Friday, September 30, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
"After years of raking in excess profits off an unfair and anticompetitive interchange system, Bank of America is trying to find new ways to pad their profits by sticking it to its customers. It's overt, unfair, and I hope their customers have the final say."What are "excessive profits" and who are you to decide what businesses should make? Bank of America is not trying to pad their profits, they are attempting to preserve them from being cut by arbitrary regulation. It may be "overt," but there's nothing unfair about it. Banks are not obligated to provide free debit card use. They were doing so until you decided to interfere. It's an obvious reaction to your attempt to slash their profits, one which was abundantly clear to anyone with the slightest clue when this legislation was under discussion.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
[He] told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan’s spy agency was tied to the attack on the U.S. embassy last week as well as the truck bombing on Sept. 10 that wounded 77 American soldiers. ... Mullen told the committee the Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency.“In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence,” Mullen said. “They may believe that by using these proxies, they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power. But in reality, they have already lost that bet.”
Asked on Wednesday whether he agreed that the Haqqani network was “a veritable arm” of the ISI, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters, “It’s not language I would use.”If that wasn't the language they wanted used, it shouldn't have been used by the senior military leader of the United States. The damage is already done.
He pivoted quickly to say the Obama administration is united in its assessment that “links” exist between the Haqqani network and the ISI, “and that Pakistan needs to take action to address that.”
Anyone who has read Conor Friedersdorf's columns at the Atlantic already knows that he's a regular critic of conservatives who doesn't actually know much about them. His latest column, called "The Heresies of Chris Christie," makes that abundantly clear. Regarding Christie's speech at the Reagan library, Friedersdorf writes,
he also made four key assertions that are now heretical within the Republican Party, and the significance of his speech is almost entirely wrapped up in those passages of politely stated dissent.Unfortunately for his premise, none of those assertions are "heretical" to Republicans.
First, Friedersdorf thinks that political compromise is "anathema" to Republicans, "who regard compromise as tantamount to selling out principle." Republicans are not opposed to reasonable political compromise and never have been. The question is what is reasonable. If the compromise is in fact a selling out of principle, which some compromises are, then yes, many Republicans would oppose that, just as Democrats oppose selling out their principles.
Second, he makes a big deal out of Christie's comments on American Exceptionalism, apparently reading into them much more than was there, and creating a strawman regarding how conservatives might view them. Christie was primarily arguing from an economic perspective that U.S. exceptionalism requires us to lead by example. If our country is a fiscal mess, it ceases to be much of an example to the rest of the world. There are very few conservatives that would take issue with Christie on that point.
Third is more of the same. Christie argues that if America is a mess, and we can't fix our own problems, it lessens our influence. This is not even close to being "heretical" to conservatives, let alone Republicans in general.
And finally, Friedersdorf seizes on this passage,
"We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion," he said. "Local realities count; we cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image. We need to limit ourselves overseas to what is in our national interest so that we can rebuild the foundations of American power here at home - foundations that need to be rebuilt in part so that we can sustain a leadership role in the world for decades to come."Very few conservatives would disagree with those points, especially since they can be interpreted various ways, particularly with regard to limiting ourselves to what is in our national interest. There's certainly nothing there that would rise to the level of "heretical."
Friedersdorf has demonstrated on many occasions that he is a poor political analyst. In my opinion he's a pretentious, intellectual lightweight who has nothing more than a simplistic, caricatured view of conservatives and the GOP in general. There are actually plenty of things conservatives don't like about Chris Christie, such as his pro-gun control views, for example. It would be very easy to write an accurate article about why conservatives aren't thrilled with Chris Christie. Others have even done so.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Mr. Obama’s jobs bill would prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants because they are unemployed.Naturally this idea also involves giving more power to the government to scrutinize business hiring practices.
Under the proposal, it would be “an unlawful employment practice” if a business with 15 or more employees refused to hire a person “because of the individual’s status as unemployed.”
Unsuccessful job applicants could sue and recover damages for violations, just as when an employer discriminates on the basis of a person’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Under Mr. Obama’s proposal, the employment commission would be given new power to enforce the proposed ban on discrimination against the jobless.What a great idea. If unemployed people fail to get a particular job, why not give them the ability to allege that they were discriminated against because they are unemployed? I'm sure greater government involvement and the threat of lawsuits if they turn someone down will do wonders to make businesses more interested in hiring instead of just deciding to do without that extra worker. Businesses love attention from government agencies and the threat of lawsuits.
Friday, September 23, 2011
If offenders select church, they'll be allowed to pick the place of worship but must check in weekly with the pastor and police. ... If the one-year church attendance program is completed, the offender's case will be dismissed.I had two main thoughts when I read this story. First, I found it pretty funny that this city judge is giving the impression that going to church every week is roughly equivalent to jail time. But after my initial amusement, came the reality that this is a ridiculous punishment that lets criminals off easy. I'm all for alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders. But how is attending church once a week for a few hours in any way equivalent to serving jail time and paying fines? I'm an atheist and I'd take that deal in a second. You can just sit in the back and take nap during the service, daydream, or whatever. It's not a punishment. Amazing as it may seem, many people actually like going to church. Depending on the church you pick, it might have good music, food and other benefits. You can steal things, get DUIs, and commit various other misdemeanors and get off with just going to church weekly?
Thursday, September 22, 2011
We have a justice system that is already ridiculously slanted against the death penalty. It usually takes decades of appeals and retrials to put anyone to death, no matter how ironclad the evidence is against him. Despite farfetched claims that large numbers of innocent men have been put to death, there's actually no solid evidence that an innocent man has been executed in this country in the last fifty years. ... Liberals don't like the death penalty; so they are desperate to find proof that innocent men have been executed and there are people who are willing to make money providing that evidence, no matter how far they have to stretch to deliver it.And the weight of evidence for Troy Davis' guilt is so great that despite all those years of appeals and efforts to overturn the verdict, or lessen the penalty, not a single court was willing to do so.
despite the incredibly slanted accounts you may have read, Troy Davis is not one of these mistakes. More than a dozen courts looked at the trial and came to that conclusion -- and no wonder. Davis shot a cop to death in public. There were 34 witnesses at the trial. Some of them were strangers. Some of them were friends of Davis. To this day, there are several people, some strangers and some former friends, who said they saw Davis shoot Officer Mark MacPhail and haven't recanted. How many eyewitnesses to a murder should you need to convict someone?There's one other thing that Hawkins doesn't mention regarding the Supreme Court's refusal to stay the execution. There are outspoken liberals on that court, who have not been shy in expressing opposition to other executions.
In late June, for example, the court cleared the way for a Mexican national to be executed in Texas over the objections of the State Department, but the decision came on a 5-4 vote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan disagreed.Despite all the pro-Davis propaganda, it apparently didn't even convince the liberal members of the Supreme Court. The overwhelming weight of the evidence is that Troy Davis was a murderer and was justly executed.
No dissents were recorded in the Davis case. About 10:20 p.m., the court released a one-line order saying that the “application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the court is denied.”
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
On June 7, 1998, Byrd, age 49, accepted a ride from Shawn Berry (age 24), Lawrence Brewer (age 31), and John King (age 23). Berry, who was driving, was acquainted with Byrd from around town. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three men took Byrd to a remote county road out of town, beat him with anything they could find, urinated on his unconscious body, chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck dragging him for three miles. Brewer later claimed that Byrd's throat had been slashed by Berry before he was dragged. However, forensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up while being dragged, and an autopsy suggested that Byrd was alive during much of the dragging. Byrd died after his right arm and head were severed after his body hit a culvert. His body had caught the culvert on the side of the road, resulting in Byrd's decapitation.Death penalty opponents often call execution "barbaric." In my opinion it is barbaric to allow those who would commit such a crime to go on living. It took a ridiculously long 13 years to execute just one of the murderers, but better late than never.
Berry, Brewer, and King dumped their victim's mutilated remains in front of an African-American cemetery on Huff Creek Road; the three men then went to a barbecue.
The Washington Post has a front-page story about a "ring" of supposedly secret drone bases, apparently oblivious to the fact that if they are a featured story in the paper, they are hardly all that secret anymore. These bases, a critical part of our worldwide counterterrorism efforts, have been exposed by our enemy Wikileaks, as part of its release of stolen diplomatic cables.
As I've pointed out before, Wikileaks has already done far more damage to the U.S. than most terrorists can dream of, and this is just the latest example. Al Qaeda doesn't need intelligence operatives in the U.S. conducting espionage to uncover details about U.S. counterterrorism efforts. It has Wikileaks to do it for them. The exposure of these secrets might make for interesting reading, but that damage to U.S. interests is real and significant. The Post covers the situation with Seychelles.
The government of Seychelles agreed to host U.S. drones and to keep their counterterrorism mission secret, using a cover story that they were there for anti-piracy operations. The U.S. told Seychelles that the drones would be unarmed.
During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the U.S. government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions . . . to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked U.S. officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government ... Michel’s chief deputy told a U.S. diplomat on a separate occasion that the Seychelles president “was not philosophically against” arming the drones, according to another cable. But the deputy urged the Americans “to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the Government outside of the President. Such a request would be ‘politically extremely sensitive’ and would have to be handled with ‘the utmost discreet care.’ ”Here you see that the U.S. made a secret agreement with the president to cut out the rest of his government. In order to conduct these type of operations we need to make agreements with various countries that involve these sorts of back-door dealings, because of domestic political consideration in the states hosting our drones. How much harder will it be to obtain bases now that everyone knows that the U.S. is unable to keep even sensitive diplomatic correspondence secret, and unwilling to take necessary actions to destroy a hostile organization that is stealing and publishing those secrets? If you were the president of some other nation approached by the U.S., would you make a similar agreement, knowing that the U.S. can't keep secrets?
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Do you think there are ever circumstances where it is justified for the British security services to use information that other countries may have obtained through torture?46% agreed that yes, there might be circumstances justifying the use of such information. 19% were unsure. And just over a third, 34%, said there were no circumstances that would justify its use.
From these results I conclude that 34% of Britons A) have no imagination, B) are complete and utter morons, or C) both. Regardless of what you think about the use of torture, consider the following hypothetical.
An Al Qaeda terrorist falls into the hands of Afghan security forces who torture him. During his torture-filled interrogation he gives up a large amount of information which may or may not be accurate. He states that Al Qaeda is planning an attack in Britain, and provides the names and approximate locations of two associates who he claims are already in the U.K. The Afghans pass this information to the U.S., which then informs the British. Would these 34% really oppose any investigation by British security forces? After all, they'd be acting on information obtained through torture. I guess they should just turn a blind eye and hope for the best.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Demonizing the rich and proposing to forcibly extract more money from them appeals to at least two powerful human motivators: envy and self-interest. And it has the virtue of simplicity. Many people are envious of those who make more money than them, even though the relative difference doesn't affect their lives in the least. They are reflexively suspicious of rich people, and tend to see them as cheating somehow, people who are gaming the system to get more than their fair share. Class warfare naturally appeals to those with that attitude. It's a lot easier to believe bad things about the rich than to accept that in most cases they are just smarter and harder-working. Envy helps explain how it is possible to believe that people who pay more in taxes than you'll earn in your lifetime are in some way not paying enough.
Even those less envious and hostile to the rich can be taken in by class warfare schemes out of self-interest. Here you have those who think that if the government raises taxes on the rich, they won't need to tax ordinary people any more. Why should those of us who aren't rich care about people with tons of money? They've got more money than they'll ever spend, why not get more tax money from them? Just leave us alone. In my experience this is a common attitude among those who don't really follow politics closely, and know little about economics. Raising taxes on the rich sounds like a nice simple solution. It's clear and easy to understand.
Envy, self-interest, and simplicity to the point of simple mindedness, those things are the underlie the appeal of raising taxes on the rich. This latest attempt by Obama is no different. Fortunately the GOP controls the House. Thanks to all those who voted Republican in 2010 and have helped prevent Obama from inflicting even more damage on the U.S. economy.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
How did the idea to bring together Pakistani atheists on a single platform come up? “When I became an atheist, I honestly thought there were no others like me in Pakistan. Through discussions on various social networking groups and forums, I found a few others like me. So we decided to make this group to find out how many more were out there,” says Hazrat NaKhuda, one of the founding members of the group. For obvious reasons, the PAA members go by pseudonyms to protect their identity.It is a hopeful sign that even in hotbeds of religious extremism like Pakistan, some, especially young people are turning away from religion.
“Extremism is not the primary reason why people leave Islam. But looking at recent converts, I can say that it has become one of the reasons why people start questioning the religion of their forefathers,” explains Hazrat NaKhuda, who personally believes that religion does not make sense in this age. “Most people are following the beliefs of their parents and have no reason to proclaim that what they have is the truth. Once one realises that, it is fairly simple,” he adds.Another member says,
we are taught that if only we turn to god, to religion, we will find answers and peace. When people, especially young ones, do that, and find that there is merely rhetoric, they feel rather disillusioned with religion, and that consequently pushes them away,” she says. “Another reason is that we are living in a progressing society. The whole world is undergoing a slow change in which it is leaving behind old religions and turning towards fixing a world, the problems of which are solely ours, not to be solved by a divine hand. ... The rapid progress of science has helped this process.The whole article is interesting.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
What does this look like?
If you are a Star Wars fan it looks like Tatooine, a planet with two suns. But this is real. It's Kepler 16b, discovered by a NASA team using the Kepler space telescope.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate and tell me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter,” Bachmann said.So one uninformed person blames her daughter's vaccination for retardation, and Bachmann takes it on faith and runs with it. I wonder if Michele Bachmann has ever heard that correlation does not imply causation? Does she have any idea how dangerous it is for public figures to discourage people from using vaccines based on unscientific accusations that they cause retardation, autism or other conditions? In reality, there is no evidence that HPV vaccines cause mental retardation, or are any more dangerous than other vaccines, as the linked article points out.
“It can have very dangerous side effects. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn’t know who she was before the debate. This is a very real concern, and people have to draw their own conclusion,” she said.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
They've forgotten the reaction and mood of the country at the time, and the horror that gripped most people as they watched the news on television. They've forgotten the complete shutdown of the civilian air transport system and the fear of follow-up attacks. They've forgotten the resolve of most Americans that this time we had to strike back hard against terrorism, instead of just launching a few cruise missiles and going about our business. And they've forgotten the strong consensus that we should stop waiting around to be attacked, and instead eliminate threats before they reached the potential to cause another 9/11.I think what I wrote above in 2009 applies to all too many people, particularly among pundits.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Educational technology would be the solution to mediocre academic performance only if the lack of educational technology were the cause. Somehow, however, John Milton managed to learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew without an Ipad, as did thousands of other children far less gifted than he; generations upon generations have mastered algebra, geometry, and the rudiments of historical knowledge just reading from—gasp!—books!Our problems with education in America don't involve spending too little money, or a lack of technology. Check out the whole post.
The most important tools in the classroom are self-discipline, perseverance, and a desire to learn (or, failing that, fear of the consequences for not doing so).
Monday, September 5, 2011
Obama said that with widespread suffering, “the time for Washington games is over” and lawmakers must move quickly to create jobs.
“But we’re not going wait for them,” he said at an annual event sponsored by the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO. “We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.”
Here's a hint Obama, opposing your policies doesn't mean someone isn't putting the country first. The president's remarks are typical of the double standard in politics. Despite the fact that a significant minority of the left is actually unpatriotic or outright anti-American, on the rare occasion that some prominent figure on the right dares point out any example, there will be howls of outrage regarding questioning someone's patriotism. But questioning the patriotism of those on the right when they refuse to sign on with a leftist political agenda is quite alright. If you haven't been paying attention, here are a couple more examples.
The president has a clear record of making things worse. His policies haven't worked, and there is no reason to believe that more of the same will work any better. The best thing Republicans can do for the country is block Obama's proposals and policies, and submit their own instead. Hopefully we can count on the Congressional GOP to do just that and not be swayed by ridiculous attacks.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
To those of us who don't assign some sort of taint to brands of inanimate objects because they happened to be used by killers, this is much ado about nothing. From a purely political perspective, the raffle was a bad idea, precisely because this sort of reaction should have been entirely predictable. But that doesn't mean the reaction is justified, or based on anything more than the usual stupidity regarding guns.
Minority service members are more than twice as likely as whites — after accounting for the crimes’ circumstances and the victims’ race — to be sentenced to death, according to a forthcoming study co-written by David Baldus, an eminent death-penalty scholar, who died in June.First of all, this type of study proves nothing. It is impossible to say with certainty that a white service member would not have gotten the death penalty in the cases where a minority received it, because a white person was not on trial. We are dealing with hypotheticals. Second, it is quite possible that there are factors more important than supposed racial bias that influenced the death sentences, and that they involve the individual circumstances of each case. And most importantly, even if minorities are more likely to get the death penalty because of racism, that doesn't mean we have to throw out the death penalty. Why not take measures to ensure that sentences are fair and not based on a defendant's race? In other words, why not fix the military death penalty rather than eliminate it?
The analysis is so disturbing because the military has made sustained, often successful efforts to rid its ranks of discrimination. But even with this record, its failure to apply the death penalty fairly is more proof that capital punishment cannot be free of racism’s taint. It is capricious, barbaric and discriminatory, and should be abolished.
If we have something that works or is beneficial but is tainted in its operation by racism, we don't just scrap it. We fix it. For example, if a corporation discriminates against minority workers we don't close it down. We bring lawsuits and legal judgments which force it to alter its practices. Now you can certainly argue that the death penalty doesn't work and isn't beneficial, but that's a different argument. Saying we should simply do away with the military death penalty because some statistics correlate with apparent racial bias is a weak argument, the kind made by those already biased against the penalty and looking for any plausible excuse to do away with it.