Sunday, January 31

"Enough is Enough"

FiveThirtyEight recaps Obama's Q&A with the House GOP.

Saturday, January 30

Presidential Question Time with the House GOP

More interesting than his State of the Union...

Andrew has reactions and his own discussion.

Friday, January 29

Scott Brown in his own words

The Boston Globe interviews:
How do you fit into that calculation, and the pressure to vote the Republican line.

"I already spoke to the leaders, I already spoke to them, and the whip. I told them, I said, 'With all due respect I really don't know a lot of you people and you don't know me, but maybe that's good because I'm gonna vote how I want to vote. But I'll be respectful and I'll tell you why and how and you can certainly let me know your thoughts and maybe I'm missing something, but I'm gonna just vote how I feel is important to vote. And they were cool, they said, 'OK, do whatever you want. You could probably do whatever you want right about now, Scott, so that's OK.' So they were very respectful, and they understand, they understand that all eyes are on me."
On the face of it, this is encouraging--the kind of senator I want to see. But we'll have to see how he actually votes.
You pride yourself on being a multitasker, but you can begin to answer all that mail and e-mail?

"I did already. I already answered them. And the letters, obviously, I open them, I read them, and then I give them to a staff person to respond, but I sign them all and personalize them. If somebody's gonna take the time to write me a letter or write me an e-mail I'm gonna do my very best to write them back. It may not be today but it will definitely be within a couple of days. That's what makes our office so good. When we get e-mails or phone calls, I pick up the phone and call them up. I don't e-mail them back, I don't write them, I call them. And that's what's gonna set us apart from every other office down there. We're so psyched. We're gonna have a constituent office second to none. That's our no 1 priority."
It doesn't sound like he's aiming to be a one-term senator.
Along those lines, past and present, who are your political role models?

"Well first of all, I haven't read that book, I'm looking forward to it. I said it during the debate, and during that thing when Dan Rea said, 'Give me one person,' well, I can't give you one person. You know, different decades. Obviously JFK, everyone -- he was, everybody's president. Ronald Reagan, what he did with the Iron Curtain. You know, President Bush in terms of what he did after 9/11, in terms of our security. I didn't agree with hardly anything on what he did on domestic fiscal issues. And you know Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman."
Fuck you, man. What Bush did to this country in response to 9/11 is one of the worst tragedies of the last half century.  McCain and Lieberman, ick. Can't the Northeast give us someone better than another Giuliani-style hack?
On immigration, you sounded excited about the aide you hired. Is that a big issue for you?

"It's huge, it's huge now, especially with Haiti. It's huge, it's the no. 1 issue affecting -- that will affect my office, and I have the best person in place to handle it. And I'm so honored -- I'm just like overwhelmed, I almost, like, you know, cried when she said yes, she'll stay. Especially, you know, there are a lot of single kids, kids that are being adopted, people -- Americans and citizens that are still there trying to get home, they're not getting help with the embassy. When I met with the ministers, they actually gave us some names which we forwarded off to try to find out the status. So yeah, immigration is important, but my policy hasn't changed with regard to how we deal with the immigration issue. It's just a question of, we have to immediately provide the resources to process these people quicker. It's immoral to let them wait in line so long. If we can find money for the banks, we can find money to process people through immigration quickly."
Well, I suppose that's somewhat encouraging.

Californians to vote on expansive green immigration program...

a marijuana legalization initiative will be on the ballot in California this fall. Today the backers of the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act turned in nearly 700,000 signatures; they need just 434,000 to qualify the measure for the ballot. The Los Angeles Times notes that "a Field Poll taken last April found that 56% of voters in the state and 60% in Los Angeles County want to make pot legal and tax it."

Stuck without a proposed course of action

Jim Manzi reacts to the SOTU.

Ready-made right-wing talking points

Democrats are aligned with the terrorists!

Thursday, January 28

How natural is masturbation?

Andrew explains so you don't have to.

"I Just Remembered Chris Matthews Was White"

Memeorandum reminds us what an excellent writer TNC is.

Joke of the day

FakeAPStylebook: Only print wedding announcements for traditional couples: preteen girls in arranged marriages to elderly men.

Feingold feels the heat

That's according to Rasmussen. It'll be interesting if it pans out to be competitive, as this is one race I actually have a say in.

I am not as familiar with Thompson as I should be, so I'll withhold judgment there. But I'll say this about Feingold: despite his blinders on campaign finance, he's still a great civil libertarian and perhaps the very best sitting Democratic senator.

It is difficult for me to envision a scenario in which I don't vote for him. But if so it would be primarily anti-Democrat, not anti-Feingold. I'd put 60 Feingolds in the Senate if I could...

The Postal Service - Such Great Heights

Quote of the day

"I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth." —Barack Obama, 2010 State of the Union

Source: Heritage

It seems we have different ideas about fixing the problems that are hampering growth.

Wednesday, January 27

Monday, January 25

True Financial Injustice

Andrew linked to James Fallows' guide to impressive journalism.

As Fallows says, his first NPR link about the bail-bond system is absolutely riveting.

Give it a listen as you get some work done.

Sunday, January 24

Rainy mood

Last night I slept with this background noise, it's great.

What kind of idiot would build a pyramid next to a Pizza Hut!?

Yes, this photo is real. Quoth a redditor:
An empire built on slave labour in such close proximity to a cultural landmark? Shocking.

But I'm not sure which one is which.

Saturday, January 23

Undeep thought

My prediction is that in another ten years we will look back on this decade with 2020 hindsight.

Friday, January 22

Thursday, January 21

What works best in online dating photos?

OkCupid runs the numbers.

Twitter funnies

I have been slow to pick up on The Twitter (he says ironically). What is the point of following hundreds of feeds? There's sooo much inanity in most, how does one find individual tweets worth reading? They're like needles in a haystack.

Furthermore I prefer the format of long form blogs (insert 140 character joke). My google reader is beyond overloaded already--there really isn't time in a day for much more.

But I've made a Twitter list of several feeds I think are amusing enough to follow in toto.

Inertia's such a bitch

Wednesday, January 20

Scott Brown is pivotal

538/Boris Shor explain.

Scott Brown's victory speech

Via Ambers, some excerpts:
This special election came about because we lost someone very dear to Massachusetts, and to America. Senator Ted Kennedy was a tireless and big-hearted public servant, and for most of my lifetime was a force like no other in this state. His name will always command the affection and respect by the people of Massachusetts, and the same goes for his wife Vicki. There's no replacing a man like that, but tonight I honor his memory, and I pledge my very best to be a worthy successor.

I said at the very beginning, when I sat down at the dinner table with my family, that win or lose we would run a race which would make us all proud. I kept my word and we ran a clean, issues oriented, upbeat campaign - and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

[..] This little campaign of ours was destined for greater things than any of us knew, and the message went far beyond the name on the sign.

It all started with me, my truck, and a few dedicated volunteers. It ended with Air Force One making an emergency run to Logan. I didn't mind when President Obama came here and criticized me - that happens in campaigns. But when he criticized my truck, that's where I draw the line.

We had the machine scared and scrambling, and for them it is just the beginning of an election year filled with surprises. They will be challenged again and again across this country. When there's trouble in Massachusetts, there's trouble everywhere - and now they know it.

In every corner of our state, I met with people, looked them in the eye, shook their hand, and asked them for their vote. I didn't worry about their party affiliation, and they didn't worry about mine. It was simply shared conviction that brought us all together.

[..] In health care, we need to start fresh, work together, and do the job right. Once again, we can do better.

I will work in the Senate to put government back on the side of people who create jobs, and the millions of people who need jobs - and as President John F. Kennedy taught us, that starts with an across the board tax cut for individuals and businesses that will create jobs and stimulate the economy. It's that simple!

I will work in the Senate to defend our nation's interests and to keep our military second to none. As a lieutenant colonel and 30-year member of the Army National Guard, I will keep faith with all who serve, and get our veterans all the benefits they deserve.

And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation - they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the wrong agenda for our country. What I've heard again and again on the campaign trail, is that our political leaders have grown aloof from the people, impatient with dissent, and comfortable in the back room making deals. And we can do better.

They thought you were on board with all of their ambitions. They thought they owned your vote. They thought they couldn't lose. But tonight, you and you and you have set them straight.
Needless to say I disagree with the notion that captured terrorists don't have the right to a fair trial when taken outside a theater of war. We tried the Nazis at Nuremberg, and we can certainly try other despicable enemies of humanity like Al Qaeda's leaders and operatives.

Tax dollars paying for lawyers is a tiny drop in a very large bucket, and for Scott Brown to politicize such due process is unbefitting of a JAG lawyer. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

Monday, January 18

The return of Northeastern Republicans

Douthat ponders whether the endangered species is making a comeback. Money quote:
[T]he “Gingrich-Bush shield” [protected] Democrats all across the northeast for fifteen years, by making a vote for a Republican seem like a vote for the folkways of the American South. [Steve Kornacki's] argument is similar to the one advanced in Chris Caldwell’s late-1990s essay on “The Southern Captivity of the G.O.P.”, which argued that “the southern presence in the Republican Party” was becoming so overwhelming that it threatened to permanently alienate the rest of the country.

Now, of course, both Bush and Gingrich are gone, taking the shield with them, and suddenly northeastern swing voters are willing to consider “voting for a Republican candidate as a way of expressing frustration with the ruling Democrats.” Thus Chris Christie in New Jersey; thus Scott Brown in Massachusetts; thus Pat Toomey’s small lead in the Pennsylvania polls.
Yankee Doodle, folks.

(Image: Nineteenth century painting by A.M. Willard, known as "Yankee Doodle" and "The Spirit of '76". Often imitated or parodied, it is one of the most famous images relating to the American Revolutionary War. The life-sized original hangs in Marblehead, Massachusetts.)

Build your own health care decision tree

No one said it would be easy...

Like Steve Benen, I would bet the House "folds" and ratifies the Senate bill without a conference, it goes to Obama for his signature, and fixes are made in the upcoming budget bill.

I don't agree with Keith's chart above of, provided Brown wins, 45% collapse and 25% ram it through. By Senate precedent, Kirk shouldn't be allowed to vote after the election tomorrow. That means no ramming.

And having this bill collapse would be extraordinarily bad for Democrats come 2010. They know this. Stupak's pro-life cabal and progressives in the House pushing for a more lefty bill need to cave.

My preferred scenario is the House doesn't fold in time and Snowe, Brown, and maybe Collins write a better bill and tell the Democrats to take it or leave it, and they eventually all fold. I can't give this more than 5% odds, however.


(ht Perry)

Next on the Democrats' Senate worry list

Former New York Governor George Pataki now holds a significant lead against potential Democratic rivals for the 2010 New York Senate seat according to recent polling, reports Steven Greenberg of the Siena Research Institute. Among potential voters, Pataki now holds a wide lead over current Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, at 51% to 38% .  This is in contrast to the results of a poll just over a month ago that had Gillibrand in the lead at 46% to 43%. Pataki holds an even larger lead over former Tennessee Representative Harold Ford, Jr., at 54% to 32%.
Well that's a shocker if it bears out, but it's one poll--take the requisite grains of salt.

Sunday, January 17

Too close to call

Nate has Massachusetts as a tossup.

Quote of the day

"Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the agenda of a new establishment in Washington."

Scott Brown, campaigning in Massachusetts. Ah the things pols say to be elected... uncensors itself: Chinese hustle for maximum information before the curtain comes down

Just as cicadas thrum more urgently at the start of autumn, sensing that the end is nigh, internet users in China have been seizing in animated fashion on what one called “the last crazy days of”.

With the US technology giant allowing uncensored searches in Chinese for the first time, citizens of the People’s Republic are this week indulging their curiosity ahead of a widely expected crackdown.

“I’ve been doing all sorts of crazy searches, really distracting myself from my work,” says one. “I’ve done Tiananmen Square, the love affairs of national leaders, the corruption of leaders’ children. Everything.”

Another internet user says the buzz of illicit abandon is reminiscent of the mood in Tiananmen Square itself, shortly before the People’s Liberation Army crushed the protests there in 1989. “There is no way that Google will get away with this. They will have to leave China for sure,” he adds.
Go read the whole FT article.

The case for Coakley

Andrew makes his.

I would agree that the GOP has largely become a party of nihilist hacks. But I despise Coakley, remain supportive of Brown, and don't think it's fair to lump one of the most liberal Republicans in the country--more liberal than Dede Scozzafava--in the same camp as the rest of the right.

Saturday, January 16

Avatar had a deleted sex scene

Hot tendril love!

Scott Brown wants hospitals to turn away all rape victims

Well of course he does. Or something. The Coakley camp is sure getting desperate.

The new marijuana majority

Andrew updates us:
In California and Washington State, full legalization is now looking more and more likely:
The Washington state legislature will hold a preliminary vote Wednesday on whether to sell pot in state liquor stores, though even its authors say the bill is unlikely to pass. The same day in California, backers of a well-funded ballot measure to legalize marijuana are expected to file more than enough signatures to put the initiative before state voters in November.
Activists have also been busy in Washington state, with one group filing a marijuana-legalization initiative last Monday to put the issue on the November ballot. Activists in Oregon, meanwhile, say they have collected more than half of the signatures they need by July to allow a vote on whether the state should set up a system of medical-marijuana dispensaries.
It's coming in the nation's capital as well. And the polls are shifting swiftly in favor:
According to an Angus Reid poll, 53 percent of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana. A further 68 percent of respondents said that the war on drugs has been a “failure.”

Friday, January 15

Scott Brown for Senate

Not that anyone in Massachusetts cares about my endorsement, but what the hey. It takes some ego to blog, so I'll throw it out here.

I like E.D. Kain's assessment:
All told, Brown strikes me as the right sort of leader for the Republican party of 2010. Not exactly a social conservative, but not particularly liberal either, he represents the larger middle on social issues. On economics he is a fiscal conservative, and he doesn’t seem particularly hawkish beyond the standard, boiler-plate support for Israel. On abortion he makes a great deal of sense, and on healthcare I think he could potentially be a strong ally of some bi-partisan legislation in the future should the current bill fail.

Quite frankly – though it’s far too early to say – I think he’s presidential material. He’s good looking, confident, well spoken, with strong conservative credentials and sensible, moderate social positions. He’s certainly strikes me as more down to earth than Mitt Romney.
Andrew correctly points out that Brown's Op-Ed contains absurdities. Sure, that's political salesmanship for you. But essentially I think he can do a lot of good for moderates as a Republican senator beholden to constituents in a very liberal state.

And FiveThirtyEight looked at the numbers and sees Scott Brown is a liberal Republican...
[..] two thirds of other Massachusetts Republican state legislators were more conservative than he was. This is evidence for my claim that he’s a liberal even in his own party. What’s remarkable about this is the fact that Massachusetts Republicans are the most, or nearly the most, liberal Republicans in the entire country!
So think of Maine's Snowe and Collins...that's the sort of sensible northeast Republican senator we can expect him to be. It'll be interesting if he becomes a presidential contender eventually.

Patenting a sarcasm punctuation mark

What'll they think of next?

Wednesday, January 13

Photo of the day

Pro-democracy lawmakers wore masks of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo during a legislative meeting about his case in Hong Kong Wednesday. Mr. Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for campaigning for political freedom. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Good news guys

Y chromosomes are evolving quickly.

"Twenty words you can't say in Alabama"

From the Economist's peerless Democracy in America blog:
Every politician says something he has to walk back once in a while. In the case of Bradley Byrne, a Republican candidate for governor of Alabama, it was
I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not.
Mr Byrne was battered by so much criticism that he quickly trudged to a Piggly Wiggly grocery store to hold a press conference and recant. Claiming he had been misquoted, he said
I believe the Bible is true. Every word of it.
Mr Byrne's momentary hesitation about the literal truth of every word of the Bible makes him the religious hippie in the Republican field. James Potts, another runner, thinks that public property should be allowed to display monuments to every faith—except Islam: "Either you accept our way of life or you go back to another country that is Muslim." All supported voluntary school prayer. All but one thought that public-school teachers should be allowed to teach from the Bible.

The one dissenter on that last question? Roy Moore, the judge famously stripped of his job as the state's chief justice for installing, then refusing to remove, a 5,200-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments in his courthouse. Yes, nearly all of the Republican candidates are running to Mr Moore's right on the role of Christianity in public life. Mr Moore's reason for not wanting to teach from the Bible in school was not, of course, because the Bible isn't perfect. He argued that government teaching of scripture could ruin it. Good to see that anti-government orthodoxy can still, sometimes, trump religious orthodoxy, in today's GOP.

"I just want my normal gay son back."

LOUISVILLE, KY—At first glance, high school senior Lucas Faber, 18, seems like any ordinary gay teen. He's a member of his school's swing choir, enjoys shopping at the mall, and has sex with other males his age. But lately, a growing worry has begun to plague this young gay man. A gnawing feeling that, deep down, he may be a fundamentalist, right-wing Christian.

"I don't know what's happening to me," Faber admitted to reporters Monday. "It's like I get these weird urges sometimes, and suddenly I'm tempted to go behind my friends' backs and attend a megachurch service, or censor books in the school library in some way. Even just the thought of organizing a CD-burning turns me on."

[..] "It's like I don't even know who I am anymore," the frightened teenager said. "Keeping this secret obsession with radical right-wing dogma hidden away from my parents, teachers, and schoolmates is tearing me apart."

[..] According to Faber, his first experience with evangelical Christianity was not all that different from other gays his age.

"Sure, I looked at the Book of Leviticus once or twice—everybody has," Faber said. "We all experiment a little bit with that stuff when we're growing up. But I was just a kid. I didn't think it meant anything."

Faber's instinct was to deny these early emotions. But recently, the Louisville teen admitted, the feelings have grown stronger, making him wonder more and more what life as a born-again right-wing fundamentalist would be like.

"The other week, I was this close to picketing in front of an abortion clinic," the mortified teenager said, his eyes welling up with tears. "I know it's wrong, but I wanted so badly to do it anyway. I even made one of those signs with photos of dead fetuses and hid it in my closet. I felt so ashamed, yet, at the same time, it was all strangely titillating."

Faber's parents, although concerned, said they're convinced their otherwise typical gay son is merely going through a conservative Christian phase.

"I caught him watching The 700 Club once when he thought he was alone in the house, and last week, I found some paperbacks from the Left Behind series hidden in his sock drawer," his mother, Eileen Faber, said. "I'm sure he'll grow out of it, but even if he doesn't, I will love and accept my son no matter what."

Faber's father was far less tolerant in his comments.

"No son of mine is going to try to get intelligent design into school textbooks," Geoffrey Faber said. "And I absolutely refuse to pay his tuition if he decides to go to one of those colleges like Oral Roberts University where they're just going to fill his head with a lot of crazy conservative ideas."

He added, "I just want my normal gay son back."

Lest we forget how awesome Conan actually is...

Five reasons why libertarians shouldn't hate government

Reason takes a look.

Monday, January 11

Bad framing on the excise tax

Ezra Klein explains...
A lot of the arguments over the excise tax are getting caught in a bad, and even slightly dishonest, sales job from its supporters. Sen. John Kerry's blog post defending the policy, for instance, isn't playing it straight. Saying it won't tax employees is a distinction without a difference: It will tax insurers, which will add the tax into the cost of their plans, and employers will either choose different plans or pass the cost on to employees. Similarly, saying it will affect only "3% of premiums in 2013" is designed to obscure the fact that it will hit a lot more policies in 2020. But this is one of those cases when bad arguments mask a good policy, rather than the other way around.

Health benefits should be taxed. There's no reason the system should make a dollar in employer-provided health insurance worth more than a dollar in wages. That's a straight incentive for employers to spend more and more on health insurance, which is contrary to the needs of the country right now. The excise tax begins to expose a small portion of employer-provided health-care costs to taxes. Meanwhile, someone who doesn't get employer-provided health care and buys their own insurance is getting taxed on every dollar they spend on health care.

No one defends this system in principle. They only defend it in practice. The excise tax has its opponents, but none of them say we should make food, or broadband Internet, tax free as long as it is provided by employers -- even though those things are also important! You don't even hear them demanding that the bill make non-employer-provided health care tax free. No one, in other words, is interested in expanding this system to other sectors, or even to the rest of the health-care sector. But given that this subsidy is worth about $250 billion a year, it's got a lot of defenders.

As a final note, the excise tax is a substitute for simply capping the employer tax exclusion. The swap came about because the politics of the excise tax are superficially better: Rather than taxing "workers" or "businesses," you're taxing "insurers." But insurers pass the cost along, of course. And the excise tax is more regressive than capping the exclusion. If you cap the exclusion, people get taxed at their normal marginal tax rate, which is virtually nothing for low-income workers. The excise tax, by contrast, is a flat surtax of 40 percent, no matter what your income. in this case, making the tax sound more populist also made it substantially more regressive.

Saturday, January 9

What in tarnation?!

Massachusetts's special election is now a tossup with the Republican leading 48-47 according to PPP?

I don't expect it to be that close, but this poll is actually a positive development for Democrats as it should light a fire under their GOTV efforts—obviously they aren't used to having to defend this state.

Quote of the day

"In the days leading up to an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, aides were worried with Ms. Palin’s grasp of facts. She couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations and she did not know what the Federal Reserve did. She also said she believed Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001."

Andrew pounces.

Dawkins back at his best

The author of "Atheist Delusions", David B. Hart, reviews the latest from the author of "The God Delusion."

Friday, January 8

Four funky GOP primaries

Ambers reviews. The one I'm watching:
KY SEN, Ron Paul's son, Dr. Rand Paul (yes, named after Ayn) is now leading...or slightly leading... in the Republican primary (incumbent Sen. Jim Bunning is retiring). The GOP establishment chose Secretary of State Trey Grayson, but Paul has pushed hard on his party's dissatisfaction with GOP leaders. (There's a bit of Mitch McConnell fatigue in his home state.)  Paul is ostensibly a libertarian, but he's getting support from all the conservative establishment interest groups, including the taxpayers union he once headed.  For TV producers, the Paul pa-son angle is irresistible. And the "audit the Fed" message resonates beyond the confines of the ReLOVEution. Also funky: one of those campaign-aides-posts-something-racist-and-has-to-resign angles. Grayson, again, is running a conventional NRSC campaign against Washington (jobs, Democrats, D.C.); Paul is running against Grayson as an embodiment of Washington. The primary is May 18.

Wednesday, January 6

Quote of the day

"on Pandora, all the creatures have been equipped by a benevolent nature with USB ports in their ponytails."

—Caleb Crain (via)

Douthat on the fillibuster

More sense

The U.S.'s largest trading partner

Is not China. Can you guess which country?

(I also enjoyed the comments section, where a mercantilist/protectionist gets owned by Prof. Perry and others who actually know what they're talking about)

Tuesday, January 5

Ignoring the cost of torture

Via the Dish, Julian Sanchez has been reading NRO's Corner and comments on the pro-torture right's stunning stupidity:
[I]f it seems as though torture ever yields important and actionable intelligence more quickly than alternative methods, we’re supposed to take it for granted that this completes the necessary utilitarian analysis. And this is just absurd. How does torture affect the willingness of enemy combatants to surrender? How much does it complicate our relations with allies? How many people does it help to radicalize against the United States? How many non-radicals does it leave sufficiently disgusted that they’re less motivated to assist the U.S. in fighting radicalism in their communities? You’ll notice that torture-fans never really attempt to deal remotely seriously with any of these questions; they just babble inanities about how Fanatics Will Hate Us No Matter What. Which, of course, some will—but that’s hardly to the point, is it?

Sunday, January 3

Quote of the day

"You really think this kid can‘t be convicted? You really think we don‘t have enough evidence beyond the—beyond the, I don‘t know, 300 or so eyewitnesses who were on the plane? The fact that we have the weapon that he tried to use? The fact that he confessed? You think that‘s not enough to get this kid convicted? You have that little faith in our criminal justice system? That little faith in the rule of law? You don‘t believe that a supermax federal American prison is capable of holding this kid?

You think it might be cool, instead, to martyr this kid as some impressive soldier, instead of some idiot confused rich kid who couldn‘t even handle blowing up his own junk with a bomb that was secreted in his own underpants? We‘re supposed to take national security advice from you guys? Really?" —Rachel Maddow

(via the Dish)

Capitalism, market economy slowly take root in N. Korea

WASHINGTON POST -- Kim's government in the past two years has closed some large markets, shifted Chinese-made goods to state-run shops and ordered that only middle-aged and older women can sell goods in open-air markets, to try to limit the number of North Koreans who abandon government jobs for the private sector. But capitalism seems to have already taken root. U.N. officials estimate that half the calories consumed in North Korea come from food bought in private markets, and that nearly 80 percent of household income derives from buying and selling in the markets, according to a study last year in the Seoul Journal of Economics.

Private markets are flooding the country with electronics from China and elsewhere. Cheap radios, televisions, MP3 devices, DVD players, video cameras and cellphones are seeping into a semi-feudal society, where a trusted elite lives in the capital Pyongyang. Surrounding the elite is a suspect peasantry that is poor, stunted by hunger and spied upon by layers of state security.

In the past year, the elites in Pyongyang have been granted authorized access to mobile phones -- the number is soon expected to reach 120,000. In the border regions with China, unauthorized mobile phone use has also increased among the trading classes. And unlike most of the mobile phones in Pyongyang, the illegal phones are set up to make international calls. Chinese telecom companies have built relay towers near the border, providing strong mobile signals in many nearby North Korean towns. Those phones have become a new source of real-time reporting to the outside world on events inside North Korea, as networks of informants call in news to Web sites such as the Seoul-based Daily NK and the Buddhist aid group Good Friends.

Affordable electronics are also cracking open the government's decades-old seal on incoming information. Imported radios -- and televisions in border areas -- are enabling a substantial proportion of the North Korean populations to tune in to Chinese and South Korean stations, as well as to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, according to an unpublished survey of newly arrived defectors in South Korea. It found that two-thirds of them listened regularly to foreign broadcasts.
(via Perry)

Saturday, January 2

Friday, January 1

And the beat goes on

Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little.

More than 3,000 patients eligible for Medicare, the government’s largest health-insurance program, will be forced to pay cash if they want to continue seeing their doctors at a Mayo family clinic in Glendale, northwest of Phoenix, said Michael Yardley, a Mayo spokesman.
But remember, things would somehow be better if we got rid of all the greedy insurance companies and had Medicare For All!

Ave Imperator! Silenti te salutant!

BAGHDAD — Iraqis on Friday reacted with disbelief, anger and bitter resignation to news that criminal charges in the United States had been dismissed against Blackwater Worldwide security guards who opened fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.

[..] The attack, at Nisour Square, left 17 Iraqis dead and 27 wounded. Many of the victims were riding inside cars or buses at a busy traffic circle when a Blackwater convoy escorting American diplomats rolled through and began firing machine guns, grenade launchers and a sniper rifle.
The Blackwater guards said they believed they had come under small-arms fire from insurgents. But investigators concluded that the guards had indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified assault.

The incident calcified anti-American sentiment in Iraq and elsewhere, raised Iraqi concerns about the extent of its sovereignty because Blackwater guards had immunity from local prosecutors and reopened a debate about American dependence on private security contractors in the Iraq war.
The accused have their own rights, and the court concluded they were violated by government officials offering immunity for testimony.

Here's Spencer Ackerman:
For all I know that was the right legal call. It was stunning to hear that the first U.S. agents to interview the Blackwater guards offered them immunity: not only were they from the State Department, not the Justice Department, but they were from the division of State that oversees the contract Blackwater held. Whether they intended to sabotage a prosecution is unknown, but that’s exactly what they effectively did.
The resulting dismissal is tragic but apparently necessary according to the standard that no one is obligated to testify against themselves.

I hope those State people have been or will be fired and ostracized... but they'll probably just get re-hired by some company like Blackwater/Xe.

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