Nation of Laws

A former President and Vice President have publicly confessed to war crimes – the ordering of and condoning of torture, among other things. The current President says we must look forward, not backward.

A former Presidential candidate had an affair and misused campaign contributions. The current administration is going to nail his ass to the wall for that!

A government of laws, and not of men. – John Adams

Kobo and Nook touch – separated at birth?

Kobo announced the Kobo eReader Touch on Monday; Barnes & Noble announced the Nook Touch on Tuesday. Both use similar technologies, to the point I almost wonder if they’re basically the same device, except for the store each connects to.

Both weigh 200 grams, use a 6″ Pearl eInk screen, have one button on the bottom bezel, and use the nifty infrared touch screen technology that Sony introduced last year. If not for the four buttons on the Sony PRS-650, I’d wonder if both Kobo and B&N hadn’t just nicked Sony’s design. Well, that and the fact that Sony costs twice as much and doesn’t include wifi. The Kobo is $130 and the Nook is $140, while the Sony is $230.

So, this summer you’ll have four different 6″ Pearl eInk ereaders to choose from. Three are infrared touch-screens, and one has a keyboard and is a bit bigger than the other three. The Kindeal is $114 and has a great store integration. Kobo and Nook are in the ballpark and have their own stores as well as compatibility with ePub stores of old. Sony is odd man out, which is par for the course over the past fifteen years.

I can’t help but wonder what Amazon will do next in the ereader war.

Daniels Bows Out

And there goes another one! Mitch Daniels, who by all accounts is a reasonable human being with deep ties to the GOP establishment and no significant baggage to scare off independents, has declared he won’t run in 2012. This leaves Pawlenty as the only declared possible candidate in the GOP that won’t scare off either the base or independents. Of course, he’s also not very exciting and has to run away from his own record in order to throw red meat to the Tea Partiers, so it’s not a lock. Take all statements as if they include the caveat, “18 months before an election is just plain silly to be handicapping races.”

As an exercise, my coworker and I took a look at the history of the Democractic and Republican party primaries and eventual winners. Only once in the history of either party could we find an example of a candidate who lost the general and went on to win the general election years later – Richard Nixon. With that in mind, and realizing that the economy is no longer screaming downward like a fireball of doom, might the more “adult” and sane members of the GOP stay away from becoming the sacrificial lamb in 2012? Surely, any analyst came to the same conclusion we did from our comfy chairs – if you lose against Obama, give up on ever being President in the future. It seems plausible that Daniels and other reasonable people may be staying away just because they know that Obama is likely to win anyway, so they’re not going to go through the bother.

With that in mind, why not nominate the most entertaining person to the GOP candidacy, just so we can all have some fun next year? Come on, you know a Michele Bachmann/Barack Obama debate would be absolutely hilarious!

Newt Wants to Spread Texas Miracle

So, Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity, “I know how to get the whole country to resemble Texas.” This was in the context of economic and business issues. Which parts of Texas’ economy does he want to duplicate?

Does he want to duplicate the 99% reduction in state funding for libraries announced recently? Does he want to duplicate the gutting of education? Would he like to duplicate our empty, hollow city centers where tumbleweeds outnumber successful small businesses? How about the $23 Billion budget shortfall – is that worth duplicating across the nation? Maybe he wants to make the rest of the country look like our elder care industry, where next year’s budget will lay off nearly 60,000 nursing home workers? Texas is 50th out of 50 states in uninsured children as well as uninsured adults – maybe that’s what he wants to spread (hey, look at that – we only have the third highest teen pregnancy rate)? To be fair, we’re #1 out of all fifty states in the amount of carcinogens we dump into the atmosphere (double the #2 loser state), so that’s something to be proud of.

Maybe, just maybe, Gingrich really just wants to duplicate the unassailable GOP majority in Texas. After all, the 2003 out-of-cycle unprecedented gerrymandering has made it all but impossible for any Democrat outside of Houston or Austin to be elected to an office higher than dogcatcher. Maybe that’s the great success story Gingrich wants to duplicate.

GOP 2012 Contenders Dropping Like Flies

Mike Huckabee, one of the most pleasant theocrats I’ve ever heard speak, has dropped out of the 2012 race. To be fair, he never actually said he was going to run, but c’mon! He was near the top of the heap in every straw poll, and he’s one of the few people polling above single digits that could be a credible candidate. So he’s gone now.

Donald Trump, one of the most unpleasant human beings I’ve ever heard speak, has dropped out of the 2012 race. Again, he never actually filed as a candidate, but he also polled near the top of most straw polls, although he’s definitely not in the credible candidate category by a long stretch. Continue reading GOP 2012 Contenders Dropping Like Flies

Free-ish Speech

Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham agree that the United States government must Do Something to address Terry Jones’ burning of a Quran. Several days after Jones burned a book in Florida, the duly elected (stop laughing) president of Afghanistan fomented some dissent about it, and some clerics in Afghanistan called on the USA to arrest Jones and prosecute him to the full extent of the law. And then they rioted and killed some completely unconnected civilians, just to prove how reasonable their demands were.

Terry Jones is an asshole. Fred Phelps is also an asshole. I don’t ever want to hear what those people, or others like them, have to say about anything. Their voices are irrelevant to my life and counterproductive to the causes of acceptance and tolerance and peace. However, they have the right to be assholes and say shitty horrible things and even burn a book (assuming the book is not stolen and they abide by fire regulations for the local municipality, of course). Popular speech, by definition, does not need to be protected; only unpopular speech needs such security.

How in the world do two United States Senators of no little seniority decide to promulgate a view that the rioters are not to blame for a riot, the murderers are not to blame for murders? Instead, in twisted “we’re at war” land, the person burning a book in Florida is responsible for the deaths of UN members in Afghanistan. Considering that the Undeclared War On A Specific Tactic is impossible to define in time or space, claiming that free speech must be curtailed because the USA has soldiers in harm’s way means that free speech is curtailed for all time. The UWOAST is a war (never declared so therefore not really but “police action” or “military excursion” doesn’t have the right ring to it) without end, and these two men, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, think that same Constitution doesn’t apply unless they want it to? Fuck them too.

We Have a Constitution?

Some Democrats complained about the rampant anti-Constitutionality of warrantless wiretaps and indefinite detention during the Bush administration, and the Republicans called them anti-American. Some Republicans are complaining about the anti-Constitutionality of bombing a foreign country with no Congressional authorization (while ignoring the anti-Constitutionality of continued indefinite detention etc.), but nobody is calling them anti-American. Amazing that both parties only recognize we have a Constitution when it says stuff they agree with.

To be fair, although nobody seems to be calling Republicans anti-American (I’m pretty sure only the GOP can use that term, something about trademark infringement), there are plenty of other insults being lobbed about. Obviously, anyone who refers to the Constitution is a fringe nutjob in today’s political climate.

Shining City on the Hill

President Obama this week:

We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Mizrata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.

Unless, of course, those people live in Sudan, Darfur, Somalia, Congo…

Glenn Beck’s Site Takes on O’Keefe Video Accuracy

In some sort of strange reversal of normality, the first group that seems to have really dug into the NPR “sting” video in any detail appears to be The Blaze. The Blaze is a conservative website, which you can tell because every headline is in all-caps (seriously, Righties, why do this?). Although not agreeing with Ron Schiller’s statements, the writer of this piece shows very clearly that some of the statements are taken so far out of context that it boggles the mind. One example -he replies to a statement that isn’t shown in the edited video, but it makes it look as though he’s countering a completely different statement.

It’s really quite interesting and a good piece of investigative journalism. Schiller was still obviously unwise in making some of the statements he did to these near-strangers, but in context it appears to be yet another James O’Keefe cut-and-paste mess. That guy makes Mike Moore look like an honest videographer.

NPR Sting

James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart have no credibility whatsoever, after their various misdeeds of the past few years. In case they’ve completely escaped you, these stunts include “fake pimp going to ACORN offices,” which revealed nothing untoward within the organization and were nearly completely fictionalized after editing; “Shirley Sherrod is a racist” video, which was so deceptively edited that it showed the exact opposite of reality; and of course, attempting to illegally bug a Senator’s office. By this time, if you see O’Keefe or Breitbart mentioned in any sort of journalistic story, you would be justified in assuming there is no truth to it at all.

With that being said, how in the hell could this be any worse for NPR? NPR marketing droid Ron Schiller tells fake Muslims that the GOP and Tea Party are racists and entirely owned by the evangelical movement, as well as saying that NPR would be better off without federal money. Obviously, I believe his opinions have some validity – the current GOP has been in thrall to the Religious Right for decades, some in the Tea Party have a significant xenophobic streak, and NPR’s begging means they end up beholden to whichever way the political winds blow. But, I can say those things in public or in private because I have no authority or power in any significant way. A senior NPR executive should just shut the fuck up when dealing with near-strangers. It doesn’t help Schiller’s appearance much that he left NPR last week for another job. That may be true, but it sure does look like he’s running away and giving NPR deniability.

I’m very curious how this will end up playing out. There seems to be more than enough stupid to go around on both sides.

Egypt

Hosni Mubarak has run unopposed in all but one “election” due to the Egyptian constitution making any other candidates ineligible. Finally, after 24 years in office, he permitted a multi-candidate election in 2005. During that election, there was widespread election fraud and intimidation by Mubarak, abetted by the state-run media being completely filled with pro-Mubarak propaganda. After the election, the runner-up (and possibly the actual winner if a real count could have been taken) was arrested and imprisoned for the next four years. Egypt has been operating under emergency law that suspends most of the constitution since 1967, under the guise of protecting the people from terrorists. Under that emergency law, the government can imprison people for essentially no reason for any length of time, parliamentary elections are suspended, and assets can be seized on the word of the President with no recourse.

And VP Biden says Mubarak is not a dictator. Right. Biden’s just jealous.

Importance of Crypto

I think this recent court precedent really shows the importance of personal encryption.  As in so many of these civil liberties cases, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the person, as he’s an obvious drug dealer.  But, since it’s possible for police to do a pat-down of anyone at a traffic stop, and if “anything in your pockets” is free game for them to search through… Most of us don’t do a lot of illegal things, but we almost all do embarassing things.  As smartphones proliferate, many people are carrying the equivalent of a large filing cabinet of personal documents and photos and videos with them at all times.  Although the police have the obligation to do their utmost within the law to uphold the law, it’s possible that you may want to think about what you keep in your smartphone that you might not want a random stranger to see.  This goes double at border crossings or customs stations at airports – there is a solid precedent that customs agents can pretty much just take all your personal electronics and never give them back whenever you enter the USA.  It seems messed up, because it is.

Stimulus Disappointment


Back in January 2009, right after the inauguration, I posted a quick summary of views from economists about the expected effect of the stimulus.  The stimulus was expected to be about 20% bigger than it ended up, but the basic gist was that doing nothing would mean high unemployment rates (9%) through 2010, and beginning to drop in 2011, finally returning to historical norms by 2014.  Enacting the stimulus as it was planned was expected to lead to unemployment rates peaking at 8% in mid-2009, and dropping steadily through 2013.  The recovery plan was supposed to lessen the worst and shorten the duration of the employment loss.

In January of 2010, I posted the followup, which was cautiously optimistic, while pointing out that unemployment was actually at 10%, but did appear to be declining slightly.  Sadly, this trend was not borne out by the end of 2010.  Here we are, over two years after the Bush administration began the economic recovery plan, nearly two years since the Obama administration compromised its way to a smaller stimulus devoted largely to shoring up banks with no guarantees of lending to actual citizens, and it seems the results are actually worse than what was expected from doing nothing at all.  That’s just sad.

Here’s the latest unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I sincerely hope you’re not one of the 10%.  Happy New Year.

Never Served in the Military

John McCain mentioned this weekend that most of the people on talk shows have never served in the military.  He said this in the context of condemning them for being out of touch with the needs of the military vis a vis Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It made me curious.  What talk show hosts, if any, have served in the military?  I wandered through a truly stupendous number of reference articles and was completely unsurprised to find that the only current talk show host veteran is Regis Philbin, who was in the Navy.  Montel Williams, although not currently on television, had the most interesting military career – he was an enlisted Marine and went to Annapolis to become a Navy officer, eventually learning Russian at DLI and serving on submarines.  The only other surprise (because I was not at all surprised that Rush Limbaugh got a draft deferrment from Vietnam) was that Anderson Cooper spent a couple summers as an intern at the CIA.  Not military service, but did you know that Anderson Cooper worked for the intelligence community, even part-time?  Weird.

Senator McCain is correct that the talk shows are populated by people who have never served in the military.  But, they don’t make decisions about the military – Congress does.  I find it much more illustrative that 75% of the members of both houses are non-veterans.  Chickenhawks and bleeding hearts alike – odds are that they didn’t serve a day before spouting about what is best for the military.  As someone who generally finds the current GOP reprehensible, it annoys me further that only one of the freshman class of Democratic Senators is a vet, and none of the freshman Representatives.  Have liberal veterans simply given up on elected office?  One more data point added to my tally of “Reasons the Democratic Party is Spineless.”

How To Get Blocked by the USAF

I understand the USAF’s web filters must be working overtime right now, as they attempt to keep the “disclosed but still classified” documents from Wikileaks away from anyone in the military, while they remain available to everyone else on the planet.  Just nod and smile.  What I find particularly amusing is that there seems to be one way to ensure any arbitrary URL is blocked: add the word “wikileaks” to the path. I open up a news site and some of the images are red Xs – they are all named some variant of xxahbr-wikileaks.jpg or something similar.  There are articles in mainstream websites which are not available, even though other articles on the same site are – the articles which are blocked all have “wikileaks” in the URL somewhere.  I can’t even get to the Wikipedia article about Wikileaks, while I can otherwise wander Wikipedia with impunity.  It’s bizarre, and entertaining, and yet… A Fox News article my boss emailed me the other day, pointing out the USAF blocking which the USAF has not seen fit to tell us about – that article I could access, even though it had the offending term in its URL.  I guess Fox News is on the USAF’s “always trust” list, while CBS isn’t.  Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Taxes

Repeat after me: “Taxes are lower than ever before in this generation. We are NOT being overtaxed.”

It’s interesting that we’re shifting the tax burden to employment taxes rather than income taxes, and we’ve completely gutted the wealth taxes. But, we must ensure that the uberwealthy get an extra 100,000 dollars in tax relief, rather than the mere $4000 they would have without this capitulation. Remember, even without an extension of the tax cuts for income above $250,000 – everyone was set to have lower income taxes than before the “temporary” cuts of 2002. Marginal tax rates are not effective tax rates. Oh, and when Eric Cantor says half of all small business owners would have faced higher taxes (and therefore fired people obviously), that’s just a lie. The average small businees income is $40,000/year. That’s far below $250,000 for those who are bad at math (GOP – I’m looking at you). Now, here’s where it gets fun. Only 2.5% of business owners would have faced higher taxes, but those businesses account for 44% of the business income. So, if you want to claim that half the income from businesses would be taxed higher, you’re not far off. But, to claim that half of all small businesses would have been hit – that’s just bull. Also, there’s no solid definition of “small business” so maybe Cantor is thinking that Walmart and Best Buy are small. After all, Eric Cantor’s wife makes millions per year – wonder where his loyalties lie.

Miss him yet?

Dubya’s autobiography is out this week, so he’s finally come out of hiding to discuss his legacy. I thought that was something he was going to let historians do, but he just couldn’t wait or something.  You’ll never guess what he considers the worst moment of his presidency.  Maybe when the towers fell? Nope. How about when the banking industry just about ate the economy? Not that either. When the entire world found out that Rumsfeld has been supervising torture of random foreigners? Not even close. Oh, how about when one of the oldest cities in the country was erased by a flood which could have been prevented by decent maintenance and the people were forced to stay in the city at gunpoint while mercenaries roamed the streets looting people of their own firearms? Not that either.

Amazingly, George W. Bush believes the worst moment in a presidency filled with bad moments is when Kanye said he didn’t care about black people. He’s not tormented in his post-President retirement by the things he might have done differently or the thousands of people who died while he was in nominal charge, but by the fact that someone said something mean about him on television. WTF?

MATT LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And — it was a disgusting moment.

What an infantile and self-centered view of the most powerful office in the world.