Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A fast look at the Voting Rights ruling

While Congress is stalled (for the foreseeable future), the Supreme Court chugs on through its roster of important cases. It's probably good that two branches of government can still function. However, I don't think I'll be giving out accolades to the justices.

Yesterday, in a 5-4 vote along party lines (which weren't supposed to exist in the judiciary), the Supreme Court removed a provision of the Voting Rights Act that required Department of Justice review and approval of changes to voter law in areas with pervasive voter discrimination 50 years ago. It's easy to imagine that the law is outdated, and these places have taken the lesson to heart, changed their ways, and don't need the supervision anymore... after nearly 50 years of it.

Maybe these places, mostly in the South, have accepted the lesson that voting should be equally accessible to all citizen. However, looking at the whole country, the actual circumstances are different. Republican legislatures all over the country are trying to make it harder to access voting. They pretend that voter fraud is rampant, and that's their excuse for passing ID laws that they hope, secretly in their hearts, will reduce voting among minority, poor [i.e. Democratic] voters. They don't actually take measure to prevent the only pervasive form of voter fraud, which is the pooling of absentee ballots in the hands of professional vote wranglers.

The hope that political groups won't tamper with voting to suppress certain folks hasn't been fulfilled yet. For that reason, the ruling of the Supreme Court is premature, even after 50 years of oversight.

Luckily, we will still have citizen and media oversight. Suppression efforts are occurring, and will continue to occur, and will hopefully backfire as they did in 2012. Keep watching, keep reporting, keep embarrassing the schemers, the hacks, the operatives, the spin-shysters. All the tools to do that and to disseminate the information are available, thank God and the internet.

If I can repeat my motto for this year: Whatever you try to hide, it ain't going to stay hidden. Everybody, please make it so.

Fraud, or fair exercise?

Extra. I considered the possibility that monitoring isn't necessary anymore, but the posts about this ruling didn't support that: Pro-ruling, current tricks, even an enumerated list (probably incomplete).

Sigh--I voted for the hack

Yesterday was the special election to fill the senate seat left vacant when John Kerry became Secretary of State. I voted for the hackish Democrat, Edward Markey, who is too old and too doctrinaire liberal. How does it get to this point?

First, too few Democrats ran for this plum seat. This is a change from 2009, when lots of Dems ran for the seat that the Republican Scott Brown ultimately won. Most of them looked like hacks--very typical lock-step liberals. Michael Capuano seemed different. He proudly supported some of the compromises he made--and I love a good pragmatist. However, it seems that Capuano didn't even want to run this time, and cleared the way for his fellow (though lesser) House colleague, Markey.

Markey, as I said above, is a liberal hack, but a reliable one. I wanted to like his opponent, Steven Lynch, but the guy, also a House member, doesn't know what he's doing. During one debate, Lynch accused Markey of "knowing policy, but not people" [paraphrase, exact quote not located]. Horrors-- Markey voted against some verbal declaration on yada yada, but that's terrible. In Lynch's mind, it's worse than voting against the bank bailout that salvaged the economy, as Lynch had done.

I generally want to vote for the more moderate candidate, but that doesn't extend to stupid.

It's a bit harder for me to vote for a Republican right now. We need them to prevent the Dems from going whole hog, but they'd do a lot of damage if they achieved the major share of power in federal government. They might send shocks into the fragile recovery with large budget cuts, they'd do away with the best chance for the uninsured to get medical coverage, they'd enact all kinds of harmful social measures about marriage and abortion...

I'll only vote for a Republican who'll vote against these bad GOP ideas. Gomez claims to be "a new kind of Republican" but he's not for healthcare for everyone. He wants states to figure it out on their own. What a fucking lame excuse. He'll flush away the only decent health plan to pass in the past 30 years on that basis, not offering an alternative, and seemingly not caring about the problem enough to dig into it. There's no way I'll support another Senate vote to repeal Obamacare without a decent replacement in the works.

So I'm stuck with the hack Markey.
Markey, barely changed from 1976
Image: + Paint

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Security or freedom from surveillance

The exposure of NSA programs (the extent of which is not known) has chased the picayune scandals from most news pages. I don't know if blowhards on the right rue this or not, but I'm happy. Finally, a scandal that isn't primarily about scoring points, but has a very serious question at its core.

The big question, as I see it, is whether we in the US should allow wholesale collection of data by the US government. There are many issues to consider. Is the practice unconstitutional under the fourth amendment? (Probably, but open to interpretation. Here's a reminder of the fourth amendment.)
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Does the practice give the government the machinery to be totalitarian if it chooses to go that direction? (I'd bet money on that.) Does the practice help the government foil terrorist plots? (The director of the NSA says yes, about 50 of them.)

Oh drat--good arguments on both sides. How the hell can I decide whether constitutional rights protecting against warrantless searches are more important than stopping 9/11-like events?

You know, I really don't want more events like 9/11. I want potential terrorists to know that there's a high likelihood they'll be discovered if they try to plot something. If the government collects mountains of data to do that, it's a bit scary. But guess what? My grocery store chain already collects data on me (because I want those discounts, dammit!!!) and so does Google, which keeps offering me stuff I've already bought. The government isn't doing squat with my data that I can tell, probably because I don't trip any alarms with too many visits to jihadi sites coupled with airline tickets to Pakistan.

I am worried that I'm choosing comfort over principle. But maybe I'm choosing survival for thousands of my countrymen, which isn't the same as comfort. Maybe I'm letting my government fulfill its mission to protect  the security of the country, another highly important constitutional duty. 

Frankly, I suspect I can't reason my way through this issue. I might just be gathering data and arguments that support the conclusion I already have. That's a problem many people will have with this issue. 


Extras. Overview of massive data collection.

My failed thought experiment: Massive data collection is like watching a school of fish. You don't really see the individuals and you don't know anything about an individual. However, you can pinpoint the one that breaks the pattern. But the analogy breaks down when it comes to telephone usage patterns and internet usage patterns because there must be millions of different patterns.So the government can't be looking for everything that deviates from "the pattern" because there are so many deviations. Probably, they filter for specific behaviors. It's only when there is suspicious behavior that the government wants to determine the individual involved. That might pass a fourth amendment test--maybe.

So the government doesn't have a dossier on each person, or even close to that. But do they still have too much information? Yes, if you don't want the government to have the ability to track you. But it's necessary if you want the government to have the ability to track potential terrorists. Not an easy choice.

Short: Funny Farm bill

So the Senate passed a farm bill 66-27. But the House, riven by excessive partisanship, couldn't pass the bill supported by the not-all-powerful leadership. Nothing surprising or particularly interesting there.

However, I noticed this comment:
Why do they call this the "farm bill?" It is mainly SNAP funding these days, and nominally related to crop payments. Sure, the Ag department administers it, but it is really a welfare bill.
Is this a fake talking point, or the truth? Well, I looked it up, and it's true--67% of the farm bill is for food stamps. Wow.

Not that I'm totally surprised. I've noted the increase in food stamp expenditures before, and I've heard first hand of recipients selling the excess food stamps for cash. It sounds to me like a program that should be trimmed. But I'm still surprised that the food stamp give-aways outstrip the farm subsidies give-aways.

I use the pejorative term "give-aways" ironically, but that's how many see one or both programs. For my part, I want a strong agricultural sector in this country. Farmers deserve extra cushioning because we depend on them for our food, and they depend on fickle weather. I would support my doctor if she had a bad year with everyone healthy and no one visiting her (which doesn't happen) because I want her around rain or shine. I feel the same way about farmers.

The welfare program that supplies food stamps (now called SNAP for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is quite a different issue. It should be separated from the agriculture bills. But there's probably an "I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine" aspect to the bundling. Pols with a rural constituency team up with pols with a poor, urban constituency to make sure they both get their subsidies. Now that's a win-win proposition!


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Obama cleans out his closet

A few weeks ago, I took note of an interesting fact--Lois Lerner, an official at the IRS, solicited the question that started the whole IRS story. She called a journalist and arranged for her to ask the question. That's interesting, but it doesn't mean Lois Lerner is a whistleblower. The Inspector General's report on this IRS faux pas was due to be released, so she was perhaps trying to get ahead of it. Maybe she was launching the news of a Friday afternoon in hopes that it gets lost amid the weekend vacation luggage.

But another curious thought wandered through my gray matter. Perhaps Obama is doing some significant cleaning. He's trying to take care of some messes well before the 2016 election and even before the 2014 midterms. And it seems like there are plenty of messes that need sorting. Closing Guantanamo was one he could announce without shame, but it seems that there are plenty of others. So the story about the AP subpoena is out, the same about a Fox reporter (for records and a leak back in 2009), and now another leak about electronic communication tracking. 

I wonder what other misbehavior will surface in the next 5 months. If there are more IRS peccadilloes, and Obama's staff knows about them, they should be coming out. There are probably more surveillance surprises (or non-surprises). Libertarians are going to have a lot of grist to grind. Maybe this is also a safer way to start a national conversation about how much to roll back surveillance without election year grandstanding. Obama gets cover if he reduces surveillance, but if the reaction is heavily pro-surveillance, he's covered for the status quo. 

For people who think that the Obama administration is getting blasted right and left, consider my interpretation--that the Obama administration is quietly revealing its dirty secrets so it can be renewed and clean for its Redemption Tour in 2014. It's also setting the stage for the next Democratic president. 

The history of the administration is one without a large number of embarrassing leaks (except for the paranormal phenomenon of Wikileaks). The most well known leaks, about the drone program, have burnished Obama's stature as a tough Commander-in-Chief. My impression is that the Obama administration has been tighter and more honest that other administrations. Leaks have been surprisingly tightly controlled. Where they weren't beneficial (perhaps encouraged), the leakers were prosecuted harshly.


That's what I wrote last week before the leaker (about the data mining capabilities of the NSA's formerly secret program called PRISM) declared his identity. I wasn't surprised about this exposure. It doesn't seem that anyone was surprised.

In one way this fits the pattern I had noticed. On the other hand, this leak seems to have been initiated by a 29-year-old computer whiz working on his own timetable, so not a "scheduled" leak to help clear out the closet. However, the subject is one of the skeletons in the closet that Obama would like to bring into the open, but is most likely incidental to the leaker himself. Nonetheless, I'm not ready to let go of my hypothesis--that Obama will be cleaning the skeletons out of the presidential closet. (This may be bias on my part toward thinking my theories are brilliant.)

I expect that the cleaning will continue, with a peak sometime during the summer and tailing off well before Thanksgiving. If this is planned cleaning up of secrets/scandals, the new disclosures shouldn't last beyond Thanksgiving since Obama would want the whole of 2014 to be as clean as possible for the midterm elections. He needs to avoid being pulverized (or shellacked) as he was in 2010.

I will know that my hypothesis is wrong if the leaks continue past Thanksgiving, if the scandals reported are more serious in the fall than those leaked in the summer, or if top advisers and cabinets members start leaving in droves. Those are signs of uncontrolled releases of information, not the controlled releases I postulate.


Also interesting: Less mining than you think, says Google among others.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Short: Lots of Republicans are derpy

Josh Barro, an admitted recent deserter from the conservative fold, is my new favorite blogger. We seem to share a lot of the same opinions and the same lack of patience for lies and stupidity. His lack of patience also means that he gets to the point fast. As a lazy reader, I love that. I don't have to hack through the verbiage, so I can still catch up on his posts when it's past bedtime, or when I'm hung over (actually, I'll find that out this weekend).

In this refreshing post, he perfectly describes the kind of person who repeats their talking points endlessly, and won't stop no matter how much evidence has piled up refuting their belief. People like this are derps. However, even though the GOP has way too many derps, Barro will stick with being a Republican. Fun reading at anytime, day or night.

And remember, don't be a derp.

(No image. "Derp" is not only stupid, it's apparently very ugly too.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Strange trip into the arcane world of Dark Enlightenment

Just in case this political movement goes anywhere, I want to document for posterity (OK, for my small readership) the existence of a strange subculture in conservatism. Here's how it started: I followed up on the usage of the term "the Cathedral" in a comment from a hopeless conservative troll on Bernstein's blog.

The inventor of the term is an off-putting, wordy blogger, Moldbug. (I'm not sure what to make of that name.) The Cathedral is a term of derision for a bureaucracy that is greedy for control over ever larger portions of people's lives. It's coined by an atheist who hates both Church and modern liberal State.

The term strikes me as an apt comparison, so it's not a surprise that other people have taken it up. The points of similarity include propaganda, collecting tithes or taxes to support a large clerical class, complex tenets, censorship of ideas not conforming to those tenets, control of large academic and educational arms, and probably some I've missed. The term "Cathedral" refers specifically to the nexus of academia, the elite press, policy think tanks, and their influence/control over education, voting blocks, the legislative agenda, and public opinion.

Derbyshire, (yes, himapplauds the Moldbug concept of the world. It turns out that he is an adherent of a peculiar strain of political thought called dark enlightenment. Here is just a taste of their tenets:
- A realization that liberty is incompatible with democracy, and that democracy leads to mediocrity.
- A concern with bio-politics, oriented to a particular people’s biological and demographic imperatives.
- A rejection of egalitarianism.
With tenets like that, this political group has limited growth possibilities. It seems to me to be an offshoot of conservativism that has gone extreme--to a complete black/white, good/evil view of politics. And in the good/evil balance, democracy is evil. Also evil: the American revolutionaries, the Declaration of Independence, our separation from Great Britain, the acceptance of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, and the acceptance of human equality.

The thesis is a marvel of logic and logical jumps. I've only skimmed much of it, but I've noted a few flaws:

  • Toryism is good, and Whigs (the democratic impulse) is bad. 
  • Toryism leads to order, which is preferable to chaos, which is the outcome from democracy. 
  • Problem: Does Toryism always lead to order? Does democracy always lead to chaos? 
  • Problem: Is something good always 100% good? Not in my experience. 
  • Problem: Can anything good come from something labeled evil? Strangely (or not), yes.

The author seems aware of the possibility of faulty reasoning, so he states that his assignment of 'order' as 'good' is a preference. However, he seems unaware of the problems of black/white reasoning. Nonetheless, his discussion of the influence of academia and the other side of the American revolution are definitely worth reading, or at least skimming. And luckily, it is not dry droning. Metaphors are taken from Star Trek and The Matrix movie. Do you want the red pill or the blue pill?

As I said before, I see no way that these ideas will catch on in a big way. I've seen the term 'Cathedral' used several times, so do look for it. It will be extremely ironic if 'Cathedral' catches on considering the other baggage the term carries. If I ever hear Sarah Palin use it, or a member of Congress, I'll have a special private chuckle.

Next time you vote, savor it. Moldbug and Derbyshire (and this teacher) don't believe you should vote unless you're white, Anglo-Saxon, and own an estate.

The T-shirts for the good side are ready

Extras. Moldbug's manifesto is in four parts that are poorly linked. Use Google to find all four. Finally, some fun. A list of terms that they make fun of.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Limbaugh explains his party

Prologue. I'm adding this section based on a comment that the material is dated. The reason I delve into this topic is 1) to gauge Limbaugh's influence; 2) to read for myself what Limbaugh proposes for this country; 3) to discover his methods of argumentation. I believe Limbaugh's influence is waning, but his proposals and methods remain worth examining.

Limbaugh spends most of his time bashing Obama and other Dems in power, and much less time suggesting a conservative platform that makes sense and contains any detail. This is the closest I found to policy prescription:
First principles, first conservative constitutional principles are the answer.  Articulating that as fact with depth and conviction is what the people of this country want...  We are fed up and exhausted with people who measure their comments. The blueprint for rebuilding America has been written.  Ronaldus Magnus wrote it; Barry Goldwater wrote it; William F. Buckley Jr. wrote it; Burke wrote it, any number.  Friedrich Von Hayek wrote it; Milton Friedman wrote it.  Market capitalism is the answer.  Robust liberty and freedom for the American people is the answer, and then a government willing, after unleashing that, to get out of its way is the answer. 
It all starts with the individual.  Private property rights is the foundation because without private property rights there are no rights for people anywhere else.  The Republican nominating process is a competition of ideas and the ability to communicate how can we get back to our pursuit of happiness?  How can we get back to our pursuit of excellence?  How can we get back to the trusted institutions that have defined this nation and its greatness for hundreds of years?  How can the individual be empowered?
Not too many specifics there. Market capitalism will do all the heavy lifting, and if you have any doubts, you have to go somewhere else for even a hint at a different solution.

With this lack of policy discussion, Limbaugh does his audience no favors. Candidates are distinguished not by their policy ideas, but by other aspects (same link as above):
And whichever of these Republicans has the ability to consistently say so, take it to Obama, stand up for America, stand up for the American people, articulate a great belief and faith in the decency and the potential greatness of the American people... is who is going to get this nomination.  And that is who is going to lead in the polls... 
Nobody should be shocked, I don't believe, to learn that a Republican articulating conservatism fearlessly who is also pointing out the media's partisanship, who schools the media in their own malpractice... The American people, the vast majority of them want the media defeated every bit as much as they want Barack Obama defeated because the American people understand that they're one and the same.  The American people understand that American decline is being happily presided over by Barack Obama and the acolytes and stenographers and the fellow travelers in the media who build Obama up facilitate America's decline...
But Newt, or whoever, in the Republican primary field, this field of nominees, when they go after the media, they are signaling to the American people that they understand and are fearless and are willing to buck the establishment. 
Republican voters are fed up with establishment Washington Republicans kowtowing to the media, trying to use the media to get their message out, worrying about what the media says or thinks about them.  The American people don't want somebody who's afraid of the media.  The American people, the voters on our side particularly wants somebody who will take 'em on, just like we want somebody who will take Obama on fearlessly and not be worried about what's going to be said about it...
Limbaugh's prescription for choosing the GOP presidential nominee was to give the base red meat--lots of bashing of "Barack Obama and the acolytes and stenographers and the fellow travelers in the media who build Obama up facilitate America's decline."

However, when those red meat pitchmen stumble because they'll spin any story (Bachmann and the herpes vaccine), or they can't remember which government departments are superfluous, or their 9-9-9 plan doesn't add up, the lack of policy knowledge does cause a bit of a problem. Here's what Limbaugh says about the failure of the read meat provisioners:
The Republican establishment's trying to marginalize the Tea Party. So really, at least for me, [it] is not hard to understand. Now, there's an abject sense of panic that has set in... The race is gonna go on. See, they thought that this would be over before it started. Remember what I told you: They're gonna split the conservative vote and elect the moderate. They were gonna stand traditional theory on its head.
The traditional theory is: In the primaries, you play to your base, you win the nomination; then when you win the nomination and go to the general, that's when you go push moderates like McCain does -- and you lose. They decided, "We're gonna lose from the get-go. We're gonna nominate a moderate. We're gonna take conservatives in our party that we can't stand and we're gonna have as many of them up there as possible splitting vote," in this case splitting the polls, because there weren't any votes until January. But they were hoping the polls would end this race before a vote had been cast. So they welcomed Perry getting in and Ron Paul and Herman Cain and all these people, because it allowed them the opportunity to ridicule them.
Wow. All those crappy candidates were a cunning idea of the GOP establishment. How convenient that they all decided to enter the race, but I suppose the establishment wooed them with sweet talk via untraceable  telephone calls. One thing Limbaugh doesn't explain is how the establishment managed to keep the one good Tea Party conservative candidate (whoever that was) out of the primary.

Limbaugh also ignores that many of the non-moderate, non-Romney candidates had their turn at the top of the polls. That would have been an ideal time for conservatives to rally around, but it didn't happen. Why? Don't expect any analysis from Rush.

Here, from a single hour, is Limbaugh encouraging a "red meat" caller:
CALLER:  Listen, wife and I even talked about this Saturday before we voted, and you're the only one that I hear say it and you're exactly right, it is exactly a message that we're trying to send.  We're Romney supporters... but we kind of decided to vote for Newt and it was specifically because of what he did in the debates and taking the media to task and actually just making us feel good about that.  We're so sick and tired of every single time we watch the news or anything in the media the feeling we get, the sick feeling we get every story they tell almost... And actually we really want Romney to hear that message, though, this message that we just sent by voting for Newt.
RUSH:  I know.
CALLER:  That's what I wanted to do, I want him to take that.
RUSH:  ...The heads of your party, you want the people that run the party that you're a member of to get the message, stop making fun of you, stop impugning you, stop thinking you're a bunch of hayseed hicks.  You just to want save the country. You want somebody that's gonna have fire and brimstone to go out and beat Obama.  You don't want people that are afraid to campaign.  I know exactly what this victory in South Carolina was all about.  The Republican primary voters are this audience... the people who make this country work are sick and tired of being blamed, falsely accused, attacked, called bigots and racists and sexists and homophobes and all these other horrible, rotten things, selfish, greedy. 
They're seeing their futures robbed. Their party doesn't seem to have the guts to do anything to stop it.  They see their party leaders wanting to get themselves in charge of it all.  This guy, if I'd-a let him go on, he'd say, "We don't care if Newt were married ten times right now. We don't care if Newt had married a horse right now.  The message is what we want sent."  We want this party to figure out how to represent us.  We think we know how to beat Obama, and it's not with McCain.  It's not by going after the independents.  It's not by saying we want to compromise and cross the aisle and work with those people who are destroying this country as it was founded.
Note how Limbaugh channeled that comment and built on it. In contrast, see how he manipulates the discussion away from a caller who wants a competent manager, not a "narcissistic orator:"
CALLER: You know, (sigh) I hired a lot of people in my time, and my golf course architect, I had a very good one, and I hired him, you know, based on what he could do, but I also hired him based on his character. So I went to do a little research because I hadn't really checked into the candidates all that much, and so I just started Googling, and I was just astounded of what I found out both about Gingrich and Romney -- and, you know, it comes down to me: "What's the question? Do we want to hire a successful manager to run this country, or do we want to hire another narcissistic orator?"
RUSH: It's not about either of those right now. That's what I'm trying to say. Those are backbench issues right now. That's not what's going on here. What's going on here is the conservative base trying to send a message to the Republican establishment: "You're gonna have to have somebody who's legitimately conservative. That's the only way we're gonna be passionately behind our nominee, and that's the only way we're gonna beat Obama." This is something really big. This is not the voters saying, "We love Newt! Newt's the only guy!" That's not what's going on here. Newt's a vessel right now, and Newt would be wise to understand that, too.
So, according to Limbaugh, competence, character, and avoiding a narcissist are "backbench" issues. That's not what's important... if it stands in the way of the read meat rhetoric that Limbaugh and his audience love. Newt is the one giving the best red meat at this point, but he's just the "vessel" -- a good escape hatch if Limbaugh wants to turn on him.

It's no wonder that Limbaugh that is a terrible source for understanding the GOP. He doesn't understand how his party keeps picking moderates, and he doesn't understand how the country as a whole prefers candidates who aren't doctrinaire conservative.

I had been hoping for insight on why the loudest voices in the GOP wail and moan about not choosing conservative candidates, yet it happens two presidential primaries in a row. Who are the Republicans responding to the polls, which showed for much of 2011 that Romney was not the one they wanted? I can't tell whether conservatives are in the majority in the GOP or whether pragmatists are. Please, someone, help me! (Someone other than Rush Limbaugh.)

EIB = Excellence in broadcasting, LOL

Presage of the election demographics and Rush doesn't believe it.
Typical Rush: Another exemplar concerning Pelosi, whose criticisms sound pretty valid to me, but he does squat to refute them.
Rush on policy--bizarre paranoia.
RedState supports Rush for having "spine."
The kind of adulation of Obama that Rush derides.
A different voice in Jan '09: GOP needs to change and adjust --Bruce Bartlett
Also by Bartlett in July '07--who is the anti-Bush?