Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Orrin's Legal Aid

Thought those who may have contributed to Orrin Hatch's re-election campaign or PAC might enjoy knowing how he is spending their money:

Rep. John Doolittle reported Tuesday that his legal defense fund has accepted $31,750 in contributions from fellow lawmakers and more than a dozen Sacramento-area households.

[...]

A third of the Roseville Republican's contributions came from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hatch sent the legal defense fund $5,000 each from his Senate re-election committee and his political action committee.

The only other $5,000 contributor to the Doolittle fund was Chico Republican Rep. Wally Herger's campaign committee.
How philanthropic.

Sutherland Institute Reaches for Pro-Voucher "Data"

As we round the corner on the voucher vote, The Sutherland Institute is launching a strangely aggressive campaign for a think-tank that is beginning to look, for want of a better word, desperate. Yesterday, SI issued a press release proclaiming the irrelevance of teacher certification:

While the voucher program does not require “certification” for their teachers, studies show certification has no statistically-significant relationship to actual teaching ability, job performance, and student achievement. The best current methodological research shows that true ability is the key to a teacher’s effectiveness, not an “official stamp of approval.”

“Teaching is both an art and a science, and teacher ‘certification’ is what it is – a certificate that says a person went through and passed a series of classes,” said Derek Monson, education policy analyst for Sutherland Institute. “While quality teachers are extremely important for student achievement, ‘certified’ does not mean ‘qualified.’”
Seems kind of a no-brainer, but if they want to call it press-release worthy, so be it. Does it mean certification is useless?

I hesitate to make a comparison between education and private business (as so many in the pro-voucher camp like to do), but for the sake of arguing with means they understand, consider if you will the IT technology fields. Specifically, network design and IT management.

It is a common misconception in the IT field that certification is the mother of all requirements to make a living as an independent contractor. Often it seems the only people concerned with certification are the groups (Cisco, IEEE, etc) who offer the certification, and competing peers in the industry. Customers don't care, and are often completely unaware of the existence or significance of technical certifications.

However, the entire industry, top to bottom, is driven by standards, and without a doubt the simple process of certification has served as a powerful force behind standard promotion, and homogeneous design and deployment. I have met technicians and IT professionals who had certifications covering every inch of their office, yet no skill whatsoever when it comes to planning, maintaining, or customer satisfaction in large or small jobs. I have also met 60 year old technicians who began their career wiring for Ma Bell who, and with no formal training have become quite adept at their work.

Regardless, if I accept the Sutherland Institute's logic in their efforts to push school vouchers on us, I would have to assume that because it isn't the ultimate litmus test for aptitude, I should disregard technical certification entirely. Because I cannot judge myself or a competitor when approaching a customer based solely on certifications, certifications are meaningless? No. In fact, certification in the technical industry, while not the central beacon of aptitude, has played a very important role in standardizing the "basics" from top to bottom. It allows manufacturers and software developers to build their product (or cirriculum if you will, to draw the comparison with education) with the understanding that with adherence to certifiable standards, their product can be deployed more effectively, and have at least a modicum of insurance that basic "best practices" will be used by a majority of technicians.

Certification in the technology industries does not guarantee a certain level of skill, but it does further ensure compliance to an extent that at least the foundation ideals will be employed before greater experience is pursued. Using a model similar to private schools and accredidation, manufactures and customers would be interacting through technicians who install the fastest, or charge the least, or even "use the most duct tape to cut connector costs." The metrics chosen to label "success" under an accredidation-like system of evaluation in a technology based endeavor would give credit of achievement possibly without consideration of actual functionality. For example, consider a computer technician in your office who plugs everything in correctly, understands basic maintenance and repair, but has this annoying habit of "not liking things on tables," and you now work at floor level. It is a primitive example, but effective.

Growing up in a "teaching" household, I have heard all of the stories. I know that any idiot can attain a certification to work in any teaching field or enterprise. I also know that without at least an attempt at standardizing "best practice" requirements for new teachers, it becomes more "art" than "science," to borrow SI's own words. There is much more to teaching than test scores and criminal background checks. Cirriculum planning is only one example of many issues left un-addressed by the Sutherland Istitutes research.

Say what you will about the failures of our public school system, or the beauty of private school (or home schooling, or charter schooling), and vote your conscience on November 6th of course, but don't disregard the importance of teacher certification because in and of itself it does not absolutely guarantee skill. Recognize the fact that certification breeds an environment where skill can develop more quickly and more effectively through a standard foundation, at bare minimum.

Dangers of Habitual Centrism

Stoller touches on an important facet of centrist positioning in the Democratic Party.

There is a real "tough guy" strain in the centrist Democratic wing of the party. We saw it with the paeans to Rahm Emanuel's vulgarity after the 2006 election. We see in with only two Bush Dogs being women. We see it in calls from DLC types who wore camouflage on election day in 2006 that Democrats need to vote conservatively on national security in order to convince Americans they will keep them safe. We even saw it during an argument over Mark Warner on Open Left last month, when the masculinity of lefties was questioned several times in the comments, and winning was framed as something only macho tough guys can do better than wimpy lefties. Centrists in the party regularly portray themselves as tougher and more macho than the left wing of the party.

This is why I find it so odd, annoying, and even amusing that the same centrist wing appears so afraid all the time. Fear seems like a good word to describe centrists and conservative Democrats in Congress, both within the leadership and within certain ideological caucuses.
Obviously, Democrats in Utah wake up each day in a world very different than say, Washington's 8th District, but it is still important to remember the prevalence of fear in many of our decisions. Stoller asserts that this is holding the national party back, and he is right. Here in Utah, the fear is more practical. If we stand up too quickly, or speak too liberally, we lose elections.

Eventually, though, those dynamics change. The fear of appearing what Republicans like to call "far-left" (which in Utah is anything left of Chris Cannon) is a survival tool for Utah Democrats today. Tomorrow, it may be simply a habit that holds us back. Currently, many Democrats in districts trending more progressive have wasted their opportunity, and are facing primary challenges from progressive activists as a result.

Something to pay close attention to, as we take back our state.

George W Bush Online Library

Welcome to the intertubes, Georgie.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Greenwald/Boylan Email Exchange

Satire:

Unfortunately, even some conservative bloggers seem to be accepting at face value Greenwald's assertion that Boylan wrote the email. Dread Pundit attempted a particularly incompetent defense of Boylan by claiming that Greenwald only published excerpts from the email in his post (although he did link to the full text) and that reading the entire email changes the meaning. A lot of other conservative bloggers seemed to buy his explanation although it is clear they didn't actually read the entire badly written and excruciatingly boring email themselves since in context the excerpts only sound worse. Dread Pundit claimed that Greenwald's use of ellipses somehow changed the meaning of what the Boylan imposter wrote and apparently thinks we have to quote every email and blog post in full from now on to avoid taking things out of context. I really hope we don't have to do that since reading blogs will become even more tedious than it already is. I think Dread Pundit just needs a lesson in how ellipses can change the meaning of something if used improperly. So here is an example of how not to use ellipses using his own post:

"Colonel Steven A. Boylan, Public Affairs Officer for General Petraeus … flirts with …Greenwald… [in] the full text of the email."

See, that would be wrong, as Nixon once said.
For a more serious take on what is mounting into an embarrassing escapade for the Petraeus camp, Greenwald himself:
(1) Col. Boylan is denying authorship of the original email to me but is acknowledging having sent the subsequent emails, even though the tracing information on all of those emails -- including the "fake" one -- strongly suggest they came from the same computer.

(2) Neither Col. Boylan nor anyone else from the U.S. military has contacted me to request that I send them the "fake" email or provide any other information about it -- something that one would expect if anyone was actually trying to determine what really happened here and find out who is sending extremely authentic-seeming emails in the name of a top military official in Iraq. That suggests there is no effort being made at all by Col. Boylan or the military to find out who the "real emailer" is. Why is that?

PCE's Mysterious Surplus of $10 Bills (or "We Would Never Do What We Just Did")


Back a bit there was an exchange with PCE and several groups, including The Utah Amicus and KVNU's For The People regarding PCE's alleged offer of $10 for a voucher vote. From the FTP Blog:

Conflicting stories regarding the Parents for Choice in Education votes-for-cash scandal are emerging. In a KVNU exclusive, field worker Brandon Dupuis will tell us tonight that the program was the brain child of the PCE central office. In contrast, Robyn Bagley of Parents for Choice in Education says PCE had nothing to do with the program.
Not much more was said, at the time, although this retraction was issued by PCE:
"It was simply incorrect and misrepresents the Free Capitalist Projects' grass roots efforts. Neither Parents for Choice in Education nor the Free Capitalist Project will ever provide incentives that appear to pay people to vote."
Today, The Utah Amicus reports (emphasis mine):
Last week Mr. Brandon Dupuis, himself, called one of our State Party interns and offered him the very incentive that Free Capitialist and Parents for Choice in Education claimed they would never do .

So what is it PCE? Are you buying votes, or not?

Anyone who wants more information can call the Utah Democratic Party at 801-328-1212.
Ironic. PCE's apparent (and repeated?) ethical challenges have been a large proponent of the anti-voucher movement, creating a "nothing these people support could be good for Utah" mentality among a growing number of voters.

Chris Cannon's Constitutional Awakening

I cannot thank Marshall enough for pointing me to Chris Cannon's blog. What entertainment, watching this man stumble through putting his thoughts to words. Already he is editing posts in reaction to comments (Misty gets full credit for this one) and reaping the rewards of self expression. Chris, we barely knew ye!

Today, Cannon lobs quite a fresh pile at us, with his apparent discovery that the US, indeed, has a little thing called the Constitution. What is behind this Cannon's enlightening rediscovery of the cornerstone of our democracy?

Flag ceremonies. He writes:

Having examined the Constitution thoroughly, I can find no “Freedom from being Offended” enumerated, read into, or floating in the ether that is the penumbra of the 14th Amendment, that offers such a right. Absurd is not even a strong enough word.
Having examined the Constitution thoroughly? PhhhhhHAAAAAAAA!

I, as every American, have the utmost respect for veterans and those who currently serve in our military. I think that it is important they honor their traditions and are allowed to show respect as they see fit to their fallen compatriots and peers. And I believe, as Cannon seems to, that no one individual should be able to say to them "this is how you will pay your respects" nor is the right to do so constitutionally protected.

What I object to in Cannon's online opining is the simple fact that this man has the sheer hutzpah to make even the slightest reference to the constitutional protection of American civil liberties.

In 2006, Cannon was one of the first to back an amendment protecting companies from future litigation after complying to surveillance requests without a warrant. In his own words:
"an individual or company will be reluctant to cooperate with any government authorized surveillance program, which will severely undercut government's efforts (to prevent terrorist attacks)."
Cannon was concerned that private companies would hesitate at violating constitutionally protect rights of American citizens, if they thought they might be breaking the law. His solution? Sanctioned immunity for such actions. A legislator, legislating the protection of a violation of legislation, and at the expense of our basic rights to privacy. It's confusing, I know. But back to flags...

The ACLU gives Cannon a whopping 7% when it comes to the protection of our civil liberties. He supports requiring photo ID in federal elections. He is against non-emergency treatment for Medicare recipients who can't afford the co-pay, yet supports capping the amount a mistreated patient can receive in a malpractice lawsuit. He voted against restricting no-bid defense contracts, and voted yes to intelligence gathering with no civil oversight. He voted to deny funding to black and Hispanic colleges, while simultaneously opposing educational aid based on race. He will tell you the importance of Blackwater contractors and how well the Iraq Occupation is going, yet avoids classified meetings, for fear that in a moment of over-powering stupidity he will leak it all to our sworn enemies abroad.

His voting record is like a trail of slime; an anti-minority, anti-women, anti-civil rights barrage of narrow-minded, short-sighted decisions that may have spoken to his base, but have not in the slightest bit represented a respect for the civil rights and opportunities of Americans. He will roll over for warrantless wire-tapping in his War on Terror, but by God, don't you dare touch his flag ceremonies!

This is not leadership, this is a warm body in a suit with party backing. Utah deserves much, much more.

Rudy Lies to Promote Privatized Health Care

His radio ad running in New Hampshire:

"My chance of surviving prostate cancer -- and thank God I was cured of it -- in the United States: 82 percent," Giuliani says in a new radio spot airing in New Hampshire. "My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England: Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine."
The problem is, that's not true. He cherry picked a statistic that supports his private health care is the best opinion and ran with it. One would imagine that a presidential campaign would check it's facts before putting out an ad (it's hard to claim a misquote when you pay someone to do it), but evidently, they didn't.
In releasing the ad, the Giuliani campaign cited statistics published in an article in the Summer 2007 issue of City Journal, an urban-policy magazine that Giuliani has pronounced himself a fan of. The article, "The Ugly Truth About Canadian Health Care," was written by David Gratzer, a physician who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and is a healthcare adviser to the Giuliani campaign.

"And if we measure a health-care system by how well it serves its sick citizens, American medicine excels. Five-year cancer survival rates bear this out," Gratzer writes. "The survival rate for prostate cancer is 81.2 percent here, yet 61.7 percent in France and down to 44.3 percent in England -- a striking variation."

The article did not name a source for those statistics. Through a spokeswoman, Gratzer said he was relying on data compiled for a 2000 study by the Commonwealth Fund, a not-for-profit foundation that supports health research.

Maria Comella, a Giuliani campaign spokesman, said the former New York City mayor is an avid reader of City Journal and found the passage in the article himself. He cited the statistics at a campaign stop, and the campaign used a recording from that appearance in the radio advertisement.

The campaign did not attempt to independently verify the statistics, Comella said.
So he reads an article, talks about it, and turns it into a radio ad. All without bothering to check the facts. It wouldn't look as bad for him, if he was right, but as Ezra Klein points out, he isn't. This is just barely above just making shit up, and I'm pretty sure you can go to hell for something like this.

Right Wing Dependency on Inequality

The boon of right-wing war-mongering uber-patriotism; a hippie with a laptop in a Starbucks, making sense.

...rising inequality, far from provoking a populist political backlash, has been accompanied by a move to the right: politicians who wanted to cut taxes on the rich and create bigger holes in the social safety net have won more elections than not. There have been setbacks: neither Reagan nor Bush succeeded in their efforts to gut Social Security, Newt Gingrich’s assault on Medicare was repulsed with heavy losses, and so on. But the drift has clearly been to the right.

Now one explanation might be that the right won the argument in the popular mind, that supply-side economics really did resonate with the public. But there’s very little evidence of that. Instead, conservatives have run on other issues – weapons of mass distraction, as I call them in Conscience of a Liberal.

Obviously national security is one of those issues, as are “moral values.” Bush won in 2004 as the nation’s defender against gay married terrorists.

But what I learned when doing research was that the most consistent source of the rightward drift of American politics in the face of growing inequality is race. In fact, the simplicity of the story is almost embarrassing: American politics changed because Southern whites started voting Republican after the civil rights movement.
Krugman (no surprise) has it with this one. Beyond failed economic policy, abuse of power, and perversion of our national foundations, the conservative right-wing has fashioned it's own coffin from a conscious obsession with inequality that America, in it's burgeoning maturity, has grown tired of.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The New Right-Wing Noise Machine

Email.

Rumormongering and whisper campaigns are as old as politics itself (throughout Thomas Jefferson's presidency opposition newspapers and pamphlets spread the word of his affair with Sally Hemings), but never has there been a medium as perfectly suited to the widespread anonymous diffusion of misinformation as e-mail. David Mikkelson, who, along with his wife, Barbara, founded and runs the website Snopes.com, knows this better than anyone. Devoted exclusively to debunking (and occasionally confirming) urban legends and e-mail-circulated apocrypha, Snopes attracts 4-5 million unique visitors a month, making it one of the Internet's most popular sites. In the early days, Mikkelson says, there were hardly any political urban legends, but that changed in 2000. "A lot of the things that were circulating in the world at large, things like ridiculing Al Gore for supposedly inventing the Internet," started to be passed along via e-mail, as well as "a photograph of Gore holding a gun intended to mock him for not holding it safely."

From the beginning, the vast majority of these Internet-disseminated rumors have come from the right. (Snopes lists about fifty e-mails about George W. Bush, split evenly between adulatory accounts of him saluting wounded soldiers or witnessing to a wayward teenager, and accounts of real and invented malapropisms. In contrast, every single one of the twenty-two e-mails about John Kerry is negative.) For conservatives, these e-mails neatly reinforce preconceptions, bending the facts of the world in line with their ideological framework: liberals, immigrants, hippies and celebrities are always the enemy; soldiers and conservatives, the besieged heroes. The stories of the former's perfidy and the latter's heroism are, of course, never told by the liberal media. So it's left to the conservative underground to get the truth out. And since the general story and the roles stay the same, often the actual characters are interchangeable.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dave Buhler: Problem Solver / Comedian

Todays Trib:

Dave Buhler wants to require business licenses for panhandlers, attract more corporate headquarters downtown, and add 1,500 housing units in the heart of Salt Lake City by 2015.

Those items highlighted the mayoral candidate's latest "to-do" list, which Buhler unveiled Friday in the west wing of the Salt Palace Convention Center.

He also dinged Ralph Becker - again - accusing his opponent of playing no relevant role in promoting downtown during an 11-year stint at the Legislature.
Repeat: Dave Buhler wants to require business licenses for for panhandlers. And therefore, Ralph Becker is not relevant.

Sometimes the funny writes itself.

Military IT Infrastructure Hacked?

Interesting (and still developing) story I've been following at Salon today. It can only be done justice in a first-hand read, but I'd like to post a quick recap for those who have missed it. In a nutshell:

Glenn Greenwald writes an article about the politicization of the US Military in Iraq, comparing military PR to that of the right-wing factions of the Republican party. Colonel Steven A. Boylan, Public Affairs Officer, personal spokesman for Gen. Petraeus, was interviewed by Greenwald for the piece, but after reading what Greenwald wrote, had an apparent meltdown, emailing a rambling, bile-filled diatribe:

You are either too lazy to do the research on the topics to gain the facts, or you are providing purposeful misinformation -- much like a propagandist. . . .

Sorry to burst your bubble, but a little actual research on your part would have shown that [Cheney P.R. aide Steve Schmidt] is actually not here, but that would contradict your conspiracy theory. . . .
Trouble is, the Colonel wrote many more paragraphs (each increasingly irate and immature), and it turns out Steve Schmidt actually was in Iraq.

Greewald publishes a follow up pointing out the irony of the politically charged email from a Colonel who "should have better things to worry about" than an article on military politicization. People following along, shocked that a military Colonel would write such a childish email begin to question it's authenticity. Greenwald emails to verify that the email received was indeed written by the Colonel, which the Colonel then denies, claiming he had nothing to do with it, and was the victim of identity theft.

Needless to say, Greenwald is skeptical.
Peter Boothe, a PhD student in the University of Oregon Computer Science Department, specializing in Internet topology, has published an analysis of the email tracking information and "conclude[d] that these two emails [the "fake" one and the real one] were written by the same person. Or, someone has hacked into the military infrastructure in an effort to discredit this one Colonel by sending cranky emails to bloggers. But one of the two, certainly."
By "Update IV" Greenwald was publishing all header and IP information from the emails for readers to verify. He was on "Update VII" when I decided to give up for the night.

I'd have never guessed US military leaders would be providing me as much high drama as the time I "took a year off" and accidentally got caught up in a full season of Days of Our Lives.

Politicized, indeed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

PPAC: Volunteer Locally for Choice

PPAC in my inbox:

Every 36 seconds a child is born into a family living in poverty. Planned Parenthood Action Council works with elected officials to press for changes in public policy to help mothers and protect children.

We need to elect local leaders who recognize that poverty, health care and choice are directly related.

Today we are asking you to exercise your vote, your choice and your voice to help us get pro-choice candidates elected to public office. Please call or email the following candidates to offer your time:
Ralph Becker—Salt Lake City Mayor
www.ralphbecker.com
Contact: Matt
Phone: 801-359-4746
Email: matt@ralphbecker.com

Liza Simpson—Park City Council
www.voteliza.com
Contact: Liza
Phone: 435-658-0556
Email: voteliza@mac.com

Luke Garrott—Salt Lake City Council 4
www.vote4luke.com
Phone: 801-604-2423
Email: lukegarrottcampaign@gmail.com

Clint Child—West Valley City Council 3
www.clintchild.com
Phone: 801-718-6934
Email: clint@clintchild.com
By volunteering on any of these campaigns you are helping to elect pro-choice leaders with strong visions for a healthy Utah. With your help, we are changing the face of politics in Utah. Thank you for your continuous support!

Sincerely,
Melissa Larsen, CSW
Executive Director

Increasing Air Strikes and the Failure of "The Surge"

In the lead up to Petraeus' Magical September Mystery Tour, Republicans were all over reports showing "progress" in Iraq. Lindsey Graham even said the progress was "beyond expectations." So why are they (and the media) keeping mum about the increase in airstrikes from 229 strikes in 2006 to over 1400 in 2007? Perhaps because even with such air support, their "the surge" is proving effective in achieving US objectives. And are the air strikes helping? Slate:

...though the shift means greater safety for our ground troops, it also generates more local hostility. Striking urban targets from the air inevitably means killing more innocent bystanders. This makes some of the bystanders' relatives yearn for vengeance. And it makes many Iraqis—relatives, neighbors, and others watching the news of the attack on television—less trusting of the American troops who are supposedly protecting them.

In a conventional war, these consequences might be deemed unavoidable side-effects. But in a counterinsurgency campaign, where the point is to sway the hearts and minds of the population, wreaking such damage is self-defeating.

The U.S. Army's field manual on counterinsurgency, which Gen. Petraeus supervised shortly before he returned to Iraq, makes the point explicitly:
An air strike can cause collateral damage that turns people against the host-nation government and provides insurgents with a major propaganda victory. Even when justified under the law of war, bombings that result in civilian casualties can bring media coverage that works to the insurgents' benefits. … For these reasons, commanders should consider the use of air strikes carefully during [counterinsurgency] operations, neither disregarding them outright nor employing them excessively.
Yet since the surge began and Gen. Petraeus shifted the strategy to counterinsurgency, the number of U.S. airstrikes has soared.
Military planners and supporters of "the surge" need to realize this is not chess, or a rousing game of Stratego. If we cannot give our troops a clear, achievable objective, we need to support them by bringing their asses home.

UPDATE: From the comments, a great article at One Utah: What's Really Happening In Iraq (h/t RMWarnick)

"So You Get Yourself a Really Big Bucket..."

Wall St. Journal:

Washington Wire was a little stunned to receive a press release today hawking disgraced former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown as “available for interviews” to discuss the wildfire crisis in Southern California.
Yep, that Michael Brown. Sitting by his phone. Right now. Waiting for it to ring. Still doing a heckuva job.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

School Voucher Experience Outside of Utah

Ezra Klein (finally) speaks up about the school voucher experience in DC so far:

I sort of want to outsource this post to Dana Goldstein, but white parents fleeing pockets of poverty is not an argument for school vouchers. What they're fleeing is the poverty -- which, at a certain density, dissolves just about any school. If everyone had a voucher, there would still be concentrated poverty in DC, and thus in its schools, and white parents would still move away so they could easily send their kids to other schools. What they're seeking is economic segregation, not school choice. And the way you achieve that is move away from poor areas. Which is something that school vouchers would not, sadly, allow poor families to do.

Of course, this argument would fall apart if voucher experiment had actually been shown to improve student scores. But that hasn't happened. In fact, it hasn't happened multiple times. But don't get me wrong: I take very serious the inequity of rich families just wandering off from pockets of poverty, leaving the areas all the worse off for their increasing economic homogeneity. So I support a broad range of economic integration measures, ranging from housing vouchers to legislating integration into appropriate school districts. But school vouchers don't show much hope as the answer to that problem.

Women in Politics

A few weeks ago, Misty (who still doesn't show up on the Bloghive) asked where all the female bloggers in Utah are hiding. For me, the question grows more relevant each day, as political activism becomes more accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Perhaps an insight into possible answers (though not "the" answer), at least when it comes to political blogging, is the discussion that took place yesterday at the Politics and the "F" Word: Does Feminism Matter? panel, hosted by the Women's Campaign Forum and NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Melissa Ryan of MyDD:

Currently women hold just under 25% of elected offices in the United States. How do we get more women elected? And more importantly: How will the agenda change when there are more women holding elected office? Lynne Brown talked about the importance of creating a pipeline of talented women who can work their way up from local to federal office while Julie Menin stressed that having more women in office would lead to more action on issues that matter to women and families saying: "from a woman's right to choose, elder care, and childcare women have unique perspectives."

It was the concept of a legislative agenda driven primarily by women that really struck me. Obviously not all women are progressive Democrats, but if women held 75% of elected offices instead of 25% would our government's priorities become more progressive by default? Would Hillary Clinton be the same kind of Senator? Would universal health care, pre-K, even universal daycare pass through State Legislatures or Congress without controversy?

Panelist Janice Min, Editor-In-Chief of US Weekly offered some insight into why more women aren't interested in politics. Her inclusion might seem odd but in a media climate where politicians are turned into celebrities it made perfect sense. I wish that we'd heard more of her perspective, especially since my impression is that she's slightly turned off by politics herself. Ms. Min talked about how young educated women often wouldn't consider even getting politically involved, in part because they think the process is so frustrating that no one can really make a difference.

The solution to this apathy is of course more women candidates.
More from the Women's Campaign Forum: She Should Run.

More on Matheson's Dues

I'd like to expand a bit on Craig's post.

Matheson obviously sits in an always perilous position as a Democrat in Utah. He must maintain the elusive balance of progressive and moderate ideas inside of a predominantly conservative state.

Regardless, he has a responsibility, as a recipient of progressive support, to do what he can for progressive ideals in perhaps more "safe" political climates nationwide, without damaging his own position. No time soon will he be faced with a primary challenger from political activists, but he should support the idea in other areas, where appropriate and practical. Every effort he makes to aide the advance of progressive politics only serves to strengthen his own future, and if he can do so simply by returning money to the organizations who have supported him, he has no excuse to hesitate.

Those of you interested in further information on moderate "Democrats" withholding their dues, check out Chris Bowers dissection of "reasons" at OpenLeft, and if you get a statement from Matheson, pitch it into their comments section.

Matheson is not a direct target of the Bush Dog Campaign, but this is definitely an opportunity for him to show his colors and support progressive Democrats with very little personal political risk. How he responds is important, and deserves a national audience.

Mark Towner Has No Morals and Eats Kittens!

Eh, that might not be true. I just thought it would be fun to type that title.

I learned it from him.

Also, it's inept "sting operations" I find funny, not plane crashes. No matter what you might hear elsewhere.

Value Voters Co-Opt Language of the Civil Rights Movement

TAP has an interesting perspective on the new rhetoric of the Christian conservative movement, raising it's head at the Value Voter's Summit:

From the press conference opposing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, featuring black speakers from the FRC offshoot Network of Politically Active Christians, to Jackson's panel on racial reconciliation in the church, to Gary Bauer's unhinged speech equating people who are pro-choice with slave owners, there was increased energy devoted to turning civil rights rhetoric on its head. Portraying LGBT people, feminists, and pro-choice advocates as oppressors keeping Christians from practicing their faith, "back of the bus" became the shorthand for this perceived oppression -- and a rallying cry for white and black Christians to join hands in the fight.
Despite the creativity of such a tactic, it's a hard sell for conservative Christians, who in recent history have been represented more broadly in American politics, thanks to forceful lobbying, than any other special interest group. Nor are they a minority, suffering at the hands of government neglect. Their pretense to the contrary is an affront to the civil-rights movement, and those who have experienced real oppression in this country.

It has always struck me as "off" that this movement finds such offense at being told they cannot push their values on others, and it is even more strange that they are now claiming suffrage themselves.

Clever strategy, but deceitful. Which is, to my knowledge, not a Christ-like trait.

Early Voting

You too can now start voting. For those of us in Weber county, here's where.

Weber

Weber County Library - Huntsville
131 S 7400 E
Huntsville, UT 84317

North Ogden City Offices
505 E 2600 N
North Ogden, UT 84414
Weber County Library - Roy
1950 W 4800 S

Roy, UT 84067
Weber County Offices
Weber Center
No times listed there, I'll see what I can find out.

Update - 1:46
From the comments (thanks rmwarnick)

Don't forget to ask for a paper ballot (or you can bring your mail-in ballot and just drop it off).

And the times for Weber county are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (at least for the Roy location, that's who I called, but I assume it would be the same for the whole county)

Matheson Hasn't Paid His DCCC Dues

Along with a few other Blue/Bush Dogs, Jim Matheson hasn't paid his dues to the DCC, from Politico:

A large group of “Blue Dog” Democrats has refused to give money to the party’s campaign committee so far this cycle, underscoring simmering tension inside the Caucus and concerns about the caustic language of at least one anti-war Democrat.

According to a review of Federal Election Commission records, 15 Blue Dogs have given no money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as of Sept. 30, despite heavy pressure from party leaders.

(...)

A number of the Blue Dogs who have not paid their DCCC dues have piled up huge amounts of cash in their reelection campaigns while sitting on choice committees.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) has $752,626 in cash in his campaign coffers but has not donated to the DCCC. He could not be reached for comment.
This basically amounts to Matheson not wanting to get other democrats elected, thus not keeping the majority in the house. Maybe he has reasons, lets find out, here's a contact form, or if you'd rather do it the old fashioned way . . .
1323 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone - (202) 225-3011
Fax - (202) 225-5638


240 East Morris Avenue #235
South Salt Lake, UT 84115
Phone - (801) 486-1236
Fax - (801) 486-1417


321 North Mall Dr., #E101B
St. George, UT 84790
Phone - (435) 627-0880
Fax - (435) 627-1473


Carbon County Courthouse
120 East Main Street
Price, UT 84501
Phone - (435) 636-3722
Fax - (435) 613-1834

Toll-Free Number 1 (877) 677-9743
UPDATE (JasonThe): It's important to recognize we're not talking about a $10 country club membership here. The price tag is somewhere in the $1.5k range, enough to make or break any Democratic candidate's campaign elsewhere in the nation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kucinich's Close Encounter

Political Books:

Apparently, Kucinich "had a close sighting over my home in Graham, Washington, when I lived there," the actress, a close Kucinich friend, wrote. "Dennis found his encounter extremely moving. The smell of roses drew him out to my balcony where, when he looked up, he saw a gigantic triangular craft, silent, and observing him. It hovered, soundless, for 10 minutes or so, and sped away with a speed he couldn't comprehend. He said he felt a connection in his heart and heard directions in his mind."
Run for President, Dennis. Run!

Bush Cuts Home Heating Aide for Poor

Tax the poor, make them fight your war, deny their children health insurance, then freeze them out of their homes.

While President Bush is seeking nearly $200 billion dollars to fight wars overseas, not enough money is available at home for a program to help low-income households pay their heating bills. Reuters reports about 30 million low-income American households will be left in the cold because of a lack of funding for the government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program only has enough funding to cover 16 percent of the 38 million poor households eligible for the program. Despite higher energy costs, the Bush administration has proposed cutting the program's budget.
The words "compassionate conservative" have about as much meaning these days as "extended warranty."

Jon Swift and Glenn Beck

Possibly the funniest blogger, ever, weighs in Glenn Beck's "burn them at the stake" rhetoric.

Fires are not the only kind of natural disaster where the almost Pollyannaish Beck has emphasized the positive. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, he pointed out that the people who stayed behind were actually "scumbags" who basically got what they deserved so we don't really need to feel sorry for them. Of course, some of the people who lost their homes were not scumbags, but focusing on their tragedy would be too much of a downer for Beck. It would be like talking about all the people who died in Iraq instead of focusing on all the good news, like the fact that Iraq might have electricity by the year 2013. I must admit that Beck does make me feel a lot better about what happened to New Orleans.

While a lot of conservatives see immigration as a big problem, Beck does not just complain about it. Instead, he has sought out the kind of solutions that can turn a negative into a positive. "The country needs cheap, alternative fuel source," he said on his radio show. "Two, the human body is 18 percent carbon. Three, carbons can be turned into hydrocarbons. Four, we have a buttload of illegal aliens in our country." The solution: turn the bodies of illegal aliens into a fuel called Mexinol. Of course, Beck was only joking, but I think his little joke gives you a good idea of the kind of mind he has, the kind of mind that sees every problem as a means to a solution.
What always gets me about Jon Swift's satire is how often you find someone, in the comments, missing the tongue-in-cheek and professing a like-minded opinion.

Ah, Republicans. Is there no end to the joy they bring us?

SE Voucher Column: Unions Hate Kids, Love Abortion

That's what the title of Teresa Hislop's column, "A vote for vouchers put students ahead of the union," would have you believe. And it is a window of sorts into many Utahn's "reasoning" in the voucher debate.

As a UEA/NEA member, I attended meetings and even made phone calls encouraging citizens to vote for candidates labeled "education-friendly" by the union. In my experience, union members always chose teachers over students. When teacher and student needs paralleled, the students benefited. However when union wants conflicted with students' best interests, the union's desires always won out. NEA, the national teachers' union that donated $1.5 million to defeat vouchers, also spends money to promote condoms in schools, abortion on demand, gun control and non-traditional values.

UEA/NEA puts union needs first. Parents put children's needs first.
Unions trying to get candidates elected under a banner of common interests shouldn't surprise anyone. What is surprising is the news Hislop "breaks" in her column: These rogue, unchecked unions go out lobbying all willy-nilly with no regard for what people actually want. Gasp! And "...when union wants conflicted with students' best interests, the union's desires always won out." So I'm curious. Are there examples to cite? Anything to back that statement up? Or is Hislop just not a fan of unions personally, finding fault anytime a union has successfully campaigned for an issue? And of course, let's not forget to tack on that condom/abortion/gun control line for good measure (Damn PCE already used that Ted Kennedy idea). But questions remain.

Even if Hislop is -- by shear luck -- onto something, how exactly do comdoms, abortion, and gun control benefit a union against the wishes of the people? The implication is that a union (or interest group, or lobbying endeavor of any kind that might be at odds with Hislop's personal politics) is not representing people, only the elusive and mythical "union."
Vouchers will return a measure of accountability to the educational system. Under the current educational monopoly, there is no need for schools to respond to parental concerns. Parents anxious about class size, track assignment (in year-round schools), choice of classroom teacher or curriculum that promotes nontraditional values have little recourse under the current system.

They can live with the decisions that are made without their input or home school their children. Vouchers give parents a choice; they introduce accountability to the consumer into the educational system.
One could have let the condom/abortion/gun control/illegal immigrants/terrorist/high taxes/gays/tree-hugging-hippies argument above go, but that was the high point of Hislop's reasoning. Vouchers, she says, by not holding private schools accountable for accredidation or teacher certification, are returning a measure of accountability to the educational system, as parents will then have the option to place children in schools where there is not a single condom within 100 yards (unless those schools are anywhere near a convenience store, grocery store...etc). Also, vouchers are creating choice for parents.

What a pleasant surprise. I thought the voucher proposition was to further fund the choice parents already have through open enrollment and private schools, with the opposition arguing it is a waste of tax payers dollars, and harmful to our public schools. If you thought we were debating state funding for privatized schooling, you (and I) were wrong. Hislop, thankfully, reminds us we are, as always, debating the age old "good vs. evil," the eternal battle between Conservatives and Dirty Pinko Hippies.
Though some claim that vouchers benefit only the rich, the opposite is true. Wealthy people already have school choice. Because they have the funds, they can choose private schools should they so desire.
Even if I accept the evilness of condoms and gun-control and hippies in this voucher debate (huh? Exactly), being one of the afore mentioned "some," I must check her math a bit.

According to the Sutherland Institute the average cost of a private school is $4,500 per student. The maximum voucher (given to the lowest income bracket) is $3,000. So how many households making $43,290 or less a year can make up the difference and send their kids to a private school. And that's per student, so if you have three kids, you'll be looking at $4,500, in tuition (I won't even get into the additional costs like transportation).

Looking at the numbers it seems unlikely that many low income families will be utilizing vouchers to send their children to private schools. On the other end of the spectrum, those in the $120,000 + range ($119,048 to be exact) are eligible for a $500 per child voucher. The math breaks down to about the same relative amount of tuition not covered by the voucher (it looks like about 3%, sans calculator) for those around $40,000 and those around $120,000. When you compare someone making $30,000 with someone making $160,000 (the portion of income needed to fund the remainder of tuition not covered by vouchers is 5% and 2.5% respectivly at those levels, again, per student) the variation is more extreme.

Assuming an average of three kids (I literally just pulled that number out of the air) that's 15% ($4,500) of the $30k family's income. Yes, in a bottom-line family budget it will be cheaper for the $30k family to send their three kids to private school, but that doesn't mean it will be any more realistic, as anyone with 3 actual kids would be able to tell you; the bottom line rarely exists in the family budget. A $200k family with three kids would be more likely to spend $12,000 of their own money, and $1,500 of Utah's taxpayers at large.

But back to those Messengers of Darkness, the Union leaders. Unions don't loose anything unless they loose union members. If public schools are losing teachers because they have lost students to private schools due to vouchers, it won't be because low income families are trying to hold the school accountable, it will be because high income families are taking advantage of a government handout.

Those Dirty Fucking Hippies.

Bill Maher On Lapel Pins

You knew he'd have something to say about the flag pins.

New Rule: Show me a man wearing an American flag pin in his lapel, and I'll show you an asshole. I'm sure there are exceptions, but in general people need to remember that lapels aren't for wearing pins to create the illusion that you're supporting the troops. They're for wearing ribbons to create the illusion that you're helping cure a disease.

(...)

this generation doesn't do real sacrifice or even pay for our own wars. That's what grandkids are for! No, we do flag pins and bumper stickers. And not even bumper stickers. Bumper magnets. Because stickers are tough to get off, and we may change our mind about never forgetting.

When I see the little flag right here, the first thing I think is, you voted for, and still like, George Bush, the man who has gotten more troops unnecessarily killed and maimed by failing to plan for their mission, by pushing their units to the breaking point, by letting his corporate enablers like Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater rape and pillage not just the Iraqis, but our own army.
This was right up Maher's alley, because it was non news. Who cares what someone has on their lapel, as Jason pointed out, there was actual news to cover when everyone was talking about lapel pins.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Who Ya Gonna Call?



DCI Counterterrorist Center "Terrorist Buster" Logo

Not a joke.

I feel so safe.

(h/t Hendrik Hertzberg)

Ogden to Add Surveillance Cameras

I'm sticking to my Paranoid Conspiracy Theory. From the Standard-Examiner:

Residents could be seeing surveillance cameras pop up in such strange places as trailheads and street corners.

Surveillance cameras are nothing new in Ogden.

About 150 cameras have already been placed around Ogden, including at The Junction, the public safety building, the municipal building and the intermodal hub at 23rd Street and Wall Avenue, said Richard Brookins, manager of the city’s police fleet and facilities.

Police are looking to add 20 cameras over the next six months so busy public areas, such as Historic 25th Street and high-traffic trails, can be better monitored, he said.

“It’s a tool,” said Assistant Chief Wayne Tarwater, “just another enforcement tool.”

Welcome to the Panopticon


Science Fiction meets reality:

This city, famous for being America's playground, has also become its security lab. Like nowhere else in the United States, Las Vegas has embraced the twin trends of data mining and high-tech surveillance, with arguably more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. Even the city's cabs and monorail have cameras. As the U.S. government ramps up its efforts to forestall terrorist attacks, some privacy advocates view the city as a harbinger of things to come. [...] "You could almost look at Vegas as the incubator of a whole host of surveillance technologies," said James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology. Those technologies, he said, have spread to other commercial venues: malls, stadiums, amusement parks.
As Congress battles retro-active immunity and blanket warrants in the FISA legislation, we have to ask ourselves how much freedom we will sacrifice in fear of the elusive (and ever present) boogeyman:
The Panopticon, while originally envisioned as a prison, seems like it would make for an effective model for a government as well.

Under this model the government would install a means for watching the movements and actions of it's citizens, while maintaining a veil of silence and\or secrecy about it's own under-takings. The simplest guise for this would be that it's all in the interest of National Security.

Any government that was intent on maintaining it's control of its citizens would likely see this as the optimal means to do so. Not as much time and energy would need to be spent on locating criminals and preventing crime, because the crime rates should reduce drastically since everybody knows that they are being watched at every moment.

[...] the means to monitor everybody need not even exist, let alone be installed. The population just needs to be convinced that somebody may very well be watching right now, and they will modify their behavior accordingly.

Some Humor To Start The Week

Coffee nearly came out of my nose I laughed so hard when I saw this.

profile change Fred Thompson added "Convincing everyone my presidential run isn't really Method-style research for a movie role" to his Interests.

Mike Huckabee joined the group Young Earth Creationism.

John McCain is appealing to Ron Paul for fundraising tips.

Rudy Giuliani is wondering how he can fit 9/11 into a speech about agriculture policy.

Mitt Romney is shredding some old speeches.

Mitt Romney joined the group "Pro-Lifers."

Mitt Romney left the group "Pro-Choicers."

Mike Huckabee added "Entrusting the female body to the care of loving, paternal legislators" to his Interests.

Fred Thompson is loving playing the low-expectations game. Just be marginally awake, and you win!

Pat Robertson wrote on Rudy Giuliani's Wall:

You're not fooling anyone, pal. The Right doesn't need Facebook to win -- it needs Faithbook! You can quote me on that.

Rudy Giuliani added "God and lots of God-related things, like Bibles and stuff " to his Interests.

(...)

Status Updates

Mitt Romney is learning the "lingo" of the "information superhighway."

Fred Thompson is napping.

John McCain is looking for spare change between couch cushions.
Yep, People For the American Way made a fake facebook website for the Republican presidential nominees, and it's pretty damn funny. I like Rudy's interests:
Interests: Trying to make up for my pro-choice views in the eyes of right-wing voters by pretty much promising I'll bomb Iran as soon as I take my hand off the Bible I'm sworn in on.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Retro-active Immunity and Legal Integrity

Congressional Democrats have faced "retro-active immunity" before. In 1965 after a group of banks merged in violation of anti-trust laws, and were ruled against by a federal judge, they brought the issue to congress and received a very different response than we see today. Greenwald:

But the very concept of retroactive amnesty -- the idea that corporations could break the law and then have Congress pass a special law legalizing their lawbreaking conduct -- was so profoundly offensive to Sen. Robert Kennedy (who had been the Attorney General when the banks broke the law with their mergers), as well as then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, that they engaged in extraordinary efforts to try to put a stop to this Congressional travesty [...]

The Democratic Party has gone from Robert Kennedy and Nicholas Katzenbach standing up eloquently and aggressively for the rule of law (h/t reader JF) -- even in the face of fear-mongering claims that undoing those mergers would cripple the economy -- to Jay Rockefeller plotting in secret for months with Dick Cheney as to how they can protect lawbreaking telecoms from the court battles they are losing and immunize them from the consequences of their criminal conduct in allowing warrantless spying for years on American citizens.

That steeply downward fall -- from Robert Kennedy and the rule of law to the Cheney/Rockefeller telecom amnesty deal -- illustrates so many things about what has happened to our country.

Friday, October 19, 2007

FISA Hold Pays Off for Dodd

This is great:

Senator Dodd's campaign communications director Hari Sevugan tells me that $150,000 in small contributions have poured into Dodd's campaign in the past 24 hours, since his announcement that he will put a hold on--and may even filibuster--a foreign intelligence surveillance bill approved yesterday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Dodd objects to a provision that would grant immunity to the telecommunications companies that turned over their customers' phone and e-mail records to the government's warrantless surveillance program.

Books For Burma Project

Get involved:

Books for Burma is a volunteer-run project that collects and distributes books and educational resources to Burmese activists and refugees in Asia.

Dozens of people from around the world helped launch Books for Burma in November 2006 by donating over 300 books during our first internet book drive. We've been shipping books to our partner organizations in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia ever since!

More information on the background situation and why we started Books for Burma is available here.

You can help support Books for Burma by donating books, money, or time. Click here to learn more about how you can get involved and contribute.

We are currently accepting book donations in the following categories:
* English as a Second Language - reading, writing, and grammar from beginner to advanced.
* Graded Readers - non-fiction books written in simple English for early or ESL readers.
* Reference - pocket dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, or atlases for children and adults.
* Human Rights
* Educational CD-Roms or DVDs
* Magazines - subscriptions or back issues of educational or current events magazines
Our complete donation guidelines and wishlist are available here. Please contact us for details on how and where to send books for donation.
UPDATE: Burma News International: Considering the effort and risk involved with getting information into and out of the area, it's amazing (and important) that this site even exists.

More on Political Identity

I had planned to follow up on Craig's post on economic tax policy today, and our "financial" economy as opposed to healthy capitalism, but it seems I've been derailed by this idea of political and national identity.

Paul Rosenberg at OpenLeft has written extensively about the "liberal identity" (or realignment, rather) that challenges the effectiveness of a progressive movement in congress, but Ezra Klein today speculates on a similar re-definition in the conservative ranks:

The basket of policies pushed by recent conservative politicians have done very poorly. And they're sort of the basket voters need to be evaluating when trying to judge conservatism and the candidates who pledge fealty to it. Any Marxist will tell you that "real" Marxism was never tried. That said, just about every time something called Marxism was tried, it traveled down much the same course, and failed in much the same way. Which is what you should be passing judgment on. Similarly, conservatism isn't ending up in this mess by accident. The constellation of interest groups and donors who fund the movement, when mixed with the preferences of the electorate (no, you can't take away my Medicare or cut my Social Security), tend to produce a fairly predictable and similar set of policies -- tax cuts without spending restraint, corporate welfare, weak energy policy, no health care program to speak of, etc, etc. In essence, that set of policies is what conservatism becomes in office. And so it's the set that should be evaluated. [...]

What's the recent, conservative, domestic idea that right-leaning folks can point to proudly? The closest I can come is No Child Left Behind, which has some worth (though does need reform) -- but massively expanding federal oversight over public education isn't a very conservative thought, and the bill was crafted by Ted Kennedy. I know the Right is proud of welfare reform, but what's the successor?
The GOP is beginning to show signs of wear with their abandonment of fiscally conservative ideas and small government practices.

As a personal example, I have a close friend who is a proud, registered Republican, in the traditional sense. He has always opposed certain social-aid programs, simply because he views them as ineffective in addressing larger problems, while doing very little to help users of the programs eventually break dependency on the aide. He experienced his greatest sense of nationalistic pride during the Gulf War, where we "got in, kicked some ass, and got out." He felt similar support, after 9/11, when we launched an defensive effort in Afghanistan. Now he finds himself at odds with his own party. He loathes talk of the federal deficit, or the cost of our Iraqi Occupation. He is frustrated by dirty politics and bully pulpit rhetoric. He believes the government has no place in our bedrooms, or personal lives, outside of enforcing the rule of law. And in his own words, he is "disillusioned" with the conservative agenda. The "meat," he says, "of the GOP has been allowed to rot."

When it comes to political identity, a person adopts the "philosophy" of similar minds and policies that speak to their own perception of progress and achievement. Whatever gives them a sense of national pride and security, if you will. Inside todays GOP, the fracturing effects of fiscal irresponsibility, failing foreign policy, and internal culture wars have reduced organizational tactics to little more than vapid talking points and empty rhetoric. There is no "meat." Conservative policy is too often defended by attacking the personal merits of the opposition rather than evidenced argument to support existing policy or ideas for change.

In defending a broad, endless "War on Terror" (at all costs) with no achievable goals, failing economic policies, and campaigns of fear and smear, the conservative movement has lost it's identity and it's ability to speak to the American people as an effective governing force. The GOP's future depends on a return, of sorts, to it's economic roots. But to do so, they will have to give up on "spreading Democracy" (i.e. "empire building"), and the control of the religious-right, as well as invasive social policies that demand larger government, in order to redefine themselves as true "small government, fiscal conservatives."

Will such a political realignment occur? It all depends on the answer, or perhaps more important, the reaction to a lack of an answer, be as it may, to Ezra's question: "What's the recent, conservative, domestic idea that right-leaning folks can point to proudly?"

Bipartisanship That Matters

While we're on the topic of our national identity:

Leading Democratic and Republican congressmembers are calling on the Bush administration to apologize to Maher Arar for his wrongful imprisonment and torture. Arar is the Canadian citizen seized by U.S. officials during a stopover flight in New York in 2002. He was secretly sent to Syria as part of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. In Syria, Arar was held for almost a year in a grave-like cell and repeatedly tortured. He was released without ever being charged with a crime.

On Thursday, Arar testified to the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee by video-conference because he remains barred from entering the United States. The Bush administration maintains that Arar poses a national security threat. Democratic Congressmember Gerald Nadler of New York said he reviewed Arar’s confidential file and found the government has no evidence against him. Nadler said: “This was a kidnapping… There is nothing there to justify the continuation of this campaign of vilification against you or to deny you entry into this country.” Republican Congressmember Dana Rohrabacher, a backer of the administration’s rendition program, added: “I join in offering an apology and I wish our government could join me in doing this officially.”
Normally I'm not one for "bipartisan" bandwagon (some of our greatest achievements as a country have come from very partisan ideas and debate), but this is something important it seems both sides of the isle agree, which is encouraging.

Comcast Violates Net Neutrality

Is this the first step towards a non neutral internet? From TPM:

Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.
Now this isn't exactly giving certain companies preferential treatment because they pay more, although I'm sure a lot of people in the music and movie industries are glad Comcast is doing this. It does seem like taking advantage of something that congress has yet to act on, and it's really only down hill from here (ask a Verizon user about how much you can trust telcos).


Save the Internet: Click here

Right-Wing Mentality: Weekly Standard vs. The Constitution

Emerging from the core of right-wing agenda is a deep misunderstanding of what "freedom," "patriotism," and even "America" means. Greenwald explains:

Every now and then, a right-wing pundit says something that illustrates the underlying mentality of their movement so vividly that it is worth pausing and briefly examining. In responding to one of my posts on telecom amnesty, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb explains the obligations of patriotic corporate citizens in America:
[I]f federal agents show up at a corporate headquarters for a major American company and urgently seek that company's officers for assistance in the war on terror, the companies damn well ought to give it as a matter of simple patriotism, whether the CIA wants a plane for some extraordinary rendition or help in tracking terrorists via email. . . . [T]o expect a company to resist a plea from the government for help in a time of war is ridiculous.
So when "federal agents" come knocking at your door and issue orders, you better "damn well" obey -- you had better not "resist" -- otherwise we'll lose our freedoms. As always, the heart of "patriotism," in the Weekly Standard worldview, is blind faith in our Leaders. [The one other time we looked at Goldfarb, he was insisting that in wartime, the President must wield what he called "near dictatorial power"].
No intelligent American expects anything more from The Weekly Standard (who defy all reasonable laws of physics in simply maintaining a readership, despite their reputation for shoddy reporting), but Greenwald is right. Those on the right are not focusing on "freedom" anymore than AT&T was focusing on the rule of law when they rolled over for the White House. Freedom is just a buzz-word for them, something they no longer think of in conjunction with thoughts on an American identity.

To them, we have become a country of fear with no greater future but to forever react to the threat of Al Qaeda. We no longer make decisions as America, Land of the Free, but rather America, Guided by Terrorists.

Chris Dodd may not be your first choice to receive the presidential nomination, but he deserves our support for his hold on the new FISA bill after the juvenile republican amendment. It is nice to see that at least one representative of the American people is willing to take action to protect the constitution.

Also, Eric Cantor, the man so proud of his work on the amendment and his mockery of our constitutionally protected civil-liberties, has a blog. He doesn't accept dissenting comments (believe me, I tried), but it's still a good idea to let him know how we feel.

Both Parties Oppose Vouchers

From the Deseret News:

"I respectfully disagree with my Republican colleagues who support the flawed voucher law," said Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful. "Utah voters, especially Republican voters, need to hear from Republican lawmakers that this law has too many flaws and will cost too much money — money that could be spent in our public schools."

(...)

While GOP lawmakers who support vouchers urged voters to read the two bills that could establish the voucher program, Allen said she also wants citizens to read the impartial voter information packet that "describes the costs and so-called savings associated with Referendum 1."

(...)

"We have funded education in the state through our entire history, through the Depression and thick and thin," said Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield. "Now we find ourselves with the fewest numbers of kids per family and the strongest economy in our state's history and they are saying, 'We can't afford to fund our kids' education'... Citizens should know that we will continue to educate our kids in the state (in a system) that gives us the biggest bang for our buck."

Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, also said he wanted to dispel the myth that vouchers will lower Utah's large class sizes.

"If you reduce the number of students in a school, then you reduce the number of teachers as well. ... Vouchers will not change that," Mascaro said.

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimates a reduction of three students, at most, per school per year, he said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fred Thompson Shows His Economic Background (Yet Again)

In a related story, I agree with Nixon.

new transcripts from the Nixon White House tapes reveal that the Nixon administration regarded Thompson as a useful idiot -- "dumb as hell," in President Nixon's words
I didn't expect to find myself agreeing with Richard Nixon, well, ever. In this case, I can't help it. Watching the Republican debate on economic policy on Oct. 9th made me realize that while there were several candidates on the stage that night, there was really only one policy: tax cuts will make the economy grow. A few months earlier, The Idiot (Nixon's word) took things a step further and said that cutting taxes will raise government tax revenue.
So it's not that funny, but there is reason to smile this tax season. The results of the experiment that began when Congress passed a series of tax-rate cuts in 2001 and 2003 are in. Supporters of those cuts said they would stimulate the economy. Opponents predicted ever-increasing budget deficits and national bankruptcy unless tax rates were increased, especially on the wealthy.

In fact, Treasury statistics show that tax revenues have soared and the budget deficit has been shrinking faster than even the optimists projected. Since the first tax cuts were passed, when I was in the Senate, the budget deficit has been cut in half.
This would be great news for Republicans, if it were true. As he has in the past The Idiot (Nixon's thought so) is cooking the books.

Paul Krugman explains.
The Bushies have used rising tax receipts since 2004 as supposed proof that tax cuts pay for themselves — carefully ignoring the fact that revenues plunged in the early years of the administration, and that the subsequent rapid growth basically just gets us back to the previous trend. Also, they’ve pretended not to notice that mainly the revenue comes from an incredible surge in corporate profits, the byproduct of an economy in which economic growth leaves most workers behind.

But anyway, the revenue surge is over.
Notice that Krugman points out that tax receipts have been rising since 2004, not 2001. It seems like The Idiot (Nixon's description) said that the tax cuts he helped pass in 2001 didn't increase tax revenue, or pay for themselves. Then we get to the real problem with the Laffer Curve theory behind the Republican supply side dream economy.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Laffer Curve is a graph that basically shows that at some tax rate between 0% and 100% the maximum tax revenue will be gained. As the tax rate increases from 0%, where no revenue is gained because there is no tax, tax revenues increase up to the point where the incentive to work is countered by the additional burden of tax. At this point an increase in the tax rate has either no effect, or a negative effect on the amount of tax revenue. The reasoning behind it has been spewed from every right wing pundit you've ever seen on teevee discussing tax policy, but if I'm going to be taxed 99 cents and get 1 cent, I'm probably not going to work (and definitely not if I'm taxed 100 cents and get none, hence the maximum tax revenue is found at a tax rate somewhere between 0 and 100%).

So the principle that The Idiot (Nixon, seriously!) and his fellow presidential hopefuls are basing their economic policy off of is that we are currently past the tax rate that maximizes tax revenue. We are taxing our people so much that we are discouraging them from working. If we backed off on the taxey taxey a little, they'd work more, and our tax revenues would increase since the lower tax rate would be made up for by the increased income. We'd throw a party, a good time would be had by all.

Of course if they're wrong, and we aren't past the magical tax rate, decreasing the tax rate would also decrease tax revenue. And since we're at war we know the Republicans wouldn't let us deficit spend, they're conservatives. Which rhymes with fiscal conservative. They would wouldn't put us in the hole.

Except, they would. Again, from Krugman.
To put this in perspective, here’s revenue as a percent of GDP since Clinton took office:
Chart: Revenue as Percent of GDP Since 1993


So everything you’ve heard about how revenues have boomed since the Bush tax cuts is wrong. What really happened? The revenue plunged, as a percent of GDP, in the early Bush years, then staged a partial, but only partial, recovery. And that recovery seems to have run its course.
Thompson is an idiot (my word this time, although I hear Nixon agrees). The Republican's stood on stage and talked about cutting taxes to help the economy, and cut the deficit (except Ron Paul, but let's be realistic here Ron Paul supporters, I've got better odds of winning the lottery than he does of winning the Republican nomination). Jason's post yesterday asked:
Do American's really understand economic theory enough to know what it is that best represents their values, and if not, how do they make those decisions when it comes time to vote? And isn't this further complicated if voters are pretending different values in order to avoid perceived economic burdens?
When you've got an entire party's worth of nominees (Ron Paul excepted) repeating the same unsupported claim and calling it an economic policy, I have to ask myself 'How can the voters ever be expected to understand what they're voting for when the politicians either don't get it or are so willing to mislead them about their economic goals?' This is how Thompson, The Idiot (me and Nixon), ended his column:
To face these challenges, and any others that we might encounter in a hazardous world, we need to maintain economic growth and healthy tax revenues. That is why we need to reject taxes that punish rather than reward success. Those who say they want a "more progressive" tax system should be asked one question:

Are you really interested in tax rates that benefit the economy and raise revenue--or are you interested in redistributing income for political reasons?
It seems his own answer would be the latter.

Slow Death of the GOP: Health Care and Wire-tapping

The conservative solution to the health care problem? Don't get sick, hurt, or old.

Ezra elaborates on the dumb:

After looking at the Kaiser comparison of McCain's plan, I wandered over to McCain's site to read it in full, and make sure I wasn't just looking at a bad summary. Luckily, it was short. "Straight Talk on Heath Care," it's called. "John McCain is willing to address the fundamental problem: the rapidly rising cost of U.S. health care," which is quite brave of him. Also, not true.

It's another of these plans to sprinkle magical tax credits all across the land that will incentivize folks to buy less health insurance, but do absolutely nothing for the cost of care. Families get a $5,000 tax credit to help them buy insurance, and they can keep what they don't use, and so the hope is, they'll buy plans with higher deductibles, be unable to afford the deductibles, and will thus buy less care. It's like if I tried to make food cheaper by encouraging you to diet.
And Paul Krugman reminds us that every Republican Presidential candidate is trying to sell a similar impossible solution to solve our country's health care woes:
I’m not exaggerating. Here’s what Mitt Romney said about what ails American health care, in his slide show:

-The tax code creates an incentive for over-insurance and over-use of the health care system
-Individuals don’t get the value they would otherwise prefer
-Leads to excessive, unnecessary health care spending
I think it's important for us to remember we've been here before. The Republicans also engaged in a long fight against federal health care assistance for people over 65 (which they lost, ironically, in nineteen-sixty-five, how's that for karma?), and recently, there is at least one story in the news nearly every day about the gap between conservatives and reality when it comes to our health care. The Republican party will asuage us with their "concerns" for tax payer dollars and bloated, far-reaching federal government programs.

A very hard story to pitch when you're using our tax dollars to sniff through our garbage and wire-tap our phones.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Economics of Getting a Free Puppy


You thought this would be political of nature, huh? Nope, just a real offer for a free puppy. I found it in the flower garden outside my place, and I can't keep it myself.

Seems to be a 2(ish) month old male Collie/German Short-hair (?) mix. Very smart. Very friendly. Very lonely and scared.

If anyone is willing to give it a good home, I'd foot the bill to have it neutered when it comes of age to do so. Hell, I'll even deliver him to you.

Interested parties: thesidetrack@gmail.com

And since I am supposed to write about politics, not puppies (that's Michelle Malkin's job... she eats them), let me point you toward JM Bell's perfect summation of the travesty that is Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon putting big words to tiny thoughts on SCHIP.

Mechanical Economics

2007's Economic Nobel was awarded to Leonid Hurwicz, Eric S. Maskin, and Roger B. Myersonfor for their dissection of the "mechanism design theory" of economies and nations.

Who cares, you say? I can understand that. Economic understanding is a driving factor behind nearly every political debate or decision we make as individuals and obviously as a nation, but it is often so insufferably boring to read about (no offense to my fellow SideTrack-ean who managed to somehow fool a university into giving him a degree for doing just that) that it may be one of the most misunderstood key elements of our national and personal identity.

So, when I stumble upon something that interests me, or helps me to understand more about economic theory, I feel obligated to share it. Today The American Prospect has an article explaining what "mechanism design theory" is, and why these guys got a piece of gold for researching it:

A key insight of mechanism design theory is that real-world economic transactions differ from an abstract "market" where a price falls from heaven and trade happens. When engaging in trade in the real world, economic actors (buyers and sellers), must abide by certain rules and/or norms (e.g. Is it ok to negotiate? Can you make more than one counter offer?). Mechanism design shows that the economic outcomes, including market efficiency, can be dependent upon those rules.

Thus all "free-markets" are not equal. In fact a marketplace does not exist independently from its rules and norms -- they one and the same. Saying that "the market works" to allocate resources depends on the specific market design and conditions. Thus (and contrary to much conservative rhetoric) economic theory -- of which mechanism design is a part -- does not say that markets always achieve an efficient outcome. Mechanism design can help us better understand when markets do perform well. And when markets no not reach an efficient outcome, mechanism design theory can suggest mechanisms that might work better.

The theory also points out that economic actors have an incentive to hide their true feelings about the product. So, if you walk onto a used car lot, you would be foolish to let the salesman know exactly how much you like that '67 Chevy. And the seller would be foolish to let you know that he has not gotten a single offer on the car in the six months it’s been on the lot. But at some point, either you or the salesman will have to make an offer to the other -- and in doing so, reveal some, but perhaps not all, of your true preferences.

The fact that people have an incentive to not reveal their true preferences has obvious important consequences for public policy. If people are asked if they want a new highway built, they might rightly worry that they will be asked to pick up some of the expense, and so might not fully reveal their true preference, opting instead to try to game the system as a free-rider.
I've written semi-frequently on the myth of the free market, and it's use (incorrectly) in political debate, but there is also a larger issue at play here. Do American's really understand economic theory enough to know what it is that best represents their values, and if not, how do they make those decisions when it comes time to vote? And isn't this further complicated if voters are pretending different values in order to avoid perceived economic burdens?

Captured By Republican Robots

CAPTURED BY ROBOTS! is playing at the Urban Lounge (Salt Lake) tonight. Using programmed sequences, altered instruments, and lots and lots of metal, this guy has actually created his own band. No tapes or gags, these are actual robots playing actual instruments. And it's something you have to see to appreciate.

Once you get over the initial creepiness of his guitarist (a 6 foot piece of metal with 52 fingers and a Dick Cheney mask), and the ickiness of his drummer (a half drum kit, half motorized erector set in a Condoleeeeza Rice mask), it is amazing to watch. Last time the concept was he as a captive of robots bent on world domination. This time around, it's George W. Bush and his fellow robots, bent on world domination and things get comically political. Last night at Brewskie's, "they" alienated the entire crowd with their talking Saddam Hussein percussionist after which the only human on stage asked, "why do I get the impression Ogden isn't following politics?"

Here is some old video of them. If you're free tonight, check them out.