Category Archives: US Politics

The One True Hooha

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“The One True Hooha” is the name that Edward Snowden used on online gaming forums a decade ago.  The New York Times put together something of a profile on Snowden yesterday, painting him as personally ambitious and someone with a great interest in China – he studied Mandarin and martial arts among other things.

The Atlantic has a very interesting comparison between Snowden and one of the people he calls (and I call) a hero, Daniel Ellsberg.  They list several differences but there are two that ring out to me – what Snowden revealed, as troubling as it may be, is legal. And Ellsberg remained in the U.S. to face the consequences of what he did, Snowden fled.

What does it all mean? I don’t know. I don’t think the full story is out there yet. I’m not rushing to judgement.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts.

I mean, is anyone really surprised that the U.S. government is doing this? And while I’d like to say that I’m disappointed that Obama continued this program that Bush started, how many times has he promised to shut Guantanamo?

Maybe I’m less shocked because I’ve become inured to it. My family was investigated by the FBI in the 1960s – they went door to door in the building we lived in asking our neighbors about us.  I did stuff as a teenager that I’m convinced led to the KGB having a file on me. And as someone who works in IT, I know full well that anything I type on the Internet, anything I put on Facebook or search on Google, is available to anyone in the world, regardless of what “privacy settings” I’ve selected. Anything I buy from any online shop or any store with a “member card” goes into a database that can be mined.

And why did Snowden choose Hong Kong? I still don’t get this. If he thinks he will eventually receive asylum in Iceland, why didn’t he just go there? Why choose a place that has never known democracy and that is part of a country that has ruthlessly oppressed its citizens for 5,000 years, a country that is famous for spying on its citizens and jails dissidents without trial?

Snowden may be a hero. Maybe. But I see no basis for Hong Kong to deny extradition, if the U.S. should request that, which it likely will.

I try to put myself into his shoes. I work in IT. I’ve worked as a contractor. I could have easily been placed in a position with a company with values opposed to my own. Snowden signed all sorts of papers pledging to keep his mouth shut about what he was doing. I suppose one could argue that he signed those papers before he got the access he got and that he was so shocked by what he discovered that he decided this took precedence over whatever he signed.

But why did he choose to allow himself to work for U.S. intelligence agencies? Why not banks? Why not Wal*Mart?  He went where the money was. I’ve seen reports saying he was earning anywhere from $120,000 to $200,000 a year – not bad for a high school dropout with a GED.

And what about Booz Allen Hamilton? What guilt do they have in this? I would say that they’re so anxious to fill these positions, which are tremendously profitable to them, that they’re not properly vetting candidates.  “Okay, this guy can spell UNIX, we can bill him out to the NSA at a 300% mark-up, what more do we need to know?”

From the Times article:

His disclosures have renewed a longstanding concern: that young Internet aficionados whose skills the agencies need for counterterrorism and cyberdefense sometimes bring an anti-authority spirit that does not fit the security bureaucracy.

“There were lots of discussions at N.S.A. and in the intelligence community in general about the acculturation process,” said Joel F. Brenner, a former inspector general of the agency. “They were aware that they were bringing in young people who had to adjust to the culture — and who would change the culture.”

Mr. Brenner said that with such a buildup after the Sept. 11 attacks, “you’re going to have some sloppiness and some mistakes.” It is remarkable, he said, that “disloyalty” of Mr. Snowden’s variety is so rare.

I think it took a lot of courage for Snowden to do what he did. But I think he did it wrong. I think if he truly wants to be a martyr then he should go to the airport today, get on a plane to Los Angeles, surrender to the authorities and get the trial started. Let’s get this all out in open courts.

Let’s let the rule of law decide and not the rule of mobs.

(I reserve the option to change my mind on this 62 more times in the coming days.)

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Why Do Republicans Think They Are Entitled To Their Own Facts?

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While the vote counting isn’t quite finished as of now it stands at Obama 60,662,174 to Romney 57.820,742.

For more fun, read Salon’s play-by-play description of Karl Rove’s meltdown on Fox News last night.

If you didn’t get to see it, Rove’s attempt to overturn Fox’s 11:15 P.M. call of Ohio and the election was completely nuts. First of all, co-anchors Kelly and Bret Baier were caught by surprise when a graphic went up announcing that Obama had been reelected. You could almost feel the disapproval emanating from Brit Hume, who may be a right-winger but is a genuine newsman and a TV professional. Then Rove, getting increasingly hot under the collar, began to protest that unnamed sources in the Romney camp weren’t happy about this, and that the president’s margin in Ohio was disappearing. This led Kelly to wander through a backstage corridor with a cameraman in tow, like a character in a backstage drama or reality show, in order to confront the statistics wonks at the “decision desk,” or at least to escape from Rove’s blather about whether the outstanding votes from Hamilton County, Ohio, were or were not from the city of Cincinnati.

In the end, Fox News showed its true character by blaming the Republican loss on minorities.  Bill O’Reilly said, on the air, “The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. …  the white establishment is now the minority. … And the voters, many of them, feel that this economic system is stacked against them, and they want stuff. You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way.”

So the Republicans deny evolution, climate change, same sex marriage, equal rights for women and now apparently they are also seeking to deny basic arithmetic.  Apparently one plus one no longer equals two if your name is Karl Rove or Donald Trump.

By the way, here’s some numbers via Huffington Post:

  • Total money spent by Obama and the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA:$853 million
  • Total money spent by Romney and the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future: $752.3 million
  • (PBS’s annual budget – $530 million)
  • Total money raised by those super PACs: $661 million
  • Money given to conservative super PACs by the family of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson: $54 million
  • Money spent on negative ads attacking Romney: $295 million
  • Money spent on negative ads attacking Obama: $351 million
  • Number of super PAC donors who’ve given at least half a million dollars this cycle: 209
  • Number of political ads run to support or oppose either presidential candidate since June 1: 1,015,615

Regardless of which party you follow, some of these numbers are obscene.

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Yes

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Brilliant photo by Doug Mills for the New York Times.

Romney couldn’t even carry Massachusetts or Michigan.

And there’s more good news – several states voted in marriage equality and two states voted in recreational marijuana use.  In Indiana, Mourdock, the whack job who said that if a rape victim got pregnant it was God’s will, lost.  Todd Akin, who insisted that women could not become pregnant from rape, also lost.   Wisconsin brings us our first openly gay (and female) Senator.  In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren beat tea bagger Scott Brown.   While the Republicans held onto their majority in the House, I think it’s clear that Americans prefer the centrist policies of Obama to the factions on the extreme right that have lately dominated the Republican party.

One might hope that with the election over, the people of the U.S. will all work together to deal with the major issues that the country is facing.  But that would be to deny reality.

Sure, thick-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump sits outside of the mainstream Republican party.  But he won’t be the last extremist out there with access to media.  And then there’s Fox News blaming “the mainstream” media for Romney’s loss.  As if Fox News wasn’t mainstream?  As if it wasn’t Romney and his proposed policies and the Republican party itself that were responsible for the loss.

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The Veil of Opulence

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I absolutely love this Op-Ed piece in the NY Times by Benjamin Hale.

The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.

Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence. While no serious political philosopher actually defends such a device — the term is my own — the veil of opulence runs thick in our political discourse. Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions.

Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs. They vote and set policies according to this fantasy. “If I were such and such a wealthy person,” they ask, “how would I feel about giving X percentage of my income, or Y real dollars per year, to pay for services that I will never see nor use?” We see this repeatedly in our tax policy discussions, and we have just seen the latest instance of it in the Tax Policy Center’s comparison of President Obama’s tax plan versus Mitt Romney’s tax plan.  “He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can pay less,” Obama said last week, “so that people like me pay less.” Last Monday he drove the point even harder, saying that Romney’s plan is like “Robin Hood in reverse.” And certainly, Romney’s selection on Saturday of Paul Ryan as his running mate will keep this issue in the forefront of our political discourse.

It is one thing for the very well off to make these arguments. What is curious is that frequently the same people who pose these questions are not themselves wealthy, nor even particularly healthy. Instead, they ask these questions under the supposition that they are insisting upon fairness. But the veil of opulence operates only under the guise of fairness. It is rather a distortion of fairness, by virtue of the partiality that it smuggles in. It asks not whether a policy is fair given the huge range of advantages or hardships the universe might throw at a person but rather whether it is fair that a very fortunate person should shoulder the burdens of others. That is, the veil of opulence insists that people imagine that resources and opportunities and talents are freely available to all, that such goods are widely abundant, that there is no element of randomness or chance that may negatively impact those who struggle to succeed but sadly fail through no fault of their own. It blankets off the obstacles that impede the road to success. It turns a blind eye to the adversity that some people, let’s face it, are born into. By insisting that we consider public policy from the perspective of the most-advantaged, the veil of opulence obscures the vagaries of brute luck.

The question of fairness has widespread application throughout our political discourse. It affects taxation, health care, education, social safety nets and so on. The veil of opulence would have us screen for fairness by asking what the most fortunate among us are willing to bear. The veil of ignorance would have us screen for fairness by asking what any of us would be willing to bear, if it were the case that we, or the ones we love, might be born into difficult circumstances or, despite our hard work, blindsided by misfortune. Society is in place to correct for the injustices of the universe, to ensure that our lives can run smoothly despite the stuff that is far out of our control: not to hand us what we need, but to give us the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The veil of ignorance helps us see that. The veil of opulence keeps us in the dark.

 

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Romney-Ryan Analysis

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Posted without further comment, some excerpts from this analysis of the Ryan choice, by Nate Silver in the NY Times:

 Mr. Romney’s campaign could have cherry-picked the polls that showed him ahead, the worst economic statistics, the most favorable historical precedents, and concluded that it was a favorite.

Evidently, it did not do that. The ability to perform an honest self-assessment is rare for all of us. Mr. Romney, in making this outlook, may have been aided by his background in seeking to turn around distressed companies.

Why am I concluding that Mr. Romney would have chosen Mr. Ryan only if he felt he was losing? Because from a Politics 101 point of view, this isn’t the most natural choice.

Mr. Ryan is a national figure of some repute — before Saturday morning, his national name recognition was about 50 percent — but he has never been elected to anything larger than his Congressional district of about 700,000 people. Members of the House of Representatives have only occasionally been selected as running mates. The last one on a winning ticket was John Nance Garner, the speaker of the House, in 1932. The last time an ordinary member of the House was elected vice president, and the last Republican, was more than 100 years ago: in 1908, when William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman, a New York congressman, were chosen by voters. (Coincidentally, that fall was also the last time that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.)

Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

By this measure, in fact, which rates members of the House and Senate throughout different time periods on a common ideology scale, Mr. Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900. He is also more conservative than any Democratic nominee was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the center. (The statistic does not provide scores for governors and other vice-presidential nominees who never served in Congress.)

Mr. Romney decided to change his strategy rather than to make a tactical choice. He wants to shake up the race, and I expect Mr. Ryan to do that.

Young, attractive and outspoken, Mr. Ryan will be loved by conservatives — and just as assuredly, detested by liberals. In a race that lacks compelling story lines and fresh faces, he may become the focal point. It seems entirely plausible that his rallies will draw larger crowds than either of the presidential candidates themselves, and that stories about him will draw more Internet traffic, especially in the early days of his candidacy. He should also be a fund-raising magnet — for Mr. Romney, and probably also for Mr. Obama.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly can guess who I’ll be voting for, but just in case there’s any doubt in your mind:

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Intellligent Debate is Dead in America

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(Above image from SharpWriter via Boing Boing. Yes, that’s supposed to be Ronald Reagan. No, it doesn’t really look much like him.)

America is dying because there is no more actual debate on actual issues.  People now merely scream at each other.  The spirit that America once had, of everyone coming together to solve critical issues, no longer exists.

There is no better recent example of this than the death of Andy Griffith.  In case you don’t know, Griffith’s 50 year career as an actor included 8 years playing a small town sheriff in a gentle comedy, The Andy Griffith Show, that featured an idealized vision of small town America.  Griffith also appeared in a TV commercial supporting Barack Obama (directed by Ron Howard, who played Griffith’s son on TAGS all those years ago) and another commercial supporting universal health care.

This is the way some people responded online to the announcement of his death:

Progressive POS. Have fun burning in Hell for eternity. — Red Meat

Good people don’t promote laws that will directly lead to the death of millions, hope someday I get to spit on his grave. — Swampy

So long Andy [smiley emoticon] You are a total sell out to this great nation. You are a communist piece of garbage and you will not be missed. — Truthbeliever2

Sadly, my first thought when I saw the headline was “if he’d passed away at age 82 I would have missed him so much more” … Now, I only feel angry the old shill didn‘t live another year or two so he’d have to face a “death panel” before kicking it. The old bastrd died too soon to reap what he helped sow. I feel cheated that we’ll never get to hear him lament his decision to be a wh0re for the socialist DNC. — Wool-Free Vision

Another dead Democrat…today’s shaping up to be a better day than expected. — teddrunk

The guy that was the spokes person for Obamacare dies 1 week after it is upheld, 1 and counting. — Love The Kids

I had hoped that he would live long enough to be denied the healthcare that he helped shove down America’s throat. — Posterchild

So how did that Maobamacare you were pimping a couple of years ago work out for ya? Gee did the death panels keep you waiting too long? — Sweetrae

Griffith was a total communist and hated this country. He was a bitter resentful person as Libs usually are. He was wasting air that someone else deserved. I won’t miss him in the least. — el_texicano

It’s funny…everybody says the Sheriff Taylor character was so sweet and kindly. I guess that’s so. But I could never get past the look on Griffith’s face, and the expression in his eyes. He always looked shifty and downright mean to me. That affable smile looked sort of like a shark’s grin. He always creeped me out. — CatherineofAragon

Later in life he did a movie called “Gramps” where he played a sinister old man. Given how truly EVIL obamacare is, I imagine this character came naturally to him. — brickdds

yup looks like he died before he could vote for obama again — al baby

What makes you think he won’t still vote for Bamby? He is, after all, a Democrat. — JaguarXKE

I mean, really?  The guy had a different political position from you and that gives you the right to dance on his grave?

(via Wonkette)

 

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I’m So Glad I’m Not In Texas

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This is just mind boggling.  Boing Boing links to an article in the Huffington Post regarding the Texas Republican Party’s “Report of Platform Committee and Rules Committee” and also has a link to the PDF version of this report.  It’s just filled with WTF!!! statements, such as:

We believe in …

2. The sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, which should be protected from fertilization to natural death.

11.  “The laws of nature and nature’s God” as our Founding Fathers believed

Religious Symbols – We oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols.

Judeo-Christian Nation – As America is a nation under God founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship in the religion of their choice.

So, you know, fuck separation of church and state, eh?  Well, they admit it:

Safeguarding Our Religious Liberties – We affirm that the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity and strength. We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state. We urge the Legislature to increase the ability of faith-based institutions and other organizations to assist the needy and to reduce regulation of such organizations

But here’s the real jaw-dropping one:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Of course, what that’s really about is religion again, about the “right” to teach students that evolution is just one of many theories.

Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

Then there’s this:

Sex Education – We recognize parental responsibility and authority regarding sex education. We believe that parents must be given an opportunity to review the material prior to giving their consent. We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage.

And this:

Classroom Discipline –We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.

Big shocker coming up – they’re anti-gay!

Homosexuality ― We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle, in public policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.” We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.

Well, not all of it is 19th century nonsense.  I liked this bit:

Banning the Use of Red Light Cameras – We oppose the manner in which alleged vehicle violations are documented and fines levied against individuals without proof of their having been the driver of the offending vehicle and we call for the ban on Red Light Cameras in the State of Texas.

 

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Infographic: How China is Kicking the US’s Ass in Clean Tech

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Fr0m Fast Company.

In the U.S. everything has been politicized to the point where progress is crawling to a halt.  Even the environment has become a political football.  So in the US you get the people who deny climate change and those who accept it but think that dealing with it in any responsible way is bad for business and bad for the economy and bad for jobs.  (Sounds kind of like Hong Kong, eh?)

But green tech is big business.  And it’s going to get bigger and bigger.  There are billions of dollars to be made there on a global scale.  And the US is getting left behind.  Two excerpts from the graphic:

Click on the images to see ‘em larger or click over to the link up top to see a whole lot more bad news.

(from here)

 

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Yes, the American Election Results Make Sense – If You’re Insane

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From here.  Click on image to see full size.

And while you’re at it, read this.

Suppose you had $100,000 to invest on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated. Why bet on a liberal Democrat? Here’s why: the presidency of George W. Bush produced the worst stock market decline of any president in history. The net worth of American households collapsed as Bush slipped away. And if you needed a loan to buy a house or stay in business, private sector borrowing was dead when he handed over power.

As of election day, Nov. 2, 2010, your $100,000 was worth about $177,000 if invested strictly in the NASDAQ average for the entirety of the Obama administration, and $148,000 if bet on the Standard & Poors 500 major companies. This works out to returns of 77 percent and 48 percent.

But markets, though forward-looking, are not considered accurate measurements of the economy, and the Great Recession skewed the Bush numbers. O.K. How about looking at the big financial institutions that keep the motors of capitalism running — banks and auto companies?

The banking system was resuscitated by $700 billion in bailouts started by Bush (a fact unknown by a majority of Americans), and finished by Obama, with help from the Federal Reserve. It worked. The government is expected to break even on a risky bet to stabilize the global free market system. Had Obama followed the populist instincts of many in his party, the underpinnings of big capitalism could have collapsed. He did this without nationalizing banks, as other Democrats had urged.

Saving the American auto industry, which has been a huge drag on Obama’s political capital, is a monumental achievement that few appreciate, unless you live in Michigan. After getting their taxpayer lifeline from Obama, both General Motors and Chrysler are now making money by making cars. New plants are even scheduled to open. More than 1 million jobs would have disappeared had the domestic auto sector been liquidated.

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