Obama, his advisers, and all honest industry analysts know need to enacted, and his plan will be shot down just as Hillary Clinton was shot down in the early days of her husband’s administration.
One other quick example, more significant but easier to explain: Social Security and Medicare. Check out the second chart on this page, which points out that these two programs, left unchecked, will positively swallow the federal budget over the next few decades if left unchecked. Note that every year we put off reforms adds one trillion dollars to the cost (and that’s according to Republicans!). Yet no candidate dares to go near this issue with a ten foot pole, because the very mention of anything like a sacrifice in this area is political suicide for anyone seeking re-election (or, of course, 1st-time-election). For his part, Obama is singing the Cut Government Waste song.
So. Obama can get elected, and then drop the truth on us, right? Well, even putting aside the re-election imperative, he can’t. Because, as Jon Stewart so eloquently put it, “the President doesn’t make laws.” Congress makes laws, and since every member of congress is up for re-election every two years, we’re right back to the same corporation-run political election system.
In other words: the change that we need — that everyone smart knows we need — cannot be brought about by Barack Obama, President. Now, if you believe that Obama is a very very smart guy, then you know that he knows that his solutions are somewhat half-assed, and that he’s ignoring some difficult truths, all out of political necesity. It probably pains him, but he also knows that he can do at least some good as president, even if he’d lack the power to make the changes this country really needs.
But now suppose we make Barack Obama “Dictator for Life.” Maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. All it would really entail is two slight changes in the political structure: (1) give him the power to do whatever he wants (e.g. pass laws without congressional approval, toss out a couple of supreme court justices, etc.) and (2) let him stay in power “indefinitely.”
Every time I bring this up I get dirty stares and mumbles of “Hitler” tossed in my direction. Bullcrap. Hitler made his racism well known in his campaign. Barack Obama on the other hand is making obvious his fair-mindedness, reasonableness, and intelligence. Who honestly thinks he’d abuse a position like “Dictator for Life”? Nobody. He’d stay in power just as long as it took to get us out of the messy corner our democracy has painted itself into (Have I even mentioned the climate crisis yet? The percentage of world carbon emissions the USA is responsible for? Hell hath no fury like Google.), then step down and allow our previously scheduled constitutional government to pick up where it’d previously left off. We’ve survived 8 years of George W. Bush playing de-facto dictator — a properly declared and benign dictator would not only be an effective fix, it might also be a refreshing change.
A wise man on cable TV pointed out sometime in the last 7 years that Osama Bin Laden sort of had a point with the WTC bombings, in the sense that, as a democracy, we individual citizens are responsible for what our government does. Regardless of how many times you voted for GWB, you are responsible for for his actions in a way that no Iraqi will ever be responsible for anything that Saddam Hussein did. As such, the killing of citizens in a democracy makes pragmatic sense, whereas the killing of citizens in a dictatorship is mere cruelty.
But my argument isn’t that we should make Obama dictator out of fear — we should do it out of strenght: sooner or later we will have to confront the Islamic Jihadists at a negotiation table. This sounds like an anathema, but the historical fact is that this is the only way that terrorists groups can be dealt with once they’re allowed to take root. Witness now-peaceful Ireland if you need evidence. Knowing that Obama has our confidence beyond some hard-edged 4-year election cycle timetable will give him the edge that will ensure his ability to diffuse the situation.
A standard two-term presidential run is nearly a decade. We elected FDR to four terms. Is an open-ended term really so unthinkable? For most would-be leaders it may well be. But here’s a guy who would know what to do with the power, and who’d know when it was time to step down.