Sunday, February 28, 2010

the axis of the obsessed and deranged

NYTimes | No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

public vs. private lending (100% vs 90% liability)

$1.4Trillion CRE loan crisis

Guardian | America's fragile high street banks are bracing themselves for a fresh financial crunch as a wave of commercial property mortgages go sour on offices, shops and factories, causing losses of up to $300bn (£192bn) hitting nearly 3,000 small- and medium-sized financial institutions.

A congressional oversight panel charged with scrutinising the Obama administration's bailout efforts has warned that $1.4tn of loans covering commercial premises will reach maturity between 2011 and 2014. After a plunge in property prices, nearly half of these loans are underwater, with borrowers owing more than their underlying property is worth.

An analysis by the panel found that 2,988 of America's 8,100 banks have potentially dangerous exposure to commercial property loans. The impact could damage hopes of a US economic recovery and could cause a further squeeze in the availability of credit to consumers and businesses.

"Are we arguing that this is a serious problem that we need to get in front of? The answer is yes," said Elizabeth Warren, chairman of the oversight panel. "It's like throwing a handful of sand into the economic recovery."

She said that if banks see that their commercial property liabilities are mounting, they will hold back on lending elsewhere: "They'll tend to husband their money so that it's not available for small business loans."

Although Wall Street banks have made a swift recovery as shares and bond markets look ahead to a long-term economic recovery, prospects remain cloudy for small-town institutions in the US heartland, hit by ongoing credit card defaults and unemployment among customers. Last year, 140 US banks failed and had to be rescued by federal regulators. Already this year, 16 have been seized by the authorities, a rate that points to a similarly high total in 2010.

Defaults on residential mortgages played a key role in sparking the original global financial crisis as hundreds of thousands of US homes went into foreclosure and Wall Street panicked over the diminishing value of complex mortgage-backed securities. Commercial property loans have taken longer to go sour but are emerging as a slow-burning problem.

the real culprit

chomsky on "peasants with pitchforks" politics

Saturday, February 27, 2010

bad brand manager - buh-bye....,

WaPo | According to one person with whom Rogers shared her grievances and who would only speak anonymously to divulge details of a sensitive topic, Rogers complained that the White House's effort not to antagonize the Secret Service led to the White House making an example of her. (The Secret Service director publicly took the blame and the White House declined to make Rogers available to the House committee.) According to the friend, Rogers said she felt the knives in the White House were out for her.

There are conflicting accounts of how long Rogers's departure has been in the works and whose idea it was for her to leave. According to one administration official, who was granted anonymity to talk about private deliberations, the decision to remove Rogers had been made by Christmastime, as a direct result of the disastrous state dinner, which Tareq and Michaele Salahi and another fame-seeking uninvited guest attended.

The official expressed admiration for Rogers's work ethic, but said her eagerness for media exposure and taste for haute couture did not sit well with some administration officials who were mindful of appearances during dire economic times. (Trading in her Mercedes for a made-in-the-U.S.A. Buick, apparently, wasn't enough.) During the holiday season, Rogers assumed a lower profile by personally greeting guests at parties in a demure black suit.

"Once the state dinner deal went down," the administration official said, "people who had other political agendas started micromanaging every part of her business."

According to other administration sources, Valerie Jarrett, the president's trusted special adviser and Rogers's old friend from Chicago, had noticeably put some distance between her and the woman she helped bring to Washington, even though the two lived in the same Georgetown building and worked in the White House.

In a telephone interview Friday evening, Jarrett dismissed that characterization, calling Rogers "one of her oldest" and "very dear" friends. Jarrett said she chatted with Rogers daily, including Friday, and that Rogers first spoke to her about returning to the private sector in "early November," before the state dinner.

city repair project

CityRepair | City Repair is an organized group action that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live. City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world. The many projects of City Repair have been accomplished by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of volunteer citizen activists.

City Repair began in Portland, Oregon with the idea that localization - of culture, of economy, of decision-making - is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture.

Our projects include the annual Village Building Convergence, where people gather at neighborhood sites throughout Portland to engage in intersection repair, natural building, and other forms of placemaking. We also host Earth Day, the Village Planting Convergence (also known as City Riparian), and operate a mobile tea house called the T-Horse.

Throughout the year we educate the community with workshops on all forms of sustainability and offer the invaluable placemaking guidebook and one-on-one consulting for those who want to repair their own neighborhood. If you are interested in helping our efforts please visit our volunteer page.

As an almost entirely volunteer-driven nonprofit organization, we rely solely on the support of our community. Please consider donating to help ensure our vision becomes a reality.

most important profession in america to teens

sliceofMIT | If you had to choose, which profession would you say contributes most to society’s well-being? According to the recent Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an annual survey that gauges kids’ perceptions about invention and innovation, teens rate teachers highest, followed by doctors (see graphic). Less than one-fifth of respondents viewed scientists as having the highest impact on society and only 5 percent chose engineers.

One reason might be because students simply aren’t aware what professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) do and don’t have suitable role models. But the good news is that teens are excited to learn. Indeed, 77 percent were interested in pursuing a STEM career, and 85 percent wish they knew more about STEM in order to create or invent something. The most effective way to engage them is through hands-on activities with enthusiastic mentors and teachers. Passion seems to be essential. More than half of respondents (55 percent) would be more interested in STEM simply by having teachers who enjoy the subjects they teach.

The most inspiring training grounds, teens indicated, were field trips to view STEM in action and places outside the classroom where they can build things and conduct experiments (53 percent).

Learn more about the Invention Index’s findings and how you can mentor students in STEM subjects.

mit on intelligence at davos

MITNews | At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, MIT professors discussed their efforts to better understand the human mind, the nature of intelligence and the ways in which human and artificial intelligence can be brought together.

Tim Berners-Lee, Tom Malone, Rebecca Saxe, Sebastian Seung and Josh Tenenbaum were among the speakers at the forum’s IdeasLab, in which some of the world’s leading intellectuals and entrepreneurs discussed trends in business, technology and society. MIT President Susan Hockfield introduced the speakers.

digital nation roundtable

Frontline | Get ready for the second Digital Nation roundtable - which will look beyond the original Frontline documentary to some of the many ideas and issues this inquiry has spawned and suggested.

For the month of March, we'll be discussing "the crowd" - particularly the way group activity, creativity, and awareness are both enhanced and exacerbated by our digital networks. Open Source, Crowd-sourcing, The Mob, The fate of the Individual, and the rise of the Folk.

Friday, February 26, 2010

more on the post job world

robert paterson | From replaceable human resources to dynamic social groups

The manner in which we prepare people for work is based on the Taylorist perspective that there is only one way to do a job and that the person doing the work needs to conform to job requirements [F.W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management, 1911]. Individual training, the core of corporate learning and development, is based on the premise that jobs are constant and those who fill them are interchangeable.

However, when you look at the modern organization, it is moving to a model of constant change, whether through mergers and acquisitions or as quick-start web-enabled networks. For the human resources department, the question becomes one of preparing people for jobs that don’t even exist. For example, the role of online community manager, a fast-growing field today, barely existed five years ago. Individual training for job preparation requires a stable work environment, a luxury no one has any more.

A collective, social learning approach, on the other hand, takes the perspective that learning and work happen as groups and how the group is connected (the network) is more important than any individual node within it. Here ends Dale's subrealist trifecta for the day.

time for the lies to be exposed and for "it" to die

robert paterson | We all worry about getting or losing a job. When we meet people, they ask us what we do and we give them a job description. When we apply for jobs, we get all fussed about the “skills” we need. When we have a job, we have to be managed and so have bosses. Politicians all talk about getting more jobs. School is all about getting jobs.

But the “Job” as we know it is a 19th century idea. In America very few people as a percentage of the population had job before 1905.

Here is a core idea, especially as we all fuss about skills etc. The whole purpose of a Job is to DESKILL people. What do I mean?

This picture is the key. Before Henry Ford, making a car was an artisanal activity. Really skilled people created each car. With the production line, tools and algorithms were used to enable the owner to use unskilled people. Yes each person could get good at assembly but that is like saying that, because I am good at putting Ikea furniture together, I am a cabinet maker. The men who made the Stanley Steamer could make anything. They had the metal working and engineering skills to be artisans.

This process of DESKILLING has taken place in all parts of our lives. Fist tap Dale Numero Dos.

round midnight: tortillas and the corporate state

joebageant | Near midnight and I am making tortillas on an iron skillet over a gas flame. Some three thousand miles to the north, my wife and dog nestle in sleep in the wake of a 34-inch snowstorm, while the dogs of Ajijic are barking at the witching hour and roosters crow all too early for the dawn. While my good Mexican neighbors along Zaragoza Street sleep.

Yet here I am awake and patting out tortillas, haunted by the empire that I have called home most of my life.

I like to think that, for the most part, I no longer live up there in the U.S., but southward of its ticking social, political and economic bombs. Because the US debt bomb has not yet gone off, Social Security still exists, and the occasional royalty check or book advance still comes in, allowing me to remain here. And so long as America's perverse commodities economy keeps stumbling along and making lifelike noises, so long as the American people accept permanent debt subjugation -- I can drink, think and burn tortillas. Believe me, I take no smugness in this irony.

There is a terrible science fiction-like awe in the autonomous American economic monolith, in the way that it provides for us, feeds on us and keeps us as its both its lavish pets and slaves. The commodity economy long ago enslaved Americans and other "developed" capitalist societies. But Americans in particular. The most profound slavery must be that in which the slaves can conceive of no other possible or better world than their bondage. Inescapable, global, all permeating, the commodities economy rules so thoroughly most cannot imagine any other possible kind of economy. Fist tap Dale Numero Uno.

becky phi becky got robbed!!!

Sprite | After the competition, we conducted a post-competition review and discovered a scoring discrepancy. There is no conclusive interpretation, nor definitive resolution for the discrepancy.

Sprite is committed to upholding the honesty and integrity of the competition. Because the scoring discrepancy cannot be resolved and due to the extremely narrow margin between the first and second place winning sororities, we believe that the appropriate course of action is to name both Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Tau Chapter and Zeta Tau Alpha, Epsilon Chapter, co-first place winners of the Sprite Step Off. Accordingly, we will increase Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Tau Chapter's scholarship prize to $100,000, consistent with first prize winnings.

Sprite Step Off was created for the primary purpose of awarding scholarships and supporting talented college students in their quest for higher education.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

casino royale

NYTimes | Bets by some of the same banks that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin.

Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.

These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.

Last September, the company, the Markit Group of London, introduced the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which is based on such swaps and let traders gamble on Greece shortly before the crisis. Such derivatives have assumed an outsize role in Europe’s debt crisis, as traders focus on their daily gyrations.

A result, some traders say, is a vicious circle. As banks and others rush into these swaps, the cost of insuring Greece’s debt rises. Alarmed by that bearish signal, bond investors then shun Greek bonds, making it harder for the country to borrow. That, in turn, adds to the anxiety — and the whole thing starts over again.

testicular fortitude wanes...,

WaPo | The Obama administration is no longer insisting on the creation of a stand-alone consumer protection agency as a central element of the plan to remake regulation of the financial system.

In hopes of quick congressional approval of a reform bill, White House officials are opening the door to compromise with lawmakers concerned about creating a new bureaucracy, according to congressional and some administration sources.

President Obama's economic team is now open to housing the consumer regulator inside another agency, such as the Treasury Department, though they still prefer a stand-alone agency. In either case, they are insisting on a regulator with political autonomy and real teeth so it can effectively enforce rules designed to protect consumers of mortgages, credit cards and other financial products.

The administration may also have to compromise on Obama's recent proposal for a rule to limit risky activities at banks by prohibiting them from engaging in many kinds of speculative investments.

Treasury officials are preparing to send Capitol Hill a toughly worded measure that would bar banks from making certain investments that benefit only the firms' bottom line rather than their customers. But there is little support among either Democratic or Republican lawmakers for this proposal, known as the "Volcker rule," and Senate leaders are now closing ranks around legislation that would leave it to banking regulators, rather than the law, to decide which activities to ban.

From the start of the Obama presidency, administration officials have made far-reaching financial reform one of their highest priorities, along with overhauling the nation's health-care system. Officials have vowed to put in place new rules and regulators to prevent a repeat of the abuses that precipitated the financial crisis.

consumer agency essential in regulatory overhaul

Businessweek | The Consumer Financial Protection Agency sought by President Barack Obama is an essential part of the regulatory overhaul being negotiated in Congress, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said.

The standalone agency, opposed by Republicans and banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., is “very important to us” because existing regulators view consumer protection “as a second thought,” Frank said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

“The agency that has by far the most power assigned to it to protect consumers is the Federal Reserve, and they don’t do it very well,” said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who put the consumer agency in legislation the House approved in December.

Obama’s proposed watchdog to guard against abuses in mortgage and credit-card lending is the biggest sticking point in Senate negotiations over new rules to govern U.S. financial firms. Republicans say the standalone agency would create a new bureaucracy; Democrats say it’s needed to prohibit business practices that contributed to the financial crisis.

Congress is drafting the legislation to strengthen oversight of Wall Street after largely unregulated bets tied to the subprime mortgage market led to the failures of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos. and $182.3 billion in U.S. bailouts for American International Group Inc.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, will unveil his version of the bill next week, his spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said yesterday in an e-mail. His committee will begin considering amendments to the proposal in the first week of March, she said.

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the Banking Committee’s top Republican, is developing a competing bill that will likely put consumer protection authority in a new bank regulator instead of the standalone agency sought by Dodd and Obama, two Shelby aides said on Feb. 17. Shelby’s plan would shield taxpayers from the costs of unwinding failed systemically important financial firms, said the aides, who requested anonymity because the talks are private.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

cigarettes may cause infection

Wired | The tobacco in cigarettes hosts a bacterial bonanza — literally hundreds of different germs, including those responsible for many human illnesses, a new study finds.

“Nearly every paper that you pick up discussing the health effects of cigarettes starts out with something to the effect that smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke experience high rates of respiratory infections,” notes Amy Sapkota of the University of Maryland, College Park. The presumption has been that smoking renders people vulnerable to disease by impairing lung function or immunity. And it may well do both.

“But nobody talks about cigarettes as a source of those infections,” she says. Her new data now suggest that’s distinctly possible.

If these germs are alive, something she has not yet confirmed, just handling cigarettes or putting an unlit one to the mouth could be enough to cause an infection.

The idea that tobacco might contain viable germs isn’t just idle conjecture. Several research teams have isolated bacteria from tobacco that they could grow out in petri dishes. Those earlier investigations tended to hunt for — and, when found, attempted to grow — only one or two species of interest, Sapkota says.

What’s novel in her study: She and her colleagues probed for genetic material from any and every bacterium in a cigarette’s tobacco. Under sterile conditions, the researchers opened up cigarettes and then performed a series of tests on the leafy bits. For instance, they isolated all of the ribosomal material and then homed in on its long, species-specific stretches known as 16S regions. These genetic segments were then compared to 16S patches characteristic of known bacterial species.

Sapkota’s team had 16S probes for close to 800 different bacteria and found matches to many hundreds in the four brands of cigarettes screened: Marlboro Red, Camel, Kool Filter Kings and Lucky Strike Original Red. These cigarettes are “among the most commonly smoked brands in Westernized countries and represent three major tobacco companies,” Sapkota notes. All were purchased in Lyon, France, where she was completing her postdoctoral studies.

Among the large number of germs whose DNA laced these cigarettes were: Campylobacter, which can cause food poisoning and Guillain-Barre Syndrome; Clostridium, which causes food poisoning and pneumonias; Corynebacterium, also associated with pneumonias and other diseases; E. coli; Klebsiella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, all of which are associated not only with pneumonia but also with urinary tract infections; and a number of Staphylococcus species that underlie the most common and serious hospital-associated infections.

Sapkota’s team lists many of these — including the most prevalent bacteria in the tobacco they studied — in a paper published early, online in Environmental Health Perspectives. Fist tap Dale.

'god gap' impedes U.S. foreign policy

WaPo | American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and "uncompromising Western secularism" that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The council's 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious "capabilities gap" and recommends that President Obama make religion "an integral part of our foreign policy."

Thomas Wright, the council's executive director of studies, said task force members met Tuesday with Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and State Department officials. "They were very receptive, and they said that there is a lot of overlap between the task force's report and the work they have been doing on this same issue," Wright said.

DuBois declined to comment on the report but wrote on his White House blog Tuesday: "The Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership and the National Security Staff are working with agencies across government to analyze the ways the U.S. government engages key non-governmental actors, including religious institutions, around the globe."

The Chicago Council isn't as influential as the Council on Foreign Relations or some other Washington-based think tanks, but it does have a long-standing relationship with the president. Obama spoke to the council once as a state senator and twice as a U.S. senator, including his first major foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate in April 2007. Michelle Obama is on the council's board.

American foreign policy's "God gap" has been noted in recent years by others, including former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright.

"It's a hot topic," said Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement in Arlington County and a Council on Foreign Relations member. "It's the elephant in the room. You're taught not to talk about religion and politics, but the bummer is that it's at the nexus of national security. The truth is the academy has been run by secular fundamentalists for a long time, people who believe religion is not a legitimate component of realpolitik."

wall st. banking on republicans...,

WaPo | Commercial banks and high-flying investment firms have shifted their political contributions toward Republicans in recent months amid harsh rhetoric from Democrats about fat bank profits, generous bonuses and stingy lending policies on Wall Street.

The wealthy securities and investment industry, for example, went from giving 2 to 1 to Democrats at the start of 2009 to providing almost half of its donations to Republicans by the end of the year, according to new data compiled for The Washington Post by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Commercial banks and their employees also returned to their traditional tilt in favor of the GOP after a brief dalliance with Democrats, giving nearly twice as much to Republicans during the last three months of 2009, the data show. At the same time, total political donations by the major banks and investment houses alike dropped in the waning months of that year.

The nascent shift came even before the White House announced proposals for a new tax on banks and a curb on some of their riskiest trading activities.

The proposals, offered last month, particularly alarmed Wall Street and have triggered renewed industry efforts to work with Democrats as well as Republicans on regulatory reform legislation that the bankers can live with, according to industry and government officials. Wall Street executives would prefer to engage with Democratic leaders now rather than face prolonged uncertainty about the rules to govern the industry, the sources said.

The new campaign contributions data underscore the political quandary facing Democrats, who want Wall Street donations to help fend off a GOP resurgence in congressional elections this fall but hope to distance themselves from an industry vilified by the public as greedy and ungrateful. President Obama has sought to strike a balance, calling outsize Wall Street bonuses "shameful" and "obscene" while also assuring business executives that he does not "begrudge people success or wealth."

god's in charge

just after the 2:00 minute mark....,

republicans vs. secular america

Guardian | With blatant disregard for the first amendment, Republicans' intolerance of US secularism means things are turning ugly. If you're part of secular America – that is, if you're an atheist, an agnostic, a religious liberal or even a mainstream believer who thinks religion should be kept out of politics and vice-versa – then you should be very afraid of what the Republican party has in store for you in 2012.

No news there, you might say. The Republicans, as we all know, have been in thrall to the Christian right since the Reagan era. But there's something new, something more intolerant, something truly ugly in the works. And if you don't believe me, let's start with Tim Pawlenty, unassuming governor of Minnesota in his day job, fire-breathing Christian warrior and aspiring presidential candidate in his spare time.

"I want to share with you four ideas that I think should carry us forward," Pawlenty said on Friday at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC. After invoking "basic constitutional principle and basic common sense," he continued:

"The first one is this: God's in charge. God is in charge ... In the Declaration of Independence it says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn't say we're endowed by Washington, DC, or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government. It's by our creator that we are given these rights."

Never mind Pawlenty's fundamental and no doubt deliberate misreading of the founders' intent. (Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, is well-known for having cut up a Bible to remove all supernatural references to Jesus.) How, in practice, does Pawlenty envision "God's in charge" as a governing principle?

Pawlenty didn't say. But he oozed mild-mannered hatred for anyone who doesn't share his beliefs. In a bizarre closing in which he invoked the civil war general (and future president) Ulysses S Grant as some sort of rough-around-the-edges, proto-Tea Party role model, Pawlenty trashed anyone who attended "Ivy League schools" or who go to "chablis-drinking, brie-eating parties in San Francisco". (You can watch Pawlenty's address at, starting at the 1:38:30 mark.) It sounded like a parody of Pat Buchanan's famous 1992 "culture war" speech. Except that Pawlenty is one of the Republicans' two most plausible candidates for president in 2012.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

terrorism and free speech

NYTimes | Congress has made it illegal to provide “material support” to foreign terrorist groups — a sensible means of combating terrorism but one that carries the risk of being applied in ways that infringe on Americans’ freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has a chance to draw the line where it should be between banning aid to terrorists and undermining civil liberties.

NYTimes | NOTWITHSTANDING the finger-pointing (and judicial head-shaking) since the Supreme Court’s decision last month on corporate speech, that ruling may not be the most consequential of this term. The court is also considering several cases whose implications reach back centuries, to the most fundamental underpinnings of Anglo-American criminal and constitutional law.

Earlier this term, the court heard three challenges to the 1988 federal criminal statute outlawing “theft of honest services,” a tool widely used by the George W. Bush administration Justice Department to prosecute political and corporate corruption. Today, the court will hear a challenge to the so-called material support statute, passed in the wake of the first World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings and amended repeatedly after 9/11, that makes it a felony to provide “material support” to a terrorist organization.

Although the crimes that the statutes are intended to prohibit — corruption and terrorism — are very different, both laws resulted from Congress’s attempt to push the boundaries of criminality in order to control the harder-to-define aspects of deplorable conduct. Both statutes reflect the recognition that a prohibition based on a “bright line” standard, like the exchange of money for a political favor or for the purchase of terrorist weapons, would be too easily evaded by sophisticated politicians, businessmen or terrorists.

The appeal of such a broad approach is easy to see. Do we really want potentially corrupt politicians or violent terrorist sympathizers to be able to avoid prosecution by having a clear idea of what they can and cannot do?

they mean terrorism in that capital T way

Salon | In sum: a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists. A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T -- not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process. Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers. Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change -- the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza. Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates. It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does. Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it's only being done to "Terrorists," who, by definition, have no rights. Even worse, one becomes a "Terrorist" not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch. The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that's the end of that: uncritical followers of both political parties immediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he's a Terrorist (by which they actually mean: he's been accused of being one, though that distinction -- between presidential accusations and proof -- is not one they recognize).

If we're really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call "Terrorists," we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means. But there is none. It's just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists). It's really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word: its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.

UPDATE: I want to add one point: the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term "terrorist" because the perpetrator of the violence wasn't Muslim. But if Stack's manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it's likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote. His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions -- the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right -- and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.

did stack jack "little eichmans"?

WaPo | Mark Potok, a director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacists and other hate groups, said the attack on the IRS has been endorsed by extremists even more enthusiastically than the shooting rampage last June at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington that left a security guard dead.

"I think Joseph Stack has tapped into a very deep vein of rage against the government," he said.

On one Internet thread full of praise for Stack, one person wrote that he must "suppress the urge to take flying lessons."

Pensacola, Fla., pastor and radio host Chuck Baldwin wrote on his Web site that he wished Stack had not died "because we need each other." He added: "My heart goes out to Joe Stack! The sentiments expressed above are shared by millions of Americans who are also fed up with Big Brother."

Larken Rose, a 41-year-old Pennsylvania man who served a year in prison for willful failure to file an income tax return, said he does not consider the IRS employee killed in the attack and the man's injured co-workers to be innocent victims.

"I don't know how many people they harassed or how many houses they had stolen or how many bank accounts they had swiped," he told the AP. Stack's letter "shows quite obviously he was not crazy. He was frustrated. He had been wronged over and over."

The IRS kept a master list of tax protesters until 1998, when a change in the law prevented the agency from tracking them. MacNab estimated there are more than 500,000 tax protesters today, the vast majority of whom do not file tax returns.

"There are people who sympathize with this crime and turn the criminal into a hero," said Fathali Moghaddam, a psychology professor at Georgetown University. "At tax time, what better authority figure to hit than the tax man?"

what's wrong with texas?

DMN | East Texas church arson suspect Jason Robert Bourque (right) calls himself "Mr. Brightside" on his MySpace page, lists his religion as "Christian -- other" and prominently displays this quote from the 19th century anti-Christian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

"Never give way to remorse, but immediately say to yourself: that would merely mean adding a second stupidity to the first. -- If you have done harm, see how you can do good. -- If you are punished for your actions, bear the punishment with the feeling that you ARE doing good -- by deterring others from falling prey to the same folly. Every evildoer who is punished may feel that he is a benefactor of humanity."

On his Facebook page, Bourque says he's a fan of bonfires. A couple of clicks takes you to hundreds of photos of blazes.

Bourque was arrested Sunday with Daniel George McAllister (lower right). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives blames the two for a string of 10 recent church fires in East Texas.

The two men used to attend a Baptist church in the East Texas town of Ben Wheeler that was not torched, says Dallas Morning News reporter Richard Abshire.

Monday, February 22, 2010

environmental ills? it's consumerism stupid!

Scientific American | Two typical German shepherds kept as pets in Europe or the U.S. consume more in a year than the average person living in Bangladesh, according to research by sustainability experts Brenda and Robert Vale of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. So are the world's environmental ills really a result of the burgeoning number of humans on the planet—predicted to reach at least nine billion people by 2050? Or is it more due to the fact that although the human population has doubled in the past 50 years, we have increased our use of resources fourfold?

After all, the roughly 40,000 attendees of the recent climate conference in Copenhagen produced more greenhouse gas emissions in just two weeks than 600,000 Ethiopians produce in a year. In fact, the world's richest 500 million people produce 50 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions compared to the 6 percent produced by the world's poorest 3 billion—Americans alone use up 88 kilograms of stuff (such as food and water but also plastics, metals and other things) per day, or roughly one me, day in and day out.

As simply put by the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005: "Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted."

And consumerism isn't even delivering on its own promise—a better life. "Not only is consumer culture causing unprecedented environmental havoc, it is in many cases not delivering the well-being for human beings it is supposed to," argued Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute during a press conference last week to release its new State of the World report, "Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability." "The kinds of changes in policy discussed at Copenhagen are also critical and, in fact, will go hand in hand with a cultural shift [from consumerism to sustainability.]" Fist tap Arnach.

out of the abyss of individualism

Guardian | We shouldn't leave politics to managers and economics to brokers – or be afraid to reintroduce 'virtue' to public discourse.

Human beings begin their lives in a state of dependence. They need to learn how to speak, to trust, to negotiate a world that isn't always friendly, and involves unavoidable limitations. They need an environment secure enough for them to take the necessary risks of learning – where they know there are some relationships that don't depend on getting things right, but are unconditional. The family is the indispensable foundation for all this.

We are also beings who take in more than we can easily process from the world around us; we know more than we realise, and that helps us to become self-questioning persons who are always aware things could be different. We learn this as children through fantasy and play, we keep it alive as adults through all sorts of "unproductive" activity, from sport to poetry. It is the extra things that make us human.

This is closely connected with understanding and sympathy for others. If you live in a world where everything encourages you to struggle for your own individual interest and success, you are encouraged to ignore the reality of other points of view – ultimately, to ignore the cost, or the pain of others. The result may be a world where people are articulate about their own feelings and pretty illiterate about those of others. An economic climate based on nothing but calculations of self-interest, fed by a distorted version of Darwinism, doesn't build a habitat for human beings; at best it builds a sort of fortified box room for paranoiacs.

What is encouraging is how few people seem to want a society composed of people like this. We have, to some extent, looked into the abyss where individualism is concerned and we know that it won't do. This is a moment when every possible agency in civil society needs to reinforce its commitment to a world where thoughtful empathy is a normal aspect of the mature man or woman. And of course without that, there will be no imaginative life, no thinking what might be different.

For myself, the roots of this view are deep in religious vision and commitment. From this viewpoint, the importance of the family isn't a sen­timental idealising of domestic life; it is about understanding that you grow in emotional intelligence and maturity because of a reality that is unconditionally faithful. In religious terms the unconditionality of family love is a faint mirror of God's unconditional commitment to be there for us. Similarly, the importance of imaginative life is not a vague belief that we should all have our creative side encouraged but comes out of the notion that the world we live in is rooted in an infinite life, whose dimensions we shall never get hold of. As for the essential character of human mutuality, this connects for me with the Christian belief that if someone else is damaged, frustrated, offended or oppressed, everyone's humanity is diminished.

the third industrial revolution

NewScientist | In The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin argues that before we can save ourselves from climate change we have to break a vicious circle and embrace a new model of society based on scientists' new understanding of human nature. I asked him how we can do it.

What is the premise of The Empathic Civilization?
My sense is that we're nearing an endgame for the modern age. I think we had two singular events in the last 18 months that signal the end. First, in July 2008 the price of oil hit $147/barrel. Food riots broke out in 30 countries, the price of basic items shot up and purchasing power plummeted. That was the earthquake; the market crash 60 days later was the aftershock. It signaled the beginning of the endgame of a great industrial era based on fossil fuels. The second event, in December 2009, was the breakdown in Copenhagen, when world leaders tried to deal with our entropy problem and failed.

That's the context of the book. Why couldn't our world leaders anticipate or respond to the global meltdown of the industrial revolution? And why can't they deal with climate change when scientists have been telling us that it may be the greatest threat our species has ever faced?

What do you think the problem is?
My sense is that the failure runs very deep. The problem is that those leaders are using 18th century Enlightenment ideas to address 20th century challenges. I advise a number of heads of state in Europe and over and over again I see how these old ideas about human nature and the meaning of life continue to cloak public policy. The Enlightenment view is that human beings are rational, detached agents that pursue our own self-interests and our nation states reflect that view. How are we going to address the needs of 7 billion people and heal the biosphere if we really are dispassionate, disinterested agents pursuing our own self-interest?

A lot of interesting new discoveries in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, child development, anthropology and more suggest that human nature might not be what Enlightenment philosophers suggested. For instance, the discovery of mirror neurons suggests that we are not wired for autonomy or utility but for empathic distress; we are a social species.

oblivious to the here and now

WaPo | Jay Ferrari was squatting on a step-stool next to the bathtub, which held his 4-year-old daughter and a rising tide, when he sensed an opening to use the Sicilian Dragon defense in his iPhone-to-iPhone chess match against his neighbor.
"Why do my feet feel wet?" he thought. He looked down. His feet were soaked. He turned and saw an ecstatic little girl enjoying her first tsunami.

"Oh, no," Ferrari said. He didn't flinch. With one hand, he executed the chess move; with the other, he turned off the faucet. The absurdity of the moment was not lost on him -- or his wife. "Dude," he told himself, "this is not appropriate. What are you doing?"

Physically, Ferrari resides in the Manor Park section of Northwest Washington, but his wife would say he really lives in a digital world, where smartphones are more stimulating to some people than the life unfolding around them.

You see these tethered souls everywhere: The father joining in an intense Twitter debate at his daughter's dance recital. The woman cracking wise on Facebook while strolling through the mall. The guy on a date reviewing his fish tacos on Yelp. Not to mention drivers staring down instead of through their windshields.

Physically, they are present. Mentally, they are elsewhere, existing as bits of data pinging between cellphone towers.

"My wife has physically pulled the thing out of my hands a couple times," said Ferrari, who has been nabbed checking his Twitter feed at, among other places, his in-laws' dining room table. "She says it's like I'm picking my nose in public."

Doomsayers have long predicted that technological progress would turn us into shut-ins who rarely venture from our game-playing, IM-ing digital cocoons out into the physical world. But the stereotype of the computer-addicted recluse in the basement has been blown away; smartphones make it possible to turn off the physical world while walking through it.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that "a significant proportion of people who visit public and semipublic spaces are online while in those spaces." Parks. Libraries. Restaurants. Houses of worship.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

the other shoe...,

Telegraph | Barclays and Bank of America see looming oil crunch. For oil markets, it as if the Great Recession never happened. Surging demand in China, India and the Middle East is making up for decline in the debt-crippled West, ensuring another global crunch within three or four years.

Bank of America and Barclays Capital, two leading oil traders, have told clients to brace for crude above $100 (£64) a barrel by next year, before it pushes relentlessly higher over the decade. This is a stark contrast from recessions in the 1980s and 1990s, when it took years to work off excess drilling capacity built in the boom.

"Oil has the potential to flirt with $100 this year. We forecast an average price of $137 by 2015," said Amrita Sen, an oil expert at BarCap. The price has doubled to $78 in the last year.

"The groundwork for the next sustained step up in oil prices is now almost complete. Global spare capacity is likely to be reduced to low levels within a relatively short time. The global economic crisis has postponed, but not cancelled, a crunch which would otherwise be starting to bite now," said Barclays.

Francisco Blanch, from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said crude may touch $105 next year, with $150 in sight by 2014. "Approximately 1.7bn consumers in emerging markets with a per capita income of $5,000 to $20,000 are eagerly waiting to buy cars, air-conditioning units, or white goods," he said.

China has overtaken the US as the world's top car market. Mr Blanch expects oil demand to rise by a further 2.8m barrels per day (bpd) in China and 2.5m bpd in India by 2015, when two giants will be absorbing the lion's share of Gulf output. Consumption in the West has already peaked and will fall each year as populations shrink and we waste less, but the West no longer sets the price. Global use will increase by 8.8m bpd to 95m bpd.

Supply is scarce. Sir Richard Branson warned this month that the world faces 'peak oil' within five years. "Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did," he said.

the invisible hand doing god's work....,

Counterpunch | What is remarkably left out of account is that today’s financial crisis, centered on public debts, is largely a fiscal crisis in character. It is caused by replacing progressive taxation with regressive taxes, and above all by untaxing finance and real estate. Take the case of California, where tears are being shed over the dismantling of the once elite University of California system. Since American independence, education has been financed by the property tax. But Proposition 13 has “freed” property from taxation – so that its rental value can be borrowed against and turned into interest payments to banks. California’s real estate costs are just as high with its property taxes frozen, but the rising rental value of land has been paid to the banks – forcing the state to slash its fiscal budget or else raise taxes on labor and consumers.

The link between financial and fiscal crisis – and hence the need for a symbiotic fiscal-financial reform – is just as clear in Europe. The Greek government has pre-sold its tax revenues from roads and other infrastructure to Wall Street, leaving less future revenue to pay its public debt. To cap matters, paying income tax is almost voluntary for wealthy Greeks. Tax evasion is hardly necessary in the post-Soviet states, where property is hardly taxed at all. (The flat tax falls almost entirely on labor.)

Throughout the world, scaling back the 20th century’s legacy of progressive taxation and untaxing real estate and finance has led to a public debt crisis. Property income hitherto paid to governments is now paid to the banks. And although Wall Street has extracted $13 trillion in bailouts just since October 2008, the thought of raising taxes on wealth to pay just $1 trillion over an entire decade for Social Security or health insurance is deemed a crisis that would lead Wall Street to shut down the economy. It is telling governments to shift to a regressive tax system to make up the fiscal shortfall by raising taxes on labor and cutting back public spending on the economy at large. This is what is plunging economies from California to Greece and the Baltics into fiscal and financial crisis. Wall Street’s solution – to balance the budget by cutting back the government’s social contract and deregulating finance all the more – will shrink the economy and make the budget deficits even more severe.

Financial speculators no doubt will clean up on the turmoil.

the new poor you shall always have with you...,

NYTimes | Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

Yet the social safety net is already showing severe strains. Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department.

Here in Southern California, Jean Eisen has been without work since she lost her job selling beauty salon equipment more than two years ago. In the several months she has endured with neither a paycheck nor an unemployment check, she has relied on local food banks for her groceries.

She has learned to live without the prescription medications she is supposed to take for high blood pressure and cholesterol. She has become effusively religious — an unexpected turn for this onetime standup comic with X-rated material — finding in Christianity her only form of health insurance.

“I pray for healing,” says Ms. Eisen, 57. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got to go with what you know.”

states ain't seen nothin yet....,

NYTimes | “Because of the decline in state revenues,” Mr. Douglas said, “43 states cut $31 billion from their budgets in 2009. For fiscal year 2010, even with nearly $30 billion in new revenue, 36 states have been forced to cut $55 billion. Thirty states have cut elementary, secondary and higher education.”

Given these problems, governors of both parties expressed concern about plans by Democrats in Congress to expand Medicaid, the program for low-income people.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said the health bills passed by the House and the Senate would impose “an enormous unfunded mandate on states,” forcing them to pick up $25 billion in new costs over 10 years.

Mr. Barbour explained what this would mean in Mississippi: “Either the state income tax or the state sales tax or both would have to be raised. We would add 300,000 people to the Medicaid rolls. It’s about a 50 percent increase.”

Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, said that despite such concerns, she was “a huge champion of national health care reform.”

“You can’t take little nibbles at health care reform,” Ms. Gregoire said. “It’s got to be comprehensive.”

Ms. Gregoire said she had told the top Democrats in Congress that they might want to delay the expansion of Medicaid if states were still in economic distress in a few years.

“If we don’t come out of this recession and if I have to absorb new costs, I don’t know how I would do it,” Ms. Gregoire said. “We would be hard-pressed to pick up the tab. But that’s not to say we should not move forward on health care reform. Doing nothing would be the biggest mistake.”

on the nature of a credible threat...,

NYTimes | Not long after Amy Bishop was identified as the professor who had been arrested in the shooting of six faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville on Feb. 12, the campus police received a series of reports even stranger than the shooting itself.

Several people with connections to the university’s biology department warned that Dr. Bishop, a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D., might have booby-trapped the science building with some sort of “herpes bomb,” police officials said, designed to spread the dangerous virus.

Only people who had worked with Dr. Bishop would know that she had done work with the herpes virus as a post-doctoral student and had talked about how it could cause encephalitis. She had also written an unpublished novel in which a herpes-like virus spreads throughout the world, causing pregnant women to miscarry.

By the time of the reports, the police had already swept every room of the science building, finding nothing but a 9-millimeter handgun in the second-floor restroom.

But the anxious warnings reflected the fears of those who know Dr. Bishop that she could go to great lengths to retaliate against those she felt had wronged her.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

tea party hero?

Gather | In my coffee shop conversations and errands around East Texas (haven of right wing lunatics and constitutional crackpots) the last two days, one thing is becoming obvious; the right wing has a new hero to put up there with Tim McVey and Terry Nichols. They are saying it in low voices, but none-the-less, they believe him to be a hero.

The first set at the coffee shop this morning started right up… “We been telling people things were fixin to change, and thank God for Joe Stack, people are going to take notice, and more will come soon now that he's had the balls to start it rolling!”, said Wayne. He is a locally notorious figure since the FBI and ATF raided his home and farm right after Waco. They didn’t find his doomsday stash and promptly left his place after tearing it apart and coming up empty handed. All it did was make him a local legend… and a legend in his own mind. He went on to describe how the IRS wasn’t a legal organization and was unconstitutional. The problem is, Wayne is dead broke and disabled and living on a government disability check. I asked him why he would be so against the government since he was so dependant on them, but he said he could live without the check if Texas left the Union or the government returned to what it was meant to be. He didnt remember teh talk teh day before about how he couldnt get by on his check and how his wife was suffering without healthcare access to a doctor.

Sonny chimed in, “ I knew this N***r president would cause this to come to a head! Now if just a few more brave souls would do something similar, things would start to come together!” Sonny is broke too and lives on a disability check, but he has land a cows and probably would not be so badoff if he stopped drinking.

Then Howard came in and said “How ‘bout that Joe Stack! …….A great American HERO!”. Now Howard aint broke by any means. He owns about 2 million dollars worth of land and runs about 500 head of prize cows, not to mention his large stock portfolio and a couple of companies he owns. He is the local Tea Party leader and organizer. It didn’t take long for him to start in with his typical and oft repeated complaints about all the income and property tax he pays. “By Gawd!” he groans “if more people had the guts Joe Stack did we could get somewhere! People would see how bad we have it! These lefties would have to give up!’

Well that stop at a coffee shop was all I could take so I drove over to the next community and sat down for another cup at the cafĂ©. It didn’t get any better, a couple of locals known for belonging to a militia that “doesn’t exist anymore” started in with pretty much the same conversation and said they were hooking up with the Tea Party folks this weekend. They had considered it to be a rich guys game, but now it was making sense. But they added “we better get the right kind of folks to stop talking so loud about Stack, cause somebody is going to say we are for terrorism, and well, we are for it as long as its real Americans, protesting this commie government were getting.

As I ran my errands to the feed store, the barber shop, etc.. it was mostly all the same talk, but to be fair, most people said Stack should never have done that, because innocent people got hurt, but they were all glad he did what he did.