Archive for October 27th, 2007
From Thomas Love Peaock’s Headlong Hall, a disquisition on the natural diet of humanity:
The morning being extremely cold, he [the Reverend Doctor Gaster] contrived to be seated as near the fire as was consistent with his other object of having a perfect command of the table and its apparatus; which consisted not only of the ordinary comforts of tea and toast, but of a delicious supply of new-laid eggs, and a magnificent round of beef; against which Mr Escot immediately pointed all the artillery of his eloquence, declaring the use of animal food, conjointly with that of fire, to be one of the principal causes of the present degeneracy of mankind. “The natural and original man,” said he, “lived in the woods: the roots and fruits of the earth supplied his simple nutriment: he had few desires, and no diseases. But, when he began to sacrifice victims on the altar of superstition, to pursue the goat and the deer, and, by the pernicious invention of fire, to pervert their flesh into food, luxury, disease, and premature death, were let loose upon the world. Such is clearly the correct interpretation of the fable of Prometheus, which is the symbolical portraiture of that disastrous epoch, when man first applied fire to culinary purposes, and thereby surrendered his liver to the vulture of disease. From that period the stature of mankind has been in a state of gradual diminution, and I have not the least doubt that it will continue to grow small by degrees, and lamentably less, till the whole race will vanish imperceptibly from the face of the earth.”
Actually, it’s a columnist in Business Week, Stephen Wildstrom. But he has an excellent point: the free market doesn’t cut it. Government regulation is required.
A bit over a year ago, I wrote a column arguing that innovation on the Internet would be best served if the government mostly kept its hands off. I’ve changed my mind. The behavior of the top telecommunications companies, especially Verizon Communications and AT&T, has convinced me that more government involvement is needed to keep communications free of corporate interference.
The incident that swayed me was a decision in September by Verizon Wireless, majority owned by Verizon Communications, to block Naral Pro-Choice America from using its system to send text-message alerts to supporters. Verizon, which had cited a policy barring distribution of content that “may be seen as controversial or unsavory,” quickly backed down after a public outcry. But, a spokesperson says, Verizon “reserves the right to deny other programs in the future.”
Verizon has that right under current law. It may not interfere with voice messages, but “common carrier” requirements do not apply to any form of text or data transmission. They should.
Of all the dumb and dishonest arguments in favor of telecom amnesty — and there are many — the dumbest and most dishonest is that it is unfair to subject telecoms to the “high costs” of defending against these lawsuits. It should come as no surprise, then, that this is the principal argument The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt advances today in his latest call for telecom amnesty:
As we have said, we do not believe that these companies should be held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities.
In 2005, the total revenue of Verizon — from telephone services alone — was $75 billion. ATT’s total 2006 revenue was $63 billion. Whatever the “costs” of defending these lawsuits are, it is a minscule — really undetectable — amount to these companies. Whatever the telecoms’ motives are in wanting amnesty for their lawbreaking, being relieved from “costly litigation” has nothing to do with it. Trite pseudo-populist rhetoric about the “high costs” of litigation might work when it comes to lawsuits against small businesses or individuals. There, attorneys fees and other expenses really do make lawsuits expensive to defend. But they still have to go to court to prove they did nothing wrong. That is what it means to live under “the rule of law.”
Glenn Greenwald has a good column:
Several developments over the past few days demonstrate real progress in the effort to stop telecom amnesty. This Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball details the efforts triggered by bloggers, along with MoveOn, to stop the bill, led by Chris Dodd:
A White House campaign to win quick passage of a major surveillance bill has hit a new snag in recent days: four Democratic presidential candidates have signaled their intention to oppose the measure as it is currently written. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut took the lead last week when he vowed to filibuster a version of the bill overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee. . . . In a statement blasting the program as “unconscionable,” Dodd said he would “do everything in my power to stop Congress from shielding this president’s agenda of secrecy, deception, and blatant unlawfulness.”
No sooner had Dodd issued his statement than MoveOn.org — along with leading liberal bloggers such as DailyKos — launched their own campaign to pressure other Democratic presidential candidates to commit to the same position. In mass e-mails, MoveOn urged its supporters to call other Democratic senators running for president and encourage them to back a filibuster of the bill. Dodd’s campaign reported $200,000 in new donations in the first 36 hours after he issued his filibuster threat.
By Wednesday, at least two other candidates — Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden — had joined with Dodd in pledging to oppose any surveillance bill that includes immunity for the telecoms. Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front runner, released a more equivocal statement, saying she was “troubled by the concerns” raised about the bill and pledging to “study it very hard.” The statement continued: “As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently.”
That all demonstrates emerging and increasingly effective anti-amnesty positions from everyone in the Democratic field — except one. As Matt Stoller noted, even the New York Daily News, in the course of criticizing efforts to derail telecom amnesty, mocked Clinton for her nonsensical statement about whether she would filibuster. Demonstrating the increasing significance of these efforts, Chris Dodd has now been invited to appear this Sunday on Meet the Press, where he will be the only guest for the entire hour. His stance in defending the Constitution generally, and his specific efforts to stop telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping, will undoubtedly be a major topic (see Dodd’s superb Senate floor speech this week on these issues here).
The price of oil has begun its inexorable rise as production peaks:
The oil futures price flirted with $90 a barrel last week, but now the flirtation is over. The price for December deliveries is now at $91.86 and no one is saying what the ceiling might be.
There is no other commodity like crude oil. No other single item is as pervasive in modern society. Whether affecting transportation costs or plastic prices or heating oil, increases in the price of crude ripple through the economy like nothing else.
The price at the end of 2006 hit a low for the year at less than $60, trading for $55.68 on the first day of trading in 2007. The rise started slowly, getting back over $60 in early March, then crossing the $70 a barrel threshold in late June. In late July, it climbed to $78 a barrel, matching the high price of 2006, then fell back to the low 70’s. If last year’s high price was a psychological barrier, it didn’t last long. The price topped $80 a barrel for the first time in mid-September, falling back to $79 at the beginning of this month. The price has gone up over $12 in three weeks time, a 15% increase in just three weeks.
The logic of the marketplace says the price of oil should rise until the public shows a willingness to change its ways. When you are selling every last ounce of a commodity you produce, you are throwing away profit by keeping the price stable. You may find that the product is very sensitive to price changes and have to cut the price back, but it’s already been seen time and again that the public wants petroleum products and previous price spikes didn’t change people’s buying habits by much. It’s not a controversial statement to say we are addicted to oil. Bush has said it himself a few times.
In a war, every nation should police its military to ensure that it is not simply releasing armed thugs to kill civilians as they want. The US is failing this test. The US mercenaries in Iraq, notably Blackwater, have clearly not hesitated to gun down civilians who were no threat, and now as the urban war shifts to the air, the regular military is callous about civilian deaths. Take a look:
Several years ago, I warned that as the Bush/Cheney administration sought to reduce politically problematic casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would resort to increased use of air attacks to combat the growing insurgency in Iraq and the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
I also predicted that the result of this switch in tactics would lead to higher civilian casualties in those two countries.
We’re now seeing those results.
In the latest reports from Iraq, we had 15 women and children slain, mostly in their homes by rockets and bullets fired from helicopter and fixed-wing gunships which were allegedly in pursuit of some supposed “al Qaeda” fighters, and as many as 17 civilians killed in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood when US forces called in air strikes after seeing a group of men they deemed to be hostile. Again those air strikes ended up killing more civilians than alleged enemy fighters.
The casual use of the term “air strikes” belies the horror of what is happening. It’s one thing to call in air strikes during a battle out in the desert or the mountains, where the enemy is isolated and readily identified. It’s another to call in the bombers and gunships in the heart of a densely populated city. Such tactics are guaranteed to kill innocent people in large numbers.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, …
The era of the torch song seems to be over, though songs of love unrequited or lost still are common—in country music, such songs are a staple. Ruth Etting was certainly one of the greatest torch singers, with great material: “Take Me In Your Arms (Before You Take Your Love Away),” “Mean To Me,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Just One More Chance,” and—not exactly a torch song, but a melancholy song of lack of love—her signature song, “Ten Cents A Dance.”
I’ve often thought that Diana Krall should do a an album of Ruth Etting covers—she’d be great, and it would also be great to hear the entire songs again (that is, including the verse, so often omitted—when’s the last time you heard the verse to “White Christmas,” for example, or “Stardust”?).
Doris Day and James Cagney starred in a lightly fictionalized Ruth Etting biopic, Love Me or Leave Me, with Cagney playing the role of her gangster husband Marty “Moe the Gimp” Snyder. Cagney does a brilliant job of showing how Marty, aggressive and insecure, could still have prompted some love, though Ruth Etting herself said nine-tenths of the reason she married him was fear. Very good movie, and well worth watching. Doris Day listened to a lot of Ruth Etting records to study for the movie.