Wednesday, June 29, 2005

You Knew This Would Happen...

If you were naive enough to think that Washington's baseball team would be left out of pointless political squabbles just because they weren't named the Senators anymore, you're wrong.

And to think, I used to respect Tom Davis...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Proof That NC Is Better Than VA

See, while the Virginia governor wrecks bicycles and gets injured, our governor wrecks cars and escapes unscathed. Twice.


Thanks to Big Al, the world's most ridiculous drapes are now history. Read about it here.

Let's Hear It For Free-Floating Posts

First, the Ten Commandments. The majority in Van Orden v. Perry: Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, Kennedy, and Breyer. "One of these things is not like the other ones..." Also, I might add that Texas and Alabama have to be the only places on Earth convinced that it's a good idea to make a graven image of something that says "Thou shalt make unto me no graven images." Biblical literalists my ass.

Second, restraining orders. In one of the weirder - and scarier - Court decisions, the justices decided that it's an onerous infringement on constitutional rights for a local government to actually enforce a restraining order. Which makes restraining orders meaningless, unless I'm completely misunderstanding the case (a likely scenario). The case is Town of Castle Rock, CO v. Gonzales, and the opinion is available here from SCOTUSblog.

Third, file-sharing. The Court ruled that file-sharing services can be sued if people use them to trade music illegally. That's like a burglary victim suing GM because the getaway car was a Chevy. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The case is MGM v. Grokster. (Also, where in the ever-lovin' hell is the legislative branch on this issue?)

Fourth, NC's goofy tax system. We're keeping a half-cent increase in the sales tax that was supposed to be temporary. That's a ridiculously high 7% sales tax and a 2% tax on groceries. And we're not raising the cigarette tax. We're giving cushy tax incentives to Dell and to movie-makers (the latter was, sadly, introduced by Wilmington's Julia Boseman, whose election was one of Democrats' big coups). If you're gonna raise a tax, here's two tips. One, don't raise the regressive taxes. Two, don't use the proceeds to pay off corporations and developers. It makes me wonder whether the people downtown who claim to be Democrats really are Democrats. Or if they're elephants in donkey clothing, as it were.

Fifth, it occurred to me today that Bush's theory about how everyone wants freedom is total crapola. Because no one really wants freedom. Everyone values something above absolute freedom, except the anarchists, and everyone makes fun of them. Think about it. Liberals (like me) don't want people to have the freedom to force laborers to work 15-hour days. Conservatives don't want people to have the freedom to marry someone of the same gender. And so on.

Any viable political philosophy, in short, has a value above freedom. For liberals, it's equality. For conservatives, it's order. For libertarians, it's property. The thing about America is that "freedom" is a shared value. We all justify our policy stances using the argument that equality/order/property rights/whatever is essential to freedom. The truth is that all of these things detract from true freedom - so no one in America wants complete freedom. The difference is that we tend to moderate our desire for these superimposed ideals - no American liberal values equality so much as to be Communist, and no American conservative values order so much as to be Fascist.

But what about other cultures? Take China. They have Confucius and Lao-Tzu to our Emerson and Thoreau. Their culture is built around obedience and order, as opposed to ours which is built around individualism. Therefore, is it fair to say that they "desire freedom"? To the average Chinese person, is freedom truly desirable above a well-ordered society? (Someone who's more familiar with modern Chinese culture would have to help me out.)

So when we talk about other countries and how they want to be free, we have to consider carefully what this means. Is it fair to Iraqis to project our own conception of freedom on to them? Certainly very few people want an autocrat and a tyrant like Saddam. But in the Muslim world, we must not underestimate the desire many people have to establish a state that God would be proud of. (Come to think of it, we probably shouldn't underestimate that urge here either.) If we try to impose our brand of individualistic freedom on a highly communalistic society like Iraq, it might not go over so well.

And there are certainly those out there who prefer the safety of stability to the unpredictability of freedom. We certainly valued stability over freedom in our foreign policy for a long time (even when dealing with populations that came close to sharing our ideas of freedom, such as those in Latin America). My point is that people, when given a choice, don't always choose freedom. In fact, they almost never do. So we need to stop conflating democracy and freedom, and we need to realize that states that look like dictatorships to us may enjoy wide popular support. Our foreign policy needs to be a lot more case-by-case than the Bushies want us to think it should be. (They're conducting it case-by-case, but they want us to think it shouldn't be done that way. Of course, they're also screwing it up case-by-case.)

Your paradoxical statement of the day: Sweeping generalizations never work.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Woohoo! Four Posts In A Day!

So how would you like to live on this street?

Update: Screwing the Poor, Court Style

Of all people, Neal Boortz - who I usually hate - wrote a good rant on the Kelo v. New London case. He points out something that I didn't think of - will this have an effect on our booming real-estate market? So much of our real-estate boom is based on people buying houses as investments. If your hold on the property is tenuous at best, that might drive down prices and screw a lot of investors. (On the plus side, it'll make housing more affordable for low-income Americans.) Either way, I wonder if this case will be, as an unintended consequence, the needle that pops the housing bubble...

Read the Boortz rant here. He does prove himself to be the partisan flack that he is towards the end when he starts insulting liberalism (even though liberals, for the most part, are on his side here). But it's fun otherwise.

Econ Nerds, This One's For You

For all of you out there who salivate over supply-demand curves and speak in terms of externalities - you know who you are - I present to you this fun little article from the London Times.

Now if we can only figure out who stole the middle part out of the bagel...

A Book Review, and Random Hilarity

First, I want to draw your attention to this article from the N&O about how Southern Baptists want people to monitor the actions of gays and their allies in schools. All politics aside, I think this leads to some hilarious Photoshop opportunities. Like a reverend running down a beach with the word "GAYWATCH" emblazoned on the bottom. Anyone who wants to take a crack at that, go right ahead.

Second, I want to introduce you to a book I just finished reading. It's called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. In it, Perkins reveals the dark side of our foreign "aid" programs and how they're used to manipulate governments throughout the Third World. Perkins concentrates on the cases of Saudi Arabia, Panama, and Ecuador.

The premise of the book - that our economic interests trump our concern for Third World peasants - is an obvious statement. It's very interesting, though, to see how American organizations entrap Third World governments in deep debt, thus ensuring that we have complete influence over them.

Perkins takes pains to point out that there is no conspiracy at work here. Instead, Perkins blames our takeover of Third World governments on two things: our desire to ruthlessly protect our economic self-interest, and our mistaken belief that all economic growth is good for everyone.

The book is published by a small publisher, and it shows - it is not well edited at all. But it's still worth a read for all those concerned about the plight of the developing world.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"No Shit" Headline of the Day

From the Post: "Intolerance Found at Air Force Academy."

What? Intolerance against non-Christians? In America? I'm shocked! Shocked!

Screwing the Poor, Court Style

The Supreme Court has just ruled that your home can be taken away so some fat cat can have his precious office building. Looks like property rights are limited only to those who have lots of it. The rest of you have no right to own anything whatsoever. Read about it here.

Yup, now the government can take all your toilet paper so Bill Gates can wipe his ass.

You can all go back to your homes now. Provided, of course, that they're still there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

By Request

I am a monkey's ass.

Yup, It's Congress

Good to know that, with all the problems our country is currently facing, Congress still found time to engage in the annual Flag-Burning Clusterfuck. The only difference is that it actually has a shot at passing this time around.

Read about it in the Post here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More Congressional Hijinks

So it appears that the Senate wants to give out loan guarantees to coal-gasification projects. This leads to one obvious question:

Why is the government guaranteeing loans to anyone? If their little venture fails, shouldn't they have to clean up the mess?

Giving out money for research and development is one thing. Assuming the risk for entrepreneurs is another. Note to businesspeople: entrepreneurship is risky business. If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Don't ask Uncle Sam to turn on the A/C. I'll do your research, but I'm not your insurance agency.

Oh, did I mention that the bill is aimed at two groups - one of which consists of former Enron execs?

Apparently, to qualify for the loan, the plant must be in a "western state at an altitude of greater than 4,000 feet." Of course, there's no reason to build such plants in, say, West Virginia or Kentucky. Nope, none at all.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Geek Town

Behold, the first nerd 'hood! I thought a place like this existed... but I thought it was called "MIT".

Mary Jane's Last Dance

So the Court has decided that federal laws against marijuana use trump states' own laws regarding the legality of the drug for medicinal use. They used the Commerce Clause, which is perfectly logical since marijuana grown in-state and consumed in-state has a lot to do with interstate commerce. The decision was 6-3 - even Antonin Scalia, who usually tries his damnedest to work the phrases "states' rights" and "federalism" into his opinions, sided with the immoral majority here. (It's worth noting that this is the only time I know of where Scalia and Thomas disagreed.) Apparently, Scalia doesn't mind when states invade someone's bedroom, but when states try to let desperately ill people smoke up, he draws the line. So much for any inkling of consistency that existed in Scalia's nonexistent judicial "philosophy" - he just proved himself a mindless pawn of the far right.

What bothers me about this decision is that the Court has gotten into the business of taking away rights. Rehnquist and other conservatives have held that states should decide what rights their citizens have, and not the federal government. Liberals generally say that if states overstep their bounds in restricting rights, the Court can step in and tell them to stop. But never has a Court held that a state had overstepped its bounds in protecting rights. That's scary. (ConLaw scholars out there - you know who you are - feel free to contradict me on this point.)

On to other things:

The New York Times has shown that under the Bush tax cuts, someone making $50,000 a year will be taxed at the same rate as someone making $87,000,000 a year. Never mind that most of that $50,000 a year will go to necessities like food and shelter and the like. I guess most of that $87,000,000 a year will go to necessities too. Like yachts.

A Post poll has shown that Bush has completely ignored the issues that people care about. You mean no one cared about judicial filibusters? I'm shocked! Shocked!