Thursday, September 29, 2005

Clever Form of Population Control

The Washington Post reports that the Streamlined Procedures Act, which would make it easier for states to execute people regardless of their actual guilt by trimming their right to federal appeals, is coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Benhas blogged on the Streamlined Procedures Act previously, and I don't have much to add to his comments and the Post's comments.

Republicans in Congress seem to have no concern for the rights of the falsely accused and unfairly tried, and it's flying far enough under the radar where it won't create popular outrage if passed. But I think there's another motive behind Republicans' support for this bill: population control. Hey, what better way to do our part to fight overcrowding than by arresting people who may or may not have committed a crime and killing them?

I'm going to write to my Senators (Burr won't listen, but Libby might), and y'all should too.

Quick notes:

DeLay - Somewhere, Dan Rostenkowski is laughing his ass off.

Rita - Where have we seen this before? So much for learning lessons from Katrina.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Screw This

Just when you thought nothing dumber could possibly emanate from the Administration, Alberto Gonzales has directed the FBI to start a Porn Task Force. And they need your help - since the agents themselves seem reluctant to join. I wonder why.

Apparently, this is part of the Bush Administration's War on Porn. War on Porn? Kinda cheapens the rhetoric a bit, don't you think? You declare war on terrorism, on poverty - you know, serious problems. You don't declare "war" on something that mildly annoys you. What'll be the next "war"? The War on Plastic Lawn Flamingoes?

Of course, pornography featuring consenting adults is one of the great threats to America. In fact, it's just like terrorism, except instead of people dying, people have unauthorized orgasms. We can't have that. If you're not with us, you're with the pornographers, right?

Las _____es

Some people sued a town to remove the Christian cross from their town seal. Which would be a legitimate lawsuit if they were anywhere but Las Cruces ("The Crosses"), New Mexico. I guess the defendants really don't get the whole Spanish thing. What should their seal be, then? Addition signs? A big "X"? Or should they try to get the probably 300-year-old town renamed?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Set Love Free?

Before discussing the actual topic of today's post, I'd like to give today's First Amendment Award to Cindy Sheehan and the other 370 demonstrators who were arrested in front of the White House for the bullshit crime of demonstrating without a permit. Why should anyone have to ask the government to protest against the government? And the anti-First Amendment Award goes to Gene Feldman of the NC State ACLU (who I have had a class with), who wrote a letter to the Technician (link unavailable) criticizing the NCSU College Republicans for violating their demonstration permit while protesting against Sheehan's NCSU appearance. Dude... you're supposed to be protecting civil liberties, not applauding efforts to limit them.

Anyway, I just returned from visiting Danielle in Phoenix. I flew Southwest, since they have about the only affordable nonstop flight from RDU to Phoenix. While I was waiting for my flight out, I sat in the airport under a sign proudly proclaiming "Set Love Free." At first I thought it was a cheesy marketing campaign by Southwest, whose logo is a heart. It took me twenty minutes and a map to finally figure out what the sign meant - it is a reference to an obscure law called the Wright Amendment, and is the slogan for Southwest's campaign to get the law repealed.

Probably only policy geeks and North Texans are familiar with the Wright Amendment. It was passed in 1979 and limits flights out of Dallas' Love Field airport to neighboring states (thus the slogan). It has since been expanded to include Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Furthermore, if you live outside one of these states, you cannot book a connecting flight into Love Field. The effect of the law is to channel most out-of-state flights into Dallas through the behemoth Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The law was first passed to "protect" DFW, which was then a relatively new airport. Why DFW needed protection is anyone's guess - Love is a fairly small (32 gate) airport that could never hope to handle the amount of traffic that goes into and out of DFW every day. And certainly traffic generated by the roughly 5 million people in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex can fill up two airports - similarly-sized Houston supports two quite well. Indeed, most Wright supporters focus on the idea that repealing Wright would hurt DFW, but it seems that any decrease in DFW activity would be offset by the increase in business done at Love. Another argument in favor of Wright is the increased noise that would affect residents near the airport - but you've got to be fairly dim to live near an airport and not expect noise.

Indeed, the Wright Amendment seemed aimed at protecting American at the expense of Love-based Southwest from the start. American's lobbying power is likely the only reason why the law still exists - the congressman standing in the way of hearings on the issue, Joe Barton (R-TX), received campaign cash from American.

It's interesting that Republicans - supposed champions of the free market - would be on the side of the Wright Amendment. The law is obviously anti-competitive, and I can think of absolutely no reason why Wright is beneficial to anyone except American Airlines. Keeping this law in place amounts to a pointless corporate giveaway.

What's remarkable is that Southwest took so long to mount an organized public opposition to Wright. You would think that a transportation company whose home base is so severely restricted would be up in arms about the restrictions from the very beginning. But while Wright prevented them from launching a full-scale operation out of Dallas, it never really got in the way of Southwest's national success. Wright is a dumb law, but it makes a point: anti-competitive legislation alone does not prevent the most clever companies from succeeding.

Visit Southwest's campaign here.

And visit DFW Airport's campaign to keep Wright here.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Following Rita

Looks like another major hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Rita (a tropical storm now but expected to strengthen once it reaches the Gulf) looks to miss the areas affected by Katrina for the most part. Right now it's aimed at Houston. Which is really obnoxious irony for all the New Orleans evacuees now making their temporary home in the Astrodome.

Speaking of hurricanes, Katrina has turned Bush into something very odd - a tax-and-spend liberal. (Actually, just a "spend" liberal. He still doesn't seem to grasp the idea that taxes generate the revenue needed for the requisite spending.) Not that I'm complaining. It's just amusing to listen to the overwhelming silence from the small-government crowd when it comes to relief spending. I guess economic libertarianism has its limits.

But we have to pay for the hurricane somehow, and Bush seems content just to take us further into debt. Sadly, the most obvious solution - the repeal of tax cuts to the super-rich - doesn't look like it's in the cards. Nor does the other obvious solution - trimming down spending on our Iraq expedition and thus the scope of the occupation. To wit, an intelligent idea has come from the Heritage Foundation, which usually just spews the tax-cuts-to-the-rich-and-cut-programs-for-the-poor gospel. They suggest eliminating all the pork from the recent highway bill, which will produce some $12 billion. They have a point - I think that bridge to Nowheresville, Alaska can wait.

Of course, come Saturday when Rita hits, we're likely to have another big cleanup on our hands. Here's hoping the feds don't screw this one up as bad as the last one. Really, we'd best start preparing now - get the Red Cross ready in San Antonio or Austin, stockpile food within a day's drive of the Texas coast, prepare the National Guard, etc.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Police Brutality

Some looters deserved to be arrested. This one didn't. Hell, the deli's owner doesn't even want her charged with anything.

And why would bail for "theft" of $63 worth of essential goods - like food - for survival during a natural disaster be set at $50,000? Is a 73-year-old woman a flight risk?

When I'm told that Louisiana has a Napoleonic legal system, I didn't think that the 19-years-for-a-loaf-of-bread thing followed with it. Next thing you know, the Kenner police chief is going to be changing his name to Javert. Barricades to follow soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Free-Floating Hostility, Vol. 2

More random comments on the state of the world:

The Bush administration, for whatever reason, is refusing to let 1500+ Cuban doctors into the Gulf Coast to help Katrina victims. Apparently Honduran immigrant communities were hit hard, so there's a need for Spanish-speaking doctors in the area. I can't imagine that the Red Cross wouldn't want 1500 extra doctors helping them out. Somebody please point out the sense in putting diplomatic bitterness in front of humanitarian need, because I don't see it.

Speaking of which, British columnist Julian Baggini describes why many Britons aren't sending aid to the victims of the storm: "We don’t want to plug the gaping hole created by inegalitarian American social policy because we want to expose it for what it is, and shatter the US’s self-image as the most fair and free country in the world." So let me get this straight. You're going to teach the U.S. a lesson about how it treats its poor people by refusing to help its poor people. Yeah, that's a brilliant idea.

Both the above pieces are from the Post's World Opinion Roundup.

Stephen Pearlstein writes on the little-noticed news that poverty is increasing in America, and not just thanks to Katrina. Indeed, the only section of America that has seen any "recovery" in our supposed economic recovery is the upper class. You know, the ones getting the tax cuts. Seems like our policymakers have failed to notice that when it comes to the poor, the Invisible Hand of the market is off somewhere picking an Invisible Nose. And the poor get hit by the Invisible Boogers.

Signs that there are more important things on demagogues' minds: the Massachusetts state legislature rejected a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage by the ever-so-close count of 157-39. Last year, during the height of the political furor over the issue, Massachusetts legislators voted for the ban 105-92. However, in Massachusetts, a constitutional amendment must be approved in two straight legislative sessions and be passed by a public referendum in order to become official. One Republican legislator explained why he switched his vote: "Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry." I hear the Society for the Ridiculously Obvious has decided to award him its highest honor. Read the Post article here.

And finally, in the "here we go again" department, a California court ruled that the mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools is unconstitutional. The suit is being brought by the same guy, but this time he found people who actually have standing to sue with him. This means that the Supreme Court (should the suit get there) can't duck the issue this time. Of course, this case will invariably produce exactly what the world needs: a bunch of paranoid religious conservatives complaining about our collective moral perdition while a bunch of paranoid atheists/agnostics warn us of an impending theocracy. Chance of this issue being handled with anything resembling reasonability: zero.

Shocked! Shocked!

A Florida mother was apparently dismayed to learn that her eleventh grade daughter was assigned a book containing an oral sex scene. Idiotically but not surprisingly, she is not content to opt her student out of the book. Instead, she wants it banned.

She calls the book pornography - apparently failing to realize that this is a book about 1940s India containing oral sex, not a book about oral sex containing 1940s India. Hell, I was assigned a book containing a sex scene in ninth grade, and a play with truck loads of sexual innuendo in tenth grade (Aristophanes' Lysistrata).

Guess what? Your daughter is (presumably) 16. She almost certainly knows what oral sex is. You're not protecting her from anything. That having been said, it is her right as a parent to limit what her daughter should and shouldn't read. However, she's not all the other students' mommy, and she does not need to be given that authority. Nor does the school board.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Worst... Idea... Ever

In the Things No One Noticed That Could Result In Armageddon department, the Washington Post reports that the Pentagon is set to endorse the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, they would recommend that the President have full authority to use this power whenever he damn well pleases. And Congress hasn't heard about it until now - Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-VA) hasn't received a copy yet.

Has anyone seen Dr. Strangelove? Yeah, it's kinda like that.

To be fair, we haven't used nuclear weapons since 1945 - a time period which has seen undeclared and unconstitutional wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq (twice). Back then traditional weapons were often just as destructive as nuclear ones - for example, Tokyo was more severely damaged by a single firebombing run than Hiroshima was by the nuclear bomb. However, nuclear bombs have grown up significantly since 1945 - today's bombs carry at least 100 times the destructive power of Little Boy.

But it's scary to think that Bush could just nuke Tehran tomorrow. Given the state of our ability to tell when someone is about to attack us or not, this policy could mean that we'll end up nuking somebody somewhere for absolutely no reason. "Preemption" is always dangerous, and it just got more so.

And nuclear weapons aren't specific. Lots of people die when a nuke is set off, even one of the small "bunker-buster" ones that were in planning until Congress wisely pulled the plug. The potential for so-called "collateral damage" - by which I mean the death of innocent civilians - is far greater. A scorched-earth policy of warfare is not useful in a delicate fight such as the war on terror, nor should it be a tool for diplomacy. We ought to have more concern for those whose hearts and minds we claim to be pursuing and less for the well being of our nuclear arsenal.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What Was Today, Again?

I was cruising away messages today when I noticed that Zhubin had posted the following (yes, I still away-message stalk Zhubin)...

"There's something important about today...but I can't quite remember it...

Oh, right! Season premiere of Simpsons and Family Guy!"

The most obvious sign that terror has failed is the fact that today's anniversary has gotten scant if any notice from anyone.

All catastrophes fade into memory. It's tough to notice Andrew's mark on South Florida anymore. New York is back to obsessing over how to beat the Red Sox. With time, New Orleans will be back to playing jazz and eating red beans and rice. When we help each other get by, Americans can be a pretty resilient bunch.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Rules of Mankind

From today's Chicago Sun-Times:

"But if high gas prices don't faze you and you're in the market for a car, maybe you'd enjoy the Fine Motor Auction and Luxury Lifestyle Expo in New York this weekend.

A three-day ticket will run you $100, but you can bid on the Batmobile Michael Keaton drove in the movie (estimated at $500,000), or a 1969 Dodge Charger (only $50,000) that was used in promotions by the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV stars.

The auction organizers think a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda might bring $5 million, but if that's too rich for your blood, there will be booths selling cigars, fine wine, Swiss watches and other items living up to the "luxury lifestyle" part of the thing's name.

Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market magazine, described the idea behind the event to Bloomberg News: 'Put sparkly things in front of people who can afford to buy them without thinking twice.'"

Mr. Martin, I think "put sparkly things in front of people who can afford to buy them without thinking twice" describes at least half of all consumption among the upper and middle classes. You should have a law of economics named after you. Perhaps I should construct a plot of sparkliness vs. demand, give it a snazzy name, throw in a few formulas with integrals, and publish it in an economics journal. It's a Nobel Prize winner for sure.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

More Hurricane-Related Incompetence

The Salt Lake Tribune brings our attention to another reason why FEMA management should be slapped silly. I have this macabre, Catch-22-style scene in my head right now - a firefighter comes across a family that needs to be rescued, hands them a flier with FEMA's number on them, says something like "if you need anything, that's the number to call, I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to do more," and leaves.

I draw your attention also to this line from the end of the article:

"But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas."

Now I doubt Bush himself is going to be going on any rescue missions in southern Mississippi or Louisiana. So there are fifty less people out there looking for people who need rescuing so President Bush can make himself look good.

What a clusterfuck.

Thanks to Zhubin for the link.

Monday, September 05, 2005

I Get A Kick Out Of You

Congratulations to goalkeeper/beast Kasey Keller and the U.S. men's soccer team, who qualified for the World Cup by beating Jared Borgetti and fifth-in-the-world Mexico 2-0 in Columbus, Ohio. (The Americans are ranked 6th.)

What excites me is that US-Mexico has the potential to turn into a great soccer rivalry along the lines of England-France and Brazil-Argentina. Since both teams are ranked so highly, a rivalry that gets both sides determined can help both the US and Mexico make the next step to the rarified heights of the soccer elite. Not to mention it would increase interest in soccer here in the States.

Already the words are flying. Mexico's coach Ricardo Lavolpe said that the Americans "play like my sister, my aunt and my grandmother." So Ricky, how does it feel to lose to your sister, aunt, and grandmother? And US forward Landon Donovan said, when asked about Mexico's team, "they suck." Yeah, because you get to #5 in the world by sucking.

Goodbye, Bill

The coverage of Hurricane Katrina has rightly garnered the lion's share of the headlines this weekend, and in the mass of death and destruction left by the storm, it's tough to justify eulogizing just one person whose death had nothing to do with the hurricane.

But I feel the need to say something about Justice William Rehnquist, who died late Saturday night at the age of 80. He spent 33 years on the Supreme Court, the last 19 of them as Chief Justice. I agreed with almost none of his opinions, but I had more respect for him than I did for Scalia and Thomas. With Rehnquist, it's tough to say that he was pushing some sort of ideology like the other anchors of the Court's right wing - he was deciding cases the way he thought they should be decided, and that was that. Sure, his political conservatism made his decisions inconsistent, but show me a judge whose politics doesn't affect his/her decisions and I'll show you a robot.

Of course, now we have to deal with the acrimony of not one but two confirmation hearings. Glorious. Roberts will probably take over as C.J., at least if Bush has his way. Looking at Roberts as Rehnquist's replacement will likely make his confirmation easier since he'll be a conservative replacing a conservative. The next person nominated - who will doubtlessly be as far right as Roberts and Rehnquist - is going to have a tough road, though, especially with Bush's failing approval ratings and the return of Arlen Specter's maverick ways.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Your Daily Amusement

This guy rules. On this site, you will find not only a third theory of how the earth came to be, but also proof positive that a lack of pirates causes global warming.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More evolution crap

This New York Times article, shamelessly mooched from Zhubin's blog, chronicles a poll regarding the increasing appeal of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. 42% of people are strict creationists. That means they think that life has always existed in its current form, presumably since God created the earth in exactly six days.

That's not particularly disturbing, though - it just means that some people put more faith in science than others. The most disturbing sentiment revealed by the poll is the following:

The poll showed 41 percent of respondents wanted parents to have the primary say over how evolution is taught, compared with 28 percent who said teachers and scientists should decide and 21 percent who said school boards should.

So basically, 62% of people believe that someone other than the experts should decide how an academic subject is taught. Teachers and scientists know more about evolution and its discontents than your average parent or school board member. Would you want someone with a degree in chemical engineering telling your school how to teach English? I doubt it. Parents and politicians need to realize that, when it comes to science, scientists probably know what they're talking about.

Furthermore, meddling with a subject in order to give it some sort of moral purpose has already ruined the teaching of history (see anything written by James Loewen). I don't want that to happen to science too. The purpose of teaching science should not be to make people feel good about their worldview - it should be to teach state-of-the-art scientific knowledge. And if science troubles your faith in God... well, it ain't science's fault.

Hurricane Post

I don't know what I can post on the hurricane without sounding trite. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour compared it to Hiroshima - and it's tough to argue with him. It's tough to find anything good amid all the destruction, but I just wanted to point out a couple of things that may be signs that everything will eventually be alright again...

Hugo Chavez put aside his anti-American rhetoric for the time being and offered fuel, food, aid workers, and all kinds of useful stuff for the hurricane victims. He was the first foreign leader to do so. Since then, China's Hu Jintao and the Saudis have joined in (even though China just got hit by a typhoon, which is like a hurricane, only smaller and in the Pacific).

Even though 80% of the city is underwater, as of yesterday, beer and gumbo were still being served in the French Quarter.

Texas is opening its public schools to hurricane victims, and universities are trying to figure out how to house displaced Tulane, UNO, and other students.

So my heart goes out to the families of all those killed by the hurricane, as well as all those killed in the stampede in Baghdad that claimed some 900 lives.

On an unrelated note, applause to the lady who quit the FDA over its blatantly political refusal to approve the emergency contraceptive pill. Guess she's frustrated that the FDA seems content to keep that abortion rate in the stratosphere. Seriously, can this pill be any more dangerous than Vioxx?

North Carolina has a lottery now, despite the fact that 26 senators were opposed and 24 were in favor. How did this happen? Senate Majority Leader Marc Basnight cheated. One opponent was on his honeymoon, and another had a staph infection in his leg. Basnight held the vote anyway, and the lieutenant governor cast the deciding vote. So North Carolinians can thank bacteria like staph and Basnight for the lottery. I would have preferred a fair fight, but that's just me.

And Mike points out that Art Garfunkel has been arrested for marijuana possession. I guess upstate New York doesn't have enough real crime to fight. (It is amusing that he was arrested in Woodstock, though.)