Saturday, May 22, 2010

Satudray Links for a Rainy Day

Damn, Rand Paul really sucks at this. At this point I don't think he can pick more unsympathetic causes to make the case for his political philosophy, but who knows? Maybe next he can take up those unjust child-labor laws. Speaking of, he bailed on his Sunday Meet the Press appearance.

Using Snopes to examine the amount and validity of rumors regarding Obama and Bush. The pattern is pretty much what you'd expect. It's interesting to think back to the accusations of "Bush Derangement Syndrome" during the previous administration. At least the Bush haters didn't have to make shit up to justify their dissatisfaction with him.

Crooks and Liars liveblogs the Texas School Board meetings. It's pretty painful. Poor Texas.

Your awesome of the day: Muggers make the mistake of attempting to rob someone outside of a Sydney dojo. The students come to the rescue - dressed in full ninja garb. "You should have seen their faces when they saw us in ninja gear coming towards them."

Via Buzzfeed, a new site, Openbook, allows you to search Facebook statuses by keyword. Much like Please Rob Me (now no longer in use), it's meant to draw attention to how public some Facebook user's information is. I know it's meant to be a criticism of Facebook's privacy policies (and hit users over the head with the idea that you should really tweak your privacy settings, you morons), but I can't help but be entertained by it.

"And then I went down there and beat the crap out of this guy."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maybe there's a reason why they can't get elected past city council

Rand Paul isn't having a very good week. First it was the icky footage of him accepting the nomination from his private country club party room. Then it was the alleged snub of the concession call from his Republican opponent. Now, this is all over the place:

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I'm all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the "but." I don't like the idea of telling private business owners -- I abhor racism. I think it's a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant -- but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that's most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

It's interesting to watch the media freaking out about Rand Paul's various statements about the Civil Rights Act. It's like they've never actually encountered a Libertarian before. Their property rights fetish, which they see as trumping most other rights (like those trivial civil rights), is a pretty basic staple of their movement. A more cynical take on it would be that that is the whole point - As Amanda Marcotte points out, it's a pretty strong coincidence that the Libertarian movement picked up steam in America right around the same time that the Civil Rights Act passed congress. It is, by far, the most unattractive thing about them. No matter how much they wrap their arguments in the doe-eyed innocent rhetoric that freedom is hard and if we truly want it we will have to deal with undesirable side effects, you can never really shake the reality that the ones asking us to take a hit in the name of liberty(!) are usually the same ones that will be under no pressure to take those hits themselves. And you start to feel kind of icky about the whole thing.

Not to say that this argument is born out of racism for everyone that identifies as Libertarian. It's not, it's consistent with their small-government ideals. I don't it's my place to judge Paul's motivations as racist (or at the very least, I don't think we can point to this particular argument as proof of him being one). I actually respect the guy in a way for not backing down from his viewpoint (there are few things that I hate more then half-assed libertarians that won't come out and actually say what they mean, and instead dance around it in order to appeal to "moderates").

But I would rather this debate be focused more on what he's actually saying instead of just running around all pissed off and screaming about bigotry. That response is lazy and just allows Paul to whine about how he's being smeared by the left, which benefits him in the sense that we are now talking about Rand Paul the man, and not Rand Paul's policies. And we need to start examining the policies. The public's knowledge of Libertarians is pretty small, for the most part, they are the guys that want you to have drugs and guns, and hey, we like drugs and guns! Their more extreme viewpoint, such as shrinking government down to an entity only responsible for tort law, law enforcement and military and instead using the marketplace to regulate all other policy doesn't receive as much airtime or discussion in mainstream circles.

The State vs the Business owner isn't an uncommon discussion, ask a bar owner about smoking bans sometime or an upscale restaurateur about their policy regarding children. I do tend to side with the business owner most of the time, even when I'd rather not. But I think where I differ when it comes to legal discrimination is that someone like Rand Paul sees property rights as trumping civil rights, or to put it a different way, I think they see property rights as a form of civil rights, where I don't necessarily see them as the same thing. If we can't argue that say, you can invite someone into your liquor store and then shoot them legally because your rights now trump their rights, I don't really see where we get off in saying "Oh, unless it's a race thing, then property rights are the most important ever!" Obviously we do draw the line somewhere.

And realistically? Like most things libertarian, while the argument itself can be quite pretty (liberty!) and consistent on paper, it would be an absolute disaster in application, because we are talking about the same crowd that believes the free market will regulate bad behavior on it's own and no government intervention is necessary. I understand the argument; ideally, businesses with bigoted policies are shooting themselves in the foot by refusing customers and alienating others. Eventually, that business model will fail, and those businesses with less alienating practices will succeed. No government intervention is necessary, because the free market always wins! And I'm not going to lie - It's a tempting gamble. Open up a "whites-only" deli in Atlanta and see where that gets you, I dare you. And I would love to see the look on your face when all your local daycare centers in Texas decide they can't look after little Bobby anymore because he doesn't qualify as Latino.

And to be fair, we have seen self-regulation work in practice. During the great "It's not fair that I have to dispense birth control to whores" debate of 2006, a few folks got it in their head to open up "christian" based pharmacies - pharmacies that prided themselves on the refusal to distribute "controversial" items like birth control or pornography. Sadly for the moral authoritarian crowd, one of these pharmacies got bitch-slapped by the free market just last month, because (surprise!) the customers, either through the need for those naughty, immoral items or just disgust at that particular business model, decided to take their business to the nearby Kmart pharmacy instead.

So yes, when given a choice, it would seem people would reject business practices they find troubling. And perhaps we can argue that this is a desirable model for the market, because not only have we rendered government as unnecessary in this area (which is a good thing, few will argue that government should step in when it is not needed as it just leads to waste), but we also have more control over the policies that we support via our dollar. As it stands now, I can't really be sure that I'm not handing over my money to a company that promotes bigotry on the sly. If you hang a bit old "I hate you" sign on your door, I'll know not to shop there.

But the flip side of that coin is that you need the choice to be available. Because (using the example above) although Christian pharmacies can't directly compete with similar businesses in Chantilly, in those areas where the christian pharmacy is the only pharmacy in town? Well, those pharmacies are doing just fine. Some will make the argument that your should just move. But I think that's a hell of a burden to throw on people.

So to argue for the right for businesses to discriminate, while keeping in mind that this argument is made within the same political philosophy argues for a complete lack of oversight and regulation of all businesses, doesn't sit right with me. I feel that idealizing capitalists is just as naive as idealizing government. Even if we could go back and eliminate those who have gamed the system to their own advantage and in return, own large shares of the market, mere assurances that greed won't be a problem and in turn lead to corporate oligarchies, eventually leading to less true competition, are not enough to hand over social safety nets. It's not that I disagree with the ideal, it's just that I feel the ideal cannot possibly exist in regards to how our society is currently structured. When you are using ownership to determine power in a society, particularly a society where ownership is imbalanced largely due to racist or sexist policies in the past (and actually still is, see the drug war, denial of reproductive services, etc), you will only end up consolidating even more power into the hands of those that are privileged enough to already have it.

And that's what I'd like to see the discussion revolve around - people need to look beyond the pretty words (liberty!) and start looking on forward to the application of these small-government issues, and the largely negative effect that they would have. Rand Paul's "mistake" in regards to discussing property rights taking precedence over civil rights wasn't that it's a racist notion, or based only in bigoted reasoning; it's that he managed to pick a topic that clearly illustrates the disconnect between the ideal of small government and the reality of it's application in regular life. Republicans have been good at staving off this discussion, as they can complicate the issue by declaring social warfare to distract the public. Libertarians, by their own political philosophy, cannot do the same and still have their arguments come off as credible.

So rock on with your Libertarian self, Rand Paul. Keep shocking the hell out of the media. The more we start whittling away at the reality behind small government ideals, the better the case against that ideal becomes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

There are other options besides trustingTim Russert's son

That people would rather cut through the speculative bullshit from professional pundits and skip straight to the facts isn't all that surprising. Still, it's good to have some hard numbers out there that show that, yes, this could still be a profitable venture when it comes to modern journalism:

Has anyone else noticed that the Associated Press has been doing some strong fact-checking work lately, aggressively debunking all kinds of nonsense, in an authoritative way, without any of the usual he-said-she-said crap that often mars political reporting?

I asked AP Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier about this, and he told me something fascinating, if not all together unexpected: Their fact-checking efforts are almost uniformly the most clicked and most linked pieces they produce.

Journalistic fact-checking with authority, it turns out, is popular. Who woulda thunk it?

Some of it might be that people usually have less time on their hands today as well. If I'm in a hurry, I could care fuck-all about plowing through David Broder's false equivalences, I'd just want to know what's "not spin" and go on my way.

I think The Villagers aren't going to like this one bit, if they even acknowledge it (they won't). They really are of the impression that they make the news, and that the lowly populace craves, in fact needs, the news filtered through the brilliantly moderate minds of the media elite. So far, this assumption hasn't been seriously challenged, because really, who in the grand circle jerk of the Washington media machine would think to challenge it? Even if they could fathom that they aren't really as important as they believe (which I honestly don't think they can), they aren't going to threaten their own livelihood. So the only weapon credible journalists have against that mentality of "we know what the public wants because we just know" is a large sparkly dollar sign that continues to stubbornly defy their rules.

Via Steve Benen.

pics or it didnt happen

That really is the basis of BP's "clean-up" plan, isn't it?

When CBS News tried to reach the beach, covered in oil, a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest. Coast Guard officials said they are looking into the incident.

Perhaps when BP was doing their strange public polling about the best way to clean up the oil spill (which was really more of a survey about how best to sell a un-winnable environmental disaster to the public), they received a lot of responses of "What oil spill?" and they just decided to go with that? Sadly, these assholes can't even do a cover-up ethically.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thousands of lives lost seems insignifigant when compared to the frailty of my ego

Via Balloon Juice, yet another overview of the waste of time and money that is the War on (some classes of people that use) Drugs. This quote in particular stood out to me:

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Of all the asinine excuses I've heard for continuing the drug war, I'd have to say that "you will hurt our feelings" tops the cake o' stupidity.

Saturday "I'll get around to posting them when I feel like it" Links

Republicans in Maine search and trash an 8th grade teacher's classroom after suspecting him of teaching anti-American views. The incriminating evidence that led to the unofficial investigation? Copies of the US Constitution... printed by the ACLU. (via Wonkette)

Democrats continue the time-honored tradition of kicking liberal women in the face. Great job, DNC. I'm sure the coming Liz Cheney administration will be awesome for the country.

Speaking of everyone's favorite anti-choice Democrat, Digby points out that Bart Stupak is still a moron.

This campaign video really has to be seen to be believed. Republican Dan Fanelli, who is running for Alan Grayson's US House Seat in Florida, has had enough of your stupid pussy-ass complaints about racial profiling. He challenges you to answer the question of who looks more like a terrorist - this white dude or this arab dude? Because he knows! When called on it, Fanelli explained that "If the people that were doing this kind of thing looked like me, even though I'm not the guy doing the terrorist thing I would want to be examined more closely". Fair enough. Let me introduce you to Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Scott Roeder, and Joesph Stack, Dan. Now drop your pants.

Hope and Change continues unfettered with a new secret prison found in Afghanistan and the first known target of Obama's "Assassinate Americans first, ask questions later" policy revealed. Smug Karl Rove is smug.

Milwaukee has found a successful solution to quell male-on-male violence in psychiatric wards. Distract them by giving them women to rape instead. Chief Mental Health officer John Chianelli describes the situation as a "trade-off". (via Shakesville)

Top Ten Myths about Immigration.

Joys of Dog Training

I'm glad it's not just me who has these issues.

Love the part where she assures the viewer that the dog is "Just meditating".

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Trust Issues

You know, I could insert some comment here like "Gee! Sure has been a while! I should keep on top of this" and other such nonsense, but I've made that comment in the past and it doesn't work. So I'm just going to jump back on, post like mad for the next few days, and then disappear again for months, because that's just how I roll.

At any rate, I just have a short rant about this whole Elena Kagan business.

Now, I'm not a constitutional scholar. So as far as those intricacies play out, I really have no say. What I'm getting a bit frustrated at, however, is the hostile reaction of what appears to be valid criticism of Kagan* from some of her (actually, more likely Obama's) defenders:

John Cole:

And I reject flat out that deferring to the judgment of your Senators and the President is simply “cult like” behavior. WTF did we elect these people to do? Should we just have referendums on Supreme Court nominees now? How is someone like me, with no legal training, supposed to make the kind of informed decision on Kagan’s legal logic? I have a job and a yard to mow and pets to take care of and bills to pay- I don’t have time for a direct democracy. Obviously, that does not mean just greenlighting whatever your elected officials do, but the idea that saying “Hrmm- Sanders, Obama, Feingold, Sherrod Brown, Leahy, and a lot of others whose opinions I respect and who know a helluva lot more than me about this all think she is a good fit” is cult-like behavior is just pure bullshit. That is how our system is supposed to work.


I guess the argument against Kagan that I truly don’t understand is the “she’s a blank slate” or she’s a “stealth nominee”. If Barack Obama had selected her the same way John McCain plucked Sarah Palin from well-deserved obscurity I could understand people’s fears. But I willing to bet that Obama has spent more than a modicum of time with her discussing court decisions, legal philosophy, and such and such and he has a pretty good idea what floats her boat. ( I can’t imagine that he asked for her opinion on, say, Connick v Thompson and she refused because “it would be inappropriate to discuss a pending case.”) The only defense for the empty slate attack is a complete lack of faith in Obama; that he is, in fact, a Conservative Republican. And that is just nuts.

Greenwald noted earlier that the "Obama likes and trusts Kagan, and I like and trust Obama, therefore I like and trust Kagan" faith argument was going to be prevalent in this selection process. Which makes sense, being that as of now, there is very little else to judge her on. It's not lost on the administration that Obama's popularity can be a major motivating force for liberals, so to position Kagan as a cipher on which to project Obama's image isn't necessarily a poorly-thought out plan.

And in some sense, I do trust it. Obama isn't an idiot. Being that he's long been seen by those on the far right as an illegitimate usurper of the throne, they will stop at nothing to challenge every piece of legislation advanced by his administration all the way up to the Supreme Court. Odds are, he's not going to put someone on the court that will turn against the policies pushed forth during his administration. He's going to protect what he sees as the more positive aspects of his own legacy.

So no, I'm not worried that Obama is nominating some conservative judge. I trust that he would nominate someone whose views align closely with his. I think my concern is that he's not nominating a conservative enough (in the classical sense) judge. If we set aside for a moment that Kagan's record, from what can be gleaned by the little amount that can actually be examined, is not great for civil liberties when it comes to executive power (there has been much written on this elsewhere, so I won't go into detail on that), and just go on trust, the bottom line is that no, I don't trust Kagan on issues like detainee rights, limitless executive authority, military tribunals, state secrets, and the multitude of other issues raised over the past decade in regards to counterterrorism**. I don't just Kagan on these issues because I don't trust Obama on these issues.

So you'll have to forgive me if I, someone that voted in Obama mostly on the hopes he would reverse some of the worst abuses of executive authority put into place by the former Bush administration (as promised), have little faith to extend to him at this point. And you'll also have to forgive me if I, someone who does the "hold your nose and vote for the lesser of the two evils" strategy in the booth because of the lasting effect of Supreme Court appointments, don't really feel like shutting the fuck up and letting this one pass. That I'm expected to in the name of party unity seems, well, just nuts.

* Not that there hasn't been absurdly stupid criticism of Kagan that deserves nothing more then mockery. My favorites thus far have been the keen observation that she didn't drive until she was in her 20s and the lament that what we really need right now to balance the current SCOTUS gynocracy is more men on the court.

** Radley Balko sends up a red flag that Kagan might not be so great when it comes to criminal justice issues, either. But let's not worry our dear little heads over such trivial issues like the increasing legalization of the police state in this country.