Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rain On The Scarecrow

So, how many people thought that the new Congress would be more friendly to the idea of making our farm subsidy program less expensive and/or insane? Anyone who had their hand raised, bring it down now:
The House yesterday passed a far-reaching new farm bill that preserves the existing system of subsidies for commercial farmers and adds billions of dollars for conservation, nutrition and new agricultural sectors.

For fuck's sake, Pelosi, you couldn't find the will to unite the libertarian Republicans with the reformist Democrats and kick the corporate welfare that is our farm subsidy program in the nuts? For a taste of how insidious this subsidy program is, try this on for size:
The House bill includes a new concession for cane and beet sugar producers, ensuring that they will not have to cut back on their planting when unrestricted Mexican sugar imports start next year under NAFTA. The Department of Agriculture will be required to buy up volumes of sugar comparable to the imports and sell it to ethanol plants for a reduced price, at a 10-year cost to taxpayers of $1.4 billion.

Sure, $140 million a year is chump change for Congress, but did the big corporations in the sugar industry really need the extra help? You know most of this isn't going to the struggling family farmer... and in the end, it seems to me that propping up unprofitable big-box farms is just going to flood the market with sugar no one wants to buy, driving down prices and screwing over the little farmer even harder (not to mention the other farmers in the NAFTA zone that will go under).

I could go on about the direct payments to corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, and rice growers at the expense of all the other crops we could be growing, decreasing crop diversity and fucking up the pricing system. Or how the bill apparently fails to close the loophole whereby farm subsidies go to people who don't even farm. Or how 90-odd percent of these subsidies go to massive agriculture conglomerates like ConAgra and not to the small independent farmer who might actually have some sort of legitimate claim on the assistance. But I'm sure Heritage and Cato and whoever will come out and go on this rant soon enough (if they haven't already - and incidentally, this is probably the only non-platitude issue I agree with Heritage on).

Whatever. At least increased funding for food stamps came out of it, and a couple of tax loopholes got closed. I don't know if I was seriously expecting meaningful subsidy reform out of Congress, and I don't think I ever will unless Jeff Flake or Ron Paul becomes Speaker - and what are the odds of that happening? It's still disappointing, though. I at least thought the momentum was there to make some sort of dent in the system. Maybe the Senate can make some headway here, though with the Senate's necessarily more rural makeup, that's far from likely.

Hilarity of the week: House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D), one of the prime pushers of this legislation, said he opposed cutting subsidies because he didn't want to help big business (the Chamber of Commerce wanted a subsidy cut so they could get a manufacturer-backed trade deal through faster). Good thinkin' there, Collin. You don't want to help big business, so you subsidize the shit out of massive corporate farms.

(And given the big sugar giveaway, is anyone surprised that Peterson received big money from Minnesota sugar producers? Archer Daniels Midland also cut Peterson's campaign a $4000 check - its third largest contribution to a House member.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Godwin: The Sequel

I posit a new form of Godwin's Law: As the length of any discussion thread increases, the probability of a comparison to al-Qaeda or terrorism approaches one. The probability of one commenter questioning the patriotism/loyalty of another commenter also approaches one.

Also, I want to point people to this amusing Godwin FAQ, which contains this gem of a statement:
If you're really bored, a fun game to play is Six Degrees of Godwin. Take a topic - any topic - and see how quickly you can relate it to Nazis using legitimate topic drift methods. For example: a discussion about computers will eventually lead to discussions of keyboards and which are best, followed by a lot of complaining about the Windows key on 104-key keyboards, leading to complaints about Microsoft, forcing the standard MS-vs-government flamewar that I'm sure you're all aware of, leading to attacks on Microsoft's "fascist" tactics by one side or another, which will force the other side to start talking about the differences between fascism, capitalism, and, of course, Nazism! The fun never stops!

Garfield. Go.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Public Service Announcement

If you're planning on destroying a major religion's holiest site, thus precipitating a fast day for that religion's adherents, please keep the hydration needs of future generations in mind and wait for cooler weather to do your sacking.

That is all. Thank you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

How Do You Know She Is A Witch?

Apparently in Israel, it is illegal to read fortunes from coffee grounds. It's "practicing magic," which is apparently against the law.

The Yahoo article leads me to believe that the law is aimed at pseudo-mystics who know they're bilking gullible people out of money, so it probably doesn't criminalize Jacob. I guess it's more of a fraud law than anything. It's still kind of goofy, though.

The best part is that the court appeared flummoxed that the law was even on the books. They appear to have no idea what to do in this case. The Ministry of Justice said this: "In light of the fact that there is no clear judicial decision how to determine the crime of magic..." May I suggest a scale and a duck?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

You Have the Right to Remain Loquacious

For those of you hiding in a cave, the Bush Administration has ordered its aides not to testify before Congress regarding the attorney firing scandal. In response, Congress has threatened to hold the aides in contempt - the Administration, naturally, has requested that the Justice Department not pursue any contempt charges. So what's a Congress to do?

According to Frank Askin writing in the Post, Congress can arrest the aides themselves. How cool is that?

Of course, this wouldn't lead to actual Congresspeople breaking into the White House SWAT team-style and dragging away White House aides in a paddy wagon. They'd probably use the Capitol or D.C. police to make arrests in a more civilized fashion. But if you wish to entertain the thought of Nancy Pelosi busting into Chief of Staff Josh Bolten's office and cuffing him... I'm not stopping you.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Twelve Angry Banditos Theorem Proofs

I challenge anyone - anyone - to argue with a straight face that an armed robber should be convicted of murder if a policeman gets into a fatal accident while looking for him. And yet, that's what a Missouri jury just did.

Quick E-Mail Clarification

Jamie introduced me to a chain-letter beginning to make the rounds claiming that the UK has removed the Holocaust from its school curriculum to avoid offending radical Muslims who deny the Holocaust. I smelled a rat in here somewhere, but I had to check this out and see whether or not it was on the level.

After I researched this claim a bit, I can give it a Crap Percentage of 97%.

The truth: Here's the UK Daily Mail article on which the rumor was based. The article cites a couple of examples of teachers being reluctant to teach topics such as the Holocaust or the Crusades because of anti-Semitism among pupils. However, it quotes only one instance of a teacher actually dropping the Holocaust from the curriculum, and two instances of refusal to teach the Crusades.

Here's the Guardian's take, which says much the same thing. I'm not sure there's evidence for a trend if one school somewhere in England dropped the Holocaust, one school was worried about the reaction of students, and one school had Christians challenge the school's teaching.

We Americans are no strangers to wackos challenging school curricula, and as such, we should be wary of any attempt to take such anecdotal evidence and interpret it as some sort of trend.

(Also, I don't know how much the British Muslim mainstream engages in Holocaust denial - certainly American Muslim leaders routinely affirm (and denounce) the Holocaust, but of course shit gets weird when you cross the Atlantic.)

As for the official view of the UK's education board? The report was not specifically on the Holocaust, but rather, it dealt with the teaching of emotionally sensitive topics, and it proposed ways for teachers to deal with such topics in the classroom. The Holocaust is currently an optional part of the UK's official curriculum, as are the Crusades. The Guardian reports that the education department will make the Holocaust compulsory next year. So in reality, the British government is taking the exact opposite action from that which the e-mail rumor claims it is taking.

General rule of thumb - if it sounds too outrageous to be true, it probably is, so check up on it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Steroids On The Green?

Gary Player thinks steroids have crept their way into professional golf. Now anyone who plays golf knows two things:

1) Golf is as much about mental toughness as it is about physical ability. And the physical ability isn't all that much about muscular strength.

2) You can pound the ball 400 yards if you want, but if you suck around the greens, you won't have a chance at any golf tournament anywhere. You also have to hit the ball straight. Neither of these can be improved by drugs.

So if golfers are taking steroids, they must not only be jerks but they must also be colossally stupid. Unless they're taking some sort of nerve-calming drug, that is.

If You're Gonna Do It...

So the Republicans, now finding themselves in the minority, have taken a slightly different view of the filibuster than the one they held during the Great Judicial Nomination Kerfuffle of 2005. They have decided to filibuster the Levin-Reed Amendment, which would call for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq in 120 days from the bill's passage and currently has 53 supporters in the Senate (Republican Senators Hagel, Snowe, Collins, and Gordon Smith support the measure; Independent Lieberman is opposed). I'll bet there are more than a few Republicans who are happy Frist didn't pull off the "nuclear option" back in '05...

Anyway, as you may have heard, Majority Leader Harry Reid took the unusual step of actually making Republicans hold their filibuster instead of just threaten to do so. This is good, but after the failure of the cloture vote yesterday morning (by a 52-47 vote; Reid had to vote no for procedural reasons), Reid meekly withdrew the bill for consideration later.

Here's the thing about the filibuster in recent years: no one has actually used the filibuster in a while. The minority has simply used the threat of the filibuster to block legislation. The old practice of actually talking a bill to death has fallen somewhat by the wayside. I say: revive it. The filibuster is, at its core, a battle of wills. Who will cave first? Will the bill's opponents tire of talking and support cloture? Or will the bill's supporters tire and withdraw the measure?

So Reid should leave the Levin-Reed Amendment before the Senate and keep debate open. If the Republicans are so passionate about defeating this bill, they should be forced to grind the Senate to a halt, keeping themselves and their colleagues in Washington through the August break, to do so.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Post 404 Not Found

Geeky, I know.

I just wanted to link to this story which proves that there is at least one judge out there who is willing to completely ignore Morse v. Frederick. Which is a good thing.

I'd Rather Have Greenmail, Thank You

Sometimes, you come upon a story so crazy that there really is no other reaction than laughter. The strange, sad saga of Miss New Jersey is one of them.

Apparently, the winner of the Miss New Jersey pageant (who, as a result, will be a Miss America contestant) was caught with some "racy photos." She has been blackmailed by some unknown crazy person. She has now revealed the photos. The Miss America folks are attempting to decide whether she should still be in the pageant.

The punchline: look at the photos. There is absolutely nothing "racy" about the photos. She's fully clothed in all of them. The worst thing that happens is that her boyfriend is goofily biting her boob (through her shirt) while she looks embarrassed. Seriously, you can see much more titillating stuff on Glenwood Avenue on a typical Saturday night.

If the Miss America folks think this is racy, they're insane. You know what would be racier than these pictures? Having her walk across a stage in a skimpy bikini while having millions of people stare at her. Oh, wait, that's PART OF THE FUCKING PAGEANT.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Actually, I'm More Afraid of Ted Kennedy's Gut

Get your canned food stashes and duct tape ready, folks... Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has a gut feeling!

Radley Balko over at The Agitator has an excellent post in response. Read it here.

House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS - yes, a Democrat from Mississippi, don't adjust your computer screen) gets two cents worth.

Once everyone discovers that terrorism is really about as much of an existential threat to the U.S. as gold-plated lemur turds, we'll have won the war on terror.

Oh, and I love the bit about al-Qaeda being able to train more freely on the Afghan-Pakistan border. You think that's because we're wasting all that time and energy in Iraq, perhaps?

Also: anyone who bitches about their in-laws around this woman is going to get quite an earful, I suspect.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Month-Long Backlog

Getting married and going on a honeymoon to Bora Bora may be wonderful, but it doesn't help the blogging. So I wonder what's been happening in the past month...

- Britain seems to have an exploding car problem. Doctors seem to be responsible. Doctors, folks. Personally, I didn't think the Hippocratic Oath - "first, do no harm" - squared with the Terrorist Oath ("first, do as much harm as possible"). I guess if you're an incompetent terrorist, you actually do satisfy the former - which, fortunately for these deranged docs, was the case.

- Speaking of dumbass terrorists, Gaza managed to go completely feather-pluckin' insane. Here's what I think happened: the JIMF got pissed off, somehow kicked Fatah (and Abbas with it) out of Gaza, then had to engage in a prisoner swap with something called the Army of Islam (which appears to be six guys with a gun) to get some BBC reporter freed. Meanwhile, Israel invaded Gaza. Abbas seems to be perfectly okay with this. In fact, Hamas' takeover seems, in a perverse way, to have actually helped the peace process. If all the radicals get sucked into the black hole that is Gaza, West Bank moderates can be free from the rightward pressures that force them away from the bargaining table. This could lead to the beginnings of a Palestinian state in the West Bank with Abbas and the moderates at the helm - which would basically kill Hamas by demonstrating the ineffectiveness of their... well, I hesitate to call what Hamas does "tactics..."

It already seems to be working. Usually, the Israeli killing of a Palestinian militant gets met with what can only be described as darkly comical outrage - this time, it seems to have been met with a glorified "whatever."

- The immigration bill got revived some 88 times before finally being killed. Essentially, everyone in Congress seems to have forgotten that killing the bill is a vote for the status quo, which isn't exactly working out for us. Note to Congress: when you make the perfect the enemy of the good, you also make it the ally of the crappy. Do you want to be on the side of the crappy? Yeah, it was a flawed bill, but it had some good aspects to it, and would have made things at least a little bit better.

Related news - Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who I usually like, just signed an anti-immigrant bill that even she admitted was a horrible bill. On the one hand, this is good - it signals a willingness to get things done even if the end result isn't exactly to your personal liking. On the other hand, if it's so awful that it needs to be amended severely before being enacted, why sign the damn thing now?

- The new airport security regulations don't provide any real security? No shit.

My favorite part: "In one test, TSA inspectors hid the components of a fake bomb in carry-on luggage that also contained a bottle of water. Passengers are prohibited from carrying containers holding more than three ounces of liquids, gels or aerosols through airport checkpoints. The screeners at Albany International confiscated the water bottle but missed the bomb."

- The Pope is partying like it's 1529.

- The coolest line in this article: "He passed through clouds. He said they were fluffy."