Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Noblesse self-oblige

Paul Krugman is looking for a word to capture what self-involved narcissistic dipshits with a breathtaking lack of the slightest bit of perspective completely lack.

Atrios would call them wankers, but that wouldn't conform to the New York Times style guide.

We've got Barack's back

... and that (scroll down) is going to be essential to getting his - and our - program enacted in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Voices from the past

Roxanne Jaugerai calls her murdered friend's voicemail just to hear her recorded voice again. In the year 2008, soon to expire into history, I also lost a beloved friend, although to cancer, not to gunfire.

I still have my friend's last voicemail to me, a completely ordinary message about meeting for coffee or lunch. I keep extending its lifetime in Verizon's computer, as if I could still extend her lost lifetime. At least I still have her voice to echo in my ears.

As does every year, 2008 had good times and bad. My dream is that 2009 will be better, but I know that it will nonetheless mix good and bad. I just hope for more good and less bad.

New Years is a time to consider, assess, and reconsider. The world is far from perfect. Each of us is far from perfect. How can we make improvements? What can we make better?

Screw Mitch McConnell

Republicans like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are what's wrong with America. The economy needs a large stimulus, and it needs it now, if not three months ago. Republicans like the Congressional "leadership" only benefit if the economy really goes awful and they can succeed in pinning it on Barack Obama.

Screw them. The horse they rode in on is an innocent victim. Let them screw the horse - and they will.

No one, no one should listen to confirmed and unrepentant assholes like these Congressional Republican obfuscators who oppose anything that might actually help us avoid 25% unemployment and widespread poverty.

Free market solves another problem

Text messaging is wildly overpriced relative to its negligible cost to providers. Nonetheless, their oligopolistic pricing goes up in lock-step. Why hasn't this so-called free market opened the door to a price-cutting entrepreneur?

The real problem that markets such as this intend to solve is how to remove money from your wallet and transfer it to the executives. (You thought the shareholders mattered? Ha.) And this market is vigorously solving that constant problem!

One reason that phone companies are against net neutrality is that they've been there before. It would be much easier for a provider like MCI from the early days (say, 1978) to piggyback on existing networks and undercut prices. As they say in economics, there would be much lower barriers to entry and thus to a return to competition, however briefly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sweet sixteen, part 3

Been there, done that. Now it's time for me to stagger belatedly across the finish line with assessments of the remaining four ballots that Norm Coleman asked the Minnesota Canvassing Board to reconsider. (The Board rejected his request, I think mistakenly in some cases.)

13. Hennepin County, Plymouth W3 P 15, Ballot 6 - I agree with the Board that this is an undervote. It's what I call a false start, not a vote at all. There are more than a hundred such marks among the 6600-some-odd ballots that were challenged. Some are mere dots, some are larger than this example.

14. Lake County, unorganized territory #2, Ballot 1 - This is not at all similar to ballot 13, but the Board got it right, too. Every voted race has two marks, one a check mark, the other a filled oval. It's impossible to discern true voter intent from that. If the non-standard mark had been an X instead of a check, I might have accepted this as a Coleman vote, but a check is an approval mark, so I'd guess that this is slightly more likely to be a Franken vote than a Coleman, but a guess is not enough.

The comparable for ballot 14 is Le Sueur County, Le Center, Ballot 28. (The other listed comparable is Dakota County, Inver Grove Heights P7, Ballot 2, but it is apparently not posted on the MPR site.) This comparable is significantly different from ballot 14. This voter's standard vote mark is a filled oval with a diagonal slash that is probably a check mark. In addition, however, there are several down-ballot races that appear to have been voted with slashes only. To complicate matters, the Senate race is marked both ways, the filled oval with slash for Franken and the slash only for Coleman. However, the Coleman mark is the only slash on the ballot that has a perpendicular mark across it, too, and that justifies counting the vote for Franken. Why don't I think this slash is a check mark rather than a strike-through? There's no precedent of other check marks on this ballot.

15. Carver County, Victoria P2, Ballot 9 - A successful challenge from Franken that took a vote away from Coleman, and Norm wants it back. The only race whose mark has a slash through it is the Coleman mark, so I agree with the Board that this is an undervote.

16. Hennepin County, Minneapolis W7 P8, Ballot 3 - Similar to ballot 15 but a little more difficult to call. This ballot has a unique mark next to Coleman's name on a ballot that is otherwise very consistent in its use of Xes to signify a vote. The Coleman mark has two Xes and a filled oval, and frankly I have no idea what the voter intended.

The comparables are:

  • Mahnomen County, Waubun, Ballot 1 - Doesn't appear to be comparable, although it is a puzzle why a voter would make the vertical lines on every race except President. I'd still count all the down-ballot votes, including the mark for Franken.
  • St. Louis County, Duluth P16, Ballot 2 - A potential cross-out and unique in that, so I'd call this an undervote and take away a vote for Franken.
  • Dakota County, Burnsville P10, Ballot 1 - If I looked only at the first column of the ballot, I'd exclude this Franken vote, but column three has similar votes, so I agree with the Board.
True to typical best-foot-forward presentation (so I've heard about high school debate, for instance), Coleman front-loaded his best arguments, but there are definitely some good arguments among them.

Final cumulative tally: +4 for Coleman, -5 for Franken.

Note: My calls here would deprive Al of 20% of his nanofilament lead. Too bad. Let the votes fall where they may.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweet sixteen, part 2

Back to the Coleman appeals of Canvassing Board decisions, even though the board has already rejected them, picking up with ballot 6.

6. Douglas County, Miltona, Ballot 2 - Pretty sure this is the right ballot since it actually has an ambiguity, though from name alone this other ballot could have been the one. This was ruled an undervote, not a vote for Coleman.
7. Dakota County, South St. Paul P2 W1, Ballot 1 - Another ballot with an X through the filled oval, also ruled an undervote.

Both of these ballots have intentional cross-outs. My criterion is that no other blackened ovals are Xed out. I think they were correctly ruled by the Canvassing Board. However, one of the comparable Franken votes has the same problem. Hubbard County, Lakeport Township, Ballot 1 is an undervote, while Blue Earth County, Mapleton, Ballot 8 is ruled correctly as a Franken vote because there are other votes with similar crossing marks in the oval.

8. Dakota County, Eagan P4, Ballot 1 - The comparable is Benton County, Langola, Ballot 1, and I agree they should be ruled the same way, which adds a vote for Coleman. Both have marks that combine a filled oval and an X, but there's precedent elsewhere on the ballot for that being an intended vote.

9. Dakota County, Eagan P12, Ballot 1
10. Le Sueur County, Waterville, Ballot 14
11. Hennepin County, Minneapolis W8 P4, Ballot 2 - Probable voter name only.
12. Hennepin County, Plymouth W4 P20, Ballot 1

All these ballots were ruled to be spoiled by identifying marks, but most of them were redacted from the public copies. The comparables (first 3 for Coleman, last 2 for Franken) from the Coleman campaign are:

  • Ottertail County, Fergus Falls W1 P2, Ballot 2 - Editorializing on the ballot but no name.
  • St. Louis County, Duluth P27, Ballot 2 - Write-in with a phone number. Could be the voter, but a write-in should be a legitimate vote.
  • Wright County, Buffalo P1, Ballot 9 - Explanation to the counting machine (!?) with an apparent voter name.
  • Hennepin County, Plymouth W3 P15, Ballot 2 - Explanation of cross-outs, although redaction makes the full picture less than obvious.
  • Big Stone County, Odessa, Ballot 1 - Probable voter name crossed out.
Without seeing the redactions, it's hard to judge these ballots. Arbitrarily, I'm going to disqualify any ballot that needs to be redacted, as well as ballot 11, the third Coleman comparable, and both Franken comparables.

It's possible that I'm wrong to do this. The Canvassing Board could be enforcing a single standard that I just haven't heard about - or so I hope. It's possible that they want to accept any ballot for which the alleged distinguishing marks have another clear purpose.

Net tally so far (including the previous ballots): +4 for Coleman, -4 for Franken

Saturday, December 27, 2008

While we were building Hummers

... Europe was serious about green jobs.

Let's see. We shipped our manufacturing jobs to China for low wages. When we couldn't provide enough high-tech guest workers, we shipped our software jobs to India and anywhere else that would take them. We put religious taboos in the way of biotech, so that's happening in Europe and Asia. Our auto industry could be down to the Big One soon.

What we did was use the borrowed proceeds of China's industriousness to inflate a real estate bubble that we used to finance consumption. We pushed investment paper at each other like so many Big Macs. Now we're truly and thoroughly screwed.

And we still can't build a passive house.

Update: Bob Herbert says it better: "Stop being stupid."

It can't be racist if it's a joke

Another episode in why liberals think the GOP harbors racists - because it does. You'll notice that they don't make jokes that bear on the race of white people. Because, hey, that's not funny!

Although there is a competing satire called "Chip the Magic Cracker"...

Sweet sixteen, part 1

Norm Coleman is appealing sixteen ballots that the Minnesota Canvassing Board has ruled on. I don't have a problem with this. They need to get this right, and every vote clearly matters. I would, however, object if Coleman uses any erroneous ballots to attack the process.

Here's an attempt to be objective about the first five of the sixteen ballots:

1. Hennepin County, Minneapolis W13 P8, Ballot 2 - ruled no vote, I assume because of the apparent initials from the voter
2. Dakota County, Apple Valley P5, Ballot 4 - same ruling, same reason

The comparable Franken ballot that was ruled a vote is Washington County, Stillwater W3 P7, Ballot 88. Indeed, it has what appears to initials, as well. I've already stated that I think the distinguishing mark prohibition is obsolete, but it is the current law of Minnesota. The initials on the Coleman ballots are both in the same box as the votes, but the law doesn't make that distinction, so I agree that these ballots out to receive the same treatment. If the Canvassing Board is going to be liberal about distinguishing marks and look for intent to mark as well as voting intent, I'd give these two to Coleman.

3. Dakota County, Inver Grove Heights P9, Ballot 1 - ruled no vote

I don't need a comparable. There are easily more than 100 such votes in the original list of challenges, and they should be counted. This is a vote for Coleman and a clear error on the part of the Canvassing Board.

4. Wright County, Cokato, Ballot 6 - ruled overvote
5. Wright County, Annandale, Ballot 2 - ruled overvote

The comparables offered by the Coleman campaign are:

  • Washington County, Oakdale P2, Ballot 19 - By the way, I'd rule this an undervote, not a Franken vote.
  • Dakota County, Burnsville P17, Ballot 1 - Based on the voter's pattern, the possible overvote for Barkley is a cross-out, and this is a correctly ruled Franken vote.
  • Stearns County, Brockway, Ballot 1 - Same ruling and reasoning as the previous example.
Problem is, they aren't really comparable. Here's how I'd rule: Ballot 4 is most probably a Coleman vote. The voter's pattern is predominantly to use both an X and a filled circle to represent a vote, and only the marks for Coleman for Senate show both. Ballot 5, on the other hand, is far too puzzling and inconsistent to be confident of voter intent, and I'd rule it an overvote.

Tally so far: +4 for Coleman and -1 for Franken

Update (12/30): See part 2 and part 3 also.

Gray lady tries funny

... and nails it.

Apparently, this has been going on right under my nose for some time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Waaay worse than Clinton fatigue

Here's your hat, what's your hurry, doesn't begin to cover America's wish that it could call the bouncers over to the bar and have Duhbya tossed out of Martini's into the snow. How wonderful our lives would be if he'd never been born! Well, maybe not, but still, don't let the door whack you in the ass.

Twenty-five days till Inauguration Day.

Yesterday's stupidity today

The Boston Globe's comment sections attract a slightly better class of total idiot buffoon wingnuts than, say, the MetroWest Daily News. But they're still pretty nutzo. Here are a few examples of their self-righteous blithering about global warming:

and that somebody is sunspots. Out spot! --globeisatrocious
Ah, straight from the Fox "News" playbook. There's some unsupported theory out there that might keep us in the status quo. It has to be true if it means that no conservative is ever required to conserve anything. Policy by tantrum, my personal favorite.
First we had global cooling... that because [sic] Man-Made global warming... then the oceans would dry up by 1999... then our world will burn up by 2050... then they discovered that the models were 100% wrong... and our planet has not warmed for 10 years.

So now it is called "Climate Change" so that no matter if it gets warmer or cooler ... the alarmists get funding and can claim victory. In other words, they are betting for and against global warming with our money.

Sound like a scam? It is. Every single man-made global warming alarmist financially benefits by spewing his nonsense. And the country has been fooled. Ignore these bozos... --Oscarbozach
Count the lies. No, they're not innocent mistakes; they're bullshit intended to advance the cause of getting everyone to stick their head up their asses - all to keep Oscarbozach from having to change his mind or adjust the way he lives, especially if that might involve a carbon tax.

Here's my count:
  1. Global cooling? In the 1960s, there was concern, but there was never sufficient evidence or consensus. Scientists looked further, which is what they do, and found out something. Oscar refuses to learn anything not in his McGuffy's Reader.
  2. Dried up oceans? Where, on Pokémon?
  3. World burning up? Hollywood? Will Oscar blame environmentalists for their peer-reviewed paper that was the script for "The Day After Tomorrow"?
  4. Models 100% wrong? Only if by 100% he means a little bit.
  5. No warming for ten years? Sure, but not the last ten years, which have seen a huge proportion of the hottest years on record.
  6. Betting for and against global warming? Uh, is there anyone who now thinks the globe is cooling?
  7. Financial benefits for scientists? Well, if you mean that they continue to get grants to research it, o.k., but that's about 3 seconds of Exxon-Mobil's annual profits.
At what cost are we saving fish? Why not just kill em and eat em. Man is the dominant species, not animals.

As far as environmental issues, I just don't accept all of the doom and gloom tales we read and hear about. Why aren't we questioning these radicals? It's far easier to attack our leaders than to question an environmentalist.

I for one would like to know how much is spent on "environmental" issues. This money could and should be spent putting people back to work in this country.

Everyday, as I read and listen to the news, citizens of this country are being forced to leave their homes where they were born because of job loss. I never hear of any move to spend monies to keep them home. However, we have all the money in the world to save a rat, roach or some bug no one has ever seen.

Sorry, watching all my fellow citizens lose their jobs, being forced to move from their homes makes it extremely difficult for me to care whether a fish has "cool" water.

Seeing the dozer do it's thing for these 'poor' fish costs approx. $200-300 an hour. This money could be better spent buying food for poor people. --Fred6060
Yah, food is something that comes from a supermarket. Who cares whether fish can, y'know, spawn and grow to maturity. Almighty Stop'n'Shop will provide.

Oh, and the money spent on the environment is such a huge amount that a year's worth wouldn't pay for a week in Iraq.

The weird aspect of this is that environmentalists are reported as accepting that global warming is here and trying to mitigate its ill effects. These wingnut commenters don't even want that. They want to kill everything - and their appeal to concern for the poor is just convenient concern trolling; they don't really give a shit about the poor.

The fundamental motivation of the conservative in the street is to keep everything the same as it used to be, when they were (chronological) children, didn't have to pay taxes, and everything was taken care of by daddy. Change? Ooooh, bad. No wonder they can't stand Obama.

The next South Park movie

Blame China!

We couldn't keep our wallets in our pants. Must be China's fault:

China, some economists say, lulled American consumers, and their leaders, into complacency about their spendthrift ways.
We couldn't keep our equity in our houses on account of having to refill our wallets. De devil made us do it! China's fault, obviously.

Look, however many economists were asleep, including Ben Bernanke, although he at least was having a nightmare or two, financing consumption out of your capital is a bad idea. Sure, let's reverse mortgage the whole goddamn country! Whee! Except a reverse mortgage is predicated on the borrower dying.

It's especially a bad idea when that capital asset is (a) in a wild price bubble (efficient market, my ass) and (b) the place you take shelter from the elements. When the Learning Channel is running multi-hour blocks of "Flip That House", the pyramid scheme is pretty obviously just about over.

But, hey, the President's just a renter, so what does he care? We should have all had such foresight.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I know I can be pretty relentless with political and social analysis, but for moment, I'm just going to wish everyone a joyful and meaningful day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. And if you're out having Chinese, enjoy your movie!

Click image for Wikimedia Commons licensing details.

Media proves that units matter

The first principle of consuming media is this: If something seems wildly crazy, it probably is. Remember this the next time you hear something outlandish about Barack Obama.

This woman's body temperature was not 30° Fahrenheit, as CNN claims, which would equal dead. It was 30° Celsius, which for you metric-challenged Americans is 86° F. That's still incredibly low, the sort of scenario that usually means there was alcohol involved in copious amounts.

Bloomberg gets the units right and puts her body temp 7° C cooler than normal.

I'm guessing that CNN reporter Ashley Fantz, her editor, and their caption-writer (do caption-writers still exist?) took as little science and math as possible in high school and college.

Still and all, a very merry Christmas for Molnar and her family, at least compared to the more likely outcome. Best not try to put the conventional miracle narrative on this either, though, since the stories don't add up. Her family says the blizzard forced her off the road, yet when rescued, she alibied, "I just wanted to take a walk."

The media definitely won't report to us the dark side of events such as this, especially not in a season that's supposed to be miraculous. If you want to know what's true, rather than what you wish to be true (and there really aren't that many of us who do), you're on your own with big media. (By the way, I don't want reporters to dig into this poor woman's life, just to refrain from using her to sell a happy-talk narrative that doesn't fit.)

In any case, I hope that Molnar can find her way through the pain to healing. That would be a Christmas blessing.

Update: CNN has fixed the units. The general lesson about outlandish so-called facts still stands.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to buy a vote

The Minnesota recount taught me about the prohibition of distinguishing marks on ballots. The actual relevant provision of statute is:

Subd. 13.Identifying ballot. If a ballot is marked by distinguishing characteristics in a manner making it evident that the voter intended to identify the ballot, the entire ballot is defective.
It's an outdated prohibition. Fortunately, the State Canvassing Board has been pretty liberal about marks, probably relying on voter intent, so that they have been able to count more votes that the voters clearly intended.

The prohibition itself will no longer perform its function, which is to prevent vote-buying. If a corrupt political machine wanted proof that its bought voters did their bidding on the otherwise secret ballot, they needed confirmation in the counting room, and an identifying mark for each voter would do the trick.

Here's an easy new way to buy votes:
  • Require the suborned voter to take a cell phone snapshot of his driver's license in front of the bought ballot.
That should be easy enough to do. Doesn't everyone (except me) have a phone with at least a megapixel these days.

It is true that poll-workers might start to notice all the cell phones out and in use, but polling places are bound to become more like the mall or the roads anyway. The real hindrance to vote-buying is economic. These days, it would just cost too much. Come the next great depression, however, maybe not so much.

I still think it's time to repeal these ballot-spoiling clauses.

Evaluation of Coleman appeals still to come, but I had this in the can already, and I'm probably going to need to refer to it.

Update (9/3/2011): Clarified how identifying marks help vote-buying.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas spirit

What I want to know is what she was doing when she broke her jaw, but I don't want to hear it from her. I would encourage her to do it again, though.

Click image for whole Tom Tomorrow/Salon cartoon. It has at least three six literal LOLs in it.

Foxholes, hell

There are places outside of foxholes where it's not safe to be an atheist or even an agnostic. One of them is, no surprise, Congress. You can be a total lunatic fundamentalist Christian and people will happily vote you in, but disbelieve and it's hard to get elected dog catcher.

We free-thinkers are the minority group with the greatest differential between our size and our representation.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Unrepentant criminal

You can't punish Dick Cheney just because he's an asshole. Everyone in America has the right to be one, although few of us achieve anything approaching the consistent assholery of Darth. But seeing such contemptible - and openly contemptuous - slime get his just desserts would certainly make any punishment of him for his proudly fascist crimes even more delightful.

Is it possible that the Dems might actually stand up to him once he's out of power? I doubt it.

Reality derangement

The media loves stupid scandal stories with hooks to prominent political celebrities. The media will print these stories even when they're just gossip, as in the case of Bristol Palin's future, cough, mother-in-law. (Hey, maybe this is good cover to call off the politically motivated shotgun wedding!)

Since I don't myself live in Wasilla, I wouldn't mention this sordid tale except that some wingnut lunatics are holding it up as proof of a liberal media out to get them! Seriously, these people will believe anything.

The first link, to "Liberty Just in Case" (huh?), actually has to push two lies in less than a hundred words:

  • Its title drastically exaggerates the distance of Sherry Johnston from Sarah Palin.
  • Its body pretends in the face of a couple of items on this story that two similarly weak and stupid gossip stories about Obama didn't get any press.
Funny, I recall front-page treatment of one of the Obama stories and several days on the other, not to mention every wet dream some frothing wingnut dreamed up about him and thrust into the big media. I also remember the heavy coverage of Michael Skakel's also sordid murder trial, which occurred because he was a Kennedy cousin. Yes, it cuts both ways. Jeb Bush's wife and daughter made the news briefly for their own legal problems a few years ago.

We'd be better off without gossip, but it's the bullshit that's really bad for us.

Update: I left a comment on Liberty JiC:
Smirk, snort, giggle, tee-hee, titter, bwahahaha.
But they have comment moderation turned on, so it'll probably never see the light of day there.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Back on the road in a jiff

Think AAA will come quickly?

Click image for full Mike Keefe/Denver Post cartoon.

And Leahy's not the only one

Darth Cheney won't take back dropping "go fuck yourself" on Pat Leahy. Odds are he'd prefer to extend it to many other people.

Tried to make me go to rehab

Ruth Marcus said, "No, no, no." Glenn Greenwald is, of course and to America's benefit, all over the unwillingness of the Washington elite to punish fellow members of their incestuous little club.

Marcus pays insincere lip service to the rule of law. Then, like the conservative caricature of a squishy liberal, she pronounces it all o.k. if the on-going crime syndicate that the Republican Party is will just promise not to do it again. But, in fact, she won't even extract that promise; she only assumes that the next set of punks and lawbreakers will learn from the complete lack of sanctions on their predecessors that the right thing to do is not to break the law of the land.

Let's review:

  • Tricky Dick Nixon used his government to subvert freedom and democracy in the name of national security.
  • Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for his crimes.
  • Ronald Reagan subverted the Constitution with Iran-Contra.
  • George Bush was in the loop but issued the most transparent lies claiming that he hadn't been.
  • Bush then pardoned Caspar Weinberger. Ollie North and John Poindexter got off on legal technicalities.
  • Duhbya came into office, his regent a man who learned his dark craft in the Nixon White House, and took us to war on false pretenses. He also subverted the Constitution, the U.S. Code, and 200 years of common practice. Even more than Nixon, he did what he goddamn pleased and dared anyone to stop him. The Marcus-style Democrats failed utterly.
  • Duhbya commuted Scooter Libby's sentence. Look for more pardons between now and January 20.
I'm sure John Connolly told Whitey Bulger not to do it again. Like that worked.

An observation or two:
  • Any political system that is built on self-reinforcing elite courtiers, even one with the trappings of democracy, is not a government of laws.
  • The choice between rehabilitation and punishment is a false choice. A just legal system must have both.
  • The RICO law has low barriers to standing to bring a civil suit, but it's hard to assess a monetary value to liberty violated.

This is not my beautiful house

Riffing off of this New York Times piece, MyDD has good stuff up in answer to Duhbya's characteristically oblivious question, "How did we get here?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Funny on Facebook


Mitt Romney's feeling just a touch lonely these days.

Class war's over, money won

Even though the greed of business tycoons got us into this economic crisis, under Bushism the big percentage losers are the union workers, who lose $8,000 in wages and a similar amount in benefits. While Wall Street and CEO-level multimillionaires were reaping most of the rewards of boom times, the UAW was already making concessions. Now, they're back in the race to the bottom.

Don't be surprised when non-union car-makers respond with their own wage cuts. That's the point of Bushist Republicans.

Someone in the media ought to try to write the story of the negotiations. And when I say "negotiations", I mean the moment when the Bushists said, "I am altering the deal. Pray that I don't alter it again."

Trillions lost, Krugman gives in to lame pun

A world gone Madoff...

Here's the money (ha) paragraph:

At the crudest level, Wall Street’s ill-gotten gains corrupted and continue to corrupt politics, in a nicely bipartisan way. From Bush administration officials like Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who looked the other way as evidence of financial fraud mounted, to Democrats who still haven’t closed the outrageous tax loophole that benefits executives at hedge funds and private equity firms (hello, Senator Schumer), politicians have walked when money talked.

A small pleasure for Duhbya

Drop a smile passing in the hall, but there's no laughs left.

Well, maybe a smirk at the fact that Democrats actually wanted him to cut Hillary's future pay...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Legacy admission


Click image for full David Horsey/Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoon.

Ripping Libertarians a new one

In a fit of lucidity a few days ago, I commented on This Space for Rent and promptly forgot about it. Then the comment was moderated and appeared as if by magic in my inbox. This is it (slightly adapted):

A capital-L Libertarian is an economic conservative who's so embarrassed to be willing to let the children of the poor go naked and hungry that he has concocted a bullshit rationalization (the unsurpassed perfection of the "free" market) for why any other condition for their hungry naked asses would actually be worse.

Theoretically.

If you listen to raving lunatic assholes like Ayn Rand and Phil Gramm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Could vote this way for years


Is this a Coleman vote? I concluded that I couldn't tell what the hell it is. There are just too many ambiguities in the full ballot (alternative link). For example:


There's just no consistent marking at all, so I would reject this ballot entirely.

One of the major flaws in the way we vote is that we never get our ballots back graded. They go in the hopper, and we never know whether they actually count as we intended them.

The voter who cast this ballot could cast similar ballots for years. Judging by the almost random but obviously intended marks over the printed rectangles at the left margin, he's not very capable of learning how to do it right, but there are many unsophisticated voters who could learn with a little more feedback.

A scanner that would show each voter its count of his or her marks would go a long way toward helping us actually get the government we want.

Radical view

Why is it legally acceptable for one party to a contract to have the power to change the contract unilaterally with only opt-out as a remedy to the other party? Is there any economic or legal justification for allowing this sort of power asymmetry in a contract?

Why not ban such clauses?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Plus 124 with 1000 to go

My personal count of Minnesota Senate challenges puts Al Franken a hundred and twenty-four votes ahead of Norm Coleman, with an even thousand challenged ballots yet to review. Franken has gained 316 votes by my count since he was behind by 192 after the initial phase of the recount finished.

Based on the past 5742 ballots I've reviewed and even accounting for some bias at the margins since I want Franken to win, I don't think there's any way Coleman can overcome this deficit. He's already in court arguing via Bush v. Gore to keep wrongly excluded absentee ballots from being counted, so they can't help him. That would be a miracle anyway.

It looks as though Coleman's only path to re-election is through the courts. You'd think he was already hiring enough lawyers.

Update: Plus 134 with 500 to go. Coleman needs 317 to 183 to tie. Na ga happen.

Update: Not enough votes left for Coleman to win. Franken leads by 114 with 113 challenged ballots left. Of course, that's just on my scorecard.

Update: Franken at plus 123 with 23 ballots left. The Star Tribune web app won't go forward by any means, and it won't show a ballot. The link to the large PDF is buggered, and the bottom line numbers that report the assessments of other people don't add up to enough ballots. It's better to have the canvassing board working with real ballots!



I am assuming that the Star Tribune's web application and database backend are working somewhat properly, and that's a significant assumption since they seem to have retooled it more than once while it has been on-going. Still, to a first order approximation, it's probably accurate enough. But no, I can't explain the discrepancy between the official number of challenges and the number of challenged ballots visible on the site.

Doing our job

If I can be a small part of enraging Bill O'Reilly, I'm happy, even if it's Sen. Al Franken who'll scramble BillO's brains even further.

Click image for full Tom Tomorrow cartoon in Salon. The wingnut absurdities just keep right on coming.

No suspense

Time has named Barack Obama Person of the Year. Yawn. They don't even try to explain why. They don't have to.

Obama's not just head and shoulders above the competition. He's legs, torso, head, and shoulders higher. They're all ankle-biters compared to him and his epoch-making impact. Henry Paulson? Seriously?

Some years you just have to go with the story that's a two-by-four between the eyes. To do otherwise would identify you as a perverse dolt.

Simmering shit soup

Journalists once tried to explain what was explicable. Now, many of them prefer to keep the shit soup simmering. The next day's story is so much easier to write if it's a slight variation on today's.

For instance, if there was a close election and a question arose about how to interpret ballots with similar marks, the AP would show us those marks in their contexts. Instead, the AP lets the completely explicable legitimacy of the process look questionable:

But the members split on another type of challenge, where an X appeared atop or beneath a filled oval. Some were ruled clear votes, others were set aside.

''We're not going to be entirely consistent. Part of it is going to be how the ballot strikes us,'' Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a board member, said to no one in particular. ''This isn't an exact science.''

Here are ballot markings from two different ballots:




Pretty easy, huh? They both have to count the same way. Wouldn't that be a common standard for intent of the voter? Yeah, but only if you're as simple-minded as the Supreme Court was in Bush v. Gore.

The top mark in context looks like this:


Further, every other vote on the ballot is a filled oval without the X. For example, here's the vote for President:

The voter obviously intended to cross out the Franken vote and vote for Norm Coleman. Sure, he or she should have taken another ballot, but the intent is clear, and this is a legitimate vote.

So the second mark above is a cross-out and doesn't count for Franken? Instead, it's an undervote since all the other ovals are empty? No, look at its context. What does this second voter use to signify intent? Here's the second voter's Presidential vote:


This voter marked several other races with both Xes and filled-in ovals. This is an expression of valid intent.

Don't take my word for it. Go look at these scans:
See, now that wasn't so hard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mickey Mouse voter

Why would a voter go to the trouble of going to the polls, taking a ballot, and unambiguously marking only one race? Sure, it's the Presidential race, and 2008 was a very important election, but this numbskull voter wrote in Mickey Mouse. There is a small mark in Al Franken's oval, but since this non-voter (as it turns out) inked Mickey's oval very well, I can't count the faint mark as a vote for Franken.

Big W for Auburn

Could it be that Auburn has hired a white guy who's out of his depth to pave the way for a competent black guy? Could it be that Chizik, like Duhbya, will be the unwitting midwife of a new day?

Come on, we're talking about Ala-fucking-bama.

Still, if the black guy could beat the Crimson Tide, maybe...

(h/t Lawyers, Guns, and Money, not to mention Vincent LaGuardia Gambini.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Who'd take a shoe for this man?



When I first heard about this, it was described as much slower to develop. I heard that the Secret Service was asleep at the switch, but that's not true. Nonetheless, I hope the sharpest agents are where we need them - with Barack Obama.

The incensed Iraqi got both shoes off quickly. Good thing he wasn't throwing Robert Reid's shoes. (I'm sure this group was well searched before entering the room even for a surprise visit.) I hear the Yankees are sending a scout, since their still not satisfied with their pitching for 2009.

Duhbya showed some excellent reflexes. If Nouri al-Maliki had been the target, he'd have taken the pair smack in the kisser.

In the grand scheme of things, this was offensive but still pretty minor. Duhbya's crimes are much larger. Even so, the so-called journalist should be punished with some suitable community service that insults his dignity.

And Duhbya should keep his Secret Service detail right up until the day he starts his sentence at Leavenworth.

Sensationalizing normalcy

John McCain is not ready to commit to Palin 2012. It would really be news if he were ready to commit to her four years in advance. That would suggest (political) marriage, and it would truly be unusual.

The fact that CNN fluffs this story as if it should be controversial more about the media's appetite for controversy than it says about McCain or Palin. But now they can go to Palin for comment and print yet another photo of her, something they really like to do.

Just because

I like this deft rendering of an idea. Click the thumbnail to see the full-size version.

Making a living instead of a dying

Could attacks on unpatched vulnerabilities of Internet Explorer include good news?

Microsoft noted the upswing in attacks on the company's Malware Protection Center blog late Saturday. "The trend for now is going upwards," said researchers Ziv Mador and Tareq Saadecom on the blog. "We saw a huge increase in the number of reports today compared to yesterday."
Jew and Arab working together on security. (O.K., I'm guessing from their names, but it's a plausible guess.) It's their job, nothing more noble.

It's not a coincidence that peace took root in Northern Ireland at a time when the economy was booming on the whole island. For a change, there was plenty to go around, so anti-Catholic job discrimination no longer appeared to make even short-run sense. Much of the demand was from overseas, and we didn't give a damn which side of the wall that lilting Irish broque lived on. Most of us couldn't even tell the quite distinct accents apart.

Duhbya and the neocons tried a broad-strokes military solution to the Middle East. It didn't work.

The solution I'd like to see tried in Israel and Palestine is bottom-up, start-small economics. People who have worked hard and have a lot to lose don't blow each other up. They're also sleeping at night for the next day's work instead of conspiring.

The radical Palestinians know this. That's why their people remain in refugee camps after sixty years.

The Israeli security forces know this. They cut off border crossing during security crises, in part to squeeze the working Palestinians. I don't blame them for securing their borders, but we all need to find a way to help the Palestinians make a living, instead of making a dying.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

War on holidays

Click image for full Mike Keefe/Denver Post cartoon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fireside chat



Obama is already trying to reassure the American people that he's on the case. Duhbya has checked out mentally, oh, since some time in 2007, and that's being generous. It's really up to Jenna and Barb to rescue his legacy. Sins of the fathers, etc.

Americans need now, as they needed from FDR in the 1930s, reassurance and hope. Eighty years ago, FDR could reach all our forebears by radio. Now, Obama is trying Youtube. It's cute and it's fine, but it's not enough. No matter how many bloggers post his weekly messages, too many people are not aware of what he's working on.

Cable news networks carried every one of Duhbya's rote repetitions of the same tired old talking points, no matter how many times the White House trotted out the same bullshit. Obama should declare his brief chats to be Major Fill-in-the-blank Addresses every few weeks. This week's would be a Major Housing Address.

Make the cable TV idiots cover it. This matters. This is leadership.

Journalism of jealousy


The New York Times has a long history of reporting on the rarefied reaches of conspicuous consumption. Normally, I'm pretty well inoculated against it.

In my twenties, I went to a champagne and caviar tasting, and I hated the "best" champagne. It was a Roederer, and it tasted so yeasty that I imagine it must have been similar to licking out an ale tun. My favorite caviar was the $7 an ounce stuff farm-raised in Jackson, Tennessee.

Sure, since then, I've had a chance to educate my palate (ha!), but I still like a $10 California cabernet. I'm not even a whiskey snob. Though I've had drams of scotch out of $50 bottles, I prefer the sweeter, simpler Irish for daily enjoyment. And there's not a damn thing wrong with Jack Daniel's.

No, the snobbery that I am here today to confess is about chocolate. My name is Lovable L., and I'm a chocoholic.

Although I know I'm an addict, I have no desire to clean up. I may need to get dark spots out of my clothing on a regular basis, but I'm still a high functioning chocoholic.

Give me chocolate, and you'll be my friend. But don't come at me with your sugary crap that needs food coloring to compensate for its lack of cacao. Milk chocolate? Save it for the children. White chocolate? Oxymoronic devil spawn of disappointment, fit only for decorative use.

Hardly any chocolate that's less than 60% cacao is worth eating.

I have to confess that I don't know anything about chocolate other than what I like. And what I like is a piece of pure bar chocolate pressed with my tongue against the roof of my mouth, where I can quietly taste it long and hard until it's gone.

I also must confess that this self-consciously funky bicycle trip through Paris sampling more artful chocolates makes me just a little jealous.

Distinguishing marks

What's the problem with a distinguishing mark on a ballot, anyway? If someone wants to give up the secrecy of the ballot, why shouldn't he be able to write "Lizard People" on his ballot? It's not mature, but that's not a requirement for voting, thank goodness. It's a sort of masturbatory joke. Mostly, the joker has to laugh at his own joke, alone. Loser, but again, not illegal.

Only in rare races will the stupid attempt at humor be shared with anyone else, and that person probably already has a headache and is pissed off to be reconciling vote totals for Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse after untold hours checking the public in at the polls. So, try this, and you're not going to get a laugh, much less get lucky.

The Senate recount started in Minnesota shortly after the election on Nov. 5. Right away, the Franken campaign started challenging ballots due to claimed distinguishing marks. The Coleman campaign soon followed suit.

Many of these challenges were frivolous, stupid, and if consistently applied capable of disqualifying lots of random ballots where intent is crystal clear and nothing hinky is going on. If a stray mark or a smudge could disqualify a ballot, why not a distinctive method of filling in an oval?

Although, against that, there are an incredible number of Minnesota voters who put an X through the oval before filling it in. If they thought their mark was distinct, bzzt, wrong. The upside is that their votes will be counted.

It turns out that distinguishing marks spoil a ballot throughout the English-speaking world, at least. There's a lot of case law from the past 150 years or more about. Secret ballots protect the honesty of elections in two ways. First, they prevent some forms of intimidation. If the goons can't tell how you voted, they can't extract the consequences of dissent from your hide.

It's still true that they can intimidate you if they can tell how you're likely to vote, say, if you're black and therefore unlikely to vote for some lizard-brained sleazeball of a white supremacist. Just for example. But I digress.

Secret ballots also prevent a political machine from paying off voters who vote their way. They're not just for protection of the voter; they protect the election.

Once upon a time, political parties printed their own ballots (hence ticket), which they preferred to mark visibly so that they could keep track of their captive voters. Once the government took that over, you might be able to put your initials next to Boss Tweed's candidate so that the poll workers could tell. In either case, there would be a few extra bucks for you to spend in the bar celebrating victory. Not an honest victory, but a good stiff drink nonetheless.

As it is, since the late 1800s in the U.S., vote-buyers have had to trust that their voters will stay bought in the voting booth, and that's a mook's game. Consequently, candidates have to work on convincing voters by engaging their brains, or at least their pocketbooks in a less direct and venal way. Or that's the theory, anyway.

You'll notice, of course, that big media hasn't reported this story at all. It's not that they're suppressing it. It's too far down in the weeds for them, they don't know the facts, and they can't be bothered with thirty minutes of Google.

If you have a DailyKos ID, please go recommend the diary containing this piece that I just posted there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Yep, yes we did

David Axelrod already knew. I figured it out. Obama's speech on race turned me from lukewarm to ardent supporter.

"This is why you should be President."

Supremes go multimedia

My daughter, who's taking a legal writing course, has pointed me to this web site, oyez.org, related to the Supreme Court. I haven't had a chance to dive in yet, but anyone who would mash up the burial sites of dead Supremes with Google Maps is in the throes of obsession, and stark beauty can come from that.

Asshole of the day

Lately, I've been reading comments in newspaper web sites. I know, what a waste of precious time. But keep thinking I should post about the stupidest of them. The problem is that I have been cutting back on blogging time, and that means less time to winnow out the truly epoch-making stupid from the garden variety kind. You'd think in fairness that I should at least read for a half hour to try to find something really bad.

But no. Some of the mean stupids call out for immediate ridicule, even if there's undoubtedly someone else saying something even meaner and even dumber somewhere on the Intertoobz. Here's a good one for today.

In response to an item about the death of a woman in a one-car accident, some alleged human who calls himself reefer has this to say:

I really don't want my tax money going to a rebuilding of this intersection. I see people all the time entering this ramp at 65mph or better. There is no cure for stupidity.
I see this sort of thing all the time. A lot of people out there don't believe in safety measures of any kind. They don't believe in public health. They'd rather let people continue to die than to remedy a danger. They think that people who die deserve it, and that they, still living, must therefore be superior.

Fucking assholes. (I don't think my language is too strong.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Well, duh

News flash: Don Rumsfeld responsible for prisoner abuses. Abuse and torture of prisoners, both the ones who are bad people and those who are not, was American policy, not some accident or excess. It came from the top. Rumsfeld had a definitive role approving each iota of policy, but of course "taking the gloves off" came from Cheney via his dauphin, Duhbya.

A defense for Blagojevich

From me? Hell, no.

I look forward to Blagojevich and his attorneys pleading undiagnosed bipolar, and his behavior is so far out there that this might actually be true. True, but not exculpatory.

I suspect he'll do some time. Maybe he'll still be wondering what's in it for him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another chance to vote for change

I'm shocked that Mike Duncan wants to run for re-election to RNC chair:

Duncan's major obstacle to keeping the job will be the desire for new blood at the helm of the GOP after stinging defeats in two straight elections.
Was he just waiting for enough other candidates to split the vote? Can he really still count on enough support to think he has a chance? Or is he just insane?

If he's still a credible candidate, the Republicans are even worse off than I had dreamed. Oh, and hooray!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Secret ballot card check

Businesses and their wingnut allies are frantic that the Democrats may enact card check as a means of authorizing collective bargaining by a union. They say that their concern is to prevent coercion of workers, but there's a little more detail: Their concern is to prevent union coercion, while leaving the field open for management intimidation and coercion.

In fact, card check has been the law of the land previously without the world coming to the end the Chamber of Commerce fears if those people gain more power. Still and all, the secret ballot is anti-coercive, and its loss could be a bad aspect in what is on balance a good idea.

Why not have both? If the state of Oregon can conduct its secret ballot elections by mail securely, why can't unions conduct their elections by mail in a way that avoids management intimidation but retains the secret ballot?

(h/t R. Neal at KnoxViews)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Can't keep it all in our silly little heads

Incredibly, CNN retypes the Pentagon press release about five prisoners at Guantánamo who say they want to confess. Our media can't seem to find its brain today, or they would notice that the hard cases among the Guantánamo population - not to mention those isolated into mental illness - are looking forward to martyrdom, where they expect virgins instead of the panties of menstrual female interrogators.

Oh, hell, underwear, no matter its state of laundry, is not torture. But some of these guys may be ready to martyr themselves because they have truly been tortured or at least threatened with torture:

The White House has consistently denied that the United States practices torture, but CIA officials have admitted to using "waterboarding." The technique, which is said to simulate drowning, has been considered a war crime in the past.
Again, CNN can't come right out with the obvious and incontrovertible truth: Waterboarding has always been torture when someone else did it to us. Here's the truth:
The White House has persistently bullshitted the media and the people about the Bushist Republicans' consciously pro-torture policy, but CIA officials have admitted use of "waterboarding", which is well-known to be a war crime.
Does all of the media have to go broke before they understand that their job is to penetrate the bullshit, not simply to repeat whatever comes out of the flatulent anuses of official sources?

Enemies lists

Karl Rove is going to publish the most desirable badge of honor for intelligent liberals since Nixon's enemies list. Rove's list should enhance the reputations of everyone on it.

That doesn't mean I'm going to buy a copy of his bullshit. I'll let someone with a stronger stomach (and mine is cast iron) slog through it for the names of those secular prophets we should build monuments to.

Even when first printings of this apologia wind up on the remainder table, I wouldn't consider rewarding any of the parties with $2.95.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Same coin

Click image for full Joel Pett cartoon.

Greed works

... for a while.

Click panel for full Ruben Bolling cartoon.

Rare day

It's not often that it's good news for a Democrat to lose to Republican, but this is one of those rare days. William Jefferson has lost to newcomer Anh Cao, ridding the Congress of one of its members who most smells of corruption.

Meanwhile, since we're in Louisiana, it's David Vitter watch, day 514. Ya think if he keeps his, ah, nose clean that Louisiana voters will re-elect him in 2010?

Franken votes


If Al Franken does manage to eke out a nominal win (by a statistically insignificant margin), the turning point will be rejection of a huge number of bullshit challenges from the Coleman campaign in Hennepin County, particularly in Minneapolis itself, where Franken will recover challenged votes at close to a 10 to 1 rate.

I currently show Franken leading, although by a scant 20 votes. That's real votes, not the Star Tribune's simplistic projection. That margin is quick and dirty, and I'm regretting not looking more carefully at factors beyond voter intent. It's just too close to guess.

There's no way this is not going to court.

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Back to reality

It doesn't matter what smart people may think about the Franken-Coleman recount. Minnesota is going to decide this election the old-fashioned way. That means more counting and recounting and arguing, in court if necessary, about challenges, excluded absentee ballots, lost ballots, and anything else that might change the outcome by one vote.

In the end, there will only be a few hundred challenged ballots that are hard to call, and we should all be able to sort them out and decide for ourselves. At least, we'll be able to sort out the voter intent. Duplications, invalid ballots, and chain of control won't show up well on the web.

I've been viewing the challenged ballots at the Star Tribune. Yes, I have looked at all 2240 available so far. Sometimes democracy requires sacrifices of personal hygiene, and it's a natural for blogging.

My conclusion: It's a nip and tuck race. Franken is gaining even though most of the challenges from both sides are bullshit (Franken has withdrawn 663 (PDF) of his challenges), but it's an open question whether he'll gain fast enough.

Even so, this race will come down to those excluded absentee ballots. Whether Franken or Coleman will want to check them remains to be seen. I would hope that, should Franken hold the lead, he would continue to argue for their review instead of expediently reversing himself.

The current consensus of other amateur recounters differs significantly from my own assessment. Yes, I have a bias, though I've worked against it. I've also mostly ignored the distinguishing mark problem challenged on both sides. I'm sure that there are a couple of other ballots I should have excluded. For example, I counted the infamous "Lizard People" ballot, and I probably should not have. (My reasoning, by the way: This dude - apparently - wrote "Lizard People" into all the races on the front of the ballot. On every one except the Senate race, he also blacked in the write-in oval. On the Senate race alone, he left the write-in oval blank and blacked the Franken oval.)

Still, the odd thing about the consensus counts at the Star Tribune is that my Franken count is only one vote higher than the consensus. There is no way I could possibly have unfairly excluded thirty-five Coleman ballots.

So, I wonder whether there's some freeping going on in this on-line exercise in what should be transparent democracy.

Note: Minnesota Public Radio has 2702 ballots posted for review.

Absolution

Anyone who felt bad about calling Sarah Palin "Caribou Barbie", anyone who wondered if that further coarsened our already coarse public discourse (and this time from the left), here's absolution.

John McCain, sponsor of Caribou Barbie's most excellent makeover! The person who brought us the whole ridiculous image circus brought it all on his own ticket.

Public domain image from Wikipedia.

Random error

Charles Seife raises an important point that I've been batting around in my mind, oh, since Florida 2000. But the nail-biter between Al Franken and Norm Coleman in Minnesota's Senate election has raised this issue back to the front of my brain.

Elections that come down to a couple of hundred ballots out of millions cast are in fact statistical ties. Florida's was a tie (until you get to the overvotes that were never counted). Minnesota's is a tie.

How can we know this? Before the recount began, the state ran a post-election review to gauge the accuracy of the voting process. The review involved auditors going into select precincts and, like the recounters, counting by hand, doing the most careful job humanly possible. So in some precincts, we have not just a recount but a re-recount. Both auditors and recounters were hypervigilant to possible sources of error, and yet they disagree on their tallies by about 20 thousandths of a percent.

In an ordinary race, errors this tiny wouldn’t be a problem. But the Coleman-Franken race is so close that this error rate is more than double the margin between the two camps.
Given the error-prone measurement systems we have - and Minnesota's is relatively good, especially compared to Florida's - no scientist or engineer would ever claim that even the count we get out of a careful, conscientious recount is accurate enough to measure a real difference in voter preference from vote totals that only differ by 0.008%.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Making a get out of jail free card from bullshit

In this case, Mukasey is trying to create the presumption of good faith on the part of John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, Jay Bybee, William J. Haynes, et al. They were just advocating what they thought was legal for their client, the quivering cowardly mass of abject Bushists.

Yeah, sure.

They were rationalizing torture with creative legalisms that they knew were wrong.

Re-enacting czarist pogroms

Let the conservative whining begin? Headline notwithstanding, Paul Waldman knows that the whining, bitching, moaning, and rending of garments never stopped on the right:

This is an old story -- even before the Civil War, Southerners couldn't talk enough about how those elitist Northerners were looking down their noses at the South. And is there a group of people anywhere in the world so obsessed with glorifying and celebrating a war they lost? A century and a half ago, my people were suffering through the Czar's pogroms, but I don't spend my weekends re-enacting them.
It's amazing how the hermaphrodites (pricks and pussies at the same time!) on talk radio can continue to feed the same message of combined omnipotence and victimization to their audience without ever taking a break to account for wildly varying events. But then their audience is not exactly filled with the sharpest tools in the shed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Constitution back in force!

Like a rabid dog to raw meat, Judicial Watch announced this week that Hillary Clinton is forbidden by the Constitution from serving as Secretary of State:

Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution says the following: "No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time."

...

In January, President Bush signed an executive order increasing the salary for the secretary of state and other Cabinet positions by $4,700.
Executive order? The Constitution was written under the assumption that Congress held the purse strings. Article I, section 6 was an anti-corruption measure. Of course, Duhbya was probably granted the power to give Cabinet raises as part of a deal to piggyback Congressional raises without actually having to vote on them, since they're always unpopular with everyone who makes less - most of us. Or maybe Duhbya just arrogated it, and no one stopped him.

Wouldn't that violation of separation of powers be something more important for Judicial Watch to care about? (Only the Supremes might well have rubberstamped it since I think their salaries were included in the escalator clause.)

The Constitution's words, of course, do matter, even when raised by these guys. Though Hillary did not participate in the increased emolument to the Secretary of State, it did happen. There is no reason, however, that this possible defect can't be cured by a simple reduction to the previous level of pay. Since there's no corruption here, even that may not be necessary.

I guess Larry Klayman's Clinton Derangement Syndrome wasn't cured by eight years of Bushism! He hates him some Clinton.

The oddest thing is that Darth Cheney's election in 2000 was clearly unconstitutional, and nary a peep from Judicial Watch. Unless you bought his bullshit show of journeying back to Wyoming to register to vote there, the reality was that Cheney could not receive the electoral votes of Texas, due to the 12th Amendment:
The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.
In the absence of a majority of electoral votes for Vice President, the Senate should have had to choose between Darth and Joe Lieberman, no matter how much a Hobson's choice the intervening eight years have revealed that to be.

I do have to thank Judicial Watch for one thing: Article I, section 6 proves that the Cheney-Addington theory of the fourth branch is not just bunk under any commonsense interpretation of the Constitution. It also violates the black and white text within the four corners of the document:
[N]o Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
Oops! The VP is prohibited from being a member of Congress. Next theory!

Foolish of me to fight this old battle, though. With a Democrat back in the White House, of course the limits to Presidential power are back in force.

More on the Constitution or lack thereof here.

Another important thing I didn't know

From the Lancet via Nicholas Kristof:

Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment worldwide.
Other micronutrients matter, too, and are similarly as cheap as dirt.

There is a huge amount of knowledge loose in the world. Why is it that news outlets provide so little of it? Because, as Kristof says, "There are no starlets embracing iodine"?

Something tells me that other cultures are not so stuck on entertainment as we are. But it is what it is, hence my illustration.

Public domain image of Jessica Biel from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Asking the right questions

Some interrogators refused to torture. They learned what they needed. Here are the conclusions of one of them:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.
This is the Bushist legacy.

(h/t Philosoraptor)

Never on Sunday

Of course, the terrorists are going to take Sunday off, too, so no need for intelligence briefings when you're lazing around avoiding church.

Wasn't gonna happen

This is Georgia we're talking about, after all. It's a place where everyone assumes you're conservative, and they're happy about that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Accountability

U.S. intelligence sources warned India about an attack over water against Mumbai. The Indian authorities did a little but then stopped. We all know the consequences.

U.S. intelligence sources warned Duhbya about a less specific attack against America. He did nothing at all. We all know the consequences.

The Indian security minister resigned.

Were any of the Bushists so chastened, so responsible, so accountable that they stepped down? Yeah, that's a rhetorical question. Instead, they fired people who warned them.

Propaganda operations

Time to cut off Barry McCaffrey from inside Pentagon info. It's bad enough that the Bushists have run a propaganda operation for their policies at taxpayer expense, but it would be worse to allow it to continue and undermine the policies of the new President.

NBC's defense of its participation in the propaganda is hilarious:

Our relationship with General McCaffrey is based on trust, a basic tenant [sic] of journalism.
No surprise that they rely on renting their journalism. Tenet is not just the name of an undeserving Bushist recipient of the Medal of Freedom.

Political generals

Gen. Jim Jones, Obama's designated National Security Advisor, says the right things:

"At the end of the day, the major issues, he will make the decision and everyone will salute smartly and carry it out."
The truth is that the Joint Chiefs hamstrung Bill Clinton, and they'll hamstring Barack Obama, too, given half a chance. After eight years of Bushism, there are numerous general officers who have politicized their commissions.

Obama needs to do some house-cleaning to re-establish the full civilian supremacy of the Constitution and its necessarily apolitical military. A high profile firing wouldn't be a bad thing the first time some right-wing general takes his ideological gripes to the press.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Too late for a shredder

The AP awakens from its slumber long enough for Matt Apuzzo to slap down the Bushist deregulators and their favored lobbyists at the root of the mortgage crisis:

The Bush administration backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages years before the economy collapsed, buckling to pressure from some of the same banks that have now failed. It ignored remarkably prescient warnings that foretold the financial meltdown...
Careful there, you might commit journalism!

(h/t R. Neal at KnoxViews)

No enemies to the right

One reason the frothing lunatic wingnuts believe there's a liberal media is that they are so far to the right that anything even in the conservative part of the mainstream looks liberal to them. Here's a comment on a story in the Knoxville News-Sentinel that dares to acknowledge the geological age of the earth:

One more example of the anti-God, extreme liberal bias at KNS.
It's really no surprise that this fundie has the handle GWB4Ever.

The KNS, by the way, is a completely Republican newspaper, though it remains lightly tethered to reality.

(h/t smalc on KnoxViews)

Savagery

The Mumbai terrorists tortured their victims, especially the Israelis.

The other doctor, who had also conducted the post-mortem of the victims, said: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again," he said.
Yes, these animals are (were, actually) vile, nasty, bigoted, vicious war criminals. It's hard to feel bad about the response of Indian security forces:
The doctors who conducted the post mortem said ..., "Their faces were beyond recognition."

There was no way of identifying them," he said. Asked how, if this is the case, they knew the bodies were indeed those of the terrorists, he said: "The security forces that brought the bodies told us that those were the bodies of the terrorists," he said, adding there was no other way they could have identified the bodies.

An intelligence agency source added: "One of the terrorists was shot through either eye."
It's a sad and mirthless irony that the Islamist terrorists were defaced like the Buddhas at Bamiyan and many other ancient statues.

Savagery begat more savagery in Mumbai. Nor are our hands clean.

In Afghanistan, we did not pick out civilians for torture the way the Islamists in Mumbai did. What we did, however, was to outsource that to our surrogates on the ground, and they chose whoever they wanted for internment at Bagram or Guantánamo. But, other than by hopeless and indefinite confinement, we (probably) didn't torture the low value sources. We can be so proud that we picked our torture victims for cause, rather than randomly - or racistly (right, no anti-Muslim bigotry here!).

Then again, at Abu Ghraib, we tortured widely, including some who were obviously guilty of nothing more than petty crime. Including some for whom no guilt could be established to even a low standard. The Bushist myth is that this torture was not a matter of policy, but it's clear from the spread of techniques that the violated policy was the policy against photography. A few bad apples, my ass. But that's our rationalization.

Of course, at Guantánamo, Don Rumsfeld specifically approved escalating tortures to be used against individual prisoners. But at least he unleashed them narrowly.

Those who required more torture than that we outsourced again, bagging them and tagging them for rendition. We didn't know for sure what would happen to them. Of course, we're such innocents of the evil men can devise to break other men that we can't be held accountable for that. Which is why we had to render them to the torturers.

Our claims of national virtue in the Bushist age are very small and hang by very thin reeds of rationalization. In other more dangerous times, this was not always so. I'm not urging that all these acts have moral equivalence, but they're much closer to each other than I'm used to having to own up to.

Human beings are capable of savagery, not just some of us, but most, maybe all. I believe that I am, too. Deep inside there's a place of pain and fear that overrides sweet reason and sympathy and the morals we've been taught. That's why we have laws. Had.

That's why the least Obama can do is close Guantánamo.