Author Archive

Donald Trump, what the fudge?

He ‘screwed‘ Gadhafi? o_O

Is this 4 realz? Is this guy actually going to be a contender for the Republican nomination? FOX News sure is giving him plenty of opportunities to express his “beliefs”:

And by the way, I can tell you something else. I dealt with Gaddafi.

I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn’t let him use the land.

That’s what we should be doing. I don’t want to use the word ‘screwed’, but I screwed him.

That’s what we should be doing.

What an incredible display of foreign policy cred: his dealings with other heads-of-state consist of selling real estate for “tremendous amounts of money” and making ingenuous deals with dictators for funsies. And he thinks that this is how all of American foreign policy ought to be conducted.

Hopefully primary voters will recognize him for the pandering know-nothing that he is.


Today, cell phone; tomorrow, tricorder

The first MacGuyver-esque cell phone microscope is here! Though not the first iteration of such technologies, this is the first that literally anyone can assemble: all you need is about $20 worth of rubber bands, tape, and a small glass ball, and voilà! you can image blood cells!

This type of laboratory-grade technology available on consumer products platforms could truly globalize medical science. The article mentions being able to transmit a sample to a pathologist in a lab halfway ’round the world and get an accurate diagnosis sent back to the site in real time. Basically, it’s one step closer to having tricorders, and that is a development that would be good for everybody.

Ignoring the white elephants in our midst

To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee — to protect America from a terrorist attack.

That was Rep. Peter King responding to criticism of hearings begun today before the House Homeland Security Committee on the radicalization of American Muslims. He went on trying to rationalize this farce as necessary to better protect our nation, saying that he believes most Muslims are “outstanding patriots,” but that Muslim leaders “do not face up to [the] reality” that there is a persistent al Qaeda threat to America.

I’ll grant him that al Qaeda wants nothing less than the destruction of America. But if he wants to talk about “facing up to reality” in national security, then he ought to address the truly persistent threat to American domestic safety: violence and threats of violence from right-wing white nationalist organizations and anti-government militias. Here is a handy timeline of so-called “insurrectionist” activity since 2008; here is a report on militant extremism in the U.S.:

[T]he FBI has reported that roughly two-thirds of terrorism in the United States was conducted by non-Islamic American extremists from 1980-2001; and from 2002-2005, it went up to 95 percent.

As some readers have argued, these incidents of violence lack a coherent strategy and are isolated from one another. True, but only to a point. The above report indicates that so-called “lone wolf” attacks are on the rise. However, as the timeline reveals, the rationale behind these attacks bears a very common stamp: resistance to perceived government tyranny and the rights of an armed citizenry. While the stimulus for each incident is often different, they all feed a common ideology of paranoia and violent reactionism. So long as Peter King fails to face this reality (the reality that the rest of the country, including the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, which actually have to deal with this violence), he is unfit to even sit on the Homeland Security Committee.

Legislating for the people, not a party

Well, the Wisconsin Senate GOP has done its part to strip public sector unions (except police and firefighters) of their collective bargaining rights, passing an amended version of the “budget repair bill” 18-1. I don’t really have much to say about the details of the bill; you can read about that here (NYT), here (Trib), here (WSJ), here (Nat’l Review) …

It looks as though the bill itself is safe on technical grounds, because the purely “fiscal” provisions were removed (See Wis. State Constitution, Art. VIII, Sec. 8), though there is a chance it may’ve violated public notice provisions of Wisconsin’s open meeting law.

Regardless of whether or not you think that weakening unions is a necessary step in battling state budget deficits, it cannot be ignored that there is a very relevant political element to these proceedings: weakening the electoral clout of organized labor. Of the elements remaining in the bill, the only ones which strike me as directly affecting the budget deficit are the increases in employee contributions to their pensions and health care; forcing annual votes on union membership and curtailing collective bargaining have only a dubious (or even nonexistent) relationship to budget deficit reduction.

Jonathan Chait neatly sums up the larger implications of this type of legislating:

Obviously, Republicans think that crippling the Democratic Party is long-term is part of what they need to do to control state-level budgets. But I think the more likely result is simply that Democrats will pass a ball allowing collective bargaining among public employees as soon as they return to power. The ramifications of parties using their political power in order to try to cripple the opposing party are a lot deeper and more dangerous than Walker seems to be reckoning.

On the upside, since this section of the budget repair bill was removed (though probably only temporarily), the sale of Wisconsin’s state-owned power utilities to Koch Industries has been delayed!


DOMA: Crucial difference between ‘defense’ and ‘enforcement’

A statement from Speaker of the House John Boehner today highlights a troubling lack of understanding of the Dept. of Justice’s decision not to defend DOMA in the courts:

The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts — not by the president unilaterally — and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.

First of all, the executive branch does not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional. That is reserved for the judicial branch. By simply stating that they will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA before the courts, Pres. Obama and the Department of Justice have not overstepped their bounds in any way; Attorney General Holder’s letter which sparked this whole debate states very plainly that “Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law.”

There is a big difference between a refusal to defend a law in the courts, which has many precedents, and a refusal to enforce a law that was duly enacted by the Congress, which is an abdication of the executive branch’s constitutional responsibility. With regards to DOMA, DOJ’s actions fall within the former category. It is also legally justified because the cases at hand (Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States) fall under the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit Court, which does not have a precedent for the level of scrutiny which should be applied to sexual orientation. As Holder’s letter states, DOJ has previously defended DOMA in jurisdictions where precedents exist that apply a simple ‘rational basis test‘ to laws pertaining to sexual orientation. However, the Obama administration believes that ‘strict scrutiny’ ought to apply to cases where sexual orientation is a material issue; it also believes that Section 3 of DOMA does not meet this standard of strict scrutiny, therefore it will not defend the issue before the Second Circuit.

However, this does not mean that Obama or Holder have ‘unilaterally’ declared DOMA unconstitutional, nor have they refused to enforce it. The ultimate question of whether strict scrutiny or rational basis review applies to cases concerning sexual orientation is still up to the courts, as well as the question of whether or not Section 3 of DOMA meets the standard which the courts decide upon. If defenders of DOMA had actually taken the time to parse Holder’s letter or use their brains for half a second, rather than spewing reactionary bullshit to score political points with values voters and separation-of-powers fearmongers, they would’ve seen that the legal fate of DOMA is still very much up in the air; and barring legislative action, it will be decided in the courts.

Of course, other thoughtful people have already said as much; I just wanted to add my voice to Incomprehensible Shouting.

Gird up your loins and buckle your swashes

IT’S FINALLY COMING!!! “A Dance With Dragons,” the long-awaited fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s epic (and not epic in the trite, over-used, popular sense, but truly EPIC) fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” is slated for a July 12, 2011 release!

Words cannot describe my excitement. Ever since a good friend loaned me the first book, “A Game of Thrones,” back in college, I have been hooked. The rich world of Westeros and lands beyond have tickled my imagination and indulged my heroic fantasies for many an enjoyable hour, and I am 100% certain the next book will be just as awesome. If you like fantasy, then you absolutely must read these books, not at your earliest convenience, but now. Go to your nearest bookstore or library and prepare for a reading experience unlike any other.

I have since shared the magic with several more friends and one brother; they, too, have fallen completely under RR’s spell. For all of us, reading “A Dance With Dragons” will no doubt by akin to reconnecting with old friends after many a year.

And now that we finally have a concrete date for its release, the forthcoming HBO series will be all the more enjoyable.

Mr. Martin, despite all the moaning and bitching, your fans thank you. So very much. Please keep creating.

The upside of a gasoline crisis

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices: “This administration’s policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive.”

First, I have to admit that Barbour is cynically correct, but only if you read the above sentence like this: Haley Barbour … today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices … in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive. It is true, Obama himself has stated that he is not opposed to higher prices on gasoline (maybe because a sustained gas crisis would actually generate the political willpower to detox our foreign oil addiction). However, administration policies have NOTHING to do with the current rise in gas prices. Let me repeat that: ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CURRENT RISE IN GAS PRICES!!! The federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has not changed since 1993; it is currently 18.4 cents. There is an excess supply of oil in world markets, so the lack of new drilling permits in Gulf is not restricting production. In short, the sharp increases in gas prices around the country over the last couple of weeks are purely the result of market volatility and uncertainty about political developments in the oil rich Middle East and North Africa.

Even if the U.S. were suddenly able to tap all of its possible reserves (note, there is still debate about what amount of this is ‘proven’), it is only enough to last about 31 years at current consumption levels. And given that we presently produce 6 million barrels a day while consuming 20 million, it is beyond even my wildest dreams to think that our production could ever completely supplant foreign sources. In short, an energy policy that is based on oil and other fossil fuels will never allow us to be self-sufficient and will not support future generations of Americans that Republicans love to crow about protecting (i.e., me and my future children).

So what good can come from a gasoline crisis that would hit working-class Americans the hardest? It would force us to confront the fact that domestic politicos have very little long-term control over the price of oil and, subsequently, gas prices. And that if we truly want energy security, we’re actually going to have to invest in sources that won’t dry up unless the earth stops spinning or the sun explodes (wind- and solar-power, for those keeping score). So while the Obama administration is not actively raising gas prices, it is not afraid to confront the realities that underlie those rising prices because, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu points out, “When the price of oil goes up in the short-term, everybody gets very worried. But when it subsides, people forget that this is a long-term problem.”

While Democrats and Republicans agree that our energy sector should not be held hostage to foreign policy crises, Republicans’ (and some Democrats) belief that we can simply use domestic fossil fuels to solve our supply problem is simply ludicrous. Well, I guess it’s not ludicrous to Baby Boomers who will be dead before the oil is gone; but to someone like me who actually will have to deal with a post-oil society, I would prefer not to have to start developing that new infrastructure when the oil runs out. Instead, we need to recognize that there is still a place for oil in this world, but that it should be as a bridge to maintain supplies as we transition to renewable sources which can power our nation for generations to come. If politicians (like former energy lobbyist Haley Barbour) who oppose alternative energy development in favor of increasing oil production want to be taken seriously by working-class and younger Americans about protecting them from energy price fluctuations, they should cut the bullshit and get off the oil industry’s dick.

And maybe it’s just because I’ve had Gary Jules in my head all day and want to talk about it, but I think this really sums up the conservative solution to energy security: “And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad/The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”