Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 4th, 2010

Can’t wait to see the NRA spin on this

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Anahad O’Connor in the NY Times:

At least three people were wounded, two of them police officers, during a shooting early Thursday evening at a train station near the Pentagon.

The shooting took place at the entrance to a Metro station adjacent to the Pentagon, prompting officials to place the huge Arlington office complex and Department of Defense headquarters on lockdown for a brief period of time. Witnesses told local news stations that they heard gunshots and saw people screaming and scrambling out of the station.

According to Reuters, two of the people who were shot are Pentagon police officers. The third person is believed to be the gunman. NBC reported that two of the victims were rushed to George Washington Hospital for treatment; another was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

Virginia, which has some of the most lax gun laws in the nation, has been drawing criticism from gun control advocates lately by pushing to expand gun rights. The state’s General Assembly approved a bill in mid February allowing people to carry concealed weapons in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and the House of Delegates voted to end a 17-year-old measure forbidding people from buying more than one handgun a month.

It will probably be: “If only everyone at that station had been carrying a gun. Then everything would have worked out fine.”

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 6:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

From Murray to Blitzer

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Glenn Greenwald has a sort of sad column on how our news programs and newscasters have dwindled from the day when they stood tall and spoke out. Now they are corporate drones being pushed to provide entertainment not analysis.

Read the column for details.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

The Texas Taliban takes over Amarillo

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Maybe it would be best if Texas did secede from the Union, as Rick Perry wants. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Cost of foodborne illness in the US

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We pay a lot for not having a good food system. Christopher Doering for Reuters:

Foodborne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year, far more than prior estimates, according to a study released by consumer and public health groups on Wednesday.

Food safety advocates are hoping the study will boost efforts in Congress to overhaul the nation’s antiquated food safety system that has seen consumer confidence plunge.

In recent years, the food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile outbreaks, many involving produce, such as lettuce, spinach, peppers and peanuts, leading to a rash of illnesses and even death for consumers.

Dozens of pathogens, many of them unknown, creep into the food supply each year. The price tag includes medical costs, lost productivity and quality-of-life, according to a study from the Produce Safety Project.

"This is significantly more than previous official estimates and it demonstrates the serious burden that foodborne illness places on society," said Sandra Eskin, a spokeswoman with Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a group of consumer, public health and other groups pushing for stronger food safety laws.

The latest study to delve into foodborne illnesses comes as Congress works to craft legislation that would mark the first major overhaul of the food safety system in 50 years.

The House passed its bill last July and the Senate, which has been bogged down with healthcare and regulatory reform, is expected to act this year.

Continue reading. The GOP will, of course, do everything in their power to kill any reform.

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4 March 2010 at 4:50 pm

Looks like the party’s over

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UPDATE: More info here, with diagrams. This is quite serious, I hope you understand. I meant what I said when I titled the post. I don’t think yelling that it’s not happening is going to work, when push comes to shove.

Once the methane escapes, the party (and most life on Earth) is over. From

Study: Arctic seabed methane stores destabilizing, venting March 4, 2010

A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.

The research results, published in the March 5 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

“The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world’s oceans,” said Shakhova, a researcher at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center. “Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is released from previously frozen soils in two ways. When the organic material—which contains carbon—stored in permafrost thaws, it begins to decompose and, under oxygen-free conditions, gradually release methane. Methane can also be stored in the seabed as methane gas or methane hydrates and then released as subsea permafrost thaws. These releases can be larger and more abrupt than those that result from decomposition.

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is a methane-rich area that encompasses more than 2 million square kilometers of seafloor in the Arctic Ocean. It is more than three times as large as the nearby Siberian wetlands, which have been considered the primary Northern Hemisphere source of atmospheric methane. Shakhova’s research results show that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is already a significant methane source: 7 teragrams yearly, which is equal to the amount of methane emitted from the rest of the ocean. A teragram is equal to about 1.1 million tons.

“Our concern is that the subsea permafrost has been showing signs of destabilization already,” she said. “If it further destabilizes, the methane emissions may not be teragrams, it would be significantly larger.”

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4 March 2010 at 4:30 pm

The South

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From Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain:


Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still. Not so forcefully as half a generation ago, perhaps, but still forcefully. There, the genuine and wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century is curiously confused and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization; and so you have practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive works; mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried. But for the Sir Walter disease, the character of the Southerner—or Southron, according to Sir Walter`s starchier way of phrasing it—would be wholly modern, in place of modern and medieval mixed, and the South would be fully a generation further advanced than it is. It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid on slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of Sir Walter.

Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war. It seems a little harsh toward a dead man to say that we never should have had any war but for Sir Walter; and yet something of a plausible argument might, perhaps, be made in support of that wild proposition. The Southerner of the American Revolution owned slaves; so did the Southerner of the Civil War: but the former resembles the latter as an Englishman resembles a Frenchman. The change of character can be traced rather more easily to Sir Walter`s influence than to that of any other thing or person.

One may observe, by one or two signs, how deeply that influence penetrated, and how strongly it holds. If one take up a Northern or Southern literary periodical of forty or fifty years ago, he will find it filled with wordy, windy, flowery `eloquence,` romanticism, sentimentality—all imitated from Sir Walter, and sufficiently badly done, too– innocent travesties of his style and methods, in fact. This sort of literature being the fashion in both sections of the country, there was opportunity for the fairest competition; and as a consequence, the South was able to show as many well-known literary names, proportioned to population, as the North could.

But a change has come, and there is no opportunity now for a fair competition between North and South. For the North has thrown out that old inflated style, whereas the Southern writer still clings to it—clings to it and has a restricted market for his wares, as a consequence. There is as much literary talent in the South, now, as ever there was, of course; but its work can gain but slight currency under present conditions; the authors write for the past, not the present; they use obsolete forms, and a dead language. But when a Southerner of genius writes modern English, his book goes upon crutches no longer, but upon wings; and they carry it swiftly all about America and England, and through the great English reprint publishing houses of Germany—as witness the experience of Mr. Cable and Uncle Remus, two of the very few Southern authors who do not write in the Southern style. Instead of three or four widely-known literary names, the South ought to have a dozen or two—and will have them when Sir Walter`s time is out.

Life on the Mississippi

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

"Poverty" needs to be newly defined

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Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Interesting article on Eastwood and his movies

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Well worth reading. David Denby in the New Yorker:

On a beautiful day in Wyoming, in 1880, three men gather on a slight rise behind some rocks, ready to do a bit of killing. Two of them—William Munny (Clint Eastwood) and Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman)—are retired professional assassins, disgusted with their past but broke and therefore willing to shoot a couple of cowhands, unknown to either of them, for cash. The third is the excitable “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett), who has read Western dime fiction all his life and is hot to plug someone—pretty much anyone will do. Logan is the best shot, and he raises his Spencer rifle, aiming at one of the men, who are rounding up cattle with some others below. But, after hitting the man’s horse, Logan can’t pull the trigger again; he just can’t kill anymore. As the Schofield Kid loudly complains that no one’s dead yet, Munny takes the rifle and mortally wounds the cowhand, who howls so persistently for water that Munny shouts at his companions, “Will you give him a drink of water, for Christ’s sake? We ain’t gonna shoot.”

The scene, which appears more than halfway through Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Western, “Unforgiven,” is excruciatingly long—nearly five minutes—and, watching it for the first time, you sense almost immediately that the episode is momentous. The awkwardly insistent realism has a cleansing force: at least for that moment, ninety years of efficient movie violence—central to the Western and police genres—falls away. Old myths dissolve into the messy stupidity of life, which, as rendered by Eastwood, becomes the most challenging kind of art. It’s idiotic to kill a stranger for money, and, not only that, it’s hard. Particularly hard on the stranger, but hard on you, too. The Schofield Kid, it turns out, gets to shoot the other cowhand a bit later, as the guy is sitting in the crapper. But, afterward, the Kid is sickened and scared. Everything about the two killings feels wrong, which is all the more surprising since the creator of this sobering spectacle is an actor-director who became famous playing men who killed without trouble, and sometimes with pleasure.

Being underestimated is, for some people, a misfortune. For Eastwood, it became a weapon. Certainly, no one meeting him in his twenties, before his movie career began, would have seen much more than a good-looking Californian who loved beer, women, cars, and noodling at the piano—a fun guy to hang out with. Since those unprepossessing days, he has done the following: starred in a hit TV show, “Rawhide”; appeared in more than fifty movies and directed thirty-one, often acting, directing, and producing at the same time; added several menacingly ironic locutions to the language, such as “Make my day,” which Ronald Reagan quoted in the face of a congressional movement to raise taxes; become a kind of mythic-heroic-redemptive figure, interacting with public desire in a way that no actor has done since John Wayne; served as the mayor of Carmel; won four Oscars and received many other awards, including a hug from Nicolas Sarkozy while becoming commander of the Légion d’Honneur, last November. Those who were skeptical of Eastwood forty years ago (I’m one of them) have long since capitulated, retired, or died. He has outlasted everyone.

Early on, his outsider heroes operated with an unshakable sense of right. Such men were angry enforcers of order defined not by law but by primal notions of justice and revenge…

Continue reading. The article in the magazine has quite a few nice photos that are missing in the on-line version.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Movies & TV

The stupid start to cluster

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It looks as though the climate change deniers and the evolution deniers are teaming up in a sort of denial of science in general: elevation of ignorance to a principle. :sigh: I suppose we’ll always have the mouth-breathers with us, but shouldn’t someone kind of help them understand that the things they’re fighting are actually, observably true? Probably not. Leslie Kaufman in the NY Times:

Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools.

In Kentucky, a bill recently introduced in the Legislature would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

The bill, which has yet to be voted on, is patterned on even more aggressive efforts in other states to fuse such issues. In Louisiana, a law passed in 2008 says the state board of education may assist teachers in promoting “critical thinking” on all of those subjects.

Last year, the Texas Board of Education adopted language requiring that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming.

Oklahoma introduced a bill with similar goals in 2009, although it was not enacted.

The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

The measure made no mention of evolution, but opponents of efforts to dilute the teaching of evolution noted that the language was similar to that of bills in other states that had included both. The vote split almost entirely along partisan lines in both houses, with Republican voting for it and Democrats voting against.

For mainstream scientists, there is no credible challenge to evolutionary theory. They oppose the teaching of alternative views like intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it must be the design of an intelligent being. And there is wide agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring and that human activities are probably driving it. Yet many conservative evangelical Christians assert that both are examples of scientists’ overstepping their bounds…

Continue reading. You’ll note that the speakers in favor of ignorance curiously avoid providing examples and checkable facts.

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4 March 2010 at 3:39 pm

The GOP cage-match strategy

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Interesting article in Salon by Gene Lyon:

Let’s get one thing straight, as the nation’s esteemed TV news networks appear determined to obscure simple facts for ratings-building melodrama. The U.S. Senate has already passed the Obama administration’s healthcare reforms by a filibuster-proof majority. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi can persuade a majority of House Democrats to pass the Senate bill, that’s the ballgame. There’s nothing complicated about it.

All this scare talk about Democrats using the "nuclear option" or launching a "kamikaze mission" is the crudest kind of partisan propaganda. Using the Senate’s reconciliation process to make fiscal changes to a bill already passed was standard operating procedure under President Bush. It’s grimly amusing watching Senate Republicans, who spent years telling Democrats to get over the suspect 2000 presidential election, now pitching hissy fits over the prospect of a simple majority vote.

How many times did Vice President Dick Cheney emerge from his Fortress of Solitude to break 50-50 tie votes in the Senate? Eight times. As Paul Krugman points out, the Bush administration used reconciliation twice to pass tax cuts for tycoons, increasing the national debt by $1.8 trillion. To anyone whose sense of history extends beyond last week, what’s truly radical is the Republican Party’s effort to annul the 2008 election results by using the Senate filibuster to prevent the Democratic majority from passing anything of substance. Last year, they forced a record 112 cloture votes. Two months into 2010 the total is already 40, a rate that puts them on pace to triple the previous record.

In the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Depression, the GOP has chosen to paralyze government in the hope of blaming the Obama White House and Democratic Congress for getting nothing done. It’s a brazen strategy that depends upon news-media complicity and widespread public ignorance for success. Only 26 percent in a recent Pew survey, it’s worth reemphasizing, know how many Senate votes are needed to end a filibuster.

To justify themselves, some Republicans have tiptoed perilously close to the lunatic fringe. Several, including newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, made sympathetic noises after a lone demento flew an airplane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, killing himself and a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran who worked there.

The madman’s big gripe was that the agency denied his effort to evade taxes by declaring himself a religion.

Fox News guru Glenn Beck has started using eliminationist rhetoric about eradicating the "cancer" of "progressivism" from American politics. His growing enemies list now includes Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. If Beck’s rapt followers get their way, I guess we’ll need to dynamite Mount Rushmore…

Continue reading.

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4 March 2010 at 3:35 pm

A lying Democrat

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It’s not just the GOP that lies—we Dems have our own liars. I’m hoping for their defeat. Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress:

Yesterday, President Obama signaled his support for passing the Senate health care bill in the House alongside a reconciliation package of fixes, but pro-life Democrats led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) have pledged to oppose the Senate bill unless Congress strengthens the prohibitions against federal funding of abortion.

Stupak has relied on a fundamentally dishonest interpretation of the Senate bill to argue that it would allow for public funding of abortion, and the media has failed to fact check his assertions. Instead, most reports have covered the dispute between Stupak and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as a he-said/she-said story, adding legitimacy to Stupak’s gross misrepresentations:

– Yesterday, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Matthews played a clip of Speaker Pelosi adamantly denying that the Senate Bill allows federal funding for abortion and allowed Stupak to contradict Pelosi without settling the dispute.

– On Good Morning America, Stupak told host George Stephanopoulos that “if you go to page 2069 to page 2078 [in the Senate Bill] you will find in there that the federal government would directly subsidize abortions.”Stephanopoulos failed to press Stupak on the matter.

– A February 23rd CNN piece on Stupak’s grievance asserts, “There is extensive debate over which measure best complies with current law limiting federal abortion funding and whether the Senate version does or does not allow public funding of abortion.”

In fact, the “extensive debate” has been settled. Pages 2069-2078 of the Senate health care bill clearly prohibit federal dollars from funding non-Hyde abortions. Contrary to Stupak’s claim, page 2017 (lines 18-21) of the Senate bill give insurers the choice of providing abortion coverage. “The issuer of a qualified health plan shall determine whether or not the plan provides coverage [for abortion].” If the carrier chooses to provide abortion coverage, “the issuer of the plan shall not use any amount attributable to any of the following for purposes of paying for [abortion] services,” the bill says, before barring insurers from using government premium credits and cost sharing reductions to finance abortion coverage.

Furthermore, the bill requires insurers to “collect from each enrollee in the plan (without regard to the enrollee’s age, sex, or family status) a separate payment” for abortion services and deposit the payments into separate “allocation” account. “The issuer of the plan shall deposit…all payments described in subparagraph (B)(i)(I) into a separate account that consists solely of such payments and that is used exclusively to pay for services other than services described in paragraph (1)(B)(i).”

Stupak has also expressed concern about paying at least $1 into a reserve fund for abortion coverage. But that provision was actually included in the legislation to allay pro-lifers’ concerns and ensure that no taxpayer money is spent on abortion. The $1 is coming out of private premiums, not public dollars, and is a way of ensuring that carriers have sufficient funds to cover the services they offer. But Stupak is just shifting the goal posts. First, he complained about taxpayer funding for abortion; then, once Democrats strengthened the Senate language, he began arguing that private funds should not go towards abortion coverage. He can’t have it both ways.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 3:33 pm

Latent stories in Herodotus

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I’ve been putting this off because I’m going to have to type in a couple of paragraphs—once you get used to copy-and-paste, actual text entry seems burdensome—but I really want to point out one of the joys of Herodotus: latent stories. They require a bit of imagination, perhaps, but the story is there, just folded up into a cryptic sentence.

Here’s an example. Darius became king of the Persians after Cyrus was killed in an unnecessary war (in those days, when heads of state launched a war, they went along and joined in the fighting—a tradition that perhaps would have prevented the Iraq war had we still been following it) and Cambyses’ short reign had ended. (Cambyses was mad as a hatter.)  Darius also had visions of conquest, and after conquering all the city-states of Asia Minor (including the Greek city-states of Ionia), he decided to take on the Scythians.

As I understand it, we do not now know exactly who the Scythians were, but lived north of Asia Minor, apparently on the steppes, and they were nomadic horsemen: raiders and pillagers who did not live in cities, but traveled the steppes by setting up temporary camps. (Not a good choice, conquest-wise, since they had no permanent base.)

Darius had to cross the Ister River (modern Danube) heading north. He built a bridge to carry the army across—foot soldiers, cavalry, supply wagons, the lot—and left the Ionians behind to guard the bridge so Darius and his army could retreat if needed.

So Darius heads north, where the Scythians were. The Scythians retreated before Darius’s army, using a scorched earth policy so that the army didn’t have anything to eat or feed their animals except what they carried.

As Darius struggles on, the Scythians circle around behind him, to the bridge. The Scythians suggested to the Ionians that they could burn the bridge and go home and be freed of Persian rule, since the Scythians could then take care of Darius and his army, who would then have no way to retreat. Herodotus, at 4.137:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

A veteran’s reaction to The Hurt Locker

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Interesting column in the NY Times:

I was eager to see “The Hurt Locker” since it is one of the first movies about my war.

I found it very interesting. I saw a lot of reality there. I have seen and dealt with, to a limited extent, the addiction to adrenaline. I do not know of anyone who loved it more than their wife and child, but I do know that it can be extremely addictive. Jumping out of an airplane affords great odds of survival. Combat or disarming a bomb does not afford such great odds. Your body will react similarly but with more intensity. When this occurs daily or more than once daily your body craves it like a drug addict craves a drug. I found the movie entertaining, but given my experience, I imagine it was scary to me on a different level than most.

War movies in general are great for what they are: entertainment. I grew up in the 1980s and saw almost all of the good war movies of that time. I was in the theater for “Full Metal Jacket” and have a copy of “Platoon” at home. I own “The Boys in Company C,” “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and a few others. Like I said, they are good entertainment. But of course there is a darker side.

These movies glorify a situation that has no real glory in it. Turn to one of your relatives or friends who has been in combat and ask them what they think of war. I am sure that they will tell you that it is scary, gruesome and requires extreme intestinal fortitude. There are no Sgt. Strykers or Gunny Highways in the real Corps. We don’t have a director who can step in when all hell is breaking loose and yell, “Cut!”

I joined the Marine Corps because I was looking for a way to get my life on track. My grandfather did 28 years in the Corps (Korea and Vietnam) and my father did eight years in the Corps (Vietnam), then 13 in the Army. When I was given the opportunity to go to war in Iraq I was as happy as you can imagine. That was what I grew up watching in the movies. I wanted to be my own “Animal Mother” (see: “Full Metal Jacket”).

When I got to Iraq I soon learned that it was not the movies…

Continue reading.

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4 March 2010 at 1:24 pm

Insurance exorbitant rate hikes: the reason is greed

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As you suspected:

Source: Health Care for America Now

The pro-health care reform group Health Care for America Now has released a study (pdf) that debunks the idea that insurance companies’ recent, exorbitant rate hikes are driven by increases in the cost of medical care. The study shows that over the last eight years premiums have almost doubled, while medical inflation only increased by 40 percent. HCAN found that insurance companies are raising their rates more than 20% faster than the amount they are paying out to doctors, and at twice the rate that their underlying costs of medical care are rising. In short, insurance companies are hiking premium prices much more quickly than their costs are increasing. HCAN also found that insurance companies are spending the extra money on perks. For example, Anthem spent $27 million on 103 executive retreats to locations like Hawaii in 2007 and 2008 alone. From 2000 to 2008, insurance companies spent $716.4 billion of their premium dollars on administrative costs, salaries for their CEOs, and investor profit — practically enough to fund the entire health reform bill.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Front-of-package violations

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Here’s an interesting list: companies that have received a warning letter from the FDA and why.

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4 March 2010 at 1:09 pm

Being armed and ready in Starbucks

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Funny post at Balloon Juice by Annie Laurie:

There is something seriously wrong with a society where the headline “Starbucks Asks Not to Be Center of Gun Debate”appears in the New York Times:

Coffee chain Starbucks Corp. is sticking to its policy of letting customers carry guns where it’s legal and said it does not want to be put in the middle of a larger gun-control debate.

The company’s statement, issued Wednesday, stems from recent campaign by some gun owners, who have walked into Starbucks and other businesses to test state laws that allow gun owners to carry weapons openly in public places. Gun control advocates have protested.

The fight began heating up in January in Northern California and has since spread to other states and other companies, bolstered by the pro-gun group

Starbucks? This is your bold, patriotic idea of a dangerous venue in which to flaunt your precious Second Amendment pacifiers? Because laptop-wielding hipsters are soooo freaking terrifying? Because the baristas are armed with… scalding hot milk foam?

If your gun is a tool, it is something to be treated with the respect you’d show any potentially dangerous tool. Somehow I don’t see a spontaneous uprising of lumberjacks carrying chainsaws and construction workers flourishing jackhammers at the local Starbucks, because this is the real world, not a badly scripted porno movie. Semi-retired CPAs who listen to a lot of Rush Limbaugh, please copy.

Anyone who has to demonstrate his political allegiances by flashing a gun at a Starbucks has presumably decided that it’s too risky to “support the Second Amendment” at a Dunkin Donuts… where the professional security forces hang out. Or even at the local McDonald’s, where some safety-conscious mommy at the ball pit would be liable to give you a very hurtful talking-to.

Is it possible that that this organization is actually a Borat-style performance? Because, seriously… Manliness FAIL.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

FUD as a political strategy

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IBM had great success with FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) as a marketing strategy during the heyday of Big Iron: they would get IT directors so worried about making any change that they would inevitably stick with IBM, while muttering, "No one ever got fired for going with IBM." \

Now the GOP is trying pushing fear, uncertainty, and doubt to get Republicans elected. They seem to have no policy ideas to offer, so they just try to scare people. This is now documented, thanks to a document from the RNC meeting that was left behind in a hotel room. Ben Smith has the story at Politico.

Kevin Drum and Steve Benen both have good posts commenting on this interesting development. Drum:

You know, when liberals claim that conservatives are rabid reactionaries motivated by fear, hatred, and greed, they say we’re a bunch of coastal elitists who are out of touch with the feelings of real Americans living in the heartland. But guess what? In the privacy of their own fundraising PowerPoint presentations, it turns out that Republican Party honchos describe their base pretty much the same way:

The small donors who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary.”

Major donors, by contrast, are treated in a column headed “Calculated Giving.” Their motivations include: “Peer to Peer Pressure”; “access”; and “Ego-Driven.”

So who do you think should be more offended by this: small donors or major donors? I say major donors. The small givers are characterized as fearful and reactionary, and who knows? They might actually glory in that description. ("Reactionary? Hell yeah.") But the major donors who are supposedly motivated by peer pressure, access, ego, and greed? It’s possible that their egos are so big they’ll just assume this applies only to other major donors, not them, but probably not. If I were them, I’d be pretty pissed.

In any case, pay no attention to all this. "Chairman Steele did not attend" the presentation an RNC flack assures us. "Obviously, the Chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable. It will not be used by the Republican National Committee — in any capacity — in the future," he said. Click the link to see just what "imagery" he’s talking about.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Politics

Crazy is as crazy does

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Some politicians deserve the label "crazy" (Michelle Bachmann, who suggested that people be "armed and dangerous" when the Census comes around), Glenn Beck, John McCain, James Inhofe, and probably now Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley (who is getting hysterical fighting an amendment that he himself introduced). But others are just unconventional. Greenwald:

My Salon colleague, Mark Benjamin, writes about last night’s Larry King Show — featuring a debate between Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson and GOP Rep. Michelle Bachmann — and does so by repeatedly branding Grayson as being every bit as "crazy" as Bachmann.  Beginning with the article’s headline ("Bachmann and Grayson: A diary of crazy") to his sarcastic description of "these two towering intellects" to his claim that Grayson and Bachmann are "the Candy Stripers of Crazy of their parties," Benjamin denigrates Grayson’s intellect and mental health by depicting him — with virtually no cited basis — as the Democratic mirror image of Bachmann’s rabid, out-of-touch extremism.  This view of Grayson has become a virtual Washington platitude, solidified by The New York Times‘ David Herszenhorn’s dismissal of Grayson as "the latest incarnation of what in the American political idiom is known as a wing nut."

There are so many things wrong this analysis.  To begin with, it’s a classic case of false journalistic objectivity:  the compulsion of journalists to posit equivalencies between the "two sides" regardless of whether they are actually equal (since I’m calling a GOP member of Congress "crazy," I now have to find a Democrat to so label).  Benjamin cites numerous Bachmann statements that demonstrate her penchant for bizarre claims (and there are many he omitted), but points to only one Grayson statement:   his famous floor speech in which he claimed: "If you get sick in America, the Republican health care plan is this:  Die quickly."  One could reasonably object to that statement as unduly inflammatory rhetoric, but Grayson was one of the only members of Congress willing to forcefully connect health care policy to the actual lives (and deaths) of American citizens.  There’s nothing crazy about dramatically emphasizing that causal connection; far crazier is to ignore it. 

But more important, Grayson has managed to have more positive impact on more substantive matters than any House freshman in a long time (indeed, he makes more of a positive impact than the vast majority of members of Congress generally).  He has tapped into his background as successful litigator and his Harvard degrees in law and public policy to shape public discussion on a wide range of issues –  from his highly effective grilling of the Fed Vice Chair regarding massive, secretive Fed activities and aggressive investigation of the fraud surrounding the Wall Street bailout to his unparalleled work exposing defense contractor corruption, his efforts to warn of the unconstitutional underpinnings of anti-ACORN legislation (a federal court proved him right), his creative (if not wise) legislative proposals to limit corporate influence in politics, and his successful, bipartisan crusade to bring more transparency to the Fed.  What conceivable basis exists for disparaging as "crazy" one of the few members of Congress who is both willing and able to bring attention to some of the most severe corruption and worst excesses of our political establishment?

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Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Congress, Media, Politics

Report discredits letter McCain was waving about

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Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress:

Although respected military figures such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. Colin Powell have spoken out in favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), opponents are still insisting that most military commanders believe that gay men and women serving openly in the military would have disastrous consequences.

One of the reports these opponents hide behind is by “Flag and General Officers for the Military.” It’s a letter signed by 1,000 “distinguished retired military leaders” who all say they oppose DADT repeal: “Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal [of the law] on morale, discipline, unit cohesion, and overall military readiness.” On Feb. 2, for example, a “cranky” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “Well, I hope you’ll pay attention to the views of over a thousand retired and flag general officers” when considering whether to repeal DADT. Frank Gaffney, president of conservative Center for Security Policy, cited the letter in a Washington Times op-ed that same day.

However, a new Servicemembers United report severely undermines the legitimacy of this letter. Some of the problems:

The average age of the officers is 74. The “oldest living signer is 98, and several signers died in the time since the document was published.” Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson added that only “a small fraction of these officers have even served in the military during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period, much less in the 21st century military,” so it’s hard to believe that they “know how accepting and tolerant 18- and 21-year-olds are today.”

– “At least one signer, Gen. Louis Menetrey, was deceased when the letter was published and didn’t sign the document himself. According to a footnote on the letter, his wife signed the document for him after his death using power of attorney — six years after Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of the ability to communicate.”

– One signatory said that they “no longer want to be a part of the letter, writing to the organization, ‘I do not wish to be on any list regarding this issue.‘”

Multiple generals said they “never agreed” to sign the letter in the first place, writing “I never agreed. To represent either side of this issue” and “I do not remember being asked about this issue.”

At least seven officers “were involved in scandals tarnishing their careers.” Gen. Carl Mundy, for instance, gained negative publicity when he told CBS’s 60 Minutes that “minority officers do not shoot as well as the non-minorities.”

In June 2009, a PBS’s Ray Suarez also did a report on the letter, reporting, “The NewsHour contacted a number of four-star officers requesting an interview for this story. However, none agreed to speak to us on camera. One general expressed surprise his name was even on the list, since he says he had never agreed to sign the letter, and at least three officers listed as signatories are dead.”

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 11:54 am

The New McCarthyism

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Adam Serwer has a good article in The American Prospect:

The "Gitmo Nine" aren’t terrorists. They weren’t captured fighting for the Taliban. They’ve made no attempts to kill Americans. They haven’t declared war on the United States, nor have they joined any group that has. The "Gitmo Nine" are lawyers working in the Department of Justice who fought the Bush administration’s treatment of suspected terrorists as unconstitutional. Now, conservatives are portraying them as agents of the enemy.

In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush administration tried to set up a military-commissions system to try suspected terrorists. The commissions offered few due process rights, denied the accused access to the evidence against them, and allowed the admission of hearsay — and even evidence gained through coercion or abuse. The Bush administration also sought to prevent detainees from challenging their detention in court. Conservatives argued that the nature of the war on terrorism justified the assertion of greater executive power. In case after case, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the administration’s critics.

"These lawyers were advocating on behalf of our Constitution and our laws. The detention policies of the Bush administration were unconstitutional and illegal, and no higher a legal authority than the Supreme Court of the United States agreed," says Ken Gude, a human-rights expert with the Center for American Progress, of the recent assault on the Justice Department. "The disgusting logic of these attacks is that the Supreme Court is in league with al-Qaeda."

The attorneys who challenged the Bush administration’s national-security policies saw themselves as fulfilling their legal obligations by fighting an unconstitutional power grab. At heart, this was a disagreement over process: Should people accused of terrorism be afforded the same human rights and due process protections as anyone else in American custody? But rather than portray the dispute as a conflict over what is and isn’t within constitutional bounds, conservatives argue that anyone who opposed the Bush administration’s policies is a traitor set to undermine America’s safety from within the Justice Department.

"Terrorist sympathizers," wrote National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy in September, "have assumed positions throughout the Obama administration."

Since Obama took office, the question of detention procedure has been reintroduced and more deeply politicized. The Bush-era military commissions turned out to be woefully ineffectual and were widely seen as skewed against the defendants. Yet they produced only three convictions during the entire administration, in part because the U.S. Supreme Court kept knocking them down for failing to meet minimal due process standards. Meanwhile, civilian courts tried more than a hundred terrorism cases. But much to the disappointment of human-rights advocates, the Obama administration, while choosing to try the alleged September 11 plotters in civilian court, has opted to continue many Bush-era policies, including reformed military commissions.

Nevertheless, McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, blamed the "al-Qaeda bar" — the attorneys who secured due process rights for detainees — for Bush-era setbacks…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2010 at 11:52 am

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